Talend CEO Mike Tuchen Shares His Biggest Business Failure

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Talend provides integration that truly scales. From small projects to enterprise-wide implementations, Talend’s highly scalable data, application and business process integration platform maximizes the value of an organization’s information assets and optimizes return on investment through a usage-based subscription model. Ready for big data environments, Talend’s flexible architecture easily adapts to future IT platforms. And a common set of easy-to-use tools implemented across all Talend products enable teams to scale developer skillsets, too.

More than 4,000 enterprise customers worldwide leverage Talend’s solutions and services. The company has major offices in North America, Europe and Asia, and a global network of technical and services partners.

Today we had a chance to speak with Mike whose been nice enough to answer some critical questions about his success as both Talend’s CEO and his career as a whole:

1. Mike, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. As we always do, we like to start off by asking questions around your roots, beginnings. Where did you grow up? What was family like? Tell us about your early years.

Certainly; I’m happy to. I grew up outside of Boston in a small town called Boxford, Massachusetts. It was a great town to grow up in, and parents were great role models. They believed in the importance of education and a strong work ethic. I spent many weekends helping my Dad with projects around the house fixing things, minor carpentry, and working outside.

2. You have amazing education credentials including time at Brown, Stanford, and Harvard with degrees in engineering as well as MBA. How important do you think education is in today’s workforce? You see many entrepreneurs blooming with no formal education these days. What’s your stance on higher education?

I’ve been fortunate to be educated beyond my intelligence. I think education is critical today, more important than at any time in history – and it will continually get more important in the years to come. There have always been a tiny number of unique entrepreneurs who have succeeded without formal education including Bill Gates back in the 70s, but for everyone else who is competing in today’s job market education is vital to securing your first job and building from there. In technology, it’s especially valuable to have some technical grounding so you can understand what’s going on in the products even if you’re not actually writing the code yourself.

3. You’ve held numerous roles with a number of companies including Microsoft, Polycom, and CEO of Rapid7. Which work experience do you believe provided you with the most value and what were some of the most important lessons you learned?

Each of them built on each other, providing different experiences that helped me take the next step. In my first stint at Microsoft (I worked there twice for a total of 8.5 years) I learned product strategy, how to hire and lead a team. At Polycom, I learned how to lead a much larger team than I ever had before, and learned how to manage a P&L. In my second stint at Microsoft, I learned marketing and enterprise sales. Rapid7 gave me a chance to pull it all together in my first CEO experience, which was successful for some reason in spite of all my attempts to screw it up. I’ve been fortunate to have these terrific experiences since now I can work in my dream job.

4. You joined Talend in 2013. Tell us how that opportunity came about?

After leaving Rapid7 my wife and I talked about whether we wanted to stay in Boston or move to the bay area. After about a nanosecond, we decided that we wanted to move west, so I rented someone’s pool house in Portola Valley on Airbnb and started meeting with VCs and companies. I was looking for a company in a great market with a clear competitive advantage, great product, and engineering team, and challenges that I could help them with (every company that is considering bringing in a new CEO has challenges, so the key questions are which challenges and whether I could actually help). A banker I had worked with at Rapid7 introduced me to the Silver Lake team, who introduced me to Talend. The company was exactly what I was looking for, and for some reason, they decided it was right for me too.

5. Talend went public in July of 2016 – tell us about that experience. Any lessons for those hoping they go public someday? Positives, negatives?

I would say that our experience going public was very positive – especially in light of a couple of challenges we faced. We were scheduled to go out in late July, making ours just the fifth technology offering of 2016. To say that 2016 was a tough year for IPOs is probably something of a major understatement, and the tough IPO climate did give us pause. To complicate matters, we had to consider the potential fallout of the Brexit vote, which occurred just a couple of weeks before our roadshow (and actually on the day before we needed to make the decision on whether to start the roadshow process). Despite those potential issues, in the end, we felt confident that our offering would be well-received. In large part, our confidence was rooted in the fact that we are a balanced growth company that competes in extremely large, growing markets. As it turns out, our confidence was well-founded: Our bankers told us that interest in our company was one of the highest they’d seen in the past four years.

I would offer several pieces of advice to those hoping to go public someday, including the following:

Prepare your management team to step up. While a strong management team is essential to bringing a company public, it’s perhaps even more important post-IPO. As a public CEO, you will manage the company’s internal operations less and lead more, so you must surround yourself with people better than you.

Run your pre-IPO company likes it’s public. I would recommend that a company contemplating an IPO “practice” being public for at least a year before its IPO. Hold mock earnings calls and have your board members or others close to the company play the roles of investors and analysts. Set guidance, report results against your guidance, and practice the answers to tough questions. This type of practice will prove invaluable when the time comes to have “real” earnings calls.

As is true whenever a new administration comes into the White House, we are entering a period of uncertainty that may cause investors to dial back their appetite for risk. In a more risk-averse climate, it’s plausible that growth at any cost IPOs will find less of a market. I would strongly advise any company contemplating an IPO to do so as a balanced growth company, a model that’s likely to find a warm reception in nearly any investment climate but particularly one with an increased uncertainty. It gives you more flexibility on when you choose to go public – and it forces you to solve the hard problems and make the difficult tradeoffs that build real enduring companies – that many companies have unfortunately papered over with aggressive spending in recent years.

6. What would you say are your biggest accomplishments (either professionally or personally) and what have you learned from them?

Taking Talend public probably tops the list in terms of my professional accomplishments. I am very proud of the work my team and I accomplished in bringing the company to this milestone and of the fact that our work has given Talend greater market access and financial power and has broadly increased its visibility.

I would say that my wife doesn’t treat me any differently and I still have to take out the garbage and clean up my dishes. Regarding work, it has only served to reinforce the importance of having the right team in place.

7. What are your biggest failures?

More than a decade ago, I helped co-found a company in the then-new internet advertising space. After two years, it was already obvious we weren’t headed for success, so we sold the company we spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears building – not to mention the personal investments that the founders plowed into the business. I learned several things from that experience, chief among them the fact that it’s incredibly important to pick the right co-founders when you are building a startup (or later-stage growth company). You’ll need to trust that your co-founder is working for the company’s success and not just for him or herself. If you can’t see eye to eye with a co-founder around how to handle the rough spots, you won’t be able to make the kind of progress needed for success. We also learned the importance of understanding your customers and market deeply. We missed the fact that the ROI of internet advertising at the time was terrible, so it was only a matter of time until the bubble popped (several years later Overture and Google completely changed the economics with the per-click auction pricing model but that was far too late for us).

8. Is there any one experience or person in your life that shaped your career and outlook the most? If so, tell us about it.

The coach of my college crew team taught me many lessons that I’ve applied to my career over the years. He taught me the importance of having a shared goal, which, when I was rowing in college, was for our team to win the Eastern Sprints and National Championship races at the end of our season. Everything our coach had us do in training, in practice, and during early season races was intended to move us closer to our goal. It takes an incredible amount of focus intensity over a long period of time – for every minute of racing we’d spend 12 hours training.

In looking back, I realize that having that shared goal instilled a sense of purpose and created a culture of collective ownership among our team members: we worked for the team’s success, not just for the coach or ourselves. And because we were literally all in the same boat, we all won together and lost together as a team. I’ve found that a shared sense of purpose and collective ownership really helps motivate teams in organizational settings too.

Finally, I learned from my coach that whether our team won or lost, it was important and useful to conduct an open review to discuss what worked and what didn’t and how we could do better next time. I’ve applied that thinking to my leadership roles and my personal successes and failures. I learned that without that open dialogue and discussion that it can be easy to attribute failure to something other than our performance: for example, when we were rowing we could have claimed the problem was the wind, or the water or the equipment. But teams and organizations that play the blame game don’t improve, and they don’t grow. Our coach talked about “locker-kickers” as the wrong role models: When you come off the water you can either kick the locker and complain about something or someone else to blame for failure, or be honest and think about what really happened and how I can personally make this better next time in spite of the wind, water, waves, etc?

9. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Don’t underestimate the importance of market knowledge. You can have a super smart team, but you’re still at a real disadvantage if that team doesn’t include someone who knows the ins and outs of the market. Professionals with deep market knowledge —people that have been in the thick of a market space for several years — bring invaluable insights and critical relationships to startups.

Know the gaps in your skill set. Although you’re ultimately responsible for everything in the company as CEO, it’s impossible to know everything needed to run a company successfully; the key is to know what you don’t know and ask for help. And have a terrific team and advisors around you that can help.

Understand where your skills are best applied. My startup failure helped me realize I’m not a great founder but I am great at team building and scaling a late stage growth company. Very few CEOs can found a company and continue to lead it through late-stage growth and then into becoming a large, industry leading public company. Recognize your strengths and apply them accordingly.

10. What do you think are the most important qualities in a successful CEO?

  • First, foremost and perhaps most importantly: the ability to admit failure, bring it out in the open, discuss and dissect it and then learn from it.
  • The talent of hiring well and selecting individuals for your team that embrace teamwork and truly care about the people they work with.
  • The ability to create and communicate a clear vision, and build a culture where everyone feels connected to the company’s success.
  • The capacity to create a sense of accountability for all team members and give employees a better appreciation for how they fit into the bigger picture.

11. Where do you hope Talend will be in 10 years?

Clearly, we are moving to a point where data will be the foundation for all company decisions, not just the big ones. In ten years, I would image that virtually every choice made by every single individual (and machine) within an organization will be made based on instant access to relevant, real-time information. I believe Talend will be an import part of the modern data architecture that makes this possible.

12. Where do you hope you’ll be in 10 years?

Here.

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