Operator Spotlight: Credit Karma Co-Founder & Chief Revenue Officer Nichole Mustard

“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who build them – operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game – building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next. 

This month we spoke with Nichole Mustard, Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer at Credit Karma, which was acquired by Intuit in 2020 for $8.1B and has more than 120M members globally. The company operates independently. A true customer champion, Nichole is the architect of Credit Karma’s win-win-win business model and has been instrumental in scaling it, finding the right mix of financial partners, and optimizing data science capabilities to ensure members and partners get the most value from their products and services. 

Credit Karma is built to last and has been through a few evolutions in its 15 years. How has your role changed since you first took the CRO seat in 2014? 

NICHOLE: In the early days of Credit Karma, I was doing marketing, data partnerships, even PR–I had many jobs back then. I worked in the trenches signing partners and maintaining those relationships and ensuring our business model put equal emphasis on helping our partners’ bottom lines while putting the member first. I still do all of that in my oversight of our data partnerships, which is really the foundation of our business but I now also have helped build our international footprint. 

My day starts somewhere between 7-8 a.m. on business review meetings with our international team to help localize the successes of Credit Karma in the U.S. to Canada and the U.K. and innovate in those geographies. I have learned so much in this role, I really believe the U.K.’s technology is far ahead of the U.S. with things like Open Banking. When I am wearing my data partnerships hat, a big part of my job is maintaining those relationships with the bureaus that I put a lot of energy into forging some 15 years ago. It’s a unique opportunity for me to help usher them towards being digital-first. One of the most fun things for me is when I have the chance to work with a relatively unknown data provider and we get to work together to solve complex consumer problems. Due to the sheer scale of Credit Karma with more than 120 million members, those startups then become the most advanced, most compliant data providers setting the benchmark for the next generation of technology. 

What are 3 key traits you hire for when building out a sales org? 

NICHOLE: 

-Be authentic: Don’t try to be something you’re not. Business prospects –and employees–will see right through it. You can stay true to yourself while still selling your business. 

-Being data-oriented is key: No matter what your business is, analytics matter. Those who can speak data will always have an edge on my team. 

-Be empathetic: The numbers are important but don’t lose sense of the people. You’re doing well if the person you’re working with is getting promoted. Never lose sight of what matters in the big picture. 

What are the sales metrics you pay most attention to, and why? What’s the first thing you look at on a dashboard? 

NICHOLE: At Credit Karma, it’s less about sales metrics and more about how we are giving our members the best available data to make smarter financial decisions. One key metric I track very closely is what we call share of wallet–essentially, are consumers taking out financial products at Credit Karma or elsewhere? We are building a platform that is valuable to our members and keeps them coming back. We want to be the destination where consumers engage, transact and ultimately, make progress. 

Where have you made an impact in your field? Have you broken any rules that led to interesting results? 

NICHOLE: One of the things that we did early on that isn’t touched on often but I think is worth calling out is our transparent business model. We built a really great business by doing right by our consumers and partners. We believe high value experiences for consumers lead to exponentially better business outcomes. This was unheard of when Credit Karma was founded in 2007. In the end, that transparency has paid off in dividends. We proved that you can build a successful business free of “gotcha!” and that paved the way for other companies to follow suit. 

Beyond that, Credit Karma is in a very unique position from a regulatory perspective. We sit in between the financial institutions and the member but we are not a bank or a financial institution – a lot of the rules don’t always directly apply to us but the spirit of them very much does. It’s worth noting that a lot of rules in the industry were written at a point in time when fintechs didn’t even exist or were a novelty. Those rules haven’t necessarily aged well with technology. Technology is constantly innovating and evolving so there is a need for a lot of fintechs to interpret the spirit of the law and work with partners to be on the same page. We can’t pick and choose to suit a given situation. An enormous part of Credit Karma’s success lies in the trust we have in our members so we always prioritize doing what’s right so as not to jeopardize that, without exception. 

Having been in a visible leadership role over the years, what’s a key piece of advice for founders who are leading through uncertain times? 

NICHOLE: So many times when you are building a business, you utilize optionality to make a decision at the last moment. But during times of uncertainty, focusing on your employees, members and partners is the most critical thing. Never lose focus on that sacred trifecta. Avoid the knee-jerk reaction to make fundamental changes to your business during times of duress. During the last recession, there were opportunities to increase revenue by changing our revenue model but we were steadfast in doing right by our members and partners. That continues to pay off for us as a business in the trust we have with our members. 

Be crystal clear in your prioritization, be clear on the why and over communicate to your employees and partners. 

What was one of your first jobs and what’s one big lesson you learned? 

NICHOLE: I worked at the beach water park in Cincinnati as a lifeguard for several summers. It taught me to be nice to people, everyone is doing their best. I made $5 an hour and was just trying to do my job and keep people safe but many blamed me for what they deemed unfair rules, even though I had zero say in making those rules. Looking at it from another lens, it helped me realize what people have control over and what they don’t. That translates now as an executive who works for the employees, not the other way around. For that reason, I try to always take a coaching over yelling approach to leadership. 

What’s the best advice you’ve received – or given – about how to manage people?  

NICHOLE: Remember that every person is different. Don’t treat people the way you want to be treated, treat them the way they want to be treated. 

Also, you have to let your team get to know the real you and in turn, you must get to know the real them. As a leader, I try to make myself vulnerable to my teams. If there is something I want to actively work on, I ask my team to hold me accountable. On the flip side, with getting to know your employees, instead of asking yourself whether you want to work with someone, I always ask myself if I would want to travel with a person. I don’t have to be their best friend but would I learn something sitting across from that person at dinner on the road? Caring about a person is critical at the manager and leadership level. 

What’s your secret super power? OR What’s your biggest kryptonite and how do you manage around it? 

NICHOLE: I always try to work myself out of a job…almost! I remind my direct reports that if you delegate and empower your own teams then you have the opportunity to work on things you hadn’t considered working on or maybe didn’t have bandwidth to prioritize. That helps scale your business, grows your people and allows them to be bigger owners in the organization. Everybody wins.

 

AAPI Month: 11 Exceptional Asian OpCo Community Members 

We’re recognizing some of the most successful, respected executives in the tech industry this Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It’s a privilege to work with these folks and celebrate their contributions, particularly in a time where violence and hate towards Asian Americans remain far too high. We’re honored to do our part to increase visibility and encourage the tech community to not only keep talking about it, but walking the walk. Looking for inspiration? Here are 100 ways Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and allies have found solutions to racism and violence. 

Here are 11 exceptional Asian tech founders, CEOs, and leaders you should know (and follow!): 

Cai GoGwilt (@gogwilt)
Co-Founder and CTO, Ironclad

Cai GoGwilt is CTO and Co-Founder of Ironclad, the digital contracting platform that recently surpassed 1B contracts processed. A former software engineer at Palantir Technologies, Cai sharpens his technical expertise with… music. He’s a concert cellist, has played piano since the age of 4, and loves karaoke. 🎶

Caroline Tsay (@jacintatsay)
Co-Founder and CEO, Compute

Caroline is the CEO and Co-Founder of Compute, a cloud optimization software company. She’s also the youngest and first Asian American board member of Coca-Cola, and serves on the board of Morningstar. She’s spent time at IBM, Yahoo, and before Compute was the VP and General Manager of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. 🥤

Christina Liu
Chief Accounting Officer, Confluent

Christina brings more than two decades of finance leadership experience in building and scaling high growth companies. She’s taken two companies public – Zendesk (after scaling the accounting and compliance function from $70M ARR to over $1B) and Confluent. Christina is also passionate about supporting the next generation – serving as a mentor at Everwise and as the North America Vice Chair and mentor at the Tsinghua Entrepreneur & Executive Club. 💰

Dennis Lee (@dennisblee)
Co-Founder and COO, Noyo

Dennis is the Co-Founder and COO of Noyo, building the digital infrastructure to bring health insurance enrollment into the modern era (with $45M in fresh funding!). Dennis met his Noyo co-founder and CEO Shannon Goggin at Zenefits, where they shared frustrations with the available tech solutions. Together, they’re passionate about running an org that celebrates its people and prioritizes diversity and inclusion.⚕️

Dini Mehta (@dinimehta)
CRO, Lattice

Dini is the Chief Revenue Officer at Lattice. She’s passionate about building high performing, diverse teams, leading with authenticity, and sustainably scaling GTM engines from the ground up. As a result, Dini has accomplished the seemingly impossible –  scaling a sales organization from 7 to 120 employees with almost no attrition while building revenue from $5M to $100M+ in less than 4 years. 📈

Kerry Wang (@kerryxwang)
Co-Founder and CEO, Searchlight

Kerry and her twin sister Anna co-founded Searchlight AI, a talent intelligence platform that helps companies go beyond the resume by using behavioral reference data and analytics to assess potential candidates. They recently raised a $17M Series A and were recognized on the Forbes 30 Under 30 for enterprise tech. She’s an avid water enthusiast – she holds a sailing license and spent time as a windsurfing instructor. ⛵

Linda Lian (@LindaMLian)
Co-Founder and CEO, Common Room

Linda is the CEO and Co-Founder of Common Room a community growth platform which recently opened for general availability. Throughout her life and career she’s keenly focused on the how, not the what, of technology and community building, which has shaped her people-first leadership ethos. 👥

Linda Tong (@YayLT)
General Manager, AppDynamics

Linda is the General Manager of AppDynamics, the full stack APM and IT ops company acquired by Cisco in 2017, and recently joined the board of Prezi. Before AppDynamics, Linda ran product and innovation at the NFL, was an early member of the Android team at Google, and founding member of Tapjoy and Nextbi. She’s a truly inspirational leader, having grown product and innovation across industries with a focus on execution and empowering company culture of curiosity and experimentation. 💡

Nick Mehta (@nrmehta)
CEO, Gainsight

Nick is the CEO of customer success juggernaut Gainsight. He’s an author, magazine cover star, and passionate leader with a focus on building authentic cultures and driving alignment. He sure knows how to lead with style, look no further his SaaS rewrites of pop and rap songs — like this one #OperatorsRock. 🤘

Rathi Murthy (@rathi_murthy)
CTO/President of Expedia Services, Expedia Group

Rathi is the Chief Technology Officer and President of Expedia Services at Expedia, and board member of Pager Duty. She’s known for building win-win relationships with partners, stakeholders, vendors, and customers. Rathi’s technical expertise and world-class leadership has led her to top positions at Verizon, GAP, and American Express throughout her phenomenal career. Her  secret insight about engineering? It’s FUN. 🎉

Yongsheng Wu (@yswu)
VP of Engineering, Circle

Yongsheng is an executive engineering leader with deep technical expertise. He leads the infra & platform team at Circle, a global financial technology firm that’s bridging the traditional financial system with the world’s leading blockchains. He was previously a (self-described “failed”) startup founder & CEO, and an engineering leader at Pinterest, Twitter, and Salesforce. 💻

***

Our community shares the goal of changing the game to create new access points so more people are included in the opportunities of the venture ecosystem. Studies indicate that funder diversity has a natural trickle-down effect on the companies and types of founders being funded – when you intentionally expand and diversify your investor list, it shows. We know that diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are competitive advantages. They are core to our Collective Venture Model and the companies that will win. Together, we’re changing the face of tech from the ground up.

How Hightouch is solving the data activation puzzle

The company: Hightouch

Many companies rely on a data warehouse as the source of truth for their customer data, but struggle to sync that priceless intelligence to the sales, marketing, and customer success tools their business teams rely on day in and day out. Hightouch is a data activation platform that solves this “last mile” problem by helping companies shift the focus from simply understanding data to taking action on it.

Why you should pay attention 

Hightouch is helping hundreds of companies do more than simply analyze data to make data-informed decisions. By putting 360-degree customer information where users can better leverage it, the platform helps businesses run more relevant marketing campaigns, better target leads using custom models, and proactively identify “at risk” customers. 

Fast-growing startups like Betterment, Lucidchart, and Plaid, along with larger enterprises like AXS, AutoTrader, Imperfect Foods, and Nando’s, are driving growth and revenue with better data thanks to Hightouch. For example, one SMB digital storefront provider increased merchant sales by 42% after using Hightouch to sync financial event data from its customers to HubSpot and launching a series of lifecycle marketing campaigns that increased financial product adoption. An online comparison service reduced its cost per lead 10% and increased customer lifetime value (LTV), retention, and loyalty by getting its key customer data flowing between Snowflake and Braze via Hightouch. 

The details 

The Hightouch platform helps business teams bring accurate, real-time customer data into their customer-facing operational systems such as CRM, email, or support applications. This allows them to unlock valuable data models — like LTV or annual recurring revenue (ARR) — from dashboards or analytics tools and make those insights more visible across the business. As a result, teams can see customer data at the right time, quickly decide how to action it, and build automations to streamline critical processes.   

How it works

Hightouch takes the ETL (extract, transform, load) process that’s been around since the 1970s and flips it around. The solution sits atop data warehouses (like Snowflake, GoogleBigquery, Amazon Redshift, Databricks, or Postgres) and feeds customer insights into fields in 80+ SaaS tools (including Amplitude, Gainsight, HubSpot, Marketo, Netsuite, Outreach, Salesforce, and Zendesk). 

To get their data flowing, customers simply:

  1. Select data by either writing SQL directly, using Hightouch’s Visual Audience Builder, or importing from existing tables and models in tools like Looker;
  2. Choose a destination application from the Hightouch catalog;
  3. Configure mappings between data warehouse queries to fields in destination app(s); and 
  4. Set up a schedule to begin syncing data.  

Beyond object mapping, Hightouch now supports other data activation use cases, such as notifications, events, and audience synching

Why were obsessed 

We love Hightouch’s vision to finally deliver on the promise of data activation: turning data at rest into action. The company’s founders recognize that today, everyone in a business is a data practitioner, whether or not they have a formal data role. And to democratize data, it must be easy to access and easy to use – not just for data scientists, but for marketing, sales ops, finance, or anyone who is making decisions day-to-day. The company’s recent acquisition of RevOps workflow automation company Workbase will help take this vision even further. 

Rather than forcing business users to learn a new language or adopt yet another digital tool, Hightouch brings the data to them. As a result, its customers are able to take instant action when a user is about to churn, and capitalize quickly on emerging growth opportunities. Data becomes a greater competitive advantage when it’s available to all, and can be made accessible from new apps in minutes instead of months. That’s why it’s no surprise to us that Hightouch is on track to exceed 300% growth of new sales in 2022.

Hightouch’s origin

The company was founded by early employees of Segment, Tejas Manohar and Josh Curl, along with Kashish Gupta, who found themselves trying to decide what to do next after their travel and IoT startups were shut down due to COVID. They realized a common gap in the modern data stack: getting data out of data warehouses. The three started Hightouch two years ago with a real focus on customer success. As a result, they’ve exponentially increased the number of active data syncs running through the Hightouch platform ever since. 

Get involved

Hightouch is currently working to fill key roles across engineering, product, sales, marketing, and more, and expects to double its team by the end of this year. To learn more, visit its career page or if your company is interested in getting data-activated, request an introduction pam@operatorcollective.com

 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are keys to building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator Spotlight: AdRoll President Roli Saxena

“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who run them — operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game — building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next. 

This month we spoke with Roli Saxena, president of marketing technology company AdRoll and board member at Culture Amp, an employee listening platform.

You’ve had incredible success with high growth companies across a variety of industries and sectors, from LinkedIn to to Brex, and now AdRoll. What’s the thread that pulls them all together? 

ROLI: There are a few common threads across all these experiences. They all were in big markets and solving real pain points for their users. And that’s why they each had strong traction in the market with their flagship product and were transforming into multiproduct companies. They also have hybrid business models with both subscription and usage-based pricing. This not only provides the predictability of a SaaS company but also brings an upside with the ability to ‘land and expand.’ 

Customer success and product usage is a strong revenue growth driver and my experience building that at LinkedIn, along with building customer-centric sales organizations, attracted me to each of these opportunities. In my current role, I bring the same level of customer centricity across product, design, revenue, and marketing.

How did your experience in different functional areas prepare you for a major operating role like President? 

ROLI: I am a business leader with go-to-market (GTM) expertise. My first 7-8 years were in product and more recently I’ve spent 10-12 years in a variety of GTM roles — marketing, sales and success. Each of those transitions were motivated by the opportunity to solve big meaty problems and to learn. As an engineer by training, all these experiences have helped me become a systems level problem solver — addressing the problem at the first principle level. A great benefit of all these changes is that I am not afraid of new challenges or of testing new ideas in a structured way. 

Over the years, I have learned that what scales you as a leader is intellectual curiosity and hiring and developing talent. Your job as a leader is to bring strong leaders around the table, set the direction, and give your team space to go execute to that common goal. The collective power of a team with strong aligned conviction is magical.

Which aspects of finance, product, and marketing are most crucial to nail as AdRoll continues to scale? 

ROLI: AdRoll’s mission is to create a level playing field for ambitious ecommerce brands of all sizes. We built our strength in advertising, data, and machine learning and now offer a multi-channel campaign management and attribution platform that enables marketers to attract, engage, and retain their shoppers all from within the AdRoll platform. We also deliver real-time analytics and insights to marketers to best optimize their marketing budgets. Given where we are in our transformation, we have to nail continued product innovation. We are in a highly competitive space and so velocity of innovation is critical for us to keep our lead and gain share.  

What kind of impact do you want your leadership and work style to have on the teams at Adroll and the company overall? 

ROLI: As an introverted woman of color, I am very focused on building a culture of diversity and inclusion. I am fortunate to be working for a company that has prioritized DEI efforts at all levels, including our Board of Directors where we have three independent members who are women. 

Outside of our culture of inclusion, I am invested in building a culture of rapid decision making and accountability. Companies in our stage often lose their startup agility and speed of execution because of fuzzy lines of accountability and stalled decisions. We have adopted the Bain RAPID framework to help us make high quality decisions quickly and consistently. In addition, we run bi-weekly Business Review Meetings (BRMs) with leaders in the business to drive accountability on key priorities. These meetings also create transparency within the organization and space for healthy collaboration.

You’ve also been a board member at Culture Amp for several years now. What advice would you give to other operators considering their first board seat? 

ROLI: If you are considering a board role, be honest with why you want to be on a board. Being on a board is a time commitment and it is something that you need to evaluate how it fits into your personal and professional commitments. Assuming you have the bandwidth, deeply understand what value you will bring to a board and are able to articulate that effectively. For me my motivation was to leverage my experience in scaling GTM functions to help CEOs and founders that have found product market fit operationalize to scale. Once you have strong value prop, let your network know that you are looking for a board role and you will find opportunities come your way.

When you land your first board position, I would recommend avoiding the first time board member mistake that I hear many of us have made. As a first time board member, you are anxious to show your value and often lean too much into advising the management team on how to run their business. The CEO and the management team are closest to their business and have reasons for their decisions. The best board members ask open ended questions that shine a light on an area the management team isn’t thinking about or challenge their assumptions. Additionally, as a board member your role is not only to have fiduciary responsibility for the company’s operations but also to be their cheerleader. Running a company and operating a business is hard and having partners on your board goes a very long way.

You’ve given excellent advice about guarding your time. Can you summarize some of your best tips for prioritization? 

ROLI: I put boundaries on my calendar and manage them ferociously. I spend time on Sundays writing down the 1-2 things I would like to accomplish that week. Then I make sure I carve time out on my calendar to work on them. Finally, before signing up for a project or priority, I ask myself two questions:

  1. Where does this fit into our business or my personal priorities? If it’s high on the list, why does this activity/project need to happen now?
  2. Am I the best person to do it?

I often find that by the time I am done answering these two questions, my to-do list is much smaller than what I started with.

What’s your secret super power or your biggest kryptonite? 

ROLI: One of my super powers is building authentic relationships quickly, which over time has translated to a large network. I am always happy to help connect people within my network. My kryptonite is not being able to disconnect after work or on weekends. In the short run, it works fine, but if left unchecked it leads to burnout.

What’s one thing you’ve done to empower the next generation of underrepresented leaders?  

ROLI: There are a few things I am proud of — one is leading and building the LinkedIn Women in Leadership Network, along with a few of my colleagues. The program was launched in 2013 and it is great to see the impact it has driven for raising women in leadership roles. The second one is launching a fund (Neythri Futures Fund) with 90%+ of LPs who are women operators from South Asian descent. I find it fascinating how many South Asian men participate in venture as VCs or LPs, compared to very few women. Creating economic opportunity and access for that group has been fun so far.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Syndio: the secret to workplace equity success

The company: Syndio

Syndio is the first people analytics platform that helps companies attain — and sustain — equal pay for equal work. Its real-time software enables rapid, dynamic pay and opportunity gap analysis, without bias. By empowering companies to go from fixing equity issues to proactively monitoring and preventing them, Syndio helps businesses show employees they’re valued. 

Syndio’s origin

The company was founded in 2017 by Zev Eigen, a former law professor who wanted to bring the best technology, lawyers, statisticians, labor economists, and data scientists together to solve hard problems that make the world better. After years of applying machine learning, econometrics, and statistics to help clients audit their pay gaps and other HR risks, he realized he could spark real, lasting changes by automating this complex work for continuous analysis. He brought on Smartsheets co-founder (and mother of seven) Maria Colacurcio as CEO in 2018, and the company’s impact has mushroomed ever since.

Why you should pay attention 

With the social movements of the past few years, pay transparency has become table stakes in larger conversations about workplace equity. Employees want to know that their company values their contributions, but 82% believe their work environment lacks fairness

Many of the world’s leading businesses are finally sitting up and taking notice. Hundreds of companies, such as General Mills, Nordstrom, and Salesforce (and 10% of the Fortune 200) use Syndio to measure the pay of over 2.6 million employees in the United States — proving to their employees, regulators, investors, and themselves that people truly are their most valuable asset. 

The details 

Syndio is the only SaaS platform that not only helps companies find pay disparities based on race, gender, ethnicity, or any other demographic designation, but empowers them to fix those issues and stay in compliance over time. Its suite of tools and services includes a feature that calculates a safe pay range for new hires in order to maintain overall equity, statistical analysis that compares organizations against their peers, and easy-to-understand dashboards and interactive charts to simplify the complexities of workplace equity.

How it works

The Syndio Workplace Equity Platform analyzes a company’s internal HR and compensation data in seconds, compares it to external benchmarks, and makes it easier for companies to understand inequities across pay, promotions, and more. Syndio’s team of expert advisors also provides legal best practices, analytics expertise, and communications guidance.

Syndio helps customers measure and improve all facets of workplace equity — from reducing pay gaps to hiring, promoting, and retaining employees equitably. Unlike a point-in-time analysis, Syndio’s patent-pending PayEQ™ solution provides an always-on-view of pay equity and real-time insights that guide fair pay decisions. And the company’s newest offering, OppEQ™, helps companies measure equity in career development, set realistic diversity goals, and prioritize their greatest areas of opportunity. 

Why were obsessed 

Zev and Maria have built just the right SaaS solution at just the right time. Companies can no longer ignore rising demands to overcome bias, increase diversity, and close gender and racial pay gaps. In order to measure, achieve, and sustain workplace equity, they need objective, data-based recommendations. However, less than a third of HR professionals say their organizations are good at making positive changes based on people analytics data.

With the “great resignation” underway, businesses simply can’t afford to allow biases to fester and increase costly attrition. Truly great companies are looking for solutions like Syndio that help them embed workplace equity into their core and build diverse, dynamic teams to achieve enduring success. That’s fueled the company’s tripling of ARR for the last two years running, and we’re thrilled to support the team in bringing pay equity to even more companies in the years to come.

Get involved

If you want to dig deeper into workplace equity at your own company, request a demo from Syndio and follow @syndioinc.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

OpCo Updates: Taking On 2022

As with any startup journey, the first phase is to prove that the core idea works. Product market fit, if you will. Coming out of 2021, we’ve invested in 42 portfolio companies (21 core, 21 supporting):

  • Six became unicorns and/or unicorns+ and one went public
  • There’s been a $12.7B change in valuation from our initial investment to the latest round
  • Our companies had 23 follow-on rounds, 16 of which were pre-emptions

Thanks to the many talented operators, founders, co-investors and collaborators across our collective, our model is working. Active operators who are building and scaling the world’s most successful companies like Cloudflare, Confluent, Zoom, Salesforce, and Stripe are now engaged in the venture ecosystem to accelerate the success of our values-aligned founders. We are so honored to be on this journey together.

The next stage of any startup? Double down on what works and then scale, starting with the key to it all: the team.

Platform

First, we’ve brought on a phenomenal team to channel and further amplify our operator community to help our founders accelerate. Welcome to the new Operator Collective Platform team! We’re so fortunate to have the best of the best leading the charge.

  • Pam Kostka (longtime OpCo LP, former SaaS CEO & All Raise CEO)
  • Caroline Caswell (former VP Marketing All Raise & Pramana Collective)
  • Angie Coleman (former Dir Community, LesbiansWhoTech & Snowflake) 

Operating Partners

Engaging active operators across our community is one of the most impactful value adds we offer. To help that value reach new heights, we created a new part-time Operating Partner role that allows active operators to dedicate time each week to advise our portfolio companies, unlock access to the secret sauce of our collective functional experts, and vet investment opportunities.

Ambrosia Vertesi has transitioned from full-time Operating Partner to part-time, and joined one of our growth stage portfolio companies as Chief People Officer. While many of our companies have been trying to recruit Ambrosia for years, here’s more on why Ironclad was the lucky one that got her and why the timing is now. We are so grateful to Ambrosia for being a key part of OpCo since the very early days, as an LP and then as our first employee three years ago – her impact has been enormous. We’re thrilled she’s staying connected to continue to support our portfolio founders on a more limited basis, and that the virtuous cycle between operating and venture is in motion. 

One of our most highly requested LP intros, Dini Mehta, is also joining us as an Operating Partner, while continuing as Chief Revenue Officer of Lattice. She brings a wealth of energy and expertise on scaling revenue from Series A through growth stage to unicorn+ status. One focus for Operating Partners will be to implement a model that efficiently and effectively engages our functional leaders as cohorts, allowing us to expand our founder support as our portfolio grows. Much more to come about this role and initiatives, upcoming events, and ways to connect in the coming months. 

Operations

We’re also delighted to announce Anna Jacobson’s promotion to VP, Operations & Data. She’s been an integral part of the team since joining almost two years ago. Read more about how we met here. And Guergana Tomova, our new part-time CFO brings a wealth of experience with a number of well established venture funds. 

Board of Advisors

We know that companies are successful because of the people who run them. We are honored to add more incredible talent to ours, and, alongside our Board of Advisors (Leyla Seka, Erica Ruliffson Schultz, Claire Hughes Johnson, Stacy Brown-Philpot, Tekedra Mawakana, and Elena Gomez) and longtime Investment Advisory Committee members Dan Scheinman and Magdalena Yesil, we’re ready for the next stage of our own startup journey. We can’t wait to share what’s next.

Operator Collective Board of Advisors
Operator Collective Board of Advisors (from left: Erica Ruliffson Schultz: President of Field Operations, Confluent; Claire Hughes Johnson: Corporate Officer and Former COO, Stripe; Stacy Brown-Philpot: former CEO, TaskRabbit; Leyla Seka: COO, Ironclad; Mallun Yen: Founder & GP, Operator Collective; Tekedra Mawakana: Co-CEO, Waymo; Elena Gomez: CFO, Toast)

1 x 1 = 100: Celebrating 2 Years of Community

Like many start-ups, Operator Collective began as an idea that would not leave my head. Obsessed, I would test the idea with seemingly anyone who would listen–vetting the thesis, seeking out potential supporters as well as naysayers, and unearthing insights. After countless hours, a new collaborative model for venture was born. One that required tearing apart the traditional structure and rebuilding it from the ground up to optimize for a large number of operator investors, most of whom had not invested in venture before. 

Operator Collective was always designed to be a community, not just a fund. It was constructed to bring together values- and incentive-aligned individuals whose networks didn’t naturally intersect. We sought to make venture accessible to the very people tech startups need most but who had been left out: experienced operators from diverse backgrounds who had built and scaled up the most admired companies in the world. By bringing in these highly talented but underrepresented individuals, we believed we could create a multiplier effect. We would change the tech industry from the ground up. 

It turns out that 1×1 can equal 100. This visualization of our connections data proves out that initial hypothesis

Visualization of the Operator Collective network over two years
Each dot represents a person, whether an operator LP or a portfolio company founder. With each individual who was introduced, connections immediately started happening, and our community grew rapidly. Notably, operators helped not only our portfolio companies but each other as well. 

Linking these dots, each line above represents a connection we have made: 

  • an investment opportunity
  • an introduction to a prospective customer or candidate
  • a referral for an open position, board seat, or advisor role
  • a tapped resource for diligence
  • a sharing of expertise or advice, whether about a business issue or professional one

These connections led to so many rewarding and tangible real-world outcomes: companies grew, new customers were signed, hires were made, and new bonds were forged between networks that had previously been separated–leading to yet more connections, and further growth.

Two years after our public launch, I reflect back with immense gratitude. Operator Collective would not be where it is today if not for the early supporters who signed on when this was still just an idea and for the many who’ve generously contributed every step along the way. 

My deepest heartfelt thank you to you, our community of operators, founders, co-investors, advisors, supporters, and of course the phenomenal Operator Collective team for believing in our vision and joining this journey to make the world a better place. Happiest of holidays from all of us at Operator Collective!

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Meet Voiceflow: The force that’s democratizing conversational AI

The company: Voiceflow

Voiceflow is a visual design tool for conversational AI teams. It helps them design, prototype, and launch conversational interfaces across just about any channel—everything from those interactive voice response (IVR) phone systems we all know and (rarely) love, to web, chat, voice assistants, in-car, mobile apps, drive-thrus, and more.

Why you should pay attention 

With the prevalence of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and all the rest, conversational AI is everywhere. It now powers trillions of conversations every year for things like customer support, simple transactions, and information gathering. All types of companies—not just tech giants—are investing in a new generation of conversation designers to help them meet user expectations, reduce costs, and extend their brand persona with innovative, flexible experiences.

In fact, the voice assistant application market is projected to grow to $11.2 billion by 2026 while the global conversational AI market size should reach $18.4 billion in that same time. However, traditional tools in this space were developed for designing automated call flows in 90s-era call centers. Their overly complex approaches simply didn’t cut it once COVID sent every consumer brand scrambling to reinvent and launch new digital experiences last year.

The details 

Voiceflow recognized this problem early on and created a modern creative platform in 2019 to help conversational AI teams work together, design great conversations, and iterate quickly. This year, over 80,000 designers, developers, and teams—at businesses like McDonald’s, Google, Spotify, Ford, Motorola, Amazon, BMW, and US Bank—generated more than 550 million conversational interactions using Voiceflow. It’s helping unify their design and prototyping workflows so they can easily launch banking assistants, IVR experiences, entertainment applications, games, support bots, and other live experiences for end users.

How it works

Voiceflow empowers teams to design, prototype, and launch chat and voice bots across channels like IVR, messenger, Alexa, Google Assistant, and web chat. Conversational AI designers can use Voiceflow’s intuitive, drag-and-drop visual editor to connect steps and blocks together and create sophisticated conversation designs in minutes. The system also provides shared team workspaces, auto-syncing and versioning, reusable components and templates, and omni-channel management tools.

Screenshot of in-car assistant conversational AI flow

This gives people at every level of technical expertise a visual way to build, test, and manage great conversations. Some customers also leverage Voiceflow’s open source API to support their full design-to-development pipeline for launching and actually hosting conversation experiences across any channel.

Why we’re obsessed

Voiceflow is on a mission to democratize conversational AI by creating a modern collaboration platform for these interfaces. And it’s working. The market is growing exponentially and more people are dedicating their careers to the space (Voiceflow’s user base grew by 60% this year alone). Conversation designers love having Voiceflow in their tech stack because it is legitimizing the tactics, methodologies, and industry standards for conversation design.

Customers like Home Depot have touted amazing results, such as scaling user testing from 12 tests to 300 in one week. In addition, Voiceflow has cultivated an active global community of 8,000 (and growing) conversation designers who now have a forum where they can connect with each other, up-level their skills, swap best practices, or recruit top talent in this emerging discipline.

Voiceflow’s origin

Company founders Braden Ream, Andrew Lawrence, Michael Hood, and Tyler Han joined forces back in 2018 to create a fun choose-your-own-adventure children’s stories app for Alexa, but quickly pivoted when they realized how difficult it was to collaborate in the world of nonlinear conversations. Their timing couldn’t have been better, since the pandemic brought these types of high ROI, socially distanced customer experiences to the top of every CTO’s priority list. And as the company has scaled rapidly to meet this demand, its founders are building a diverse, global team with a culture of creativity, curiosity, and owners.

Get involved

If you have a conversational AI team that could benefit from easier collaboration, be sure to have them check out Voiceflow to start building for free.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Why we’re amped about Amplitude

There was a time it felt like everywhere we turned, someone was telling us to take a look at Amplitude. This was coming not only from our network of Operator LPs at larger enterprises, but also startup founders in our portfolio. Folks were raving both about how Amplitude’s analytics platform provides step-by-step data on the performance of a digital product, as well as how particularly thoughtful and values-driven the Amplitude founders are. When we met co-founder and CEO Spenser Skates, we knew we wanted to be a part of Amplitude’s journey.

The company: Amplitude

Amplitude is the first unified product analytics system that brings together an entirely new depth of customer understanding with the speed of action needed to optimize experiences in the moment. A pioneer in digital optimization, its software enables organizations to see and predict which combination of features and actions translate to business outcomes — and then intelligently adapt each digital experience based on these insights.

Why you should pay attention 

In a pandemic world, companies no longer have much of a choice about whether to invest in digital transformation — they need amazing digital products in order to survive. Even before COVID-19, analysts were predicting that companies would deploy over 500 million digital apps by 2023. They’re now expecting 65% of the global economy to be digitized by next year. And the next frontier of digital transformation is digital optimization.

Although the revenue center for most companies is shifting from sales and marketing to product, many of the teams building these products still rely on their intuition to analyze performance. That approach just doesn’t cut it anymore. In order to keep up with the pace of disruption in our more digital-than-ever landscape, product teams require a fundamentally new approach. They need 360-degree insight into the entire digital experience. Only then can they make data-driven bets that transform customer value. Enter Amplitude’s digital optimization system.

The details 

Amplitude has changed the game for more than 1,200 organizations, including B2B software companies such as Atlassian, Intuit, and Hubspot, as well as consumer brands like Twitter, Walmart, Instacart, and Spirit Airlines (along with 26 of the Fortune 100). Its digital optimization system is the “Moneyball” brains behind 45,000+ digital products. Amplitude’s software helps these teams innovate faster and smarter by giving them fine-grained performance data that goes way deeper than the basic ad clicks and page views of previous decades. 

It shows them exactly how specific combinations of features and user actions translate to customer retention, loyalty, lifetime value, and other business outcomes. With this data, they can make strategic decisions — like whether to launch a big feature or change a distribution channel. They can experiment, see what’s working and what isn’t, and make changes to their product based on real-time behavior.

How it works

Amplitude’s platform tracks 900 billion customer behaviors each month in a privacy-conscious way. It aggregates all this data and uses machine learning to segment users, predict outcomes, and uncover relevant patterns throughout the digital journey. For example, Amplitude’s product analytics help teams find ways to quickly reduce friction and double-down on features that increase revenue. Earlier this year, the company also launched new solutions to help product and marketing teams easily personalize digital touchpoints and test experiences with key segments.

All of these solutions are powered by Amplitude’s proprietary behavioral graph, which was invented by company founder and chief architect, Jeffrey Wang. Built for the complexity of modern digital products, its native query engine and machine learning algorithms correlate every individual action taken across a digital product to understand and predict which behaviors are indicators of certain outcomes. 

Amplitude’s origin

Amplitude was founded in 2012 by former MIT alums (and Battlecode competition opponents) Curtis Liu and Spenser Skates, along with Stanford grad Jeffrey Wang. Curtis and Spenser had actually taken a stab at another startup (a voice recognition app called Sonalight) before that but decided it was a little too early for its time. However, they realized the product analytics tool they had built to better understand how customers were using Sonalight could actually be more valuable. Clearly, they were right about that, and Amplitude has been a rocketship ever since, culminating in a successful direct listing last month. 

Get involved

To find out more about Amplitude’s digital optimization system, explore its product demo or customer stories. And while you’re there, it’s worth a look at the company’s many career opportunities

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Supercharge sales productivity with an all-in-one “Scratchpad”

Meet Scratchpad, the digital workspace that puts an intuitive interface on top of Salesforce

The company: Scratchpad

Nearly all account executives use Salesforce, but most of their work is done in other places such as spreadsheets, note-taking apps, task managers, and calendars. This leaves data spread across tools and apps that never finds its way back to the organization. Scratchpad is the first workspace built for sales to solve this problem. It combines everything a rep needs for their daily work in a single intuitive interface. In less than 30 seconds, revenue teams can set up Scratchpad and start improving their data flows and forecasts to consistently attain quotas. 

Why you should pay attention 

While Salesforce is a powerful database, it doesn’t make it easy for day-to-day users to stay organized, manage meetings, update and share sales notes, follow through on next steps, set tasks, or collaborate. Instead, many AEs hack together general-purpose tools that usually remain completely siloed from each other and the system of record.  

With dozens or hundreds of tasks each day, every click matters. On average, sales professionals spend only about a third of their time selling. By eliminating duplicative data entry, Scratchpad helps AEs spend more time doing what they do best: selling. And because it’s seamlessly connected to everything they need in Salesforce, Scratchpad transforms CRM from tedious to delightful.  

The details 

Scratchpad empowers sales reps to do their best work by reducing the number of hoops they have to jump through to get their work done. With this modern workspace, AEs, account managers, and sales engineers at great companies like Algolia, Autodesk, Lacework, Productboard, Segment, Snowflake, Splunk, and Twilio are reducing drag in their sales organizations and helping more reps attain or surpass their quotas.

Scratchpad’s founders recognized early on that CRM was at the center of most revenue teams and always would be, so they thoughtfully designed every feature and interaction with front-line reps in mind. The solution is all about bringing Salesforce to where AEs need to be (whether in their calendar, email, anywhere on the web, or other sales tools) in ways that fit their existing workflows and help increase adoption of the CRM system.

How it works

Scratchpad brings a salesperson’s notes, tasks, customer context (including emails, calendar events, and activity history), spreadsheets, Kanban boards, search, and collaboration tools into one simple view. With this suite of tools, reps have everything they need to manage their day just one click away, so they’re no longer bouncing back and forth from a calendar, to a note-taking app, to tasks, and then to Salesforce. 

Users can quickly and easily update important fields for each opportunity, link their notes, create tasks or contacts, and view contextual data from Salesforce — all from Scratchpad tools embedded into their existing apps. For instance, with the product’s most recent update, they can launch Salesforce data directly from a calendar event view so they always have the full picture they need in order to take action. 

Why were obsessed 

We’re crazy about Scratchpad because the team recognizes that sales is a craft and reps are people like everyone else. Rather than painstakingly updating records, their time should be spent on moving deals forward, building customer relationships, and quality family time! Scratchpad is turning the notion of “boring” enterprise B2B tools on its head and bringing joy and delight into what can be an emotionally taxing job. This means sales managers get better visibility into pipeline health so they’re more efficient with coaching, and revenue operations leads no longer have to rely on best guesses for forecasting. 

Scratchpad’s origin

Serial entrepreneurs Pouyan Salehi and Cyrus Karbassiyoon co-founded Scratchpad in 2019 after observing the challenges salespeople were experiencing in their day-to-day workflows. The pair had previously co-founded another sales technology company, PersistIQ, where they developed a deep understanding and appreciation for the work of a salesperson and the challenges of working within a sales organization. 

Get involved

If you’re interested in learning more about Scratchpad, install its Chrome plugin or sign up for the web app in less than a minute, listen to the team’s Beyond Quota podcast, or check out the company’s many job openings.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.