The business world is no stranger to the word “visionary”. It’s a concept that has been used frequently to describe individuals who defy norms with bold ideas. But what separates a visionary leader from a dreamer? For Tien Tzuo, Chief Executive Officer of Zuora, it’s the ability to see the potential for change combined with the ability to lead others in turning ideas into reality. That reality: the Internet’s shift from simple transactional economics to subscription-based economics. Through Zuora, Tzuo’s bold leadership challenged the status quo. It also empowered businesses by providing a platform that can help them compete in an era of the subscription economy.
As one of the earliest proponents of the subscription model, Tzuo is truly a disruptor in the tech sector. He continues to evangelize the shift to the subscription economy, both with a book and compelling predictions for the industry’s future.
For challenging the status quo with a bold vision and advocating a different direction for doing business, this week’s Bold Leader Spotlight belongs to Tien Tzuo.
The Path That Leads to Zuora
Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s, Tzuo was influenced by his parents’ entrepreneurial streak. The idea of starting his own company never intimidated him. Not surprisingly, he had a knack for technology as well.
At 18-years old, Tzuo built an accounting application for his father’s insurance brokerage. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University. It seemed like he was destined to become a technology entrepreneur all along.
Early in his career, bold leader Tzuo prioritized experience more than promotions. He geared himself toward lateral moves, changing roles every two or three years. He even once taught a coding class. After getting his Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he linked up with Marc Benioff. The latter was just starting Salesforce, and Tzuo became the company’s eleventh hire.
At Salesforce, Tzuo continued his journey. Aside from being an original architect for the firm’s billing system, he also took on various roles across technology, marketing, and strategy organizations. He served as a chief marketing officer for two years and, then into his last role, as chief strategy officer. Benioff had a significant impact on Tzuo’s career. The idea for Zuora Inc. even came during a meeting they attended together. Benioff was also an investor in Zuora’s $6 million Series A funding round.
My First Encounter with Bold Leader Tien Tzuo – Remaking Dell Technologies
Shortly after his investment in Zuora Inc., Marc introduced me to Tien. At the time, Dell was in a phase of re-invention from a hardware to a business solutions provider. A major portion of this shift was acquiring new technologies (Boomi, Perot Systems, Everdream, MessageOne, KACE, and Secure Works). And undertaking a global transition to offering software and services as a subscription.
I was in the process of leading $100M+ a year Oracle Quote-to-Cash project that I soon learned could not deliver on this need. Shortly after this introduction, I met with Tien and asked him if Zuora could offer the solution. Tien jumped on the opportunity and worked diligently to help push the project forward. We linked Zuora with Salesforce.com and integrated into our existing Financials system.
Tien was steadfast in his support and I witnessed a deep passion for not only his solution but in providing outstanding customer support. Throughout the process, he worked not only as a provider but a true partner in every sense of the word. In the end, through his hard work and that of Tim Dickson and the Dell team, a working solution was implemented less than a year later.
The Bold Leadership of Tien Tzuo—Fueled by a Bold Vision
Tzuo never really sought leadership, but when there was an opportunity, he took it. When he had the idea for Zuora, he knew that he had to make it happen, no matter what. His vision of taking subscription services to the next level—challenging the status quo—molded him to be the bold leader he is today.
Known for coining the term “subscription economy”, Tzuo helps businesses shift to the subscription model. The process calls for complex yet flexible software to manage all financial operations, from the customer order to recognizing revenue. Acquiring and billing customers seamlessly is also a must. Not only does Zuora provide that software, but it also helps clients get to know their customers better through data gathered from subscriptions.
Under the bold leadership of Tzuo, Zuora continues to be a leader in recurring customer and billing management. The company turned in third-quarter numbers in November 2018 with $61.6 million revenue. Currently serving 1,000 companies around the world, Zuora is also well placed to tap into sectors that are mid-disruption.
In the automotive industry, the firm is currently helping six of the top ten auto manufacturers provide subscription services. Viva, a company from the life sciences sector, is also a client. This proves that Tzuo’s goal to power the subscription economy is more than just a far-fetched vision.
Having the Humility to Improve as a Leader
Tzuo faced many challenges as a bold leader. In 2011, employees whom Tzuo had hired from Salesforce to join Zuora left the company.
Realizing that his high-intensity but impersonal leadership style was part of the reason why they left, he had the humility to acknowledge this truth, further evaluate himself and make changes.
From then on, Tzuo made sure to praise his staff when they did good work. He also changed the culture of the company, even taking the management team out for dinner and conducting team-building activities. Because of his bold leadership and willingness to recognize areas for improvement, Tzuo was able to gain the loyalty of an innovative and talented workforce.
Helping Others Succeed with a Passion for Sharing Knowledge
A bold leader is someone who provides guidance not only to his company but also to everyone else he can reach. Over the years, Tzuo has been educating leaders, businesses, and industries about the subscription economy. He feels passionate about teaching, and he upholds a culture of information-sharing at Zuora.
The Zuora founder wrote “SUBSCRIBED: Why the Subscription Model Will be Your Company’s Future – and What to Do About It”. He also gives numerous lectures to over 10,000 attendees at Zuora’s conference series “Subscribed,” which took place in 12 cities in 2018. As one of the most prominent thought leaders in the subscription industry, Tzuo helps business leaders realize how the subscription model can transform their services. He also serves as a mentor for founders of early-stage companies.
Tien Tzuo Zuora – Changing the Industry with Patience and Hard Work
One of the most important lessons that Tzuo gives to other aspiring leaders is that success takes time. “You have to go and pursue an idea, and you have to work it out. It takes a long time,” he says. “You plod away at something, and you try to go deep, immerse yourself, and learn. You try to take these leaps, and eventually, you hit upon your breakthrough.” His bold leadership is fearless, but it doesn’t take shortcuts.
With perseverance, hard work and a strong desire to make a difference, Tzuo continues to work in achieving his biggest goal. Years from now, the business world can expect Zuora to remain at the forefront of the subscription industry—all thanks to a visionary leader like Tien Tzuo.
Want to read more about Zuora Inc.? Then check out this profile on the company.
John R. Miles
EVP & Associate Publisher
John R. Miles is Executive Vice President of Business Development and Associate Publisher of Bold Business. He is a sought-after motivational speaker and writer. He brings visionary leadership style and talent as a Navy Veteran and an internationally experienced CEO, COO, and Fortune 50 CIO across a multitude of industries. Miles is also an operating partner at the Virgo Investment Group where he is responsible for identifying and pursuing new investments while supporting existing portfolio companies with operational expertise. He is active on Linkedin and Twitter and published in a variety of media. Miles graduated with honors from the U.S. Naval Academy where he was a varsity athlete.