Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

Babson’s New EIR: Tech Entrepreneur & Executive Derek Schoettle Keeps His Eyes on the Horizon

Babson Entrepreneur-in-Residence and CEO of ZoomInfo Derek Schoettle MBA’03 “would kill to be 24 right now.” He keeps going: “Or 22. I’ll go back to 18.” Why? Because the proliferating access to software and skills is making it easier than ever to start a startup, especially in tech, and the rate of innovation is speeding up.

So what’s an emerging entrepreneur to do? Derek says to go for it – or, in his own words, to “run headlong into that rate and pace of innovation and embrace it.”

Derek, the newest Entrepreneur-in-Residence to join us at the Blank Center, is excited to work with Babson’s student entrepreneurs and to share perspective and advice from over twenty years of experience in the tech industry working with companies of all sizes and stages. From emerging companies and starting up, to successful acquisitions and scaling up, he can offer unique insight on both effective entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship.

Driving Innovation From Within

Derek brings to bear not only enthusiasm and energy for tech innovation but also a strategic and disciplined approach. Describing his experience as the Chief Business Officer and GM of the Watson & Cloud Platform at IBM, he attributed his success to the three horizons model, the three horizons being today, the far-off future, and the transition in between. He found this to be an effective platform from which to manage change and to mobilize teams and resources in pursuit of business transformation.

Discipline certainly characterizes Derek’s approach in his current role as CEO of ZoomInfo as well. He is working to take the company from a sales and management product to a highly sophisticated customer engagement platform powered by Artificial Intelligence and data analytics. Cognizant that it is all too easy for tech companies to lose sight of the need that they are filling, he proactively seeks out and synthesizes customer insights.

When he first joined ZoomInfo, he immersed himself in conversations with customers in an initiative he called “50 in 5” – 50 discussions in 5 weeks. The nuance of his process lies not just in how he captures the data, but in how he contextualizes customer insights: He frames feedback within the context of its origin – each specific customer – so that he can better determine next steps and if and how to deploy resources against that feedback.

Derek remains engaged with customer success, saying “I try to listen to customers as much as possible and the outer edge of the organization as much as possible.” And in engaging with the “outer edge” – at ZoomInfo, this is the frontline of individual sales representatives – he empowers them to identify problems and to ideate – or, as we know it at Babson, to be an entrepreneur.

Keeping It Simple

When it comes to finding the way forward, Derek’s advice for student entrepreneurs is the same as for his team at ZoomInfo: Remember what problem you are trying to solve and what goal you are trying to accomplish. “Stop and smell the roses” may be clichéd but it’s memorable for a reason – According to Derek, “All those clichés are true, as is keep it simple.” Derek urges stepping back and prioritizing what’s “most important and really urgent.”

To help him determine his own priorities, Derek has the ultimate sounding board – his family. About his wife of over twenty years and their four kids, he says, “Where I spend my time and energies is where we think there is an opportunity.” This perspective speaks to his own definition of entrepreneurship. Where opportunity and your personal passion meet is, as Derek puts it, “the crucible of entrepreneurship.”

In a recent LinkedIn update, Derek wrote, “Always a good thing when it’s Friday and you wish it were a Monday…” With tech and data intersecting in new ways to yield new opportunities and with Derek’s vision and boundless enthusiasm, we have no doubt that he will continue to entrepreneur on the edge of innovation – or the horizon.