Get Your (Risky) Innovative IT Approach Approved and Well-Funded

“Within 30 seconds of attending my first quarterly all-hands it was evident why this project was a P-0.”

by Casey Carlton, Head of IT and Business Tech

Casey Carlton stared at the monumental issue that lay before him. It was March 2017 and he had just started as the Head of IT at Houzz. He was thrust into one of the company’s biggest issues - their global video conferencing solution was near nonexistent. The interior and landscape design home improvement website and app had grown to over 2,000 employees with 14 offices worldwide.

Casey knew this wasn’t just about a video conferencing solution. The company was at a crossroads - choose a solution to progress global collaboration forward and accelerate company growth with rocket fuel, or select what would become yet another obstacle to slow growth down leaving Houzz stuck in the mud while their competitors flew past them eating up market share.

Fight for the underdog solution to elevate your company…or dig your own grave via mediocrity.

“Within 30 seconds of attending my first quarterly all-hands it was evident why this project was a P-0.”

At the time, Houzz was considered an up-and-coming big player in Silicon Valley, so to not be able to run a smooth all-hands meeting or collaboration communications to their offices around the world…let’s just say it wasn’t great optics.

Casey, being ‘the new guy’ did his due diligence. After testing out other solutions such as BlueJeans video conferencing, the expected choice was Webex. The darling of the video conferencing world for businesses at the time, with their mantra, “Work where you are,” it was the most robust solution on the market. They offered a one-size-fits-all solution which valued safety over innovation.

Other options like Vidyo were managing their own infrastructure and data centers, which was clearly a problem as they could not scale with it. Sequoia-backed Houzz had added another interesting property to their portfolio…a start-up called Zoom. Back in early 2017, the now video conferencing giant saw quarterly revenue at $27mm…cut to Q3 2022 where the quarterly revenue has reached upwards of $1b.

Zoom was not yet a household name, but an investor of Houzz and Zoom nudged Casey to give them a serious look.

“You guys are going to change the world.”

Within minutes of meeting with the team at Zoom, Casey knew he was onto something. They were simplifying what Webex was making overly complex. Rather than requiring Cisco-branded equipment as Webex did, you could be up and running with Zoom on the machines you had on hand, whether Mac or Windows. Zoom took the approach of knowing there’s no way they could manage an infrastructure better than Amazon and Google or Microsoft so they leveraged them to scale with and have larger market share.

Casey went back to the executive team to pitch Zoom as the new video conferencing solution for Houzz. The odds were stacked against him. He was the new guy who hadn’t proven himself yet. Zoom was the new solution on the block, without a widely recognized proven track record. There was already an obvious choice of Webex, the clear frontrunner to solve the global issue Houzz was experiencing at a critical level.

Casey knew this wasn’t just about a video conferencing solution. The company was at a crossroads - choose a solution to progress global collaboration forward and accelerate company growth with rocket fuel, or select what would become yet another obstacle to slow growth down leaving Houzz stuck in the mud while their competitors flew past them eating up market share.

He knew the underdog, Zoom, was the answer. Now, to persuade an entire company at the brink of stratospheric growth or a one-hit-wonder that would become a distant memory.

Take technology risks (and convince others to jump on the rocket with you) to propel the business forward.

When pitching to leadership, especially in organizations where IT is still seen as a cost center, Casey suggests hitting them where it hurts - the bank account. To help sell Zoom as the ‘no-brainer option’ and not the ‘no way option’, Casey zeroed in on how cost-effective Zoom was and tied it to how Zoom deployment wouldn’t require additional headcount to be hired.

“60% of the company wanted me fired.”

Selling to senior leadership was one obstacle. Getting buy-in from the rest of the company was quite another. At the time, Houzz had the majority of their operations in the United States. Most of Engineering was located in the Bay Area with other stateside offices comprised mostly of Sales, centered in their Irvine office. Around 500 of the staff was made up of Customer Success and Sales Execs, or people without a technical background.

Casey realized that any change could be disruptive to making sales and increasing revenue. Zoom would be relatively simple to deploy, but tough to convince people to want it…to have them see why they needed it.

In an organization of over 2K people, Casey says, “60% of the company wanted me fired.” All Casey would hear was, “Who is this new guy?”, “Why are we using Zoom?” or “I’ve never even heard of them.” Everyone had an opinion, “Why aren’t we using Google?”, “We should be using Webex,” they didn’t have a strong base to support their opinions because they hadn’t yet seen what Casey saw in Zoom.

“Had we gone with the status quo solution, it would have been a one-size-fits-all project implementation. It wouldn’t have been for the sake of innovation, it would have been for the sake of safety.”

The Zoom deployment was impactful because it was relatively unexpected. Casey really had no choice but to convince an entire company to make the switch.

Casey’s advice to those in IT rolling out a project not popular (read: hated) by the majority of the organization? Soldier on. But do so in a way where you are empathetic yet steadfast. It’s obvious that you’ll want buy-in from the workforce. In fact, not all ideas are winners - before prepping a pitch, ask yourself the level of importance to the company, your team, and yourself - as you analyze further, it may become apparent that the timing or idea as a whole isn’t right.

Most will tell you to educate the teams on the benefits of the new tool. That’s a given. But you’ve got to go deeper. Casey was new, so he didn’t have a relationship with the teams he needed to get on board. Once he understood the why behind their hesitation, he could make the connection between the goals of his colleagues and the benefits of the initiative. Casey not only found specific use cases, but also pain points that each team didn’t even know they had yet.

You know how once you’re used to a problem, you just accept the workaround solutions you’ve created? Casey cut through those, delivering top notch support and innovative ways to leverage Zoom to not only solve issues specific to that person’s role, but also suggested processes and unique ways to implement the platform to make teleconferencing a joy rather than a hinderance.

To get cross-departmental buy-in, leverage multiple tactics from this strategic framework.

It can be a delicate process to win senior leadership, managers and individual contributors over to the innovative solution rather than the path to mediocrity and safety. To just about guarantee company buy-in, ensure you hit the right notes on each step of the following framework:


Tied to company goals, roadmap, stakeholder roles

Casey didn’t have the luxury of extensive, proven evidence of the viability of Zoom as it was a fairly new product. He framed the issue of their global conferencing struggles with the critical need for change; where market innovations were headed backed by senior leadership advocates.

Clear Vision Backed Up By Evidence

• If possible, gather user reviews on the product or service you want to bring into the fold. In addition, detailed comparisons between a few similar solutions and showing how the idea you’re pitching rises above the rest is helpful to drive your point home. Gain access to an external (non-biased) expert that you can bring in to speak to the technology’s benefits and value.
• Pinpoint and advocate the need for change. If applicable, collect pertinent intelligence from customers, suppliers, and colleagues to help make your case. Profile the market and convey that the market is headed toward this direction (even if you need to do so leveraging early signs if it’s an emerging market).
• Put a spotlight on your credibility. Outline your organizational contributions. Newer to the company? Highlight accomplishments from previous experience.
• Keep your emotions in check. What might be passion can quickly be seen as aggravation or anger. Control the narrative and safeguard your message against coming across as complaints.
• It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Be realistic and point out the possible risks involved with the idea. You’ll need to express that you have studied this holistically and are prepared to handle the potential obstacles.

Strong Ties to Organizational Goals and Performance

• Perception is everything. To control it, make sure it’s relevant to organizational performance.
• Know the organization’s priorities inside and out. Frame the issue as crucial to those priorities and underline how it supports a strategic goal. Package your idea by exemplifying its place in the big picture. Make the business benefits crystal clear for a variety of departments. Multithread by building credible allies on other teams in multiple departments.
• Smaller idea? Bundle up. Take a larger initiative that has a correlated theme and make ties to it to increase prominence.


Staff impacted; supporters and detractors

By engaging with those that would be impacted with this change, Casey was able to create a pitch for his idea that would resonate with each stakeholder and their primary use cases.

Curated Pitch to Key Stakeholders

Your pitch should immediately resonate with your audience. To do this, you must be well-educated on what makes your audience tick. The discussion must be tailored not just to their goals and values but also to their level of knowledge. This information will guide the strength of your message.

Build a Coalition

Don’t go it alone. Getting others involved increases your resources but also the energy and effort surrounding your initiative. Allies in other areas is a great way to gain entry to data points or access to a key decision maker that you otherwise may not have had. This is all about upping the trust factor of your target audience and having people within and outside of your network advocating for your cause.
Collaboration will take you far. Openly invite ideas and thoughts from others to make it an inclusive environment. Consider including surveys, focus groups, questionnaires (anonymous or not). If people feel like they are included, they’ll be more inclined to support the project.
Buddy up to an influential person who can champion your idea. The more influence and credibility they have the better, but also make sure they are the key stakeholder for the goal you’re gunning for and get them to buy in to your initiative.
Meet up with your champion to chat about your project. Ask them if they have any changes to suggest to make it more relevant. See if they can identify challenges that you aren’t yet aware of. Get their tips on pitching the idea to other leaders and how you can help empower them to make a case for your initiative.


Office culture and politics, organizational norms, preferred communication methods
Casey knew time was of the essence - Houzz was climbing the upper echelons of the start-up world. One misstep in something as crucial as global collaboration could spin the story of Houzz into a negative spiral that would be hard to recover from.

Market and Trend Timing

For many initiatives, timing is everything. Be sensitive to what’s going on in the market and company so you have a better idea of when to mention it. Be aware of if the topic is trending - you’ll want to take advantage of that momentum. Always be on the look out for trends and events that support your idea. Know if it’s tied to a deadline, such as a specific release or launch.
Know what resonates with your leaders and ensure you have analytics and data to support that.
Formal or informal? Typically you can go informal at first when rolling out your idea. It’s a good way to gauge interest. As you move forward, you’ll most likely want to switch to a formal presentation pitch.
You can never over-communicate when it comes to progress. Letting key stakeholders know milestones achieved will help carry the project to fruition.
Negotiate. When it comes to the budget and timing needed, ensure you get what the project requires. That goes to staff and other resources as well.

Casey pleads to those in IT to get past their fear of negative consequences for pitching an unexpected solution.

The top-down culture can only be nixed if people speak up by crafting a solid pitch to support their idea and presenting it with passion and confidence.

The drivers for success were not only the all-hands meetings because they were the most visible, but all the meetings happening in offices around the world. He wanted to transition the organization away from Google rooms to Zoom rooms to help consolidate the solution they were using and also lower their costs, both CapEx and OpEx. Success was the feedback from users, happy execs, and cost and complexity reduction.

The tech stack used was Jamf for MDM (mobile device management). At the time for rollout of Zoom rooms they used Mac minis. For the office team once the Macs were delivered, that was really with the help of Jamf to install the Zoom room app, making it so that a password was not required once the machine was plugged in, it would log straight into it so people didn’t have to touch anything. The combination of Mac OS, the Zoom room app, and Jamf really helped get everything over the finish line pretty easily.

Taking a risk on an ‘industry unknown’ reaps impactful rewards

Casey was able to cover quite a bit of priorities with one project because of a company that no one heard of prior to 2017…that he took a risk on.

The Zoom project ultimately had a huge impact. Casey transformed how people communicated at Houzz, a globally disperse company, while maximizing cost and simplifying technology. He gained a lot of trust while taking a calculated risk that he was confident in.

As he reflects, Casey has a lot to be proud of. The Zoom project might have been something he proposed or took a risk on, but once they all came together as a company they made something work that many other companies weren’t doing yet against the status quo.

This taught Casey that innovation, really doing your homework, and going out on a limb to push the envelope is worth it most of the time. Casey points out, “If you make a mistake, own it, take accountability (assuming you don’t kill the company, lose tons of money, or degrade security) learn from it, and don’t let it happen again.”

This project ended up being a big win with a huge impact. It was a real world situation that proved that people do make decisions that aren’t favorable, that maybe aren’t the most obvious decisions, but end up being the biggest and one of the ones you don’t forget. As he looked ahead to his next initiative, armed with the learnings from this experience, he knew the sky was the limit.