I recently enjoyed chatting B2B SaaS, Customer Success, BuildingConnected, the origin story of Flatirons Tech, and tech diversity & inclusion in the Bay Area and Boulder on the Boulder Tech Cast podcast. This episode was recorded during Boulder Startup Week 2018 at Dojo4.
After a half-decade living in Boulder and three years (technically four if including the time I spent with Learndot prior to the acquisition) working remotely for Palo Alto-based technology company ServiceRocket, I am thrilled to announce I have joined SF-based technology startup BuildingConnected to lead the Content Marketing team. As I settle into my new role and Bay Area relocation, I feel called to reflect on the profound impact living in Boulder has had on me.
Five years ago I moved to Boulder, CO from the East Coast. Like so many Boulderites, my Boulder transplantation story was a mix of luck and fate. I had been to Colorado only twice before moving. The first time was in late April 2013. It dumped snow during the entire visit, rendering the streets slushy and the famous Flatirons completely obscured from view. As a native East Coaster familiar with fairly predictable seasons, I couldn’t quite believe it.
“What is this place where it snows in springtime?” I wondered.
I gave Boulder another shot a few months later in June of that same year and inevitably fell in love with the lush mountain trails and the welcoming and vibrant startup community. At the time I was working remotely for a LA-based tech company and after a wonderful weeklong summer visit I decided to move to Boulder instead of LA. I made the move that fall, just weeks before the infamous Boulder flood, which, incidentally, destroyed the apartment I was renting at the time and ironically connected me to my community far faster, I think, than if I’d moved at another time. Note to Bay Area fault lines: Please don’t feel the need to give me a similar naturally disastrous welcome.
Living in Boulder has been a true blessing. In Boulder I developed personally and in my career, becoming a member of a remarkable, active, generous, and innovative startup community. I have built lifelong friendships and experienced what it means to integrate “work” and “life”. In Boulder we take startups as seriously as we take being out in nature and taking time to be active, relax and enjoy our relationships, friendships, and community. There are too many amazing people I love in Boulder to name here, but if you’re reading this, know that you have touched my life.
Boulder is considered by many to be an idyllic place; it has gorgeous nature, an amazing startup community, and embraces laid-back sensibility. It is in many ways progressive, and yet, it is also a “bubble”. Like any place, Boulder has its limitations. Boulder’s lack of diversity, particularly in the tech and startup communities, is an issue I have spent a lot of time thinking about and working with others to improve. In 2014, disappointment in Boulder’s lack of resources for LGBTQ+ people and allies in the tech and startup scene compelled me to found Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup, also known as Flatirons Tech.
Flatirons Tech, which is now more than 720 members, has partnered with Boulder Startup Week, NCWIT, Foundry Group, Twitter, Google, Sovrn, Galvanize, Kapost, Lesbians Who Tech, SimpleEnergy, SheSays Boulder, and other startups and local organizations to put on local panels, happy hours, and other events centered around increasing tech diversity and inclusion and building community since its inception. Growing Flatirons Tech has been one of the greatest experiences of my life and career. It has been a source of community, inspiration, love, and deeply fulfilling relationships. I am so proud of what we have built and of our amazing co-organizers who continue to grow the organization and community.
Working remotely for ServiceRocket was undeniably another cornerstone of my time in Boulder. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most incredible colleagues with whom I have ever worked doing some of the best work of my life. I am thankful beyond words for my time at the ‘Rocket and look forward to witnessing ServiceRocket’s continued growth and success from the sidelines.
As I move on to my next chapter in Silicon Valley, I am joining a company that addresses customer needs in a space I am new to: the preconstruction industry, which is a market that has been previously underserved by technology. BuildingConnected is the leading cloud based preconstruction bidding platform that enables owners, general contractors and subcontractors to communicate easily and efficiently throughout the bidding process.
BuildingConnected’s company values align with my own, and I am proud to be working alongside talented, creative, and kind colleagues who are similarly inspired to serve our customers and partners.
I deeply resonate with this statement on BuildingConnected’s career page:
“We reject the status quo. We challenge the norms of tech and construction, and we believe that both industries benefit from a more diverse workplace that includes talented women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.”
I am proud to be part of a team that is committed to ensuring everyone who joins can be themselves at work. By the way: We’re hiring!
It hasn’t quite hit me yet that I’m not on a work trip and that I actually live in the Bay Area again. With each passing day the move is feeling more and more real. The transition has definitely felt easier knowing I now have an official excuse to return to visit Boulder: I am pleased to announce that I am joining the incredible Techstars family as a mentor for the next Sustainability cohort. I can’t wait to meet the companies and get the opportunity to help them innovate to make the world a better place to live.
So long, Boulder. Hello, Bay Area.
Before working for a startup it is essential to understand company culture and values to ensure you align with them. This is not a complete list, but here are some of the questions I think are worth exploring before joining any startup.
1. How is bias handled?
All humans have biases. “We need to out our biases to ourselves and each other and not be afraid to say, ‘I’m biased,’” says ServiceRocket COO Erin Rand. “We need to constantly remember and take action to correct our biases. We can’t feel ashamed of our biases and let that shame prevent us from doing the right thing.”
Given that bias is universal, how does the startup you’re considering joining handle bias? Do they acknowledge bias openly, working to ensure that it isn’t playing a role in key decisions like hiring, promotions and firing?
Startups that acknowledge bias take steps to mitigate it. Those that sweep it under the rug just end up reenforcing bias.
Consider asking an interviewer to give you an example of how bias is addressed at the company. Their answer may be lip service, but you are more likely to find a place that genuinely takes bias seriously if you ask about it and they give you an open, direct answer. Beware when anyone skirts the issue or says it “isn’t an issue”; it’s always an issue.
2. How do departures look?
It can be just as important how employees exit (or “retire”) as when they arrive. If employees leave and then sometimes come back, that’s a good sign. If departing employees leave behind a trail of awful Glassdoor reviews, take notice. In fact, the first thing you should do is head to a peer-review site like Glassdoor and find out how employees find the exit process. It’s also worth it to find out if your company has a decent severance package for employees who are laid off or fired.
Some startups advertise their severance packages. Netflix, for instance, has a outstanding severance package for employees. They do this to reduce the risk that anyone sticks around who isn’t a great fit and to make it easier for managers to fire underperformers or bad fits. The thinking is if that you’re firing someone who you know is going to have a great parting experience, you’re more likely to do so rather than hanging on to people who aren’t a fit, thus improving the quality of the team.
Unexpected or unwanted departures can happen for all kinds of reasons at startups — sometimes a startup hired too quickly, or a pivot means no longer needing a person or department. Your role as an employee is to make yourself as versatile and adaptable as possible, but you may, nonetheless, depart either willingly or unwillingly, and you want to make sure that it will be as positive an experience as possible.
3. What is the dress code?
Dressing for success at a startup could mean anything from jeans and a logo t-shirt to khakis and a button-down shirt. Ask ahead before an interview — nothing looks worse than being over- or under-dressed. The key consideration: Will you, in all of your uniqueness, feel comfortable bringing your whole self to work? If you have multiple piercings and hair dyed a color that does not naturally grow on human heads, will you feel out of place? Is there a policy that you can’t live with? Do you prefer to dress up and want to work somewhere that this is the environment? Find out ahead of time by talking to HR, looking on the company’s social media and website and sussing out the office for yourself.
4. Does the company champion inclusivity?
Tech still has a long way to go in terms of diversity and inclusivity. The latest reports show that startups are overwhelmingly white male-dominated. This is a big can of worms; many companies purport to champion inclusivity but what does this mean?
How To Answer These Questions
It’s worth asking outright, but there are more subtle ways to assess startup culture as well.
Do your online research
If a startup’s career video proudly displayed on their homepage showcases men hitting each other with nerf guns after downing sake bombs celebrating a release of code, well, there you have it. Does the company have “Best Place to Work” awards, or is their Glassdoor is rife with one-star reviews highlighting the terrible leadership team from disgruntled former employees? (Note: Ex-employee reviews may not be all true. Look for patterns vs. individual data points)
In addition to the company website and sites like Glassdoor, don’t miss company social media accounts (especially if they have an Instagram; that tends to be the least formal platform with posts most indicative of culture), as well as social accounts of company employees — especially those who will be on your team. Related: Be sure that how you personally show up on social media aligns with your values; startups can and will research you, too!
Talk to people
The best way to figure out what a company is really like is to talk to people who are currently working there. You can also talk to former employees. Try to engage people who aren’t directly involved in your hiring decision. When you go for the interview, observe. Hang out. And…
Go to the kitchen
Pretend you’re an anthropologist on a mission to observe the startup culture through its kitchen. Go get a glass of water and listen to what is being said. Sample the startup’s snacks and see if they’re organic/gluten-free/free-range enough for your taste. Overhear how employees are feeling about their work and lives. Do they clean up after themselves? Analiese Brown, Director of Talent and Culture at CampMinder, wrote a great blog on the link between employee engagement and kitchen cleanliness. You will invariably learn something if you spend time in the canteen.
Observe leaders — and lower-level employees
Even if you’re considering an executive position — or perhaps especially — pay close attention to how the company treats those who aren’t in management. This includes those fresh out of college or those in lower-level positions.
Respect for everyone should be a foundation of any company culture, and if it’s not, you can anticipate other problems.
Be a consultant
Some startups will allow you to join as a consultant on a project basis before you join full-time. This can be a great opportunity to truly understand the work environment, as well as how likely you are to enjoy the experience.
Being a consultant is a great way to de-risk your involvement with a startup.
You can engage in an initial project with a company in order to assess fit with the team with whom you’ll be working, assess whether the values are truly lived by the company, and overall whether you and the company/role are a great match. Some companies have employees do an unpaid test or assignment before joining. This is not the same thing as being a consultant! It’s one-sided and doesn’t quite give you the chance to dive in with a team, whereas with consulting, you’ll be contributing something tangible, be paid for your work, and get a much better insider’s view of the business. Not every company will allow you to do this, but it’s worth asking if it may be possible to do an initial engagement prior to working together.
It’s Saturday morning in Boulder, Colorado. I am sitting on my couch in my striped blue-and-white pajamas, staring at two emails in my inbox inviting me to speak at tech events–one in the Bay Area, where my employer is located, and one in Boulder, where I currently live. Normally I would be thrilled to accept these invitations right away. I want to accept them. “Say yes to challenge” has become my motto throughout my career. This motto has undeniably served me. Outside of the office, pushing myself to be more visible, do more public speaking and share my ideas with the world has led to incredible opportunities, promotions, and career upleveling. But today, I can’t bring myself to hit “yes” in the reply fields. The duo of invites sits there another day unanswered.
On the coffee table next to the couch sits a bottle of prescription medication, one of a few meds I’ve been taking these past few weeks to heal from an illness. Being sick has meant that I can’t currently drink alcohol or coffee, dine at most restaurants, and that sometimes I don’t feel awesome. Thankfully, I am still able to work at full capacity, read, write, and organize Flatirons Tech events (come to our next event at Google in Boulder!). But I’ve become less social while convalescing, and networking has taken a backseat. It wasn’t until I got sick that I realized how much of tech networking is organized around imbibing caffeine, alcohol, or being “on” at an event. I know I am not alone in abstaining from drinking caffeine and alcohol, but it can sometimes seem that everyone in tech is throwing back either a Nitro coffee or a craft beer siphoned from a keg.
Around when I first started feeling under the weather, I gave a brief talk at Twitter Boulder. During the talk I smiled, trying my best to seem warm and inviting. Immediately after I got offstage, I slipped out of the event. I normally would stay and mingle with the audience, but I simply couldn’t. You may have seen the picture I tweeted and Instagrammed at the event, but you certainly didn’t see the reality of how terrible I was really feeling that day.
And that’s just it: in our current social media-driven world, we see only what others allow us to see. I see my colleagues and peers “crushing it” online, speaking at conferences, being out there in the industry, and they likely see the same of me. I feel pressure, as I’m sure others do, to always be “on” and constantly grow, innovate, and become a bigger force in the industry. But I frequently don’t know others’ private struggles, pains, illnesses, and challenges. And they don’t know of mine unless I share.
Being sick has brought up a flurry of doubts: Who am I in the tech world if I can’t have a drink at a tech meetup or enjoy a normal business lunch? How long will it take before I’m back to “myself” and am able to say yes to every career opportunity? What if I turn down opportunities and then people stop inviting me to speak at events–and what would that mean for my career?
These doubts spring from a dominant startup narrative of “keep growing and crushing it at all costs,” which is harmful to all of us. The “crush it” mindset means constantly seeking opportunities to be in public–public speaking, networking, conferences, as well as taking on so many challenges at work that we’re burning the midnight oil more often than not. Where does the pressure to “crush it” come from? Perhaps it is from the illusion that everyone else is crushing it, and if we don’t too, we’re going to miss out. For some of us, being a minority in tech adds another layer of constantly feeling a need to prove ourselves.
Tech is an incredibly important part of many of our lives, but it isn’t our whole lives, and we need to remember that when we’re feeling pressure to “crush it” no matter what.
My current health condition, I am told, will likely resolve within a few months. I know I am extremely lucky. Many people in tech silently deal with serious and/or chronic health issues, some of which take a long time to heal or will never fully heal. Others struggle with balancing careers and being a primary caregiver to parents, children or an ailing family member; dealing with a divorce, death or loss; a personal illness, or another significant life challenge. No matter our life situation, each of us will go through a period at some point that won’t enable us to follow the “crush it all the time” ethos. As an industry, we need to think about how we can build a tech culture that is more inclusive of everyone throughout the ups and downs of our lives.
Summoning my courage, I regretfully decline the invitations. I know there’s a lot more “crushing it” ahead–even if that isn’t right now.
Is it really June already? Here is a recap of what I’ve been up to in early 2017.
Spoke At Lesbians Who Tech Conference 2017
Received Top 100 Customer Success Strategist 2017 Award From MindTouch
In May 2017 I received the Top 100 Customer Success Influencer award from MindTouch for the third year in a row. I am proud to have been named among so many people whom I admire in the Customer Success field, and enjoyed celebrating with MindTouch at their Pulse Conference Happy Hour. Check out the list.
Featured With Helping Sells Radio Co-Host Bill Cushard by Successly Live at Pulse Conference 2017
Organized and Moderated Boulder Startup Week Panel On Growing Your Career In A Non-Technical Role At A Startup
A lot of Boulder Startup Week is focused on helping founders or aimed at folks in technical roles. This year, I worked with the Boulder Startup Week team to organize event aimed specifically at helping employees who are in non-technical roles at technology companies level up their careers. I moderated the panel including career experts including Analiese Brown, Director of Talent & Culture at CampMinder, Rachel Beisel, VP Marketing and Communications at CableLabs, Tamara Hale, PhD, Lead UX Researcher at Effective and Teri Keller, Director of People at Sovrn, who shared valuable insights aimed at folks in operations, finance, marketing, HR, and other roles that aren’t focused on coding. Learn more about the panel.
Performed With Boulder Improv Collaborative
One of my mentors, ServiceRocket’s VP of Marketing Colleen Blake, got me into improv, and I’ve since seen the benefits of saying “yes, and” throughout my life. My Boulder Improv Collaborative class performed in May, and we had a total blast. Many of my classmates also work in tech, so you can imagine the fun we had when the audience gave us the word “unicorn” as a prompt for one of our montage scenes.
Passed the 40th Episode Milestone of Helping Sells Radio Podcast
I co-host Helping Sells Radio, a podcast about helping customers discover, adopt, and thrive using your software. My co-host Bill Cushard and I celebrated hitting the 40 episode milestone at The Business of Customer Education and Pulse Conference.
Here are a few of our latest episodes:
Thank you for reading!
Connect with me on Twitter @SEBMarketing or email sarahbrownmarketing [at] gmail.com.
In 2017, lack of diversity in tech is still a problem. Google has spent over $100 million on diversity initiatives. Intel has allocated $300 million towards increasing workplace diversity. Yet while hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in recent years by the tech industry to increase diversity, the numbers remain disappointing. These initiatives are falling short.
Tech companies, nonprofits and other organizations are currently driving initiatives aimed at attracting women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and others from underrepresented groups, but these campaigns are almost entirely focused on how to get more minorities into technical roles. Reaching these groups and paving the way for them to succeed at tech companies is crucial. But as an industry, we are going to be unsuccessful in our mission to increase tech diversity if we don’t also think about creative ways to engage and retain minorities in non-engineering roles. Perhaps we don’t think it’s an issue–and, admittedly, other departments are often more diverse than engineering. Yet, recent statistics from NCWIT show that engineering isn’t the only area where minorities are underrepresented. For example, only 25% of tech salespeople are women. Women represent only 12 percent of sales leaders. Thirty percent of 450 tech executives surveyed by Reuters reported that their groups had no women in leadership positions.
Many tech leadership positions are non-technical roles, and many are paths to the C-suite; focusing on inclusivity among non-technical roles will be key to improving the diversity in tech leadership
In 2017, tech leadership is still predominantly white and male. This problem isn’t exclusive to our industry; according to CNN Money, only around 14% of the top leadership positions at companies in the S&P 500 are held by women. Inability to see oneself in a leadership role contributes heavily to churn among women and minorities backgrounds. Women are more than twice as likely as men to leave tech careers. Research from the Center for Talent Innovation shows U.S. women working in STEM and tech are 45% more likely than their male peers to leave the industry. NCWIT research reports 48% of Black women in tech feel their careers are “stalled” without promotion opportunity. Lack of representation in leadership absolutely plays a role in this flight from tech jobs. Increasing leadership diversity in each department helps every department.
Engineers can and do become leaders at tech companies–but we should also focus our inclusion efforts on cultivating leaders from underrepresented groups from all roles. This diverse leadership can more effectively drive towards, and sustain, a diverse industry.
It is not all bad news
Some companies like Atlassian pay particular attention to company-wide diversity initiatives, ensuring diversity isn’t siloed in one department, and companies like Twitter offer inclusive benefits such as parental leave policies, gender reassignment surgery, partner benefits, and more, while other companies host employee resource groups and other inclusion efforts that do help retain diverse talent across the org chart. Lesbians Who Tech organization puts on an event called “bring a lesbian to work day” where LGBTQ people and allies can help queer women shadow us and learn what it’s like to work in tech. These efforts are laudable, but overall in the tech industry, we don’t do enough to explicitly attract and retain minorities in non-engineering roles. Here are some ideas for extending tech diversity initiatives to the entire company.
Immersion programs for aspiring engineers are great–we need similar programs for non-technical roles, too
The diversity initiatives that have been shown to work for increasing minorities in engineering roles can also be applied to non-technical roles. For example, to help address the gap between the tech pipeline and hires, Girls Who Code offers immersion opportunities so that girls who are learning how to code can get a glimpse into what it will be like if they work at a tech company. Coding bootcamps now help people from all backgrounds gain the skills they need to be successful in programming and data science roles. These bootcamps, immersion programs and “pipeline cultivation” for programming can work for attracting diverse talent in non-technical roles, too. The assumption may be that these aren’t necessary for filling non-technical roles; after all, coding is a specific skill, and many non-technical roles don’t require additional training for candidates to be successful–but I would argue that’s untrue.
There are candidates who are qualified skill-wise for non-technical roles but who don’t know how to break into tech or don’t think the industry is for them. In addition, many minority candidates who have experience working in tech in non-technical roles aren’t getting hired or promoted. Organized immersion and training programs targeting non-technical fields could build the confidence and exposure needed to be successful in tech’s unique environment.
Identify cultures within your organization that are disadvantaging women and minorities, then set goals around, measure and publish diversity stats for the whole company
Inclusivity is key to retaining talent; recent studies reported in the Harvard Business Review suggests that diversity “doesn’t stick” without inclusion. ShareRoot COO Mischa McPherson developed and executed a plan to create a more inclusive tech sales teams. At the time she joined ShareRoot, the percentage of women on the sales team was 25%. She knew before she’d reach her goal of increasing diverse talent, she’d have to work hard as a leader to show a career path for underrepresented team members.
When Misha arrived at ShareRoot she set a goal to increase the proportion of women to men on the sales team to 50/50. In her first four months on the job she increased the proportion of women on the sales team to thirty-three percent. Misha was deliberate in changing the previous culture and moved the company closer to the goal she set by measuring progress and publishing stats around it for the whole company.
Final Thoughts: Why this matters to me
I’m passionate about this topic because I’m in a non-engineering role and I’ve seen firsthand that our group is often underserved by tech diversity initiatives. I am confident that this is not intentional; we’ve become so focused on increasing much-needed diversity in engineering departments that we’ve lost sight of the rest of the tech org chart. We need to do more to reach and retain minorities for non-technical roles, improving the industry as a whole. I recently participated in an interview with Inventing Heron aimed at encouraging young people to consider tech careers–including non-engineering roles, and also recently gave a talk at Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco this year on how to grow your career in a non-technical role. In 2014, I founded Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in Boulder, which frequently hosts events that are aimed at people in non-engineering roles.
As an industry, we need to develop and implement more intersectional initiatives aimed at helping minorities succeed in any role in tech; when we do this, everyone will benefit.
At well-funded startups, “perks” like coconut water, nap pods, dry cleaning on-site–even ping pong tutoring sessions–and more have become the norm (as well as the subject of plenty of jokes within and outside of Silicon Valley). Tech journalist Kara Swisher calls this phenomenon “assisted living for millennials.” Competing for our talent with other companies of comparable size and growth, many startups use perks for recruiting and retaining talent in addition to cash compensation.
Here are a few of the perks offered by tech companies:
- Google offers a concierge service to run employees’ errands and save them time.
- Apple pays for fertility aids including covering female employees freezing their eggs.
- Airbnb offers $2000 travel bonus to go anywhere in the world.
Essential benefits vs. perks
Let’s break down perks into “nice to have” and essential benefits, aka things that you really do need in order to maintain your general well-being and feel happy at a company.
Essential benefits include: health, dental, and perhaps vision insurance, a solid retirement plan, fair parental and sick leave policies, decent vacation allotted, flexible hours and remote work policies. On the less essential side but still very good may include things like good, strong coffee onsite and snacks so you don’t have to leave the office and walk twenty minutes in order to get a bite while in the middle of a coding session. For you, other essential company benefits may include a formal education stipend so you can continue your education and increase your skills, or childcare reimbursement, or flexible spending accounts, or a gym onsite so you can work out during lunch to feel balanced and help you focus. Or maybe a remote office stipend so if you’re a remote employee you can work outside your home in a community-filled, secure, reliable location.
When is a perk a distraction?
Geography of Genius author Eric Weiner argues that so-called perks can actually curtail creativity. Weiner says we need some friction in order to facilitate the creative processes so crucial to startup success. Weiner says we actually do our best work without all of the perks. “Discomfort, and even a degree of hardship, are what drive creativity, not bean bag chairs and ping pong tables,” says Weiner. The “is this a perk or essential benefit?” question is encapsulated in this sardonic tweet:
TECH CO: how do we retain talent
WOMAN TRYING TO HOLD BABY AND LAPTOP SIMULTANEOUSLY: help
TECH CO: lets increase the free cereals to 37
— Casey Johnston (@caseyjohnston) October 28, 2016
Indeed, perks can masquerade as valuable but may actually be a distraction from something essential a company is failing to offer. If your company introduces yet another kind of cereal but fails to offer a sane parental leave policy, then that perk may be a distraction from a real benefit. If a startup offers annual lavish trips to the beaches of Mexico or skiing in Tahoe, but has a cutthroat culture and doesn’t allow employees to actually enjoy their PTO undisturbed (at least most of the time), then that perk may be a distraction. User onboarding expert Samuel Hulick calls this “getting drunk off our own kegerators.” If your company has a luxury massage chair onsite but offers crappy health insurance, then there’s an issue.
You are the only one who can determine which benefits are truly essential. If you’re considering working for a startup, think about the benefits as they relate to the total compensation package, as well as your experience at a company. Don’t overlook startups that don’t offer tons of fancy perks, as long as they offer the essential benefits you care about. By re-framing the lack of flashy perks at a company as potentially a commitment to invest in essential things, you could find a work opportunity you really love that you’d otherwise overlook. Ensure the essential benefits you care about are covered in addition to things like alignment with the company’s core values, or risk missing out on an otherwise awesome startup work opportunity while you’re beelining it to the nearest nap pod.
From client acquisitions to speaking on several panels for the first time, to stepping away from my consulting business and becoming a full-time, proud Rocketeer, to helping grow the local diversity in tech group I founded in my home city of Boulder, CO, Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup, to over 225 people, plus hosting and participating in a dozen local events in Boulder and beyond, 2015 has been a year to remember. Best of all, I’ve also had the privilege of working with some truly amazing people, companies, and mentors. To close out this memorable year, I thought I’d share some of highlights.
Three of My Clients Got Acquired–And Then One Of Them Acquired Me
Perhaps the biggest professional news of my year involved the extraordinary success of my clients. Among this list of successes included three acquisitions: Learndot, a Customer Education platform for Customer Success-driven businesses sold to ServiceRocket in January 2015; Taxify (part of ShipCompliant), a Boulder, CO-based B2B tax automation SaaS was acquired by Sovos Compliance in April; and, most recently, Frontleaf, a Customer Success analytics platform was acquired by Zuora in May to become their Z-Insights product line. Read more about the acquisitions, and how thrilled I am to now be a Rocketeer at ServiceRocket.
Named One of MindTouch’s Top 100 Customer Success Influencers To Meet at Pulse
This year MindTouch listed me as a ‘Top 100 Customer Success Influencer to Meet at Pulse Conference.’ I was honored by the mention, and enjoyed connecting with others on the list as well as the uncounted numbers from incredible companies who deserved to be on here. Grab the PDF list of influencers on the MindTouch website.
Customer Success Twitter Chat Thrived
In 2014 I launched the first-ever Customer Success industry Twitter Chat (#CustomerSuccessChat) while consulting with Frontleaf (acquired by Zuora in May ’15). Frontleaf co-founders Tom Krackeler and Rachel English were totally on board, and together we launched the chat back in 2014, and in 2015, it really took off. The monthly twitter chat brought together Customer Success enthusiasts and practitioners to talk shop, share best practices, and discuss overcoming challenges.
The chats consisted of lively real-time discussions including a series of questions on one topic (onboarding, sales and customer success, etc.) leveraging the #CustomerSuccessChat hashtag Twitter. We asked subject experts to mark their calendars to guarantee a high-level discourse, and others from the world of software adoption and customer success were also invited to weigh in on. After the chats, the Frontleaf team and I compiled chat recap blogs highlighting the gems from each one. This one on Customer Success as growthhacking is my favorite. At the moment I’m not running the chat, but maybe some form of it will return in the future.
Helped Launch The World’s First Customer Success Podcast
When Frontleaf asked me to devise a new channel to reach their target audience, I researched and created a plan to launch the Customer Success industry’s first-ever podcast exclusively dedicated to that topic. In early 2015, Customer Success Radio, the first-ever podcast about all things Customer Success and the cloud, hosted by Frontleaf co-founders Tom Krackeler and Rachel English launched to great acclaim. The show served as a phenomenal source of leads and buzz for the company. The podcast archives are really worth a listen. While the podcast is currently on hiatus, Tom and Rachel tell me they will hopefully continue the podcast in some form at Zuora.
The experience of creating a plan for a podcast from soup to nuts was invaluable, and the lessons learned along the way have been very helpful in the creation of the brand-new podcast Bill Cushard and I will be co-hosting through ServicerRocket Media. Look out for “Helping Sells Radio” podcast in the first quarter of 2016.
Grew Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup
In May 2014 I founded Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to increase diversity and inclusion in tech in Boulder, CO and beyond. In 2015, with the help of epic co-organizers, we hosted a dozen local events, became a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance Member, and continued to be supported by our amazing sponsors SendGrid, Pivotal Tracker, Galvanize, and more. We even got a shout-out in the Denver Post and hosted an official Boulder Startup Week event. I’m so proud of the community we’ve built and are continuing to build here in the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. I look forward to working with more local companies and organizations and to hosting and participating in more events in 2016.
Moderated ServiceRocket’s “Helping Sells” Webinar Series
Throughout 2015 I co-hosted the webinars in ServiceRocket’s “Helping Sells” series alongside ServiceRocket’s Head of Training and Director of Marketing, Bill Cushard. This year we interviewed industry leaders talking about customer education, customer success, software adoption, and more. Guests included expert GitHub trainer Peter Bell, Behavioral Design (Gamification) Expert Yu-Kai Chou, ClientSuccess Founder/CEO Dave Blake, and many other industry thought leaders. You can check out the archives and look out for more great webinars featuring all-star guests in 2016.
Spent A Month At ServiceRocket’s Office In Santiago, Chile
This year I had the incredible opportunity to spend a month working out of ServiceRocket’s office in Santiago, Chile. ServiceRocket is a major contributor to the growing startup community in Santiago, and it was a blast to join the team there to host and participate in events and work on projects together.
Was A Panelist At S-Factory Event In Santiago, Chile
In October, S-Factory accelerator, which is run out of Start-Up Chile, invited ServiceRocket’s Chief Operating Officer Erin Rand, accountant Noelia Rio and me to speak on a panel to discuss how we’re “rocking it”. I was honored to speak to the entrepreneurial audience about growth marketing, our company values, and how we approach software adoption and customer success. S-Factory Executive Director Patricia Hansen was an engaging moderator, and I enjoyed participating as well as listening to and learning from insights shared by colleagues Erin and Noelia.
Participated In NewCo Boulder Diversity In Tech Panel
In November, I was a panelist on the “diversity and inclusion” panel at NewCo Boulder, hosted at Quick Left in Boulder alongside Quick Left’s VP of Engineering Chris McAvoy and Executive Leadership Coach Gerry Valentine, moderated by Rachel Beisel. I loved being a part of the discussion and getting to chat with people after who wanted to continue the conversations about “bringing your whole self to work.” I shared personal stories as well as lessons I’ve learned from working with Silicon Valley Women of Influence, ServiceRocket’s COO Erin Rand and VP of Marketing Colleen Blake, both of whom do amazing work to increase inclusion in tech. It was cool to hear that people enjoyed the panel and that QuickLeft may want us to recreate the panel again.
Interviewed Hooked Author Nir Eyal With Bill Cushard
I helped crowdsource edit the book Hooked by behavior engineering expert Nir Eyal and have been a huge fan of his work for a while, so it was a big honor to get to interview him and Bill Cushard for ServiceRocket Media. It was an amazing discussion about behavior psychology, customer education and software adoption. Listen to the interview.
Looking Forward To 2016
I’m grateful for the amazing people and companies with whom I had the privilege of working in 2015. Thank you to everyone who helped make this such a special year, and for being on this journey together.
I’m excited for what’s to come in 2016. In the first week of January, I’m headed to ServiceRocket’s office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for team building and to work on projects with our team in KL. ServiceRocket Media has some awesome projects in store including a brand-new podcast, epic webinars, and much, much more. Happy New Year! Thanks for reading. Sarah
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be out in tech.
In the startup world, there’s a common understanding that we should bring our whole selves to our startup lives. When a well-known VC writes a blog about how he and his wife negotiate their partnership, we read it enthusiastically because we want to know about his whole self. Entrepreneurs who admit to and discuss their bouts with depression garner our respect and trust both for them and for their organization. I would argue that the “whole self” aspects of entrepreneurship are part of what makes this whole startup ecosystem so rich and exciting. As studies show, being our whole selves at work is also crucial for innovation. Being our authentic selves (and feeling comfortable and safe doing so) makes us more creative and engaged and better contributors at work. (Source)
But who gets to be their authentic self at startups, and who doesn’t? Which groups are still barely at the table, much less able to move through the startup world free to be themselves? As stats from tech companies brave enough to release them underscore, lack of diversity in tech is very much still a problem. While there are many aspects of this lack of diversity that need to be addressed (gender, ethnicity, age, disability status and more), for the purposes of this post, I’ll talk about a particular kind of diversity that I personally come up against: being a woman and being gay.
For the past few years, I’ve been out to my startup clients. I used to ignore inevitable pronouns and questions that would crop up after a few months on a project, but I felt like I was hiding myself every time personal lives became part of a conversation and I neglected to mention it. I’m grateful to say that, so far, coming out on the job has never been an issue for me. I have felt only supported by the clients with whom I’ve worked. It turns out, being out at work has not been an issue for me personally any more than my being vegan and ordering tempeh Ruebens at business lunches. That has been my experience, but I know that for many LGBTQ people, coming out in tech brings substantial risk.
In the United States, it’s unfortunately still a privilege to be out at the workplace. A gay CTO in Salt Lake City may worry about telling his co-workers about his engagement, lest doing so get him fired. This may sound extreme, but in many states with vibrant tech communities, workers can still be fired based on sexual orientation. Other issues with coming out at the workplace include simply being treated differently after coming out–not get promoted as quickly, not getting the best projects to work on, having assumptions made about your work based on your orientation/identity, and on.
When Tim Cook came out, it mattered to our community and to young people and to the world. Being out in tech shouldn’t be an issue, but in today’s world, whether we’d like to admit it or not, it very much still is.
In May 2014, I founded the Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup in an effort to create community around and bring awareness to a group who have been historically underrepresented in society and in tech. Since inception, we’ve grown to 100+ LGBTQ techies and allies, and have hosted diversity in tech-focused, dinners, panels, happy and coffee hours, and community networking events at local startups and technology hubs. The incredible people and co-organizers I’ve met as a result of this are now my friends and unending sources of inspiration (you know who you are).
Boulder, CO, where I live and have clients, has come under fire for diversity and tech issues. It seems like we can’t go a week without some council member suggesting that growing tech in Boulder is just going bring more “straight rich white guys”. I recommend reading Brad Feld’s blog on the subject if you want to read up. Our group stands in the face of those criticisms. Our members are exceptionally valuable contributors to Boulder’s technology economy. Local and international companies and orgs have embraced us, and we’re exploring new ways to partner with allies and companies working to make things better.
Our group is now an official partner of Lesbians Who Tech 2015 conference and we’re a NCWIT Affinity Group Alliance member. Our Meetup membership has been generously sponsored by Pivotal Tracker for 2015. We do volunteer work and community service (a few weeks ago 11 of us met to upgrade Out Boulder’s website, for example). Flatirons LGBTQ Tech Meetup has done events with Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software, gSchool and Galvanize and 500 Startups, Lesbians Who Tech, SendGrid, Trada, Quick Left, and more. And we’re just getting started.
Since I moved to this beautiful mountain town almost two years ago, a lot has changed. When I first arrived, same-sex marriage was illegal. Now we have marriage equality. We now also have a LGBTQ tech meetup.
These days, I do my best to bring my whole self to work. Every day I feel grateful for that privilege, and reminded of those who don’t yet have it, and the work that needs to be done.
Thanks for reading. – Sarah