Why I’m Working On Drift


Why am I working on Drift?

Unfinished business.

There’s been a common thread through all of the companies I’ve started, and it’s one of those things that’s taken a long time and lots of hindsight to understand.

That common thread is the connection between businesses and customers.

It goes back to how I started this journey in the first place, back when I was in college and I was bored. Extremely bored. So I’d skip all my classes and hang out in the library.

The reason I’d hang out in the library is because at that point they had internet access, which we didn’t have in our computer lab (we just had network access in the lab). The library computers had early versions of, at first, the Mosaic browser and later, the Netscape browser.

So I started to use the early internet through those browsers and I became obsessed. And what really got me was that I had been coding software up until this point, desktop software and boring software, but I wasn’t really feeling it. I didn’t love it.

But then I discovered the early web, and this ability to have access to all of this information across the world, and I was able to build some early web apps and websites just messing around on the side. And I was able to have this first-hand connection with the people I was building these for.

So, for example, I built a website. And back in the day, you would put your email address at the bottom of the website because there were no spambots, and hardly anyone was on the internet.

So I put my email address on there and a guy in Russia sent me an email (I still remember it, because you didn’t get many emails back then) and the email said, “Hey man, I really like your website. It’s really cool.”

That’s all he said.

End of story.

But I could see he was from Russia from the ISP that he had sent the message in, and that to me was the lightbulb moment.

That was the first time that I actually had what is known as the customer feedback loop. I created something, someone that I didn’t know used it (and I don’t know how they even found it in the first place), then they reacted, and they liked it, and they sent me a message.

And that has been the thing I’ve been chasing ever since.

That kind of experience — and I can see this in hindsight– led to this obsession that I’ve had for five companies now of wanting to help businesses communicate.

It’s all about this 1:1 communication, with customers, and I’ve been chasing that in different forms for five companies now. I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I can look back clearly and understand I’ve been chasing that same pattern since college.

So I took this obsession and started to build companies around this idea. But up until Performable, which was my fourth company, I was following the same playbook internally as everyone else was following. It was a very non-customer-driven approach. And it’s like how most companies have historically been run internally and how a lot are still run today.

It’s an approach that’s largely driven by the ideas of the people within the company. It could be a product team or an engineering team using Waterfall, or it could be Agile, or it could be a number of different development methodologies. What’s missing from all of these methodologies is the customer.

The customer is missing from Agile. The customer is missing from Waterfall. The customer is missing from this idea that all ideas come from the founders and from internal idea-generation.

At Performable I shifted the model to build not only software to communicate with customers, but to also turn the model internally to be focused around that customer communication.

I discovered this customer-driven approach to building a company, and we did it within the Product team, within Marketing, within the entire company.

We were a small company at the time when we were acquired by HubSpot. At HubSpot, I got to validate this approach within Product, Engineering, Design, basically everything that has to do with the creation of product. I got to validate this at scale. I got to see did this work for 200 people, did it work for one thousand people, did it work for 2,000 customers, did it work for 15,000 customers?

We got to validate the customer-driven approach and see that it did work and it did produce the results that we thought it would produce. And now at Drift what we’re building is a way that every company in the world can operate this way.

So it’s not only the product itself, but it’s the way that we work and our philosophy behind building companies and building products.

One of the things that I’ve learned throughout my career is to really focus on the customer, the market, and the team.

Those are the three legs of the stool: the customer, the market, and the team.

But competitors are missing from that stool.

I have this unorthodox view where I like markets that have a fair number of competitors in them. Because that means there really is a market.

There are competitors in our world now, but I expect that every major software company that sort of touches our world, whether it’s sales, marketing, customers success, if they make software for that audience — and that’s everyone form Salesforce to Oracle to SAP to everyone you can think of — they will get into this market.

What we’re trying to do is be in this market and be the leader in this market by the time that those players come in.

The very reason that we created Drift, beyond our mission, is that we think the market is changing. We feel that market changing. We saw first-hand the market starting to shift more and more toward messaging and more and more toward this connection with the customer.

On one end, we’re seeing new-wave messaging apps starting to emerge on the consumer side, whether that’s Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, or Telegram. All of these different things are new ways of communication that we see not millions of people, not tens of millions, but now billions of people adopting at lightning speed.

What that means for us is that billions of people are being taught these new patterns and these new expectations for messaging — and they’ll have to make their way back to every piece of software that we touch as businesses.

So we saw that shift happening. Then we saw the shift that is continuing to happen with companies like Kickstarter and Indiegogo where all of a sudden we have hardware companies starting to create products out in the open with the customer as part of that process.

The customer is paying for that product long before the product ever existed, and being part of that community and part of that journey of creating the product. This is the customer-driven way that we always talk about.

Take Tesla for example. This year, Tesla launched the Tesla 3, selling billions of dollars in cars… and the Tesla 3 doesn’t exist yet.

People have paid for that car, and are now part of that community. They’ve committed to buy that car because they want to be part of the process of building the company — and it doesn’t exist yet.

Those are examples of what we’ve been talking about — that every company needs to shift to be able to have the customer at the center, and be able to build products and services that serve those customers.

No longer is the customer an afterthought. No more “Oh, OK, how do we sell this thing now that we’ve built it?”

Look at all the examples that we’ve been living through in the last three to five years of the customer being part of the process. In our case it’s easier to imagine because we’re in software and we can build software pretty quickly. But this is happening not only for software — it’s happening for hardware, it’s happening for physical products, it’s happening for something as complex as a car.

This has never happened before.

This is why we think every company needs to have the customer at the center. And the common thing with all those customers that we see is that they expect to be able to communciate with those companies through some form of messaging.

We want to be the company that powers that messaging. 

Whatever tools you use, you see and feel the shift. We all know this is happening. We want to be there for that. And that’s what we think about in terms of building a company. That’s the big market shift. That’s the big market opportunity.

The competition today doesn’t matter. We’re not fighting for the small market that some number of competitors might have today. What we’re trying to do is fight for that big, billions-of-users type of market.

When we started Drift, long before we even had the first version of the product, long before we even had a beta out there, we had an internal goal.

We said that we will know when we’re onto something when a billion people have communicated to businesses using Drift.

That’s the magnitude of what we’re after.

And this is why I wake up every day fired up.

I don’t think about competitors. I think about the customer, I think about our team, and I think about the market opportunity.

I’ve never been this excited about a company because of this shift that is happening. We feel it everyday. I see it everyday. Not only within the team, but I see it happening for my daughter. I see it with my son. I see the way that they’re interacting with brands, businesses, people, and groups.

They’re indifferent — they don’t make a distinction between, “Oh, that’s a brand, or “Oh, that one’s a company. Oh, that’s a person. Oh, this one’s a group.”

They just think about communicating with people.

That’s why I’m so fired up.

And that’s why I’m working on Drift.

This post was based on a recent episode of the Seeking Wisdom podcast. You can listen here:

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