Ben Frame serves as Vice President of Digital Products for ClearObject, a digital product development company focused on data analytics and machine learning. Frame joined ClearObject in April of 2019 and brings nearly 20 years of senior technical leadership designing, delivering, and selling cloud and managed services solutions.
Frame spent 15 years at Indianapolis-based Apparatus where he served as Chief Technology Officer. After its acquisition by Virtusa, a billion-dollar publicly-held company with 20,000 employees, he continued for several years under new leadership as Vice President for Infrastructure and Cloud Practice.
Frame is a graduate of Wabash College and lives in Indianapolis with his wife Jill and their two children Nolan and Vera. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, fishing, snow skiing, gardening, and tinkering with home automation and wireless networks.
How did you get started in this business?
I was fortunate to grow up in central Indiana and have lived here my entire life. I attended Wabash College where I learned the fundamentals of computer science and got my first opportunities working in IT support through a work-study program and through valuable summer internships. I graduated with a liberal arts education, a strong network, and some very practical hands-on technology experience. A friend of mine started the company Apparatus and I joined him as soon as I graduated. We focused on web development and infrastructure support, which were (and still are) in high demand. Over the last two decades, Indianapolis has blossomed into a leading tech city full of opportunity, with vibrant technology and startup communities.
How do you make money?
At ClearObject, we’re focused on helping customers build the right product, quickly. Companies are spending boatloads of money on digital transformation, but most initiatives don’t “stick” because they focus their efforts in the wrong place. Some set their sights really high on the one product that would make the biggest impact, but that is also the most complex and takes a long time to realize results. Others focus on ideas that are technically feasible but aren’t very important to the business. The key is to recognize that digital transformation is a process, not a destination. We help customers identify opportunities that are high value and low effort, and help them find quick wins that build confidence and momentum that we can build on over time.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
I joined the ClearObject team about 18 months ago, so I wasn’t around when they crossed that threshold.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Yes, but not just when we started out. As a growth company, we’re constantly trying new things, and most of the time I’m unsure they’ll work. I think the key is having a long-term strategy you believe in and creating short-term goals that are aligned to that strategy. Many of those short-term goals will fail, but you fail fast, make adjustments, and eventually find the things that do work that move you closer to your long-term goals.
How did you get your first customer?
You have to be willing to try to sell your product or service before it’s perfect. Too many times we fall into the trap of trying to achieve perfection before we roll something out. Whatever type of business you’re in, I think the agile idea of “minimum viable product” is a really valuable concept. Requirements and needs change, but people and relationships evolve over time. You need to be willing to start with what works today and adapt quickly when things change. Early wins will generate momentum and cash to improve how you’re doing things, so you get better as you grow.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Industry-specific content marketing has worked really well for us at ClearObject. We look for opportunities to speak at conferences, write columns, participate in roundtable discussions, or podcasts in industries like transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing. I think our technology-focused stories are really compelling when we share them in an industry-specific or business-specific context.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
You know, I think people across the globe have had to make really hard decisions this year as a result of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our world. On the whole, we’ve been very fortunate, but like so many others, ClearObject has had to make tough choices about how to respond to the slowdown in our business. We needed to make adjustments to our business right away, but we also wanted to do all we could to set ourselves up for continued growth to come out of this pandemic an even stronger company. Those struggles are certainly not over — we’re constantly examining and realigning our near-term plans to our long-term goals.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
At a small company like ClearObject, we’re able to be really flexible and change quickly to what customers or markets need. I think we’re successful because we have the freedom and the mandate to do the right thing for our customers, rather than shareholders. I think our customers appreciate that about working with ClearObject. That spirit keeps them coming back, and creates a foundation for meaningful long-term partnerships.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I’m a builder by nature, so my most satisfying moments are when I see things that I’ve created being put to use. There was a time a few years ago where I was part of a team that sold a really large multimillion-dollar project to a customer that we’d been working on for nearly a year. It was the first deal of its kind at the company, and something I’d helped to design. Because it was new, we had to solve a string of new problems throughout the sales process. It was really satisfying to help my company break into a new space and close a large deal.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a game-changing technology that has disrupted many industries already, but we’re still at the beginning of that journey. The big cloud providers like Google, AWS, and Microsoft have made AI technology really accessible and inexpensive, and now it’s something accessible to everyone.
At ClearObject we’re working with customers every day to find opportunities to use really powerful technologies like AI and Machine Learning to change the way they do business, which is really exciting for all of us.
What business books have inspired you?
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t
By Jim Collins
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
By Cal Newport
Consumption Economics: The New Rules of Tech
By Todd Hewlin
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d tell my younger self not to overlook the importance of networking. It may seem like common sense or may even sound cliché, but over the long-term arc of my career, one of my greatest assets is my professional network. As an introvert, I didn’t have much interest in this idea early on in my career. If you take the time to invest in other people and your relationships, it will pay off many times over. Your network will open doors for you and connect you with opportunities. They’ll be your customers, your partners, your champions, and supporters. Investing in people will make you more successful and more fulfilled.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
Yes, of course! I’ve been lucky to have some terrific mentors in my career. I would advise someone just starting out in technology to expect to put in the time. I think in today’s fast-paced world we’ve become impatient, and too often look for shortcuts. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. In my experience, this seems like a pretty good benchmark. You should absolutely be a strong advocate for yourself and work hard to advance your own career, but the most successful people I’ve worked with find a way to balance their ambition with patience and humility.