I had the chance to catch up with Jim Whitehurst yesterday and talk with him about his new board appointment at Amplitude. If you’re not familiar with Amplitude, it is best known for what I consider its digital product observability and analytics capabilities. Amplitude had a stellar first trading day Tuesday, with shares rising 43% above its reference price after its direct listing delivering a $7B valuation.
The last time I talked with Whitehurst was in May when he was still President at IBM. Every interaction I’ve had with him has been informative, and I always appreciated his down-to-earth and approachable style. Since July, a lot has changed for Whitehurst when he stepped down from the IBM president role and now serves there as a “Senior Advisor.” I was sad to see him leave IBM but also excited to see what he would do next. In the back of my head, I wondered how long Whitehurst would remain at IBM and what he would do next. Well, now we know part of that answer: the Amplitude board of directors. This is in addition to his IBM adviser role, which I expect to be temporary (just part of big, corporate transitions), and doing some consulting work for Silver Lake.
Amplitude is an interesting choice for Whitehurst, and I probed him on it. He said it all came down to megatrends that will be important in the future. Having left AMD a decade ago as a senior executive, it’s incredible how much more you see right after leaving a big company that gives you time to think about the big picture. Whitehurst has had some time to think.
Whitehurst thinks that there is a massive opportunity to analyze which features capabilities, and degree of quality digital products really make the difference with a customer. Whitehurst explained that this ultimately will help create better and more profitable end products. As an ex “product guy,” this capability would have been incredibly useful for me to decide on my product’s features and capabilities. It sounded a bit nirvana-“ish.” This description is what Amplitude does.
I also wanted to hear the story from Amplitude on why it was interested in pursuing Whitehurst for this role. So I went straight to the top and talked with Amplitude CEO Spenser Skates. Skates was very clear in the value Whitehurst brings, and that’s big and successful B2B experience. Skates explained that it’s set up to grow at 50-60%, but board members like Whitehurst can help scale Amplitude from the 100s of millions in revenue into billions.
Skates referenced Whitehurst’s strengths in building teams and culture and told me what it was like the first time they met. “We just really hit it off in terms of his thoughtfulness, as a leader, around what it means to be a great organization.” And for what it’s worth when I talk with anyone that has worked for or around Whitehurst at Red Hat, they echo that strength. There are many stories of 30-something tech startup CEOs not wanting or heeding advice from someone with a different set of skills, and that’s not Skates. Skates knows what he’s good at and what he needs to do better for the company and seeks advice from those who have it. I really admire that, especially in someone that age.
And it’s not as if it looks like Amplitude needs any help from anyone right now with its more than 1,200 paying customers, including 26 of the Fortune 100, including Anheuser-Busch, Peloton, Twitter, Cisco Systems, Calm, and Walmart. Its $7B valuation and 43% rise Tuesday reinforces this as well. This success and Skates’ understanding that he needs what Whitehurst can bring to Amplitude’s future makes the story even better. I’m sure Amplitude can leverage Whitehurst’s experience at Delta Airlines, where he was COO, Santander Bank, where he has an advisory board seat, and United Airlines as a board member. This is, of course, in addition to his time at Red Hat and IBM.
I will be following Amplitude even more closely in the future as it appears it is delivering today what the giants in the CRM and CX space are talking about delivering in the future. And if I can quote Skates, “What Adobe is for marketing teams and Salesforce is for sales teams, Amplitude is for product teams. And product is what drives everything else.”
Here is Amplitude’s press release.