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Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky speaks at Tableau Conference 2016. Credit: Tableau Software
Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky speaks at Tableau Conference 2016. Credit: Tableau Software

It’s a busy time over at Tableau Software.

Less than two months after bringing in its first new CEO since it was founded in 2003 — former Amazon Web Services Vice President Adam Selipsky — Tableau announced a slew of new products at its annual Tableau Conference in Austin this week. These products and tools provide a roadmap for Tableau’s future following a tough year that saw the company stock lose more than half its value. Tableau also scaled back hiring plans for 2016 by about 50 percent.

Selipsky, who spent the past decade helping grow AWS into a cloud computing leader that is on track to generate $10 billion per year in sales, spoke with GeekWire from the Tableau Conference about why he made the jump to Tableau, the important lessons he brings with him from Amazon, and how the company can keep growing. We asked Selipsky about how Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election will affect Tableau, but he demurred, saying he’s focused primarily on the conference, where 13,000 customers and partners came to hear about Tableau’s newest product plans. The conversation has been edited for style, length and clarity.

GeekWire: What intrigued you about Tableau enough to make the jump from Amazon?

Adam Selipsky: It was really all about the exciting nature of this opportunity. It was just too compelling for me to pass up. There are a lot of reasons, one of which is the nature and size of the opportunity. I just met with a Fortune 50 customer here, who literally not 30 minutes ago, said that people have no understanding of the data explosion coming to their businesses, and this is one of the guys in charge of data at a Fortune 50 company. He said that the Internet of Things is going to fundamentally change the amount of data flooding in at them. As a result, they really have to put in place the technology platforms to enable them to deal with this, and Tableau is an integral part of that. The opportunity is driven by the amount of data, which could cause problems for some folks who are not able to cope with that. But the new businesses and decision-making processes that are going to be available to people who not only cope but thrive with that data are going to be stupendous. There will be technology platforms and vendors who grow great businesses out of that opportunity, and I think Tableau has a really good opportunity to continue to be one of those companies.

It’s extremely unusual to find a community of customers as passionate about a product as the Tableau community is. It’s very rare; I’ve never seen a group of customers more intimately familiar with a company and more excited about working with the product. That’s a testament to the great job the company has done in listening to customers and executing and building things that are highly innovative and matter to those customers. Having this great product as judged by our customers is really exciting, and it presents a great business opportunity.

Tableau is a mission-driven culture. The people here really do feel like they are out to make their corner of the world a better place by helping customers see and understand data. I really enjoy working somewhere that has that kind of audacious goal. It’s something that gets everyone at Tableau, including me, up in the morning.

Some of Tableaus newest features in action at Tableau Conference 2016.
Some of Tableaus newest features in action at Tableau Conference 2016.

GW: What are some important values you picked at Amazon that you are bringing to Tableau?

AS: These themes aren’t patented by any one company, but I certainly think some good ones are prominent at Amazon. The first one is a relentless focus on customers. Tableau has done a great job of listening to customers over the years, and people here generally have customer interests at heart. I wouldn’t have come to the company if that weren’t the case. At the same time, there is an opportunity to sharpen that and focus even more and do something most technology companies have a really hard time doing: actually making core decisions based on that customer focus. It’s a question of not only understanding what customers want, but making sure customers are truly at the center of the most important decisions you make as a company and having mechanisms in place to ensure that happens. It’s easy to talk about, harder to pull off, but it’s something I think is real.

Something else I think is very important is to innovate rapidly. Tableau has been very innovative over time. Customer requirements are going to change and evolve very quickly. The technology partners that are successful in serving them will innovate really fast both in reaction to and in anticipation of those customer needs. In addition, in any attractive market segment there is certainly increased competitiveness in space over time. In a fast moving space, a really good strategy for differentiating and being more useful to customers than your competitors is to innovate more quickly than them.

GW: It’s been a bit of a rocky year for Tableau, what assurances can you give that the company will continue to grow?

AS: We feel very optimistic about the future. This week we unveiled a lot of of our future product plans. You could tell from unbridled cheers in the audience that a lot of them landed very well, and the community is very excited about the product plans we have in place.

In addition I’ve met with a number of large enterprises the past few weeks, and it was immediately striking to me how quickly and broadly they wanted to deploy Tableau. A number of them were talking about wanting to deploy Tableau to tens of thousands of employees at each of these Fortune 500 companies. If we can partner with them in the right way and have the right licensing terms in place and provide the right types and levels of support, we can really be the analytics platform for big enterprises like the ones that I’ve met. I think that if we execute on all those dimensions, we will see great adoption, and great adoption will bring great business results.

GW: What about locally? What are your plans for growth in the Seattle area, both in terms of your real estate footprint and hiring?

AS: We are right in the middle of quite a bit of construction in both the Kirkland and Fremont areas. Over the next several months we will be moving into the new headquarters building. We’re spread across a number of buildings right now, Kirkland is going to remain, but within Fremont being able to consolidate and have some more teams together is an exciting opportunity for us. We’re going to continue to finish that buildout and move in plan.

We are going to continue to invest in the business. In the grand scheme of things, despite the progress we’ve made, it’s still early days in the space, and we think that our customers really need us to invest in building new products, bringing them to market, investing in account management and technical relationships and supporting them. We plan to continue to invest, which in our business largely means in people, so we intend to continue growing.

GW: Are you worried about competition, specifically from programs like Microsoft’s Power BI?

AS: I think you’ve got some old school business intelligence vendors with pretty inflexible, expensive and complex deployments. It can literally take months to deploy some of them. Most of the customers I’ve talked to take for granted that they are moving off whichever old school vendors with whom they’ve worked historically. I think there is going to be a big movement from that over the next couple of years. I think Tableau can win a significant amount of business, just from that movement even without taking into account any of the newer breed of analytics vendors.

In terms of some of the newer entrants such as you mentioned, there’s no doubt the competition has stiffened over the past couple years, I think that’s inevitable in an attractive market space. If you look to your left, and you look to your right and don’t see any competitors next to you, you ought to be worried that you have badly overestimated the size of the opportunity you are tracking. It’s just natural to have competition, and it’s good for customers and actually good for Tableau. It makes you sharpen your focus and keep your eye squarely on what customers need, and they benefit at the end of the day. We haven’t seen any significant changes in win rates against competitors for example, so if we can do the best job and the fastest job of innovating we will be a very attractive solution to customers.

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