HRTech Interview with Tony DiBenedetto, CEO, Appspace

Appspace

Tony DiBenedetto talks about what excites him most about the industry and how HR leaders can create differentiated workplaces today.

1. Can you tell us more about yourself? How did you get into entrepreneurship?
I’m a native New Yorker and spent my early childhood growing up in Brooklyn. I moved to Florida at a young age with my grandparents, but my New York roots really shaped my dreams and aspirations.
In an indirect way, my love of baseball also fueled my desire to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to own the New York Yankees. So, naturally, my first stop on the journey to owning the Bronx Bombers was opening a New York-themed restaurant in Florida.
While my foray into entrepreneurship, “A Taste of New York,” didn’t work out as a business, it provided valuable lessons that I would carry into future roles and my leadership philosophies.

2. Can you give us a brief of your career before Appspace?
After graduating from college [Florida State], I joined Arthur Andersen as a consultant in the Tampa office. I worked there for several years, eventually becoming a Partner.
At 32, I founded the technology company, Tribridge, in Tampa, which grew from a start-up in a garage to more than 850 people in 20 cities. In the first year of business, the company generated $2 million in revenue and $300,000 in profit.
By the time I sold the company in 2017, it had grown to $175 million in revenue.

3. Could you tell us more about Appspace and how has the company evolved over the last couple of years?
Appspace celebrated its 20th anniversary in July, an accomplishment the founders, Brandon Miles and Stan Stephans, are extremely proud of.
The company’s beginnings were in digital signage – primarily helping Fortune 500 companies engage employees and visitors in their lobbies, meeting spaces, and breakrooms.
Through product innovation and acquisitions, Appspace now offers the only unified workplace experience platform to manage workplace communications and workplace management. Our platform combines a modern intranet, space reservation, employee app, and, of course, digital signage.
This helps our customers embrace hybrid, in-person, and remote workplace models without using a lot of different point solutions or their employees using multiple apps.
We have more than 400 employees in North America, the U.K. Malaysia, and Australia who help the company fulfill our mission of creating workplaces employees love.
Our People & Culture team makes sure we, as a company, live up to that mission too.

4. What makes Appspace unique? How does it stand out from its competitors?
Our unified platform differentiates Appspace. We make it easier for companies to engage employees whether it’s through a modern intranet, digital signage, or employee app.
This is important as IT departments don’t want to manage a lot of point solutions for workplace communications.
Appspace also recently launched Appspace for Microsoft, which connects Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and Viva with modern intranet and employee app solutions.
Organizations now can extend Microsoft’s solutions, allowing employees with easy options to manage everyday workplace tasks like finding and reserving the right room or desk inside Microsoft Outlook.

5. How is your work changing as your company scales up?
Before becoming CEO of Appspace, I was on the Appspace Board for two years. I was an active Board member, keeping an eye on growth opportunities and product innovation. As the company scales, I’ll continue to work with sales, product, and customer success to make sure we’re keeping customers happy and expanding our relationships by delivering value.
I’ll also work more closely with the People and Culture team to support their efforts in building the best workplace possible.

6. What excites you most about your industry?
Some philosopher once said, “the only thing constant in life is change.” While some leaders are fighting workplace change tooth and nail, I see an opportunity to create a better workplace – regardless of where that place is.
As CEO of Appspace, I’m excited our technology can play a major role in helping customers more easily adapt to new workplace dynamics.
On a personal level, I’m also excited our new way of working allows me to regularly connect and engage with team members around the world. I’m in Florida, but appreciate the diversity of thought and backgrounds I get from working with people in Spain, Canada, or Kuala Lumpur, as examples.
My previous company, Tribridge, had multiple offices, so I’m used to a global model. But, technology like Appspace, is making cross-team collaboration so much easier than it was back in the day.

7. As companies double down on return to work policies, how according to you can leaders get to the root of what drives employee engagement and employee satisfaction scores?

When you don’t know, ask.

Our People and Culture team actively seeks employee feedback through surveys and regular town hall meetings where the floor is open for questions. We measure and review employee satisfaction scores just like our customer net promoter scores.
Bottom line, we can’t create and deliver the premiere workplace experience platform without providing employees with the best workplace experience possible. It would be a huge disconnect.
Throughout my career, I’ve encouraged people to take risks and provided an environment where we learn from mistakes. I still believe that allowing team members to bring ideas and their own thinking to the table is energizing and drives satisfaction.

8. How HR leaders can create those differentiated workplaces today – even in the midst of new global economic concerns and other worldwide events over the last 2+ years?
As difficult and challenging as the 2+ years have been, they opened our eyes to the importance of not viewing the workplace – or the world – from our own narrow perspective.
Many HR leaders have looked at social inequities and diversity initiatives from a strictly legal or HR handbook definition. We saw and heard, firsthand, from our team members, it’s so much more than that.
I understand the importance of HR rules and regulations, but we have to allow some level of empathy to enter our decisions and employee interactions. Having our team’s collective back doesn’t weaken our leadership abilities, it actually builds stronger, more focused workplaces.

9. What according to you are the top technology trends in HR for 2022?
When looking at broader HR trends, employee engagement, retention, and satisfaction will remain a top priority. HR leaders have to continue to adapt to meet employees where they are.
On the technology side, HR and IT teams want to be as efficient as possible, while keeping an eye on technology spending.
Gartner predicted that by 2022, adoption rates for seat reservation systems, space utilization tracking, and workplace applications are expected to grow by between 150% and 250%.
A big trend will be the move to a single platform to manage employee communications and workplace management and Appspace wants to be that partner.

10. What are your plans for expansion and growth? How do you see the company and the industry in the upcoming years?
Appspace will become even more global in our product focus and with our teams – a true reflection of how our enterprise customers operate and what they expect from their technology partners.
As a workplace experience platform, Appspace has a lot of opportunity to help corporations and other organizations deliver a better, more engaged experience to their employees – and we will continue to meet that bigger need through continuous product innovation and partnerships, like Microsoft and Google.

11. Which motivational quote drives you to achieve more at work?
The book, Good to Great, has served me well in business since I read it years ago. The author, Jim C. Collins, focuses on how good companies transition to great ones. There are lessons that are relevant as Appspace continues to become even greater.
If I had to pick one quote from the book, I’d select: “Core values are essential for enduring greatness, but it does seem to matter what those core values are.”
I’ve always placed culture above the best technology and this quote supports that thinking.

12. Where do your passions lie? What qualities do you believe define you as a person?
I founded a non-profit, Think Big for Kids, which provides middle and high school students with mentorship and career opportunities to break the cycle of poverty. I come from humble beginnings, so I know the importance of role models and having a dream. I was able to devote a lot of attention to “Think Big” in the years after Tribridge, before joining Appspace.
That’s a huge passion of mine.
Hiking is also one of my favorite activities because I completely disconnect. No devices, no distractions.
I make every effort to be a continuous learner and big picture thinker who understands I don’t have all the answers. I also know success is not about having the most talented or smartest person, but rather the ability to motivate and encourage people to work as a team. That quality could be described as a motivator. I certainly strive to motivate people every day.

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Tony DiBenedetto CEO, Appspace

Tony DiBenedetto is CEO of Appspace, which delivers the first unified workplace experience platform for workplace communications and workplace management. Before being named Appspace CEO in 2022, Tony was an active member on the company’s Board of Directors. He founded Tampa-based Tribridge in 1998, growing the company from start-up to more than 800 employees, before selling it in 1998. Tony also founded “Think Big for Kids” In 2016, a non-profit focused on breaking the cycle of poverty for deserving children through mentorship and job opportunities.

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