S02E42: Scott Voigt, FullStory

Our guest in this 35th podcast episode with a unicorn start-up leader is the founder and CEO of FullStory, Scott Voigt 

FullStory is a technology company that focuses on creating the perfect digital experience. Their techrecords the customer journey in a privacy friendly way, whether it’s on a browser or a native device. The data is then reported back to the owners of those properties so they can understand exactly when, where and why their customers are receiving a lower level of digital experience, and how to rectify it.  

Scott has been In the SaaS game for over 25 years. He worked at a number of companies over that time – but the FullStory story picked up in the early 2000’s when he was working on a startup (where he met his two co-founders) which was later acquired by Google. “The whole time we wanted to get the band back together, and so we finally got the courage, say, in 6 or 7 years after we had sold that company to Google to quit our day jobs, really to pursue this idea of perfecting digital experience by developing a very innovative piece of technology that didn’t exist before”, says Voigt.  

In 2021, the company achieved Unicorn status after securing an impressive $171 million in funding. Since then, it has continued to flourish, establishing a prominent foothold in Europe and Australia while also expanding its operations into Germany and Singapore. 

When talking about his strengths as a leader, Scott said he is always sceptical of people who claim to know what their own strengths are, which is why it is important for people to communicate this to each other. Scott has always had the “gift of the gab” when it comes to talking in front of people, but revealed he has a weakness when it comes to writing: “For a long time I was very hesitant to put words on paper. And so, I think I probably would lean into to verbal communication. At some point I decided I wanted to go back to business school, university here in the States. And it turns out in order to get in, you had to learn how to write”, he jokes.  

We asked Scott about whether the culture at FullStory had changed since becoming a Unicorn. He made a conscious effort to ensure that it did not, and one way of doing this, he encouraged everyone to be proud and hungry to succeed, but not pay attention to the numbers. He says “nobody gives you a high five in the world when you refinance your house. That’s just a financing event. And so, it is with FullStory.” Scott trusts that while it’s gratifying to have some sort of recognition for their accomplishments, such as this big milestone, it’s important not to become too fixated on that number since it is bound to fluctuate over time. 

The FullStory founder and CEO believes that in order to be a successful leader, you must be genuine. He emulates this in every talk he gives to the company, by showing empathy and always encourages employees to “honour your inner sceptic”. In other words, questioning and testing that what he says is true so that the team can build real trust and be more aligned. Being genuine builds trust. 

The interview, as usual, was co-hosted with Russell Goldsmith of the csuite podcast. Alongside Holly Justice, Senior Partner at Tyto PR.   

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 35th in our series of episodes of the c-suite 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 and my co-host for this episode is Tyto’s senior partner Holly Justice. And today we’re thrilled to be joined online from Atlanta by Scott Voigt, the founder and CEO of digital experience intelligence platform FullStory. Founded in 2014, the company achieved unicorn status in August 2021 after a $103 million Series D funding round with a valuation of $1.8 billion, but has since raised a further $25 million, taking the total funding to date to $171 million. Welcome to the show, Scott. Can we start by you giving us a bit of background to your company and also just talk us through the area of business that you are seeking to disrupt? 

Scott: [00:01:54] Sure. Well, first, thanks for having me. FullStory, we would call it a digital experience intelligence company. What is that? Look, I hope everybody that is listening navigates the Web, uses mobile apps all the time. And I’m sure that you’ll find that those experiences are often imperfect. You get confused. You can’t complete some sort of transaction. FullStory is a very novel piece of technology that sits on the client, whether it’s a browser or a native device. And it helps the owners of those properties understand exactly when, where why they’re giving a suboptimal digital experience. And through data and tools and workflows, we’re able to pinpoint those problems, quantify them for the site owners, and then help them route in a workflow, ways to quickly fix them. And if you can do that, you can help them make more money by improving conversion rates or driving better engagement with, say, a SaaS product. You can lower your cost to support a product, buy faster ticket times and lower engineering costs when you’re trying to debug things. And of course, if you’re building a site, you can just build things quicker and more confidently, which ultimately does what we care about most perfecting the digital experience because there are just too many poor experiences out there. 

Holly: [00:02:31] Thanks Scott. And could you tell us a little bit about your personal professional journey and how you came to found FullStory? 

Scott: [00:02:39] Actually, I have been in SaaS, give or take, since about 1997. We didn’t call it SaaS back then. We called it Service Bureau Software. But I’ve been part of early stage technology companies in a business to business capacity for a long, long time. I would say the FullStory story picked up around 2004 when I was down at Georgia Tech working on a startup, and I met my two eventual co-founders, Bruce [Johnson] and Joel [Webber]. And in a twist of good luck, the three of us started working together, and then Google came in and acquired the three of us. Bruce and Joel went on to basically found lead build out Google’s engineering presence in Atlanta. I went on to do some work at another SaaS company here in town. The whole time we wanted to get the band back together, and so we finally got the courage, say, in 6 or 7 years after we had sold that company to Google to quit our day jobs, really to pursue this idea of perfecting digital experience by developing a very innovative piece of technology that didn’t exist before. 

Russ: [00:03:49] I mentioned in my intro you reached unicorn status in 2021, so that’s seven years after launch. There was a big number that I talked about there, $171 million. What we’re keen to understand is where that money has been and also will be invested and what the focus is, I guess, for the rest of 2023, but also for the future, for FullStory. 

Scott: [00:04:12] Well, we’ve done this over a number of different rounds. And I will tell you, the bulk of where our investments go are back into the product, because that’s really why customers would want to work for FullStory. We’re not a services company. We’re a software as a service company. So, we find the smartest product managers, engineers, product designers to create something that’s magical, that will help our customers help their visitors. Of course, along the way, you have to pay the bills to build great software. So, we invest heavily in sales and marketing. And I would tell you, maybe in the later chapters of FullStory, we really started to lean into the sales motion moving up into the enterprise. And that’s a big investment of ours is serving big, big companies with very complex problems. Of course, we are a global company at this point. We’ve got 3300 paying customers across the globe. So, we’ve started to invest internationally. We have a strong presence in Europe, recently expanded into Germany. We opened a Singapore office not too long ago and have a strong presence in Australia. 

Holly: [00:05:20] And just coming onto the topic of leadership for a minute, Scott, I imagine leading a successful company in all of those corners of the globe that you’ve just described, requires exceptional skills as the CEO, but you must have also built quite an exceptional team. What would you say are your personal greatest strengths and then what are the main strengths of the rest of the FullStory management team? 

Scott: [00:05:47] Weary of anybody that tells you that they know their own strengths. So, I’ll parrot what other people have told me my strengths are. And it really is communicating, trying to communicate complex ideas in simple ways to bring people along in the journey. I would tell you, if there’s another strength I have, it’s using that communication skill to hire people that are much smarter and much more skilled than I am to come and work at FullStory. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And I’m pretty lucky in the way that we’ve been able to bring a team aboard. As far as the attributes of the team members that we have, one of the areas that we’ve always tried to focus on is making sure that the leader of an organization is a master of their craft. They’re not just a general manager that has never spiked in anything. If you’re an engineering leader, you still like to lay a line of code or two just to stay close to the art of doing that. If you’re a salesperson, you love to go on sales calls because it’s where the rubber hits the road on hearing the story out there. And so, and I think that that leaning on people that have been craftspeople and continue to want to be has been a pretty good benefit to us. 

Holly: [00:07:04] And you said there that people have told you you’re a good communicator. Would you say that you’ve always been a natural communicator or is it a skill that you’ve had to learn along the way? 

Scott: [00:07:14] I feel like you’re trying to tell me, Holly, I’m not a great communicator. 

Holly: [00:07:18] No, sorry. 

Scott: [00:07:22] My mother would say that I have always loved to talk. The gift of gab has come natural to me. So, I’ve always been quite comfortable standing in front of a room saying silly things, hoping that they land. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Where I’ve struggled, quite honestly, is with the written word. For a long time I was very hesitant to put words on paper. And so, I think I probably would lean into to verbal communication. At some point I decided I wanted to go back to business school, university here in the States. And it turns out in order to get in, you had to learn how to write. There’s a very good book, by the way, to the people that are uncomfortable writing called Grammar Smart. And I think one of my fears of writing was always, I didn’t really understand all the mechanics. Where are you supposed to put a comma? In this book, very short book, cleared all of that up for me.  

Holly: [00:08:17] And would you say there is an individual or multiple individuals that have had a big impact on your development as a leader? And if so, who are they and why? 

Scott: [00:08:26] Well, I mean, it’s the most cliche answer, of course, but my mother and my father, Nick and Starr Voight, in their own ways, really did help shape me. My mother was always pushing me to stand in front of a room. And so getting me in roles of leadership was something that she was constantly encouraging me to do. My father was a corporate man at Hewlett-Packard for 32 years, so it was not uncommon to sit around the dinner table and hear him talk about a challenge he had faced at work that day. You know, he had to hire somebody. He had to fire somebody. He was always grouchy when he had to write reviews or when an escalation occurred. I learned very early in life that an escalation meant a customer was unhappy and dad was going to be grouchy at the dinner table. But if you grow up in an environment with leadership and business principles, I think that has helped imprint on me a lot of those ideals is, I’ve matured in the business world. 

Russ: [00:09:26] Scott, a key focus of these discussions with all the leaders, unicorn leaders that we’ve spoken to is around communication and culture. So firstly, when you, when the company became a unicorn, did that change the perception in any way? 

Scott: [00:09:40] Boy, I really tried to make sure that it did not. I mean let’s be honest, guys. Unicorn is, it’s an arbitrary kind of hurdle, if you will, and it’s also constantly in flux. And so, my standard comment to the company every time we raised a round of funding was this is a round of funding. Nobody gives you a high five in the world when you refinance your house. That’s just a financing event. And so, it is with FullStory. It is a nice mile marker to say somebody out there says, we’ve done some good stuff and they put a number on it, but let’s not pay attention to that number because it will go up and it will go down. And what we have to focus on is building a wonderful product and delivering fantastic value and improving digital experience for our customers. Keep your eye on the ball.  Did that change the culture? I hope not. I mean, our culture has always the words we say, the rituals we practice, the artifacts that we celebrate, those have maintained quite consistent throughout the life of the company. I would imagine because part of your culture is the people that come into the organization, when you start to attain these higher valuations or you mature as a company, different people are attracted to your company when you’re a bigger company than when you’re 20 people trying to figure things out. And so those new people that are around the table, we screen very heavily through the interview process to make sure that they’re going to meet those attributes that we care about as it pertains to the culture. And they’re pretty simple. We call them watchwords, not value statements in in. They are empathy. We think it’s an undervalued element in the world today. It’s like if I can if I can think about what Holly’s thinking about right now and she’s thinking, gosh, Scott’s talking too much, like that’s a superpower. We talk about clarity, and you won’t have debates and disagreements if you can make sure everybody’s on the same page on a topic. This is what we’re going to do. Here are the reasons we’re going to do it. You may disagree. I may disagree. Let’s agree. Let’s talk it out. Okay. Now let’s move forward. Bionics sounds like a weird sort of watchword cultural pillar, but it’s the idea that you shouldn’t just throw humans at problems. You should turn the human things, the things that are good in, and automate with human touch at scale so everybody can benefit that. And people aren’t just toiling on things that are repetitive cycles. And then last but certainly not least, is the concept of trust. I will tell you if there’s any cultural things that have been tested through the hypergrowth, through the post COVID, it’s trust because trust is easy to establish when you can be in someone else’s presence. And so, we really have to reiterate, hey, trust, trust, trust and verify, but trust as you move through things. 

Russ: [00:12:35] Just on that cultural point and going back, picking up on what you said about your dad was at HP for 30 years. Going back some 30 years in my career, when I was at uni, I did a placement year at Hewlett Packard in the UK, And I just remember, I mean, it was a brilliant place to have a have a year in industry, but I just remember it being drummed into us about the HP Way constantly.  

Scott: [00:13:00] Management by walking around.  

Russ: [00:13:02] Exactly all the open door and all that. Yeah. And I was just wondering whether or not did you take any influence from your dad or also, was there any other any other companies that you’ve studied as well in terms of building your own culture or has it just developed over time naturally? 

Scott: [00:13:19] So two different things. Let’s stick with HP for a second. And the answer is yes. I mean, one of the neat things about HP was there were no offices, I say in my own office, but that’s for podcast reasons, you know, my father actually ascended to be a fairly senior manager in HP. He had a cube. It was a little bit of a bigger cube, but it was a cube and thought that that was so just good that there wasn’t this hierarchy. We’re all in this together. I really want that to be true of FullStory, and I hope everybody feels that way. The, the other aspect was if someone was good at Hewlett-Packard and they left the company because they wanted to go, I don’t know, maybe they’d been doing it for a long time, and they wanted to go try something else. And if they were good, Hewlett-Packard would welcome them back. And I can remember people in my father’s circle who would go take a job for a few more years and then they would be back and then they’d go take another job and they’d be back. And I’d be like, isn’t that weird that they’re leaving you, dad? And his response to me was ‘they’re good. And if they’re good, they can always come back’. And so, there are certain people, I hate to admit it, that sometimes will depart from FullStory and if they’re great, I tell them that story about Hewlett Packard and I want this to be the kind of place where they feel like they can return because everybody needs to go on their own journey at some point. Other companies in their cultures. It’s funny you ask. I was curious about this. I’ve been thinking about culture a lot lately, kind of in the post-COVID new economy that we’re living in. And so, I went to ChatGPT the other day and I started asking ChatGPT, what is the culture of Amazon and what is the culture of Goldman Sachs and what is the culture of McKinsey and Company? And, and it is interesting how they articulate the differences that I would have held in my head about those companies. I think when I research other companies’ cultures, it is less about the things I like and more about the things that I’m interested in, but they feel too strong, right? I mean,  FullStory wants to win. We want to win. I like winning. But you don’t need to be a jerk about it, right? You need to work as a teammate to win. You’ve got to do it together. And there are other cultures that don’t do that. And so maybe it’s the anti-patterns I’m looking for if that makes sense. Russell. 

Holly: [00:15:36] And just coming back to communications for a minute, Scott. For lots of tech companies, it can be really hard to kind of differentiate yourself and stand out. What has been at the heart of your strategy to differentiate FullStory from competitors?  

Scott: [00:15:53] The essence of it is going to be rooted in the technology and the product, and that has served us well to date. It is my hope and desire that it will continue to serve us well going forward over time. In the earliest days of Full Story, we just gave you the product like we were true product led growth. Try it if you like it, great. Tell your friends. And that was great. As you get into bigger and bigger opportunities in the enterprise, that model does not work. You have to understand where their problems are, but I always want us trying to say, here are your problems, but here is how our technology meets your problems in a better and different way. And so, I think I said earlier this idea of a novel approach to solving problems of digital experience. FullStory invented something. We have a bunch of patents on it. By the way, we brought most of that Google engineering office or much of that Google engineering office over when we were starting it and we threw some big brains. It’s solving a problem of how you ingest data. Just go with me for a second here. In the past, if you wanted to understand who clicked on a button on your site, right, who clicked add to Cart on your site, you had to know that that was an important click and then you had to go get a data engineer to take the time to write some code around that button click. So, you had the pleasure of waiting a couple of weeks for that data to populate, only to realize that it was the button below it that you also needed, but you forgot to instrument. And that event instrumentation paradigm is dumb. It’s just it’s wrong and flawed and the world still lives with it for the most part. There’s benefit to it. We ingest that information. It’s fine and it’s structured, but we want it to be simple. And so FullStory was in my biased retelling of things, the first auto capture, auto structure, auto index company. We capture everything in a privacy friendly way, and then we structure all of those data bits and index them. So, if you want to know who clicked this button and that button on Thursday from Georgia, why they had something in their cart, ask the question. Retroactive analytics will tell you how many people did it. That is very powerful, but it’s a nuanced story      So when we’re in those more complex sales cycles conveying the pane of glass that you see when you see a dashboard between competitor A and competitor B, it’s everything underneath, you know, Yahoo! and Google looks the same. For a long time, Google was better. Why? Because it had way more data indexed.       

Holly: [00:18:40] And we’re recording this interview, Scott, at a time when there’s plenty of uncertainty in the economy worldwide. How do you adjust your communications approach in order to maintain confidence in the company?  

Scott: [00:18:56] I think the most important thing for a leader is to be genuine. And so, I don’t know that adjust is the right word and that I hope I have always been genuine Scott in every talk that I’ve ever given to the company and that builds trust. One of our watchwords. And so when things are tough through clarity, explaining to everybody that things are tough. You know, I had to give a talk, a company kick-off talk in the wake of some headcount reductions, which are super painful. It was the right thing for the business. I think the easy move for a CEO would be like, Hey, everything’s great. Look over here. We know we did this. Everything’s fine. To the moon, to the future. That was not how I started that meeting. I let it sit and we tried to be sombre and understand that we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re in a good position. I feel great about our future. But let’s just acknowledge the reality of what’s going on in the spirit of empathy. One of the phrases that you hear at FullStory a lot is honour your inner sceptic. And I say that a lot. People roll their eyes when I say it. But why? There are too many documentaries on Netflix right now, or docudramas about CEOs that were really charismatic and waved their hands and burned a bunch of money and ran a company right into a cliff. Nobody should buy my bullshit. You should honour your sceptic and you should test if what I’m saying is true, because that will build trust and will be aligned, and we can move forward.   

Holly: [00:20:32] We were talking a little bit there, I guess, about internal communications at FullStory. Can you share any more detail about any other approaches or internal communications that you utilize to engage and speak with the rest of the team and why they work really well? 

Scott: [00:20:51] The joke most of my slides are, says Scott rambles that’s the titles of my talk are always Scott rambles on insert topic, end of quarter, last board meeting, culture at the company and the thinking there is you’re getting not the corporate speak of you’re just like you’re getting in this podcast kind of a rando stream of consciousness associated with it. And so, I’m not, I’m not a slide heavy presenter. I’ll have an image and it’s usually just an emoji trying to convey the point I’m trying to make. And then I’ll just talk about that image for a little bit. I think it is both genuine and I think it comes across as genuine and I think genuine builds trust. 

Russ: [00:21:35] Scott, are there any initiatives that the company has put in place for internal comms? 

Scott: [00:21:42] Yeah, I would think of them almost as is rituals in order to make sure that we’re communicating effectively, reinforcing the messages, and aligned around what we need to be doing. So, we have a pretty structured cadence each week we have a meeting, we call it hug it out. Hug it out has a very consistent agenda associated with it, where we’re going to talk about a customer story and we’re going to talk about numbers and we’re going to do a demo. And I think everybody appreciates the ritualistic aspect of that. I would say we also we run objectives and key results at FullStory. And so at the end of every quarter, we’re going to talk about how we did on the quarter and then we’re going to do something we call Listening and Alignment week where we sort of push back from the day to day for a little bit in order to dig deeper into topics, whether that’s topics on culture or strategy or what have you, that listening and alignment week each quarter gives us the space to do that. Again, there’s just sort of consistent we’re going to have a numbers meeting where we talk about the numbers of the business. We are going to share a post board meeting discussion with everybody, so they understand exactly what’s going on from the boardroom all the way down.  

Russ: [00:22:59] What about as an external spokesperson, is that something you enjoy? 

Scott: [00:23:04] Yes and no. It’s funny. I dread the preparation and about ten minutes before I go on stage or do a podcast, I’m like, Oh, I’ve got to do a podcast and I know I’m going to say something stupid. Then I get on and I really do enjoy chatting with people and I get excited about what we’re doing and, and I start leaning into the camera and by the end of it, I bumped my nose on it. But I don’t know I take a certain energy out of out of doing that. 

Holly: [00:23:29] And apart from bumping your nose on the camera multiple times, what would you say has been your biggest communications challenge that you’ve faced along your journey and how did you overcome it?  

Scott: [00:23:40] There are a couple that come to mind. I mean, obviously I talked earlier about the written word was something I struggle with and, um, you know, through practice and perseverance, I got there. I would tell you that transitioning from small company communications, where it’s so much easier to read the room and know everyone in the room and understand that everything I am communicating is probably going to land. And if it doesn’t land quite right, I can go fix it after. I can go talk to you. And you. And you. And when you get on a call with 500 people, it turns out almost certainly every time I say something, someone’s going to be confused or not sure or not interpret something the way that I hoped that they would interpret. And that’s just a law of large numbers. So, the tension there is do you get more scripted and really button up the words you say so you don’t offend anybody or you don’t upset or you don’t confuse people? I think no, I think you just kind of roll with the punches. But you know, every once in a while you have to ask yourself, maybe it’s time to start buttoning things up a little. If we ever get to be a public company, and I’ve got to handle the public company calls. I can see Edelita [Tichepco], our CFO, already thinking, Oh my goodness, I don’t know what we’re going to do. 

Russ: [00:25:03] Scott, we’ve got one final question for you that we’ve asked all our unicorn leaders to date in this series, and that is if you can go back in time and speak to your old self, what guidance would you give yourself about communications? 

Scott: [00:25:16] Say less.  

Russ: [00:25:18] There we go. Good way to finish. Scott Voigt, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on online today. Really appreciate it. 

Scott: [00:25:26] Thank you. Thank you for having me. 

Russ: [00:25:28] Holly another really excellent chat. Thoughts on what Scott had to say? 

Holly: [00:25:33] Yeah, absolutely, I guess. Two really nice things that I took from that. One, quite often when we ask unicorn leaders about individuals that have inspired them, we get lots of the usual people from the tech sector. I just love how much he dedicated in our chat to his mum and dad. I thought it was really refreshing to see how much of an impact they’ve had on him today. Just was something a little bit different. And then the other thing I loved that that Scott said is you can be proud to want to win and hungry to win all the time, but you don’t have to be a jerk. So often, there’s a lot associated with people that want to, to win and are hungry for it. And it’s nice to know that there is that empathetic, as he said, way that you can go about doing it.  

Russ: [00:26:23] Yeah, Very good. Thank you, as always, Holly. That is actually it for this episode in the special series that we’re doing with Tyto. If you want to find out more about FullStory, then their website is simply fullstory.com. We’d love to hear your thoughts and 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 in 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 have 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. 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 and click on the podcast link in the top nav bar. Plus, you can also download a copy of Growing Without Borders, The Unicorn CEO Guide to Communication and Culture. That’s available on Tyto website as well. It’s an overview of the first 15 of our Unicorn interviews. And if you are a unicorn leader yourself and you’d like to be part of the series, please 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 via Twitter using @RussGoldsmith, or you can find me and the c-suite podcast on LinkedIn. But for now, thanks for listening and goodbye. 

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