A data workspace flex? That’s Hex.

Hex is a Data Workspace platform that makes it easy for teams to connect to data, analyze it in collaborative SQL and Python-powered notebooks, and share work as interactive data apps and stories. The company was founded by ex-Palantir and TrialSpark engineers – all users and builders of data tools. They’ve felt the acute pain that Data Scientists and Analysts endure having to distill insights from fragmented sources, make do with inadequate tools, and report out in antiquated ways. That’s what inspired them to create the data workspace product they always wish they had: Hex.

Why you should pay attention 

Data Scientists and Analysts are among a business’s most strategic players: they illuminate insights that can bend the trajectory of a business. Yet they’ve had to work with tools that are riveted to the past: jumping between local Python notebooks, traditional BI platforms, spreadsheets, SQL scratchpads, visualization tools, and scripts and more. Hex is changing that game. Companies all over the world including Glossier, Imgur, Pave, and many more are using Hex to bring a whole new model to how they explore data, collaborate on analyses, share quick reports, build complex apps, and bring strategic insights to light. 

Game changer 

Not long ago Data Scientists and Analysts had to also be software engineers. No more. With the Hex data workspace, configuring local environments, data connections, and compute backends is history. Sending copy-pasted charts, emailed CSVs, one-off decks, and PDF’d docs is in the past. Data Scientists and Analysts now have advanced tools that allow them to get out of the weeds and elevate the impact they’re making to the business.  

How it works

Hex integrates with popular data warehouses, including Snowflake, Redshift, and BigQuery. It stores credentials securely, eliminating friction around environment variables or plaintext tokens. Its built-in SQL cells are fully-featured SQL editors. Hex has a Python and SQL notebook environment with a built-in Chart Cell that makes visualization easy. Its collaborative notebooks deliver a true analysis workspace for teams with features including real-time multiplayer commenting, granular permissions, and version control. The App Builder makes it easy to turn analyses into interactive, shareable apps. It lets stakeholders see for themselves “what happens if…” by using pull-down menus and check boxes that anyone can use. It’s built from the ground up to support secure data connections, deployment to customer clouds, full end-to-end encryption, SSO integration, and other security-focused features vital in today’s data-everywhere world.

Why we’re obsessed 

Hex helps data teams make their work more impactful. It turns notebooks into collaborative, interactive documents and apps. Hex’s simple but powerful UI allows the entire organization to benefit from dynamic analysis and modeling. Hex’s users are vital to every business, and Hex turbocharges their productivity. Data Scientists, Analysts, and the stakeholders they serve can see and share real time data and immediate outputs with Hex. This company is defining what’s next in Data Workspace.

Get involved

Access to Hex is currently invite-only, but new teams are added every day. To get on the radar, reach out directly to Hex and share why you’d love to join the early access program. 

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: Technical Leader Nancy Wang

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 Nancy Wang, the General Manager of Data Protection and Governance services at Amazon Web Services.  

You oversee a tremendous amount of technical operations at AWS Backup, which in turn has a tremendous customer base, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. How has working remotely affected your operations? Do you have any lessons learned as we all start to think about a “back to work” structure? 

NANCY: Software businesses like AWS are fortunate in that I don’t think remote work hasn’t really affected our day-to-day operations. We now have a better appreciation for which tasks can be taken “offline” and handled asynchronously, and which tasks actually need everyone to show up in a single conference room. As we’re finding out, building software is an extremely team-oriented sport that requires many parallel threads. For that reason, I’m eagerly anticipating the day when I can collaborate with my team and other cross-functional teams in real-time, physically together. 

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

NANCY: Product teams should prioritize meeting customers where they are, whether that means meeting them in their old offices, new offices, or continuing to meet online. There’s no substitute for earning trust with customers by spending time with them. 

Engineering teams should prioritize supporting each engineer as an individual. I’ve found through my career that engineers tend to have less awareness of what they want for themselves (both professionally and personally) than their counterparts in other job families. Exercises like self-authoring (where they deliberately write about what makes them happy) can really help engineers and their managers understand what kind of experience each engineer wants, plus drive greater job satisfaction and retention. 

What will change for technical leaders post-COVID, and what’s here to stay?

NANCY: One of the themes I’m tracking is whether COVID causes the geographic dispersion of technical talent away from Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest, and what that means for technology leaders. AWS is investing in HQ2 in Crystal City, Virginia, and many tech companies are moving to Austin. Boston, because of its proximity to MIT and Harvard, has historically attracted talent as well. The question is whether the new leaders in these places will develop into equally influential tech leaders, or whether they will advance their careers by moving west.

You founded Advancing Women in Tech (AWIT) in 2017 to empower women throughout their technical careers. What was the impetus for starting this organization? 

NANCY: When I started at Google, while the leadership was excellent, there were no immediate female leaders for me to look up to. Several female colleagues and I decided to create an open community of role models, so future women entering this field can have access to more mentors for their own careers. I’m proud to say that hundreds of women in the AWIT community have now gotten promotions and raises. My philosophy has always been: if men can refer one another for promotions and roles in their communities, why not expand this club to include women? Enter AWIT. 

What’s one piece of advice you’d offer other women looking to build a career in product or engineering?

NANCY: My advice to anyone, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, is to be persistent and have grit. If you truly want something, you can’t let rejections or mean words from others distract you from your career goals.  

What’s one thing leaders can do to foster teamwork and a sense of belonging right now? 

NANCY: Our leaders are here to create the vision of the future and to advance everyone – customers, potential customers, and team members – toward that vision. So leaders need to be careful about being drawn into tactical issues, no matter how tempting, until everyone else on the team has tried to solve it but failed. If they are constantly dealing with a particular customer, employee, or project, then everyone else – particularly high-performing team members – will notice and naturally ask, “Where is my leader?” and “What’s my future here?” 

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?

NANCY: Out of college, I was recruited to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where I helped build healthdata.gov. This was a formative experience because it changed my professional emphasis from becoming a doctor to becoming a technologist. I’m happy to see schools and nonprofits introduce technical training earlier in girls’ educational journeys, so that some of them have the same realization.

What’s your secret super power?  

NANCY: Discretion. If your super power is secret, you shouldn’t talk about it 🙂

(Jokes aside, empathy. It will help you get through the toughest trials of management and later on, leadership, when you are managing managers of managers.)

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 Collective announces new Board of Advisors

Great news: We’ve formalized our new Operator Collective Board of Advisors. The Board consists of four of the most sought after and admired leaders in technology today, positioning Operator Collective to have an even greater impact on both our portfolio companies and on the Venture Capital ecosystem at large. As members of the Board, they will serve as strategic Fund advisors and will help our portfolio leaders and their teams as they build, grow, and scale their companies.

This group represents the very best of what technology has to offer; each leader is passionate about helping Operator Collective shepherd in a new wave of tech companies and a new level of diversity in Venture Capital. 

The Operator Collective Board of Advisors:

  • Tekedra Mawakana, Co-CEO of Waymo. Tekedra is widely known for her operating prowess and strategic thinking, both of which will help our portfolio companies understand how to plan for growth while remaining nimble.

  • Claire Hughes Johnson, COO of Stripe. Claire’s keen sense for how to scale companies into empires makes her one of the most sought-after minds in Silicon Valley and beyond. Her knowledge will be a critical piece to help our portfolio companies as they build and grow.

  • Stacy Brown-Philpot, Former CEO of TaskRabbit. Stacy knows how to lead organizations through change. Her deep understanding of what it takes to be an exceptional CEO will be invaluable to our portfolio company CEOs as they scale.

  • Erica Schultz, President Field Operations at Confluent. Erica is known to run the most effective revenue organizations in the valley; her understanding of how to scale through change will help our portfolio companies position themselves for success.
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 to set your customer success org up to thrive

Building a customer success (CS) org from scratch is a major initiative, but the right hiring strategy is what sets the entire business up for growth. 

Growing the customer success team should truly be a top priority for any early-stage tech company. Unfortunately, though, SaaS companies often forget to think seriously about scaling customer success until they experience a major outage or crisis but by then the damage is done. It’s important to start early with a hiring strategy for the different stages of growth, but what specific skills should you look for in your first few Customer Success Managers (CSMs)?

Where do you even start?

I spent 14 years building and growing the Customer Success org at Salesforce, followed by 4 years as Slack’s first CCO and Global Head of Customer Success. Both positions taught me a tremendous amount about the hidden growth opportunities a great Customer Success org brings, but at Slack, I learned firsthand why it’s so important to get the right team in place early. 

I spent my first several months there interviewing and hiring candidates. Slack was growing extremely fast, and I knew I had to get the right team in place to manage both into the executive team and out to the customer, and also to handle volume. I was lucky to have several amazing CSMs already in place, so I could look to fill in the leadership positions. 

Making your first customer success hires

Earlier in your journey, you’ll want more of a product-expert-type CSM. This is simply because your product is still new and you’re trying to achieve product-market fit. Since you’re probably in high growth mode, those CSMs might need to have more of a sales lens. In the early days, your product is still new and your customers will likely be fairly small, so it’s also wise to lean on reps that are more technical oriented. 

In later stages you’ll want to hire reps and leaders who think about how to create the right processes, training, and systems in order to scale but in the very early days, you simply need people who care deeply about helping your customers.

Growing your customer success team

In the early days your success team has to focus on the reactive work of service and support and of course you have to keep that going. But during the growth stage, you’ll also need to start building the team that’s responsible for the more proactive work of customer retention.

I often think of the perfect CSM as a unicorn – a mythical creature that embodies the best parts of other orgs. After all, customer success managers need to be…

  • Product experts to be able to talk through features and workflows 
  • Engineers to tackle the integrations and nitty-gritty questions 
  • Management consultants in order to extract what the business value is
  • Sales people to promote add-ons and features 
  • Communications leaders to relay tactical feedback to the product team
  • Presentation gurus to impress both customers and executives

Can you find someone who embodies everything? You may need to pick and choose which of those functions is most helpful or necessary at any specific time. While you may start off with the more technical CSMs, as you get bigger, you’ll want to hire CSMs with more of a consulting background because they’re really having to orchestrate value propositions and bring all these different resources together to ensure that a customer is successful. As you interview candidates, it’s important to consider where you are in your journey and what your product type is. 

Get creative in your hiring

Hiring is difficult right now because everyone’s looking to grow their customer success teams and there just aren’t enough people who’ve done it. You might have to get creative when looking for folks. I’ve had great luck hiring former consultants and also former communications and media backgrounds, since both functions involve a high-touch model and the use of detailed analytics to prove value. 

As mentioned, it’s difficult to find those perfect all-in-one CSM creatures – so when you find them, be sure to hang on tight. 

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: Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta

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 Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta.  

You’ve been in the tech and enterprise software space for 20+ years. How has the customer success function evolved in that time? 

NICK: We’ve gone through several evolutions over time:

  • Phase 0 – Reactive: Nearly every company started with the old model, where clients were stuck and where the “post-sales” job was about being reactive to customers’ “support” needs.
  • Phase 1 – Proactive: Most companies realized this model doesn’t work in the cloud, where customers hold the power. They established Customer Success Management teams to proactively manage the customer journey via a lifecycle of onboarding, health checks, Quarterly Business Reviews, and the like.
  • Phase 2 – Outcomes: Businesses learned that clients don’t buy software products to just deploy and use them; they buy to obtain business outcomes and value. In this phase, companies redesigned their lifecycles to go from the outcomes promised in the sales cycle to those delivered post-sale.
  • Phase 3 – Transformation: Over time, companies figured out that Customer Success is a gold mine of data about clients. They used this information to rethink their entire company, from product strategy to go-to-market to finance.

What about just over the past year – How has the pandemic changed customer expectations and the overall customer experience? 

NICK: We’ve seen three fundamental changes. First, Customer Success is must-have because clients are much more sensitive about what is actually mission critical, and vendors must work much harder to stay “above the line” in terms of what software is kept. Second, Digital Customer Success went mainstream, since companies no longer had the ability to meet customers face-to-face. And third, the move to virtual allowed vendors to dramatically increase their engagement with clients, since they no longer had to deal with the logistics and time of business travel.

What will change for CS leaders post-COVID, and what’s here to stay?

NICK: I think we’ll see several changes. We’ll absolutely go back to seeing big clients face-to-face on an as-needed basis. We’ve also learned that we need to find a more sustainable work-life balance for our teams. That acknowledgement is a big shift from before and a welcome change. 

As for things that are here to stay, I see a few. Digital-first engagement models, of course. Also Customer Success as a must for vendors, and Customer Success as a growth driver (not just a defensive mechanism).

What are some key customer metrics organizations should be tracking right now?

NICK: Generally, companies should think of 3 tiers of metrics: Lagging indicators (or your final goals), leading indicators (or metrics to track toward the lagging targets), and activity indicators (the behaviors that drive leading indicators).

The typical lagging indicators for SaaS businesses are:

  • Retention – Gross Retention Rate
  • Expansion – Net Retention Rate
  • Advocacy – Net Promoter Score

Companies increasingly aggregate leading indicators into “health scores.” For example, companies may create “Retention Health Scores” or “Expansion Health Scores.” These are often composites of underlying indicators like:

  • Support activity
  • Product usage/adoption
  • Stakeholder alignment/turnover
  • Customer payment information

Businesses then track activities to drive toward leading indicators – like:

  • Number of clients with Quarterly Business Reviews held
  • Number of clients where we conducted a health check
  • Number of clients where we built a value map

If you could give one piece of advice to Founders/CEOs of early-stage tech companies, what would it be?

NICK: My best advice is to identify your personal why and be transparent about it. Do you want to make money? Are you just in it for the win? Do you want to build something that creates value? Don’t adopt somebody else’s why just because it seems fashionable. Authenticity is everything.

What’s one thing senior leaders can do to foster teamwork and a sense of belonging right now? 

NICK: Put your entire team through a personality test like Enneagram RHETI to help you learn about each others’ motivations. This was both eye-opening and tremendously helpful for us at Gainsight. 

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?

NICK: I need a cool backstory like AOC! I had a paper route as a young boy, though I don’t know how many papers I actually delivered. I was nerdily programming for a local hospital in high school, but that won’t play well for a political career.

What’s your secret super power?  

NICK: Rewriting pop and rap songs to be about SaaS — like this one, this one, and this one.

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.

Demos that wow? Here’s how.

The company: Demostack

Imagine this: You’ve been invited to give a product demo to the decision-maker for a marquee account. This person is well known for being all about “show me, don’t tell me.” To win this business you need a fully customized, interactive demo that reflects their real production environment. And you need it immediately because the client wants to meet ASAP. Usually you’d need to call in a favor with the engineering team to build the demo and close this sale. No more. 

Demostack delivers issue-free product demos, personalized to the prospect and delivered across any device. The product helps SaaS companies set up, control, and maintain demo environments without having to redirect any precious engineering resources to engage in sales support. With Demostack, sales leaders can create custom product demos in minutes so their sales teams can go in and close business. 

Why you should pay attention 

A CEB/Google study of 1,500 B2B major purchase decision-makers revealed that the sale is nearly 60% complete by the time a prospect engages a sales rep, who would have the opportunity to do a demo. Demos are a vital part of closing business — but building, customizing, and ensuring demos perform flawlessly has always been to sales professionals what the boulder was to Sisyphus: a grueling form of punishment. Populating a demo with sample data, creating prospect-specific scenarios, ensuring the demo is on-brand with the client, and resolving technical and bandwidth issues is an enormous, arduous, and perpetually recurring task.

How it works

Demostack’s demo environment and experience management solution enables sales, and other customer-facing teams, to create a front-end replica of their product in minutes, without the help of engineering. Teams can then create and customize as many unique product demos out of the replica as they want using point-and-click editing tools. Everything from the text and numbers to the images and graphs can be tailored to tell a story that will resonate with the prospect.

Product demos created with Demostack look and feel exactly like the product, but are completely independent. This means they are not only able to be personalized, but also, typical issues that pop up during software product demos are eliminated. Technical bugs, accidental sharing of sensitive data, connectivity issues, and more issues that cause salespeople demo anxiety become a thing of the past. Demostack demos can also be shared by URL so prospects can explore the demo and easily pass it around within their organization.  Robust analytics are available for every demo, offering insight on what screens of the product were shown during the live demo, who viewed the demo within the prospect organization, and more.  With point-and-click personalization and seamless, issue-free delivery, Demostack delivers product demos that shine with zero code, technical, or design expertise. 

Why were obsessed 

The company is founded by serial entrepreneurs Jonathan Friedman, Aaron Hakim, and Gilad Avidan. This dream team delivers a seamless solution to a problem that every company faces: how to deliver tailored product demos that resonate with prospects without taxing engineering resources. The future of Sales Enablement is bright and Demostack is poised to take the space by storm.    

Get involved

The early access beta is now under way and limited spots are still available. Connect with Demostack to learn more and explore joining the beta. 

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.

Q&A: How to build and scale a world-class customer success org

A tech company needs certain obvious things to be successful – product, sales, and marketing, for example. But in today’s world where the customer rules all, you’ve got to have a secret weapon in order to grow and scale: Customer success.

I spent 14 years building and growing the Customer Success org at Salesforce, followed by 4 years as Slack’s CCO and Global Head of Customer Success, so I’ve seen firsthand the value and growth opportunities a great org can bring. I grew right alongside those teams, and also witnessed what it takes to build a high-performing org from scratch. Here are my answers to four of the most common questions I get about growing and scaling an early stage customer success organization. 

1) What are some tactical first steps when building a customer service org from scratch?

Building a customer success org from scratch is tough, and the impulse is to hit the ground running. But customer success means something different at every organization, and the only way to define it at yours is to start getting to know the customers. The concept of agility and partnership with your customers is so important. 

As you do that, you also have to plan to scale. And the way to do that is to get a team on the ground. At Slack, I spent my first couple months interviewing candidates; it was important for me to get the key players in place so that they, in turn, could scale and hire. If you can’t get ahead of building that hiring engine, you’re never going to be able to scale. You’ve got to get that layer of leadership in place, so that you could manage up into the executive team and out to the customer, and then manage volume as well.

2) What do you do when there’s a service outage? 

Outages are painful for everyone involved, but they can also be incredible opportunities to gain trust with your customers and create a sense of partnership. The first thing – always – is to apologize. You have to show empathy and demonstrate that you understand the impact this outage is having both on their business and on them personally. The people you’re talking to often bet their careers on your technology, so not only is their business being impacted, their reputation is on the line, too. Acknowledging that can go a long way. 

Next you’ve got to dig to find out the biggest impact on each customer. As you do that, it’s vital to be transparent about what’s happening on the product side – even if you have to say, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to stay on the phone with you.” Do what you need to do to keep them from going into panic mode, because in the absence of reassurance or information, they’ll create their own dialogue as to what’s happening. Sometimes your update will have to be: “We don’t have any new information right now,” but even so, it’s important to over communicate.

3) What’s a specific early-stage challenge you’ve experienced and what was the lesson learned? 

One thing that comes to mind stems from my time at Salesforce. When we built the customer success org there, we created a “heroic” culture. It was very high touch (we had people that would drop everything to make a customer successful), and we really needed that kind of setup to get us over the early-stage hump. In doing so, though, we also created a dependency on that high-touch model, which doesn’t work as you grow. 

In those early days we had a phone number any customer could call to get support – 1-800-NO-SOFTWARE – but this service method wasn’t scalable at all. So we made the decision to get rid of the phone number… yet we’d created a culture that was very dependent on it. We beefed up self service, created one-to-many programs, and added resources and guides, but the change was still incredibly painful. 

As you grow, be sure to think through the scaling aspect. You likely need a high-touch model when you start, but be careful about building your program around one touch. At some point, you’ll want to shift to a programmatic setup and offer new help options as needed.

4) Sometimes there’s a product gap and the current product is not quite where the customer wants it to be just yet. How do you respond? 

That’s an age-old kind of tension, and most tech companies run into it at some point. The first thing is to understand business value: What are your customers trying to achieve? Many of them go immediately into the how, instead of letting the product and success experts guide them on how to best use the technology based on their goals. There’s often a way to achieve their goals based on the product as it stands. 

One of the most important things your customer success team can do is create a tight feedback loop to help identify any gaps. That feedback, in turn, can directly influence the product roadmap. It’s great to involve your product teams in conversations with the customers or create advisory boards that determine, for example, the top three features that would move the needle. Those loops also create a real tightness between the company and customers.

Ready to talk Customer Success?

I love talking Customer Success, sharing experiences, and learning from others. For more information, check out this Customer Success Q&A I did last year with fellow Customer Success junkie Nick Mehta, or feel free to reach out on Twitter with questions.

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.

BlocPower to the people: How old buildings are driving a green revolution

The company: BlocPower

BlocPower is a Brooklyn-based climate technology startup that’s greening American cities by installing air source heat pumps to heat and cool multifamily buildings, churches, and community centers. The company is driving up energy efficiency, driving down building operating costs, and increasing value for the residents and owners of the buildings they retrofit with clean energy. 

With more than 1,000 urban clean energy projects completed, customers are saving anywhere from 20% to 40% on their energy bills, and going green as they bank those savings.  

Why you should pay attention

The bigger story is how BlocPower is fighting climate change one building at a time since buildings are responsible for up to 28% of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. The company developed a proprietary software platform that’s used to scope and estimate retrofits to make buildings greener, smarter and healthier. And they’re starting in historically disadvantaged communities that typically lack access to funding for clean energy systems and have higher exposure to harmful pollutants. Retrofitting these structures can help build more resilient cities and BlocPower’s success serves as a model for how greening buildings can help drive the post-COVID recovery.  

How it works 

BlocPower’s software allows building owners to enter their address and get a set of preliminary recommendations on the kinds of green equipment suitable for their buildings. BlocPower’s algorithm uses big data, machine learning, and mechanical engineering insights to produce these recommendations. A financial model maps out the costs of doing the retrofit along with the energy savings that would result from the project. This is used to secure the financing needed to cover the retrofit costs. Customers sign 15-year leases and use savings from reduced utility bills to repay the retrofit costs. Small and minority-owned businesses partner with BlocPower to do the upgrades and hire and train underemployed workers from the communities being served.

Leading the movement

The personal story of BlocPower’s Founder & CEO is as entrepreneurial and inspiring as the solutions he’s bringing to market. The son of immigrant parents from Guyana, Donnel Baird was raised in a Brooklyn building much like the ones his company now retrofits: His family often had to use the kitchen oven to heat their apartment. He’s passionate about addressing energy inequity in underserved communities because he’s lived those disparities himself. His professional path has taken him through the country’s top universities and into established business circles where he persevered against racial bias to find partners that could help bring his vision to life. Operator Collective is proud to be one of them. 

Why we’re obsessed 

Climate tech can help save the planet. BlocPower is giving residents, owners, and congregants in underserved communities a path to leveling up their heating and cooling capabilities as they dial down their costs and environmental footprint. The company is delivering value to every stakeholder in its business model. And it’s addressing systemic social inequities and some of the world’s biggest challenges as a public benefit corporation. At the helm of the company is a dynamic leader who has assembled an exceptional team. They’re building a blueprint for transitioning buildings off of fossil fuels at scale across the country. 

Get involved

BlocPower plans to announce a first-of-its-kind campaign that will give individuals an opportunity to become impact investors and fund clean energy projects in select U.S. cities. Follow BlocPower on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn to get the latest news. 

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: NBA Chief Fan Officer Danielle Lee

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 Lee, Chief Fan Officer for the National Basketball Association.  

You became the NBA’s Chief Fan Officer last year, overseeing fan marketing and the NBA brand. How do you build relationships with NBA fans when there are so many out there?

DANIELLE: The NBA has a massive global fan base and it is important that we meet our fans where they are – across social, gaming, audio, and video platforms. We look for ways to create native experiences on each platform that bring fans closer to the game, deepen their fandom, and ultimately make them ambassadors for the NBA. One of the experiences I loved during the NBA Restart was the “Oculus Front Row View.” The courtside view in basketball is the best seat in all of sports, and our partnership with Facebook gave fans the opportunity to live out that experience from anywhere in the world. 

Professional sports have been leading the charge when it comes to social justice. How is the NBA supporting its players, while also staying connected to its fans? 

DANIELLE: Placing Black Lives Matter on the court or having players wear social justice messages on their jerseys is in keeping with the league’s longstanding tradition of addressing issues of equality. In addition to our on-court efforts, the NBA, in partnership with the players and the NBPA decided to make social justice – with voting in particular – a major focus of the restart in an effort to affect real change. In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors worked with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election. The purpose was to allow for a safe, in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID. We also established a social justice coalition, with representatives from players, coaches, and governors, that’s focused on a broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.

We’re fortunate that the NBA values are aligned with those of our fans, who are among the youngest and most diverse in sports. 72% of NBA fans support the Black Lives Matter movement, and  42% of NBA fans said they would have felt negatively towards the league had it not taken a stand on social justice issues. Fans have a much greater expectation of brands today. They expect brands to contribute positively to society, address the problems facing their communities, and have a lasting impact.  

What are some of your top marketing priorities for 2021?

DANIELLE: A top marketing priority for 2021 is to develop a much richer understanding of our fans. We need to go beyond avidity to understand beliefs, values, lifestyle, habits, and motivations. A lot of our investments are to further our fan understanding in order to inform creative development, product positioning, and channel strategy. From a leadership perspective, I’m also keen to shift the culture of our marketing team to be far more fan centric. We need to put the fan at the center of everything we do. That’s the filter by which we will design experiences to drive a variety of brand and business outcomes.

Metrics are a top tool for marketers. How do you like to use data and metrics to strengthen customer and fan relationships? 

DANIELLE: I use data to inform brand storytelling and to understand what resonates with fans, both emotionally and culturally. It’s important to garner insight from fans through qualitative and quantitative research when developing creative. It’s equally important to see how they actually react, engage, and behave in the world.  

How do you believe the role of marketing is evolving when it comes to the future of work?

DANIELLE: Marketing has evolved into a more growth-oriented role over the past decade. The need to articulate how marketing investments are driving business growth is imperative. Going forward, I believe marketing will have an outsized impact on shaping culture in the workplace. More and more a company’s brand values will shape how decisions are made and the behaviors that are rewarded in the workplace.     

What’s your secret super power? 

DANIELLE: My secret super power is courage. I have an innate ability to push past my fear, which is incredibly useful in business. I’ve learned that you earn people’s respect and build trusted relationships when you have the courage to have honest conversations. People may not always like what they hear, but they will respect you for telling them your truth and trust you to come to them directly instead of talking behind their back.  

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 to be an effective board member: 5 lessons learned

This year marks my tenth year serving as a Board member (usually in conjunction with being an investor). It’s been a fun ride with a lot of lessons learned. As I reflect on my “time served,” I’d like to share some findings from my vantage point on what it means to be effective as a Board member. 

Boards are inherently focused on two issues: governance and strategy. The goal of every Board is to ensure the company is making strong and ethical decisions (and complying with various laws and policies), and that there is a clear growth strategy in place. By their very nature, Boards are a consensus-based body that gives advice to the CEO. To me, the most important thing about both a private and public Board is whether they’re effective in giving that advice. 

Here are 5 things that help me be an effective Board member – but please note that 10 years in, I still find myself constantly learning. 

1) Rise above the endless details 

The most effective Board members I see are those who can accurately describe the forest, instead of focusing on the individual trees. I find those Board members frequently explain the context for an issue, as opposed to drilling into options and specifics. 

As an example, companies will have tough quarters; drilling down on the specifics of an underlying region (which you hope the operators have already done) is generally less effective than being able to judge if the miss was caused by a larger concern (competition or product). Instead, use your time to focus on the big picture. 

2) Empathy beats pedigree when making points  

Because Boards are consensus based, there’s often a temptation to use pedigree (“I’m on 7 Boards and none of them do this” or “When I was CEO…”) to short circuit decision making. But even if you have the greatest background and experience ever, the world still needs new ideas and fresh perspectives. 

A better way to be effective is try and show a deeper understanding of the challenges this particular team is facing. It may well be that once you listen and fully understand, a different approach is merited.

3) Prepare questions in advance 

CEOs prepare decks in advance. Good CEOs treat the decks as their “asks” for input from their Board (and even if you have a CEO who’s just in reporting mode, the deck should still be the starting point for questions to answer and debate in the Boardroom). 

A best practice here is to try and prepare your questions ahead of time. First, it helps you decide in your own head what is most important. After all, not every issue merits questions or discussion. Second, it allows you to focus and prepare for the answers. This makes your feedback less random and more useful.

4) Know when to dig in and when to defer  

I’m not an expert in sales management. Of course, there will be times I want to get my sales questions and opinions in the mix, but when other folks around the room who are experts weigh in, it is really not the time for me to hard position or grandstand. 

Know when to use your voice and when to pipe down. Many Board members do not seem to understand their impact in the room when they grandstand on issues where they have limited domain expertise. Save your influence for matters when your expertise is truly needed; this will help you have more of an impact.

5) Get to know the CEO  

The opportunity to serve on a Board is really about using your experience to help the CEO navigate the thousands of decisions they have to make every year. I’m sometimes shocked that Board members take little to no time to understand the CEO and their journey. 

As with most things in life, CEOs have experiences which shape and influence decisions. Some Board members never invest the time to understand those things (and can cross red lines without realizing it). Take the time to get to know the CEO as a person and a leader; it will be worth it in so many ways.

The journey to successful Board experiences 

Being a Board member is a privilege, and it’s not an easy job by any means. There’s no clear formula for success, and quite frankly, not a lot of great training programs in place right now. Fortunately there are people – like me – who are willing and happy to help as needed. My bonus tip, of course, is to look out for them. 

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.