Nick Mehta grew up around technology and business. His dad spent years as a tech executive in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, including a stint at the one-time computer giant, Digital Equipment Corporation.
“Just growing up around all that stuff, I absorbed it and loved technology and business and always wanted to do something like this,” Mehta says. He is currently the CEO of Gainsight, a customer success management software platform based in Redwood City, Calif.
Before becoming CEO of Gainsight, he started his own e-commerce company from his dorm room in the late 1990s selling golf clubs over the web. He calls it a very quintessential “dot-com” era endeavor, which means it was a lot of fun but not very profitable. After that experience, Mehta worked at Veritas, later Symantec, the big software security firm.
He worked his way up the chain at Veritas/Symantec, but still wanted to do his own thing and run a company again. He got introduced to a software-as-a-service company called LiveOffice, which he ran for about four years and then sold. The biggest challenge he took away from this stint was an inability to manage customers after they bought into the subscription business.
“There’s all this software to manage the sales and marketing process, like Salesforce. There’s all this technology to help you build products, but in subscription businesses, if you’re just building and selling but you’re not managing your existing customers, they’re not going to stay with you, they’re not going to grow with you.”
This is where Gainsight came into the picture. After selling LiveOffice and spending some time in venture capital, Mehta got introduced to the company right as it was getting started. He immediately recognized that this was the company he had wished he had in his last business.
That was five years ago when the platform was in beta and there were only a handful of people working there. Today, Gainsight has hundreds of big-named customers (including six of the ten biggest software companies in the world and half of all publicly-traded SaaS companies) and more than 500 employees.
Mehta says the company’s target market is “any business where their customers are getting more power.” SaaS companies use the software to track customer experiences and ensure they are hitting renewal rates for subscription products. Many large-scale enterprises use its cloud-based metrics platform, as a way to adjust to SaaS and the cloud. They also attract a lot of customers in automation/manufacturing and healthcare undergoing digital transformation.
While the company has seen a lot of growth, Mehta says they are essentially selling a new way of doing business to many clients. “That requires, for a lot of companies, an organizational change. They literally hire a new job called customer success manager, that’s a new role that’s in a lot of companies. That’s actually the third fastest-growing job, according to LinkedIn, right now,” Mehta says.
Not only is Mehta and co. selling software, but they are selling companies on the idea of hiring a customer success manager. This has led Gainsight to create an online course and a book about the job and what it means.
Retaining and recruiting talent
Like many other companies, especially those with a base in Silicon Valley, Gainsight is dealing with the premiere challenge of the day—recruiting and retaining talent in a competitive market during a boom economy. To buy a house in the Bay Area, someone needs “multiple tickets into the stock-option lottery,” says Mehta. This means even if someone likes working at Gainsight, they might not stay.
To counteract this, Mehta says the company has six offices at the globe and a favorable work-at-home policy. “One of the biggest things we’ve done is [recognizing] there’s great people everywhere, they’re not just in San Francisco. So we will hire people everywhere, people all over the world. We really appreciate sort of being that global company and we say we have no headquarters.”
Another strategy Gainsight has used to retain and recruit talent is its unique culture. There are five values, which Mehta says may be perceived as “touchy feely.” For example, one of the values is “have childlike joy” and ‘bring the kid in you to work every day.” People are very open in connecting with each other, not just professionally but on a personal level. And because many of the employees are remote, a lot of the culture is employed virtually.
“If you can believe it, every week for the last I guess 15 years I’ve been running big teams, I’ve written an email that’s very detailed to the entire company or team I’m running about what happened last week, what’s happening this week, what I learned, what’s happening in my personal life, photos.”
Tactical and strategic advice
Mehta has two pieces of advice for his fellow CEOs—one is tactical and the other is strategic.
On the strategic side: “Do things you actually care about.” For instance, Mehta says a lot of CEOs say they care about culture and put the company’s values on the wall, but they don’t actually do anything about it. He says transparency about what it’s like to work at your company—whether you care about culture or not—is vital.
“I really respect Bill Belichick,” says Mehta, a long time Steelers fan. “As much as it pains me to say, but nobody should be surprised working for the Patriots. You know you’re going to win all the time, you won’t get a lot of “attaboys,” but you’re going to win. You have to be authentic to who you are.”
On the tactical side: “Don’t forget about the supporting cast.” He notes that everyone might hire a good sales VP or engineering lead first, but not someone in HR or finance. “Some staff I hired too late and wish I had brought them in earlier.