After years of experience in finance at Paypal (divisional CFO) and Square (head of strategy and finance), Harvard Business School MBA alum Mohit Daswani was fully equipped to head up finance at ThoughtSpot. Six months before joining the eight-year-old software company in January 2020, Daswani got to know the company and its founder, Ajeet Singh, and CEO, Sudheesh Nair, after connecting through a VC firm.
We asked Daswani about why he took the job and what he’s been working on at ThoughtSpot (now valued at $4.2 billion), as the company transitions to a software-as-service (SaaS) business and preps for a future initial public offering.
Founded in 2012; business intelligence and analytics search software
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
MOHIT DASWANI: It always starts with a cultural fit. It’s something we call “selfless excellence” and it’s a fundamental part of our identity. It comes from our founder, Ajeet [Singh]. If you’re familiar with the “Good to Great” framework, it’s that level-five leadership, the rare combination of humility and an indomitable will to do something great, without a need for a personal ego boost from that.
Not that there isn’t the pride of ownership across every part of the company. But there’s less of the having to worry about breaking down political walls or political battles when you’re trying to do things like manage expenses or set aggressive targets.
We have tough business discussions; we don’t have tough conversations about who was impacted and who will feel offended. And I appreciate that. The political dynamic in a company can become a driver of decisions. We just want to roll up our sleeves, not worry about who gets credit, and go build something great together. That takes away a lot of stress.
DASWANI: I look at any opportunity through an investment lens. You’re always making a bet in tech when you join a startup. Are you playing in a long, multi-decade trend, and do you have the wind at your back? Is there an inflection point or something else that creates an opportunity for the company to capture and create value and become something phenomenal over the next 10 years?
For ThoughtSpot, there’s no doubt that the level of data that sits in the corporate enterprise is exploding. That’s created a real need to capture that data and use it to drive decisions, create a better customer experience and position products better. The inflection point is the entire shift of this infrastructure from captive data centers to the cloud, and [data clouds like] Snowflake and Azure and others.
And then, frankly, I have been in finance for a while. I’ve used the other [business intelligence] applications. I like to work somewhere where I appreciate the product and can engage with the product. For example, I wouldn’t be able to do that at a biotech. Analytics is part of the DNA of finance. So when I saw the product and saw what it does and how [finance] could use it, that was highly compelling.
DASWANI: Working with our go-to-market team on defining a quota compensation plan, defining key metrics that will measure success, thinking about new channels, and where we can continue to drive leverage in the business — not just grow but grow efficiently. Working with our product team on roadmap prioritization, as well as headcount allocation, and thinking about a global model and how to build the team efficiently not just in the United States but in India, where we have two locations. We upgraded our planning platform to [Workday] Adaptive Planning. We’ve expanded the sales team in the time I’ve been here, and transaction volumes are growing significantly. So we added automation in commissions, using Captivate IQ.
And then long-term planning, thinking through the lens of, “What does a great software-as-service (SaaS) business look like?” The company started as an on-premises software business. As data has moved to the cloud, we have as well. That requires focusing on annual revenue instead of [large enterprise] contract value and the [other] key metrics that matter for public SaaS companies.
We just want to roll up our sleeves, not worry about who gets credit, and go build something great together. That takes away a lot of stress. – Mohit Daswani
There are five [metrics] if you boil it down. Revenue growth. Gross margins to reflect the quality of the business. Go-to-market efficiency, measured in payback period or equivalent metrics. Free cash flow margins. And net revenue retention, the ability to retain and grow with customers. We want to be a top-quartile-performing public company.
The other area of focus [related to going public] has been going from an option equity plan to restricted stock units [RSUs] and making that transition easy for employees. As a tech company gets to a later stage and increases in valuation, the strike price on options can get expensive for the employee. The employee has to buy those shares out of pocket. RSUs are cleaner. When you get inside that 24-month window to an IPO, it’s time to make the switch.
I don’t know that I’ve noticed companies talking about it earlier. When there’s a war for talent, and people are deciding which company to join — obviously there’s a bunch of reasons to join a company — but equity upside is a big part of deciding to take the risk with a startup.
You want to be hearing the [company’s] aspirations are big. And part of that is going public. So part of it reflects the recruiting environment. Companies want to put their best foot forward and talk about their prospects and ability to go public.