Creating a Culture of Alignment with Rishi Bhargava

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4 min read

With decades of experience in both product management and go-to-market, Rishi Bhargava, co-founder of Demisto, has much to share about how they intersect. He says that transparency between Demisto’s product management and go-to-market teams helped ensure its success, leading to the company being acquired by leading cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks in 2019 for $560M. Bhargava will present insights on aligning teams at an fnSummit product panel.

His early experience at Solidcore, which was later acquired by McAfee, set the stage for his management approach. He learned how a large company determines their ideal customer profile and launches new products. So, when he took on a leadership role at Demisto, he was clear about the importance of defining a product and matching it with customer needs to convert leads

However, Bhargava says he encountered a challenge familiar to startups – how to align the product management and marketing/sales teams. “In many companies, product teams are building a product that is for one type of audience, while the sales and marketing messages aim at a completely different one. The teams usually meet once a week, or once in two weeks, and there is little alignment,” Bhargava says. 

“The positive with transparency is that even if people do not agree with the decision, they understand the reasoning behind it.” - @rishi_bhargava Click To Tweet

Creating a culture of collaboration

To avoid this, Bhargava took a fresh approach at Demisto. As the marketing leader, he took part in every product decision and acted as a ‘bridge’ between the two teams. “I was able to understand the direction of the product and implement the right things on the go-to-market side. I could also convey customer feedback to the product team, to make quick, accurate product decisions,” he explains. 

The teams, not just their managers, were also encouraged to communicate openly. “ If anyone had a question about the marketing theme or the direction of the product, they could just ask. So, it was a very, very collaborative culture that way,” he says. 

This led to what Bhargava calls a culture of course-correcting, an ongoing process of reassessment that prevented the need for any major company pivots. “We had the sales guys write a field report back to the product teams on a regular basis, saying what the customer liked and how the product failed. We never curbed any opinions. We welcomed them and even shut down some features based on that feedback.” 

“Scaling is about discipline without slowing down. Sometimes, when you put in too much structure, you slow down.” - @rishi_bhargava Click To Tweet

Confronting the challenges of scaling

Transparency came with its own challenges, especially as the company grew and moved from open discussion to practical decisions. Bhargava says that Demisto handled the problem by creating a culture of never looking backward. Everyone was free to share their opinion, but relevant leads carried the day. 

“We debated very vigorously; but at the same time, once we committed, there was no more looking back. The positive with transparency is that even if people do not agree with the decision, they understand the reasoning behind it,” he explains. 

Scaling required further planning. He explains: When you hire five new sales engineers, you need to make sure they’re doing the same thing. And if one of them isn’t, how can you bring them back to task?

“Scaling is about discipline without slowing down. Sometimes, when ou put in too much structure, you slow down. I think you need to strike the right balance between planning and still keeping the agility.”

“If two people have never done kayaking before, they usually go in circles because they’re not aligned. If you align them, they start to go in a straight line and at a fast pace.” - @rishi_bhargava Click To Tweet

Alignment: From kayaks to companies

Ultimately, Bhargava was able to lead his team to success by keeping them focused on serving customers. At every stage he would ask: What would the customer want? How do we engage with our customers? What value can we give to customers without trying to sell them anything? He shared those questions with his teams, and encouraged them to work on answers together. 

He likens his management philosophy to navigating a kayak with another person. “If two people have never done kayaking before, they usually go in circles because they’re not aligned. If you align them, they start to go in a straight line and at a fast pace.”

 

fnSummit, taking place from October 13-15, 2021, is an annual event where founders, investors and partners come together to explore the theme of growth. Located in a beautiful resort in California’s Carmel Valley, the event will offer participants a chance to network, share ideas and enjoy a variety of recreational and team-building activities. 

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Read more by Founders Network

Founded in 2011, Founders Network offers lifelong peer mentorship to over 600 tech startup founders globally. Our platform, programs and high-touch service facilitate authentic experience sharing, warm introductions and long-term professional relationships. Additional benefits include over $1M in startup discounts and mentorship from 50+ Institutional Investors. Members are located in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, London and other tech hubs. Each month our Membership Committee admits a new cohort of full-time tech founders who are nominated by an existing member.