Inside Intercom New York startup panel

What does onboarding look like for an augmented reality product?

And how do you scale customer support in a two-sided marketplace? At the recent New York stop of our Inside Intercom World Tour, our special guest Steven Bertoni, Senior Editor at Forbes, sat down with 3 startup founders who are all building emerging technologies – from VR platforms to on-demand home services. It’s an eye-opening talk about what it takes to build a new product and bring it to market, along with the lessons learned along the way.

Our panelists include:

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Prefer a written account of the panel? You’ll find a few of our favorite insights below the embed.

Standing apart from the competition

Lindsay Boyajian: There’s a ton of AR and VR companies out there all trying to get a piece of the market. But you’ll see a lot of these get published on the App Store, they’re full of bugs, and the users quit. You have to continue to talk to your users and build something that they not only enjoy, but that’s actually useful for them.

Mike Boufford: In enterprise software you’re exchanging money for value. So if you can do a better job of figuring out who the people are that really need that value, they’ll help their company make more money. Then the price of the piece of recruiting software which helps you do that is a drop in the bucket.

Christian Bjelland: When creating a new market like Hello Alfred was, and you are delivering something a lot of people haven’t experienced before, it was really about selling an experience to people – the idea that when they came home, everything was taken care of. Even when our product was just Google Docs and email, that really resonated with our members.

When a product and a brand intersect

Mike Boufford: Your product is not just a piece of software. It’s also the experience a customer has signing up to your product, and the offboarding when they leave your product. All of the pieces of who you are feed into that, everything from the software to all the other touchpoints.

Lindsay Boyajian: A brand is in the product, it’s all built in and interwoven. The best products are the ones that create this user experience, whether it’s physically, like when you come home and Hello Alfred has your errands done, or for Augment, creating an augmented reality experience that isn’t even in the real world. Across the board it comes down to that user experience.

Mike Boufford: I can tell you a story about how a product and an experience were interwoven. In the early days of Greenhouse, the software was actually not that good. I built it, so I can take credit for it being not very good. To deal with all the bugs, we installed some chat software and because there were only two other developers, I was the one chatting with customers. When somebody complained, I would literally fix it immediately. I would hop into my editor and go and fix whatever the problem was, and deploy it to production. I would email the customer to say, “You know that bug you ran into 5 minutes ago on the site, I fixed it.”

How to handle customer experience with emerging products

Christian Bjelland: Our product has had to get better at dealing with real-world problems, like when somebody’s laundry goes missing or someone’s shirt gets ruined in the dry cleaner. We’re the people they look at and blame, so we have to react quickly and try to act as an advocate. We have to make it clear that we’re someone who is on your side, and that we are going to figure it out for you.

Lindsay Boyajian: Nobody has ever created an AR platform before, so we are constantly iterating on our customer experience to find the best way to do it. How do you onboard for virtual reality, for example? What we’ve found is that it’s all about how quick we can talk to our customers and how quickly we can incorporate their feedback into what we are building. There’s no magic bullet to building a great product. It’s just constantly talking, and constantly moving as quick as possible.

The right kind of growth

Mike Boufford: The type of growth depends on the stage of your business, whether you should put fuel on the fire. It was about a year and a half before we proved that we had product market fit, and before we wanted to take money. That was the wisdom of the founders, not me. I probably would have taken more money in my immaturity at the time. They realized they needed to prove the model to themselves, before taking money would actually yield worthwhile results. Then when we started seeing our margins, we could think about growth. If you can see that you have a good positive gross margin and you pour more fuel on the fire and you end up with sustainable growth, then that’s worth it.

Christian Bjelland: Growth really depends on your business model. We benefit from density. Having a lot of people in a small area. It’s more valuable to have 1,000 people in 1 or 2 zip codes than 10,000 spread out through all Manhattan. So for Hello Alfred, we’d rather grow smart. If we grow too quickly and you spread yourself too thin, then you get quality control issues. You see a lot of companies that grow really fast and, especially companies like ours where there’s a person involved and you have to hire great people, the quality drops. Then it becomes a problem. We very much focus on the quality. Growing in a sustainable way, densely, has been big for us.

In software you need a big sales team so we grew pretty fast over the last year. We went from about 10 to 40. That’s big growth and you’re going from a small company where everyone can sit at one lunch table to a company spread across two continents. So it’s about managing the balance between process, flexibility, and making sure that we’re still a startup. One of our competitive advantages is we are flexible, and we can iterate really quickly. At the same time you need to have the processes in place. Whether that’s the hiring processes or the sales processes or the marketing processes in place to continue that growth. It’s finding that balance which is key.

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