Podcast - Interview with Vijay Tella, CEO, and Founder of Workato
Part of our special series of episodes that we're recording in partnership with the European PR Agency, Tyto, and their own Without Borders podcast, this interview is with Vijay Tella, CEO, and Founder of Workato.
Vijay Tella, CEO, and Founder of Workato joined Russell Goldsmith and Tyto’s founder, Brendon Craigie online from Palo Alto for the csuite podcast’s special series on leaders of unicorn companies, produced in partnership with Tyto.
Workato is the leading enterprise automation platform that helps organisations work faster and smarter without compromising security and governance. In January 2021, Workato announced a $110 million series D funding, which helped them reach a valuation of $1.7 billion.
Vijay explained that Workato is a platform to help customers connect or integrate across all different applications they have in their company, by automating workflows. He said there's a lot of fragmentation data across hundreds of apps, at Workato, they make them all work together cohesively.
Vijay said he’s been in the integration space for a long time, was a founder of TIBCO ,however, he said what they’re doing at Workato is more inspired by time he spent in the consumer space.
The initial team at Workato was the team he had worked with at TIBCO, a team that they put together there to build a product called Business Works that became the blueprint for how integrations worked, and it replaced all the stuff that he built earlier.
Vijay reconnected with that team after his consumer company was acquired by Skype and it's after reconnecting with Gautam Viswanathan, one of his co-founders and a couple of other colleagues, they connected the dots between what Vijay saw in the consumer space and what they saw needed to be done in the enterprise space.
Vijay said one of the things he saw when he was in the consumer space was the expectations of always being on and being perfect was even higher. He said the workflow problem is also an integration problem but it’s affecting all the Salesforce admins, operations people, HR apps, they need to tie them together.
Vijay explained that every digital worker in a company has a lot of different applications, they're working with a lot of context and fragmentation. He said almost nothing that they did before felt relevant, so it needed to be strong and highly performant secure, a platform the entire company can use. So, they put together a completely unique team, people from consumer and cloud native companies, integration and so on to rethink this problem bottom up.
Vijay said it was technically challenging and they had to solve some very hard problems architecturally in order for them to be able to bury the technical details. Making integrations that somebody created in Company A, usable in Company B is difficult because the apps are customised differently.
Vijay said there's a social problem of business and IT not trusting each other historically, businesses want to be empowered, but in a secure and scalable way and IT wants to be involved in making an impact on the business. Vijay said when they created this platform, there was a huge appreciation from both IT and business.
Vijay said since becoming a Unicorn, externally they have seen a big shift in how people look at the company. He said from a business standpoint the pandemic has really forced companies to rethink how they get work done.
He said there was always a desire to be transformative and modern, but Covid has forced everybody to move forward, simplify things and get their systems connected together. Vijay said they grew almost 60 percent globally during the pandemic and the whole set of workflows around people and HR had to be redone which has driven significant acceleration in their business.
Accelerating the Growth of Workato
Vijay said this problem of getting companies and industries to be able to get their data applications and people working together better is the biggest opportunity in enterprise software.
He said they’re a very small player, but they have amazing Fortune 500 type customers around the world meaning they have been able to build out a very solid product foundation globally. He said at this point, their focus is now increasing awareness and their ability to support the customers globally, they’re also opening up data centres in Europe, and later on this year in Asia Pacific.
Differentiating the Company in a Noisy Environment
Vijay explained that they’re still figuring out how to differentiate Workato. Historically, their business was almost all inbound, however, they’ve created a significant outbound organisation where they’ve identified industries and target customers in this industry, so there's deep awareness within the target segment and they are working more broadly on part leadership and getting their vision out there through other influencers.
He said the biggest part is their partners, almost a hundred to a few thousand of these ecosystem partners are making the transformation happen on the ground as being their key agents for getting the message out and being the force multiplier for Workato.
DSMN8 released a report looking into companies whose employees amplify their presence on social media the most in the computer software industry. Workato came top with over 53% of their employees sharing company content to LinkedIn in the previous 30 days of them releasing that data.
Vijay said he was really proud to see that but was not surprised with what their team does, they had an unbelievable year.
Building Company Culture
Vijay said even before the pandemic, starting the company culture was always the most important thing for them. Workato is his fourth start-up and the biggest take away from the earlier experiences is that you don't just remember all of the great business outcomes that you see, but you remember how you felt working with the people you worked with and building lifelong relationships.
Vijay said when they put the initial team together, he already knew these people were amazing individuals and the first 20/30 people that they brought on to the company really set the tone for when other people came on board. Vijay said it’s challenging to maintain and build upon a culture when you are growing fast and at Workato they have core operating principles in the company:
- Keeping the customers first
- Biasing the long term towards the long term
- Winning as a team
- Being transparent their system
Vijay said during the pandemic they had an advantage as they were always a deeply remote company and had a very strong orientation towards bringing the best people on board, wherever they are. Therefore, he said when the pandemic hit, it wasn’t hard to scale the interpersonal working relationships.
He’s begun to realise that being an external spokesperson is going to be a much more important part of his role than when they were building the company. Over the last couple of years, he has had to personally make a shift towards spending more time to get their message out and that is going to be even more of a focus going forward.
Biggest Communications Challenge
Vijay said that communication and being connected is the hardest challenge a company faces. He said there’s always this sense of people in remote areas don't feel as connected as those in the headquarters, from the beginning at Workato they tried to install a lot of things into their system to change this.
If he had to go back in time and speak to his old self, the guidance Vijay would give himself about communications is to think deliberately about the type of team that you are building initially. He said don't assume that people are on the same page as you, you’ve got to be explicit and over communicate.