“Better experience”, With Douglas Brown and Divanny Lamas of Transposit

The focus should shift beyond just “women in tech.” Tech companies need to think about building a culture that is able to welcome people from different perspectives and backgrounds, BIPOC and minorities to help solve industry problems. Technology users span all walks of life, so we need that same type of diversity in the teams […]

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The focus should shift beyond just “women in tech.” Tech companies need to think about building a culture that is able to welcome people from different perspectives and backgrounds, BIPOC and minorities to help solve industry problems. Technology users span all walks of life, so we need that same type of diversity in the teams building our products.

I’m also particularly sensitive to what roles we hire women into. I’ve seen a trend to put young women, especially right out of college, into roles that seem more designed for ticking boxes than truly changing company culture. If companies want to change the status quo, it’s critical that they elevate women into positions of power and influence, and give them the support from allies that they so desperately need. That means hiring into engineering, sales, product, and executive leadership all the way up to the board, and not just “safe” functions like HR and diversity offices. We should level the playing field across all functions — no exceptions.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Divanny Lamas.

Divanny Lamas is the CEO of Transposit, the DevOps process orchestration company. She is also a managing director at leading venture capital firm Sutter Hill Ventures and is passionate about working with entrepreneurs to tackle ambitious technical challenges. Divanny began her career at Google and spent seven years at Splunk, where she saw the rise of big data and was a product management executive for Splunk Enterprise and Splunk Light.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Serendipity has been a driving force throughout my career. When I first went to college, I was sure law school and international law were my future. Then, by pure chance, I took a job at the IT help desk at Harvard. I developed a love for working late nights fixing computers, and a couple of semesters later took an interdisciplinary class on privacy, technology, and computer science that convinced me that technology was going to change every industry. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to cut it in my CS course work, but I turned out to actually be good at coding. Back then I was one of only a handful of women in the department, and the only Latina, but I slowly started believing that maybe there was a role for me using my computer science skills. I interned at multiple companies through college — including Evernote, which bit me with the startup bug — and I changed paths, graduating with a government and computer science degree.

After graduation, I went to Google, where I was spoiled by the limitless potential for data to change the world. I knew I wanted to go back to the startup world, so I joined a small company named Splunk which turned into seven amazing years in roles across the company in product management, sales engineering, customer success, and sales. I told myself that I’d only leave Splunk for a killer opportunity with a high-growth startup or one that I built myself. Instead, I was recruited into venture capital.

I was convinced I would never join the “dark side” of venture capital, but when I met the team at Sutter Hill Ventures, I could tell they were different. The firm had an approach to partnering with entrepreneurs that spoke to my desire to build. These days I apply all my energy to solving the world’s hardest problems, taking all the things I’ve learned throughout my career to create companies that make the world a fundamentally better place. This passion brought me to my dual role as Sutter Hill Ventures managing Director and CEO of Transposit.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

A few months after I joined Transposit, we were in a rush to get our booth presence ready at AWS re:Invent. We only had two months to produce something for the event that would show the vision Transposit founder Tina Huang and I were working on, but we didn’t quite have a new company direction that had been validated.

Our two goals for the event were: don’t do damage to the brand and have thoughtful conversations with DevOps professionals and SREs at re:Invent. It turned out to be a fun, strange, and wonderful experience. All of the preparation (we even had astronaut ice cream at our booth, which was super popular with the attendees!) paid off. Even in this short period of time we were able to share the magic of Transposit.

After the event, both Fortune 100 prospective customers and VC firms started reaching out to us. Some even said Transposit was the most interesting thing on the show floor. We had no marketing or email campaigns and were basically in stealth, so this was incredibly inspiring. When we started getting strangers who had heard second-hand about us reaching out on LinkedIn Tina and I knew we had something special.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started at Transposit, I had to perfect my cold-calling technique. With this came many funny moments, silly mistakes, and many conversations with very interesting people. I learned not to make assumptions about what technology terms people know or how their IT infrastructures are architected. These conversations opened my eyes to experiences being had by people outside of my circle of DevOps and SRE folks. For example, I spoke to individuals in rural Wyoming who had very successful businesses but had never heard of the term “SRE’’ or wondered “what does she mean by reliability?” Many of their companies also had older, more traditional infrastructures in place. It was humanizing and humbling. I learned the critical importance of speaking to businesses all over the country and the world, not just those in the Silicon Valley bubble. I loved sharing these stories with Tina after a day of making these calls — it got us really excited about all of the different kinds of companies and people we could help with Transposit’s platform

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

After my first 4 years at Splunk, I felt like I was on top of the world. I was energized to want to build another company, so I joined a startup with my friends that focused on machine learning for financial services. It was a complete disaster. The experience was a rude awakening and I learned that the most important thing you can do is build a product that solves a pain people are desperate to pay to solve. I went back to Splunk to focus on building my sales skills, and spent an additional three years helping scale a billion dollar sales team and building a customer success organization. I wouldn’t trade this “failure” for the world.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are too many people to name — it takes a village. That said, I never could have imagined the role that Stephen Sorkin, who was Splunk’s VP of Engineering and then Chief Strategy Officer would have on my career. Sorkin (I hope he doesn’t read this) was always known as a bit of a prickly engineer. Product managers were terrified of him, and as luck had it, I got to work with him on my first features at Splunk. What I learned is that he is uncompromising on solving customer pain. He developed a rapport with our users that taught me the truest fact about product management — we are the voice of the customer in the engineering organization. We ended up building out a strong partnership and continue to be good friends to this day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” — Marcus Aurelius

I might be a bit of a stereotype, but I keep a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations on my nightstand. He really has words of wisdom for every challenge we encounter in life. The most important ones to me are the ones that remind me to trust in my intuition. No one knows the facts of the situation or the company I’m running better than I do. I value the advice of my friends and partners deeply, but ultimately my job is to interpret that advice and make the hard decisions with deep accountability.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about you and your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Transposit is a DevOps process orchestration platform. It’s used by DevOps professionals, site reliability engineers (SREs), and IT Operations teams. Its fully integrated, human-in-the-loop approach to automation empowers technical operations teams to streamline DevOps practices, enhance service reliability, and resolve incidents faster. Both Tina Huang, Transposit’s founder and CTO, and I recognized that commonly deployed tools like Atlassian and ServiceNow were built before DevOps philosophy even existed, which means that they don’t scale to meet today’s needs and have critical functionality limitations. Transposit, on the other hand, is built from the ground up to manage the complexity and scale of modern software stacks.

For a long time, DevOps and software engineering teams ignored using “human data” sources (such as archived Slack communications and postmortem interviews) as a source of insights to improve their day-to-day operations. Building structure and capability around human data lets DevOps and reliability engineers achieve more reliable process automation and provide accurate, useful feedback to developers, managers, and other team members to strengthen operations.

Our platform increases application uptime and improves quality of life for engineers by leveraging human-in-the-loop automation to bring order and efficiency to incident response, troubleshooting, and day-to-day operations. Human judgement is used at key decision points during actions and processes to allow machines to be able to do what they do best: automate. Our product is a lot different from other companies’ automation-only solutions, which completely miss the nuance, context, and incremental learning available from human data.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our team is what makes us stand out. We’ve got an incredible group of technologists that surprise me every day with their ability to tackle our customers’ most difficult challenges. Transposit is a woman-led company and we are dedicated to supporting and empowering women in STEM. Half of our engineers are women. Additionally, we differ from many other technology companies in that we actively hire people from all different types of backgrounds — not just ex-Google or ex-Apple employees. We’ve practiced this since the very beginning stages of the company. In doing so, we have assembled a team of very diverse perspectives, giving us a competitive edge.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’ve recently expanded our mission to more directly target IT operations in addition to SRE and engineering teams. As we spoke to more companies we found that there was a big need to enable collaboration between the engineering and operations sides of the house. Today these teams live in different tools and find themselves running a lot of manual processes to keep things running smoothly. IT has really changed from my first days in help desk support and we’re in the right place at the right time. I’m excited to revisit my roots in IT and help these teams transform the way they do service management.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I am not at all satisfied with the status quo regarding women in tech, and it’s a topic that has been discussed for a long time. What’s more upsetting is anytime I see a “women in tech”-focused event and it’s not intersectional. It’s easy to take a handful of white women from Ivy League universities that took engineering classes and say you’ve done the work in leveling the playing field for women, but I believe we’ve got a lot more work to do.

The focus should shift beyond just “women in tech.” Tech companies need to think about building a culture that is able to welcome people from different perspectives and backgrounds, BIPOC and minorities to help solve industry problems. Technology users span all walks of life, so we need that same type of diversity in the teams building our products.

I’m also particularly sensitive to what roles we hire women into. I’ve seen a trend to put young women, especially right out of college, into roles that seem more designed for ticking boxes than truly changing company culture. If companies want to change the status quo, it’s critical that they elevate women into positions of power and influence, and give them the support from allies that they so desperately need. That means hiring into engineering, sales, product, and executive leadership all the way up to the board, and not just “safe” functions like HR and diversity offices. We should level the playing field across all functions — no exceptions.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

There’s still pervasive hesitation when women show initiative and strength in character. We’ve seen this in the disproportionate takedown of women CEOs that keep happening. Being focused on excellence, on building great teams, on working hard are all traits that should be admired in leaders, but for female leaders it’s not received that way. Women in tech leadership positions are unfairly expected to find a balance between being a strong female leader and not getting pigeonholed as too aggressive. It’s a clearly outdated perspective that being strong, having an opinion, and being smart makes you less feminine or less good at your job. People expect women to exemplify qualities that work against a company’s own goals and values, and this only exacerbates the notion that women don’t belong in these roles.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

My primary advice is to go and talk to your customer whenever you feel like you’ve hit a standstill, if you’re bored or feeling unmotivated. It’s easy to be stuck in a one-track mindset of “these are the same problems that I solve, these are the same customers that I talk to, this is what the market says, this is what our partners say so I have to do this.” However, customers have so many issues you may not even know about, and they will be looking for partners to help them solve those issues. That partner can be you. Block out all of the noise, and be more curious about your customers and their needs. Go back to the fundamentals if you need to. This will lead to more opportunities and renew your enthusiasm.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

Build a team of salespeople who truly understand what “great” looks like. In sales, there is a myth that effective business development people should be exclusively composed of individuals that are up-and-coming, really scrappy, and really young. That’s not always the case. I believe that a high performing sales team for an early stage startup must make room for experienced, senior salespeople that have had experience in high-performing organizations. They know what “great” looks like and are exceptional at helping you find product market fit.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

These days, we see a lot of bottom-up selling. And that’s perfectly fine. At Transposit, however, we do top-down and middle-up. We talk to the C-suites of engineering. We talk to CTOs and VPs of Engineering. In our initial conversations, we don’t come to them prepared to show them what our technology can do, but instead we ask them what their issues are and show them that we can be great partners for helping them tackle those issues with technology. It allows us to take on the problems that matter, problems that our platform can solve.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

First, encourage communication between you and your customer. At Transposit, we are Slack-centric, and we allow our customers to communicate with us in that way. We see our customers as our genuine partners because we both are investing a lot of resources in the success of our engagement. We are always honest with our customers and we expect the same level of honesty back because it helps us improve our product and the user experience.

Second, invest in your product’s usability and make sure it is giving customers the best possible experience. Your bar shouldn’t be the enterprise solution you’re competing against, but instead the addictive consumer application they’re staying up and using every night. You’re competing for attention not just with enterprise software.

Lastly, focus on what challenges your customers are trying to solve instead of what your technology does. By understanding what your customer does in their day-to-day operations, you can more easily bridge what they do to your product.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

To limit customer churn, you not only need to drive value for your customers on day one, but you need to drive more value by day 100. Your product needs to grow over time and help your customers in new ways over time. This advantage accumulation will transform your product into a critical component for your clients and not just another tool in their toolchain.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

The first: Better experience. Like I said earlier, you need to be able to grow the value you provide your customers from the first day you started working with them until the present. At Transposit, for instance, we are working on making our platform the operating system for engineering operations teams. We realized we need to get better at driving recommendations and we are working on making sure every issue and bit of data being handled in our system will drive value for the customer.

The second: Intellectual honesty and low ego. Tina came from building large-scale applications at Apple, Google, and Twitter. I came from product management at Splunk. We recognized the synergy that existed between us. We recognized that intellectual honesty was important to both of us. Our low ego approach frees us up to achieve what we want. We don’t let personal bias get in the way of seeking intellectual truth and we try to empower all our team members, no matter their role, to also be advocates for intellectual honesty.

The third: Customer success is important. We believe in relentless customer focus. Having a customer-centric approach is a powerful way to foster not only strong customer relationships, but strong internal teams, too, by encouraging cross-functional collaboration to problem-solving. That’s important in fueling the innovation that comes from multiple perspectives to help customers achieve their goals.

The fourth: Be terrified. Big markets cause big problems, and if you and your team aren’t terrified that your solution can help a customer solve a problem, then it probably isn’t that big of a problem. I assure you that being scared is a good thing, because it shows that the problem is worth the time, the investment and the effort in solving.

The fifth: Diversity is a secret advantage. If we put everyone who works at Transposit into one room, it would look very interesting. We have people from all different backgrounds. We have team members who are fresh out of college and we have team members who come from decades of experience working at high-performing companies or just came out of retirement. We have people from different ethnic backgrounds and people who hail from the rural United States and tech centers like Silicon Valley. We have people who have gone through different career shifts and retrained, and people who have had similar roles throughout their career. This diversity is our strength.

We always hear from the hiring process that people want to work at a diverse company and that they are tired of the status quo and outdated processes. The talent we’ve been able to attract at Transposit completely contradicts the aggressive engineering culture of the early 2000s. We are a lot more collaborative, which in turn makes us more innovative. We love bringing everyone’s different perspectives to life. It makes us all the more better for it, as a company and as individuals.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire a more diverse focus to approaching climate change and I believe that the business masterminds of Silicon Valley need to participate in solving the climate crisis. In our society, we often leave such problem-solving to scientists because it’s what they have always been focused on. But I believe we have already built the core technology needed to dramatically transform our relationship with energy and climate. At this point, the problem is scale and deployment. We need to help. The tech industry can help commercialize and scale solutions to help our environment, and it’s the most important thing we can do to give back to everyone on the planet.

Additionally, Silicon Valley needs to stop shying away from hard tech if we are to be active participants in combating the climate crisis, or any real-world problem for that matter. Software has eaten the world, but taking on climate change or global poverty or world hunger or the plethora of other challenges our world is facing will also require developing expertise in hardware, biology, and manufacturing. One example to look to for inspiration is Tesla. Tesla has driven a lot of wealth creation and its electric cars are now some of the top-selling cars in California. With the right mix of software, hardware, business expertise and scientific research and development, there’s no limit to the other revolutionary outcomes we can achieve.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would appreciate sitting down for a conversation with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. It seems that Microsoft always finds a way to tackle the biggest challenges and sometimes people don’t give them enough credit. I also admire the company’s transformation focusing on developers — they’ve quietly become one of the most influential players in the ecosystem, a movement that would have been difficult to predict in its comprehensiveness a decade ago.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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