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sHeroes: Meet Olivia Duane Adams of Alteryx, one of the few women in tech to take her company public

I see a huge opportunity for women’s participation in the data-driven roles and fields. I believe that women do think differently. We’ll always look at things differently, and that’s of huge value to the departments and teams and companies we work for, since it gives another perspective on how to approach a problem, how to […]

I see a huge opportunity for women’s participation in the data-driven roles and fields. I believe that women do think differently. We’ll always look at things differently, and that’s of huge value to the departments and teams and companies we work for, since it gives another perspective on how to approach a problem, how to solve a problem. I would like to see more colleges and universities and K-12 grades motivating our future employees, including women, to understand the opportunities and to demystify any falsehoods. How do we help our future leaders see the reality of these careers that require data and analytics skills? We show them the impact they can have. That can be done by colleges and universities putting students in the real world, so they’re ready to take these jobs when they graduate. As mentioned above, our Alteryx for Good program does that.


I had the pleasure to interview Olivia Duane Adams (Libby). Olivia 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. Libby’s vision for diversity and leadership in the creation of the world’s leading data science and analytics community is a key factor in the company’s 20+ year success. Under Libby’s leadership, the Alteryx Community has grown both on- and offline, serving as an incubator for empowering women in business via the Alteryx Women of Analytics initiative and inspiring citizen data scientists to understand the thrill of solving via self-service analytics.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I recognized early on in my career that innovation will always be powered by technology. During my time in my first job, the world was integrating into the desktop. Eventually, the laptop became mainstream, allowing insights to be delivered directly to users through software. 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 efficient.

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 self-service analytics.

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

I had the privilege of visiting Saudi Arabia in early 2019 for the first time. Saudi Arabia had been in the U.S. news with women being permitted to now drive for the first time late the previous year. As I prepared for the visit with customers and future customers, I was told I would have to wear an abaya at all times in public. In preparing for our meetings, I was so excited to be a part of a changing culture with Alteryx playing a big role in impacting analytics across Saudi Arabia. Every meeting I was in, every conversation with Saudi business people, men and women, were passionate about their business, their vision for analytics across their company and the impact they are making. I left Saudi Arabia knowing I want to go back and knowing that all people across our amazing world want to make a difference and love the work they do.

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

I never thought of myself as a public speaker, on stage, in front of hundreds or even thousands of people. As Alteryx continues to scale, we play a part in our annual global customer conferences delivering messages to our customers about the vision and growth of data science and analytics powered by Alteryx. As I would prepare early on for our conference, I worked so hard to script the presentation and memorize my notes. With more practice, I realized my passion was what rallied the audience. Being able to make the presentation my own was what people wanted to hear. Now, getting on stage is fun as I engage with the audience, hear their reactions and try to make them laugh at least a couple of times. The days of being shy are gone! Sharing our customers success is such a great story to tell.

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

As we talk to senior leaders from organizations around the world, we continuously hear that their companies need use their data assets to drive business insights through analytics. This hasn’t always been the case. While data is everywhere, companies haven’t always taken advantage of it. We’re changing the conversation around analytics as customers are looking for partners that can support their analytic journeys from beginning to end and from simple to sophisticated. Alteryx provides the only platform on the market that simultaneously addresses the needs of the data analyst, data scientist and citizen data scientist, and enables seamless collaboration across data workers. As the amount of data available to organizations continues to grow, all data workers need to be able to ask tougher questions and answer them in a timely manner, and that’s where Alteryx comes in.

Gartner predicts that self-service analytics and BI users will produce more analysis than data scientists this year and beyond. As companies around the world look to address the data science skills gap, many are turning to Alteryx to empower their workforce — no matter their technical acumen — to make a positive impact with data through self-service analytics.

But what truly makes our company different and such a rewarding place to work is the impact the platform has on our customers’ lives and careers. We have not only built a technology product, but one that elicits a true emotional response. Our customers have described the experience of the thrill of sovling with Alteryx in ways such as “I feel like an axe-wielding logger that just discovered chainsaws” and “Alteryx is becoming my data sword and I’m making ice sculptures.”

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

A program that we’ve implemented across the globe and that I care deeply about is Alteryx for Good. As part of Alteryx for Good, we’re giving our technology for free to universities that teach analytics in their curriculum. We deliver the benefits of breakthrough data science and analytics capabilities for students to gain data skills needed to succeed and professors to engage students at the boundaries of knowledge. This program is not just about helping students succeed in their future careers — we’re paying it forward to ensure the future workforce can use their data skills to positively impact their businesses, communities and world. The smart use of data science and analytics has the potential to completely change the trajectory of worldwide issues like the opioid crisis, the spread of malaria and so much more — and the key to this type of innovation lies in inspiring and educating the next generation of data workers.

My team also recently launched the Women of Analytics initiative, which hosts panels at our Inspire user conferences and continues to grow with regional chapters across the globe, with the goal of empowering women in business. We saw a 54% increase in female attendees last year at Inspire, a clear indicator of the growth of women in analytics, and our two Grand Prix winners (essentially the Super Bowl of the user conference) were both female for the first time.

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

I see so many women in different points in their life trying to be one of the boys. It’s upsetting to watch women want to be something they aren’t — trying to peg a square in a circular hole. Women bring so much to the workplace: they add amazing value with the way they think and execute, employing energy in the way they execute tasks. What’s missing for some is the ability to feel comfortable and confident in what they can do. I think a leader, whether a woman or a man, excels at their job and in their field when they’re not trying to be someone else — and so often in our case, one of the boys.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

My advice is to be creative in the way you think about solving problems and share that creativity with each member of your team and organization. We need to teach our colleagues that it’s okay to make mistakes, learn from that mistake so it doesn’t happen again and move on. And don’t get stuck thinking you can only play by the rules that are set. We can create and develop new rules that will move the business forward, foster a culture of learning and innovation. Those are characteristics that will attract and retain great talent. We all want to work with smart people who strive to make a difference.

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?

I’m grateful of my co-founders, Dean Stoecker and Ned Harding. The three of us started a company with no prior experience in starting a business. None of us, by ourselves or with another person or people, founded a company before Alteryx. It is all we know. To start, we stayed focused, worked really hard to achieve success. The thing that we do hear consistently is that others in the tech industry, like Paul Allen, Bill Gates and Wozniak, all eventually split from companies they started — we’re unique in the fact that we have all been there 20+ years and stayed engaged in the company. And that’s because we love what we do, respect each other and the people we work with and continue to bring value. The value that our customers gain from Alteryx so rewarding. The passion we have for what we do makes a difference in the lives of the people we work with, employees and customers.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m constantly honored when somebody approaches me about mentorship — it’s a privilege to help somebody change something about their career. Mentorship has had a huge impact on my life. It’s helped me identify other paths to a solution, another way to view a problem. This includes learning a willingness and ability to be open to learning, which can be very freeing to discover how to approach things in a new way.

It’s funny — women who’ve asked for mentorship tend to be very formal. Men, on the other hand, have still approached me, but have asked for guidance without the formal structure. No matter who approaches me or how busy I am, I will always make time to mentor someone. We all have the power to be a mentor — let’s use it. Power is not in what you know. Power is in what you share.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Be passionate about something: If I wasn’t passionate about Alteryx, its message and the way our technology impacts customers, I would not be where I am today as the co-founder of a successful public tech company.

2. Never stop being curious: Alteryx allows you to look at data and say, ‘what is it telling me?’ But it takes curiosity to have questions like that on your mind.

3. Have the will power to keep moving: My father was self-employed and faced trying times when the financial crisis hit in the 70s. Instead of giving up when business slowed, he kept going, moving his business forward. I learned early on that no matter the obstacles thrown your way, you have to keep moving.

4. Be creative on how you solve problems: Don’t get stuck thinking you can only play by the rules that are set — you can create and develop new rules.

5. Be empathetic: My expectations have always been high, but now I’m more forgiving on timelines, having seen growth and passion that our team has. It’s never too late to put yourself in the shoes of your colleagues (and customers) to see what matters most.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I see a huge opportunity for women’s participation in the data-driven roles and fields. I believe that women do think differently. We’ll always look at things differently, and that’s of huge value to the departments and teams and companies we work for, since it gives another perspective on how to approach a problem, how to solve a problem.

I would like to see more colleges and universities and K-12 grades motivating our future employees, including women, to understand the opportunities and to demystify any falsehoods. How do we help our future leaders see the reality of these careers that require data and analytics skills? We show them the impact they can have. That can be done by colleges and universities putting students in the real world, so they’re ready to take these jobs when they graduate. As mentioned above, our Alteryx for Good program does that.

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

I always come back to the quote, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” I can’t speak for other industries, but in technology, the possibilities of what you can do as a startup are endless. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Never lose that curiosity you had when you first took something on. Curiosity allows us to grow and never stop learning. Especially in technology, it is a game of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes. Identify what you learned, understand the error, and be ready to move on.

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?

Amelia Ehrhardt would have been a great lunch companion. She was very passionate about aviation, but it was in a very male-dominated environment. As a leader, she had an ability to rally teams around her; no leader is successful by herself. Leaders must be able to share the vision, keep the vision on track and be able to help the team to the finish line. I find that to be something that she did extremely well.

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