MarTech Interview with Eric Christopher, Co-Founder and CEO at Zylo

MarTech Interview with Eric Christopher, Co-Founder and CEO, Zylo
MarTech Interview with Eric Christopher, Co-Founder and CEO, Zylo

“The biggest priority for rapid growth is implementing good communication across the business as it grows.”

Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What inspired you to co-start Zylo?

My journey to becoming a technology CEO started with my first entrepreneurial attempt: An online business, while I was in college during the dot com explosion. At the time, companies like Google didn’t have this long history – it was just this new search engine – but I have a big appreciation for that moment when all these new tech companies were starting.

The next thing I know, I was working my first job out of college, a local tech company here in Indianapolis: ExactTarget. That was in 2002. I joke about it now, but on my first day, I was given a SalesForce login and an ExactTarget login and ever since my entire career has been nothing but SaaS enterprise technology.

I’m also a geek at heart and I love technology, so part of what inspired me to co-start Zylo was that I wanted to start another technology company. As I have spent such a long time in SaaS, I had a front-row seat into the explosion in the number of SaaS vendors and tools you can use. From that, I saw this compelling need in the market to help companies find a better way to manage SaaS.

From the time you started Zylo, how much has the market for SaaS Management Platforms evolved?

I think that the need for SaaS Management is now better understood. Two or three years ago, people would say, ‘Wow, a SaaS Management Platform is a great idea and it makes sense, but I’m not sure my company needs it’. Now, we are seeing a number of subscription-based software companies grow and scale at incredible rates – at least 20 high-growth SaaS firms took their companies public in 2018 alone. Across SaaS as a whole, we have seen more investment every year – Gartner predicts the total market will be worth than $200 million this year, a 17% increase over 2018.

As a result of this huge growth, we are seeing RFPs for SaaS Management coming from the same companies that didn’t see the need for SaaS management just a few years ago. These companies are now driving the initiative and starting the conversation about effectively managing their SaaS investment. Now that these enterprises have validated our original concept for Zylo, I am confident that we have created a major category of software.

The competitive activity in the SaaS management space underscores these trends: Since 2016, large enterprise IT solution providers have acquired a number of SaaS management companies. We see that the established legacy companies are also trying to understand how a SaaS management tool or service might live within their product portfolios.

What role does B2B data management platform play in discovering and categorizing an enterprise’s SaaS stack?

Know your data.

You have to know what your data is, what’s important to your business and, ultimately, where your data goes. Managing your business data is so important: You can think of data management as security exercise or you can think of it as a strategic exercise to make the data actionable and manageable, but either way, it’s important from a discovery standpoint. Data management is a big reason companies want to professionally manage their SaaS environments.

For example, when we launch Zylo with our customers, they typically underestimate the number of apps used across the business by two to three times. Everybody talks about company data in terms of security and about securing the perimeter of their environment, but if you don’t know how many and what kinds of applications are storing company data (and who are your app users) what are you protecting?

Know where your data is, know where it’s going, and know, how to organize it. Discovery is something you should be doing not just once a year, but continuously.

How would a modern CMO/CIO benefit from Zylo in its marketing technology stack?

We know that marketing departments typically have the biggest budgets for SaaS applications, so the CMO and CIO roles are starting to overlap in a lot of ways. I have heard people ask CMOs, ‘What’s your marketing strategy?’ The CMO will rattle off all the SaaS applications they’re using: Marketing Automation, Account-Based Marketing, and Social Marketing platforms.

This focus on tech highlights how marketing teams need an enterprise-focused SaaS management tool like Zylo to provide a central, integrated system of record that encourages cross-functional collaboration. The modern CMO and modern CIO need to be partners when managing the efficiency, effectiveness, and value of SaaS applications throughout the organization.

Today, your technology stack directly impacts customer experience. For example, the Help Desk software you select can directly impact the customers, so now, because of SaaS, the link between customer experience and internal tech use is top of mind for many leaders. Now, more than ever you have to professionally manage SaaS and have all your departments and leaders (CMOs, CIOs, VPs of Sales, etc.) all integrated, speaking the same language, and on the same page.

Tell us more about your technology integration and how it can be automated with other stacks in MarTech?

As a SaaS management platform and SaaS, Zylo can integrate directly into most marketing SaaS applications via API, then provide continuous monitoring and reporting on your total MarTech Saas investment.

We are chiefly concerned with helping business leaders know what SaaS they are buying and how to measure, monitor, and optimize the SaaS spend across the organization. In short, we make sure their SaaS stack is utilized to its full potential.

Just as Digital Marketing teams measure the effectiveness and success of their campaigns, Zylo helps marketing leaders measure the performance of the tools used to create those campaigns to make more informed technology decisions.

What are your go-to strategies or lessons learned through massive shifts and transitions in 2018?

The biggest priority for rapid growth is implementing good communication across the business as it grows. How do you keep everyone on the same page? It’s through good communications, both in-person and as teams using technology.

As a leader, I focus on providing clarity around the organization’s goals. Then I open up the decision-making or execution lanes for my teams to go after those goals. The key to managing rapid growth and transition is transparency: My team knows the good, the bad, and what areas for improvement.

How do you personally mentor your Product Marketing and B2B commerce teams?

They mentor me. I’m ultimately trying to take a broader vision of the market and then allowing Product Marketing and other teams to perform their functions well under the direction of that vision.

I focus on the high-level vision and make sure everybody knows what we’re aiming at 12 months to three years out. My mentorship is more about giving big targets and guidelines and letting the execution happen.

What does your technology community look like? Who is your contact person at events and conferences to discuss technology?

In our local community, it is all marketing technology. Aprimo and ExactTarget are two examples of marketing tech wins, that created a lot of jobs and opportunities here, and then subsequently, a community of startups. So there’s a nice ecosystem of marketing technology here in Indianapolis.

The events we attend are geared towards the leaders in the IT or tech community who are in-charge of championing Digital Transformation for their organizations. We generally like to meet with progressive CIOs, CEOs, CMOS, and industry analysts that cover SaaS.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

We have seen a lot of success using Salesforce, Pardot, Sumo and WordPress.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in SaaS and Cloud Analytics market for 2019?

There’s a lot of consolidation that’s happening right now, and a lot of SaaS companies that are IPO’ing and then going on to acquire other companies. As a result, the number of software vendors will continually grow and with it, you will see more enterprise SaaS users adopt a ‘best of breed’ approach rather than going all-in on one vendor or one vendor’s suite of applications.

There’s an Okta report that just came out that shows how this strategy is winning out in the marketplace right now (https://www.okta.com/businesses-at-work/2019/). But the complexity is going to continue as companies are acquiring technologies at the fastest rate ever, so I think that’s going to disrupt a lot of the strategy in the market.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

Because the nature of our business is SaaS for SaaS, it’s more about focusing on what emerging trends we are seeing in the big picture. The explosion of SaaS growth in the HR space has been interesting to watch.

Where you used to have this high growth in the number of Digital Marketing applications, you are now seeing that in Digital HR applications. That HR landscape is interesting especially since a lot of people don’t see HR leaders as being the emerging SaaS leader, but it’s one of the fastest-growing areas of tech.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a CEO?

AI is such a broad thing, but the question I ask myself is what can I do to make my employees more productive and get them focused on the tasks that are harder to solve, rather than spending time on non-critical tasks? It’s more about using data in smart ways. What can you automate to save time and energy?

It’s also about improved accuracy which has a lot of interesting implications for marketing tech. AI is starting to take testing ads and sales funnels and help marketers do better and smarter tests. The idea is that you can be more cost-effective and iterate faster.

As far as preparation goes, you have to pay attention and read as much as you can to understand it because it’s changing so quickly. A lot of these new AI tools are based on data behind the scenes, so you still have to position using it against the backstop of your people being able to validate if it’s working effectively or not. But overall, I think it’s a good start to having better data sets and improved accuracy. There’s a company here in Indianapolis called Pattern 89 that’s improving accuracy for social ads and I’m using a product called Clari to help predict sales funnel optimization improvements.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

I try to inspire people to be more open about communicating through digital channels so they spend less time doing non-critical things. That frees up more time to focus on the important stuff when you are collaborating in person.

What’s a word that best describes how you work?

Swift.

What are apps or tools you can’t live without?

Right now, Slack and Asana.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

I like using Asana as I can take something from Gmail or Slack or almost anything and bring it into one list and knock that out quickly. It does require me to get the people around me to use it, but I get a lot done that way.

What are you currently reading?

Right now I’m on my second time through ‘Blitzscaling, a Reid Hoffman book’ about building a business at scale. Ultimately, it’s a book about how big iconic companies like Uber and Airbnb became as big as they are because they took over their markets with the advantage of being the first to scale. We think Zylo is going to be a massive hit and a big company, so I’m thinking pretty big about things like that.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Relax and slow down. I work at a very fast pace and I have expectations of getting to things faster than most people, so it’s important for me to not get frustrated over things I shouldn’t be worried about.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

Staying the course and being honest and direct with others as you’re doing that work. I don’t think I’m ultimately doing anything better, I just stick it out and don’t quit early.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Byron Deeter (Bessemer Venture Partners).

Thank you, Eric! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Eric Christoper is CEO and co-founder of Zylo, the leading SaaS management platform for the enterprise. After more than 15 years of helping clients discover and adopt breakthrough software solutions, he envisioned a more proactive way for business leaders to manage their SaaS investments and the result is Zylo.

Eric’s journey to CEO and co-founder started with sales from 2002 to 2010 at ExactTarget (later acquired by SalesForce), followed by six years serving as SVP of Sales at Shoutlet and Sprout Social before co-founding Zylo in 2016.

Eric believes that SaaS is the single most transformative force in the evolution of business IT and that those who fail to effectively manage and optimize the rapid adoption of SaaS will be left behind. His vision for Zylo is to deliver value, an intuitive solution, and best-in-class customer experience.

When he is not focused on creating value for Zylo customers, you can find Eric at home on Indianapolis’ northside with his wife and two children, where he enjoys a quality bourbon and playing paddle tennis.

zylo logo

The largest independent enterprise SaaS management platform, Zylo transforms how businesses manage their SaaS application portfolios. By creating transparency around SaaS spend, license utilization, and user feedback, Zylo provides a centralized system of record that empowers business leaders to discover, manage, measure, and secure their SaaS investment.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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