As the year has gone on I’ve been dipping my toes back into the industry conference scene more and more. And while I’m gearing up for my first trip to Vegas in three years for Oracle CloudWorld, Hurricane Ian kept me from getting there a couple of weeks ago for Oracle NetSuite’s SuiteWorld conference.
SuiteWorld is a conference I’ve attended a number of times over the years, and with it being physically back I was looking forward to sitting down with company founder and Oracle EVP Evan Goldberg face-to-face for a conversation, instead of virtually for the past two years (2020 and 2021). But I was appreciative that even during this year’s event, Evan made time for another virtual conversation on LinkedIn Live, as I was really curious about his perspective on the current economic uncertainties of the economy – and what it means for the 32,000 small and midsize enterprises using his company’s platform to run their businesses on.
Below is an edited transcript from a portion of our conversation. Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear to full conversation.
Integrated platforms even more valuable during economic uncertainty
Brent Leary: When you think of the economic uncertainty, the specter of a recession… inflation just won’t go away. Does it become even more critical for businesses to have an integrated platform that allows you to bring together front office and back office?
Evan Goldberg: That’s such a great point, and let me give you a great example. What’s the productivity of your sales people? I mean, the only way you’re going to be able to figure out is if you take the sales information and combine it with the financial and HR information. How much do they cost, both in terms of expenses as well as salary? Obviously from the sales system, how much are they bringing in? What’s the sales cycle look like? How many can they bring in per year? And just what’s the ROI of adding a new salesperson? They’re hard to find. They can be. Wages are up, they can be expensive. And the only way you can get that sort of real ROI assessment is when you pull multiple systems together. Some try to pull it all together with spreadsheets, but usually that doesn’t work, and that’s where NetSuite really excels.
Even during economic uncertainty fast growing businesses are always optimistic
Brent Leary: Talk about some of the things that you’ve heard recently from customers in terms of their… What are they focusing in on right now, particularly as we sit here with this kind of pins and needles environment when it comes to what’s going on with the economy?
Evan Goldberg: Fast growing businesses are always optimistic, and they’re always focused on growth. I don’t care what’s happening in the world. I mean, the aliens could be invading, and they’d be like, “Where’s my next sale coming from?” And maybe I can sell to the aliens. So there always is that optimism and still asking, “How do I find my next customer? How do I make sure I deliver our great product to them so they go and tell two friends and so on?”
But certainly there’s a little trepidation out there; “I just got to batten down the hatches a little bit, I think. I don’t want to be caught unaware if this big storm comes”. And so that’s a time where you just, again, want to focus on some of the places where you could be saving money.
It’s probably why we’re getting these kinds of requests from customers; Again, “hard to find great people. They’re expensive. I don’t know what the future’s going to bring, so I want to make sure I’ve really got my ship running as a smooth running whatever”.
Use whatever transportation analogy you want. But I want to make sure that everybody’s doing stuff that’s really valuable for the business because I don’t know how much I’m going to have to constrain things over the next coming months, quarters, and years.
The rise of the composite company
In my keynote, we talked about this sort of composite company that we came up with based on talking to so many of our 32,000 companies/customers. And this is a company that was delivering a product, delivering an internet service, and delivering people services, professional services.
Thank goodness we decided early on at NetSuite that we weren’t going to bias ourselves to product companies or service companies or not for profits or software companies, that we were going to try to really handle all the needs of all of them. And the modern company, I think that they come up thinking this way. Obviously our younger entrepreneurs bring incredible freshness, and it’s amazing to see. They also often talk about the digital generation, the digital natives and all that. And I kind of feel like there’s the hybrid company natives, these young entrepreneurs that just think that way. They’re like, “I’m not going to pigeonhole myself as a product person, a product company, or a service company. I’m going to do it all because I know that’s how I can deliver on this great idea I have in the best possible way.” And it’s great to see these organizations adopt NetSuite and get tons of value out of it.
Passionate after all these years
Brent Leary: Just from hearing you, you’re extremely passionate about this stuff. When did you found NetSuite? 1999, 1998?
Evan Goldberg: ’98.
Brent Leary: So we’re talking about 24 years. You’re 24 years into this, man. Why do you still have this passion? Why are you still doing this?
Evan Goldberg: Well, it’s the ultimate, I guess you could say, job security. But really it’s the ultimate of not being able to do another startup. Because if you’re interested in business offerings for fast growing businesses, we kind of do it all. Not like I’m thinking about starting a company, but I do kind of laugh when I have a good idea. I’m like, “Well, I mean, it’s obviously a feature of NetSuite, so I can’t start that company.” I kind of put myself in a position where I just have to stick with NetSuite, but it’s my baby.
We are investing really, really heavily in the next generation of NetSuite. I don’t want to undersell what we’re doing this year, but every year we have so much good stuff in upcoming NetSuite because we’re investing so heavily in the technology, next generation, business user experience to make it for these entrepreneurs.
They now come from the world of TikTok and all these great tools that they’re using for marketing and just in their personal lives. They’re like, “Why don’t my business systems work like this? And there’s all this great AI out there. Why is AI not being applied to my business?” So we’re really, really pumped to take some of the great technology advances that people are seeing in their everyday lives, these great user experiences that people have in their personal lives with their technology and taking it and applying to business. And the good news is all the bad stuff that people talk about, we’re not putting any of that in. Only the good stuff.
Thoughts Five Years after the Oracle Acquisition
Brent Leary: It’s been about five years since Oracle acquired NetSuite. Looking back, any surprises being a part of Oracle?
Evan Goldberg: The biggest surprise for me was Oracle was never known as a company that put a huge amount of effort and energy into user experience. It was more like, “We have the best technology and we sort of dare you to use it.”
And I don’t think Larry Ellison would deny that – if he’s tuning in today – but they’ve done a 180-degree flip. They are like, “We are going to make our products the best products to use for everyday users.” And I had no idea this was going to happen. I used to joke that I know Larry personally and I go into his personal… Meet with him personally or go into Larry World, whatever. And I’d be like, “Oh my God, this has the best user experience of anything anywhere.” And I’m like, “Why don’t we have that in the products?” And now they’re doing it.
It’s not an exact analogy, but I mean Larry has become very passionate about it. And they’ve invested heavily, and we’re drafting off of that for sure. And we have our own great ideas as NetSuite, and Oracle’s been incredible at keeping us independent enough that we can continue to drive our ideas. We have a different market than your traditional Oracle product. And yet let us also liberally beg, borrow, and steal from all the great stuff that they’ve developed over the years.
Tech still isn’t as easy to use as it should be for businesses
Brent Leary: You’ve been in the industry for a long time. What are some of the things that you’re surprised that haven’t changed for the better yet, 24 years since you started NetSuite? What things are like, “Really, we’re still dealing with this?”
Evan Goldberg: That’s a great question, and I have to think about that for a bit. So much has gotten better…but some things have been over-hyped. Everybody thought when the internet came along and business started using the internet that it was going to fix all the problems of the world because, “Oh look, everything connects.” Well, it turns out it’s not quite that simple. What we see, and maybe this is a little self-serving, but we still see companies dealing with the complexity of using tons of different business systems and tons of different systems and, yeah, they’re all on the internet, but that’s kind of saying, “Oh, here’s a cell phone.” Before it was a landline, now it’s a cell phone. So now you can talk to this person in France, yeah, but they’re still speaking French.
I think the promise is moving everything forward together, and we just try to do our part in our little realm to make things work better together. But there’s still tons and tons of work because we see businesses really getting swamped in technology. And I think that really ties to the other thing that I’d say is that technology in a lot of cases has just not gotten easier to use. In some cases it’s gotten harder to use. And that’s because everybody tries to build every bell and whistle into their technology. That’s their way of competing. And as a result, it just gets more and more and more complicated.
I feel like this revolution in the business user experience is about, I don’t want to say dumbing down, but just sort of going more minimalist. Do the 80/20 rule and make sure that what users see is what they need and they don’t get overwhelmed and just give up.
There’s been a lot of great revolutions though. It’ll never end…
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.