September 5, 2017

To get a sense of the communal, open culture at the data analytics disruptor Sisense, simply scroll through the company Facebook group. The feed is full of updates from Sisense employees across its offices in New York, Tel Aviv and Scottsdale, AZ, including news of team activities, business wins, work anniversaries and new hires.

Sisense takes a similarly human-centered approach to data. Founded in 2010, the company uses business analytics software to let non-technical users easily prepare, analyze and visualize complex data sets using its patented “in-chip” technology. Ultimately, the company helps businesses eliminate the costly data preparations that typically accompany business analytics tools by providing a single tool to break down big data.

At the helm is CEO Amir Orad, a business analytics leader who joined in 2015 and grew the company rapidly. We sat down with Orad to discuss his approach to leadership and what’s next for the company.

SISENSE AT A GLANCE

WHAT THE TEAM DOES: Sisense puts a human element into big data by allowing non-technical users to analyze and join large data sets from multiple sources.

WHERE THEY DO IT: Out of a new 24,000 square foot office in Midtown.

TRICKED-OUT SPACE: Open floor plan features a Lego wall, game-themed meeting spaces, soundproof calming rooms and booths for private conversations.

BACKGROUNDS: Employees come from varied backgrounds, including legacy companies and small startups.

COMPANY CREDS: For two consecutive years, Sisense made Forbes’ lists: Next Billion Dollar Startups and Cloud 100.

IDEAL CANDIDATES: Passionate, intelligent, naturally curious about data analytics.

Tell us about your new headquarters in New York. What was your vision for the space?

I wanted a collaborative space because we do things together here. I didn’t want the typical New York office where the hierarchy dictates the space you get. The executives don’t have the best offices — we have offices without windows, and everyone else is in the better working areas. We designed a big area for food and drinks, and then we designed huddling spaces in corners of the office. 

Has the space affected how employees interact with each other?

It does exactly what we wanted it to do. We have a lot of people who are new to the company and many who have been here a while. We truly believe that the diversity and mashup of people — just like a mashup of data — generates more value, ideas and execution. It’s not uncommon for four people to be in a common area at 8 p.m., drinking beer, eating something and talking about life as well as business. You’ll see people brainstorming all over the place. All of the walls can be written on. We’re always creating. That reinforces our flat, open culture. Intellect and creativity are not aligned with titles and hierarchy.  

We also put a lot of investment in video collaboration because we opened offices in both Tel Aviv and Arizona at the same time.

As you’ve grown, you’ve said that you look to hire people from different backgrounds. Specifically, what qualities do you look for?

Functional qualities aside, we look at three things — passion, intelligence and a natural curiosity for our domain. People should care. If they care, and they are intelligent and passionate, good stuff happens. If people come from a large company, we also ask them if they’re okay working for a flat organization. If they come from a small company, we ask if they can scale with us.

Beyond these qualities, what sets Sisense apart as a tech company?

From a cultural point of view, people truly care about each other and the customers — to the point where we almost maniacally care. We also innovate over and over again. At our hackathons, we just create stuff. From a business perspective, we’re constantly innovating new ways to do things. We have a go-getter attitude. It began with the founders, who had that personality, and it just evolved from there.

You hire people who have prior expertise. How do you embrace that expertise while helping them grow with you?

You have to hire amazing people, have a clear agreement on your goals — and then you have to ask them to run fast. When people run fast, they’ll make mistakes, because we’re all just human beings. But if they’re smart, they’ll learn from their mistakes and do it better next time. When you’re growing, you also have to focus on the culture and define what makes you unique. So when we hire, we also look for people who will fit and expand the culture.

How did you define your culture?

In my view, you don’t define a culture — you observe it. You don’t choose who you are, but you can choose to improve it. What we did is ask many people — old and new — in our different locations: What makes us special? What makes us who we are? We also asked clients these questions. We took it all in and formalized it. Now, we’re choosing to maintain and expand on that.

Do you have any cultural traditions around innovation?

For one, people here experiment in the field because our product is very expandable. We encourage this a lot. Another example is that we have hackathons that are not just for engineers. For example, a finance person worked with a support and a salesperson on an idea for customer product adoption. Hackathon winners are able to allocate 10 percent of their time to build their dream product.

How have you seen the analytics market evolve recently?

Recently, there was an article in The Economist about how data is the new oil. That is 100 percent correct. Every person, every website, every phone — they all produce data. A washing machine can produce data. So we’re bombarded with all of this information. Those who use analytics to be smarter, faster and more competitive with this information will win the future. Those who do not will die. In New York specifically, there are a few very successful data analytics companies — like MongoDB and DataDog — you can see many unicorns-to-be in Manhattan around data.

I think that Sisense’s growth is directly mirroring the industry’s growth and needs. Every company — from a fashion store to an advertising company to a broadway theater — all need better analytics. The problem is we all have more data and less skilled resources because data needs are growing faster than skilled resources. This can only be solved through better technology.

What is Sisense currently focused on?

We’re continuing to build a business to last. We’re focused on growing the business, adding value for customers and being the clear choice for businesses that have complex data. To do this, we need to hire amazing talent.

How do you distribute your message to employees?

I use our Facebook group, global town halls and local Q&A sessions. In these sessions, people are always silent for the first few minutes. After a few minutes, a brave person asks a question. Then the dam opens and I’m inundated. People ask everything about the business, the culture and the people — and they get answers. It’s amazing how curious and caring everyone is if you give them the opportunity. I always learn something from those conversations. Also, great ideas come from those all the time — usually by someone you never expected.

Photos by Hannah Cohen. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.