Throughout his career as an executive, Eric Bone has delivered success to every major company he has worked for. He has worked at high positions in tech and electronics companies such as Sandisk and Logitech prior to joining ECOVACS Robotics as general manager of the Americas.
Eric Bone is an executive driven to achieve only the best results. He “leads companies into new product categories and builds pathways for revenue and profit growth.” Part of his extensive experience in product development and marketing concerns consumer electronics that use software applications for their functionality. He also has “comprehensive knowledge of finance, P&L management, yearly business planning, go-to-market (GTM) strategies, marketing/branding, competitive product analysis and product marketing.” Currently, he also “drives sales through global distribution channels” that spans continents, with channels across North and South Americas, extending to Europe, to the Asia Pacific, and Japan.
At ECOVACS, Eric Bone joins a company that has already spent 20 years in developing smart home robotics, which ended up evolving the company from a “visionary startup into a global corporation.” The company works to achieve its mission of “building world-class robots for home and industrial cleaning, air-purification, security and surveillance, and in-store sales assistance for retailers.” Currently, ECOVACS robots are available in more than 60 countries.
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Eric Bone: ECOVACS has been a leader in the robotic vacuum cleaner (RVC) market for years, but has only been in the U.S. for 4 years. Despite being very well known globally, we still have the opportunity to both define and refine our brand to the U.S. consumer.
We stand out by bringing new cleaning innovations to the market at a value price. While most robotic vacuums are just that, ECOVACS brought the combined vacuum and mop to the market, and remains the leader in this multipurpose category thanks to a technology we developed called OZMO. This solves a huge pain point for a consumer. Robot vacuums give you back the luxury of time, but that time is meaningless if you still have to take another step to have clean floors. How much time are you really saving? That’s why we developed OZMO.
We are also innovating in robotics in the areas of air purification and window cleaning, with products in these areas already in market overseas. It’s exciting to be a part of a company that is not afraid to take risks and innovate into entirely new areas.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Eric Bone: It’s important to recognize your own signs of burnout, whether its lack of new or fresh ideas, waning enthusiasm for the work, lack of patience with team, or just feeling overwhelmed. When I recognize my own burnout, I refocus on the basics and lean into a single project that I know I will enjoy, This is usually something product-related, since at the core I’m really a product guy. I love to crack open a new product package and think about ways that we can make it better.
Taking a step back and focusing on the one thing you love most when it comes to your job and remember why you do what you do in the first place.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Eric Bone: At SanDisk, the company strongly prioritized investing in its employees, employing extensive coaching and mentoring. I was lucky enough to work with an executive coach, Dan Foxx, who helped me make the move from individual contributor to a management role. He recognized the crossover between skillsets for the two functions. Beyond helping me pivot my career path and fine-tune my hard IQ-focused skills, he also taught me the importance of empathy. A high emotional quotient (EQ) is just as important today, if not more important, than a high IQ. EQ makes you a better leader — a better mentor, teammate, and boss. In turn, it helps you better understand your customer — what pain points they have and how you can solve for them. Being able to understand your customer is critical for building a sustainable business.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Eric Bone: I believe that good companies talk extensively about being customer focused instead of product focused. Whereas great companies offer the perfect marriage of the two, while also being future-facing. Great companies ask the right questions and are able to actually do something about the answers they receive now and in the long-term. As Wayne Gretzky once said, “skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” Which, continuing with our sports theme, ultimately means seeing the whole field and understanding where the ball is headed.
To be great, companies also need to have a true north star, driving them in every single thing that they do. Whether this is a mission statement or a strong, universally understood KPI, having that common goal can help align and guide all business decisions. Great companies also need to strike the fine balance of staying ahead of the curve, while also not getting ahead of themselves and overlooking what they are currently offering to their customers. A good metric for understanding where you are now and where you want to go in the future, is if a company’s current work makes you feel just a little uncomfortable. This means you are truly pushing the envelope, while also not going overboard.
Jerome Knyszewski: What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Eric Bone: Always be innovating against yourself, don’t let someone else do it to you. There has to be a healthy part of paranoia and skepticism in your business. And if that’s not driving you to innovate or stay on the edge, then you’re not going to be a successful leader.
Despite how terrifying a serious business downturn should be, every leader goes through it and they should appreciate the perspective it gives them. When you’re in that downturn, “restart your engine” by analyzing the processes in place and identify ways to optimize company practices. You’re already stuck at the bottom of the hole, so use that space to re-evaluate, go back to the basics, then rebuild better.
Jerome Knyszewski: Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Eric Bone: To be honest, we’re lucky that we’re a cleaning product used in the home during a pandemic. But luck can only get you so far. It’s crucial to think of why your product exists and how it is valuable to a customer — luck and circumstance can only do so much. A great company manages a level of a potential downturn appropriately, by figuring out ways to make their product work, regardless of circumstance. They also think through potential up and down cycles, and plan accordingly, for both product and cash flow.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Eric Bone: Human resources (HR) tends to be the most underestimated function of a business. The time it takes to hire the right people, to learn how to maintain their motivation without losing, and continue to grow them, all play into a strong HR team and program. Having the right people in your organization plays into every single aspect of your company. It’s crucial to build an environment that fosters growth, work-life balance, and success to guarantee high retention rates within employees and an overall great business structure. HR is critical to making this happen.
Jerome Knyszewski: Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
Eric Bone: Customers have so many different avenues to engage with customer support — whether it’s through Facebook support groups, Twitter, Reddit, etc. — that the barrier between the customer and support has changed drastically. Especially now, many customer service operations are run outside of the U.S. and we’ve seen a rise of artificial intelligence (AI) over human interaction, which can leave customers confused.
To create positive customer experiences the key is really listening — listen to your customer when they have feedback (both good AND bad). Listen and respond across multiple channels, to make sure you are understanding how each channel is being used and how feedback is being delivered — and responding appropriately.
Lastly, even as a manager, I still make time to take customer service calls. I think it is really important to have my finger on the pulse of day-to-day product concerns. I truly believe that one customer can make a difference in how we market, sell or develop products and features.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Eric Bone: Social media is a really powerful tool when it comes to interacting directly with customers. The old fashioned way of selling through distributors and to retailers is gone. The customer has become the most vocal advocate or critic of your product, so brand have the opportunity to address and mitigate the negative and amplify the positive.
If you’re creating clear communications channels, are honest in what you’re selling, listening to your customers, then you shouldn’t fear using social media and should actually leverage it effectively to build a loyal community of customers.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
- Lack of future-facing vision: Have a solid, future plan as to where you want your business to go. The days of transactional businesses are gone — with so much competition and penetration in the market, your company needs to have a story and growth plan that ladders up to that. This also increases buy-in and loyalty from your employees AND your customers.
- Don’t assume your team are mind readers: I’ve also seen founders and CEOs operating under the assumption that their staff are mind readers when it comes to understanding exactly what a founder/CEO is driving to. It is really important to be clear and direct when it comes to company elements like vision, mission, projections, etc.
- Clearly define roles: Though flat organizations are more common today, it is important to still have clearly defined job roles. This avoids internal strife and helps elevate employee satisfaction when your employees know exactly what they are meant to be doing within the organization.
- Build a diverse team: Diversification of thought and experience matters. Building a team that has a wide range of backgrounds and skillsets can often help accelerate innovation and growth.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Eric Bone: I’m concerned about the amount of people that wield influence and the transparency that exists there. With so many different influencers across multiple platforms, it can be hard for consumers to understand who to trust with their purchase decisions. As we all grapple with “truthiness” when it comes to politics, I’ve seen this trickle to all areas. I’d love to see a “truth filter” that identifies who you should trust the most when it comes to purchase decisions.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!