Jonathan Anderson: [00:00:00] Of course we should make products more intuitive, but there’s no, I don’t think anyone disagrees with that. But I think if you only worry about the, where to click problem, I think you’re not thinking about sort of the conceptual understanding that needs to happen also, for someone to actually be successful to use your work, to do a job that matters to them.
Adam Avramescu: [00:00:18] Hey everyone, Adam, here from the CELab podcast, I’m proud to announce that I just released a new book. It’s called customer education. Why smart companies profit by making customers smarter? You can actually find it now on amazon.com in ebook or in print format. you could also do blt.ly slash customer education made you a easy little Bitly link.
I’d really appreciate it. If you pick a copy up and let me know what you think. Thanks everyone.
Welcome to CELab, the customer education lab, where we take those myths. Bad advice about customer education and just throw them in the trash. I’m Adam Avramescu and today I’m happy to have Jonathan Anderson, who is the co-founder and CEO of can-do a UI builder in the customer education space. Welcome Jonathan
Jonathan Anderson: [00:01:11] Adam.
Thanks for having me.
Adam Avramescu: [00:01:13] Yeah. Would you like to give a quick introduction to yourself?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:01:16] Absolutely. I’m a co-founder of can-do. we help build. User interfaces. so the actual webpage for SaaS applications and we work with customer educators and product managers, mostly for SaaS apps. and what day is it today?
Adam Avramescu: [00:01:33] That’s right. We always do our national day of now today actually is it’s a real holiday, which very rarely happens on this show. But today is actually earth day.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:01:43] Amazing.
Adam Avramescu: [00:01:45] Yeah. it’s also national jelly bean day. I would be remiss not to mention that as a jelly bean.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:01:49] I’m glad those two coincide.
Adam Avramescu: [00:01:51] Yeah, me too. Me. maybe most importantly, given the state that our planet is in today, that earth day, the better one to focus on.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:01:59] Yeah. So
Adam Avramescu: [00:02:01] Jonathan, just to tee things up here, as you might know, we’ve been doing a CEO interview series and. Some of the CEOs like yourself, have been co-founders, but I’m excited to speak with you today because you’ve had a really interesting journey as a startup so far, and you’re really in some of those early stages evolving and iterating your product and in some ways, defining a new category and we’ll get to that in a moment.
But first we always like to find out more about your path to founding a company. So I’m really curious what led you to this
Jonathan Anderson: [00:02:29] point? Great intro. Yeah. So I used to run the professional services team at a data analytics company in Boston called insight squared. and my team built all of the custom, workflows and, front end, for the application.
And we actually missed a key funding round when I was, when I worked there and I had to let go of six of seven members of my team. it was my first time being a manager and it was a very hard period. for me, but I will say that one silver lining from that period is that I started toying with this idea of how do you actually make the same type of customizations that my team was working on, in a way with the product.
so not having to basically, use developer time to customize things, but to actually do as part of the product experience,
Adam Avramescu: [00:03:21] yeah, it’s definitely a super. Relevant question that a lot of people working on products and product education or are thinking of, but how did you take that?
I guess that germ of an idea and actually turn it into a
Jonathan Anderson: [00:03:32] company. I don’t code, so it had a dead in there. I was, I actually moved to London and I, was there when I met my co-founder McKelly, through entrepreneur first, an accelerator. And he’d, worked as a product manager and an engineer.
and you had experienced working at Coursera, which is probably actually the best example that I can think of people voluntarily diving deep into all kinds of crazy topics. which is, if you think about it like a perfect analogy for what we want to happen with SaaS applications. we want people to really get invested in learning the content and becoming power users.
And also he’s just an amazing engineering product thinker. So I worked to snap them up.
Adam Avramescu: [00:04:12] That’s great. And having that background in Coursera has really been on the forefront of the move to online learning, which a lot of people are now thinking about.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:04:21] yeah.
Adam Avramescu: [00:04:22] Yeah. what made you think about starting a company, I guess in the customer education space specifically?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:04:28] Yeah, so I came at this from a slightly different perspective. I came in from the world of professional services, but really I was thinking about how does this, what does this, what does a SaaS company need? and where I think I came down is that the, the standalone LMS market, learning management systems and also the guide products I think are under serving SaaS, at least for products that require a little bit of, both how to do things, but also you need to learn something to be successful, doing them,
Adam Avramescu: [00:04:54] guide products, Jonathan, you’re talking about the, like the digital adoption platforms that are out there.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:04:58] Precisely. Yeah. so in the world of the, on the LMS side, it’s actually relatively hard to get people to your, even to your core product. so pushing them into another system often creates a lot of conflicts. when we think about getting people deeper into the product itself, there’s also this break that happens between the content that’s consumed in the LMS and then actually the features that are ultimately adopted.
so there’s a pretty tricky reconciliation that needs to happen. whereas on the other hand, a lot of guide products are often pretty ephemeral. and they’re almost too fast for someone to really comprehend a kind of core concept. so I thought,
Adam Avramescu: [00:05:35] yeah, a lot of the times you’re not even ready for it.
You get the guide and you’re still trying to figure out how to toy around with the product and then you can never get the guide to come back.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:05:43] Yeah, I think, there’s also a, it’s really hard to match intent. with a guide, because at some point we’re still guessing, this is this the right moment for a user to learn.
It’s not driven, from the user experience, it’s more driven from say, our experiences, maybe in products, trying to say, Hey, let’s inform people about this feature as opposed to them pulling on, Hey, this is the right moment for me to actually pick it up. So
Adam Avramescu: [00:06:03] ironically, you actually ended up with the same problem as the LMS where there’s a disconnect between the learning experience and the desire to have someone learn a concept.
And when they’re actually going to
Jonathan Anderson: [00:06:11] apply that. Exactly. and then I think also fundamentally like whenever you start a company, or whenever you’re working with an early stage product, you just, you really have to love your core persona. And I just have found that customer education folks are my favorite people because they’re super thoughtful.
They are really focused on making things engaging. And then they’re also just really curious about what things should be out there. So I think they’re just the best type of nerds.
Adam Avramescu: [00:06:37] I agree. It’s one reason why I love being in this field as well. You get to meet a lot of, beautiful
Jonathan Anderson: [00:06:41] nerds. So
Adam Avramescu: [00:06:43] I remember actually speaking with you in the very early days where I
Jonathan Anderson: [00:06:46] think your
Adam Avramescu: [00:06:47] pitch to me was, it’s like an in-app LMS.
And then over time, I think you started going more towards the digital adoption platform or the guide category. And ultimately now you’re in more of an interface builder. that’s how you described yourself a UI builder. I’m curious, how did you get there? How did you get here from there?
What was the process like along the way?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:07:07] Yeah. so yeah, so today can do is, very much a UI builder. So the way that it works is that, we ingest all of your apps, components. this is what a button looks like. this is what you know, your typography is. And then we basically let you drag and drop those elements into your application to actually build a UI for one user or for different types of users.
so you’re actually building the core product experience. and I got to say, this was not like a, this is not like an idea that just came to us and in our sleep we’ve we’ve done about a, I would say probably we do about interviews or interview every day. and we’ve been working on this product for over a year.
so we have done a lot of user interviews with product managers, with growth hackers, with customer educators and. Basically anyone who’s worked on these core issues of software adoption. and then I’ll just say, as a quick aside, if you’re looking for a guide product today, there are four amazing unicorns in this space.
and if you’re looking for an LMS, there are thousands to choose from. so we were, partly also looking for some, a way to innovate in the category. yeah. It’s
Adam Avramescu: [00:08:09] starting to become a much more crowded space. Both of them are.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:08:13] Yeah. and I think that’s what was so surprising to me was that there’s so many tools available to you, but, nevertheless in-app learning is not actually the best experience, but it really should be.
you have all this amazing data, exactly what the user’s already done in the tool. what content they’ve consumed. and so you should be able to work out, not just what to serve them next, but also really how to improve the content that you have. but it’s actually really hard, I think, as a content creator to get that level of granular insight into, what’s actually moving the needle on adoption.
Adam Avramescu: [00:08:43] yeah. And you think that those should be so connected to each other and often they aren’t whether that’s because of the actual data constraints or whether it’s because of where the initiatives are housed in the organization. Like a lot of the time, I imagine you have trouble getting into the product team.
Who actually might be the one that’s most interested in getting those analytics and doing that core messaging experience.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:09:06] Yeah. And I think on the product side, it’s actually really easy to get addicted, to just continuing to apply guides to an existing UI. it’s actually one of the reasons that we have, I have just so much respect for specifically with, really what Pendo has done because they’ve actually combined their first, a product analytics tool, helping you figure out where to use the guide.
And then second, allowing you to actually have that messaging platform, ultimately what product really cares about is making a better product. So that’s really where their focus is and that’s where their focus ought to be. And I think in the world of customer education for, I think it’s actually really around creating the best content.
and so I think that’s actually a little bit of a disconnect that we’re trying to correct for, in ours. And really the way that we do that is by making it so easy to build the product UI, that you at no point actually need to add a hotspot to it, to say, Hey, look over here. if a user doesn’t like, for example, see a button on the page, it’s probably time just to make the button bigger or to move the button to a more prominent location.
Adam Avramescu: [00:10:03] That’s it’s the first conversation that you have when you’re interviewing for our customer education position in an early stage company. And you’re talking to the CEO or whoever from the C-suite is sponsoring that position and they go, why do we really need customer education?
Shouldn’t I just be able to look at the product and Intuit my way into a, the right approach. Shouldn’t I just be able to figure it out. my, my grandmother doesn’t need to be taught how to use an iPhone.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:10:25] Yeah, I
Adam Avramescu: [00:10:26] to set that up for conversation.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:10:27] And I think this idea around, of course we should make products more intuitive, but there’s no, I don’t think anyone disagrees with that.
But I think if you only worry about the, where to click problem, I think you’re not thinking about sort of the conceptual understanding that needs to happen also, for someone to actually be successful to use your work, to do a job that matters to them. so if someone were,
Adam Avramescu: [00:10:47] Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:10:48] Oh, I was just gonna say for example, if you were to take, MailChimp, for example, they do a great job showing you visually where and how to build, an email campaign, but then they also include a lot of content around what makes an email campaign.
Good. it’s not just, Hey, I can add up my person’s first name to the email. It’s really thinking through, what makes content engaging. And I think as a SaaS provider, you really need to be thinking about not just do people know where to click, but a typical know why they’re clicking and what is the actual benefit of doing that?
Adam Avramescu: [00:11:19] Absolutely. there’s a Lincoln Murphy quote that I’m going to misquote right now where he says, when it comes to, Customer success and customer education. you often have to educate someone, not just on how to use your product, but what even is your product and why does it exist and why are you using it?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:11:33] So you have to
Adam Avramescu: [00:11:34] become, this is like the sat word. your product has to be autodidactic in some ways like your product has to teach you to use it by you using it.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:11:42] Yes. Yes. And that is why, yeah, that’s really what we’re working on with can-do is how do you make, how do you make the product in a way, sell itself or at least teach people as they use it.
Adam Avramescu: [00:11:52] So I love that you have this perspective because you’ve been conducting so many user interviews you’ve been out in the market. You’ve been talking to your board. And so we’ll dive into a few of those, but I’m curious, just in general, you’re working with a lot of customer education professionals out there.
What trends are you seeing in the market? And what can you tell us about the state of customer education from your point of view?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:12:12] This is I think such a fascinating and also scary time. We are, I think the entire world is waking up to the power of, remote learning, or scaled learning. Coursera for example, had more enrollments, I believe this month than, in all of its history.
but at the same time, there’s a lot of uncertainty. And so if you’re a SaaS company at this point, you’re really thinking around what is like a non-core team. and so I think the question, unfortunately, for a lot of customer educators and SaaS companies is, is customer education considered core here or not?
Adam Avramescu: [00:12:48] Yeah. I was planning to do a, an episode with someone else I know in the
Jonathan Anderson: [00:12:53] industry. And
Adam Avramescu: [00:12:54] we talk about this sometimes, like, how do customer educators prepare for the next downturn? And, maybe this even speaks to my thinking on it. I didn’t expect it to come so soon and now we’re actually living through the middle of it.
So you’re right. it’s a study in contrast. On one hand, we’re being asked to do more online education than we ever had before because people have just moved in that direction aggressively. But I think you’re right. We’re fighting a battle to be seen as an essential function, even within a SaaS company who should be moving in that direction.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:13:24] So
Adam Avramescu: [00:13:25] in your opinion, what makes the E core like how can a customer education leader prove that?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:13:30] Yeah, I think this is really, this is the critical question for any kind of any customer educational leader. And I think the short answer is that you have to go back to what is the SaaS company attempting to do.
And the answer that we have is that you really need to be moving the needle on adoption. so I think for us, it’s really, how does the content that you create. Encourage users to adopt the features that provide value to them because ultimately that’s what makes a SaaS company survive and also grow.
Adam Avramescu: [00:14:02] Yeah. when you think about it at the board level, certainly product adoption and making sure that we, whatever your daily active user or weekly active user, whatever that metric is like that’s still a very, it’s a King metric in a lot of ways,
Jonathan Anderson: [00:14:13] right? Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely.
And then I think, because I think that the logic here is that it’s not that there’s a correlation between content consumption or course completion and, revenue. I think they’re actually what you actually want to think about is how does content consumption or course completion translate into feature adoption because we know that will cause, renewal and upsell.
and I think, especially in times like this, a lot of SaaS companies are really worried about retention. and the best way to stay retained is to have people, a large cohort of people actually using the product.
Adam Avramescu: [00:14:46] Yeah. And, in some ways it actually really speaks to the power of developing education versus developing good education.
If that makes sense, because anyone can throw a PowerPoint slide up there and, quote unquote, teach someone a feature. But if that’s. Out of context or if that’s divorced from the actual product experience, or if it’s something that doesn’t actually sufficiently motivate someone to make that learning stick, then you’re actually not going to see that retention, right?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:15:14] Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s, the information, not education, construct, and I think it’s just really well applied here for sure. Okay. Absolutely.
Adam Avramescu: [00:15:22] how are you seeing SaaS companies adjust to this world? What kinds of changes are they
Jonathan Anderson: [00:15:25] making? Yeah. So if you’re a SaaS company right now, you fundamentally focus on your core business, which frankly is usually software development, not customer development.
and then, fundamentally, because there’s so much uncertainty right now in the market, you really want to become profitable as quickly as possible. and that actually means trimming as many expenses as you can get away with. it’s like the expression, measure twice cut once, at least coming from my perspective or from my background, the flip side of that, when you have to cut twice, for example, if you have to lay off head count, subsequent times, that’s incredibly painful and difficult for a SaaS company.
let me put it this way. I think many SaaS companies are being incredibly conservative at this point in time. even if it’s, they also know at the same time that they really can’t go to back to the business as usual of, running in person trainings and doing on-sites. you really need to take on a, really a product led approach.
both for, how, both in terms of the content you create, but then it also in terms of like, how do you actually support, support your customers in a scaled way?
Adam Avramescu: [00:16:25] Yeah. And the fact of the matter, like in-person training feels comfortable to a lot of people because that’s the way that it’s been done.
And the same is true of a lot of business processes that exist largely because people were comfortable doing them. And I think this is a forcing function to your point. For people not to do things the way that they have, and to realize that some of these things were grossly inefficient. So let’s consider them something to do strategically as needed, but not the fault.
So maybe we can transition from the state of the industry, to your customer base. I’d love to talk about some of the common use cases that customers are using your UI builder for. I know we’ve both explored the idea of onboarding frameworks before I did one with. Linda Schwaber Cohen on a webinar and I’ve seen you do one as well.
So how do you think about that onboarding framework or that
Jonathan Anderson: [00:17:13] matrix? Oh, I’m laughing because you, everyone needs a good onboarding framework, it’s, it’s critical. I, yours was a little bit more mature than mine. the, I actually have a background in consulting and we joke that the whole world can be reduced to a two by two matrix, but I’m not from consulting.
And I agree with you. I believe that to be true. the one that we use actually consistently with our customers is this concept of breadth versus depth. And really what you’re doing is you’re measuring how the, how your product is being adopted. and so really what you’re trying to figure out is.
The two axes are, breadth. So how many people, are actually in your tool regularly, versus depth? how many features are, how many use cases are they adopting? and the kind of insidious thing about SaaS is that the more users you have, that are in your product and the more things that they could do in your product.
the more bloated your overall feature set becomes. So therefore the less likely that anyone can figure out what the, what they’re supposed to be doing. and so a lot of what we try to do is help figure out like, how do we distill down? Where does the company need to focus right now? Is it on the first user experience?
Is it on the user who was invited to an existing account? Is it on sharing a new use case that the product team has worked really hard on? and then how do we actually make the UI change or be dynamic to reflect that kind of core use case?
Adam Avramescu: [00:18:36] That makes sense. I, I’m,
Jonathan Anderson: [00:18:37] I’m thinking
Adam Avramescu: [00:18:38] about the differences between
Jonathan Anderson: [00:18:40] your matrix and my matrix. I think
Adam Avramescu: [00:18:41] the one I worked on with Linda, we focused a lot on risk as well. what’s the risk of using your product in properly because that defines whether education is considered an essential function or not for better
Jonathan Anderson: [00:18:52] or for worse.
Adam Avramescu: [00:18:55] But I think you’re, I think you’re right though, like breadth and depth are, it’s a really useful way of thinking about it and it simplifies things in some ways. there’s an old joke about a two by two consulting matrix is a matrices. I should say. The joke is there’s only four types of people in the world.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:19:12] Yeah. Okay, sorry, audience.
Adam Avramescu: [00:19:16] So maybe thinking about
Jonathan Anderson: [00:19:18] how some of your customers are
Adam Avramescu: [00:19:19] actually building UI patterns based on these categories.
what kinds of use cases do you see them building?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:19:25] Yeah.
Adam Avramescu: [00:19:25] So we can talk about some of those breadth and depth combinations.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:19:28] Yeah, for sure. th the reason that you’d want to use, an editor like can do, really a drag and drop UI builder is whenever you have to iterate pretty fast over a part of the product.
so there’s just a lot of change that it’s just expensive to have a developer going and Recode a button. or if you have situations where you actually want to, you don’t want to show the same UI to every user. so for example, maybe you a marketing persona, but you also have an operations persona.
and so they’re going to have really fundamentally different versions of, they should have different versions of the product based on what their needs that is. so a lot of times what we’re just trying to figure out is what is the right, what is the, everyone sees the same UI that exists today in most applications.
And then if we could actually change it, what would be the ways that we would flex? Is it by making it catch up to where the product is? Because you’re not iterating fast enough? that’s very common and like a user onboarding or on old settings pages, or is it because of, you want to create different versions of the same user experience?
for example, you want to, you want a strategic account to have a special welcome message, or you want your self-serve accounts to see, a self-serve checklist, whereas a more high touch account might actually have a button to contact, support, contact their, their customer success manager, things like that.
Adam Avramescu: [00:20:44] Yeah. We used to focus on this a lot. When I worked at Optimizely, we were
Jonathan Anderson: [00:20:47] talking about the
Adam Avramescu: [00:20:47] idea of personalization and. I think that I’m editorializing here, but the personalization, the word persona is baked in. They come from the same root. So unless you actually understand the persona, who’s going to be viewing that specific page or that specific experience.
It’s really hard to personalize for them.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:21:05] Yeah. And I think Optimizely’s did so many smart things, but I think they had the benefit of a huge amount of traffic. and so it was very easy to actually optimize, for example, a marketing site. and one of the key lessons actually of e-commerce is that, personalization or making things relevant really helps them, users love seeing their actual need as the kind of corny to the application.
but for a lot of SaaS companies, you don’t have that luxury. You have relatively less traffic and it’s all you need to support all of these use cases in the architecture of the existing app. so with candy, we’re actually not thinking so much around how do we optimize the experience to make it perfect, but rather how do we construct different sets of experiences, for different types of users.
Adam Avramescu: [00:21:44] So you’ve written this before. I’ve read some of your articles on this. I remember one where you were talking about the Facebook seven friends revelation, right? that was the key activation moment for
Jonathan Anderson: [00:21:55] Facebook. But you were
Adam Avramescu: [00:21:56] talking about this in terms of. Once you have some of these personas and these keys, these key, you, excuse me, words are hard.
These key use cases identified.
then you can craft towards that moment where the product is actually going to deliver value. And the goal is to boost the signal on that moment of value and remove the distractions
Jonathan Anderson: [00:22:17] the way.
Adam Avramescu: [00:22:18] So how do you do, or how do you see customers doing that within can-do?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:22:21] Yeah, I actually, I think this is such an interesting, concept because I think, Facebook fundamentally has one product for users and obviously it’s a separate advertising product. but for users that had this magical moment of, as soon as you had seven friends, you could basically ensure that you’d continue to be active on the program, active on the platform.
and you had to get to that seven friend threshold within 10 days. and the way that we would talk about it was that it was, And, this is it’s statistically significant and here’s why it’s a great thing, but really it was important because it was just a way to really clearly say, does this feature, or does this, UI, or does this content, help push that metric up or down?
It’s just a really clear way of saying yes or no. and so I think in B2B SaaS applications, we don’t have the traffic for the Cisco significance. and we’re also trying to serve a bunch of different types of users. so maybe you have an admin, maybe you have a first-time user. and so instead of having this one super crisp and clear, North start guideline, what you instead need to do is think through, okay, for this type of user, what is going to be the thing that actually gives them value from the tool, from our tool.
and then the way thing we always recommend is at that point, you’re actually good to go. at that point, remove everything that you can, that’s irrelevant. Oh, that’s not relevant for that. User’s use case and just take it off the page. and so a lot of actually what we work on is simplifying UI as opposed to layering in more use cases.
Adam Avramescu: [00:23:45] So maybe we can take this down to a specific, thinking about how a company might actually implement it. A user onboarding or a persona based onboarding, like how,
Jonathan Anderson: [00:23:54] how might a customer go about that? Oh yeah. There’s so many cool examples of this. so a good example would be when you first log in, let’s just take, for example, QuickBooks.
if you lock into QuickBooks, one of the initial questions I’ll ask you is why are you here? are you here to send invoices or are you here to, are you here for tax purposes and you can click the icons and then based on those icons that will then change the titles that are presented to you when you first log into the, walk into the application.
So it’s really making the product experience dynamic based on, what the user opted into and. I think the role for customer education is in this kind of framing is first off helping consolidate what are the kind of core use cases here. And then what is the type of content that really helps people, understand them and actually then make use of them.
so I think that’s a really nice tie in between, what you might think of as like a product or growth function, but then also, really what is the value that customer educators bring to bear.
Adam Avramescu: [00:24:52] Yeah, absolutely. And I imagine that there are probably some content strategists listening whose eyeballs are currently burning out in pain, hearing this because as you create more content and more branches of content, I’m sorry.
That was a really graphic, I don’t know why I said
Jonathan Anderson: [00:25:06] we’re not gonna,
Adam Avramescu: [00:25:08] yeah, we’re
Jonathan Anderson: [00:25:09] gonna, we’re gonna,
Adam Avramescu: [00:25:10] we’re gonna, we’re gonna leave it in.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:25:11] but you
Adam Avramescu: [00:25:13] know, as you create more content, you have to maintain more content. And so I’m curious,
Jonathan Anderson: [00:25:17] like how do you work with clients maybe to strike that
Adam Avramescu: [00:25:19] balance between we want these totally bespoke onboarding paths where you know, all the tiles change and they get this, very custom experience versus having to then maintain that content.
how do you advise them along those lines?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:25:34] Okay. Just, yeah, the, the never ending content continuum. I think in this case, actually the thing that kills content strategists, I think are actually mostly versioning. I would say, keeping up with product updates and changes is so much more content and more difficult than helping a user understand.
Here are the key use cases of the product. to me, those are actually like, those could not be more different. I think the, I think you should be investing. This is not to make it too consulting specific, but I guess coming back to the 80 20 rule, 80% of the value comes from 20% of the content.
I think you really want to be spending 80% of your efforts on thinking through what are the ways that my product creates value and then how do I communicate that? and then instead of actually creating like a path, what we would actually recommend, and I think most SaaS companies are moving toward this.
Is to think of it more modularly. So you should have some content that supports in this case, sending invoices or some of the tax functions, you just don’t need to show all of that content to every user, if that makes sense. yeah. Yes. I know it’s a lot of work, but it’s the right work to do. Yeah.
Adam Avramescu: [00:26:40] that makes sense. maybe let’s take a different example. we spend a lot of time as customer education professionals, especially in that valuable. face-to-face training time, just talking about account configuration and set up. And that’s one of those things that seems prime for a really great in product UI based experience.
So I’m curious how,
Jonathan Anderson: [00:27:01] how you’re seeing customers use you
Adam Avramescu: [00:27:02] there?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:27:04] yeah. Okay. To pick a favorite. so I think a lot of customers right now start from, it’s. I think this is actually interesting based on the SaaS companies, initial customer base. because if you have an enterprise product, you basically try to overinvest in kind of more feature functionality that fits, a wider array of possible options.
And then you rely on your customer team to help configure those bells and whistles. whereas the, more consumery face SMP type products really think through what are the simplest pathway that we can create for users? and so really what we try to think through with most of our.
Customers is first starting with, what does that self-serve pathway look like? what is the simple version of this? And then how do we basically make it, make some start to make some conditional elements that flex up based on, some of the additional features you might want to include, on the sort of the enterprise side.
one company, I will say that I think there’s a really good job with this, is Expensify. They have an amazing sort of task list that, it’s actually a very clever thing because it, the more things you complete within their task lists, the longer your trial is extended by, which is a funny concept, the more, the more work you do to set up your account, the locker, you get to have your account.
but it’s a very addictive way to actually configure, but it’s an incredibly complex product in a format that is fun.
Adam Avramescu: [00:28:20] Yeah, I liked that. I liked that there’s an incentive there directly tied to the idea of a
Jonathan Anderson: [00:28:26] product
Adam Avramescu: [00:28:26] set up. Maybe we can take a w just one more, one more example here. let’s think about,
Jonathan Anderson: [00:28:32] we talked about earlier product adoption is key,
Adam Avramescu: [00:28:35] right?
You’re being looked to by your board, by your customers, got to drive product adoption to be essential.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:28:41] how
Adam Avramescu: [00:28:42] can a product like can do promote product discovery and
Jonathan Anderson: [00:28:45] adoption? Yeah. So product discovery and adoption is I think one of the thorniest challenges of any SaaS company, we have this idea that, isn’t it amazing that we create all of this great stuff.
isn’t it amazing that we’re always releasing new features? That’s what the whole point of SaaS gets more valuable over time. the reality of what that actually looks like though, is that you end up creating a lot of features that you then push out product announcements on that users may or may not actually.
Want, so it’s actually quite, it’s actually very difficult to know if the one incremental update is actually relevant for a specific audience. and so what we really try to think about on these use cases is how do we bubble up the information when the user’s ready for it, as opposed to when our product team is ready to ship it?
so it’s actually, I think dis-aggregating, users discovery of new features, say for example, with cards that appear along the top of the page, Versus a product announcement that is a banner that, Hey, this thing is launched, pay attention to it, pay attention to us. so we really try to push people toward the, how do we have the product kind of unfold, as the user kind of levels up?
so it’s a different perspective.
Adam Avramescu: [00:29:51] Yeah. There’s sort of an idea here of. Timeliness, both for the customer and for the company, right? The company is ready for everyone to
Jonathan Anderson: [00:29:58] start
Adam Avramescu: [00:29:58] using the feature. The moment it’s released, but the customer is ready to use it when they’re ready to use it. So you don’t necessarily want the same, a UI element or even the same convention to fulfill both of those needs at the same time.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:30:10] And that’s actually, I think a really nice tie in with this idea of this. Maybe let’s take Expensify as, task list again. I love Expensify. You got all the golf expense. when you find a good UI pattern, you gotta talk about it. they do is they actually, as they launch new features, they decide where within the task list, it appears.
So they really want to push out their card. I don’t know why I’m acting as a commercial for Expensify right now, but that’s fine. I don’t know.
Adam Avramescu: [00:30:33] Expensify, if you want to sponsor this podcast, we don’t have
Jonathan Anderson: [00:30:35] sponsors today. Yeah. what they do is they, they actually put the, Hey, we launched a new card as the first task in the task list.
So it’s still in the same, Format and the same sort of flow is setting up your account. but they’ve basically said they’ve found a way to meet those two needs of both user being exposed to things in the right, at the right time for them at the same time, pushing the products that they really want users to adopt.
Yeah. I think it’s a
Adam Avramescu: [00:31:02] super salient example, before we move on to our next topic, are there any other. Patterns or use cases that you’d like to discuss that might be relevant for our audience. Who’s thinking about how to integrate their education into their product
Jonathan Anderson: [00:31:13] experience. yeah, I think one last one that we haven’t spoken about is, just how do you make something more personal?
in general, in the application, a lot of the use cases we talked about are, or I’d say very like growth or product focused, but I think there’s a lot of. Really good content that’s been created for our, like our strategic accounts. and very often our strategic accounts, Actually just creating the content themselves in Google docs or confluence pages about how to use our product.
anyone who’s ever been asked, who’s built an LMS to, or who owns an LMS to basically give the customer videos so they can upload it to their own system. Can it knows what I’m talking about here. But I think a really nice thing that we’re trying to we’re working on with do is actually creating a home for that type of content.
so that if you do have something that is specific to an account, say, Hey, here’s what we call things. Or here’s how we do things. There’s a nice home for it, somewhere in your pocket experiments. Yeah.
Adam Avramescu: [00:32:05] That from an information architecture perspective, that makes a ton of sense. if it’s not clear where the home for something is, or what folder it goes into, so to speak, even if there’s not an actual folder structure, you don’t really have a mental schema for where to go back to the next time you need it.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:32:21] Exactly.
Adam Avramescu: [00:32:22] you could even see that. So I’ll, I’ll talk from my own experience right now. We just recently, we’re in the process right now of releasing, an information architecture revamp within Slack. And a lot of that is actually devoted to putting things. In a place that more, obviously people would think that they should find them instead of relying on some kind of insider knowledge, Oh, here’s where I go to format my text or here’s where I go to a, sort my channels into folders. we’re trying to make a lot of that a lot more apparent and obvious now.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:32:50] Yeah. I think this is especially with, I would say like high growth SaaS companies, when you’ve done a lot of iterative development there’s often.
Yeah. It often takes, it’s helpful to step back and say, okay, we have all of this amazing functionality. what is where and how should we expose it? and I think that’s a super salient discussion to, yeah,
Adam Avramescu: [00:33:09] absolutely. So let’s move into our final topic. Usually we call this CEO to CEO cause we.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:33:16] as a CEO, you’re,
Adam Avramescu: [00:33:17] you’re often talking to other C levels at your customer, or you’re talking to your board and curious just what those discussions are. Like. We don’t always get to find out what, what goes on in the room where it happened. But I imagine right now as a CEO and co-founder, this is a time of uncertainty and you’re really thinking about how to adapt quickly and continue growing your business.
So I’m curious when you talk to your board, What kind of conversations are you having and what do they care about when they’re thinking about the customer education space?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:33:48] Yeah, I think a great question. We actually, the timing is, is good here. we had our first board meeting, yesterday, so I don’t know if that was jelly bean day or the day before jelly bean day.
But, but it’s
Adam Avramescu: [00:33:58] funny that pre
Jonathan Anderson: [00:33:59] telling me the day before jelly bean day, let us Mark it all down. Yeah. So I think,
Adam Avramescu: [00:34:03] I think yesterday was, national kindergarten day.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:34:06] Correct. I actually, that does feel fitting. yeah, we, so we are in a phase of, we’re still very much in the, in honing our product market fit and really building out the core functionality of our product.
So it’s unsurprisingly that we’re really looking for. Most of our discussions around are around sort of product development, how quickly we’re moving, what we’re learning, how we’re adapting. and I think in general, there’s just more appetite at least for early stage companies to say, it’s true that companies are less likely to invest in software at this time.
and so for us, it’s really about getting usage, getting customer stories. the things that, we know are important at an earlier phase. but yeah, absolutely. things are super different now. I, there’s no travel, we’re not going to conferences. we have frozen, we have plans to grow our commercial team faster, and now we’re spending more time on building out the core product.
I will say though, that there has been one really important thing that’s happened here, which is that, the worst thing actually for any startup is not. it’s basically, it’s nice, but people who are nice. and when I, what I mean by that is when you’re working with, someone who’s working with you, because they want to be helpful as opposed to, because they actually have a need that you can help solve.
and people, especially in the customer education space are incredibly helpful and incredibly thoughtful. but it’s really important for us to figure out is what are they working with us because they’re nice or is they working us because they actually need what we’re ultimately building. and so in some ways we’ve helped clarify that a little bit, for ourselves
Adam Avramescu: [00:35:36] you’re really, you’re making me think of a book here that has some personas in there, like by buyer personas, where there is, there’s the person who’s really nice, but ultimately it’s just wasting your time because.
They want to have the relationship versus the person who’s actually going to mobilize. Oh, you know what it is, it’s the challenger customer. That’s the, that I’m thinking of. Have you heard that
Jonathan Anderson: [00:35:55] one? Yes. And actually it’s a, that’s a great sales book. We’re, I’m actually thinking about this more from a less, from a sales perspective and more from a product perspective.
but yeah, absolutely. it’s very similar. it’s a very similar construct. Yes.
Adam Avramescu: [00:36:08] For a startup product entails probably aren’t all that different intimately tied together.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:36:12] Absolutely. Absolutely. And I have the benefit of being able to, send it, send a Slack to my co-founder when I hear something really great in a sales conversation say, Hey, let’s build this and then he can tell me yes or no, but, yeah, I’d say they’re very, at this stage, they’re very intertwined.
yeah, there’s the product
Adam Avramescu: [00:36:25] and then how you bring it to market. But I guess that also brings up an interesting point. in,
Jonathan Anderson: [00:36:30] in
Adam Avramescu: [00:36:30] some ways you’re really thinking about category creation here. So I’m curious how. You’re pitching that and how your board is grokking that idea.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:36:40] Yeah. So don’t worry they’re bought in. yeah, we’re, I think any startup, strives to be innovative in the sense that they want to create something new into the world, but not so innovative that it’s too crazy to exist or there’s lots of good ideas that don’t make any business sense.
and we’ve iterated through many of them so far. but yeah, fundamentally we are doing some that’s pretty critical. We’re. We’re basically saying to a SaaS company that we’re going to basically pull your components and then we’re going to figure out how to represent the front end, if you’re a SaaS application, your core user experience or core product experience.
and that’s, that can be pretty scary. So there’s a lot of trust involved there. and there’s one other big problem what we’re doing, which is that, we call it the blank page problem. but really it’s the, assuming that you could build, you can drag and drop any element from your SaaS application to create any kind of user interface, where would you start?
what would you build? I’m asked, I think the number one question I get asked by good people all the time is, what are the best practices for user onboarding or for account setup or whatever else might be. top of mind. and so actually a lot of what we’re thinking through right now is how do we actually create a library of these sorts of UI patterns, that people can actually look at and actually edit and modify, and learn how this new kind of world works, where you get to quite literally create the UI yourself.
Adam Avramescu: [00:37:57] Yeah. it’s a really interesting story to tell, and I’m sure it’s one that people are not exactly used to because. In some ways you’re talking about going a little bit further than I’m building a guide product, the layers on top of your existing UI, or I’m building an LMS product that exists outside of your product, that’s intended to drive learning in your core product.
So that kind
Jonathan Anderson: [00:38:17] of brings our conversation full circle in some ways, indeed it does. But I think for customer educators to really succeed and maybe this is a controversial statement, but I think you at some level have to be working in app. Because ultimately a SaaS company is the SaaS is the usage of the product.
So I think the more we can do to make the, make help customer educators actually get involved and collaborate and create some of these experience, product experiences, the better off they’ll be, but also the better off the product will be.
Adam Avramescu: [00:38:49] Absolutely. I can think back to the days at Optimizely where we were really.
No, we were a customer education team, but really the help center and the Academy where our core domains and we didn’t, we didn’t have very much access into the actual product. And that’s actually, when we implemented Pendo for the first time in Pendo was a very small company at the time. They, one of their co-founders was our CSM and we,
Jonathan Anderson: [00:39:11] we started.
Adam Avramescu: [00:39:12] Getting
Jonathan Anderson: [00:39:12] in there to start revamping
Adam Avramescu: [00:39:14] the old onboarding flow, which was this wonderful little thing called guiders JS. And it was a custom built solution, but because it was custom built, it was really hard to maintain and it would take significant development time to really modify and modernize. So just by actually being able to bring some of the things that we’d really already learned about effective education and then partner with our product design teams who knew what UI patterns would work best to drive engagement.
That actually ended up becoming a really fruitful partnership and one where the education team ended up getting more influenced because we were getting closer to the actual customer journey and then the product team and design team gained efficiencies because they didn’t have to worry about how to devote precious developer hours towards doing this thing that kind of was seen at the time as in
Jonathan Anderson: [00:39:59] essential, Exactly. And I think, yeah, I think that’s a beautiful story of collaboration, at least in the early phases. But I really think that this sort of, this cross-pollination of, customer educators who can really think through actually what a user doesn’t know yet, and how that product experience should help them actually do the job that they came to do.
In addition to the product manager perspective around you, how do we actually move the needle on specific KPIs and how do we. how do we minimize engineering costs? I think it, I think a SaaS company really benefits from having both perspectives working on the same experience.
Adam Avramescu: [00:40:30] Yeah, absolutely. so where do we go from here? what’s next on your radar
Jonathan Anderson: [00:40:33] at can-do? yeah, we’ll look for, look forward to a, we are. launching our self-serve products so people can actually go ahead and, go ahead and use it. for us it’s very, what’s the right word. we’re eating our own dog food, so that’s very nice.
we claim to be an operating product. Let’s see how we onboard people to can do. so it’d be quite, that’d be quite good for us. and then also we’re hunting for more great use cases. we’re looking for more, w as someone as a creator of a, A creative or a builder.
I think, we can build a lot of things that we think are cool or we think are helpful for solving specific user problems. But I think ultimately our tool will only be successful. if we get others who are actually in it and actually building things that are interesting and I’m confident that we’ll have, we’ll learn so much more when the, when we started having actual, customers in there creating their own.
I experienced this themselves. So that’s what I’m really looking forward to. Yeah, that’ll
Adam Avramescu: [00:41:25] be, that’ll be really interesting to see. So Jonathan, this has been honestly a really insightful conversation and I really appreciate hearing about the journey that you’ve been on and some of the problems that you’re helping customers solve, as well as just how you’re looking at this industry that is just.
Constantly now reinventing itself after periods of not really having done that things are changing really quickly. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our audience?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:41:52] yeah, I think, I think maybe as a part in thought, I think for a lot of SaaS companies, the frame has shifted in the last month.
and it’s what is valuable to the company is actually. W or where to invest may look really different. and so I would really encourage everyone, to actually really think about, what is the core thing that the Orca needs now. and really w how does customer teaching fit into that?
How can you actually move the needle on, the new mission? Because frankly, we live in a, we live in a different world. and I’d also say that, I think there are a lot of folks who are, maybe were between jobs or for looking for work, or maybe now thinking, Hey, are my skills really as valuable or, what’s next for me?
And I guess what I would just say again is that, all of the skills that you’ve developed in customer education are only going to get more valuable, in this popup post-apocalyptic world. truly that people who can teach people in distributed ways are going to be the ones who are most successful.
I would say, hold on to that. That’s an important, idea.
Adam Avramescu: [00:42:52] I love those. I love those wise parting words. I completely agree with them. Dave and I have talked about this a little bit as well, that, we’re at a point now where we can’t hold on to some of those things that we used to hold dear in the old world of customer education.
if we didn’t change ourselves, the world has now changed a lot of these things for us. And so it’s more important
Jonathan Anderson: [00:43:14] forever.
Adam Avramescu: [00:43:15] Are more important than ever, I should say, to really be attuned to what your business is trying to achieve and to figure out how the things that you’re doing in customer education are ultimately going to drive those.
We can’t really afford to live in a world anymore where customer education is divorced from the broader business context. I would argue that we haven’t been in that world for a while, but now it’s becoming especially clear.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:43:38] Yeah, I think, I don’t think the, this crisis has fundamentally changed the course of the world, but I think it has clarified, the path that we’re on.
so yes. All right. I would
Adam Avramescu: [00:43:50] agree. So for those of you who have been. Furiously Googling can do, but haven’t figured out how to spell it, Jonathan. how can we learn more about can-do?
Jonathan Anderson: [00:43:59] yeah, so you can, it’s you can, and, reach us if you Google can do a C a N D U it’s can-do dot AI. and yeah, if you have a great use case for how in-app education should work, percolating in your brain, we’d love to bring into the world.
So feel free to reach out. you can reach us at our website or on
Adam Avramescu: [00:44:15] LinkedIn. Amazing. Jonathan, thanks again for a great discussion. And for taking the time to share your thoughts, like you are passionate about customer education and we’re committed to connecting our growing audience of leaders and professionals to the people and ideas.
They need to understand the field. So with that, if you want to learn more, we have a podcast email@example.com. I think it’s a pretty good domain name. I hope you do too.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:44:40] And there you can find
Adam Avramescu: [00:44:41] show notes and other material on Twitter. I am at . I mostly use it to answer contests, but you’re always free to reach out to me there.
Jonathan Anderson: [00:44:50] how can we reach you? you can actually chat to us on our website. I am the person at the other end of the can-do chat bot. So I’m happy to say hi.
Adam Avramescu: [00:44:59] Amazing. It’s so it’s not automation. It’s actually a human,
Jonathan Anderson: [00:45:03] indeed. Indeed. Yeah. Perfect. All right. human to human. It was super excited to chat
Adam Avramescu: [00:45:09] today.
I’m really happy that we had this opportunity, and for our audience, if this helped you out, you can help us out by subscribing in your
Jonathan Anderson: [00:45:17] pod catcher of choice.
Adam Avramescu: [00:45:18] That’s a podcast app, by the way. or by leaving us a review on Apple podcasts, because those two things really help expose our podcast to other people.
They help us gain momentum and in turn, they connect to our community. So to our audience, thanks for joining us. Go out and educate experiment
Jonathan Anderson: [00:45:36] and find your
Adam Avramescu: [00:45:37] thanks for listening.