At Connections this year, we’re spotlighting an incredible Trailblazer and long-time Salesforce customer, Ekta Chopra, head of digital at e.l.f. Cosmetics. Ekta leads the technology, ecommerce and direct marketing functions at e.l.f., with a focus on architecture and design, security and compliance, building scalable enterprise solutions, and managing e.l.f.’s direct-to-consumer business and direct marketing strategies.

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Ekta to chat about why she decided to pursue a career in tech, how customer experience is evolving in the retail industry and what it means to drive digital transformation.

e.l.f. Cosmetics will be featured during the opening keynote at Salesforce Connections, the customer engagement event of the year, June 17-19 in Chicago. To join the live broadcast on Tuesday, June 18 at 10 a.m. CT, visit: https://www.salesforce.com/live.  

Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into tech?

I started my journey as a system administrator. I love breaking and fixing stuff, and I wanted to make a career out of that. In college, I was the only girl in both my networking class and my visual basics class, and that made me even more determined to succeed. I wanted to learn more and be at the top of my class—it just gave me this fire! Being in the middle of problems and solving them—aligning technology to a business issue and seeing things come to life—has been my journey. I love to work with organizations that are just starting out, evolving in some way or pivoting their direction. That’s exactly what I was meant to do.

Is that what drew you to e.l.f.?

First and foremost, I was drawn in by the leadership at e.l.f. We have some of the most amazing leaders who have created a culture where everyone wins and loses together. I was really attracted to that. And yes, the opportunity for agile learning and innovation was also a big part of my decision to join the team.

e.l.f. is a digital native. In many ways, we were born online. But over time, digital in this industry has gone beyond ecommerce. Digital is also an ecosystem that is social, with so many connected platforms and data infusing every aspect of the industry. That shift created an opportunity for e.l.f. to change the way we engage with consumers and build deeper relationships with them. And to do that successfully, we had to update our infrastructure. We have a culture that moves really, really fast. Our innovation is rapid and agile—ideas that might typically take months to tackle, we wanted to figure out in a week. We needed a technology platform that could support that, which is one of the reasons we selected Salesforce.

Sounds like a fun environment to work in, where everything is fast-paced and you're able to be agile and come up with new solutions.

That's what I live for! I love an environment where we think of an idea—it doesn't have to be perfect—and we launch it, we learn from it, and then we define it. So we’re continuously improving. If it's a shopping journey and we’re focused on messaging, we can see what works and what doesn't work, and pivot really quickly. I think that’s amazing.

We all talk a lot about digital transformation. Can you tell me what digital transformation means to you?

To me, digital transformation is about breaking everything that worked 10 years ago and rebuilding. That's transformation. And it's not just about technology; digital transformation is a shift in mindset and culture.

More than the technology and tools we use, it's bringing in and training the right people to go through that transformation, infusing data into everything you do, and moving fast. Digital transformation is about letting go of perfection, because it's not going to be perfect. It’s about constantly learning and evolving, because our consumer is changing, and data changes as consumer behaviors shift, and we need to be ready to adapt.

Can you talk about how e.l.f. is using Salesforce?

Everything we do with Salesforce is about the customer. It allows us to really understand their needs and build a connection with them at an individual level. And not just at the point of purchase, but throughout the entire customer lifecycle—which we of course hope is a very, very long time! We use a lot of the Salesforce platform. Commerce Cloud powers the shopping experience online and on mobile, as well as order management. Einstein artificial intelligence helps us predict which products customers are most likely to be interested in and tailor their experience accordingly. Marketing Cloud allows us to communicate with our customers in a personalized way, on the channels of their choice. And all of that data flows into Service Cloud, ensuring that our customer service agents have the information they need to provide a great experience when a customer calls or chats about a question or issue. It’s all about knowing our customers and creating a fully connected experience, and we work closely with the Success Cloud team to accelerate innovation and address key IT objectives.

How has Salesforce helped you in your role?

If I look back to where we were before—it used to take forever to launch a new feature, and we constantly had infrastructure issues. With Salesforce, I don’t have to think about infrastructure issues and I don’t have to compete with Silicon Valley to get the right technology and talent. It’s been an amazing journey for us. We’re able to launch products really quickly, get in-depth reporting and drive business decisions on the fly. My merchants love it, and I love that I can take the experience and spread it globally. We will be able to launch in France, Germany and other places without having to wait a year for the infrastructure.

Does eliminating the infrastructure concern allow you to be more creative?

One-hundred percent. If I think about where the e.l.f. brand is going, it’s all about building an emotional connection with our customers—and that takes time. We have to learn and understand what our customers want and personalize their experiences based on those insights. With Salesforce, we’re able to focus on the right things, including content, how we bring different experiences to life, and testing new experiences like augmented reality.

Can you talk a little bit about how the CIO role has changed?

Absolutely. In the past, creativity wasn’t a huge focus for technologists—they just needed to make the technology work. Now, a technologist can sit in the marketing or in the innovation departments. They don’t have to report into a CFO, they can report directly to the CEO. And in addition to the CIO, you’ve got CTOs, CDOs and CXOs. All of these groups are breaking traditional barriers where technology was meant to do certain things behind the scenes. They’re thinking about the end-consumer more and more, and there are many layers to getting that right, including internal customers, governance and security. It’s is a big challenge, so it’s important that they have a connected ecosystem both internally and externally.

Is there anything you’d like to share about growing up and getting into tech with future Trailblazers?

I want to see more women in tech! From an early age, society fuels these taboos that girls can do certain things and boys can do certain things. And I think that sort of sticks with you throughout your journey. Girls put these restrictions on themselves and end up not pursuing careers in fields traditionally known for men. That’s unfortunate, and we need to break the cycle. I want more women in tech because women have a lot to offer in this industry.