March 9, 2020
Q&A: five questions for Phil Calvin
Today, Vineti is thrilled to announce that Phil Calvin has joined Vineti as our Chief Technology Officer. A veteran technology executive at Salesforce, other SaaS innovation companies, and his own start-ups, Phil brings more than 25 years of software experience to the world of advanced therapies. Here’s a look at how he is gearing up.
You’ve tackled lots of technology challenges in your career. Why make advanced therapies your next big thing?
I’ve done something different many times in my career, across different domains. This time, I looked at a bunch of tech companies, from big monster companies to lots of Vineti-size companies — maybe 15 or 20 of them. Every one of them was some variant of some business process optimization. And in contrast, there’s Vineti. This is not just about making businesses better. You have an opportunity to help real people. If these advanced therapies work, real people see real results. That’s pretty interesting.
What specific challenge are you excited to work on first?
I’m looking forward to growing and building so that we can deliver software at true scale. There are two ways you can build software. You can steadily build and maintain every day. Or you can build towards a massive goal, and then move on to the next massive goal. This “massive goal” focus is pretty common in new companies and in new industries. As we mature, as a company and as an industry, “Build and sustain every day” is where we’re going to get to next.
What technology lessons have you learned that can help an emerging field like advanced therapies grow?
All emerging industries follow a similar pattern. Early there are big opportunities and small ones, and fragmented and proprietary solutions. Often, there isn’t a well-defined version of what the truth is. Things can be very manual, and not standardized or well defined. We have to listen to what companies are doing, understand and respect each, while also working to standardize across the industry as a whole.
Here are some things that I think help.
Customer collaboration: the “Waterfall – Hand It Off” style of development really doesn’t work in new markets. Your customers are still learning what they want. Sometimes, they won’t know what it’s what they want until they see it. Getting a list of 500 features, and building those 500 features exactly, won’t deliver what someone wants in the end. You need to find a way to get versions of a test pre-release to customers at some appropriate cadence that allows for feedback, without derailing your team. This is especially true in a new market.
End-to-end investment: when you are building something new, you need to invest in all aspects of the software. You need to invest in understanding the needs and requirements that customers are asking for, the user experience, your customer trust, and your repeatability and testability. You need to invest in being both innovative and reliable.
People and systems: Build so that you have strong systems, as well as great people. What are the systems that will allow you to run at this ultra-marathon pace? Make sure the org structure is complete. Making sure that your experts invest in the education of others. Isolated experts are a lot less effective, both as individuals and as engines of change for the organization.
What’s your “golden rule” for creating software solutions?
I am always trying to work deliberately and strategically, as opposed to in a reactive way. If you are having fire drills, figure out why you are having them as opposed to just fighting the fire. Build your customers’ trust by listening not only to what they are asking for, but what they really need. Great requirements and solutions are about listening closely to the words customers are using. They may be asking for “Feature X,” but they are really asking is for help with five problems that “Feature X” may not actually solve. A feature is not an outcome. What problem is the customer trying to solve?
Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
I tend to gravitate towards the outdoors – in the winter I’m an avid skier and snowboard and in the summer I’ll be heading on the water kiteboarding or into the dirt mountain biking. These are all a great way to clear your head, and it usually ends up helping me solve whatever problem I’m working on.