Workday Rising is one of my favorite events of the year. The keynote has become something of a two hander tradition between co-founders Dave Duffield and Aneel Bhusri with inside jokes, gentle industry jabs and a lot of fun mixed in with the serious business of talking up a business that will cross the $1 billion revenue mark this year.
This year was no exception. Usually, Duffield and Bhusri stumble over their lines in the first five to ten minutes. Neither particularly like being on the big stage with Duffield having a particular aversion to large crowds. Not this time. They quickly fell into their routine accompanied by a clever and amusing if slightly cheesy video that misdirected the audience about the origins of the business.
Three features from the show stand out as differentiating it from the more serious and sometime somber affairs we see elsewhere.
First there is Duffield's annual scorecard showing how his portfolio of investments performs against the DOW. He makes a point of noting that his investments are all with Workday customers. Once again, that portfolio outperformed the market which he could, with some justification, suggest is because those businesses are Workday customers. (see image top right)
Second, in Bhusri's address, mention was made of the company investing in the brand. In common with others, Workday is into sports sponsorship. He said:
We choose the people we sponsor based upon what their peers think of them. We want to sponsor nice people.
The unsaid aside is: and if they're winners then that's a bonus. That is highly unusual for a company operating in the ultra competitive enterprise landscape where insults and pointed jokes are sometimes the norm at quarterly earnings calls and where being on the winning team is paramount.
Third, Duffield closed out the keynote with his 'ten ideas that never made it.' Some were silly finger pointing at himself but the number one?
eDay - an auction site that let's customers trade in their old Oracle apps.
The rivalry between Workday and Oracle continues but it is always good to see Duffield go at it with a gentleness that endears him to the crowd and over which is it hard to be offended.
Not to be outdone, Bhusri threw in handful of his own jokes, all of which were telegraphed as 'hot off the press.' I found them incredibly funny given they came from the satirical title The Onion. Apparently some people got a bit bent out of shape over a joke that included reference to the Pope, but then you can't please everyone.
Speaking of crowd, we were told that total attendance was 5,500. Sure, there are plenty of Workday people on the ground plus hordes of exhibitors. But I had no trouble spotting prospective customers. In the financial management keynote, they set out 1,000 chairs. A quick scan across the hall suggested to me there were 800-900 people in the room, both customers and prospects. That's a highly credible number for a company that made its bones in HR administration and which wants to win in finance as well.
Finally, I want to call out the analyst Q&A. Again, as has become tradition, this is a free for all Q&A session but on this occasion I, along with others could not help but note that all but one of the executives on the panel are women. We hear a lot of angst about diversity in the technology industry. It is good to see Workday putting its best and brightest, who happen to be women, into the spotlight. They got very few softballs from the hard noses in the crowd, and dealt with questions in as accomplished a manner as I have come to expect from any Workday executive. (See featured image for this story.)
In an impromptu one-to-one with Betsy Bland who has all financials strategy and management under her wing, I was impressed with the thoughtful answers given to some pretty rough questions - more on that later.
In my next piece, I set out some of the technology highlights, which build up on what was said earlier about Workday 25.
Disclosure: Workday is a premier partner at time of writing and covered most of my travel and expenses for attending the events.