You need to know how to attract and motivate your customers to believe in you and the vision that you can solve their problem(s). Once they believe in you, they will buy whatever you are selling. Building rapport is important. But rapport is earned based on trust and delivering to your commitments. I’ve enjoyed many years of good relationships with customers, in part due to the fact that we deliver, but also because they trust us and there is mutual respect.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clara Angotti.
Clara Angotti, president of Next Pathway, has over 25 years of technology management experience. She is focused on Next Pathway’s mission of delivering innovative solutions in the areas of Big Data and Digital Transformation.
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?
So nice to meet you and thank you for this opportunity. My career path started over thirty years ago. I started my career in my early twenties, working in the pharmaceutical sector. I was working as a market researcher, performing statistical analysis on large data sets to determine buying trends for our pharmaceutical lines. One day I was called into a meeting and our company hired a consultant, Chetan Mathur; he was tasked with building a database and a front-end user interface to automate the manual work I was performing. Chetan and I got along incredibly well and together we built a fantastic sales & marketing application. I realized that other pharmaceutical companies would be interested in exactly what we built. At the same time, I also realized that my opportunities were limited at the pharmaceutical company where I worked. At that moment, a saw the light at the end of my dark tunnel. I quit my job to work with Chetan and that was the start of my entrepreneurial career in IT. I took most of my savings, about 3,000 dollars, and purchased a computer, and started calling every pharmaceutical company to pitch our idea. That started a very fulfilling career. Since then, we have sold 3 companies and we are currently building and growing our fourth global technology company, Next Pathway.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
There are so many interesting stories but one that comes to mind is when Chetan had to fire me. In the height of the dotcom boom we sold our first company to a large marketing firm that wanted to acquire us as many of their clients were interested in transacting over the Internet. The company that acquired us did not have a good integration strategy and our acquisition was not successful. The head of the marketing company wanted to reduce operating expenses, and instructed Chetan to fire several people, including me. I was indeed fired, but then I started my own company, and it became hugely successful. A few years later, Chetan was able to join me at the new company I had started. We grew that business together and then sold it to a large telco. This story is a good example of taking a bad situation and working hard to turn that into a fabulous opportunity.
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?
I remember early in my career when I was pitching to a company; I was giving a slide presentation and unfortunately, I forgot to update my slides with the company’s name — I had another company on the slide deck. I was so embarrassed. I learned a valuable lesson to always check your work and be well prepared for each meeting/presentation and pitch.
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?
There have been many hard times over the last 30 years. You need to embrace the hard days along with the good days; in fact, if it wasn’t for the bad days, the good days wouldn’t feel so good!
I remember being in our New York office on 9/11. We had an office close to the World Trade Centre buildings. On that morning, everything changed. As we grappled with the devastation of the attacks, our business in New York completely evaporated. None of our clients were interested in spending money on the IT services we provided; everyone’s budget went to disaster recovery projects, which we did not provide. It was hard to see a business that we worked so hard to build effectively go away in one afternoon.
The notion of giving up doesn’t exist for me. Being an entrepreneur means that there is no safety net. And along with that, comes the rush of excitement that its all up to you to turn a challenge into an opportunity. It makes life so much more interesting and exciting. The struggle is part of the journey. It’s so important to stay positive and optimistic.
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?
Many people have been influential in my journey, but none other than Chetan Mathur. He was the first person who saw potential in me and have me so much confidence in my own abilities. Back 30 years ago, when I quit my job to start a business with Chetan, I was able to do that because I had belief that together we could do anything, face any challenge, and have fun doing it. Today, we are still working together and having more fun than ever.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”. I say this to my team a lot. Being a mid-sized technology company, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by larger, international firms. Our company focuses on being the best in our field, automating the migration of legacy workloads to the cloud. We may be smaller than our competitors, but excellence and innovation wins in our space. This quote gives my team the confidence to take on big challenges and to make our mark on the world.
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 your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Our company, Next Pathway, builds and sells software that solves the challenges that companies experience when moving legacy data warehouses to the cloud.
The cloud offers tremendous advantages to organizations both from an ease of operational management, cost efficiencies and the ability to take advantage of advanced data analytics. Companies have millions of dollars of investment in legacy data warehouses, and in order for them to take advantage of the cloud, they need to move or migrate those data warehouses to the cloud. However, moving data and applications (code) that reside on legacy, on-prem, data warehouses to the cloud is not easy. They are stored in inherently different languages. Previously companies would either start fresh on the cloud (ie, not migrate any existing data/applications) or re-write the existing legacy code and port the historical data. The latter was time consuming and expensive, and most times projects were abandoned before they were finished.
Next Pathway is the Automated Cloud Migration company, we can translate millions of lines of code automatically in minutes. We do this through our innovative SHIFT™ Migration Suite, which automates the end-to-end tasks in a migration lifecycle. This includes the capability to automate the conversion of legacy database objects such as SQL and complex types including Stored Procedures, orchestration logic, ETL pipelines, Dynamic SQL, and others from legacy technologies such as Teradata and Netezza. No need to re-write, or manually re-factor legacy applications to new languages for the cloud, no months of testing and no unyielding project costs and risks. This is a remarkable innovation in cloud computing. Simply put, Next Pathway accelerates the time to market for cloud migration initiatives.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company stands out because we are solving one of the biggest problems in migrating legacy workloads to the cloud. Our key advantage is the automation that we’ve built — automatically translating legacy code to cloud-native code greatly accelerates the migration of legacy applications to the cloud.
An interesting story is how Snowflake came to partnering with us. Snowflake has built a cloud-based technology for storing and analyzing data and in September 2020, and they made history in 2020 with the largest software IPO ever. In 2019, after exhaustive reviews of competitive migration technologies, Snowflake chose Next Pathway’s SHIFT™ Migration Suite. In a press release issued in 2019, we jointly announced a strategic partnership to accelerate the migration from legacy data warehouses into Snowflake. This partnership has brought global attention to the power of our technology, SHIFT.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes indeed. We are working on several large cloud migrations across the globe. In addition, we continue to innovate across our SHIFT platform and have recently launched a complementary tool, Crawler360, which crawls through legacy code to identify end-to-end relationships, dependencies, and lineage in a user-friendly interface. This is essential information when planning and testing a cloud migration.
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?
There is still more work to be done in this area. More women need to be represented across the board in IT positions. I think two things need to happen; one is access, more positions in IT need to be made available to women; and secondly, women need to be paid on-par with men.
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?
The biggest challenge for women in tech is that they don’t have as much experience as men, so when applying to positions, especially senior roles, they are often overlooked. For employers that are looking to hire, instead of weighing so much on years of experience, perhaps they can look at other aspects such as potential and character. Another challenge is the lack of same gender role models. Whether it be in post-secondary school or at work, males have plenty of male role models. Females on the other hand, lack the role models that are critical to inspire younger people to take careers in IT and to encourage women that anything is possible. In both academics and at work, when we hire more women, we give young girls more role models.
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”?
After 30 years in the technology business, I can say with confidence that there will come a time when your business stalls. When this happens, you need the confidence to change that you are doing to re-ignite your business — look at what you are doing and change it, or look at how you are selling your services, and make an adjustment. The important thing is to have a good and honest perspective on your current reality. This is super important for entrepreneurs and even for heads of large enterprises — you can’t rest on your past accomplishments, you need to realize what you are good at, where you need help and when something needs to change.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Building high performing teams start with hiring the right people. I look for people that fundamentally want to do the right things. These are people that want to go the extra mile to exceed customer expectations, that when things go wrong don’t look to blame others, and these are people that look to innovate whenever possible. As a leader, it is your responsibility to identify and nurture these people. This means giving them enough freedom to do it their own way. You need to lead and empower these individuals to do what they do best, which is perform. Giving them the structure and support to grow, and certain boundaries to develop which stop short of telling them how to do their job. When you construct a team of individuals with these qualities, you have the ability change the direction of your business on the fly and moreover, you have the capability to accelerate growth without hiring tons of people. The concept of getting the “right people on the bus” is nicely described in the book Good to Great by Jim Collins.
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?
Finding the right customers is essential to staying in business. The right customers will share a common set of business imperatives with you. When you find customers that are like minded, then you will be able to perform well together.
We’ve had a client for over 15 years that has been very supportive of our business, but in turn, we have also been supportive of their business as well. The notion of conducting true business-2-business is an excellent way of demonstrating respect for the partnership.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Sure. I think everyone wants to be heard, and by that, I mean, you need to listen to your customers and understand their expectations, concerns, and goals. Hand in hand with this, is empathy. When you truly understand your customer, you have a genuine empathy for them and instead of thinking of yourself, your actions and deeds will be motivated by what is best for your customer. And finally, when your intention is to exceed your customers expectations, you will allows perform well because in everything you do, you are aiming to out-perform.
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?
Staying relevant and becoming a trusted advisor is the best way to keep customers. Customers continue to do business with people they like working with and people that deliver — you absolutely need both.
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.
This is a good question; and not easy to answer because there are many things that influence your success. If I was to only mention 5, here are the most important ones:
- Your technology needs to solve a relevant and important business problem. Technology for the sake of technology never works. If you look at what we, at Next Pathway, are building with respect to automating the migration of legacy workloads to the cloud — we are solving a major problem for all customers that want to move legacy applications and data to the cloud. There is a strong business case for our technology, as it saves time, money and lowers the risk of cloud migration initiatives. Whatever you are selling, must have a tangible benefit to the end customer. Early in my career I developed an application on the Macintosh Newton (yes, I said Macintosh!); I pitched the idea to Macintosh that building applications would sell more Newtons — they didn’t believe me. Unfortunately, I had to abandon a good idea, because I could not get financial support. Doesn’t mean the idea isn’t good and smart, but if you can’t sell it, its worthless.
- You need to have the courage to disrupt your business and listen to your customers. Change is constant, this is true in every industry but especially in technology given the rapid pace of innovation. You need to be able to pivot your team in a different direction if things are not working and/or move them in a direction where customers are demanding support. This past year, our cloud migration business was gaining a lot of attention because customers felt an overwhelming need to digitize their business — quickly. But our customers told us that they didn’t know how to plan their migration, so we poured more investment into our planning tools and launched Crawler360 in 2020 — this tool crawls legacy data and ETL pipelines to provide meaning insights into a client’s applications. This is exactly what our customers needed and if it wasn’t for our ability to quickly jump on this opportunity and change our roadmap priorities, we would have missed out on this wave of planning work.
- Hire people that are self-motivating and empower them. In technology, there is no shortage of smart people, but the ones that will make the biggest impact on your business are those that are self-motivated. These people will do the right things not because you tell them, but because it is inherently part of who they are. The right people don’t need to be managed — your job is to lead them, guide them, help prioritize their work, remove roadblocks — but don’t tell them how to do their work. When you hire people that are capable, and self-motivated, and empower them to make decisions, you automatically you create an environment of trust and loyalty, from which great innovation arises. After 30 years in IT, I have seen what happens when you hire the right people — you can give them any task and they will flourish.
- You need to know how to attract and motivate your customers to believe in you and the vision that you can solve their problem(s). Once they believe in you, they will buy whatever you are selling. Building rapport is important. But rapport is earned based on trust and delivering to your commitments. I’ve enjoyed many years of good relationships with customers, in part due to the fact that we deliver, but also because they trust us and there is mutual respect.
- You need to have an optimistic attitude and be resilient. This is the secret weapon of every successful entrepreneur. Your clients, and staff are looking to you as a leader, and you need to be positive about the future. When the lockdown due to COVID took place last March, I took our regular townhall meetings online; but instead of holding them every month, I hosted virtual townhall meetings every 2 weeks. Providing reassurance to our staff, more frequent updates on the business and creating a strong sense of community even though we are working remotely. This made a huge different in people feeling better about work, and feeling connected.
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. 🙂
Education is key to unlocking a lot of challenges for people. Imagine a world where everyone could have access to higher levels of education. Only education can spur innovation, ease poverty, and provide a strong sense of accomplishment and financial independence to communities across the world. It reminds me of the famous quote “Give a man a fish and you feed him one meal. Teach him to fish and he can feed himself for many meals”.
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 love to meet with Indra Nooyi. As a woman, mother, wife and iconic business leader, it would be my sincere pleasure to meet her.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!