S02E15: Vijay Tella, Workato

The founder and CEO of Workato, Vijay Tella, joins us in this new episode of our unicorn leaders series on the Without Borders podcast.

Workato, the leading enterprise automation platform that helps organisations work faster and smarter without compromising security and governance, is Vijay Tella’s fourth start-up. After around three decades as an entrepreneur in the integration space, Vijay is able to share some great advice on how to build a successful company. He selects culture as the most important element and stresses the value of thinking deliberately about the founding team as it is going to establish the cultural cornerstones of the company. Vijay also suggests prioritising core guiding principles over values – having some guardrails for how things can operate in the company.

Another key lesson from Vijay is that communication and being connected is the hardest challenge a company faces. In his own words, ‘you can never communicate enough’. That is why for him it is so important to always be on the front foot looking for new ways to enhance the connectedness of the team and have everyone on the same page. Not for nothing, Workato has a highly engaged workforce – they are the number one computer software industry company for whose employees are amplifying their presence on social the most. Workato employees are consistently sharing their company’s content within their own networks, increasing awareness, website traffic and generating new business.

The interview, as ever, was co-hosted with Russell Goldsmith of the csuite podcast.


Russell: [00:00:00] Thanks for downloading the 15th in our series of episodes of the csuite podcast that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR agency Tyto, and their own Without Borders podcast, where we are interviewing leaders of unicorn companies to find out about the key issues, pain points and challenges that start-ups face and how they can address them with a strategic approach to marketing and communications. My name is Russell Goldsmith and my co-host for this series of interviews is Tyto’s founder, Brendon Craigie and today we are thrilled to be joined online from Palo Alto by Vijay Tella, CEO, and founder of Workato, the leading enterprise automation platform that helps organisations work faster and smarter without compromising security and governance. Now, back in January, Workato announced a $110 million series D funding, which helped them reach a valuation of $1.7 billion. Welcome to the show, Vijay. We should probably start by you giving us a quick introduction to the business.

Vijay Tella: [00:00:56] Yes, thank you for having me here, Russell. So, Workato is a platform to help customers connect or integrate across all of the different applications they have in a company and automate workflows, how they get the work done across their applications and people across the company. There’s just an explosion of SaaS applications, a lot of fragmentation of data. The work context is chopped up, pieces of work gets done in hundreds of apps. So really making them all work together cohesively is what we do. And I think the other big aspect of what we do is also how we believe it should be done. Historically, these type of platforms for integration were the domain of IT and the technical experts. With where businesses are going, it’s really important to have the entire team, IT, and business on board with having them to be able to work better and transform how their companies work. So, it’s a team sport. So, this kind of platform needs to be accessible to both business and technology users, non-technical and technical users. So that’s what we do.

Russ: [00:02:06] It’s obviously not the first company that you’ve started. But when did you actually launch the business and what prompted you to start it?

Vijay Tella: [00:02:15] Yeah, so I have been in the integration space for a long time. I was a founder of a company called TIBCO where we created this technology called the TIB, which was sort of the first platform in the enterprise software space designed specifically to integrate applications and data together. I’ve had experience with a couple of billion-dollar products in that category at TIBCO then at Oracle. But what we’re doing at Workato was a lot more inspired by some time I spent in the consumer space, I was doing a consumer video application, totally different audience, different expectations. But I think when I took some time out in the consumer software and came back into the enterprise space, what I saw was there was this huge movement to consumerisation of business technology, with SaaS applications, but the underlying platforms to make them all work together remain the domain of ideas and technical experts. So, what really prompted us to start Workato was the realisation that the same kind of people that were using our mobile video streaming app to stream their children’s football games at the weekends would go to work and set up marketing campaigns. The domain of businesspeople is very big and the ability for them to put the power in the hands of the domain experts to be able to connect the apps. So, the problem was much bigger in terms of the type of things it needs to do. It’s not just a plumbing problem, but it affects all the people in the company, but also who can do this automation. So, we saw that the problem we saw back in the day with TIBCO was like much bigger in scope of what it needs to do and who it needs to serve. So that’s what prompted us to think about taking a fresh look at this problem.

Russ: [00:04:10] And who is the ‘us’ that you’re referring to there, did you bring a team together specifically for this?

Vijay Tella: [00:04:15] Yes, the initial team was the team that I had worked with at TIBCO. So, back at TIBCO, TIBCO was almost a 14-year journey for me. There’s a team that we put together there to build a product called Business Works that became the prototype or the blueprint for how integrations were done. So, companies that came on later, like Neilsoft, Informatica, Dell Boomi, they took what TIBCO did on premise and moved it to the cloud. So, the team that built Business Works, right, that was almost a defining product in integration space, that product replaced all the stuff that I built earlier. And I reconnected with that team after my consumer company got acquired by Skype and I took some time out and reconnected with them and they were the ones that stayed involved in the space. And they were the ones that pointed out how difficult the problem is, because I was at that point checked out of the enterprise software for many years. So, it’s after reconnecting with Gautam Viswanathan, you know, he was one of my co-founders and a couple of other colleagues, we kind of connected the dots between what I saw in the consumer space and what they saw needed to be done in the enterprise and felt that there was a big problem to solve here.

Brendon: [00:05:26] And just building on that a little bit, Vijay, you have obviously been in the industry, the integration space for approximately three decades. So, you’ve got a lot of experience in that area and you’ve touched on how you’ve wanted to really focus on the user experience to broaden out the benefits of your technology to a wider audience. I just wondered were there any other learnings that you and your team had that informed a different approach at Workato?

Vijay Tella: [00:05:55] Absolutely. So, one of the things that I have seen over time in the enterprise software is that how products are built and what they do, there’s a pattern. Right. So, if you look at integration space as business intelligence space or data warehouse space, whatever, pick any platform space, there is innovations that happen typically in how the products get delivered. So, what I mean by that is, in the case of integration, TIBCO did this on-prem and then Neilsoft and others came and said, you don’t have to install it on-prem, we’ll give you the option to do it in cloud. So, this hybrid cloud on-prem architecture and then there’s other products that came in later on that would say, well, we will run more completely in the cloud. So, it’s the same type of problem that is being solved for the same audience but delivered in better ways. It’s not to minimize that, how you deliver the product has huge implications of how easy it is to consume. So those were big innovations. But what we saw was that there is not a rethinking of the problem itself. Right? So, it’s the same thing in the business intelligence space. It’s like, OK, there is the on prem version, there’s a hybrid version, there’s a cloud version and they uber off, integration they uber off. There’s just a predictable paradigm. So, one of the things that we saw when I was completely checked out for many years, six or seven years, is not following enterprise software at all. When I got back into it, it was a bit of a whiplash. In the consumer world, when my live streaming product was down for a few minutes, Ashton Kutcher would be screaming on Internet. It was like a five dollars per month product, five percent of the people were paying, we had 20 million users, we were profitable, versus like products that were built for enterprise that were hard, that routinely go down, in many ways the expectations of being always on and being perfect were even higher in the consumer space. So, there’s two big dimensions in which we felt like things needed to be completely rethought bottom-up, not an incremental improvement, like let’s do an Uber off Neilsoft. So one is, it’s just total rethink on who your audience is and what the experiences need to be, number one. The second one is that its integration was always seen as a plumbing problem. We actually called ourselves the digital plumbers, there were people in the back, these experts that would lay the plumbing between your apps to get the data sync between your business systems. But now when you look at the proliferation of hundreds of apps, thousands of apps across the entire company, hundreds of apps in individual departments, the problem is much bigger. The plumbing problem is still there, the data still needs to be synched up, but it’s a much bigger plumbing problem. But it’s now no longer just the domain of IT, when you look at business teams, I talked about the marketing person that goes to work and sets up marketing campaigns between Salesforce, Workato and so on. For them, they don’t think about integration and plumbing, they want to have their workflows work across their applications, so for them, integrations look like workflows, they come top down and it’s a different perspective and it’s a different problem. So, the workflow problem is also an integration problem. But there’s a third aspect of it. Right. Which is the workflow problem is affecting all the Salesforce admins and operations people, HR apps, these are the people that are setting up the systems they need to tie them together. But every single worker in a company, digital worker, they have a lot of different applications they’re working with. If you’re a support person, you’ve got like 40 forty tabs on your browser, when a support ticket comes in on Zendesk, you’re going to look up, hey, is that customer in good standing in the financial system? Do they have prior trouble tickets? What type of customer they are. There’s just a lot of context that you’re hopping across different applications and piecing this together and then the next ticket comes, you do it all over again. So, there’s just a lot of fragmentation, not just at the plumbing IT level, but top to bottom across the company. So, the scope of the problem is bigger, so what integration meant in the SaaS era is the best of breed business driven SaaS era is, it is plumbing problems plus much more, so the scope of the problem is bigger, the audience is different, and the expectations and experience must be completely different. So, there was almost nothing about what we did before we felt was relevant. So, under the covers, it needed to really be strong and highly performant, secure, but that needs to be under the covers, behind the wheels it needed to be like a platform the entire company can use. And we put together a completely unique team, right? We put together people from very different places, from consumer and cloud native companies, integration and so on, to rethink this problem bottom up and from first principles. So, it’s a harder thing to do but we felt that’s what somebody needed to do, is to really solve this problem more, more completely and cohesively versus having six different platforms for little bits and pieces of it.

Brendon: [00:11:16] Has it proven challenging building a platform that’s both trusted by IT, but also works for the whole business?

Vijay Tella: [00:11:24] Well, it was technically challenging, we had to solve some very hard problems architecturally in order for us to be able to bury the technical details and make the product usable for business users. So, I’ll mention a couple of examples. Right. One is that when you are a business user, you’re not an expert in doing this marketing automation or employee onboarding workflow. But there are 10,000 other people that have done the same thing. So, if we could create a community of users that could create these integrations, use them and make them available to other people to be able to use, it’s not just a technical problem of doing these workflows there’s a thinking problem of, what signals do I look for and how do I tie this together? So, the community aspect of it is really important. But making integrations that somebody created in Company A, usable in Company B is very difficult because the apps are different, the apps are also customised differently, there’s no two Salesforce apps that are the same, every company has got different Salesforce. Right? So, the ability to clone or reuse recipes created in one environment and being used in a completely differently customized environment was a core IP that we created to start the company. There’s a list of 18 items that we felt we had to solve like, at the other end of the spectrum, it is things like how you’re getting data between the systems needs to be really bulletproof, meaning every piece of update from any app needs to be processed exactly once and in any sequence. If you don’t have that guarantee, you’re putting the burden on the people that are creating the workflows to detect duplicates and all this kind of stuff. So, these are all silly things that if you take care of it in the platform and it has to be super secure so it’s not visible to them so they can actually go and do this stuff, right? So, there’s a lot of innovation that we had to do to deliver this. But there’s the other part of it, that’s the technology problem, but there’s a social problem of business and IT not trusting each other historically. So, a marketing team would never look to IT to get like advice on the technology to use and IT’s domain was shrinking into things like the core processes and security and things like that. But as the SaaS explosion has happened, there’s clearly a desire we’ve seen between IT and business. The business would like some guardrails, some sort of a guidance, player-coach kind of guidance, not controlling oriented guidance, but empowering, so that they can actually do what they’re doing and not expose the company to risk of leaks of data and things like that. So, they want to be empowered, but in a secure way and in a scalable way. And IT actually really wants to be involved in making an impact on the business. So, there was this undercurrent that was always there, but they were using different tools, different platforms, so there was no common language. So, when we created this platform, there was just a huge appreciation that we’ve seen both from IT and business, especially from IT, that now there’s a platform that we can give to business users, we can bring all the tools that they’re using out of the shadows and have them use something where everybody is on the same page and there’s nothing in the shadows, right? So, we have to really think hard about both the technology problem and also the social problem around IT and business working together, and I think, it’s been exciting to see how that has come along.

Russ: [00:15:12] Yeah, I was going to say, it is an interesting journey of how you’ve got to where you are. I mentioned at the top of the show in terms of just bringing it back to the unicorn theme, that you reached unicorn status in January of this year. How has that changed the perception of the company, would you say?

Vijay Tella: [00:15:27] Ok, so let’s say just internally, we don’t talk unicorn stuff. Our experience has been building billion-dollar revenue products, not billion-dollar market cap products, right? So internally for us, it’s just a milestone for us and the ability to support our plans to really grow this business. But externally, absolutely, we have seen a big shift in how people looked at the company. Clearly, we have achieved the product market fit, it’s a validation of our recognition by our customers and partners in the market about the type of product we have, our vision, our point of view and how we’re delivering on it. And this kind of status, as you say, definitely helps with getting that message out more.

Russ: [00:16:22] I thought was interesting, that the investment and the announcement came right in the middle of the pandemic that we’ve been through. Has covid impacted your business in any way at all?

Vijay Tella: [00:16:34] Well, it has from a business standpoint, it has been a big positive. Covid has been just like devastating in the world out there. So, we’re not out here celebrating, it was a little bit of, the dissonance we are seeing in the technology world versus the real world. But what Covid has done is it has really forced companies to rethink how they get things done, how they get work done. There was always a desire to be transformative and modern, but there’s a lot of inertia built into companies to change, Covid has essentially really nuked that inertia, it’s forced everybody to move forward, simplify things, get their systems connected together. So, we’ve seen this in industries and also, we’ve seen it horizontally across all kinds of companies. We have customers like, Grab, which is like a ride hailing company in Asia, their business was completely changed by the pandemic. The ride hailing part of it really went down a lot, but they ramped up their other services quite a lot. So, they had to bring new service providers on board. They had to redo, rethink how they get work done and the new types of services delivered, new ways to new customers. It’s a very fast transformation and we were really fortunate to be part of that journey in helping them rethink and rewire. They didn’t have to install a lot of new applications, but they had to rewire the business processes and rethink and reimplement how the company was going to work and how their people were going to work. Companies like Broadcom and MGM, which is in the entertainment space, it’s just become digital has become the paramount strategy for them. So, there’s just a huge acceleration to cloud and to new business models. So, we’re seeing that in almost any industry, we are seeing industry driven transformation. But also, there are just horizontal transformations like how marketing and sales gets done these days is completely different, right? I mean, the way you’re getting your leads, you’re not going to events, you’re doing a lot of this online stuff. And there’s a lot of digital noise around, like, who are your customers? How are you going to grow with them? But there’s a lot of information locked into how people interact with your company and how people are interacting with other services outside of your company. So, for example, if some company is going and researching products in G2 or G2 Crowd or Gartner or Tech Target, there are APIs for this, that can let you know that this company is researching products in this category. This kind of intend signals can help you be much more focused about what you want to do. So, we grew almost 60 percent during the pandemic, so about 40 percent of our people haven’t seen anybody else. So how do you on board, people, how do you get them plugged in? The whole set of workflows around people and HR is completely being scrambled up and had to be redone. So, we see all of these kind of use cases, it’s just driven significant acceleration in our business. Before the pandemic, our plan was to double our business last year. We went well past that. I mean, we grew past, well past the original target. So it was, from a business standpoint, very positive.

Russ: [00:20:20] Was that a global recruitment or is that specific regions?

Vijay Tella: [00:20:24] It is global. We have seen this happening in Europe and North America, Asia Pacific and Japan. Japan, this is a huge movement towards automation, almost a mandate from the government. I mentioned Southeast Asia… In the US pretty much across all different kinds of industries like retail, like there was the largest retailer in the US filed for bankruptcy and came out of it with a very ambitious digital plan that we were very fortunate to be part of. And the same thing in Europe, we’re working with private equity companies there to help just accelerate the post pandemic, the new age of working with their companies at scale. So, it’s been across the world.

Brendon: [00:21:10] Congratulations on a really great year. And you’ve obviously picked up several awards on the way and very much emerged as one of the hottest enterprise tech companies out there at the moment. I wondered whether you’d be able to give us a sense of how you’re planning to accelerate the company’s growth this year and how you see the company evolving.

Vijay Tella: [00:21:28] Yes, thank you for the comment. This problem or opportunity to get companies of all sizes and all these industries to be able to get their data applications and people working together better is the biggest opportunity in enterprise software. So, there’s huge estimates for how big this market is. We believe it’s one of the biggest out there. We’re a very small player, so we are just starting out. And for us, it’s pretty clear we’re very early stage in that journey. But we have amazing customers, Fortune 500 type customers around the world. And I think we’ve been able to build out a very solid product foundation globally to be able to deliver this service as a utility anywhere in the world. So, we’ve laid the foundation and we’ve got really great customers and partners. So, at this point, really, our focus is now on, there’s not enough awareness of us, relative to some of the more established players. So, the big focus for us is, just to go to market, increasing the awareness, increasing our ability to support the customers globally. So, we’re going to continue to be investing a lot in our product. There are some exciting areas that we’re working on there to layer on top of what exists of our current product. We are also opening up data centres outside the US, in Europe, and then later on this year in Asia Pacific. So, a lot of that is really focused on helping us reach more customers.

Brendon: [00:23:00] That’s great. Well, you’ve slightly, I think you’ve jumped ahead to one of the other things we wanted to talk about. So obviously, this podcast, we focused a lot on communications and culture. And I was just wondering, from your perspective as a leader, what’s your approach been to raising awareness and differentiating Workato in a very noisy enterprise tech space?

Vijay Tella: [00:23:31] Yeah, it’s a really good question and we are still figuring that out Brendon ourselves. Historically, our business was almost all inbound. What I mean by that is that our customers came through referrals from other customers and partners. For a while one of the biggest sources of referrals was when somebody moved from one company to another, in our space, within IT, the core buyers, these business technology folks, the average tenure is about 18 months. So, they have been a huge source of, the first thing they do when they go to the new places is come to Workato. So, we focused on building a really deep foundation, there’s a lot of products in the space that don’t work well, including some that we created in the past. It was really important for us to just go deep and get it right. So, the focus was very much on the product and the business was all inbound. So, there’s two things that we’re doing to try to really change that. One is that within the company, we’ve created a significant outbound organisation where we have identified industries and target customers in this industry, the most wanted thousand customers, for example. And we are going really intensely after that in an account-based marketing sort of way, right? Where there’s deep awareness within the target segment. And then we are working more broadly on thought leadership and getting our vision out there through other influencers. So, analysts like Gartner’s, Forrester’s, HFS Research and other influencers and these folks have really loved our vision and what we are doing. So, they’ve been big amplifiers of our vision. And a third part of it, which is probably going to be the biggest part, is our partners. What really happens with transformation and the movement to cloud is a lot of this work, the digital foot soldiers are actually these S sized and mid-sized and boutique consulting companies they specialise in financial operations for non-profit or retail transformation or they are either regionally or vertically or domain focused experts. And they are the ones that companies are bringing on board to help them, to change. And we are absolutely the perfect platform for them. They can dream it; they can think about it. And our platform really helps them to deliver on that very fast. So, they have been incredibly passionate adopters of Workato. We actually consider them to be, sort of an extended part of the Workato team. So, when we had our sales kick off in February, we invited a number of them to participate alongside our company. So, we see that ecosystem where there are, almost a hundred to a few thousand of these ecosystem partners that are making the transformation happen on the ground, going to be our key agents for getting the message out and sort of being the force multiplier for Workato.

Russ: [00:26:36] Vijay, just picking up on the bit you were just saying there about getting content out there and raising awareness. So, in prepping for this podcast, I came across a report on LinkedIn and it’s by a company, the letters are DSMN8, so I guess they’re pronounced disseminate, I don’t know. But anyway, they look into the companies whose employees are amplifying their presence on social the most. And so, in February, they released the figures for the computer software industry for their report for that. And guess what? At number one was Workato, so DSMN8 just to explain, they describe themselves as, this is off their website, the employer influence platform, and they explain that the chart is based on how engaged employees are consistently sharing their company’s content within their own network, increasing awareness, website traffic and generating new business. And so, in the February report, according to their data, it’ll be interesting to know how they do this, but basically, they’ve said that over 53 percent of your employees had shared your company content to LinkedIn in the previous 30 days of them releasing that data. How did that feel reading that report and seeing those numbers?

Vijay Tella: [00:27:45] I was really proud to see that. I had no idea that people kept track of these things. I should not be surprised with what our team does, they are always doing things that just amaze me. I think just look at how we had like an unbelievable year with almost 40 percent of the people having joined during the pandemic, so we have a really special team, I feel really fortunate every day I wake up to be part of the team. But this one just absolutely came out of the blue. Like what? But I think what it reflects is that as a company, we are all aware, we are all on the same page. We’ve got a great platform; we’ve got a really good solution to offer to a lot of companies and most of the world does not know about us yet. So that awareness is not just with me, it’s with everybody in the company. So, we are all on the same page, we talk about this. And we put a lot of effort into creating content, not about Workato, but about ideas for how companies can really change the game, how can they actually generate more leads and meetings and opportunities in the pandemic in a pure digital way as an example. And we have a lot of really great content we do with our customers and partners. Taking those ideas and those value-add pieces to the world and sharing it is very, very important for us. I know our team was very active in that. But when you put it in relative to being the number one company in the world in doing that, that’s humbling. I think it was exciting to see that.

Brendon: [00:29:24] Yeah, that’s really fantastic. And I guess it is an external reflection of what a great culture you’ve developed for the business. And I was curious what your philosophy or approaches to building culture in a fast moving, high growth environment, especially as you noted that, I think it was 60 percent of the new employees or 60 percent of your employees now who are new, they haven’t met each other, so how do you build culture in that kind of environment?

Vijay Tella: [00:29:54] Yeah, our company grew about 60 percent last year, but yeah, I think it’s very high growth and even before the pandemic, from the beginning of starting the company, culture and how we do things, who we work with, the journey was always like the most important thing for us. Workato is my fourth company, fourth start-up. I think the biggest take away from the earlier experiences is that you don’t remember all of the just great business outcomes that you see. You remember some but what you remember is how you felt, working with the people, who you worked with, what kind of challenges you tackled and how it felt working with them. And you build lifelong relationships. To me, that’s what you will tell your family down the road when looking back. So, to me, the culture was absolutely and is the most paramount thing. We will change what we do, it’s just, it’s the people and how we work. So, I think one of the things that we’ve been very fortunate about is when, because of these prior experiences, when we put the initial team together, like the first 20, 30 people a lot of them I had worked with. And I knew these people are just amazing individuals, not just like the best in their field, we had some people, some of the early people that created products like AWS and Salesforce platforms, and, the Head of Products at Splunk, the Head of Products at TIBCO, the Chief Architect of Skype… Some really amazing category creating product leaders. But I personally knew them to be just amazing individuals, super humble. They really like nothing better than working with other smart people to tackle big problems. So, I think the first 20/30 people that we brought on to the company in this way really set the tone for. I think when other people come on board and they see people like Gautham [Viswanathan] or Amlan [Debnath] in our team, they’re so humble, that was always a really big focus. I have also seen in my past experiences as you go through these high stages of growth, there’s incredible stresses created on the culture, it is just hard to overstate how challenging it is to maintain and build upon a culture when you are growing fast, and you are growing from hundreds to maybe a thousand people in the not-too-distant future. So that’s the thing that I really worry about the most. I think, yes, I think there’s a big market and we need to grow fast and we’re going to take the market. But the thing that I worry about the most is how do we build upon that culture? And we have these things called the core operating principles in the company. It’s not values that we put up on the wall like honesty, integrity and all which feel preachy. There’s too many examples of companies that have those values that don’t follow them. So, we’ve taken a different approach to this, what we call our core guiding principles, our operating principles of keeping the customers first, biasing towards the long term, winning as a team, you know, being transparent to their system, there’s about eight of these things that we talk about. These things were not very deliberate in the past. These were just by osmosis, by example people were picking up. I think we need to get more intentional, because inevitably I think it will take a lot of work for us to continue to maintain that culture and I see that as my job number one.

Brendon: [00:33:34] Yeah, I like that idea of framing those things as operating principles over values. It makes it more tangible, doesn’t it? Kind of gives you some guardrails for how things can operate. I was just wondering; you’ve obviously got a team of people around the world that work with you and for you. How do you manage that from an internal communications perspective? I’m sure, in normal circumstances, you would be out on the road and seeing people. But how in the past year have you managed that internal communications with your leadership team, but also with the wider company?

Vijay Tella: [00:34:12] I think we had an advantage in the sense that we were always a very deeply remote company. We were not a pure remote company like some of the others are out there. But we have had a very strong orientation towards bringing people on board, the best people in the world, wherever they are at, literally, you know, like we have people from Siberia to like Thailand to everywhere in between, right? We’ve always had that culture, so with the leadership that we have, very experienced leadership, we have really good systems for how we work within each of the teams across all of these time zones, there’s a cadence of how you work. We were one of the very first companies that got on to Slack when Slack released their product, back in 2013/14. As soon as we started the company, we got on Slack. We were always very hungry about leveraging the technology to the max. So that was always part of the culture. So, when the pandemic hit, in terms of the actual work processes within product development, right, within marketing, within sales, it was not super hard to scale the interpersonal working relationships. What was hard was that we didn’t get to see these people. So even though we were remote, one of the things that we made a very big point of was that every year between two to four times, depending on your role, we would bring people back into the headquarters, into the Bay Area. We even had these Workato houses where people could stay long-term feeling comfortable. So, we have a big operation in Singapore, it’s almost like a second headquarters. But we made a point of bringing people here so we would work remote, but we would make sure that we were spending some very high-quality time together, even with each other’s families. So, some of these people would come and stay at my house for some time. So, we really got to know each other and then that gave us the standing to be able to be great remote. We lost that part of being able to do that but the relationships and the goodwill we’ve banked over time with the existing team have helped us to bring this new team on board. Two of our top performing sales reps, number one and two reps were people that we had in the pandemic last year. I mean, these people have just been blowing the doors off into their performance, but we can’t wait. We’re hoping this summer, certainly in the US, it looks like we’d be able to do this. We’re going to bring the Workato houses back, we will be working probably even more remote than we were before because people have really appreciated the flexibility. But some people have permanently moved out of the offices and in remote and they don’t have to come back. But what we are going to do is, we’re going to try to, again, get together when it is possible just from a personal relationship point of view. We’re going to bring that back.

Russ: [00:37:22] What about switching from internal comes to external? How do you view that part of the role as an external spokesperson for the business? Is it something you enjoy?

Vijay Tella: [00:37:32] Well, I’ve begun to realise it’s going to be a much more important part of my role than when we were building the company. So, it was a really sort of a switching of the gears when we were creating this product and creating this company, where it was very much inwardly focused. I think over the last couple of years I’ve had to personally make a shift towards spending more time to get our message out. And I think that is going to be even more of a focus going forward. So, it’s certainly something that we are learning as a team to make that a priority and really make that a big part of our jobs, that’s probably one of the biggest changes, I would say, from between now and what we were doing maybe a couple of years ago.

Brendon: [00:38:18] The spirit of this series Vijay is kind of like helping to pass on lessons from experienced leaders like yourself to aspiring leaders. And one of the things we always like to ask people is what the biggest communications challenge they’ve ever faced along the way and how they overcame it. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be at Workato, but previously. Is there anything that sticks in your mind as something that was a real challenge for you that you had to overcome along the way?

Vijay Tella: [00:38:48] Yes, I think, communication and being connected is the hardest challenge a company faces. It’s been a big challenge in every company that I was part of. There is always this sense of, people in headquarters are able to connect with each other on the watercoolers, but people in remote areas don’t feel as connected. I’ve never found a place where we felt that we communicated enough, and we did enough to get everybody on the same page. So, getting into starting this company from the beginning, this was like a big pressing, we knew this was going to be the biggest thing, so we tried to instil a lot of things into our system. First of all, like having a very remote culture, but also simple things like when we said whenever there is some question that somebody poses on Slack, if they are in a remote location by themselves, that should get priority one, we’ve got to answer that, don’t ever leave that unanswered. And if it’s people from outside of headquarters prioritise them, right? There’s a lot of these things that we’ve done to keep us connected. But we know we cannot communicate enough. So, we have a once a quarter board meeting. What we do is the next week after the board meeting, we go through the entire board material, we are completely transparent, like I said, the issues around, we need to get the message out, everybody’s on the same page, it’s because we literally take the entire board presentation, we don’t want the entire company to be participating in the board meeting, but we take the same deck, the same material, and the execs will actually go through all of that with the entire team. So, everybody knows in real time where we are at. So, they’re not getting caught up on what our strategy was two months ago. So, even with this, I feel like we are always looking for what can we do to communicate more within the teams and across teams like we are creating a new, very interesting new role reporting into me, around this team level productivity and communication and all that. It’s a different type of role that I’m trying out to get the entire company to be more on the same plane. For example, if there are people that are on our SDR team, that usually the thing they look at with this career path is sales. But, you know, maybe if we have this in a very good, connected place, they could find other opportunities in customer success. So, we want to have mobility within the company, that connectedness. So, we’re always looking for ideas. I don’t think we will solve that problem fully.

Brendon: [00:41:37] I think that your point that you made at the start, though, of really thinking that you can never communicate too much is a really good guiding thought, isn’t it? Because it always makes you be on the front foot looking for new ways to do things, which you obviously are.

 Vijay Tella: [00:41:51] That’s right.

Russ: [00:41:52] Vijay, thank you so much for giving so much detail and honesty in all your answers it’s been really great. We’ve got one final question for you that we’ve asked all our unicorn leaders in this series. And that’s if you were to go back in time and speak to your old self, what guidance would you give yourself about communications? But also, what steps would you encourage yourself to take in order for you and your business to excel in those communications?

Vijay Tella: [00:42:17] Yes, I think one of the benefits of having done multiple of these companies is that when I got into this company, I could give advice to myself a little bit at the start of Workato. And I think it is really about, think deliberately about the type of team that you are building initially, it’s going to set the cultural cornerstones for your company as you grow and prioritise the culture at least as much as the business. It’s very hard when you are early stage in a start-up to think about culture when you are like looking for survival and traction. But it’s really important to prioritise that equally. Every team is different I think there are some good ideas that you can pick up from people and I have, like the board meeting idea was something that I picked up from another company called Rubric that actually did that, they were transparent with their board content to the entire company, so what a great idea. So be hungry for ideas, at the same time, know your team, right? When you work with people that you worked with in the past, but if you worked with them a long time ago, you may feel that you know them, but our experiences have changed. So don’t assume that people are on the same page as you and even the people that are close to you. You got to really be explicit and communicate just over communicate.

Russ: [00:43:39] Vijay Tella, thank you so much for taking the time to join us online and record this today, I really appreciate it.

Vijay Tella: [00:43:45] Yeah. Thank you so much, Russell and Brendon.

Brendon: [00:43:46] Thank you, Vijay.

Russ: [00:43:50] Brendon, No. 15 in the can, what’s your thoughts on what Vijay had to say?

Brendon: [00:43:54] Well, I mean, first of all, it just is an incredibly exciting story, hearing about Workato’s evolution and the inspiration behind the company. But then from a communications perspective, I thought that there were some really great strategic principles and then some good illustrations of those ideas. So, I thought, his point about thinking very deliberately about the founding team and how that team is going to really establish the cultural cornerstones of the company was a really key point. I also thought, his lesson learned, that you can never communicate too much is also another really useful guiding principle. And then the other thing I really loved was when he was talking about when you think back to companies you worked for, you don’t remember the challenges so much as you remember your experience as a feeling. And I think, again, that’s a very useful thing to think about when we’re all planning our business and we are communicating, it’s really thinking about what’s the feeling that we’re going to be creating with our colleagues. And then I thought there was some really nice little ideas in there, such as the point about sharing the board minutes with the whole company to keep everyone on the same page, prioritising communicating with people outside of head office, because that’s really important in terms of everyone feeling close. So, I really, really enjoyed that conversation.

Russ: [00:45:19] The bit about the founding team, they certainly started with a bit of experience there, you know, he mentioned AWS, Skype, I think Apple was in there as well. I don’t know if he mentioned that. That’s a hell of starting place.

Brendon: [00:45:33] I really thought that was great. I mean, and the point he made about those people and why he chose to build Workato with them, not just because they were kind of real experts in the area, but in his opinion, they were just also great people, very humble. And, yeah, I thought that you could see how that ultimately led to, building a really great culture.

Russ: [00:45:55] Excellent stuff. That’s it for this latest episode in this special series with Tyto, if you want to find out more about Workato, then their website is simply Workato.com. We’d love to hear your comments on today’s chat, and you can share them on our Facebook page, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter feeds or in the comments of the YouTube version of this podcast. Those are all linked from the top of the website at csuitepodcast.com, where you’ll also find all our previous shows and supporting show notes plus links to where you can follow us for automatic downloads of each episode by the likes of Spotify and Apple and if you liked what you’ve heard, please do give us a positive rating and review. We’re, of course, available on all podcast apps. Just search for the csuite podcast and hit, follow or subscribe. You can also subscribe to the Without Borders podcast from our partners at Tyto, all the details for that are on their website so just head to tytopr.com and click on the podcast link in the top nav bar. If you are a unicorn leader yourself and you’d like to be part of this series, then please do get in touch via the contact form on the website at csuitepodcast.com plus of course, anyone can get in touch too, with any feedback you may have. And finally, you can also reach me via the likes of Twitter using @russgoldsmith or you can find me on LinkedIn. But for now, thanks for listening and goodbye.

Without Borders PR Podcast by Tyto

Tyto brings you Without Borders, a regular dose of inspiration for passionate communicators, courageous creatives and entrepreneurial business brains. Expect candid chats with the wisest old hands, bleeding edge innovators and left field thinkers and doers.