Ajeet Singh co-founded enterprise intelligence and analytics platform ThoughtSpot in 2012 after co-founding the massively successful Nutanix in 2009. (For more on the story Nutanix, listen to my conversation with Dheeraj Pandey.) In 2018, Ajeet stepped down as ThoughtSpot’s CEO — he’s now the executive chairman and has been known to refer to himself as the “Chief Coffee Maker” — and lured Sudheesh Nair away from Nutanix to be his replacement. Since then, ThoughtSpot has raised $250 million at a $2 billion valuation. I spoke to them both about how they made the CEO transition, adjusted sales tactics, and created a company culture built around empathy and selfless excellence.
Passing the torch
When Ajeet decided to bring a new CEO into ThoughtSpot he wanted to make sure it was a smooth, anxiety-free transition.
- ThoughtSpot’s board, employees, and customers had to trust that Ajeet wasn’t doing this to exit the company and that he would choose a great replacement.
- Sudheesh wanted to reassure everyone that he wasn’t coming in to change everything and get rid of everyone, but to make incremental improvements. Employees needed to know that their jobs were secure.
- Ajeet came from the product side and Sudheesh from sales, so their backgrounds complemented each other.
Welcome to the “jerk-free zone”
Sudheesh was impressed with ThoughtSpot’s culture when he arrived: a “jerk-free zone” full of talented but humble people.
- He had to figure out how to sell ThoughtSpot. Nutanix was sales-heavy. But ThoughtSpot had to sell an outcome, not features.
- He wanted to find a sales leader who wasn’t tied to the 90 day sales cycle and would be patient with a product that had a longer adoption cycle.
- Sudheesh looks for hires who have a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.
- Only hire people who can do something “significantly better” than you can. That means putting your ego and insecurities aside.
- Those hires are not competition. They will lift you up.
ThoughtSpot’s culture is based on “selfless excellence”: putting the customer and your co-workers first.
- There is no one “right” culture; you just have to be thoughtful and deliberate in the culture you create.
- The founder has a key role in creating company culture. It can’t be delegated away by the CEO, but you will need other people who understand and have internalized it if you want it to scale.
- Selfless excellence extends to the sales team and their interactions with customers. They don’t sell customers things they don’t need, which might lose sales in the short term but will build trusting and loyal customers in the long term.
- Ajeet says founders must realize that, ultimately, they only play a small role in their company’s success. The entire team is important.
Communication creates empathy
Don’t isolate technical and sales teams; the more they know about each other’s work, the more they’ll understand where each other is coming from.
- Sudheesh’s background in sales and the technical side was a good model for this.
- ThoughtSpot has an SOS Slack channel where people can post urgent needs. Ajeet says those SOSes usually get a quick response — people want to help each other.
- Sudheesh says it’s important that leadership communicates with its teams. Even if the news is bad, it’s better to tell employees than to leave them come up with worst case scenarios because they don’t know what’s going on.
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