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Godard Abel – Riding Enterprise Software Wave at G2 – Ep.224

My guest is Godard Abel, founder and CEO of G2, an enterprise software marketplace that helps software buyers find the right software for their companies and key problems.

Episode Description

Ep. 224: Alex (@aebridgeman) is joined by Godard Abel (@GodardAbel).

My guest is Godard Abel, founder and CEO of G2, an enterprise software marketplace that helps software buyers find the right software for their companies and key problems. G2 is the third company he has led as CEO, the first two being BigMachines, founded in 2000, and SteelBrick, founded in 2014.

We talk about lessons learned building all three companies, challenges he’s currently facing, picking the right industries to build in, hiring talented people, and what trends in software and AI he’s excited about today. There were also some fantastic books, blogs, and concepts mentioned in the podcast so be sure to catch those in the show notes.

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Clips From This Episode

Measuring Momentum

Maintaining Culture with a Larger Headcount

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(00:00:00) – Intro

(00:04:27) – Sweating the details

(00:06:11) – Alternative data points to focus on

(00:08:05) – Measuring momentum

(00:13:11) – What extra data point do you want today that might be more challenging to get?

(00:14:55) – Are there legal issues in obtaining pricing data?

(00:17:32) – How do you pick what industry or market you want to build a company in with regard to enterprise software?

(00:21:25) – What trends are you paying attention to today?

(00:24:54) – How did you improve on your processes when building G2?

(00:29:46) – What have you learned from CEO peers of yours about maintaining cultures with large headcounts?

(00:32:23) – Are there any ingredients from your time at Salesforce that you apply to G2?

(00:34:22) – Are there more systematic ways to screen for culture and values in hiring?

(00:38:40) – What challenges do you have as you scale?

(00:42:13) – If you weren’t running G2, what business would you be excited to run?

Alex Bridgeman: Godard, thank you for coming on the podcast. I’m thrilled to have you. I am a kind of data business geek and enjoy studying software business, and G2 kind of fits between the two in a really unique way. And I’m just excited to chat with yourself as you have been involved in a lot of very successful companies as both a founder and CEO but also different executive positions. So, I’m really excited to hear some of the lessons you’ve learned through all that time. One kind of comment you made just in the intro prep here before we hit record is you like to sweat the details and like pay attention to details and make sure they actually get right. What details do you find yourself paying most close attention to today at G2 or any other companies that you’re involved in?

Godard Abel: Yeah, I think the most important details are the customer experience, so anything your customer is going to see, whether it’s the UX on where millions of buyers come, and so I think really also showing care in the user experience and ideally giving them a great digital experience so the customer and the user always feels good. I think that’s probably the most important area to really obsess over the details.

Alex Bridgeman: And then just so I have a good sense for G2 itself, it’s a pretty interesting platform that combines kind of user reviews for software platforms and helps potential software buyers evaluate different options that they might have. That in itself, obviously, is a really interesting data set that’s taken a lot of time and energy to create. But I’m guessing there’s also lots of kind of almost exhaust data or other data points. Like the one thing I was thinking of in prep for our episode is, if you search for, if you’re looking for a new CRM for your business and you use G2 to figure out how does Salesforce compare to HubSpot or any of these others, it’s probably relevant to see like how many reviews each product has or quality of reviews. But I’d also wonder if there’s things like the 10 or 50 most recent reviews were like 80% towards this one CRM, first 20% for another, indicating that like one is becoming more popular or more used today, even if historically that’s not been the case. I’d be curious, what are some alternative data points that you can share through the G2 platform or you’ve tried to pay attention to that could also give insight to buyers as to what platforms are interesting and might be relevant for them? What are some alternative data points you see and pay attention to?

Godard Abel: Yeah, for sure. Obviously, at the front end, when we started G2, we called it a Yelp for software. And the idea being this, providing trusted peer consumer reviews for business software. And that in itself was a radical idea because when we started G2 a little over 10 years ago, it didn’t exist. But you’re right, there’s also a lot of interesting secondary data. And one of the most interesting data sets is switch, switches and switch reasons. We can see that especially as emerging vendors like Apollo come up, they have a lot of momentum right now in kind of sales intelligence, sales tech, but you can see, hey, are they switching from ZoomInfo? Are they coming from Salesforce? How quickly is that happening? And so I think that data in itself is fascinating, certainly for software buyers. And we also publish a whole, we call it G2 Momentum Grid, where we not only look at  who’s doing the best today based on customer satisfaction, based on current market share, but with our G2 Momentum Grid, we try to predict the future and try to predict which vendor, which product is going to be winning two years from now. And that’s important certainly for a software buyer because with most SaaS products, it’s not like shrink wrap. Shrink wrap software was 20 years ago, where you buy a CD-ROM and the software doesn’t change, but any good SaaS product, they’re pushing updates every week, every day, every month. And so you also want to pick the right momentum because those companies are probably going to invest the most in product R&D, the most in innovation, the most in support going forward. So, we do try to, like I said, predict the future with our G2 Momentum Grid.

Alex Bridgeman: What are some of the data points that go into measuring momentum for kind of one software company or another?

Godard Abel: And certainly, one of the data sets of G2 is always reviews, and especially looking at recent reviews, who’s getting the most reviews let’s say in the last 90 days, and how is that trending? So certainly we look at review recency. At G2, we also have buyer traffic. So, we can tell, for example, within the category of CRM software, where are buyers going the most, how’s that trending? Like is one vendor, one product gaining a lot of traffic in the last 90 days? So, we can also see based on buyer interest what’s trending. And then as I mentioned, we can also see switches. So is one vendor gaining momentum based on more and more software buyers reporting they’re switching to that vendor from competitors. So those are all unique G2 datasets we capture, and we do mash it up with third party data. And so for example, we’ll look at LinkedIn to see how’s their employee growth trending. We’ll even look at Glassdoor to see how’s employee sentiment trending. We’ll look at sources like ZoomInfo to try to deduce how much revenue they have. We’ll look at Google search trends to see is a vendor surging let’s say in branded search, in total website traffic. And that’s the cool thing about this digital world. There’s also over a dozen third-party data signals we consume. And we consume all that data in real time, and that was also a big part of the G2 vision. When you compare that to traditional software research, which was done by analysts let’s say at Gartner, they would publish their magic quadrants, and one of our mottos was really no magic, because what is really that magic in the Gartner magic quadrant? I think it was just one analyst’s opinion. And yes, they do try to be data-driven. I remember that I built two companies before, the first one, BigMachines, eventually to be acquired by Oracle. I just remember it took us nine years to get in Gartner Report, 12 years to become a leader, and then we’d have to feed them these spreadsheets where the analyst would send all the vendors basically surveys, and you’d put in all that data, like how many employees do you have? How many customers do you have? How much revenue are you doing? And one, they had to sort of trust you, and frankly, I always had the belief that some of our competitors, especially private companies, maybe were cheating, feeding bad data to the analysts. And then secondly, they typically wouldn’t publish their report till after about a year of research. And so by the time they published, that spreadsheet data was a year old, and then it only updated every two years. So, we’re like, wow, that’s sort of a view of the market two years ago, based on the analyst synthesis of old data. And then, as we said with G2, let’s make our ratings real time. And so, you can see today on, we have real time CRM ratings, let’s say, our real time grid based on real time data, both our own review data, as I mentioned, plus third party data. And we said, hey, let’s go one step further, let’s actually predict the future. And let’s see who has the most momentum, who’s going to be winning in two years. Because again, as a software buyer, you not only want to pick the vendor with the best fit today, but ideally the one developing the fastest in the future, so they keep innovating with you. And especially now in times of AI, you obviously want to pick a vendor that’s going to invest a lot in AI and make the most of it for you, whatever app you’re buying. And so that’s where we think we’re really changing the game in software buying to be very data driven and to look at all data sets, the ones we capture plus third party, to really in real time be able to make the best recommendation to the software buyer.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, it’s kind of like buying a stock or buying public shares in something that you’re not only evaluating the company today but what it could be in the future. I think even a small example is like our podcast we host on Megaphone, which is a hosting platform owned by Spotify. And so, when we saw that happen, we’re like, okay, this seems to be like, of all the podcast hosts and the different features that we’re going to be experiencing over the next five years of podcasting, there’s a pretty good shot that they’re going to be on Megaphone and that this is going to be the kind of forward-leaning podcast hosting platform. Seems kind of similar here where maybe the competitor or the data vendor or software vendor today maybe isn’t like the number one spot, but yeah, in a couple of years they will be, and you don’t want to have to switch vendors in a few years to something else that’s better.

Godard Abel: And I think that’s smart, Alex, what you did because when you said, hey, and obviously a podcast platform, that’s core to your business, to growing your podcast, and you picked who’s going to be the winner in the future. And you’re right, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with our momentum scores and momentum grid. And we do even have a podcast software category on G2. So, next time you’re looking, look on G2 because hopefully we can help you make that, make the best choice for today and for the future.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, no kidding. I’ll look that up after our episode. I’d be curious where our choice scored. That’s fascinating. What data point are you hoping to add to that mobility or that momentum data set or factor or number that maybe has been harder to go find? Like what data, what extra data point do you want today that maybe is more challenging than some of these others have been to get?

Godard Abel: Yeah, I mean, the one I’d really want would be revenue, where we could also see how much revenue is this product, this vendor doing in the market. Because obviously, that’s ultimately the most pure measure of market share and even momentum. But that one is obviously, especially with private companies, I don’t think there’s a legal way to get that data. And so we try to estimate, triangulate in other ways. So that’s certainly one data set. The other one more for the software buyer is pricing, where also the software tends to be heavily discounted. Sometimes I say enterprise software selling is a bit like car selling was before you had like Truecar or Consumer Reports where you’re not really sure what’s a fair price. Because we do know a lot of enterprise software vendors do a lot of discounting, obviously some of it just based on volume, but some of it just based on how well you negotiate your deal. And so, we’re also aiming to produce more price transparency and try to get more data on what’s the actual street price, if you will, for software after the discount that each customer receives.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, pricing, you’re right, is so different customer to customer based on size or even billing terms can be different and that affects pricing in many ways. And I remember we had Henry Schuck, the ZoomInfo founder and CEO, on the podcast recently. One thing he’s talked about before is they’re happy to take a 10 to 15% discount if it pulls revenue forward a quarter or two. They’ll take that all day long. So that’s a tried and true strategy. So that definitely makes it more complicated. Are there any legal issues with getting pricing where there’s a kind of an implied or explicit NDA before sellers will share pricing with a customer that makes it maybe difficult for you to get that pricing data? Or what are some of the challenges you’ve encountered trying to get pricing data?

Godard Abel: No, I think you’re right. There could be some sensitivity with enterprise buyers because a lot of software contracts do have a confidentiality clause. But we’d also only do it in an anonymized, aggregated way. We’d never say like, hey, this company got this deal from ZoomInfo, but it would be like, hey, aggregated across thousands of reviews, thousands of customers, here’s the discount levels people are typically reporting. In like Henry’s case, and he’s a brilliant entrepreneur of ZoomInfo, but then probably buyers could also see, hey, if I buy just before in the quarter and accelerate my deal, I’ll get an extra 10 to 15% off. And ultimately, I think that’s good for the buyer. It’s not even bad for the seller, because frankly, Henry at ZoomInfo would offer that discount anyway to accelerate the deal. So I think we’re just trying to create more transparency. And if you have more transparency, it’s like in any market. And obviously Amazon, really the ultimate in creating I think, also transparency for consumer shopping. And I’m old enough, I actually grew up, like was in high school in the 80s. And frankly, back then, even for consumer products, you had no idea what a fair price was. You’d actually have to like go to different stores and compare like physically. So it was really hard. And then obviously the internet came along, Amazon came along, and now as a consumer, just with Google, it’s super easy, milliseconds, seconds, you can figure out, hey, am I getting a fair price on this product? And I’m thinking most people today, like me, I trust Amazon, and obviously they do a lot more with Prime and delivery, but I’m like, hey, I know I’m getting a pretty fair price. And that was probably the overall inspiration for G2 though, was B2B software buying, it really doesn’t have that level of transparency. And like I said, we started with the reviews. There were no reviews. But also, price transparency is still hard to find in enterprise software. But I think it’s going to come. And certainly through sites like G2; we’re not the only ones. I think that’s just a trend now with the internet and maybe even more with AI because these AI engines can also ingest all data that’s somehow publicly available. So I do think enterprise software is going to become more and more consumerized, more and more transparent. And ultimately, I think that’s good for everyone because the whole market becomes more efficient.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I agree. Certainly, enterprise software buying is a giant industry that’s going to benefit from a lot of transparency in the coming years. From the different- pardon me. From the different companies that you’ve founded and been a part of, speaking to the enterprise software market as an example, how do you pick what industry or market that you want to build a company in or work in? The tailwind for enterprise software has been phenomenal. I have a hard time imagining that was a happy accident that you chose this phenomenal market. What are some of the things you look for in industries that catch your eye to either build a company or spend time reading about and researching?

Godard Abel: Yeah, and I do think as an entrepreneur, I always say it’s really important to ride a big wave and try to pick some trends, try to pick some markets that are going to grow inevitably, frankly whether you build it or not, and then you can just accelerate that wave. But I’ve been kind of lucky. My first company actually I started way back in 1999 at the tail end of the dot-com era. And with BigMachines, really the bet was, in that case, sales of big machines. That was the business my father was in. He was selling big industrial pumps. And the bet there was, hey, eventually, that’s going to move online, and if we create enabling technology to help move the sale of big machines online, we’ll be able to build a good business. So that was like the really high-level premise. And frankly, in 1999, Amazon was already having success, but at that time, they were only selling books and maybe CDs. But we, like a lot of entrepreneurs at the time thought, wow, everything is going to move online eventually. And so that was a bet with BigMachines. And then later, and frankly, though, we struggled for a few years because that whole dot-com boom turned to a dot-com bust. And I remember by like 2003, frankly, we were almost bankrupt. And even Amazon I think in 2001 on Wall Street was known as a massive credit risk because Bezos had not only raised a lot of equity capital, he’d also raised a lot of debt, I think 500 million or a billion, which was a lot of money for Amazon back in 2001. And literally, I think some Wall Street analysts were speculating that they would be bankrupt within two quarters. And so there’s a massive kind of lash back, pullback against the internet. And some people almost were saying, a lot of our customers at BigMachines, all these big manufacturers, like 2001, we’d call on them, and they’re like, oh, sorry, the internet was a fad. We’re actually happy selling our product data to our distributors and customers on a CD-ROM and we don’t need this online software. And so, it was actually a really tough time in the market. But we did- that trend ultimately came true with then the advent of cloud software. And eventually, that’s what made BigMachines successful. We started partnering with Salesforce. And Salesforce and Mark Benioff, an entrepreneur idol of mine, they did a great job really getting businesses to start trusting the cloud, as he called it, by let’s say 2007. And all of a sudden, businesses kind of got through that dot-com bust and started saying, wow, it’s actually better to do things online, more efficient to do them in the cloud. And obviously, it led to a couple of decades of great growth for the whole industry. And our first company, BigMachines, ultimately led it to success because we did partner with Salesforce. We partnered with Oracle. Eventually Oracle acquired the company. And that was really ultimately all fueled by, well, internet and then internet software and cloud software growth. And then I think that also inspired our second company where after Oracle bought BigMachines, we saw, oh wow, there’s going to be tremendous demand for CPQ software, which ultimately is where we positioned BigMachines, configure price quote software. But we saw wow, there’s going to be big demand for that still in the Salesforce ecosystem. And now that Oracle bought our first company, we thought there’s going to be a vacuum in the Salesforce ecosystem. And so, we built another one, Steelbrick, just on that bad like cave, but we built it more specifically for Salesforce platform and Salesforce customers, so it’s even faster, easier to deploy. And honestly, that really worked where we had two years of incredible growth, and we were acquired by Salesforce and really just two years after really starting the company.

Alex Bridgeman: What trends do you find interesting today, or what do you think in the next few years is going to be really interesting and exciting that’s kind of in a similar market position as internet and software was?

Godard Abel: I think it’s sadly maybe obvious, but I do think it’s AI right now, specifically generative AI. And I think we all saw it starting with ChatGPT 3.5 when it was launched in November 2022. And like everyone else, I tried it and I was like blown away. And obviously, it’s been decades of AI research in the making. But all of a sudden, ChatGPT showed the world generative AI and how powerful it can be. And I think now the wave, and we’re certainly aiming to ride this with G2 and accelerate it at G2, we’ve launched our G2 AI Monty, which is an AI software buying assistant. And we like to say it’s kind of like your smartest Accenture consultant, unless you need to buy CRM software, but it’s like a sentient AI bot called Monty. And Monty, you can just put in your requirements like, hey, I need to streamline sales for my 2000 person sales organization. It’ll ask you what industry you’re in. Okay, you’re a telco. What countries do you operate in? What are your core requirements? And based on that, the AI Monty, powered by the Chat GPT Open AI, generative AI can automatically match you to the best software. And so, we think it’s going to make the G2 software marketplace much more efficient and match software buyers. And we’ve also introduced now a version of G2 AI Monty for sellers where Monty can also, if you’re listing your software on G2, it can actually help you close the deal by answering customer questions about pricing, discount, integrations. And so, we’re really excited about maybe even G2 becoming a bot to bot marketplace, where a software buying bot talks to a software selling bot, and together what was like a 12 month really complex sales cycle in the offline world with hundreds of demos and meetings, all of a sudden, two bots talk, and within 100 milliseconds, you’ve bought the perfect software at the perfect price. That’s kind of the dream. And I think that’s starting to come to reality, but not only at G2, but we see it on We also created 30 new categories of AI software. So, exciting categories, obviously generative AI, LLM models, but also things like vector databases, the infrastructure that everyone needs now for AI. And so, we’re also starting to capture thousands of reviews and millions of software buyers are now coming because they want the insights on which AI is going to work best for my business. So I do think we’re- it’s creating amazing opportunities for entrepreneurs as well. And obviously, I think I just saw somebody talking about AI SDRs. I think I just saw this on LinkedIn, but there’s 374 new AI SDRs launched. And obviously, as you know, that’s just one category. G2 has 2300 categories of software. And so, I do think the innovation now is all around AI. And it’ll be interesting to see. All the incumbents are also adopting it, like Salesforce with Einstein, for example, but also thousands of startups are coming in. And it’ll be interesting to see, does this totally disrupt the incumbents, or and do the startups win, or do the incumbents just adopt it fast enough and they have all the data and resources to train these models? And I think some of both will happen, but I do think it’s going to be- I think our whole industry will look totally different in five or ten years. And nobody really knows how. And it does remind me of that first wave of the internet. And I think ultimately 10, 20 years later, the software industry totally changed. And I think the software industry with AI is going to totally change again. So, I’m really excited for that.

Alex Bridgeman: So, from those early experiences building companies and some of them taking longer than others, two years is a pretty quick start up to sell turnaround, what are some of the things you did at G2 in founding and building your team and hiring that maybe were different or an improved version of that process for you versus your prior companies?

Godard Abel: Yeah, and the first one, frankly, took 13 years, BigMachines, from start to sale to Oracle. And I guess what I learned the most was like years of struggle. And like I mentioned, three years in, we were almost bankrupt and we had to cut it down to like 20 people and took us a few years of learning. But I think the biggest things, G2, and we’ve been at G2 over a decade now. And like I said, my dream is to really build the trusted place you go for software. And there’s over a billion knowledge workers in the world. We all use software all the time. I think like right now, you and I are on a Riverside web recording platform. But we’re all using apps all day. I’ve got my Google tabs open, my Zoom, et cetera. We probably all as knowledge workers use 10 to 12 apps a day. And so we think it’s essential that every knowledge worker has the best apps. Because if we have the best apps, you’re going to be successful in your job, you’re going to be happy. Frankly, if your apps suck, you might be really frustrated, you might quit, you won’t win at your job. So we think it’s absolutely essential. And so we want every knowledge worker in the world, all billion of them, to think G2 first when they think of software. And we do also want to ultimately disrupt Gartner as their magic quadrant still has a lot of power, but people just say, hey, no, I just trust the G2 data and the G2 predictions based on AI. So we still have a lot of work to do. But in terms of what we learned, I think one big lesson is to be more intentional about the culture because when I started my first company, BigMachines, I was like 27, 28 years old, and honestly, I was just kind of fueled by adrenaline, and I just wanted to build something on the internet and take it public in a year, and everything will be amazing, but I had no idea in hindsight what I was doing. Whereas when we started G2 and when we look back, actually my co-founders actually built BigMachines with me, my G2 co-founders. And so then, but what we said, if we’re going to build another one, we really want to be intentional about the culture, both selfishly, because one, we wanted to build the kind of company we’re going to enjoy as founders working at every day, and secondly, when we look back at our experience with BigMachines, I guess what gave us a lot of joy was seeing a lot of our employees succeed. I remember when I was leaving BigMachines, they threw me a nice goodbye party. This was in the Chicago suburbs where we built the company. It was a roof top party in May. It was beautiful, sunny. The team was being very nice as people tend to be when you’re doing a goodbye party. I asked them, what did you like about working with me? I was thinking, oh, maybe I’m a brilliant strategist or so visionary, but it wasn’t any of that. It was like, Godard, you just really care. And I’m like, that’s it? They’re like, yeah, that’s it. Which is kind of, I think, the core also of the owner, thinking like an owner. I think that’s the difference between an owner entrepreneur versus like a hired gun operator oftentimes. I think as the owner, as the entrepreneur, you really care, you care more deeply. And my team said that – you care more deeply about the team, the customers, really about everything about the company. It was kind of your baby. But then we said, hey, at G2, how do we scale that? And we called it our peak culture at G2, peak both as a cultural mnemonic, it stands for performance, entrepreneurship, authenticity, and kindness, and also a great metaphor that, one, as humans, we always want to be climbing to our next peak. And we met this entrepreneur Chip Conley at the time. I don’t know if you ever heard of Chip. He was most recently the head of hospitality at Airbnb. Obviously, he built a massive winner there. But before that he built a hotel chain, Joie de Vivre in San Francisco, after many years of struggle, also a very successful boutique hotel chain in San Francisco, he wound up selling. But he wrote this whole book called Peak and applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to business and really defined what makes a great culture. And so it has this whole peak framework. I highly recommend the book. But also what he said at the center of it is heart and caring. And so that was, I think, the biggest lesson was just to be intentional about that culture. And now we’ve been at it at G2 over a decade and we’re still reinforcing the peak culture, those values every day and aiming to bring that level of caring to our customers every day, make sure our whole team feels connected to the vision, the mission, so they also bring that caring when they’re crafting the UI, when they’re taking care of our customers. And it’s obviously hard to do. We’re up to 600 employees now. And I think that’s any challenge for an owner entrepreneur as you go from just you and maybe a couple of co-founders to hundreds of people. How do you keep that sense of caring and that owner mindset as you scale a company? And so that’s something we’ve been aiming to be very intentional about.

Alex Bridgeman: What have you learned from other peers of yours or CEOs you admire and have good relationships with who run companies maybe of similar size or slightly larger? What have you learned from them about maintaining good caring cultures at larger employee counts? You mentioned being at 600. Like how do you- what are some things you’ve learned from peers of managing companies of that size?

Godard Abel: Yeah, well certainly still an entrepreneurial idol of mine is Mark Benioff,  the co-founder CEO of Salesforce. And I think now they’re up to about, I don’t know, 70,000 employees, so just tremendous. I remember when they acquired our company Steelbrick, and I think at that time Salesforce was maybe 35,000 people. We were only about 200 joining the company. But I do remember how they were very intentional about their culture. And I think Mark Benioff has always called it the Ohana. And he loves Hawaii. He loves spending time on the big island. But I think the Hawaiian word for family. And I do remember feeling that when we were being welcomed at Salesforce the first day. Like the day after we announced the acquisition, our whole team went to Salesforce. But they really kind of went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. Obviously, like really cool gifts and welcome to the Ohana, but you actually really felt it. You felt the heart in the employees of Salesforce that were welcoming us, and they were genuinely still excited about the Ohana and the Salesforce culture. And so that immediately made us feel good. And I think if you ever go to Dreamforce, which is like, I think, Mark’s ultimate kind of festival, and you just feel that vibe. And I think Mark also talks about it in his book, Behind the Cloud, where I think one of his quotes is like, hey, we were never selling the features of SFA or CRM software, we were selling like a story and an experience, making the world better. And if you ever go to Dreamforce, it kind of feels like that; it’s a festival where you have like 100,000 Salesforce users, customers. And he also always starts his keynote with philanthropy. And I remember like one year he had a band from Hawaii and a local charity that Salesforce is helping. So he makes it really more like a movement and both for the customers and the employees. And I think he’s been able to successfully do that with tens of thousands of employees. So that’s something I really dream of doing in the future. But I do think being really intentional about the values, the culture, and then teaching everyone and taking the time to do that when you hire new employees. As you go to hundreds and hopefully for us someday thousands of employees, that’s what can keep a culture strong even as you get bigger and bigger.

Alex Bridgeman: Are there any ingredients from your time working with Salesforce that you’ve applied to G2?

Godard Abel: Yeah, one tool that Mark also uses to consciously instill this culture and align the company is called the V2MOM. And the V2MOM stands for being explicit about your vision. That’s the first V. Your values, that’s the second V. And I think they do this at Salesforce where Mark revisits those every year with his leadership team. And obviously the vision and the values tend not to change very much year over year. I think frankly, he’ll only add a value or change a value every few years, but you do revisit them every year. That’s kind of your evergreen vision. And for G2, it’s building that trusted place you go for software. And then what are your values? I mentioned our peak values. So those tend to be more evergreen, but you do reflect on them. And I do it now with my leadership team, same thing every fall going into the next year, we revisit them, do we want to tune them? And then you also define your methods, which are your key initiatives to realizing your vision for that year. You’re conscious about your obstacles. So you say, hey, what’s blocking us, whether it’s competition, tight talent market, tough funding market. You’re also open about where the obstacles are that are going to keep you from realizing your vision. And then finally, you define your measures, which is how you’re going to measure, are you realizing your vision? And obviously those include things like revenue and are you on plan to hit your growth? But it can include things like customer satisfaction, are you making customers happy? But for each method, every year, you define concrete measures and goals. And so that’s the alignment framework, the V2MOM that Salesforce uses, and I’ve just borrowed it. And Mark also has some great blogs on it. If you just Google V2MOM, he’s put some public trailblazer learning content out there so anyone can learn about it. But I think it’s a very effective alignment tool to be both conscious of the values and vision but also to manage your execution through methods and measures.

Alex Bridgeman: Are there any- What kind of lessons too about hiring? You mentioned hiring and bringing folks on and wanting to grow to thousands of employees. Are there some more systematic ways to screen and filter for culture and values in the hiring process that you’ve learned and adopted?

Godard Abel: I think one great hiring tool I’ve learned is from another entrepreneur, Geoff Smart. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but he runs a firm called ghSmart that actually specializes in just talent selection, especially for executives, but he’s studied and he’s got a PhD, Dr. Geoff Smart. But he’s been studying hiring for decades, and I think he defined this whole methodology. There’s a book called Who that I highly recommend, Who by Geoff Smart, where he defines a really rigorous method for screening candidates, and part of it is doing a very deep behavioral interview. It could be like a four-hour interview where you really go through someone’s whole life and life time, and I think what he says is like it’s easy, like if I ask you, Alex, hey, what are your values, you might tell me A, B, or C, especially let’s say if I’m interviewing a salesperson, they’re obviously going to tell you probably what you want to hear. So I think there’s less use in that. So, I think what he recommends is really understanding their track record, their whole career, maybe even their whole life, and really focusing on what have they actually done and what have they actually achieved and what values have they shown as they’re doing that. And then obviously doing deep reference checking to also validate from their prior bosses. And one of the screening questions he recommends is always asking someone, hey, when I ask your last boss, when I do that reference call, what are they going to rate you, zero to ten? And then by the way, be like, and then you ask them like, and how do you spell that boss’s name? And just make it very clear you’re actually going to call them. And because then obviously it’s going to make the person be authentic and honest, and then, obviously, you do have to do the reference calls. But I think it’s really- and I believe in that, too, it’s really what has somebody done up to that point in life, and they may not even have the perfect skills, but if they’ve shown the values, the tenacity, the growth, and of course, ideally, the relevant experience for that next role you’re hiring for, then you can have much more success in hiring. And I think Geoff Smart says that if you fully use his methodology, you can have like a 92% hiring success rate, which obviously in tech is hard. I think even some famous other founders like Vinoco I think says, you only get it right about two thirds of the time in hiring. But I do like that Who methodology. And obviously, I’m not sure I’m that good, but I’d also love to be right about hiring 92% of the time.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, that’d be a pretty awesome success rate to have. Does that framework change at all for more C-suite or executive hires versus like a sales hire or BDR hire?

Godard Abel: Yes. I mean, I think obviously it works best with executive hires. And now that I have 600 people and I only have let’s say seven or eight in my executive leadership team. So there, I am that thorough and that rigorous. And obviously at that level of seniority, like I just hired a new CRO, Eric Gilpin, he’s great. But obviously he’d done that job just now at Upwork, led them through IPO. So at the senior level, it works 100%. Obviously at the junior level, we also hire college interns, let’s say. And obviously there, you’re not going to go that deep. But we do, I think, still try to hire like for peak values. Like by peak, do they really want to be a high performer? Are they entrepreneurial? Are they authentic? Are they kind? Do they have those intrinsic values? Do they align with those? And obviously also, at young levels, are they really motivated? Are they smart? Are they going to learn? So obviously there, you’re hiring less on track record per se, although even with an intern, you can see even in their college track record, are they really motivated? And they may not have to do great in all their classes, but if they’re like, hey, I really love computer science, then obviously it’s like, hey, I crush my computer science classes, and by the way, I’ve been coding this thing at night, you can find examples of earlier in life where they’re actually showing the skills and the passion and the aptitude to do the job. So obviously, it’s kind of a scaled-out version of that full WHO methodology.

Alex Bridgeman: What kind of challenges do you sense G2 having as it continues growing and scaling? Like what’s becoming harder as the company’s grown for you?

Godard Abel: What’s been harder the last two years is just the tech market. Because at G2, our customers, we serve 3,600 software companies, mainly their marketing teams. And it’s just been a general pullback in marketing spend. And that’s the budget we come out of, so it’s been a lot harder for us to grow. And we see a lot more churn, frankly, because the average tech marketer, many of them over, since kind of the peak of ZIRE or people’s zero interest rate environment, 2021 when money was almost free, I think a lot of people’s budgets are down 50% from that peak. So obviously for us and any other people selling to CMOs and tech, it’s just been a lot harder to market. And so the good news for us is we’ve still been growing. The bad news is we’ve had too much churn. And so we’re using that as like a healthy challenge to how do we keep making our products better, improve our ROI, create a more delightful customer experience, so that even in a really tough market, if the marketer has to cut back spend, they’re going to cut back not G2. They’re going to cut back their spend on other solutions. But that’s been hard. And like I said, the good thing that’s coming out of it, I think we’ve gotten much more efficient, and two, I think we’re much more focused on customer ROI than we ever were before. But it never feels good when you’re not hitting the growth goals that we’d set.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, certainly, that doesn’t feel as good. I would think that being closer to value for companies, like having a direct tie to the sales effort for each of these software vendors would give you some insulation from some of that volatility. Have you seen that be the case as you focus more on ROI and connecting the dots between your spend on G2 and your revenue or sales impact? Has that been productive in perhaps reducing churn?

Godard Abel: It is when we do a good job making sure the customer adopts the G2 marketing solution. Just to give you an example, probably the highest ROI product we have is buyer intent data, which let’s say you’re selling CRM software, it tells you here’s all the companies today or this month that are in the market and actually researching CRM software right now, buying CRM software. And that data is super valuable, but only if you properly operationalize it because obviously that’s just a signal. And then that’s actually where we have a partnership, for example, with Henry at ZoomInfo, where you can operationalize it through their marketing OS. And we’ve pre-built an integration, so you can take our intent data and automatically target people through ZoomInfo, through their marketing OS, through their sales OS, but you still have to make sure the customer actually like turns on the integration, implements it, sets up sales plays, make sure their sales reps execute it to act on those intense signals. And so, if we do that, and that’s part of the reason we’ve doubled down on the partnership with ZoomInfo as well as other MarTech vendors, like Sixth Sense, we have a Salesforce integration, a HubSpot integration, but there’s still work to make sure each customer successfully deploys it, they turn on the integrations, they set up their workflows, and that doesn’t happen automatically. And so, yes, if we do all that well, the customer deploys it well, they’ll be happy, they’ll get value, they’ll grow. But in some cases, we don’t make sure the customer properly integrates it, doesn’t see all the value, and then in tough times, they’re going to cut back on their G2 spend. So, we’ve seen both sides of it.

Alex Bridgeman: Last question, if you weren’t running G2, what business would you be excited to start or run?

Godard Abel: And I do have my entrepreneurial family. So, there’s a couple of companies where I’m the executive chairman of that I’m really excited about. One is 3KIT. That’s like a visual configuration company. Matt Gorniak, one of our G2 co-founders, is actually the CEO there. And then there’s another one where I’m executive chairman called LogicIO. That’s a third generation CPQ company being built by my BigMachines co-founder, Chris. And I’m also an angel investor now in about 70 startups. I’d probably be just helping other entrepreneurs. And now I’ve got 25 years experience building SaaS companies, building data companies. So, I’d probably be just focused on helping the next generation of entrepreneurs build their own businesses. And frankly, that’s probably what I’ll do with G2, although we still have a ways to go. I do have that NASDAQ picture, but we actually haven’t rung the bell. So, I think that still feels like an unfulfilled peak I want to climb as an entrepreneur. But after we do that, that probably would be my next chapter, helping the next generation of entrepreneurs and hopefully- entrepreneurial lessons are always hard to earn, a lot of pain, a lot of suffering. And I don’t know if you heard that Jensen, the NVIDIA founder, quote recently, he spoke at Stanford, and somebody asked him, what advice would you give to these Stanford students? And I think he said, I wish you all lots of pain and suffering. And of course, a lot of people were like, whoa, what do you mean? But I think that’s been his experience building NVIDIA. And now he’s obviously the darling of the world, but he put 30 years of many ups, many downs, blood, sweat, and tears into it. And I do think- so a lot of entrepreneurial lessons you have to learn yourself through suffering, but at the same time, and I’ve always enjoyed that when I have great board members, former entrepreneurs that can give me advice, so that’s hopefully what I can do in my next chapter. People still have to learn on their own, like the next generation of entrepreneurs and owners, but if I can pass on some of the wisdom, help make their journey smoother, that’s something I look forward to.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, certainly. Well, Godard, thank you for coming on the podcast. It’s been awesome to get to chat with you for a little bit. Thank you for sharing your time. It’s been a lot of fun.

Godard Abel: Yeah, thank you, Alex.

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