The Exciting Journey of Podcasting: From Curiosity to Global Impact.
Be Wary of Solving a Small, Rare Problem - Des Traynor of Intercom | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Be Wary of Solving a Small, Rare Problem - Des Traynor of Intercom".
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How did you meet your co-founder and decide to get going? Sure. So I was originally a computer science student, and I started a PhD. My PhD was an attempt to see if we could automatically measure how good a programmer is, basically. So put them through a variety of sort of simulated code and ask them to say what the output would be. And we had some really interesting findings from that research. But I got bored. I got bored for two reasons. One is that some of the findings were slightly uncomfortable for some universities, because I was basically saying that, hey, this person you're saying is getting a 65% score. I actually don't think they can program, because they can't tell me what this code outputs. Oh, wow. People don't want to hear that, obviously. Just because they figured out how to take exams well? Yes, precisely. So typically, the way-- and this is true worldwide, I think, the way people in universities would mark a piece of code is they say, all right, we'll give them three points of tip before loop and two points of tip in the if statement. And people just learned that off. So the phenomena is like that template-based marking encourages template-based learning. So people like know what a solution should look like, but they have no idea what it does, right? Which learning off Latin or something. So anyway, I was kind of-- that finding was became more and more comfortable for universities. And as I said, hey, I'd like to do some of these-- I'll study on your students. Here's my hypothesis. They're like, no thanks. So I started writing a blog instead, because that was the alternative to publishing. It was just the right idea stuff. And then I started writing my design and usability. One day, somebody commented on my blog. His name was Owen McCabe. And he was organizing this coffee morning in Dublin City for all the people who worked on the internet, which is a small group. And this is 2006. And I went along. And actually, funny story is I've met Owen for the first time there, who I went on to start Intercom, which I also met my wife for the first time. Really? That same year. Wow. I value. Yeah, it was exactly a good day's work. So I actually went and took a different job with a consultant's siege. And then for one year, me and Owen kind of kept in touch. And then one day, he made me say, I'm starting my own thing. Do you want to get involved? So we started working.
Content Strategy And Marketing
Start with a tool customers will pay for (02:00)
We had an agency called Contrast. It was like a design agency. And then we were following the 37 signals model. We wanted to have a side project that we'd eventually pivot to. So our side project was a tool called Exceptional. It was a Ruby on Rails based error handler. And it was like a alert. Developers and Notify them. Hey, this piece went wrong. And here's who was affected. And that was the normal trajectory. And then one day, we were getting ready for a straight electronic communicator users because we had like thousands and thousands of people using the product. But the product was frequently performed slowly or fall over. And the state of the internet back in 2010 wasn't good. So the infrastructure wasn't there. There was no strike. If we wanted to mail all of our paying customers to apologize for some downtime, it was like, log into the PayPal dashboard. Get an export of all your subscriptions. Run that true some Pearl to extract email addresses. Import the email addresses into campaign monitor email. Chimps send out a notification. Get all the replies and all the auto replies and all that shit back into your own email. Resurrect your email after two hours of going true and trying to fix you. And all of that, we had to do every single time we wanted to say anything to our customers. That was the norm. So one day, we had this little message pop up in the bottom right hand corner of the product thing. Hey, we're sorry we were down yesterday. Here's the changes we made. Read our blog post. And people are like, oh, and we saw a lot of engagement in the blog post, much better than we were already in mail. And then we sort of started to riff from there. Like, well, what if people could reply to us? Like imagine talking to somebody wondering you're using your product and letting them talk back. So we started adding these little bits and pieces of features and the iteration was like, what if we could see everyone who's read the message and everyone who hasn't? That became the basis of what we call an active user list. Like, who's using your product right now? All of this in 2017 is taken for granted, but this did not exist in 2011. And so we started, and then it was like, what if we could send a message to some people, and not all people, what if we could send it at a specific time? Today we call that behavioral marketing automation, but back then we were just like, this just seems like it makes sense. So I remember distinctly reading one comment going, like, I'm not actually much of a fan of your product, but this little chat thing is amazing. We're like, maybe you should all go build that or something like that, right? And like obviously we had been like thinking that a lot, but like it was like the feedback we were getting people to really just push this and push this. So eventually we sold exceptional. We went on to become a part of Rackspace. And then we had this little thing for talking to users. We knew probably how we had no users. So we had to go and build the backend if you like, so that we could give it to other people, so that we would have our own customers, so that we would know. - I was wondering if you were just gonna steal all the users from exceptional and move over, 'cause this was maybe the most asked question for you. - Yes, so the folks who acquired exceptional, they're actually kind enough to use Intercom to push one last message out, to sort of say, hey, we're the new owners, like, we're here, we're great, we're gonna love you for the rest of your lives, et cetera. If you're curious what happens to the old gang, they're off working on this thing called Intercom, go check it out. And it was like July 1st, 2011, we got to like the top of Hacker News for like, you know, Intercom, like a cool new product or whatever. And the engagement on that trend, I still read it out then, it was just gonna, that was the first one, I was like, I knew the other people had this problem. - And was that the HN, was that your first push for signups? - Yeah, pretty much. So we had like a reasonable sort of contact list from people who had used our previous products, people who we knew from conferences, or people who had read our old blog. So we had an audience of sorts, and we, my job in New York today is just like literally mailing people every day, and we're like, here's what Intercom could look like inside your product. Do you wanna give it a try? One by one, literally one by one, we were onboarding people. If they said yes, they'd jump on a Skype call with our CTO care on heat walk, and treat installation, like this is like, this is what it took back then, like one by one, we were winning customers. And then once we felt we had a relatively smooth, kind of flow, we were like, well, let's tell the world and see what happens. - Okay, 'cause you guys have made a giant content push. Was that going on previously with the other company? - Yeah, so when we were consulting, content was the way we would try and get attention, so we could attract clients, and then later on it grow a user base for exceptional, but when Intercom was very, it was, we knew we were good at it. I specifically was my job, so I was like, right, well, the Intercom, today we're a lot more polished in terms of saying what we're actually selling, but back then it was just like, we need cool startup folks to read this, and then if we can win their trust, then we'll be like, hey, try and song this.
Intercom Content Strategy (06:05)
And that was like the very common question, I guess, what was the basis of your content strategy? And I'm like, right, shit, startup people read, and then try and tell them about your product every now and then. That was what we did. I think I wrote 93 of the first 100 posts. And it was all like, here's a grow a user base, here's how you should think about funding, here's how you should name your product. It was just anything that we felt, we had a bit of expertise in. We'd sort of write a post around it, and every now and then we would like, oh, here's something else we added to Intercom. - Yeah, because that's a critical understanding that we could blow right past. So many people in their content just try and do sales pitches over and over, and it never works, and they can't figure out why. - Yeah, it's my number. Like, basically you're totally correct. A lot of people's attempt at content marketing is, I want Intercom's user base, so they blog, so I just need to write about my product all the time. Whereas we actually took very much, it's content first, marketing second, right? So the content has to be good. So the advice I'd give people is usually like, think about who your actual and target user is, and think of all the problems in their life that you can help them with. And then try to help them as much as you can. And then every now and then hopefully, if you're ideally aligned, your product also solves one of their problems for Intercom. It's usually like, you want to grow your web app, or you want to grow your user base. We can do that. But we know to get your attention, we have to plan to money seeds. So we'll talk about design, we'll talk about product, we'll talk about product strategy. We'll talk about tech news, whatever makes sense to us. We'll talk about it as long as the criteria we have is generally it should be like timeless content, it should always be roughly true. And that's how we have very, very big readership of our blog today, and it's one of our, it is our dominant traffic source. But that wasn't true for the first 100 posts.
TALK ABOUT POST AUTHORSHIP (08:16)
- Well, I was wondering, were you punching above your weight at that time? Did it feel weird writing these kind of authoritative posts? - So I think it definitely did not feel weird. I think like the reason I would say I felt confident to do it is because we, it was never, I was never trying to say like, here's how you, you know, like, here's a scale of 100 million dollar error or company or whatever. And I hate when people try to do that. We were always talking about like, you know, all of our experiences were based on the two products we had run intercom and exceptional. And it was like the lessons that we had learned. So I was always careful to kind of qualify like, hey, like we're at 6,000 active users. We were at zero four months ago. I can talk to you about the zero to 6,000 thing. I think that's relatively safe. - Yeah. - So, and then like the areas where maybe it was, you know, slightly more, if we talk about branding or say how to name your company or like how to think about your product vision, yeah, there are definitely better people in the industry but they're not fucking writing these posts. - So we're watching "Ask Do You Want Us" - At that time, did you consider yourself a strategist? - No, no, I consider myself like a startup person if you don't want to be like a man.
OK, SO YOU'RE NOT A STRATEGIST (09:15)
- 'Cause you were CS undergrad, right? - Yeah, yeah, computer science, yeah, for sure. - Okay, so were you the CTO at the time? - No, no, so I was a computer science undergrad. I'm like all of the founders of the computer science but our CEO and I moved into design as our career. I was like a UX designer, you know, usability testing, interaction design, that sort of stuff. Own was primarily a visual designer and then we had two or two engineers just like personally built the front end of Intercom, like that little messenger piece and then our CTO basically owned the rest. - Okay, gotcha.
JESSE'S SHIFTING ROLES AT INTERCOM (09:55)
Because I was curious about what your role has been throughout the process, like how has it shifted and were we talk before you were on camera? Like it's already shifting again. - It will always shift. I, you know, I do kind of go to wherever the biggest problem that I think I can help with is. That's kind of what usually attracts me. It's like, you know, I want to Intercom to be a world-class company and wherever I see areas where I think I can help level up, I'll jump in. In the very early days, I worked, you know, my, I sort of tree jobs like work with own on kind of company vision strategy, that sort of stuff. I work with Kieran and David on what they're actually building day to day and then basically talk to users and, you know, trying to help people find out about Intercom. So that was blogging that was like, you know, I used to do webinars at like, you know, 7 p.m. in the evening and then for people over here. I just do like live here. Let me talk to you about anything to do with the product. Like it was anywhere I was needed, but in the early days, it was very much like, was working on what we're building and then trying to tell people about it. And then as we grew, we brought in like more senior product folk and then, and then at some point, maybe around 25 people, I was like, right, product looks like it's in a good place. What's the next biggest thing? And what turns out we had no customer support at this time? Like I was also doing a bit of that and we had maybe one or two people. So, so I jumped on customer support. I worked with Jeff, his director of support still today and built that team. And there's other teams that came along since then. We had maybe like people up. So it was the next thing, then we're a bit bit of recruiting, we're the next thing. And then about two years ago, it was marketing. So, you know, we kind of got to a point where like, we think intercom was definitely the product that we got in our place. We would, we'd love to like kind of refine our ideas about like how we bring it to market, how we describe it, how we explain what it is, what our relationship with the media, how do we pay for advertising and all that sort of stuff. So that's what we've been working on for two years. And as you said, you know, there'll be future problems I'm sure. - But it's so cool 'cause so rarely founder shift roles in like entirely separate categories, right? It's very common when you start a company to like start doing everything and then focus. But to shift roles between groups is different. How do you learn those skills? - Yeah, I, that is a good question. And I do agree it's not like, it's not the default thing.
HOW DO YOU LEARN A NEW (12:03)
Usually you find your corner and you stay in it like for a very good reason, it's what you're gonna. I think like two years ago, I was, when I was starting a marketing, I felt a little intimidated because marketing itself, it's not really like, there's no real like marketing one out one sort of thing. There's no like marketing for don't be used. There's no like pickaxe book for marketing, you know. - Well, it's less quantifiable than like, - Yeah, this code runs or this code doesn't run. - Precisely.
SKILLS HOW DO YOU LEARN (12:28)
And if I said here, name somebody who's good at marketing and you're not let's say Apple, like everyone's opinion is kind of different, right? So, I'm like, I'm frankly like marketers don't really like write money articles about how to think about things or how you structure things. You know, I've talked maybe 50 different VPs of marketing at this point about how they're marketing or structured.
How to think about marketing (12:40)
And they're all different. Like very, like not just different as new, you put one person up but like, substantially different. Like even like in terms of like, sometimes brand design is inside, sometimes it's outside, sometimes communications reports to CEO, sometimes reports to a partner marketing, you know, all of that's different. So I did find it quite intimidating early on. And more so than the other areas where I felt there was a lot of literature and there's a lot of best practices. Marketing was a challenge. And the way I actually kind of learned was like, I did get connected to great companies and basically sit and learn and absorb and see what worked and what didn't. And then I wouldn't say like I kicked out some marketing and intercom wider. I've made plenty of mistakes there as well, fundamentally based on misunderstanding what roles will work, what types of people will work, what approaches will work. So there has been, you know, I definitely know a lot more today and I feel like today I'd feel justified in applying for a marketing job somewhere. - We're writing a marketing blog post. - Yeah, for sure. But two years ago, I was aware of two things. I was aware that like, you know, we tried hiring marketers and we hadn't worked out well. So I figured at the very least if I could learn enough to know what good looks like, that'd be great, you know. - Were there a couple of rules that you've kind of maybe learned just through experience over the past couple of years that you could share? - About rules of marketing? - Yeah, I guess there's definitely like principles I've just picked up over time. One is like the, you know, the general narrative about marketing is people will tell, well the engineers approach to marketing is like, we're gonna hire a marketer and they're gonna find a keyword so that our CAC LTV positive, that is the customer acquisition cost is that's in the LTV and we're gonna dump all of our $50 million into that and it's gonna spit out $100 million. And like basically that never happens, right? And I really like, someone's gonna be like, I'm sorry, I have one case, it never happens for all intents and purposes. So I think like, whenever you have someone promising you that, it's usually absolute horseshit. Then the next, I guess, let me just take, let's see, so aside from that, the next piece I think is understanding how people buy your product is more important than selling your product, if you know what I mean. So one big eye opener for me was that like, some people come shopping for intercom. Some people come shopping for a chat widget on our website. Some people come looking for a solution to their growth challenges, all right? And they're all actually looking for intercom. And what I mean is like, there are various levels of abstraction, various ways people can buy your product. So like, I think a lot of times companies get sucked into selling their product one particular way. And maybe they pick one of those things and like we are live chat. It's like, yes, you're live chat. And some people know that they need live chat as in. They've gone to the doctors, they've gotten the diagnosis, and they're like, we need live chat. - And they talk to their friend and their friend. - Yeah, totally. - And like, so you have this brand one, which is like your friend says, installing intercom. - Yeah. - Then you have this like, maybe, you know, you've changed marketing leaders. And like, hey, we need live chat. And so I thought worked in the old place. And they're like, okay, now you're shopping for live chat. So we need to be in that shopping for live chat. Then we have people who are like, hey, I've just joined a new company. And one of the challenges is actually, we're not converting leads in our homepage. Now, at this point, like, should they install optimizes? Should they install intercom? Should they redesign our homepage? Should they hire a better designer? We're now in a much bigger fight, but we still need to put our hand up and say, hey, that's actually a business problem we can affect too. So I think like one of the big lessons for us in intercom has been like learning to be able to like, to put our hand up in all of those different shopping journeys. So like, that was like one, whenever I speak to other people who are maybe like earlier on in the marketing career, and they're looking for guidance, typically what they find is like, inter-Google advertising, they're bidding on their own company name. And I'm like, that's cool, but that's actually not where to, that's not what people are shopping for, right? - Well, it's a challenge that we have at YC, like for people in the tech industry who know they want to do an accelerator, like the likelihood that they know what YC is is pretty high. And we can convince them to do YC possibly.
Appealing to diverse groups of customers (16:44)
- Then there are other people that have no idea what a startup is or have this vague notion we have to speak to them as well. - And so what strategies do you guys use to appeal to that type of person or each of those people without alienating the others? - Yes, so this is kind of a core of how we think about it. So when you have somebody who say is, obviously YC has a brand, right? So some people just shop for YC, and maybe you're so dominant, you don't even need to bid on that because they're gonna find you anyway, but also like, in some sense, there is no substitute, right? As you take a step back, like some people just want the money, right? And so I'll take YC, I'll take Techstars, I'll take 500 startups, whatever, right? And now you're into an actual brand war. And now the question is, should you bid on 500 startups the keyword, right? Should you try and say we are better? And here's why we are better than them. If you're shopping for both, come check this out, right? That's like the sort of competitive angle to marketing, right? And if you can pull that off, you now get to like compete for all the superset of the traffic, not just the YC shop, but anymore, right? And then you have the people who have a startup and they don't know if they want money or not, in which case, now these people aren't Googling, right? They're not going, you know, hypothetically, if I was to start a startup, what I want, you know, like that, you know-- - We've done that long search term. - Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You'd be the only person bidding on it, and that'd be you testing it, like, you know. So like, basically what happens is like the amount, the size of the, it's getting bigger each time, right? There are more people who are thinking about starting a startup than there are people looking for YC today, right? - Yeah. - So, but at the same time, like your likelihood of conversion is going down, right? It is, you know, some looking for YC is gonna convert somebody who's like thinking about taking incubator money, they might not convert, your pitch needs to be more all inclusive at the sort of far side. So you can't, you can't start, if I'm saying, "Hey, I'm thinking about "taking some incubator money," you can't start with, "Well, 12 weeks, you're gonna have dinners with founders. "We had Joel Spolsky and last," you know, "I need to be like, whoa, talk to you about "the concept of incubation, first of all, "get me buying that thing first, "and then I'll learn why you're best," right? So for intercom, like what that looks like is, we need to convince you that you should care about your customers, right?
Getting leads via content marketing (18:50)
If you care about your customers and you care about the value of a customer relationship, we can get people on board with that, and we're like, "Okay, we've built OneBridge." The next bridge we'd like to talk to you about is why messaging is a great way to build a relationship. So, none of these pitches individually convert, right? They're all like, this is where people are like, "Why the fuck do you write this shit, Des?" And I'm like, so you have like, so you write a whole piece that's effusive, but my messaging is the future. I'm messaging your customers, it's important. You're like, "Okay, so I get the relationships are important. "I get the messaging builds relationships." And I'm like, "Okay, cool." Now that you get, now they talk to you about intercom is messaging, and our philosophy to messaging. And you see, you have sort of this cascading series of thought leadership, you sort of style ideas that bring you from, in our world, like I would like to grow a big user base, all the way through to I need intercom yesterday. And in your world, I might be like, "I'm curious about incubator cash." And you wanna catch them at that point, and maybe the blog post you're right there is like, how to think about early financing, or maybe it's like, why you should move to the valley, or whatever it is, and you wanna catch them at that point. And then you can walk them down the logical path where like, there's obviously no other choice why on earth wouldn't you go, or why see, right? And that's the actual approach that we've played out in intercom, and not retrospectively, I can tell you that has been our content marketing strategy, but we didn't start with the thinking wasn't that crisp at the start. - No, and are you tracking someone throughout this journey?
Benefits of nonreproducible marketing (20:14)
- Kind of, we're not doing a great job on that, to be honest, we will get there. We've just made some good new hires in marketing who will kind of improve that sort of side of things. But we do know like that, yes, we can see that we have a main amount of repeat readers we have, and we can see the most popular articles, and we can see the articles that convert most. Now, like this is exactly where like the, maybe slightly more Fisher Price approach to marketing would be like, hey, yes, I've noticed the piece about intercom's new messenger converts a lot. Why don't you write a lot more of those posts? And it doesn't actually work that way, right? You have to do the warm ups to get them to there. So I think that's like a, that's the piece that people don't necessarily get. Like in general, the marketing world is one where you move from like, this is really hard to attribute on a cost a lot of money down to like, okay, we spent seven cents and it kicked us, right? But that whole thing is a spectrum. And you have to be willing to do the unattributable things and let them, you know, to kind of grow awareness, whatever, and then on the far side, yes, the attributable stuff, which looks really, really successful works. But if you only do that, everything suffers. So one example, I have a friend who basically he ran like paid marketing for a very, very big sort of sports gambling firm and he kicked out of one year. He ran all those campaigns phenomenally well. CEO looks at like sort of the brand spend and looks at the online digital attributable spend and CEO says, hmm, I'm gonna give you all the budget 'cause you're doing his performance. So next year, what happens? So he's got all the budget per brand person's got nothing. So you go absolutely batshit heavy on like spending everything you can. But all your conversion rates are dropping. You're like, what's going on here? And it turns out that your conversion rates are dropping 'cause you don't have the same brand penetration that you did. And like this is why like you need to like think about this thing holistically. You need to ask yourself, are we building the brand? Are we creating the right brand resonance and relevance that we can cash in on? 'Cause the cash in on, I don't wanna say it's easy. It's an absolute expertise, but it sits on a platform of work that has to be done before it. The only exception is when you've got like a fast moving consumer good, right? Like if you're like selling share heads on Facebook or something like that, it's like just target people who say the word share or hit them hard. You know, we don't need to like, you know, we don't need to create this whole big sort of a movement around sharing, people already share it. You know, like, but yeah, most of us, it's best specifically in our industry, we're not selling fast moving into words. And we're not selling necessarily obvious things either. Like it's not a given that you have to install like a podcast plugin or anything. - Well, so that was a thing I was literally dealing with this morning before we met up. There's an issue with one of the audio files and a podcast I'm editing. And I don't know the word for what's going wrong with it. - I know there must be some effect that I can apply to fix it, but I don't even know what the fucking word is. And I'm sure that's the case with Intercom. I'm sure that's the case with YC. And so like, we have to figure out what the synonyms are.
Finding the moments (23:17)
- Totally, people don't know they need it yet, right? Like, and yeah, it's precisely. And the data marketing principle I'd say is like, you can't sell somebody in the solution until they've bought the problem, right? So like me trying to pitch you on like the audio worker or whatever the hell it is you need until you have that problem, you're not even, you don't give a shit, right? So like, so finding those moments is really, is a really important challenge as well. And like, and then as you said, like the synonyms just casting a wide net. So it's like 10 ways to describe a problem for like Intercom, it could be like retention is suffering or it could be like, we need to accelerate user growth or it's like, how do we maintain user growth? Or it's like, how do I influence customer engagement? They're all actually looking for the same thing, which might be like, I want to speak to my users but at specific times to get them to take the right action so that they can move forward. They're all shopping for the exact same thing but they have a million different ways to describe it. And we need to be there and put our hand up for every single one of those and not just like point them to, this is the other mistake people make, pointing them at like, all right, so I got the bid term, I'm going to point them at the homepage. That doesn't work 'cause if someone says, I want to onboard my users better because onboarding conversion rates are per and we're like, yeah, we can bid on all that, we know we're good on all that. But if we point you to intercom.com, we're going to say, we're an all-in-one marketing platform. We're a mission is to make internet business person here. Wait, wait, wait, back, back, back, sorry. Hang on, I thought I was onto something there. We actually need to be like, you want to onboard, you're in the right place. And at that point, intercom isn't actually the big deal. We're just like, let's just keep the message about onboarding here. Let me hold your hand and walk you through how we're going to help you with the onboarding problem. And I'll be like, okay. And at the very end of all, you'll be like, oh, by the way, this whole thing, intercom. That's it at work supporting you. - So a lot of people wanted you to talk about product. How do you think about all this content marketing effort in the context of your product shifting and evolving over time? Like how do you merge those two things if intercom is known for one thing? And you have this whole history and all this SEO around that. When your product starts shifting, how do you think about it? - So as long as, basically, every product, I've often said like, product and marketing and code and design are all like, they're all renderings of the same core idea. So to give you an example, one core idea in intercom is like sending the right message to the right person at the right time and the right place. And we have Ruby code that does that. And we have a designed screen called the campaign editor that does that. And I have a blog post that does this and I have a whole conference talk that I do this as well. They're all carrying the same message in different ideas. So at the core of every one of our products, educate, respond and engage, we have these core ideas and we have loads of different ways to sort of talk about them, case studies on how they help, why it matters, what the big vision for the beach is. And as we've evolved our product, we've had to like bring more ideas into the fold. At the very core like intercom, we're about making internet business personal. So as long as we can never bring something in that is the opposite of that, right? But we can certainly have a collection of ideas that we can represent. So when we bring, so we launched a new product in December of last year called Educate. And it was basically, it's our take on a knowledge base for like basically offering product, to be offering educational content to your customers. And what that meant was, I sit down with Martin and he'll be like, all right, well, we need to work out what are the core ideas here. And right, events, what can we do in terms of events, content, what are we gonna do, books, are we gonna do books, how are we gonna get to some of the podcasts, what are the landing pages for this, what are all the different ways people bid on this, you know, media, how are we gonna talk to the press about this, you know, and you're kind of looking for like everyone, here's the core idea, you're all welcome to take your own lens or your own flavor of it, but we all need to push on this idea. And so the bad things happen I think when either your product, sorry, your product and your marketing are out of sync. So it's in current PicoCoo's, I see, oh, she always says, build what you sell, sell what you build. If you're not doing both of those things, you're in fucking trouble basically, right? But similarly, I think, so that's the first challenge.
Building And Selling Products
Build what you sell, sell what you build (27:08)
If we're selling onboarding and you think you're building like auto mailing, we're in trouble, right? And then similarly, the piece that I think a lot of startups and we've had to like fight to get this right, is making sure that your brand is also resonant with the same ideas. So I often think of, you know, Michelin, the people who do Michelin Star Restaurant. - Sure, yeah. - You know, it's a tire company. - I do, yeah. - So like, I often think like that's like, orthogonal brands in a lot of ways. Like no one finishes their meal and goes, ooh, I'm gonna buy some tires, you know? Like, I do worry, I see a lot of startups, like, specifically people who choose folks who try to copy say something like say, Stripes brand, and like, we want to be cool with developers too. And they're like, that's great, but you're selling an online writing app. Developers aren't your thing, you know? - They don't care. - But they have this really cool tech blog, and like, but that's literally, it's not against what you're doing, but it's just totally worth it. It's just like, it just, it also happens to happen at the same time.
Does this make business more personal on the internet (28:07)
It's not helping you at all, right? - Well, how do you think about product in that way then? Because obviously you guys are a big company now. You could release a ton of products. - Yes. - How do you figure out like what's gonna resonate with your customers and your brand? - So at the very, very start, we've kind of, we set our stall out to say, we're, our mission is to make internet business personal, right? So at the very core, anytime we have to like, make a decision about what are not we doing product, we ask ourselves, does this make business more personal on the internet, right? So you can sort of say, like, would we release a tool that made it easy to spam people you'd never talked to before? Well, no, because that's totally opposite. Would we release a tool that lets you stream soccer live to your mobile phone? No, because that's not-- - I didn't read that in an interview though. - Yeah, I wish you would be working on it. - Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. But like, so like, that's kind of our core sort of guardrail for like the product is just basically, it does it do that. And then what in there, like, then we have other like, sort of, you know, let's say rubrics for like, what's the next most important way we could tackle the impersonality of digital business, right? And so we kind of move through like that. But, and you know, the, you know, every change we make in product has to trigger changes in product marketing, product design, you know, brand, content marketing, sales, et cetera. - Yeah. - So you do have to have this sort of like inside out sort of thing where like at the very core, we decide, all right, we're now also gonna do like, push notifications. All right, well, why are they personal? Okay, well, it's expand from there, right? And it has to weep out into everything. Otherwise your product, your marketing, and your brand get out of sync, and that's when bad things happen. And really, truly bad things.
Guard rail for hiring (29:47)
- So we've talked about this in the context of hiring and growth, right? Because you like, you become out of sync, and then it kind of expounds, or rather goes exponentially. - Yes. - If you start hiring the wrong people. - Yeah, totally, yeah. It's so easy to, yeah, the point I make exactly in a, in sort of hiring is like, if you hire one person who's not on the same page, they're, and you let them hire people, they're gonna hire more people who are in the same page. And next thing, you have whole wings of the company working against you in bad ways. And they don't think they're being malicious. They think they're helping, but, you know, sometimes they can be doing the exact wrong thing, but more often they're just doing something that's literally not helping. So it's not hurting, but it's just, they may as well not be doing it. - Right, it's not working. - Yeah, whatever, yeah. - Playing games. How do you guard against that? - Alignment is like, I think it's like doing, so we had a big event here two nights ago inside Intercom. It's like our blog on tour, we had like I said, a few people, and one of the talks, I was made it gave, it was all about keeping people aligned. I think like, basically like the things that, you know, that when companies go through these really fast growth periods, there's a few things that always, always get left behind. One of them is like new hire onboarding. So like, person number five joining a four person company has like full access to everyone and basically, absolute immersion therapy, right? They learn everything by osmosis. Person number 66 joining a 65 person company gets access to treat people, each of whom have been there less than a year, right? It's not the same thing. But almost always no one's designed it any differently. So they're just like, oh well, you know, so the logical conclusion is that the company goes off course. So we invested, and like we made versions of this mistake, you know, quite a lot of nearly this. - Yeah. - Today we obsess over new hire onboarding. Like when I leave here, I'll be headed back to Dublin, like Tuesday morning, like that's all I'm doing, it's just meeting people and letting them know like, what are we doing, you know, what are we actually doing here? Why are we doing it? Why do we care? What's in the room space? Why is it monetuous? How do we do it? Like how do we actually work? Like how does work happen at Intercom? - In certain practical terms, this means a one-on-one meeting with you just talking. - Yeah, it starts, it'll be a combination of sort of, first of all, so it's a bunch of new hires. It'll be a presentation for me about like walking through up to see everything. And then it will be one on one meetings and then it'll be, you know, we'll take it from there, you know, 'cause they're not all reporting to me in this case. So they'll then be with their manager to kind of keep that going. But it's like, I would say that I still believe that we're probably not even doing enough, but I think most companies don't do enough. Like they don't really don't think about what's the experience of being person number 397 at your company. And then they act somehow shocked and like, I can't believe they thought it was okay to ship that. You're like, well, show me the guardrails that stopped. They're like, you know, how on earth were they supposed to work that out? - Yeah, absolutely. And yeah, you can't like really blame them. I mean, we do it. We need to do a better job here as well. - Andy Cook asked a question related to this.
The biggest challenge with scaling (32:46)
So in addition to hiring, what has been the biggest challenge with scaling the organization? - Yeah, I guess like there's a few ones that have, you know, they're probably more typical, but like when eventually you end up hiring into areas that you don't understand well. - Yeah. - And your best bet at that point is to kind of like, go find somebody who you think is doing a good job at it. But you know, it's still a version of the same flawed logic, which is I think I can work this out. - Right. - You know, they wrote a blog post about this. - So they probably know it all, right? Like, you know, it's the sum of a version of that. And it's very easy when you're dipping your toes in areas that you really don't understand to basically be bullshitted. I think specifically in marketing and sales land, this is more common marketers on sales. People are good at marketing to you and selling to you. So if you've never hired a sales person before, don't be shocked if the first person that comes to you sells you on the rolls. Like that's, you know, it's obvious in hindsight sort of thing. But I think like, you know, it's genuinely tough to break outside of your own area of expertise and hire well there, but like you will learn it, but it just, it takes longer and you don't get the same immersion that you did from like say, studying computer sciences and what that. So that's definitely one. I think we probably more than other companies. We started with two offices. So in some sense, we never had to deal with it. You know, with the like, oh my God, there were two offices where we were always two. But that's been a challenge. Like working out like the right head can sit in the right places. We now have four offices. We're in like Dublin, London, San Francisco, in Chicago. And we're sort of spread. And it makes some things really tricky. Like today we had like a show and tell sort of thing wherever and everyone who works on any sort of aspect. Anyone who's an anything show, basically they kicked us. They had closed a great sales deal, built a great piece of product or whatever. They all line up to present. But like orchestrating that is so hard across all the time zones, across all the offices. It's just it's it's far from easy. And you have to do these sort of sort of little rituals to keep the whole company on the same page. But maintaining that is it's hard. And it was hard for us to raise our today. We can spend a lot of money on video conferencing and shit like that. But early on it was rough. Do you spend money like flying people around to hang out with each other? You do like any kind of everyone comes together. We haven't done a sort of all company all hands. I think in like two and a half, three years. But we definitely do like versions of it. So any team that's distributed will always come together once once to four times a year, depending on the type of team. OK. Then like leadership level and exactly what level we do. Like six times a year or something. So like there's versions of it like for for me, what that means is if I get on flight number EI 147, everyone knows me. Because we're like, oh, yeah, which is never like, you know, you don't want to be like on four square, like the mirror of the lounges in the airport and all that. But like, say la vie. Yeah.
What has been really hard for you personally (35:37)
What hasn't worked out? What's been really hard for you personally? I think marketing has been tough. The stuff I've really struggled with is hiring senior leaders in a function where you don't understand it well is tough. It's a big challenge. And they're never bad people. Like they're always at this point. When you're going shopping for like directors and senior directors and VPs, you're only really talking to accomplished people. So like it's not like you get them in and it turns out they don't know how to write code or something. Like it's like it's very much the feedback period to order an author's strategy is correct for the company. It can be six months to a year, which is, you know, which is long. The impact if they're going the wrong direction can be negative because you have to bet on them, which means you have to like, impair them to hire, impair them to do everything that they need to do, impair them to spend the budget, et cetera. And then you get to find out like in quite a while if all this pays back. So I think like it's the piece that's hard. I actually don't think I've made that money mistakes per se, but I've just paid quite an emotional tax of just kind of a great degree of like fear and anxiety in the recruiting process. And then like, I guess, honestly post-hierly, you're kind of like, well, you know, I need to do everything I can to make this a success. So I think that's genuinely like, that's something I've struggled with. Learning a lot of people's stuff has been hard. Like so learning how to like ensure that we actually have a good policy for say performance management. I think those conversations and even on podcasts like this, it's easier for me to not talk about stuff, but like, yes, of course, the companies have to fire people and do all sorts of stuff. Totally, yeah. No one ever wants to hear it, of course, but like, I think, you know, getting to a place where you understand that these things should be like openly discussed and like, you know, professional conversations by people who know what they're doing. Getting there like genuine, I think every startup I talk to, it takes them way too long. And I think, you know, if I was to do it all again, of course, you'd be more familiar, but like, but I think, you know, there's a lot of obvious pitfalls that I, and yet I don't think you necessarily preempt every mistake. As in, even if I told somebody who's just starting to first start up, here's everything I know about this. Like, some of it's kind of like, yeah, that doesn't apply to me. And they're not gonna, you know, you know, it's back to that point of saying, you're like, you're not gonna buy it at a solution until you've bought the problem. And, you know, I'm trying to force feed them like, you know, yeah, yeah.
Podcast / books that helped (37:59)
- Were there any books or anything? 'Cause I feel similarly, like, so many people have given me advice and I've had to fall into the hole myself before I could really learn it. But were there any, you know, books or podcasts that really helped you figure out how to manage people better? - Rans has a book called "Managing Humans." And I thought that was, it's written entirely in story form. So it's not, it's not preachy. It's not like, it's not like here's, like, you know, it's very much like here's stories from his time. Now, I'm sure the writer, Faker, embellished or modified to protect the innocent. But it's written in a very sort of conversational tone where it kind of reminds me of the hard thing about hard things with Ben Harvitz, but like it's every story, they're almost like fortune cookies when you think about it from saying, like, shit, I have been in that situation or where I put somebody in that situation or I was that guy. And I think like it's a great book for that reason. I think at the very least what it does, what I see it do, like the first time I do is it opens their eyes to the idea that there's more going on to managing than just being really good at engineering. You know, like they realized there's an actual whole craft here that they need to perfect to be, to take the next steps in their career. And I think it's a great book for that. But it's also a book you, I think the third time you read it, you probably start picking up better lessons than you did the first time. - Okay.
Product Environment And Growth
Appraising the Product Environment = What Unique Thing are you Saying (39:19)
And so just to shift gears back to the product. - Yeah, cool. If someone is just getting started out, like what do you advise them on thinking about product? Just framing the entire company. - Yeah. - Where do you have them start? - I guess, like, I've always sort of said like startups and you need a strong vision. So you do, like, it's hands fluffy and known, you know, people want to start writing code on day one, but there's a sense that you need to have a good, strong sense of purpose for your company. And it's so important for hiring and for keeping everyone in line and stuff as well. You need to have everyone in the same page. You need a page, you know? So I think, like, oftentimes, I think people start maybe two or three steps down the path. So they might say, like, you know, a lot of people email themselves to do is, I'm gonna fix that. And I'm like, okay. I can see how you might've had a brilliant idea, like specifically around that. But it's kind of like, what's the bigger landscape that this sits in? Like, are you trying to change productivity? You know, what's your, what do you believe in productivity that no one else believes? And I'm like, oh, I believe it shouldn't be siloed or I believe it should be a part of every day life or I believe that you shouldn't be able to take on more than one thing at a time, whatever. I'm like, okay, well, so then so we're gonna form the basis of a philosophy for you and your problem domain. And then we'll work out what pieces do you think you can uniquely productify, if you know what I mean? Like, you know, it's in program and, you know, codify. And then that will form the basis of your product. And maybe that happens to look like your tool that looks like an email client, but it's actually to-do list maybe. But like, let's take a step back first. So that's kind of the first conversation I try to have is kind of like, let's just appraise the whole environment here and work out what unique thing are you saying. And like, when people pitch me on like a new wetter app or whatever, I'm like, but like, what's your belief about wetter? And they're like, well, I just think they all look ugly. And I'm like, okay, so you believe that beautiful wetter will do what? And they're like, I just like design a wetter ops. And I'm like, I thought that's what it was. - Awesome. So like, maybe you shouldn't be raising around. So that's the kind of the base, the platform, Denim. - Yeah.
Bigger problems or more frequently recurring problems are better"" (41:28)
The next piece I would say to people is like, you have to find, you know, be really wary of solving a small, rare problem. You can solve a big problem. You can solve a rare problem. Sorry, you can solve a small problem, fine. A rare problem, fine. But small and rare is just, it's never works. I've never, and these products can be effing beautiful, right? But what I mean by this is that basically like, problems in life are bigger, small. Okay, a big problem might be like, hey, me and seven of my friends want to book a group holiday to Alaska and we have to do blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And this is a whole big project. I'm only gonna do it once a year, but it's a big enough thing. Okay, fine. You can probably build a product around that and probably make some money. 'Cause there's enough value. It's a big enough problem in your life that if we can fix it, you'll pay some money. Or we'll take some commission or something, right? So that's the size spectrum. Then there's things that happen every year or things that happen every day. And the things that happen every day, typically like you'll have a lot of engagement. So the product will bury its way into your life. However, if you're assuming that no one really cares about that often, sorry, no one really cares about and they don't have that problem that often. Let's say over the last two years, there was a large amount of apps that are all now defunct. They were saying, you know what I'm marking and drilling in split-up as tweets? We'll help you do that. And they designed these typographically stunning products. As in anyone who looks at this up like, yes, that is a beautiful product. It's a perfect piece of product. It solves a very rare problem that is very small in nature. And that's the extreme case. But there are versions of this like, you can imagine a load of B2B things that happen occasionally and not that big of the old. Then on the other extreme, you've got like problems that occur all the time and are pretty big. Workplace communication. You know, charging your customers money. Talking to your customers, right? It's like a big problem. And you do it every all the time. They're like the places where like the Slack stripes and intercoms, whatever can play. Like it's like, it creates that sort of, you know, no one ever, you know, no one ever, you know, threatens to like, idly like, oh, I guess we're gonna change platform provider or whatever, payment provider. It's like, no, you're not. - You're locked in. - Yeah. So like, you know, that's the next piece, which is I think people can, and you know, intercom might have been responsible for the most. I think we, we deified products so much that people just thought if you have a great product, that's it. I'm like, the product itself will match with a problem. That's great products match problems. Doesn't match with a big problem or a frequent problem or ideally a big frequent problem. That's the next big test. I think a lot of startups fall down there when they're like, oh, we sync your Facebook to your Instagram and we can do X and ZOI and then it spits out a shop if I happen. I'm like, yeah, I just don't see it being a problem that often in someone's life. So, so that's the kind of the next wave. And the sort of like little flossies I'd say is like, like if you're going to charge it, not a lot of money, it needs to be self-serve and it needs to be entirely frictionless for the users. And I see that people get what I call fake traction where like they hand hold a lot of the early customers, like doing the like the YC famed, like call us an install type thing, but they actually don't have a bridge towards a world where that isn't necessary.
Take money not credit cards"" (44:18)
And I'm trying to say like, if you're going to spend 30 minutes talking to every single customer needs install and you've no bigger picture as to how you're not going to be necessary, you need to be charging more than $9 a month. - Yeah. - And that's just, you know, it sounds obvious, but you'll find a lot of people like who have a very high, let's call like adjusted customer acquisition cost, right, when you factor in the founder involvement a lot, they have a high CAC and they literally have no plan to get away from it. And yet they have traction because they can point to like the nine grand a month to make you. - They're working. - Yes, exactly. But it's just, it's not scalable, you know. That's another sort of dangerous area I feel is that people can, and in another example, this might be like, my product's kind of good, but I actually layer in a lot of free consulting time with me, right? So like this is like, hey, I've built a way to, you know, automatically email your customers. And as part of the service, I'm going to jump in and write all your emails. And I'm like, well, that's what people are buying you. You're consulting. Like, no, I'm not a software provider. I'm like, that's not how it works. - Yeah, it's dangerous. - Dangerous, yeah. What about markets that are growing?
Selling into a growing market Is nice but stop bottling it"" (45:40)
- So like something entirely new. How do you think about that in the context of, you know, frequency, rare, small, big? - Yeah, so I think, you know, it's, it's, I wouldn't say essential, but it's really, really useful if you're selling into a growing market. But everything I still said, I still needs to apply, right? So like the addressable market is kind of one variable in the form of the year, but ultimately like, if it's a small, rare problem, it's still like, you could have a billion people in the, in the addressable market. It's still the fact that small and rare is that it means that they're very unkind to pay any real money. Cause like the fact that they're in a market doesn't change how much money they have, right? So, so like that's one problem you have there. And then the usual knee-jerk reaction of how we're going to get out of this is, oh, we won't charge users, we'll go with ads instead. And I'm like, but the ads won't work. Cause if it's a rare problem, they're not going to launch yet, but they're not going to visit your page all time. So you don't have to engage them to get the eyeballs, to get the actual like the revenue for your publishers. So, or for your advertisers. So like, you know, in some sense, you know, it is, you know, in some abstract sense, possible to have a product that all of the world uses, like 7 billion people use, but if they actually don't care about it at all, it's not important in their lives, they could take it or leave it. And on top of that, they can take it or leave it once a year when the actual problem occurs. It's just not going to work, you know? - They're never going to pay you in. - Yeah, yeah. - So there were a couple questions about intercoms specifically in your future goals. So, what are, so, Fossebear on Twitter asks, what are your top two growth initiatives for intercom in the next two years?
Growth initiatives for Intercom (47:15)
- So, I have to like, you know, I'd love to ask Fossebear what exactly what the definition of a growth initiative is. I guess like the things I'm keen to do over the next two years is get our marketing to a place where we are comfortable being slightly more direct. I think we've done a really good job from like a thought leadership perspective of getting the attention of a lot of people who should use this B2B and B2C. But I think we need to learn to be more direct and upfront about say, the ROI of intercom. And I think that's an area where we've a lot of maturing to do. Like intercom helps all sorts of businesses, you know, deliver like multi-million dollar results. But we never tell anyone that we're telling people that you should love your users and treat them really well and good things will happen to your business. And that works. - It's true. - It's true, right? But, you know, I think at some point, as you move up through the market, the onus is on you to say basically, businesses at some scale care about two things. How much money they spend, how much money they make. So when you try to pitch them something, they just say, hey, here's my two numbers. Which one of these are you changing? And I think, you know, when we show up and we're like, well, if you love your users, you're gonna stick around and you're like, don't care about any of that. Are you going to make me money or save me money? And we need to get better at answering that question. And we need to have better evidence that's our question. We need to surface more case studies. And we have all the material. We just need to be more intentional, I think about being upfront about that value. So that's one whole area that I'm quite invested in.
Intercom brand (48:42)
And the second one for me is the intercom brand is quite big. We had like, you know, we had 1200 people show up to our event here on Wednesday. We felt like 6,000 people attend our tour. We have like, you know, obviously a widely popular podcast, books, blogs, et cetera. But, you know, a piece I'm keen to do is like kind of connect the dots a little bit better between like intercom, the content phenomena of sorts and intercom software. And that's something else I'll be working on. I don't know if that qualifies as a growth initiative. - I mean, it's a challenge that we have too, right? - Yeah, sure. - 'Cause like we have things like HN, you have this podcast, you have our YouTube channel. And I was just talking to Michael Sible yesterday, like, you know, we've doubled our YouTube channel in like six months. And that's awesome. How many of those people know what YC is? - Totally. - Totally works. - Exactly. And like we have that like, you know, I think a lot of brands get stuck in this sort of ambiguous place where like people know them and love them. But when it comes to shopping for software or shopping for incubators, they just don't see them in that way. You know, and I think that's a challenge like, you know, as in, it could well be, I'd help it's not, but it could well be the case that there are like hundreds of thousands of people who really love YC. But they, when they go shopping for the incubator, it rather go to their local incubator shop or whatever. And like, and it's because no one's, you know, it's because almost, you know, in both senses, intercom, YC, maybe you've been a bit too demure or standoffish. - Yeah. - Okay, come to us when you're ready, but we're not coming to you. You know, like, and like, maybe that suits the brand. Maybe it doesn't, but like, but I can see how it's a challenge on your side. - Well, cause, I mean, in large part, we're just making stuff that we want. And at least me, I don't really consume the super sales forward content and even like blogs and podcasts that are all about throwing their brand down your throat. I just like, I'm not into it. - Totally. - I unsubscribe, I just get out of it. So for me, that's a thing. But then on the other hand, I'm like, okay, there has to be some growth strategy here. - But yeah, of course I say, you're the director of marketing. You do want to think that you're actually doing something as well, right? Like, so, I'm like, yeah, there's a really interesting spectrum, right, that I often talk to people about when you're like, you know, in the early stages, or startup, like if you were to say like, you see, let's say Y Commeraire's product is the actual incubator, right?
Website Management And Conversion
The Spectrum (50:46)
It's in like, it's cash for equity in high potential startups. If you were to literally only invest on making sure that everyone knows about that, you'll become known as a type of bank or something like, like, oh, Y Comaire, the financial model, you know, like, and if you really drive for that, then what happens is everyone forgets about everything else and you don't appeal to people under any other grounds whatsoever. It's just like, oh, if you need money, go to them. And that's actually not your message, right? - Oh, no, absolutely. - Message is like, yeah. - Message would be a commodity, which would be the worst case. - Precisely, right? And your value prop is 50K for 8% or something, right? Like, and then the very second you quantify it all like that, someone else can be able to risk 60K for 7%. - Don't worry. - And now you've just lost the fight because you've made it so quantifiable and you've taken brand and all that sort of stuff out of it, that you've basically sold this easier on destruction. On the utter extreme, right, you can have like why commentated it, the global phenomena, right? Like, we barely tell you that we do anything other than just evoke magnificence. And like, the challenge there is then like, you know, you're so abstract that no one actually realizes what you do and like, you're genuine, like, you're reminding like big brands that have become, they've spread themselves and like, I hate to pick on people, I hate to pick on big brands, but they stand like, you can think of some of the huge consulting houses or whatever, like, there's some of the huge software firms like, no one really knows exactly what they do, but like, everyone knows who they are, right? And I think that's no use either, I'd be becoming one of the biggest brands in the world that no one can kind of explain for a moment what the hell do you do, or becoming one of these people that's so associated with your product that you can never do anything else except for your product. - Yeah, absolutely. - And like, so an example I see is like, you know, someone pitches me on like a startup and it's like, oh, we track tickets for help desks and what are you called, ticket tracker? And I'm like, okay, you do realize that your base is saying over the next 10 years, you're only ever going to track tickets. Is that like, are you comfortable having, like, I can see how the value is strong for you today because no one's gonna ask you what this ticket tracker here, right? No one's going, who will take a tracker? What's the, what do you mean to sell? But like, you've sold yourself the seeds of your own, the sort of destruction because you can't grow that brand in any way, you know, it's, you know, if you're like, you know, hotels.com, what would you do? Oh, we sell, okay, that's cool. But now you see, like hotels.com, and we also sell flights and you're like, huh? Yeah, totally. So like, it's hard to expand a brand that has a high degree of specificity. It's hard to convert a brand that has a high degree of ambiguity. And that's the sort of spectrum that we dance in, you know? And what are those, how do you connect those dots effectively and in a way that makes sense for your users or would be users? So, yeah, so like, first of all, it's like finding the point on the spectrum that you're comfortable with, like, is in, so like intercom, you know, at its core, like, the idea is it's an intercom.
Finding the Right Level of Abstraction (53:35)
It's like, you want to talk to people, right? The logo is like, I, it's in a mouth. You can see into all your users. And so our mission is to make internet business personal. So that's kind of like, we've picked a relatively abstract point as in a version of intercom would have been called like website messenger, you know, right? And, you know, we would struggle then to sell like marketing software or something, you know? So I think for us, it's like finding the right level of abstraction such that we can, you know, the brand umbrella can kind of cover all of your needs, all of the things you might want to do. And to do that, right? Like, and this is some of the advice of all people do. You need to read up on concepts like brand architecture and understand the difference between an endorser brand and like, I say, primary brand and, you know, what's in between a branded house and a house of brands and all that sort of stuff. That's all like really worth doing. And then when you've done all that, then it's like, okay, so if you're deliberately going for a slightly bigger thing, right, you know, you could be selling like cheapflights.com or you could say AVA. We will take you to your destination, right? And you have to like, you know, so AVA to harder one to convert, cheapflights.com, so hard one to expand. So you find your level and then it's, that tells you the starting point in your funnel. So our starting point is anyone who has an internet business. Right? So, so from that point of view, job one, create an audience of people who are interested in internet businesses under problems. And then job two is then sort of specify into the problems in your compsolve. So we primarily solve go to market type problems. So it's like sales, marketing, it supports software. That's basically where intercom plays. So talk about the problems for those people. We also talk about product problems just because it's an easy because basically in early stage startups, everyone does everything. So it's usually the product person is also the market. Yeah. So, so then we sort of start building the first of all, grow the audience, then you get the specificity by like talking with specific problems. And by the way, I say talking and my mind goes to content, but it's worth saying this can be media campaigns, it can be ad buyers, it can be sponsorships of events. So they're basically pushing out the messages that you want and ultimately get people to the landing pages that represent the things that you want to sell. And then obviously try and convert them or and start talking to them and say, Hey, what were you shopping for? Like, this is probably the thing we did most in your today's intercom. When someone signed up, we'll be like out of curiosity. What did you think you were getting when you bought an intercom? And it was a great question because because it helps us unravel a lot of stuff. Like I see someone had a question here about what David Kaffe asked about, why did we split up our product? And it's like, we used to be like just one intercom team, a narrow suite of things. That was entirely a result of this. It was basically realizing we were selling intercom, but people were buying a help desk or people were buying. And like this is back to Karen's point, or you're like, build yourself, sell your build. So we're like, OK, some people love intercom because it's a great way to support your customers. And that's one of the most visible use cases on it. That's why you see it on all the sites. And when we meet them on our website, we need to let them find the thing they want. So if job one of that is import a CSV of all your targets, and we'll set up some campaigns, you're like, dude, I came here to support me. It's a lot for me right now. Yeah. It's like you need to talk to those folks over marketing. I'm just trying to support people.
Physics of a good launch (56:53)
So what we actually did, what we ended up doing is we split up our product into the things we knew it was used for, which is primarily supporting your customers and marketing to your customers. And that led us to be really much more specific about when we could pitch intercom. And then we could say, here's what intercom does for support teams. And then if you sign up for the support product, we could say, OK, here's the onboarding steps for support. And we wouldn't talk to you about marketing at all, because you're not a marketer. In the old world, we were trying to charge you and get you to use everything at the same time. So we seemed kind of expensive. And also, we were trying to-- we was at a 12-step configuration, because we had to do everything. And that actually made sense when we were talking to two person startups and stuff way back, right? But these days, we're generally talking to functions, not whole companies. So we had to kind of help people find the exact sort of their own home within the product. So that's where we split the product up. And that goes back to that question of, as we got more specific, we had to give every single person who's shopping for a different thing their own tailored experience to find the exact part of intercom they need.
Shopping on the site (57:45)
Yeah. And so when someone is shopping on your site, what have been the things that have been most effective in actually converting them right there? We haven't done a great degree of ABT. I mean, a certain amount of your listeners are going on to hear, well, green buttons work better than red, Craig. Did you know? Yeah, that did you know. But like-- There are 400 shades of blue. I think the stuff that we found useful has been unbundling our pitch into the specific ways in which it's bought. That's been huge. And you can actually see, if you look at, say, I think Stripes on page does that pretty well these days, they can sell you a marketplace, or they can sell you a sigma, or radar, or a connector. Similarly, are you in the sales and marketing side of the org, or are you in support of our org? And if you're in sales and marketing, we'll get you at a pitch that works for that. And if you're in support, we'll talk to you about why you should love your users, and how we'll increase your MPS and all that. And making those sort of switches, rather than trying to sell this holistic mesh match, you end up in this one size fits non-phenomenal, right? So I think getting more specific and getting a website enables to be more specific about our value propositions for different people was probably the biggest useful thing. The second biggest useful thing with Dan, I think, was tailoring and iterating the hell out of our actual onboarding for the use cases you're buying.
Getting onboarded is more difficult than getting people to convert (59:05)
Audio doesn't get discussed in software (01:00:15)
There's a general sort of tension between like how identifiable we want Intercom to be versus how customizable it is. And that's another spectrum you have to work out with users. Like people often want to customize the Intercom launcher. And we generally support them in doing that. But then they want to customize the Messenger. We sort of support them in doing that. But then they want to customize specific bits so it's barely Intercom anymore. And at some point you're kind of like, whoa, I didn't realize I care about this, but we actually do have some beliefs about how to shoot the form. >> Well, it might make it terrible. >> Yeah, there are plenty of sites where you're like, where the hell is that sound coming from? And why are there bells ringing right now? >> Tell them why is there a video auto playing and all that sort of shit, right? Yeah, yeah. >> Yeah, that's the worst. So I'm curious about you in the future. What's coming next for you as your role in Intercom changes? >> I would guess, you know, we're at a scale now where, in general as startups grow, you move from like Swiss army knives to scalpels, right? So like, so I was historically like a Swiss army knife, one particularly pointy blade for product. But that was useful 'cause I meant I could go and bounce around and take on different portfolios of things and generally bring them up to some level and then learn enough and then we could bring in somebody who actually knows which is you and that person would inherit. >> You haven't burned the house down. >> Yeah, exactly. >> Yeah, and maybe I've got the bait, maybe I've put out the immediate fires and I've sort of set the stage for like someone to come in and do some real work. But I think we're at a scale now where, and maybe I'm unnecessarily optimistic, but I think we have like good people leading all the functions.
Exit Strategies And Simplification
When will you exit (01:01:40)
So I think there might now be a time for me to maybe retreat to an area of actual ability, which maybe looks like me going back to the product or a little bit. But we'll see, I mean, Intercom has never failed to surprise me with the areas, at the ways in which it can produce new problems for me, let's say. So then what, if you weren't working on Intercom, what would you work on? >> I did answer this once before, you referred to it earlier. There are, here's two problems I think about a lot. One of them is simple, it's soccer is without the biggest sport on the planet. Sorry, Super Bowl fans, it's huge. And it is literally the sport technology is left behind. And I think there's a lot of reasons for that, a lot of them are kind of societal or a lot of them cultural.
The other B'' companies (01:02:38)
You know, nerds and sports standing out there to go together, America and soccer tend not to go together. That was an example. Sorry about the recent world, though. >> Sorry everyone. >> Yeah. >> So, but there's a huge opportunity there. Like piracy and soccer is, I would say, at like the levels pre-itunes, if you remember in the music industry, right? Like there are like, there isn't equivalent of Kazaz, there are many of them. And no one's doing anything to solve it. Solving it would be a very complex piece of work because a lot of it isn't programming. A lot of it would be actual code, but there'll be a lot of deals and a lot of business there if they're doing partnerships and all that sort of shit, right? And it's not a guarantee that ESPN won't get their shit together or something like that, right? But like, I can imagine like a Spotify for soccer, right? It's in, hey, I wanna watch that game that happened last night. I should be able to watch it. I'll pay, but it's not even possible. For me to watch a game that happened yesterday, it's just not possible. Like literally not possible to it. So that's how backwards it is. And I think that needs to get fixed. So I think so much it fixed that. I think the opportunity is big, the market's huge. So that's one.
Some day companies (01:03:44)
Another one is I think no one has really taken a harsh look at like, let's just say pensions and retirement funds and what that is. There's a company in New York called Lemonade that took a really, really nice approach to insurance for property. It's a bot basically you talk to it and you can literally insure your house in New York in like five minutes, just through a chat bot basically. I think that's an example of tackling a real, well, here's historically a lot of paper and a lot of fucking around and turning into a relatively simple flow and making it work. I think that model, and I'm not saying chat bots aren't the thing here, so much as drastic simplification is the thing. The Q&A maybe suggests that a chat bot might be like charming in this way to do it or at least unique from a brand perspective. But I think there's a lot of areas like that where car insurance is an obvious iteration, but like anything to do like a mortgage application.
Always be simplifying (01:04:29)
I think there's a lot of areas that are rich for drastic simplification that people turn a little bit away from because of what Paul Graham would call the "slap work" side of it. It's easier to build a recipe up, frankly, than it is to go and talk to banks of it, saying I want to reduce mortgage creation to tree taps. But I think there are obvious areas. What I would have to offer upfront is I don't feel a drastic passion on any of those myself, but there's something I could get excited about. When I say I don't feel a drastic passion, what I really mean is I'm right talked earlier about having a strong vision for the space and all that. I can jump to a chat bot for mortgage applications, but I actually need to take a step back and be like, what do I actually believe here? And it's that I believe I guess maybe the finance should be liberated of the bureaucracy that's been inherent in the industry for so long.
Application of Bauer now? (01:05:20)
But I need to go and draw it out, I whole landscape, and then be like, I'm excited to put another decade in my life onto something like this. Because the intercom story has taken a quarter of my life so far, and I've enjoyed it. But if I was ever to do something else, I now know how many, how high a filter I have to apply in order to say yes, right? - But it's a huge problem. I mean, I suppose many of these are rare in your lifetime, but they're gigantic. - Big, yeah, big rare. That's a great point. It's a great application of that, yeah. - Yeah, and I think the incentives also aren't aligned, right? Like the companies are incentivized to make it complicated because they exist on fees. I think that's why Vanguard was such a success, right? - Yeah, yeah. - Ready index fund, you're done. - Yeah, you're totally correct, yeah. So like I think there's a simplification model there and the efficiencies you get by not having to go through all the bureaucracy, you could share that, saving with the user in a sense. - Yeah. - I think there is an opportunity there. I'm very confident of that. But yeah, there's a bit of the calculus you'd have to do to work out like where you're gonna make your money and what's the best way to do it, et cetera. - I think that's a whole category of startups that are just now in the past couple years being attacked. Because in the past I was like, I'm gonna just make developer tools and stuff. - Yeah, if it's just me and my editor, it's a lot easier. Like what is interesting is like the people probably best positioned to do it don't necessarily have to program skills. So like this, I could imagine a world where like some universities and say, all right, we're gonna have our MBAs, meter engineers and we're gonna travel out of problems in the era. We're gonna see what the fuck happens. - And I could see that working. I wouldn't realize. - I think the last question I have for you is you've written all this content over the years.
Favorite thing made (01:07:08)
You've done podcast, intercoms, like all over the place. What's your favorite thing that you've ever made? - Like me, I mean, like so obviously I'm supposed to say intercom, I can hear my from Com Steam in the air already. - Not just the product. - That's just product. - It's like it can be a blog post of podcast. Yeah, I'm gonna assume you like intercom. - Yeah, for sure. Okay, so that's just take that off table. I guess for me, person is in a thing that will be a desk trainer production of sorts. I didn't know it at the time, but I gave a seven minute talk in Boston, maybe five years ago, six years ago, called product strategy me in saying no. - Okay. - It has kind of been like, I'd say probably like, it's definitely the most popular talk I've ever given because it's seven minutes. And I think it was funny. It was done in the style where I had no control over the slides and it changed every 15 seconds. - That was one of those. - So yeah, and so you kind of forced this you to be a little bit dynamic and entertaining, but it came out pretty well. It was shit and rehearsal. I was convinced it's gonna be terrible, but it came out pretty well when I actually performed a for real. And I think it kind of, it raised my profile substantially as a sort of public speaker and kind of sewed the seeds of a lot of future things like I got to speak at like eight thousand person events of since then. But I think that was probably, that's probably the one that I look back and sort of chuckle about because it wasn't like I had, I intended that to happen, but kind of forced into a corner. Like I've always been, my makeup is that I'm better under time pressure than I am under like the longitudinal sort of abstract projects or whatever. And that was when I was shit, I have to do this thing in the next seven minutes. You know, let's just get going. - Just turned it on. - And I kind of backed into a corner. That was what I produced. And I look back at that now and I kind of, I find memories of it. - That's cool. Yeah, we'll link up to it then in the podcast. - There's a blog, yeah, there's a supporting blog post as well. But yeah, it was definitely some of the, some of the more fun stuff I did. - Awesome, man. Well, thanks for coming in. - Thank you so much, Greg. It'll be a great viewer.