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Jess Iandiorio (CMO Starbust Data) on “She’s Not Strategic” and the Importance of Category Creation

This week’s guest on Scaleup Marketing is my friend and former colleague Jess Iandiorio, the CMO at Starburst Data. Jess and I worked together at Acquia, and she’s previously been at Endeca, Drift, and Mirakl. 

Jess and I talk about the She’s Not Strategic challenge that women face when trying to move up in an organization. And we get into the importance of category creation for companies who don’t fit into an existing box.

[00:00:00] Tom Wentworth: [00:00:00] Hey Jess, how are you? 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:00:01] I’m doing great. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:00:02] So good to see you. 

Jess, your background.  You have the Midas touch. you worked at Endeca. One of Boston’s best tech companies ever. Endeca is the closest thing we have to the PayPal mafia everyone who left Endeca has done something awesome.

Then you went to Acquia where of course you had the misfortunate working with me, another very successful company you went to drift for a little bit. You went to Mirakl who raised a ton of money. and now you’re at Starburst Data. You’ve had a pretty awesome run.

Jess Iandiorio: [00:00:29] Thanks. Yeah. when I look back, I’m like, I have no idea how it all happened, but it’s been a pretty wild ride and I’ve been with some successful companies, so it’s been good. And, you were a big part of 

Tom Wentworth: [00:00:38] that. Thank you. Tell us about Starburst Data. So what does Starburst data do ?

Jess Iandiorio: [00:00:44] come up for an elevator pitch on the spot. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:00:46] Yes. This does put a lot of pressure on you. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:00:49] Yeah. So, Starburst is all about helping companies get faster access to all of their data so they can make better decisions. So we’re in the big data analytics world, where one piece of [00:01:00] technology that really helps.

People kind of move on from the idea of having all of their data in a single source of the truth. Kind of that that term people have used forever is basically synonymous with the enterprise data warehouse model. And it’s been painful. People can’t get all their data in one place. And so that creates teams that don’t have the right level of access in the right time to the data that they need.

And I think we solved that. I mean, we, we use this open source technology called Presto, which is all about accessing data anywhere. It was created at Facebook for companies of Facebook scale. and they really needed a better solution for faster and more accurate data access and analytics there. They open-sourced it in 2013.

and it’s been, you know, it’s been used by thousands of companies. Across the globe and the team that created Starburst actually first started working with Presto when they were at Teradata. and then they built sort of almost an MVP of what would become Starburst, more of a support service to help support commercial Presto users.

and then [00:02:00] they spun off into creating Starburst. And the cool part about that story is they started with customers and revenue. They were able to bring their support contracts into. Starburst. so it’s not often that you hear about a company that was created with customers, revenue and product market fit from day one, but that’s, that’s really part of this story.

And so very cool company. Awesome founding story. We’ve been very successful so far. and the future is bright based on the demand we’ve seen this year. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:02:26] marketing and open source is hard. This is your second time doing it.  I think he might be a little bit crazy for going to do this.

What’s hard about marketing and open source. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:02:34] Yeah. So I did say after the time at Acquia came to an end that I would probably never work for another open source version again. And, you know, I’m super glad I’m back in it.

And I’ll talk more about that, but, but what makes it hard is when you are a technology marketer, your goal is to build a market grade demand and help. Fuel sales for the organization. And when you work for an open-source commercialization company, there’s this big [00:03:00] part of the offering that you have no control over, that’s free.

And you start to have unique challenges in your go to market strategy about when and how do you embrace free when and how do you steer away from it? How do you help sales through that? How you help the market and in particular analysts through that, and you run the risk of over rotating one way or another.

And I think it’s really difficult to find that balance of where you lean in to the open source value prop side. And when you lean into the commercial value side, and if I’m talking to sales, I don’t say boo, about open source and I’m talking to analysts or another constituent where it’s important. You have to have this agility and your messaging and basically your whole go to market, that, that really removes focus as the downside.

You know, on the upside, you have a lot of opportunities and levers to pull. but, but it is pretty complicated and there’s a lot that’s outside of your control. And I mean, I think back to Acquia, when you’re the leading commercial entity for an open source project, you bear the burden of raising the awareness of [00:04:00] that open source technology, which many other.

Companies stand to benefit from. And so you, you open the door, you create the market, you invest in analyst relations, like, you know, this intimately. And then it just creates this market for others to come in and benefit from. And, and that gets tough, especially when those competitors start hitting Gardener’s radar and they come into the evaluations and it’s like a sad circle of, you know, unfortunate circumstances, which are just ultimately required for creating the category, creating the visibility, the open project.

Tom Wentworth: [00:04:29] So. Yeah. I think when we, obviously, we experienced a lot of those challenges, but it’s hard. when you have to market open source, how do you think about budget allocation? How do you think about resource allocation? Those are hard 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:04:43] questions. I think it’s fascinating. So, so as a result of the experience at Acquia and how, and how focused I got on budget management at miracle, my budget right now, I actually have every line item attached to what piece of the strategy does it influence?

And one of the pieces of the strategy is to [00:05:00] evangelize Presto. And so I can actually to the degree of, I think it’s around 10% of my budget. Is kind of roughly allowed to go towards just marketing open source. And then that helps me keep my eye sort of on the prize, so to speak and make sure that we’re focused on doing the right things that are going to develop our business.

but you know, depending on the quarter, that might be more like 20% if we’re heavy on community events, throughout the course of time. So, so I get to that super granular level of being able to track. You know, what level of web investment goes to opensource? What level of field marketing goes to open source?

what level of analyst investment goes to open source? Things like that? 

Tom Wentworth: [00:05:38] Yeah. I have no idea. I’m at the other side of that, we were pretty conservative marketing team at recorded future, but I struggle.  getting visibility in the budget is still a huge challenge for me.

Yeah. But these days 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:05:51] you’re big time. So you have the, you have like more, that just means you have more experience and like you have less need to prove out what you’re [00:06:00] doing. And I’m earlier in my running out. All running all of marketing. And so that forces me to be super granular on budget management, you know, among other things.

Tom Wentworth: [00:06:09] But talk about that. So you’ve, Mirakl was, was medium-size aqui was big and deco was pretty big.  you were marketing hire number one, right?

Jess Iandiorio: [00:06:17] It’s been again, wild ride. I came for the opportunity and that opportunity was, I felt like the market was massive. I felt like the technology was unique and differentiated. I had skills to bring into the open source commercialization dynamic. and I had sort of cut my teeth on running marketing overall at miracles.

So I felt like. This is the perfect opportunity. Read my wings on, on this new opportunity and really try to do it all from scratch. Whereas I had come in a little bit early, sorry. A little bit later when I joined miracle. so this was a series a, I was the first marketer hired and it’s funny, you know, when I look back, I entered and it was like darkness from marketing.

so the other piece about this story is Starburst was bootstrapped for the first two years. And [00:07:00] so because they had revenue and product market fit and customers. They were able to keep a lean team and not take on funding for a long time, almost a full two years. And so what that means is it’s a wonderful success story.

However, there was very minimal marketing investment. And so what you might have entered into at another company that was two years. Old, you might have seen a lot more maturity in the marketing function. You might’ve seen tech stack lead flow. You might’ve seen a messaging guide. You know, these things were all opportunities for me, but you know, ground zero real grounds ago.

and so the first challenge was how are we going to get people on the same page with how we communicate? And so that was where I lean into my product marketing skills, the stuff I love to do. And we got through a, sort of an initial iteration of how we position ourselves, built out sales materials. And then we went into the demand gen side, getting our infrastructure up and running, hiring the team, which has been fun.

we we’ve gone. I think we’re now at 12 people on the team and we should be wow. When you, by early next year, 

[00:08:00] Tom Wentworth: [00:08:00] one to 12, 

Who were your first three hires. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:08:03] So first hire was Mandy who runs events and she’s amazing. She came over from rapid seven and, and she started, and that was the person I interviewed. In person, but she started remote in March and, and it was the exact moment COVID hit and all of the events came out from under us.

So, so she’s done a phenomenal job transitioning to digital and picking up some aspects of ABM with tools like Sendo. So, cool. So that was my first hire. And then right on the heels was Eric who runs them. Yeah. Jen for us. And so to me, there, there was critical infrastructure on functions there first.

Followed a meal immediately by product marketing. You know, when, you know, we’d spend a lot of time working on that, but you certainly need great product marketers to have a better lock-in with sales. Then I’ve gone on to content marketing, web marketing and those functions. So actually now, and we even have marketing ops, which I’m excited.

Tom Wentworth: [00:08:52] Wow. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:08:53] Now we’re really staffed functionally within individuals. And now we’ll just be scaling because we have a [00:09:00] enterprise. Sales model right now, which is very much talked down, but we are working on a product that will launch next year, which will require a bottoms up motion. So I’m kind of building the team to staff, both, both needs of the business.

Tom Wentworth: [00:09:13] Nice. So one of the things about you too, that’s I find interesting is like I post a lot of low quality content all over the place frequently. You post content once a year, there you’re good for a Jess medium posts or maybe even actually once every other year, if I go back and look at the data, but when you post something it’s true evergreen awesome content.

And I think your most is this your most recent, I assume your most recent it’s from August. The real reason women aren’t getting ahead in tech. She’s not strategic. So before I talk to this, I want to tell a little story. there’s a few things about you. I remember vividly you were an awesome negotiator, which is hard for people

when we would talk about when you’re  promotion to be a VP of product marketing, you did what I would encourage everyone to do, [00:10:00] which is you knew what your worth to the organization and you fought for what you deserved. , but another thing you fought for which I was like, why would she want to do this?

You fought really hard to get into that weekly leadership meeting. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:10:13] Yeah, 

Tom Wentworth: [00:10:14] you fought hard to be in it. And I think it’s a little bit of this. She’s not strategic concepts , tell me a little bit about that post and  what you’re trying to get across.

Jess Iandiorio: [00:10:22] I’ve done like four or five speaking engagements since then on that topic. And I had  no idea that people were going to respond to it the way they have. And what I wanted to do was share my opinion, which I had formed over the last, I’d say six or seven years in, in leadership of.

When I was in my childbearing years, I thought it was that I thought it was having kids and building families. And that was what was holding women back. And as I came to the other side of that, thank God, I will not be having any more kids, but I had this different perspective and I, everything started to shift.

And I started looking at the women around me, who I felt were very capable of who were consistently not getting to the next level. [00:11:00] And I listened a little bit more to the things that were said in their performance reviews, or just generally about them. And. And I just really had a strong opinion that there was this larger force going on.

That was really about a subconscious bias. not tending to view women as strategic. And so it just was happening repeatedly that someone would be up for a promotion and they wouldn’t get it. And this thing not strategic, you know, this sort of like, I call it it’s, it’s more like an illness. She’s not strategic.

You’ve been diagnosed, you know, women feel it. but there wasn’t a term for it. And this is what I’ve learned in all of the outreach iPads. Is that hundreds of people and I, and dozens of men actually have reached out to me saying, I felt like you were talking to me about my career and it’s been a bittersweet moment because I’m glad that this was impactful and it’s caused a lot of conversations.

but I’m a little bit sad that it actually resonated so much to the point that that many people would tell me that they felt that I was talking to them and that it cut to the quick for so [00:12:00] many people. And I think. What I tried to do was make it a positive, you know, that you don’t have to be stuck here.

And there are things that you can do to work on your perception, to come through it. And I also wanted executives leaders who are pulling this and maybe not even realize it yet. You know, diagnosing people with not strategic and you know, many women in particular. I wanted them to check themselves.

It’s even come out of my mouth. And I like to think I meant it, but I have to go back and like revisit why I said that and check myself as well. so I, I thought it was important to write. I got the support of Justin, our CEO, who was awesome. He actually. Went through it line by line, asked me questions, made some really good points, and helped me help me Polish it up.

so that was why I wrote it was just because I had something to say, since publishing it, I’d say I felt like a bit of a pressure. To keep it up. and like you said, back to your initial point, I generally like to write something every couple of years. So it’s like, it’s pushing me to be on a [00:13:00] hotter cadence here.

Tom Wentworth: [00:13:01] don’t let it diminish the quality of the content you create. I guess that’s the cause you might go slow, but everything you produce is fantastic. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:13:10] The sequel is actually I’m working on it paragraph by paragraph. So 

Tom Wentworth: [00:13:17] the problem is a lot of the, the women in particular who get called.

She’s not strategic they’re often the ones who execute the most and there’s this sort of balance.  it’s hard to be strategic when you’re the person who’s out there working 55, 60 hours a week, churning through the non strategic things that you have to get done. how can I be strategic when I’m just buried in the work?  how do you reconcile that? Yeah. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:13:42] well, you know, kind of to your point on when I advocated for promotion, you have to be willing to say no is one of my strong opinions here. And I think that that’s the hardest thing for women to do is, is somebody asks them to do something, you know, we want to prove were good contributors, good team players.

We’re going to do it. Even if it taxes us incredibly. [00:14:00] So I had to learn to say, no, I had to learn to stop volunteering for everything. And even though people were relying on me as a person who got things done, I had to stop doing everything and stop throwing my, my hat in the ring for whatever project or problem was on, on the horizon.

And, and that particular, you know, and I I’ve talked about that to other people. There’s, there’s been two big inflection points in my career and I’ve had to be really strong with either saying no or demanding what I needed in order for that to happen. And that’s a big challenge for a lot of women. I mean, I, I am pretty assertive, but those have been challenging moments for me too.

So for women who are not necessarily as assertive, you can imagine it is, it is an obstacle that seems impossible to over overcome. So yeah, I do think you have to find a way to advocate for yourself. Find a way to build champions that are above you. And that may be your manager and that may not be your manager.

That’s one of those big challenges where if you put all your eggs in your manager basket, and that person is not going to be helpful to you, then, then you don’t really have any [00:15:00] other conduits, to moving. So, so it’s important. It’s really important to build relationships champions, and, and be willing to advocate for yourself.

Tom Wentworth: [00:15:09] You offer in this post, you offer a bunch of advice  like upleveling, your presentations. you, and I’ve been in tons of QPRs together. And you just go until we did this campaign and this , like let’s slow down, let’s take a step back  when you have executives in the room, let’s just take one step back. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:15:24] Yeah, we did. We actually just came through the QBR two weeks ago and it’s the second one we’ve had at Starburst. And, and just like you’re saying, we’ve got, I’ve got hardworking team. I’m, I’m super proud of what everybody is doing with the time that we’ve been able to pull this together.

And everybody’s eager to share what they’ve worked on. And so there’s this natural tendency, like you said, to sort of want to boil the ocean and show activity volume and it’s happening, but it’s the opposite of what’s effective in that forum. So we worked really hard on what would a one-hour QVR look like and how could everybody participate?

You know, functionally as, as leaders of events and demand gen, [00:16:00] in that timeframe with other, with other stakeholders there. So we did not nail it. And the whole team, you know, we all agree and it’s a hard thing I’ve never seen like, Oh, this is a perfect QBR. Let’s just replay that. so it’s iterative, but, but we did work very hard on each section, had the wins and the losses and that that’s the takeaways and that’s where you want the conversation to happen.

Yeah, 

Tom Wentworth: [00:16:23] another point is making sure your strategic contributions are clear.  The credit is given to three levels above where the work actually happened.  how do people make sure that their contributions don’t get buried, especially,  if there are four levels below the CEO or how do people elevate their contributions?

Jess Iandiorio: [00:16:40] Now I find this to be a really tough topic because I advocate for subtleties here. And this is where a lot of women can get tripped up. If they go too overtly for credit, you know, it’s, it’s an unfair judgment that comes against them for like, you know, trying to take too much credit. And so I, I find that.

Again, you want [00:17:00] champions, but you want to look back on something and talk to someone about, remember when we did this, I really thought that this was going to be great. It turned out it wasn’t great, but I was proud of that. You know, like I find that there’s, there’s ways to remind people that you were attached to an initiative, give them some information about what you thought could have been better, but then also land what you thought you did well and, and give a more comprehensive picture of the scenario, the other people involved and what you contributed.

And that’s better than saying. I’m proud of doing this, but that doesn’t end very well with people. and that’s, that’s what might come across the wrong way. and, and so I think finding ways to think about how you’re going to clarify your contributions in the bigger picture with other people. Is is a better approach.

and also being introspective in that effort and saying something didn’t go right. And I think we should do that next time. You know, you’re showing that you thought about it, you learned you’re coming up with ideas for the next thing. And you’re continually reminding people you’re attached to that strategic ambition.

[00:18:00] Tom Wentworth: [00:17:59] And you also talk about. This one’s controversial for me to always participate in company sponsored activities. I do my best to go to bed every night by nine o’clock. I dread having to stay out late now. I used to like it 10 years ago.  but it’s hard because as you say,  you feel extra tax because you already have family commitments.

I hear you. Do it as much as you can. This one is hard, but I totally agree. it’s just a sacrifice that we have to get behind. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:18:29] Yeah, I think so. I agree with that. And I think it depends on if your aspiration is to be in leadership. You have to, you have to be ready to give those extras and it is a compromise, but it is important even if it seems superficial, you know, and it seems like there’s no way I’m going to sit on a zoom and have a beer and talk shop with my coworkers.

Instead of sitting down with my kids and having pizza on Friday night, you know, Sometimes I, I joined the zoom with my kids with pizza and beer and, you know, I find ways to make it work. But the thing about the importance there is it’s, it’s just [00:19:00] visibility and that’s back to why I fought to being in the exact forum.

It’s those are really important forums for visibility and connections. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:19:06] What I found my, my hack there as you well know, is the sneaky exit. So, you know, show up a long enough to where you’re seen and, but get out early. And then they’re like, Oh Tom, no, actually I left four hours ago. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:19:22] Yeah. Now you’re not saying Irish goodbye.

Is that a taboo term now? Cause 

Tom Wentworth: [00:19:26] I was thinking about it in my head before I brought it up. I don’t think it is, sneaky exit Irish, exit Irish goodbye. There’s a whole bunch of ways to describe this beautiful. Underappreciated technique of showing up, letting people see you, go in heavy, let people see you go out silent, like a Ninja.

Jess Iandiorio: [00:19:44] Now I have a similar but different approach with that, which is like, I call it nothing good happens after midnight. Now this doesn’t apply to the, this COVID world cause we’re not hanging out, but I have never stayed out at any corporate engagement past midnight. I like to think that’s helped me [00:20:00] because I’ve avoided the underbelly of our world.

And, you know, maybe I missed some opportunities to have fun and like be part of stories, but, you know, I don’t really think so. And, yeah, I think you got it. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:20:11] Our sales at recorded future sales kickoff. I went and did like my dad’s speech to the whole field organization. Don’t do anything stupid. I’ve done all the things that you’re thinking about going to do.

And I felt terrible the next morning. Just go to bed at 10, like I’m going to do, I don’t think anyone listened to me. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:20:29] Did you tell them to ring the bell? 

Tom Wentworth: [00:20:30] So yeah. Told them ring the bell. So the Catholics on that ring, the bell story Belle. 

don’t know how we went from a really great conversation on helping women become strategic to talking about Irish goodbye.

Jess Iandiorio: [00:20:42] Well, it’s natural. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:20:43] It’s natural. All right. I will link up as they say, in the podcasting world, I will link up this article looking forward to the next version. You might have to sit on it for a few months. Gets too close to the August version. Yeah. To create some distance. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:20:57] Yep, absolutely. And that’ll take me another three [00:21:00] months to write in any way.

So 

Tom Wentworth: [00:21:00] yeah. That’s the last thing I want to talk to you about is category creation. You and I have both strong thoughts on that. I’m going through a little bit of a similar dialogue at recorded future. Our challenge was we are, we invented a category called threat intelligence but it’s a little it’s limiting to us because the intelligence that our platform creates can be used. To help you prioritize patching. It can be used to help you figure out which vendors have risky technology in their stack. 

our intelligence helps you look at  your Splunk log data and you have millions of IP addresses and domains and file hashes, which ones should be paying attention to. So we’ve been in this journey of creating a category called security intelligence

 I want to get your take on the idea of category creation, because I’ve been in this middle of this project right now. And one of the things I’ve learned was no one even cares about category labels anymore was a piece of feedback I got early this week. So what’s your take on category creation? Is that something you’re doing?

Jess Iandiorio: [00:21:59] I have a [00:22:00] million strong opinions on this. I think it’s a misnomer for a lot of people. A lot of people don’t really think about category creation the right way to think about it. you just name it something, and it’s going to become a market to reap the benefits of it. And you’re going to be the leaders and blah, blah, blah.

And, and, or they think it’s just a marketing activity, marketing, over there doing arts and crafts, trying to do something. And it’s with the analyst and we don’t really care. there’s a lot of misperceptions around what it means to create a category. I think it’s a full on art and I feel like I’ve dedicated my career to it.

And I feel like a lot of people. Don’t really understand or appreciate what it means. so for me, there’s, there’s examples. Like I’ll give an example at Endeca. Cause I felt like this was my first attempt at it. So Endeca their technology was well-known for website search. That was the core. Use case e-commerce was the core use case beyond that.

And we started realizing that the technology was being used to pull together, you know, using internal search mechanisms to bring in BI [00:23:00] data. It took us a little while to study what was going on and we had huge clients, you know, Toyota, Apple. A lot of auto manufacturers, GM. And we started to realize they were really using us for BI use cases.

And we started to try and figure out why, because that was not the core use case for the technology initially. And it realized, we realized that that was the Dawn of unstructured data and all this data was becoming available in written format, blogs, you know, comments. Reviews and ratings. So people were looking for ways to marry their existing structured data with this new unstructured content.

And our search engine was, was pretty perfect for that. And so we realized we were onto something new and big with, with an existing market that was large, and it was completely different than the initial use case. And so what we decided to do was we started with conducting some market research because we felt like we had a new take on BI, but we kind of needed to catalyze what that was.

So we worked with Forrester, they produced a report on agile [00:24:00] business intelligence, and this was the, the actual category we created. From that point in time to several months later, we continued that effort with doing an ROI report on what agile business intelligence was, meaning in terms of impact to business and what were they able to do?

What were the financial rewards of that? And then fast forward another few months after that, and we had. Apple and Ford onstage at the customer event, talking about their agile BI implementation with Endeca. Now I’ve never seen anything happen that quickly before, but it was, it was this lightning rod moment in that particular market where the old way of doing things was not able to handle what the new needs were.

We were able to meet those. We named the baby with an analyst firm, and then we were able to quickly establish ourselves as a leader. And then the story pretty quickly ends after that with the acquisition by Oracle, which I think it was part of. And so that’s the most condensed version, but. But that same story played out at Acquia where you, you work on understanding what is your disruption in the market?

How are you bringing something unique? And why do [00:25:00] you not fit into the existing categories? You condition the analyst to understand that you work with them to name the baby. And then you start the real work, which is conditioning the market to adopt that term. And then you can reap the benefits of it as that demand grows.

And you could miss it could be wrong, but. But, you know, neither here nor there, it’s a very concerted all company effort to pursue telling the world you do something unique and different and better, and it doesn’t fit in the existing boxes. Everybody else is looking for their answers. so I’m, I’m really invested in it as an art and science and as a longterm kind of way to build.

A company’s opportunity and there’s a great book. Play bigger. Have you read them? 

Tom Wentworth: [00:25:41] Yeah, 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:25:43] I went to their conference last year and that’s a wild story by itself, but, I do believe in the discipline and I think that the, the ability to create the market and own it and become the King category King of that market is really what I think was.

Was part of Endeca success. It certainly was part of Acquia [00:26:00] success and it played itself out at miracle as well, because there was no existing market for marketplace platforms. You know, for companies who would help retailers, manufacturers, distributors stand up their own loan, their own online marketplace, all on Amazon.

You know, the world just sort of understood Amazon was a marketplace, but nobody understood. There was an enabling technology that could help them create. Not become Amazon, but, but use the, the benefits of the model Amazon was using to their own benefit, you know? And so, so we had to work with Gartner to create that category.

And, you know, here they are valued at $1.5 billion now.  I could talk for days about it. It’s so important when you don’t fit in a box. However, if you have a box. Just be the goddamn best at that box. And don’t, you know, 

Tom Wentworth: [00:26:47] I’m going to pull that out as my pull quote. There you go. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:26:49] that’s my long winded response to your question about what you’re working on.

Is there a box that you fit in and if so, be in the upper right [00:27:00] categories in a box 

Tom Wentworth: [00:27:01] yet? I’m in the broad, broadly in the enterprise security market. Which is pretty crowded market, obviously with some big vendors, we are trying to carve out our story is bigger  than the way they look at vendors.

We play in lots of different areas. I had a conversation earlier this week with, a consultant we’re working with on a positioning project or recorded future. And I have a lot of respect for, for this gentleman and he gave me some sort of anti category creation feedback.

Category creation is more important to the, and I’m reading from my notes here. Cause it’s actually what I wrote down is more important to the vendor than the customer. At this point, customers, aren’t interested in labels. They’re interested in the problems that you solve, which I think is, is fair.

analysts don’t even drive categories anymore. But he had the strong belief that, that trying to convince analysts that categories exist is a colossal waste of time. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:27:53] You just send that person my way. I really love to have a conversation with them  I’m seeing in my current role at Starburst, as we just begin these [00:28:00] efforts, I’m already seeing dividends from the work we’ve done with Gartner, because they’re about to publish a market guide in the next couple of weeks for our space.

I don’t love what they named the baby, to be honest, but we’ve already had inbounds for the terms they’re using, which I don’t like. And it actually is attributed because they brought gardener up in their process with us. And so, you know, is it everything? Is it, is it the only thing you do know? but I do think it can be fundamentally critical to how you build the perception of what you do and your value to the market.

and if you do the right stuff with Gartner or Forrester or both, it should yield inbound for you on those terms. And so you lean into it and you use their language, even though you don’t like it because it’s, they’ve created a stream to swim in. And when you don’t fit in a box that they already have, like just the same that you mentioned, we don’t fit tightly in data integration, data virtualization, or data housing.

We smell a lot like those options. And we do struggle with our initial meetings to clarify. [00:29:00] What we are and what we aren’t, and that’s all the stuff that points towards category creation. You know, you don’t cleanly fit in a box. You’re not going to win head to head and RFP. and you have to create a new space for yourself.

Ideally you do that with analysts because like it or not, Gartner still has a lot of cloud. They hold, they hold very good relationships with most of the fortune 500 organizations with the buyers. And, you know, you might view it as a necessary evil. I kinda like it, but it, it is what it is. it’s important.

And the category creation thing is real 

Tom Wentworth: [00:29:30] strange for us. There’s not a magic quadrant in our there’s, there’s a Forrester wave. That’s directly in one of our six primary use cases  there is no Gartner magic quadrant we hope there will be, cause this market sort of eed ones, but you’re right.

Gardner in some ways can legitimize a category. I think, I think the point from this gentleman was that it’s really hard to do it and obviously you’re good at it. I think for a lot of companies though, you can go down. The analyst’s rat hole and put all this time and effort into inquiries and briefings and [00:30:00] feel like you’re doing a great job.

And then all of a sudden nothing happens. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:30:03] Yeah. I’m not. I’ll tell you what, how I utilize Gartner is just the core membership influence, influence, influence through inquiry. And then we buy their content because that’s a great top of the funnel asset to bring people into. You’ve done this before the portal programs are awesome for dimming.

And so when I go bigger with Gartner, It’s not to pay a hundred thousand dollars for an advisory day or a speaking engagement. I think that’s, that’s a waste of money for small companies, at least. but you know, you can get so much out of their standard relationship, the core membership, and if you use inquiry, right, it’s a tremendous vehicle.

for all of this work, it doesn’t need additive dollars. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:30:39] Yeah. Advisory days can be awesome when your main analyst lives in Munich and you get to go fly out. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:30:44] That would come up. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:30:46] I have many favorite pictures of us at these massive pretzels and the big old Munich, a mug of beer.

Yeah, of course. The best part of that is when I wrote in the whiteboard, that was the wall. Which of course you remember 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:30:57] that? I remember that. [00:31:00] it wouldn’t be the same. Maybe 

Tom Wentworth: [00:31:01] Tom it’s it’s it’s not all. Well, this is not a whiteboard was basically the 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:31:05] layers into whatever you were doing on the whiteboard.

Tom Wentworth: [00:31:09] Think advisory days back to garner again, like we did advisory days incredibly well, because we realized that part of the, you know, the part of the benefit of advisory days. Realizing that we’re all human sitting across from each other. And that, yes, the analyst has to write the report that can influence millions of dollars of, of business, but they’re still people.

And they’re just sick of being be asked by vendors. I think it’s helpful for people who do analyst relations to remember 99% of what people present is just nonsense. And these analysts know it, just talk to them like humans and things work out better 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:31:42] customers at them. You have to, you have to groom the, I mean, that’s a huge part of the category.

Strategy is customer marketing and proof points and putting those in front of the analyst as well. So like at a certain point in time, they don’t want to hear it from you anymore. You know? They they’ll put up with your quarterly briefing, but, you know, getting customers involved, helping them with their research, helping them [00:32:00] with, with what they have to accomplish, which is publishing reports, that showcase case studies, that that really helps.

yeah. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:32:06] Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining me today. Any final words for our audience? Any other, anything we didn’t cover that we should? 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:32:16] no. I mean, I just was mulling over this category creation thing, and I think that. The, the reason it gets a bad name is that companies. Do a superficial exercise or they go down the path of doing one when it’s not necessary.

And I think that when there is a stream to swim in, you have to, you have to be great in that stream. And that should be your effort. It shouldn’t be about trying to convince people there’s something different and unique. when I was at the play bigger conference, Jennifer Johnson, I can’t remember where she was.

She was the CMO of tenable, I think. And I can’t remember the exact description of the category, but she was going through her challenge and they were trying to create a new category in the market, just wasn’t having it. And so, so they retrenched and they decided to be, you know, they, she got some advice from the guys who wrote the book.

[00:33:00] And they said, well, don’t create a new category. If the market doesn’t need a new category, that’s silly. You know, if, if, if this category is the one that everybody wants to use, then you’re going to serve up like the fattest fried chicken sandwich of that category. You’re going to be, you’re gonna put that magic quadrant on your homepage and that’s what they did.

And I think that when I look at my job now, I actually started hoping that we wouldn’t have to go down this path because it is so much work. You won’t understand it. But now that I’m a year in, I look back at, you know, how much we have to work to get things clear up front. I look at the markets that we touch, but aren’t in.

and I see that we need a different vehicle to communicate who we are and how we’re different. and it is an opportunity. So great news. Brand new way to approach data management and analytics that allows you to efficiently get access to data anywhere. And it’s very different from the old way, which was data warehousing, single source of truth, new way, single point of access to data anywhere.

And this is a fundamental part of that play. Bigger [00:34:00] book is the Frodo, the from two, So I love this work. I think it is real. I think it is fundamental to companies that need it just don’t do it if you don’t, because it’s way too hard. It’s way too expensive. It takes too long and people won’t understand it.

Tom Wentworth: [00:34:13] Do you want to disclose, do you have any sort of financial relationship with play bigger? Do you have any, are you getting 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:34:17] paid? no, but we did actually evaluate bringing them on as advisors at miracle and their model is interesting. It’s equity based. interesting. Wow. Yeah. And, and we did not choose to go down that path, but I did go to the conference.

I’ve got the lightning strike book right here and I have, I’m, you know, I’m a disciple. I think it’s, you know, it can be overdone. People can misunderstand it and it can be a buzzword or it can be real. And I think they’ve got a great framework. 

Tom Wentworth: [00:34:41] I think that the real part is, like you said, I mean, you are clearly inventing a category.

Where there are a billion, different legacy ways of, of dealing with data and you are, you’ve brought a new way. A lot of people use category creation as a positioning exercise, but they’re not doing something different. So they’re just ultimately creating confusion in the market. I think that is the [00:35:00] challenge.

And for us, we are, there is not, there are not other vendors who do what we do with intelligence. I think it does make sense. But I’ve seen category creation go poorly too. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:35:10] Yeah. Final question for you. Do you believe that the company is looking at this exercise as a overall company strategy? Or do you believe it’s being looked at as a positioning exercise?

Tom Wentworth: [00:35:21] it’s positioning that will set us up for the next 10 years of the company.  It is being driven by the CEO. And it’s on a marketing, you know, we are heavily involved, but it’s not a marketing thing because there’s product implications. There are customer success implications.

So I think it’s part is it lets us figure out what we’re gonna say no to in the future.  this is actually a fun exercise to go through. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:35:42] Yeah, I love it too. And I think the right thing is that the CEO has to drive it. The CEO has to be in charge of this exercise and whatever you develop for your positioning.

The CEO has to give that tip that pitch for the next two to three years. So they better love it and champion it and make sure the organization oriented 

Tom Wentworth: [00:35:59] and

 well, thank you so [00:36:00] much for joining me. I really appreciate it. I’m looking forward to your next post. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:36:04] All right. Several months from now 

Tom Wentworth: [00:36:06] in 2023. 

Jess Iandiorio: [00:36:07] Perfect.

Tom Wentworth: [00:36:08] Thanks Jess.

By Tom Wentworth

CMO at Recorded Future | Formerly Acquia, RapidMiner | I like math, open source, and the Smashing Pumpkins

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