All journeys, no matter how fruitful, come to an end. After a little over nine and half years I decided to leave SAP last week. What a journey this has been!
Making Design Thinking real
I was hired into a multidisciplinary corporate strategy team, set up by Hasso Plattner, the chairman of SAP's supervisory board, and the only co-founder still with the company, whose mission was to help SAP embrace “design thinking” in how it built products and processes as well as how it worked with customers. It was the best multidisciplinary team one could imagine to be part of. We were multidisciplinary to a fault where I used to joke that my team members and I had nothing in common. I am proud to be part of this journey and the impact we helped achieve. Over the years we managed to take the double quotes out of design thinking making it a default mindset and philosophy in all parts of SAP. It was a testament to the fact that any bold and audacious mission starts with a few simple steps and can be accomplished if there is a small passionate team behind it striving to make an impact.
Be part of foundation of something disruptive
Being part of the Office of CEO I worked with two CEOs—Henning and Leo—and their respective executive management teams. This was by far the best learning experience of my life. I got an opportunity to work across lines of businesses and got first hand exposure to intricate parts of SAP’s business. As part of the corporate strategy team I also got an opportunity to work on Business Objects post-merger integration, especially the joint product vision. Some of that work led to the foundation of one of the most disruptive products SAP later released, SAP HANA.
Fuel the insane growth of SAP HANA
HANA just happened to SAP. The market and competition were not expecting us to do anything in this space. Most people at SAP didn’t realize full potential of it and most customers didn’t believe it could actually help them. I don’t blame them. HANA was such a radically foreign concept that it created a feeling of skepticism and enthusiasm at the same time. I took on many different roles and worked extensively with various parts of organization and SAP’s customers to explore, identify, and realize breakthrough scenarios that exploited the unique and differentiating aspects of HANA.
HANA’s value was perceived to help customers to do things better, cheaper, and faster. But, I was on an orthogonal, and rather difficult, mission to help our customers do things they could not have done before or could not even have imagined they could do.
I was fortunate enough to significantly contribute to early adoption of HANA—zero to billion dollars in revenue in three years—which also went on to become the fastest growing product in SAP’s history. I got a chance to work closely with Vishal Sikka, the CTO of SAP and informally known as the father of HANA, on this endeavor and on many other things. It was also a pleasure to work with some of the most prominent global SAP customers who are industry leaders. They taught me a lot about their business.
Incubate a completely new class of data-first cloud solutions
As HANA started to become a foundation and platform for everything we built at SAP my team took on a customer-driven part-accelerator and a part-incubator role to further leverage the most differentiating aspects of the platform and combine it with machine learning and AI to help build new greenfield data-first cloud solutions that reimagined enterprise scenarios. These solutions created potential for more sustaining revenue in days to come.
Practice the General Manager model with a start-up mindset
A true General Manager model is rare or non-existent at SAP (and at many other ISVs), but we implemented that model in my team where I was empowered to run all the functions—engineering, design, product management, product marketing, and business development—and assumed the overall P&L responsibility of the team. The buck stopped with me and as a team we could make swift business decisions. The team members also felt a strong purpose in how their work helped SAP. Often times, people would come up to me and say, “so your team is like a start-up.” I would politely tell them claiming my team as a start-up will be a great disservice to all the real start-ups out there. However, I tried very hard for us to embrace the start-up culture—small tight teams, experimentation, rewarding efforts and not just the outcome, mission and purpose driven to a fault, break things to make them work, insanely short project timelines, and mid to long term vision with focused short-term extreme agile execution—and we leveraged the biggest asset SAP has, its customers.
Be part of a transformative journey
I was fortunate to witness SAP’s successful transformation to a cloud company without compromising on margins or revenue and HANA-led in-memory revolution that not only paved the path for a completely new category of software but also became the fastest growing product in SAP’s history. These kind of things simply don’t happen to all people and I was fortunate to be part of this journey. I have tremendous respect for SAP as a company and the leaders, especially the CEO Bill McDermott, in what the company has achieved. I’m thankful to all the people who helped and mentored me, and more importantly believed in me.
Looking forward to not doing anything, at least for a short period of time
At times, such a long and fast-paced journey somewhat desensitizes you from the real world. I want to slow down, take a step back, and rethink how the current technology storm in the Silicon Valley will disrupt the world again as it has always and how I can be part of that journey, again. There are also personal projects I have been putting off for a while that I want to tend to. I’m hoping a short break will help me reenergize and see the world differently. When I broke this news to my mom she didn’t freak out. I must have made the right decision!
I want to disconnect to reconnect.
I am looking forward to do away with my commute for a while, on 101, during rush hours, to smell the proverbial roses. I won’t miss 6 AM conference calls, but I will certainly miss those cute self-driving Google cars on streets of Palo Alto. They always remind me of why the valley is such a great place. For a “product” person, a technology enthusiast, and a generalist like me who has experienced and practiced all the three sides—feasibility, viability, and desirability—of building software the valley is full of promises and immense excitement. In coming days I am hoping to learn from my friends and thought leaders that would eventually lead me to my next tour of duty.
About the picture: I was on a hiking trip to four national parks a few years ago where I took this picture standing on the middle of a road inside Death Valley National Park. The “C” curve on a rather straight road is the only place on that long stretch where you could get cell phone reception. Even short hiking trips have helped me gain a new perspective on work and life.