I am fortunate to have known Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora, for more than ten years. We first met when we were both members of a "breakfast club" of SaaS startup CEOs.
We spent mornings once a month meeting over Specialty’s pastries and coffee (or McDonald’s the day I was supposed to cater and only remembered last minute!) talking about how hard it was to get people to understand the SaaS model. I remember hearing Tien’s vision about the Subscription Economy back then and thinking, “Wow this guy is smart” and, “Really…Cars as as service…Will that happen?”
Coincidentally, we had become an early customer of Zuora at my last company (LiveOffice), where I got a crash course in the Subscription Economy. I say “crash course” literally, in that I knew NOTHING about subscription businesses when I took my last CEO role, and that lack of knowledge almost crashed the company. In the Subscription Economy, everything changes—including (most notably) the operating model. Thankfully, Tien was there to help me get through the transition.
Fast forward almost a decade and Zuora has gone public and it seems like everything around us is becoming “as-a-service.” Meanwhile, in running Gainsight and helping to champion the Customer Success movement, absolutely everything we do is an offshoot of the move to customer-centric business models that the Subscription Economy advocates.
As such, I was honored to get an advanced copy of Tien’s ode to the new digitally-transformed economy, "Subscribed."
And after having just devoured it, I can say that the book is the perfect intro—or re-intro—for anyone trying to understand the broader trends of Digital Transformation, XaaS, and Customer Success.
For me, the big highlights were the following:
Age of the Customer
Tien had courtside seats to the beginning of this new era, having been employee 11 at Salesforce.com. He talks about the pre-"mega tower” era of the company, when the team worked out of Marc Benioff’s rented apartment. Tien connects the dots to today and talks about the massive shift in power from vendors to customers that Forrester Research refers to as the “Age of the Customer.”
As my Marketing team thinks about how to tell the story of Customer Success in the context of larger themes, these intro chapters are pure gold.
Tien then comprehensively catalogs how the subscription trend is affecting all parts of the economy from retail to music (yes there is a Kanye reference) to transportation to media to software. Perhaps the most fascinating examples come from centuries-old stalwarts like Schneider Electric, which leveraged the internet of things technology wave to invent new subscription offers. Tien also profiles the winners like Adobe, Autodesk, PTC, and Cisco that made it through the transition.
Tien further alludes to the early innings of this transformation happening in even the most high friction of industries like healthcare, government, and education.
For my Sales and Customer Success teams looking to connect with their clients’ strategic goals, these sections provide a decoder ring to map to our clients’ world.
I LOL’d (laughed out loud) at the WTF (what the… you know the rest) chapter because Tien totally hit the nail on the head when he talks about the biggest barrier to transformation being organization and culture. The jobs of Marketing, Product, Finance, and even IT need to be completely reimagined. So it really resonated with me to read how passionate Tien is about the need for a customer-centric organizational model versus a siloed one.
As we think about scaling our organization from a people perspective, the WTF chapter will be one we refer back to.
Roadmap for Change
In perhaps the most actionable part of the book, Tien articulates what needs to change in each department in companies moving to the Subscription Economy. For example:
- Product teams adopting a “forever beta” mentality
- Marketing teams becoming better storytellers
- Sales teams thinking about eight distinct engines of growth (acquisition, churn, up-sell, cross-sell, and so on)
- Finance teams upleveling their jobs to be, as Tien puts it, “business model architects”
- IT leaders helping to draft the new business systems architecture to enable this transition
While Gainsight is a “born in the cloud” company, even we can use a reminder of how our jobs and roles have changed from prior companies.
As the leader of a SaaS company myself, the last chapter hit me hard. Going forward, I consider these to be my marching orders. In it, Tien shares the “PADRE” (Pipeline, Acquire, Deploy, Run, Expand) model that he uses at Zuora and the way it helps drive accountability across teams. Having already spent some time with him one-on-one on this topic, I can already tell you we’ll be talking about how to implement PADRE at Gainsight!
What I love so much about "Subscribed" is how applicable it can be to every role across a company. That’s why I’m excited to make it part of our teammates’ journey of learning and growing together. So if you’re a Gainster and you’re reading this, look out for a new book coming to your desk soon!
Congrats to my friend Tien on a fantastic book and an epic year overall. And it’s only June!