Chief Product Officer Gijo Mathew will go to nearly any length to prove there’s a problem worth solving. Legend has it that earlier in his career, Gijo hacked his CEO’s account to demonstrate why they should get into the security software business. Luckily, Gijo’s gamble did not cost him his job but ended up creating a $1B business unit. More on this later.
Insight Partners Product & Tech Center of Excellence works with and places leading CPOs from around the world into its portfolio of high-growth software companies. As part of this program, CPOs are hand selected to participate in the industry-leading CPO Advisory Board. Content for this series is developed in partnership with Advisory Board members, including Gijo Mathew.
Who is Gijo Mathew?
He is a leader with over 21 years of experience in high-growth product management, product marketing, technical sales, engineering, and strategy. Gijo has created, scaled and optimized software product companies that have ranged from $5M startups to $1B enterprises.
In January 2019 he joined VTS, the market-leading leasing and asset management platform in the commercial real estate industry. Prior to VTS Gijo was CPO at Web.com, owning the strategy and execution of a portfolio of B2C and B2B products that generated $800+ million in revenue. Gijo has also held senior product leadership roles at Nimsoft, Orchestria and CA Technologies.
Let’s get to know more about Gijo with 7 Questions:
How did you get started in product? Was there a person or inflection point in your career that accelerated your success?
Like most young people with a graduate and post graduate degree in CS, my career started off in engineering and I loved developing software. In my effort to build better software and understand what our customers want in a product, I saw that there was a disconnect between the sales and engineering teams. After translating to my team over and over again what the sales team was trying to say, I realized I had what it takes to bridge that gap between customer needs and technical requirements. I ended up joining the sales organization, which was a perfect place to leverage this skill that I didn't even know I had.
Working in sales was the best thing I could have done because it helped me understand the needs and wants of our customers in a way that an engineer at the time never could. Strategic planning with customers about technology that can help them do their jobs better and move their company forward is a very humbling experience.
As a CPO of a fast-growing business, how have you personally evolved as a leader?
At this point in my career, I am really focused on building new leaders, especially at a fast-growing company like VTS. As we grow our product portfolio, we need to give our team space to make mistakes and learn from them, which is part of a growth path to leadership.
In addition to building new product leaders, I have also realized that as executives, we need to grow and evolve our perspectives. An executive team that keeps an open mind and continually improves is also very critical to a fast-growing company.
You joined VTS less than a year ago. What is the most important thing to do as a product leader when joining a new company?
When joining a new company, it is important to establish the core principles of what you are about as a leader. Doing this helps the team anchor to what you truly believe is important. It also helps them understand how you plan to run the organization. One of my key principles is Always Remove Orange Cords. I remember when a colleague joined a company and noticed an orange extension cord in the office lobby. He assumed it was important and stepped over it. The cord was still there every day that week. He never questioned “why is this extension cord going across the lobby?” Another person visits and notices the extension cord. He follows the extension cord and realizes it’s not plugged into anything! I always look for these “orange cords” especially in my first couple of months at a new company.
One “orange cord” at a previous company was when the product/UX team told me about a sales policy restricting them from talking directly to any customers. It turned out that a previous sales leader had actually put this policy in place. Once the blocker was removed, the team got back to work with one less obstacle.
What is the top challenge in scaling a company? What’s your biggest success story?
I remember my first board meeting at a growth company. — The board members asked me, "What got you excited to join the company?” I said, "I’m excited because we have a lot of opportunities ahead of us." When they subsequently asked me, "What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge?" I said, "That we have a lot of opportunities ahead of us." Even when we were building the security product portfolio at CA Technologies to $1B in revenues, we had to be very deliberate about what to build, what to buy, and who to partner with. When you have so many important options left in the balance, it’s tough to determine what will move the needle in the best direction. We built frameworks to deliver the high-growth outcomes for our company.
What was the most challenging ask you had to make of your board?
What’s challenging is when I come into a company with really large bets already underway, with a lot of time and resources poured into a product with an uncertain future.
The question becomes — How do you walk back or adjust those bets that might not be panning out? Bringing data to the table, especially around achievable revenue curves, is critical. Do it as early in the process as possible to say, "You thought we were going to get that revenue outcome, but we're not going to be able to realistically accomplish that."
I had to walk back a bet from the board 10 years ago. The GM came to me and said, "Hey, we want to move this entire product line to the cloud." Back then, everybody was going to the cloud, so I made that bet. We invested in a 200 person team in less than 6 months. While I was confident in the bet, we didn't get the adoption that we projected. People were hesitant about going to the cloud, especially around security services. My lesson? Metrics matter and understanding those metrics as early as possible is crucial. It really humbled me.
What’s next for VTS?
Commercial real estate is probably one of the places that technology hasn’t really taken root and transformed the industry as much as it has everywhere else. But for the last seven years, VTS has basically taken the industry from analog to digital. Now we have all this data and online workflow in a modern way.
We're really focusing on a couple of new products outside of what we call Core VTS:
- MarketView is our data product that anonymizes and aggregates digital data for access real time.
- Truva is like Zillow for the commercial real estate space. It’s an online transparent marketplace. Spaces are available to end users, who will have all the data they need to make a good decision about their next space.
Finally, tell us more about that purported hacking…
I had an idea for a security business unit that I wanted to share with my CEO back in the early 2000s. I went to the CEO and I made my case. I was pretty naive and said “I just need some money and we can totally do this.” The CEO was like "Who are you?" and then said no. I knew I had to prove to him that this is a problem. So I lightly hacked the CEO’s email and sent an email from him to my manager saying: Gijo is doing such a wonderful job. I would like to give him a 200% salary bump. Don't ask me about it, just make it happen.
My manager emailed me that weekend and said, “Hey, I just got this email from our CEO. Why is he telling me to give you a 200% raise?” I told my manager that I'm just trying to show the CEO how vital security is.
The CEO writes us both back and asked if I had his password. Figuring I was already fired, I made a joke and replied “If I had your password, I would have given myself a 600% raise already.” The next day, the CEO funded 13 people to explore the idea. Eight years later, we turned a zero dollar business unit into a $1 billion dollar business unit, now a $4 billion company.
I still carry that sense of determination with me. I feel like if I care too much about losing my job, I’m not pushing myself enough to think about what would transform our company.