Ecosystem Pioneer: Eric Elia

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I lead partnerships at Mux, and have been at the company for about 2.5 years, where I started in strategic sales. I have a long history in the streaming space and a combination of experience in product, user experience (UX), editorial, business development, professional services – and partnerships. I’m also joining Pronto’s webinar next week about ‘developer first’ partner ecosystems.

How did you end up in Partnerships?
I've held customer-facing roles in the video industry for many years. My combination of experience in video made it natural to take the lead on the ecosystem opportunity at Mux as we saw the need develop over the past year.   

How have your previous roles helped you in your current position?
At a previous video technology company, I built and launched the initial professional services practice and grew that business to about 20 people and a few million dollars in revenue. It became a vital piece of the company by helping customers take advantage of product features to build new and innovative things and, in a way, build out where the market was heading. After that, I continued on in the agency world and worked across a number of different verticals. 

The empathy that you develop when working on the agency or professional services side of things is really important. It goes beyond a SaaS order form. Spending time with people daily to build their products helps you establish a strong degree of empathy in your work and in what your customers are trying to do. It also humbles you, and you recognize that the sun does not revolve around you, but rather you revolve around the sun (the customer) - amongst a lot of different planets. During the product development process, it’s important to understand how you fit in the market and how you’re going to help your clients be successful. And in the end, it's understanding those connections and patterns and being able to put those different things together. So more than anything, it was the professional services and agency portions of my career that have helped me in today’s role.

What is your favorite part of working with partners?
I'm still a product person at heart. The founder at my old company put it this way when he was trying to convince me to start our professional services practice: you like building products, so here's a chance to build products with all of our customers. And he was right, and I got to work on projects with The New York Times, Gannett, and Philips as they were trying to transform their video businesses. Circling back to Mux, I really enjoy helping our customers by understanding what makes a video product successful and identifying the missing pieces that will help them reach their goals faster.

What's one of the biggest challenges you tackled in your role as an Ecosystem Pioneer?
I believe partnerships is in a major state of transition right now. Companies like Pronto are emblematic of that - where we're seeing this shift from channel, resellers, and VARs on one end of the spectrum, to freeform, relationship-centric business development on the other end, to something in the middle. That's the “better together” story that we all talk about in the industry, where a combination of different technologies can come together, yielding something greater than the sum of the parts. The challenge is trying to connect that opportunity to your business goals to impact business outcomes for your customers. It's very hard to prioritize and you can't treat every partner and every interesting, shiny object equally. How do you make sure that you're meeting the needs of all of your partners and treating them well while keeping your eyes on your customers as well? Who is your primary customer? As a partner team, is our top constituency our customers, partners, product team, or sales team? It's probably some combination of all of the above. We need to be the voice of the partner and the developer ecosystem. Prioritization and keeping that focus is probably the hardest thing.

What’s a common misconception you hear about Partnerships?
There’s the misconception that you're just the person to take the meetings at a trade show. People often still see partnerships either as a channel and a place where you're working with resellers, or – on the other end of the spectrum – as a straightforward business development function. But we're really here to connect the partner activities to the core goals of the business.

I remember one time when meeting with the leadership team to set internal goals and KPIs, I was walking them through a draft and someone said, “Well, how about measuring the number of partners?” And I said, “Actually, that's a common misconception. We don't want to measure the number of partners. We want to measure the quality of the impact of those partners.” 

What are some superpowers you’ve seen in other Ecosystem leaders that make them very effective?
Certainly, work ethic and vision, but also empathy for external constituents and priorities of the internal team. An entrepreneurial mindset is common too. The partnership leaders I've met at other companies tend to be mini-CEOs, building a company within the company and going through the same stages as startup leaders, like finding product market fit, getting early traction, growing the investment and expansion inside of the organization, and then optimizing. Stamina is another important trait. You have to be very comfortable in the early stages of building a partner program when you’re seeing few results but knowing that the seeds you're planting will grow over time.

If you envisioned a utopian state of Ecosystems, what would that look like? Alternately, where do you think Ecosystems will be in 5 years?
To borrow a line from my colleague Jen Lee: ecosystems partnerships are the new customer success. Meaning, as a practice, customer success was in its infancy just a few years ago. Over time, it's grown up into an industry with career paths, specialists, and robust tooling to help you empower those teams. This has all matured in just the past five years. I’d like to think ecosystems will follow a similar path. 

I'm really excited for tools like Pronto and others to help us do things faster and better. I'm looking for the intelligent layer of these tools to emerge, like we've seen in customer success and sales, so we can figure out how to spend our time more efficiently and how to make the most impact with the least friction. Right now, it's a lot of duct tape and glue to piece different things together to scale. A lot of that will get worked out, and I'm looking forward to us playing a role in shaping that.

Are there any business books, shows, or podcasts you enjoy that you would recommend?
The leadership team at Mux has been reading a lot about effective management, including Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Recently, I’ve been listening to the Personality Hacker podcast which looks at different ways to understand yourself and how you improve what you do. Jon Dahl, our CEO, was just featured on the Think Like a Founder podcast with some entrepreneurial insights. I also really enjoy speakers like Tim Ferriss, Conan O'Brien, and David Chang. You can find inspiration in unexpected places.

What’s a surprising fact about you that we can’t find on Google?
My first professional job was helping the Philadelphia 76ers pull highlights from games to create highlight films. This was back in the videotape days – before digital – and everything involved in the manual process was fascinating. From very early on I was interested in telling stories of all kinds. It’s fun to look back and realize what I did as a teenager is still reflected in what I do today.

Curious to learn more? Meet Eric at our webinar: Building a Developer First Partner Ecosystem.