Interviews

“Profound strategic flexibility”— an interview with Casey Koon, part two

Written by
Yoni Argaman
VP Marketing
November 6, 2022
6
min read

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In part one of our interview with Casey Koon of New Relic, his team had just implemented a new billing system. He was starting to see candidates sporting degrees in business applications management, and he set a goal of not having his team support any greenfield applications. More than a year has passed. Now he’s returning from paternity leave, tech stocks have tumbled, whispers of a recession have risen to cries, and New Relic has undergone plenty of change. 

Has his team’s investment in SaaS paid off? Were there ramifications to breaking up their custom-built internal monolith? And does being a parent give him a new lens on leadership? All that and more in this article, which is part two of two.

This interview was recorded recently and has been lightly edited for brevity.

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How to Supercharge YourBusiness Applications with Software Development Practices

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Yoni Argaman: Does being a parent give you a new perspective on managing a team? 

Casey Koon: That’s a good question. I would say it doesn’t necessarily give me a new perspective as much as it reinforces a preexisting belief that it’s always people first, not business first. That probably isn’t the best thing to say from the company perspective but if I have to choose between hitting a key objective and stressing the team to the point of burnout, that’s a no-brainer. Stress could lead to attrition.

The way you build retention and attract good talent is by ensuring people have time off and live to work, not work to live. Everyone told me to take all my parental leave and I did. I think many parents, especially men, take the bare minimum and rush back. But I think it’s there for a reason and we should encourage its use.

If I have to choose between hitting a key objective and stressing the team to the point of burnout, that’s a no-brainer.

Last we talked, your philosophy was about hiring for talent versus experience. Has that changed? 

I would simply add to it. I also now consider the importance of the org structure that person is coming into. You need talented people to be supported in doing good work. Structure is critical. 

We look to build teams that can self-manage. You have to trust your managers enough that they feel empowered to make their own decisions and ensure, just like with business systems, everyone has a backup. Wherever there’s a manager over a vertical, make sure there’s a team lead too. If it’s a technical team, designate a lead engineer. That way if anyone’s ever sick, there’s someone to cover.

If you have a structure like that which allows groups to be self-reliant, it allows your team to be more malleable and resilient. Coming back from my time off, I think things held together just fine because we have the right people, they are empowered, and the structure is set up for it.

You have to trust your managers enough that they feel empowered to make their own decisions

Any advice to aspiring business systems managers? 

Start practicing how you’re going to hand off the thing you love most. It’s probably whatever you do that you currently excel at, which would otherwise be the last thing you handed off because you could do it in your sleep. You need to be ready for someone else to inherit that.

I can speak about this from experience. If you’re a domain expert in one particular area and you continue to handle the advanced requests, you’re essentially hoarding information and preventing others from learning. The sooner you let go, the sooner you let someone else develop domain expertise and free yourself to do the job you’re supposed to do. 

The sooner you let go, the sooner you let someone else develop domain expertise.

In your mind, what does a recession mean for business systems teams?

Oh, it means more work. In a recession, company mindsets tend to shift from growth to profit. I think we’re seeing lots of tech companies downsizing and cost-cutting to better manage profit margins. And almost all of those considerations lead you back to questions of headcount—the largest expense for most companies—and the questions, “What can we automate? How can we be efficient? How can we free up people?”

I don’t think companies are going to be any less ambitious during this time, but they will be looking more to the applications team that’s already focused on running the business more effectively with technology. I see this time as a chance for those groups to earn even greater investment.

It’s also a time to make big bets. If you must downsize, if you must automate more, this is an opportunity to swap out technology and maybe break up internal monoliths to be more agile.

How to Supercharge YourBusiness Applications with Software Development Practices

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Speaking of monoliths, how has the big bet on billing systems turned out?

Right, so as we discussed, New Relic transitioned from just a subscription model to also having a consumption model about a year and a half ago. I think we may be the largest company to have made that transition at this point, and we’ve been collecting enough data to now spend time asking how we can make it even more efficient to talk about it. Because we’re early, we’re continuing to iterate and ask how we can make it clearer for customers and better for our business. That’s been critical as we enter a recession. 

With our new foundation built on Zuora, we’ve launched two new iterations of our usage plan. There’s our volume plan and our savings plan, and we can be testing what works in real time. The switch has allowed for profound flexibility. It’s made our pricing more customer-friendly, allowed us to experiment with letting customers roll over unused budgets, and made us a much better partner as things shift. 

I think agility in business systems makes us a great partner to the rest of the company. If someone wants to iterate a business model and allow a customer on a three-year plan to use that data in whichever year they like, we can rapidly support that. We can support rapid iteration because we’ve invested heavily in our business systems.

We can support rapid iteration because we’ve invested heavily in our business systems.

Any other reflections?

Business systems is a fun and dynamic space to be in. If you’d asked me as a kid what I wanted to do, I wouldn’t have said “business systems” because I had no idea this stuff existed. But I’m loving how this area continues to grow. Every business is a tech company with business systems infrastructure, and we’re seeing roles and career paths emerge around this that just weren’t there before. 

Want to hear more from Casey? Follow him on LinkedIn. Also, his team is hiring.

Written by
Yoni Argaman

Yoni is the VP Marketing at Salto. A veteran of Fyber, Yahoo and Amazon, where he held marketing and product roles, Yoni is passionate about basketball, writing and traveling and is a devoted Tolkien fan.

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