Operational Scalability: Chani Modi of VMware On How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale
Planning. All pieces need to operate together to scale successfully. Let me share an example from my business experience: Our retail venture was doing quite well, we expanded our footprint, we had a lot more locations, but our systems and leadership were lagging. That impeded growth and resulted in poor customer experience. Systems, processes, and resources can’t be an afterthought. It needs to be part of the operating plan that is based on the revenue forecast.
In today’s fast-paced business environment, scalability is not just a buzzword; it’s a necessity. Entrepreneurs often get trapped in the daily grind of running their businesses, neglecting to put in place the systems, procedures, and people needed for sustainable growth. Without this foundation, companies hit bottlenecks, suffer inefficiencies, and face the risk of stalling or failing. This series aims to delve deep into the intricacies of operational scalability. How do you set up a framework that can adapt to growing customer demands? What are the crucial procedures that can streamline business operations? How do you build a team that can take on increasing responsibilities while maintaining a high standard of performance?
In this interview series, we are talking to CEOs, Founders, Operations Managers Consultants, Academics, Tech leaders & HR professionals, who share lessons from their experience about “How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale”. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Chani Modi.
Chani Modi is a seasoned technology executive with a proven track record of driving 10X growth through digital transformation, ecosystem development, global partnerships, and effective operations strategies. She has successfully led the digital transformation of payment and commerce systems, accounting systems, inventory modeling, and budgeting. She is also a passionate advisor to early-stage startups on product roadmap development, user-studies, UX designs, and MVP (minimum viable product) requirements. She is committed to DEI and an active volunteer in the local community.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve always been curious, eager to learn and explore. My grandmother, a wise and loving woman, nurtured my thirst for knowledge and instilled in me a strong work ethic. She believed that education was the key to a better life, and she pushed me to achieve my full potential. Her relentless focus on my education kept me on the path which led me to the US and attaining my master’s degree in computer engineering. With only enough cash for one semester’s tuition, I embarked on my new adventure. I had to juggle my studies and part-time jobs to make ends meet.
After graduating, I moved to the Bay Area, California and has been my home for over 20 years, though with a rough start! It was the dot-com bust time, thousands of people were laid off. It was a harsh reality to say the least. After a few gigs, I landed a job at VMware, a leading virtualization company. I was thrilled to be working on innovative and cutting-edge technology products that were changing the way the world operated. I learned everything I could about the tech industry, from product development to launch to customer onboarding.
After a few years, I felt the entrepreneurial itch and went on to co-found and run companies. It was a tough journey, and I made many mistakes along the way. But I learned from my failures and became more resilient and resourceful.
My experiences shaped me, my expertise in business and technology empowers me, and my passion drives me to create successful outcomes.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As early-stage founders, we were obsessed with optimizing costs and improving efficiency. One of our ideas was to own the supply chain. We removed the “middleman” and invested in our own semi-trucks. What a nightmare! It cost us a lot more than we had anticipated. We had to develop supply chain management procedures and reorgs. It was a major distraction to our core business. We reversed the change and went back to vendors, but this time we negotiated better terms.
Key takeaways: 1) Owning the supply chain can be costly and time-consuming, especially for early-stage startups. 2) It’s important to focus on your core businesses and outsource non-core functions. 3) Don’t be afraid to negotiate with vendors to get the best possible deals.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes a company stand out is its ability to solve customer problems, distinctly better than the competition; by offering a more innovative product or service, by providing superior customer experience, and by having a unique culture that attracts and retains top talent.
Most products are now SaaS (Software as a Service) and Subscription based (commitment for a number of years with monthly dues) helping customers move from a CAPEX to OPEX model. VMware’s focus on vSphere is a fantastic story: continuous innovation, making LCM (lifecycle management) easier with VMware Cloud Foundation, and a phenomenal ecosystem with global technology partners. VMware’s vSphere platform makes it easy to manage virtual machines and our Cloud Foundation platform provides a unified platform for cloud computing. Additionally, VMware Private AI on Cloud Foundation was announced recently — a new solution being developed on the core VMware stack that will provide the security, flexibility, scalability, and performance that enterprises need to run AI workloads successfully. To provide context, here are some specific examples of how VMware Private AI Foundation can be used:
- A financial services company can train and deploy fraud detection models.
- A healthcare provider can train and deploy medical image analysis models.
- A manufacturing company can train and deploy predictive maintenance models.
The goal with this solution is to avail customers of the need to maintain control of their data in-house versus the current LLMs that use your data to train their models. Companies must protect their sensitive, valuable data from being used to train third party LLMs. I can talk for hours on this topic; tremendous work is going on in this area to maintain data privacy.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Integrity, grit, and humility. There are certain attributes that will propel you to leadership roles whether you are actively seeking them or not.
Are you trusted? Do you follow through on your commitments? Do you have a core set of guiding principles that enable consistency in your approach? I have made it a priority to listen well. Listen to the team, customers, trusted mentors and advisors. Sometimes I am able to help solve problems but many times I alone may not be able to. However, being an empathetic and active listener has enabled me to understand the problems, build trust and work with people, pushing boundaries and onwards to create new opportunities.
Humility will help create a more positive and productive work environment as well as build stronger relationships. Being open to feedback and making improvements has led to my continuous personal growth. Giving credit where it’s due has helped me build high-performing teams. Treating everyone with respect whether you are in the boardroom or otherwise.
Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.
Let’s normalize “leadership” — leadership is being able to make a decision and step up to guide others when needed. Most exercise leadership in some form or the other, whether in the corporate world or as a homemaker, an independent consultant, a caregiver, etc. Every day we must make choices with incomplete data. Sometimes we strike gold and sometimes we fail, but it’s important to work iteratively toward success. We had opened a new location in a large shopping mall and within a year we had to shut it down due to less than expected revenue caused due to economic slowdown. We were able to move people around to other locations so people didn’t lose their jobs, but we had to write off the entire investment.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Operational Scalability. In order to make sure that we are all on the same page, let’s begin with a simple definition. What does Operational Scalability mean to you?
A company’s ability to manage increasing revenue or changes in business environment by efficiently growing their operations with necessary systems and processes while maintaining high quality products and meeting customer expectations.
Which types of business can most benefit from investing in Operational Scalability?
I love these fundamental questions. I am a big proponent of getting the basics right to do bigger and better in life. I encourage every business, whether it’s a mom-and-pop shop or enterprises, to think about operational scalability as an investment in your business — to make your life better, to make your employees’ life better, to make your customer’s lives better. It’s an absolute win-win-win!
Why is it so important for a business to invest time, energy, and resources into Operational Scalability?
By making the correct investments, businesses can position themselves for long-term success, adapt to changing market dynamics and thrive in challenging circumstances. Please make time to research and deploy tools and technologies that will automate tasks while reducing duplication. Deploy repeatable process/frameworks, break silos, create cost effective systems and training programs to leverage these tools and technologies.
In contrast, what happens to a business that does not invest invest time, energy, and resources into Operational Scalability?
Simply put, it’s very difficult to grow your business and your revenue if you don’t invest in the necessary tools, systems, processes, and technology while training your staff to utilize these resources. You can have the most cutting-edge tools in place but if your staff isn’t well trained to fully utilize these tools, then you’re not getting the best ROI (Return on Investment). Let’s dig deeper and dissect some critical areas-
- Lost revenue and growth opportunities. For example: You’ve developed a phenomenal portfolio of products but your front-end and back-end workflows are not fully automated to recognize direct customers and channel partners. Back-end systems are not structured to systematically account for the sales/commissions/ transactions etc. So many companies continue to struggle with their digital transformation journey.
- Inefficient resource utilization: Under-utilized assets in slower periods and burnout during peak times.
- Overwhelmed management: Inflexible systems and frameworks burden management as employees struggle to handle increased workloads and complexities that come with a growing business. This may lead to decreased morale and attrition.
- Increased costs: When you don’t have systems in places, you throw bodies at it to implement manual workarounds. Businesses may invest in one-off systems to solve specific problems, functions in large businesses invest in solutions that solve their problem but may not lend to scalability across the company.
- Inconsistent quality: As your product demand goes up, you have to be able to keep up with the product quality to get continued business in a highly competitive environment.
- Inconsistent poor customer and/or channel experience leading to dissatisfaction and potential loss of revenue. For example: You’ve sold your SaaS service suite of products, but your customer cannot use certain workflows on Day 1 due to some glitch in the back-end workflows affecting access to some services.
Ultimately, lack of focus on operational scalability may impact the bottom-line. Rising costs can deteriorate product quality, reduce customer satisfaction, impact profitability, and increase demand on the business to hit their numbers. This can create a snowball effect which, in extreme cases, could cause the business to be unsustainable.
Can you please share a story from your experience about how a business grew dramatically when they worked on their Operational Scalability?
Yeah, with our retail venture we embraced digital transformation to achieve seamless integration between locations and remote offices, resulting in enhanced inventory management, revenue recording, and reporting. We overhauled our customer-facing systems with the latest retail technology solutions, and we operated in a remote work mode for several years (well before the COVID-19 pandemic). Our inventory, accounting, payroll, and tax systems were cloud-based, with robust policies and safeguards in place.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the “Five Most Important Things A Business Leader Should Do To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To Prepare A Business To Scale”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1 . Planning. All pieces need to operate together to scale successfully. Let me share an example from my business experience: Our retail venture was doing quite well, we expanded our footprint, we had a lot more locations, but our systems and leadership were lagging. That impeded growth and resulted in poor customer experience. Systems, processes, and resources can’t be an afterthought. It needs to be part of the operating plan that is based on the revenue forecast.
2. Strategy and Execution. Find the right balance of scalable services to be built in-house, services to be bought off the shelf and services that will need to be outsourced. There is no one size fits all strategy. But do leverage repeatable templates and frameworks. Next, get the stakeholders and SME (subject matter experts) to develop the framework, architecture, implementation plan and appropriate resources. Whether you believe in a 1 year plan or a 5 year plan, ensure all involved leaders are aligned and moving synchronously on implementing the strategy. Too much time and energy is lost in silos and misalignment.
3 . Communication. Smaller companies tend to be nimble and tight knit but remote work culture may introduce communication gaps that could lead to disengaged employees. With large companies, organizational silos may impede progress. Clearly communicate the vision (the why), strategy (the how), execution (when), responsibilities (who) as well as accomplishments cross-functionally, vertically and horizontally.
4 . Improvements. Continuously evaluate the existing tools, systems and processes in place. Evolve and plan for changing business landscape.
5 . Train and retrain employees. Utilize train-the-trainer (TTT) model to empower your employees to share their knowledge and expertise with others. This is especially effective in larger companies, as it will increase employee engagement and reduce dead time.
What are some common misconceptions businesses have about scaling? Can you please explain?
Operational scaling is expensive, time consuming, linear, one size fits all. Here are some examples:
1) Expecting that the same strategy will work for 10x growth 2) Throwing bodies for manual accounting of revenue, commissions, royalties, etc. due to a lack of automated systems 3) Sell now and account later — Companies face this problem when they’re hyper-focused on growth without the back-end systems to account for increased revenue 4) Expecting the same systems which worked for direct customers will also work for channel partners. Revenue growth through channel partners may require integration of your systems with channel partner systems.
How do you keep your team motivated during periods of rapid growth or change?
Authenticity, transparency, accountability, empathy, integrity — These are not buzzwords, these are my guiding principles. Develop trust through actions based on these guiding principles. Keep an open mind, listen to people, provide guidance as needed, help people see the big picture, help remove obstacles, be honest.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Never give up. The story of King Bruce and the spider has stayed with me since my 2nd grade. It’s a story of courage, resilience, and grit. Life is a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs, wins and losses. The wins gave me the motivation to reach further, losses gave me the resilience, grit, humility, and confidence to shake it off and keep trying. Not a quote but I will add that daily meditation and practicing gratitude keeps me grounded and calm and helps me keep things in perspective.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am so glad you asked this question. I look for win-win in every action. I work with youth in our local community with the goal to incorporate community service in our daily lives, analogous to eating healthy and exercising daily — little bit of effort but amazing benefits. I am an involved parent in our public schools and see a tremendous gap/opportunity to teach our young kids how to incorporate doing good in our daily lives. Would you like to volunteer a few hours towards a good cause? Join us on our mission and help us get to the next level.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me on LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/chanimodi/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Operational Scalability: Chani Modi of VMware On How To Set Up Systems, Procedures, And People To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.