Our guest in this 26th interview episode with a unicorn start-up leader, is Seismic CEO and co-founder Doug Winter.
Seismic is the global leader in enablement, helping organizations engage customers, enable teams, and ignite revenue growth. The Seismic Enablement Cloud™️ is a unified enablement platform that equips customer-facing teams with the right skills, content, tools, and insights to grow and win. Founded in 2010, Seismic has since raised $440 million and now has a valuation of $3 billion. The company is headquartered in San Diego with offices across North America, Europe, and Australia.
Back in 2010, Doug got together with four other entrepreneurs to work from “basements, breweries and beaches”, leading to the eventual launch of Seismic in San Diego. Looking back, he says he is simply most proud of the ability that Seismic harnesses in providing growth opportunities to their customers. It has been especially rewarding watching a lot of the people who had faith in his early vision join this journey, progressing their careers moving up into more and more senior roles and growing along with the company. That part, according to Doug, is the most satisfying.
In this Without Borders episode, the Seismic CEO explains how they are helping “marketing both support sales better and give them visibility into what’s actually happening in those sales, so they can improve and get stronger”. Fast-moving industries that have many products and complex sales cycles is where Seismic does best, according to Doug. Currently, their biggest customers are tech giants Microsoft, Google and IBM.
Doug also explains how the unicorn title was a big honour and a milestone for him and his company. He says it was very exciting to get there, but “you still have to keep moving forward and setting that next target and going after that next target is really what matters.” For Doug, the fun part is figuring out the next mountain you are going to have to climb and setting those targets. In terms of future growth and investment, the Seismic CEO explains that right now there is a lot of capital available, but investors are sitting on it as they wait for the markets to stabilise and understand if valuations are reasonable or not. At Seismic, they are aware of this situation, and they continue to make growth-oriented investments as well as product-led investments, but at the same time they “try to keep a cushion” so that they can stay far away from the rocks.
In terms of raising awareness and differentiating themselves on the market, Doug admits that “being publicly showy and high profile” has never been his personality, and the company has reflected that over the years. Fortunately, he says he has great people on the team, and on the day of our interview he was proudly sporting the new logo and colours of their fresh rebranded image.
When asked about the culture in his organisation, Doug Winter tells us that initially, it was easy for them to develop a good culture that fed on itself as people like each other and like working there, and genuinely enjoy what they are doing. But recently, the leader of his People team notified him that more than half of the people at Seismic joined after March 2020, which means most of them never met anyone physically, and it’s easier to drift apart when working remotely. Seismic also acquired a company called Lessonly, and this emphasised the need to unify the work culture. Consequently, they recently went through an exercise of developing and formalising it, through the process of documenting their culture. Doug explains that as a team they came up with a goal that “brings the company together around things [they] all believe in, and [they] all believe are important”.
The interview, as usual, was co-hosted with Russell Goldsmith of the csuite podcast.
We have distilled the most valuable, actionable insights from our first 15 interviews with leaders of unicorn companies and bottled them in our book ‘Growing without borders: The unicorn CEO guide to communication and culture’. You can download it here.
Russ: [00:00:01] Thanks for downloading the 26th 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 startups face and how they can address them with a strategic approach to marketing and communications. My name is Russell Goldsmith, my co-host for this episode is Tyto’s senior partner Holly Justice. And today we are thrilled to be joined online from California by Doug Winter, Founder and CEO of Seismic, the global leader in enablement, helping organisations engage customers, enable teams, and ignite revenue growth. Founded in 2010, Seismic has since raised $440 million and now has a valuation of $3 billion. Welcome to the show, Doug. It would be great if you can start by you telling us a little bit more about the company and exactly how you enable sales and improve the marketing performance of your clients.
Doug: [00:00:56] Sure. And thank you for having me, I’m excited to be here to spend a little time with you this morning. So Seismic is a leader in sales enablement. Sales enablement really, at its simplest, is helping sellers do better through the use of technology. And specifically, what we do is we try to help enable sellers by helping train them, on board them more quickly, more effectively through traditional training, help coach them so that they can improve on a continuous basis, both through machine learning and coaching, as well as through good old fashioned manager coaching. We help with things like playbooks which help tell the seller what they should do next, what the most important next actions are. We help them with content. In today’s world, engaging with your buyer is incredibly challenging because your buyer is very picky, they’re very educated, they’ve done a ton of research about you before they ever sit down with you. And so, you have to be able to engage with them. We all get probably hundreds of emails from sellers trying to get us to look at something. How do you stand out? How do you engage in a way that is unique and different from your competition? And then most importantly, is in today’s world, is closing that feedback loop and watching and observing everything that happens and using technology to understand what’s working, what’s not working, and collecting data that helps all the different parts of an organisation improve and get better and how they support sellers. So, sales enablement’s, a new field. It’s a rapidly evolving field. It’s exciting time to be there because nobody knows exactly what the ultimate solutions are going to be. But using technology to help sellers get better and improve is what we do, sales enablement.
Holly: [00:02:36] And Doug, you’ve just said there that sales enablement is kind of a new field that’s rapidly evolving. Why do companies need this type of cloud enablement platform today?
Doug: [00:02:44] A big piece of it is the fact that the buyers and the buying process is so much different than it has been in the past. Buyers do all the research online. They go to crowdsourcing sites, and they understand what they like and what people like and what they don’t. They understand your pricing. They understand who your competitors are. They understand what the solution is that they need. They’ve done a bunch of research on your own website. So, they already know the basics about your product, and they’ve probably seen basic demos. So, when they engage with an actual seller, they’re very well educated and the seller needs to be able to respond very quickly, faster than the competition does. They need to respond with relevant and personalised content, so they need to be able to respond with the right answers. A good example is if someone calls and they’re in a certain industry and you start giving them examples from a completely different industry. I remember hearing a story once, a company that was in the automotive industry, and they went and asked for solutions, and they came back and they gave them examples from entertainment, Disney and Paramount and things like that. They’re like, that’s not relevant to me. So, you have to be able to be on point with that. The buying process is also different today. It used to be that you had one or two decision makers that you had to influence. And today, because of regulations, because of just corporate governance improvements, now, it’s not uncommon that you have 15 different people that are weighing in on a buying decision that large organisations make. So, the answer that works really well when you’re talking to the IT team might not work very well at all when you’re talking to the marketing team or the sales team or some other part of the organisation. So, you’ve got to be nimble, you’ve got to be fast, got to be responsive, and you got to be better than your competition is.
Holly: [00:04:27] And this might be a difficult question to answer if there are lots of decision makers, but what would you say is the greatest challenge that Seismic is helping these companies to solve? Is it aligning sales and marketing? Is it something else?
Doug: [00:04:42] Yeah, we’re really the bridge between sales and marketing. So marketing, if you think about it, for years now has had everything really well instrumented at the top of the sales funnel. I like to joke, if you go to someone’s website and you sneeze on a page, they know about it, right? But when the opportunity is created and the opportunity goes over the wall into the hands of sales, the sales team engages marketing, loses all visibility into what’s happening. Are we being successful? You know, we created all this material, white papers and videos and PowerPoint decks, is anyone actually looking at them. Do they work? Are they helpful? Marketing is completely blind to that. And so, we’re in the bridge, we’re playing the bridge role. We’re helping marketing both support sales better, but also give them visibility into what’s actually happening so they can improve and get stronger.
Holly: [00:05:29] And are there any kind of types of companies or industries where Seismic plays a more critical role than others?
Doug: [00:05:36] Yeah, I think, more fast-moving industries that have large numbers of products, complex sales cycles is where we do best. So, our biggest customers are large technology companies. Companies like Microsoft and Google and IBM, but we also have a good number in financial services. Might not be intuitive to a lot of people, but financial services is sales. They’re selling to each other. They’re selling mutual funds to the public that they’re also selling them to financial advisors. The people that manage the money are selling to the financial advisors. That’s a regulated industry. It’s a complex sale. You can imagine why if you tell someone some untrue facts about the performance of your mutual fund, for example, you can get in pretty big trouble, as you probably should. So, making sure that you’re answering questions correctly, but also doing it quickly and standing out from your competition is very important in those industries as well. Manufacturing, you can imagine a manufacturing company. It’s not uncommon as especially in the days of M&A and companies getting larger and larger. You might have thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of different products. If you’re supposed to be selling all those products, how do you keep up? How do you know about how to answer questions about certain products? When you need help, you need tools, you need technology in order to do that. So manufacturing is another big industry, life sciences, it’s a more thing, you have a lot of different products, but you also have some regulatory requirements, and you can’t answer questions the wrong way or you might get in trouble. Sellers have to stay trained and on top of their game. Those are some of the examples of industries. But we have customers in non-profit. We have customers in the services space. Really, it’s a problem that spans just about every industry.
Russ: [00:07:16] Those businesses that you’re working with, Doug, did you see any changes in the way that people were using you during the lockdown period? And now that we’ve come out of lockdown, there’s been a shift to remote working, obviously, a lot of companies going back, but there’s a hybrid approach as well. Have you seen any trends there at all?
Doug: [00:07:33] Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s been a huge driver for us and the trend towards digitisation, digital selling, digital working, remote working is not a new trend. But obviously in 2020 it took a huge acceleration. One of our customers, interesting story, I met with him every couple of weeks. We were co-developing some products together working on their particularly tricky rollout. And when the lockdown hit in 2020, he just disappeared. And so, we missed like three or four meetings in a row. He was gone for like two months. He came back and I said, “jeez, where have you been?” I was a little worried. He’s like, Oh, well, you know, the month before COVID hit, we were about to do a one week trial with 5% of our workforce working from home for one week. And then on Friday, I found out that on Monday the entire workforce was going to be remote indefinitely. So, he said, I obviously had a whole lot of things I had to focus on, but we were a big part of that. And their sellers all working remotely, engage with remote buyers, they are no longer printing things and sitting down face to face. They were doing it all electronically and with shorter time scales. And so, they had to be more nimble. They had to move faster. We saw probably like a lot of companies did a short slowdown where everybody kind of freaked out and wasn’t really sure what was going to happen in the economy. And then we saw a big acceleration in our business usage. Usage of our existing customers ticked up almost immediately. And then after a couple of months of everyone trying to figure out what was going on, a big increase in new customers signing on.
Russ: [00:09:09] Doug, I want to go back to 2010, then to the start of the company. Now, I was looking on your website earlier and it says that in the description of the business, it says five budding entrepreneurs works from basements, breweries and beaches to found Seismic in San Diego. So, I was just wondering in that time what are you most proud of since the five of you got together?
Doug: [00:09:28] Well, when we got together, we had an idea that from things we had seen in the space, we knew that there was a pain point, that there was a pain point in this area. We had been entrepreneurs before. We’d worked in a couple of different industries, and we had real data. We weren’t kind of taking a huge leap of faith. We knew that this was a real pain point. And it’s really easy to build a spreadsheet and show how you’re going to grow and how you’re going to hire people and how your revenue is going to take off. And you grab that little thing at the bottom of the spreadsheet and you drag it over to the right and you see what the company looks like ten years from now. I can tell you it’s extremely different to actually get up on stage, look out at all the people out there and count the faces and whether it’s customers or our teammates, I’m most proud of just the ability that we’ve had to provide growth to help our customers and to watch a lot of the people who had faith in us early on to join this journey, progress their careers, move up into more and more senior roles and grow along with the company. I think that’s the part that’s most satisfying for me.
Holly: [00:10:33] To me, building a company in a brewery or from a beach sounds pretty enticing, but I’m sure you faced quite a lot of challenges. What’s been the hardest moment over the last 12 years?
Doug: [00:10:45] Well, I can tell you there was a lot more basement than there was brewery or beach. But it makes for a really nice story. No, there have been a lot of challenges. There have been ups and downs along the way, for sure. It seems like every time you think things are starting to settle out a little bit, then the next curveball comes. There’s great example I think we’re facing right now is in the middle of, we’ve really come through COVID, everyone is feeling much better. We’re starting to get back towards whatever the new normal is going to be. And now all of a sudden, there’s a major war and conflict going in Eastern Europe and inflation is through the roof and everybody is having labour challenges with the great resignation or great reshuffling or whatever we’re calling it. Every time you start to think that you’ve solved things and it’s settled down, and now we’re just going to keep going on the plan that we had in mind, there comes the next big curveball. So, I don’t know which of those I’d highlight and say has been the most dramatic. The one that feels the most impactful is the one that’s in front of me right now. And the ones in the past don’t seem quite so bad. I do remember a pretty dire day, and I remember what day it was because it was leap day. It was Leap Day in 2012. And one of my co-founders, Ed and I had a big meeting scheduled with a potential customer. And it turned out that our cloud provider had some sort of a bug associated with the leap day and certificates. And I don’t even remember the details, but all of a sudden, as we’re sitting down to do our demo, things started working and then they would stop working and then this part would work, but that part wouldn’t work. And we tap danced our way through the demo as best we could, but it was clearly not our best effort, and we didn’t understand, it wasn’t until a couple of days later that we understood what had happened, but we didn’t know what had happened. And then as he’s driving me back to the airport, we get a call from another big customer or prospect that we had saying, we decided we’re just going to build this thing ourselves. And I was facing a six-hour flight back from Boston to San Diego. And I remember looking at Ed and going, jeez, I don’t know. I’m not sure this could be the end right here that we just suffered. But gladly we realise, I guess, through having done this once before or twice before that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And you keep trudging through the tough times. And before you know it, you’re running downhill again. So, we survived that. But I do remember that day when people ask, what was the day that you really stood out to you? Because it was leap day. It’s always easy to remember.
Holly: [00:13:25] And obviously we’ve just talked there about low points, but officially becoming a unicorn must have been a high point in the journey. Would you say, since becoming a unicorn company, the perception of Seismic has changed at all?
Doug: [00:13:38] I think every milestone, they’re exciting. You set a target, you aim for it, you get there, you celebrate a little bit. And then Monday comes and you realise, wow, we just we got to go after the next milestone now, there really isn’t anything that that changes. So, on Friday you are one thing and on Monday you are something else and it doesn’t really matter. You still have to keep moving forward and setting that next target and going after that next target is really what matters. So, I think that the unicorn title it was a big honour. It was very exciting to get there. It was most exciting that we got the investors that we did at that point in time, it was really exciting, that’s when John Thompson joined our board, very excited to have him on the team and T. Rowe Price joined our team. So that was a big milestone for us. But on Monday we had to go back to work and stay focused on the next set of milestones ahead of us. And, I keep thinking, oh, maybe there’ll be some milestone out there where we don’t have to do that. But I think that’s the fun part, is figuring out what the next mountain is you’re going to climb and setting targets.
Holly: [00:14:44] And thinking about growth. As a company, how have you guys managed the international growth of the business, in terms of establishing yourselves in new markets, balancing resources and growth, that kind of stuff?
Doug: [00:14:57] Yeah, so, international is something that I’ve learned over the years, you have to do it the right way and I’ll put the air quotes around “right way”, because I’m sure that there’s a lot of different right ways to do it. But the lesson that I’ve learned is if you’re not ready to commit to significant investment in a region, that you’re better off not to do it. And I’ve done this well at some places and I’ve done it not so well in others. And what do I mean by that investment? To me, you need to be able to transplant the company culture, which means you need to send a couple of people in key specific roles over to the new region to help bring that culture. And more than the culture, the history, all the stories about what customers are doing, right? Those things are really hard to transplant without a seed. And so, bringing a couple of folks, we found that specific roles, people in sales, people in customer success, sales engineers who know the product really well are really, is a critical step. You know that’s expensive; it’s an expensive investment that you need to make you got to be ready for that. You need to be able to invest in marketing and sometimes maybe even over-invest in marketing because no one in the new region probably knows who you are. And they may not even know in our case what sales enablement is. So, you have to really educate them. You’re probably going to want to invest in the partner ecosystem because one way to help get your name out and help find some initial customers is to work with partners in a new region who know the language and who know the local customs and nuances. And those are important things to do. And then also just getting out and understanding where you’re going to actually have the footprint to having a plan around where you want to start. Is it a certain industry that you want to start? Like what is the beachhead that you can use to establish the core of the business upon which you can start to make further investments and continue to grow? It’s tempting sometimes to say, oh, we’ve got one customer, let’s hire one person who seems really great. And, they’re on an island, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. And you don’t have the right amount of support for them. And then you can really languish in that state for a long time if you’re not careful in making the proper investment.
Russ: [00:17:17] On that topic of investment Doug, we talked about how much you’ve raised, where will that latest investment, where is that going to be used, in terms of the next stage of your growth?
Doug: [00:17:27] So, at this point in time, we’re generating a lot of capital and the primary source of our capital is coming from our customers, which is great, it’s the best place. And it’s a big advantage as you’re in a new space to have more cash coming, more capital coming from customers as opposed to investors. However, we have taken additional money from investors most recently and about nine months ago, it was part of an acquisition. So, as we grow, one of the things we look to do is whether or not there are particular product areas or geographic areas or people that may make sense to make an acquisition and have them join our team so that we can sell additional products into our customers, that they can help round out our tech stack or fill a hole in our organisation somehow. If that’s a particularly large acquisition, then, raising capital can be the only option that you have. And so that was what led our most recent investment. I like to say, stay far away from the rocks so you never get in a position, trying not to get into a position where you have to raise money and that you can choose to raise money when timing is right. This is a good example of the time that we’re in right now where the private capital markets have largely dried up. There’s a lot of capital available, but the investors are sitting on it. They’re not investing as they wait for the markets to stabilise and to better understand what valuations are reasonable or not. And so, if you’re in a position if you’re unfortunate and you’re in a position where you need to raise money right now, today, you’re probably sweating. You’re probably not sleeping very well at night. So, we’ve always tried to stay far away from those. So having a good cushion is important. And then we make calculated investment choices both on R&D product areas that we want to invest in, new things to sell to our customers, or ways to make our product more competitive and go to market areas where we’re either investing in a new geo, investing potentially in just overall expansion of the team or potentially in a new vertical area of expertise. So, we continue to make those growth-oriented investments as well as product, but at the same time try to keep a cushion so that we can stay far away from the rocks.
Russ: [00:19:47] Sure. And with all that activity, I mean, if I’ve got this right, you’re at 2,200 customers and over a million users now. So, with all that activity that you’re doing, all that investment, do you have a certain target, for example, in terms of number of customers and users in, let’s say, four or five years’ time?
Doug: [00:20:03] Oh, boy, it’s really hard to think four and five years. We see so much opportunity in front of us that I think, our goal is to continue to grow at a 40% or more pace for the foreseeable future. I think that we can do that through, there are a lot of companies that have yet to make big investments in sales enablement, although it’s past the top of the bell curve, I believe now we’re starting to get to the bulk of companies have some programs in place. There’s still a lot of companies that don’t that are using old technologies or tools to solve the problem. And then we continue to invest in new products that are going to help. So additional things that our customers can buy that will help them be more successful and get more out of the platform that we have. So, I think that we can continue to grow or, our eyes now are focused on a $500 million revenue target. These are just milestones we talked about earlier. I like to say keep your eye on the horizon, but don’t trip over the step in front of you. And the $500 million revenue is the step in front of us. So, we’re focused on that. We’re focused on doing it the right way with increasing profitability and accelerating growth and incredible retention, keeping our customers very happy so they come back and want to buy more stuff. Those are our focus areas. I think if we continue to do that next Q, after we hit the half a billion-dollar milestone here in the next couple of years, we’ll figure out what the next step ought to be.
Holly: [00:21:35] A key part of the discussions that we have with each guest on this series, Doug, is around communications and culture within the business. So, it would be really great to understand what Seismic’s approach has been to raising awareness and really differentiating yourself in the market.
Doug: [00:21:51] Holly, it’s a really great question and I’ll be the first to admit that being publicly showy and visible and high profile has never been my personality. And I think the company has reflected that over the years. Fortunately, we’ve got some great people on the team, and we recently just went through a rebranding. The proud logo and colours that I’m sporting today represent our rebrand.
Russ: [00:22:21] Well, you’re wearing it well.
Doug: [00:22:22] Doing my best to get the word out but we really took a look at where we sit right now and that sales enablement is an area that’s nascent that’s emerging, but it’s become more and more mainstream. And so, we are the enablement cloud. We feel like that it’s the right time to tell that story a lot more loudly, publicly. And so, we’ve invested quite a bit in helping to do that, to raise not just the visibility of Seismic, but the visibility of sales enablement in general. And so, we’ve made pretty big investments in that. And you’re going to continue to see our name out there and a little bit more than we have in the past. I’d be lying if I said some of it doesn’t make me a little bit uncomfortable. Just, again, not quite my personality, but we’ve got a great team leading the way and it’s exciting to see the acknowledgment that sales enablement is a core strategic capability at most organisations. And Seismic is a leader, currently the leader in the space.
Russ: [00:22:25] I should just add for those people listening to the podcast and not watching us in terms of that branding that Doug was referring to there, he’s proudly wearing his new logo on a t shirt. And in fact, while we’re on this topic, I need to ask you, there’s a sign behind you, Doug, that I should have asked right at the start. What’s that all referring to? You might want to just describe it again for anyone listening and not watching.
Doug: [00:23:45] Yeah, there’s a sign in my back, behind me that’s, I guess a kind of a staple in Southern California, perhaps. But those are beaches. Those are the names of beaches and towns.
Russ: [00:23:59] Oh, of course.
Doug: [00:24:02] The one at the top happens to be the one closest to where I live. And then you work your way from north to south. And so, there are different signs depending on where you live or where your heart lives that people buy.
Russ: [00:24:15] That’s great. Right. Back onto the main topic at hand. Just picking up on what Holly was saying, we talked about communications and culture. So, on the culture side, how have you managed to build that, since you started?
Doug: [00:24:28] Yeah. So, we’ve always had, I think, a great culture at Seismic. People like working here. They like each other. They’re excited about what they’re doing. It’s not something that we invested heavily in, in the past. And a bit of scepticism on my side. I’ve seen we’ve all probably seen companies that had wonderful words written on the wall in the lobby that then ended up doing terrible things that were completely contradictory to those words that they had on the wall. And I was always much more, and as a start-up company, when you know, everyone, when you’re tight and you spend a lot of time together face to face, culture just develops. It develops and it reflects the founders, the employees, the teams, interaction with the customer, everyone’s role modelling what they see, it’s kind of easy and you develop a good culture. It feeds on itself. You attract people that are like minded and similar in how they think. And then I think what happened is two things really happened. One is, through COVID, we suddenly weren’t together anymore and during that period of time, we grew we grew a lot. In fact, our leader of our people team, Linda Ho, just told me recently that more than half of the people at Seismic now joined us after March of 2020, which means they probably never met anyone. Right. And it’s crazy, it’s hard to imagine that. And we used to get the company together once a year, an event called Seismic Activity. We would all get together, and we would talk about culture and who we were. And we would come together as a company, we haven’t done that in three years. So that was kind of number one in an observation that, hey, we’re drifting apart or, it’s really easy for us to drift apart. We’re also much more remote. Our largest office now, I do town halls with the different offices and our largest office is remote, which means they don’t have an office. They’re working from somewhere that’s not close to an office. So another giant change that we had. And then the second thing was we acquired a company called Lessonly, based out of Indianapolis, the founders there, Max and Connor had done an amazing job of really leaning in on culture. Their culture wasn’t our culture. We’re all unique. Every company is different. But the way in which they lived their culture, and it was more than just words on the wall, really struck me. Max wrote a book about it called Do Better Work, which is a really short read and really cool, really impactful. And I watched that, and I listened, and I observed what I saw with the Lessonly team. And I thought, wow, you know, that done well, it can really work, and it can really help bring a company together. So led in part by Max, we recently went through a similar exercise in developing and formalising what the culture that we already have and it’s not, you don’t just say, hey, this is going to be our culture. You don’t just make it up and then tell the company go become that. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You really have to, or really what we were doing is going through the process of documenting what our culture was and coming up with a mission. We ignite growth and a vision and the values and the things that we hold to be important. And it was a really exciting process to go through. We’re still in the process of rolling that out. We’re doing what we call culture labs internally, where every office and we’re doing it a couple of times in some of the offices, comes together for an hour and they talk about the mission and the vision and the values and what they mean to them. And the way I describe it is we’re taking those words that are now on the wall and what do they really mean to us? And like, let’s bring them to life and how do we demonstrate them and what do they mean? And I think it’s a way to help bring the company together around things that we all believe in, and we all believe are important. So, it’s been a great process for us. We’re still in the journey of really rolling that out and following a significant acquisition, especially of a company that had a strong culture like Lessonly did, I think is the perfect time for us to do it and a critical step in our continued growth and scaling.
Russ: [00:28:32] And building on that. Given your business is about enablement, how do you enable your own team to perform to maximum efficiency?
Doug: [00:28:40] Well, we as you can imagine, we lean a lot on our own technology.
Russ: [00:28:44] Well, I’d like to think so.
Doug: [00:28:45] We do. And, companies require more than just enablement, but enablement is a pretty important function. It’s very important that people can onboard. They can perform their best. They can find what they need in order and know what to do and what to say and what to show and what to share. So, we invest heavily in our own capabilities. We have a wonderful woman that leads that team for us. She does an amazing job. And I’ve always encouraged her like, go for it. Don’t be afraid to take a chance and try something different. Because we’re not just developing technology for enablement, we’re also helping develop what the processes are, what does great look like. Our customers ask us that all the time. What does great look like, and we can point to this company and that company that are doing amazing things. But I also like to be able to point to ourselves. And so going out and trying something new, even if it doesn’t work, I think is an important piece of it. So, we’re really trying to push, we have a tight relationship between that team, our own enablement team and our product team. So, there’s a feedback loop of people saying here’s what we’re focused on, here’s what we’re trying to do, and it’s not working. Could you do this in the product to make it better? Those kinds of conversations we really encourage, and we try to lean into.
Holly: [00:30:00] Thinking about internal communications and actually something that you mentioned just a few moments ago, Doug, I think you said about 50% of the Seismic team have come into role since March 2020. How do you navigate internal communications and thinking about individual comms or addressing the whole team, especially when now so many of them are working remotely or are spread out geographically in different countries? How do you manage that?
Doug: [00:30:30] Yeah, it’s really a big challenge today. And what I’ll say is that if there’s a good side to all the changes that happened with COVID, I think it forced us to really formalise and lean more heavily into how we did communication with the employees. I now have a quarterly town hall with everyone, which is a smaller group. So sometimes we do it by geography. So, this office or that office, we’ll have a town hall where I just spend an hour. And the idea is it’s a smaller group so that we can ask questions. And it’s not just me speaking at them, but we can actually have a dialog and Q&A. Sometimes we do it, alternate, and I do it by job function. So, it’s the marketing team or the sales, East Coast sales team or something like that. So that there’s a more topical focus on the questions that come out. We also do monthly town halls. And so, I think what COVID and remote work did is it forced us to really formalise those things. We would have town halls, we would aim for monthly, but it didn’t happen. It was a little bit more ad hoc. We really tightened that up and we formalised it. And our people team has been great about helping me be much more thoughtful about that, making sure we have a great agenda and good topics to cover and make the meeting something that people are excited about and want to attend and not just watch PowerPoint slides and me droning on.
Holly: [00:31:54] And what about your role as an external communicator, Doug? You mentioned a little earlier on that it’s not necessarily something that comes that naturally to you. How have you kind of approached it and what have you learned along the way?
Doug: [00:32:08] Well, I guess what I’ve learned is, as much as anything, that it’s a skill like any other that you can improve and you can work on, and that if you put time and energy and effort into it, you’ll get better and you’ll do okay. And if you don’t, you probably won’t. So, number one is treat it as an important part of the job and realising that the larger we get and the closer we get to thinking about things like being a public company, the more that it will become a critical part of the role. And so, getting help, having experts around me, we’ve got a communications team, we’ve got a PR team that really are fantastic that help get me ready. But then just making sure that I’m taking it seriously, that I’m practicing, that I’m working on it, that I’m getting opportunities. It helps and yeah, it’s a skill. It’s a skill like any other. So, I’ll probably never be the best in the world at it. But the more I practice, the less uncomfortable and the more reps you get.
Holly: [00:33:04] And outside of comms, what would you say is the biggest challenge that a CEO of a unicorn company faces?
Doug: [00:33:11] You know, I think it is being really agile. There are so many distractions, there’s so many changes coming your way, things you didn’t see, curves in the road, that you really just have to be agile. You need to trust the folks around you. Building a team is probably the biggest and most important part. So over time, continuing to strengthen the team at all levels and recognising that what worked last year probably won’t work next year. And you need to kind of constantly evolve. I look back at what my job was ten years ago, and I was taking out the trash and doing our finances on QuickBooks and doing demos for customers. Now I’ve got so many people at the company that are 100 times better than me at all of those things, except maybe taking out the trash, but being able to surround yourself by that expertise and continuously improve and grow and evolve and not get too in love with the way you’ve done things. And things that have worked in the past, I think is the most important challenge when you’re at a unicorn, because almost by definition, the unicorn is growing very fast, and growth is fun. It’s exciting, but boy, you better stay nimble. You better stand on your toes.
Russ: [00:34:22] There’s certainly a consistent message that comes through in a lot of these interviews that we’re doing is that having the ability to let go of those tasks. It’s hard when you’ve, like you said you’ve done it all yourself. Definitely a consistent challenge that we’ve heard among all the interviews. But Doug, we’ve got one final question for you. And we’ve asked this to all our unicorn leaders who have appeared on this podcast. If you could go back in time and give your younger self some guidance on how to excel in communications, what would it be?
Doug: [00:34:51] I think it would be believe in yourself, don’t be afraid. I think when I look back at the younger me just being frankly afraid of taking chances or afraid of putting myself out there in certain circumstances was one of the things that probably held me back. It’s hard to grow that confidence without some failures, without some successes. But if I could go back and whisper in my ear and say, you’re going to do, okay, don’t be afraid to take that jump and go for it and get up on that stage. Get in front of people, say what you really think. That’s probably what I would do.
Russ: [00:35:30] Doug Winter, thank you so much for taking the time to join us online and record the podcast.
Doug: [00:35:35] Russell, Holly, really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you very much.
Russ: [00:35:405] Holly. What a lovely chat with Doug. What did you think to what he had to talk about?
Holly: [00:35:44] Well, other than the extra long chats about Californian beaches making me want to book a holiday, I just thought generally kind of Doug’s humility and his approach and the way that he’s approach growth at Seismic was really inspiring. I loved the phrase, I think he said, it’s important to focus on the horizon, but not forgetting that or tripping over the steps in front of you. And I thought that was a really great approach to grow a company. And it’s probably testament to a lot of the successes they’ve seen and it seems to have run through in everything he’s done from international expansion, internal comms, external communications, that kind of really thoughtful approach is something we can all learn a lot from.
Russ: [00:36:30] Definitely. Well, if you want to find out more about Seismic, then their website is simply Seismic.com. But that’s it for this latest episode in the special series we are recording with Tyto. We’d love to hear your comments on today’s chat. You can do that by sharing them on our Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter feeds, or you can do it on the comments of the YouTube version of this podcast. Those are all linked from the top of our 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 via the likes of Spotify and Apple. And if you like what you 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. And don’t forget, you can also subscribe to the Without Borders podcast from our partners at Tyto. All the details for that are on their website. Just head to TytoPR.com click on the podcast link in the nav bar. And don’t forget on that website you can also download a copy of Growing Without Borders, the Unicorn CEO Guide to Communication and Culture. So that’s on the website as well. It’s a great overview of the first 15 of our unicorn interviews. If you are a unicorn leader yourself and you’d like to be part of this series, do get in touch via the contact form on the website at csuitepodcast.com. Plus, of course, anyone can get in touch with any feedback you may have. And finally, you can also reach me directly if you want, via Twitter using at @russgoldsmith or you can find me on LinkedIn. But for now, thanks for listening and goodbye.
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