Stay focused, be curious, and deliver: Dave Weisbeck (CSO of Visier)

A seasoned software executive, Dave Weisbeck’s experience ranges from building development teams to growing multi-billion dollar businesses as a General Manager. Dave is currently Chief Strategy Officer at Visier. With twenty years in the information management and analytics industry, Dave’s prior roles include developing products and product strategy at Crystal Decisions — acquired by Business Objects for $820M — and Business Objects, acquired by SAP for $6.8B. Most recently Dave was the Senior Vice President and General Manager responsible for Business Intelligence, Enterprise Information Management, and Data Warehousing at SAP. Dave holds a position on the Advisory Board.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

We are all looking for that one thing that can provide us with a litmus test that determines whether our business will be successful or not. I know I am still looking. My best candidates to date:

First, be ruthless in prioritization to create a clear focus. I often hear some form of the phrase that great leaders find a way to say “yes”. I believe that very good leaders turn too many “no” answers into “yes”, but truly great leaders know when to say “no”. They provide to the business something incredibly important: focus. It is often easy in a corporate environment to say yes, as every idea has its champions and analysis that supports the idea, but everything has to be weighed against opportunity costs and placed in comparison to other ideas that compete for resources.

Second, be paranoid and curious. An idea I admit whose genesis comes from Andy Grove, but with an additional twist that means you shouldn’t just look over your shoulder to check for the competition, but also look internally to pay attention to all of the details. Have your read the contracts your customers sign and know what all of that language around indemnity means? How does the QA team go about checking the quality of your product? There are countless examples, and regularly invest some time to dig into the details.

Lastly, when your customers are your greatest champions, everything else gets easier. Provide them a great product at a fair price and you will notice the pipeline will get easier to build and sales will close a little sooner.

I have found no single idea above sufficient, but applying all three has served me well.

Tell us about your experience as an executive at Business Objects. How did you feel after the company was acquired by SAP for $6.8 billion?

I have been on the acquired side of two great acquisitions. First, Business Objects acquired Crystal Decisions — most famous for Crystal Reports — and then Business Objects was acquired by SAP. When you are acquired the first feeling is a bittersweet one. You have poured your heart and soul into creating an organization that will take on the world and beat the competition into submission, and the acquisition represents an ending to that mission. What you quickly come to realize is that it isn’t an ending, but a chance to pivot to an expanded opportunity. New ideas, new experiences, new opportunities and resources become available that allow you to accelerate your mission. In the case of SAP acquiring Business Objects, it allowed us to establish a dominant market share in the analytics space that was nearly 2:1 on the competition.

Acquisitions also represent a great opportunity to grow personally. The world of start-ups is very different from the world of large Enterprise vendors, but they both have something to learn from each other. Experiencing both has been an invaluable education in what it takes to make a business successful.

Could you explain the impact of big data on HR organizations? Where does Visier fit in?

Our view is that there are 3 fundamental data elements for a business: customers, products (or services) and employees. Of these, employees have the biggest impact to the success of the business, but are the least measured and analyzed.

Sales and marketing are deep into analyzing the customer, while the operations team is optimizing the supply chain and finance is tracking the money. HR, however, is still struggling to turn insight into the workforce into improved business results. It is this connection to business results that is critical to Visier.

When it comes to data on the workforce, we have an unprecedented amount to mine. Beyond the employee record in the HRIS, or candidate information in an ATS, or performance and compensation in a talent management system, there is engagement, payroll, safety, and absenteeism. This can go further into emails, calendaring, messaging, badge swipes and seating plans as we look at how employees network and collaborate. These only scratch the surface of the larger data landscape, as we haven’t talked about data that exists outside the business in places such as social networks or patent filings. But there is one other category of data that is more important than all the rest — productivity.

The real opportunity here is to find out how to make a sales rep more productive. Or to increase the customer satisfaction in your properties, or how to lower the incidence of patient re-admissions while increasing your HCAPHS score. To achieve these results, you need to uncover the relationships between, for example, industry experience and quota attainment, or training time and patient satisfaction, and making these connections has been too difficult — until now.

Whether it is improving quality, revenue, innovation, customer satisfaction, units produced, or any other measure of the business, the opportunity is to improve your business results through decisions you make about your workforce. This is what Visier is all about.

What does the future of business intelligence look like? Where are things headed?

We believe that the future is a move away from IT-centric toolsets to business leader focused solutions — we are calling this Applied Big Data.

When you look at the evolution of business intelligence, there has been a cycle of innovation that has focused on ease of use. Crystal Reports was able to defeat Actuate because you could build a report in a couple of hours in Crystal, and the same report would take you days to program in Actuate.

Business Objects evolved this further with solutions like Web Intelligence, and now Tableau and Qlik are doing the same again. The innovation has been incredibly incremental rather than disruptive.

Meanwhile, on the backend the debate between the Inmon and Kimball camps was largely centered on a top-down centralized approach versus a bottoms-up approach with a preference for star schemas. However, what was really holding the business back was that the ability to change or update a data warehouse was far slower than the pace of change of the business. New types of data were exacerbating this issue as the volume, speed and variety of data was rapidly increasing and this led to the birth of Big Data approaches and in-memory data computing.

What all of this forgets is that all of this technology exists to help people make better decisions. All of this incremental innovation has been focused on making the toolsets either easier to use or more powerful. I liken it to making a hammer or saw simpler or more powerful. For most people, an easier tool will not make it easier to build that house or dining room table. The application of the tool is the real challenge, and this is part of why enterprise application spend is about 5 times that of middleware.

Business Intelligence has largely been treated as middleware by organizations. With its shift to the Cloud, that model is a mistake as dedicated solutions that focus on domain-specific questions and data management give customers deeper insight at lower costs, in less time.

Do you have any ideas you would like to see funded or built?

Experiences teaches us to be shy about trying to predict what will happen too far into the future. With that caveat safely out of the way.

I did an undergraduate thesis in artificial intelligence, and have been a staunch supporter of the idea that true intelligence is a function of our ability to learn, not of the knowledge we have acquired (what Tim Urban referred to as the “Try to make evolution do what it did before but for us this time” approach). At the time of my thesis, I was particularly excited in the work of John Koza and the idea of genetic programming, where the algorithm — literally the code — could be evolved to solve new forms of problems. So if I could place a long bet on some technology to be funded, I would turn my focus to the application of AI to new business challenges.

When it comes to something to be built, I am impatient to see the Internet of Things become a reality, but I believe that one of the key elements holding it back is the infrastructure. A key component of the success of the Internet has come from the long list of standards such as HTML and HTTP, but also SMTP, IMAP, and at lower levels like TCP/IP. Applying, and improving, the lessons of these standards to create a secure and open means for things to communicate with people, and other things, would accelerate innovation and allow us to make more valuable integrations of the digital and physical world.

If you’re interested in Visier, feel free to reach out to Dave directly via email. This issue was curated by Kaesha Freyaldenhoven (email).

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