Operator Spotlight: Google Engineer Yanbing Li

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Yanbing Li, Vice President of Engineering at Google.

This year has been full of disruptions. As both a leader and an immigrant, how have you been affected by the renewed focus on social justice?

YANBING: It has been immensely heart-wrenching to witness the racial injustice and violence toward the Black community, xenophobia against the Asian community, harsh immigration policies, and so much more. For me personally, it is a time of learning and reflection, of recognizing the deep systemic violence rooted in our nation’s founding and history. I have reached out to Black colleagues I’ve worked with to listen to their pain and frustration, which again reminded me just how little the Black community is represented in our organization. 

For my role as a leader, it is a time to be visible and available, and a time to prompt decisive action. We are doubling down our effort for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and I am serving as the chair of our organization’s DEI Council, where we are designing a set of programs to promote and improve the hiring, progression, and retention of underrepresented groups. 

How has your team at Google changed because of COVID-19? 

YANBING: My team and I have gone through multiple distinct phases since transitioning to working from home in early March. Our initial focus was on business continuity—we needed to quickly assess and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and, subsequently, working from home, on employees, teams, operations, and customers. 

Following this, we transitioned to our next phase, which highlighted productivity. Understanding and improving team productivity was key in both keeping engineering execution predictable and fulfilling customer commitments, especially with the knowledge that we will be working from home for the long haul. 

We then moved to managing growth. Google Cloud is a hyper-growth business equipped with a rapidly increasing customer base and revenue, an ever-expanding portfolio of products, and the ceaseless process of hiring and onboarding. While the pandemic has caused great uncertainty in the global economy, the demand for digital transformation and cloud services remains stronger than ever. Managing business growth and onboarding a large number of new employees while the world seems to come to a standstill is truly a surreal experience. It is challenging, yet also incredibly fulfilling to know we’re making a positive impact.  

Throughout these phases, our utmost priority has been focusing on people: the well being of our own community and the changing needs of our customers. We are providing flexibility and accommodations to our teams and continuously working to better understand and support how the pandemic is impacting each of their personal circumstances. 

You immigrated from China after college to focus on engineering, a profession that’s heavily male-dominated. That put you in the minority of a minority. What was your experience like and what pushed you through? 

YANBING: Growing up in a household of a mother who is a doctor and a father who is an engineer, my fascination with STEM began at a young age. I have fond memories of asking my grandfather for challenging math problems during summer breaks and declaring my dream job was to become a scientist while I was in elementary school. Engineering was a natural choice for me, and being a woman didn’t seem to create any barriers in my career until I became an executive. 

As I was working on transitioning from engineering leadership to business leadership, a breakthrough in my career, I found myself unsuccessful even after multiple attempts. I remember thinking, “This is what a glass ceiling feels like.” After making the decision to take a smaller engineering leadership role in an emerging business, I had the opportunity to grow with the team—first as the VP of engineering and later as the General Manager, all the while growing the new business to reach over $1B in annual revenue. Recognizing that the best path moving forward may sometimes be, counterintuitively, to take a step backward or sideways is absolutely crucial towards career progression, especially when feeling stuck. I was also fortunate enough to have the sponsorship of the senior leadership in the company all the way up to the CEO. They were willing to bet on me and gave me the opportunity to transition to general management.

What advice do you have for women looking to build a career in engineering?

YANBING: There has never been a better time for women to build a career in engineering. We’re in a time where technology is rapidly becoming omnipresent, more accessible, more diverse, and integrated into every industry and every aspect of our lives, all at an unprecedented scale and speed. 

The most common bias I have observed against women in engineering is that they “are not technical enough.” Establishing technical credibility is extremely important for women in any technical roles, or even in nontechnical roles in a tech organization. 

As women advance in their career, they may encounter yet another bias that they are “operational” and “tactical,” but not “strategic.” Demonstrating market insights, customer empathy, and connecting to the bigger business strategy at the larger organizational level are compelling ways to overcome this bias. 

What are some things engineering teams should prioritize over the next 6 months? 

YANBING: First and foremost, I would prioritize people, productivity, collaboration, and innovations. We must pay attention to the well being of our teams, not only as a group, but also as individuals, since the pandemic is impacting all of us in very different ways. We also need to better predict and measure productivity in this highly unpredictable time, as predictable execution is the trademark of a high-performing engineering team. This requires challenging ourselves to find new ways of collaborating virtually. While the world may seem like it has slowed down, standing still is never a winning strategy and we must continue to create room for innovation and risk-taking. 

What’s one amazing insight no one knows about engineering?   

YANBING: Engineering is a trade and there is no shortcut around it. Just like being an athlete or a musician, engineering requires us to continuously dedicate time and energy to hands-on learning and practice. Whether you’re a hands-on engineer, a senior architect, or a VP of Engineering who leads an organization of hundreds of people, you rely on experience and judgement rooted in having concrete practice with engineering and in keeping your knowledge up to date. 

However, this does not mean that people without a formal tech degree or background can’t get into tech. With the huge demand for diverse talent, there are many paths to become trained in tech. For example, at Google we have programs that support non-tech Googlers to transition to engineering through tech bootcamps and job rotations. 

People often talk about the skills they picked up as a bartender, working retail, or other experiences before their leadership roles. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

YANBING: This isn’t quite a “job,” per se, but running for Student Office in college was a formative experience for me. I got to recruit a campaign team, build connections with complete strangers, speak and debate in front of thousands of people, and campaign for the causes that I believed in. It allowed me to recognize my passion and confidence in a leadership position.  

What’s one unconventional thing you’re doing to keep yourself sane these days?

YANBING: With everyone at home, I find my life boils down to only two modes: working from home or working for home. Occasionally, I escape from these two modes to watch 90’s Japanese dramas, video meet with friends, or get beauty tutorials and yoga tips from my teenage daughters.

What’s the one condiment/spice you could never live without? 

YANBING: Soy sauce, hands down. Can you tell I grew up in China? When the pandemic started and grocery stores were running out of supplies, I didn’t panic, as I knew I could survive on rice and soy sauce for a long time. 

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

 

How your sales team can Outreach, outlast, and outperform

The company: Outreach

Outreach delivers a sales engagement platform that helps sales professionals engage with customers to grow their revenue faster and more predictably. Outreach is changing the game for revenue teams everywhere and redefining how companies engage with their customers throughout the lifecycle. 

Why you should pay attention 

Outreach is the category leader in the fast-growing Sales Engagement space. The company earned its spot on the leaderboard by inventing transformative changes that help their customers dramatically increase sales productivity and drive smarter, more insightful customer engagement. The platform delivers a jaw-dropping 387% ROI with a 5X return on investment for its more than 4,000 customers (which include companies such as Adobe, Tableau, DoorDash, Splunk, DocuSign, and SAP). 

The details 

At the core of Outreach is a system of action that gives sales reps insights and recommended activities to close deals quickly and effectively. The system uses AI and machine learning to help sales reps reach clients and prospects on their own terms, working across email, social, voice, and text-based communication methods. Outreach even allows them to test different messages and approaches in order to optimize the content and improve their outcomes at scale. And how do you know what works? Simple: Reporting functionality gives visibility into sales rep activity so team leaders can see what performs and what doesn’t. The platform then delivers the insights everyone needs to stay focused and deliver a simplified, consistent experience across all stages of the sales cycle.

How it works

Outreach’s customer engagement platform gives sales teams the tools they need to choreograph an engaging, personalized buyer’s journey for each of their customers and prospects. It drives new levels of efficiency and visibility into the sales system. From saving reps hours of work to driving messaging alignment and ROI and growing the pipeline, Outreach’s customers are using the platform as a playbook for success and revenue growth.  

Why were obsessed 

Outreach is on an incredible trajectory because it is delivering immense value to clients, which include a who’s who of everything from the hottest tech startups to the F100 icons. That’s reflected in its valuation: The company has officially become a “unicorn,” valued at $1.3+ billion — the only company in the dynamic sales engagement space with that mythical status. The company leads its sector because it’s driving breakthrough innovation that fuels exponential revenue growth for its thousands of clients. It’s easy to see why we’re obsessed. 

Get involved

Ready to make your team a revenue-driving machine? It’s time: Get Outreach.  

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.

6 ways to build pipeline and drive revenue performance in a downturn

COVID-19 has changed virtually every aspect of our business lives, from marketing and HR to engineering and product. But one big thing on everyone’s radar is sales: How do you build pipeline and drive revenue performance in a down market?

We’ve gone from a booming economy to one that’s incredibly fragile. Companies have had to make layoffs, reel in their budgets, and allocate their spend to must-haves only. If you’re a technology provider and on the vendor side, you must determine the best ways to build pipeline and maintain revenue performance in order to stay afloat. For some in the workforce, this is the first downturn they’ve experienced, so these are uncharted waters.

I had a chance to discuss this with Operator Collective Founder & Partner Mallun Yen, who grew enterprise revenue from the ground up to $300M at her venture-backed startup, and Brex Chief Customer Officer Roli Saxena, who ran a $250M revenue division at LinkedIn. Together we shared 6 things revenue leaders who’ve been through multiple downturns are doing to build pipeline and drive revenue performance, even in a pandemic and economic recession. Spoiler alert: Anchoring on customer success and value is critical.

1) Start with your existing customers

Customer retention is always paramount, but never more so than right now. Retention is key, not only to maintain current revenue, but also to enable future expansion revenue. So keeping customers in the boat is priority number one. Anchor them with value and trust.  

First, it’s critical to be in touch not only with your customers’ usage and adoption of your products, but also their perceived realized value. Are they getting measurable value from their spend with you? This is a crucial conversation, and your team must be clear on how to enable your customers to quantify value. 

Second, as different companies and sectors are impacted by the pandemic to different degrees, have empathy. Stay as flexible as you can as you discuss contracts and renewals. The priority is to keep customers in your franchise, and when you can offer a degree of flexibility in a moment of need, you may create a customer for life even as you take a short term downgrade.  Consider approaches such as extended trials, usage-based billing, payment terms, and product swapability. Partner with your finance team to ensure alignment on what’s possible, and then create a dialogue with your customers. This dialogue and flexibility will go a long way to strengthening the trust with your customer base and ensuring customers for the long term.

2) Align your value prop to areas of customer need 

Budgets have been slashed, leaving most companies spending only what they qualify as must-have purchases. The list of must-haves has likely changed since January. Companies are in pursuit of lower TCO and higher ROI from their technology investments, so be prepared to speak to how your product or service delivers on those fronts. “Why now?” is a critical question your sales team must seek to understand from customer engagements. What problem does it solve right now? Does your offering “make the cut” as companies re-evaluate projects and budgets?

As you define your value proposition, be sure to anchor on your customer success approach. How will you help customers adopt and realize value from your technology quickly? 

3) Create champions and advocates

Every account needs a champion – a prospect or current user on the inside who knows and loves your product, and is willing to advocate for you and make the case to purchase or renew. The right champion is empowered and has influence across the organization.

Creating champions is more difficult in a virtual environment. It’s much harder to get a read on a level of commitment in a virtual meeting versus an in person one. Plus, your champion’s organization may be in flux, which means their influence may have diminished. 

Two recommendations for navigating this challenge in the downturn are to 1) create multiple champions, and 2) strive for executive alignment early in your sales cycle. To create multiple champions, perhaps you focus on a “technical champion” who will advocate for your product capabilities, as well as a “business champion” who will speak for your solution’s impact on the business. And as you pursue executive alignment, the good news is that executives are in many cases easier to access in our virtual world and may have an increased interest in striking up a relationship with a new partner or around a new solution investment.

4) Redefine “high propensity” 

The pandemic and macro-economic environment have impacted various regions, industries, and companies in unique ways. Take the time to revisit assumptions around where your high propensity segments, accounts, and use cases lie. High propensity to buy is simply about determining the likelihood of a customer buying something – but has that changed given today’s environment? 

Sit back and reevaluate for a moment. Are your Marketing and Sales programs focused sufficiently on those areas? You may want to adjust sales rep territories and re-align resources accordingly.

5) Track an updated set of leading indicators

Your business-as-usual set of metrics may not be sufficient, so consider giving them a refresh. As all selling teams become “inside sales teams” – and as customer engagement is now all virtual – what are the leading indicators you can track to ensure productivity, effectiveness, customer engagement, and customer success?

It’s important to track your team metrics, but also activity type – and to take in both objective and subjective data about what activity types are most effective right now. For example, is your outbound email marketing working? Are your remote demos effective?  

In addition to standard pipeline creation metrics, measuring pipeline progression is as important as ever, so that you have visibility as to whether opportunities are taking longer at any particular stage, which may be a reflection of customer resources or priority. For example, is it taking longer to achieve the technical win, perhaps because there are more stakeholders on the customer side to engage? Is the procurement process taking longer, as customers are required to collect additional approvals? This is important information to take into account as you forecast the business.

On the post-sales side, customer adoption and value are key. If you offer a SaaS solution, working with your customers proactively to understand where they are in their adoption journey and helping them advance is critical. Understand the outcomes your customers strive for, and make sure to measure your team’s success against those customer goals.

6)  Celebrate successes

These unprecedented times have created stress and anxiety for all, on personal and professional levels. Professional success in a down environment is harder than ever to achieve, and therefore celebrating success, too, is more important than ever. In fact, I strongly recommend celebrating the micro-successes – such as a small new “land” win, a note of positive customer feedback, a training certification completed, a key customer go-live, or a cross-functional project delivered. Finding smaller successes to celebrate more frequently and with generous attribution across a broad team of people where possible is a wonderful opportunity in this environment.

As go-to-market leaders, it’s critical that we create an environment for our teams where they have confidence that they can be successful and know they are valued. Success begets success, and your team’s confidence and success will carry over into how they show up for customers and be a positive influence.

More information on selling in a down market 

Driving pipeline and revenue is challenging right now and requires adjustments to strategy and tactics. Yet perhaps it also presents an opportunity to re-anchor on the evergreen guiding principles of trust, value, and customer success.  

For more strategies on how to sell in a downturn, watch our full Challenge Series webinar. It offers many more insights on ways you can maximize your sales cycle in a down market.

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.

 

Words matter: Textio makes business writing more effective and inclusive

The company: Textio

Textio is an augmented writing platform that’s changing how companies work. Using language patterns and data insights, Textio helps companies be more intentional with their business writing so it has the impact they intend. At the most basic level, Textio gives businesses new ways to transform their company culture by innovating on the most powerful tool that every human has to affect change: the words we use to communicate.

It’s how you say it

The words your company uses everyday broadcast to the world what your company values. Companies like Nestle, McDonald’s, and Zillow turn to Textio when they want to get more intentional about the alignment between their words and their culture. Textio also helps ensure business language appeals broadly and is inclusive across gender, age, and ability and optimized to get a response. Apple, Cisco, Johnson & Johnson, and NASA use Textio daily to make sure their values and culture shine through in their most critical communications.

The details

Think of Textio as a word processor that’s designed to predict how readers will respond and engage based on the patterns of language that are being used. The words in a job description, for example, can profoundly affect the profile of the candidate pool that applies, which in turn is a reflection of the employee base. Companies use Textio to ensure their business communications are more inclusive, deliberate, and impactful. The platform is highly instrumented to provide data and insights that flag jargon, make suggestions, and even reveal gender-coded language that the writer may not see. Textio lives at the intersection of creative writing and breakthrough innovation. That’s reflected in the credentials of its top leaders: CEO Kieran Snyder has a PhD in linguistics and cognitive science, and both she and her co-founder Jensen Harris held leadership roles at Microsoft before starting Textio.

How it works

As you’re writing, Textio is comparing your language to its vast databases of more than 600 million documents to parse the most relevant and make recommendations on language patterns that are proven to work well in a given situation. The platform continually evolves and improves via a learning loop — each user of the system makes the platform more intelligent. Textio makes predictions on who will engage with the content as it’s being written, it makes suggestions for changing something that’s just been typed, and it proactively creates language to help achieve the recruitment, corporate culture, or digital transformation objectives the business is working towards.

Why we’re obsessed

Diversity and culture are key imperatives for Operator Collective and we have high standards for this in the companies we invest in. Textio is building innovation that helps more companies create inclusive cultures, foster diversity, and build belonging.

Get involved

Now more than ever, businesses recognize that inclusion is an imperative. Meet Textio, and make your words matter.

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

 

How to Build a Customer-Centric Org

The show must go on – except when it mustn’t. We loved our Challenge Series webinars, but when the recent social justice movement began, we chose to honor and prioritize our emotions and cancel our final session on Customer Success. It was the right decision, though we also missed hearing great advice from two experienced leaders. Since we couldn’t meet live, we asked our scheduled guests – Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta and Slack VP of Customer Success Christina Kosmowski – if they’d answer our questions anyway, and of course they were happy to do so. We hope you find their advice on building a customer-centric org as helpful as we did. 

What is customer success and how is it different from customer support? 

CHRISTINA: Customer Success (CS) is maximizing business value through the use of your product while ensuring a positive experience. It is proactive and business-value driven. Customer support, on the other hand, is more reactive – responding to a specific issue the customer or user is having. 

NICK: In business models where customers have power (such as SaaS), vendors are accountable not just for the sale or product, but also for the outcome. Customer Success is about getting customers proactively to their desired outcomes with a strong customer experience (CX). In our geeky Gainsight language, we say CS = CO + CX. Customer Support, by nature, is about responding when customers have issues – but what if they never call you and just silently disengage? Customer Success is about owning the outcome.

Nick, people often credit Gainsight with helping to create the customer success industry. Can you tell us a bit what that means and how that played out?

NICK: We definitely didn’t create the industry or category, but perhaps we were the chief cheerleader. We saw a tiny profession in 2013 when we launched Gainsight and knew every business would need CS over time. As such, we launched a conference (Pulse) all about Customer Success best practices and community. We hosted local meetups, online events, executive events, job boards, and more, and we just released our third book. It’s been a lot of heavy lifting, but so rewarding to see how CS has become a must for tech companies now.

Christina, I watched you create an amazing customer success org at Salesforce, and now you’ve done it again at Slack. What are the 3 things everyone needs to know when building a CS team?

CHRISTINA: I love Customer Success. It’s the perfect bridge between technology and business/humans and I’m fortunate to have found two amazingly customer-centric companies. Three things everyone should know: 1) Create a culture of innovation and agility. There’s no template for customer success. It iterates based on where customers are on the journey with your product. Recognize that and build that iteration and culture into your culture. 2) Create a culture of Customer Centricity within your company. Don’t limit it to just the Customer Success team; everyone in every department needs to feel responsible for Customer Success. And 3) Connect your customers. Your customers learn the most from each other, so don’t be afraid to connect them.

Nick, what’s the best way to think about how to create a customer-centric culture if you’re just starting out?  

NICK: Three core steps: First, make sure the leadership team is meeting LOTS of customers; I meet 500+ clients a year and build it into the rhythm of my work, from advisory boards to sales calls to executive business reviews. Second, integrate customer voices into every company event from All Hands to board meetings to internal comms. And third, encourage every employee to hear first-person customer stories – by joining EBRs, inviting customers in to speak, and more.

Christina, Slack has grown like gangbusters during the pandemic (and before). How have you been able to stay close to your customers? 

CHRISTINA: It’s important that we adapt to what’s most important to our customers. Slack is not a work-from-home product, per se, but it definitely helps keep employees connected. As we shifted to remote work, many of our customers were looking to us for advice, so we shifted some of our content and resources to support that. We utilized our connect product (formerly shared channels) to push content in a more dynamic way. And we accelerated launches to get them connected and update features as soon as possible. 

What’s the secret to maintaining a world-class customer success organization as you grow?

CHRISTINA: Keep an open, innovative mind. As your product and customers evolve and their usage with your product evolves, you need to evolve as well. Build processes that consistently bring the customer voice and feedback to your company and hold all the departments accountable to it. And connect with other CS leaders – Nick and Gainsight do an amazing job of connecting us all, and I find that network invaluable. I’m constantly learning from folks, and often the smaller CS organizations bring innovative ideas and remind me that anything is possible. 

NICK: There’s no one recipe and CS varies a lot based upon the complexity of your product and the average deal size for your business. If I had to give 3 tips: 1) have a Beginner’s Mind – read books, listen to podcasts, and attend conferences, 2) Build a peer network for coaching, and 3) Use an agile approach with your team where you change in sprints (every 2 weeks, for example). 

Attrition is a critical metric for customer success teams. What other metrics are critical to become a customer-centric company?

NICK: The other core lagging indicators are expansion and advocacy, but you need to identify leading indicators to manage toward. These could include product usage, sentiment, and other factors. We recommend bubbling these up into an overall north star leading indicator, or a health score. Our standard recommendation is to consider four core elements: Deployment, Engagement, Adoption, and ROI.

CHRISTINA: Yes, I agree – Attrition is an important lagging indicator, but we try to identify health and value earlier in the process so attrition becomes a nonevent. It’s important to measure business value up front and consistently measure. We do that through quarterly business reviews. We also measure health on three components: 1) Qualitative principles we’ve found in successful implementations such as executive sponsorship and training, 2) Quantitative usage metrics, and 3) Engagement with Slack – things like attending events, meetings, and more. 

How have metrics changed since COVID-19? What new metrics are you tracking or paying more attention to?

CHRISTINA: I think COVID-19 is just accelerating and putting more emphasis on achieving business value. We’re maniacally focused on ensuring our customers are getting value and looking at ways to accelerate our launches and activities. 

NICK: I spoke to our advisory board a few weeks ago and asked what they’re doing differently given COVID-19. In general, the theme was they were doing “everything we should have been doing all the time, just more and faster.” I think the biggest new metric is trying to understand the business health of your customers. This ties to also tracking the payment health of your clients in terms of their ability to financially survive.

How do you foster empathy for your customers across the organization? Do you have any programs or tricks you use?

CHRISTINA: Always use data and the customer lens. Tell the story in terms of the customer point of view and how they are experiencing it. 

NICK: A big trick I use is to change language anytime it’s not customer-centric. As a leader, if you hear “the customer is being unreasonable,” challenge it by asking: “Or is the customer just under a lot of stress?” Another example: “The client is so high maintenance” might become “The client is getting us to improve.” Or switch “This client is so frustrating” to something like “I can empathize with what they’re going through right now.”

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

 

Operator Spotlight: Data and Analytics Leader Anita Lynch

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Anita Lynch, Vice President of Data Governance for Disney+ at the Walt Disney Company.

Given the turmoil from both COVID-19 and the recent racial injustices, what are some things companies and teams should prioritize right now? 

ANITA: I can’t speak to what everyone should do, but what I’m doing is carving out more time to listen and reflect. By pulling out of the day-to-day fray and asking bigger picture questions to understand diverse perspectives, it becomes easier for me to identify a faulty assumption or consider the less obvious opportunities as they arise. Recently a friend asked for my advice on how she could engage with her team around these emotionally charged events. The advice I gave is this: This is an opportunity for catharsis with the hope of healing. 

Sharing is best facilitated within an established culture of trust with small group discussions of 10 people or fewer. Even among people we know, we cannot guess what any one person might be struggling with as a related trauma. Create a safe space for discussion by acknowledging the trauma of these events and the fact not everyone knows what to do. Ask people if they’re willing to share – and if so, ask “How is this affecting you?” and “How can we support you?” 

The pandemic and downturn have renewed fears over privacy and data security. What advice do you have for companies looking to navigate those concerns? 

ANITA: COVID-19 has made everyone in the data sector much more aware of the importance of data privacy, user data protection, data quality, and cost optimization. It’s critical to ensure there’s a partnership at the leadership and operational levels between Information Security, Data / Data Engineering, Marketing, Product, and Legal teams. In my organization, the Governance team role sits at the intersection to do this work. 

How has your team at Disney had to change because of COVID-19? 

ANITA: Disney has a strong culture of developing leadership. Today our leaders are spending even more time on coaching, development, and gathering input from our team members who work directly with customers, internal or external. We’re working hard to ensure every unique situation is checked for opportunities to give support and encouragement.

We’re also more focused than ever on transparent communication and delivering high quality work. Repeating iterations of individual work balanced with group work allows us to detect misalignment and share knowledge. Although there’s an element of fatigue resulting from the increased screen time, there’s huge benefit to having broader participation in our quality checks. 

My own team has changed how we collaborate and manage our time, too. We’re geographically distributed, which requires flexibility in scheduling, and we’re more conscious of participation in meetings and discussions. For those technical roles and non-managers, we encourage one day mid-week where they can minimize scheduled meetings to work uninterrupted. 

Are there additional steps smaller and younger companies should take now to prepare for both additional cyber threats and a new reliance on analytics? 

ANITA: Independent of size and stage, companies should have an advisor on data protection and data privacy compliance, in addition to data strategy. The landscape is evolving quickly and smaller companies need to allocate all of their internal focus on building a great product.

Any advice you’d offer someone looking to build a career in analytics?

ANITA: This space is continually evolving, so don’t be tempted to specialize too early. Understanding how data and insights drive value for all the various business functions is the key to eventually becoming an effective leader in the space. Keep challenging yourself to learn new skills and applying them in new contexts.

What’s one amazing insight no one knows about data privacy?   

ANITA: Having a vision for privacy compliance at the outset when architecting a data tech stack for product or marketing analytics is now a competitive advantage. 

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a waitress and bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

ANITA: I spent one summer in high school working as a cashier at a Mrs. Field’s Cookies. It was a crash course in general management. I learned how to do math quickly in my head, as well as the importance of managing inventory and supply chain to improve your P&L. I also learned how to build brand awareness – The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies at the right time of day could make all the difference, plus it makes people smile. 

What’s one unconventional thing you’re doing to keep yourself sane these days?

ANITA: I’m paying a lot more attention to my inner dialogue. Before COVID-19, it was common for me to be a bit more critical of myself than perhaps I am with my team or my family. Now I’m actively working on being as empathetic with myself as I’d be with my best friend. Everyone experiences and manages their stress differently, and recognizing when I’m fatigued or stressed is important.

What’s the one spice or condiment you could never live without? 

ANITA: Everything bagel seasoning – for my eggs in the morning!

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

6 words to help you act against racial injustice

I’m a thinker, by nature – someone who’s calm in crisis. When something happens, I process and think; then I take action. Even so – and after much thinking – there are no words to convey how difficult the recent turmoil has been. I’ve started and stopped myself several times from blasting on social media the despair and frustration I feel as a black person in America. Still, I listened to my inner voice and took the time to think about measurable actions that can personally change the lives of those who need our support.

Thank you to everyone who’s reached out – What can we do? Who needs help? How can we act against each injustice? Here is my answer. What it boils down to for me is six simple words: Don’t wait, be intentional, give forward.

DON’T WAIT

In the tech world, it’s easy to throw yourself into life as it happens, leaving little room for passion projects or anything outside the must-do category. We often just go with that flow, but is that how we want to live our lives? I didn’t want to wait to retire to have an impact. Even before I became an executive, I was always happy to help others along my journey and send that figurative elevator back down. The great Maya Angelou once said, “A legacy is not some big grand thing. A legacy is every life you touch.” Simply put: It’s what you do everyday that matters. 

Your legacy is every stand you take and the sooner you start, the more you achieve. Reach out to those Black founders, or take their calls. Offer feedback and make connections. Talk to your Black colleagues, diversify your networks, make the hire, write the check. Don’t wait until “someday” to take action and be the change. Every call you make, every note you send, and every expression of support means more to us than you realize. 

I hope my legacy will be that I made meaningful contributions to the technology and venture capital worlds, while bringing as many people as possible along with me on this journey. What will your legacy be? 

BE INTENTIONAL

In a recent conversation with Squawk Box, Ariel Investments CEO Mellody Hobson said, “I love the saying: ‘Math has no opinion.’ None. Just count.” Why? Because counting, she points out, will prove that “at all levels of corporate America, people of color black and brown Americans, underrepresented minorities do not show up in the numbers in which we exist in this country.” To fight this, Hobson suggests companies hold themselves accountable by setting targets, just as we set targets and track metrics in so many parts of an organization. 

As a numbers-oriented business leader, this idea really resonated with me. I’ve consistently made John Doerr’s Measure What Matters a requirement for my leadership teams. If you want to achieve audacious goals through OKRs, you must align everyone to maximize those results. Setting OKRs is strategic planning at its core, a powerful tool for prioritization, even when it comes to diversity.

In fact, that purpose and intention is one of the things I love about Operator Collective; partners Mallun Yen and Leyla Seka were deliberate about the LP base they wanted to create. They reached out with purpose, asking several LPs to open their networks so they could build the kind of fund that matched the image they had in their minds. I and others extended our networks to them, and they embraced it. Organizations everywhere would be wise to emulate this intentional diversity. 

GIVE FORWARD

A more tangible way to make a difference is to give forward: volunteer your services or donate to reputable organizations doing ground-level work to move the needle on racial equality. But the movement is huge where do you start? Before you offer your time or reach for your wallet, let your interests guide you and consider which organizations will have long-term, forward-looking impact. Core to my personal values are entrepreneurship and education, so I always look to aid organizations that support passionate founders and fight educational inequity. 

I never set out to be an angel investor, but I saw the dearth of support for women and minority founders; plus I’m always looking for those customer problems that can be solved while building a durable competitive advantage. That led to my first pre-seed investment (which was actually more of an investment in founder Morgan DeBaun and her vision). It’s powerful to see your dollars helping someone else; since then I’ve been fortunate to have so many chances to champion small businesses and those who dare to dream, both as an executive at Intuit and as a director on a public bank board. Spreading good is addictive.

According to the Kauffman Foundation research project in partnership with Marlon Nichols, more than 75% of venture rounds raised go to all-White founding teams. As you invest in, mentor, or advise, if you see an all-White team, speak up. Be an ally. Make a connection. This is another simple way to give forward and build the future you want to see now. Silence is implicit acceptance of the status quo. 

In the spirit of transparency in our forward-giving, I’m proud to share a few measures our Operator Collective community has taken as a starting point. We are: 

  • Supporting Black and LatinX founders affected by COVID19. Last month, we joined Paladin’s Project Lifeline as a founding member. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on underrepresented founders and small business owners. Project Lifeline will offer equity-free cash grants, a 4-week accelerator program, and an investor showcase for Black and Latinx startups founders affected. Paladin was founded in 2018 by LP Terell Sterling. Please click here if you’d like to make a donation. 
  • Funding education for Black and LatinX founders. We’re sponsoring a scholarship program for 50 Black and Latinx founders to attend Arlan Hamilton’s intensive course on How to Raise Capital for Your Company from Scratch. If you’re a Black or Latinx founder and would like to apply, please email us at hello@operatorcollective.com. 

  • Empowering the next generation. We’re giving our time and dollars to SMASH, a rigorous five-week residential STEM education program for Black, Latinx, and Native American high school students. Founded in 2004 by LP Dr. Freada Kapor Klein with a single location at UC-Berkeley, SMASH has now served more than 1,000 students across 10 college campuses. Join us in donating here. 
  • Reimagining our deal flow. We’ve put measures in place to increase our deal flow from Black and Latinx founders in the enterprise. Among other measures, this includes working with Backstage Capital to increase underrepresented founders in our investment pipeline.

  • Offering training and assistance for portfolio companies. We’re developing resources to help portfolio companies drive inclusive practices from the ground up. Not only does starting from the beginning make diversity core to the company, it also generates better returns.


Who will you give to? How will you make your voice heard? Please consider investing your time, services, or money in a worthy organization that can affect long-term change.

Make these 6 words a daily practice 

Resolve to make a difference. Not only now in the wake of obvious tragedies and intense protests, but always. If you’re ready to put a permanent end to racism and discrimination, I hope you’ll keep these six words in mind Don’t wait, be intentional, give forward. 

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

 

Operator Spotlight: Verizon Media CTO Rathi Murthy

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Rathi Murthy, Chief Technology Officer at Verizon Media.

You just joined Verizon Media in January! What leadership lessons did you bring from previous companies that prepared you to lead in such a hectic, uncertain time? 

RATHI: When it comes to leadership, I like to remind myself of the 5 C’s. The first is Connect, or find time to meet with your teams to keep lines of communication open. The second C is Collaborate: share ideas and encourage new ways of thinking to reach solutions during this time. The third is Create, or innovate and build for changing conditions. The fourth C is Culture, make sure you keep a fun element in the work you do to maintain the feeling of belonging. And finally, Community: we can win together by helping and serving the larger community.

How has your Verizon Media team had to change because of COVID-19? 

RATHI: Fortunately, our teams were able to seamlessly adopt this new working-from-home style across most functions. In fact on our engineering side, we’ve seen no drop in productivity. That said, we’ve encouraged teams to meet on a regular basis and hold virtual stand-up meetings for status updates to maintain collaboration. Most critical, I think, is maintaining consistent communication from leadership. I post weekly video updates to help the team understand what leadership is thinking about during these times and how that affects their focus and priorities.

How has COVID-19 affected engineering teams in general? 

RATHI: We’ve challenged ourselves to find work we can do that will help during this time, which has given our team a unique drive to be creative and successful. For instance, given the vast amounts of data available about the disease and its spread, we saw an opportunity to use our big data expertise to create a searchable index of COVID-data that researchers can use to learn about trends. It was a massive undertaking for our team, but also such a rewarding project.

How has working remotely affected your operations? Do you have any lessons learned as we all start to think about a “back to work” structure? 

RATHI:  Verizon Media has technology at its core – and many of our engineers can work remotely, maintaining our technical performance. When we think about coming “back to work,” we are considering various aspects for what returning to the office might look like. We’re exploring how we can secure our facilities and make people feel safe once they are back in office, as well as working through how to manage social distancing and employee comfort with returning to the space.

What are some things engineering teams should prioritize over the next 6 months? 

RATHI: Leading with empathy, rather than emphasizing productivity. Remember that in this time, your team is dealing with many priorities, whether it’s childcare, educating children from home, caregiving for family members and pets, while also working. While productivity is important, it’s even more important to support one another during this time. 

Engineering is a profession that’s heavily dominated by males. What’s one piece of advice you’d offer other women looking to build a career in engineering and tech?

RATHI: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Speak up and take on opportunities even when you feel you don’t know 100% of what is expected. Grow your confidence and find your voice. We have a lot of advantages as women in our ability; we just need to believe in ourselves.

What’s one amazing insight no one knows about engineering?   

RATHI: Engineering is fun! There’s always something new, creative, and challenging coming up. It’s never stagnant. I’d love to bring this idea of “Engineering is FUN” to all the young women out there and encourage them to explore this field. 

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

RATHI: I had children early in life – my early 20s. I started my Masters in Computer Engineering after my second child was born. When she was 1 month old. I had 2 kids under the age of 3 and started my journey to be a full time mom and study. I learned to be very disciplined, prioritize my work, delegate, leverage my family and friends for support, and manage myself efficiently. This foundation has helped me significantly. I also remember the kids falling sick the night before every exam. I had to be ready for any and all surprises. This has also been a good muscle to build, to handle curve balls with a smile. 

What’s one unconventional thing you’re doing to keep yourself sane?

RATHI: Peloton – I even take a few meetings while on the bike. It definitely keeps me sane 🙂

What’s the one condiment you could never live without? 

RATHI: I’d pick a spice, actually – Cumin!

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

SetSail with a unique take on sales productivity

The company: SetSail

SetSail offers a unique take on sales productivity, transforming complex data sets into simple, actionable insights. With this information in hand, sales organizations can easily pinpoint what’s working in their sales process and motivate reps to emulate those best practices. And the results are staggering: SetSail customers are seeing an average increase in revenue per rep of more than 15%. 

Why you should pay attention 

With a founding team from Google, the company is using advanced data science to help clients like Dropbox and Pendo bridge the missing link in sales productivity. Existing customer interaction data (such as email, calendar, and CRM) is analyzed by applying Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing on customer engagement signals. Unlike many AI-based solutions, the platform unlocks insights without requiring your data to be perfect. 

How it works

SetSail’s product starts by taking existing customer interactions, automatically capturing and enriching the data, and recording that back into your CRM system to create a solid foundation to build on. Their custom machine learning model peels back the layers on the data to identify and measure the real customer buying signals – such as interactions with key personas on particular topics like pricing or security. This helps companies move beyond basic activity metrics and rep-reported measures, gaining visibility into real deal progress. SetSail translates the best practices utilized by an organization’s top reps into a simple point-based sales incentive program. It even tracks performance and handles the payments. As clients’ business objectives evolve, the SetSail system evolves with them, providing a customized incentive plan (including SPIFs) that meets each team’s ideal sales motion. 

The context

Sales organizations are struggling as teams move to distributed models and reps are faced with a litany of choices each day on where to focus their time. In the last 5 years, sales ramp-up times, attrition rates, and the number of reps missing quota have grown tremendously. On top of this, sales leader tenure is down to just 18 months, leaving leaders scrambling to drive sales productivity gains on their own.

Why were obsessed 

SetSail is a first-of-its-kind Sales Behavior Management Platform that identifies best practices and helps leaders incentivize those best practices across their team at scale. SetSail is blazing a trail in delivering innovation that’s unlocking sales productivity and business growth for their clients. It’s truly a game changer.

Get involved

Turn your sales data into better productivity for your team today. Check out SetSail now to get started.

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

Top take-aways from The Challenge Series

We launched The Challenge Series in April to connect you with answers and advice from respected industry leaders as we manage our way through this pandemic. It’s been incredibly insightful to hear how some of today’s most respected execs are navigating the same issues we’re all dealing with ourselves, and we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive feedback from our community. In the spirit of sharing, we wanted to pass along some of our favorite lessons learned from the first three events, covering Operations, Marketing, and Finance. 

How do you shift your operations during a crisis? (Watch the replay)

We kicked off the series with a conversation with Cloudflare Co-Founder and COO Michelle Zatlyn and Gusto COO Lexi Reese, who offered sound advice on the operational issues facing companies today. These two respected leaders offered plenty of practical wisdom; here are a few of our favorite take-aways. 

  • Reel in your planning and budgets early. Much of the conversation focused on planning and budgets. Both Zatlyn and Reese acted quickly to trim budgets to the basics and must-haves only. According to Reese, “We threw out the idea of an annual plan. We have two priorities now: Keep our sector healthy and run operations way more efficiently.” Zatlyn added, “If you were tracking your business on a monthly or quarterly basis, you’ve got to move to weekly.”

  • Take care of customers and employees. Reese spoke several times about the importance of taking care of your community: “It’s not about having all the answers. It’s about being there for people when they need you.” She later added, “We had to make decisions and prioritize what enables us to earn customer love. That meant trimming and streamlining costs to help us weather this uncertain climate and emerge stronger.” Zatlyn echoed the feeling, saying, “In a crisis, leadership matters.” We agree!

  • Do what you can to come out stronger. Zatlyn also offered some inspiration in the form of advice. She recommended that companies focus on making changes to the business that will allow them to come back stronger after the pandemic, saying “Don’t get back to normal. Get back to better. Innovation comes out of these constraints.” In other words, take the time now to reassess your business and make changes that will help you flourish beyond the pandemic. Apply everything you’ve learned. Why go back to normal if your “normal” could use improvement? 

Marketing and messaging in the time of Coronavirus  (Watch the replay)

Zoom CMO Janine Pelosi and TripActions CMO Meagen Eisenberg have had opposite pandemic experiences – video collaboration has skyrocketed, while business travel basically stopped overnight. Both leaders offered excellent insights on how marketers can adjust their strategies and messages in a crisis. Here are a few of their practical tips.  

  • Build pipeline without being tone-deaf. Is this even possible? Eisenberg offers some advice: “Yes, if you focus on the educational material and the value you’re providing, and you’re not stretching what you provide. It’s not hardcore selling right now.” Now more than ever, authenticity is key. Create content and messages that offer genuine value and you’ll earn customer love, in addition to leads.

  • Break through the noise. Pelosi offered some great advice, saying “Attach yourself to something bigger, but in a way that’s authentic. Finding authentic ways to be relevant is key. Look at your partners and community, and don’t be afraid to send an ask.” Eisenberg pointed out that “we’ve seen some great things happening with creativity,” shouting out TripActions’ own #PassThePlane campaign. She also cautioned us to “think about your tone. We don’t need to be sad and depressed all the time – happy messages are welcome – but always consider your tone. If you’re unsure, test the message on five people before you send.” And Pelosi sums it up with: “For us, it’s all about metrics. Have the metrics set up so you can really understand the user voice. You have to track and understand sentiment not just in the good times, but even more so in the bad.”

  • Experiment with new tactics. Why not now? As Pelosi said, “The important thing is to pivot and change. All people knew was one element of marketing, and now they have to diversify. Education, telehelp, social try it all.” Eisenberg added, “We made a fast pivot to content that’s educational. People are re-educating, they want to come out stronger. Webinars are making a comeback. We’re trying to be smarter and more targeted with every message.”

  • Crisis communications call for transparency. Both leaders stressed the need for quick and honest communication. Pelosi says, “You have to stay true to who you are and to the core values of your company. You have to make the right decisions for the right reasons. If you try to candy coat something, it just doesn’t work. Surround yourself with the smartest people possibile and keep your eyes wide open.” Eisenberg chimed in with: “You have to be truthful and transparent. People put things out there that are not true, and the only way to counter that is to always be truthful. You have to be honest and even more transparent than you normally would be.”

  • A final piece of advice? According to Eisenberg, “Beyond mental health and wellness, every leader should be focused on customers and product-market fit. The companies that survive are the ones who have something that customers need. So keep checking in. Watch your usage stats and get your team focused on building what’s necessary to move forward.” 

How do enterprises manage their spend during a crisis? (Watch the replay)

Of course finance is top of mind in an economic downturn. Zendesk CFO Elena Gomez and Zoom CFO Kelly Steckelberg offered their insights and experiences with shifting budgets, managing priorities, and tracking metrics. Here are some key points. 

  • Where are you making cuts right now? This is a question on everyone’s mind, of course. Gomez said, “Our process at Zendesk is a bit surgical, but we look at which investments we want to preserve to maintain growth. We want to keep innovation, engineering, and the people who are selling and helping customers. And we inspect this on a regular cadence in case we need to course correct.”

  • What metrics should companies be looking at right now? Metrics have been a hot topic each week. With regard to finance, Gomez says, “Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) will always be important in SaaS. We’re still very focused on renewal rates. The most important thing that drives your revenue is your currently booked business. Really the metrics haven’t changed as much as the cadence with which we look at them.” Steckelberg agreed, adding “Your core fundamental metrics should still be in place, even if they look different than they have historically.”

  • What does the world of M&A look like right now? Here Steckelberg offers positive news, saying: “We just made an acquisition completely via Zoom. In some ways this works even better. We were able to get it done quickly and quietly, and all via Zoom.” Gomez was more reserved, saying “We’re looking at the market opportunistically to see what would complement our offering but not any more or any less because of COVID-19.”

  • Advice for selling to the enterprise? Everyone wants to sell to the enterprise, but what’s the best way? Don’t shift your message. Steckelberg offers practical advice here, saying: “Don’t make whatever you’re selling about COVID. Make it about solving a larger problem. We hope COVID is short term in nature, so you need to give it a bigger perspective.”

  • Advice for finance teams: Echoing sentiments from our previous sessions, Gomez recommends to “take care of your customers – I can’t overstate that – as well as your employees. And make sure you’re ruthless in your prioritization.”

Huge shout out to our speakers and viewers, as well as to Zoom for powering our sessions. We’ve learned so much these past few weeks. Don’t miss this next event, Leading with Empathy and Kindness in Times of Uncertainty. Plus, thanks to an overwhelmingly positive response, we’ve added two extra sessions to the agenda Building Sales and Pipeline in a Downturn and How to Build a Customer-Centric Org. See you there!

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