Operator Spotlight: Talent leader Michael Kieran

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 Michael Kieran, Head of Talent at Tray.io

As a Talent leader, you know this year’s intense challenges manifest differently in everyone. What are some ways your team at Tray.io is supporting employees

MICHAEL: This year has definitely had challenges, but it’s also provided a lot of opportunities for companies, teams, and leaders to show how much they care about their people.  

I think that part – genuine care and concern, as well as taking accountability for the well being of your people – has to be the foundation of anything programmatic, and one of the things that came easy for us at Tray.   

For anyone leading people, I highly recommend Brene Brown’s “2 emotions that describe how you’re feeling today” question. On first glance, it may seem a touch saccharine or unnatural, but after starting a few 1:1s this way, it was amazing to see others skip the surface level reactions and actually take a moment for real introspection with real vulnerability. Most importantly, people began to speak in specifics about what they wanted to solve for in the coming weeks and where they needed support.

In addition to being a Head Of Talent, you’ve also been an Executive Recruiter. What key competencies do you think are critical for success in early-stage tech executives?

MICHAEL: I think early-stage tech executives have to love the build, and want the keys to drive their function in the best interests of the company. Those doing the hiring also have to give them the keys, have to trust that they will build their function the best way possible for the company.  

I always think about Larry David when we start an executive search. Here’s a guy that created Seinfeld, the most successful sitcom of all time — and after that extraordinary success, takes a few years off, but just has to come back and write another show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. That’s another wildly successful show he’s “ended” multiple times and then come back to. He has to get back to doing what he loves. That “Larry David Effect” is a competency worth measuring, and something we seek to understand with growth executives: Do they love the process, or the win?  

Culture addition over culture fit. As a recruiting leader, how do you evaluate this in the hiring process? Can it be measured?

MICHAEL: We take a lot of pride in our structured hiring process that ultimately provides us with a data driven, fair evaluation of someone’s potential to succeed in the role they’re interviewing for. One of the areas we pay special attention to is desired soft skills, the subjective criteria in the hiring process.

Culture addition is a great example.  At Tray, we continue to lean on our values and pillars in how we get things done, interact with our customers, and show up for each other – and then reverse engineer those pillars into attributes, evaluation criteria. From there we create calibrated interview questions and high/low evidence indicators to determine if the candidate is a culture add.  

Another approach to move to culture addition over culture fit is, instead of a hiring team asking if the candidate is hiring a culture add, ask if they’re hiring a culture subtraction. That will steer hiring managers away from the typical subconscious bias that comes with ‘fit’ and allow them to get back to the real purpose of culture addition.

You recently took on some initiatives for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in your organization. What are some ways you’ve approached integrating these two People functions?

MICHAEL: From a Recruiting and Human Resources perspective, DEI has been a priority for some time and continues to evolve as a core focus across the technology industry.  

The problem with that is, like most areas of activism for good, you typically have an active, intentional group that makes up 5-10% of the population, another 5-10% that detracts from the cause, and a middle 80% that is not against that effort, but also not held accountable for any progress.  

In 2020 that 80% of employees in the tech industry had a realization that they need to be active, and accountable for progress in DEI in their respective organizations, and across technology to fix the problems we have today.

Our approach has been to leverage this interest by shifting the positioning of HR/Recruiting as owners of DEI. This helps us support the broader business as they work toward their team objectives of building a diverse and inclusive environment.

To support this, we launched a Diversity & Belonging council with a particular focus on avoiding the usual suspects that raise their hands for something like this. We worked hard to recruit a highly diverse group across gender, race, sexual orientation, department, geography, and more. Equally important, this council is diverse in the sense that some were brand new to this kind of effort, still learning about problems, biases, and potential solutions in order to better represent the 80% mentioned above.

Hiring a diverse executive team is key, but remains a huge challenge. Do you have any advice on how to think of diverse hiring on the executive team in the early days?

MICHAEL: It all starts with your why. Most early-stage tech companies are maniacally focused on getting to a “next” stage, which also means they’re especially focused on hiring the absolute best people that are willing to bet on their opportunity.  

Where most companies trip is that at their core they lack the understanding that building a homogenous executive team fundamentally limits their potential. As HBR notes, there’s a huge amount of evidence showing that diversity unlocks innovation and drives growth, which should only intensify efforts to ensure your executive staff embodies and embraces the power of differences.

Once the understanding is there and the purpose validated, the next step thing is to start thinking in cohorts, the executive hiring across the nest 12-18 months, versus “this role must be [insert specific underrepresented group here]”. The behaviors a micro approach to diversity drive are ugly and will deteriorate the intent to provide equal opportunity and with time erode any established purpose.  Instead, map out the growth of the team and set goals around the next 4-6 hires. 

From there, be intentional about a structured hiring process that evaluates the candidates future and their potential to succeed in the role versus their past and previous accomplishments.

While betting on growth experience across your future stages is important, it does perpetuate a cycle where there are no new entrants. If you are excellent at hiring, you can spot the person that hasn’t done it before, but very well could do it better than anyone ever has.

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

MICHAEL: Selling Christmas cards door to door when I was 10. It was a crash course in selling and marketing a product you truly believe in, plus I raked it in. Best. Christmas. Ever.

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

MICHAEL: Is wine a condiment?

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.

Your CFO’s new BFF: Meet Cube

The company: Cube

Cube is a next-generation FP&A (financial planning & analysis) platform that empowers finance professionals to deliver faster, more strategic insights that drive the business forward. Cube streamlines manual data transformation, reduces errors, and improves collaboration to help businesses make smarter decisions lickety-split – Think enterprise FP&A meets the flexibility of a spreadsheet. And unlike traditional enterprise offerings, the solution can go live in just days, without the need for external consultants.

The details

Automation has made its way into the CFO tech stack via tools like Expensify for expense reports, Bill.com for invoicing, and Carta for equity management. But now Cube is changing the game by elevating the CFO’s vantage point. It untangles manual spreadsheets, taps key business systems for data, and brings it all together in a platform that gives CFOs clean visibility into the key insights of their businesses. CFOs can go from numbers to narrative in record time. 

How it works

The Cube platform ingests all of a business’s vital data sources (e.g. ERP, CRM, HRIS, etc.), as well as forward-looking financial and operational models, and transforms them into a single source of truth that’s easy to access and manage. Powerful analytics give CFOs faster access to strategic insights, and deep spreadsheet integrations and intelligence means the platform is easy enough for anyone to use. 

Why you should pay attention

FP&A is strategic to the business – but it’s also still highly manual, time-consuming, and fraught with errors. This is an area that has historically been underserved and is ripe for disruption. Cube was founded and is led by Christina Ross, a former CFO herself who’s seen these challenges firsthand. Cube’s leadership team has been in the trenches, and they’re blazing a trail away from frustrating, manual, error-prone processes to a flexible, powerful, collaborative FP&A solution.  

Why we’re obsessed

Nearly 90% of companies are still using spreadsheets to manage all of their forward-looking planning, analysis, and reporting. The lion’s share of analyst time is spent on searching for and consolidating data. The model is broken: FP&A is desperately in need of a more collaborative approach. Built by finance for finance, Cube has both the innovation and leadership to drive that change. 

Get involved

Get faster, smarter, simpler financial planning and analysis; then get ready to make sharper, better, faster business decisions. Go on – Get Cube. Your CFO will thank you.

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.

4 things to consider as you design an inclusive org

As a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leader for more than 15 years, I field questions all the time from founders looking for a magic solution to building diverse orgs. Fortunately or unfortunately, there isn’t one – it takes hard work, consistency, and intention.  

But as companies begin their journeys, it’s important to prioritize DEI initiatives from the start – and at the top. If you don’t see visible diversity at the top, it’s less likely that a greater range of people will want to join your company; they will not feel confident in their chances to advance. So that visible diversity is important – but it’s also important to take a step back and look at things in totality. Here are four strategies to consider as you design an inclusive org. 

1) Focus on behavior 

I often say that I can run around with sprinkles, rainbows and unicorns all day, but it’s an employee’s day-to-day that matters. So think about the kind of organization you want to create and the kind of behavior you want to see. Sit down and really think critically about it. Leaders and people managers must create a culture of inclusion and belonging – but how do they do that if they don’t know how? Give them the resources they need to build those inclusive spaces and look for opportunities for coaching, training, and crucial conversations along the way. 

It’s worth noting that psychological safety – not diversity – has emerged as the #1 foundation of a high performing team. Without psychological safety, diversity cannot thrive. Psychological safety means there’s an absence of fear, or of pushing against the status quo and offering new ideas. No one wants negative consequences, or to feel like their voice isn’t important. So focus first on creating an environment where people want to come – where they feel welcome, safe, and heard. 

2) Model inclusive leadership 

Your leaders have a big job beyond running the company: The behaviors they role model are what employees are watching out for. Representation matters, and if leadership roles are perceived as exclusive, employees and candidates will feel like they can’t grow there. So keep an eye on a range of representation numbers and metrics; visible diversity is important, but it’s also vital to include people from different backgrounds, age, and lifestyles. 

As you grow, take care to remove any bad actors. I do not say that lightly, but I stand by it. Sometimes as a company, you have to make tough choices, and we’ve all seen times when employees were given a little leeway if they’re killing it in sales or they’re a great performer. But bad behavior is poison to your organization, especially when you’re small. So you’ve really got to take a stand on that and role model the behavior that you’d like to see within your organization. 

3) Replace bias and barriers with flexibility 

As you build a company, take care to create policies and procedures that reflect the entire workforce. This means identifying and removing any bias and barriers. This isn’t just about gender or race; think about parents and caregivers currently struggling with our current reality. Don’t let your company policies leave them in the cold. 

You never know what someone has going on outside of work, or what kinds of pressures they face. So work hard to create an environment that’s flexible for everyone, no matter their circumstance. We’re all living through a state of trauma right now. Everybody has something, right? If it’s caregiving, civil unrest, the pandemic, economic uncertainty, or even Murder Hornets, we’re all dealing with the things. So create an environment that says: You are a tremendous asset to us and we value you. Create environments, policies and procedures that work for everybody. 

4) Commit to accessibility 

It’s an unfortunate truth that people with disabilities are often forgotten when it comes to technology, policies, and procedures. To build an inclusive org, you have to commit to accessibility – to making sure your work environment, your products, and everything else is accessible to everyone. 

There are millions and billions of people worldwide with disabilities. In fact, most of us either do or will have a disability at some point in our lifetime. So you’d never want to create a space where someone cannot access your services or your product, or where an employee or candidate couldn’t work and thrive there. Accessibility ensures that everything works for everyone. It’s not like if you change things to be accessible, then people without disabilities can’t also access it. So these changes shouldn’t feel like a burden – It’s more of making a space and a product that works for everyone.

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.


Operator spotlight: Executive producer Danielle Renfrew Behrens

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 Danielle Renfrew Behrens, President of Animal Pictures, shortly before the debut of her latest project, Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine.

You recently landed a Netflix comedy special, which you’re executive producing alongside Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph. What’s so exciting about this crew? 

DANIELLE: You have to bring your best game when you’re working with geniuses. We all came to the table with different life experiences and points of view, but we all share common philosophy – life is too short to work on anything we don’t believe in. It has to be something we all find meaningful. I understand that’s a luxury, but hopefully we’ve earned it after being in the industry for 2+ decades. It’s very refreshing to have that as a guiding principal of a company, and Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine really encapsulated that spirit.

You’ve been a Hollywood founder and operator for some time now. How has the landscape changed for women over the last few years? 

DANIELLE: Early in my career, I was often the only woman in a room. That’s changed now. The optimistic side of me thinks that’s because there are significantly more female execs in positions of power – yet the pessimistic side of me thinks big companies have simply caught on that a meeting with all white men is a bad look. They are including women and POC, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those people are decision makers.

How can the film industry do a better job of being inclusive?

DANIELLE: For a start, everyone can be more mindful when casting and crewing up. Over the last 6 months or so, there’s been a real uptick in buyers’ appetites for projects by and about BIPOC. I hope that continues and isn’t just a short-term reaction to the current political climate.

Why is it important for Hollywood to tackle the issues surrounding thing like politics, race, and gender

DANIELLE: Film and TV give people a window into the experiences of others – a way to learn about other communities and cultures that they might not otherwise understand. I think it was Roger Ebert who said “film is a machine that generates empathy.” And there was just an article in the LA Times highlighting a study about how watching shows with immigrant characters inspired viewers to be more socially active.

I think there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being the one to put a mirror up to the world or to show people (especially kids) what’s possible. Representation truly matters.

What’s one amazing insight no one knows about the film industry?   

DANIELLE: It is not glamorous! You see people looking so fancy and made up on the red carpet (pre-COVID, of course). As a kid, I thought that looked so fun, but now when I see how much time goes into getting hair- and makeup-ready, it doesn’t look fun at all.

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?

DANIELLE: My first job was as an intern for Dorothy Fadiman, an Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker based in the Bay Area. After my internship, she offered me a job as the grassroots outreach coordinator for a documentary film series about the history or reproductive rights. 

I still use every skill I learned during that time, from formatting business letters to team building.

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

DANIELLE: Oh, that’s easy: Tamari!

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.


Team productivity? Check it, then Spekit.

The company: Spekit

Spekit is the top-rated enablement and adoption solution that helps employees work self-sufficiently and smarter in the cloud.

The details

Spekit keeps your teams in sync, drives adoption of your tools, and boosts productivity by embedding your training right within any application for self-guided learning. This makes your knowledge and enablement resources available contextually from any workflow – including email, Slack, and other team productivity tools.

How it works

Spekit creates an intuitive, user-friendly interface that consolidates knowledge, policies, and playbooks from across your organization into a centralized platform. Extensions (from Chrome, Edge, Slack, Outlook, Salesforce Lightning, and more) then allow you to integrate it across applications, surfacing your definitions, processes, and enablement resources in real time, wherever you and your team need them. As you roll out new processes or resources, Spekit keeps everyone aligned by sending in-app alerts to notify your team, right where they’re working. It even helps you measure training engagement and performance with powerful analytics.

Why you should pay attention

In a work-from-home world where employees are constantly context-switching between their dozens of workflows and applications and change is constant, the old LMS or webinar-approach to training drains resources and kills productivity. Employees rarely retain that crucial knowledge when presented in such a disjointed way. 

With Spekit, learning is reinforced right where work happens, making it easy to share, communicate, and train in real-time. Spekit’s Salesforce integration is the #1 choice on G2 and the AppExchange for Salesforce documentation, training, and change communication. It’s loved by scaling technology companies like Hippo, Docsend, and Mural, along with large enterprises like Southwest Airlines, JLL, and Wolters Kluwer. You don’t need coding skills or a technical background to use the integration features. Changes will automatically sync, you can document quickly by adding images and videos, and Spekit will then intelligently embed your training to maximize efficiency. 

Don’t have time to create your own training? That’s ok, too. Spekit has partnered with vendors and industry experts on the most popular tools to provide you with customizable training content to get you started. Think: Salesforce, Outreach, Linkedin SalesNavigator, and more.

Why we’re obsessed

Spekit is changing the way we train and enable employees by allowing them to learn at their own pace, track their progress, and reinforce learning in existing workflows. Co-Founders Melanie Fellay and Zari Zahra have created a much-needed modern way for companies to create consistent learning and training experiences – and savvy companies are here for it.   

Get involved

Utilize your digital companion to accelerate learning on the go! Check out Spekit and help your teams become more efficient.

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.

How do you build a thriving partner ecosystem?

I worked on the Salesforce AppExchange for almost 10 years, overseeing its growth into the tremendous partnership powerhouse it is today. It was a wild experience — one I’m very proud of — and years later I’m still peppered with questions on how we did it, what benefits we realized, what made it successful, and what challenges we faced along the way. Here are some of those answers. 

What is an ecosystem?

In enterprise SaaS technology, an ecosystem is a group of products that integrate and work well together. The products enhance one another, offering additional value to the end user. The parent companies are partners in a mutually beneficial relationship.

What are the benefits of building an ecosystem? 

Ecosystems signify that your company is on a solid growth trajectory. Done well, an ecosystem leads to additional revenue, product expansion, market expansion, and valuable partnerships. Ecosystem partnerships can also lead to acquisitions, additional funding, new partnerships, and a whole host of other things that make your company stronger. 

When should companies start thinking about partnerships and ecosystems? 

Immediately. Your company is probably in several partner relationships already, whether you know it or not, so it’s wise to put a strategy in place as soon as possible. Think about what value you’re looking to achieve, as well as what value you have to offer; then build a roadmap for how you see your partner relationships working in 1, 5, and 10 years. 

What type of a team do you need to build a partner ecosystem?

Team is a good word for it — because the day-to-day functionality of an ecosystem is often overlooked. It takes a *major* effort not only to build your ecosystem, but to keep it running smoothly. So it’s not just a product team, it’s not just a support team, and it’s not just a marketing team. You either need a super-person who can do all that stuff or a super-group of people. Very few companies think about building out the support function of an ecosystem because it sounds expensive, but it’s absolutely necessary.

What’s important to consider as teams think about partnerships and growth? 

Ecosystem partnerships are relationships that can really last, but it’s important to make sure you position your company in a way that you can pivot both how and when you need to. Just because a particular relationship works for you today doesn’t mean it will work for you in the future, so be careful to allow yourself the freedom to evolve. This can be as simple as added language in your contract, but it’s something to think about as you build a strategy. 

How should younger companies approach their partnership strategies?

One angle is to think about building a cluster. You can’t be partners with everyone, so think about a couple of apps that surround yours and make it a suite that becomes supremely powerful for the user; then build partnerships with them in a way that lifts all of you. It can’t always work that way, but that’s definitely a strategy smaller companies should consider — Who are the other two companies that make us a powerhouse cluster? 

How do you not pick favorites inside the ecosystem but still build growth?

This is tough. Once you’ve got options in your ecosystem, customers will start asking, “Which one should I get?” But you cannot make recommendations. Again, you are building a democracy in the middle of a kingdom — Yes, you have to accomplish your sales objectives, but it’s vital to remain impartial while doing so.

What’s one thing companies underplan for in an ecosystem?

Channel conflict. Companies building an ecosystem always think it’s never going to get “that bad” or cause channel problems, but issues will arise. What you’re building here is basically an indirect sales team or an indirect sales channel — so you need to consider the impact this will have on your direct sales team and how their incentives align.  

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.


How we’re 5x-ing black representation in venture

It’s no secret that venture capital has a problem. Despite a landslide of evidence supporting diverse teams, only 1% of venture-backed startups have a Black founder, and less than 3% of VC funds employ Black or minority professionals. If that’s not bad enough, Morgan Stanley says excluding those potential investors and entrepreneurs means the industry is leaving a trillion-dollar opportunity on the table. 

While individual organizations are working to fix this, the industry needs systemic change and a greater pipeline of founders and investors from underrepresented backgrounds. The current system will not right itself; if we want different people, we have to change the system.

Let’s flashback to summer for a minute and remember the feeling of desperation following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many more. While many felt hopeless, I felt a call to action, a need to use any resources I could gather and do something to create meaningful change. How could we turn those equality conversations into action – and make sure those actions continue once the newscycle ends? Our Operator Collective partner team – Mallun Yen, Ambrosia Vertesi, and I – agreed that one way is through education. 

The power of education for change

Venture capital isn’t something you can just pick up. Even if we could break down the barriers and throw open the doors, there’s still a huge learning curve. It takes time to learn the terms, understand the process, and make the connections. Some people grew up in that world, absorbing this knowledge through osmosis, but others need a leg up.  

What if we could create a curriculum to train Black executives on the fundamentals of venture investing? A program for experienced operators led by some of the industry’s most respected leaders and certified via a top institution? The idea felt larger than life, but soon we were working our connections and devoting hours every day of the week to build a framework and partnerships. 

Many people stepped up to help people who’d led successful programs of this kind before. Operator Collective LP Richelle Parham connected me to Sue Toigo, who shared invaluable advice from decades of promoting minority professionals in finance. The brilliant Freada Kapor Klein provided her expertise from decades of work as Silicon Valley’s diversity activist. And Kapor Capital’s Ulili Onovakpuri offered valuable insights from her own experience. All these wildly impressive people came together with the common goal of creating much-needed change in an industry too content with the status quo. 

Announcing Black Venture Institute

Now Operator Collective is proud to partner with BLCK VC, Salesforce Ventures, and UC Berkeley Haas to launch the new Black Venture Institute, an intensive program for Black experienced operators interested in learning more about venture, including angel and venture investing. The program will teach foundational venture principles like financing, sourcing, diligence, and corporate governance. Fellows will discuss how investors evaluate opportunities, collaborate, and negotiate terms. All while learning from top industry minds, business leaders, and UC-Berkeley professors. It’s a full package of education, exposure, and connections. 

There are roughly 75 Black check writers in venture capital today. Black Venture Institute will graduate 300 fellows in three years, to potentially 5x that number by 2023.

Putting this together was no small feat; many of us devoted significant amounts of time, energy, and resources to get it done. But it shows the power of what can happen when driven groups collaborate to bring about change. Through it all, it’s been uplifting to see the response and work with other organizations hell-bent on creating a more equitable industry. Special shout-outs to Jackson Cummings, Frederik Groce, Brian Hollins, Camden McCrae, and Toby Stuart for their tireless efforts.

2020 has drawn a line in the sand: We can actively push for equality, or we can keep our profoundly disappointing status quo. We proudly choose the former. 

We hope you’ll join us in supporting Black Venture Institute.  

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.

The benefits of building an EcoSystem

When Salesforce launched the AppExchange in 2006, it quickly became a game-changer in so many ways – the first cloud platform, the introduction of platform as a service, the beginning of APIs – but what might be most impressive is that the AppExchange ushered in an entirely new model for partnerships. 

Until then, no one in the tech industry had partnerships like we do now – they just didn’t make sense. But all of a sudden with the rise of the cloud, everything became interconnected. We discovered that working together made technology products much, much stronger and that symbiotic relationships could pave the way to new levels of success.  

How techs first ecosystem came to be

It all started with forecasting. Back then, Salesforce offered basic forecasting tools, but companies also began to realize they could build their own forecasting apps and make them work with Salesforce. The resulting apps offered different functionality, integrated well, and made the product stronger. This was the aha that led to what’s now the AppExchange. CEO Marc Benioff had the brilliant idea to build a marketplace (originally called the AppStore!) and offer these products as add-ons so other companies could capitalize on them too. 

Once launched, the AppExchange became the start of a new partnership model, an exciting and innovative way for companies to build powerful, lasting relationships. It also led to plenty of other benefits for Salesforce, like:

  1. Increased Product Value
    A marketplace of partner apps would enhance the value of Salesforce and create multiple new revenue streams. Soon Salesforce customers had dozens of apps in every category to choose from, giving them a tremendous amount of value, not to mention a higher ROI on their purchase of CRM. Why would a customer buy another CRM when they could buy Salesforce and have all these other add-ons to choose from?

  2. Lower Attrition
    Once the AppExchange marketplace was built and fortified, another advantage soon became clear: attrition numbers fell drastically (in our favor). With these powerful new options to enhance the product, the likelihood of customers attriting went down significantly with each successful install.

  3. Built-In Community
    The AppExchange also gave Salesforce a huge new community of customers that came from our partners. The amazing thing was that they all wanted to share advice and best practices – with each other AND with Salesforce. Constructive ideas and feedback from the community really helped us refine and improve the both the AppExchange and the actual ecosystem.

Building a democracy inside a kingdom

I worked on the AppExchange for almost 10 years, overseeing its growth into the powerhouse it is today. The job was an education in itself and I’m grateful every single day for the experience. Looking back, I often think of what we did as building a democracy in the middle of a kingdom – We built an open marketplace that ran inside a company. This was unheard of at the time. The logistics of that were intense and overwhelming; this had never been done before, so we had no examples to follow and no one to turn to for help. 

Now, years later, I’m immensely proud of what we accomplished and what the AppExchange has become. Our team relied on innovation, strategic thinking, and an amazing crew of technical gurus to take this idea from concept to creation to sustained success.

As a result, I’m constantly peppered with questions on how we did it, what made it successful, and what challenges we faced. So stay tuned as I lay out the most common questions I get about how to build a thriving ecosystem.  

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.

Operator Spotlight: Cloudflare Co-Founder & COO Michelle Zatlyn

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 Michelle Zatlyn, Co-Founder & COO of Cloudflare.

You founded Cloudflare in 2009. How has the landscape changed for women founders/operators since then? 

MICHELLE: As I reflect on the last decade, what’s changed is that there’s an increased awareness of the gender imbalance. That’s a good thing – There’s more awareness today that there are fewer women in technology, across a broader set of people. Now we need to see continued progress on making change. There are so many incredible women in technology, and I hope more of them choose the founder/operator path. We need all of you! I’m optimistic for the future.

This year has been full of disruptions. What are the biggest operational challenges you face right now?  

MICHELLE:  Our team is focused on how we can continue to provide the best Internet experience for our customers and the online world in a time when the world is relying on the Internet more than ever. The superheroes of this crisis are the medical professionals and scientists taking care of the sick and searching for a cure to this disease. But the faithful sidekick has been the Internet. Globally there’s been roughly a 50% increase in Internet utilization since March – and while the Internet isn’t necessarily a public utility, there aren’t many utilities that would continue to function if they saw a 50% increase in utilization over the course of a few days. As one of the guardians of the Internet, I’m proud of how our team has risen to the occasion to support our customers, new and old, as they deal with unprecedented challenges.

Last year you brought your family with you to the NYSE for Cloudflare’s IPO. Why was it important to have them there? 

MICHELLE: Building a company is an incredible, rewarding experience, but one that takes a ton of time, work, and energy. That’s true for the team that shows up every day, but it’s also true for the team’s loved ones. 

As I reflect on building Cloudflare, I was lucky to start the company with my co-founder Matthew Prince, and then take it public together a decade later. That was a real pleasure, and something we’re both proud of, since it doesn’t always happen that way. But as we prepared to go public, I had this realization of how lucky I was that my husband Jamie had also been there from Day 1. We were dating at the time and living in Vancouver. He encouraged me to move to the Bay Area to pursue this opportunity to see where it would go. I realize how fortunate I am that I had a supportive partner who encouraged me to go for it.

So a small group of us got together to talk about who would be on the podium the day we went public, and I thought about having Jamie and my kids there with me. It wasn’t a clear decision; several people thought it was a bad idea, plus you can have 14 people on the NYSE podium. I also reached out to Stitch Fix Founder/CEO Katrina Lake since she’d done it ahead of me; she encouraged me to do it.

In my late 20s, I remember having a conversation with myself about how I really wanted to have a career, a loving relationship, and kids. As I built Cloudflare with Matthew and our incredible team, Jamie and I created a life together in parallel. I made choices along the way to enable this. But as I faced the decision of who would be on the podium when we went public, I knew it was important for my family to be right there with me. 

Cloudflare is a security infrastructure company. What’s one insight no one knows about web security? 

MICHELLE: Organizations of all sizes are under cyberthreat. We see it with businesses of all sizes and in all kinds of industries. Small businesses are threatened by email-borne ransomware and phishing to get access to bank accounts and payroll systems. We’ve seen competing day spas launch attacks against each other to disrupt their websites – that’s an example that has always stood out to me as unexpected. Large organizations face a wider range of threats including ransomware, phishing, industrial espionage, cyber-activism, defacement, DDoS, and data theft. 

Everyone needs to think about security – whether that’s keeping personal information secure or keeping an organization secure. The good news is most attacks are simple to defend against; don’t get distracted by “movie plot” cyberattacks. Attackers will typically look for poor passwords, unpatched software, phishing targets, and websites without basic DDoS protection. Use password managers, update your software regularly, be careful of emails you open and attachments you download, and you can sign up for Cloudflare to help secure your online properties (websites, apps, APIs, blogs). 

How can the tech industry do a better job of supporting women operators and executives? 

MICHELLE: The best way to support women in tech is to lead or join a company that supports women in the workplace. I’m optimistic that we can continue to move forward as an industry, and I’m proud of how we’ve done this at Cloudflare. We’ve always said that a diverse team wins, whether it’s with our team or on our Board, where three of our eight members are women. Supporting the next generation of executives is equally important. I’m proud of what we’ve done to partner with organizations like Path Forward in the US and Mums@Work in Singapore to facilitate returnships for caregivers and women looking to get back into the workforce. We all need to be able to recruit the best of the best, no matter their background, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gaps in employment. 

Why is it important for companies to think about building an ecosystem? 

MICHELLE: All companies operate within a larger context. Ecosystems make me think of waves. If you build an ecosystem, it’s like you’re riding the wave and being proactive about what partners you’re working on and bringing more people into your wake. It also amplifies your size, which leads to having more influence in certain conversations and situations. Ultimately, building an ecosystem is a strategy operators can use to make more progress towards their goals, faster.

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?

MICHELLE: I love the feeling of being part of something. I worked at my dad’s law office for many summers, answering phones, running errands, and bookkeeping. I learned the importance of sweating the details and building strong relationships. I also spent a summer as a Camp Counselor at a special needs camp. Talk about being inspired! The camaraderie that I experienced there is something I’ll never forget. I’m a firm believer that life is a collection of experiences, and that’s why a winding career path or getting out there and seeing the world in many different ways is an asset. 

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

MICHELLE: Just as shelter-in-place measures swept the globe, Cloudflare launched Cloudflare TV, a 24×7 live television broadcast with programming entirely curated and driven by employees to connect with the broader community. I produce and host a show called “Yes We Can,” a weekly segment that highlights non-C-Level women in tech, offering a chance to amplify their stories in one-on-one interviews. I’ve had the chance to interview incredible women showing up every day to build technology that impacts millions of people around the world. Past guests have been leaders in data science, marketing, engineering, design, and business development from companies like Shopify, Uber, Twitter, IBM, Patreon, IBM, and Houzz. I look forward to these interviews every week. I hope the segments show how women are making their marks on the tech industry and that their stories propel other women to choose a career in tech.

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

MICHELLE: I’m a proud Canadian, so it would have to be maple syrup. 

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.


The Rise of Women’s Voices in Publishing

Publishing is another one of those despite-all-the-advancements industries that’s faltering under recent scrutiny. 

In addition to a documented pay gap within publishing houses themselves, a 2018 study also found that women-authored books are priced 45% lower than books authored by men. More recently we’ve seen the rise of the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag, which ignited a conversation about the disparities between how much authors make. (This Buzzfeed article explains it well.) 

A yearly analysis of gender bias on The New York Times bestseller list digs into the data of writers whose works are featured in and reviewed by literary outlets. The most recent study shows that female authors are publishing more, yet the gender ratio on the NYT bestseller list remains below 50%. However, while “the major literary prizes still skew male… there’s clear market signal that women authors are just as commercially viable as men.”

Better book news is out there

We may be far removed from the George Eliot days where women had to publish under a pseudonym to be taken seriously (or are we?), but there’s more promising news out there if you look. In July Simon & Schuster named Dana Canedy its new SVP and publisher. Canedy, a former reporter for The New York Times and published author herself, won a Pulitzer in 2001 for her work on “How Race is Lived in America.” She is the first black person (and only the third woman) to head a major publishing house. In a PBS interview, Canedy said she’s committed to both equality and diversity and asks to be held accountable for progress. 

And just last month Elle Magazine pointed out an uptick in accolades for Black women writers with an honest piece: Black Women Are Topping Best Seller Lists. What Took So Long? The author celebrates recent gains while also describing the years of frustration she felt “as a Black woman who learned from a lifetime’s worth of class curricula that to be ‘well-read’ meant to immerse myself in white authorship.” I couldn’t have been the only reader thinking: Same, girl. Same.

New books from our Operator Collective community 

We find even more good news right here in our own Operator Collective community, where we have three LPs with books coming out in a two-week span. Just as contemporary fiction female writers have become more honest in their portrayals of racial and gender identities, health, mental illness, and family struggles, these women leaders bring an intense honesty to the workplace. They hold nothing back in order to change the conversation on women’s issues, both in the office and at home.

  • Shellye Archambeau’s Unapologetically Ambitious, recounts the challenges the author faced as a young Black woman, wife, and mother, while climbing the ranks at IBM and later as a CEO. She uses her own stories to relay approaches and practical strategies for others to employ on their journeys.
  • Bonita Stewart’s A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower, and Thrive offers a deep-dive analysis of Black female leaders and even offers a playbook of sorts to help Black women support one another as they climb what can be a lonely and stressful career ladder.
  • Maelle Gavet’s Trampled by Unicorns: Big Tech’s Empathy Problem and How to Fix It explores how the tech industry has both pushed humanity forward and also created an immense empathy deficit. Gavet is honest in her history, yet takes care to include specific calls to action to help drive lasting change. 

Now’s the time to find your voice

You know that book you’ve always been dying to write? That storyline or drama that evolves in your mind every night as you drift off to sleep? Publishing is at a tipping point, forced to reckon with gender and racial biases, so perhaps now’s the time to find your voice and get going on that first draft. 

We celebrate this rise in women authors – within our own community and across the globe – and look forward to the changes this year brings as we continue to push for parity in new places. As these changes continue, I can’t wait to see your book on the bestseller list. 

Right next to mine.

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.