16: Vihan Sharma, CRO of Liveramp – Boldly Redefining Ad Tech & Retail Collaboration

Vihan Sharma is the Chief Revenue Officer of Liveramp. We delve into the high-stakes deal with Carrefour that cemented his reputation in ad tech & retail, establishing him as a daring leader while drawing on his product roots. We also talk about his unique cultural agility, "humble" leadership style, and the meeting that changed his approach to product leadership and sales.

Episode Summary

1. Vihan Sharma's Early Career and Transformation

  • His transition from product management to business leadership
  • The crucial client meeting that transformed his perspective on customer outcomes
  • Adopting a customer-centric approach

2. Vihan's Career-Defining Deal with Carrefour

  • Background and stakes of the deal
  • Working with Carrefour to understand the value of their first-party data
  • Convincing Carrefour's executive team to invest in a collaborative data platform
  • Overcoming challenges and setbacks during the deal process
  • Launching the first clean room solution, Safe Haven, for the retail industry

3. Expanding the Partnership with Carrefour Globally

  • Acquiring acuity data to strengthen the commitment to Carrefour
  • Navigating leadership changes at Carrefour
  • Closing the final deal and launching Safe Haven globally

4. Impact of the Carrefour Deal

  • Personal impact on Vihan's career trajectory
  • Shaping the industry's direction with the clean room concept

5. Navigating Cultural Nuances and Company Dynamics

  • Adapting to different cultures as an executive
  • Leading former peers and mentors as direct reports

6. Balancing Ambition and Family Life

  • Sacrifices involved in a demanding leadership role
  • Establishing guardrails and quality time with family

7. Mentors and Leaders

  • Lessons learned from Warren Jenson (embracing external trends, focusing on outcomes, thinking long-term)
  • Importance of Florence Farman and Fatima Aliane as partners and advisors

8. Advice for a Younger Self

  • Embracing change and not being afraid of it
  • Persisting in pursuing beliefs and finding different avenues to articulate them
  • Thinking long-term and crafting a strategy for 3-5 years


Vihan Sharma: [00:00:00] So, I think it's a one meeting can change your life. And it is inherently important to me that, me, my team, everybody who I work with actually puts the customer outcomes first and foremost before anything. That that meeting was, really extremely important, in my career, I think because it, uh, completely transformed the way I looked.

Michael Katz: Welcome to The Winwire. My guest today is Vihan Sharma the chief revenue officer at LiveRamp. Vihan's journey as an executive and revenue leader is super unique. He started in product management before he stepped up to lead the France business of Acxiom and LiveRamp. And in today's episode, we explore how through his career defining deal, Vihan was instrumental in advancing a solution that moved the advertising and retail industries forward, paving the way for his now role as CRO at LiveRamp. As someone born in India, residing in France and constantly flying across the world, I love getting Vihan's perspectives on navigating cultural nuances and company dynamics, and balancing ambition and family life. Everyone. I talked to had nothing but glowing things to say about Vihan and listening to him talk, it's clear why. His leadership is marked by deep principles, humility, customer focus, and courage. Without further ado. Vihan Sharma.

Vihan, welcome to the podcast.

Vihan Sharma: Uh, thank you Michael. Thank you for having me.

Michael Katz: Yeah, I've been super excited to chat and I've gotten some great background from a few folks in your life. So before we launched into the deal that changed your career, I wanted to first ask you about something in your background. I know that before becoming a country leader, and now CRO, you spent a long time as a product manager [00:01:30] and leader. And people have said your incredible product, honestly. Um, you mentioned before that there was a Eureka moment story that changed everything for you and allowed for that transition to becoming a business leader. So I wanted to ask you about that first.

If you could tell us the story.

Vihan Sharma: Yeah, I, I, I joined, uh, Acxiom in the, in, in a product role actually, uh, working on data products. And, uh, even that was very new to me because in my previous roles, I, I. Was much more focused on the digital marketing side of the equation. So much more, uh, trying to build, uh, acquisition, uh, products for, you know, growing traffic.

I mean, this is like 20 years ago. So, uh, you know, uh, doing much more of a ad ops side of the equation, et cetera. And, uh, my first job, by the way, was Traffic Manager. I, I mean, I still remember this because, uh, a lot of the understanding of the ecosystem for me comes from those days where, I was trafficking campaigns on, 24 7 real media back then, the Open a Stream ad server that, so, uh, I, I really was not in sales.

I was very much, more on the, uh, on the product, uh, side of the equation. When I joined, uh, Acxiom, I had the, opportunity to learn about data and. and I moved, uh, through the ranks and became the leader for our product organization outside of the us. And I will, I would be called to these client meetings very often, right?

I would, uh, like the MD of the UK would say, Hey, you know, we have a important client meeting. It will be good to represent product. And as any like [00:03:00] product person, I will, I was proud of the products we are building. So I would go and I would just say, oh, LiveRamp or Acxiom does these five things, uh, and here is why we are good.

But I remember very clearly, I think this was, a Telco customer, in, in the UK office. They were sitting there and I go and I do this 15 minute thing on, oh yeah, here are the investment areas, this is what we are doing, et cetera.

and I said, do you have any questions? And they go. Well, uh, thanks for sharing your roadmap. I just don't know how it actually makes any difference to me. I say, uh, it was a really shocking moment. I think a transformative moment for me because, uh, that is kind of like the day where I said whatever I've been doing so far is actually people being respectful and nice and not really telling me back that they didn't find, my 15 minute pitch, to be the greatest thing because it didn't really connect to their business outcomes.

And very quickly I kind of understood that being a great product person means caring about your, the outcomes you can deliver to your customers. And if you think about sales, you cannot be a great sales person if you cannot give, deliver the outcomes to your customers. I mean, it's basically the same thing.

Uh, and, I think I, that that meeting was, really extremely important, uh, in my career, I think because it, uh, completely transformed the way I looked. and [00:04:30] I think if you have spoken to people, uh, about me, they will tell you one thing. If they don't say anything else, is that I am very customer focused.

I do not, actually wanna go and sell somebody something if I don't believe that we are driving, value. And it is inherently important to me that, me, my team, everybody who I work with actually puts the customer outcomes first and foremost before anything. So, I think it's a one meeting can change your life.

It probably, yes. I think that's probably the meeting which completely transformed, uh, who, I am today. And I found that to be fascinating. the change in approach led to customers being much more engaged, much more open to tell me about what are their problems, how are they thinking about their strategy?

What, what is it that they think, uh, Acxiom or LiveRamp can help them accomplish? And. and if you go through a sales qualification process today, and you are on a call with a client, and if you go and say, Hey, you know, I have the greatest thing, uh, is a huge platform which is going to help you, optimize customer experience, whatever.

Okay? Yes, sure. Interesting. But if you can't really relate to the problems they face and you can't really personalize, uh, the outreach, it is very hard, for executives to give you time, right? And I think, that, that philosophy, is something very important to me as, you know, as, uh, a salesperson now, but, uh, [00:06:00] even as a product person, because I, I, I think without putting your customer first, it is very hard for you to, to deliver outcomes that are expected of you as well.

Michael Katz: Yeah, absolutely. And customer obsessed was something that came up multiple times in talking to people about you. And I know you've even told some prospects who weren't a good fit to get value that they shouldn't even become customers. But I wanted to get to your game-changing deal. And I think this is one that not only changed your life personally and your trajectory, but on some level and even change the industry from my understanding. So it'd be great to start by getting in some context into the stakes and where you're at in your career at the time.

Vihan Sharma: Okay. Sounds good. So, uh, let me, like set the scene here first. So we are talking about the 2014, 2000, 2015. LiveRamp has just been acquired by Acxiom, but LiveRamp is not really available, in, uh, the European markets. Uh, at this time, we had just restructured our Acxiom business, so we were a very small team.

about seven to eight people. and, uh, this was the first time for me to actually run a P & L, uh, as an md, of a company. So, because prior to this I was always in a product role. So, you know, different stakes, I would say. and this deal is very important because. everybody in, the small team who has stayed is counting on us to drive growth.

So it is important for that. it is important for us to position, the company in a way which is meaningful for the industry. Uh, so that's number two. and number [00:07:30] three, this is, very much like the marquee client you can sign in Europe so that when we launch LiveRamp, we have a successful, case study to, to talk about in, uh, in the market.

So that is kind of like the stake, uh, of this deal. And we are gonna talk about, uh, Carrefour, which is, uh, the second largest retailer in the world after Walmart. obviously the largest retailer in France, and, a very large company. Versus us who are a team of seven to eight people.

Michael Katz-2: ​

Michael Katz: Before we hear about deal. I wanted to quickly unpack some of the background for many listeners who are not in the advertising and retail world. Carrefour is a global retail powerhouse from France with over 10,000 stores worldwide. They have a ton of data from their customers and loyalty cards. And the first challenge they faced here was that they didn't really know how to sift through all of that data. And use it to drive more business. And that sets the stage for the first part of this deal.

Vihan Sharma: Yeah. So, the Carrefour story is actually in three parts. We have worked with them for the last 10 years. So I'm gonna tell you this, like three key important moments, of our partnership with Carrefour. let me start with the very beginning. and with like any deal, it is about people. and we were very fortunate to meet, an individual named Michel Bellanger, who just joined Carrefour in 2014 from GroupM, and he was working for the merchant [00:09:00] services side of the business. And the merchant services is like a smaller group within Carrefour, whose whole objective is to provide additional services to the CPG brands, in return for creating new incremental revenues.

and he very quickly understands that carrefour has a unique data asset. They have the loyalty card program with about 15 million, households in France, which gives them. A lot of unique data, which can be valuable both for Carrefour marketing initiatives, but also for CPG brands they wanna work with.

However, in 2014, Across the teams at Carrefour, there was low maturity levels, uh, around understanding how this first party data can be leveraged for better outcomes and better customer experiences, across the board. And, Michel, basically asked our support to help educate different teams across the ecosystem so that they can understand the value of LiveRamp.

And, within a Acxiom back then there is an individual who is still at the company. His name is Nicolas Dore. He is, a, an expert in the retail business and he goes on this path to try to educate different folks and different, um, business units within Carrefour, to understand the value of what we were trying to do.

So, once the education is done. They [00:10:30] still are hesitant because they don't, uh, it's very theoretical.

They understand the value of using their first party data, but they don't really know how to put this in practice and, define what success looks like for them. And, we have, there's another, colleague whose name is Fatima Aliane, who back then is running data science for us in the company, and she comes up with a very simple idea, which is, Hey, if we can show you the impact of your advertising dollars on actual in-store sales, would that something be, interesting for you?

And almost every single business unit we worked with, so the data analytics teams, the, the marketing teams, the media teams, they all agreed that this was something that they can take upstairs to their bosses and say their investment in the media they are doing is actually going to lead to better outcomes.

And so we started our journey with Carrefour by, helping them build the first kind of sales lift, capability. So we took the impression level data, uh, on digital channels that Carrefour was advertising on. Try tied it to the actual transactions happening in the store.

And I think that was kind of the turning point because they could very quickly see that the value that LiveRamp was driving, it was helping them understand how they can optimize their media spend in order to deliver better outcomes for their company. And, [00:12:00] this allowed us to actually get the buy-in across, uh, different teams and sign our first, uh, this was about a, I would say million dollar contract. So the first million dollar ACV, for a LiveRamp in the market. And that is kind of the start of this journey. ​

Michael Katz: Now for the really career defining part of the story. Carrefour had an even bigger challenge and opportunity to explain quickly consumer brands like Pepsi or Unilever, despite being household names. Primarily reach consumers by selling to other businesses, retailers like Carrefour or Walmart. Often, they don't even know the consumer's buying their products. Unless the retailers share the information with them. But retailers guard this data closely. They don't want to open their entire book. And there are legal barriers around sharing customer data. Especially in Europe. So in order to foster collaboration, The retailers would need a way to share only the most relevant data in a highly secure way. And that situation sets the stage for the deal where Vihan and the team. Completely changed the game.

Vihan Sharma: ​The second phase really is about the launch of retail media in France. And so I would say by 2018 you had Carrefour teams who were already trying to partner with CPG brands running some, specific co-op, co co-op co-branded campaigns. however, the CPG brands kept asking, Carrefour, "Hey, you know, [00:13:30] it's great that we are able to run these single campaigns, but we would love to have access to your data. Uh, and if you can provide us, uh, with more granular data for, for helping us build audiences. And provide us transaction data for measurement, we are willing to invest significant amount of dollars, uh, in the Carrefour programs."

The problem though was Carrefour's security team, their executive teams were not really very sure how this data can be used, whether they will lose control, whether, they, they will actually be able to generate incremental dollars. And on the CPG side, it was kind of the same framework, right?

Where CPG brands is like, oh, car, Carrefour is a big client of ours. If we give them all our media data, uh, w whether they can actually use it to negotiate better deals with us, et cetera. So there, there was a, a huge kind of friction point between, Carrefour, the retailer, uh, CPG brands who are kind of like the suppliers in this, uh, in this ecosystem.

So very quickly we identified that there is an opportunity here. There's an opportunity for us to go and say, can we build a platform on top of, uh, the LiveRamp capabilities back then, which provides transparency control, of the data between both parties so that they can start collaborating together.

Uh, and so I. on, we, we [00:15:00] faced like two challenges here. One is at the Carrefour side, uh, one, uh, on the LiveRamp side. So let's start with the Carrefour Journey. Where Carrefour folks? Uh, so Michel is still there. I. Uh, we are now able to access, uh, more the C level suite at Carrefour, France. Uh, and there is this lady, Jeanne Dubarry, who, uh, is uh, in charge of the digital transformation of Carrefour.

And, uh, we sat down with her to identify what the opportunity is, uh, and uh, it was kind of very simple to do because they were trying to launch an advertising business. They very much focused around the Facebooks and the Googles of this world. And I think if you remember, and still today, uh, meta uses a KPI, which is average advertising or advertising revenue per user.

And uh, if you apply that same principle to the Carrefour. Data set, which is so prominent, you can show the total opportunity that is in front of, uh, Carrefour. And I mean, the exact team, you have to understand they run a, a business which is over 80, uh, $80 billion, uh, in annual revenues. And for them to find this to be a meaningful, investment, they needed to understand what is the opportunity for them to grow their gross merchandise value, uh, on the, in their stores, they wanted to see whether, uh, this partnership can lead to accelerated e-commerce sales, [00:16:30] and whether they can drive incremental high margin revenues, which are important, uh, for a retailer. And, uh, so they hired, so Jan at this point, hired Accenture to start building out a.

A, a business, uh, overview and the, and the requirements from a, uh, uh, human capital perspective of what Carrefour would need, uh, to actually be successful. And I. Uh, we had some very good folks at Accenture. Uh, there's a, uh, individual named Pierre Santamaria, who ran, uh, the whole business planning exercise.

He was very challenging for us because he was working on behalf of, uh, Carrefour. So he was trying to say. The Carrefour's, total opportunity is X, but the LiveRamp cost should be minimal. Right? So we had a bit of friction there, but they were good partners because they were able to convince, uh, the executive suite at Carrefour France that this is.

Something worth investing in. And, uh, so we, we ticked off, uh, the business outcome, uh, element of the deal with Jeanne and with the, with the Accenture team. Then comes the issue around, uh, security transparency, and there's a, the person back then who was running the security function at Carrefour, his name, uh, is Carlos Martin.

And Carlos, uh, is. Uh, very busy, obviously, because he's running a, a very big business, and so he gives us an [00:18:00] opportunity to go, come in and highlight what, uh, guarantees that we can provide from a security and privacy perspective for him to feel secure and, uh, I think. What I really appreciated about like a LiveRamp back then is how nimble we were, uh, because we were within, uh, like 30 minutes of that request, we were able to get our, uh, chief security officer over to France, uh, to have a meeting, uh, uh, with Carlos and his teams to help them understand, uh, that we are, uh, first and foremost a privacy.

Uh, uh, privacy first organization, which takes customer data very, very seriously. And, uh, I think that helped us, uh, negate, uh, some of the, the fears that the Carrefour teams, uh, had in terms of leveraging their data for, uh, uh, for partnering with the CPG brands. Uh, and, uh, so what that was, uh, really on the, uh, the Carrefour side.

Uh, we, uh, then had to convince, um, our folks internally at LiveRamp that building a capability on top of our current infrastructure, which allows control, which allows transparency is the right thing and. Uh, frankly, I mean, I think back then there was no idea of what this concept of clean room is, et cetera, et cetera, and we, uh, very much had to do an internal [00:19:30] exercise and, uh, convince, uh, obviously, uh, uh, Scott, who's our CEO, but also, uh, the head of product, uh, head of, uh.

Uh, well, the C CFO, which is Warren, who was really bought into this project. So it was, uh, kind of a journey internally as well for, uh, me to convince our teams that this was the right thing for LiveRamp to do. Uh, the problem is when you only have one client, it looks like we are trying to build a custom solution for one customer.

And so the challenge internally, uh, was to identify the overarching opportunity. Because if you go and say this is valid for Carrefour, it is as valid for Tesco's. It is as valid for Boots and in the UK and the large retailers in the us. So once you look at the opportunity, you say, if this can work at Carrefour, this can pretty much work across the retail ecosystem, which is how we landed on creating the first clean room of the industry, which was called Safe Haven.

So, uh, very fortunate, uh, to have. Great leaders at LiveRamp who actually bought into, this vision. but we still need to get the deal over the line. So, uh, this is being run, uh, at the CEO of Car Carrefour, France level.

Uh, and Noel uh, is somebody who has, uh, been at Carrefour for 30 years. And, uh, obviously as a CEO of a large organization, he doesn't really have much time. and so it was really very important for us to bring, [00:21:00] To the table, key criteria that will be of interest to him. So we validated, uh, with, uh, with his team that there is no security issue. Number one, we validated with Accenture that they have a business opportunity that they need to, uh, that, that they need to embrace. And third, we. Kind of called out that if they are not gonna do that, they're going to be further behind, more digitally first, uh, uh, capabilities like the Amazons of this world.

Michael Katz: And, uh. Uh, all this happened during a, uh, a dinner. Uh, we had, we hosted for them in, in Paris, Now you've got me curious. What did you say at this dinner that actually got them over the line?

Vihan Sharma: We are sitting at this dinner with the CEO of Carrefour France, a much bigger company. And, it is, myself, Warren Jenson, and Frederic Jouve who is, uh, back then the MD of our APAC business, but he's also known Noel for, for some time because Noel was, in, in apac, for Carrefour at, at some stage. And, uh, you know, we keep on talking and we are seeing that, the Carrefour team is interested, but they're not really making a call whether they should do this deal or not.

And, I think the, the conversation started by. Uh, it was by Frederic. It's like, well, do you really want to, do this? Or you are just going to be, waiting and not, uh, not [00:22:30] invest in this capability and stay behind in this retail, retail media game. And Warren, who actually is, prior to joining LiveRamp, he was at Amazon.

He helped Noel understand that if they do not move quickly, they will be very far behind in this retail media game. And we basically said, look, I mean, if it is not you who's gonna do this, we can actually go and build out this capability for somebody else and then we gave you the first shot. But if you're not gonna do it, you're not gonna do it.

And very quickly, I think, that changed the perspective, of no, of Noel who, basically saw that if. He has a first mover advantage. If he doesn't really take this, then there will be other players who will, you know, go after this opportunity and it'll be a negative impact for, for Carrefour. So, uh, that dinner was a unique moment, in our journey with Carrefour because it allowed us to convince, the main stakeholder, the main decision maker who we don't really, we didn't really have much time with, but who ultimately is the person who will, uh, make the call.

that this is something

that the Carrefour executives would like to go forward with.

And like, uh, like we were at Acxiom LiveRamp, we're very excited, uh, about this, uh, opportunity.

Uh, excited because this is something really new, uh, excited that we are maybe about to shape, uh, what the industry will look like in the future. Uh, and so we get to, uh, contracting, which [00:24:00] again is not an easy task when you're talking with, uh, a very large company. So. Uh, let's say it took about three months once we had the go ahead, uh, to start getting a contract for Signature.

And, uh, Warren, who's, uh, the CFO, uh, of LiveRamp and um, uh, president of the international business came to Paris, is with me in the car. And going to sign this deal, uh, in Massy where Carrefour is based. And while we are in this car, we got a call, uh, from uh, Noël Prioux's assistant who says, Hey, uh, I have to cancel this meeting because Noel has something else which came up, which is important.

And for us, it was, uh, kind of, uh, a complicated, uh, situation because we had done all this work. We are looking at the whole opportunity. Uh, that we, we have convinced internally at, uh, at LiveRamp and to find ourselves in a position where, uh, they're, they are basically canceling a meeting, uh, at the last minute is very surprising.

However, uh, what we understood is that they actually were having a change, uh, in management. And so. The, the whole deal was, became at risk again, uh, because there was going to be a new, uh, management team, uh, coming to Carrefour. So that's, uh, a messy situation. Uh, nobody's [00:25:30] excited after all the work that we have done over the six, nine months, uh, in order to educate everybody, uh, uh, up and down the organization to find ourselves in a place that we might not actually sign the deal.

Um, but. We said that this opportunity, whether it is Carrefour or somebody else, is worth, uh, us going after. So we started building, uh, the Safe Haven product, uh, which is the first clean room, uh, in this market. Um, and said, okay, well when the new management team comes in, you know, it'll take them a couple of months to get on board.

And once they do, we'll try to revisit the, the situation. I think we got. Uh, in a way lucky because the new management team comes in at Carrefour and Amélie Oudéa, who is, uh, took over as chief, uh, digital transformation officer, and another person called Edouard Mailfait, who took the role of. Uh, chief Data Officer of Carrefour, and both of them are very savvy, uh, from a digital perspective.

Their whole agenda is to drive digital transformation for, uh, Carrefour. And, uh, we were very quickly able to partner with Edouard and with, uh, with, uh, Amélie to get the second part of our deal signed, uh, and start the retail media business for Carrefour in France. So, uh, lot of challenges at this [00:27:00] time, but, uh, got to a place where, uh, they bought into Safe Haven.

We created a new complete category, which is now called Clean Rooms, and we are powering the biggest retail media business in France.

Michael Katz: But the partnership didn't stop there. There's a third phase. After seeing success Edouard in the Carrefour team wanted to expand globally with LiveRamp. You're going to find their fragmented systems in each market. And recognizing the need for specialized knowledge and data intelligence in these markets LiveRamp acquired a company called acuity data to really show their commitment to Carrefour and this clean room product called Safe Haven. However, just when things were about to take off, they hit a big snack. Their sponsor Amelie. Left Carrefour. I'll let Vihan tell the rest...

Vihan Sharma: We were again in a place where we were like, oh my God, we have worked so much. We acquired this company. And we are again, finding ourselves in a place, uh, where this might not actually happen. but, we have, uh, been very fortunate that the, the person who came after Elodie Perthuisot was, again, very forward looking, very much bought into this idea that data is, is driving a lot of value, uh, for Carrefour and their CPG brands.

And she really wanted to accelerate this project. So she rallied around the Carrefour team who were focused on this, partnered with us. quite, uh, successfully, uh, as soon as she, took on board the new role,[00:28:30] and we were able to get this deal, closed. Um, and let me talk to you about the day the deal closed because I think it is, uh, funny and it is interesting.

So we are on 31st of March, I think 2020, uh, or yeah, 2020. Just about like Covid has just started, I think. And um, we are, basically waiting for the end of the quarter. So 31st of March is the end of the quarter for, for LiveRamp. I have this deal, and by this time I was, uh, MD of, LiveRamp in Europe and by, and this deal is actually in the forecast, and every day that goes by since beginning of January, we see the deal moving.

moving, uh, slower and slower and slower. And I'm sitting in this, uh, last day call, with some of the execs at, uh, at LiveRamp, going through how we are gonna be closing our. our quarter, and while I am doing this deal, it's like 10 30 in the night. I receive the signed contract, which completely changed, uh, the way we felt about the quarter.

So, uh, all in all, it took us time, a lot of challenges, but because we were delivering, uh, value to to, to Carrefour, we were able to get, uh, the deal over the line. So that's kind of, the whole, uh, whole story.

Michael Katz: It's fascinating. And I think it's a Testament to the fact that great things are not built overnight. And often take a lot of investment and belief and courage. And I guess the [00:30:00] last question I have on the deal is if you could just talk for a moment about the impact that it's had on your career and then on the industry at large.

Yeah, I mean, look, for, let me start by me personally in my career, I think. Uh, because the sheer value, uh, of Carrefour deal, you have to understand, we, if you look at the advertising market in, in the US we are talking about $160 billion. market. If you look at France, we are talking about a, like, back then about five to $6 billion market, right?

Vihan Sharma: So the, the, the scales are very different and, For us to be go able to go and sign a multimillion dollar deal with a retailer where the retailer saw us as a strategic partner at the executive level, actually allowed me personally to have the confidence to go and say, this can be replicated across the board because it's not an easy sell, but once you do make the sell it.

Completely. It gives you credibility in the market to go and talk to others and replicate this over and over again. Right? So I think that's kind of number one. Number two, it also, uh, opened, the door for me to actually lead Safe Haven in the US market. So. Soon after the Carrefour deal, we basically said we are not gonna just focus on Carrefour and the European markets.

This is an opportunity too good for us to leave it to the table. And Warren actually asked me [00:31:30] to go and run what we would call an incubator within LiveRamp, uh, which will be safe haven for the US market. Which led to us creating a dedicated team in the US allowed me to partner with our US teams across the board and gave me much more insight into our US business, US customers, the way they think, which ultimately allowed me to be in my role today.

So I'm very, I can directly link the Carrefour deal with my, with my career. So I think that's kind of number one. And on the, you know, on the, on the industry side. Uh, I'm very, uh, proud to say that we actually created the first, uh, clean room of the market, even though we didn't call it a clean room, because it, that you saw it very quickly that, uh, this whole notion of collaboration is going to be important, for delivering.

Uh, great customer outcomes and great customer experiences because nobody can have all the data, uh, on a consumer, right? The consumer has their own way of interacting with different brands, different media properties, different publishers, and in order for you to connect the dot, uh, you are not just gonna bring all the data in one single data lake.

What you will need is to, uh, connect the dots, uh, in a privacy. First, uh, way, which is what the industry is going towards now, and, uh, I'm like grateful to have had the opportunity to, uh, to actually make that first move.

Michael Katz: I, I [00:33:00] am curious, you talked a little bit about you know, you coming up from France, uh, I think a common experience that people have is, you know, you're a European leader or a country leader. It's a really hard role. you're always kind of the second thought, especially in your case where it comes to genuinely putting something on the line and trying to invent a new product and, and, and rally company resources around it.

How did you turn that into the CRO role and how do you think, you know, other folks in your position, uh, at, at, at similar places should really think about navigating for themselves to, to become leaders like you?

Vihan Sharma: Look, I think, uh, selling in Europe, if I'm very candid, it's, uh, a lot harder, than it is, to sell something in a market as dynamic as the US, right? And there are a few reasons for it. First, inherently decision making processes in Europe are much longer, like mu, significantly much longer. People are risk averse, so they would not take a risk, uh, if they do not believe that they're doing the right things.

And so it's easy for them to like trust the big companies like the Googles and the Facebooks, uh, or meta and, and stuff like this. It is hard for them to actually go and say, yeah, I wanna work with a small company, uh, you know, which, uh, I've maybe never heard of. Or, so it is a very different, uh, kind of a risk, uh, profile.

Uh, and third, they want to, not only, Get [00:34:30] them their sign off, they want to have a committee kind of a sign off. So they need multiple people to come and say yes. And especially in the industry we are in, because, uh, you know, if you are talking about customers first party data, like very, there's like real requirements around security, privacy, and those components.

So the, the sales process is much harder. It is, uh, because you have many more steps and the time it takes is, uh, is longer. and for us. it was very clear, uh, very quickly that at every step of the way we have to talk the language, of the customer. So if they are in a specific vertical, what are the key KPIs?

Uh, you you need to, make them feel like you know their business and that you can be a strategic partner, uh, for them. So I think that's kind of, number one, learning from, uh, from Europe, which if you apply it to the US it actually makes sense, right? You, uh, when you're in front of a client, you have to talk their language and, uh, be ready to articulate the value that you are driving, for, uh, for their business.

So I think that's, uh, that's kind of number one. Number two, now, I think, I, I was fortunate in a way because I had the support as I mentioned, uh, you know, of Warren and Scott, who really were, when they saw the opportunity, the, the reaction that we were getting in, in the market with somebody like a Carrefour, they, uh, said yes.

I mean, this is a good way, for us to navigate the challenges we have in international markets because this will allow us to, kind of, [00:36:00] uh, create a, a much more coherent and sustainable business going forward. So, uh, to convince the leaders out in the US that this is the right thing to do is, uh, is really hard.

But once, uh, you know, you get the buy-in, uh, it, it makes life easier.

Michael Katz: Well, there's a bit of a risk. There's a bit of a risk, and I think, you know, you're being a little bit, um, humble and, and saying you're lucky, et cetera, but I think I've seen that same play before where somebody, you know, even in the US can say to somebody, look, this is the one that's really gonna do it for us.

And you put all your eggs in one basket. You feel like you have even fewer eggs if you're the leader of France as an example where I got one shout really.

Vihan Sharma: I agree. I like the thing is, you know, you have to be, uh, you have to be bold in your, and you have to be convinced that you are doing the right thing. I mean, if I was not convinced that this was the right thing, uh, I don't think I would've, uh, fought internally for us to, uh, actually do this. I would not have spent so much time with, the, you know, the different Carrefour teams with all the, uh, you know, ups and downs we have had.

and inherently, you know, when you are like, this was the shot, like if we played this right, we would actually have a, incredible business opportunity. And I think, Once you are, uh, I mean, like, I'll tell you something, from my, I I, I grew up in India. I came to France. I did not speak French.

Right? It, it is a very hard thing, to integrate in France if you do not speak, their language. So I [00:37:30] think, uh, for me, I very, uh, at a very young age, I knew that in order for me to, thrive, I have to adapt to different situations. And, I think that's, you were asking me what it takes to be a leader.

I think what it takes is never be afraid of change. always be willing to adapt and there is always a solution. So if you believe in those three things, I think it makes life, a bit easier. But, I, learned it very young that, if I just try to, stay in my, uh. Uh, in the way I was, it'll be very hard for me to, actually be happy in France and, be able to, to embrace a new culture, et cetera.

So I think, embracing change is, the ultimate, way to innovate and, uh, and grow.

Michael Katz: It makes a lot of sense from your perspective. That cultural identity point is something I thought of a lot before we talked, you know, you. have an Inidan passport, you grew up in France. I, I, my understanding is you're married to a Spaniard, you're on a plane basically the entire year. European teams, US teams, et cetera.

Um, that has to impact the way that you think about leadership. Your, I would call it maybe cultural agility in understanding people and, and trying to level with them. Um, and, and I think another element I even thought about was someone who, like you, rises quickly in an organization, um, at the same place for a long time.

people who were previously mentors or peers, um, suddenly, uh, become your direct reports, um, and below and, and having to [00:39:00] navigate that new relationship and figure that out. I'm sure it's been something that's been an interesting adaptation.

Vihan Sharma: You, you have done your research very well. Yes. I mean, um. Yeah, I, I think the cultural differences, uh, I think if you're in Europe, uh, you know, everybody thinks Europe is like this one big country. It, it is not. Right. It is, every single country is a very different culture. the French and the English don't really understand each other even today.

Uh, the same you can say with the Germans and the, and the French. So, uh, even though it is a, it is called Europe, it is not really, uh, a homogeneous place. And it is, it has its complexities and And that is an advantage, uh, really to be in Europe because you have to adapt to these situations, right? No, uh, if you are working in a multinational organization in Europe, you cannot, uh, just take your point of view and make that a reality.

And the, so for me, uh, because I, I came from India, the shock was so big, uh, from a cultural perspective that the different nuances across Europe, uh, were easier to navigate, I think, because overall, like there are differences, but 80% of the way, uh, they operate is still the same. So being able to manage the nuances is, is quite important.

It is really helpful to build the right relationships. Uh, I think, um, in terms of leading, uh. Pe your peers who are probably at the same level or, uh, [00:40:30] even, uh, further up? I think it is a question of respect. I mean, you, you need to be respectful of people. Uh, you need to be able to show them, uh, what you are trying to bring to the table, uh, how partnering with you, they will, uh, at the end of the day, have more of an impact on the company.

And I think those are important, uh, elements to, uh, navigate these challenges. And I've had to do this a couple of times, uh, during the last 14 years that I've been in this company. Uh, and every time I think, uh, the, the principle is the same respect, uh, you know, identify the impact and make their lives easy.

If you can't do that, then it is actually a pretty, uh, good way to create, uh, the right team mechanics and, uh, drive growth for, uh, for, for the company. I.

Michael Katz: Absolutely. It, it makes a lot of sense to me. The respect component is interesting. I, I heard some people describe you as a humble leader. I think that's probably a nice reputation for you. Of course. I think a lot of people might look at that, um, and see their careers and, and, and how to rise up in a company and say.

You know, maybe that kind of humble leadership aspect would hold your career back, especially leading in Europe, um, doesn't seem to have affected you. And, and then the second challenge of with it is you need to make sure that the ship is headed in the right direction. Inherently, you gotta make decisions and you gotta impose yourself at certain points.

Why do you think other people might struggle with that, that balance of the [00:42:00] self-promotion and, and, and leadership and, and that humility. And how did you, how have you kind of managed to achieve that?

Vihan Sharma: Uh, I mean, um. Uh, I think humility doesn't mean that you don't have strong convictions, right? Like, I actually do not make any decisions based on personal, uh, personal relationships. No, nothing. I always, like, I would say 99.9% of the times I make decisions based on the customer outcomes we deliver.

humility is, uh, about being open to, uh, different points of view, right? I think, uh, if you have to make a decision, uh, you can't always believe you have all the data points yourself. And, uh, being humble means open to listen to other points of view taken. Uh, ideas, which are not just yours, but use them and leverage them to make the right decisions.

And I think, uh, that is, uh, potentially, um, why you have heard about this, because I am very open to talking to, uh, uh, to our customers, to my colleagues, to uh, my partners, and actually draw, you know, and have a very. Uh, clear understanding of different perspectives before making a decision, and I think that has helped me, uh, make decisions which are longer term, um, which, uh, have more of an impact on our organization and, uh, allows people to.

Uh, believe they have a say So. I think all in all, uh, being humble doesn't mean you can't make a decision. Being humble means you [00:43:30] are open to other ideas, which I think in today's changing, uh, economic environment and the, uh, technology landscape, uh, pretty, uh, important to, uh, to do. So that's, that's, that's what I think about it.


Michael Katz: Yeah, sure, sure. I think it's just, it's just a really challenging balance to strike, for most especially, to have someone describe that, um, as, as a leading quality maybe, is the way to put it. And, you know, on that note, one of the other qualities that I, I heard a lot was hardworking. One of the hardest working people they know.

And it's not surprising, based on everything I've heard around your schedule and, um, leading us teams and being on a plane all the time, uh, how do you. Keep balance the scales between your personal and professional life from tipping too far one way, and, and navigate those decisions with all the sacrifices involved.

Vihan Sharma: Oh, really good question. Uh, I think I'm very fortunate to have, uh, a, a family who understands and who's, uh, who is participating in my career. Like I think it is a joint discu decision. So I spoke, uh, uh, with my wife before I took this role and I said, uh, uh, this is going to mean, um, some sacrifices from both of us because it's not just me who's sacrificing, it's also, you know, people who are part of my family who, uh, actually, uh, are sacrificing in order for, uh, uh, for me to do this role.

And, I think we made, uh, the call together. I think we made some guardrails, which is, like at the weekends when I am in, in [00:45:00] Europe, in Paris, uh, I, 99% of the time I try to disconnect and, uh, and have quality time because, if you can do that, then it actually makes life easier, right? Uh, and, um, it is, it is hard because of, uh, all the traveling I have to be out, a lot.

But, we try to find time, uh, we, try to plan, uh, properly so, uh, that when, uh, we meet, we actually have, things to do and, uh, enjoy time together. And I think that's how, uh, that's how you create a balance between, travel and, enjoying the time, uh, when you get, uh, the occasion to be together.

So, uh, it, it is not easy, but, uh, I'm very fortunate, to have a family who understands and, uh, uh, is Willing, to be part of this journey.

Michael Katz: Yeah, I, I, I get it. And it's just funny 'cause of obviously your entire background and everything. You know, the, the biggest, um, stereotype, especially for French people, Europeans in general, in a lot of cases, you know, they understand balance and integration. I know I talked to a French coworker one time who mentioned that, um, uh, she parked at her office, which was near Egal Airport, and uh, I believe the police or something fined the company because there was a, there was a car in the parking lot on a weekend. They didn't, you know, they were just there to park for the airport. And so that really sets the standard of what it means to work and balance there. But obviously I know. Empirically that you do need to make sacrifices here and you still have that ambition, and maybe you have some of that drive from [00:46:30] all those different areas of your life.

Vihan Sharma: Uh, yeah, and I, you know, I think, uh, my, I believe, uh, fundamentally, I mean, I think culturally, yes, I, I think, uh, uh, it, it is hard, uh, in Europe to actually understand, uh, you know, the, the, the work life balance, I think that, uh, we have here in the us. But, uh, ultimately I think, um, there, there is a lot of hard pe hardworking people in Europe, right?

I mean, I, I can think of the LiveRamp team. I mean, they, they do work very, very, very hard.

Michael Katz: to be implying that there's no hardworking people.

Vihan Sharma: Uh, and, uh, uh, but yeah, I mean, you know, at, at the end of the day, you have to find, uh, a balance that fits, uh, your lifestyle and, uh, if you have, uh, understanding between you and your family, I think it's a easy, uh, easy thing to do. But, uh, you can't be successful if you don't really work hard. So, you know, I mean, you need to know what you want to, to do.

Michael Katz: Absolutely. Uh, it's probably a very deliberate act for you and, and one that's still agile as you continue to, uh, to move forward. Now, you know, one thing I think we love to talk about on here is mentors and leaders and people who've influenced you. Obviously, you've had a lot of people change your journey.

One of those people you mentioned and other folks did is Warren Jenson, who, um, seemed to be a real champion for you and your, um, rise Candidly. Uh, what, you know, what's one piece of advice or I. You know, a few real concrete things you've learned from [00:48:00] him, um, and then, you know, if any other people that kind of stick out to you throughout your career as those people, is there anything specific you can, um, mention that you learned from those other folks too?

Vihan Sharma: Uh, yeah, I think. like Warren, um, has been instrumental in my career and I think that's probably even an understatement. but, you know, working with Warren, I think, I, I got to learn, uh, three things. One, uh, it is very much about embracing external trends. He was somebody who always, um, uh, asked, of us not to just look internally, but also see what is happening externally.

and like if you think about this story, that we just talked about, if we didn't think externally, we, if we didn't embrace. The different trends, which are, which were happening in the ecosystem, it'll be very hard for us to actually go to this direction. So I think, uh, number one thing, embrace external trends.

Second thing is like any, any decisions or discussions you are having, I. It should not be about you. It should be about outcomes. And you should not refocus on why you are right versus why you are wrong. You should always be focused on what is the ultimate outcome you are trying to deliver for, the companies who LiveRamp in this case, or for the advertiser, who you are working with.

And that always helps, uh, take away, the personal egos that are in play when you are actually doing a deal. and the third. Uh, the thing he taught me is like, really think in horizons, right? There is a, uh, we have a tendency to just look at the next three months and [00:49:30] say, this is the right call for the next three months.

But it is really very much about looking a longer term view, three to five years, uh, so that you can, uh, start ar articulating and putting in place a strategy which will have a lasting impact. So I would say those are the three main things, uh, that Warren. Uh, has taught me and, and I think like two other people who are really important, uh, in this journey are, is Florence Farman, who is actually our CFO in international business.

I've been working with her for the last 15 years and, uh, we. have a great relationship, uh, in the sense that she's able to challenge the status quo. She's always very, um, uh, if you think of me, I'm more of a visionary person and so I am very optimistic around what, uh, you know, future can can look like.

And having somebody like a Florence uh, being a great partner actually allowed me, um, to not only see the positive side of the equation when I'm making a decision, but also the different negatives and different, uh, challenges that we might might face, which I ultimately ended up in better decisions for the company.

So I would say, she is an integral part of, uh, the success in my career. And I would say the third person is. Fatima Aliane who, leads, who's, uh, I would say the, our chief operating officer outside of the us. So basically helping deliver value to our customers. [00:51:00] Uh, she has. always, been able to take my vision and put it in practice for our customers, uh, which has, uh, ultimately helped deliver a huge value.

And without, uh, those two folks, it'll be hard for me to sit here and say, uh, that, uh, I'm successful.

Michael Katz: Absolutely. And it's obviously a key time to reflect at any point in our careers. Now you, you're talking a lot about. External mentors and what they've taught you, and obviously you've internalized some of those lessons, at the same time, you learn your lessons yourself just experimenting and going through your career. Um, you know, given your rise and, and all the different evolutions throughout your career, is there anything, um, that you've learned that you wish you would've known earlier or, um, you know, advice you would've given to a younger self?

Vihan Sharma: yes, I would've, I would say, um. Uh, this whole notion, uh, that we are in a static, uh, market or things don't change. Uh, I think that's just completely false and I should, I mean, even when I was in product, um, uh, back, you know, back 10 years ago, I think, uh, it is important for, uh, us, uh, as leaders to embrace change.

I think that's kind of number one and not be afraid of it. I think, uh, you'll meet a lot of people who are. Actually afraid about what is going on in the market. What are, what are the changes, how things changing things is are going to impact. But every change is an opportunity. And I think, uh, every, uh, challenge that [00:52:30] we face, uh, from a customer or, uh, internally or externally, is an opportunity for us to improve ourselves.

I think that's kind of number one. Number two, uh, I don't think we should give up, right? If we actually believe in our, uh, uh, where we are going, we should, uh, be. Uh, open to. Uh, finding different avenues and ways to articulate our point. I think that's kind of number two, because sometimes you would come to a meeting and your idea doesn't get vetted, and a lot of people will just say, okay, yeah, that's okay.

I'm just going to not focus on it. But if you really believe in what you are doing is the right thing for your customers and for your company, uh, you should not give up and try multiple avenues, multiple ways to articulate and quantify, uh, the outcome that you want to deliver. And finally, I would say. Uh, something that Warren taught me is like, don't think about the next three months.

Think about three to five years. And if you, uh, can't think longer, I think it's better because you can actually, uh, craft a way, uh, to execute on a longer term strategy, which ultimately, uh, gives you the benefit of, uh, being able to, uh, change course being able to slightly modify the way you are, but to be focused on a longer term outcome is, uh, quite important.

Michael Katz: Yeah, I think those are all important lessons right now. I mean, on the, on the, on the, you know, long term front and the market changes. I think right now a lot of people are probably pretty discouraged. Um, and we're, you know, in the middle of something where [00:54:00] a lot of people would say we're recovering, but. Things clearly do change, and, and then on the, you know, front around fighting for customers or fighting for what you believe in, naturally, I think that's something that most people, um, would shy away from a little bit right now, basically saying it's better to not necessarily stick out or not sound like someone who's disagreeable. Right. And, and I think sometimes you have to sound a little bit disagreeable to get what you, um, want done. I'm sure you've done that a lot of times given, um, what you have achieved from the positions you have. Um, but it's certainly something that, that I think a lot of people struggle with, of if something doesn't get accepted the first time, it's, it's not really worth it.

Vihan Sharma: Yeah, I totally agree. Uh, I totally agree, and I, I think you have to, uh, to believe in, uh, in the outcomes you want to deliver. And if you do, then you'll always find a way. To articulate it, uh, you know, and adapt your, uh, your talk track to meet, uh, the right outcome. Because I think ultimately it is about, uh, helping other people buy into your vision, which might take time, but if you give up, you don't really have the opportunity to to do that.


Michael Katz: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for Yeah. For your time. This was, uh, it was an absolute pleasure for me.

Vihan Sharma: Thank you Michael. Uh, it is a great meeting and thank you for taking the time

Michael Katz: Thanks as always for joining us on another episode of The Winwire. We'd appreciate it if you could share it on LinkedIn or Twitter, and rate us, or leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform.

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