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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Can Seattle startup Tableau flourish under Salesforce? New CEO thinks so


SEATTLE — On a sunny Tuesday around 1 p.m., Tableau’s Data 1 office in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood bustled with employees going out in groups for lunch or walking around the office overlooking the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Among them was Tableau CEO Ryan Aytay, who lives in the Bay Area but was visiting for the week. He wore a “DataFam,” the Tableau community’s name, lapel pin on his black jacket.

Tableau was founded in 2003 in California and moved its headquarters to Seattle the next year, where the data analytics firm established itself as a tech startup on the rise. In 2019, tech giant Salesforce acquired the company for nearly $16 billion, inking what was at the time the second-largest acquisition of a Washington company.

Tableau is a data visualization tool through which users can create interactive charts. Its parent company is a leader in products for companies to manage sales data and customer relations.

Tableau’s leadership changed over the years as former CEO Adam Selipsky left in 2021 to become chief executive of Amazon Web Services. His replacement, Tableau veteran Mark Nelson, departed in December 2022 after less than two years as president and CEO.

Appointed CEO in May, Aytay’s goal is cementing the future of Tableau within Salesforce while maintaining Tableau’s own identity.

Aytay became CEO during a difficult year for Tableau, one marked by “wakes,” office subleasing and layoffs. Tableau’s future as an independent part of the Salesforce business software empire remains a point of tension as Salesforce prioritizes profitability after years of aggressive expansion. At the Data 1 building lobby, a Salesforce sign greeted employees and visitors.

Salesforce announced more layoffs last month, affecting 700 jobs, which represents 1% of its workforce. A spokesperson declined to say if the round affected Tableau employees.

Aytay said one of his goals is to build a culture at Tableau that is both a part of Salesforce but also stands on its own.

“We need to continue to evolve. And so that’s what we’ve been really focused on, is how do we bring the spark and liven it up with the culture?” Aytay said.

A Salesforce veteran appointed to lead Tableau nine months ago, Aytay travels to Seattle at least twice a month. He’s in charge of creating a second chapter for Tableau after a year of layoffs and leadership vacancies.

Aytay joined San Francisco-based Salesforce 17 years ago and has held several different roles at the business software maker, including chief business officer from June 2020 to February 2022. He served as Tableau’s president and chief revenue officer from February 2022 to May.

“Because I’d had so many different experiences at Salesforce, I saw an opportunity with Tableau to come in and bring it closer to Salesforce but also recognize what it is and what’s important about it and what differentiates Tableau,” Aytay said in an interview with The Seattle Times.

Aytay said in an interview that Tableau’s revenue has more than doubled since the acquisition.

Tableau grew by 16% year over year in the third quarter of the current fiscal year, released in November. That was faster than Salesforce’s total revenue growth. Valued at $287 billion as of Tuesday, the tech giant reported $8.7 billion in revenue during the same quarter, up 11% from the previous year.

Tableau could grow even faster with more integration with Salesforce’s products, said Rishi Jaluria, a managing director at global investment bank RBC Capital Markets.

“The idea [is] that if someone’s using Sales Cloud and Marketing Cloud from Salesforce, Tableau is really well integrated and it becomes like another button,” Jaluria said.

Salesforce also owns internal workplace communications platform Slack, having acquired it for $28 billion in 2021.

According to a Salesforce spokesperson, Tableau can blend Salesforce data to provide analytics for everyone in an organization.

Jaluria also said Salesforce and Tableau have a competitor: Microsoft and its data visualization platform, Power BI.

For Aytay, what differentiates Tableau from Microsoft’s Power BI is its leadership and community. Tableau’s die-hard fans — the “DataFam” — are a selling point for the platform.

“We have this really vibrant community,” Aytay said.

Tableau’s next chapter

Salesforce bought Tableau to enable customers to use data across their entire businesses and, as Salesforce put it when announcing the acquisition, use Tableau’s insights “to make smarter decisions” and “accelerate innovation.”

Those aspirations remain prominent among Aytay’s goals. He wants Tableau to attract customers outside of the data analytics field with a new product, Tableau Pulse. Pulling up his phone, he showed how business owners, for example, can use Pulse to get quick statistics about sales. The artificial intelligence-enabled product was announced in December.

The first phase of Tableau “was really all about changing the industry” by revolutionizing the analytics field by making it easier to use, he said. Tableau’s next step is “to really enter into businesses,” nonprofits and universities.

“We want to continue that focus on the analyst, but we need to evolve the brand,” Aytay said. “We want to bring analytics and data to everyone.”

Aytay is the right person for the Tableau CEO job, said R “Ray” Wang, principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research, a tech research and advisory firm. Before Aytay’s appointment, Tableau had gone five months without a CEO.

Aytay “has been building out the AI strategy. He’s been trying to figure out how to pull it together,” Wang said. “He’s been at Salesforce before, so he knows what Marc [Benioff, Salesforce CEO] wants, he knows how to put them all together. And I think that’s half the battle.”

Among Aytay’s first tasks was rebuilding the senior leadership team, starting with his old role of chief revenue officer, now occupied by Salesforce veteran Jennifer Lagaly. Now, Aytay said Tableau is growing and hiring, especially in the artificial intelligence field.

Compared with last year, he said, “we’re now at a point where we have it more figured out.”