Workday's Aneel Bhusri Has Big Software In His Sights

He's ready to take the software-as-a-service company up against the likes of Oracle and SAP.

John Foley, Editor, InformationWeek

December 14, 2007

4 Min Read

Though he lives in Silicon Valley, Aneel Bhusri is a fan of the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots, and the Boston Celtics. If you follow sports, you know that means he's having a good go of it.

The protégé of PeopleSoft founder Dave Duffield, Bhusri's a power player in his own right--a partner with venture firm Greylock Partners, chairman of storage company Data Domain, and president of Workday, the HR software-as-a-service startup he co-founded two years ago with Duffield.

Workday started in 2006 selling to small companies, worked its way to the midmarket, and enterprises are next. In the months ahead, the company will find itself competing directly with Oracle and SAP.

Duffield, as CEO and chief customer advocate, is Workday's marquee salesman. But Bhusri does the heavy lifting, with sales, marketing, finance, and product development reporting to him. "We make all major decisions together," Bhusri says.

PeopleSoft earned a reputation for being customer focused, and Bhusri promises Workday will do the same. Treating customers well and keeping your word, he says, is "a lost art."

Q&A With Aneel Bhusri

InformationWeek: You're a venture capitalist and top executive with a new software company at the same time. Is that unusual in Silicon Valley?

Bhusri: It's very uncommon, but this is a special situation. Greylock got a chance to invest in Workday. I still participate in their Monday meetings, but I'm basically full time at Workday. Dave saw my staying connected to Greylock as a way to be close to ideas for how we shape products. The consumer Internet is driving a new user experience. I try to bring those things into the way we shape Workday products, to keep a constant flow of new ideas.

IW: Is Workday about to become a player in the enterprise software market?

Bhusri: It's turning out that way. We had focused on companies 1, 000 to 5, 000 employees in size, thinking that was our sweet spot. We've been pulled into larger accounts sooner than expected, but that's where we want to be in the long run. There isn't the push back for the on-demand model in large accounts that many people expected there would be.

At the end of the day, it's a bet on whether we're going through a real technology transition. The on-demand architecture will be led by new vendors. Oracle doesn't seem to have plans to build an on-demand system. The reason we have a chance to be successful is that you have to start from the ground up, instead of taking an old platform and repurposing it for multi-tenancy.

IW: How do you solve the problem of tailoring software for larger companies?

Bhusri: One size doesn't fit all for large companies, but if we customize, then we haven't solved anything. A huge area of investment for us has been in the area of configurability, especially around business processes and workflows. We break the software into small pieces, and let customers piece it together into processes that fit their business model. It's configuration rather than customization.

IW: And Workday handles the software upgrades?

Bhusri: Customers are off the upgrade treadmill. It's not their problem anymore. It's our problem to solve.

IW: How do you and co-founder Dave Duffield divvy up responsibilities?

Bhusri: Dave is focused on sales. He casts a larger than life shadow in the sales area. He has a great relationship and reputation with customers. I focus on the vision of the product line and day-to-day operations. We make all the major decisions together. We're constantly in the conference room talking.

IW: What from your experience at PeopleSoft carries over to Workday?

Bhusri: Customer focus-it's more important than ever. If we make our customers successful, we will be successful. Keeping to your word, treating your customers well-it's a lost art.

And you can never stray from the innovation path; you've got to stay on it. Whatever happens, I know that Dave and I are going to make sure innovation stays core through the life of the company.

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About the Author(s)

John Foley

Editor, InformationWeek

John Foley is director, strategic communications, for Oracle Corp. and a former editor of InformationWeek Government.

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