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Talend CEO talks about vendor's growth strategy
With its cloud business a primary driver of growth, Talend is progressing toward the goal of increasing annual revenue from $250 million to $1 billion.
Christal Bemont was named CEO of Talend in January 2020, just weeks before COVID-19 began to spread and devastate economies around the world.
At the time she took over from former CEO Mike Tuchen, she had significant goals for Talend, a data integration software vendor founded in 2004 and based in Redwood City, Calif.
Before joining Talend, Bemont spent 15 years at SAP Concur and oversaw the expense and travel management platform's conversion from on premises to the cloud, and one of her main initiatives when she got to Talend was improving its performance in the cloud and assisting customers as they migrate to the cloud.
In addition, she aimed over an unspecified period to grow Talend's revenues from $250 million to $1 billion.
Despite the onset of the pandemic and its effect not only on Talend but also its customers, the vendor took steps over the past 13 months to expand its business in the cloud and increase revenues. On Feb. 10, Talend reported total revenue in 2020 of $287.5 million, up from $247.8 million in 2019.
Recently, Bemont took time to discuss her first year as CEO of Talend. In an interview, she talked about the vendor's revenue growth in 2020 despite the onset of the pandemic, cloud migration, and a significant new feature that has helped customers understand the quality of their data.
In addition, she spoke about Talend's plans for the remainder of 2021 and beyond.
After taking over as CEO of Talend just before COVID-19 began to spread and the pandemic altered how we all live our lives, what has "Year One" been like for you?
Christal Bemont: Had I known all the things I know now back then, I still would be right where I am at this moment. I feel more and more fortunate every day that I'm here. The experience has been incredible, and the people have really risen to the occasion. In times like these it really makes people step up and show what they're made of, and I've been blown away not only with our employees but also our partners. Everyone just rallied. They've shown the ability to persevere through what have been tough times across the globe. I feel more and more fortunate every day, especially because COVID has highlighted the role we play for our customers and the problems we solve.
One of the goals you spoke about when you took over as CEO of Talend was to grow annual revenue from $250 million to $1 billion. What are some steps you've taken over the past year to target revenue growth?
Bemont: We've had over 20% year-over-year growth. We had a goal of improving cloud annual recurring revenue by $100 million, and we ended the third quarter at $88 million. Even in this year of unprecedented uncertainty and global havoc, even in that, every single goal and every single measurement that we set before the pandemic, we were able to accomplish. What that tells me is that we've laid a foundation that is important for being able to show what's possible in 2021 and beyond, and cloud is, for sure, going to be the indicator for where we go.
Christal BemontCEO, Talend
With respect to the cloud, improving performance in the cloud was a big focus for you when you took over as CEO last year -- how did you address that over the past 12 to 13 months?
Bemont: When I first walked in, I knew cloud was the big opportunity. With COVID, it really shone a light. Cloud was a known opportunity before, and it became a necessity. Everyone is trying to be distributed, really reinvent themselves as a company, find out how to show up for their customers and how to stay in business. Cloud became a critical part of that. COVID was an accelerant, so it definitely became part of our journey and reinforced that cloud is not only a direction where we're headed but served as a big propellant.
Were there any moves Talend made to improve performance in the cloud and convince customers to move to the cloud?
Bemont: We have an amazing leadership team, and we reinforced it with folks that came over. Jamie Kiser is our chief customer officer. We brought in Jamie because Talend didn't have that role at the time, but I thought it was really important because we're really building a customer business and putting the customer first. What we did was ask how our customers need us to show up, and this became really critical [during the pandemic]. It became about enabling our customers no matter where we were physically. The idea that was possible and we've now proven is that you don't need to physically be on site, for example, to meet customers. We were able to show up for them in ways that took advantage of the opportunities they had in front of them, and that in some cases was the only opportunity, which was to reinvent themselves. It was really about putting a customer lens on this, and we demonstrated that in a number of ways throughout the year.
Can you share specific ways you did that?
Bemont: Maybe the best way to explain what happened is we saw that moving data became about trusted data. This is where we saw a shift to our technology and the real value we've been bringing in terms of quality of data, but on another level. If you think about all the things that played out because of COVID, you see all this data coming together and these people merging all these databases. The one thing we heard is whether the data can be trusted, and is it good data, and what's really coming from it. Things are so heightened now where getting one thing wrong can make the difference between staying in business and not, getting one thing wrong can cost someone their life, getting one thing wrong results in a day that you can't afford to miss. We had to show up for our customers and not just do the things we've always done, but do them in a way that makes sure they're in a position where they're successful.
That's where we've focused on cloud, for sure, but really focused on what it is we bring value around from a place of more than just moving data. That was a big takeaway we feel will not leave when COVID is over. It's just going to increase over time.
Given Talend's emphasis on the cloud, have you seen a resulting migration to the cloud from your customers?
Bemont: For sure. Our customers are at different points in their migration journeys. We opted to sit with customers and be next to them on that journey, so we paired up and created a focus on working with our customers to figure out where they were on their cloud journey. What I learned, and how we're looking at it this year and what we're planning in 2021, is that our customers are moving their existing data and projects, but we're also seeing is that they're looking at new processes they have, new data they have, as things they'll move as a first step in going to the cloud. It's not all about just moving what they have and doing a huge digital transformation. What we did is sit with our customers and say, 'This is a reinforcement and a recommitment of our partnership, and we're going to be with you no matter where you are.'
We estimated where our customers were going to be on their cloud journeys, and we were pretty close.
Do you know how many of your customers are now cloud-based, how many are on premises and how many are a hybrid of the two?
Bemont: At the end of the third quarter, a little over 3,200 of our customers were cloud-based and the remainder were on premises. That's about 33%. You're going to see that shift as new customers come on that are cloud-based and more customers migrate over to the cloud.
Beyond the cloud, what have been some of the more significant updates and perhaps new features that you've added to Talend's platform in your first year as CEO?
Bemont: The real origin of having people be able to trust their data is something we see coming to light in the Talend Trust Score (released in the fourth quarter of 2020). The Trust Score sits along each and every data set, whether it's a system or something to fuel analytics, and the point of the Trust Score is it gives a customer the ability to see what good looks like in terms of trusted data.
I was wondering how to measure good. I was talking to chief data officers and different people who think about helping companies solve problems with data. The importance of the Trust Score is that ... there's a standard for what good looks like. It has a quantifiable number that gets applied every day. Data is an active thing that changes because you're adding new sources every day and there are jobs that run to support the data, so it's not about the first time you create it. It's about a living, breathing part of your business that's being used every day to make decisions, and because there was no visual cue about whether the data was good or bad -- and certainly no quantifiable number -- that Trust Score has been really important.
Is there more to the Trust Score than applying a number to grade the quality of the data?
Bemont: The second thing about the Trust Score is that it explains why it's good or bad. My whole career, I've looked at data to run businesses, and I've had no idea if the data changed because something was wrong or if something happened, and every company around the world has the same situation. You don't know if it changed for the wrong reasons or the right reasons. If you think about every one of those data sets, compounded by all the other data sets you have, compounded by how many people are looking at them, the aggregate problem is monumental. The Trust Score is the baseline, and when you take the Trust Score across a line of business or a company, that's what we call data help. This area of moving beyond quality and into something that gives people something of substance that tells them they can have confidence in their data is where we've been centering a lot of our resources for R&D.
We've also been looking at making it easier just to move data, just the basics of what it takes to actually work with data. We believe that at some point that should take no specialized skills, and we need to keep pressing on that.
What can you share about Talend's roadmap?
Bemont: From a contextual standpoint, I believe that we should have a business solution and not just some tools. I look at data permeating in organizations. Every person, no matter who they are, is a consumer of data, and the amount of data is immeasurable. How then does something like Talend show up to be a business solution that fits across the entire company? So, providing a lens for executives and people who run companies to see the health of their data is going to be really important. Making the process of moving and managing data easier and less skill-specific is important. Just making this an intelligent data fabric that allows an organization to work with data that works for them as opposed to them having to work with the data or the tool. This is where augmented intelligence and machine learning will come into play to make it interactive and actively seeking and looking for opportunities for a company, and making sure, first and foremost, that the data is trusted.
Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and conciseness.