In today’s podcast we are speaking with Daniel Debow, Senior Vice President of Emerging Technologies at SalesForce.com. He’s responsible for Salesforce Wear, the wearables initiative, which I imagine will become part of the Salesforce App Exchange at some point. We’re excited to be speaking with Daniel, as he’ll show us how he’s applied the Lean principles in his work at Salesforce and his application of Lean in the performance review world.
Daniel has founded Rypple, a company that was acquired by Salesforce.com which then turned into Work.com, which is an HR interaction platform. We are excited to be speaking with Daniel. Enjoy the podcast and please view our other interviews with Lean Leaders and Practitioners.
This podcast is sponsored by HireVue. HireVue helps companies and recruiters find and hire talented people. We’ve created an entirely new kind of technology that we call Talent Interaction Platform. It’s a SaaS platform that helps you find the best talent and promotes meaningful interaction with candidates using video and rich communications. For more information, please visit HireVue.com.
Podcast Transcript and Notes
We’re speaking with Daniel Debow today, who is the SVP of Emerging Technologies at Salesforce and today we’re going to be talking about what he’s been up to since Rypple, his work with Work.com and now, in his role as SVP of Emerging Technologies. So, welcome Daniel.
Daniel: Thanks. Nice to be here.
Pete Abilla: Just to level set, a couple of years ago, back in 2009, while you were still with Rypple, you had written me an email, telling me about your interest in Lean and some of the things that you guys were doing at Rypple. Maybe you could share with us what you’ve been up to since then and the role, if any, Lean has played in your career.
Daniel: Wow, lots of questions in there. Sure. So, Rypple was a company that I was a co-founder of with David Stein and a bunch of other folks and we started that company after we had been part of being co-founders of another software company called Workbrain and that company was a pretty big, traditional enterprise software business but grew really fast, from six of us in 2000, to almost 700 in 2007, like a hundred million in revenue. It grew really, really fast.
Pete Abilla: That’s awesome.
Daniel: Yeah, it was amazing, and what we did was workforce logistics. We did workforce management for very large employers, like Target and Best Buy, American Airlines. We did labor scheduling and planning and kind of attendance tracking, at a very large scale, very complex union stuff. So, that was how I got started in the software business. I did a whole bunch of roles there, none in product but more like corporate development roles.
After this started to get big, we started to create this huge backlog of bugs, basically. Very complicated software, very complicated systems and our growth was kind of choking us, and that’s when I started to get interested in Lean. I have taken an MBA read some operations courses, learned about the goal and stuff like that, but it wasn’t until Mike Theo said let’s think about how to fix this that it all started to come back and I started to really read about Lean in particular as it was applied to software and operations of software business. I remember meeting a woman named Mary Poppendieck. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with her…
Pete Abilla: Oh, I know Mary. Yeah, she’s great.
Daniel: Yeah, yeah. Of course. So, I read her book and called I called her up and said come help us, Mary. She said okay and she came up and it’s great to get to know her. We really started to do all the practices and you know that’s sort of a short story. It was an amazing experience because we took our bug back log and our throughput up down by 90% inside of, I think, three months or less and increased throughput dramatically and really started into a much more flow dynamic and we did a lot of the practices that were laid out. We mapped out the flows and started getting small teams to work on [inaudible 00:03:46] ends, small improvements, making changes every weekend.
It was there that I witnessed the power of mindset. I should also say, when Mary came up, I was like Mary, I’m so excited. I bought your book for everybody here. She said why did you do that? I’ve never heard an author say that before. I thought it was helpful. She said oh, you should have just told them to buy the Toyota Production System by Taiichi Ohno and, if they read that, they would understand the philosophy or what needs to get done and they would have figured it out themselves, which I thought was great. Very Yoda like. So I read that book too and it really inspired me to think about this philosophy as it applies to business, because I saw the power of it.
Pete Abilla: That’s awesome
Daniel: Yeah, yeah. That’s how I got involved in it.
Pete Abilla: Well, you know, since then, Lean has really been taking over. It’s been really applied in every industry and especially with the advent of the Lean Startup from Eric Ries, who we interviewed two weeks ago.
Peter Abilla: In that interview, he shared with us how GE has adopted the Lean start-up and is now calling it the internal operating system of GE, which is really fascinating. What are some of your thoughts on that? Have you read the book?
Daniel: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll give you a little bit more background. I was into this Lean Startup stuff, reading Eric’s blog before he wrote the book actually, that I reached out to him as we were getting Rypple started. After we sold Workbrain, we sold it to Infor in 2007, myself and one of the other co-founders, David Stein, started this company Rypple and it was really based around the idea of, it was two strains, really. It was the strain of social media and the way were people communicating much more real time and it connected with the pain both of us felt with our feedback and performance systems, because we had been in the HR space and what we really saw, we didn’t really market this much, although I did write to you about it.
Folks just kind of got it, because it can be hard to explain but we saw this classic kind of batch process, where the analogy that was made was Lean can be the mindset, not for manufacturing. It can apply to software. We started to say how come it can’t be applied to general people management, because what we saw in all these companies was this very batch system for feedback, which was called the performance review and it was extremely long and complicated, but even worse, it created all this inventory and the inventory was feedback that we could give you that you could take action on, that you could do something about to improve the business performance and your own happiness and the teammates, but we don’t. What we do is, we store it all up in inventory, so it decreases in value, just like real inventory, and we give it to you at the end of the year in one giant batch.
We thought, that doesn’t make sense. Not just for Lean principles but that’s not the way people learn, which I think is kind of core to Lean or Lean is about how to help human beings learn to work together, to get things done, and create an incentive system around the learning itself, but I digress. Anyhow, we started thinking about this in the context of feedback at work, so we built this system for Rypple, which was the idea that you would pull feedback, rather than having it pushed at you. You could ask at any time and you could do it anonymously and you could gather from folks around you.
Then, we thought the same thing about recognition, where you could just give someone a badge. We saw them engaging in this behavior in email, but why can’t we make it more public? Just like you had, I think the word is Andon [PH], you had these public boards about how people are doing? You can kind of share that status with people and say hey, here’s a badge and it can be fun and whimsical. It doesn’t have to be too serious, but you could also trigger it. Finally, we started to really get into goal setting and, again, how can we make it more public, more real time? Instead of setting goals once a year, creating dynamic social goals that really engage people.
So, the product philosophy of what we were doing, even though we never talked about it on the website, was really infused by this core idea: why can’t we make people learning about how they can improve more like software people learning in a Lean cycle and then more like Lean in general. Okay, so I didn’t answer anything about Eric Ries, so let me just get to that.
As this idea was filtered through, we reached out to Eric and, I don’t know how we got connected to the guy, but we said look, here’s what we’re doing and here’s why. Would you come on and be an advisor? And he did. He actually became an advisor, we worked with him for a while and, most amazingly, he introduced us to his co-founder at InVue, which is the company he founded and where he learned all these principles. His co-founder was a designed named Marcus Gosling, who kind of got how to design in the sense like Eric and became this Lean startup, this iterative experiment in learning process, coupled with Agile software design.
He was really good. He became, actually, our lead designer, so kind of core to how we built Rypple. That’s the connection to Eric Freeze and that’s kind of the limit of the story about Rypple and how deeply within it, we hoped, was this idea around continuous learning tied in, but for yourself, and how we could apply and kind of unstick this very classic batch process in a big company, make it more flow.
Pete Abilla: I love it. As lean permeates past the manufacturing floor, I love how you viewed the performance review, you use the word inventory and how it just batches and it loses its value. I think that type of world view is so valuable. In learning how to do things one piece flow and shorter cycles, a closed loop feedback or feedback loop, it’s so valuable and you built a business out of it and I think that’s amazing.
Daniel: I can’t believe it works.
Peter Abilia: That’s awesome. The audience of this blog are fans of Dr. Deming and Deming had some issues against the performance review but I think if he had heard what you guys were doing at Rypple, I think he would have had a different view, in my opinion.
Daniel: I think so, too. We were lucky in the history of Rypple to work with a lot of folks that I would consider to be the successors of Deming in many cases, and people that had the same critique as we of the traditional reviews, this piece of paper or this form you fill out once a year and there’s one other part that I didn’t mention that was also kind of core to Deming, also. In God we trust. Everyone else, bring data, right? Was the idea that, traditional performance reviews had no data, right? From a technology perspective, systems that run traditional reviews are totally isolated, for the most part, from the system that run our businesses, whether it’s a manufacturing system, an ERP system, a sales CRM system, an order entry system. Whatever it is that people are doing their work in in this modern economy, where we can really know what they’re doing, that’s where managers manage. Traditional HR systems, either software or paper, were disconnected.
That’s part of the reasons why people are frustrated with these reviews. Forget about the fact that they’re end of the year, that they’re late, that they’re tied to compensation in weird ways. There’s a whole bunch of problems with them, but they were also frustrating because they seemed to lack legitimacy. They don’t have the kind of data that we would generate when people are constantly giving you feedback or recognition or whatever it is, but they’re also aren’t linked to the systems where you run your business.
That was kind of what led us to actually be acquired by SalesForce.com, because we started to see this need. It was a functional need because a lot of people had consolidated, I would call it their social software infrastructure, like their message board, their feeds, and chatter, which is SalesForce’s community product, was becoming really big and dominant, but the other part was that people kept saying well, I love this. I love that I can now do coaching once a week. I have all this feed of data, I know what feedback I can give. I can see the recognition this person’s got across the organization, like a little information radiator, but you know what else I want? I want to be able to set goals that aren’t just be a happier, better sales leader, or be a good person. I want to set a goal that’s a numerical target and that will allow us to coach people to get better by focusing on behaviors once a week or something like that.
We started to see this happening all over the show, whether it was developers who wanted to link Rypple to their Get Hub or to their [inaudible 00:11:54] systems or sales organizations or call centers who wanted to link to SalesForce. That’s kind of how we started to reach out and eventually got connected with SalesForce. We had a pretty clear idea of how we’d add value and ultimately, that led to our acquisition, just about three years ago, in the beginning of 2012, February of 2011, sorry, we were acquired. It’s been great. It’s been a great experience, taking this idea concept into a much, much bigger platform, which is what SalesForce is.
Pete Abilla: Tell us about that. After Rypple was acquired, it became Work.com. Is that right?
Daniel: That’s right. It became Work.com, which is a SalesForce property and, more importantly, it became deeply integrated into the core software infrastructure, where literally millions of service, sales, support, marketing people worked every day. Tons of the data about their performance, their qualitative and quantitative performance, the size of their pipeline, the number of calls their making, the size of their deals that they close, their achievement against quota, the number of calls in their queue, the wait time, the customer satisfaction, the performance of their marketing campaigns.
All this data was now existent and we could build a singular user interface and, candidly, pull Rypple away from the thinking of this is an HR tool for HR people and into the idea, which we hoped was [inaudible 00:13:18] Lean, this was a management tool, an operating tool to think about human behavior, which is that people learn in small, short, iterative cycles. They need constant feedback. They need visual cues of that feedback. They need to collaborate to think about learning, and we call it coaching, but it can be a team. We try to take that and make it into the number one [inaudible 00:13:36] system in the world, the number one customer support app in the world, so that people can track business performance by thinking about people but doing it in a systematic way.
Specifically, you don’t have abstract HR goals. You have very specific business goals but then you can also link behaviors to this goals and say I want to work on increasing my pipeline, which is a number I can see, my manager can see it. I state that goal publicly, I want to achieve it, but I can also think about let’s work on the number of calls I make every week, to increase that pipeline or other type of behavior. I think that, to use, was kind of amazing and to see that happen in SalesForce is pretty amazing. Seeing it scale up throughout the organization is awesome. It’s been fun.
Also cool has been seeing that lean thinking how it exists at SalesForce. SalesForce has been ranked the most innovative company in the world four years in a row now and, as an entrepreneur inside it, watching the organization work, it’s really an amazing organization that I think, in many ways, kind of adheres to many of the lean philosophies around iteration, especially lean start up philosophies with iteration, experimentation, learning, and that to me is pretty awesome but seeing that done to scale is kind of great.
Pete Abilla: That’s cool. The company I work at, it’s called HireVue and we are huge fans of SalesForce. I can definitely see some of the elements of lean, at least from what I saw at DreamForce, and in many of the blog posts, actually, at SalesForce. You can see elements in even the language of lean. I believe there was even a blog post several weeks ago about Agile and Scrum, but a lot of the language was really based around one piece flow and identifying these bugs and then attacking them and making it visual. Really great stuff, really great stuff.
Well, let’s switch topics. You are now SVP of Emerging Technologies. Why don’t you tell us about that? That’s pretty sexy. What’s going on there?
Daniel: The truth is never as sexy as it sounds, but it’s a pretty cool job. I have to admit, it’s pretty amazing. I think one of the things that SalesForce does is it values learning and innovation. About a year ago, Work.com was really integrated really well, became part of our sales cloud, actually, and our CO has an interest in wearables. He said I want to see what we can do, where we can go with it, so what do you think? I went off and we came off working with our platform team, and I’ll just pause for a second before I give you this answer. I’ll give you a little bit of background.
People who know SalesForce, they think of it as SalesForce automation, contacts, leads, opportunities, pipeline and, of course, the biggest one in the world, and it’s the innovator of the cloud, but it’s also, as I mentioned, it’s number one in service in marketing, but what it’s also, and many people don’t fully realize this, is it’s a technology platform. Our customers build applications and actually, for them, this is how they implement agile software development in many organizations, because it’s so fast to iterate apps, build mobile apps, to deploy them, all really, really fast. It’s a really powerful platform.
Everything that we use to build our own products, the workflow, the security, the objects, everything, these customers get access to it and, incredibly, because SalesForce is an agile sort iterative business, it’s a fast company, we update our product every year, multiple times a year, seamlessly for our customers. Every time we update, we also update all those apps. They don’t break. You don’t have to rebuild them every time the underlying software gets upgraded. It helps our customers innovate faster, get to their customers faster with apps and interactions in a platform context.
The other thing is that about 3,000, 2,500 companies have built their own software products that they sell, independent software vendors, using the platform. Enough with that divergence. I just wanted to set the context for a big platform business and what we realized was that we could use this platform to help people build wearable applications. So, as we started to think about this, we realized lots of wearables coming out, they’re incredibly interesting. I think they’re going to really revolutionize the way we think about computers, because they’re going to help usher in an era of contextually computing, the computer is all around us in many different ways, and the computer knows the app that we need, the interaction we need. It kind of prompts us and we can do it in a very lightweight interaction. That’s coming, whether it’s Glass devices, like mixed reality devices, virtually reality devices or wearable watches or wristbands that can sense us in some way.
What we realized is that, because it’s early in the space of this development. It’s very early, right, but it’s growing very, very quickly, sort of five times faster than smart phones grew at the same pace. It’s easy to forget, the iPhone was only introduced seven years ago. When it was introduced, it only had three sensors and it had no apps. It was introduced as a touch screen iPod, a better phone, and a browser. Over time, the access of developers to a development platform, it created an explosion of apps, new businesses, new opportunities.
We think the same thing is going to potentially happen with wearables, because it is a new sensor package. It’s a new user experience. It’s a new way to build apps and it’s a new way, potentially, to transform both consumer experiences but also business productivity. There’s a problem. The problem is it’s very early in development and there isn’t, for a lot of these developers, an easy way to connect these devices to a scalable business platform. But hey, that’s what we do. So, what we did is we went to all the hardware developers, or not all of them, a whole bunch of them, a dozen at this point, and we got reference applications built. We did a lot of the hard work to think about how you do authentication in connection, user ID, in a secure fashion to connect, say, Glass to SalesForce or Moto360 to SalesForce or Samsung Gear to SalesForce and we built these apps for a whole bunch of industries, sales, service, marketing, for manufacturing, for medical, just different reference applications and, instead of selling these apps, gave them away.
We actually gave away the code. We put it up on Get Hub. If you go to Developers.SalesForce.com/Wear, you’ll see all the apps and documentation and video and what we did is, we went to our community, to these hundreds of thousands of customer and thousands of [inaudible 00:20:11] and said what are you guys going to build? Use SalesForce as a platform and here’s how you can connect easily to these devices and it’s been great. It’s been amazing. We’ve seen dozens of companies start launching products in whole different areas, across sales, service, marketing, and even healthcare, in different industries like oil and gas, and that’s been kind of what I’ve been working on. That’s the long answer. That’s what I’ve been thinking about and what we’ve been working on. I think there’s a Lean angle but I’ll stop there and see if you have questions.
Pete Abilla: No, that’s super interesting. I’m curious about, you know, when people think about SalesForce, they don’t think of, at least I didn’t anyway, as necessarily a platform for wearable technology. I understand it’s still emerging. Tell us about healthcare. What is the link there and what kind of wearable technologies might make sense on the SalesForce platform?
Daniel: Sure. I think there’s a whole bunch of places. Obviously, everyone knows about the consumer uses of healthcare and wearables, right? That’s probably the most popular form, right? The FitBit, the [inaudible 00:21:16] bands, the Jawbones, etc., where they’re gathering health data of some sort and helping you improve your fitness. I think where you’ll see that go is better sensors, much more accurate, potentially even FDA approved accuracy to provide a whole bunch of data to your healthcare provider up in the cloud. That has a whole bunch of spinoff benefits.
I think there’s more immediate stuff in a couple of different ways. Think about elder care. I’ll give you examples of real companies that are building, for example, using SalesForce platform, they’re connecting families, community care providers, and elderly people with a wearable. So, a device that’s optimal, long battery life, and a company called Telemetry has worked with to build a product called Safety Care, that’s kind of like the modern wear version of “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” It’s not just an alert, it actually knows when it’s fallen down. More importantly, allows safer extending autonomy of a senior. You want them to stay at home, you want them to go to the grocery, to the shopping mall, the laundry, but not wandering, maybe, if they have a cognitive impairment. So, you can create geofencing and alerts when that occurs. Of course, it all links to a service cloud where we’ve got the customer or the client information, their contacts, any medical records, and their health center can manage it.
So, that’s one example. Another would be using wearable glasses to help people with cognitive impairments recognize people better. It’s kind of interesting. I never thought about it but it’s a company called Facial Networks, has built a little app for that on the SalesForce platform, because the sales clouds can hold all the profiles of people that you know and all the information about them.
Pete Abilla: That’s interesting.
Daniel: Other healthcare examples that I think are kind of neat, we worked with eXcensor to build an experience for patients where they can get a wearable device when they enter a hospital. So, we built this proof of concept where you can have, for example, a Moto360 wearable which allows for voice recognition. So, rather than paging the nurse, right, which is kind of a slow process, but also has little information, multiple round trips, you have the patient just say what they need. Nurse, I need a glass of water or my thing is hurting me. That gets transcribed into text and sent to an alert on the nurse’s watch in sequence, [inaudible 00:23:36]. It can allow them to know exactly what’s needed and prioritized. There’s another example.
Another example would be the use of something called bio[inaudible00:23:45], which is a wearable band that uses an individual’s heart rate as a bio-identifier. We all know about using our fingerprint but this is like using your electrocardiogram as an ID and what happens there is there’s a device that goes on the patient’s wrist that positively identifies them and then it can emit low energy Bluetooth to systems around it. This can really decrease a risk of giving the wrong drug to the wrong patient, doing surgery on the wrong patient, location of patients in the hospital.
Then, this is where I think the lean flow stuff, hospitals, just taking a tour of one of my local hospitals. I sit on a board of a hospital, [inaudible 00:24:27] and I was taking a tour and talking to the emergency room doc, they’re stuck for space. They’re building a new place but in the meantime, they’re using a lot of lean principles. In fact, he introduced me to one of his colleagues who was a black belt doctor and I think one of the cool things about wearable, and more generally, the internet of things, is as the gurneys become smart, as the patients have ID on them, as the room starts to sense where patients are, you’ll be able to optimize the limited resources that exist in these facilities much better, whether it’s triggering alerts to move a patient up because the room is now empty and the bed senses that the room is empty and it’s been cleaned properly, so we can get better utilization and more turns out of this very serious asset. I think you’ll see wearables in a whole bunch of other places.
Let me give you a couple others I’d be remiss to not mention. With SalesForce, we built using [inaudible 00:25:16], which is a gesture setting armband. Think Tony Stark in Iron Man or Tom Cruise in Minority Report. That device, often you have physicians who want to be hands-free. They have to have sterile hands. So, rather than having another full-time paid person sitting in the room, manipulating the keyboard, computer, the physician can put an [inaudible 00:25:40] on their arm, connect it to SalesForce for patient records and manipulate images and MRI, even trigger follow up actions, just with a gesture, without ever having to touch a keyboard.
Another example of wearable would be a company called Ausmedics in healthcare, where a doctor spends an enormous amount of time just entering data into an electronic medical record system, like a third of their time, and they don’t like doing this, and they’re very expensive resources. Think about them as a machine that you want to keep in flow, right?
Pete Abilla: Right.
Daniel: You don’t want that machine with down time, switch over time, while it’s typing in notes. It’s also a bad patient experience. Well, if the physician’s wearing glasses, in this Ausmedics solution, what happens is that, in a secure, trusted, video link, goes back to vetted employees who type down and take records of what’s happening. So, they can do the typing while the doctor focuses on the patient. It improves the patient experience, allows the doctors to be more focused and more profitable, frankly, but also actually goes faster. So, again, more utilization of that resource. I’m sorry, I’m going on and on, but I think there’s a lot of applications for wearables out there.
Pete Abilla: As you’re sharing these stories and your vision, I can definitely see how wearables can improve the quality of life for patients but also really improve the quality of the healthcare worker and, ultimately, the profitability of the hospital or the facility. I think that’s great.
As you were talking, you mentioned Jawbone. We actually interviewed Aza Raskin, whose the VP of Innovation there six, seven years ago or so and he may be someone you want to speak with. He’s a lean thinker for sure and I think he’d be someone great that you could partner with. We’re happy to put you in touch with him, if you’re interested.
Daniel: Oh, cool. Yeah, that’d be great. Thank you.
Pete Abilla: Well, we are out of time. Daniel, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. We learned a lot. We love to hear where people got started on their lean journey, how they’ve applied lean in their own, specific worlds. We love to hear all the interesting stuff you’re doing from Rypple to Work.com to now wearables. We’re going to be following you and all the cool stuff you’re doing. If there’s any listeners that are interested in learning more, where do you suggest they go to?
Daniel: Twitter is a great place. Just @DDebow. Follow me on Twitter. Feel free to reach out, chat with me. You can also just email me. I’m just DDebow@SalesForce.com. I look forward to hearing from everyone.
Pete Abilla: Awesome.
Daniel: Thanks for having me on.
Interviewer: Well, thank you, Daniel, and have a good day.
Daniel: You, too.