Podcast – Interview with Doug Winter, CEO and Co-Founder of Seismic
Part of our special series of episodes of the csuite podcast that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR Agency Tyto and their own Without Borders podcast, this interview is with Doug Winter, CEO and Co-founder of Seismic.
Doug Winter, CEO and Co-founder of Seismic founded the company in 2010, having raised $440 million, and it is now valued at $3 billion.
Seismic is a leader in sales enablement, helping sellers improve using technology, whether that be using training, in the form of machine learning and coaching. They assist in the creation of playbooks that help the seller determine what is critical to do next, as well as content, which Doug said is important in engaging buyers.
With buying processes evolving, using research online like crowdsourcing sites to understand a consumer, the seller has to react with personalised content.
An example of this Doug explains is where a company in the automotive industry asked for solutions and were given entertainment examples and were rightly like, ‘This isn’t relevant to me’.
There are many industry players Seismic works in, large technology companies like Microsoft, Google and IBM just to name a few. Finance services, manufacturing and life sciences all find a need for Seismic and use them within their operations.
With the pandemic disrupting global working trends, Doug explained the new trend of digitalisation, digital selling and working remote has seen a huge acceleration for them. An evolution has started of everything becoming electronic and shorter time scales are now the norm.
From working in a basement to founding a multi-million-dollar company, Doug explained they knew there was a pain point in this area which they had to explore.
But it was a lot harder work than you would think. It has been a journey with many ups and downs along the way. The example which Doug gives is Covid, although settled now there is always something new to disturb the business.
As of now, major wars in Eastern Europe pose a threat of inflation going through the roof along with labour challenges that the great resignation is resulting in.
Milestones are exciting especially when you aim for a target and you a achieve it. It is just one milestone after the next which feels great, he said.
He added that: “On Friday you are one thing and on Monday you are something else and it doesn't really matter. You still have to keep moving forward and setting that next target and going after that next target is really what matters.”
Becoming a unicorn is a huge honour, Doug said, and especially the notion of finding the right investors at the right time, in particular, T.Rowe Price.
He said: “I think that's the fun part, is figuring out what the next mountain is you're going to climb and setting targets.”
International growth is something which is easier to learn throughout the years, this is due to the multiple ways to do it. A main learning point - commit to significant investment in a region, if you can’t do that then don’t.
When referring to this type of investment he means being able to transplant the company culture by sending key people in specific roles to resurface the culture, as well as the history, both of which are hard to do without an initial seed or person to do so.
Growth and investment are important for any unicorn company. Doug says they’re currently generating a lot of capital, the primary source being from their customers.
As they grow, they look out for product, person or geographic areas that would work with acquisition. Avoiding raising capital if the time is right. With opportunity to grow at a 40% or more pace there are lots of companies that have yet to make big investments in sales enablement.
Aiming to achieve around $500 million mark in regards to revenue, accelerating growth and retention are areas which need to be prioritised.
Doug has a personality which isn’t fond of being publicly shown and visible. Being high profile has never been exciting for the team and this has been reflected upon branding.
When it comes to communications Doug said: “Going to continue to see our name out there and a little bit more than we have in the past. I'd be lying if I said some of it doesn't make me a little bit uncomfortable.”
The culture at Seismic has always been something Doug is proud of. People like each other and they’re excited about what they’re doing – something which can’t be true for all companies! As a start-up they’ve spent a lot of time together and the culture naturally develops from there.
The company is rolling out an initiative internally called culture labs, where each office comes together for a few sessions of an hour or so, to discuss the mission, vision, values and what they mean to them. Doug believes this will bring the company together.
Whilst Covid was challenging, there were some beneficial consequences for Seismic including it forcing them to formalise their internal communication strategies and how those were implemented for employees.
One of the communication techniques they have applied is the creation of a town hall concept, where every quarter Doug sits down with everyone in smaller groups, often organised by geographical locations, and has a Q&A.
A challenge Doug has faced is being agile. Looking back on his job 10 years ago he says: “I was taking out the trash and doing our finances on QuickBooks and doing demos for customers. Now I've got so many people at the company that are 100 times better than me at all of those things, except maybe taking out the trash!”.
Reflecting upon this, a piece of advice Doug would tell himself is that everything will be okay and not to be afraid to take a jump and go for it!