From our first round of funding in 2009 to reaching 5,340 employees worldwide this year, we've come a long way in creating a company that enables organizations to embrace the power of the cloud. While 10 years is a major milestone for us, I like to say that 10 years is the new zero"-- it represents a chance to reset the clock, open the team to new pathways, set fresh goals and acknowledge that building a company is a long journey.

Over these 10 years, I've lived through many highs and lows and learned lessons from building our fledgling idea into $1.5 billion in annual billings in our latest fiscal year. For other entrepreneurs dreaming of reaching 10 years, here are my top takeaways.

Build stuff that people like.

An Economist article from April 2015 noted that this was Satya Nadella's strategy for moving Microsoft forward when he first started as CEO. This was a major contrast from Microsoft's prior viewpoint that shaking the status quo would weaken the power of its flagship operating system.

After implementing this new mantra, it soon became clear that companies thrive when they innovate to meet changing workforce needs and succeed when they build flexible apps that people like, that run everywhere and that produce network effects that fuel a virtuous cycle of innovation.

Always ask "why."

This question is often overlooked, but I've found if you ask yourself over and over to define your end-game, you'll emerge with a clear path forward and be better for it in the long run. This goes for both leaders of established startups as well as entrepreneurs just getting their feet on the ground after school. You can't justify an answer of "because we've done it this way forever"-- so the question forces you to learn the best way to solve problems.

Maintain a bias for action.

If you always think big but never act on it, you'll never get anywhere. Velocity is essential for survival. This often means starting small and believing in a "marathon of sprints," or that each step forward is in service of the big picture and helping you hit bigger milestones.

Let go of "left brain, right brain" stigma.

Engineers work in silos, and marketing and sales teams don't need to communicate with technical teams to succeed, right? Not quite. At a startup, both the "left brain" teams (engineering, IT) and "right-brain" teams (sales, marketing) need to stay in constant communication to ensure their work aligns with an overarching common goal. This will simplify collaboration and ensure every team member stays on the same page. 

Get comfortable walking a tightrope.

Today, software is the fastest-growing category of business investment, meaning SaaS leaders especially have to constantly compete with new players in the space. This creates discomfort and enables the greatest paradox of leadership: that leaders have to get comfortable with feeling constantly uncomfortable. Every day is a walk along a tightrope hanging high in the sky. Embrace the discomfort to confidently face the competition and build a company that rises above the noise.

Compete against yourself.

The last decade has shown time and time again that our team has remained comfortable disrupting ourselves if that meant addressing more of our customers' needs and growing our total addressable market in the long term. Staying in this state of competing against yourself allows organizations to stay subservient to the customer and the market forces at large. 

Embrace empathy from day one.

Success is dependent on a team commitment to customers from  day one. Think of your customer and product support team as a "profit center" rather than a cost center, and put resources into a support team that matches the complexity of your product.

As we delivered software through various platforms, for example, we embraced choice and had to compensate for that with knowledgeable new hires and robust processes. And it paid off: our net promoter score became, and remains, one of our biggest differentiators. 

Create a culture, not a cult.

It's critical to establish an internal culture that aligns with core company values. At the same time, hire enough outside perspectives to enable diverse thought and bring in new voices that challenge the norm.

Also, make it a top priority to teach your team the value of having the confidence to disagree, and to empower them to actually do so. A backbone is about a commitment to brutal intellectual honesty, sharing a unique perspective and parting ways with passive-aggressive disagreements that don't move the needle.

Complexity is the silent killer of growth.

Growth inevitably creates complexity, and complexity is the silent killer of growth. Complexity can take the form of organizational, leadership, messaging and business process complexity.

To scale, it's critical to keep simplification at the center of everything: products, product integration (especially as you get into a multi-part portfolio), product management, customer support and leadership structure. For us, this meant future-proofing our products by designing with an "Apple-like simplicity" so application administrators could operate infrastructure without any training. 

Change is the only constant.

Just when you think you're standing on solid ground, it's time to reinvent yourself once more. While we've felt this in many instances over the last 10 years, it became even more clear during our transition in 2017-2018 to a software-only company. From sizing to quoting and configuring to cash to revenue, everything had to change. I like to say it was akin to changing the wings of a plane flying at 35,000 feet.

But change is good, and it's a necessary evil to breed growth and scale. And we are doing it again today-- moving from software to subscription all in an effort to offer our customers the best experience.

I believe we're only in the early stages of our multi-cloud journey. It still feels like 2010 in a way, with the only difference being we have nearly $1 billion in cash and investments on the balance sheet. Now, our customers are our new "investors"-- and we're ready to continue dreaming on behalf of them and hit refresh on another 10 years.

Published on: Oct 1, 2019