Office Hours: Building Your GTM Machine

Building a go-to-market engine to fuel growth and carve a path to profitability is critical for success, but rarely a straight line. We gathered two of our stellar Operator LPs who are scaling iconic companies to share their inside track on cracking the GTM code with OpCo founders, CEOs, and GTM leaders from our portfolio. 

The Speakers: 

Heather Akuiyibo: VP Sales, Databricks.  Heather has been at the helm of Databrick’s sales since 2017.  She didn’t just navigate through the pandemic, she crushed it.  At the end of 2021, Databricks reported $800M in ARR, a NRR of 150% and over 7,000 customers, making it one of the top 10 most valuable companies.  

Olivia Nottebohm: Chief Revenue Officer / Advisor at Notion. Olivia grew Google’s Cloud Business internationally before joining Dropbox as COO, and most recently oversaw Notion’s entire marketing, sales, customer support and customer experience function, propelling the company to new heights. 

Here are the GTM gems they shared: 

Two key things to nail.

  • Hiring profiles for right now. Every single role should have a strong sense of what key skill sets are most important for this point in time. The AE  you needed two years ago is not the AE you need now, and won’t be the AE you need in two more years. Constantly ratchet up the skill sets, and tweak and fine tune the target profiles. 
  • Enable your people. Find out what makes the first, or the best, sales person tick and codify it. Just get it on paper, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Train everyone on the path to success.

Mistakes not to make.

  • Reinventing the wheel. Value propositions for the customer can be standardized based on pattern recognition: stages of customer, business problems they face.  Don’t allow too much deviation from the core fundamentals, and reel it in if it gets too far. Creative  sales scenarios often come at the opportunity cost of sales for more standard applications.
  • Not serving the customer. Obvious one, but customer success needs to happen at a particular scale whether they ask for it or not. A lot of research can be done online and self-served. But if they don’t get helped after a certain level of spend, expect dropoff. 
  • Not asking for executive sponsorship: if sellers don’t want to ask for help, by the time the executive relationship comes through it can be too late. 
  • No champion, no deal. Find out who the power users are quickly, and reach out to them. You can help change the profile of someone on the customer side by giving them things to do, things to advocate for, and making them stand out as a champion.

Just start documenting.

  • Surprise! There is no one right way to GTM. There’s no exact model that will work perfectly for your specific team and company.  And it will change as you grow.
  • Start writing down what works so people can learn from each other in the early days. Some salespeople are better at getting new logos, others are better at account management. 
  • Document who is responsible for what. How to use the tools. Explain management dashboards and why they’re important. Make it easy to search.
  • Start early with executive alignment so everyone knows when, where, and how it happens with every deal.
  • Having a playbook that evolves with you will always keep people in the loop about expectations and what good looks like. 
  • Capture videos and recordings from the best sales people. Having a library creates transparency and increases productivity. There’s nothing wrong with the beg, borrow, steal approach when it comes to best practices – and it’s important these sellers have the time to do what they do best versus onboard new people. 

Stay scrappy. 

  • Needs constantly change – internally, externally, different geos, etc. Stay flexible. 
  • Some things should work on a repeated basis, but have a tolerance for experimentation and empowerment. Never stop experimenting. 
  • Even the most sophisticated companies do things like a LinkedIn mosh on customers to find the relationships that can open doors and make the difference between a win and a loss. Relationships truly matter, even in PLG sales motions. 

Build your technical & data backbone before you think you need it. 

  • Get your systems right and invest in them early. Make sure you have your tech stack architected in a way that will scale overtime. If you’re not getting the inbound right now, a downturn can be a great time to do this properly. 
  • Data and storytelling are key components of realizing value. Decide what pieces of data matter, do the right tagging, and at the end of the day, data is where the answers lie. 
  • Get the balance of data and storytelling to drive the insight you need to prove.
  • When you don’t have enough clear data, listen to what the customer is saying and what the sales reps are saying. Keywords you hear can be a way into a story that wasn’t previously obvious.
  • Know what growth metrics matter to which teams like customer success and engineering, and think about what kind of north star internal metrics tell the true value. 

You’re probably going to be wrong 20% of the time. 

  • Don’t let perfection get in the way of good. Paralysis is the enemy of GTM success.
  • In a world where you don’t have perfect information, just make some bets. 
  • 80% of the best practices should be repeatable, 20% needs to be adapted. It’s easy to get stuck in old ways. Develop the muscle to recognize what’s repeatable, and what kinds of investments don’t have a return. Which is where culture can make a huge difference…

Keep it real, make it fun. 

  • Culture matters. There will always be deals that don’t go your way. Rather than trying to solve it yourself or run away, “embrace the suck”. From the CEO down, open and transparent communication informs teams about what’s really happening, and you can have a productive conversation about what is, and what is not, in your control to do differently. 
  • No support question is just a support question. All of the GTM functions work in concert with each other, and when something goes off the rails it shows up in other areas. It’s easy to point fingers, so always reinforce that the team is in it together. 
  • Spiffs and other incentives keep sales people engaged. Make it easy to participate, nominate each other, and celebrate as one team.
  • When there’s a big loss, talk about it. What are you going to lean into, what are you going to stop. Learning the hard way is valuable and should go into the playbook.
  • Map your successes to your values and customer needs.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NICHOLE: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

6 LGBTQ+ Operators to Know

To celebrate Pride month, we’re highlighting some of the most successful, respected LGBTQ+ executives in the tech industry. Get to know (and follow!) these exceptional LPs, leaders, and operators:

Angie Coleman (@angieidunno)
Director of Community, Operator Collective

It’s me! I’ve led and developed communities for nearly a decade, spanning B2B product spaces and peer social groups at companies like Snowflake, Lesbians Who Tech, Zendesk, and Dropbox. We’re talking all about my learnings and how to build communities that matter on the blog this summer. Outside of OpCo, you can find me supporting my local QPOC, LGBTQ+, and techie communities, or enjoying nature – hiking, kayaking, or overlanding off the grid. 

Christine or Chris Heckart (C_Heckart)
Co-Founder and CEO of Xapa World

Christine Heckart is the non-binary, genderfluid founder and CEO of Xapa World and board member of Contentful and SiTime. With over 25 years of leadership experience in tech, including as CEO, GM, president, and CMO in industries like entertainment, SaaS, data analytics, security, networking, and storage, she has been there and done that. Married for 35 years with three grown children, Christine writes, paints and follows leading science research in her spare time. 

Emily Heath (@CISOEmilyHeath)
Board Member, Norton LifeLock and LogicGate and Former SVP, Chief Trust and Security Officer, DocuSign

Emily is consistently recognized as a top CSO operator, and has deep experience leading complex, global F100 organizations through technology and cultural change while building highly motivated teams. Prior to DocuSign, where she was the Pride Executive Sponsor, she was VP, Chief Information Security Officer at United Airlines. Emily is passionate about empowering creative and diverse teams, mentoring, and leadership- most importantly, growing leaders. 

LaFawn Davis (@lafawn)
Senior Vice President, ESG, Indeed

LaFawn, #6 on Fast Company’s Queer 50 list this year, has led diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives for more than 15 years, championing the “culture add” of bringing in talented diverse professionals as opposed to focusing only on “culture fit.” In addition to her role at Indeed, she’s currently an advisory board member at Lesbians Who Tech and PowerToFly. She previously held key senior leadership roles at global technology companies like Google, Yahoo, PayPal, and Twilio. 

Monique Dorsainvil (@MoDorsainvil)
Public Policy Director, Meta

Monique spent seven and a half years at the Obama White House, and during that time was named a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. Now at Meta, she engages with third-party think tank and advocacy organizations and was a part of the core team that spearheaded the company’s Civil Rights Audit to look at policy and product from an anti-discrimination lens. Monique also serves on the boards of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the National Science and Technology Medals Foundation.

Nichole Mustard
Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer, Credit Karma

A true consumer champion, Nichole is the architect of Credit Karma’s win-win-win business model and has been instrumental in scaling it, finding the right mix of financial partners, and optimizing data science capabilities to ensure members and partners get the most value from the financial platform’s’s products and services. Under Nichole’s stewardship, Credit Karma has served more than 120M members globally and was acquired by Intuit in 2020 for $8.1B in cash and stock. Credit Karma operates independently and has tracked back-to-back record growth since the acquisition. When not building successful technology companies, Nichole lives with her wife and four children in Northern California.

 

From the Collective: 5 tips for fueling product-led growth

A primer from OpCo PortCo Demostack

Every company I talk to is focused on sustainable growth. SaaS founders and revenue leaders are all looking for new ways to stand out amongst their crowded markets. And competition is only getting more fierce as digital transformation accelerates. ​​Gartner forecasts that the enterprise software segment will experience the highest spending growth amongst IT categories this year, exceeding $670 billion.

In this context, one topic that keeps surfacing is product-led growth (PLG). This business strategy drives all user acquisition, expansion, conversion, and retention primarily through a product itself. It tends to create company-wide alignment across teams — including sales, marketing, product, and engineering — around the product as the single source of sustainable, scalable business growth.

Product-led growth is important because B2B buyers now have different purchasing preferences (increasingly similar to how they buy in their normal, business-to-consumer lives) that sellers must adjust to if they want to be successful. 54% of prospects want to learn how a product works on the first call, yet only 23% of sales reps plan to cover that. And nearly 75% of enterprise buyers say they’d rather buy through an app or website, rather than a salesperson.

The power of PLG 

Any enterprise SasS company looking to grow its customer base, retain its current users, and scale more efficiently should be thinking about product-led growth. PLG delivers faster growth because it lowers barriers to entry and acquisition costs, while increasing customer retention and upsells. When your product fixes a true pain or serves a true need, it will grow nearly virally, all on its own. You’ve likely heard of Calendly or Zoom because someone sent you a link to schedule or host a meeting. After experiencing tools like these, you like them so much, you want to use them too.

In a PLG model, acquisition costs are lower because your product has its own methods of capturing paying customers, without requiring marketing spend, sales development support, or an Account Executive. And the best PLG strategies involve products that are incredibly easy to start using in minutes, with little to no setup. Further, most users begin with a free (or very inexpensive) version of the product, rather than paying a larger upfront fee and taking days, weeks, or even months before they feel the return on investment. Because users simply pay when they are ready or when it feels like it is warranted, they feel satisfied that they get the right value for their money. Each of these factors help create a strong bond with the product and help adoption spread quickly.

Honing in on your Product Qualified Leads

Product Qualified Leads (PQLs) are people who’ve already signed up, used the product, entered their data, and become a committed user. Rather than filtering through thousands of prospects only to find the 20% who might be interested, your sales reps can work exclusively with users who already love your product and are probably ready to buy more. Identifying PQLs can also help your Customer Success team target the best upsell opportunities while increasing customer retention.

A cornerstone of product-led growth is the data that it provides about product usage. With this insight, customer success teams can focus on the best users of your product, or those who show the most potential for a potential upgrade or cross-sell. They can identify what features a user or team may benefit from, and inform them of how they can gain more value (this also helps with retention). And product teams can observe how users are integrating the solution into their workflows in order to spot ways they can make it even “stickier.” 

5 steps to jumpstart PLG

Now, all of that sounds great in theory, but product-led growth doesn’t just happen on its own. Here are five steps that help companies establish a successful PLG strategy:

1. Educate your team on product-led growth. Don’t be surprised if many of them are not yet familiar with PLG or its benefits. Even though most of us have experienced it as buyers by now, many B2B software teams are still set in the traditional rhythms of enterprise selling cycles. Before you can begin any sort of PLG transformation, you must first educate your team (both above and below) to garner support and understanding.

2. Assess your starting point. Each industry and product will need to approach product-led growth slightly differently, but your foundation for a successful PLG strategy should include:

  • Excellent product functionality. Your product must be second to none, so when users try it, they can’t stop using it.
  • Frictionless user experience. Your onboarding and general navigation should be simple and easy
  • All-star product management team. You’ll need stellar product leads to drive the bulk of this effort.

3. Shift your team’s roles. PLG impacts the entire organization. Instead of your company’s revenue being primarily marketing-led or sales-led, it will become driven by the product. Instead of having your marketing team focus on driving marketing qualified leads towards sales, they should push any sort of potential user towards the product, and then focus on converting those users into PQLs. By allowing your sales team to only deal with the most qualified users, they can shift from worrying about sales development (outside of enterprise deals), and instead focus on converting current users into paying users. PQLs have a significantly higher conversion rate than sales qualified leads, even though they are lower-touch.

4. Gather PLG usage data. Just as marketing needs data around webpage visits, content downloads, event attendance, and referral sources, PLG requires product data to be effective. It’s important to track what users do within your product, including where they spend their time, what dashboards they look at, and what features they use. All of this will help you convert the right folks into paying users and improve your customer experience over time.

5. Measure and repeat. Once your product-led growth process is in place, it’s time to measure, establish goals, and repeat. See what strategies work and what don’t, and adapt your company’s approach accordingly. 

To learn more about this topic, check out our guide to product-led growth in 2022.

-Nick Cronin, Content Marketing, Demostack

From the Collective: On Community – Hitting the Limits of Frameworks

Welcome to the first post in a three-part series about community from the one and only Angie Coleman, Director of Community at OpCo. Angie has led and developed communities for nearly a decade, spanning B2B product spaces and peer social groups at companies like Snowflake, Lesbians Who Tech, Zendesk, and Dropbox. In short, she knows how to build communities that matter. 

Outside of work you can find her supporting her local QPOC, LGBTQ+, and techie communities, or educating non-technical folks on the inner workings of Web 3 with her not-to-be-missed YouTube Series, Web3Weirdos. She’s also an avid nature fan and can often be found hiking, kayaking, or overlanding off the grid with her adorable pup Enzo. 

Angie is one of the most referred and sought-after community leaders in tech, and in this series she will take us on a deep dive into her world of community and offer practical advice on what it takes to bring people together in a brilliant way.

Hint: it’s definitely not a “build it, and they will come” thing. 

***

The most boring phrase I continuously find myself saying is, “I’m Angie, and I build communities.” I’ve been saying this for years. It’s usually a reply to someone asking me what “building community” means. Now, because of the growth of the community industry and my own career, I have this exchange 3-8x/week (depending on how social I’m being!). The job is big, so when asked, I half-honestly respond with, ‘I create programming and events that bring people together.” 

It’s a reductive response. It doesn’t allow for any of the vastness, or the nuance, that is community. Community has turned into a buzzword, arguably one of the more popular tech ones in the last couple of years. 

Here’s a look at how I arrived at this blah definition – and importantly where I’m taking it next. It starts, as many things do, with the frameworks. 

How the Frameworks Work

If you were to ask me even just last year how to build a successful community, I probably would have rattled off something about The 5 E’s of Community, my personal framework, or pointed you to SPACES, or the 7 P’s, or maybe the Community Canvas. There are a lot of frameworks out there that claim to help you build a brilliant community. 

And they will, to a degree. All of those frameworks will help you create events and programming that bring people together. They will all take you from inception to proposal to execution and scale. They’ll help you map what’s important to your community, shape the type of community container you build, and explore KPIs and success metrics. They’ll outline touchpoints and events, along with user contributions, NPS scores, and active users in the space so you know where to focus your efforts. In short, the frameworks will help you build your community exactly as the industry has defined it.

But what if I told you that community can be, and should be, more than a series of operationalized events and programming? 

The Gaps in the Frameworks

I mentioned above that a framework can help you build a community ‘exactly as the industry has defined it.’ Some of these frameworks have been in rotation since before I got into the industry and a few have changed to adapt to the new ways people want to, and actually do, come together.

These frameworks were created with one specific goal in mind: measure the value. When asked about the health of a community, any community expert will be quick to tell you that it’s all about the metrics, the touchpoints, and big rocks we’re producing. Some may rely on NPS scores or benchmark surveys to help quantify the qualitative while others dig into customer testimonials and quotes to capture those warm and fuzzy moments. Beyond community health, the value of the community is often defined by how impactful the community is on business goals ranging from user acquisition to quarterly revenue. It’s actually not uncommon to hear community professionals lead with the metrics-driven business value to ensure the org has a chance to exist.

But I would argue the metrics are only one piece of the success puzzle. A community could measure 40 touchpoints in 1 year, 20 events, a 10% reduction in support tickets due to forum support, and a successful NPS score to boot, but never once ask the members how those touchpoints felt or why they responded the way they did. In short, so what? The focus on metrics as the one source of hard truth negatively impacts community growth and success in multiple ways: 

1. A framework reliant on metrics and numbers will influence community builders and managers to believe numbers = success and higher numbers = more success. For example, if you report that the community reached 2K monthly active users last month, what’s stopping an ask to push for 3K within the next quarter? While growth is usually a goal of communities, growing for the sake of growing vs intentionally nurturing existing members and allowing for a mix of organic and inorganic growth will cause tension for the members and stress for the staff. Bigger is not always better. 

2. What usually follows an aggressive push for metric-based growth is community attrition. While a community may already have a great group of active, excited members eager to contribute, when leaders shift their focus to hypergrowth, those existing members get a little neglected. It’s not intentional, just the outcome of focusing on acquiring new members vs nurturing the current ones. As those existing members take note of the new focus and actions supporting growth vs., say, focusing on improving the existing support forum functionality, they get fed up, and they leave. This member attrition then has a directly negative impact on the health and value of the community. With members no longer using the community features to support themselves and one another, they’ll move to external sources of support, which does two things: 1. It drives up customer support tickets as people seek help elsewhere, which in turn drives up the in-house cost for support and 2. Members gather in externally managed community platforms like Reddit or Twitter to seek additional support and create their own, niche, community. Neither outcomes support a healthy business community.

3. A community based on metrics prioritizes the transaction over the member experience. Now, I’m a big fan of measurable data, and I by no means think community needs to look like all of us holding hands and sharing feelings, but leaning on metrics falls so far to the other side, a non-human side, that it makes it impossible to successfully support and add value to your members’ lives (something every community wants to do in some capacity). Community-led Growth is gaining popularity as a new growth model for companies, but behind community-led is experience-led growth, and without a positive member experience, communities will never unlock organic advocates to share the value of their product/business/service within external circles of influence.

Okay, so we know we need metrics, but we also need something else…but what? I’d say it’s about time for a community mindshift. 

Expanding Community

Community is more than just the numbers. It’s how people feel and why they come back. It’s who they show up as and how they contribute. It’s beyond a transaction, an ask, and even a brand.

More specifically, community is how people come together (whether that’s 1:1 vs. in a group, for events and conferences, in public vs. private, virtual or IRL, etc.). How people come together stems from why they come together (what need or want is the action/program/event filling?). The why and how together create a culture, intentionally or not, and that culture is what creates a lasting community. When done right, it’s community first AND last.

I like to say community creators are building worlds for their members, because for many members, their communities become their worlds. It’s where they go when they need help, want to share news, or are looking for a resource. It’s who they share doctors and therapists with, where they highlight their favorite tools and gear, how they trade recipes or give backdoor referrals and recommendations for hire…the list could go on. 

Everyone, regardless of official affiliation, moves around and within a community (or multiple). Those communities create their own private, safe worlds for their members. It’s within those spaces that people are supported and empowered to do more, be more, give more. Some will even go beyond themselves. That is the power of community. 

As part of this 3-blog series, my next post will explore how we can build and sustain communities that go beyond the numbers to unlock a member’s full potential. Stay tuned for more or drop me your questions at angelica@operatorcollective.com.

AAPI Month: 11 Exceptional Asian OpCo Community Members 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christina Liu
Chief Accounting Officer, Confluent

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

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

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

Dini Mehta (@dinimehta)
CRO, Lattice

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Tong (@YayLT)
General Manager, AppDynamics

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

Nick Mehta (@nrmehta)
CEO, Gainsight

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

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

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

Yongsheng Wu (@yswu)
VP of Engineering, Circle

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

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

Databento: Bite-sized financial data for all

The company: Databento

Fintech startup Databento is on the cusp of disrupting traditional financial data providers by providing instant access to market data with a pay-as-you-go, utility-like model. Its platform serves any app, product, or team that uses market data, including trading firms, brokers, AI/ML analytics companies, and universities. Using a proprietary method to slice and price data, Databento allows customers to buy only the data they need in “bite-sized” pieces (like the food you’d pack in a bento box). This radical approach overhauls legacy industry practices like opaque pricing, burdensome annual licenses, and manual onboarding. 

Why you should pay attention 

CEO Christina Qi and her team (who have years of experience running high-frequency trading desks) astutely recognize that, although data is one of the fastest growing segments within fintech, incumbent providers are stuck in the past. They know firsthand the pains of spending months dealing with slow, costly data vendors in order to find, clean, and onboard new datasets. In just three years, they’ve built a next generation data platform and raised over $27.8M in funding. Soon, the platform will be ready for the 2,000+ companies that have signed up on Databento’s waitlist.  

The details 

In preparing to launch a self-service, on-demand market data platform, Databento has curated the financial industry’s best-quality data and built the technical architecture needed to deliver it at the fastest speeds with seamless scalability. By providing the same raw data sold by exchanges, but at a fraction of the costs — with flexible terms, transparent pricing, and no lockup period — Databento will help companies eliminate tens of thousands of dollars in upfront data expenses per dataset. 

Ideal for mission-critical applications such as order routing and risk management, Databento promises cutting edge performance and data integrity, with 99.99% uptime on real-time streaming data, nanosecond latencies, and automated onboarding. Its 1.4 petabytes of data spans 400,000+ tickers (eg. futures, FX, equities), is available in multiple formats, and is delivered direct from the source (the colocation facilities of each market) without any third-party data providers in between.

Why were obsessed 

We love Databento’s mission to democratize the financial industry by making data less intimidating and easier to understand. The team’s focus on helping even smaller customers and non-technical users to assess data’s accuracy and usefulness will undoubtedly make a positive impact. In building Databento with her co-founders, Christina always remembers a valuable insight that she learned when launching her own fund ten years ago: “A great way to vet a company is to see how they treat their lowest-paying client.”

Databento’s origin

A Chinese immigrant to the U.S., Christina infuses diverse life experiences into her leadership approach. She grew up on food stamps and won international piano competitions before making her way to MIT. There, she started a hedge fund (Domeyard LP) from her dorm with $1000 in savings, and was eventually trading $7 billion a day. During that experience, one of the mistakes she learned from was wasting millions of dollars on data and infrastructure because there was no pay-as-you-go option at the time. 

After finding financial success and making a name for herself in the industry, Christina took a step back from Wall Street a few years ago. She wanted to put her energy into a purpose-driven business rather than continue to invest her time into making billionaires richer. With the help of co-founder Luca Lin, she’s doing just that at Databento, while also giving back as co-chair of the board of Invest in Girls and more.

Get involved

Want to be part of the Databento rocketship? Check out the company’s job opportunities or sign up to be one of the first to know when its platform comes out of beta mode.

Operator Spotlight: Chainalysis Chief Product Officer Pratima Arora

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

This month we spoke with Pratima Arora (@pratima_arora), the chief product officer responsible for the entire R&D organization, at blockchain data platform company Chainalysis, which just raised $170M at an $8.6B valuation. Pratima’s rock-star track record also includes serving as head of Confluence Cloud at Atlassian, and nine years leading product strategy for strategic initiatives like the machine and deep learning platform at Salesforce. She is a builder, always a learner, and a mom.  

After extensive experience in SaaS, you recently moved into the world of cryptocurrency. What attracted you to this opportunity and what have you learned in the process of changing markets?

PRATIMA: An ability to have an impact and my curiosity is what always drives me, and attracted me to this role. The Internet made information accessible to everyone, whether you are in Cambodia or New York. Everyone has the same information at their fingertips. I believe crypto currency will bring the same equality to the financial systems in the world and I hope to play a small role in it. My biggest learning is that everyone is a learner in the Web3 space. The technology is moving so fast that even if you joined the industry a decade ago, you need to relearn all the new waves of things. 

You’ve led several wildly successful product organizations over your career. How do the best teams maintain a product strategy focus that drives overall business impact?

PRATIMA: It all starts with the people. The best teams build the best products. Building successful products is a balance between art and science – you need the science to build, measure and learn. You need the art and right side brain to build highly usable and delightful products, but also have the intuition to make decisions without perfect data. 

What is changing in product right now that early startups should optimize for? 

PRATIMA: The best and fastest way to build products is to use hypothesis driven development, especially when you are in an early stage startup. Use an iterative approach to build fast, measure everything, and learn. Experimenting and feedback loops are extremely important. 

What’s your take on product-led growth vs sales-led? What do you need to do differently across customer support, marketing, and sales? How is it re-defining roles and responsibilities? What’s next for PLG? 

PRATIMA: I get this question a lot and I personally think it is a non-question. Everyone should follow the business model that fits their customer base. You will follow a traditional sales model (sales-led) or a product-led model depending upon your customers. Salesforce started selling CRM to the Sales teams and the sales-led model fit perfectly. It is very hard to sell into the public sector using a self-serve model. For companies like Atlassian – their customer base is developers who do not like talking to salespeople, hence the product-led model was a natural fit. You do a lot of things differently between the two models, starting from the ownership of the revenue number and which leader is responsible for it. Product leaders own a target in product-led companies vs. sales leaders. Another big difference is the percentage of company resources going towards GTM vs. R&D – it’s reversed. If product-led and sales-led are two ends of the spectrum, we are seeing one can pick up useful tactics from the other. For example, a sales-led company can benefit from a free trial model that helps them build a pipeline. 

What are the metrics early stage companies really need to nail to indicate product-market fit? 

PRATIMA: User engagement is probably the most important metric to nail for product market fit. Are the users finding value and are they coming back? Engagement can mean very different things from one product to another. For example, the engagement metric for Pinterest can be the number of pins or boards vs. for Airbnb, it could be successful trips made. 

What are the most important traits you hire for when building out a product org? 

PRATIMA: The first skill-set is communication. Product folks interact with so many different internal and external stakeholders that without concise and clear communication, it’s hard for them to succeed. Other skills are leadership, the ability to deliver outcomes, and product craft. Product craft is composed of product management frameworks that can be learned and the intuition needed to make good product judgment. 

Why do you feel cognitive diversity is so important for product teams in particular? Can you share a specific example from your experience?

PRATIMA: Diversity is essential for product teams for two reasons: 1) your customers are very diverse so it helps represent the population and build better products; and 2) diversity helps you solve problems more creatively and you often end up with better solutions. The key job of a product manager is to solve customer problems with creativity. 

Last year, you also joined the board of cloud infrastructure company DigitalOcean. What do you wish someone had told you before taking your first board position?

PRATIMA: I did quite a bit of homework before I took my board seat. I can only sit on one board due to my time limitations, so it was very important for me to pick the right one. Three key things:

  1. People: do you like the board and the CEO, is there a positive relationship where board recommendations are implemented vs. where the board is a formality?
  2. The stage: it’s extremely important to identify the stage of the company based on what you are looking for.
  3. Learning: is there a good balance of where you add value and get to learn from others as well. 

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

PRATIMA: I was a software engineer at Intuit and did not get my first product management job. It took courage to go ask the hiring manager about it, and I got the best feedback. It was about speaking up more about my opinions and not waiting until I was 95% sure to state my opinions. “Strong opinions loosely held” is a great value for every PM to hold. 

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

PRATIMA: I love Kim Scott’s book on Radical Candor and ask almost all managers to read it. First and foremost, you need to care about your employees and team, and then you need to be honest. A good manager is always looking out for their people’s growth irrespective of whether it is within your company or outside. 

What’s your secret super power? 

PRATIMA: Grit – the superpower that gives you the ability to get back up again and keep going. Personally, I also love the “Get Back Up Again” song from the movie Trolls. I learned this the hard way and I just don’t like to quit. 

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

How Hightouch is solving the data activation puzzle

The company: Hightouch

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

Why you should pay attention 

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

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

The details 

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

How it works

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

To get their data flowing, customers simply:

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

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

Why were obsessed 

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

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

Hightouch’s origin

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

Get involved

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

 

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

Office Hours Session Notes – Culture Scaling

It’s not the foosball table. 

Intentionally scaling culture is the secret weapon that separates truly great companies from the rest. Creating exceptional culture goes far beyond HR, and gone are the days of free snacks keeping employees happy and engaged. How values are lived – or not – has an impact across the entire company. We gathered three exceptional operators who have mastered the art, strategy, and storytelling of culture to share with our founders lessons learned – from the earliest days of company building through IPO and beyond. 

Office Hours are interactive, candid Q&A conversations and are not recorded. We capture the bottom line in a “Session Notes” format.

The Speakers:

  • Dini Mehta, Chief Revenue Officer, Lattice, has accomplished the seemingly impossible –  scaling a sales organization from 7 to 120 employees with almost no attrition while building revenue from $5M to $100M+ in less than 4 years. Was her college mascot! 
  • Tracy Williams, Chief People & Diversity Officer, New Relic, has transformed culture through a strategic partnership with the CEO. Is a sneakerhead and loves her Jordans. 
  • Nairi Tashjian Hourdajian, VP Communications, Content & Community Marketing, Figma, has been at the intersection of storytelling and culture for nearly a decade, from early days at Uber to Figma. In her next life will be a hip hop A&R exec. 

Culture means a lot of different things to lots of different people. What is culture and why does it matter? 

  • It’s the set of shared practices, norms, and how you make decisions
  • It’s why people feel engaged – it’s how you scale
  • Invest in your people and they’ll invest in you. People strategy is how you achieve business strategy. Culture eats strategy for lunch
  • If you’re not intentional, you’ll work really, really hard – or you’ll fail
  • Everyone in a company wants community, growth, and purpose 
  • Culture and values are like an OS for a company – when done well it brings and fosters efficiency. You’ll move faster

How to make values really lived? 

  • Build them into company kickoffs and all-hands 
  • Operationalize them: make them a part of the hiring process, review cycles, compensation objectives, etc. – if the operational side gets lost, values become just words on a page
  • Consistently talking about what’s important to you as a company aligns everyone on an ongoing basis 
  • Think about and balance what values mean externally, how they show up to customers and partners 
  • Values often sound like they could be for any company – make them unique and they’ll stick. Make sure people know what they mean and how they are lived 
  • Recognize and reward moments/people when the values are clearly lived – from micro-moments like praise when values are lived to peer reward systems

Culture building in a remote/hybrid world: 

  • All people managers need to be on the same page. Enable, empower, and coach
  • View culture as a product: what’s working, what’s not?
  • At first, we were all skeptical that you could have a “real” culture remotely, but it’s been a total 180. It’s about how work is part of your life and not just adding to your day-to-day
  • Create intentional moments to show who you are, and have some fun. Creative ways to connect and reward your team: company-wide week off in summer, a digital scavenger hunt, sharing a picture from your childhood – all ways to build real, human connection and have fun
  • Adopt a decision-making framework so it’s clear how new ideas can be surfaced. When you go from 150 to 600 employees in a year, it’s natural that the early folks have earned trust and new folks may not feel engaged yet. Example: SPADE really helps in an async environment
  • Create space for community conversations about what’s happening in the world – no agenda, just safe space. Exec team shows up and participates

How to balance culture and speed: hiring in hypergrowth

  • You have to build an org where you value both. It’s easy to say that you have to grow at all costs. But it’s a short term win and ultimately not the right thing for your metrics
  • Give people space to execute – sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. But it pays off – you’ll go faster in 6 months as a result
    • You have to have full alignment from the board to the exec team to the people managers – otherwise, it’s a recipe for failure
    • If you slow down in order to do things right, you’re not slowing down
  • The hiring process as you grow needs to include questions about values to see if there is alignment. One strategy: ask candidates to share stories that show how they embody a particular value
  • There’s no separate culture interview, it’s embedded into every interview
  • Intentionally focusing on hiring talent from diverse backgrounds Does. Not. Slow. You. Down. If you want diverse talent, you need to go to diverse channels for sourcing

How do you reinforce values during the onboarding process and in the first 90 days, especially when 75% of the company has been hired in recent months?

  • Find ways to constantly and creatively reaffirm your values – a welcome package with stickers, notebooks, etc. Onboarding buddy has a script to talk about them and what they mean at work. Show new people stories and examples in a sizzle reel pulled from All Hands and Off Site meetings
  • New Hire welcome meetings: the CEO should talk about the values, then people will understand how important they are to the organization from Day 1

Hiring a sales org: 

  • Sales orgs are hard – a lot of practices are based on scarcity and fear-based incentives. What’s the org you want to work for? You don’t have to do it the way others have done it 
  • You as leaders own this – when it comes to culture and values you want sales folks to be aligned to you. Don’t be afraid to call it out like you see it – do not let moments of misalignment pass. Don’t compromise. You can’t make someone mission-aligned
  • It’s common to think of sales people as mercenaries not missionaries. That’s why you see such high attrition, but don’t view sales people as quarter-driving machines
  • You have to walk the walk as a leadership team. If a deal is good for sales but not for the company, walk away

On culture add vs. culture fit:

  • Hire with intention. If you don’t want everyone to be the same and think the same, then you have to hire people who may not come from the same background or the same friend circle
  • Unconscious bias seeps in. What does a “fit” mean? Think about whether they align to your values 
  • You also can’t just throw different people together and assume everyone will get along and it’ll all work out – people need to understand context and have a safe space to talk about differences. Create space for people to disagree
  • Hire for competencies you know you’re going to need way before you need them, that’s what builds the engine 
  • The important work starts after you hire someone, so make sure people are included and feel like they belong
  • Make your intentions as a leader known – repetition is key. If you say it three times a week, it’ll stick maybe 70% of the time. Have leaders truly understand the CEO/founder’s individual, real values – it takes time
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.