As Vice President of Marketing at Platfora, Viviana Faga is responsible for building awareness of the Platfora brand and its transformative big data analytics platform. She leads a team whose job is solve the big thorny issues that come with messaging and positioning a new, disruptive technology like big data analytics within a startup setting.
Her leadership is paying dividends, as Platfora was ranked #1 on CIO Magazine's 10 Hot Hadoop Startups to Watch List, Business Insider's 12 Hot Data Center Startups To Watch and a 2015 "Cool Vendor in Big Data" by the well-known and respected research firm Gartner, Inc.
But Viv is no stranger to these kind of marketing challenges. In fact, she's sought them out during her 15+ years in developing successful enterprise technology brands. She took a position at Salesforce.com when cloud computing was still a nascent and relatively unknown technology and worked at Jive and Yammer when collaboration technology was perceived as more hype and hot air than anything else. Naturally, then, it's no wonder when Viv says her passion is to "come at the startup level and help companies scale".
When Viv isn't evangelizing the benefits of Platfora's big data analytics, you'll find her advising several successful startups. She holds a BS in Operations Management Information Systems from Santa Clara University.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have a brother who's about five years older than me who I credit for sparking my lifelong love for technology. Growing up, we'd take apart anything we could get our hands on -- telephones, electronics -- just to see what was inside and how we could put it back together. Originally, I had plans to be an engineer and I had a special interest in coding. When I went to college I selected a blended program of computer science and business. My first job out of college was with Accenture and my first day of work was September 12, 2001. Joining the workforce right after September 11, 2001 became an immensely formative experience. It was also an incredibly hard time to be in technology, as the huge tech bubble burst that year. However, I decided to keep at it. My next position was with Salesforce.com in 2004. Everyone thought I was crazy for joining a dot-com then, but I was passionate about disruptive technologies and the cloud was something I viewed as transformative. I worked in several departments at Salesforce, including sales engineering and product marketing, and eventually landed in marketing, which gave me a chance to combine my interest in technology with my love of customer interaction.
I also think knowing how to write code has helped me because it gave me a good foundation for technology. Although I wasn't very good at it and no company may ever hire me for my coding skills, the process of learning computer science helped me come to understand other technologies better and faster than if I hadn't.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Platfora?
My passion lies in being able to come in at a startup level and then help scale the company. I also get excited when I see a transformative technological shift happening. For example, at Salesforce, cloud was driving a huge technological shift and reinventing how companies accessed their data; while at Jive and Yammer, social was reinventing how employees collaborate within companies. For Platfora, that shift is big data. When I decided to move to Platfora, it reminded me of my decision to join Salesforce. Like Salesforce back in 2004, there is a lot of hype about the big data space and many companies are just starting to realize the value of big data. This is exciting to me because this challenge calls for a certain level of creativity in terms of messaging and positioning. I want to approach the big data doubters with a compelling story in a way that makes them believers.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Platfora?
One of the biggest challenges I've seen with Platfora is that there is a resounding sentiment in the industry that there's no way you're going to be able to provide an out-of-the-box product for big data analytics that can scale to the size it needs in order to support the enterprise. Our challenge is proving that this technology can scale and that an everyday business analyst can use it without writing a line of code.
Hearing our customers' success stories is always a highlight for me. We have several customers, including Disney and Cox Automotive, who are using Platfora to achieve things that weren't possible, or would have taken up to a year and millions of dollars to achieve. We've helped them overcome these barriers and become truly data-driven, where data becomes the biggest catalyst for business decisions. Most of our customers are very large, successful companies, but they tend to operate more traditionally. It's not practical for them to hire hundreds of data scientists but they can achieve the same success with a single product when they use Platfora. Hearing customers say that Platfora is absolutely changing the way they do business is the best response I can hope for.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career like yours?
Almost every successful person I know is constantly curious. My advice to women in any career is to never settle and feel like your work is done. Even after my team and I have had a successful launch, one of the first things we do after the dust has settled is get together and talk about what could have been done better. What can we improve on next time? It's important to accept that there's always room for improvement and to be open to this idea. I like to refer to this as "marketing iteration" - just like product iteration, marketers need to check their egos at the door and constantly ask themselves questions like: "Am I putting the right message out there?"; "What is the data telling me?"; "Is it clear how we are different?"; etc.
It's also important to be a generalist early on in your career, and then pick your expertise later. I have managed a number of college graduates, and one of the top questions I get is, "Should I be a generalist, or pick a specialty in marketing now?" From my perspective, if you want to be a CMO one day, you need to learn as many functions as possible. Spend time in Sales, Sales Engineering, Product, Consulting, if you can. It will make you a better leader, and help you build strong relationships with the groups you will interact with by learning how and what they do. I also recommend being a generalist once joining a marketing team. You should spend time in as many functions as possible - customer marketing, demand generation, product marketing, online marketing, PR/AR, etc. It's tough to become a CMO if you've only worked on the demand generation team.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Consider feedback a gift. So many people are afraid of criticism and are close-minded when it comes to feedback on work performance. It's important to recognize that being successful means the ability to continue learning, improving and growing into your career, and feedback is essential to this process. Critical feedback might sting at first, but it will make you a stronger employee, boss, and mentor overtime.
How do you maintain work/life balance?
The key is to be transparent about your needs (at home and at work) with your team and understand your limitations as an executive, manager, etc. The most productive people are those who are happy at home and at work. For example, I have a two-year-old daughter and I'm very honest with my team and my boss about how important it is for me to spend time with her. My team knows that I am incredibly committed to my position as VP of Marketing, but that I also value my family. And, if an important work event comes up, you have to be willing to shift priorities. I've found that companies that aren't willing to accommodate their employees' needs to have a personal life miss out on a lot of great talent because personal happiness makes you a better leader in the long run.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I find that most women who want to get ahead in their career are searching for a female mentor who will take them under their wing and shape them. The problem is that it can be difficult to meet other women at the top, so women need to focus on finding fantastic role models, period. I've worked with some amazing men who supported me, believed in me and taught me valuable lessons as I grew professionally. The most important thing is to find someone, man or woman, who recognizes your hunger and passion and not only supports your work, but pushes you to be better.
The other pattern I've noticed is that many women can be too loyal - whether it be to a company, a role, or a manager. If you're not being pushed to be better, to learn, you need to move on. You should never stop moving...Sometimes the only thing you can do is make a change for yourself.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Personally, I think the term mentorship tends to be overused. Instead of looking for a mentor who is going to dedicate time (which may be too much of a burden for one person), identify role models that you can actively interact with, observe and follow so you can ask for constant feedback. The more guidance you have professionally, the more successful you will be.
What other female leaders do you admire and why?
While there are lots of great women to admire, two women stand out for me because of my love for technology and business -- Angela Ahrendts (former CEO of Burberry and now Senior Vice President of Apple's Retail division) and Mary Meeker (partner in the seminal venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers). I admire Angela Ahrendts because from my perspective, she has it all: family and success -- and she gets to blend two things that I am deeply passionate about -- fashion and tech. She also took a storied brand (Burberry) and led it out of the doldrums (and to double digit sales) by fully infusing it with digital technology and social media and by reinventing itself around its core (the trenchcoat). And I give a shout out to Mary Meeker because she is all about the data, which is a big part of my job. She does a fantastic job of taking complex data and distilling it down into bite-size chunks that any human could understand, which is what I try to do with my job as a marketer each and every day.
What do you want Platfora to accomplish in the next year?
We want to help organizations become data-driven in the hopes that they can use all their own data to ask very complicated questions and get answers quickly. If organizations consider big data (and as such, Platfora) as the first platform they turn to for making business decisions with data,that would be a huge win.