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New Qlik CEO Mike Capone outlines his business strategy

Mike Capone, Qlik's new CEO, discusses recent layoffs and says the company needs to be more aggressive about touting its successes to avoid falling behind in the self-service BI market.

It has been a turbulent couple of years for Qlik. Following the then-public company's sale to private equity firm...

Thoma Bravo in 2016, Qlik went through two rounds of layoffs, first in 2017, and again in early 2018.

Through it all, though, Qlik's software has remained among the top-ranked in the self-service BI and analytics space, including in this year's Gartner Magic Quadrant report on analytics and business intelligence platforms.

In this Q&A, the first of two parts, newly hired Qlik CEO Mike Capone discusses the company's financial health. Capone, who took over the top spot in January 2018, also provides insight into his plans to leverage the company's technical strengths to make it more competitive and improve the perception of Qlik among prospective customers.

How is your previous work experience relevant to your new job?

At my last job as chief operating officer at Medidata, we did cloud-based computing for life sciences companies. I had responsibility for all segments of the business. That business was interesting because we had the technical platform to run clinical trials, and what was happening was more and more analytics was creeping into that space.

We had rights to all of our data, and we were starting to get science out of that by using analytics to solve problems that traditionally were only solved by experimenting on people. We were starting to model things that historically couldn't be modeled. It was the combination of better tools, high-powered compute environments like Amazon and just smarter people.

Mike Capone, CEO of QlikMike Capone

When I got the call about Qlik, I said, 'I'm in one vertical, life sciences -- imagine applying analytics across all verticals.' Any industry there is, it needs analytics..

Was Medidata a Qlik user?

No. They were a Tableau user. So I know the competition. I was familiar with the [Qlik] tool set. I have a bunch of friends in my network who were loyal Qlik users, so that informed my decision to take the job, as well.

How will you apply that experience as Qlik CEO?

I've been through scaling situations before where companies needed to break through to the next level and grow. We doubled the size of [Medidata] in terms of employees. I've been through growth phases. I know how to grow a company profitably and correctly.

Is that the position Qlik is in now, that it needs to grow?

Yeah. We're positioning ourselves to really take advantage of this next wave of the analytics economy. Data is going to be the currency of the future. It's a huge market. We're well-positioned to grow, and as we add capabilities like augmented intelligence and hybrid cloud, I do expect the company to grow.

Qlik was taken private a couple years ago. What is its status now -- is it healthy and thriving or in need of a helping hand?

I think the company's got a hugely solid foundation. There are three things that make a successful business. You have to have a good product. It's hard to sell a bad product, and Qlik unequivocally has a great product. Second thing is, you have to have a good customer base. We added 4,000 new customers last year. The last thing is great people. You walk around this office, people are loyal and passionate about what they do.

There's been increased competition in the market. That's no secret, and we're responding to that now. Do we have work to do? Absolutely. But we have everything we need to do that.

Are there any changes in the works, either on the technology side or on the marketing, sales and support side?

The only change would be faster and louder. We can be better at marketing our success stories. In North America, Tableau gets a lot of attention, and I think that's just because we're not telling our story. You're going to see us be a lot more vocal telling our story and talking about our success.

And you'll see me, just given my background, operationally pushing for continued velocity on the engineering side of things. If you ask me what I want to do, I really want to focus on that. I'm a product development guy by training.

Are you adding to the development team?

We're refocusing our development efforts. For the things that are really important, we're putting our full weight behind them. We have done some reorganization in our research and development department to get more people behind the keyboard coding. It's just getting focused.

[Power BI and Tableau are] good competitors with good product and we have to be at our best to win.
Mike CaponeQlik CEO

We don't talk about R&D investment, but I'll tell you we spend plenty. Our innovation agenda is well-funded today. That doesn't mean I'm not going to pound on the table and get every ounce of productivity I can.

It's a competitive landscape, and I'm not naïve about Power BI and Tableau. They're good competitors with good products and we have to be at our best to win.

There were some layoffs last year, and then, in January, reports of a 10% head count reduction, mostly in sales. Was that your call? And why the downsizing?

That wasn't my call, per se. There was an interim CEO in place, but I was aware of [the layoff plan] coming in. Strategically, I agreed with it. The reorganization of the sales force was a case of less is more. We have a beautiful partner ecosystem and, for the commercial space, which is the lower end of the market, they do a really good job.

We also had people covering that space, so it was crowded and there were collisions. We said, 'Let's let the partners be the partners.' We're going to really focus direct sales on enterprise and strategic accounts. Those are more specialized, and they take relationships.

And we outsourced some of our demand generation capabilities. Our overall selling capacity hasn't changed. It's just going through different partners.

Is the ultimate aim to sell the company or take it public again?

There's no real predetermined strategy other than we want to increase the value of the company. We're going to do that through growing revenue in conjunction with a continued migration to subscription and SaaS. But we don't sit around saying, 'In X number of years, we're going to sell.' We just say, 'Let's do the best we can,' and, usually, the rest takes care of itself at that point.

I didn't sign on for any set period of time. Right now, it's just about winning in the market and getting to that subscription SaaS model as effectively as possible.

Is your experience with subscription models part of why you were brought in as Qlik CEO?

Yeah, I was joking with people that that's all I've ever done. I understand perpetual licensing; I used to buy a lot of it. But we want to have a healthy mix of both.

And there's no forced march. We're not calling up our customers and saying, 'Next renewal, you're going to subscription.' We're saying, 'If you want to go to subscription, we have that.' And the market is taking care of that. The days of huge capital expenditures are over. People want to do Opex.

This was last published in March 2018

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What do you think Qlik's CEO should focus on first?
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I've been using Qlik for 10 years (starting with QV 9) and I hope the DEV team will focus on the quality of the products first. 

I am talking about latest QlikSense releases, which is still far away from being called a stable product..... 

Other staff is desirable (UI improvements are first on the list), but my Admin guys are having a heart attacks every time they are installing a new version..... 

Hope it will be improved SOON...

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Thanks for the comment. Capone did say the company is planning to invest heavily in engineering. But of course that's always easier to say than to do. Keep us updated if you see any changes. 
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