Sometimes, the best place to begin is at the end.
Case in point: at the terminus of my conversation with Tifenn Dano Kwan, she offered an impassioned promulgation.
“We can’t put people in boxes.”
The same could be said of Tifenn. To simply label her as a high-performing CMO in the technology industry would be boxing out the unique qualities that make her a remarkable leader and a compassionate, empathetic human.
Regarding people and how she cultivates both business and personal relationships, she further declared that “we need to be careful and open, always.”
Sage advice to be sure, but not the kind I was expecting from an interview that was primarily focused on analytics. And yet, these words seemed to crystallize our entire discussion, framing Tifenn’s disposition as a person who, at her core, is designed to give. At the same time, she creates a sort of sacred container for receiving, one that guided our conversation from beginning to end.
If there’s one truth that shone through our recent meeting, it’s that Tifenn Dano Kwan is undeniable. A brilliant maverick that exudes confidence, wisdom, and piercing energy. It’s easy to see why Amplitude, a leading digital and product analytics platform, has chosen her to shape the company’s vision and lead it forward.
It won’t be easy. As she settles into her role as Chief Marketing Officer, Amplitude faces an uncertain market. With the specter of economic recession peering through the veil for 2023, technology companies are relying on marketing and sales to become strategic engines for growth despite shrinking budgets.
Even amid these torrid times, Tifenn seems immeasurably cool, calm, and collected. This is how she rolls – and that became evident over the course of our discussion. At the same time, Tifenn is pumped about her plans at Amplitude. We talked about what she sees as the biggest opportunities, and what makes this role different from her previous CMO gigs at Collibra and DropBox. We also discussed Amplitude’s 2022 Product Report and the nuggets of wisdom she gleaned from the research.
Finally, we got personal, talking about her advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community and her focus on diversity. It’s another example of how she leads with both mind and heart – and refuses to put people in boxes.
The CMO mantle was an almost predictable zenith for Tifenn, who caught the marketing bug early in her career and never looked back. Her journey began in the early 2000s, bouncing around traditional communications and media before settling into the tech field and cutting her teeth within partner and channel organizations.
“The objectives were always revenue and AR, yet I saw everything through the lens of marketing, from campaign services to vendors,” she said. “But I really found my sweet spot in organizing teams, processes, and programs.”
Maybe that’s why people call her a fixer. As she describes it, her prowess lies with mid-sized companies in a hyper-growth stage that are struggling to scale. She effectively threads the needle and brings it all together, typically managing teams of 50 to 60 people to get there.
She’s done this successfully time and again, most recently as CMO at Collibra – a leading data intelligence platform. During her tenure, she facilitated a data-driven transformation of the company’s marketing functions, helping build a category-leading brand. Prior to this, she held the CMO role at DropBox, the eponymous storage platform, where she drove revenue growth through customer centricity.
When it comes to her unrivaled “people powers,” it’s worth noting that she has a proven track record of minting CMOs. In fact, three of her previous direct reports have become Chief Marketing Officers, two at leading global organizations. This speaks volumes about her capacity to mentor and elevate her peers to the highest levels of performance.
Over the decades, Tifenn has nurtured a deep passion for harnessing the power of technology and DX to help teams reach their potential. In many ways, this has become her guiding mantra. Experience has clearly been a great teacher, informing her perspective on the value of marketing teams and how they directly accelerate growth.
Peering through the Zoom screen wearing a slick blazer, she prognosticated a bit about the future – and what makes this a pivotal moment of change.
“Marketing is going through a fundamental transformation,” she said. “And it’s also a consequential one where product teams and CFOs are working better together.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this. In a recent MACH Alliance board meeting I was invited to, several vendors and ISVs within the community spoke about the growing alignment between technology leaders and CFOs as they look to invest in composable strategies.
She went on to suggest that this enhanced connectivity is an essential part of the growth roadmap, and that leadership – from CFOs to CIOs – must be coordinated actors in achieving digital transformation to bring products to market faster.
“If there’s not GTM [go to market] synchronicity, then we’re missing something,” she added. “The next level of impact is to create more collaboration.”
While still fresh to the helm, Tifenn’s course is clear: lead Amplitude's marketing strategy to expand its best-in-class digital analytics platform and oversee its corporate, product, and revenue marketing teams.
This comes on the heels of positive customer reviews that appear to reinforce Amplitude’s focus on customer experience. The company was ranked #1 across nine categories in the G2 Fall 2022 Grid Report – including dual achievements as the #1 Product Analytics solution for the ninth quarter in a row and the #1 Mobile App Analytics solution for the fourth quarter in a row.
Analysts are also tracking the company’s position with favor. In a recent Wave report, Forrester said that Amplitude was “born a digital product analytics vendor, but in a world where digital interactions make up the lion's share of customer interactions, the vendor has embraced the pivot into customer analytics."
Aside from the positive traction from customers and market watchers, I asked Tifenn what made her choose Amplitude as her next act.
“They're at a big stage,” she said. “They want to be a multi-billion-dollar company, and I’m helping to create the integrated marketing strategy to get us there.”
But there’s more to the story, and it came in the form of a personal epiphany: throughout her career, she had been cultivating expertise in digital marketing and executing successfully. That said, she had never been what she described as an “expert” in the products she was promoting. Given her breadth of knowledge and keen focus on data and analytics, Amplitude presented an opportunity for her to breed a deeper authority over a product she believed in – and even demo its value and impact.
“When I heard about Amplitude, I was magically connected to its processes,” she said. “The business world is becoming product-lead, and I wanted to be able to talk about this product as an expert.”
I asked Tifenn to expand on Amplitude’s evolving position as a data analytics platform, and how its focus on product and customer data is different from the ubiquitous Google Analytics. Despite being the internet’s de facto standard, Google has faced criticism over its chaotic move from Universal Analytics to GA4, prompting users to search for alternative solutions.
“As marketers, we need to shift to the metrics that matter most,” she explained. “The GA problem is that marketers don’t just care about the return on AR spend – they also care about the product. We retain them as customers in the product.”
I continued probing around this notion of learning about and ultimately retaining customers in the product. Why weren’t more companies going deeper into their product experiences to activate growth?
Tifenn expanded on this, tapping her own evidence-based experience. “The sooner customers interact with a product, the sooner we can convert them,” she said. “This became very clear for me at Collibra when we launched test drives and trials. This became our #1 tactic and asset because everything happens in the product.”
There it was again: in the product. It was like an affirmation echoing across our call. As a marketer, she said people don’t want to read eBooks and reports – they want to experience something meaningful that helps inform their decision in a more tangible way.
“This is where you start understanding the self-service motion and connecting the dots.”
On the topic of product-led growth, she went on to say that it’s not just a sales motion, it’s a mindset. “We need to meet customers where they are in the product and think about the funnel and the journey [from that perspective].”
To get there, it’s clear that the marketers of the future will need to be more connected through the product experience than ever before.
I also asked Tifenn about a recent report published by Amplitude Labs, the company’s research and thought leadership arm. Dubbed “The Product Report 2022,” it features exclusive data about the trends, industries, strategies, and products dominating the digital landscape – including the 30 “Next Hottest Products" to watch.
According to Tifenn, the report has garnered significant interest from the market. “Within 48 hours [of publishing the report], we had already hit our quarterly goals for leads,” she said. “There is genuine interest and thirst for this data and insights.”
There were quite a few compelling points that Amplitude uncovered in its research. For example, digital product usage increased by 16% in 2022 – a double-digit gain, but a far cry from the 54% increase the previous year. This marked deceleration is likely a post-Covid phenomenon, following two years of unprecedented digital transformation.
Among the 12 industries that Amplitude analyzed in the report, the most significant growth was in HR/staffing and educational/upskilling categories. This could be the proverbial “canary in the coalmine” – an indicator that the economic downturn may be prompting workers to enhance their skillsets or seek new opportunities.
There’s also some data codifying that the “SaaS crash” many prognosticators feared was overblown. While SaaS growth did slow in the early part of 2022, things picked up later in the year, demonstrating the resilience of many platforms. Meanwhile, the company’s survey placed a spotlight on the complicated landscape of crypto-related products, which saw a meteoric acceleration in 2021. This year reflected modest gains, but the recent FTX fallout may have a chilling effect on 2023’s outlook.
The report also featured a survey from product leaders across industries about their plans for driving growth during a recession. There are several nuggets of wisdom here that are well worth the read.
Tifenn also shared that Amplitude’s ranking of the next hottest companies was of great interest, prompting the report to go viral. The list includes up-and-coming apps in categories like healthtech and fitness, with brands like Motion, Tonal, and Gong populating the company’s top 10 in North America.
“What the product report validates are the elements in the economy,” Tifenn said. “It shows how technology companies have a voice in what’s going on. When those companies deliver a great product, customers respond. And the ones that really bet on their product make it to the list because it meets the needs of customers.”
As our conversation drew to a close, I asked Tifenn about her open advocacy of the LGBTQ+ community, and her work to expand diversity within the technology sector.
“I’m an advocate by design,” she said, reflecting a bit about her wife and their bi-racial marriage, and how she built her confidence on that rock. Drawing on her personal and leadership strengths, she models advocacy and diversity in the workplace without forcing it, and it's evident that Amplitude's culture is conducive to supporting those bridges.
Originally from France, Tifenn gave me a passionate account of the social and cultural conservatism that colored her upbringing. She came out while living in Singapore, where LGBTQ+ people have struggled for equality under a tacitly austere judicial system. In fact, prior to 2022, same-sex activities of any kind were illegal under a British colonial-era law called Section 377A, which has now been repealed.
In a moving personal account, Tifenn shared a story about a cousin that was fiercely opposed to gay marriage. This family member ultimately chose not to attend her wedding. Rather than hold a grudge, Tifenn held steadfast to love and compassion over the years, which later lead to a reconciliation.
“When you show people kindness, they come around,” she said.
Indeed. We can all agree the world could use more kindness right now. And more leaders like Tifenn.
While the outlook for 2023 appears increasingly unsettled, Amplitude is focusing on the right people to face the challenges ahead. Maybe that's the right play. As an organization, they seem to understand that it's not just about the technology, but the people behind it – and the people it serves.
I’ll end where I began by repeating Tifenn’s observation: we can’t put people in boxes. Perhaps by being careful and open, just as she suggests, we can unlock the real power of people to build better products and digital experiences.
And, if we're lucky, a better world.
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