Podcast – Interview with Robert Wahbe, Co-founder and CEO of Highspot
Part of our special series of episodes of the c-suite podcast that we’re recording in partnership with the European PR Agency Tyto and their own Without Borders podcast, this interview is with Robert Wahbe, Co-founder and CEO of Highspot.
Host Russell Goldsmith and co-host, Tyto’s Senior Partner, Holly Justice were joined online from Seattle by Robert Wahbe, Co-founder and CEO of sales enablement platform Highspot. Founded in 2012, Highspot has raised a total funding of $648 million, with a valuation of $3.5bn.
Background and Entrepreneurial Journey
The sales enablement space is the oldest new category out there. With technology advancements, there are always new ways to approach problems and really drive initiatives.
Robert is now a unicorn leader; however, he started his entrepreneurial journey back when he was at university. Like many in his classes, he created a start-up business which was acquired very early on in his journey by Microsoft and he ended up working there for 16 years.
Starting a business has its ups and downs and for Robert, his proudest moments are seen through the effort the team has made to scale the business and really make an impact. A way of seeing this in practice is the ‘Airplane test’.
The explanation of this test is when sitting next to a random person on a plane, his desire is for that person to have heard of Highspot, used Highspot or they’re an executive that has sponsored Highspot.
Culture is a massive player when it comes to proud moments. He loves seeing the growth of the employees who start out from being an intern and become a leader in the company over the years.
The money that Highspot has raised will be invested across the board within the organisation. They want to help the category to be understood as both a must-have strategy and a strategic category.
Robert has been inspired by many people throughout his lifetime, he mentions Satya Nadella CEO of Microsoft, as well as Eric Rudder, Chairman of a start-up in Seattle, called Pulumi. He also added Bob Muglia, former CEO of Snowflake, to his list, who was his boss for many years.
He likes to hear how other leaders’ processes differ from his own and he isn’t small-minded, he is open to many approaches as he doesn’t believe in sticking to just one methodology.
Through working at Microsoft, Robert has learned not to micromanage and instead, he tries to understand the details. To him, great leaders are able to fly at all altitudes as needed.
If the business is doing great, fly at a strategic level. If a business isn’t doing great in certain dimensions, keep going down more levels of details to help support improvement and recovery.
The management team at Highspot are not about inspection to drive certain behaviour but instead they inspect to have a common understanding of where and how they can support the team through clear goals and setting clear roles and responsibilities.
Perception after Becoming a Unicorn
Whether your company valuation is $1bn, $5bn or $10bn, it's all a journey. There's no magic switch. Robert thinks it’s amazing that some of the most conservative companies in the most regulated conservative industries, whether it's pharma, financial services, or medical devices, are not only willing, but they also actually prefer in many cases, to use cloud services as part of their core business.
Differentiation is an important factor to gain customers, increase brand recognition and retain customers after you have secured them. For Highspot one of the ways they try to stand out is from a communication and marketing perspective and a product point of view with the service they offer.
In terms of market leadership and breaking through the noise, Robert thinks that one of the things that they are really focused on is the notion of how should one approach enablement generally. Adoption is everything.
If you don't have a well-adopted product, then it doesn’t matter what analytics you have, what insights you have, what plays you develop, what training you develop. Nothing matters if nothing is being adopted.
Culture is everything. If you have the wrong culture, it's hard to be successful. They have three things that they think about that they really focus on.
- Create products that customers love.
- Provide the best customer experience at every turn
- Inspire and empower people to do their best work
Robert said that to have a great culture, it is imperative that you feel good 100% with the right values.
Internal and External Communications
Highspot are philosophically transparent. As issues arise, they send emails out and use Slack as their internal communication mechanism. And of course, they use their own tool in Highspot! When they log into Highspot, they have a completely clear and easy way to customize that home page to the set of events that are relevant
Externally, they engage their customers and prospective customers, at user conferences, webinars, and various events, and lots of people on the executive team are doing that all of the time. Robert said that even conversations like this podcast are fun and natural!
Advice to Younger Self
Robert said that you really do have to meet people where they are and take them on that journey to where you're trying to help them understand. You need a vision. You need a “North Star” that you're trying to communicate.
What a lot of unicorn companies and other companies that are listening are clear on, is their vision. The hard part is to figure out for each of the different people he’s trying to talk to how does he get them to understand the vision and believe in it.