Agents of Change
Building better business decisions with data
with Jeremy Burton, CEO of Observe
Our Agents of Change series with business leaders and pioneers talks of how to drive sustainable success in a changed world.
Join Agent3’s CEO Clive Armitage and CEO and Co-Founder of Observe, Jeremy Burton, to hear about what the big changes in online digital technology means for data, the perks and challenges of remote work in building a start-up, and where the next SAP could come from.
Clive Armitage (00:07):
So Jeremy, it’s great to speak to you today. Thanks for making the time. Now I’ve known you for a number of years. Won’t say how long, but when I first met you, you were working product marketing, back at Oracle in the UK. Now you are CEO of Observe, in the valley in the US, just give us a flavor of your career, how it’s developed from being back in marketing to now heading up a business as a CEO.
Jeremy Burton (00:31):
Actually way back. I think when we first met, I was helping out the product marketing folks. I was actually in pre-sales. I hadn’t-.
Clive Armitage (00:38):
I didn’t want to embarrass you.
Jeremy Burton (00:38):
Clive Armitage (00:39):
Didn’t want to embarrass you.
Jeremy Burton (00:42):
No, I moved out to the US not long after we first met and yeah, I actually spent quite a bit of time in a development team. Believe it or not. I graduated college really mainly as on the technical side of things, programming, but very quickly, I don’t know whether I was a terrible programmer or I was better at talking about the product than actually writing the product, but it was fairly common at the time to move out of the technical areas into marketing roles. And so I did end up in product marketing. Right around 98, 99 and turns out I was pretty good at it and they kept giving me more things to do. And I ended up running the database marketing at Oracle and I went on to run a marketing team for the first time at a company called Veritas, thoroughly enjoyed that it was a much smaller company.
Jeremy Burton (01:42):
Got more creative license out of the shadow of Larry Ellison. And then I had to go at doing general manager type stuff, and I ran a company and back in 2010, I went back to being a CMO. And it’s a role that I always really enjoyed. I loved the work and how dynamic it was and the creative side of it. So I went back to doing it again in 2010 for a few years. And now I did a quick tour duty, got my fix, and now back out doing the CEO thing, but I’ve always been in and out at marketing jobs. And I think maybe even a better marketer for that, because I’ve not stayed in it full time. And I feel like I’ve got a perspective from different parts of the business.
Clive Armitage (02:34):
And now that you’re at Observe following the Agents Of Change theme is Observe going to change the world, what are you focused on now?
Jeremy Burton (02:42):
Yeah. I’m a big bullet on the theme of, reading way back to Oracle. I’ve always enjoyed being at data companies. Oracle used to manage lots of data. Well, these days everything is a matter of data. And so Observe is an application that runs on top of a more modern database Snowflake, Oracle, like me is now old. And Snowflake is, I’d say the new entrant into this world. And I think promises to allow folks to answer many questions that weren’t even possible to ask before, because the volumes of data are so great. So Observe, we’re trying to take advantage of that. We’re trying to help people understand data that is generated by machines so that they can make better business decisions.
Clive Armitage (03:32):
That’s fantastic. And you’re in the early stages of your journey there, I’m sure growth is the thing that you’re focused on the next few years.
Jeremy Burton (03:40):
Yeah. In the last couple years it’s been building a product. In enterprise tech at least enterprise software, it takes a long time to do anything. It’s not an instant gratification business. We’ve spent almost three years building the product and now have knocking on 30 customers. So we’ve actually built something that at least 30 people found useful. And the goal obviously is to build something that hundreds of thousands of people would found useful. So yes it’s been a fascinating journey.
Clive Armitage (04:07):
I’m sure you’re going to crack it. Over the last three years, obviously during that period, we’ve all been through the COVID pandemic. How has that changed things for you personally and professionally?
Jeremy Burton (04:20):
It’s a great question. I was maybe fortunate in that, because we’re a small company. We didn’t have any customers, so it’s not like we could lose customers because we couldn’t go out and visit them. And I actually live very close to the office here. So even throughout the pandemic, I came into the office and so me and Christie, the office manager that were at opposite ends of the office, yelling at each other. But it actually changed my perspective on getting work done. I always felt like folks needed to come in the office to do an honest day’s work. For a startup you think, well, the only way to form a team is we’ve got to be together. We’ve all got to be at work. But I have to say the productivity of the team in the last year has been mega.
Jeremy Burton (05:05):
It’s been unbelievable. And so now we’re at the point where it’s time to come back to work. It does make you reevaluate well, “Was I right about what it takes to get a day’s work done?” And, “Can you ignore the productivity benefit of the last year?” And say, “No, no, let’s give that up, come back in the office so you can get interrupted every five minutes”. So, I think we’ve got a much more flexible work environment. I think we also now have gotten very open at tapping into talent pools from all over the country. And in fact, we’ve now got four people out in Switzerland. We have a European development center, super talented folks. And, I view out of harms way, cause in Silicon Valley, you’ve got the likes of Google and Apple and these people coming after them. So I think it’s broadened, not just the available talent that we would consider bringing into the company. I think it’s broadened our viewpoint on how you can get a productive team.
Clive Armitage (06:08):
And presumably, that’s broadened your viewpoint and your team are responding positively to the way that you now working. And they’re not necessarily rushing back into the office. They’re wanting to maintain the way they’re working.
Jeremy Burton (06:21):
Very much so. We probably have about half the people in each day, but it’s not the same people every day, and folks like to come in and we’ve tried to put it on the team members to say, “Well, look, there is value in connecting as a team, there is value in understanding someone outside of work”. And so we put on certain social events and we put it on the team members to say, “Well, look, you should come in the office because that’s an important part of building a company”.
Clive Armitage (06:52):
Jeremy Burton (06:53):
“You should want to hang out with your team members”. And so far that it’s going classic treat people like adults and I think folks respond positively to it.
Clive Armitage (07:03):
Yeah. I think that’s certainly true from our perspective, it’s that command and control thing from the company defining when and where you work, that’s been blown up.
Jeremy Burton (07:11):
Clive Armitage (07:11):
And it’s now much more about trust and belief that actually working together collaboratively sometimes in the office, sometimes not, that will achieve the right goal. And actually that trust has been built up by working incredibly hard over the last 18 months and being productive.
Jeremy Burton (07:26):
Yeah. And a lot of companies are thinking it’s been, I’ve read it in the press in the last week or two, I read something ridiculous, like 60 to 70% of workers in America are looking for a new job, 60 to 70%. That is mind blowing. And it’s always been a cliche that your employees are your most valuable assets in a company, but how many companies really believe that or paid attention to it? Well, now they’re going to have to, because folks, I think COVID is a life event. And I think folks have been reevaluating what they want to do and how they want spend their life. Right. Do they want to spend 150,000 miles a year on a plane? And so I think the companies that don’t offer flexible work environments that can’t drive the productivity, they’re going to struggle.
Clive Armitage (08:16):
So, as the CEO of Observe in a fast growing company over next few years, how do you look at the retention of staff, and what’s the promise to you, to your staff to say, “Look, it’s worth sticking around and building your career with us.
Jeremy Burton (08:30):
Yeah. I think everyone wants to be inspired by the mission of the company. So I think first and foremost, I joined Observe for a set at reasons. And so there’s part of the job here is inspiring people, even though look writing software, it’s not linear. It’s sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but keep focused on the big prize and the goal, how is what we’re building, going to change the world. And then I think the second part of that is we’ve got to create an environment whereby folks feel, even though they may be remote, they still have access to the information that they need to both get their job done. But also I trust the company, for a start up, people always get concerned about running out money.
Jeremy Burton (09:22):
Well, do we share financial information? Of course, we do. Do we share when we’re looking for funding? Course we do. And I think unless you are very upfront with people and very transparent about where the business is at, then it’s going to be easier if folks are remote for them to mistrust.
Clive Armitage (09:41):
Jeremy Burton (09:41):
And in the absence of information, people make things up. And, so that information flow in the past, it was important. It’s even more important now because it’s much easier to get disconnected if a large part of the workforce is remote.
Clive Armitage (09:53):
Yeah. Totally agree. And I think the role of the people department within so many organizations has just got more and more important going forward, particularly, the internal communications piece as well. So just shifting gears a little bit, looking forward off the back of what’s happened with COVID. Mega trends that you see going forward, do you think that there’s, some things are going to emerge? If so, what the ones that you’re looking at and thinking, “This is going to be really important to us going forward”?
Jeremy Burton (10:25):
Yeah. The main one is the obvious one that folks work with cloud-based technology. That’s not a new thing. We had the cloud before COVID, but I think these mega trends in tech, we like to think they’re going to happen overnight and they never do. They happen over a decade or more. Right. But, I think COVID accelerated that. I think we probably skipped a couple, three years and ahead of maybe where we would’ve been had COVID not materialized. And so folks who have gotten much more used to doing things virtually using online technologies, because they’re doing that then obviously when someone is online, you can start to do analysis. In our sales process, we religiously use a product called Gong, and Gong is essentially Zoom, but it records every sales call and it transcribes the conversation.
Jeremy Burton (11:32):
And if we see something cool we can tag it. And so then when we want to search on objections, for example, in our sales process, during the week, we can go search for the objection tag and boom, we see everything. We could never do that before.
Clive Armitage (11:45):
Jeremy Burton (11:46):
And so, there’s an example of maybe an online technology that we didn’t really use at all before, now we use it in every sales call. The side effect of that online technology is we have more data. If we analyze that data, we can be smarter. We can improve the sales process. So I think that combination of online digital technology, plus the ability to analyze data in whatever form it may come and been able to iterate based on that data, to me, that’s the answer to all of the world’s problems.
Clive Armitage (12:23):
Spoken by a man who’s in the data industry. Fantastic.
Jeremy Burton (12:25):
Yeah. Not that I’m self serving or anything, but no, everything’s a matter of data. I’m a huge believer in this, in that if you’ve got enough data and you have the capability to analyze it, you can solve any problem.
Clive Armitage (12:38):
Jeremy Burton (12:39):
Clive Armitage (12:39):
Well, I think someone once said to me, we were talking about data. I said, “I don’t have a capacity problem around data. I’ve got a data management problem just extracting the value from it”. And that’s the key thing, in a world where we’re only going to have more and more data actually understanding what it is going to be absolutely key. Got a last question for you. One thing you’ve done over the years is you seem to bagged some pretty good horses in terms of the companies you’ve gone to and been pretty successful in terms of their growth and being part of that growth. So crystal ball gazing that if you were investing the Burton dollar into companies in the next few years, where would you be looking to invest? Where are those areas that you think are going to be super hot?
Jeremy Burton (13:21):
Yeah. Across a range of areas, obviously I’m ignoring what I do as my day job, right? I’m really into cars and there’s going to be, I think, new technology to make better batteries, it’s clear electric is the future. And there is going to be better technology emerge. Such that the range problem that we have today on electric car is going to vaporize and disappear. And it’s already clear looking at Tesla stock price that everyone believes the future of the automotive industry is electric. So, so I think that’s an awesome one.
Jeremy Burton (14:08):
What you are seeing right now in the world is a lot of new foundational technology. I’m on the board of Snowflake there. I said earlier, they are the next generation database, Oracle. That they are foundational building blocks that will then support a whole host of new applications. And right now a lot of those applications, people are building them themselves, right? The Uber and Lyft, and they didn’t buy off the shelf, Uber application, that’s schedules, rides, and picks people up. They wrote it in house, but I think you are going to see over the next few years, a lot of maybe industry specific applications emerge that are geared around dealing with just massive volumes of data. And you’re going to see, where is the next SAP coming from?
Jeremy Burton (14:57):
There’s a company that has been successful over 20 years, but you know, another SAP will emerge and it’ll be an application built on top of probably some of these newer platforms analyzing orders of magnitude more data and probably going to be very industry specific. So I think looking out for those companies to emerge. The guys who can analyze the large volumes of data, the best, number one. And then I think in my other interest cars, it’s good. I mean, electric is going to be the thing. And someone’s going to come up with a bigger, better battery.
Clive Armitage (15:35):
Well, amen that I hope that is the case and remove that range anxiety for everyone who’s got an electric car at the moment, but it’s great to talk to you, Jeremy, thanks for your time. Really appreciate it. I know people will find it super interesting, good luck with Observe, and once you’ve grown to be a billion dollar company, come back and talk to us again, but thanks for your response today.
Jeremy Burton (15:54):
All right thanks.