Gigster CEO On Why Digital Transformation Requires A Startup Mentality

Chris Keene, CEO of Gigster
Chris Keene, CEO of Gigster

Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen penned a famous essay called “Software is Eating the World” and it was that phrase that led Chris Keene to his current role as CEO of Gigster.

Andreessen and Keene knew each other quite well and the latter told the former that while he was known for saying software is eating the world, it didn’t mean those not in software were helpless against the digital revolution. That’s where digital transformation comes into play—the idea that every business needs to become excellent at digital in today’s world. But while some companies figure to go at digital transformation alone, others area outsourcing the operation.

“[Andreessen told me], ‘Chris I’ve made an investment in one company that helps enterprises with digital transformation and that’s Gigster. I think you’d be a great CEO for it.’” Keene had familiarity with system integration industry and thought the company had a lot of potential. It could help traditional enterprises transform digitally, create applications that mattered to their customers and most importantly, do it at a startup speed.

In January, Keene replaced founder and CEO Roger Dickey as the top man at Gigster. Chief Executive talked with him about why digital transformation is a startup game, the challenges the company faces in convincing CEOs digital transformation is a journey, his goals for the first 12 months and more. Below are excerpts from this conversation.

How do you convince CEOs that digital dinosaurs, as you call them, that digital transformation is strictly a young man’s game?

That’s a great question. I think the simple answer is companies have been trying to do this for a while and pretty much everybody’s had some successes, but also some failures. What we’ve seen in talking to our customers, is there’s a lot of frustration in the marketplace around how do I actually build an application that matters? A lot of what companies end up doing when they move to the cloud or when they rebuild their user interface is really modernization, not transformation. If you can sit down and draft out the requirements for an 18-month project…there’s no way that’s transformation.

If you know where you’re going then all you can be doing is going along a path that you already know. Transformation is when you take an iterative approach that opens you up to the possibility that you don’t know where you’re going. If you’re not going to market very frequently and testing your ideas about how to get to customers with actual customers, then there is no way that you’re going to add up with transformation. So it’s not really so much a young man game. It’s really a startup game. It’s using the tech tools and techniques from the startup world, whether that’s agile or lean startup processes.

Those are well understood tools that help any size company act more like a startup. And the key to all of them is a combination of iteration and gaining insights from the intended users. So what you really have to do is create a cadence of building what’s called a minimum viable product. This is the simplest thing that you can build to demonstrate your idea to an intended user and then actually go test it against that user, which of course is what any startup does. It’s not typically what big companies do and it’s almost never what integrators do.

Would you say are the big challenges that Gigster is facing on a day-to-day basis?

The challenge we see is convincing companies that digital transformation is a journey and not a destination. And what that means is companies are used to allocating a bucket of money to go fix a problem. Like, I need a new thing and I just get a bunch of money and I go do that thing. And that works for many different aspects of the business.

But in transformation, you need to have the notion that you’re going to be at this for multiple years. You’re going to be investing multiple millions of dollars. And it’s not just about the technology that you’re developing, but also bringing that technology to market, the change management and the strategic process of understanding how to get close to your customers and how to manage the change that’s required in your company. The idea that you’re going to do one technology project and transform your business is one myth of digital transformation.

What are some of your goals for your first 12 months on the job?

The first and most important goal is that we have several companies that have entrusted their digital transformation process to us. So the first and most important thing is to bring those companies to market with their digital transformation and have those successes be acknowledged in the marketplace. That’s the most important aspect for us is to have name brand customers who have achieved a real transformation by working with Gigster. We’ll be announcing those over the course of the year.

We have a business impact database that we’d like to start talking about this year. Because we’re working with distributed teams, every single touchpoint is digital for us. And we have metrics around all of those touchpoints, and we have three years’ worth of data, literally thousands of deliverables for Fortune 500 customers. So we can say with certainty [to customers] here’s the productivity that you’re getting right now and here are the things that you can do to get better productivity. We have very strong metrics about what good looks like and what better looks like. We’ve created metrics that help identify the type of project. Is this customer facing? Is this employee facing? What kinds of business impact metrics should you be collecting to understand the value of this project to the business. This allows us to be highly prescriptive with companies and say, ‘For this kind of project, at this stage in your development, here are the metrics you should be collecting.’

We find that’s something that we can bring to the party that’s very unique. We can actually use a pretty powerful database to tell enterprises the impact of the projects that they’re building on the business and how to make that impact stronger.

Read more: Three M&A Alternatives For Accelerating Your Digital Transformation