Christopher W. Cabrera is not the same leader he was when he founded Xactly Corp. more than a decade ago.
“The story I share with my team and with new people is the idea of reinventing yourself,” Cabrera says. “The notion of what got me here isn’t going to get me there. It’s so true in a company growing this fast. I just learned early on that for me to survive, I have to continually reinvent myself and recognize that everything I was doing at each stage was great at that stage, but it needed to be different.”
Xactly provides cloud-based incentive compensation solutions for employee and sales performance management.
These solutions are used to optimize incentive compensation and drive behavior by automating manual processes and streamlining workflow.
The company was founded in 2005 and completed its initial public offering on July 1, 2015.
Revenue for the first nine months of 2015 was $55.3 million, up from $45.3 million for the same period in 2014.
“Taking something from an idea to ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange has been an amazing experience,” says Cabrera, the company’s founder and CEO. “There’s no question that it’s creating the right team chemistry and the right level of engagement. We’re in the business of helping our customers find ways to get their employees engaged and to drive better performance.”
The path to lining up more than 725 customers around the world has been filled with success stories. But Cabrera adds that going from 30 employees in Silicon Valley to more than 400 employees around the world still presented a few challenges along the way.
A simpler approach
Back in the early days of Xactly, Cabrera had a lot more time to get to know his people.
“We would have group lunches and do team dinners and go out and build homes for less fortunate people through Habitat for Humanity,” Cabrera says. “All those experiences were awesome and made for a really cool culture.”
Cabrera is still very proud of the culture, but the numbers have changed significantly. Xactly now has 100 employees in Denver and a team in Washington, D.C. In addition, the company has 100 employees in India and a few dozen more people in the United Kingdom.
As the company grew, Cabrera noticed that the focus on the 13 core values that represented what Xactly stood for had diminished a bit.
“I would walk around the halls and meet employees, even in our remote locations,” Cabrera says.
“I would stop them and say, ‘What do you think our core values are?’ Invariably, I’d get a blank stare and a panicked look across their face. It was obvious they didn’t know them and therefore they weren’t living them. I don’t think they were at all able to be convinced that we were living them as a company. That was the point where I said this is not working.”
Cabrera brought his team together and the 13 core values were whittled down to a more concise group of four: customer focus, accountability, respect and excellence.
“It’s only lasting and impactful if we can get to a point where no matter how many people we have, we can stop them in the hallway and they know what they are and can articulate why they are important,” Cabrera says. “We picked the four of the 13 that we believed were core and unbending. Serendipitously, it spelled out CARE.”
Each of the four principles is important, but accountability perhaps offers the key to making the core values an integral part of the company’s operation.
“We have high expectations of our people and when they don’t do what they say or they don’t live the core values, and we have had that happen from time to time, those people are removed from the culture very quickly,” he says.
“From me on down, the executives have to be living these core values and hold each other accountable to what we say and deliver on what we mean,” Cabrera says.
“Something might come up where there is a question. What are the CEO and executive team going to do? Are they going to invoke the core values? Or are they going to make an exception and scoot around this? I’d like to think we always err on the side of believing in the core values.”
Nobody’s perfect, of course, and Cabrera says mistakes and missteps must be taken into account. But for the most part, he is confident that the core values are a solid part of the company’s foundation.
“I regularly bet people my paycheck to find an Xactly employee who has been here more than 30 days who isn’t able to articulate our core values and why they are important,” he says. “I’ve been doing that for years and have yet to have to pay up.”