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Listen to this episode for insights on:

  • Strategies for cultivating a culture of empowerment and engagement 
  • Correlation between happy employees and customer success 
  • Why it's important to prioritize employee satisfaction 
  • Initiatives for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion 
  • How to overcome challenges in the startup ecosystem 
  • And more... 



About the Speakers

Chris Izquierdo - Sparrow Connected


Sparrow Connected

“You have to have a culture of empowerment. Employees have to be able to make decisions. If there's a bottleneck, if they always have to go to management before they make a decision or make something right for our customers, you lose something.”

Julie Ford   
Head of Content,  
Sparrow Connected 

Julie Ford connects with Chris Izquierdo, the CEO of Sparrow Connected, live from Edmonton, Alberta to discuss the company’s recent recognition as one of Canada’s Top Startup Employers.   



Julie: Hi, and welcome to the ICON Podcast. Today I have a very special guest joining me on video from Edmonton. Chris Izquierdo, the CEO of Sparrow Connected. Sparrow Connected is a leading AI-powered omni-channel solution trusted by companies across 25 industries that enhances the way they connect with and engage their workforces. Chris, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. 


Chris Izquierdo: Thanks, Julie. 


Julie: The reason we're talking is because Sparrow Connected was recently named one of Canada's best startup employers by Forbes. Congratulations to you and your team. Being named one of the top 200 startups out of 1500 evaluated is a remarkable achievement. How has this recognition impacted Sparrow Connected and its employees? 


Chris Izquierdo: Everybody's really proud of this accomplishment. And we're really proud in a number of ways. Most awards that you receive, you apply for them, or somebody applies on your behalf, right? Somebody identifies your organization, or you identify your organization as a leader on something, you submit a lot of information, and then that information is processed by a jury, and that jury awards the recipients of their work. 


In this case, we did not apply for it. Forbes has their own methodology. They use a third party that has its own methodology to determine which startups will make the list and analyze a vast swath of startups across all of Canada. So, it's really interesting because, to be honest, we didn't even know that we won the award. I only found out because I went on LinkedIn and a friend of mine that has his own startup it was congratulating the company for making it to the list.  


I went to the list, and we saw our name there. We were pleasantly surprised that we had made the list. So, yeah, everybody's really excited, really proud of, you know, recognition is always important. You put a lot of effort into a startup, but there are a lot of ups and downs and, moments of stress and then great triumphs. And it's really good to see that what we have done over the last three and a half, four years has been recognized. 


Julie: Yeah, definitely well-deserved and a great way to kick off a new year with recognition like this. 


Chris Izquierdo: Yeah, that's true as well, yeah. 

Julie: Yeah. I understand that Sparrow Connected is one of three Edmonton-based startups that was recognized. What significance does this have for Sparrow Connected and the local startup ecosystem? 


Chris Izquierdo: You know, it's interesting because I've been in the ecosystem for the last 24 years since I moved to Canada. And I've seen the growth in the ecosystem. I've seen - 20 years ago, Alberta only talked about oil, oil and gas, and energy. As you know, most startups were centered around the resource economy. We have moved into the economy that is based on intellectual knowledge, right? Its people based. And that shift has happened over the last 20 years in Alberta. And it's great to see.  


Now, that's the good side. The side where we still need improvement is that only three startups in Edmonton made it to the list. We need to see 15, 20, 25. When you look at the representation of the population that Edmonton has within the Canadian ecosystem, our representation in terms of startups should be higher. But it's really exciting that there's at least three of us on this list. If this list would have done 20 years ago, I doubt that any Edmonton startups would have made it to the list.  


So, I think we're moving in the right direction. The leadership and municipal leadership as well as the provincial leadership have done the right thing to foster the ecosystem in Alberta and in Edmonton in particular. And I think we're starting to see the results of that. 


Julie: Yeah, and it's great to see Sparrow Connected as one of the leaders and also that the spirit of the region is shifting toward innovation and entrepreneurial endeavors. So that's really promising and great for Canada as a whole as well. 


Chris Izquierdo: Absolutely, absolutely. And yeah, for sure, leading the way is always hard, but it's always exciting. I'm glad that we're in the conversation. 

Julie: I understand that Forbes and Statista used employee reputation, employee satisfaction, and growth as their evaluation criteria. Can you share some insights into the strategies or practices that have contributed to Sparrow Connected’s growth and success? 


Chris Izquierdo: You know, in all our businesses, in all my businesses, and Sparrow is my fourth one, we always start with the premise that we need to have happy and, engaged employees, and then magical things will happen. And I know that's backwards or it's not so much anymore. There's a lot of movement now into employee happiness. But when I started my first business almost 20 years ago, it was a novel concept. And there were a lot of people that doubted that was going to happen.  


20 years ago, the wisdom at the time was to focus on your customers because they're the ones that pay, which there's a lot of truth in that. Don't worry about your employees. You can always replace them. But for us, it has always been about employees first. You take care of them and then they will take care of your customers. And I think that's a big part of this. Our focus is on a number of pillars - customer success. 


I often hear from our customers how great our service is and how excited they are to meet with the customer success team, how they listen to their needs, and how they do whatever they can to fulfill those needs. So, you have to have that culture of empowerment. They have to be able to make decisions. If there's a bottleneck, if they always have to go to management before they make a decision or make something right for our customers, if they always have to come to me for approval and so on, you lose something. 


You have this culture of empowerment in the organization as well as creativity. And that's the next frontier. The evolution in the last 20 years has been that everybody has focused on customer success. You see the customer success manager's role show up, you know, in our lingo, in our normal day-to-day operations as a company. But then on top of that, now you need to also focus on innovation because customer success is a stable stake. Now innovation is what is going to set you apart. 


You have to empower a culture where people are not, employees are not afraid to make mistakes, where employees are not afraid to fail, and where failures are celebrated and learned from. And that's the important part. Like if you always make the same mistake, of course, we have a problem, but if you make a mistake, you learn from it, and now you apply those learnings and fix a problem that affects all our customers, now we have something powerful. 


So that was another of the areas where we focus. And to be honest, and our investors might not like me saying this, we don't focus on growth as a day-to-day activity. Growth is a byproduct of everything else that we're doing right in the organization. 


Julie: Clearly, you're on the right track with those strategies that you've been implementing in order to become successful and be recognized for it by Forbes. You mentioned the technology and the platform. What's up and coming with Sparrow Connected? How do you plan to expand the platform to meet the evolving needs of the modern workplace? 


Chris Izquierdo: That's a very interesting question. I mean, we have obviously a three-year roadmap that has a number of features that we're hoping to hit the mark for the modern workplace. But when you look at the modern workplace in the last three years, it's changed drastically. We went from everybody has to be in the office or otherwise, you don't have anybody in the office because we couldn't do a hybrid workplace because people want flexibility. And now we're starting to see that shift even more towards everybody going back to the office. There are organizations saying, no, you have to be in the office. I need to be able to physically see that you're working because I don't have a good way of measuring whether you're working or not.  


So, one of the ways we're taking our platform is how do we support this hybrid workplace? A workplace where, you know, before you used to have three branches, now you have a thousand because every employee has his branch when they are working from home. Right. You know, this meeting would not have happened in an organization five years ago. We would have been sitting next to each other, right? I would have had to fly to Toronto, you have to come to Edmonton to have this conversation because it would be ridiculous to think that we could have this conversation over a Zoom call or a Microsoft Teams and so on. Right. That has shifted. 


With that in mind, what features can we implement so that human connections in an organization still exist? So that's a big portion of what we're going to be focusing on in the next three years - how do we give the communication team features that allow them to empower human connections in their organization?  


And there's some super exciting research by a scientist in universities that explains the science behind those human connections and how you can replace them in the hybrid world. And what we're going to do is, we're going to qualify those into our platform so that we can provide it to our customers and help them establish those connections because we know that those connections increase retention, increase happiness, increase productivity, and ultimately deliver better business results, which is what every customer or every client in the world is looking for. So that's an aspect.  


The other one is diversity and inclusion.  When you look at diversity, equity, and inclusion, there's a huge movement in the organizations to support a more diversified workforce, a workforce where everybody feels included, and so on. So, what can we do from a platform point of view in terms of features that support that? And there are some very low-hanging fruits that we're working on and that will be released later this year. For example, an index on how inclusive your language is when you're communicating in your organization. 


And not just the communication that goes out, but the comments that communication generates. Are they also inclusive? Are they also diverse? And can we train people through the use of our platform on how to become more diverse, and more inclusive in their conversations? Because as we know, words do hurt. And sometimes, I'm guilty of this. We use the wrong words when we're addressing a crowd, when we're addressing a team, when we're addressing individuals. That's another area where we're going to be focusing on.  


And then the last one, everything we do in an organization, is to drive engagement, to drive leadership. What we're looking for is how we continue to personalize the communication that each individual in your organization receives. We have segmentation built in. We have the ability when you create content to say, this content is only relevant to these individuals and so on. How do we take that to the next level? How do we, when you create the content, automatically decide, okay, here's the right time, the right channel, and the right content to send to Julie today? Because on Fridays, she has a little bit more time, she's not meeting with Chris or on Zoom usually, and is able to actually read the content, right? 

Julie: It sounds like what you're doing currently and continuing to do and evolve in the future is exactly the strategy that you mentioned at Sparrow Connected, which led you to this achievement, and that is empowering the employees. When the employees have the right information on the right channel at the right time, and they're not overwhelmed by noise, they feel recognized, they feel like they belong, they feel like they're heard, and they're empowered to do their best work and also deliver it to the customer.  


You're just really enabling other companies to do exactly what you've been doing at Sparrow Connected. So that's really exciting. And I think there are a lot of great things to come from Sparrow Connected over the next little while.  

Our final question, I just wanted to ask you, is there any advice that you could offer to other founders and CEOs who are looking to achieve the success and recognition that you've achieved at Sphero Connected? 


Chris Izquierdo: Yeah, I mean, we've won many awards throughout the last 20 years of my career. And I always get asked that question. And that's the toughest question for me. In part, it's because I don't think that what we're doing is that unique, right? And in part, because I don't think I'm qualified to provide that advice. But I'll tell you one thing, care about your customers, sorry, care about your employees. And your employees will then care about your customers. That equation, happy employees equal happy customers, has proven true in my four businesses. And I think it will continue to prove true. And it scales as well. It's not just for a startup, right? 


Like you look at Disney, what they do with their employees is the same thing. They're making sure that their employees are happy so that they can generate happy customers. When you go to their theme parks, when you go and interact with any Disney employee, they're empowered to make those decisions and make you happy. And those moments carry a lot of weight and carry a lot of weight in B2B as well, like business-to-business interactions, right? Because at the end of the day, we're not selling software to corporations, we're selling it to humans. And those humans are interacting with your software and interacting with your team. So that's the only piece of advice or words of wisdom that I have really.  


But at the end of the day, really focus on what makes you unique within this startup ecosystem? There are a lot of communication platforms on the market. What makes us unique? How is Sparrow unique, right? Our integration with Microsoft, our targeting, our analytics, and so on, right? So always find what is going to make you unique and pursue that and don't listen to the naysayers. If I would have listened to the naysayers, I wouldn't have started my first company. It's just too, you know, it is difficult, but it's so rewarding and so exciting as well. 


Julie: It's all great advice. All right, well, thank you so much, Chris, for joining me today from Edmonton, and congratulations again on the award. If people want to learn more about Sparrow Connected or get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that? 


Chris Izquierdo: Well, you can use our website for sure, spheroconnected.com. You can use my email address, Chris.Izquierdo, so my first and last name with a dot in between, at sparrowconnected.com. And, you know, I'm always happy to have a conversation about internal communication, employee empowerment, and, you know, business in general. 


Julie: All right, thanks again Chris, I'll talk to you soon. 


Chris Izquierdo: Thanks, Julie, have a good one. 

PODCAST TAGS: internal communciations podcasts IC connected icon

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