Today, New Relic announced the appointment of enterprise technology executive Anne DelSanto and Citrix President and CEO David Henshall to its board of directors, and that Hope Cochran, Managing Director of Madrona Venture Group, has been appointed to the board chair position. Debbie O’Brien, Chief Communications Officer and SVP Corporate Marketing at New Relic, recently sat down with Hope to learn more about her career journey and what she has learned from managing hyper-growth technology companies.
Debbie O’Brien: How about if we begin by asking you to walk us through your career journey and background?
Hope Cochran: Sure. I often start from the very beginning, which is that I graduated with a double degree in economics and music. My econ skills got me the interviews, but my music skills have probably gotten me even more so to where I am in my career. What I mean by that is, it just is drilled into you with hours and hours in a practice room, that practice makes perfect, and you never go into any situation unprepared. Because getting up on a stage and being unprepared is absolutely frightening. So it is drilled into me to always be prepared, be on time, do your prep, and do the hard work.
As an opera singer, I learned to handle any unusual or unexpected thing with calm, pretending like it was all meant to happen, and carrying on, right? The phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” is a key ingredient to the chaos in a career—handling any unexpected circumstance, being able to make good of it, and letting the show go on. I think that is so important. And then also just that ability to carry yourself in a presenting mode. I’m very used to being in that environment.
From there, I went on to a classic CPA accounting track at Deloitte & Touche, but quickly realized that I wanted to be in the startup and entrepreneurial environment. I joined this young startup, and on the day I arrived, it was acquired by PeopleSoft. I thought my career was over because I had this grand plan at the age of 26, and that was thrown up, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, life is over.” Well, guess what? It was probably one of the best things that happened in my career, with PeopleSoft acquiring the company. And what I was able to experience in that environment was a company that was going through hyper-growth but was so well managed. I was able to absorb all the tools and processes of how they were managing through that. And it was just a wonderful place to start my learning.
But then I still had the entrepreneurial bug, so I decided with some friends to go and start a company. And people often say, “Well, how did you get your first C title?” And I say, “Well, the easiest way to do it is you give it to yourself, right?” So I deemed myself the CFO of this new company we started. We started that enterprise software company, which focused on managing your contract workforce. And lo and behold, several years later, that was acquired by PeopleSoft. And I was able to spend a few more years there.
The only reason I point that out is because my pattern has been lots and lots of change. Never anything static or slow-moving. And so as I went through those journeys, just again, that “keeping calm and carrying on” skill set was incredibly valuable.
I went on to be a CFO of a telecom company, Clearwire, and got to know how to be a public company CFO really well—dealing with capital markets, big transactions. Sprint acquired that company for about $14 billion.
I then moved my family to London to become the CFO of King Digital, and made it into the gaming world. And I often look back and say, “Well, how did I get here?” I don’t think I would’ve ever considered myself a gamer. But here I am. I am now a gamer. We went public on the New York Stock Exchange, with Candy Crush as their biggest game. And then we sold that company to Activision several years later, which is when I moved back to Seattle, and have now transitioned to what I would call the portfolio approach, which is board work as well as investing in small companies. But I’m mirroring that desire to be with the bigger public companies going through that transition, and being able to mentor entrepreneurs who are just getting their businesses up and running.
Debbie: You’ve mentioned being able to adapt through change, and never being static. That’s obviously quite relevant at New Relic, right? We’ve had various phases of growth and new executives. What’s your advice for embracing change, and turning that into a positive?
Hope: I would say that change is the moment when you get to have great career growth. If you want to catapult your career, do it in moments of change, whether the company is growing quickly or in need of transforming. It’s during those moments when the barriers of your job description go away—and there are so many things to do in the company—that you have the chance to see a hole and start to do it. People are grateful for your effort, and that’s how you get a career trajectory. People learn you’re capable of things that maybe weren’t exactly in your purview.
And I also love the fact that in periods of great growth and great change, you don’t tend to have as many politics, because everyone bands together and says, “We’re going to do this.” You have to be a team. In order to get momentum and move forward, you have to be a team. You can’t have fiefdoms or worry about your patch. You have to work across different divisions and think innovatively about how you can move forward.
I also think it’s really important not to panic, but just to dig in. So you take in what’s happening, you stop, and you think, and try to create order out of that. And that is a skill that is hard, but so important. And when I think about leadership through change, I think about that ability not to convey panic, but to convey, “Okay, this is what’s happening. We’re going to take it all in. And this is our plan.” And put it into some doable and systematic way.
I also think being in change is just fun. And maybe that’s who I am. But it is a time when you get to take on challenges that will push you and make you grow. And every day is different. And whenever anyone asks me, “What’s a standard day in the life of Hope Cochran?” I have no answer for that because it’s always different.
Debbie: That’s very prescient advice. During your career, what would you call out as the experiences when you felt you were operating on all cylinders and thriving through the change?
Hope: When I think about King Digital and Candy Crush, and that when I joined, we were about 300 employees. And two years later, we were 2,000 employees. The challenge was to scale a company at that speed and maintain—even grow—its brilliance. Because you can often destroy a culture. You can add inefficiencies. How do you handle that pace, from 300 people to 2,000? You need to think of things logistically, like how do you interview all those people every month? And what’s your interview process? And then when you’re onboarding 50 people a month, how do you onboard them in a way that’s effective? How do you make sure the culture is communicated to all of them? How do you make sure they know how to do the nuts and bolts of their jobs, so you’re not just wasting money getting people on board but then not utilizing them?
And then with King specifically, and I think with any technology company, our people were our assets. How do you maintain that culture of creativity, such that those assets you’re hiring can flourish and do what they need to do? As a CFO, you tend to think of process, process, process. That doesn’t really work for creative types. So how do I enable this balance of process and creativity, trying to run a public company, but also allowing it to be creative? I think that was a real puzzle to sort out at King, and I think we did that really, really well. But it took a lot of process to do it really well. It took a lot of intentionality to think about how to maintain this creative culture, while also making sure it’s efficient and producing at a high level. That was a big moment.
Debbie: So, 300 to 2,000 employees in two years is extraordinary growth. And the company was obviously set up for a good trajectory, so I’m sure it was founded on good values and principles. How did you know when you needed to evolve those values and principles?
Hope: We created a very fun but structured onboarding process. Let’s say we had 50 new employees a month. They would go on an offsite together for three full days. And our executive team committed to being a part of that and making sure that it was full of what we considered the King culture. It was trying to communicate that we’re scrappy, fun, high-integrity, and creative. All those different aspects, but we also had high expectations.
And so we were intentional during those three days to think through our values and how to communicate them. It came down to every detail, like, what hotel would we choose? We didn’t want to choose a fancy hotel. We wanted to choose the right environment. Food was really good, but it wasn’t fancy. And it tried to be in keeping with the city we were in versus a fancy dinner or something of that nature. So we tried to make sure that our culture was communicated through all those little things.
People would often say to me, “Hope, we need a travel policy.” And I’d be like, “OK, I’ve been the CFO. Yes, the travel policy has financial implications, but actually, this is a cultural topic. What do we want our culture to be? Do we want it to be that we take care of employees at all costs, fly first class so that they’re rested and happy, or do we want to say, ‘No, we’re scrappy.'” And so to me, every little aspect we touched needed to go back to our core culture and our core values, because we were bringing on people so quickly that if we didn’t instill that in every little bit of their journey, it would be quickly lost.
From a CFO perspective—which is probably boring to most—it’s things like when do I put on financial controls? Everyone needs to file purchase orders. Well, that just feels so corporate. It’s so yucky. But what I quickly realized was 80% of our money spent was on bills over $10,000. But that was only 10% of our bills. So if I could just put POs on everything over $10K, it only touched a few people. It didn’t touch everyone. Right? So people could still order lunches and pizza without having to do a PO.
It was really being aware of things like that, so you could allow the company to grow freely, but implement enough controls and processes to do so efficiently.
Debbie: One of New Relic’s values is to be bold. Can you share a great example of where you’ve demonstrated bold leadership?
Hope: The big moments in my career have been when I have taken on something that I wasn’t sure I’d be good at. I’ve never taken a role that I’ve already done before. I get really bored when I’m interviewing for something. And I think, “Oh, I know what I would do. I’d change the payroll. I do the AP. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I’m already checked out. Every role I’ve ever taken, I sat in the interview, and I was nervous that I didn’t know if I could do it.
And I think that’s key. I don’t want to bring gender into this too much, but I think for women, that’s so important because so many women feel like they need to check every single box and have done every little thing before they take on something new. Well, that doesn’t propel your career forward very much. You’ve got to try things that make you nervous. So I tend to be someone that runs to, I don’t want to say risky situations, but situations that could either fail or be amazing. And then I rely on myself to muster out of it. And usually, when you make those decisions, you’re selecting to surround yourself with people who are of the same nature. We’re a bunch of risk-takers. We’re going to dig in and get it done.
Debbie: New Relic announced a major strategic change in late July. What’s your perspective on it?
Hope: Well, first, I’m super impressed with how quickly the company achieved such a significant product and pricing release in such a short period of time. The customer adoption and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, which just demonstrates how laser-focused New Relic is on listening to customers and delighting them.
From a market perspective, it’s significant that New Relic is now taking a data-centric view of observability when competitors are taking an application-centric view. I think it’s key to give customers one place for all their telemetry data that functions as a consistent, single source of truth. And bringing the features up to parity with the previous version is remarkable—and means engineers no longer have to toggle back and forth between applications to see what’s happening holistically in their environment.
We’re selling a product that is functionally more in line with how engineers think about their job, which is powerful. Now the company needs to keep the engines fired up to respond to and work with customers as they use it for the first time!
Debbie: How did you initially decide to join New Relic’s board?
Hope: The first guiding principle I always use is the one asset I have—my reputation. I’d love to say my reputation is mine and mine alone, but it’s not. It is based on the people I surround myself with. When you work as a team, and in every environment, we work as a team, and it is rare that you make an independent decision and go forward. You usually make it with a group of executives. You make it with the group of board members. And so you have to know who you’re surrounding yourself with and ask whether those people will be trustworthy with your reputation. That’s my primary guiding principle. And as I met with the New Relic management team and the board members, I was incredibly impressed with their intellect, integrity, and the way they navigated many situations together. So that was the first thing before I even went forward.
And then the next was, I love the stage of the company. We’re somewhat into the journey, but there’s a huge mountain to climb. It’s a huge market. I love big, big markets. Observability software—it’s a necessity. And it’s only going to become more necessary as people go more digital, or as companies go more digital, which we’re seeing, of course, right now. And so the market opportunity is enormous, and there’s deep intellect in the company on the topic. This team has created this space, so that’s pretty remarkable.
And then there are the rest of the assets that New Relic has: an enormous customer base, fabulous software, and all the pieces of the puzzle to attack this huge market. That’s incredibly exciting. And then I’ll just circle back to the last; I’m excited to work with this group of people to take on the challenge because we might as well enjoy each other while we do it.
Debbie: Having been on the board and now becoming elevated into the chair’s seat, what does that mean to you?
Hope: I’m excited to move into this role because I view such a great future for this company, and I feel like I have a more active role now in supporting it to get there. I’ve been spending hours of my weeks with New Relic, which has been fun during this transformational time. I love transformational times, and New Relic is absolutely in that moment. When I think of all the change that’s in flight, I love it. I get excited. But I want to know it and be involved in it. And that’s how I view that as the chair; I have more of the ability to do that.
Debbie: I know you mentioned this before, not wanting to push the gender issue, but what’s your advice to other women execs as they’re navigating their career or moving onto boards?
Hope: I have tactical advice for women. I have a list of things like, as you go into those early years of being a mom, when your kids are little, get more childcare than you think you need. And don’t think of it as a moment-in-time equation, because it’s a career-long financial decision. Give yourself five minutes at the end of every meeting, and transition, to take a moment and breathe. Because coming home stressed is a disaster, a blowout situation.
Then I’ve got more overarching advice, which is to take risks in your career. I think that’s how you move forward. Be bold in who you are. Don’t doubt your skills. I tend to tell every woman that I mentor, if you’re heading into an interview, go in and get the job. Don’t go in with self-doubt and wonder whether you can do the job—go in with confidence that you’re up to it. You don’t take the interview to then question and worry.
So many women express concerns during the interview. Just go in and get the job.
Debbie: This has been great—we look forward to showcasing your leadership as part of New Relic.
This post is one of a series on Life at New Relic for engineers and other employees. Read more about our leadership and explore available openings on our careers page.