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Utah Business

Catherine Wong of Domo shares how an experience with a customer forced the company to scale even faster.

One customer forced Domo to grow faster (and scale)

“How do you grow a product at speed and scale?” 

This is probably the question I am asked the most, and with good reason: it’s one of the biggest challenges in the business world. Sustainable, deliberate growth at breakneck speed may be the hardest thing for leaders to get right.

When growing a product beyond the initial incubation phase, the complexity of forces that push us can be a challenge to navigate. My experience has shown customers are the best spark. The best customers light a fire that pushes us faster and in new directions.  

I’ve learned this lesson at Omniture and at Domo, as customers who catch the vision of our product pushed us to bring new features and capabilities to life at faster speeds than I had originally anticipated. Embracing that speed―although uncomfortable―has been incredible, as it immediately enabled additional customer growth.  

If we are going to build and sustain growth in our products and companies at the fastest speeds possible, then we have to be willing for the journey to be an adventure. This isn’t for the timid or the faint of heart. The following strategies have been critical for me when pursuing purposeful growth and sparking innovation among my teams:

We embraced a customer that scared us

The inspiration for innovation comes from all around us. We can find that spark anywhere: from market trends to individual life experiences, to a team’s diverse knowledge and experiences. One of the most potent and important sources we all recognize is, of course, our customers themselves. 

If we want to grow in new and beneficial ways, we have to embrace the customers who scare us. These are the wicked smart customers who see the power of our product as it is today and understand how it can transform their organization in the future. As a result, they push us and our technology in ways we might not have planned. They bring challenges for us to address and want solutions at speeds that catapult us to the top of our game.

Meeting the needs of this kind of customer goes far beyond addressing logistical challenges. Yes, we may have to adjust delivery mechanisms, technical approaches, and even the team structure. But often we have to embrace surprising emotions too. It can feel uncomfortable for teams to be pushed in directions where it doesn’t look like a textbook approach to a problem set. 

This type of rapid growth requires coaching a team through fear and creating an environment where they are encouraged to take risks. The reward in shifting our mental framework is profound. The secret sauce is building a team that internalizes the customer needs and is up for the challenge of developing a product that supports customer adoption (and therefore company growth) at unprecedented scale.  

I mentioned earlier that I had learned this lesson from one of our customers here at Domo. We were working with a major US retailer who saw the vision of our product and pushed us at volumes that I knew we could handle, but would also be earlier and faster than I had anticipated. 

The challenge may have scared us, but instead of pushing it away, we pulled it close. In this case, we gave the customer a seat on our customer advisory board and spent many hours digging in with them. By working closely together, we were able to not only understand what they were strategically trying to accomplish but we were also able to be the product and team that made it possible for them to achieve their goals. 

This established a culture of leaning in to our customers when they push for more. The next time, when a top healthcare company brought their industry’s specific needs to the table, the team automatically leaned in. We simply pulled them close and got to work.

We connected the customer with our engineers

Growth at the boundaries means addressing customer needs and solving their problems quickly and in innovative ways. This can only be accomplished at top speeds if development teams understand what the core problems are. As the popular saying by Henry Ford goes, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” 

Sometimes the answer is faster horses, and sometimes the answer is the automobile. I have seen first-hand the value of building strong connections between engineers and customers, such that they get into a rhythm that goes beyond just listening to what the customer is saying. It goes deep into understanding what the customer is facing and together, creating solutions that solve the customer’s problems. Not only do these interactions spark innovation, but they are fulfilling experiences for all involved, and there are a few great ways to accomplish this.

First, it goes without saying that engineers need to understand the product they’re building, and an ideal situation is when they are also a customer of their own product. We are lucky to have that situation at Domo where we use our own product daily to do our jobs and run our business. 

Second, having development teams experience various points in the customer journey is also really important. Involving them in pre-sales conversations with prospects helps them directly hear what a customer is trying to do with the product. Inviting them to join customer support calls on a regular basis gives everyone an opportunity to hear the emotion from the customer, which doesn’t always translate through support ticket documentation. 

Bringing the emotion and reality of the challenges customers are facing to the forefront will give development teams a much deeper understanding of what they are working toward. Customer advisory boards and similar programs are also great tools for cultivating the connection between product builders and customers.

Enabling these relationships to grow and thrive is one of my favorite aspects of product development, and often transcends Zoom calls and emails. An anecdote I like to share on this is: one day our front desk unexpectedly called two of our mobile app engineers to come to the lobby, saying they had a visitor. The engineers weren’t expecting anyone that day and were happily surprised to see one of our customers standing in the lobby. 

He was a traveling sales rep for one of our customers visiting the Utah region for the day and he’d spotted a big blue rooster on top of our building while driving down I-15. He recognized the rooster and intentionally pulled off at the next exit so he could come and say “hi” to those engineers who had responded to his feedback about our mobile app. The mobile app had completely transformed his day-to-day job, allowing him to show up to his customer sites with real-time information on his device, and he wanted to thank them in person.  

Although this may seem to be a small moment, it demonstrates the power of connecting closely with customers in order to spark innovation and develop new ideas. That valuable human connection is at the root of why we do what we do: as businesses, we want to make an impact and we hope that our work helps elevate and improve our customers’ lives. And when we are willing to push our boundaries and connect and listen, we can build and sustain long-term relationships, growth, and success.

Catherine Wong is chief product officer and EVP of engineering at Domo, provider of the Domo Business Cloud. In her roles, Catherine leads Domo’s engineering, product and design teams. Catherine joined Domo from Adobe and Omniture, where she started as a software engineer. During her tenure, she ascended through the ranks, taking on increased and varied responsibilities with key roles in product management, M&A product integration, technical architecture and engineering management, leading global teams of more than 500 people. Within eight years at Omniture, Catherine became the youngest VP at the company. Over the course of her career, Catherine has been awarded patents in data segmentation, data visualization, and SaaS data collection. She is an original member of the advisory board for the Women Tech Council in Utah and served on the advisory board for the College of Engineering at the University of Utah. She currently serves on the industry advisory board for the College of Engineering at Utah State University. In 2015, Catherine received the Technology Leadership Award from the Women Tech Council; in 2018, she was recognized as the Women in Tech Champion from Utah Tech Council as well as named a Woman of the Year by Utah Business Magazine for her vision and leadership at Domo and the greater Utah community; and in 2019 Catherine was recognized by Utah Business Magazine as CXO of the Year. Lastly, already in 2020 Catherine has been recognized as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology from the National Diversity Council.