The Hidden World of Data with Doug Merritt

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Most companies don’t mine all the value from their data. Splunk is changing that.

Splunk is a technology company that allows organizations to take all their data and turn it into opportunities for employees and shareholders. They are transforming the way companies think about, manage, and use their data – and CEO Doug Merritt (Twitter | Website) is at the helm of this major innovation.

Doug has had a fascinating and expansive career in tech. In today’s interview, Doug shares his insights on company leadership, personal development, and why you are undervaluing your data.

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Show Notes:

[4:15] Look Before You Leap

  • Before joining the world of tech, Doug was interested in nature and biology. Since high school, he planned on becoming a doctor. The summer after his sophomore year of college, he started to question that decision. Rather than jump back into classes, he took time off to shadow and interview doctors. He realized that wasn’t the life he wanted, so when he came back to school, he switched to business.
  • When considering a career path or new venture, don’t commit blindly. Test the waters and interview the people who are already living it.

[7:55] Doug’s Non-Traditional Career Path

  • Doug’s #1 advice is to find a way to love to learn. His own passion for learning and trying new things has taken him along a very non-traditional career path.
    • He went from custom programming to sales to presales to marketing to consulting to engineering management to several CEO positions
  • Doug considers himself very competency-driven. When jumping into something new, he asks himself: “How can I understand the domain and the landscape as best as I possibly can?”
  • Doug’s career switches have left him receiving title demotions at new companies. This often stops people from taking the job, but it never bothered Doug.

“If you really value learning, and if you are trying to play a long game, then that variety winds up helping you overtime.” – Doug

  • Being able to make those leaps and changes helps keep the fire of lifelong learning alive.

[11:50] How Doug Views Learning

  • When he is learning, he tries to build a “competency orientation” where he gets just enough context and general knowledge about something that he can dive in and continue his learning through experimentation.
  • Doug was a voracious reader until about a decade ago when life and work obligations made him too busy. Now he’s switched to podcasts.

“Podcasts are augmented reality that works.” – Chad

“We are all learning to be better multi-taskers.” – Doug

  • To be able to easily get free, high-quality content at the click of a button is a massive opportunity that has never existed before. And it’s one we need to take advantage of.

[15:00] Doug And Netscape

    • Back in the 90s, before the internet was what it is today, Doug had an idea. Even though the internet boom hadn’t happened and money was hard to come by, Doug believed in a cloud-based idea for the new Netscape browser.
      • “[We] ran into someone that knew one of the early guys at Netscape and started pitching this idea, knowing how rapidly they were growing and how important talent was. And somehow we convinced them and a handful of other companies to write us a check for future software that was going to be a cloud service, back before anyone really understood what cloud was going to be. And without that, we would’ve never had the chance to get the company off the ground.”
  • Based on the angel check from Netscape, Doug was able to start one of his first companies.

“It is vastly easier to macro-BS than micro-BS.” – Nassim Taleb

“Life is a very emergent, chaotic, and tumultuous reality. Evolution is not linear and not pretty.” – Doug

  • Doug was open with his partners and investors that they didn’t have the software built yet, but that they had a vision.

“If you want an effective idea, that degree of openness, learning orientation, and experimentation is critical.” – Doug

  • Work closely with people you know and trust because they can help you identify weak spots in your future plan.

[18:50] The Importance Of Running Experiments

  • When you are on a team, you have to constantly be running experiments to get new data and new information.

“Where businesses start to go off the rails is when there are too many people that aren’t close enough to customers, don’t understand why people value what they currently do, and [don’t] have the opportunity and flexibility to run those kinds of experiments.” – Doug

  • Big high-risk experiments require oversight, but your employees should feel empowered to run smaller-scale experiments on their own.
  • At Splunk, they call themselves a doulocracy. They want every one of their 4500+ employees to have the opportunity to run experiments and feel like those experiments are in their control.
  • Doug views intrapreneurship as similar to entrepreneurship outside of the company – it’s just capital and resource allocation.
  • When building a team, think about: “Who can you get around you who will want to listen to you and believe in what you want to do?”

[22:30] Convincing People To Change

  • Throughout his career, Doug has faced people who didn’t want things to change. One experience that particularly stands out is his time working with SAP.
    • A new President of Technology joined the team who wanted to run a lot of experiments. He asked Doug to see how they could change the development culture at SAP. He faced employees who were uninterested in the new ways.
    • He was also tasked with rethinking company security. His team came up with the idea of creating a separate product for the company that solved the security issues facing multiple companies like theirs. They were able to turn a problem into a revenue source.

[26:40] What Is Splunk?

“We live in an era today where data holds a potential to help organizations radically rethink the value they are driving to their customers, and actually turn data into doing.” – Doug

[32:20] Lightning Round

  • Favorite book: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
  • To encourage work-life balance, Doug treats everything, from a family dinner to a customer meeting, with the same amount of focus and importance.
  • Final CTA: “How can each of us use the data that’s swirling around us, that feels completely either overwhelming or useless, to, with our curiosity, gather and advocate for some appropriately fact-based and relevant solutions, given the multitude of opportunity that we have on moving our species forward, moving the earth around us forward in a healthy way and healthy approach?”
Episode 234