Matt Calkins has been the CEO of Appian Corporation since founding the software company in 1999 at the age of 26. A history and board game aficionado, Matt won “Wargame of the Year” for a game he invented in 2011 called Sekigahara, and finished 3rd overall in the 2012 World Boardgaming Championships. He holds a B.A. with honors in Economics from Dartmouth College, and lives in Arlington, VA.
As our newest board member, Matt was delighted to share his thoughts about AddThis — and his favorite biographies — in a recent Q&A.
Q: What do you think is special about AddThis?
A: I’m a data guy and this is a remarkable business. AddThis was clever to realize the importance of the social web and build tools to support that back in its early days, and I see the company continuing to create value by thinking ahead of the internet.
Q: Where do you see the internet going now?
A: We are in the midst of the greatest oversupply of information available to mankind, and yet most of us aren’t necessarily making better or more informed decisions. It’s as though a wave of information has splashed all over us, and yet we don’t feel informed.
This issue is multiplied at a corporate or brand level, and I think AddThis can help by leveraging its incredible dataset to help companies be more relevant to their consumers.
Personalization is absolutely where the industry needs to go next, and AddThis is in a position to help all of us feel more informed.
Q: What’s different about AddThis’ dataset?
A: Walled gardens, like Facebook or Google, have similar audience data, but they use it to solve for their own ends. AddThis’ data can help brands learn more about the full range of interests among target consumers, and the company can be more flexible about helping brands get those learnings into the market.
Q: What role do you play on the board?
A: My greatest focus is on helping to define value propositions and around personnel. These are the areas I work on every day at Appian — talking to customers, and making sure we are delivering value to them.
I also interview everyone we bring on board, despite Appian now having more than 500 people, because I so much believe that great companies are made of great people.
I look for people who who have exceptional unusual talent, and who are also naturally harmonious and generous with their peers. People who’d be willing and able to step up to solving problems. I think AddThis has a lot of these types of people!
Q: I know you enjoy biographies — what do you think is the most relevant biography you’ve read that would apply to AddThis?
A: Alfred P Sloan. My Years at General Motors. This book describes the early years at GM, when it wasn’t clear if you should cool your engine with water or with air. Or whether to run a company with a board or a CEO. Or whether or not to have a common parts supplier.
Sloan wrestled with the kind of formative questions that we wrestle with in the software industry today, except our questions are around showing value and monetizing data. When you are creating value in virgin territory, you have to invent unintuitive things — Sloan’s biography is a fascinating read for people in markets that are in need of invention, not just leadership.