One of the interesting things about Tableau Software is that the company’s mission — to help people see and understand data — really hasn’t changed much since it was founded 10 years ago in the aftermath of the dot-com bust.
I got the chance to ask CEO Christian Chabot about the company’s ability to stay on course, even as many other startups instituted pivots, at the GeekWire Meetup Wednesday night.
Chabot noted that the best entrepreneurs are focused on solving a problem, not pivoting. And while he did say it is natural for startups to go through different phases — including the “tense angry years” at the very beginning — Chabot also said there’s something to be said for staying focused on a simple and straightforward mission.
“Personally, as you get bigger, if you keep having to pivot the company, I actually think it is a huge warning sign that the company might not be on to something very important or everlasting, ” he said.
Chabot pointed to Salesforce.com and Facebook as companies that are laser focused on a single mission.
“Look at Apple. Steve Jobs is famous for crossing off products, and saying: ‘Get rid of this stuff.’ You are on to something big when you don’t feel like you have to constantly rerationalize and re-pivot to add some incremental value,” he said. “Find something that works, and scale it big as fast as you can.”
That said, it sometimes takes time and hard work. Chabot noted that he’s been working at Tableau for 10 years now, pounding the pavement to make it a success even as other higher-profile companies grabbed headlines and skyrocketed.
“After I founded Tableau, YouTube was founded. Zing!! Groupon. Zing!! Zynga. Zing!! Facebook. Ever heard of it? These startup supernovas were all founded after we started Tableau. Now, you see these things, and I don’t know if this happens to you guys, you see these things and, on the one hand, you are totally inspired as just an entrepreneur…. But, of course, on the other hand, you are just so frustrated. Every time that happened, me and my co-founders we’d be like: ‘What are we doing wrong? Are we just stupid? You just naturally think, that: ‘boy, we don’t know how to do this.’”
As hard as it is, Chabot said entrepreneurs need to ignore those startup supernovoas. “That’s 0.1 percent of startups,” said Chabot, adding that the vast majority of startups are going to be “really successful, but over long periods of time.”
“Tableau may end up more successful than some of these things …. and we will see about that,” he said. “But, in any case, just be patient.”
“I think the entrepreneurs that are inspiring to me are pursuing something because they believe in it. They had the need. Or they believe in the impact that it can bring. Just don’t pay attention to these memes that go in and out of style. That just never helped us, and I will tell you that. And, by the way, that’s the nice thing about Seattle. Silicon Valley is really bad on this. There is so much groupthink in Silicon Valley because of all the VCs and entrepreneurs, they are all having lunch every day and reading the same couple things. Stay above it all. Start a company and pursue it because you believe in something, not because it is in or out of style. It so happens that big data is in the spotlight at the moment. I think that is all great. It will probably leave the spotlight in not a lot more time.”
Previously on GeekWire: Scenes from the GeekWire Meetup, in pictures and tweets …Tableau CEO Christian Chabot: Why entrepreneurs should avoid venture capital…Tableau CEO Chabot: Seattle is the promised land of startup America