Conversation with Smartsheet Image Credit Pixabay/GeraltEnterprise Times spoke to Mark Mader, CEO of Smartsheet. Smartsheet is a work management platform that enables the business user, rather than IT to transform the technology that drives business processes. Mader explained further saying:

Mark Mader, President and CEO Smartsheet
Mark Mader, President and CEO Smartsheet

“What we’re really looking to do is to extend beyond IT  enablement. When we think about automation and intake and visualisation and reporting, most of the time, those are still driven from IT. What we’re doing is we’re moving those types of workloads to be done, completed, and executed by the business units and the business users.”

On growth

Smartsheet recently issued its results, which saw significant growth. Mader sees a transition from individual purchases from within organisations to functional ones. These are not corporate-wide deals, but the software is bought across multiple departments rather than just one.

Enterprise Times asked Mader how COVID has impacted that growth?

“We serve a diverse customer base, almost every industry on the planet. No one is immune to it. I would say we have benefited from the transformation to the cloud and the transformation activities and initiatives that are in play.

“Companies are recognising now that it’s not good enough to simply digitise. Digitised is not actually differentiating, digitising, everyone does. Absolutely, COVID has affected our customers, the degree of how they look at risk and investment. The ability for us to articulate the value we deliver has never been greater. Our sales motion and how we present the value and why they should be compelled to move has become further refined this year.

“Now companies are saying, How do I take that next step? How do I automate? How do I create self-service environments? How do I drive innovation within my teams, and they have to do more.”

Smartsheet will continue to expand internationally according to Mader. It will expand its products to support more languages and localisation. In 2021 it will build out its presence in mainland Europe and APAC. That expansion may follow its German model via partners. Mader also revealed that Smartsheet is looking to launch datacentres outside of the US to support data residency.

Are you looking for more acquisitions?

“Yeah, constantly looking. We look at it both from a capability acquisition standpoint and a talent acquisition. We’ve done four thus far. I would expect this to continue.”

On partnerships

Who are Smartsheet strategic partners?

“Strategic partners include Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, Adobe. It’s interesting when you ask that question. Our strategic partners have actually changed quite a bit over the decades. In the 90s, you needed to be anointed by that third party, to have a formal relationship that allowed you into their environment to actually co-develop. Today, it’s quite different in the sense that there are API’s that are accessible to all and we, as a provider, get to choose with whom we partner. It’s helped us to be able to integrate and not be gated from who we build our bridges to. It’s been a really big success criteria for us as we serve our clients.”

What did you think about the Adobe purchase of Workfront?

“It was not a huge surprise, in the sense that they had integrations between the two. Some of the analyst’s commentary was around that potentially tying well into Adobe’s existing motion for serving their enterprise customers, what I shared earlier about where customer sentiment is right now about velocity and speed to value. One of the reasons Workfront has been the slowest grower in the categories is because of some of those attributes. It’ll be interesting to see if Adobe can unlock that.”

On Product

What’s the underpinning product architecture?

“We run OpenStack on the Amazon platform, we run JavaScript, all the modern elements that would be utilised in building a web app. We have infrastructure on iOS and Android for mobile environments. There’s not a proprietary development language we use to build the product. It is OpenStack running on the public cloud. We use a multi-tenant database. We don’t disclose that architecture publicly. “

What is your release cadence?

“We had 192 releases last year We look for a monthly cadence for significant components monthly, but the other than Engage in the fall, there’s not a halo release or set of releases throughout the year. “

What’s coming in 2021 for Smartsheet?

“There are a few things. We showed a bit of a preview at Engage around our next-gen UI. The company has made a heavy investment in enterprise-grade componentry and offerings. 2021 will be defined as a year in which there is a major rerelease of our user experience. That’ll come over in a number of phases. That is around both the UI design, some of the workflows.”

Improvements to workflows mean that users will need fewer clicks and typing to complete an operation in the future. Mader also sees a deeper integration with Brandfolder, an acquisition that occurred earlier this year. Smartsheet will continue to integrate functionality from the PSA solution 10,000ft it acquired. This will build on the recently released 10,000 feet panel inside Smartsheet.

Will 10,000ft remain a separate product?

“It will remain a separate brand within the suite, yes. Similar to what Salesforce does with Service Cloud and CPQ. As the company grows, we will have distinct brands within that umbrella, but they will be tightly integrated.”

On trends for 2021

Looking at the wider industry, what are the trends you see within the wider industry?

“There’s a lot of pressure right now on vendors to deliver on the promise of velocity. I was speaking with an executive at SAP the other day. SAP is not necessarily known for its high-velocity deployments. The customers are pressing them hard to say: How do we decompose projects now that we’re distributed? How do we deal with service teams that are not on-site doing these many month-long projects? How do we choose? Gain a greater speed to value?

“The concepts that people know and love around automation and workflow and dashboarding, none of these are new concepts. What is new is companies are no longer willing to get on a slow boat to achieve that outcome. In some cases, the companies who are not well-positioned to deliver on the speed dimension, will either need to reinvent or acquire or figure out some way to solve that. That is a big theme.  It is not attributed solely to like a midmarket firm. We see large-cap companies apply this pressure now. That’s one of the reasons why the category of collaborative work management is ascending quite nicely right now because the speed of deployment and dexterity are hallmark attributes.”

On the future

What do you hope to achieve the next six to 12 months?

“Even though we’ve had a very successful three years of growth, I still think there is a real misunderstanding within the market of what’s possible. In the next 6-12 months, there is going to be a very significant, almost forced upon people understanding of what they can achieve without having to be dependent on someone to code it or build it for them. What the upside effect of that will be I can’t tell you that. It’s going to unlock a lot of goodness within many companies across industries. My hope in the next 12 months is that the median professional does not feel helpless and acts on their intuition and uses tools like Smartsheet and others to complement what’s being given to them by IT. “

Mader also has an interesting view on Zoom fatigue. He commented “The battle between Teams and Slack is still very much alive. I think the market share and video communication in terms of total time spent by professionals will go down. That could be an unconventional, unpopular statement. There will be a point reached within the next 12 months, where people recognise that that is not the sole mechanism we can utilise to conduct work.” 

His view is that work management solutions will fill the gap. People will not need to discuss things like project progress if they already have visibility of that. There will be a rebalancing. Enterprise Times has spoken to several CEO’s that spend hours every day on Zoom calls, that is not sustainable.

On Change

If you’re talking about change within those organisations, what is the Smartsheet approach to help companies enable that?

“The advice that I give executives when they ask about how to manage change and innovation is: In a “controlled manner”. Don’t look at it on an initiative by initiative basis. Look at it on a net basis. If you were to ask me, Mark, how many decisions you make in a given week or month are successful? If my answer is above 85%, I’m working too slowly. There need to be some decisions we make and some initiatives that fail. If we de-risk everything, we’re going to be working at a snail’s pace.

“People need to understand that when you’re talking about a $100 million project, absolutely de-risk the heck out of it. When you’re talking about a $400,000 project, you have the opportunity to move much more quickly. You can actually afford for one of those not to work because you’re going to have three that worked and one that doesn’t. This is the math that people need to get their head around right now. If you apply the old school math of everything is a massive project, everything requires 50 people to get done; you will work in a very risk-averse posture and very slowly. 

“To excel and to win in the long term, get uncomfortable. The companies that are leading right now in their industries, they don’t lead because they’ve taken the comfortable path. They push themselves. That’s one of the big awakenings that people are going to have when it comes to transformation. You’re going to be too slow if you take the 1990s approach to it.”

What are your challenges?

“Every year, we have to hire hundreds of people who care deeply about our customers and who are innovative. How do we find those next 500 people to join our company to innovate? As we onboard people in a distributed setting, very often, when people ask, how’s your team doing, they usually think about the employee who used to be working with you in an office who is now working in a remote setting.

“We have hundreds of people whose majority experience with Smartsheet now is in a remote setting.  I would say the continued focus of how to engage those people.  How to make them feel part of the team? How to get them to feel culturally aligned with you. Is still I would say, number one, opportunity and challenge in the next year.”

The book question

What’s the latest business book you read?

“Well, you might be surprised. Somebody might not class it as a business book. But I would say “How to be an anti-racist.” by Ibram X Kendi, (US/UK). We had Professor Kendi join our team for a discussion two weeks ago. While the book centres on race, and how one can be mindful of supporting policies that drive inclusion and diversity, it’s not just a social book. It’s absolutely a business book. It’s a theme that companies have to address. I think if they do it, well, it can be a huge advantage for them.”


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