On the founder journey, customer acquisition, team building, and leadership with Neha Sampat, CEO of ContentstackFeatured
I spoke with @nehasampat, CEO at Contentstack™ – a leading Content Management System (CMS) and Content Experience Platform (CXP). Previously, Neha was Founder and CEO of Digital Experience Platform Built.io®, which was acquired by German software powerhouse Software AG in September 2018. Neha also founded digital transformation consultancy Raw Engineering, which helps large organizations adopt API-first, cloud-native and SaaS technologies. Neha was honored as “CEO of the Year” by Aragon Research in December 2018. She was also named in “San Francisco Business Times Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business” in 2017 and a “San Francisco Business Times 40 under 40” honoree.How did you decide to become a founder?I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. When most kids played “house” I always pretended I was running my own fashion firm or factory. When I was 12 years old, my best friend and I started a fan club for our favorite band. I charged teenagers all over the U.S. $18 for a homemade “fan club folder” that we made in my parent’s print shop one weekend. We made over $1,000 in profit. We reinvested that profit into creating a competitive olympics event for our neighborhood, which in turn, funded our next young venture. We took bootstrapping seriously back then :) A year after moving to Silicon Valley, the entrepreneurial itch kicked in and I started a PR firm with my closest new friends, representing major consumer technology brands. My subsequent ventures ranged from building parking apps to launching ventures in wine education. This series of ventures as a young entrepreneur has culminated in my leadership of a world-class software company today. I guess I can say that it wasn’t really a decision to become a founder, but more of a calling.How did you find your first few paying customers?It started with my network. Before Contentstack, our first paying customers were former employers (large enterprise companies), which led to additional business through word of mouth. When we spun off Contentstack from the parent company, we already had a handful of paying enterprise customers from the business. We’ve found that many of our customers either come from referrals or end up being repeat clients. This fact is important to us, as the foundation of our business was created to provide brands with the ability to create an incredible digital content experience for their customers. We take great pride in earning the highest customer satisfaction in the industry, as noted by Gartner Peer Insights and G2. What is the hardest role to hire for and how did you hire for it?We think about “culture add” as a part of our recruiting and hiring process. We always want talent that enhances our ability to create an environment where curiosity, innovation, and excellence can flourish. We do this by looking for diverse backgrounds -- not just in gender and ethnicity, but also in socioeconomic upbringing, culture, education, and experiences. Our customers are diverse and global and by developing a workforce that reflects that we can meet them where they are and create products uniquely for them. We also believe in giving every employee a seat at the table to offer their ideas and constructive criticism. This builds trust, employee satisfaction, and ultimately retention. It also helps ensure that the people who helped create our company culture will stick around and help maintain it. What advice would you give to your younger self?The best life advice I’ve ever received came from an entrepreneur I truly admire and I can only wish it had sunk in even earlier in my career. This individual has impacted his entire community and literally millions of people with his work. He once said, “Don’t think about what you can get from someone or something. Think about what you can give.” He gave several examples of how he has given back selflessly and relentlessly in his world. This mentality has shaped how I think about building my career, my companies, my home and all of my relationships. It has not only made me a better entrepreneur, but a better citizen of the world.What is the most surprising thing you have learned about leadership?Leadership comes in many different shapes and forms (I have learned from interns as well), innate leadership roles and the heart is about giving a damn about something and pulling people along...it’s everywhere. How do you make your voice heard?This really comes down to knowing your audience and what they care about. For example, if you want to be influential in a room full of data-driven people, show up with data and hard facts. If your audience is more driven by real-world examples or empathy, show up with relevant stories.Early in my career, I remember having to cater to both of those audience types in a large company's pricing council. I started with a real customer story. It was someone I had spoken with who's work life we had made easier with the product. I then dove into specific metrics to demonstrate the opportunity. While I had the ears of the marketing team with the customer story, I had the attention of the finance team with hard data. My proposal was unanimously approved!