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How to drive a bootstrapped startup to worldwide success

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In the past ten years, business intelligence software provider Tableau Software has grown from a bootstrapped start-up to a global organisation. Its European business is growing extremely fast, despite the tough economic conditions. We talked to Tableau’s EMEA vice president James Eiloart to find out what makes this growing business tick.

What drove you to accept the role of EMEA Vice President?

I’ve been in the data analysis, business intelligence space for a long time and I’ve been involved in a number of fast-growing European businesses for the last 20 years or so. When I look for a new challenge, I try to find three things. The first is a market that I think is really hot. I look at big market trends that are coming from slightly different places but look like they’re about to collide and create a huge market opportunity. I then, in that market opportunity, find the most innovative, exciting product that certainly won’t be the most well-known product in the marketplace. I work out where the buzz is happening and what is the drum beat that is going on if you look deeper into that particular market. 

The third thing is finding a company where the culture, energy, growth and the ambition are high. It’s rare that you find all three things lined up. I spent a reasonable amount of time looking around in the market trying to find those elements and for me, they stacked up when I saw Tableau. 

What stands out as a reason for Tableau’s fast growth under difficult market conditions?

Because we’re in the business of data, we use our own products all the time. We analyse everything in our business from marketing activity – what works, what doesn’t work – to the number of leads and the quality of those leads that we generate, all the way through to the sales process, customer services and events that we run. Every aspect of our business’ financial side is measured and analysed, so we have loads of milestones in the business. 

We track and follow in the footsteps of companies that we think are fantastic businesses, whether it be from the number of customers, customer satisfaction, growth metrics, analyst coverage or international expansion. We are a bit obsessive about the way we manage and use data to keep our business on track.

How did you achieve European success before you layered on the additional investments in cost?

We seek to achieve momentum in a given market. As soon as we see that momentum, we are prepared to invest behind it. We are pragmatic about the way we start in different countries. We work closely in new geographies and with local partners, using a relatively low-cost entry model where we are able to do business driven out of a central office as well as over the telephone. 

The product lends itself very well because people use it and realise it drives business value for them. We make it easy for customers to get the product so that we don’t have to use in-field resources early on. Those things mean that we can gather momentum, establish customers and cover market learning and understanding in a geography without having to deploy a huge amount of high-cost local resources. Then, we deploy in-country resources and once we pass the threshold to see customers, revenue and customer satisfaction starting to drive, it becomes easy to decide on putting in the next layer of investments. 

Typically, through in-country sales and maybe partner or marketing resources to help us, we move to the next level. That level is about driving bigger deals alongside larger clients and creating more market momentum. 

What are the growth ambitions you wish Tableau to achieve?

In Europe, Tableau more than doubled the number of staff we have in the business last year. That rate of growth has actually been set to continue. We’ll be opening offices in multiple countries this year as we evolve our business model when we hit momentum in countries like Germany. We’ll deploy local offices and increase our local footprint there. I have a lot of goals around growing the revenue of the business and insuring profitability. 

What advice could you give young entrepreneurs?

I talk to my team all the time about slavish focus on the customer. One of the things Tableau does extremely well is thinking about what its customers want not only from us as a business, but our sales and marketing and services people, including the product itself. We have a healthy obsession in thinking about what customers want and it’s led to a huge enthusiasm in our customer base. 

A lot of evangelical customers and world champions are enormously valuable to us and has meant the reputation of the product has been able to grow virally within our customer organisation. 

The second piece of advice is, try never to loose that startup enthusiasm; that desire to get in, solve a problem, work with other people and work hard and energetically like it was a tiny company. Being relatively new here, it’s great to see how right across the business there’s a strong startup culture and drive. Be true to and preserve your culture. Sometimes, as organisations grow, that culture gets diluted, so we try really hard when recruiting to bring in people that don’t have technical or promotional skills, but will enhance the Tableau culture. 

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