Get Smarter with Forethought AI

The company: Forethought

Forethought is an AI company that is changing the way businesses access, share, and leverage institutional knowledge to serve their customers. At the heart of the solution is an AI agent who can help solve, triage, and assist enterprises in their customer support workstreams. Forethought’s offering also includes robust analytics to provide actionable insights and help optimize efficiencies within the customer support organization.

The details

Bringing in Forethought is basically like adding an AI superhero to your customer support team. The AI – called Agatha – uses natural language understanding to solve common questions; it also applies collective knowledge to help agents find answers fast. Agatha helps businesses save time and increase efficiency, while also improving their abilities to provide fast and accurate answers for clients. 

How it works

Forethought has built a best-in-class artificial intelligence tool that interprets underlying intent without having to set up a series of keywords to get answers. Agatha continually gets smarter by dynamically tapping existing knowledge sources within the company – that includes everything from help articles to internal email and Slack conversations. The platform helps reduce support team workloads by intercepting common issues before they reach agents. It can categorize issues as they come into the helpdesk and route them to the right place for resolution. Agatha even suggests answers to increase agent efficiency by as much as 35%. Cool, huh?

Why you should pay attention

Forethought is unlocking the power of collective knowledge for businesses. They’re building the future of intelligent workflows in the enterprise and taking on a $30+ billion market opportunity. 

Why we’re obsessed

Founded by a team of Facebook, Dropbox, and LinkedIn alumni, Forethought’s mission is to “enable everyone to be a genius at their jobs.” The company won at TechCrunch Disrupt and was featured in Forbes 30 Under 30. And it’s already delivering outstanding results for its customers, driving down time spent working on tickets by up to 20%, increasing cases closed per hour by more than 30%, and elevating quality customer interactions one hundred percent of the time. 

Get involved

Embed intelligence into your employees’ workflows. Get Forethought and be smarter.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator Spotlight: Michael Stars Co-Founder Suzanne Lerner

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Suzanne Lerner, Co-Founder & President of Michael Stars.

You’ve been at Michael Stars since you and your husband co-founded it in 1986. How has the landscape changed for women-led companies since then? 

SUZANNE: There are more women-owned and led businesses than ever before. That’s the good news. Yet when it comes to leadership, women continue to fight stereotypical assumptions about what they can or cannot achieve.

I became a serial entrepreneur after realizing I was not going to be considered for leadership roles by the various companies I was working for. And when it was time for me to take the helm of the company I co-founded and built with my husband Michael after he passed away, I had to overcome the skeptics who said I “didn’t have the experience” to lead. Of course any man with my experience would have been given the benefit of the doubt and encouraged to take over. And that was just five years ago! 

The first thing I did as leader was to break down silos that had been built up over time and encourage collaboration. Today we are a diverse, women-led organization with a collaborative team, great products, and a purpose, vision, and mission we work toward every day.

For all the strides women leaders have made, we’re still not given the same chances men receive. The best way to address this is to support other women on their leadership journeys. It’s important to invest in women entrepreneurs, learn from each other, and create the social capital that enables women to grow and succeed.

This year has been full of disruptions. As a business leader and an activist, how have you been affected by the renewed focus on social justice? 

SUZANNE: This level of social justice activism in the business community isn’t renewed. It’s brand new! What I see today is a committed wave of founders and CEOs getting real about their responsibility to end systemic inequity in our country.

Many of us who’ve been fighting for racial and gender equity for decades welcome this “wokeness.” We started the Michael Stars Foundation nearly 20 years ago with a mission to build critical pathways to gender and racial equality through access to mentorship, education, and economic opportunity, especially those focused on women and girls of color. 

Through that work we’ve learned how receptive our customers are to our social justice and activism efforts. Our latest initiatives include collaborations with Gloria Steinem on voter registration and the ERA Coalition to support the Equal Rights Amendment, as well as our Michael Stars “One for All” campaign, which provides emergency relief through $10k grants to support communities hit hardest by the inequities exposed by the pandemic. The response from our customers has been incredible. People tell us that they want to buy from a company whose values they share. 

How has COVID-19 affected your team at Michael Stars and how have you changed because of it? 

SUZANNE: We’ve always worked hard to live our values and the team’s response to COVID-19 has really taken that to another level. As an organization, we’ve become closer and more caring. Our leaders and staff, many of whom have not lived through a crisis like this, have experienced the power of purpose and the value of open collaboration in overcoming obstacles.

We faced some big challenges back in March when we decided to make masks. None of us could sit on the sidelines as we listened to the continuous reports of PPE shortages for frontline healthcare workers and responders. But we also knew that we were not a production house and we’d need to take on new roles in order to make masks for customers and for donation. 

I’m so proud of what our team has accomplished – We’ve now made and shipped thousands of masks. It wasn’t easy, but we were fueled by our purpose. That “Rosie the Riveter” spirit has become even more a part of who we are today and will enrich our culture moving forward. 

Michael Stars led the charge in so many ways comfort fashion, women in leadership roles, equal pay, diversity, and more. Why is it so important for business leaders to be a voice for equality and change? 

SUZANNE: You can’t afford not to be a voice for gender and racial equality if you want your business to thrive. Inequity threatens the independence, economic stability, and health of your employees and society at large. I’m looking forward to seeing more U.S. businesses get behind social justice and support legislation like the Equal Rights Amendment. No business can afford to be on the wrong side of history. 

Why is it important to support founders with nontraditional backgrounds? 

SUZANNE: Non-traditional in the start-up world often means that you’re a person of color, a woman, or both of those things. Most of my social impact investing and philanthropy focuses on women and girls of color. They have an incredible ability to innovate, contribute to economic growth, and organically advance gender and racial equality through whatever they do.

Not many people realize that women of color are one of the fastest-growing segments of small business owners. They are starting businesses at a rate that is six times the national average, generating more than $200 billion in revenue, and employing nearly 1.4 million people! Yet businesses with women of color CEOs get less than 1 percent of all VC funding every year.

Smart, progressive investors know that when a woman of color is founding a company, she is most likely solving a complex and important problem that has the potential to positively impact her community, make a profit, and help the economy. 

What’s one amazing insight no one knows about the fashion industry?   

SUZANNE: You purchase a “simple” tee. What you may not know is behind that tee is a complex process. Every stage is critical: concept and inspiration, design which includes fabric selection, color palate, styling details, pattern making and fitting, production, and distribution. As a company that produces 90 percent of its collection in Los Angeles, we control every aspect of this process to ensure we craft high quality, long-lasting garments and utilize manufacturing contractors who share our values.

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

SUZANNE: For me it was all about typing and secretarial work. I have to thank my mother for insisting that I acquire a “skill to fall back on.” When I left university to travel, I basically typed my way around the world, finding interesting jobs like working at an NGO in Nepal and for Reuters in Australia. Those and other gigs exposed me to the critical social issues of the time and taught me how to work with a diverse group of people. 

What’s one unconventional thing you’re doing to keep yourself sane these days?

SUZANNE: I’m typically on the road 50 percent of the time. Since the pandemic, I’ve been home much more and discovered that sweeping my patio is like being in a Zen garden! It’s my way of meditating and keeping sane.

What’s the one condiment you could never live without? 

SUZANNE: Marmite on toast, a habit I acquired in Australia. It’s so much more than a condiment and I can’t live without it!

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

The financial instruments of angel investing 

We tapped Operator Collective LP Einat Meisel, a partner at Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West, for an explanation of the most common financial instruments angel investors use. This is part 2 of our So You Want to Be an Angel series, a resource for anyone who wants to explore angel investing. (Check out the legal considerations in part 1 here.)

Moving the Money: Convertible Equity 

You’ve identified the company you want to invest in. You have high conviction in the founders. You’ve done the initial due diligence. Now it’s time to finance the deal. 

Startups most commonly issue convertible equity to early stage investors. This is a legal document that gives angel investors a right to receive a negotiated amount of stock in the company at a later point in time in exchange for the seed money. With convertible equity, the stock is not issued up front. Instead it will be issued after there has been a VC financing round  at a negotiated valuation. Most angel investors won’t know precisely what percentage of the company they own until this valuation is done. 

Why? Many early stage companies want to avoid having the conversation of valuation with angel investors. That’s because proof of concept, repeatable revenue, and other key metrics and milestones all inform valuation. Early stage companies are working to build those key metrics, and that’s why they’re taking angel investment.  

Convertible Notes

A convertible note is one of the most common instruments of convertible equity. It’s a loan that an angel investor gives to the company. The convertible note has an interest rate (market rate, typically 2-6%) and a maturity date (typically 18-24 months). If the company raises VC money during the period of the note, the note will convert into the type (typically preferred stock) and number of shares represented by the investment given the negotiated valuation.  

Angel investors don’t have a say into how the valuation happens. But they do have the ability to negotiate the financial terms of the note. These terms include a discount the angel investor receives on the valuation once the VC round happens, the angel investor’s right to continue investing in future rounds, and other future rights. The angel’s leverage in these negotiations will be determined by how big and how early the angel investment comes in, as well as how confident the company is that they’ll secure VC funding and how quickly they think they can close it. 

SAFEs

A Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) is the other commonly used convertible equity instrument used in angel investing. The SAFE is similar to a convertible note in that it is a legal agreement that gives the angel investor the right to acquire the type and number of shares issued to the VC investors at a future point in time within the framework of pre-negotiated terms. Unlike a convertible note, the SAFE does not carry an interest rate, nor does it become due on a defined maturity date. Rather, the SAFE survives until it converts in a qualified preferred stock financing event or some other kind of exit. SAFEs don’t require the company to carry debt on their books, and they’re shorter and more straightforward to negotiate than full blown investment documents, containing legal costs for the young company, which is what makes them more attractive to startups. 

Like the convertible note, the SAFE gives angel investors the ability to bet on a promising company early in exchange for a negotiated discount on preferred stock at a future point in time. Another similarity: the angel investor receives the shares after the negotiated valuation, and the investor won’t know exactly what percentage of the company they own until after that has happened.

Side Letters 

Angel investors betting on a company early are taking a bigger risk (and typically seek bigger rewards as well). Some use “side letters” to secure additional investor protections including: 

  • Pro rata rights: The ability to continue to invest in future rounds.
  • Information rights: The ability to have access to board packages, quarterly updates, and ongoing financial details.
  • “Major Investor” status: The ability to access additional rights such as the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) which allows the angel investor to purchase common stock that founders or employees may have to sell before it’s offered up to an outside third party. 

Find out more about the key legal considerations of angel investing by checking out the first part of this So You Want to Be an Angel series. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

We’ve found the Origin of financial wellness

The company: Origin

Origin is a holistic financial planning platform that helps employees reach their goals.

The details

Origin provides personalized financial plans and support, as well as the resources and tools necessary to ensure every employee is financially stable. The onboarding process allows organizations to roll out the product in as little as an hour, rather than weeks. And the best part? It’s a benefit employees will actually utilize.

How it works

First, employees meet with a personal planner to discuss their goals, questions, and concerns. Next, each employee receives an individualized financial roadmap created by their Origin experts. 1:1 meetings provide the attention and detail employees need to make well informed financial decisions. From opening an emergency savings account to evaluating your insurance, your financial planner will make actionable recommendations you can accomplish through the app. We all know life doesn’t go as planned, so it’s a relief that Origin can be there to help you adapt.

Why you should pay attention

Financial stress is the number one reported issue in the workplace — and in the past year, the number of employers offering financial wellness to their employees has increased by 25%. Origin helps companies relieve that stress by eliminating seminars and time wasted on researching unhelpful financial products. Simply put? Origin is the modern approach to financial wellness for employees. 

Why we’re obsessed

Origin helps every stage of employee — from your recent graduates, to the ones starting families, and to those approaching your neighbor who is ready to retire. No employee is left behind. 

Get involved

Are you a financial advisor and want to join Origin’s network? Click here and apply today! Are you a benefits broker and want to partner with Origin? Click here for more information.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Voting can’t change our history. But it can change our future.

This week marks a milestone in our country’s complex history of voting rights, less than 80 days from a historic national election. 

One hundred years ago, the Nineteenth Amendment prevented the government from discriminating against voters on the basis of sex – a landmark decision often celebrated as the moment women gained the right to vote. However, that moment did not include Black women or women of color. This anniversary is a moment to honor the suffragette movement that made change possible, and to acknowledge the amendment was primarily a step forward for White women. A century later, the right to vote still doesn’t extend freely and fairly to all Americans.

Until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – 45 years after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment – the government continued to legally discriminate against Black women and men at the polls. It’s just one example of the enduring status quo, even in the face of progress. Oppressive systems don’t disappear; they mutate and re-emerge, often more subtly. 

As business leaders, we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to keep a vigilant eye on those systems and help build more equitable ones – and voting is the best tool to do so. Our role in this movement is to activate our companies and networks, and to amplify the voices of people who are fighting for these rights. 

The devastating impact of inequality

Everything is at stake in the upcoming election for all communities. Historical disenfranchisement perpetuates inequality and undermines the promise of the American dream. This election is about equal access to health care in the time of COVID-19, civil rights, checks and balances in the judicial system, and economic stability, among so many other things. 

At Gusto, we’ve seen up close how COVID-19 has devastated small businesses – particularly Black-owned small businesses. Recent data shows that Black-owned businesses were twice as likely to close permanently in the early stages of the pandemic. The disproportionate hardship stems from historically-rooted inequities like a lack of access to financing and uneven aid distribution. 

Business leaders can take steps to address these inequities, but only policy can solve them at scale. The first step is to vote for elected officials we trust to act in everyone’s best interests. As Stacy Abrams recently wrote about the importance of voting, “You can have a car with all the bells and whistles – but if it doesn’t have wheels, you can’t move forward.”

Instituting voting rights leads to meaningful change, as history has shown many times. After the Voting Rights Act of 1965, registration among Black voters in the south skyrocketed, the number of Black-elected officials jumped, and there were long-term gains in Black employment and income. 

Today, voting rights are in danger again. Where there were once poll taxes and literacy tests, politicians are implementing voter ID laws and other changes that are proven to disproportionately hurt people of color. States including Kentucky and Texas have shuttered polling places that primarily serve Black communities.

What you can do to support voting rights for all

Much of what we can do to combat this is simple. As citizens, we can register and vote, support automatic voter registration, and educate ourselves about how historical systems of oppression shift and re-emerge. Apathy is as much of a threat to our democratic system as active suppression. In 2016, roughly 60 percent of the citizen voting-age population exercised that right. 40 percent did not participate.

As leaders, we have the power to mobilize our families, neighbors, and communities. We can use our networks and company platforms to educate people – about how to register, how and when to vote, and how to vote early and in-person. And we can activate people to get involved at a grassroots level by volunteering at the polls and registering people to vote.

Many of us are also in a position to amplify the voices of this movement’s leaders. That means using our personal platforms to ensure their words are heard. We should take another lesson from the history of the Nineteenth Amendment and make sure the stories of today’s activists are not lost to history, as much of the Black suffragettes’ work has been. 

Voting can’t change our history, but it can change our future

There’s reason to be hopeful – because of this leadership and the energy that’s fueling activism today, and because 2020 has shown us that nothing is inevitable. Now is the time to use our influence to make progress for long-oppressed communities. Voting is the foundation.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Your legal checklist for angel investing

Angel investments can give promising companies critical initial momentum, and it’s been shown to continue propelling them forward in several ways: they’re more likely to raise subsequent VC funding, they typically have 30-50% growth in critical metrics, and they benefit from strategic introductions their angel investors make. And while investors are creating more entrepreneurs, a Wharton/Harvard study showed entrepreneurs are also creating more angels. In a climate where taking action against bias and inequities is a mandate for so many, angel investing is emerging as a powerful tool for creating positive change as well.

We tapped Operator Collective LP Einat Meisel, a partner at Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West, for some core legal fundamentals to keep in mind as you consider angel investing. This is the first installment of the So You Want to Be an Angel series, a resource for members of our community who want to explore angel investing. 

✔ Make sure the startup has a proper legal structure 

Most startups organize as a C-corp or LLC in Delaware or California. It’s important to confirm the incorporation has happened as it gives angel investors important legal protections. Investing in other structures (e.g. partnerships) have important tax and liability implications that should be carefully examined before investing. 

✔ Make sure the IP is actually owned by the company

For most early stage companies, intellectual property (“IP”) is the key asset. It’s vitally important that the IP is assigned and owned by the company, including pre-incorporation IP. Asking to see founder and employee assignment agreements can help the angel investor assess IP ownership issues. Be aware that IP can come from myriad sources: employees, third-party contractors, customers, and more. The longer a company has been around, the more entangled the web of IP can be.  

✔ Ask the cap table question

A capitalization (aka “cap”) table is the list of the company’s shareholders and the people who have rights to equity. At the very early stages, capitalization is usually straightforward because companies have not raised money from a lot of sources. Inquire about how equity has been allocated, who owns it and what rights attach to that equity.  This will give you an understanding of  the community that’s supporting the founders, as well as an understanding of the special rights or issues that exist with respect to that equity. While angel investors should ask to see the cap table, it’s not uncommon for founders to keep details of the cap table close to the vest in angel rounds. 

✔ Ask legal compliance questions

Having a look at the company’s employment practices and assessing their understanding of securities law is deeper diligence that some angel investors do. Employment law violations such as misclassifying employees and contractors or failing to get a valid securities law exemption with every equity issuance could create headaches for everyone involved down the road. 

✔ Explore possible tax gains 

Angel investing is risky business, but one huge perk many investors are not aware of is the tax gain afforded by the Qualified Small Business Stock (QSBS) Act. Essentially, QSBS allows angel investors to exclude from federal income tax 100% of the gain on the sale of certain qualified small business stock, limited to the greater of $10 million or 10 times the adjusted basis of investment. This tax credit could save you millions — but the regulation and criteria can get complicated so be sure to consult with your tax advisor to determine if your investment qualifies. It’s fair to say, however, that most early-stage investments in C corporations meet the QSBS criteria.    

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn

 

Operator Spotlight: Google Engineer Yanbing Li

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Yanbing Li, Vice President of Engineering at Google.

This year has been full of disruptions. As both a leader and an immigrant, how have you been affected by the renewed focus on social justice?

YANBING: It has been immensely heart-wrenching to witness the racial injustice and violence toward the Black community, xenophobia against the Asian community, harsh immigration policies, and so much more. For me personally, it is a time of learning and reflection, of recognizing the deep systemic violence rooted in our nation’s founding and history. I have reached out to Black colleagues I’ve worked with to listen to their pain and frustration, which again reminded me just how little the Black community is represented in our organization. 

For my role as a leader, it is a time to be visible and available, and a time to prompt decisive action. We are doubling down our effort for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and I am serving as the chair of our organization’s DEI Council, where we are designing a set of programs to promote and improve the hiring, progression, and retention of underrepresented groups. 

How has your team at Google changed because of COVID-19? 

YANBING: My team and I have gone through multiple distinct phases since transitioning to working from home in early March. Our initial focus was on business continuity—we needed to quickly assess and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and, subsequently, working from home, on employees, teams, operations, and customers. 

Following this, we transitioned to our next phase, which highlighted productivity. Understanding and improving team productivity was key in both keeping engineering execution predictable and fulfilling customer commitments, especially with the knowledge that we will be working from home for the long haul. 

We then moved to managing growth. Google Cloud is a hyper-growth business equipped with a rapidly increasing customer base and revenue, an ever-expanding portfolio of products, and the ceaseless process of hiring and onboarding. While the pandemic has caused great uncertainty in the global economy, the demand for digital transformation and cloud services remains stronger than ever. Managing business growth and onboarding a large number of new employees while the world seems to come to a standstill is truly a surreal experience. It is challenging, yet also incredibly fulfilling to know we’re making a positive impact.  

Throughout these phases, our utmost priority has been focusing on people: the well being of our own community and the changing needs of our customers. We are providing flexibility and accommodations to our teams and continuously working to better understand and support how the pandemic is impacting each of their personal circumstances. 

You immigrated from China after college to focus on engineering, a profession that’s heavily male-dominated. That put you in the minority of a minority. What was your experience like and what pushed you through? 

YANBING: Growing up in a household of a mother who is a doctor and a father who is an engineer, my fascination with STEM began at a young age. I have fond memories of asking my grandfather for challenging math problems during summer breaks and declaring my dream job was to become a scientist while I was in elementary school. Engineering was a natural choice for me, and being a woman didn’t seem to create any barriers in my career until I became an executive. 

As I was working on transitioning from engineering leadership to business leadership, a breakthrough in my career, I found myself unsuccessful even after multiple attempts. I remember thinking, “This is what a glass ceiling feels like.” After making the decision to take a smaller engineering leadership role in an emerging business, I had the opportunity to grow with the team—first as the VP of engineering and later as the General Manager, all the while growing the new business to reach over $1B in annual revenue. Recognizing that the best path forward may sometimes be, counterintuitively, to take a step backward or sideways is absolutely crucial towards career progression, especially when feeling stuck. I was also fortunate enough to have the sponsorship of the senior leadership in the company all the way up to the CEO. They were willing to bet on me and gave me the opportunity to transition to general management.

What advice do you have for women looking to build a career in engineering?

YANBING: There has never been a better time for women to build a career in engineering. We’re in a time where technology is rapidly becoming omnipresent, more accessible, more diverse, and integrated into every industry and every aspect of our lives, all at an unprecedented scale and speed. 

The most common bias I have observed against women in engineering is that they “are not technical enough.” Establishing technical credibility is extremely important for women in any technical roles, or even in nontechnical roles in a tech organization. 

As women advance in their career, they may encounter yet another bias that they are “operational” and “tactical,” but not “strategic.” Demonstrating market insights, customer empathy, and connecting to the bigger business strategy at the larger organizational level are compelling ways to overcome this bias. 

What are some things engineering teams should prioritize over the next 6 months? 

YANBING: First and foremost, I would prioritize people, productivity, collaboration, and innovations. We must pay attention to the well being of our teams, not only as a group, but also as individuals, since the pandemic is impacting all of us in very different ways. We also need to better predict and measure productivity in this highly unpredictable time, as predictable execution is the trademark of a high-performing engineering team. This requires challenging ourselves to find new ways of collaborating virtually. While the world may seem like it has slowed down, standing still is never a winning strategy and we must continue to create room for innovation and risk-taking. 

What’s one amazing insight no one knows about engineering?   

YANBING: Engineering is a trade and there is no shortcut around it. Just like being an athlete or a musician, engineering requires us to continuously dedicate time and energy to hands-on learning and practice. Whether you’re a hands-on engineer, a senior architect, or a VP of Engineering who leads an organization of hundreds of people, you rely on experience and judgement rooted in having concrete practice with engineering and in keeping your knowledge up to date. 

However, this does not mean that people without a formal tech degree or background can’t get into tech. With the huge demand for diverse talent, there are many paths to become trained in tech. For example, at Google we have programs that support non-tech Googlers to transition to engineering through tech bootcamps and job rotations. 

People often talk about the skills they picked up as a bartender, working retail, or other experiences before their leadership roles. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

YANBING: This isn’t quite a “job,” per se, but running for Student Office in college was a formative experience for me. I got to recruit a campaign team, build connections with complete strangers, speak and debate in front of thousands of people, and campaign for the causes that I believed in. It allowed me to recognize my passion and confidence in a leadership position.  

What’s one unconventional thing you’re doing to keep yourself sane these days?

YANBING: With everyone at home, I find my life boils down to only two modes: working from home or working for home. Occasionally, I escape from these two modes to watch 90’s Japanese dramas, video meet with friends, or get beauty tutorials and yoga tips from my teenage daughters.

What’s the one condiment/spice you could never live without? 

YANBING: Soy sauce, hands down. Can you tell I grew up in China? When the pandemic started and grocery stores were running out of supplies, I didn’t panic, as I knew I could survive on rice and soy sauce for a long time. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

How your sales team can Outreach, outlast, and outperform

The company: Outreach

Outreach delivers a sales engagement platform that helps sales professionals engage with customers to grow their revenue faster and more predictably. Outreach is changing the game for revenue teams everywhere and redefining how companies engage with their customers throughout the lifecycle. 

Why you should pay attention 

Outreach is the category leader in the fast-growing Sales Engagement space. The company earned its spot on the leaderboard by inventing transformative changes that help their customers dramatically increase sales productivity and drive smarter, more insightful customer engagement. The platform delivers a jaw-dropping 387% ROI with a 5X return on investment for its more than 4,000 customers (which include companies such as Adobe, Tableau, DoorDash, Splunk, DocuSign, and SAP). 

The details 

At the core of Outreach is a system of action that gives sales reps insights and recommended activities to close deals quickly and effectively. The system uses AI and machine learning to help sales reps reach clients and prospects on their own terms, working across email, social, voice, and text-based communication methods. Outreach even allows them to test different messages and approaches in order to optimize the content and improve their outcomes at scale. And how do you know what works? Simple: Reporting functionality gives visibility into sales rep activity so team leaders can see what performs and what doesn’t. The platform then delivers the insights everyone needs to stay focused and deliver a simplified, consistent experience across all stages of the sales cycle.

How it works

Outreach’s customer engagement platform gives sales teams the tools they need to choreograph an engaging, personalized buyer’s journey for each of their customers and prospects. It drives new levels of efficiency and visibility into the sales system. From saving reps hours of work to driving messaging alignment and ROI and growing the pipeline, Outreach’s customers are using the platform as a playbook for success and revenue growth.  

Why were obsessed 

Outreach is on an incredible trajectory because it is delivering immense value to clients, which include a who’s who of everything from the hottest tech startups to the F100 icons. That’s reflected in its valuation: The company has officially become a “unicorn,” valued at $1.3+ billion — the only company in the dynamic sales engagement space with that mythical status. The company leads its sector because it’s driving breakthrough innovation that fuels exponential revenue growth for its thousands of clients. It’s easy to see why we’re obsessed. 

Get involved

Ready to make your team a revenue-driving machine? It’s time: Get Outreach.  

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

6 ways to build pipeline and drive revenue performance in a downturn

COVID-19 has changed virtually every aspect of our business lives, from marketing and HR to engineering and product. But one big thing on everyone’s radar is sales: How do you build pipeline and drive revenue performance in a down market?

We’ve gone from a booming economy to one that’s incredibly fragile. Companies have had to make layoffs, reel in their budgets, and allocate their spend to must-haves only. If you’re a technology provider and on the vendor side, you must determine the best ways to build pipeline and maintain revenue performance in order to stay afloat. For some in the workforce, this is the first downturn they’ve experienced, so these are uncharted waters.

I had a chance to discuss this with Operator Collective Founder & Partner Mallun Yen, who grew enterprise revenue from the ground up to $300M at her venture-backed startup, and Brex Chief Customer Officer Roli Saxena, who ran a $250M revenue division at LinkedIn. Together we shared 6 things revenue leaders who’ve been through multiple downturns are doing to build pipeline and drive revenue performance, even in a pandemic and economic recession. Spoiler alert: Anchoring on customer success and value is critical.

1) Start with your existing customers

Customer retention is always paramount, but never more so than right now. Retention is key, not only to maintain current revenue, but also to enable future expansion revenue. So keeping customers in the boat is priority number one. Anchor them with value and trust.  

First, it’s critical to be in touch not only with your customers’ usage and adoption of your products, but also their perceived realized value. Are they getting measurable value from their spend with you? This is a crucial conversation, and your team must be clear on how to enable your customers to quantify value. 

Second, as different companies and sectors are impacted by the pandemic to different degrees, have empathy. Stay as flexible as you can as you discuss contracts and renewals. The priority is to keep customers in your franchise, and when you can offer a degree of flexibility in a moment of need, you may create a customer for life even as you take a short term downgrade.  Consider approaches such as extended trials, usage-based billing, payment terms, and product swapability. Partner with your finance team to ensure alignment on what’s possible, and then create a dialogue with your customers. This dialogue and flexibility will go a long way to strengthening the trust with your customer base and ensuring customers for the long term.

2) Align your value prop to areas of customer need 

Budgets have been slashed, leaving most companies spending only what they qualify as must-have purchases. The list of must-haves has likely changed since January. Companies are in pursuit of lower TCO and higher ROI from their technology investments, so be prepared to speak to how your product or service delivers on those fronts. “Why now?” is a critical question your sales team must seek to understand from customer engagements. What problem does it solve right now? Does your offering “make the cut” as companies re-evaluate projects and budgets?

As you define your value proposition, be sure to anchor on your customer success approach. How will you help customers adopt and realize value from your technology quickly? 

3) Create champions and advocates

Every account needs a champion – a prospect or current user on the inside who knows and loves your product, and is willing to advocate for you and make the case to purchase or renew. The right champion is empowered and has influence across the organization.

Creating champions is more difficult in a virtual environment. It’s much harder to get a read on a level of commitment in a virtual meeting versus an in person one. Plus, your champion’s organization may be in flux, which means their influence may have diminished. 

Two recommendations for navigating this challenge in the downturn are to 1) create multiple champions, and 2) strive for executive alignment early in your sales cycle. To create multiple champions, perhaps you focus on a “technical champion” who will advocate for your product capabilities, as well as a “business champion” who will speak for your solution’s impact on the business. And as you pursue executive alignment, the good news is that executives are in many cases easier to access in our virtual world and may have an increased interest in striking up a relationship with a new partner or around a new solution investment.

4) Redefine “high propensity” 

The pandemic and macro-economic environment have impacted various regions, industries, and companies in unique ways. Take the time to revisit assumptions around where your high propensity segments, accounts, and use cases lie. High propensity to buy is simply about determining the likelihood of a customer buying something – but has that changed given today’s environment? 

Sit back and reevaluate for a moment. Are your Marketing and Sales programs focused sufficiently on those areas? You may want to adjust sales rep territories and re-align resources accordingly.

5) Track an updated set of leading indicators

Your business-as-usual set of metrics may not be sufficient, so consider giving them a refresh. As all selling teams become “inside sales teams” – and as customer engagement is now all virtual – what are the leading indicators you can track to ensure productivity, effectiveness, customer engagement, and customer success?

It’s important to track your team metrics, but also activity type – and to take in both objective and subjective data about what activity types are most effective right now. For example, is your outbound email marketing working? Are your remote demos effective?  

In addition to standard pipeline creation metrics, measuring pipeline progression is as important as ever, so that you have visibility as to whether opportunities are taking longer at any particular stage, which may be a reflection of customer resources or priority. For example, is it taking longer to achieve the technical win, perhaps because there are more stakeholders on the customer side to engage? Is the procurement process taking longer, as customers are required to collect additional approvals? This is important information to take into account as you forecast the business.

On the post-sales side, customer adoption and value are key. If you offer a SaaS solution, working with your customers proactively to understand where they are in their adoption journey and helping them advance is critical. Understand the outcomes your customers strive for, and make sure to measure your team’s success against those customer goals.

6)  Celebrate successes

These unprecedented times have created stress and anxiety for all, on personal and professional levels. Professional success in a down environment is harder than ever to achieve, and therefore celebrating success, too, is more important than ever. In fact, I strongly recommend celebrating the micro-successes – such as a small new “land” win, a note of positive customer feedback, a training certification completed, a key customer go-live, or a cross-functional project delivered. Finding smaller successes to celebrate more frequently and with generous attribution across a broad team of people where possible is a wonderful opportunity in this environment.

As go-to-market leaders, it’s critical that we create an environment for our teams where they have confidence that they can be successful and know they are valued. Success begets success, and your team’s confidence and success will carry over into how they show up for customers and be a positive influence.

More information on selling in a down market 

Driving pipeline and revenue is challenging right now and requires adjustments to strategy and tactics. Yet perhaps it also presents an opportunity to re-anchor on the evergreen guiding principles of trust, value, and customer success.  

For more strategies on how to sell in a downturn, watch our full Challenge Series webinar. It offers many more insights on ways you can maximize your sales cycle in a down market.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Words matter: Textio makes business writing more effective and inclusive

The company: Textio

Textio is an augmented writing platform that’s changing how companies work. Using language patterns and data insights, Textio helps companies be more intentional with their business writing so it has the impact they intend. At the most basic level, Textio gives businesses new ways to transform their company culture by innovating on the most powerful tool that every human has to affect change: the words we use to communicate.

It’s how you say it

The words your company uses everyday broadcast to the world what your company values. Companies like Nestle, McDonald’s, and Zillow turn to Textio when they want to get more intentional about the alignment between their words and their culture. Textio also helps ensure business language appeals broadly and is inclusive across gender, age, and ability and optimized to get a response. Apple, Cisco, Johnson & Johnson, and NASA use Textio daily to make sure their values and culture shine through in their most critical communications.

The details

Think of Textio as a word processor that’s designed to predict how readers will respond and engage based on the patterns of language that are being used. The words in a job description, for example, can profoundly affect the profile of the candidate pool that applies, which in turn is a reflection of the employee base. Companies use Textio to ensure their business communications are more inclusive, deliberate, and impactful. The platform is highly instrumented to provide data and insights that flag jargon, make suggestions, and even reveal gender-coded language that the writer may not see. Textio lives at the intersection of creative writing and breakthrough innovation. That’s reflected in the credentials of its top leaders: CEO Kieran Snyder has a PhD in linguistics and cognitive science, and both she and her co-founder Jensen Harris held leadership roles at Microsoft before starting Textio.

How it works

As you’re writing, Textio is comparing your language to its vast databases of more than 600 million documents to parse the most relevant and make recommendations on language patterns that are proven to work well in a given situation. The platform continually evolves and improves via a learning loop — each user of the system makes the platform more intelligent. Textio makes predictions on who will engage with the content as it’s being written, it makes suggestions for changing something that’s just been typed, and it proactively creates language to help achieve the recruitment, corporate culture, or digital transformation objectives the business is working towards.

Why we’re obsessed

Diversity and culture are key imperatives for Operator Collective and we have high standards for this in the companies we invest in. Textio is building innovation that helps more companies create inclusive cultures, foster diversity, and build belonging.

Get involved

Now more than ever, businesses recognize that inclusion is an imperative. Meet Textio, and make your words matter.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.