My First Day as CEO of Hearsay Systems
September 2, 2020
Clara and me last week, appropriately socially distanced [Photo by Radu Ranga]
Today is an exciting and very humbling day for me. After five months as Hearsay’s COO (all virtual) and working closely with Clara Shih, co-founder and CEO of Hearsay Systems, and the Hearsay Board of Directors, I am honored to take the reins from Clara as the new Hearsay CEO and continue to partner with Clara as Hearsay’s Executive Chairperson.
Clara and Steve Garrity founded Hearsay 11 years ago on a belief that the sales and relationship management profession would get upended by the social graph being created on Facebook– fundamentally disrupting the way customers buy, whom they trust, and how they’d want to stay in touch. Over this decade-long journey Clara and the Hearsay team built out a new social selling category, expanded into other key digital channels and developed a platform strategy to better align with customer engagement outcomes. Hearsay also focused on wealth management and insurance sectors and the challenges of providing last mile digital communications in a scalable, compliant manner. Over 170,000 advisors and the most prestigious financial services companies have embraced this vision.
Many Hearsay team members (Chris Andrew, Chief Product Officer and employee #1; Pete Godbole CFO; Robert MacCloy, CTO) and Board Members (Frank Defesche, Jon Sakoda, Bryan Schreier) have been instrumental in this journey and taking the long view toward building the company. I have appreciated their support and counsel over my brief tenure and the support and patience I have received from the entire Hearsay team helping me onboard in a virtual world.
To our team members, customers, and partners, as we start this new phase of our journey together, I wanted to share some of my story with you, why I came here, and what I’m excited to do.
I grew up in Seattle, WA and have been married for 26 years and we have two grown kids. I started as an engineer right out of the University of Washington working at a Bay Area Refinery. I made my way into software and have been blessed to work with many great technology companies (Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft, Taleo), leaders and colleagues across many functions, projects and transformation efforts. My new, favorite capability/strength is the learnings I have gained from the wins and defeats associated with trying to scale a business, incubating new ideas or drive wholesale change initiatives. I hope to fully exploit this capability in my new role.
There are two simple axioms of leadership I try to espouse. First, everyone is a leader. Some of the most impactful people at any company have no direct reports. They muster followership by their energy, enthusiasm, smarts (EQ and IQ), and organizational and persuasion skills. We need to create environments where anyone can lead.
Second, in 25 years, I’ve learned that accountability and direct dialogue permeate winning teams. If I could wish for two things in any organization it would be a strong culture of accountability/”owning it” and frank, open dialogue on the hard, uncomfortable topics-it’s the only way to get fully aligned, build trust, and let the best ideas win. Clara and the Hearsay leadership team share this perspective.
What drew me to Hearsay
There were three fundamental drivers that made joining Hearsay an easy choice.
1. Significant market opportunity: It starts with an unparalleled customer list. In 25 years working in enterprise software, rarely have I seen this quality and quantity of marquee customer relationships, customers who view us as true partners and trusted advisors to help guide them in their digital transformation journey. Hearsay is also a rare product that is both a vitamin and painkiller, as Clara talks about in her Masters of Scale podcast with Reid Hoffman. Many customers start with our compliance platform (painkiller), but then it builds from there into wholesale transformation to deliver a modern customer experience (vitamin). Most importantly, the last decade of digital transformation was about automation and self-service. Validated by the pandemic, the next decade is about authentic engagement at scale– a category Hearsay has established and will fuel its next chapter of growth.
2. Shared values: Hearsay’s values have remained essentially the same since the company was founded–Customer Focus, Kaizen, and Get-the-Right-Stuff-Done (GRSD). For me, Customer Focus is about the big stuff and the small stuff. You need to get the small stuff right in order to earn the right to do the big stuff (be a trusted advisor). I’ve had many roles throughout my career, from leading M&A at Taleo to CEO of Certent. Each has been an opportunity for me to flex a growth mindset and continuously learn, improve, and grow or put into practice a personal Kaizen approach. Kaizen at a company level and Kaizen at an individual level is the killer combination. Prior to Hearsay, my wife and I took a significant risk in launching a new startup. I learned very quickly no environment demands GRSD more than an early stage company. Everyday you need to be ruthless in how you spend your time and dollars. We had to make some very difficult decisions when we were running low on funds and were fortunate to find a strategic buyer to execute our vision. GRSD has new meaning and purpose given this experience.
3. Opportunity to have an impact: As I got to know Hearsay and got to understand the challenges and opportunities it faces, I realized it is a great match for my diverse set of experiences. More importantly, It’s been inspiring to watch how our customers have depended on Hearsay to reassure and guide their customers during the pandemic – which in turn has given our team a new level of purpose and hustle.
What we will do going forward
The pandemic has only accelerated our next phase of growth, as Hearsay’s engagement platform is now mission-critical for relationship sellers who can no longer meet clients face-to-face. From Social and Sites to Relate and Actions, Hearsay platform utilization, new deals, and customer expansions are accelerating. Our business is outperforming expectations on nearly every metric.
As we embrace this momentum, there are several concrete actions I will be working with our team to drive 2021 performance and make our vision a reality. First and foremost, we need to fill all key existing and new roles across the organization. We need the right talent in place to execute on our ambition sales and product plans. Second, we need to drive a focused set of initiatives to help deliver customer outcomes. The migration to our new, modern reporting solution is a great example. Third, in the next several quarters we will be launching new integrations that help our customers unlock the value in their CRM, marketing automation, and core systems investments.
In everything we do, we need to continue to lead and collaborate with humility and purpose.