There are more people thinking about starting a startup than there are people looking for YC today, right? Your pitch needs to be more all-inclusive at this, sort of far-sighted. So for intercom, what that looks like is we need to convince you that you should care about your customers, right?
A Small Problem
So none of these pitches individually convert, this is where people are like why the fuck do you write this shit, Des? Des Traynor  — and like okay, so I guess the relationships are important. Craig Cannon  — No, and are you tracking someone throughout this journey? You have to do the warm-ups to get them to there. In general, the marketing world is one where you move from like this is really hard to attribute and it costs a lot of money down to hey we spent seven cents and it kicked ass.
But that whole thing is a spectrum and you have to be willing to do the unattributable things to kind of grow awareness or 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.
Next year, what happens? Craig Cannon  — That was the thing that I was literally dealing with this morning before we met up. Finding those moments is a really important challenge as well, and then as you said the synonyms just casting a wide net. Des Traynor  — wait, back back back, sorry.
Hang on, I thought I was onto something there. Craig Cannon  — 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, 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 products start shifting how do you think about it? To give you an example, one core idea at Intercom is like sending the right message to the right person at the right time and at 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 in as well. But we can certainly have a collection of ideas that we can represent. When we launched new product in December last year called Educate, it was basically our take on a knowledge base for proactively offering and educational content to your customers.
And what that means was, I have to sit down with marketing and be like alright, 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 going to do? Des Traynor  — Books, are we going to do books? How are we going to get this into a podcast?
What are the landing pages for this? What are all the ways people bid on this? Media, how are we going to talk to the press about this? Bad things happen I think either when your product, sorry your product and your marketing are out of sync.
Craig Cannon  — I do. I do worry, I see a lot of startups, specifically folks who try to copy say something like Stripes brand and are like we want to be cool with developers too. Craig Cannon  — Well how do you think about product in that way then?
Because obviously you guys are a big company, you could release a ton of products. Des Traynor  — At the very very start we set our stall out to say our mission is to make internet business personal. At the very core, anytime we have to make a decision about whether or not we do a product, we ask ourselves does this make business more personal on the internet?
Would we release a tool that lets you stream soccer live to your mobile phone? And so we kind of move through it like that, Every change we make in product has to trigger changes in product marketing, product design, brand, content marketing, sales et cetera. Craig Cannon  — Yeah. Well why are they personal? Because you become out of sync and then it kind of expounds, or rather grows exponentially, if you start hiring the wrong people.
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Des Traynor  — Yes, totally. How do you guard against that? One of them is new hire onboarding. Person number five joining a four-person company, has full access to everyone and basically absolute immersion therapy, they learn everything by osmosis. Person number 66 joining a person company gets access to three people, each of whom have been have been there less than a year. So we invested head-on, like we made versions of this mistake quite a lot in the early days.
A Small Zombie Problem
Today, we obsess over new-hire onboarding. Letting them know what are we doing, what are we actually doing here, why are doing it, why do we care, what are the problems faced, why does it matter to us, how do we do it, like how do we actually work, how does work happen at Intercom. Craig Cannon  — In practical terms, this means a one-on-one meeting with you just talking. Well show me the guardrails that stopped her, how on earth were they supposed to work that out?
Craig Cannon  — Yeah, absolutely. We do it, we need to do a better job here as well. And your best bet at that point is to go and find somebody who you think is doing a good job at it. Craig Cannon  — Right, they wrote a blog post about this. Des Traynor  — They probably know it all. Specifically in marketing and sales land this is more common. We were always two. It makes some things really tricky, like today, we had a show and tell sort of thing where everyone who works in any sort of aspect, any who kicked ass basically, closed a great sales deal, built a great piece of product, or whatever, they all line up to present.
Des Traynor  — and you have to do these sort of little rituals to keep the whole company on the same page, but maintaining that is hard. And it was hard for us at the very start. Today we can spend a lot of money of video conferencing and shit like that, but early on it was rough.
Craig Cannon  — Do you spend money flying people around to hang out with each other? Des Traynor  — Mm-hmm. Craig Cannon  — Do you do like any kind of everyone comes together conference? Des Traynor  — Marketing has been tough. Which means you have to empower them to hire, empower them to do everything that they need to do, empower them to spend the budget, et cetera. And then you get to find out in quite awhile if all this pays back. Learning a lot people stuff has been hard. Learning how to ensure that we actually have a good policy for say performance management.
Craig Cannon  — Totally. Getting there, genuinely I think every startup I talk to takes them way too long. Craig Cannon  — Were there any books or anything?
But where there any books or podcasts that really helped you figure out how to manage people better? Craig Cannon  — Okay, and so just to shift gears back to product again, if someone is just getting started out, what do you advise them on thinking about products?
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Just framing the entire company. Where do you have them start?
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It sounds fluffy and people want to start writing code on day one, but you need to have a good, strong sense of purpose for your company. You need to have everyone on the same page you. You need a page, you know? Are you trying to change productivity? What do you believe with productivity that no one else believes? If you know what I mean? As in program and codify. And then that will form the basis of your product. The next piece I would say to people is you have to be really weary of solving a small, rare, problem.
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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, it just never works.
A Small Problem - Wikipedia
And these products can be effing beautiful, right? What I mean by this is basically problems in life are either big or small. However, if you have something that no one really. Workplace communication, charging your customers money, talking to your customers. The product itself will match with a problem. Does it match with a big problem or a frequent problem? Or ideally a big frequent problem. And I see a lot of people get what I call fake-traction where they hand-hold a lot of their early customers doing like the YC-famed call us and install type thing.
Des Traynor  — Yes, exactly. What about markets that are growing? Something entirely new.