Meet Jennifer Dearman, Chief Customer Officer at Pendo, a Raleigh-based software startup born in 2013 that now employs 375 and counting across six offices worldwide. Pendo was named a Top 50 Startup by LinkedIn in 2018 and has been on the Forbes Cloud 100 list for the past two years. Pendo recently ranked No. 73 on Inc.’s Most Successful Companies in America list, was named among Forbes’ 500 Fastest Growing Companies, and Inc.’s Best Places to Work 2019. And just last week the company made headlines with a $100 million Series E funding at a $1 billion valuation, bringing total venture investment to date to $206M. The tech community is buzzing… what do you get when you mix pink dinosaurs with unicorns? Guess that’s the “Billion” dollar question!
In May, Jennifer joined Pendo’s mission to improve the world’s experiences with software by helping companies create products that customers love. She’s an expert in running and scaling large customer-success organizations and tackles the unique challenges that most leaders don’t see coming during change management and rapid growth. Jennifer knows what it takes to drive successful outcomes for customers and advocates—that strong training programs, company-wide buy-in, and a passion for the customer are “must-haves” in delivering enterprise-level success.
Jennifer previously held leadership roles at Red Hat, Kronos, Deloitte, and SAS before joining Pendo. This customer-centric expert, karaoke enthusiast, speaker, and Wolfpack alumni has an MBA from Carnegie Mellon and was named Business Intelligence Group’s 2019 Executive of the Year. Under Jennifer’s leadership, Pendo will redefine what best-in-class customer experience means for its 1,200+ customers that include Zendesk, LexisNexis, Coupa, BMC, Salesforce, Cisco, Marketo, LabCorp, Infor, OpenTable, and Citrix, and continue to dominate the product-experience category they created.
Catch up with Jennifer, pink dinosaurs, and unicorns in our Q&A.
Q. You have an amazing job at an amazing organization. Tell us how that came about and why you chose Pendo?
You’re so right! I do have an amazing job at an amazing organization, and I am grateful every day for the opportunity. It’s been a journey getting here. I’ve always been in a customer-facing role, solving problems and advocating for customers, having grown up in Big 4 consulting working for Deloitte and continuing down the consulting path with other software companies. I became interested in what was then called “customer journey” in 2012, which incidentally is now referred to as the Year of SaaS when many big companies switched to cloud-based enterprise applications. Software-as-a-Service wasn’t new, but 2012 was the tipping point. And it was this shift to SaaS that also drove the need to deliver a better customer experience to retain customers.
There wasn’t a lot of thought leadership around customer journey at that time, but I consumed everything I could get my hands on and presented the idea of building a customer journey, complete with a team to ensure it was delivered to customers, to the leadership team where I worked at the time. Unfortunately, the company was not ready for an outside-in, customer-centric perspective, but I knew at that moment, this was the field I belonged in.
As cliche as it may sound, Pendo is the company I’d been waiting for because it combines my passion for helping customers be successful with a product I truly believe delivers value. Pendo helps companies build software that users love by collecting quantitative and qualitative data that tells them how customers are using their product, how they feel about it, and what they want from it. This insight is incredibly important for product teams to know what features to build and what customers find valuable. And it’s exactly the information that customer-success teams need since they are responsible for helping customers achieve their goals and delivering the best possible product and customer experience.
Q. Pendo just made big news by landing $100 million in Series E funding. Can you comment on what this means and how it will impact what comes next?
We are all so proud of this accomplishment, but with this milestone comes big responsibility. We are grateful to our customers who have helped us get here and we owe it to them to continue to deliver the experience they deserve with great products and people. This funding sets us up for our next stage of growth and we plan to use the new capital to accelerate global expansion and product development through engineering investments.
Q. You have had such a successful career with some great brands. As Chief Customer Officer, what do you want to accomplish next with Pendo during your first full year?
I’ve learned a lot from two successful runs developing and executing the strategy for customer-success functions at much larger companies like Red Hat and Kronos. Chief Customer Officer is a new role at Pendo and a key focus of mine is creating the vision for our customer experience that takes into account what our customers tell us is important to them at every step of their journey. There’s no shortage of customer focus at Pendo. In fact, one of our core values is a maniacal focus on customers, and we live and breathe it every day. Until now, I’ve never experienced an environment where everyone leans into doing what’s best for customers, with no egos or agendas. Leveraging our customer-focused culture, and bringing scalability, process, and an enterprise vision to a wildly talented success organization are goals for me this year.
Q. Have you recuperated from Pendomonium 2019?
Whew! Pendomonium19 was a blast! It was our third annual customer conference (and my first one), held in our hometown of Raleigh, and I was honored to be the emcee of the event. We had over 1,000 professionals from product, customer success, marketing, and UX, to name a few. The content our customers and subject-matter experts delivered was amazing! I met so many people and loved hearing their stories of how Pendo has changed the way they engage with and deliver value to their customers. And of course, there was “Big Pank” beer, our signature pink beer brewed locally for this event by Trophy Brewing Company. Only the coolest technology companies have their own beer! And, who doesn’t love pink dinosaurs leading the way to happy hour?
Q. Can you share any advice on navigating in today’s changing workforce and how to develop and retain successful teams?
I feel strongly that when building successful teams, there is equal benefit from retaining experienced employees and recruiting new talent. Experienced team members bring tribal knowledge and, well… experience! New talent brings a fresh perspective and new skills that may not be present yet within a team. This can be a powerful combination!
Developing and retaining successful teams is tied directly to leadership. We’ve all heard the adage: people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. I can speak from my own experience that this is true. A manager should provide direction, remove obstacles, provide growth opportunities, and help the team be successful. Teams who feel heard and supported perform better. So my advice on how to develop and retain successful teams starts with investing in managers to ensure they are skilled and empathetic leaders.
Q. If you weren’t doing your role now what would you be doing professionally?
It’s hard to imagine doing something other than what I’m doing now. The path to get here wasn’t defined—there was no Chief Customer Officer role or what we now call “customer success” when I started my career (too many years ago to mention). So seeing a new C-level role emerge in a new and fast-growing industry during my professional career is exciting. I feel lucky to be part of this movement, and what I love most is bringing people together to find solutions.
If I had a total do-over (that included unlimited educational funds), I might have been a veterinarian. Instead, I’ll have to settle for just taking care of our three dogs, one cat, and one bird!
Q. Share a “fun fact” about you.
I love karaoke! I’m an introvert (probably another fact most people don’t know about me) and have no singing abilities, but I love music and something draws me to the stage. I played the violin and french horn growing up and was actually quite good at both so maybe that’s the root of it. All I know is I cannot resist karaoke. My go-to song is Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, but I also love a good Kelly Clarkson or P!nk anthem. At Pendomonium, much to my co-workers’ surprise, I belted out a heartfelt version of Dancing Queen to live band karaoke, which was a very cool experience!
Q. How do you spend your time outside of work?
My kids are 14 and 16, so I can usually be found at a softball or baseball field on the weekend. I’ve also gotten into Spartan Races in the last year, which is a big deal for me since I have never been an athlete. These races are intense, combining distance with obstacles. And burpees….lots of burpees! Working out helps me keep my sanity and having a race to train for keeps me focused. I also enjoy home renovations and there’s usually some sort of project going on. And I round things out binge-watching something on Netflix!
Q. If you could change something what would you change?
If I could change something, it would be how technology and social media are influencing our children. Everything is so accessible. The answers are so easy to find. The definition of socializing is now a group chat. Kids are connected to each other around the world but don’t know the kids next door. Being “on-line” is too important. Self-worth is tied to the number of followers or likes you have. Cyber-bullying is real and hard to uncover.
There is constant input from all directions coming at children and as a parent; it is a hard thing to navigate. How much is too much? What is the right set of rules? How do we protect our kids from the dangers they can’t understand? Call me old school, but I sure do miss the days of playing outside all day and board games.
Q. In 15 years where do we find Jennifer?
In 15 years, I’ll be retired for sure, but likely still doing some board work and/or providing consulting services. I find it hard to imagine giving that up completely. My view, however, will be a beach somewhere or stalking my kids wherever they end up. There could be grandchildren by then!