Date: Wednesday, March 21st 2017
Location: Perkins Coie at 505 Howard Street #1000, San Francisco, CA 94105

Greg Schott

On March 21st, I was extremely fortunate to animate a fireside chat with Greg Schott, the CEO of MuleSoft, in front of an audience of Harvard Business School and Harvard University Alumni, as part of the CEO series of the HBSANC and Harvard Club SF. In this case, the date has some importance because it took place just one day after the announcement that MuleSoft has entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by Salesforce for an enterprise value of approximately $6.5 billion, an amount that represents more than 100% increase from the valuation of the company when it first went public just a year before, in what is also the highest priced acquisition in SaaS history from a multiple standpoint. The event had been sold out for a week, so the audience knew that it was going to be a fantastic evening, but in the moment we all felt that seeing Greg so soon after an event of this magnitude was an extra special treat. I personally very much enjoyed conversing and hearing firsthand the advice from a great CEO, who also has a great sense of humor. In this post, I wanted to share just a few learnings from the discussion with Greg, illustrated by his actual answers. I hope that you will like my selection and will be encouraged to attend the next CEO series event.

The beginning of Greg’s journey with MuleSoft

After such an amazing outcome, one may imagine that this was a blue chip situation from the get go and that it was a straight line from there to the ultimate success that it became. But actually, Greg took charge of a fairly challenged startup at the beginning (Greg calls it a “fixer-upper”), and the company went through more than one pivot during its early years. It was not clear at all for a long time that the company was going to make it, let alone become this successful. It is a good reminder of the reality of most startups: the outcome will remain uncertain for a long time and it will owe a lot to the resilience, creativity and hard work of its leadership and its team. As a bonus, Greg also answers the question I did not ask.

Becoming a CEO

MuleSoft was Greg’s fourth start-up, but it was the first time that he became the CEO. Naturally, it’s interesting to hear his story for how he transitioned into the role and got started, his strategy for how to get up to speed and fill in whatever gaps in his experienced existed at the time. The topic of becoming a CEO was touched upon a couple of times during the discussion and Greg’s answers to a few questions on that topic are aggregated here.

Understanding MuleSoft and the long-term trend that is driving MuleSoft

MuleSoft will continue gaining importance, as nearly $443 billion will be spent on integration project work according to Forrester. In addition, it will be under the umbrella of Salesforce, which should accelerate the company’s growth even more. So you might as well learn about what the company does and why it is relevant. This specific segment does a good job of describing a very technical product in a way that a business audience can understand and relate to, as well as explaining the long-term trend that the company is riding on.

How to build a great team and the challenges of scaling

You know how sometimes you ask someone a question and it happens to strike a chord, they then go on and on answering, talking in an animated way about the topic you just brought up. This particularly question was a bit like that for Greg, it got him fired-up, you could immediately tell that he is passionate about the topic of building a great team and a great culture. He has a ton of practical advice for attracting talent, managing careers, building trust and a set of common norms. It is a great segment, also full of great self-deprecating humor.

Recruiting done right

Let’s double down on the topic of bringing great people in, and specifically on interviewing candidates, which is something that is incredibly important, that lots of people do often, yet that most people still do wrong. Greg, again, has a lot to say on the topic, and for good reasons: he personally interviewed every single candidate up until the moment that MuleSoft had approximately 700 employees. Even last year, he still gave 800 interviews. What is ironic is that Greg actually does not believe in interviewing. So how do you evaluate candidates then? You can skip reading the book you bought on the topic and simply watch this segment. This is a must see.

Managing careers

Another HR topic? It’s not a coincidence. Greg is known for the quality of the team that he has assembled and obviously, beyond hiring good people, a company also needs to ensure that everyone is effective at their position and can grow at the pace needed. It takes an active effort to be in that state and in this segment. Greg shares candidly some of the mistakes he made and some guidance of how to do it better.

Greg’s career on how to choose the next company you will work for

Greg’s track record in tech is pretty impressive, even before MuleSoft. All the companies he worked at had successful outcomes, so naturally the question of how to pick your next job seemed like an appropriate one for him, as he is someone who has picked his companies well on the surface. But he answered very modestly that he could have done a better job, that he thought he made some mistakes and he shared them openly with the audience. He ended up answering the question perfectly, but with a fair dose of humility.

Tell us what you REALLY think about the IPO process…

MuleSoft went public in 2017. It’s always an interesting topic: what is it like? What were your impressions? Was it a positive event? His perspective is that the IPO process is quite broken and that, while it still has benefits, it’s not like it used to be. The answer was actually brilliant, no holds barred, it turned out to be a pretty funny moment. Judge by yourself.

Combining with Salesforce

Again, it was the day after a momentous acquisition in SaaS, and we were there, sitting with one of the two main actors in that transaction. So obviously a lot of questions ensued, from the strategic rationale and vision for combining the two companies, to what he learned from Marc Benioff. He actually has a funny story about a conversation he had with Marc Benioff and he shows a great deal of respect and appreciation for him. Again, we were lucky to ask those questions and get the “fresh off the press” answers.

Last but not least, a funny anecdote. About a year before the event with Greg, we hosted Jyoti Bansal, Founder and former CEO of AppDynamics. Jyoti had accepted to speak months before the scheduled date but by the time the event took place, AppDynamics had just been acquired by Cisco for $3.7B, which made the event even more interesting. Now, the same thing happened with MuleSoft…If you are looking for arguments as to why the CEO of your company should speak at our event, in addition to the exposure to the Harvard community, tell them that our event also brings good luck to the speakers and their companies and that they should contact me right away to get their event on the agenda :)

Thanks for reading

JP Marcos, CEO of SignifAI

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