Build a culture of innovation, says Coupa Software’s Donna Wilczek

By Vishakha Nilakhe|28th Feb 2021
In this episode of the Prime Venture Partners podcast, Donna Wilczek, SVP of Products Strategy and Innovation, Coupa Software, talks about her 10-year-long journey and building the right company culture.
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Donna Wilczek is the Senior Vice President of Products Strategy and Innovation at Coupa Software — a business spend management company that handles organisations with annual revenue ranging anywhere between $15 million and upwards of $100 million


Donna describes Coupa as a company that helps customers manage every dollar they spend. The San Mateo-based company looks at reducing the risk and fraud potential and improving the value of every single dollar earned by companies.


“Even today, everyone drives towards the same goal of making the customers successful, creating an industry, doing something right, and getting the customers' value. The cause of creating the type of company will actually deliver on making customers successful,” says Donna. 


Talking about her 10-year-long journey with Coupa, Donna says, “I believe in the values. These values of the company are what makes it great. It is this culture of every person, every colleague.”  


In this latest episode of the Prime Venture Partners podcast, Donna talks to Sanjay Swami, Managing Partner, Prime Venture Partners, about building a culture of innovation, transitioning into a public company, and much more.

Prime VP podcast

Donna Wilczek, SVP of Products Strategy and Innovation at Coupa Software [Image Credit: Prime Venture Partners]

Retaining the culture as the company scales

Donna says weeding out is a very important aspect — finding those right people and hiring for those qualities which align with what you do. 


People who joined early in a company are very critical to its success and need to have that drive, the hustle, and the ability to get things done. “Weeding out is hard, but through honest conversations and coaching, you both (the company and its employees) can reach the same goal, and if not, make a decision that is good for the company,” she adds.    

Preparation for an IPO 

“Start thinking about it immediately. Start living and working as if you are a public company. Don't have goals like ‘it's okay to restate the numbers.’ Really try to get into that discipline of making sure what you say you are going to do, you do. Have the right conversations with your customers, don't get into revenue issues, where you are promising a bunch of things. Start early with discipline. Discipline is what builds that culture,” Donna explains. 


Pivoting the culture of a company right before an entrepreneur decides to go public is very difficult.


“You have to start practicing it immediately. Know what are the standards that you would like to live up to. Start practicing the right hygiene, the right practices, and the right models,” she adds. 

Maintaining large customers, day-to-day operations, and innovating 

Donna urges entrepreneurs to start with the mindset that they will not create real and pragmatic innovation unless they understand the business problem inside out. 

“But, it is critical for every release to have room for innovation, otherwise someone else will out-innovate you. You cannot have a bunch of features that the customers are asking for, or you cannot have the innovation that is not making day-to-day. The art is the balance,” explains Donna.   

While incorporating technology, she tells budding entrepreneurs that don't innovate based on some technology because you are interested in using it. She tells them to innovate based on the real understanding of a problem statement and figuring out the best technology for it.   

Coupa's M&A perspective and process, and how should startups think about it

Donna says it all boils down to really understanding the needs of the customer, and where do you really want to take the company. 


The merger and acquisition (M&A) team of Coupa is partners with the product organisation. She says it is a collaborative exercise that the company is working to understand what a customer needs — if it should build or should it acquire. It is important to articulate the intent of the acquisition, and making sure everyone is on board with that same intent, informs Donna.


“One of the key star successes with acquisitions at Coupa is that we unify the team first, bring them aboard, and work together as a team,” she shares. 


During the M&A process, the right fit of people deems to be critical to the success of the companies. If the employees are not culturally aligned and do not have the right mindset, and it has to be forced on them, it doesn’t work, she says. 


To know more, listen to the podcast, here


Edited by Suman Singh