5 Ways Becoming a Board Member Made Me a Better CEO

On the anniversary of Gainsight’s acquisition by Vista Equity Partners, I want to take some time to share what I’ve learned from their journey.

Almost a year ago, Vista Equity Partners acquired Gainsight (if you have followed Apptio’s journey, you know that Vista is the private investment firm that acquired Apptio in 2019). As I reflect on this anniversary, I want to take some time to celebrate the accomplishments of Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, and share some thoughts on how joining the Gainsight Board of Directors has positively impacted my role as Apptio CEO.

First, I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight Nick’s impressive journey – he created a new category of software solutions centered on customer success and product experience. His genuine passion for the customer experience, the human-first cultural values that he has instilled in his company and the level of transparency that he operates with are incredible. I greatly admire him for that.

I had the privilege of joining Gainsight’s Board of Directors in May of 2021. It was so exciting, as I saw so many parallels to the Apptio journey. During this time, I’ve gained so much from this role (pun intended). Here are the top five ways my time on the Gainsight board has made me a better CEO for Apptio:

1. Take a step back and look at the big picture

As a founder and CEO of Apptio, my natural instincts are to dive into every challenge headfirst to find solutions with my team. However, as a board member, I am compelled to focus on the big-picture business model, metrics, and team engagement to provide strategic advice on key topics that move the needle. My job is not to run day-to-day operations for Gainsight – it is to be an advisor and provide governance to Nick and his leadership team to help them figure out how to scale the business. This has been a good reminder for me to do the same at Apptio: guide our team toward success instead of solving every problem myself.

2. Look past personal biases

Through this role, I’ve had to divorce myself from my own personal biases (for example, if I had made a similar business decision in the past that may not have worked out for Apptio) and focus on the data and Gainsight’s unique situation to provide the best advice.  A notable example of this is when I was facing challenges finding the right leader for an executive role at Apptio. As Nick brings in new leadership to his team, I’m learning how to divorce myself from my personal biases that came from my previous experience. Now, when I face hurdles at Apptio, instead of applying a general solution to the issue, I look at the unique situation and think strategically about how to best problem-solve for that situation so I don’t let my personal biases get the best of me.

3. Learn from others

Not only am I providing Gainsight’s leadership team with advice and support, I’m also taking learnings from other board members. I also have a front-row seat to how Nick runs his company, people-focused culture and board. The unexpected benefit to me is applying these lessons to my leadership approach at Apptio. Nick is an amazing leader, and I’ve learned so much from him on how to tackle different challenges and solve problems. Fun fact: He is a big Ted Lasso fan and has this amazing way of crafting unique narratives to bring optimism and energy to his team and board meetings. It’s inspired me to look for creative ways to do the same at Apptio.

4. Apply learnings from my journey as a founder

I believe in the power of lifelong learning, and a critical part of that is taking time to reflect. By analyzing what I have learned from both success and failures, I can maximize future performance. There’s a special journey company founders experience, and I can relate to a lot of the same situations that Gainsight is growing through: creating a new category of software (TBM for Apptio; customer success for Gainsight); being acquired by Vista; scaling under Vista, including M&As; product and geographic expansion, etc. I’ve had the chance to reflect (and in many ways relive) these important milestones to help Nick and his team. Every time I look back on my early journey, I take something new away from those memories and apply it to what I am doing today.

5. Focus on creating value for Gainsight

As a board member, I am privileged to represent independent and diverse perspectives to help create value for the organization by challenging the status quo and bringing new thinking to the leadership team. With every interaction, I think about how to create value as a board member for Gainsight.

I hope that the lessons I’ve learned help inspire others in my network facing similar journeys as a leader, founder, CEO or board member. I look forward to sharing more insights and perspectives as I continue to grow as a board member and CEO.

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