Libby Duane Adams: “Success looks different for everyone”

Success looks different for everyone. Define your goals, build the path you believe is the right path and follow it. I still remember the conversation I had with a friend who worked with both Dean and I. When I told her that he and I were starting a company, she told me, ‘no, don’t do […]

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Success looks different for everyone. Define your goals, build the path you believe is the right path and follow it. I still remember the conversation I had with a friend who worked with both Dean and I. When I told her that he and I were starting a company, she told me, ‘no, don’t do that with Dean.’ I didn’t listen as I had defined a path and was so excited to follow it. It’s always a good idea to trust yourself.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Libby Duane Adams.

Olivia Duane Adams (Libby) is the chief customer officer (CCO) and co-founder of Alteryx, and one of only a handful of female founders to take a technology company public, along with her founding counterparts, Dean Stoecker and Ned Harding. Libby’s vision and leadership in the creation of the world’s leading data science and analytics community is a key factor in the company’s 23+ year success. Under Libby’s leadership, the Alteryx Community has grown both on- and offline, serving as an incubator for the workforce of the future and empowering people from diverse backgrounds to solve pressing business and societal problems using data science and analytics.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Prior to Alteryx, I was a leading sales representative for the media, advertising, telecommunications and automotive industries at Strategic Mapping, a provider of spatial analytics and mapping technology. I sold early renditions of desktop-based geographic business intelligence solutions before the Web emerged as the most effective tool for deployment.

I also served as an account manager at Donnelley Marketing Information Services in Stamford, CT where I was worked on customer acquisition in the advertising, media and telecommunications industries. I was responsible for defining both the company’s national sales growth and vertical-specific product development.

I have always been passionate about the power and impact technology has in our lives including the impact it has on our work life, allowing us to function more efficiently. Before founding Alteryx, my previous career paths all had a similar source of frustration–the slow pace of the business and/or the employer losing our edge to the competition because we were unable to move fast enough to meet market demand. What makes us different at Alteryx is thinking about technology ahead of demand. We always think about what our users will want and will need to stay ahead and continue to lead the analytic process automation market category.

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

The importance of diversity and inclusion has boomed in awareness and an action companies need to move on over the last five years or so, during the start of the “Me Too” movement. It has become front and center of a lot of business topics and conversations. As I look at the importance of diversity, it’s not just the women to men ratio, but true diversity, from my perspective, looks at gender, age, race, lifestyle, country of origin, people’s backgrounds and more. The importance of diversity is really so interesting to me; businesses have gotten to where they are without it, but the power it brings when there is such a diverse team is really incredible. That’s important for businesses to take action to change and improve their working environment.

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 we first started in Q1 of 1997, the Internet was still a dial-up connection with Netscape as the browser.In this time, most were using the web to help children with school projects or homework assignments, or parents were using it to research vacation plans. It wasn’t the standard tool it is today. So, as we worked to deliver our first product, which was in the cloud as a self-service application accessing big data, we had no idea how much we were shaping the future. During conversations with prospective customers back then, getting past that first sentence was a lot of times a challenge because you’d have to prep them with the first call saying, “this is what you need to do,” and the second call is when you really show them and walk them through click by click how to navigate the website because this was way before Teams or Zoom. It was fun looking back because we didn’t realize how much of a trailblazer we were and continue to be. This helped me understand the importance of when you are a trailblazer on either the bleeding or leading edge, how much you have to keep the message simple so that the average person can understand and relate to how you use the technology. It was more of a big learning lesson rather than a mistake, but the way we talked about the technology had to be modified to be digestible to the average businessperson.

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 many people who impacted me over my life and my career. I have to call out my mother and father for different reasons. My mom never gives up. Today she is 91 years young, lives in the home we were raised in since 1968 and is the picture of health. During the pandemic, her only complaint is that she isn’t able to attend her yoga classes, so she gets out to walk at the beach, or in the garden and engage safely. She is an eternal optimist. My dad was the model of never giving up no matter how hard things got. As an entrepreneur, he founded his own business in 1964 to design world class golf courses in amazing places like Half Moon Bay, CA, Maui, HI and Sugarbush, VT. His work ethic as well as his respect for people and his appreciation for family are three of the traits that I carry with me every day and make me part of who I am. I also thank him for the passion he gave me for geography. He could go someplace once and knew how to get there without a map because of that sense of direction. I rarely get lost when driving or walking someplace, and all this I learned before we had Google Maps! Dean Stoecker, as a friend, a business partner and also a person who never gives up has impacted me. At every twist and turn in our work journey, over 30 years, his ability to see solutions while working together to define a strategy to solve, always with great spirit and excitement are qualities that leaders must demonstrate. It makes work exciting.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

As a leader, one of the things that I know is you need to take care of yourself first. Whether you’re a busy parent or a business leader or an up-and-coming business leader, you have to watch health and manage stress levels. For me it means exercising either in the gym, bike riding, skiing or walking the dog. It’s all those things for me that get me outside and keep me engaged in things that aren’t on your phone or in front of the computer. That helps when I’m getting ready for events — either a high stakes presentation in front of an audience or an important meeting or decision we are making as a team at Alteryx. When prepping for events, I’m thinking about the audience first — who are the people I’m speaking to? Whether it’s a one-on-one with a customer or a large audience, I’m thinking about, “what do they want or need to hear?” ”What is that topic? And if they walk away from that meeting/even learning one thing, what should that be? I want to be sure I’m resonating with people I’m speaking with because their time is as valuable as mine. Time is a currency. We’ll never get it back, so how do we make the most of those interactions and engagements.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Diversity is not about statistics and it’s not just about the female/male ratio or about race. Diversity is about the creativity of solving. It’s about having insights from diverse experiences that bring better solutions. With inclusion, every team can solve. With diversity and inclusion, teams are not judging. They see the efforts of all as valuable. Those diverse experiences bring strong solutions because there is never just one right answer when you are open to new ideas, new approaches and new outcomes.

As someone who is passionate about establishing a “we” culture, diversity and inclusion isn’t a choice for businesses anymore; it’s a necessity to drive innovation and success. For businesses to attract and understand a diverse set of customers, they must also have a diverse executive team.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

With inclusion, every team can solve. They have to see that it’s diverse experiences, life changing events and opportunities that have been created that will bring better solutions. This is because when you bring better ideas, creativity and curiosity from a diverse group and include those individuals every step of the way, you’ll get to the right answer when you’re open to new ideas, approaches and outcomes. If you’re afraid to have that discussion of diversity and inclusion, there’s probably a bigger blocker standing in the way. For instance, a lot of people feel more comfortable and prefer to keep the status quo. When you keep the status quo you’re not open to change, and that’s bad. Diversity and inclusion are about identifying new opportunities and insights, bringing people together, giving everyone a chance to participate and join the table and that’s what drives change. Doing that will bring diversity and inclusion not just to a business, but to a school, family, and personal environment. As a leader, that’s when I believe you get the best results, is when you give everyone that voice to be part of the solution.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

As a leader for me, every day is different because I’m here to serve all the Alteryx employees I work with and customers we’ve earned the right to do business with. As chief customer officer, I have the lens of how we function inside the company and what that looks like outside to a customer. That’s when I refer to the “inside-out” lens to solve a challenge but I also have the “outside-in” lens which is what the customer is actually experiencing with us or because of us and that’s what gives me the diversity factor. Like I said, every day is different. Whether I’m solving a question for my boss or for someone on my team, I think about it both inside-out as well as outside-in. I’ll give whoever the audience is that perspective. In our product management organization for example, if they want to change how a feature in our platform works, they think about the impact on the user, first and foremost. That’s a great example of outside-in thinking. Impact of what our user is going to experience, and when our teams are thinking about the “inside-out” and “outside-in” lens, we are thinking about customer experience, exposing processes, experience and improvements we want to make not just internally but thinking about impact on our customer. That’s what I love about my job. It allows me to have a different challenge every day.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

As an engaged executive, I’m here to serve. I serve our employee base globally, and I’m here to serve our customers. The way I view my job and the way we at Alteryx view our jobs, is that we get to do what we do because of customers. We think of the importance of the customer first and think about the impact of that and think about what problems are we solving for those customers. So for my role, I can’t say that I know what the myths are that we are dispelling but I can tell you that as an executive, being engaged in business, engaging with our customer base and employee base, affords me the opportunity to hear what’s working, hear what’s not working and influence changes and improvements we can make to make the part of their life better that we influence with product and our services.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

A lot of times, women executives think that we are continuously needing to and always proving ourselves. Proving we can do the job and deliver, instead of staying focused on the amazing work we are doing. We focus on the reporting/impact and improvements being made because of the work we are doing. Women continue to have to prove themselves so that they can be heard and catch their breath. This is something I would love to see women not fighting for because I don’t think it’s the right use of energy. Staying focused on the work you are doing and being authentic along the way is the most important thing. Women have the skills and the talent to get the job done. We as women need to acknowledge our strengths and the power of the team to accomplish something. Don’t second guess yourself or let “your internal voice” tell you anything different.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

My job is about solving problems and helping people break down silos. I connect teams, people and projects. People sometimes think of an idea and start working on it — not thinking about any other teams that might have an opportunity or benefit from it. As CCO, going back to the inside-out and outside-in lens is critical. It’s the ability to look out across an organization and see who could benefit and who needs to participate so that more people have the right voice in delivering the best solution. Delivering the best solution — beneficiary is our customer. Think about the level of engagement and motivating teams to be a part of. In my role and who I am as a person, I want to know how our colleagues are doing. I ask them to talk about their jobs, their interactions with customers and what they are hearing. In these conversations, I get to hear amazing stories about our customer successes and because I stay approachable, they are comfortable letting me know what’s not working. Hearing both sides is what works for me so we can direct resources to fixing what isn’t working and keep doing more for what is working for our customers and our colleagues. Without one, you can’t have the other. That is a key part of the “success formula.”

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I think from what I have seen, curiosity is a trait that I see in great executives. It’s about having the willingness to ask why — or willingness to ask why not — especially when you might not have the answers. One of my personal philosophies is: I want to learn something new every day. Another one is the “how” question — how are we going to do this? What would be the ideal outcome? As an executive, it’s not my job to have all the answers — curiosity factor is a great trait. As an executive and at Alteryx, we empower our global customer base to iterate on the next level of analytics and get answers rapidly. My desire to be curious is also fed by the environment that I’ve worked in for 23 years. Technology has always been known for speed and flexibility in analytics. We are the biggest customer of our own platform. I’m not afraid to ask that next question — I know the team can iterate quickly on the data. Curiosity is that trait.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I think for any leader, it’s about being clear with the mission, project or initiative that’s in front of you and setting very clear accountability goals. It’s also important to work with the team individually and as a group to ensure people know exactly what they need to contribute and that they are comfortable with those initiatives and goals that they own. Also, don’t ever lose yourself trying to be something or someone else. Being your authentic self is what people are going to appreciate most and being that authentic self will allow you to bring out the best in those people.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I recognized early on that creating a customer centric-culture went beyond delivering a successful product experience and set out to enable a global community of passionate problem solvers, where Alteryx users can accomplish more together, boldly step into the unknown and achieve more than they ever thought possible. Through Alteryx for Good (AFG), a company initiative launched in 2016 that provides students, educators and nonprofit organizations with free Alteryx Designer licenses to help foster learning, further classroom teaching and bridge the data science and analytics talent gap using data for social good.

Most recently, we launched the ADAPT (Advancing Data Analytics Potential Together) program, which offers free data analytics skills development and learning to thousands of students and workers globally who have found themselves unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. This program has exceeded 11,000 participants across 135 countries who are upskilling and gaining in-demand skills and certifications to help them land their next job. We are committed to expanding data literacy globally and look forward to seeing the continued success of ADAPT participants in 2020 and beyond.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Community — No one is successful by themselves. It truly is all about teamwork so embrace, enjoy learning and sharing with others and don’t forget to give back to the community.
  2. Success looks different for everyone. Define your goals, build the path you believe is the right path and follow it. I still remember the conversation I had with a friend who worked with both Dean and I. When I told her that he and I were starting a company, she told me, ‘no, don’t do that with Dean.’ I didn’t listen as I had defined a path and was so excited to follow it. It’s always a good idea to trust yourself.
  3. Pursue new opportunities — don’t be afraid of forging a new path.
  4. Trust your own judgement — we sometimes suffer from imposter syndrome. Build your confidence by investing in yourself and skills development.
  5. Fear of failure is a great trait to have. It is also a huge motivator. Never be afraid of working hard because if it were easy, anyone could do what you are attempting to do. Go for it and don’t stop until you succeed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We as a society need to engage our children early around how to be curious with data. It will help them and impact their lives positively. We all live today, no matter what age, people have cell phones, computers, etc. and answers to any question we might dream of are at our fingertips being powered by amazing data assets generated. Companies are building apps that we use, and it’s the data behind those apps that is driving amazing insights. I would love to see conversations about data analytics happening at a very young age. One of our customers stood on stage at our global customer conference in 2019 and shared a story about their 6-year-old daughter who was curious about how a cat sleeps. For a 48-hour period, she put a Fitbit on her cat and tracked the Fitbit, pulled data off the Fitbit and looked at when the cat was most and least active to see if she could identify a trend. To have a 6-year-old be curious about this — that’s data — that’s the type of curious thinking we want our children to have and our coworkers to ask. To be able to ask that why or why not question. As we look at how data and analytics are impacting our life off of the data that we generate, we need to think about how we ensure everyone sees the value and capabilities that will help skills development of the next generations really come to life. Won’t have to wait until university level because in today’s world, kids can be doing data analytics as early as kindergarten. That to me would be a huge step for our global society.

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

My favorite quote is, “power is not in what you know, power is in what you share.” I live by that. I remember the days we were in a start-up. All of us were equal, all three of us co-founders (Dean Stoecker, Ned Harding and myself) were smart in our own areas of discipline and we were a truly diverse group. We all had something to contribute and something to share. There was no fear that someone would steal an idea and there were no dumb questions. It’s that willingness to ask, to teach and to share. That’s the culture and environment we’ve created here at Alteryx. This has helped us grow as a company and attract an amazing customer base globally. Our community of users are of the same willingness to share what they know and talk about successes and failures openly on our Alteryx Community. What’s great about this, the culture we have at Alteryx has been extended to the global customer base and community. Willingness to share what they know is empowering people to learn. There is nothing more powerful than sharing what you know — mistakes or successes — so that other people can learn, and other people can grow because when you give, you will get that back, in other forms and other models. That’s what’s so powerful about sharing what you know, especially in the environment we are all living in today with the pandemic. It’s the mind that is generating the knowledge. That’s really powerful when people are willing to share what they know.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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

The one that keeps coming to mind for me, because he is so different from what we as a company do, is Bradley Cooper. Not because he’s Bradley Cooper, the movie star and director. During interviews he did when he was promoting his movie “A Star Is Born,” he talked about his personal journey of getting to that point of saying, “I’m going to do this, I’m going to direct, star in, write, and sing in this movie, and this is how I’m going to build this team.” He talks openly about this journey, working with a team, venturing into the unknown to follow a passion he had. He wasn’t focused on the outcome, and wasn’t doing something for a lot of money at the box office or Oscar nominations and other awards, but he stayed focused on the teamwork aspect and bringing out the best in people, bringing out the best of every person on the team in front of and behind the camera, including himself. The way he described that journey — I think it was 5 years — he was probably thinking about directing longer than that. The way he describes that journey is like our journey. We stay focused on the process and people and delivering a solid product that meets needs and expectations of customers. We stayed on course from what people were telling us — in the beginning, we had two schools of supporters — “oh you’re starting your own biz, so you will be a billionaire.” The other side of the camp said, “do you know how hard this will be? I don’t know if you do or if you can do this.” Like him, we had the courage to believe in ourselves and believe in our team. We’re not focused on the exit, but we focus on what we are delivering and what to do to best serve our customers. I believe that’s what has gotten us here today. In interviews, what I heard Bradley Cooper say was very much like our journey. From the diversity of his work, he strikes me as one of those actors that has the ability to throw himself into these roles that are so different. That skill that he has and the way he described that journey about A Star is Born and leading up to that reminds me so much of our journey.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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