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Four Leadership Lessons From the CEO Transforming How Businesses Communicate You have to find people who are naturally curious and eager to learn, who ask great questions," says Nextiva CEO Tomas Gorny

By Nelson Issac

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When Nextiva CEO Tomas Gorny interviews a prospective job candidate, he likes to ask not just about their background, but about their imagination. That's because Gorny, an entrepreneur who has been a leader in software innovation for twenty-five years, knows what he values most in employees: intellectual curiosity.

"You have to find people who are naturally curious and eager to learn, who ask great questions," Gorny says. "Then create an environment for them to thrive."

Gorny was sixteen when he started his first business, a computer distribution company in Germany. Since then, he has bought, built, and sold businesses that span the history of the last three decades in tech. In the early 2000's, while building IPOWER, Gorny helped redefine the website industry, making it accessible to millions of small- and medium-sized businesses, and becoming the fastest growing website hosting company of its time. IPOWER later merged with Endurance, secured an investment from Warburg Pincus and Goldman Sachs that valued the business at $1B before going public in 2013. Following his success in website hosting, and his discovery that millions of websites were vulnerable to security threats, Gorny went on to co-found his next technology company, Sitelock. This next venture would become the largest website security company in the world, amassing a majority of market share and surpassing 15 million paying customers.

Now, at Nextiva, Gorny is poised to transform the future of business communications. With a $2.7 billion valuation and $200 million in first-round VC funding from Goldman Sachs, the firm is taking on the suite of challenges posed by automation, remote work, and the overwhelming proliferation of apps required to make a modern business run and serve its customers well.

"Business communications are in a state of crisis ," Gorny says. "Customer expectations are sky-high yet rife with disappointments, while businesses lack the tools they need to streamline conversations between colleagues and their clients."

One of Gorny's gifts as an entrepreneur is being able to see openings in the market, and where to focus on creating value. But his deep knowledge of technology and lifelong passion for solving problems aren't the only things that have gotten him where he is today.

As a leader, Gorny is an expert builder of innovative and high-performing teams. Since gaining its first paying customer in 2008, Arizona-based firm Nextiva has grown to include over one thousand employees. Gorny's leadership has been recognized by the Arizona Technology Council and the Phoenix Business Journal.

"Behind every great piece of hardware, there's a great piece of software," Gorny likes to joke. And behind every great piece of software, he might add, are great people.

So how does the business that's transforming business communications handle things on the inside? How does Gorny build teams that thrive?

From hiring and managing, to decision-making and strategy, to staying true to the ultimate goals of his organization, Gorny operates with a refreshingly human-centered and mission-driven approach. Here are some of the lessons he's learned in building companies and teams on the frontlines of change.

When you encounter great people, hold onto them

Gorny was born in Poland and didn't speak English when he arrived in the U.S. at the age of 20. He didn't know anyone, had no credit history, and had to figure out how to make life work in the big city of Los Angeles. He took on a number of part-time jobs, including as a carpet cleaner, waiter, and car valet, even as he landed an equity opportunity to be part of a web-hosting company in the early days of the internet. What made the biggest difference for him, back then, was the people he met.

"If I did one thing right," Gorny says of his first years in tech, "it's that I held onto great people. You can build much better and stronger businesses together than you'll ever be able to build on your own," he says.

To this day, he surrounds himself with leaders he has known going back ten and twenty plus years, including his longtime collaborator and Nextiva co-founder, Tracy Conrad. By developing deep working relationships, Gorny argues that you can solve problems faster, endure tough times, and manage conflicts because there's underlying respect, trust, and a shared value system.

"Building companies is not for the faint of heart. Success is not linear. You need to have people alongside you that you trust and enjoy working with," Gorny says.

Embrace difference and open-mindedness

After the pandemic, managers and employees are understandably asking what the new normal will be. What kind of practices should organizations have in place for things like remote work, digitized workspaces, and building company culture?

Rather than wrestle to find a new playbook to manage teams, though, Gorny believes in throwing out the playbook altogether.

"Every team member is different and will respond to different things," he says. "Pay attention to your people, observe your teams, and listen to what they say. Understanding what makes your people tick will help you tailor your approach with them."

This open-mindedness also includes being receptive to different types of "genius" that may not be your own. "Everyone has talents and gifts to bring to the table," Gorny says, "and leadership is about unlocking those talents and positioning them most effectively."

You need all types to build a rocket ship, not just the rocket scientist.

Create momentum

One of Gorny's biggest strengths as a leader is that he likes to move quickly. "I know I'll make my share of mistakes, but I'll correct them quickly too," he says. In our moment of great uncertainty about practically everything—the economy, geopolitical crises, the future of work—moving quickly can seem risky. But Gorny is the type of leader who would rather make a quick decision than no decision at all.

Moving with speed means that mistakes can happen, but that's also where the learning happens, he argues. Momentum is the antidote to being stuck: by taking the next step, you can take another and another. The key is to not overthink and just keep moving. "Creating momentum inside your company is one of the most powerful things you can do," says Gorny. "Momentum gets people moving and taking action, and that movement and action creates more movement and action. It's a chain reaction."

Forget exit strategies and focus on creating value

One of Gorny's most provocative lessons after three decades in tech runs counter to our era of start-up culture and private equity buyouts: "Don't base your business on an external outcome or you may forget to build your business," he says.

Gorny is proud to say that Nextiva does not have an exit strategy. Instead, he and his team focus on providing the best product and service they possibly can. Gorny bootstrapped Nextiva for more than a decade before bringing on the company's first round of VC capital in 2021.

"By focusing on creating value," Gorny said, "you'll make something far bigger and better than you could ever imagine."

Having built Nextiva into the largest privately-held communications firm in the U.S.—and leading the industry into the new frontier of workplace innovation—these lessons sound like words to live by.


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