"Suddenly I wasn’t the ‘go to’ guy for everything, because the Game Changer knew far more about his area of expertise than I did."
Phil founded Marketo in 2006 with Jon Miller and David Morandi. They set out with the aim of building a new kind of application to let marketing professionals contribute to revenue and measure their success. Marketo went public in May 2013 at a valuation in excess of $700m before being acquired by Vista Equity Partners for $1.8 billion in 2016.
1. I wasn't always on call anymore
Hiring the first Game Changing CXO was a big change for me, and for Marketo. For the first time at Marketo, I wasn’t always on call. Within about a week I’d let go of every part of the function that the Game Changer was running; he just had this amazing ability to say ‘I’ve got this’ and then immediately talk about his strategy and start the execution part of it.
Suddenly I wasn’t the ‘go to’ guy for everything, because the Game Changer knew far more about his area of expertise than I did, and he had the general management skills to help me out across the whole company. If something major came up, there was someone else who could handle it.
2. I had complete trust in someone else
The first time I knew I could completely trust a Game Changer was when I was interviewing a candidate for a senior role at Marketo. Everyone at the company knew that when I was interviewing someone I didn’t want to be interrupted; the interview process should be seamless and it’s not fair to the candidate to be de-prioritised, even for a short period.
The Game Changer interrupted an interview I was conducting, but his judgment was good and I knew the reason for the interruption would be warranted. In short, he wanted to let me know that there was a possibility of a major security breach but that he was handling it, and I should go back to the interview. In that moment I realised that I trusted him completely (NB it later transpired that there had been no breach).
His ability to interrupt me without undue disturbance, get my attention onto something else for a brief moment, and then let me get back to the interview knowing that the issue was being handled was amazing. It was incredible to see how he was able to exercise perfect judgement of the situation.
For me, it was a whole new level of relationship. I trusted him completely to be calm under fire and make the right kind of judgement calls, even in moments of company-defining crisis.
3. I had to learn how to be a CEO
A founding tech CEO has the opportunity to engage in every area in the business, and in the early stages of Marketo, I did just that. But in reality, that just means that you’re spread like peanut butter which isn’t ideal for the company or the culture as the business grows.
We were growing at a significant rate, so there was always plenty to do and I enjoyed being in the detail of it all. I’m naturally curious so I wanted to understand all elements of the business. But once the company reaches any meaningful size, the CEO needs to be setting strategy and not wading into every detail.
Bringing a Game Changer into the business meant that I could let go of a large proportion of the detail and really be the CEO. But it wasn’t easy - it took me months to learn how to step back and start to be a strategic CEO.
I had to learn how to delegate more and more, and how to get the information I needed without going into every detail. When I hired a Game Changer, they took care of much of this detail so I had to learn how to make strategic decisions from a higher level.
There was a very natural tension between needing to know everything and really not needing to know everything. The Game Changer certainly helped me reach the right balance of detailed knowledge, which allowed me to step up into being a ‘true’ CEO.
4. The culture had to be re-wired
Until we hired a Game Changer, there was an idea that all roads led to me. A kind of culture that ‘if there’s something big happening, then you go to Phil’. When we hired a Game Changer, not all roads led to me anymore and as a result, the culture had to relearn itself.
We had to be really explicit about the change - we had to make sure everyone knew that there were more leaders in the business than just me. One of the really positive things to come from it was that there was a drastic rethink for everyone in terms of how independent they could be.
I’ve always thought it was incredibly important to devolve power as a way of empowering people and making them feel confident that they can make their own decisions. Before we hired a Game Changer there was an over reliance on getting my opinion; the notion of ‘how do you really devolve power as the business goes from 10 to 100 people’ is really very hard and also very important.
When we hired a Game Changer and all roads stopped leading to me, it opened up a way of thinking independently; it was reassurance that my opinion wasn’t the only one and that people could make decisions and get advice from many other people in the business.
5. Our ambition didn't change, but our belief in getting there did
We’d always set out to build a huge business, even in spite of the massive challenge and the frequency with which early stage businesses don’t succeed. You have to think like this, or you won’t survive.
So, when we started hiring Game Changers this ambition didn’t really change. We’d set out to build a multi-billion dollar company and that idea never wavered, because we’d set our sights very high. There was, however, a huge step change in the belief that we would have a chance of getting there.
We hired a CXO from a major international public company. He’d had startup experience and a drive to build something from the beginning, but he was leaving behind a global team and millions of dollars of budget to join us. So when he arrived at Marketo there was a rippling effect around the business of ‘This guy wants to leave all of that behind and join us? He must really think we’re on to something’.
Seeing an executive of that profile choose to come to Marketo when it was still at a very early stage gave inspiration to the whole company that the vision was real, and that what we wanted to achieve was entirely possible.