Currently the CIO at Moveworks, Yousuf Khan is also an advisor to numerous startups, including Pulse. Speaking to CMO Ras Gill-Boulos, Khan elaborated on his experience working with startups and how CIOs should devote more time to the customer experience.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.”
Ras Gill Boulos: I will go right into the questions from our users. When Julie Cullivan was here at our last AMA, she said that you, amongst your peers, are considered to be an early adopter of the group. Why is testing and trying a new product a huge part of your strategy, both personally and professionally?
Yousuf Khan: Building a great software is a continuous challenge. It takes a tremendous amount of cycle time, retention, and strategy. When you hear this notion about every company becoming a technology company, it means that they are adopting, building, securing, and developing more and more software. As a result of that, there is effectively a war on tons right now, across the world. There’s a lot of innovation being born in Silicon Valley.
Companies are coming up to solve major problems for the enterprise, for the consumer, etc. So, I tend to estimate what is faster for me to be able to solve a major business problem. In my viewpoint, it is about working with companies who are facing a problem that I am trying to solve. Therefore, as a result, I get to work with a number of startups who haven’t executed at scale or are at an early stage of building out the product side. It’s a really good opportunity to influence it in a very thoughtful and deliberate way, but also in a very focused way.
The second thing about being an early adopter is that there’s a bigger chance that you see problems and invade more. These companies are very data driven and they see things without a frame or a reference. This is why they are able to point things out which you may have an assumption for. Therefore, you’re like, “Well, I’m not just solving one, I’m solving many problems”.
I really enjoy working with startups. I think people want to earn the business, they want to do things in a different way and that’s really refreshing.
Ras Gill Boulos: Have there been any interesting startups that you’ve worked with and felt that they’ve been a turning point in your career?
Yousuf Khan: I tend to work with startups because I think that I can be helpful by giving them feedback. There are startups which I’ve looked at and told them that I will never buy their product. Sometimes, their approach of selling is different for the type of customer I am and I’ve communicated the reasons to them. Then, there are companies that talk about how they’re going to deploy the product and I’ve told them, “that looks pretty good, but I’m not sure that’s going to be deployed at that scale”.
I can name a couple which are now in the public domain. Zoom is one of those companies that just loves making its customers happy. Eric Yuan is a phenomenal CEO and founder. He deployed the product at scale and it did really well. There are a lot of companies in security, in enterprise SaaS. Moveworks is one of those as well. I believe in the product. I really like the founders, the team and what they’re doing. So, therefore, it’s the right chance for me to join and help that company.
Ras Gill Boulos: It’s interesting how helping a startup has created that position for you.
Yousuf Khan: If startups want to go after large enterprise and CIOs, they need to have a frame of mindset about building a company which is ready for the enterprise. There have been a lot of startups and in my opinion they were not ready or had not thought about security or customer success. It’s not a criticism. It’s just that you make decisions as a startup.
At Moveworks, we are working with a number of different customers who are enterprise and that’s because we have an enterprise mindset. How we’ve built the company, deployed our product, how we think about customer success, our vision, and our platform aligns with enterprise companies and that’s why CIOs like to come on.
Ras Gill Boulos: It’s also a great learning opportunity for any young company to figure out how they can work with CIOs and IT Executives. You live in the Bay Area and that contributes to your ability to build relationships. What advice would you give to the non Bay Area IT Executives who want to do that with young, upcoming technology?
Yousuf Khan: I’ve been a big proponent and advocate for CIO role and the same for startups and VC ecosystem. I think CIOs really need to approach innovation in a much broader way. They cannot build everything themselves. This is why you have thousands of companies which are providing the best in class SaaS solutions. If you agree with that mindset then you actually figure out how to deliver that outcome.
My biggest advice is that you should work with VCs and investors. VC ecosystem varies from geography to geography, so it is required of you to make those connections. Also, be open to taking meetings with startups. If time restricts you, then working with VCs helps you bring a set of portfolio companies. It aids efforts to make decisions on what you require.
It’s a really good thing for CIOs to work with startups because for the very first time, they are not beholden to larger frameworks. It’s just a harsh reality that you’re given a product from a big company and you follow that framework. If you’re not able to, move away from it.
This is a good opportunity for CIOs who are developing leaders in their organizations, to be able to say, “hey listen, you should engage with this startup” and give them feedback. You’ve been in the same industry, you’ve seen issues with a particular product and want to give that feedback. Finally, companies come along to build the product which other people can use.
Ras Gill Boulos: So, your people need to be able to manage that as you’re looking outside of the organization.
Yousuf Khan: Yeah, and I think that’s in the name of the function. If you think about how IT teams have evolved over time, it’s because they’ve adopted new technologies irrespective of what stage they are in. But, as part of adopting, they learnt a new skill.
Now we’re at this stage where it’s not about necessarily learning a new SaaS solution, it’s about learning a new method. That’s why IT teams and CIOs are going to really help innovate and be a part of that journey, not just receiving.
Let’s just think about Pulse. It’s a highly engaged platform which IT decision makers actually care about. Why? Because they get great value out of it. They are much more enabled about how they make a decision based on what you’re able to provide in a particular subject area.
They might not have attended workshops or conferences on that subject, but you’ve been able to give them an idea. I give kudos to the Pulse team. It talks about a bigger trend where CIOs and IT teams are motivated by being able to learn more. This will uplevel their career and the impact they are making.
Ras Gill Boulos: Yeah, even when you think about how quickly technology is changing you need to start rethinking the methodology behind how they are functioning.
Yousuf Khan: What you have to do is to buy solutions or build solutions if you wish. But if you buy solutions, you should have a very clear path to success. There is so much going on that you’ve got to prioritize well. Making decisions at the CIO level just becomes a lot harder because you’re trying to translate business requirement roles.
Ras Gill Boulos: I’ve heard this on our platform that CIOs are usually thought of as 100% cost setters. You’re a transformational CIO, introducing new technologies to the company and figuring out how to make them a part of it. How do you do that?
Yousuf Khan: I don’t think there’s anything special, honestly speaking. I think that you have to learn. It’s just a part of the journey. First of all, I think what is the best way for me to provide the best value to the company that I am working for. Second, I find out the best methods and options available to me.
I fundamentally believe that a lot of CIOs haven’t thought about the customer experience as much. But, over the last couple of years, they are focussing on how to impact that. Companies are being transformed because it’s much easier to compete. Ten years ago, companies like Stripe didn’t exist. The Apple watch didn’t exist.
These are companies who have completely uprooted and taken dollars away from really big companies. As a result, CEOs, CFOs, and boards are thinking how to compete. Honestly, I think it’s about technology. That’s where the CIO role comes in. So, if you are that CIO who is looking at what’s happening to your company and you’re able to provide value to it, I think you’re at a great place. But, to realise that you need to build up the pot chips within the company.
I am very detail-oriented. I want to know how a business is operating because I think that every part of the business has an aspect of technology around it. For some of it you partner with the CMO, because it’s a digital strategy, and for others, you look for tools. So, building that collaborative partnership internally is something that CIOs need to be able to do to become transformational.
The second thing is providing the vision. To be able to say, here’s what’s possible and here’s why it should provide value. You need to build the panoramic vision and that’s what people follow. I don’t consider myself as a transformational CIO. I just consider myself as someone who’s very detail oriented, understands what business need is, then translates that to figure out what is the best way to move forward with.
Ras Gill Boulos: Thank you so much. We really appreciate you coming aboard for this.
Yousuf Khan: Thank you very much.