Operational Leadership with Dan Wright

Dan Wright CEO of Data Robot in conversation with Evan Reiser, Co-founder & CEO at Abnormal Security.

Dan Wright walks us through his operational philosophy, how being in COO/operational mindset will help you better in your job today and in the long run for your career. He encourages folks to find mentors with the same mindset as when you are hiring somebody, do background references, have chats with them and learn about what makes them exceptional.

[00:00:00] So welcome everybody to Abnormal Business School's Fireside Chats. I'm so happy to see everyone joined. abnormal business school is a series of internal and external programs hosted by abnormal security to educate our team about leadership and building enterprise software companies. The fireside chat series, which has one of those programs is a recurring series of guest speakers invited to share their knowledge with you about entrepreneurship leadership and investing in enterprise software companies.

we're so excited to have Dan Wright, who is the CEO of data robot with us today. He will be speaking with, he'll be speaking about how normally employees can learn to be effective executives and many other interesting topics in his conversation today with Evan, to give you a little background about.

while everyone is filing in here, Dan is the CEO of data robot, the leader in enterprise AI, delivering AI technology and enablement services to companies competing in today's, AI revolution, [00:01:00] prior to joining data robot, Dan served as chief operating officer at app dynamics. the world leader in application performance management.

Nimit: During his tenure, he was instrumental in helping AppDynamics increase, annual recurring revenue by, almost a hundred X and establish the company as the largest and fastest growing APM vendor. AB dynamics was acquired by Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion. And prior to that, prior to that Dan serve as app dynamics, general counsel and practice law at Goodwin Proctor.

he holds a JD from Boston college law school and received a bachelor's from Pepperdine university. thank you so much for joining us today, Dan. And I'm going to hand it over to Evan to kick off the conference. 

Dan, thank you. Thanks so much for joining today. Super excited to chat with you and,yeah.

Evan: Thanks. Thank you for 

Dan: being here. Yeah. Thanks for having me. Great to see you as always. And dad looking forward to this. 

Evan: Cool. Maybe I'll just share some context of the team about, how we cross paths. And then you'd love to just go into a little [00:02:00] bit about, your backgrounds.

And also we'd love to end with just some takeaways for, having normal employees and, are maybe potential recruits or the audience they're looking to really up their game when it comes to, their own leadership. So for context, Dan is, like I think we met through, David Wadhwani, who is the CEO of app dynamics and, app dynamics, always a company that I really respected.

you guys grew revenue to over a billion dollars. in a very short period of time. And that probably in hindsight, Cisco got a very good deal acquiring you guys for a few billion dollars. It's probably worth a lot more today. And so when I originally asked David, how did AptDynamics really becomes a successful?

Evan: He really attribute a lot of their success to just operational discipline and really to, to Dan's leadership. And so Dan and I, we crossed paths, I think several years ago, Dan actually invested in our series. They had abnormal. And since then,Dan has been an advisor to me and the company I've learned a lot from him.

And I'm super excited to share, for, except for him to share some of his wisdom and experience. Yeah, with the abnormal team. So I guess Dan, maybe to kick it off,one of the things I find really inspiring about [00:03:00] your story and your career is really your growth mindset and your kind of ownership and leadership.

And,if, you're you look at your resume, it's somewhat surprising, eight years ago you had never worked inside of a technology company, Obviously you were, you're familiar with do something illegal work. and then you joined app dynamics in 2013. and if you fast forward three years later, you were the chief operating officer today.

You're the CEO of,the, world-class enterprise AI company, That's, coming up on what will likely be a very successful IPO. So can you maybe just take us back. how did you get involved with, how'd you get into operating startups and maybe share a little bit about your journey.

And then we dig into some of the lessons you learned along. Yeah, 

Dan: no, that sounds great. And, yeah, Ifor me, I early on was a risk averse person, as you can imagine with the law background. So that's what brought me to law school in the first place. It seemed like a safe thing to do.

And,went down that road and then something happened in my personal life where, a very close friend of mine passed away while I was in law school. And I realized, you really get one shot at this thing. And, you should take calculated [00:04:00] risks, not reckless risks, but calculated risks that stretch you in the way that you want to grow.

And that allow you to build the life that you want to lead. because again, you only get one chance to do it. And I could just keep that in mind. As I graduated law school passed the bar ended up working at Goodwin, which is a very large law firm and. was on the partner track there.

I had a clear trajectory to sit there and I could have been there forever, but I was looking at some of my friends who were partners there and I just thought, this is not what I want to do with my life. And so I need to act on, what I said I would do and actually start taking some risks.

And so for me, the opportunity to do that came when, Jyoti Bansal, who was the founder and CEO of, app dynamics, came in and he asked me to join the company. And I was originally, pretty low on the totem pole. I was the director of legal, was my title when I joined. And my first task was, to review the contract for the [00:05:00] catering service.

And, for those who enjoy, catering, somebody has to review that contract. That was me. And then, what ended up happening was pretty quickly. I realized that there were a lot of things that needed to be done that were really important to the company that nobody really knew how to do.

And that's the beauty of a startup company is that there's so many things that need to be done. And, there's an ability for somebody who is very motivated, who is smart, who is, willing to take things on and take some of those risks to put up their hand and say, yeah, I don't really know how to do that, but I'm gonna figure it out and then, own it, make it successful.

And then what happens is the next time something like that comes up, you don't even have to raise your hand. People come to you and they say, Hey, we don't have anybody, in this, can you do that? And I have kept happening with Jyoti and he would keep giving me more and more things that weren't law.

And then over time, my role just expanded to the point that I was named COO. And then I was very fortunate to have [00:06:00] David would won. He joined the company. David had been a very senior executive at Adobe. he,came in and a lot of times in that situation, somebody might have said, who is this at that point mid thirties, kid that we have in this role, maybe we should think about making a change, but instead David chose to really, take me under his wing and I learned a ton from him.

And I think that really prepared me for my current role as CEO at data robot. and David has since gone on to Greylock, which is a major investor,of abnormal. And, he actually just recently, a couple weeks ago, went back to Adobe. He's now the chief business officer at Adobe. So it was just celebrating with him about that.

But,I think from my standpoint, if there's any major things that I've learned from my career, it's, you need to constantly be stretching yourself. You need to take those risks. The startups are the best place in the world to do that. That's why I love working at startup companies so much is you see yourself grow, but you also see everybody else grow.

And I can tell lots of stories of other people who were at app dynamics who started as, BDRs and are now chief revenue [00:07:00] officers. And there's so many of those stories of people going on to do amazing things. and then, the, and again, 

w what is it about, startups that create, a disproportionate amount of leadership opportunities?

Dan: Yeah. I think it's just the fact that there is such growth and, things move so much faster. and there's a limited number of people, if you're at an early stage startup, like when I joined app dynamics, I joined around a hundred, 150 employees. And at that point in time, there is an ability to put up your hand for a lot of different things that are important to the company and, and take something on and make it successful.

And then you learn and then you grow and the company benefits, as well. So I think it's a combination of just very rapid growth, so many things to do with a limited number of people. and in that environment it really allows you to stretch yourself. And then do you 

Evan: mind sharing, cause I know you're a very humble person, right?

So I know it wasn't just random, you became a chief operating officer, but what was your, can you maybe share some anecdotes about, you, you joined rise part of the legal function and present, and I [00:08:00] know that, throughout your history that you got very involved in sales marketing, building up the whole operating system for the company, what was that point where you said, Hey, there's something kind of outside of the thing that I'm really familiar with, That I'm going to go grab and tackle, Maybe despite you feeling, maybe, and I'm sure at the time, have you felt under qualified for that, but you still raise your hand and grabbed it. do you mind sharing just some of the examples, because I'm sure that the leadership there it was an accelerator for you and your.

Dan: Yeah, I think in the back of my mind, I always thought I wanted to do something, operational and not,just stay in kind of one, one space for my whole entire career. And, and then what really happened is I started to actually act on that, it's one thing to think that in the back of your mind, it's another thing to actually do something.

And so the first thing that I ended up doing was taking on M and a, and we were acquiring companies in these like crazy countries,Germany and Switzerland and all over the place and had to figure out how to get those deals done. And usually we try to get them done in two or three weeks because we're at a startup, That's what we're doing. See how fast we can get these things [00:09:00] done. And then I took on all of our fundraising and then I took on,all of our kind of G and a functions are a lot of them, everything. procurement through HR through it. And I would just learn about those things and I realized, oh, I can figure this out.

I can figure this out. I can figure this out. All right, what else can I do? And then I took on a big part of our sales at app D. and then when I came to that robot, I actually didn't originally start, as CEO did a robot. I started as president and COO, but one of the things that I ran from the very beginning was our entire go to market, including marketing success, sales, and just continuing to take on more and get exposure to different things.

And I think, as I did that, it really took that idea that had been back in the mind, my mind, and it took, made it something I had to do. I was like, I need to continue going down in this, this direction because I'm learning so much, I'm growing so much and it's in the direction that I want to take my life.

And again, I only get one shot at this. I might as well go after it. 

Evan: And did you mind just I'm not that kind of rabbit hole in this, but it just, it [00:10:00] sounds like a little bit, yeah, it sounds difficult, right? Like you what did you like, you're, you were working in this function right.

Where your only kind of professional experience had been, legal stuff. And then all of a sudden, like you're running HR or you're getting involved with sales,what do you do as like an inexperienced person, To go and, have impact in areas maybe outside of your expertise?

Like, how did you learn that? How did you get involved? How did you contribute? As a, as, at some point you're an amateur in these things, And you very quickly became a professional. Like, how did you, how'd you think about that? How did you make that happen?

How did you learn? And can you 

Dan: share some examples there? Yeah. I think that a lot of the barriers that we all have is they're more in our mind than anything else. And that was one, one lesson I found is I'd be really afraid, figure out, it or figure out, sales, But then you get into it and you're like, I can actually figure this out because a lot of the things that allow you to be successful in your initial role, say that you're in finance or you're in HR or you're in engineering or whatever role you're in.

Those things will translate, a lot of the things around communication, building, great [00:11:00] teams, problem solving, intellectual curiosity, communication, right? all of those things they allow you to. And if you combine that with really caring deeply and having a really strong work ethic and,not being afraid to roll up your sleeves and try to solve any problem, even if it's not, in your current job description, then you can learn a lot really fast.

And I think that was interesting for me is,I felt The few years I worked about almost three years under David,at AppDynamics that was like an MBA on steroids. Like I learned so much so fast because I was constantly, again, diving really deep into one function, understanding that building a great team.

And then, all right, I'm going to go to the next thing. There was no lag time. It was just constant that, and then when you put it all together, the next thing is to learn, okay, now that I have this, very wide variety of things that I'm responsible for, how do I know how to keep my finger on the pulse of all these [00:12:00] things and when to go really deep in one area and avenue.

And I had talked about, that's the real sweet spot is when you're, when you've got that down where you can keep your finger on the pulse of the entire company, but you can say, all right, this is the area that I need to really spend a lot of time on right now, or maybe a couple of. And you go very deep on, on that area at that point in time.

And then when you step back, And you focused on something else. You it's much easier for you to switch back into that mode and know what to focus on because you have that context. 

Evan: And then one thing I've always admired about you is,just this willingness to raise your hand, say, I'm gonna go figure this out.

I think part of what makes you strong their rise, I think your sense of ownership, but also that you have, a growth mindset run common experimenter's mindset. And so I imagine that, especially in the early days of app dynamics, you were trying stuff out. and obviously some things went really well.

Evan: Or if you go back in time, you can give, given the wisdom of hindsight, To go back in time, you could give yourself advice about, Hey, this thing you're doing, Dan that's really work and keep doubling down on that. like other advice you'd give yourself. know, and anything come to mind or things you did that were, surprisingly [00:13:00] effective for your own conscious personal 

Dan: growth.

Yeah. I think the number one thing is just being really intentional. I th the startup environment, as I mentioned, is like the only environment that I really want to be a part of. It's so amazing. The way that you see people grow. And, I'll just, again, some of the people that have dynamics are now CEO, CRS, they're starting their own companies that are backed by the top DCS of the world.

There's so many amazing stories. but at the same time, there is a tendency to just have so much information and things coming at you at any time to just feel overwhelmed and just focus on that one thing. So I think it's really important to resist that temptation. And I think if I were to go back in time and tell myself one thing, it's yes, you absolutely need to be.

Working hard all the time, but you need to be working smart too. And I mean that in two ways, one is, focusing on what's most important for the company at that given point in time and working, you have the biggest impact with the time that you have, because you only have so many hours in the day.

And then also thinking about [00:14:00] your current. I think a lot of people and I was one of these,early that's how I ended up in law school when I wasn't even sure I wanted to be a lawyer. It's just, I drifted there. A lot of people drift, don't drift is what I would tell myself, make sure that you have an idea where you want to go and that you're constantly working and building towards that, but doing it in a way that also has the maximum impact in a positive way on the company.

Evan: Yeah. I, for me personally, like I spent the first, probably decade of my career in this drift mode, I was just like, here's the next logical thing. And,in, in hindsight I probably, D grew probably a 10th as fast, Versus taking a more intentional approach, which I aspire to do today.

any advice to, maybe,people that are Mo earlier in their career, About how to, how to be intentional, And how to make a plan to execute against that, to make sure they're, make sure that they're I think, in the right environments where there's opportunity to get 10 years of career experience in a couple of years.

And you're like a role model for that opportunity in many ways, like any advice to people that, maybe early in the career that are thinking about how to be intentional, how to plan, how to [00:15:00] actually make sure they're getting that 

Dan: acceleration. Yeah. I think about building a career, like building a company.

I always, when I talked to our employees at data robot, I was presenting the company on Tuesday. one of the things that I always talk about is people plan an execution, PPE. That's really what it's all about. focusing first on our people, making it really clear to all the people that we have.

What is the plan? How are we going to measure our success against that plan? And then it comes down to execution, right? The same thing is true, with your life. It starts with you as a person who you are, what you're all about, your integrity, your work ethic, all of those things. You need to have a plan and then you need to execute against that plan and be honest with yourself about how you're doing against that plan.

Not in a way of beating yourself up, but in a way of making sure that you're on track and when you're not on track, you get back on track, right? So PPE works for companies works for your life. And so we actually focus a lot on the plan. and I focused on that. data robot, we have a program that we call dream big.

That's basically a life planning [00:16:00] program and it's encouraging people to take a couple of days. To figure out what do they wanted to with their life in their career. So it's not just work, what do you want to do with work, but also with your career, but also with your family life, with your health, with all these different things that are important to people.

And then, all right, how do we work backwards from, where do you want to be 10 or 20 years from now to the present and come up with a plan and then, have people that will, you know, that you're close with that can hold you accountable. In addition to yourself, holding yourself accountable, to build towards that plan.

So I think, if you get time, it's definitely worth it. Take a day, take a couple of days, make an actual plan and write it down. And then, come back and revisit that sometimes it'll change and that's okay. But just the exercise of, mentally saying, all right, where do I want to be 5, 10, 15 years out.

All right. What do I need to do, today, tomorrow three months from now to continue in that direction, it does make a huge difference in a avoids, what is natural for everybody, which is just a drift. 

Evan: [00:17:00] And that concept of kind of working backwards from the goal, right? That applies to personal development, professional development, to sales, product development, to company building where that's a powerful, that's a certainly powerful tool.

Dan: Yeah, absolutely. It translates to a lot of different things that are relevant to startups. 

Evan: So one question just this coming from the audience,as you. you started off working in the legal function right now today. A seal your bedroom responsible for every function in some ways.

And through, throughout that journey, As you were experimenting with kind of different roles, different kind of projects, there's probably some that you found yourself either succeeding and enjoying, Or maybe not succeeding, not enjoying it or not enjoying quite as much.

Evan: And at some point, you need to figure out how to compliment yourself. And build the right team. And so how do navigate that? How do you find the areas that are, where you're most effective, right. And how do you build a team around you to help you to compliment you in the right.

Dan: Yeah. I think, and we've talked about this and one thing I really admire about you is I think you have to have a certain amount of [00:18:00] humility to know what are your strengths and where do you have gaps? Cause everybody has gaps. And it's just the people that don't realize that those are the ones that are really in trouble because, th those gaps will rear their head.

And I certainly have gaps and what I try to do is identify those gaps. Also identify things that, I enjoy and that give me energy and things that I don't enjoy. And don't give me energy, which is essentially a gap because I don't want to do the same. I shouldn't be doing those things or as little of those things as possible.

And I find great people that I can build a team with, that, can do those things. And that's another huge lesson for my career. And I think if. At, what has really helped. in my current job, I've been able to find those people over the course of several years and, develop great relationships with them to the point where they want to continue to work together and build their own careers towards their dreams and take the life in the way that their life and the way that they want to.

And that's rewarding on so many levels. One is it makes you a better, [00:19:00] executive better at whatever job you're doing. It also makes the journey so much more meaningful when you're doing it with people that, do compliment you, that you can build relationships with for the long-term. And maybe it's not even one company, maybe you build multiple companies together.

and you get to know each other at a personal level with their, their, their families and you understand, what makes them tick. Like it really does make a huge difference. So I think it starts with humility and understand. where you, where the gaps are, whether it's your personal gap, in terms of, skills or, experience or it's something that SAPs energy.

Dan: And then, it's also just taking that step to hire people that fill those gaps, and then trying to build a relationship with them. So it'd be. A long-term thing. 

Evan: And one more question is on the kind of the people, people, subjects, I think, both app dynamics and likely data robot, an abnormal, Have some similarity, In terms of like just the growth rate of the business, Obviously both Dean and Roman have dynamics are much further ahead. We're where we are, but there's a similar dynamic where like, when you're doubling or tripling [00:20:00] revenue customers, team, every year, We're faster. it's hard to really increase, scalability right. Of yourself, right above the company. And so how did you manage that, right? or any advice to managers today they're thinking about how do they work, even individuals or how do they increase their impact?

How do you make sure you're constantly, increasing your leverage of your role 

Dan: in any kind of, that's a great question. And I, so I was talking to, a very close friend of mine. Who's a guy named Jeremy, Doug and Jeremy was our GM of a. At app dynamics. He now runs a different company.

That's venture backed called multiverse based out of the UK. And he's the president there. And we were just like, thinking back to our time at app dynamics and how like your job changes every year. And so you better be ready for that. You better be ready for, that next iteration, because as your company is going to continue to double, or more in size every year for the perceivable future.


Evan: that's true for every role rights on just for managers, right? Like every person right there's an opportunity to [00:21:00] doubling their impact, right? there's no reasonable. Any one at the company that can't be in a doubling, keeping their own personal growth rate, their impact growth rate, at least at pace and outpacing 

Dan: the company as well.

Yeah. And I think to your, to answer your question, I think a lot of that comes down to, again, resisting that urge to always just do that one thing that's in front of your face, or there's many things that are in front of your face because they're always flying at you in a startup, but instead to say, all right, what's coming six months, 12 months, 18 months down the road.

How can I make sure that I'm ahead of that curve? Whether it is, some skills that I don't have that I need to have, for example, if I'm going from an individual contributor and I think I'm going to become a manager, I better understand what it means to manage people. And if I don't, if not equipped for that, I should ask somebody at the company, whether it's my head of HR,anybody, Hey, who can I other managers?

How can I learn how to be a good manager. Can you help me so that I'm ready when that challenge comes right? Or if it is, Hey, I'm going to take on a broader role. Like for me at the [00:22:00] time I'm going to go from, at the time I remember thinking about all of the GNA functions. Okay. Now I'm taking on a lot of the go to market.

Dan: That's a big jump. I better actually spend time with my friends, in contacts that, do that and have done that for 20 years to understand how to do that really well. Otherwise it's going to be very hard. And it comes back to your point around planning backwards. So if you knew that, Hey, I want to get more involved in sales and marketing six months out.

Then if you don't know that, then you're not going to really be taking the time and energy to learn and find mentors right. To really equip you for that. 

Dan: That's right. Yeah. So I think it's planning. I also think building like a network both internally and externally is really important. So one thing that I did try to do it at dynamics even early on.

Find those people that I would be able to ask dumb questions to that, wouldn't judge me when I was asking him, you're my guy for asking 

Evan: dumb questions. 

Dan: You need those people, all your questions are all smart, but, and then also externally. So actually I worked with Ashima at Greylock and we had Lightspeed is another major [00:23:00] investor.

And I said, look, I think this company is going to the moon. and I think abnormal is truly going to the moon even more than Abdi did. Evan's probably sick of me asking if I can invest more because I think that this company is going to be just an, a huge success. So congratulations on picking a good one to all of you, but, I think that this company is going to scale to be a very large company and I want to scale with it and I want to take on more responsibility over time.

Can you connect me with others? And the beauty is with these, this community in. whether in Silicon valley or now it's really all over the world, there is the ability to make tons of connections really fast, and to, interact with people who are either doing what you're doing right now and dealing with all the same problems so that you can compare notes and not have to make every mistake yourself, which is nice.

Or you can find people who've been there before. And a lot of those people, I met a lot of those people. They want to give back. They want to help the next, people coming up, to be successful. And finding those folks I think is just really impressive. but it's, again, it's another thing.

It requires [00:24:00] planning. It requires being intentional. so I definitely encourage everybody to do that. 

Evan: And so just to just kinda double click there a little bit. if I am,this applies to me, but it probably applies to many other people in the company, If I'm selling I'm being intentional about my career, I'm thinking about where, what I want to be doing in six months, 12 months I'm working backwards.

I maybe identify right. Hey, here's some areas for me to develop my skills or maybe learn more. It sounds like your advice is, Hey, you need to find the right support systems. Mentors advisors are gonna help you, help you in that development. do you have, what's your framework for kind of picking mentors or advisors,how do you make sure you're building the right, support systems around you to keep you on that high growth trajectory?

Dan: Yeah, I think it's important to be careful about that because there's a lot of people who. Say they're advisors, but maybe they don't have the purest motives. So I treat choosing a mentor, hiring somebody. That's really like an, if I were to hire somebody who's, going to report to me or be another critical person at the company, I'm going to be really careful in terms of how I get to know that [00:25:00] person.

Not that you're gonna interview a potential mentor advisor, but you can definitely have some conversations before you go all in there. do some background, reference checks to understand like what makes this person tick? What's their motivation. And like, when I gave the example of David and I've got other great mentors as well, but David's certainly one of them,everybody I talked to said, this person is, the highest integrity, he's an incredible operator.

He's the type of person that you want to learn from. And that, that made a huge difference. And then there's been lots of other people in different areas. even as I've come into data robot, one thing I had no experience in was AI. I, we said we did AI adoptee, but it was more marketing.

We did a little bit, but not like we do a data robot. And so I had to pick that up very quickly. I had to find those people, those mentors, both inside and outside of the company that I could lean on and that I should lean on, who had both the experience, the knowledge, and then, really the integrity to be the right people [00:26:00] to choose for that.

And so I went through a little, mini process to figure that out. And now I feel good that, Hey, any question I have, even the stupid questions. I know who to go to, to ask. And, as a re as a result, I've learned a ton about something I didn't know very much about. In a short amount of time and I'm still learning a lot every single day.


Evan: let me shift gears a little bit. in the past, when,we've talked, you've talked a little bit about like your kind of operating philosophy, I think one of your piece of advice to me at some point was, both you have, and also everyone in the company is to have like a, an operational mindset.

And, in some ways,everyone needs to have this kind of CFO, COO mindset. and maybe I'm misremembering here, but like when you can maybe talk a little bit about how you think about operational leadership. and then my next question would be like in, how do you know, what were your advice to us as employees about how do we integrate that and develop that?

Evan: And how do we like up our game when it comes to just operational management 

Dan: discipline? Yeah. I think the key thing to remember at. Any company, but especially a startup given everything [00:27:00] that's going on is that you can't do everything. And so that means that you need to prioritize and you need to say what you're going to say no to, in addition to what you're going to say yes to, or maybe not now, too.

And then you need to, write that down, communicate it and do it in a transparent way to the whole company so that people can hold you accountable and that they can help you. And then you continue to measure progress as you go. And, one of the things that we did at AppDynamics that I have taken to data robot is this concept of, strategic initiatives.

This was actually one of the first things that I, did as COO was roll out these strategic initiatives. We created a framework around them, including dashboards for every strategic initiative where we would measure on a real-time basis. All right, what are the top five? Yeah, we would always force it to a handful.

I don't know why, but it seemed like a good number. And we're still doing that a data robot, five strategic initiatives in the entire company. we're going to prioritize those things about everything else we're going to say, not now to now, there's always things like run the business, you [00:28:00] got to close the books.

You've got to, do just certain things to run the business. But, what are the five things that we need to do differently is maybe a better way of set to, to win, to execute on our strategy and to beat the competition and to win. And then we're going to say, all right, what are our KPIs? One quarter, two quarters, three quarters, four quarters out, and we're going to communicate those.

And then we're going to actually hold ourselves and have others hold us accountable to those. And we're not going to hit all of them. And that's okay. Actually, if you hit all of them, that's a big problem because it means you're not stretching yourself and you're not accomplishing as much as you could, but you need to have a.

And you need to have focus and you need to prioritize, and then you need to execute against that plan. And so that's true in a company level, but it's equally true at a department level and at a team level and an individual level, everybody should have their OKR that ladder up to those top levels, strategic initiatives, I think.

Dan: And,the same thing again is true all the way down the line. So that's what I mean when I say everybody [00:29:00] should, treat it like a COO. The other thing that I think you know, is really important is having a 360 view of the business. I think there's a tendency in companies for people to work in their own silos, but not think about what everybody else is.

And I don't think that's very healthy thing. I don't think it's a healthy thing for you 

Evan: just mean for executives, right? You mean for every employee should have some awareness about what's going on outside of 

Dan: the, and every employee. and I always tell people like we need as many, 360 employees in the company as possible.

The reason is if you're not looking at, if you're in sales, but you don't understand what's happening in product and engineering, and you don't understand what people are dealing with in success, or you don't understand even, what folks are dealing with in HR legal or any of these other functions, you are missing a lot of context.

That's gonna make you better at your job, but it's also going to help you in your career. Because I think what the market has really said, and I've certainly seen this in my career is they don't want people with just a narrow [00:30:00] set of experience. certainly, especially when you get to a certain level, right?

You want to have as much exposure to different parts of company building, as you can possibly get. It's going to make you a better, individual contributor, a better manager, a better senior leader, and ultimately a better executive, when you get there, if that's what you want to do. And so I think, having that 360 mindset at all times is really important for the company.

And it's really important for you. 

Evan: And when I've talked to,other kind of, mentors of mine, or just other people that have worked in these kind of high growth enterprise software businesses, a lot of the feedback comes down to, at some level, once you hit kind of product market fit, a lot of it comes down just to operational discipline, operational management, whether it's project management or kind of planning.

And what would be your advice to, maybe I know we talked about this a second ago, but what would be your advice to individuals, Or, kind of individual teams, About how do they, how do they develop this like seal mindset and how do you know, what are some of the systems that they should be thinking about or the mindset they should be taken on to make sure that kind [00:31:00] of we're building out scalability and kind of good operational management, As the company grows so quickly. 

Dan: Yeah. I think it's a few things. So one is it actually, to me, starts with ownership. so any project that you're. Involved with you should own it. and you sh or if you don't own it, you should be really clear about who does own it. 

Evan: And can you define what ownership means to you?

Dan: To me is, I'm going to define upfront what does success look like? And I'm gonna, if I need to get buy-in from the executive team or from, others on my team, I'm gonna, I'm going to do that, but I'm going to ground that upfront. And it's my job to define that and to get everybody to agree to the extent that they need to agree on it.

And then I'm going to rally people to achieve success against those outcomes. and like I said, you're probably not going to hit, and you probably shouldn't hit five out of five on every single thing that you're working on. But whether it's five out of five or four out of five or [00:32:00] three out of five, I'm gonna hit as many of those as I possibly can.

I'm gonna give it everything. Yeah. I'm gonna rally everybody to that and make sure that everybody's clear about what we have to do and who's responsible for what, and I'm gonna hold people accountable to that. I'm gonna hold myself accountable to that. And then at the end of the day, if, and this is really important and it's actually not that common, if it's successful, it's, me thanking everybody who I was holding accountable to get to that point.

And if it's unsuccessful, it's me, it's on me. I own it. And to me, that's what being a leader is all about. That's what being a,a good project manager is all about. And,I'd say that. That's what I mean by ownership. The other thing is,you need to also have a plan.

you need to understand who are PPE. You need to understand who are the people who are working on this thing and make sure that you have the right team work. You're responsible for that. So you, if you don't have the right people go find the right people, whether they're internal or external, [00:33:00] to make sure that this thing successful, then you need to create, a plan and you need to write that plan down upfront, make sure that you're, being, ambitious enough in terms of what you want to accomplish and then hold yourself accountable to that.

Dan: And then you need to constantly be communicating, reinforcing that plan and driving everybody to execute against that plan and then measuring your progress as you go. And I think that's that framework, I've been very deeply involved with everything from, key things that we're trying to change in our platform to,things that were just radically changing about our go to market.

We're going through some of that stuff right now. and that framework applies to everything. At least in my experience, it really. 

Evan: and then we say everything like, does that, is that really everything company operations, Kind of company management, or does that apply in your, that apply to software engineering projects?

sales deals, marketing campaigns, like what do you mean by it applies to everything. I think it applies to, everything. I think it applies to scale. I think it applies to sales deals. Like you I'll tell you, we, [00:34:00] we just closed,the very large deal and same thing with that deal.

Dan: Like it starts with saying, okay, when do we want this deal to close? And when do I, when do we want this deal to close? And what is our plan to actually make it happen? And then it's okay, who's going to drive this together. And then it is like constant communication. we're talking every day and we're executing to that, especially if you're trying to do an accelerated.

Same thing applies with a product release. All right. What's going in the release. When's it going out? What's the launch plan, all of these things that you have to do, it just comes down to, figuring out who's going to do it. People owning that caudifying writing down, what is, again, what's going into the release, when's it happening?

All these things, and then holding themselves accountable. And I think one thing that I saw is app dynamics grew, and I've seen this also a data robot is that as the company gets better as [00:35:00] individual people at the company get better at doing that velocity increases and that's critical.

because we're all going after big market opportunities, we all want to create. A company that stands the test of the time and has a huge, positive impact on both the world on our customers, on our employees lives. But there's a lot of people who are out there trying to do that. There's a lot of competition.

Dan: So velocity is like the number one thing that I've seen, not just at app dynamics and data robot, but a lot of other companies that I've been involved in that separates the people who are able to have that success story from the people who, aren't. And so it does matter, but velocity does not mean again, whacking the thing that's right in front of your face.

It means executing on that framework over and over again, whether it's at an individual. A team level or at a company level 

Evan: two of our core values or philosophy and ownership it's going to be, I remember a really hard time convincing the, the team that this was not scripted. So definitely get creative.

I agree. let me kinda just go into one more topic and I'd love [00:36:00] to just turn it over. we'll do questions from the audience. And guys, we have the slides up and running and those a bunch of questions in there already. So I'm just going to go from the top and a couple of minutes.

but before we do that, Dan, I wanted to connect. turn it back to your, I want to talk a little bit about what your advice is, right? For, people that have normal today. And, if you're, I think one thing that's unique about this company, you talked about this is that just there's a lot of growth opportunity, right?

we're going to be doubling the number of people at the company every year, tripling the number of customers, some of what you set out the annex, there's no shortage of leadership opportunities, right? We are in a, we have a surplus of leadership opportunities. And it's very, it's a great opportunity for my people to step up and realize those.

Evan: And if you're, some of the company today, That maybe has, a smaller set of responsibilities and they're hearing your story, they're like, wow. Dan was able to go do all this stuff right here only have the experience, but he figured it out and he raised his hand and, he did a great job.

what would be your kind of advice to, the average employee today, that's really looking to really use that enormous opportunity to accelerate and fast track their career beyond what is the organic path or the inorganic career. 

Dan: Yeah, I would say [00:37:00] just first off, realize the situation that you're in and you are in a very, privileged, fortunate situation to be at abnormal at this point in time.

I, I really, think it's going to be a massive company. I've spent a lot of time with Evan, with others at the company, you have just an incredible leadership team. You've got a huge market. You've got amazing technology. You've got everything that you need to create. just a huge success story here, and then you need to decide, all right, what do I want my story to be as part of that story?

And what do I want to do? Not only here, but maybe after abnormal, right? Because today what you do today is going to set you up for what you want to do for the rest of your career and the rest of your life. And just taking that step back pausing for a minute and then saying, okay, I realize that I'm in this great situation.

Dan: So that's step one. A lot of people never have that opportunity. Congrats, but then it's what are you going to do with it? Come up with a plan that gets you towards that, objective and then constantly be working towards that. And it comes [00:38:00] down to a lot of times just raising your hand because as Evan was just saying, there's no shortage of things to do at abnormal right now, there are so many things that need to be done.

And if come to Evan or if you come to Sanjay or if you come to veto or if you come to any of the leadership team they're going to sell you. Yeah. We want, you to step up and take that idea. I don't wanna speak for you, but I'm pretty sure that's the case. and so I think, understand that you're a, in a very privileged situation, Be an opportunity to build a platform for yourself, for the rest of your career and in for your life.

And then see, say, all right, I'm going to be the one to put up my hand and say, I'm going to, I'm going to take ownership. I'm going to make this thing successful. I don't know what I'm doing, there's a history of so many people in tech that didn't know what they're doing, that figured it out.

And then, we're able to make these companies wildly successful. And for me, I might've been the least likely person. I am from a very small town in Northern California. I [00:39:00] somehow stumbled into law school,lost my best friend in law school and had a little bit of a wake-up call.

And I started out, negotiating the catering contract,on my first day. And there were even less glamorous things and I was doing that, but it really just comes down to those things, understanding what, the opportunity that you. Where you want to go and then, executing against a plan to get there and being willing to raise your hand, even when you don't know what.


Evan: great advice. And I wish, I had heard that, I think earlier in my career, I would have probably learned a lot more and I did have a bigger impact on the world. that's a great advice, Dan. let's yeah, I don't even have a follow-up question cause I just thought that was super clear.

It's really helpful. Let's maybe we're going to switch over to the Slido, which is our kind of, Q and a tool. So if you guys have, oh, they're awesome. They're already up on the screen right here. yeah, Dan wants to just go through the top questions here and we'll just, people can upload them.

So we'll just go with whatever's at the top. So if you guys see somebody like we'll do that. we got a little over 10 minutes left,give me, are you talking about this a little bit earlier, Dan, but can you talk a little bit about how do you [00:40:00] learn to delegate, right?

you came in really as an IC, right? At dynamics. You now run a thousand plus person team, right? I know you're not doing all the work yourself. You've got a great team around you. How do how do you effectively delegate. 

Dan: Yeah. I actually be, this is a key way that I measure myself, like how much time and also like how good of a company, how good of a team do we have?

How much time am I having to spend, in a certain area versus choosing to spend in a certain area. And,I think that, for me, it really comes down to first having a deep understanding of the area. Like I, I do try to first, force myself to own an area for a period of time, really go deep.

And then once I do that, I assess do I have the right, team, are people able to grow or do we need to, have other people come. and frankly, do two people want to take on, the types of challenges that are there. And, and then you do that and I'll give an example. I went very deep on finding.

in accounting after I [00:41:00] joined and, we're dealing, we were dealing with the whole transition from this is going to be a foreign to some people, but the, 6 0 5 to 6 0 6 accounting standards and all the things that are associated with that. And, I got into that enough that I knew all the issues, but I also realized that I was not the best person to be dealing with all of those issues, especially as we're thinking about becoming a public company.

Dan: So what I do, I found,the CFO of Tableau who just joined us Damon as our CFO and now, Damon is able to work with me as a partner. I can delegate a lot of those things to, to him. and a lot of times I do that, with not with bringing on a new leader, but also with, the people that we already have.

And so I think it's one, you have to be comfortable enough in a certain area to be able to delegate it and to know. if I can zoom down there for a minute, cause you should always be checking on things,is it going well? Is it off the rails? Is there something where I need to spend more time there?

but also, building a team that you can really trust and,be a little more hands-off at. And I think, [00:42:00] that takes time, I, I really spent the last couple of years, a data robot, building that, but I had a realization, last week I was actually on a, vacation, celebrating my 50th wedding anniversary with my wife.

Dan: And I realized like, Hey, I'm actually not in the business and it's fine. like the team's. Okay. And, I came back and, we're still moving right along and that's a really good feeling when you realize, Hey, I can delegate things. I want to be here. I need to be here contributing, but I've got the team that's going to be driving this.

Evan: Thanks. Dan, maybe. So the next question, We talked about drifting, In the context of, kinda just having a organic, developments right. Of,of your career. And being maybe not less intentional. And trying to accelerate it, there's some kind of similarities, With companies for a lot of companies have some organic growth rate. And I think that the markets that, have rumbles in the market that data robots and where there's opportunities to get out of the drift mode and think about how you inorganically accelerate the business.

And that's kind of part of all of our jobs here. Can you [00:43:00] maybe talk a little bit about, your experience, When you felt like you were drifting, how'd you get back on course. how did you identify that? And, maybe,are there some of those same strategies are using to apply to, driving inorganic growth that at data robot?

Dan: Yeah. I really believe in setting stretch. there's a, there is a school of thought and management, which is, you always want to set your goals low. So they're constantly overachieving. Like I've never ascribed to that. I think you said, your goal is pretty low. You're probably not gonna accomplish that much.

You need to set stretch goals. you need to set expectations that they are stretch goals. So they're not going to be easy, especially when you're thinking about managing your board and other things that you have to think about at a certain level, but like you need to set the stretch goals and that's true for you as a person.

And that's true for you as a company. And so like for me,when I think about how I got myself out of drifting, it was really around forcing myself to think bigger, set, bigger goals for myself in the direction that I wanted to take my life. And,had the [00:44:00] big shock in law school, but I've constantly reminded myself that I need.

To do that. And that's, been really important to me throughout my career. I think the same thing is true for, anybody, if you want to move your life in a certain direction, it's not going to happen just by doing the same things that you have been doing. It's going to be, because you set some ambitious goals and then figure it out again, figuring it out, figuring out how to make it happen.

Evan: Cool. the next question from Sharon here is, so when you left AptDynamics I know you took some time to, you think about what was next for you, And here's given the success, right? you probably had an infinite number of options to consider, Both roles, companies, industries,you decide to join a kind of a later stage of pre IPO company.

as a, as the president, ultimately CEO, you could have done other things where you could have started a company. You could have, you probably could have retired,what drove you, what drove you to do it? 

Dan: I've really, thought a lot about it.

I actually tried [00:45:00] on a few different things, so I, thought about going into VC. I thought about creating my own company, actually created a deck with some potential co-founders and got so far that, you guys about ready to kick that off. And, and then I really thought about what am I trying to accomplish here?

what do I want to do for the next five, 10 years and why? And for me, a big part of my like personal, why is,helping to build a platform for,creating a positive impact in the world with technology, but also. I'm really big on like individual people like helping people in their lives.

Dan: And, that was one of the most rewarding parts of app dynamics. And it was also partially reflecting on what happened at app dynamics was seeing all of those great stories of people being able to totally change their lives and do things that they never thought were going to be possible. I wanted to do that, but I wanted to do that and even a bigger way.

and, and then it was the technology [00:46:00] itself, being something that can impact individual people's lives in a way where they can be real change agents in the organization. And it can actually even be used to, change businesses, but also to, in many cases, save people's lives, which we did.

Dan: We were very involved with COVID pandemic response. Like I found that to be very, motivating. And so I did, I looked at all the different potential things I could do. I talked to hundreds of different VCs, hundreds of different companies. I narrowed it down to three. And then I had my set criteria that I was like evaluating each one of these options on.

And then I talked to people that I care about that I trust some of my mentors. and I got their advice. And then ultimately I made a decision and, you never know how things are going to turn out, but what you can, control his inputs and making sure that you have a process with some set criteria and understanding again, what's my plan.

What are my goals? Where do I want to go? All right. What's most likely to take me in that direction. And I decided that this was it. And then it sounds 

Evan: one of the [00:47:00] benefits of that decision, is it allows you to have an impact, like at a bigger scale, on a bigger stage. And you probably could have satisfied some of those, know, your desire to impact the world, impact people, At a smaller scale, but, data robot just due to the, the size and scale impact, there's a bigger opportunity for you to do that. 

Dan: Yeah. that, that was, that was definitely a big part of it was thinking,that I could do this. in a way that would impact more people because there'd be more people in the company.

And also because the company would have, a broader reach. And the other thing that I saw, as we continued to grow, we were able to do some really neat stuff. we, raised over a million bucks for charity, for JDRF, which is, for type one diabetes. This was when I was at app dynamics.

And, there's just a lot of positive things you can do as you can continue to build, really successful companies. and so I just, I think building startup companies is about the coolest thing that you can do in my opinion. choosing which company is really important.

and I chose, data robot, but I think abnormal is like an incredible spot to [00:48:00] be because you've got, again, everything you'd want from a, great set of investors. Huge market to just an awesome leadership team. and so it's going to create opportunities to do some, really impactful stuff, both, at that individual level and then a business in a society level, too 

Evan: idealist, let's do a one minute lightning round, for the last like question or two, and then, we'll just go to some final takeaways and then we will, we'll part ways until next time. yeah. yeah, quick lightning round feedback on how do you find mentors? 

Dan: Yeah. The main thing is to see people out, I would say, don't be afraid to reach out whether it's through LinkedIn cold emailing people, that happens to me and now, and I respond.

And also if you have other people in your network who might be able to connect you, so you can find now who's connected to, who on LinkedIn, seek out those connections. Another thing that I did is I went to our investors. I definitely would encourage folks to make as many of those connections as you can, because it'll serve you well throughout your career.

And then that'll lead to other connections, other potential mentors as well. [00:49:00] so I think, again, it not being afraid to raise your hand, not being afraid to reach out. that's really a lot of what. 

Evan: Oh, then I'm going to say the rest of the questions for next time, because I really enjoyed the conversation.

I'm going to try to convince you to come back and speak more in the future. my kind of just, closing thought from the conversation is that I'm just going back to your concepts around ownership, leadership, and initiative. We're at a time in the world, Due to technology, which of the things where individual people can have a huge impact.

But at the company on the world and on the world, I think that like abnormal particularly, we're not a company, a markets, a culture where individuals can have an impact, Without requiring expertise. If you think about even the founding of the company, When we started the company, We didn't know anything about cybersecurity. We literally never worked in it. And if you look at, our, the, the kind of founding engineering team, we built a product that is the best in the market. And I think that's kinda just a good reminder for me that I think for everyone here, right?

there's lots of ways of impact at the company, That you do not need expertise to do. think Dan you're just like, I think role model for that. So I find that really [00:50:00] inspiring, That,you can go and do something, without being an expert in that thing and you and I are not, professional public company CEOs, I'll leave with aspire to be someday. Yeah. That's not preventing, preventing you from, seizing that ambition and kind of learning and growing to make sure that you can go do that in a world-class way. So I, that was my takeaway. Then I found it, inspiring from the conversation.

any kind of parting thoughts for us before we say goodbye. 

Dan: No, just thanks again for having me. I would say again, just realize that the amazing situation that you're in and, Think about, do I want to be one of those people that raises my hand and takes more on it and leads, and is a special part of this great story that you're going to build together and I'd love to come back.

So anytime. 

Evan: Okay. We'll take you up for that. thanks so much for joining. Look forward to talking again soon. 

Dan: All right. Thanks a lot. 

Nimit: Thank you everyone. For, for joining our talk. and we'll see you next time.

Key takeaways

  • We all have one shot: be intentional and thoughtful. Stretch yourself by taking calculated risks. 
  • Raise your hand and equip yourself with stretch goals 
  • Prioritize and focus on strategic initiatives where you can have an impact
  • Have a 360 view of the business, learn and have awareness of about what is happening in other parts.
  • Plan backwards from the end goal.

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