“Designing Products Scaling Human Experiences”: Samihah Azim with Lyft (Video + Transcript)

Samihah Azim / Product Designer / Lyft
Sukrutha Bhadouria / CTO & Co-Founder / Girl Geek X


Sukrutha Bhadouria: [No audio 0:00-0:16] Hi, welcome everyone. I hope you’re having a good time with our conference so far. Welcome to Samihah, who is going to be our next speaker. She’s a Product Designer at Lyft, where she’s also the intersection of business calls and designing experiences impacting local communities. Prior to Lyft, she actually designed for a local commerce at Postmates and crafting high quality patient healthcare experiences at One Medical. Outside of design, she does a lot of cool things. She mentors for the State Department TechWomen program, enjoys power lifting, and also loves to cook. So, without further ado, I do want to say that these talks are going to be recorded and you will have access to the videos later after the conference, so go ahead, Samihah, thank you.

Samihah Azim: Thank you. Hello everyone, my name is Samihah as Sukrutha has said and I’m a product designer at Lyft. Thank you all for being here and Girl Geek X for having me and also, speaking of Lyft, shameless plug, we are hiring across the board. It is my favorite job. Prior to Lyft I was designing at Postmates, prior to that One Medical and today I’m going to talk about design as a powerful tool to scale products that have a core human to human experience. And, it can often be slower to scale these experiences and to get to that North Star vision for the products, but technology can be used to scale strategically and augment the human to human experience that’s happening outside of the software.

Samihah Azim: So, how does design add value when a product is scaling? Well, most products have a longer term North Star vision and if not the product, then certainly nearly every organization has a long-term North Star vision of what they imagine the future to be. But, it’s nearly impossible to get to that future today. You can’t go from zero to 100 unless you’re Drake and you’re on the catch up, but most of us are not Drake.

Samihah Azim: Designers, we’re very good at creating artifacts of what we imagine the future could look like. Where we can add value here is to really bridge that gap between today’s world here and our ideal world tomorrow. We can phase out what we have and what we need today, where we also add a tremendous amount of value is in using qualitative research that helps inform what our users need in each phase in order to come along the journey to our North Star vision. If you imagine that this the world here today and the North Star is up here. What is it that our users need in order to come up to this journey with us?

Samihah Azim: With design thinking, we’re really distilling a problem to understand how to solve it. Data helps to tell us and inform us in a lot of our decision making by telling us what’s happening. It doesn’t necessarily tell us why something is happening and that’s really where design adds a tremendous amount of value. We can help guide what we should test, if what we’re testing is the right thing to test and highlight if there are confounding factors that are potentially affecting the results.

Samihah Azim: When I worked at One Medical, we knew that a longer term goal was to make high quality affordable healthcare accessible to more people, but healthcare is a business, where that human to human or that human interaction component is still very important and technology isn’t something that will likely replace it but rather it would augment the experience. Brick and mortar is core to One Medical and technology augments the healthcare experience, so how do you scale a business where that human to human interaction is so core to everything but it also requires more operational resources that are often harder to scale. In short, it’s not easy.

Samihah Azim: When your product has a service that’s core, where humans are interacting with other humans, these are experiences that are happening outside of software but that will be associated with the product experience. This is where designers, we need to look at everything on a systems level and when I say systems level, I mean on the entire ecosystem and especially the business model and revenue streams. How does a company make money to further scale? I’m going to tell you a story from when I was working at One Medical and how I used design to learn how to scale human experiences.

Samihah Azim: In healthcare, medical practices make money through insurance billing codes and appointments are seen as inventories. Inventory is limited because doctors are limited, so how do you scale? Well, this is also where it’s important to look at what users need. Users that need to see a medical provider are booking appointments but not everyone that’s booking an appointment needs to be seen in person. There are acute issues. Issues such as flu or yeast infection, cough, nausea even getting an STD panel ordered that don’t require a physical visit to the doctor.

Samihah Azim: At One Medical, we knew that we wanted more patients to get the help that they needed by using virtual care products that we had built. I ran a design sprint with cross functional colleagues to understand the problem of why more people weren’t using care channels outside of the office visit. What we found is that people’s mental models today is that virtual care is something that, and specifically video visits, is something that is associated with travel or 2:00 a.m. emergencies. If it’s a 2:00 a.m. emergency, you should probably call 911.

Samihah Azim: One of the three projects that came out of the sprint that I had facilitated is a project that we called Integrated Booking Flow. Essentially, we wanted to test if educating users on virtual care and giving them what they needed today would get healthier patients to use virtual care in order for that to free up inventory for more sick patients that actually need it, and would that be something that the business could then scale and make high quality affordable healthcare accessible tomorrow.

Samihah Azim: The product manager on this project and I, we had really tight feedback loops, where we would meet regularly, multiple times a day and frequently we would also pair on both product management, as well as design. There’s a clinic next to the headquarters, so what we did is we would hop in there multiple times a day over a two-day period and test a bunch of paper prototypes as well as InVision prototypes. And, you can see on my screen, on the slides at the top, are the many prototypes … a sampling of the many sampling of the many prototypes that we had tested, the Guerrilla Usability Testing and what this helped us learn was what would work and what wouldn’t.

Samihah Azim: It was invaluable in not only helping us to learn that but also managing the many opinions of stakeholders and people who weren’t necessarily stakeholders but were involved in the projects. Essentially, this project was a test to see if integrating traditional equipment booking with video visits was further investing in and then, you can see on the screen on the bottom. That’s a sample of all of the feedback that we managed to capture and the action or inaction that we may or may not have taken, and the reasoning to that based on the usability testing that we had done.

Samihah Azim: When we rolled out the test, what ended up happening was that … Well, it was too successful. How often can you say that, right? We ended up having to turn it off because the virtual care providers were getting far too many requests and the SLA that we were communicating ended up being incorrect. We did validate that when mental models were gently guided towards this new shift in thinking, when users learned that video visits were for more than just travel and more than just emergencies, they adopted it for minor issues.

Samihah Azim: We didn’t spend weeks trying to perfect that most perfect V1, we shipped something that was good enough in order to learn and, in fact ,the screen on the slides, you’ll see the flow of integrated booking. Where a user goes to book an appointment and that middle screen was actually something that I had come up with by pairing with the data team to understand. We knew that a lot of the data was unstructured and so with their help, we were able to pull the top seven reasons why users are coming in for an appointment visit, which actually don’t require a physical visit but can be treated virtually.

Samihah Azim: Then, in that second to last screen is the alternate booking screen that users would see, patients would see if they chose one of those reasons, and we were gently guiding them towards and educating them that they could get care virtually for those issues and it would be much faster. If there’s one takeaway from this learning, it’s that it’s okay to move fast and ship an imperfect V1 in order to test and learn, so that you can iterate and ship that perfect V2.

Samihah Azim: This doesn’t mean shipping shoddy visual design. You can absolutely have pixel perfection without the V1 being in that ideal state. On the note of imperfect V1: sometimes when a product is scaling and especially with products that require that human to interact with another human, some team members might get a little too scope happy, scope cutting happy. I am that designer that cares a lot about things like client side load time and I’m also cutting scope or finding another way to solve a problem but there are times where you do have to introduce scope in order to have a viable product to test.

Samihah Azim: There was one company that I worked at, where we were working on an experiment and if successful, we would have further developed it, turned it into a core part of the feature in our products. But the product manager on the project was on this huge scope cutting spree. That by the end of it, it was barely a functioning test that made many of us question why anyone would use our product when competitors had far more basic functionality? And, we likely would have gotten a bad signal had we built it and tested it, where the … It came to a point where the term minimal viable product no longer applied. It was, the viable part got lost.

Samihah Azim: It’s important to ask questions because running experiments requires time and resources depending on your user set or what you’re testing, you have to wait until you get statistical significance, which can take a couple of weeks to a couple of months. You want to make sure you’re testing the right thing because you’re also using up engineering time, as well as design time and often times marketing time as well and you want to get a good signal.

Samihah Azim: That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a positive signal or a positive performance rather since you can learn a lot from negative performance but rather, what you want to learn are what is the metrics, what are they telling you? Is it something that you can learn from and does it fit into the overall product on a systems level?

Samihah Azim: If someone wants to test a popup flow at the point of user conversion, maybe there’s a good reason, ask why? But, it could also be that users are tapping on it because it’s a popup and it’s there and not necessarily because they find any value from it, so some questions … On that note, ask some questions. Some questions that I like to keep in my back pocket and ask are, “Why are we testing this, after this experiment what’s next, how do we know that the metric move this way because of this variant or XYZ confounding factor, did we even reach stat-sig, bro?” Well, maybe ask it a little less broy than that.

Samihah Azim: Why, and this is my favorite, why does it look like we’re p-hacking the data? Luckily at Lyft there is no p-hacking of any data. In a lot of organizations moving fast, growing, and scaling has the perception of being incompatible with staying true to your values. Designers, we want to feel like our work has a positive impact on the world. Sometimes when we’re so close to the data, it’s hard to have that perspective that work that grows an organization or a company that aims to do good with good intentions, is having an impact on the world.

Samihah Azim: Two of my favorite Lyft core values are uplift others and make it happen. At Lyft there’s actually an entire team that’s dedicated to growing the business, I am on that team. It is called the Growth Team, some creative naming there, but when we think about growth, we’re really looking to grow with intentionality so that we can continue to make a positive impact on the world. In fact, at the core of Lyft is tipping. It’s been a core part of the business and part of growing the business means initiatives that uplift our drivers.

Samihah Azim: Actually, recently this week, we actually got half a billion dollars in tips. Oops my apologies, I have the wrong data on there, it should be 2018. We actually raised … So, there were 250 million in tips in 2017 and just this week we hit half a billion. It took five years to get to quarter of a billion and then a matter of months to half a billion, and that really goes to show how growing a business can also help do good in the world as well. So, drivers are an important part of Lyft, so designing experiences that make a Lyft driver’s life easier, helps them earn more and that’s a design challenge where we’re doing good by one set of users and by doing good we can further scale, which helps us do even more good.

Samihah Azim: We also think about important causes and when we think about growing the business, it is also in the context of, how can we better benefit the society and without scaling, it’s hard to grow social giving. Last year in 2017, the team introduced a feature called Round Up & Donate, where Lyft passengers could round up their ride to the nearest whole dollar and that change would then go to a cause of their choosing, so 3.7 million dollars were donated to 14 causes. A lot of these causes were standing up for civil liberties, supporting service members, and investing in teaching members from underprivileged communities to code.

Samihah Azim: Now, I want to end on a couple of key points on what can designers do to be the most valuable team member possible? Well one, we can show value. The best way for design to show our value is to really to start caring about business goals and team metrics and then, being comfortable with an imperfect V1, so that we can test and learn to build that perfect V2 and move faster to that ideal North Star. Then also being really cognizant of what’s being tested when designing and what effect it has of other metrics, as well as what effect it has on other users or on users. I am not sure if we have time for Q&A but if you have any question, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, thank you so much, Samihah, this is great. We have time for one question and so, the one that’s gotten the most votes, “Could you share with us about a technical challenge that you are currently working on and what are the technologies, tools, and concepts that you are using?”

Samihah Azim: Unfortunately, I can’t talk about any products that have not been released yet, but I guess I could talk about it on a very high level, so there’s a project that I’m on, where I designed this, what we would consider the ideal V1 and there are some technical limitations on the engineering side, where we could get to that point but it would take about six weeks.

Samihah Azim: When I heard that I was like, “That is a really long time, how do we get there faster?” Because I think it’s also important to learn as quickly as you can. If we spend six weeks building that ideal V1 maybe it doesn’t perform that well, maybe there’s a lot of assumptions that we’ve made. What I then did is paired really closely with engineering, as well as the product manager on the project and we broke the different pieces down, and really understood what the scope of each part would be and how we can get to shipping the test faster.

Samihah Azim: We went from six weeks to three weeks, which is great because that means we can then … Once we ship that we can … once we hit statistical significance, we now have enough data to learn from that to then make adjustments to the idealized version. The benefit of that, the current, what we’re calling V1 now, which would take three weeks as well as having that idealized V1, which would now be V2, is that the backend engineers now understand what direction we want to go in, so that way they’re able to build in a way that’s scalable to the future where the client side engineers they … to them what’s more relevant is the immediate V1 that would take three weeks to build.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Samihah, we’re actually out of time. Thank you everyone.

Samihah Azim: Thank you and thank you for having me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you.

Girl Geek X GroundTruth Lightning Talks & Panel (Video + Transcript)

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Lauren Stephenson, Alicia Huang, Sarah Ohle

GroundTruth girl geeks: Carol Chen, Lauren Stephenson, Alicia Huang, and Sarah Ohle give talks at the sold-out GroundTruth Girl Geek Dinner in Mountain View, Caliifornia.

Sarah Ohle / VP, Marketing Insights / GroundTruth
Alicia Huang / Senior Product Manager / GroundTruth
Lauren Stephenson / Director, HR Business Partner / GroundTruth
Carol Chen / Senior Director, Software Engineering / GroundTruth

Transcript of GroundTruth Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Sarah Ohle speaking

VP of Marketing Insights Sarah Ohle speaking about location data at GroundTruth Girl Geek Dinner.

Sarah Ohle: GroundTruth are the leaders in location. We’re a global location platform. We leverage location data to drive business performance. We also own WeatherBug. I’m not going to spend too much time talking about this because, Harshal who’s over there, works on WeatherBug and she is the expert. But WeatherBug is our consumer facing app that we have about 14 million monthly visitors. People are spending about three minutes per day of engagement in the app. More than two out of three of the user base are really, really loyal users. And we have about a 4.5 plus star rating in Apple and Google Play App Stores. So, really strong app. We’ve spent a lot of time since we acquired it about two years ago. Really investing in that app, growing in it, and really excited about where we stand with it today.

Sarah Ohle: So, that’s the quick overview of GroundTruth. I’m happy to stick around and answer any more questions about who we are as a company, but I think you guys are probably a little bit more interested in hearing about location in general. So, making sense of location, determining a visit. So again, everything we do is kind of based on that idea of visit. And it comes down to three things. It comes down to accurate lat-long for location, blueprinted places, and I’m going to get into each of these, and what they mean a little bit more, and then putting those two things together to determine a visit to a place. So, it’s a location and a place together, equals a visit.

Sarah Ohle: When it comes to location data, all mobile location data is essentially collected through Android and iOS location services and passed down through apps. But it is what you do with that location that matters. I always say, “Not all location players are created equal.” Because location does come in a lot of shapes and sizes.

Sarah Ohle: The three main sources for location data, GPS. GPS is considered the most accurate, but there are some limitations if you’re in like a really heavy metropolitan area, or somewhere with bad weather conditions, where it can get a little bit hazy. Wi-Fi is the second. Devices do not need to be connected to a hotspot to be picked up on Wi-Fi. And then, the third is cell towers. So, devices sending location of near by cell towers triangulate the phone’s position. So GPS, Wi-Fi, cell towers. Those are the three main sources of location.

Sarah Ohle: And then, what we do, companies like GroundTruth, when we get these locations signals passed down to us, we take a little bit of effort to weed out, sort of, what we call or what I’m going to call the junk of location. So, there’s certain things, centroids, for example, this is one of my favorite fun facts to throw out, one of the most popular lat longs that gets passed down to companies like ours, is for Potwin, Kansas. Does anybody have an idea what Potwin, Kansas might be? It’s the exact center of the United States. So, there’s these things called centroids, which are literally like the center of a city, or a state, or the United States, that get passed down. So, there’s a couple of checks, looking for fraudulent signals, randomized lat longs, carrier IP detection, anything that might just look like it’s not actually an accurate location signal. That we take the time to go through and scrub.

Sarah Ohle: The second piece of this is place determination. So, providing context for where somebody is. We map boundaries around the location so its not just a point on a map. We look for a store, we can say, “Here’s a store in one location.” We’re actually going to draw a geo-boundary around that store, and determine it as a place in our system. We call this blueprints.

Sarah Ohle: And what’s interesting about blueprints, is there is a level of, sort of, human that needs to go into this. So, everything has a boundary around it, made up of lat longs. It takes that sort of second level of looking at a map and actually drawing the location around that business to determine that that is actually a place. And why that’s important is because there are a bunch of different ways that you can do place mapping. And why what we do? We take the time to actually draw around these businesses is so important.

Sarah Ohle: So, I’m going to go through just a couple of these common ways of defining places. The first one being a store address. So, a lot of times people will say, “Okay, we’re going to call this store address a location and then just put a geo fence around it.” So what happens, you can see in this example, is you’re actually missing a lot of the actual store. You’re just doing a radius around whatever that pinpoint is on the street, and up in that corner, that’s not actually even… most of its not even hitting the business.

Sarah Ohle: The second way that is pretty common to use is what’s called parcel data. So, parcel data is more like when you think about what the postal service uses. So, this is great. It does actually capture some of the store, but it also, in that picture captures Verizon, GameStop, Rent-a-Center, Subway, Dollar Tree. Its just not that precise. …

Sarah Ohle: So then, store based radio. If you say the same sort of idea around an address, but you drop a pin in the middle of a business and then draw a radius around it. Again, you can see all of the wasted impressions that you go if you define a place based on just that.

Sarah Ohle: And then, finally, polygons, which is a common method for defining locations based on a store center. And then, blueprints, the way that we define places, is taking that one step further and taking those polygons, using that human element to actually identify the boundaries of a store based on the lat longs, and being very precise about where you are in the store on the different levels.

Sarah Ohle: Then, at the end of the day, putting these two together. Essentially taking matching location verified lat longs to approve blueprints. We then do a couple of quality checks. So, for example, if we see a location signal in a business at a time where the business isn’t closed, we might then not say, “Okay, that’s probably not a visit. That’s probably something else that’s getting picked up.”

Sarah Ohle: So, running a couple of quality checks like that on that, is the third step to actually determining what a visit is. Or employee status is another great example. If we see somebody in a store 10 times a day, five days a week, you can probably assume that’s not a shopper actually going to buy something.

Sarah Ohle: And then, essentially how we use all of this information. Again, we collect this visit, we can do this, we can serve media. At the same time, we do a lot of insights around this, where we can say, “We know that these are the peak hours for shopping”, and therefore, advise some of our clients on this is how you should plan your media strategy.

Sarah Ohle: There’s a couple of other use cases I want to point out because in the time that I’ve been in location, we’ve really evolved past that whole idea of, here’s a radius. And I remember five years ago it was a saying, “Oh, somebody walks by a coffee shop, and you send them an ad and say ‘Hey come in and use this coupon for a cup of coffee'”, and its really so much more than that right now.

Sarah Ohle: The first use case, additionally, I wanted to point out, that we do with it is audiences. So audiences, there’s a couple different kinds. There’s location audiences, where you can say somebody is a visitor to a brand. Where you say, we see this person in this brand very frequently, so you can say that they are shopper there. And then, you don’t necessarily need to be reaching these people in real time. You can take that information and use it for any sort of purpose you want.

Sarah Ohle: Behavioral audiences, somebody who does something, goes to high-end retail stores. You might actually call them a fashionista, I think is the example we have called out there. Or really, the possibilities are endless. Taking these locations signals and grouping them into any type of audience behavior you want. The other one I say a lot is, “If we see somebody at stadiums and sports bars, you can assume that they’re a sports fanatic.” So, those types of things you can do with it.

Sarah Ohle: The next one I want to call out is cost per visit. So, this is the industry’s first pay-for-performance model of driving offline visits. So, a lot of the times in the media world you’ll say, “We’re charging on impression.” Its great, but how do you know you’re actually driving anything with those impressions? So, at GroundTruth, we came out with a cost-per-visit model, where we actually will only charge our clients based on the visits that we are able to drive to the locations that they’re trying to drive.

Sarah Ohle: And then, the last, sort of outside of the box, use case we use is what we call ‘neighborhood’. So, this is areas that identify visitation affinity with a specific store audience. So, instead of even just saying, “This radius,” or, “this precise around this location,” we can actually see where people are coming from frequently, that are going to these locations, and create almost like a trade area around a business. That you imagine all the possibilities for that type of data.

Sarah Ohle: So, whole point of this… there’s a lot that going on with location right now at GroundTruth and in a lot of places in the industry. So, super exciting space. Lots going on, and these women right here are going to tell you some amazing things that they’re doing. Get a lot more into the technical details. But again, if anybody is interested in this space, happy to talk more about it. So, with that, I’m going to hand it over to Alicia, who is our Senior Product Manager, to talk a little bit about what she does here, and how she got here.

Alicia Huang speaking

Product Lead Alicia Huang gives a talk on owning your development at GroundTruth Girl Geek Dinner. 

Alicia Huang: Hi, everyone. Welcome to GroundTruth. So, I am a Product Manager here, and I work as a Product Manger in Baidu, and Tencent, which is Chinese search engine, and searcher networking site. And also, I been to Berkeley, Haas MBA… to get my MBA, and also interning at McKenzie. So, I started my career as a Product Manager by accident. So, I apply for a business strategy role, and I got the role, but at the end of day, I got assigned to be a PM.

Alicia Huang: So when I started my career, I was the only product manager in my team who doesn’t have a strong background. So, it’s quite tough for me to learn all those, kind of front end, back end, as serving system, which is the very complex system. So, I get a chance to actually connect with a lot of my colleagues, no matter they are engineers, or PMs, so I learn a lot from them, how they work on their products, and also, how the tech actually work at the back end and front end.

Alicia Huang:After that, I realized that I need to find my differentiation as a product manager in my team, and I figured out that actually brand display ads is my niche, because a lot of my PM colleagues back then, they always have mathematics or engineering background, and that they extremely good at building algorithm, or dealing with front end engineers. But, they like the sense of what they brand advertisers want, and how they could talk as brand advertisers talk, as our sales talk. And that’s actually my niche.

Alicia Huang: I actually asked my boss to give me projects specifically in brand display ads, and I became an expert in brand display ads in Baidu. And after three years in Baidu, I grew from a product specialist, which is the lower end as a product manager, to Product Manager. At the time, like I got a lot of invitations from other companies to interview with them, cause a lot of company want to build their brand display ads arm. So, I became the expert in that market, so that I have more leverage to choose what kind of companies I want to work for, and what kind of title, or what kind of resources I want.

Alicia Huang: So, after that, that I worked for Tencent for a year, to work on… also in brand display segmentation. After a year, I decided that I’m not gaining the career development support from my boss, so I decided to go for business school, to get my MBA. So, I realized that a lot of people here in the audience would love to get into product management, or transition their career, and I think business school is a very good way for you to transition your career. As I talk with some of you, it’s always very important to prepare even before your business school, because when you get to your business school the first year, and that you started to look for your summer internship.

Alicia Huang: In the summer internship, all the recruiters, actually they’re looking at candidates with relevant experiences to the job. If you are looking to be a Product Manager, or a Senior Product Manager role, then you need to show some relevance in your previous working experiences to product management. For example, you might need to take some courses in product management, or even coding, or do some kind of side project to work with your friends in an app, to show that you could actually bring value to the team. Or maybe you have extremely strong analytical skill, business skill set, so that you could work as a business PM.

Alicia Huang: So, after the first year, and I joined McKinsey as a summer associate at the time, because I always kind of have to the fantasy to work in business strategy and I wanted kind of work as a person who could formulate the business strategy for a firm. So I learned a ton inMcKinsey, especially in communication skill, and also analytical skill. And all those things bring back home, for me, to come back as a product manager. Cause as a product manager, its always… analytical skill is always the most important skill set you have. No matter it’s data analytics, or analyze other people’s product, like summarize client needs, and how do you actually see your product from now, to three years later, and the analytical skill is extremely important.

Alicia Huang: And the second thing is about the communications skill. You always need to talk to executives or your teammates, and also engineers, to share with them why you want to build this product, why it’s important. What kind of impact you want to achieve. How do you prioritize them? Why you prioritize in this way? Then, communication skill is something I learn a lot in consulting firm. I used to be very shy, and I don’t love talking in public at all, and not to even… like sometimes in the meeting room, if I need to like present something, and I get very nervous, but in the consulting firm, I forced myself to actually talk, because the only value as a consultant is your talk. (laughs)

Alicia Huang: You need to share your ideas, so that you could show that you add value to other people. So, right after that, like I’m very comfortable in speaking in classroom, or in the meeting room, and in public. So, I trained myself in that way.

Alicia Huang: So, moving forward, I think, so for me, coming from China to be in Silicon Valley, for me to formulate my career, and it’s very important to actually think through what I want to be in the long term. I’m always interested in the technology field cause I want to help people to be more productive and happier in their workplace, which take up so much of our time.

Alicia Huang: So, for me to be a tech person, then, do I want to be a PM, or business strategy team? And where I could actually make the most impact? And I realized that, actually, PM is a position for me to make the most impact. Then I think about like what kind of PM I want to be. Do I need to be a front end user interface PM? Or I want to be system API PM? Or I want to be machine learning PM? And what is the PMs in the market, in the technology field, and what are their expertise, and how can I differentiate myself in that field? And the machine learning, actually, is the differentiator for me.

Alicia Huang: And here in GroundTruth, actually, I have a lot of chances to work on machine learning related projects, which helps me a lot. And also, actually, Silicon Valley is like Hollywood. So, all the times, like it’s all about what kind of people you know, could get you to the next place, which is true. So, going to business school helps me a lot cause we have very strong alumni network in Berkeley. And also, I actually reach out to a lot of people to set up coffee chat with them, to understand what kind of problem they are solving. How they solve them, and also get to know them personally. And I encourage you guys set up some time to invest in your career long term, by learning, by actually meeting the people in the field that you want to transition into, and also, think through where you want to be, and where are you at right now, and what is your biggest leverage for you to get to where you want to be. And then, where are the gaps?

Alicia Huang: So, right now, I spend a lot of time to learning stuff that I need to learn, for example, I take classes in deep learning, and also in system design, which as PM in machine learning field, I think I have to know that, so I would take some personal time to really learn those things. So, unfortunately, I need to go earlier, but if you have any question, feel free to reach out to me at LinkedOn, cause I take a lot of my time to actually volunteer to help my classmate, and other woman in their career transition. I’m happy to have phone call with you, or have coffee chat with you guys. Thank you.

Sarah Ohle: And we are going to do a panel afterwards and open it up for everybody to ask questions, but since Alicia does need to leave, because she’s a very hard worker, and has an important meeting tomorrow, if anybody has any burning questions right now, we can do those too, if anybody really wants to ask anything for Alicia, before she goes. Or you can just reach out to her on LinkedIn, get coffee. That works too. Awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much. Oh, we do have a question. Oh, I’m so sorry. We’ll bring you this mic.

Audience Member: I’m wondering, do you have like some suggestive top list of questions to ask when you have these coffee shops? Like what are the good questions to ask, instead of kind of seeming that you’re desperate?

Alicia Huang: I actually spend a lot of time, like I think about what kind of question I would ask people in the coffee chats. So usually, I will look at their LinkedIn, and I’ll look at what kind of companies they work for before, and what kind of projects they have done. And then I would specifically ask them the questions related to the projects they have done, and that their career experiences.

Alicia Huang: For example, I would ask a person, he is very Senior Product Leader, in a very prominent tech companies, I would ask him like: “How do you find yourself those opportunities? And how do you prepare yourself for those opportunities?” And as a product director, you have such significant department, how do you actually balance the depth and the width of your projects that you are doing? And how do you actually identify your gap of – of the gap you need fill as a product leader? And how do you kind of choose which one you want to fulfill first? So, really, actually, have very tailor-made personalized question, cause everyone is different and they want to feel special when they spend 30 minutes with you.

Sarah Ohle: Got one more.

Audience Member: And so, thank you. That was really interesting to listen to. I just wanted to know, so you said you reached out to people who were in the area that you’re interested in. How do you convince them to come have coffee with you? I mean, nobody in Silicon Valley… I mean the first thing that’s – we have no time. Thank you. Very nice. Interesting, but –

Alicia Huang: Yeah. I actually, I was scared of that very much. Like during my first year of my business school, I’m like, “Why people would spend time with me?” Like, they’re so busy, and I also forced myself to do that. So, at first, I would reach out to alumni, cause we have connections in that way, like a outreach email, that’s very important. Keep it short and also tell them why you are interested in talking with him. What kind of value, what kind of help you need from that person. Make it very specific, and then the person will make a judgment.

Alicia Huang: Of course, like when you reach out to 10 people, not 10 people will respond to you, but even though you have 10%, or 20% success rate, it’s a lot of value to you. So, don’t be afraid, and also I would like to say that we are all equal. Like you have value to bring to them, as well. Not just they offer value to you. So, thinking as a equal conversation then it will help.

Alicia Huang: And also, I would like to say that when you talk with a person, you always look to talk with a person who have insights and also who are fun to talk with. So, before you talk to your person, like [do a read 00:22:47] and a think, so that when you talk to a person, you always have good insights to bring to the table, and then when you have so much insights, so much value, then your personality, your fun part, will bring out anyway.

Sarah Ohle: Lauren Stephenson, who is our Associate Director of Human Resources Business Partner, is going to talk a little bit about managing performance. So, yeah. Lauren.

Lauren Stephenson speaking

Associate Director of Human Resources Lauren Stephenson gives a talk on managing performance at GroundTruth Girl Geek Dinner

Lauren Stephenson: A big shift from everything that we’ve – is it? No? Can you hear me? All right. If not, I talk loud. A big kind of a shift, but something that I think is increasingly becoming at the top mind for HR professionals, for people who are individual contributors, for managers. So with that, let me just – you’re telling me to speak up, so I’ll speak up.

Lauren Stephenson: Little bit about myself, I, as Sarah said, am Associate Director of HR. Also, the Human Resources Business Partner for the company, so a big part of that is focusing on not only running the operations department, but partnering to figure out how we can further drive performance management. How we can further the talent management strategy, and that equipping managers with the tools that actually think about how do we start treating people like people. Right?

Lauren Stephenson: So, very simple. I found out yesterday I had all of 10 minutes to condense what I would speak about in a few hours. So, I’m going to try. So, a few key things I’m going to talk about.

Lauren Stephenson: First thing is thinking about how do you kind of define your playbook as a manager. Right? And so, the first thing that I want to do a quick poll. How many of you in here are people managers? Managing? A few of you. Okay. How many of you are aspirating people managers? We have some future leaders. It’s okay, you can raise them high.

Lauren Stephenson: So I say that because I think one of the first things you need to do when you’re talking about defining your strategy as a manager, is to step back and check yourself, and say, “Why do i want to assume this responsibility?” Right? A lot of times people end up getting into managerial positions simply because it’s the next step on the career progression ladder. And to me, assuming a managerial responsibility is a great kind of privilege. To be responsible for talent, and people’s growth and development. And being tasked to actually carry out the business objectives.

Lauren Stephenson: So, check yourself. And with that, you’re going to hear me say that a few times, is take a step back and say, “What is it that I’m trying to accomplish as being a leader?” And be intentional about that. Right? When you’re thinking about, “I am responsible for building a team. I am responsible for leading a team. I am being tasked with this. So, what do I need to do? Why am I actually signing up to be a manager?” And one key take-away, if you remember nothing else for my managers, is being a manager and being a leader – two completely different things. Please, never confuse the two with that.

Lauren Stephenson: And so, kind of when you’ve figured out – excuse me. My mouth is very dry. And so I’m going to take a sip of water. And this is the part where you see the part of me where I’m very human, in which I want to stop and clear my mouth. See? We realize that we’re all human. Right?

Lauren Stephenson: So, moving away from after you step back and you’re like, “Okay. This is why I want to manage,” you start to think about more of the strategic side of actually defining your managerial playbook. And that’s thinking about, “How do I start to assess the landscape of the company?” And you’re going to start thinking about, “I need to talk to my C suite. I need to understand what our business objectives are.” That’s going to help you determine the type of team that you need to build.

Lauren Stephenson: So, the whole point of performance management if you want to make it strategic, is to say, “How do I find the right talent, align them in the right roles, continue to drive and push the company’s vision so that we can ensure we’re carrying our business objectives, and building sustained growth?” Its like the simplified version of what we’re trying to do. And in my opinion, you can’t separate the talent experience from the business experience. It goes hand in hand. Right?

Lauren Stephenson: So, you’re stepping back, and you’re like, “What are we actually trying to accomplish?” Assess the landscape. And then, from there you’re like, “Okay. What is the objective?” You understand you have your business objective, we’re trying to whatever it is, be the first company to have all organic food. Something like that, right? What type of talent do I need to bring in the door to actually drive that objective?

Lauren Stephenson: And notice when I said talent, I said the right talent. What does that mean? I didn’t say I need talent from top university. I need talent that looks like me. Right? You need the right talent, and when you’re thinking about furthering your agenda as a company, connecting to your consumer base. If you look out, most of the consumers don’t all look the same, they don’t talk the same, they don’t come from the same walk of life.

Lauren Stephenson: So, you got to step back and you got to say – you got to address that unconscious bias from the gate. That’s one of the things that you need to do, is you need to be intentional about the way that you’re hiring. You need to think about fostering a diverse workplace, fostering diverse thought, bringing in people who come from different experiences, because that’s how you’re going to build a well-rounded team. That’s how you’re going to be able to connect to with your consumer base, and actually be able to create an experience that people are actually going to want to gravitate towards.

Lauren Stephenson: So, that’s like the second thing. And then once you have that, you started thinking about the type of talent that you need, you’re going to then move into thinking about what type of resources do we need? What type of tools do we need? What type of processes do we need? What teams are we going to be working with? It goes back to communication. That’s the common thread in everything that I’m going to talk about, is you need to be talking. Right? You’re defining your strategy, I know the talent, I know my objective. What resources do I actually need to put in place to carry this out?

Lauren Stephenson: And then, from there, what is the targeted objective or outcome? How do I assess if all of this was successful, once I’ve sat back and kind of defined what that strategy is. And one thing that I also encourage you to think about, is, managers, is the talent management piece. Right? Performance management, talent management. Once you have the right talent, how do you continue to empower them and ensure that they’re engaged? That they feel valued, that they feel like they have growth and potential. That’s a big key in making sure you’re going to foster an environment in which this diverse talent that you have brought in, actually can feel included in what you’re doing.

Lauren Stephenson: And I speak on that, because it’s really important. I think a lot of times, we as HR professionals, we get a lot of flack. And I get it, cause once upon a time, I was not in HR. And I used to always say, “Oh, HR doesn’t care about the betterment of people. It’s all about the company.” And I understood that for a very long time, and so I think it’s time for managers, and for leaders, and for organizations to step back, and to really get real about understanding that our people are our biggest asset. Without the people, we can’t drive business and company agenda. Right?

Lauren Stephenson: So, thinking about that. So let’s be intentional around why we’re actually managing and how we’re actually going to drive that strategy, and remembering that the talent strategy goes hand in hand with the business strategy.

Lauren Stephenson: And another thing that I kind of want to talk on from a managerial standpoint, I’m going to try to be quick, is thinking about how do you continue to build an environment where you’re managing your talent, that they actually feel that they’re safe? Right? Are any of you familiar with Brene Brown? She’s like fantastic author, big – yes, yes. I got some yeses. She just released a new book called Dare to Lead. And it’s fantastic. She references Amy Edmondson, who speaks about psychological safety. And it’s a really, really, kind of, simple concept. But if you think about it at the end of the day, we all have a job. Right? And we have these fancy titles and all this, but when we come to work, and as people we want to feel safe. We want to feel like, “I can make a mistake, I can be human. And I’m not in fear of losing my job because I said or did something wrong.” 

Lauren Stephenson: Because what happens when you make a mistake, you try to cover it up, and then you have to lie, and you got to cover that lie. And you keep lying, right? And that’s what happens is your operating from fear. And so, we have to think about this as managers, we have to – are we creating and fostering an environment in which our employees feel like they can actually have an active dialogue and say, “I made a mistake.” And you’re like, “It’s all good. Let’s talk about it. And let’s figure out how to not continuously keep making mistakes.” But let’s foster an environment in which people can feel like it’s okay to be human and make a mistake, and we can work towards course correcting, and having a more open and active discussion to ensure that they always know how they’re doing. And then we course correct. And then we keep going from there.

Lauren Stephenson: It’s a pretty simple concept, but I think we lose sight of that because we’re always thinking about the big picture, and company, company, company. Come back to the basics. And then, just to switch, right? Cause I want to talk to the people who aren’t in managerial positions, cause a lot of times, people come and they’re like, “Oh, well you only work with the managers. What about me as someone whose not interested in managing? Or how do I come to my manager, when my manager is not actually putting time into me?”

Lauren Stephenson: So, the one thing that I encourage everyone else to do, as well, and all of us – right? We’re still people – is step back and check yourself. And realize that what do you want for yourself? Right? 50% of the onus is on the manager, 50% of the onus is on you. It’s a partnership. So, you need to really step back and say, “What do I enjoy doing? What motivates me? What am I passionate about.”

Lauren Stephenson: And when you start to have those conversations with yourself and you start to think about like what drives you, you can start to arrive at, “Okay, these are the things that I’m interested in.” Then start doing the research to figure out this is what I want to do. This is what I want I want to do.

Lauren Stephenson: And then be proactive in coming to your manager and saying, “Hey. This is what I’m passionate about, these are my interests.” Do those actually align with your role? Maybe you have skills that you can bring into your role. Maybe it does not. And then, that’s a time for you to say, “Maybe this is not the group or the company for me to grow within.” Right?

Lauren Stephenson: But you have to – you can’t always wait for someone to show you the way. The most valuable thing that I ever learned in my career, a quick story, I remember when I first started. I, as someone who is just an athlete, very competitive, just always like, “I did that, I did that. What’s next? Give me more.” And I would sit there and be like, “No one cares about me. Woe is me.”

Lauren Stephenson: I had to get really, really clear very quickly that no one was going to drive my career the way that I was going to drive my career. So, yes, it is up to managers to absolutely be pulling out of your talent what it is that they want to be doing. What are they good at? It is absolutely up to managers to do that. But it is also up to everyone else who is not in that role to kind of step up and say, “These are my interests,” and be vocal.

Lauren Stephenson: But then flip it back to the managers. Just because someone isn’t vocal, doesn’t mean you still don’t have to engage them. Right? We got to think about the people who are naturally more introverted. How do we foster an environment in which they feel safe? And encourage them to speak up and go for what they like.

Lauren Stephenson: And then, at the end of that, the common thread into everything is this communication. Right? We have to be communicating through the entire process when we’re thinking about how we’re actually building our performance management strategy. How we’re fostering an environment in which people feel safe, to actively be having a dialogue with each other. And then once you have that, you start to build and put a process in place in which you have an ongoing performance strategy of continuous conversation.

Lauren Stephenson: Like no one does annual reviews anymore. And if people are still doing that, please stop. It is not the way to do it. It’s not effective. Right? You wait till the end of the year, and they’re like, “Oh, here’s your review.” And you’re like, “How do you know what I did for 11 months?” Right? What about – how did you correct any mistakes I made? So, those are done. Those are a thing of the past, we don’t do those anymore. At least, we don’t do those here, within GroundTruth. Or I’m not trying to foster an environment like that, or encourage that.

Lauren Stephenson: So, why I say that is start thinking about how to have ongoing conversations around performance. If someone makes a mistake, catch it in the moment, talk about it. But make a safe zone so that they can feel like they can make a mistake. Cause that’s going to help them grow.

Lauren Stephenson: I think I did… that’s about 10 minutes?

Sarah Ohle: More or less.

Lauren Stephenson: I could keep going, but I’ll stop.

Sarah Ohle: (laughs)

Lauren Stephenson: I’ll stop there.

Sarah Ohle: I’m impressed. Thank you.

Lauren Stephenson: Sorry. Thank you so much for listening. I really appreciate it.

Sarah Ohle: All right. We have our final lightening round presentation for tonight, is Carol Chen, Senior Director of Software Engineering. I’ll just let her take it away.

Carol Chen speaking

Senior Director of Engineering Carol Chen gives a talk encouraging everyone to keep learning and growing at GroundTruth Girl Geek Dinner.

Carol Chen: Welcome, everyone. Four years ago, I went to my first Girl Geek Dinner which was at Intuit, Mountain View. So, at that time, I was thinking, “This is a great event, and I was hoping one day my own company can host one of this event.” So here we are, finally. So, I would like to start talk about my journey. How I got here.

Carol Chen: So, I was born and raised in China. I got all my education, all the ways through college in China, and I graduate and start working. And I was thinking, “I want to see the world outside.” So, that led me to Singapore, where I met my husband, got married. So, he got a job offer from United States, and we were talking and decide, “Oh, maybe we can make United States our new home.” So, 2001 we land at Bay Area. So, I can talk this topic.

Carol Chen: So, I have my Bachelor in Architecture. And when I get here, I started to check out a few architecture firm. I talk to the architect in those firm, and find out what they were doing mostly on residential expansions. So, to me, that doesn’t sounds very exciting. So I was thinking, “What should I do?” 2001, I think, some people may remember, and some people may be too young, so you don’t know. At that time, is the dot com bubble just burst. So, internet companies, a lot of them laying off, and some of the companies disappeared. But, to me, internet and computer science, that’s a exciting industry. So, I think that’s the future. And another thing is I like math, and I like using algorithms, data structure, to solve problems. So, I was thinking computer science is the area I want to try. I went back to school and got my Master in Computer Science.

Carol Chen: I was talking with some ladies during the dinner, and one of the ladies was talking about she was thinking about making a career move. So I want to talk about a few point, here. I think there’s a study shows only 27% of the college graduate work in area that directly related to their college degrees. I want to ask, how many people here are working in the area that is not directly related to your degree? Wow. Looks like the number definitely sounds true.

Carol Chen: So, what are the thing that you want to consider before you jump into a different area? I think there are two questions you want to ask yourself. What is your strengths? And what is your interest? Ideally, you can find a area where your interest is, and use your strengths. That’s ideally. But what if it’s not really something you’re really interested in? What can you do?

Carol Chen: I think, you know, there is a lot of online courses. You can learn some of the courses. You might be interested, and see if that’s something you want to do. Carol Chen: And another thing is there’s a lot of meetups if you want to get into data science. So you can probably go to some of the data science meet-up. And talk to those people who work in those area. What are the things they like about their job? And what are the things they don’t like about their jobs? And see if that’s the area you want to get into.

Carol Chen: Yeah. I think another thing is, you want to imagine yourself in that role and see is that something you want to do for the next 10, 15 years? And does that sounds like something you’re really enjoy doing? If its not, probably that’s not the area you want to get into.

Carol Chen: So, I can talk about the next thing. Before we go to what we are working on here, is after I graduate from the Master of Computer Science, I start working Software Engineering. I work in different industries, start from eCommerce, and then digital companies. And then I work in gaming a couple of years, and then land in this company where we do media and mobile advertising.

Carol Chen: So, I like software development. Then, how did I step into management? That’s probably the next question, right? I actually step into the role naturally. So, I work in one of my previous company, and my manager left. So they had been looking for outside manager to come in. During that time there’s a lot work needed to be done. So, I kind of start to take on a lot of those responsibilities. I start working with marketing, sales, and get the product requirement, and work with engineers on scheduling. And start taking on mentoring junior members, help them step up more.

Carol Chen: So, after a year, they promoted me as a manager. So during that process, I find I kind of like that role. So I liked to work with people, and I liked to get understanding of what they really want from the product. Another thing is, I like to work with engineers. I was a engineer, myself, so I know what is their frustration, and what are the thing that can help to make their work easier. And I like to talk to people and understand what is their frustration, and what can help.

Carol Chen: So I start to step into a lot of – learn a lot of the management skill and see this is something that I really enjoy to do. And looks like it is an area and I’m still learning.

Carol Chen: So, here at GroundTruth, I want to talk about a few things that we work here. So, we’re working on some really exciting technologies here. So we have a auto blueprinting tool, I think we’re using image processing to automatically find out the polygon for the store, that’s one of the things that Sarah was talking about for blueprinting the POIs. And we also had used machine learnings to find out, like users’ visitation pattern, so we can forecast if there is going to be fewer visitations to a store.

Carol Chen: We also use machine learnings to optimize the bid price so we can improve our winning rate. And here are the few applications my team work on. Ads Manager is a tool that we use to set up advertising campaigns. We have location managers, which help user to group and make use of those POIs, they can use for targeting, and drive visitation, too.

Carol Chen: We allow users to create audience, so we can find out who are the audience that going to McDonald’s. Who are the audience that go into Macy’s, so Macy’s can target those people to do their advertising. And I think we have the demo over there in one of my team members demoed the discovery, which help brand like McDonald, Macy’s, to find out their visitation pattern. So, that’s one of the project we work on, as well. We also have blueprinting tool, as well as mobile SDK, so for publishers to help understand their audience, where they’re visiting.

Carol Chen: So, I want to do a little bit advertising for my team, so take on the opportunity. I have a great engineering team. I can’t say too much good things about that – there’s some of them over there. And [inaudible], and Morgan. So, I really like my team. I have talented engineer, and they’re very passionate about the product we have. I have two front end engineers. Did I mention they are girls? They’re so passionate about the product. So, one day they come talk to me, saying, “You know, we think we need to improve our front end code, and we did it already.” And so, what can you ask for better than this kind of engineers? 

Carol Chen: And I can’t say enough about these. I have some other engineers during the weekend, whenever people have questions, to jump in and answer the questions, they’re watching out the product. That’s how passionate we are working on a project. So, yeah. That’s the place you’d really want to work at. So, that’s my presentation here. If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer. Thank you.

Sarah Ohle: So, one thing I want to add, cause Carol started by talking about how she went to her first Girl Geek dinner four years ago, and really hoped that it was something a company she worked at would have one day. It didn’t just happen, that we had one. Carol made this happen. She – yeah, so – she approached us with the Girl Geek, said it was an excellent thing. We looked into it, and she really drove this forward, so you know, thank you for bringing this to GroundTruth, Carol. That’s all.

Carol Chen: Thank you, everybody.

Sarah Ohle: We’re going to hang out a little bit, if you guys want to talk to us, ask anything else, and I also want to encourage everybody, if you’re interested in learning more about careers at GroundTruth. Obviously, we’d love to get to know you guys better, too. So, yeah. Thank you all for coming out. Thank you Girl Geek. Thank you to these women. And talk to you soon.

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

“Using Statistics for Security: Threat Detection at Netflix”: Nicole Grinstead with Netflix (Video + Transcript)

Nicole Grinstead / Senior Security Software Engineer / Netflix
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X


Angie Chang: Alright, we are live. Welcome. This is our 11:00 AM session. We have Nicole Grinstead, a senior software engineer at Netflix. A few things she’s focused on are things like corporate identity and access, applying user behavior analytics to threat detection, and user focused security. She’ll talk to us today about Netflix anomaly detection project [inaudible 00:00:44] and how it enables Netflix to find and act on high-risk corporate user behavior as threat detection is becoming increasingly valuable in today’s complicated corporate security landscape. Hand it off to you.

Nicole Grinstead: Great. Thank you. Thanks everyone for joining me virtually today, I’m really excited to be here. A huge thanks to the Girl Geek Elevate conference organizers for asking me to speak, and a huge thanks to the sponsors as well. Without further ado, I’m Nicole Grinstead and I work at Netflix as a senior security software engineer on our cloud security team, specifically on information security. Today I’ll be telling you a little bit about what we’re doing for advanced threat detection. Specifically, how we’re using statistical modeling and machine learning to detect malicious behavior.

Nicole Grinstead: Really quick, just to define user behavior analytics for everyone. Basically, what user behavior analytics are, it’s kind of the industry-wide term for what we’re doing here. It’s looking at what are users normally doing on a day-to-day basis, and then finding deviations from that normal behavior. When we see deviations from the normal behavior, they might be doing something a little different out of their ordinary, but it could also be indication that an account has been compromised, and that’s something that we as the security team want to look at. That’s kind of what it is.

Nicole Grinstead: Example, if you think about what a software engineer does, for example, on a day-to-day basis, you might look at your source code repository, you might look at some dashboards to look at your logs, some deployment tools. Then let’s say all of a sudden one day you look at an application that holds your company’s very sensitive financial data. That’s pretty weird and that’s something that we as security team might want to take a look at even though maybe you just were interested, that could also mean that someone has gained access to your credentials and is using them maliciously.

Nicole Grinstead: To give you another quick example, let’s say you’re maybe an HR or a PR employee and you spend most of your day working in documents. Let’s say we have a baseline of your normal amount of documents that you read or that you modify, and say that’s 20 on a normal day-to-day basis. If all of a sudden that shoots up and we see you downloading or touching a thousand documents, that looks pretty weird and it could look like data exfiltration. Again, that’s something that we might want to take a look at.

Nicole Grinstead: To take a quick step back why we think this is worth that kind of big investment. I mentioned at the beginning, we’re using machine learning, statistical modeling, that takes quite a bit of effort on our end. To give you some perspective, a 2017 study done by IBM security estimated that data breaches cost anywhere from around $3.6 million if a breach does not include any sensitive data, all the way to, on average, $141 million if that breach includes sensitive data.

Nicole Grinstead: These are top of mind things, data breaches have been in the news recently and it’s very costly. It can cost a company a lot of brand reputation and other very severe monetary consequences. One way that data breaches can occur are phishing attempts. This is really common. It’s estimated that on average, about one in 130 emails sent is a malicious phishing attempt, so not to say that one out of every 130 emails that makes it all the way to your inbox is a phishing email, but some of these things get pre filtered out.

Nicole Grinstead: They’re super prevalent and they’re very commonly used by organized hacker groups. About 70% of organized groups are using phishing emails as one of their modes for attack, and that’s because they’re very effective and successful. If you think back to some high profile data breaches that occurred recently, the 2016 DNC breach before the election partly was caused by a successful phishing attempt.

Nicole Grinstead: Also, the 2015 Anthem data breach, again, successful phishing attempt. Not to say that there aren’t other ways to mitigate phishing attacks and not to say that that’s the only way that accounts can be compromised or credentials can be compromised, but this is one really prevalent issue and really prevalent attack vector. Just to give you an example and demonstrate the kind of things that we are facing, the threat that we face and what we’re doing about it.

Nicole Grinstead: Basically, this is the fun part of the talk, I think. I’m going to explain at a high level what we’re doing at Netflix to detect that malicious behavior. The data is all there in our raw logs. We have SSL data of what users are logging into what applications, where they’re logging in from. We also have application specific logs, what users are doing within sensitive applications. Also Google drive data, for example, what types of actions people are doing, how many documents you’re accessing, that kind of thing. So we have all of that raw data and that’s really where we’re finding this information of where the deviations occur.

Nicole Grinstead: The first thing we do is clean that data up a bit. As you can imagine, it might not tell the full story, just one raw line and your logs. We make sure that we enhance that data and get kind of the originating IP address if, for instance, a user has come through VPN or something like that. That’s really the first step as we enhance our data, and make sure that we have everything that tells the full story about what action the user has taken.

Nicole Grinstead: Then we start to take those actions and model what their normal behavior is like. Just to give you an example of a few of the things that we think are interesting. If you think about what a user typically does, you know, they’ll come in, they might access the same types of applications, so that’s definitely one thing that we detect on is what type of applications does a user normally do versus what are they doing right now, and is that weird?

Nicole Grinstead: Another aspect is if you can think of a user probably normally logs in from the same device on the same browser. User agent is a really common thing that you can see in a log where we can tell what kind of machine they’re coming in from, and that usually doesn’t differ. Sometimes people get new machines, sometimes they upgrade their browsers, like we have some logic to dampen those upgrades or things like that. But if all of a sudden that changes, it might be a signal or an interesting thing to look at.

Nicole Grinstead: Additionally, location. People do go on vacation, but normally if you think about a user’s behavior, they’re probably either logging in from home or from their desk at work. These are all signals that we can look at and model out a user’s normal behavior and see when there’s deviations, that might be something that’s interesting to us.

Nicole Grinstead: As you can imagine then, just generating anomalies and figuring out where things are different doesn’t necessarily give us a full picture of when something is malicious or if something might be going wrong. That’s where the next step is on top of these raw anomalies that we’re generating. We apply some business logic to be a little bit smarter about what we think is important to investigate, because just seeing raw anomalies, it could be interesting but it also can be a little bit noisy. As you can imagine, people do deviate from their normal behavior sometimes.

Nicole Grinstead: This is then kind of the step where we try to figure out is that actually risky to our business if this action is occurring. As I mentioned in one of my first slides, if you think about accessing really sensitive financial data, that’s something that’s higher risk than maybe accessing our lunch menus. If I never accessed lunch menus for Netflix and then all of a sudden I do, well yes that was anomalous, but does the security team care if somebody is looking at lunch menus? No, we don’t care. There’s no sensitive data to be gleaned there and it’s not something that we want to spend our resources investigating. That’s one aspect.

Nicole Grinstead: Also, I think in all of our organizations, some users have access to more sensitive data than others. Also, if you think about executives, not only do they probably have access to more sensitive data than some other people in the organization might, but they also might be a larger target because they’re high profile and externally visible. We also kind of look at what type of user it is, and if it’s a certain type of user, they might be a little more or less risky. These are the types of things that we apply after the fact to weed out the noise a little bit and see what are the really high risk things that we should be focusing on and looking at.

Nicole Grinstead: The final step is when we’re actually going to display this to our security team of analysts. We are using Facebook’s open source technology graph QL to enhance that anomaly. [Audio drops from 12:05-00:12:44] Hey, hopefully everyone can hear me again. I’m not sure exactly what happened, dropped briefly. Okay, great. Yeah, then, that final step is where we get information from outside of just our anomaly generation and tie that up with other interesting data sources.

Nicole Grinstead: If we are looking at not just that interesting event, but then events around that. What does the user typically do, what kind of applications did they log into right before, what types of applications did they log into right after, that type of thing. Also, what organization they’re in, what type of job they do, so any other extra information, extra data that we can use to kind of enhance that and tell the whole picture of who this user is, what they typically do and why this was a weird behavior and if it’s risky.

Nicole Grinstead: That’s kind of at a high level what we’re doing. I really appreciate everyone joining today again. I think we have some time for questions.

Angie Chang: Thank you, that was excellent. Thank you for hanging on while we had minor technical difficulties. We do have some questions. First question we had from Carla is how do you handle and what steps do you take to keep it protected for a cust … How do you keep customer data protected and maybe used internally to diagnose a problem?

Nicole Grinstead: Actually, thanks a lot for the question, that’s a great question. We on the information security team are more focused on our corporate employee accounts. On the consumer facing side, if a consumer’s account is compromised, you won’t have access to intellectual property or financial data, stuff like that. On my team, that’s more explicitly what we’re focusing on with this particular project. Not to say that that’s also not a problem or an issue that we face or that we work on, but that’s not my area of expertise, I’ll say.

Angie Chang: Thank you. All right. Another question we have here is from Sukrutha, which is, how has your knowledge of security breaches and anomalies impacted your relationship with tech?

Nicole Grinstead: Yes, great question. I would say our relationship with … It definitely makes you think twice when you’re getting like a random email from someone that you’re not expecting or whatever. I’ve had a lot less, I guess base level trust in technology in general, maybe I’ll say. I shouldn’t say base level of trust, but just … I always have that hat on of someone could be doing something malicious here and there are a lot of malicious actors out there. It’s just something to be aware of.

Angie Chang: Okay. Thank you. Another question we have is how did you get into security?

Nicole Grinstead: Yes, that’s a great question. I just kind of fell into it. It was one of those things. I just started working on an identity and access project previous to Netflix when I was at Yahoo, and you just kind of ended up being a gatekeeper for sensitive information, you have to be very security aware. I just kind of found that it was super interesting being on the defending side of trying to keep things safe, so just delved in more from there.

Angie Chang: Cool. Let’s see. A question we had from Andreas is, how do you determine what a normal behavior is?

Nicole Grinstead: That’s a great question. Basically, this is where we’re using statistical modeling to build a baseline of what a user is normally doing. We’re looking at our logs and seeing these are the normal behaviors over time, and then seeing if this current action or if you can think about this current log that we’re looking at, if that deviates significantly from what a user is doing on a day-to-day basis. We’re using that log history over time to figure out what a user’s normally doing.

Angie Chang: We have a question here about, does the assignment of risk level happened manually or is it automated by machine learning system?

Nicole Grinstead: That’s automated, I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily machine learning at that part, we’re using more just business logic to assign risk level. We know where our sensitive data is, we know which systems and which applications hold that data. For instance, one level where we say if this thing that was anomalous is a risky system, that risk level is overall little bit higher.

Angie Chang: Does the system alert you when outlier behaviors happen?

Nicole Grinstead: It does.

Angie Chang: Okay. One last question, quick question, what does working as a security engineer at Netflix like?

Nicole Grinstead: Sorry, could you repeat that? It cut out a little bit for me.

Angie Chang: How is working as a security engineer at Netflix like?

Nicole Grinstead: It’s great, it’s really rewarding. I’ll say that there’s just tons of interesting problems to solve, I think in the security space in general. More specifically at Netflix, one of the great things about the culture here is that there’s a lot of freedom to … Where we see opportunity, anyone at any level is able to call that out and drive that forward. It’s a little different from other organizations I’ve worked in where it might be a little more resource constrained and you’re kind of a little more maybe, you work a little bit more in a specific role. I’ve had the ability here to do a lot of different things that I’ve found interesting. I’d say it’s really exciting and fast-paced, fun place to work.

Angie Chang: Thank you. That’s awesome. Thank you Nicole for joining us and pulling through. We have ran out of time, but thank you so much for joining us from Netflix today and people are tweeting, so feel free to answer the tweets and we will for next week. Thank you.

Nicole Grinstead: Great. Thanks so much everyone.

Angie Chang: Bye.

“Focus On Your Story, Not The Glory”: Leah McGowen-Hare with Salesforce (Video + Transcript)

Leah McGowen-Hare / Senior Director, Developer Evangelism / Salesforce
Sukrutha Bhadouria / CTO & Co-Founder / Girl Geek X


Sukrutha Bhadouria: [inaudible] some people making popcorn and pouring the wine. While we get ready, we had a little bit of a technical difficulty, but we’re all set and ready to get started. So introducing the senior director of developer evangelism at Salesforce. She has over 20 years of experience in technology, mastering a variety of roles including consultant, developer, manager, and technical trainer. I can tell you from my own personal experience, she was the best technical trainer I had. Her career reflects the evolution of computing technology. She uses her knowledge and experience to demystify and make technology more accessible to youth, girls, communities of color, and that’s through organizations such as Black Girls Code, Technovation, Girls who Code, and Vetforce. Thank you so much for making time for us today. I can’t wait to hear what you have to share with us. So go ahead and get started.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Yes. First of all, I’m Leah and I always start with the forward looking statements. Now, I’m not sure that I’m going to be speaking about some products, but if I do, I need to cover my backside. So I want to make sure that any purchasing, implementation decisions are made based on what’s currently available, and not anything that I might speak about that’s in the future, but I really want to start with this. I want to start saying thank you. I want to thank you, Angie, I want to thank you Sukrutha for first of all, having the vision for something like this. This is amazing, and taking that vision and creating it. And I believe you guys started with like the Girl Geek Dinners 10 years ago, and now you’re revamping this. This is amazing. And you two are trailblazers, so I thank you for your vision, your tenacity, and creating this platform and allowing me to be a part of it and share my story. So thank you.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Yes. So as Sukrutha had mentioned, a lot of people know me from different things. They may know me from the classroom. Here, I’m teaching at a hands on training at Dreamforce, probably apex class. I’ve taught Visualforce classes, or you had my week long classes, learning admin tool one, or you may have seen me delivering keynotes for TDX, TrailheaDX, or doing interviews and pre-shows or the Dreamforce keynote. So I often tell people, you see my glory. People who are like, “Oh, you just sashay up there. You just get up there, and you do this,” and I go, “But what you don’t know is my story.” And everybody has a story. And I think while it’s wonderful, and it’s amazing to be on these stages, and sharing and inspiring, really knowing sort of a piece of the story behind the scenes has a lot more power from my perspective.

Leah McGowen-Hare:  I’m going to share with you very little bit about my story, and I share this because people often go, “Leah, I have questions about branding and my branding,” and I’m often like, don’t focus on your branding, focus on the value you add, and everything else will begin to fall in place. And it’s really easy to get caught up in that branding piece, particularly with social media and all of this good stuff. And I’m always like, “Well, let’s take a step back and what is your story? What are you trying to build? What is the story you’re trying to create?”

Leah McGowen-Hare: With my story, I started developing coding when I was really young. You can see my little picture. I was busting the collar up, I was very fashionable, and that’s a Commodore PET, where if you see it, there was no memory stick, there were no CDs. It was a cassette tape that you actually had to push play, and that’s how the computer started turning. That was me back in the day coding, when I was much younger, but I did not have visions of myself working at technology because, for twofold, first of all, nobody was really doing that then. It wasn’t a widely known field.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And two, it definitely was not representative of females or African American females at that matter. I was more inclined to go to, I wanted to be a dancer. I loved Fame. Probably many may not know Fame. Fame, Flashdance, I wanted to be a dancer, and Alvin Ailey, I wanted to dance. So I went off to college at UMass Amherst, and I started my career as a dance major.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And my father, who was a professor, who was just really gracious about it, he said, “Leah, you’re multifaceted, you have many gifts, many talents, and I don’t want you ignoring one completely, such as your ability to really problem solve, coding, math, and science. You have a real innate gift for that.” And I said, “Yeah, whatever, Daddy.” And I twirled away with my leg warmers and headband. But he allowed me to explore that side of me. So every summer, I would go to New York City, and I would do the whole starving artist thing. And one summer, I was there living in New York, I was a waitress, and I was working at a restaurant called Honeysuckle and there was this other waitress there.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And at that time, I’m maybe 19, 20, 21 I should be because they had alcohol, but she was working there, and she too was a starving artist and she was 30, and I thought, “Oh my goodness, this woman is 30.” And that felt ancient to me at the time. Right? And I was like, “And she’s still trying to make it? Oh no.” I went right back to school and I changed my major from dance to computer science, and I was like, “Oh no, I’m not trying to do that.” I went off, and I was grounded in computer science, and let’s see where this is going to take me. Once I graduated, I worked for a company called Andersen Consulting, which is now Accenture, and that was out in New York City, and I worked on a lot of the older systems, mainframe, batch programming. We’ll talk a little bit about that.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Then I moved from Andersen. I moved out from New York office to San Fran, and I started working for a company called Peoplesoft as a developer. And I did a lot of development there. And after doing development for a while I realized, “I’m good at this, I’m okay, I’m good.” But there was a piece missing for me, and that was the interaction with other people. I really liked interacting with people, even talking about technology. My manager, who was really nice, at the time, said, “Leah, when you’re in the office, morale goes up, but productivity goes down,” and I was like, “What?” She goes, “You get this, but I think there’s something more you can do. I think there’s something different, a different path that you should look at.” And while she wasn’t saying I didn’t want you in my group, she was just saying, “I just don’t think this is serving your innate talents well.”

Leah McGowen-Hare: She said, “What about there’s, this position, be a trainer, training developers how to code using the Peoplesoft tools.” And I was like, “Trainer? No way, that’s too close to my parents. My father’s a professor, my mother’s a teacher. I’m not trying to become my parents.” She was like, “Just give it a go and see what it’s like. Just go ahead and try it.” I went in and tried out, tried out because you actually had to do a test teach for this position, a little begrudgingly. And I did it, and I then soon quickly realized I actually loved it. It mixed the two things that I loved, which was technology and talking to people. So I was helping people understand technology, and it was almost like a game to me, like how can I explain these really complex concepts in a way that people can understand it.

Leah McGowen-Hare: From explaining things like polymorphism of objects, or being object oriented languages, how do you break that down in a way that’s consumable by those that may never have heard this before? I had room of Cobol programmers learning how to code in People code, which was object based. It was a challenge, but I was up for the challenge.  I did that. It was amazing, I traveled the world. I really stepped out on faith and was like, “Okay, I’m going to try something that I didn’t think was for me.” And it turned out it was, so much so that I went and got my masters in education and technology because I really wanted to take it a step further, and really see what are the different ways that I can help people learn very complex technological concepts. So I went off and I got my masters in that, and after I got my masters I had my company, this was while I was getting my master’s.

Leah McGowen-Hare: I was working full time in my own company, and I was a grad school student full time, and I was a single parent at the time, just doing it all, making it happen, just grinding it out. And it was an amazing time for me. It was challenging, but I really surprised myself with how I rose to the occasion.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And then I went on and came to Salesforce, and I started, at the time it was called Salesforce University, and I started training here as a developer trainer, training on Apex, Visualforce, the system admin journey helping people get sysadmin certified. It was amazing, and did that for seven years. And then in the last year, it hasn’t even been a year, but I left SFU and came over to TMP, and I was working for a organization called TPL under Lisa Marshall, and then recently, I think it’s as of August, have joined the Trailhead team, which has just been amazing. 

Leah McGowen-Hare: My story has lots of curves and turns and downward turns, upward turns. It’s just been amazing, and it’s been lots of learning that I’ve truly embraced, and I’ve just learned to be open to opportunities that I may not initially see for myself, but allowing myself to at least try and go out and take a risk. So if you notice on the slide, I have the trail still going because who knows what’s going to be next.

Leah McGowen-Hare:  I wanted to kind of hone in a little bit about, talk about my development journey going through this. So in developing, I started off in mainframe. Now I wasn’t coding in the 80s. I mean I wasn’t working full time in the eighties. I’m not that old, but when I did start, it was on mainframe, writing in Cobol, JCL, and that’s a time when customers built everything in house. They would build their own systems. You had a slew of developers, huge organizations, huge server rooms, just everything in house. Everything was custom built, and so you would go there and work on these different clients. I worked on so many different clients, modifying their information, debugging their Cobol batch programs, or if you were one of the cool kids, you got to work on the online portion called CICS, which was just the terminal online intermediate transactional system.

Leah McGowen-Hare:  I did that. And then when I moved on over to Peoplesoft, I went from mainframe technology to client server technology. And that’s when a shift started happening in the marketplace where people were beginning to not buy the software. When they buy the software, it still was on premise, meaning it was in house, all of their servers, everything they maintained from their database servers and app servers or web servers. Everything was in house. The infrastructure wasn’t that much of a shift, you still had in terms of everything was on premise, but now with client server, you have these new pieces, you had your web server, you had your app server, these other pieces that you had to integrate and work with as well. I had to learn that, that was a little bit of a shift. The big jump is when I jumped from client server into cloud computing.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And here, now it’s more subscription based model, and this is where customers are, it’s no longer on premise, it’s in the cloud, and of course, there’s some hybrid ones and things like that. But I’m talking straight cloud technology and subscription based. That was a huge jump for me from a development standpoint, and I was reflecting on that and what that looked like for me. I wanted to share what that transition was for me from moving from an on premise to a cloud based technology, particularly multitenancy, which is very different than a non multitenancy.

Leah McGowen-Hare: From on premise standpoint, when you do that, some of the costs and expenses that occur, not necessarily development, but tying capital expenses, you have a lot of things in pieces that you have to purchase from licensing fees and maintaining, and if you have your app servers, your web servers, new releases that now require new upgrades and slow product releases, things did not happen quickly ’cause, “Okay, now we got to do the product release, we have to upgrade our app server, but that isn’t compatible with this database server that might not be compatible with this web server.” So there was a lot of checks and balances that went in place across that, and it took a little bit of time. So it was also longer to proof of concepts. You couldn’t quickly and easily spin up a proof of concept like, this is what the system would look like, or here’s what the flow would look like. And slower time to market. But that was what I was used to working in.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Then, jump on over into the cloud. Here, if you look at some of the cost things, you have lower total cost of ownership because at this point, it’s subscription based And it’s interesting because I had a conversation with someone who is looking to go over from on premise to cloud, and they go, “I don’t like the fact that,” and this is a while ago. They’re like, “The cloud will have all my data, and what if I don’t like it? I’m stuck because my data stuck in the cloud.” I go, “Let’s look at this picture. What would it look like if you go with this on premise system? You’ve got to purchase all of the different hardware pieces, all of the infrastructure, everything there. Then you install the software and guess what? Now you don’t like it. Well, guess what? You’re stuck with it because you moved it into your home. You’re stuck with it. Whereas if you’re in the cloud, you can extract your data and keep it moving. It’s less baggage.”

Leah McGowen-Hare: They hadn’t thought about that perspective before, and they’re like, “Oh, that’s true.” There’s a lower barrier for entry. You can actually try, and many of you know, for those that back in the day before Trailhead, you could go and create a DE org, and go and play in the DE org, and it did not cost anything. Now with Trailhead, you can definitely get in there and start playing around and be like, “Oh, this is what it looks like. This is how I can customize it. These are the kinds of things that I’d need to know to change the process or make it more conformed to look like my processes, rapid development cycles.” And because there’s a lower barrier for entry, you have more people coming in there playing, and you don’t necessarily have to be with a company that’s using Salesforce.

Leah McGowen-Hare: You can go out there and just start learning it for yourself with Trailhead, and that creates a larger community, a larger developer community, a larger user community, so you have a larger support group. And this is a little bit more detail, but this is more personal for me, was coming from an on premise to cloud development, particularly multitenancy, it made me a better developer. Now what does that mean? So when I, on premise, from my standpoint, I have infinite resources. I can write code the way I want. If I get an infinite loop, I call the DBA and be like, “Oops, did something, can you kill that for me?” And for those out there that know SQL, there’s this thing called SELECT *, where you select every single field that you want.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And then, I admit I’ve done this in the past, long time ago, where I would say SELECT * and it pull in 500 fields into memory, and then I may only end up using five or 10. Now that’s not being very efficient. Well, when I’m developing here on the platform, I have to be very explicit about the fields that I want. There is no SELECT * in your sock or SQL statements. You must select the particular fields that you have to explicitly state the fields that you want, which causes you to be very mindful about how you develop your code. So it makes you think through things in a more efficient way. You use your memory space. You use as much or as little as you need, but you’re a green coder.

Leah McGowen-Hare: You’re not wasteful with that virtual shared memory space because for anybody who knows works in Apex, all of our code runs in the same memory space, hence the reason we place limits so that everybody has equal performance, so I can’t go in there and create an infinite loop because it would impact somebody else’s performance, and those safeguards are to ensure that everybody is getting good performance. So, really changing my mindset when I moved from an on premise to a cloud development really shifted a lot of the different ways that I thought, and that was just one of the examples. But I know we’re short on time, and I just wanted to sort of talk about, you’ve seen some part of my story, and then I wanted to kind of hone in a little bit more detailed, and see what my development story looked like because I know they wanted, Angie requested something a little bit more technical. And at this point I would, Angie and Sukrutha, if you guys are open to question and answers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. So like you said, we want to be a little bit mindful of the next session that’s going to be happening soon, but we’re sorry for the minor technicality that we had at the start. This was such an informative session, and Leah, you’re such an inspiration. Thank you so much. The questions that we’re getting, we’ll have them answered via Twitter with the Hashtag. So use the hashtag, everyone, GirlGeekXElevate, and we’ll get you all the answers that you need. And seeing so many amazing comments like, “Leah, you’re the real deal! Such an inspiration!” And other amazing comments like, “I remember you in that gown at Dreamforce.”

Leah McGowen-Hare: It was a great time. It was a good time. This is an amazing community. I have never come across anything like what I see with the Salesforce community. It really is a reflection of all that is good and inspirational.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yes. So thank you. With that, thank you so much, Leah.

Leah McGowen-Hare: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Okay.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Bye.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Bye.

“Absorbed into the Borg: What Happens After Your Startup is Acquired” — Girl Geek X Elevate (Video + Transcript)

Shanea King-Roberson / Senior Technical Product Manager / eBay
Claire Vo / VP,  Product / Optimizely
Selina Tobaccowala / CEO & Founder / Gixo/Evite
Sarah Allen / Founder / RailsBridge & Engineering Manager / Google


Shanea King-Roberson: Okay, I think we’re live everyone. So I’ll get started since we’re running a little bit late.

Shanea King-Roberson: Hi. My name is Shanea. I’m going to be the moderator today for, “What Happens After Your Startup Gets Acquired?” And since we’re running a little short on time, I’d love to have each one of our panelists take 30 seconds to introduce themselves, let everybody know what the company they had acquired is, and what they’re doing now.

Claire Vo: I’m Clair Vo. I am currently the VP of Product at Optimizely and I was the CEO and co-founder of a company called Experiment Engine that was acquired a year and one day ago, by Optimizely. We at Experiment Engine built solutions for enterprise customers to scale and manage their experimentation programs and that has been recently, as of January, re-released as part of the Optimizely platform as Optimizely Program Management, which top enterprises use to collaborate, manage, and report on their high velocity experimentation programs.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome. Thanks, Claire. Next.

Selina Tobaccowala: Hi, I’m Selina Tobaccowala. I’m the CEO and Co-founder of Gixo. We do live coach fitness classes right from your phone. In terms of previous startups, I had started Evite, with actually the same co-founder from Gixo, about two decades ago. So, the only reason you don’t see gray hair is ’cause it’s been dyed. But, we got acquired by Interactive Corp.

Selina Tobaccowala: And then on the other side of the table, I was at Ticketmaster and did about ten acquisitions and was the President and CTO at SurveyMonkey and also did a number of acquisitions there. So I have experiences both sides of the table.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome.

Sarah Allen: So my name is Sarah Allen. The first company I co-founded was straight out of school, was The Company of Science and Art, which was acquired … created After Effects was acquired by Aldus in ’93, then subsequently by Adobe in ’94. And then more recently I founded Blazing Cloud, which was a consultancy founded in 2009 and it was acqu-hired by Indiegogo in 2013. So the team joined Indiegogo.

Sarah Allen: I’m now at Google as an engineering manager, leading some teams doing server list events for serverless compute and a security policy.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome. And I guess I should probably go, too.

Shanea King-Roberson: I currently today am a senior technical product manager at Ebay and before that I was a product manager at Google and I started a digital marketing agency doing digital marketing and web development for women entrepreneurs, experts, and authors that I sold my half of the company to a different partner. So, I’m happy to be here. And we can jump right in.

Shanea King-Roberson: So, I’d love to quickly go over the types of acquisitions. So what are kind of the buckets in which an acquisition could fall on, or why you would like to get acquired.

Shanea King-Roberson: Let’s do that.

Selina Tobaccowala: Sure. Did you want one of us to start, or-

Shanea King-Roberson: Yes. Yes.

Selina Tobaccowala: Okay, sure, I can walk through in terms of … So, there’re different reasons, especially as an acquiring company, why you might want to acquire a company. I mean, the first is an acquihire, where you really wanna get the talent and that’s one type of acquisition.

Selina Tobaccowala: The second is when it’s what called accretive, which is where either the revenue is growing faster, the user growth is growing faster, than the core company, and so that’s where you essentially are buying it for the financial or business value.

Selina Tobaccowala: And a third situation is really if it’s like a strategic option for a product area or product advancement that you want to, essentially, go do. Which is, you’re sort of a small business and now you’re bringing somebody in who’s giving you enterprise experience. Or there’s different strategic tie-ins or fit-ins.

Selina Tobaccowala: And those will generally be the main sort of, philosophies around acquisitions.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome. That’s great.

Shanea King-Roberson: So what I’d love to do is if anyone on the line as any questions, feel free to put them in and we can have about ten minutes of Q&A at the end. But, I’m going to ask, starting from pre-acquisition.

Shanea King-Roberson: So there are people on the line that are in different stages of their careers and founding of their companies, so what are some of the ways that you can be prepared to be acquired before you’re ready? What are some of the things that entrepreneurs on the line should be thinking about, before they ever start to get acquired?

Shanea King-Roberson: How about Claire, you take this one.

Claire Vo: Yeah, so I think … Actually, somebody asked me that question a while ago. Like, “What should you do if you want to sell your company?” And I was like, “If you want to sell your company, you’re not in a great place to sell your company.” So, almost, if you are preparing to be acquired before you’re, quote, unquote, “ready,” you’re probably not focused on the right things.

Claire Vo: So what I would say is, the best preparation for an acquisition is a highly functional, value-generating, company. And so, the thing that you should do is try to maximize the value of your business by focusing on customers, growing revenue, reducing friction in whatever marketing or sales funnels you have, and ultimately building a valuable asset that somebody would want to acquire.

Claire Vo: I think the things that lead to a good business are going to lead to healthy acquisitions, and so you actually … I don’t recommend you do anything special, if you’re not intending to be acquired or aren’t ready to be acquired, that you wouldn’t already do to make your business valuable.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome.

Sarah Allen: So yeah, I wanted to-

Selina Tobaccowala: I would absolutely plus one that, with kind of the one exception being, trying to really make sure that way before you get acquired, you have a conversation with your co founder, if you have any, about what is either that number or what is that situation that you want to be acquired? Because it’s very different in the heat of the moment when people are coming to you and really making sure that you have sort of that baseline understanding with your founders of, are we trying to build this into a multi billion dollar company? If we get an offer for … If somebody comes in tomorrow … For a hundred million dollars, would we take it? Or, is it 15 million dollars? And having that conversation upfront, because what you don’t want to do is when something … If somebody approaches you, be on very different pages with your founding team.

Sarah Allen: Yeah, I was gonna chime in. Can you hear me?

Shanea King-Roberson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). We can hear you.

Sarah Allen: I was gonna chime in on that too. I think that people who are founding their company for the first time, don’t necessarily think through all the different things that might happen, and while you might be starting to be an independent company that IPOs, having a frank conversation with your co founders is like, “Well, what if it’s year five, and we expected to have this big outcome in year three, how are we going to feel about it? How are we gonna value what we’re doing? How will we handle that situation together? Because having that pre-conversation, like you mentioned, is where you can have a really healthy discourse around that, rather than waiting until your co founder is burned out, and they’re ready to quit and then you’re stuck with a company that is maybe on the verge of profitability but not doing everything you want. You want to be doing it together.

Sarah Allen: And of course, the best way to get sold is to … Or the best way to go into any of these situations, is to be in a great situation. But sometimes, just to be honest, people sell their companies when things aren’t going so well.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome. Those are really, really, great answers. Thanks.

Shanea King-Roberson: Since we’re kind of in this pre-acquisition conversation, I would love to take the flip side of this. So, what does the acquiring company look for that entrepreneurs today should be aware of?

Shanea King-Roberson: So if I’m a company and I want to acquire another company, what are some of those things? What are they looking for? What are some of the big ticket items that an entrepreneur should be building for?

Claire Vo: I think they’re reflected in the types of acquisitions that were described at the beginning of this session, which is actually like, will acquiring this company net us ROI positive in terms of revenue? Will it add strategic value to my product portfolio or my company portfolio, or does it add talent that’s otherwise difficult or expensive to acquire and retain?

Claire Vo: I think those are pretty simple. They’re looking for money. They’re looking for strategic advantage and they’re looking for talent. I can actually … There’s no like secret sauce [inaudible 00:09:05] a company’s looking for, other than to generate value for shareholders, and so those are the three things that can do that most directly.

Sarah Allen: Well I think to … There is another nuance to it. What you say is absolutely correct. The other thing is, they want to have … They’re looking for a company that’s gonna be successful in bringing that value to the new entity. And so, one of the things that both sides need to know is what’s the culture of the company that’s being acquired? Is it where the bigger company wants to go, or is it substantially different in a way that the acquired team is gonna have to adapt?

Sarah Allen: And that’s something where … Nobody acquires a company because they think it’s going to not go well, yet, a lot of times, the goals of the acquisition aren’t met, right? Or it doesn’t quite live up to its hopes, and I’ve sort of been in bigger companies where teams have been acquired and then their product gets canceled when that wasn’t really the goal.

Sarah Allen: Sometimes that it expected and just matching expectations upfront and if you are bringing your culture to the company and they’re really excited about that, how are you going to infuse the company in that culture, with that culture. Or, if your culture is very like, “We’re a little, tiny startup and we’re excited about that,” how are you gonna survive in this giant company? How are you gonna make that a positive experience for the company and for your team?

Sarah Allen: And so, I think that they’re looking for, how is this going to transition into a success?

Shanea King-Roberson: Yeah, that’s a really great point. So I think it’s actually a segue into kind of, conflicts of acquisitions and some of the challenges that can come with after you’ve been acquired and the actual negotiation process. So, I’d like to dig a little bit more into that.

Shanea King-Roberson: So, let’s say that I receive an offer for an acquisition. What are some of the basic negotiation tactics when you’re negotiating an acquisition if you are the starting founder?

Sarah Allen: I can chime in there.

Sarah Allen: By the time you receive … I haven’t had ton … I mean, I don’t know. Some people have had like eight companies acquired. From my data points and from the people that I know, by the time you receive an offer, you’ve pretty much already negotiated everything. That’s not where you start negotiating. On your first meeting with the acquiring company, is the beginning of the negotiation, and so what I found that was really a discovery process in … When I was looking at having Blazing Cloud acquired, that was … There were way more things that were negotiable than I ever thought to negotiate. And I really learned that because we were approached by a company which then sort of triggered me to sort of think about, “Is this the company we want to be acquired by?”

Sarah Allen: And then, by talking to a number of different companies, I realized how different the situations were for my team, and then I was like, “Oh, well maybe this other company would offer this thing,” and I had to really think about, “Does the team want to stay together or are they super happy just joining the new company as like individuals?” … So this is what they call an acquihire, so it was really just the team transitioning into a bigger company.

Sarah Allen: And so I think that there’re all sorts of value that the company can give to you and that your team can bring to the company, that aren’t dollars and shares.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome. Did anybody else have any tips on negotiation?

Claire Vo: Yeah, I think this was said a little bit before, on you need to get in alignment with your co founder on what would be the outcomes or the situations on which you consider an acquisition. I think you also need to have, as a leadership team, whether your co founder or part of your board or whatever that is, your priorities in terms of the things you negotiate.

Claire Vo: You can’t negotiate to every end on every thing and get like the perfect deal done, so you really have to stack order what’s important to you. Is it the financial outcomes? Is it the outcomes for the team? Is it the structure of the deal? Is it the title that you’re coming in on? Is it what happens to your product? There’s a whole bunch of things that aren’t just dollars, and you really need to prioritize kind of, your give-to-gets. If I can get the financial thing, I’m okay taking a lower title or my team being broken up, or whatever those things are. And if you have clarity on it, it makes the negotiation a lot easier.

Selina Tobaccowala: I think there’s also, similarly, aligning those things in terms of, why you’re being acquired and what the company’s actually looking for. So, if your negotiating on financials, as an example, there’s a question of how much of your financial equity will you take now, and how much are you willing to take depending upon certain or specifics targets. And then it’s an interesting way to sometimes look at structure.

Shanea King-Roberson: Is Selina frozen?

Sarah Allen: She looks good to me.

Claire Vo: Nope. I can hear her.

Shanea King-Roberson: Oh, there you are. Hi.

Selina Tobaccowala: Hi.

Shanea King-Roberson: Sorry, you froze for me. But everyone heard her, right? Yes? Okay, good.

Selina Tobaccowala: Sorry about that.

Shanea King-Roberson: So, one of the things a few of you have mentioned is managing employee expectations. You’ve mentioned your teams, you mentioned the other people involved in the company. Does anyone want to talk about managing the expectations of your team and your employees through an acquisition, if some people are excited about the acquisition and some people are not?

Sarah Allen: I’ll speak to that first. I think that it’s … Particularly in my most recent situation in acquihire, the team’s the whole thing and so if knowing going into it, that these two people out of these 12 are just not into it, then … In our case, we were just super open about it. Okay, they’re not going.

Sarah Allen: And then in one case, I had somebody who was on my leadership team who was very skeptical about the acquisition. Just in general. She was like, “I don’t know if I want to do this thing.” And so then I was just upfront with the people we were talking to. I was like, “Well, depending on what type of a situation you provide, you may or may not get my whole leadership team.”

Sarah Allen: And I think with a small team … I’d be interested in the people who might have had bigger teams … Being open about it was really good. The other thing is, often with an acquisition these days … This didn’t use to be true in the early 90’s … But, now they want to interview all the engineers and that’s kind of a weird thing, interviewing for your own job. But, we ended up doing that together. We did practice interviews together, then we went and interviewed at a bunch of different companies together, and it was this real bonding thing, which was kind of fun and unexpected.

Sarah Allen: So, whenever you can, have fun with it, because it’s … The uncertainty of an acquisition is incredibly stressful to your folks, because they’re not in a decision-making position. And it’s incredibly stressful for you, but if you’re negotiating and you have the power and you’re the final decision-maker, or at least on the decision-making team, it’s a whole different situation. So, think about ways that you can make it good for them, and fun for them, and make it clear, if it’s true, that they’re … That you’re taking their situation into account.

Claire Vo: I’ll add an alternate point of view, which is, I took full-on, mama bear, protectionist mode when we did our acquisition, and essentially shielded the entire team from the acquisition process, because ultimately we needed to build a valuable business either way, and I saw the potential for the acquisition to be just kind of like, a point one percent thing that was gonna like … We’re gonna negotiate to something that we liked and even if we did, were we gonna get through all the legal stuff. And then we get through the legal stuff, we get to the appointment stuff and then we sign a deal and it all happens and it’s happy, I just … You can ask my team … Up until the point the acquisition happened, I was like, there’s a point five percent chance this is gonna happen, so let’s act as business as normal.

Claire Vo: And part of that was exactly what you said. I didn’t want my team interviewed for jobs that they already had. I went to the leadership team of the company that acquired my team and I said, “I have credibility. You can interview me all day and night, but I hired a great team that built a great product and if you don’t trust me, that they can add value to our team, that’s a big problem for me.”

Claire Vo: So, I actually took a more proactive stance, in term of isolating the team from the acquisition, because it was so distracting at the scale we were at, that I didn’t see necessarily the up side. And I think you would talk to my team and they would say that I very much protected their personal and employment interests in that thing, so I didn’t put them in situations that were bad, but I also didn’t bring that stress and uncertainty into our business that we were still running day to day.

Selina Tobaccowala: And I think there’re various scenarios. There’s one scenario, which is the acquihire scenario, where as an acquiring company, if you’re acquiring the talent, that’s what you’re buying and you want to actually interview the talent and so, you have to bring your employees along, but at that point, presumably, you’ve been transparent with the team with why you’re in an acquihire situation.

Selina Tobaccowala: And then there’s the strategic, sort of product … Where you’re helping us enter a new space, and in those acquisition scenarios, normally you can keep the team fairly intact, but the difficult part in those scenarios is you have to figure out if your culture that you’ve been building as a company, is aligned with this culture of the acquiring company. Because you have to expect there’s gonna be a certain amount of turnover in your own employee base after you get acquired, if there’s a culture mismatch with the parent company essentially.

Selina Tobaccowala: And then there’s a third scenario, where it’s like they’re buying your revenue and potentially your customer base and often in those scenarios, there is a document which shows synergies between the two companies, which essentially means, cutting of staff. And so, you have to understand, when you’re the CEO and the founder of the company, what is that sort of intention of the company you’re acquiring and in the third scenario, how are you protecting the downside of people that are gonna get made redundant or let go or whatever, because there is that scenario.

Selina Tobaccowala: And as Claire said, how can you elevate that in a negotiation conversation at the beginning, if that’s important to you, in terms of your gives and your gets.

Selina Tobaccowala: And so it really depends on the type of acquisition, in terms of what the team is gonna … Is gonna happen, but I don’t think that … I’ve seen very few acquisitions where 12, 24 months on … Especially off the retention packages are 12 to 24 months on … You don’t see a certain amount of turnover from the team that has been acquired, and so … I mean, ’cause there will be change, and I think being able to be honest with your team saying, “There is going to be change after an acquisition. There’s no way it can stay exactly the same.” You can do your best to keep a lot the same, but it is impossible to keep everything the same.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome.

Shanea King-Roberson: So I think we talked a lot about post-acquisition, so I’d like to get to that in a minute. But how do you juggle multiple opportunities and when do you know to turn down an acquisition? What are some of those red flags?

Selina Tobaccowala: I mean, I think one of the biggest red flags is if you don’t … Again, it’s a little bit of that culture, which is, if you want to … You know, there’s always the pure financial outcome, where it’s like … Where people are gonna get their financials, and maybe that’s all that matters in the scenario, but if you’re trying to have your product live on and, or you’re trying to have your … Essentially, the employee side, I think it is important to understand what is the incentive of the acquiring company, and are we aligned to that strategy. Is that strategy something that we actually want to do?

Selina Tobaccowala: And so I do think that a red flag from your perspective is if you don’t feel like you’re able to get that openness with the acquiring company. And that’s true … If you think of it as a new job, as if you’re interviewing for a new manager … ‘Cause that’s essentially what you’re doing … You need to make sure there’s mission alignment, culture alignment, and transparency. And it’s your doing backdoor references on that acquiring company, is your responsibility as the CEO.

Sarah Allen: Yeah, I think that value and goal alignment is really important and I’m glad you mentioned the sort of backdoor references, because you want to know … You want to get a sense of, “Am I going to … Is this going to be successful?” And if you get indicators that they’re not being genuine with you, that they’re not being upfront … Which could be unintentional. It could be a mismatch of how you communicate, or any number of things … Then, especially if you’re anticipating that there’s a payout … Usually there’s like, “Okay, after a year you get this. And two years, and three years,” … If you’re not gonna be able to hit those milestones, then just walk, because then it’s just not worth it.

Selina Tobaccowala: And some people who are good to talk to are previous founders who have been acquired by that organization.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome. Claire, did you anything to add?

Sarah Allen: And the investors of previous founders who have been acquired.

Claire Vo: We were lucky. We shared investors with our acquiring companies. We’ve had a good inside tract.

Sarah Allen: Yeah, that helps.

Sarah Allen: Yeah, and I think that’s worth mentioning. So with Blazing Cloud I never took any money, because I didn’t want to be beholden to investors, and then I realized when we were … Because I never anticipated … I didn’t know that you could actually get acquired as a consulting company. It never even crossed my mind that that was an option, and then all of the sudden I was like, “Oh, it’s a thing,” and so I talked to a lot of other people who’d been acquired and gone through these acquihire things, and then I discovered that for many of them, their investors did the negotiation and knew the people on the other side of the table and then it … I was like, “Wow, I’d love for somebody to do this for me.”

Sarah Allen: So I mean, there’s two sides to that, because sometimes the investors have things that are goals that are different than yours, but it’s just I hadn’t really thought through how positive it can be to have an investor in going through changes in your company.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome.

Shanea King-Roberson: So, we’re starting to get some questions in and we will take those in a few more minutes, so if you have any more questions, please put them in to ask the question.

Shanea King-Roberson: I’d like to get into the post-acquisition. One thing that we really want to think about is, what was that transition like for each of you, from CEO to now, employee of a large corporation or midsize corporation? What was the best thing about that and then, the worst thing about that?

Claire Vo: So I can start. The transition was super easy. I’ve worked at companies of all size and I was never a CEO that started a company because I didn’t want a boss. That wasn’t my motivation and I used to joke I took venture capital so, I had bosses and they were a little bit more intense than the ones I had at a corporate job. So, the actual transition back to the quote, unquote “corporate world” was very easy for me; very comfortable in at-scale companies and I think my background added a lot of value immediately to the company in terms of management strategy and operations and things that we needed at the size of the company that we’re at now. So, my personal transition was easy.

Claire Vo: I think the hardest part has been emotionally letting go of my product. I mean, my product is integrated into our ecosystem. It’s part of the platform. I have a product manager that works on my team that runs my product, and I still have that CEO … Like, “Oh, we should and how do you …,” and I actually had to pull him aside in a meeting the other day and be like, “Look, I just love this thing, but this is your baby now and you do what’s right with from a product perspective and I’ll be super excited about it, but ultimately it’s yours to own.” And so, you really do have to let go, especially if you were brought in to take on a much broader role across the organization and not just baby your product for years and years on end at the expense of the overall success of the company.

Selina Tobaccowala: I’d say for me, it was such a long time ago that I was first acquired as [inaudible 00:26:20], but I was kind of in the opposite situation where I had never seen a company at scale. I was a first-time founder and that was my first job right out of college, was doing Evite, and so it was a big transition for me, to suddenly like be in a company and even things like … You know, little things, but it was like expense reports or doing big Power Point decks and stuff like that, that I had never really had experience in.

Selina Tobaccowala: And so it was a pretty big transition, and the biggest thing that was supportive to me, was I was … In the acquiring company, that’s what I was saying, is the person who became my boss was an amazing mentor to me. His name’s Sean Moriarty and he’s now the CEO of Leaf Group, but that was a really important thing for me because I didn’t, unlike Claire, I wasn’t walking in with experience, and so I do think if you’re a founder and it’s your first startup and you really haven’t kind of … I was 24 years old, I think when we got acquired, and so I think who is gonna be that manager and how are they gonna be able to help guide you through, is pretty important, depending upon where you are in your career cycle.

Sarah Allen: Yeah, when my first startup was acquired … CoSA was acquired by Aldus … We were all like in our early 20s and we were … And I think building those alliances, like Enrique Goodrow managed the acquisition from the Aldus side, and he remains a friend to this day and he just helped us navigate this corporate world.

Sarah Allen: And I think the one thing that is kind of a counterpoint to what Claire was saying, is that sometimes you know your domain better than the acquiring company. In that case, they really acquired After Effects so that they … That was gonna be the cornerstone of their digital media group, and then less than a year later, all of this was acquired by Adobe, which had Premier. And so, they stacked up the products that had some redundancy between Adobe and Aldus, because there was like Freehand and Illustrator and these different … But mostly it was complimentary and they looked at After Effects and Premier and they said, “Okay, we’re gonna have to cancel After Effects,” and so the team did … So our product managers, but we all participated in really sketching out that the video space was broader and educating them that there’s post production and special effects and there are these different parts of the market and then there were some other products that we put into this two by two matrix.

Sarah Allen: So to really focus on what is … Your little company is no longer a thing. You are doing what’s best for this big entity. And sometimes, you have to let go and sometimes you have to hold on to what’s right because you understand this … You were acquired because you understand some part of the world better than the acquiring company and you have to explain that.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome. That’s a really great segue into like … Getting into post-acquisition. So after you’ve been acquired, how do you foster inclusion and retain your culture of being a smaller startup inside this larger company, and, or what are some of the things you’re thinking about when you’re trying to merge with a new culture?

Claire Vo: So this is a really tacticall thing, just make sure that you have culture specific emojis set up in Slack, so … We’re from Texas, so the first things that got set up were like our old logo, the Texas flag, the hook ’em horns, because I’m a Longhorn, and a taco emoji. So immediately we infused the communications culture at Optimizely with very important cultural touchstones.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome.

Claire Vo: But I think part of that is like, what can … You know, you don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid. You don’t have to come in and say, “You have to do everything the way you’ve always done.” You’re bringing something, you’re bringing a really special team into a company and in that first year in particular, you’re at a point where people celebrate that and they want to be excited about it and they want to know what your team brings to the office. And so, just kind of introducing the personality of your team, introducing the personalities of the people on your team, and really giving company-wide platforms for displaying that so it can be infused across the entire organization.

Claire Vo: I found it has just fostered a lot of friendships, fostered a lot of excitement around the acquisition, that has made the product and team much more successful. So, it sounds really simple, but I do think … You know, what are those list of like, inside jokes and priorities that you had at your old startup? Bring those in and show them to people, ’cause that’s a fun part of your team, too.

Sarah Allen: Yeah, I think having rituals. My startups were acquired before Slack was a thing … Like, with After Effects, I think because we were just … Maybe we were a little naïve, maybe we were insulated, I don’t remember there being a lot of challenges to how we did things. And we just kept doing the things that we were doing. And we had a very strong beta group, where had very good relationships with the post houses that used our software, and we continued to have that community that spanned our customers and our team throughout basically two big mergers.

Sarah Allen: And I’ve seen that with … I now work at Google and work with a team that was Firebase, and they were acquired and they have like team lunches every Wednesday and Friday, that they had before Google and they have after Google and they have certain things that they do, that they’ve always done, and they adjusted things a little bit, but then they just kept doing the things that make them who they are, that aren’t like … None of these kinds of things are like, “Oh, yeah, my company doesn’t do that.” But, you’ll hear that.

Sarah Allen: Sometimes you’ll be in a big company and they’ll be like, “Oh yeah, but we don’t do that here.” And I think that you want to, in a nice way … Like, not say, “No, we’re going to do something completely different from what you’re asking me to do,” but practice the, “Yes, and,”. “Great idea, I’m going to interpret it this way.”

Sarah Allen: And then I also wanted to acknowledge with Blazing Cloud, I didn’t go with the acquisition. I didn’t even realize that one could do that, but it turned out, one can. And so, that’s just … All the things don’t have to be the way that you might hear about them being done.

Claire Vo: Yeah, and I wanna kind of just rip off one thing that you said, which is, also, as the leader and the founder or the CEO coming in, you have to be a leader for things that are gonna change. Like, you have to be the person that says, “Yeah, I know. We used to do things that way and it was super easy and fast and chill, and now there’s a four-step process and that’s life.” And you know, you have to know your movable objects and I think as kind of the leader, the team, whether they get dispersed to different departments or report to you or not, are gonna look to you to set the tone. And so, you have to be clear about the things that are gonna change and the things that aren’t gonna change. Keep your rituals that are really powerful and important, but also, say when something’s not serving us anymore in this new context, you need to let it go and move on to bigger and better things.

Shanea King-Roberson: Absolutely. Awesome.

Shanea King-Roberson: So we have about 13 minutes left and there’s about four questions, so for managers at acquiring companies, how can they support the [inaudible 00:34:10]

Shanea King-Roberson: Can you hear me?

Selina Tobaccowala: No, you-

Sarah Allen: [crosstalk 00:34:18].

Selina Tobaccowala: I think you were asking a manager how you can support the acquisition?

Shanea King-Roberson: Yeah, for managers at acquiring companies, how can they support the transition or what should they not do?

Selina Tobaccowala: So I think that exactly what Claire was saying, which was making sure that you have that open communication with the leader of the team … Of the person who you’ve acquired and making sure you’re collecting feedback from them often, so that if there are things that are minor that are important to people, you can help make those changes. So, whether that’s the … You know, you hear that story of Jet and Walmart, where Jet had happy hours and Walmart said, “We don’t do alcohol.” And the Jet leader said, “Well, we’re gonna keep doing happy hours and it’s an important part of our culture.”

Selina Tobaccowala: And so it’s like, which of those things that are important enough to the leader that on the organization that when they’re pushing back on you, you can really take that try to make the change, and which of the things you have to say is, “Hey look, we’re not gonna be able to change on this issue and here’s why.” Like, here’s the thing that is important.

Selina Tobaccowala: And the other thing is, is people during an acquisition, it is a big change for them, and so the more you can communicate about, here’s our company, here’s our culture, here’s how we plan to operate things, but we’re open to feedback; we’re open to change.

Selina Tobaccowala: Obviously, I’m a little biased, having spent so many years at SurveyMonkey, but it’s collecting that feedback, whether through surveys or through talking to people, but making sure that you’re keeping that sort of employee engagement understanding of the company that you’ve acquired, I think is extremely important. Because if you don’t get those employees engaged and at least for 12 to 24 months, the integration into your platform’s nearly impossible.

Claire Vo: Yeah. I would say continually evaluate the talent that you’ve brought in from an acquisition on a regular and frequent basis, because even if you go through, let’s say, a formal interview process, you just never … You just don’t know until people land into the acquisition and start performing how they’re gonna do.

Claire Vo: I’ve been really proud that every team member that we brought into the acquisition has been … Done really, really well and has been super successful. No one’s quit. Some people have been promoted. But the acquiring company took the time and effort to continually evaluate performance and say, “Wow, we really underestimated you because we didn’t have tons of visibility into what you were doing, but now that you’re here, you’re a total rockstar,” really helped keep employees engaged, which meant that we go the product integrated very quickly, which means that we got it in the hands of customers and started driving value.

Claire Vo: So, I don’t think there’s … There are very few things that are as expensive from a time and money perspective, as a failed acquisition, so it’s worth the investment to continue to make sure that that’s successful.

Selina Tobaccowala: And I think added to that is that making sure that what the integration plan and strategy is very clear and laid out very quickly. So, you’ve had a lot of time with the company to start having the conversation. In most cases, the team is unaware of the acquisition until it happens, and so … But making sure that you’re not just talking about the deal, but that you’re strategically aligned with, what are you gonna do with that product after, so that within a 60 or 90 day window, you can very quickly come out with, what is the integration plan from a product and technology and sales team perspective. The quicker you can show people what your integration plan and strategy is, the better off it’s gonna be. And that plan could say, “For 12 months, we’re gonna do nothing.” But at least, coming up with a clear communication plan.

Sarah Allen: Yeah, I think … Well at this point, all those points are really great. I think also, from the technical side, especially these days, it’s really important … The techs [inaudible 00:38:05] are never the same and usually the big Co has something that’s like horrible from a startup-founder perspective, and sometimes they love it over there … Or sometimes they acknowledge that it’s horrible and that’s just how … We don’t have time to fix it. We need to integrate your stuff. And sometimes they have some super awesome thing that you would never find if you’re not in “the know.” So I think it’s really important for acquisitions that involve engineers, to find key senior engineers and make … In the acquiring company … And make them responsible for the success of the acquisition and partner them with individual senior talent who is … So they can learn from each other and really position it, if I you can, in a collaborative way.

Sarah Allen: Because that knowledge transfer is so important and these days it is … Just I’ve seen a lot of friends go through this, and companies goes through this, and in all different big corps, and it’s just a little culture shock. “Oh, I used to just deploy five times a day from my machine and now there’s like this process and I have to … Maybe I have to use a different language.” Maybe, they’re using three versions ago thing that they can’t upgrade until 2020 and you’re like, “What?” And that’s very hard on engineers, and so there has to be this social … Like the professional social connections where they can kind of hack the system together.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome.

Shanea King-Roberson: So, do any one of you have any regrets or things you would do differently if you could do you acquisition over again?

Claire Vo: I would have mama-beared slightly less and let my team be interviewed, because some of them were I think undervalued at the point of acquisition, and they were very quickly corrected and we could have skipped that whole cycle if I had just not been like, “My team. Back off.” And so I think that’s one thing I would have managed slightly differently. I still like insulating the team, but I think I could have done it in a more effective way.

Sarah Allen: I think I would have more proactively assessed … Like, had more confidence myself in my understanding of what the other company needed. In some cases I just … Like, I deferred to them. Like, “Oh, you want x, y, z, and don’t want a, b, c. Okay. Let’s work with that.” And took that as a fact, instead of realizing that I actually really understood their business and there were things that happened after the fact that I was like, “Oh, I was right and I should have taken the time to really talk through that with them and present more of my ideas of how this could play out.” I mean it was a good outcome from my perspective, but there was details where I was like, kind of a missed opportunity there.

Selina Tobaccowala: I would say, from my perspective, it wasn’t necessarily the regret of the acquisition, but is what led you to get acquired. So in the sense of, we took for Evite, far too much capital, and so it put us in a position where to get the investor return, meant we had to essentially make a revenue base that was so high that the better path for us was acquisition.

Selina Tobaccowala: So I think there’s this question of like, “Why would you ever get acquired. Why wouldn’t you just build your business to be great?” And those are various different instances. One is because it’s actually the best financial outcome for your investors and yourselves. Another is because you see that when you look at the strategic window, you actually see that this may be a better home, to be part of that larger organization or larger strategic approach, versus just trying to go at it on your own.

Selina Tobaccowala: So I don’t think we have regrets around the acquisition. I think when you looked at, especially for us, Evite is one of the few platforms that’s still around from that era of the dot com bust.

Shanea King-Roberson: You actually answered one of the questions that was already in our queue, which was, why would a startup want to acquired as opposed to [inaudible 00:42:24], so thanks for that. And I think we have time for one more question, so from the employee perspective, if they don’t want to be a part of an acquisition or an acquihire, at what stage would be the founder or CEO would like them to voice their opinion? Would it be better for them to just leave as soon as they realize you’re heading in a direction they don’t want to go? Would you rather they wait until they see a little bit? What’s your perspective on that?

Claire Vo: Well, no one’s ever gonna force you to take a job. No one can put a gun to your head and force you to take a job, so you’re never stuck. So I think my advice is know your priority. I mean, we’ve said this multiple times. Know your priorities as a CEO, know your priorities as a company, know your priorities as an employee. And if you’re going into an early stage startup that has … Particularly one that may have taken capital, being acqui-hired is an option and you need to be straight with your leadership team. “Hey I’m in it. I love early stage, but if we get on the path of an acquihire, I just might not be part of it.”

Claire Vo: I think that’s really fair. I don’t think you’re ever going to be contractually stuck in an employment situation you don’t want to be in. So, I think the risk there is fairly low, to just kind of see what your options are and play it out as you want.

Selina Tobaccowala: And I think there’s also … There’s not much risk either to … Especially if you’re never been in a situation that is scaled, is to see if you like it. There’s often times you go into that situation and you know, when I got acquired, my father said, “Do it for a year and then make a decision if you like being at a scaled company or a startup company. You’ve never seen the other side.” And in the end, I learned a ton from being in that type of environment.

Selina Tobaccowala: Eventually, obviously, I’ve gotten to start something from scratch again and love that more, but I think you don’t know what you’re gonna learn, so it’s hard to take that position really strong upfront. I would just say, try to think about the flexibility around it.

Sarah Allen: I think that’s a really good point. I think as a manager and a CEO, I always appreciated it when my employees were upfront. But I love this perspective of like, go for the ride. I feel like, in my career I’ve had the opportunity to like … Silicon Valley tech tourism. If you haven’t been through an acquisition, you’ve missed out on something really kind of interesting, even if it’s horrible, the stories are incredible that you can’t tell publicly, but like over drinks.

Sarah Allen: It makes you stronger person to understand both sides and to understand how the industry works. And you’re always, even as an individual contributor, you’re exposed to this business side, that normally you don’t get to see as an individual contributor. So yeah, I think that … I would encourage everybody to go along for the ride, and to just take a deep breath and experience it. Give it time. Not infinite time. Like, don’t check out and say this is sucky, but just be in it, but don’t get caught up in it, because it’ll change every three months and you know, I like the idea of riding it out for a year and see what happens. You can always quit.

Claire Vo: And rarely do people get paid less. We’ve never really seen that happen, where people are like, “Oh man, we did this acquihire and I’m making way less.” That’s not usually what happens.

Sarah Allen: Yeah, I’ve never seen that happen, either, so there’s an up side no matter what.

Claire Vo: Yeah.

Shanea King-Roberson: So, in our final minute, what is the one last piece of advice you’d like to give all of your entrepreneurs on the line?

Claire Vo: Think that [crosstalk 00:46:23].

Selina Tobaccowala: Oh, sorry, I was just gonna say-

Claire Vo: No, you go first.

Selina Tobaccowala: Don’t build your business ever for acquisition. Just build a … Try to focus on building a big business that has good financial structure and pillars and then acquisition may be a possibility in front of you, but don’t walk in thinking about that as kind of the goal.

Claire Vo: Okay, I regret letting you go first because you stole mine, which is don’t build your company, looking to be acquired. Don’t go seeking an acquisition. Build something awesome and an exit will come, but that’s not really [inaudible 00:47:02] engineer, you can only engineer a great company, so that’s what I would focus on.

Sarah Allen: Yeah, I think I agree with those things. I ran a consulting company knowing that I wouldn’t do it forever and it was sort of a happy exit of like, “Oh, wow, I can get acquired. Great.” But I think build relationships with people at other companies, so your partners, the people who buy your software … Knowing other CEOs, whether they’re a company you’re doing business with or just a peer company, will teach you so many things you didn’t even need to know; you didn’t know you needed to know. And then having those relationships, if suddenly you’re put in a situation where somebody makes you an offer and you didn’t expect it and you didn’t plan for it, having those relationships built already so you can talk to friends who’ve been in the situation before, is invaluable.

Shanea King-Roberson: Awesome. Well, I think we’re all done.

Selina Tobaccowala: Thank you so much.

Shanea King-Roberson: Thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure. I’m sure we’ve all learned so much from all of you ladies and invaluable experiences.

Claire Vo: Thanks ladies. Bye.

Sarah Allen: Bye. Thank you.

Shanea King-Roberson: Bye.