S2 Episode 2: Speed, Security, and the Founding Story - Gautham Viswanathan of Workato

Episode 2 February 16, 2023 00:27:08
S2 Episode 2: Speed, Security, and the Founding Story - Gautham Viswanathan of Workato
Startup Growth Stories
S2 Episode 2: Speed, Security, and the Founding Story - Gautham Viswanathan of Workato

Feb 16 2023 | 00:27:08


Hosted By

Don Muir

Show Notes

About This Episode:

Today I’m joined by Gautham Viswanathan, Founder and CPO of Workato. With its industry-leading enterprise automation, Workato helps organizations work faster and smarter without compromising security and governance. As a serial entrepreneur, Gautham has founded and led multiple companies including Blink Interactive and iProfile.

In this episode, you’ll hear the founding story of Workato, how Gautham and his co-founders met and built ‘fusion teams’ that were pivotal to creating a community of over 500,000 shared automations with their product-let approach, and some advice for first-time founders thinking of building a new venture.

Startup Growth Stories is hosted by Don Muir, CEO and Co-Founder of Arc Technologies. In each weekly episode of this podcast, you'll hear from first-time, bootstrapped, and unicorn founders about how they secured their first customers, convinced their first employees to join, and grew their business. Founders and industry insiders share their greatest successes (and failures) and the things they learned along the way. In the final minutes of each episode, guests get vulnerable - they share very personal stories about the impact of their work on their well-being, their relationships, and their families.

In this episode, you’ll hear:

[1:19] Gautham describes himself 

[01:40] Biggest inspiration: filmmakers, sports figures, family, Workato colleagues

[02:43] Workato = “work automation”

[03:43] Founding story, where everyone met, TIBCO

[07:35] The founders knew this was an enormous TAM (Total Addressable Market)

[09:15] Workato’s approach to the market - fusion teams

[11:25] Community- 500K shared automations

[13:30] Customer feedback - magic, joyful, and game-changing

[14:55] Workato, a product-led approach

[16:40] Focusing on the end-to-end experience for Workato customers

[17:35] Advice to first-time founders in today’s economic climate - pick something that moves you, that can make an impact. Co-founders are great to have, not going it alone.

[19:45] Building a team - go with your gut

[21:18] Gautham’s pivotal moments in his career - joining Technicron/TIBCO even though it was not a well-known brand 

[22:40] Personal challenges - Family, exercise, and working from home all helped 

[25:20] Would you do it all again? In a heartbeat, even just for the people, it’s been really fun

About Workato:

As the leader in enterprise automation, Workato helps organizations work faster and smarter without compromising security and governance. Built for Business and IT users, Workato is trusted by over 11,000 of the world's top brands like Broadcom, Intuit, Box, Autodesk, and HubSpot. Headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., Workato is backed by Altimeter Capital, Battery Ventures, Insight Venture Partners, Tiger Global, and Redpoint Ventures. For more information, visit www.workato.com or connect with us on social media.


Gautham Viswanathan LinkedIn

Workato Website

Startup Growth Stories Website

Don Muir LinkedIn

Arc Technologies Website

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

Don: Good afternoon. I'm joined here with Gautham, CTO and co-founder of Workato, the leader in enterprise automation that helps organizations work faster and smarter without compromising security and governance. Workato is trusted by over 11,000 of the world's top brands, like Broadcom, Intuit, Box, and Autodesk. - For those who don't know, Gautham is a serial entrepreneur. He founded multiple companies, including Blink Interactive and iProfile. Thanks for coming on the podcast with me. Our team are huge fans of the Workato platform ecosystem and the movement that you've built. - Gautham: Happy to be here, Don. Thank you for having me. ➢ Don: It's great to have you. The pleasure is all mine. Let's dive right in. The first set of questions just to get to know you a little bit better, maybe in just a few adjectives, who is Gautham? - Gautham: I'm responsible for product and engineering at Workato, a long history in the integration and automation space. Outside of that, I'm a father, husband, and son. ➢ Don: Who is your biggest inspiration? - Gautham: A lot of folks that inspire me: [...] athletes, musicians, filmmakers, family members, and a lot of people at Workato inspire me. Generally, they're more than the individual. I get inspired by something that they have done. - Don: Could you give us an example of something that someone at Workato has done that's been inspiring to you? - Gautham: One of our co-founders, no matter what time—3:00, 4:00, 5:00, 6:00 AM, nine years into it—if they get a note from a customer, he will respond. It's to sustain that over this long period of time. It's just incredible. ➢ Don: That is inspiring to me as well. It definitely epitomizes founder ownership mentality, something we aspire towards at Arc. For those who are less familiar, could you just please explain what it is that Workato does. - Gautham: Workato stands for work automation. If you think about how companies get work done, there are generally business processes—processes that govern how you interact with your customers, your partners, even your own employee. So, for example, think about employee onboarding, code to cash. - The best companies have most of these processes automated, but most companies barely have 5%–10% of these automated, and the issue is that the best companies can afford the engineering talent to be able to actually custom code and build these amazing, automated processes. What Workato does is for the rest of us, it provides a low-code, no-code approach to automating these business processes. ➢ Don: How about the founding story behind Workato? Where did the idea actually come from? - Gautham: We have a long history in this space. I was a typical from the beginning to about $650 million in revenue. I spent 11 years there. Then we went on to do different things. Hareesh and I—Harish is one of our co-founders—were working for a company that sold a data product. - Every time we sold a product, customers would want that actually integrated with the rest of their applications. - We would always wonder why they have integration, why do they really need us to help do this. Then as we learned more, we realized that these are what we used to sell to marketing and sales. Marketing and sales, thanks to SaaS, were able to buy any application they wanted. But when it came time to put this application together, make it participate in a business process, they had to go to IT. IT is swamped with lots of different other problems. It never really got done which is why they're asking us to do it. - As we dug into this more, it made sense that while there are lots of established players, most of them focus their products on a very technical skill set. Of course, our product is now equally actually even more used in IT as well. ➢ Don: Where exactly did your co-founders meet? It sounds like there was some prior work together. Can you just tell our listeners the story of where everyone came together, got to know each other, and decided to ultimately found this business together? - Gautham: We all work together at a company called TIBCO, so we were there for many years. Vijay was our CEO, Harish heads up our engineering, and Dimitris is our Chief Architect. We've known each other now for maybe 25 years, but we used to work together at TIBCO between 8 to 10 years. So we've known each other a long time. - Don: And just one one day, you decided you're going to take the leap. Was there a particular ‘aha’ moment, when you realized, we need to do this, we're onto something, we're going to build this business. - Gautham: I think for me, as I started talking to some of the folks that I knew, especially the folks that would become co-founders, their feedback was a big part of it. Now you look at it and like, okay, did we have sufficient market validation? Not at that time, but I think we bet on the security or trend, that SaaS would continue to dominate. - As long as SaaS is dominated, this problem will get bigger and bigger and bigger. To solve it at that scale, you had to rethink how you were going to solve it. So I think if we were operating it at that level, but the folks are really in terms of if we're going to build it, this would be the folks that you would want to bet on to build something like that. ➢ Don: Absolutely. It sounds like that bet played off around SaaS exploding over the last couple of decades. Fast forward to today, Workato has collectively raised over half a billion dollars in equity financing. You've brought on nearly a thousand teammates, and you've helped over 10,000 businesses around the world integrate their stack to automate their work. - What you've accomplished is nothing short of incredible. I'm curious, did you expect to reach these heights at that time? Was this level or degree of success ever part of the master plan when you were putting the founding team together? ➢ Gautham: If you think about the TAM, for what we do, it's a really monster TAM. People would say 50 billion, 100 billion, 200 billion. Not just now, Don. Even if you go back into the 90s when we were doing TIBCO, people would basically say that this is one of the largest TAMs. - No one really got to pick a big chunk of the TAM. A billion and then they would get acquired, all the growth will slow down. We knew that it had a massive TAM. We also knew that if we built what we wanted to build, we'd have a real shot at going at the TAM. For us, that was essentially the ability to democratize this. That was key. If you democratize it, you get more builders. If you get more builders, you get a shot at the TAM. - To answer your question, I don't think we were really thinking about it that much, but we really tuned into the TAM, that we definitely knew that there's a massive TAM here. ➢ Don: Let's double-click on the market environment when you start building Workato. You're going up against other startups who have already built traction and a fairly significant war chest. Most of those startups had built their product on a particular product or vendor and you guys took a different approach, is my understanding. Can you talk about the approach that you took? How was it different from what was existing in the market at that time? - Gautham: At that time, there were really two schools or two approaches. One was providing sophisticated, powerful tools for a very technical skill set. They are innovating along that track. The other, more of a newer set, were focused on simplifying, making it easy, consumerizing it and targeting the business builders. - We felt that the right approach would be to have one platform that could be used by both. Oftentimes, what happens is they think business builders, because they have less technical skill set, have simpler problems. It's usually because they have a lesser technical skill set and we have a complex product, they stay away from it. It's not that the problem itself is simpler. - That was our big thesis—they have complex problems. You don't want to provide a simplified product that can address the use case. That was a bet that, actually interestingly, I think is one of those only on double clicking you see that dynamic has played out really well. - Now companies routinely talk about fusion teams, and fusion teams are where you have technical experts and business process experts work together to solve the problem, because otherwise, the business person is explaining it to that technical person and they do something, and then every time you want to change, you go back to the technical person. With fusion teams, they worked together on the same platform. ➢ Don: Really interesting. In addition to that, from what I understand, the community was always part of Workato from day one. Can you just explain what that means exactly? - Gautham: That’s really very important to us. If you think about all the social media and so on, there's sharing and is really taken for granted. In our space, I talked about how there are all these business processes. There are thousands of business processes that power a company. For the most part, they're very similar. But there is no easy way. - If I built an employee onboarding automation, for me to share that so that someone else can come in, copy it, make changes, and use it, because the way these platforms work, data and logic is fused together. But the shape of data changes across for the same application. It can change across different customers. - We came up with this way to deal with that, and we actually have a patent on that. That became the foundation for our community, which now has over 500,000 automations that are shared. So you can go search for something and if you like it, you can copy and start using it. That's one way to think about it. - The other is no matter how easy we make the platform, it's a lot easier to just copy an existing solution and go from there. That was the other dynamic that we wanted to support. ➢ Don: Great. Thanks for sharing that. Going into this podcast, we did a bunch of research around customer feedback in the market. What we found is customers refer to Workato as magic, joyful, and game-changing. I can only imagine how good it feels to get that degree of positive customer feedback. - It doesn't come as a surprise to you, I'm sure, but I'm curious if that's always been the customer feedback since day one, and how you interact with customers to continue to build and evolve the product over time or throughout the history of the company? ➢ Gautham: There is product and there's the set of folks that are between product and the customer. We have just an amazing, one of our early folks. We've known him for many years. He's our resident Yoda. He basically embodies this customer centricity. I want to call it that because of this product and all the stuff that our amazing CS team does, but it's always great to hear feedback. - I especially love the ones that are more around the user experience end of it, like the category of products that we are in. Someone calling that joyful is really joyful to hear. It's not that common. Also more recently, somebody said that there was this survey of what are the two tools you would have if you get stranded on a deserted island, and Workato was one of them. I think it's always great. We never take it for granted, but it's amazing when we get feedback. - Don: That's great. In a similar vein or just on the same topic, in the last 12–24 months, the term product-led growth has become pretty mainstream. We actually just interviewed the CEO and founder of Pocus, who has built a B2B SaaS platform around driving PLG, furthering PLG at businesses like yours. It seems like Workato has always been product-led. Is that a fair assessment in your mind? - Gautham: Yes. We started the company with a PLG focus. We actually very explicitly set out to focus on high-growth SMBs. As you know, SMBs are notorious with user experience requirements. If they do not like that, they'll move on, so you get one shot. - Don: Very familiar with that, yup. - Gautham: So we started there, it was a PLG motion. Then as we got to larger and larger companies, we started focusing on SLG for the larger land. When I say larger lands, I don't mean landing in larger companies. Then we combine that with PLG for the expansion motion. Workato is one of the products that you could actually use throughout the company. When we land, they're not only trying to let usage expansion, but they're also expanding builders in other departments and bringing them on board. That's how we combine PLG and SLG. ➢ Don: Great. That's super interesting. Just tactically speaking, how do you go about doing that across the organization? How do you actually bring those different functions and teams together and understand that they're deriving similar value from the product? - Gautham: We think about the end-to-end experience for a customer, and that is a larger business process around it. Depending on the size of the company, we have different sales motions that apply to them. If it's a larger company, it goes through more of a SLG motion. After a customer is onboarded, all the PLG motions kick in. It's integrated into the business process for how each size of company’s handled. - Don: In the next segment of the podcast, we'd like to share a little bit of advice back to our audience. For context in Startup Growth Stories, the vast majority of our listeners are the founders and operators of early stage, high-growth, both venture-backed and bootstrapped businesses. - I’m curious, based on your experience with building Workato and in prior entrepreneurial endeavors, is there any advice that you would give to first time founders, perhaps, particularly in this time of macroeconomic uncertainty, when the future of financing is less secure than it has been in prior periods of time in prior years? - Gautham: I think those are cycles, they come and go. But from a learning advice standpoint, I would say pick a problem that you're really passionate about. Pick something that really moves you, something whose desired impact can be really meaningful, and something that you care about. I think that is really important. You have to really connect with the problem. Having co-founders has really been hugely important, I would say. It's hard to just go at it by yourself. - The other thing is really we all say this. I think we all know the importance of it, but having incredible talent in the company that's also aligned with the values and so on. Everybody talks about it, but it is really, really, really important. When you're starting it's a small thing, but really, when the bulk of the work continues to happen with all these amazing people that come in, they're doing the bulk of the work. So it's really important to get that right. ➢ Don: I have so many follow-up questions there. Maybe I'll ask a couple if you don't mind. Can you hire for values? How do you actually assess that attribute? Is it something that can be trained or built into the culture of the company? It sounds like it's critical because it's integral to the success of the business. How do you actually vet that prior to bringing on your first cohort of employees? - Gautham: It's a hard one. For example, in product, I still interview every single person. I'm not talking about technical stuff. They all know more than me, so I'm really trying to understand. And I openly talk about how things are at Workato, how it could be challenging. Is this the right challenge that the person is looking for? And how we work. We've said no to some incredible open source contributors from an incredible talent perspective, because we just felt that the fit wasn't there. I wish I could tell you, here are the five questions to ask, but… ➢ Don: I guess after a certain amount of time, you got to go with your gut. When you meet with enough applicants, you can figure out who's the right fit for the company, and you have to go with your instinct. That resonates for me as well. - Maybe looking back on your journey, can you share a pivotal moment in your life, whether it's at Workato or prior, that really changed the trajectory of your personal entrepreneurial career? Gautham: I think it goes all the way back. I joined a really unknown company called Technicron. - Technicron became TIBCO. Then I had this off from Technicron, I had other offers. I had IBM Research, Bell Labs. You may not even know it's from the 90s. Folks that are around me, their advice was to take the well-known brands. - Technicron, I think they had like 16 people interview me. In the process of it, I just got really excited about that company. They were not even the ones that were paying me the most, but I took it anyway. That's where I got into middleware, integration, automation. That's where I met so many of the folks that are here helping us build Workato. ➢ Don: In addition to that, based on all of the guests we've now hosted on Startup Growth Stories, and my own experience, candidly, in this turmoil macro environment that we're all enjoying, what I've learned, when others have shared that building is going to be really tough. Building a company comes with ups and downs. I'm curious if you're willing to share maybe one of the challenges you've experienced? Or if there's anything that's really challenged you personally along this journey? - Gautham: Building without question is challenging. Lots of ups and downs. Just the sheer time commitment is quite a bit. But at the same time, people work as hard as we do. I would say, in many cases, a lot less. While it's very hard, I will say that we are really privileged, and I'm grateful to have the opportunities that we do. - Yes, I think it is tough. But at the same time, if you look at it from the other side, step back, and look at the amazing opportunities we have, it’s [...] my current answer, but… ➢ Don: No. Look, that is an answer in its own right. The follow-up question here was around, during those troughs, how do you keep your mental and physical health in check? And retaining that perspective is an answer in its own right. I'm curious if anything else you'd add to that just when there are these down cycles, how you keep pushing through and keep yourself motivated, both physically and mentally. - Gautham: My wife and kids are a big part of it, especially the pandemic has so many terrible, terrible things. It also gave me the opportunity to work from home. That really helped me spend more time. Even if we are all working more, it's just easy to walk to another room and spend a few minutes, so that helped. For all of us, having some level of exercise is so important. I find that it works. That helps me quite a bit. - Don: Definitely. The last question here that we ask to all of our guests, if you go back to your prior seats, you have the opportunity to start Workato, found Workato, knowing everything now, would you do it all again? Is there anything that you would do differently? Are there any regrets you have over the last two decades? - Gautham: No. I think I would do Workato again in a heartbeat. If not for anything, just for the people. There are so many folks that are in the company, both that I've known from before and that have joined us. Not only do I enjoy working with them, these are folks that I would go out and have a drink with. I don't go out much to have a drink, but with these folks, I would. It's been a while, but it's actually been really fun. We're building something that we are seeing making an impact. It's still early days, but it's very exciting to get validation. That gives you the energy to continue on. - Don: Awesome. Well, we'll end it there. It's a great note to end on. Gautham, it was a pleasure having you on Startup Growth Stories. Thank you so much for your time, and I'm excited to share your story with the world. Thanks. - Gautham: Thanks, Don. I really enjoyed talking to you.

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