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Braze Board Member Phil Fernandez reflects upon his career and how tough times can catalyze great opportunities and successes.

As I approach the forty-year mark in my long career in Silicon Valley, the current times provide an interesting context to think back about some of the challenging moments that I’ve seen and survived over the years. No doubt 2020 is proving to be unprecedented, with the coronavirus pandemic still raging across the world, and passion and protests in our streets demanding long overdue racial and social justice.

But I realize that most of the challenges that businesses face today are not very new at all. I graduated college and joined the tech workforce in the middle of a massive recession, with what then was then the United States’ highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. I led teams through the stock market crash of 1987 and the early 1990s recession. I was President & COO of a public software company when the dot-com bubble burst. And at the company I founded, Marketo, we were just beginning to taste our first success and breakout sales growth when the Great Recession hit in 2008.

Phew, just thinking about these tough times makes me shudder. But survive them I did, with a large dose of grit and tenacity. When the going gets tough, I’ve held tight to this adage from my mentor Roger Siboni: “Things are never as bad as they seem...nor as good as they seem.” This saying gives me the perspective to always maintain optimism, and to stay level and centered while fighting through the day’s challenges.

Of course, tough times are not just things to be survived. They can catalyze great opportunities and successes—clearing the market of weaker competitors, and helping the strongest build the sinew, strength, and stamina they need to scale and emerge as true market leaders. Tough times can help forge durable cultures focused on caring, mutual respect, and support of their communities. Tough times are when great companies amass energy, build confidence from their strength, and prepare to emerge and win on the other side.

My career is proof of this continuous yin and yang of good times and bad. This is because in addition to all the tough times through which I’ve persevered, over these forty years I’ve also had the opportunity to help build six great software companies and participate in four IPOs, with all the pride and value creation that these events produce.

Which brings me to Braze, and to why I am so excited to be a board member at this wonderful company at such an interesting time. First, I see at Braze exactly the kind of grit and tenacity that’s needed. I see a great culture, not only of caring and community, but also of innovation and reinvention. We start board meetings in the midst of this crisis talking not about how hard it is, but about what we’ve learned and how we’ve gotten better over the past weeks and months!

The best part is that, built upon this fundamentally solid foundation, Braze is going to slingshot out of the current tough times to emerge quickly and boldly as one of the great software companies for the next decade and beyond. Why this confidence? Because Braze has chosen exactly the right market, and built exactly the right technology for the world that lies ahead.

Several years ago, I wrote about a fundamental change occurring in marketing that called for a new kind of technology solution to help marketing professionals create “relationship-building dialogs across fragmented channels.” History has proved me right: Marketing today is the true steward of the brand, not just of colors and logos, but of critical first-party data and of deep relationships and engaging moments with customers.

We saw marketing’s central role already emerging in 2008 and 2009 at Marketo, in the deepest months of the Great Recession, because instead of stepping back and cutting investment in such times, marketers were already thinking about increasing customer engagement, telling their companies’ stories, and leading the way forward into recovery. This strong buying from marketers in the midst of a deep recession led Marketo into its first year as the original “triple triple double double double” SaaS startup success story.

Of course, Braze has already long achieved this T2D3 milestone and much more. But that was just the overture. We are going to see exactly this same growth effect now with Braze—a company and a product offering that is purpose-built for the modern marketing I saw coming years ago, updated for now. Even with today’s strong headwinds, smart decision-makers will recognize that an investment in Braze can help them with critical customer communications today and will also position their businesses to thrive as our economy recovers.

As a board member, I’m privileged to see behind the curtain to what anchors the strong, confident culture of Braze: a responsible balance sheet, enviable cash reserves, broad market momentum, and an outstanding team of experienced leaders. I’ve been especially impressed with how CEO & Cofounder Bill Magnuson and CFO Isabelle Winkles and their teams have modeled a variety of solid, data-based scenarios to guide planning for the business. Their conservative and clear-eyed assessments provide a strong foundation for future growth.

That’s why Braze, rightly, continues to recruit at a time when many companies are furloughing or laying off employees. The talented people who join us at this transformative moment represent increased capacity, strength, and leadership for Braze in the months ahead. At Braze, we’re not talking about how to survive. That much is assured. No, at Braze right now we’re talking about winning, and we’re making the investments to ensure we do. Join us!

Phil Fernandez

Fernandez is a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur, with more than 35 years of experience building and leading breakout technology companies. He retired in 2016 from Marketo, where he served as Chairman and CEO since cofounding the company in 2006.