following Data robotWith the $ 320 million Series F funding in December, Damon Fletcher has joined the company as CFO and is preparing the company for its next stage of hypergrowth.
Damon was previously CFO of Tableau, which was acquired in 2019 by Salesforce for $ 15.7 billion in shares.
We recently spoke about his priorities, his role as a business partner and his leadership style.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
First off, congratulations on your success in acquiring the company by Tableau and Salesforce.
I spent seven and a half years at Tableau and made great friends and had wonderful colleagues. When I first arrived, we were mainly selling perpetual software and we were growing rapidly. Then, our customers wanted to change companies. Christian Chabot, the then CEO, myself and some of the other executives embarked on a transition to a subscription business model. If you’ve ever seen businesses go through this transition, you know it can be very disruptive to customer and employee relationships. Fortunately, we succeeded.
We were one of the fastest companies to go through this transition. Once we finished it, we became a valuable target for companies like Salesforce. This acquisition for $ 15.7 billion in August 2019 was a very positive outcome for investors, employees and customers.
I imagine coming to DataRobot at its current size is a familiar place to you, given your history at Tableau. How do you plan to help DataRobot on its growth path? What would success look like over the next few years?
There are many parallels with my arrival at Tableau. DataRobot has a similarly sized employee base. We have experienced robust growth in Japan and the United States and are now expanding into other markets in AMEA and APAC. Having faced similar challenges with the expansion of Tableau, I think I am in a unique position to help DataRobot succeed.
One of the things that attracted me to DataRobot is its passionate customer base. At the Tableau User Conference, customers were excited about DataRobot and as I learned more I was impressed with some of the results possible with DataRobot.
What’s particularly exciting now is the leadership transition we are going through as new CEO Dan Wright prepares the company for the next stage of growth. He adds several critically important and very talented people. It’s fun joining a business when you all come in at the same time and build something together.
You mentioned DataRobot’s continued global expansion and some challenges. Could you talk about this as you expand into AMEA and APAC?
As you expand globally, you need to identify the right leaders in different markets – to have regional leaders who are empowered to make decisions and have strong relationships with customers in the industry. Identifying the right talent and the best markets to open is essential. I am also able to tap into one of my first responsibilities at Tableau: helping the company define a market expansion strategy.
Back to Dan Wright, the team and the camaraderie. How are you partnering with Dan in his new role?
One of the critical things Dan and I are working on is operational tempo. How do we review the weekly and monthly forecasts, and what are the key performance metrics we will define for our team? What accountability mechanisms will we use? I work closely with him to deploy many of these KPIs to run the business, as well as to institute operational rigor.
I just reviewed the business plans for the rest of the year and am incredibly excited about how we serve our customers and bring that customer perspective to our decision making.
In your role as CFO, how do you partner with your C-suite peers?
One of the roles of the CFO is to define a common language about how we communicate results within the organization and then how we share that externally.
I have learned over the course of my career not to approach problems from a financial perspective, but to approach them from a business perspective. You need to make sure that you challenge the leaders on their business plans. You want to ask thoughtful questions about how they handle customer success. You want to make sure other leaders have a rigorous thought process that examines what’s in the best interests of clients. I think if we do these things right, we will have tremendous success.
You are a brand new CFO in a snowballing organization. What are your goals for yourself for your first 60, 90 days? We usually think of 90 days, but as fast as you move, 90 days can be too long.
The most important thing for me is to build a great team. I need to have a strong financial planning team that can partner with business stakeholders across the organization. My first few weeks here, I worked with my colleagues to focus on how we build this next level of leadership within the organization, especially within finance.
We have been operating as a non-public company for many years. As you move into government procurement, you need to create some of the functions that you might not need in the past. We need to strengthen functions like internal audit and make sure the accounting department has the right resources to close the books quickly so that you can get information quickly.
The second thing I’m working on is defining KPIs and how we’re going to measure the business, how we’re going to define success. These lay the groundwork.
Finally, I make sure that we have an adequate IT plan, which will evolve with the company because we will develop quickly.
Tell me about your leadership style. Do you have a preferred decision making method?
Because I have worked with several CEOs, I turned to an Amazon style six page story. It is the best mechanism for me to have a deep discussion and understanding of a problem. For important decisions, I will create memos describing the problem, recommended outcomes, and opposing positions. We then use this forum to inform the key people who should be involved in the decision making.
There are times when it’s appropriate, and there are times when we need to act with more urgency.
Were there any pivotal moments in your career when you said, “Yes! It’s a moment when I move up and to the right.
I was educated at UPS at university, and I have always loved the experience because it taught me a sense of urgency that I carried with me throughout my career. When working in a fast-paced environment like this, every second is critical.
Now I say to my management team, “Every day counts. In the tech industry, being able to capture the moment is vital. Technology changes so quickly that you have to quickly get your software into the hands of many, many customers. When I joined Tableau, I worked under the guidance of my mentor, Tom Walker, the former CFO of Tableau. Tom conveyed this powerful sense of urgency to the team.
Joining Tableau was a pivotal moment, and getting through the membership transition and strengthening our business in the face of intense competition was another. When you are in an industry and you are not facing the competition, you are probably in the wrong company! When other market players enter the market you find yourself in and compete with, it’s up to you to show your leadership strengths. Going through this subscription transition was probably the most rewarding experience I have ever had.