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The 34th in our special series of interviews with leaders of unicorn companies recorded in partnership with European PR Agency, Tyto, and their Without Borders podcast.
Russell Goldsmith and co-host, Tyto’s Senior Partner, Holly Justice were joined online from San Francisco by Jason Zintak, the CEO of B2B sales and marketing platform 6Sense. Founded in 2013, Jason joined the company four years later and saw the company achieve unicorn status in March 2021 and last year after a series E funding of $200 million reached a valuation of $5.2 billion.
Jason explained they call themselves a revenue AI platform, this is because sales and marketing make up the revenue and go-to marketing motion for most B2B companies. 6Sense are disrupting that motion and business process where modern organisations are trying to change and rethink the way they approach their customers and prospects. 6Sense have a basis in big data and AI that helps companies synthesize, understand, and see signals of buyer propensity and upon those signals then execute action whether it be sales, marketing or customer success.
Prior to joining 6Sense in 2017, Jason was CEO at Platfora, a big data company that was acquired by Workday and also CRO at Responsys, a B2C email marketing platform before that, which was then acquired by Oracle. But he started his journey at SAP, the Enterprise Software company and started out inside sales, graduating through sales and sales management, and then became CRO of several software companies. His history has been largely enterprise applications across multiple functions, everything from ecommerce to sales software to supply chain, CRM, marketing, automation, and big data visualisation.
It’s been quite a journey for Jason joining 6Sense, it already had a strong team foundation with an operating go-to market function. He described 6Sense as being a blend of Responsys and Platfora, one being automation and the next big data and visualisation. His experience with these companies got Jason excited about the next generation of a way to sell and use marketing through data and then applying it to machine learning and AI to that data set to help for a smarter more surgical approach to the outbound sales and marketing motion. He works with the founders to keep innovating and running the company together.
The growth of 6Sense has been quick, doubling in value or more for the last five years. A lot of money is going towards employees and hiring their team.
Today, they’re at roughly 1,300 employees and they’ve acquired four companies in the last two years. A lot of the money has been used to integrate, stitch, and develop new technology to bring one product to market. They acquired a company called Fortella which is a pipeline intelligence company, which are now called conversational email, which is AI-led GPT3 email. That company is called Saleswhale, Granite Media, which was a strategic ad platform to complement their existing ad product. Then Slitel, which is a sales intelligence, their new product called Sales Intelligence. So, most of the funding is in integrating the products, continuing to build index releases, hiring new staff and going after new markets.
In regard to ChatGTP, Jason thinks it’s great to ‘ride the tailwind’ and in fact they had it in the products two years ago. 6Sense’s core principle is to have AI drive modern applications, including their products which are currently live. They founded the company with the belief that there is too much data for humans to process and that using AI can help understand it and also becomes a way to create revenue. The data unifies sales, marketing, and customer success and gives organisations a scientific approach to complement the art of selling and marketing.
Jason explained with age and experience comes wisdom as seen through the variety of companies and startups he’s worked with. Through these experiences, he’s learned pattern recognition and the importance of teamwork, humility, and transparency. They’ve been part of big enterprises like SAP and Oracle. As well as being part of ground-up startups like Blue Martini Software, which is an e-commerce company. They built ground-up, IPO and then Y2K crashed.
Jason collaborates with people to build things and the leadership team recognises that everyone brings something unique to the table. Their team values extreme transparency and they work together to problem solve and continually optimise and adapt. The tenured senior management team and low turnover rate contribute to their success.
Jason reflects on the impactful leaders who have influenced him. He mentioned Platfora and Aneel at WorkDay. However, his longest tenure was with Bill McDermott at SAP, where he spent over nine years. During this time he saw multiple CEOs at SAP each with a different leadership style. Bill McDermott stood out as a unique leader. As a leader himself, Jason realised that he should not try to emulate others. Initially, he made the mistake of trying to be like Bill, or Neal at Oracle or Mark Hurd. However, he learned that trying to be like someone else is a pitfall and that instead he should be comfortable in his own skin and take what he has learned to be his authentic self. Once he become confident in being himself, Jason became more confident in his go-to-market motion, running a company and working with people.
Jason speaks about his company’s perception after receiving funding. He believes that it is undeniable that the company’s brand has improved and acknowledged that building the company was a challenging journey. At the outset, they were uncertain if their idea would work and initial rejection from customers made them constantly rethink their strategy. As the company matured and raised funds they faced new challenges with each round of funding. When they became a unicorn in their series D, valued at $2 billion, they faced a new host of challenges, including the responsibility of managing investor money and executing their vision. The newfound status improved their press and brand providing credentials to their company, but it also brought with it pressure to consistently deliver. Jason understands the responsibility that comes with being a unicorn company and managing investor money. He knows that execution must be a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly activity and not an annual one.
Jason discusses his company’s differentiation in a challenging market. He believes that their AI and data approach was unique and not well understood in a crowded market. Despite the competition, the company stayed the course and educated the market about their approach, evangelising the benefits of using data to make informed decisions in sales and marketing. The company believed in themselves and their approach, educating the market about the promise of their product. Eventually, their message rang true, they were able to differentiate themselves successfully in a difficult and dynamic market.
Jason discusses the changes in the economy including the adjustment of premium valuations and its impact on people’s confidence. Employees and investors alike may have questions about the health of the company, job security and valuation. To address these concerns the company values communications and transparency, answering questions from employees, investors, and customers whenever they arise . They believe that communication should be the common denominator with messages being delivered more frequently than one might think necessary. They also believe in staying the path as they believe that their product is innovative and provides a data-driven approach that allows companies to understand their total addressable market and create an actionable go-to-market plan. Their marketing message, “Proceed with Confidence” reflects their confidence in their product and approach, even during uncertain times in the economy. Despite the challenging market conditions, 6Sense had a record quarter, which has further motivated employees and customers. The company is committed to balanced and profitable growth and actively communicates its objectives to all stakeholders to maintain a successful path.
The culture at 6Sense is guided by several core values, including accountability, growth mindset, integrity, fun and teamwork. Jason believes that having fun while working and being a good person are important aspects of the culture. However, he emphasises that values mean nothing unless they are put into practice consistently. To achieve this, he tries to lead by example, demonstrating humility and authenticity with his team. He believes that when people feel the values and live them, they will believe in them and help to create a culture that permeates throughout the company. Jason is proud of the awards the company has won for its culture, but he also recognises that scaling this culture as the company grows will be a challenge. He reminds his team that the culture is their responsibility, and they must continue to hire and practice the values to scale together.
Jason’s company began working remotely before the Covid-19 pandemic, about a year prior. The decision was largely based on the high costs and difficulties associated with hiring and building a company in the Bay Area. To address this challenge, Jason suggested that they measure themselves on key performance indicators (KPIs) and hire the best talent globally, regardless of location. He trusted that people are inherently good and aspire to greatness and believed they could manage the company that way. This approached proved successful and prepared them for the pandemic, however with remote work becoming the norm Jason acknowledges the need to find new ways to communicate and build a community. While the company provides offices for local employees who want them, it was recognised that their dispersed team cannot be forced back into a central location. Instead, he charges managers with building community through different events that bring people together online and in-person, including physical annual on-site events where the entire company gathers.
The approach to internal communication largely depends on the personality of the individual manager or leader. He personally prefers to communicate live, as it allows for a more tangible connection between himself and the employees. He also enjoys receiving ad hoc questions from customers and employees. In addition, to live communication, the company also utilises written communication to complement its strategy. They have bi-weekly town hall meetings where they communicate their strategy, vision, and results to the company. Jason believes that it is important for everyone to know where the company stands regardless of whether the results are good or bad. As the world of communication is constantly evolving, Jason is open to new ideas for improving internal communication within the company.
Jason further explains that the external communications for his company are largely handed by their sales and marketing platform. Specifically, his marketing team is responsible for external communication, and he believes that they have a strong team in place.
To achieve success in their external communications Jason notes that his team leverages their own platform, which helps them to effectively communicate with their audience. From the CMO down to the rest of the team, they use their platform to ensure the external communication is successful.
To reach out to customers and investors one initiative is customer conferences where the entire company, including the executive team, presents to their customers. These conferences are typically held in person as are other regional events and tradeshows the company participates in.
Jason is also involved in investor public meetings and bank conferences, which require regular roadshows and communication of the company’s message to potential investors. His role involves advertising and communicating the importance of 6Sense and what the company does to various audiences.
Jason’s background in sales and marketing aligns well with the company’s sales marketing platform. He feels more comfortable being the spokesperson and articulating the company’s vision due to his lifelong career in this area. Despite the complexity of the work involved, he acknowledges that he is not an engineer, data scientist or AI expert but rather compliments the executive team and founders who have those skills.
Jason described himself as both an introvert and an extrovert, explaining that he enjoys observing and does not always want to be the centre of attention. However, he has grown more comfortable with time and finds joy in communicating with others. He chose a career in sales because he enjoys talking to people and believes that bringing value to customers in what makes a good salesperson. Sales is the ability to articulate and demonstrate value rather than performing magic tricks. While he has become more comfortable with communicating over time, he still experiences nerves when presenting or interviewing as he wants to ensure that he does the right thing.
Reflecting on recent communication challenges, Jason speaks about the market dynamics of the technology industry. He explains that the challenge was not necessarily difficult, but it was challenging to explain the adjustments to the broader employee base. He notes everyone wants to know adjustments and how that will impact them as they are concerned about their jobs. He believes that it was important to settle everyone and ensure they understood the long-term vision for the company. Transition is tough for people whether it’s from a job or a new role and he is proud of the strong brand and culture that has been recognised through various awards and press coverage.
Jason simply said if he could go back in time and give himself advice it would be ‘trust your gut and stay true to yourself’.