Ep. 337: Christine Trodella is Head of Americas for Facebook’s Workplace product, the communication tool that connects everyone in your company, through Groups, Chat, Rooms and Live video broadcasting. Prior to Workplace, Christine was Head of America’s for Facebook’s Audience Network and before that spent 5 years as a Group Director across multiple different sales and account teams within Facebook’s mid-market channel. Before Facebook, Christine was an Executive Director @ WebMD and before that spent close to 3 years in media sales at Yahoo.
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In Today’s Episode We Discuss:
* How Christine made her way into the world of SaaS as part of a non-SaaS company and how that led to her leading Americas for Workplace by Facebook.
* What have been the biggest benefits of scaling a SaaS company within a non-SaaS company? What are the biggest challenges or misalignments of scaling Workplace within Facebook? What have been some of the core and early mistakes the team made in their strategy to build out the Workplace sales and marketing machine?
* What have been Christine’s biggest lessons on what it takes to sell really effectively to some of the largest enterprises in the world? What do CIOs most want in pricing? How does Christine think about the pricing problem of having a variable pricing mechanism without disincentivizing usage? How does Christine think about and approach discounting?
* Does Christine believe remote is the new normal? What really interesting data have Christine and the Workplace team seen since the world has move to work from home? How has behavior changed on the platform with the rise of remote work?
Ep. 338: These are unique times. In some ways, we can use our playbooks, make adjustments, and in other ways, things are very different. What isn’t likely to be very different is that recurring revenue … recurs. This is the bedrock of SaaS. Hear how Slack CEO, Stewart Butterfield, is adapting to change and his advice on how to take care of your team and customers.
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Below, we’ve shared the transcript of Harry’s interview with Christine.
Harry Stebbings: This is the official SaaStr Podcast with me Harry Stebbings. And I always want your thoughts, who would you most like to hear on the show? Let me know on Instagram @HStabbings1996 with two Bs and I always love to see you there. But to the show today, and we welcome a guest who’s done an incredible job at scaling a SaaS company, within a non SaaS company. So with that I’m thrilled to welcome Christine Trodella, Head of Americas for Facebook’s Workplace Product. The communication tool that connects everyone in your company through groups, chat, rooms, and live video broadcasting. Prior to Workplace, Christine was Head of Americas for Facebook’s Audience Network. And before that, spent five years as a group director across multiple different sales and account teams within Facebook’s mid market channel. Before Facebook, Christine was an Executive Director of WebMD, and before that, spent close to three years in media sales at Yahoo.
Harry Stebbings: I do also want to say a big thank you to Julien Codorniou for the fantastic questions suggestions today, I really do so appreciate that and it made such a difference. That’s enough for me there, so now I’m delighted to welcome Christine Trodella, Head of Americas for Facebook’s Workplace Product.
Harry Stebbings: Christine, it is so great to have you on the show today. As I said, I’ve heard so many great things from Julien, so thank you so much for joining me today, Christine.
Christine Trodella: It’s my pleasure, I’m happy to be here.
Harry Stebbings: I would love to start today with a little bit of context. So tell me, how did you make your way into the world of tech and come to be Head of Americas to Facebook’s Workplace today?
Christine Trodella: Yeah. Well, my career I’ve got about 28 years behind me now, and I built my career with the rise of the internet and digital media. I’ve been at Advertising.com, AOL, Yahoo, WebMD back in the day. I’ve been at Facebook now for almost nine years and I remember Facebook was still relatively small and just getting into the digital media space, and every time I would go and talk to customers, they kept bringing up Facebook and how they were moving more budget to Facebook and just how intrigued they were with this new social platform. And I saw going to Facebook as an opportunity, essentially, to have an insurance policy against my career. I mean, this is clearly where everything was going and I came to the company when there were less than 2000 people. I think we’re up to about 30 or 40,000 now and so I’ve just seen the incredible scale and growth that the company has had over the last eight, nine years that I’ve been there.
Harry Stebbings: I mean, it’s been incredible to see that growth, I guess the biggest and quite striking question for me from that is, what has been the biggest takeaways from as you said, nearly nine years seeing on the front lines the hyper growth? What can the biggest takeaways for you, and I guess how did it impact your kind of operating mentality?
Christine Trodella: Thinking back to the really early days when we were just starting to scale the business and there was so much interest in the platform, so many people, advertisers wanting to understand how to leverage it. And at that time the biggest issues that we had or challenges were really around how to ruthlessly prioritize and how to best use our time. And I remember sitting in meetings and the conversations would center around like, “What’s the opportunity cost of spending our time investing our resources on this versus that?” And so I think when you’re in hyper-growth, when you have so much opportunity, there’s this tendency to just want to do so much and create very long to do lists and multiple work streams.
Christine Trodella: But I think you really focusing in on the two to three things that you just absolutely have to get a 100% right. And then just not veering from that is so critical, it was hard, but we were disciplined in the early days, it’s something that I take with me in my career moving forward. And again, with Workplace from Facebook being this SaaS startup within the broader organization, we’re having to employ those same rules of engagement and those principles of just being really ruthless in terms of how we prioritize what we do on the business.
Harry Stebbings: I think it’s the hardest thing I struggle with in terms of that ruthless prioritization, which is why I drop so many balls probably. But you can ask my partner that and he’ll probably [inaudible]. Tell me though, because you mentioned there about building a SaaS company within Facebook, which is obviously not a SaaS company, it’s a pretty unique experience for anyone to go through. What’s the biggest benefits of scaling SaaS companies within a non SaaS company.
Christine Trodella: Yeah. Well, first I think it’s important to mention that Facebook didn’t say, “Hey, we’re going to build a SaaS company.” That’s not how Workplace came to be and so I’ll share a little bit, just in terms of the evolution of Workplace. And again, it comes from personal experience because I was there when we did this. But essentially as Facebook was scaling in the early days, people that work there we would use the Facebook tools to communicate with each other and get work done, we’d create groups, we’d messaged each other. And it’s funny because when I started at Facebook, I maybe had 150, 200 friends on Facebook and a year later I had 1500 friends. Everybody thought I was very popular but it was really… I was friending people so that I could message them and get my work done. And so over time as the company scaled, there’s this realization that we need a Facebook for our company.
Christine Trodella: I mean, these are the tools that we’re using to get work done and be productive and communicate and collaborate with each other and so Workplace was born. And we used this private instance of Facebook for our own business. And then through the marketing partnerships that we had on the ad side of the business, some customers started to take notice and said, “Hey, this is really cool. We’d love to bring this into our company.” And thus Workplace as a standalone SaaS company within Facebook was born. And look in terms of the synergies, Workplace is built off all of the key features and functionality that Facebook is, right? We take the tools and the communication tools and collaboration tools that are so core to the Facebook experience and we bring those into Workplace.
Christine Trodella: And if you think about it, Facebook–this is a company that our core competency is in building communication tools and helping people build communities. I mean, if 3 billion people across our apps and services right now. We have 16 years of product and engineering expertise in building tools that communicate and build community amongst people. And so the fact that Workplace is able to draw on this and bring these same principles and features and functionality into the workplace environment is really where we see the synergy between Facebook Inc, and Workplace from Facebook, the SaaS company within Facebook.
Harry Stebbings: Totally. I mean, twofold really in the community building and then also how that aligns to product design and product philosophy, so I totally see that. I guess on the flip side though, there’s always challenges. What do you think have been some of the biggest challenges and hurdles that’ve happened in terms of scaling Workplace within the broader context of Facebook?
Christine Trodella: We’re very different businesses. Facebook is an ads revenue driven business and this is a very different business model, being a SaaS company within Facebook. I mean, there are a lot of just internal processes and operations, business operations, that we have to build from scratch. And they’re very unique to the Workplace for Facebook business and how we operate the business. There are some really interesting ways that we can scale within the organization or the broader organization. And you asked me, “Why did I come to the Workplace team or what was the impetus for that move?” I remember back when I was on the ad side of the Facebook business and we were really having deeper dialogues with these large marketing companies beyond just how to invest their ad dollars on Facebook. I mean, we were really having consultative conversations around what it was going to take to help them build their businesses and really understand what this new world of connecting to people on their mobile devices, what that looked like and how to execute that and how to measure that and how to value that.
Christine Trodella: And so we would be having these deeper discussions, these real business discussions with these very large marketers that would extend ultimately beyond just the tactics of running ad campaigns on Facebook. And we’d invite them to our campuses, we would have these engagements. And one of the most interesting insights that would come out of bringing executives onto campus, was there was always this response or commentary from them around, how do we essentially capture this energy, this culture and bring it back to our organizations. You so clearly live your values out in your business and how you operate and how can we do that? And so we almost became this place to really have a deeper conversation around corporate culture and employee engagement. And so to me, it really resonated with the Workplace opportunity, because I thought there’s such a need for this.
Christine Trodella: There is such a desire to have a way to connect more deeply and more closely with every single person within an organization, Workplace is such an amazing tool to do that. So I think as we look to scale Workplace within Facebook as well, we have such an amazing opportunity to work closely with the teams that are working with some of the largest marketers and even some of the smallest ones. 7 million advertisers on the Facebook platform and we offer something that not only allows them to scale their business through marketing on a mobile device but also really have an impact on their corporate culture and their employee engagement.
Harry Stebbings: Totally agree with you in terms of those jewel synergies and what that offers in terms of the client side. There’s always trials and tribulations along the way. I spoke to Julian before the show, as we mentioned. And he said that despite the incredible success, there’s always some mistakes that have been made. What have been some of the core mistakes, do you think, that were made in the early days, and how did the thinking change as a result of them?
Christine Trodella: I think one of the biggest things we have learned is just predictability is really important to large enterprises. And so when it comes to pricing and how to structure our arrangements and commercials with our clients, it’s really around giving them that predictability. So we made some changes last year to the way that we do pricing, we are very consistent with what is SaaS industry standards, fixed price models, all you can eat models. And that has been able to give these large enterprises the predictability that they need in terms of what their investment looks like on Workplace over time. I mean, these are typically large enterprises, their IT departments are run against annual budgets and having fluctuations in what that looks like was really big learning for us that that was just something that was easy for us to change and actually really appreciated by the enterprise environment.
Harry Stebbings: Can I ask, in terms of pricing, it’s one of my nerdy passion projects, but I’m always stuck in the quandary of how do you create pricing which doesn’t disincentivize customers with increased usage. How do you think about that and the per seat model say, maybe great but then it will disincentivize people from adding more seats there in a per conversation model would do the same. Where have you landed in terms of what is the block pricing looks like and how do you think about value extraction without disincentivizing people to really engage more?
Christine Trodella: It really comes back to how Workplace is adopted. I mean, Workplace is adopted on a wall to wall basis. I mean, companies when they go Workplace, the entire company goes Workplace. And obviously we can structure our commercials and our agreements with businesses based on how they want to roll things out. But typically it is something that at the very senior levels is seen as a full deployment to the entire company.
Harry Stebbings: I guess the other challenging I have in there, it’s just change management and it’s easy in certain segments of the organization but ensuring that adoption in all functions. How do you think about what good change management looks like?
Christine Trodella: When it comes to change management, especially when you’re talking about a tool that’s going to be rolled out to every employee in a business, it is critical to get executive buy-in and leadership buy-in. The leadership role in modeling and engaging in the product is better than anything else that you can have. I mean, that is core table stakes for that. Also just aligning on what the clear goals are with respect to Workplace. Making sure that we’re having a discussion around the problem that we’re trying to solve and the value that we can create in doing so. And let’s talk around the features and how to use particular features. We really focus in and talk about the use cases and the value that that’s going to bring to the employees and the organization overall. Again, really important to recruit a leadership to role model the behaviors on Workplace, and then also having a network of change agents within the organization who are going to be the early adopters and really evangelize it throughout the entire company.
Harry Stebbings: Can I ask, sorry. I’m too interested there. When you said about the role models, I love that as a model. But what do you ask them and recommend them to do? Is that weekly webinars with the company in terms of how they’re using and engaging with the product, is it them creating their own internal docs? What have you found works best from that role model view to really encourage adoption across all lines of the enterprise itself?
Christine Trodella: Yeah. Again it really comes back to what either the business problem is that we’re trying to solve or the value that they need to create within an organization. And so it tends to be pretty unique based on the corporate culture and the corporate values. But in general, we do see executives really leaning into using Workplace as a mechanism to connect with their entire organization. So they will do live broadcasts and we’ve gotten really great feedback from executives that they love this as a mechanism to not only communicate out to everybody and democratize information and the distribution of information, but really to get feedback. Because through live engagement, you’re able to see reactions in real time, you’re able to see comments, you’re able to field questions. So it’s a truly interactive way for executives to reach everybody and hear from voices that they may not typically hear from.
Harry Stebbings: Yeah. No. I totally agree in terms of hearing that maybe less heard voice. I guess the other thing is when you think about the wall to wall adoption that you see, obviously you have some great numbers especially, around retention specifically. In terms of metrics, how do you determine success and product market fit itself within an organization? Are there leading indications where it goes, “Absolutely this is working well in this organization.” or, “We need to do something here.” How do you think about the guiding metrics for what determines success?
Christine Trodella: Yeah, so we definitely look at metrics like, claim rates, adoption and then of course, we look at the number of monthly people on the platform, weekly, daily. We’ve got great analytics for admins to understand their reach, engagement, and even sentiment around the posts and things that are being communicated on Workplace. But at the end of the day we really are all about the stories, we love hearing about how Workplace is transforming an organization. We love hearing that CEOs, they wake up in the morning and that the first thing that they look at is Workplace. I mean, we see many instances where people that are working at a company that have used Workplace go to a new company and they want to bring Workplace with them. They want the company to adopt Workplace. So we just love hearing how companies really quite frankly, could not live without Workplaces and we’re hearing this a lot, particularly now given the current COVID situation.
Christine Trodella: I’ll share one example that I just love. A very large airline, we’ve seen real uptick in usage of Workplace, particularly during COVID. And this is a pretty significantly impacted industry right now, given the COVID situation. But one of their business leaders went live to communicate out to her team, which is a pretty large team within the organization. And she was working from home and she wasn’t wearing any makeup. And at the end, she apologized for not wearing any makeup and the entire company just rallied around her and just loved that authenticity. They started posting selfies of themselves without makeup, they created a new hashtag for it. And I just thought it was just such a really, really incredible moment and story around the solidarity of companies coming together, supporting one another and building community, particularly around a time where it’s really challenging and there’s a lot of anxiety.
Harry Stebbings: Listen, I totally agree and all I can say is I’m glad I do a podcast and not a video because I look like Evan Almighty with the long beard if I do video. I do want to ask, though, you mentioned COVID and the impact of COVID there. I’m especially intrigued in terms of how it changes the workforce itself. And so with the exposure that you have, I guess my question to you is, is remote work the new normal and how will COVID impact the customer base moving forward?
Christine Trodella: Look, we went from one extreme to the other with COVID pretty much overnight. So I do think it will be interesting to see how this changes remote work when we come out the other end of it. I hope personally that this is less of an inflection point around work from home or work remote logistics and really one more around a philosophy around work from home. I think there’s a lot of people that actually have found this to be kind of a blessing in disguise and a way to be more present with their families and have more flexibility. There’s a great article actually, I think it was early this week in the New York Times around how many people actually prefer this and have really enjoyed the time spent in their homes. And so I’m hoping that we come out of this at the end of the day with just more flexibility and just a different philosophy around what it means to work remotely.
Christine Trodella: I think in terms of the way that this is enabled, I think there’s still a long road ahead of us. We have seen Workplace usage skyrocket since COVID. I mean, people are really leaning into the tool and using it more than ever and we’ve seen a lot of demand as well from people who aren’t yet on the platform. But people came into COVID and this immediate work from home, everybody had email, everybody had phones but we saw video really skyrocket. I think this is an area we’re going to continue to see a lot of innovation. One thing that we lose, not all being together in a workspace or an office is just the spontaneity of being able to see people, bump into people, you lose that when you’re at home. I think how to bring that into a video experience is going to be really critical and important.
Christine Trodella: And I think again, even as we think out farther around what are the virtual experiences, how can we replicate a meeting or an interaction with someone in a virtual way that really simulates an office environment. I think these are things that you can expect to see from Facebook. They’re all things that we’re working on, we have our Portal device. Sales have been exceptionally good of Portal since COVID and everybody working from home. Oculus our VR gaming platform is now enterprise ready. We’re seeing a lot of work being done by large enterprises to use Oculus for training and even build Empathy. We see them building Empathy Labs. So I think things around video and how AR and VR continue to innovate and create these opportunities for spontaneity and just real true virtual interactions with each other are going to be really critical to see as things continue down this working from remotely path.
Harry Stebbings: It’s going to be a very different world post COVID, so I couldn’t agree more and exciting on those verticals, for sure. And my favorite there now is a quickfire round Christine. So I say a short statement and then you give me your immediate thoughts in 60 seconds or less. It’s an incredibly high pressured round, are you ready for it?
Christine Trodella: I’m ready, fire away.
Harry Stebbings: Okay. So let’s start with, what’s the biggest challenge of your role with Facebook today?
Christine Trodella: Patience. I’m very impatient and SaaS sales cycles are typically longer than media ones.
Harry Stebbings: Question for you, how much faster have sales cycles increased in velocity since COVID? Sorry too intrigued no to ask that one.
Christine Trodella: Yeah. You know they have, they really have. And still early we’re a month and a half in, so it’s still early to really give you anything quantifiable. But again, we’ve seen a big increase in demand and a lot of urgency around deployment.
Harry Stebbings: What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started at Facebook almost nine years ago?
Christine Trodella: Focus on delivering value to customers. This was really an inflection point on the ad side of business at Facebook. And it is something that I will take with me for the rest of my career. Always focus on delivering value.
Harry Stebbings: Discounting, should reps do it to get the deal done in COVID times in a sense of urgency and need a lacking patience and often sales teams, should they discount?
Christine Trodella: Well, we have created some offers for impacted industries but really we’re trying to be a resource right now in whatever way that shows up for a particular customer or prospect. We want to deliver value and help companies build communities, particularly in a time of COVID, so we love the stories that we hear when we get that right.
Harry Stebbings: When I say success, who’s the first person that comes to your mind?
Christine Trodella: Well, they’re so many and so I’ll just be topical here, but I’m engrossed in the Last Dance documentary that’s on ESPN right now. And I think Michael Jordan, not only is he just an incredible talent, but his absolute grit and just commitment to winning, almost obsessively, is just incredible to watch. And I think he did the real insight from this documentary that I’ve been watching is just really, despite all the talent that Michael has, the Bulls didn’t really start to win until they really worked together as a team. And essentially when Phil Jackson, the coach, took the ball out of Michael’s hands, the real message was, “For us to win, everybody else has to get better, we can’t just rely on you.” And I think there’s so many great lessons to be learned from that whole story that can be applied into any walk of life.
Harry Stebbings: No. I absolutely have to get on that, I’ve seen it on Netflix. So that’s-
Christine Trodella: Amazing.
Harry Stebbings: Tell me, final one. If you could change one thing about the world of SaaS, what would it be and why?
Christine Trodella: More diversity. My observations and I’m relatively new to SaaS, but this seems to be a pretty insular industry. I think I’d love to see more diversity. I’d love to see more women in leadership positions. I’d love to see more people of color in leadership positions. There’s such great perspective that can come through having really diverse teams and I’d love to see that happen in the SaaS industry.
Harry Stebbings: Christine, as I said, I spoke to Julien before and he told me how exceptional you were. So this has been so much fun and thank you so much for joining me today, I really look forward to–
Christine Trodella: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.
Harry Stebbings: Absolutely love that discussion and such an exciting times ahead for the Workplace product. And if you’d like to see more from us behind the scenes, you can on Instagram at @Hstabbings1996 with two Bs. As always I so appreciate all your support and I can’t wait to bring you a fantastic set of episodes next week.