Demos that wow? Here’s how.

The company: Demostack

Imagine this: You’ve been invited to give a product demo to the decision-maker for a marquee account. This person is well known for being all about “show me, don’t tell me.” To win this business you need a fully customized, interactive demo that reflects their real production environment. And you need it immediately because the client wants to meet ASAP. Usually you’d need to call in a favor with the engineering team to build the demo and close this sale. No more. 

Demostack delivers issue-free product demos, personalized to the prospect and delivered across any device. The product helps SaaS companies set up, control, and maintain demo environments without having to redirect any precious engineering resources to engage in sales support. With Demostack, sales leaders can create custom product demos in minutes so their sales teams can go in and close business. 

Why you should pay attention 

A CEB/Google study of 1,500 B2B major purchase decision-makers revealed that the sale is nearly 60% complete by the time a prospect engages a sales rep, who would have the opportunity to do a demo. Demos are a vital part of closing business — but building, customizing, and ensuring demos perform flawlessly has always been to sales professionals what the boulder was to Sisyphus: a grueling form of punishment. Populating a demo with sample data, creating prospect-specific scenarios, ensuring the demo is on-brand with the client, and resolving technical and bandwidth issues is an enormous, arduous, and perpetually recurring task.

How it works

Demostack’s demo environment and experience management solution enables sales, and other customer-facing teams, to create a front-end replica of their product in minutes, without the help of engineering. Teams can then create and customize as many unique product demos out of the replica as they want using point-and-click editing tools. Everything from the text and numbers to the images and graphs can be tailored to tell a story that will resonate with the prospect.

Product demos created with Demostack look and feel exactly like the product, but are completely independent. This means they are not only able to be personalized, but also, typical issues that pop up during software product demos are eliminated. Technical bugs, accidental sharing of sensitive data, connectivity issues, and more issues that cause salespeople demo anxiety become a thing of the past. Demostack demos can also be shared by URL so prospects can explore the demo and easily pass it around within their organization.  Robust analytics are available for every demo, offering insight on what screens of the product were shown during the live demo, who viewed the demo within the prospect organization, and more.  With point-and-click personalization and seamless, issue-free delivery, Demostack delivers product demos that shine with zero code, technical, or design expertise. 

Why were obsessed 

The company is founded by serial entrepreneurs Jonathan Friedman, Aaron Hakim, and Gilad Avidan. This dream team delivers a seamless solution to a problem that every company faces: how to deliver tailored product demos that resonate with prospects without taxing engineering resources. The future of Sales Enablement is bright and Demostack is poised to take the space by storm.    

Get involved

The early access beta is now under way and limited spots are still available. Connect with Demostack to learn more and explore joining the beta. 

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.

Q&A: How to build and scale a world-class customer success org

A tech company needs certain obvious things to be successful – product, sales, and marketing, for example. But in today’s world where the customer rules all, you’ve got to have a secret weapon in order to grow and scale: Customer success.

I spent 14 years building and growing the Customer Success org at Salesforce, followed by 4 years as Slack’s CCO and Global Head of Customer Success, so I’ve seen firsthand the value and growth opportunities a great org can bring. I grew right alongside those teams, and also witnessed what it takes to build a high-performing org from scratch. Here are my answers to four of the most common questions I get about growing and scaling an early stage customer success organization. 

1) What are some tactical first steps when building a customer service org from scratch?

Building a customer success org from scratch is tough, and the impulse is to hit the ground running. But customer success means something different at every organization, and the only way to define it at yours is to start getting to know the customers. The concept of agility and partnership with your customers is so important. 

As you do that, you also have to plan to scale. And the way to do that is to get a team on the ground. At Slack, I spent my first couple months interviewing candidates; it was important for me to get the key players in place so that they, in turn, could scale and hire. If you can’t get ahead of building that hiring engine, you’re never going to be able to scale. You’ve got to get that layer of leadership in place, so that you could manage up into the executive team and out to the customer, and then manage volume as well.

2) What do you do when there’s a service outage? 

Outages are painful for everyone involved, but they can also be incredible opportunities to gain trust with your customers and create a sense of partnership. The first thing – always – is to apologize. You have to show empathy and demonstrate that you understand the impact this outage is having both on their business and on them personally. The people you’re talking to often bet their careers on your technology, so not only is their business being impacted, their reputation is on the line, too. Acknowledging that can go a long way. 

Next you’ve got to dig to find out the biggest impact on each customer. As you do that, it’s vital to be transparent about what’s happening on the product side – even if you have to say, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to stay on the phone with you.” Do what you need to do to keep them from going into panic mode, because in the absence of reassurance or information, they’ll create their own dialogue as to what’s happening. Sometimes your update will have to be: “We don’t have any new information right now,” but even so, it’s important to over communicate.

3) What’s a specific early-stage challenge you’ve experienced and what was the lesson learned? 

One thing that comes to mind stems from my time at Salesforce. When we built the customer success org there, we created a “heroic” culture. It was very high touch (we had people that would drop everything to make a customer successful), and we really needed that kind of setup to get us over the early-stage hump. In doing so, though, we also created a dependency on that high-touch model, which doesn’t work as you grow. 

In those early days we had a phone number any customer could call to get support – 1-800-NO-SOFTWARE – but this service method wasn’t scalable at all. So we made the decision to get rid of the phone number… yet we’d created a culture that was very dependent on it. We beefed up self service, created one-to-many programs, and added resources and guides, but the change was still incredibly painful. 

As you grow, be sure to think through the scaling aspect. You likely need a high-touch model when you start, but be careful about building your program around one touch. At some point, you’ll want to shift to a programmatic setup and offer new help options as needed.

4) Sometimes there’s a product gap and the current product is not quite where the customer wants it to be just yet. How do you respond? 

That’s an age-old kind of tension, and most tech companies run into it at some point. The first thing is to understand business value: What are your customers trying to achieve? Many of them go immediately into the how, instead of letting the product and success experts guide them on how to best use the technology based on their goals. There’s often a way to achieve their goals based on the product as it stands. 

One of the most important things your customer success team can do is create a tight feedback loop to help identify any gaps. That feedback, in turn, can directly influence the product roadmap. It’s great to involve your product teams in conversations with the customers or create advisory boards that determine, for example, the top three features that would move the needle. Those loops also create a real tightness between the company and customers.

Ready to talk Customer Success?

I love talking Customer Success, sharing experiences, and learning from others. For more information, check out this Customer Success Q&A I did last year with fellow Customer Success junkie Nick Mehta, or feel free to reach out on Twitter with questions.

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.

BlocPower to the people: How old buildings are driving a green revolution

The company: BlocPower

BlocPower is a Brooklyn-based climate technology startup that’s greening American cities by installing air source heat pumps to heat and cool multifamily buildings, churches, and community centers. The company is driving up energy efficiency, driving down building operating costs, and increasing value for the residents and owners of the buildings they retrofit with clean energy. 

With more than 1,000 urban clean energy projects completed, customers are saving anywhere from 20% to 40% on their energy bills, and going green as they bank those savings.  

Why you should pay attention

The bigger story is how BlocPower is fighting climate change one building at a time since buildings are responsible for up to 28% of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. The company developed a proprietary software platform that’s used to scope and estimate retrofits to make buildings greener, smarter and healthier. And they’re starting in historically disadvantaged communities that typically lack access to funding for clean energy systems and have higher exposure to harmful pollutants. Retrofitting these structures can help build more resilient cities and BlocPower’s success serves as a model for how greening buildings can help drive the post-COVID recovery.  

How it works 

BlocPower’s software allows building owners to enter their address and get a set of preliminary recommendations on the kinds of green equipment suitable for their buildings. BlocPower’s algorithm uses big data, machine learning, and mechanical engineering insights to produce these recommendations. A financial model maps out the costs of doing the retrofit along with the energy savings that would result from the project. This is used to secure the financing needed to cover the retrofit costs. Customers sign 15-year leases and use savings from reduced utility bills to repay the retrofit costs. Small and minority-owned businesses partner with BlocPower to do the upgrades and hire and train underemployed workers from the communities being served.

Leading the movement

The personal story of BlocPower’s Founder & CEO is as entrepreneurial and inspiring as the solutions he’s bringing to market. The son of immigrant parents from Guyana, Donnel Baird was raised in a Brooklyn building much like the ones his company now retrofits: His family often had to use the kitchen oven to heat their apartment. He’s passionate about addressing energy inequity in underserved communities because he’s lived those disparities himself. His professional path has taken him through the country’s top universities and into established business circles where he persevered against racial bias to find partners that could help bring his vision to life. Operator Collective is proud to be one of them. 

Why we’re obsessed 

Climate tech can help save the planet. BlocPower is giving residents, owners, and congregants in underserved communities a path to leveling up their heating and cooling capabilities as they dial down their costs and environmental footprint. The company is delivering value to every stakeholder in its business model. And it’s addressing systemic social inequities and some of the world’s biggest challenges as a public benefit corporation. At the helm of the company is a dynamic leader who has assembled an exceptional team. They’re building a blueprint for transitioning buildings off of fossil fuels at scale across the country. 

Get involved

BlocPower plans to announce a first-of-its-kind campaign that will give individuals an opportunity to become impact investors and fund clean energy projects in select U.S. cities. Follow BlocPower on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn to get the latest news. 

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: NBA Chief Fan Officer Danielle Lee

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 Danielle Lee, Chief Fan Officer for the National Basketball Association.  

You became the NBA’s Chief Fan Officer last year, overseeing fan marketing and the NBA brand. How do you build relationships with NBA fans when there are so many out there?

DANIELLE: The NBA has a massive global fan base and it is important that we meet our fans where they are – across social, gaming, audio, and video platforms. We look for ways to create native experiences on each platform that bring fans closer to the game, deepen their fandom, and ultimately make them ambassadors for the NBA. One of the experiences I loved during the NBA Restart was the “Oculus Front Row View.” The courtside view in basketball is the best seat in all of sports, and our partnership with Facebook gave fans the opportunity to live out that experience from anywhere in the world. 

Professional sports have been leading the charge when it comes to social justice. How is the NBA supporting its players, while also staying connected to its fans? 

DANIELLE: Placing Black Lives Matter on the court or having players wear social justice messages on their jerseys is in keeping with the league’s longstanding tradition of addressing issues of equality. In addition to our on-court efforts, the NBA, in partnership with the players and the NBPA decided to make social justice – with voting in particular – a major focus of the restart in an effort to affect real change. In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors worked with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election. The purpose was to allow for a safe, in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID. We also established a social justice coalition, with representatives from players, coaches, and governors, that’s focused on a broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.

We’re fortunate that the NBA values are aligned with those of our fans, who are among the youngest and most diverse in sports. 72% of NBA fans support the Black Lives Matter movement, and  42% of NBA fans said they would have felt negatively towards the league had it not taken a stand on social justice issues. Fans have a much greater expectation of brands today. They expect brands to contribute positively to society, address the problems facing their communities, and have a lasting impact.  

What are some of your top marketing priorities for 2021?

DANIELLE: A top marketing priority for 2021 is to develop a much richer understanding of our fans. We need to go beyond avidity to understand beliefs, values, lifestyle, habits, and motivations. A lot of our investments are to further our fan understanding in order to inform creative development, product positioning, and channel strategy. From a leadership perspective, I’m also keen to shift the culture of our marketing team to be far more fan centric. We need to put the fan at the center of everything we do. That’s the filter by which we will design experiences to drive a variety of brand and business outcomes.

Metrics are a top tool for marketers. How do you like to use data and metrics to strengthen customer and fan relationships? 

DANIELLE: I use data to inform brand storytelling and to understand what resonates with fans, both emotionally and culturally. It’s important to garner insight from fans through qualitative and quantitative research when developing creative. It’s equally important to see how they actually react, engage, and behave in the world.  

How do you believe the role of marketing is evolving when it comes to the future of work?

DANIELLE: Marketing has evolved into a more growth-oriented role over the past decade. The need to articulate how marketing investments are driving business growth is imperative. Going forward, I believe marketing will have an outsized impact on shaping culture in the workplace. More and more a company’s brand values will shape how decisions are made and the behaviors that are rewarded in the workplace.     

What’s your secret super power? 

DANIELLE: My secret super power is courage. I have an innate ability to push past my fear, which is incredibly useful in business. I’ve learned that you earn people’s respect and build trusted relationships when you have the courage to have honest conversations. People may not always like what they hear, but they will respect you for telling them your truth and trust you to come to them directly instead of talking behind their back.  

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.

How to be an effective board member: 5 lessons learned

This year marks my tenth year serving as a Board member (usually in conjunction with being an investor). It’s been a fun ride with a lot of lessons learned. As I reflect on my “time served,” I’d like to share some findings from my vantage point on what it means to be effective as a Board member. 

Boards are inherently focused on two issues: governance and strategy. The goal of every Board is to ensure the company is making strong and ethical decisions (and complying with various laws and policies), and that there is a clear growth strategy in place. By their very nature, Boards are a consensus-based body that gives advice to the CEO. To me, the most important thing about both a private and public Board is whether they’re effective in giving that advice. 

Here are 5 things that help me be an effective Board member – but please note that 10 years in, I still find myself constantly learning. 

1) Rise above the endless details 

The most effective Board members I see are those who can accurately describe the forest, instead of focusing on the individual trees. I find those Board members frequently explain the context for an issue, as opposed to drilling into options and specifics. 

As an example, companies will have tough quarters; drilling down on the specifics of an underlying region (which you hope the operators have already done) is generally less effective than being able to judge if the miss was caused by a larger concern (competition or product). Instead, use your time to focus on the big picture. 

2) Empathy beats pedigree when making points  

Because Boards are consensus based, there’s often a temptation to use pedigree (“I’m on 7 Boards and none of them do this” or “When I was CEO…”) to short circuit decision making. But even if you have the greatest background and experience ever, the world still needs new ideas and fresh perspectives. 

A better way to be effective is try and show a deeper understanding of the challenges this particular team is facing. It may well be that once you listen and fully understand, a different approach is merited.

3) Prepare questions in advance 

CEOs prepare decks in advance. Good CEOs treat the decks as their “asks” for input from their Board (and even if you have a CEO who’s just in reporting mode, the deck should still be the starting point for questions to answer and debate in the Boardroom). 

A best practice here is to try and prepare your questions ahead of time. First, it helps you decide in your own head what is most important. After all, not every issue merits questions or discussion. Second, it allows you to focus and prepare for the answers. This makes your feedback less random and more useful.

4) Know when to dig in and when to defer  

I’m not an expert in sales management. Of course, there will be times I want to get my sales questions and opinions in the mix, but when other folks around the room who are experts weigh in, it is really not the time for me to hard position or grandstand. 

Know when to use your voice and when to pipe down. Many Board members do not seem to understand their impact in the room when they grandstand on issues where they have limited domain expertise. Save your influence for matters when your expertise is truly needed; this will help you have more of an impact.

5) Get to know the CEO  

The opportunity to serve on a Board is really about using your experience to help the CEO navigate the thousands of decisions they have to make every year. I’m sometimes shocked that Board members take little to no time to understand the CEO and their journey. 

As with most things in life, CEOs have experiences which shape and influence decisions. Some Board members never invest the time to understand those things (and can cross red lines without realizing it). Take the time to get to know the CEO as a person and a leader; it will be worth it in so many ways.

The journey to successful Board experiences 

Being a Board member is a privilege, and it’s not an easy job by any means. There’s no clear formula for success, and quite frankly, not a lot of great training programs in place right now. Fortunately there are people – like me – who are willing and happy to help as needed. My bonus tip, of course, is to look out for them. 

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.

8 powerhouse women you need on your board now

For years we saw the laws and mandates coming, and now they’re here. Publicly held companies in California must include board members from underrepresented communities. Goldman Sachs announced it will not take a company public unless it has at least one board member from an underrepresented background. NASDAQ wants to require every company listed on its exchange to include at least one woman and minority person on their boards. 

Historically, board seats have been filled with current and former CEOs and CFOs. While boards still require that expertise, of course, recent years have seen the rise of the independent operator as board director, a move which brings deep domain expertise, strong business acumen, and cross-functional scaling experience. Savvy CEOs value those wide-ranging skills and appreciate the additional perspectives, partnerships, and growth opportunities a diverse board provides. 

As a talent practitioner, I’m well versed on the intricacies of board placements. Now at Operator Collective, I work to connect our tech executive operator LPs with board and advisory opportunities. Having been on both sides of the placement equation, I’ve seen how corporate board recruiting strategies are evolving. One emerging trend is to avoid overboarding, and instead look at first-time directors who can bring fresh perspectives and new energy. 

Here we’re proud to highlight 8 women tech leaders looking for their first board seats. Any company would be lucky to add their acumen, experience, and expertise to their board room. 

Nancy Wang
General Manager, Data Protection Services at Amazon Web Services

Nancy Wang is a global product and technical leader at Amazon Web Services, where she leads P&L, product, engineering, and design for its data protection and governance businesses. Prior to Amazon, she led SaaS product development at Rubrik, the fastest-growing enterprise software unicorn. Passionate about advancing more women into technical roles, Nancy is the Founder & CEO of Advancing Women in Tech, a global 501(c)(3) nonprofit with 16,000+ members spanning three continents. Recently, the a16z Women on Boards boot camp inducted her into its ranks.

LaFawn Davis
Group Vice President, Environmental, Social, & Governance, Indeed

LaFawn Davis is a respected technology executive with 15+ years of experience. Currently she’s a Group Vice President at Indeed, leading teams that focus on Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Product Inclusion, Accessibility, Social Impact, AI Ethics, and Environmental Sustainability. Previously she’s held key senior leadership roles at global technology companies like Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Twilio. Recently she was named to Fast Company’s Queer50 – a ranking of the most influential and innovative queer women and nonbinary people transforming business and tech.

Jessica Rusin
Chief Technology Officer, Guild Education 

Jessica Rusin has more than a decade of experience providing technical leadership while designing and developing high quality web and mobile apps for both enterprise and small business. She served as CTO through Guild Education’s scale from an early stage EduTech company to a $1B unicorn. Jessica is an accomplished problem solver with strong knowledge of both front-end and back-end technologies and expertise in object-orientated software development. 

Monique Dorsainvil
Public Policy, Facebook 

At Facebook Monique Dorsainvil leads engagement with third-party think tank and advocacy organizations, and was a part of the core team that spearheaded the company’s Civil Rights Audit, which looked at policy and product from an anti-discrimination lens. Prior to that, she spent seven and a half years at the White House, most recently as Deputy Chief of Staff to Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. Monique is known for her expansive, consensus-driven leadership and governance.

Eda Gultekin
General Manager, Asana 

Eda Gultekin leads sales, customer success, and partnerships for Asana’s Americas group. Previously she was a senior consultant at Bain Consulting before becoming the Director of North American Enterprise Sales at LinkedIn. Eda built LinkedIn’s talent ads business; her tour of duty at LinkedIn was detailed by Reid Hoffman in his book, The Alliance. Eda is passionate about leadership and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), driving change through the Women’s Initiative, a LinkedIn leadership program she co-founded.

Danielle Lee
Chief Fan Officer, National Basketball Association

At the NBA, Danielle Lee leads brand, creative, and multi-platform fan marketing globally. She’s an accomplished marketing executive, widely recognized for being a change agent, leading brand and innovation strategy, and delivering strong in-market results for some of the world’s most respected brands including Spotify, where she served as the Global Vice President of Partner Solutions when they went from $3B to nearly $30B following their 2018 IPO.

Ann Funai
Senior Vice President of Engineering and Interim Head of Product, MyFitnessPal

Ann Funai is an experienced technology officer, known for leading customer-focused technical organizations. Before her current position at MyFitnessPal, she was the SVP of Engineering at Under Armour and CTO of PeopleAdmin, where she was part of the leadership team who took the company through sale. On top of that, Ann has 20 years at IBM under her figurative belt, as well as a great deal of experience integrating and divesting teams through M&A.

Alka Tandan
Senior Vice President of Finance, Gainsight 

Alka Tandan has over 20 years of corporate finance, operations, and M&A experience in the technology industry, mostly focused on SaaS. Her career spans respected companies like SAP, Actian, and MetricStream and includes several successful exits. Alka has raised over half a billion dollars in venture and debt financing, while also being considered a strong strategic partner across the business. Most recently, she was part of the executive team that scaled Gainsight to a $1B unicorn. 

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.

 

Get ready for your first board seat with the 3 P’s

Bonita Stewart

Corporate boards have received much publicity over the past year as forward-thinking companies look to diversify their leaders and directors. Whether their impetus is economic, social, or legal, this is a welcome change after centuries of sameness. 

Securing your first corporate board seat is no easy task, but there are ways to set yourself up for success. You’ve gotten to where you are today through hard work and dedication; to be the most effective board director, consider planning and preparing for your first board seat with a similar mindset. Think about the 3 Ps as you go: preparation, positioning, and persistence.  

1) Preparation  

If you’re looking for a corporate board seat, the first thing you need to do is learn the responsibilities involved and really understand the fiduciary role of being a private or public board member. Board service is not for everyone; educate yourself first to make sure you’re ready to make the commitment.

Fortunately, there are many programs available to help prepare you for the responsibilities and necessary steps to hone your value proposition. Here are some resources I’ve found helpful. 

  • Egon Zehnder’s The Path to the Boardroom includes helpful content on how to write a board bio, position yourself, interview, and start off well.

  • Black Corporate Board Readiness (BCBR) is an online program for Black senior executives interested in public or private corporate board service.

  • NACD Accelerate is a two-year program to help executives with little or no experience in the boardroom prepare for board service.

  • Northwestern’s Women’s Director Development Program offers a more rigorous approach to corporate director training.

  • HBS Women on Boards gives women executives the right tools and direction to secure a seat on healthcare and related industry boards.

  • Yale Women on Boards helps women understand the skills required of board directors, acquire the insights needed, and launch a search for a board seat. 

2) Positioning 

Think about your career journey more intentionally. What unique skills or experiences do you have to offer that could be of use in a boardroom conversation? Look beyond your title and role to develop your professional reputation as a thought leader in your industry

Companies looking to fill a board seat generally create a “board skills matrix,” or a list of the desired skills, knowledge, and experience needed to help a board meet particular challenges. Consider your career moves carefully to garner skills and experience most commonly seen on a matrix. Remember: Not all career moves catapult you closer to the boardroom. Stay close to the P&L streams.

3) Persistence  

Securing a board seat is a long game and doesn’t happen instantaneously. The search may take a while and feel daunting at times. After all, most boards have an average tenure between six to ten years, meaning turnover and open seats are rare. 

Until your opportunity arrives, be persistent. Advocate for yourself and let others who reach out to you know when you are ready for a board nomination. Keep your bio up to date, continue to educate yourself, and be resilient in your efforts. The first board seat is the hardest to get, but after landing one, you might find more opportunities soon coming your way. 

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.

Ensuring change in insurtech: Meet AgentSync

The company: AgentSync

AgentSync is modernizing one piece of the complex, fragmented, and antiquated insurance ecosystem – how brokers and insurers connect and do business – by building a modern producer management tool. The deeply entrenched insurance industry is far from a “sexy” space for a startup, but AgentSync fundamentally believes that technology can bring scaled innovation to this unsexy sector. 

By bringing state-of-the-art technology, transparency, and accountability to high-risk regulatory requirements previously handled in spreadsheets, AgentSync’s compliance-as-a-service solution is disrupting insurtech, and gaining notable attention in the process. 

Why you should pay attention 

Insurtech is just getting started. Insurance as an industry is around 300 years old and represents $1.32 trillion per year in the US alone. Its enormous size, multifaceted surface area, established processes, and highly regulated nature make it especially tricky to disrupt. One particular pain point is that insurance carriers and insurance agencies are required to track licensing data and carrier appointments to protect their customers and stay on the right side of compliance regulation.

The existing systems that carriers and agencies rely on to track vital producer data are stuck in another era. AgentSync is rocketing the sector forward with a SaaS solution built directly on the Salesforce platform that includes seamless integration to the industry’s repository of licensing data, the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR). 

The details 

The cycle of managing insurance producers – onboarding, contracting, licensing verification, and ongoing compliance management – must be carefully managed to maintain compliance in this highly regulated industry. As you may guess, the details of doing so are incredibly complex. Licensing requirements vary state by state, as do renewal deadlines. Agencies and carriers must keep up with the latest regulatory changes in each state and pass those through to their producers. 

AgentSync helps businesses navigate this with features like batch onboarding and applications, saving hours of time and eliminating tedious manual data entry, as well as automatic alerts and compliance reports, which reduce risk and offer peace of mind. It helps everyone move faster by eliminating friction and making the end-to-end experience better. Best of all, producers love using AgentSync – it takes the burden of paperwork off of them, so they can focus on doing what they were hired to do – sell insurance. 

The platform can be set up in a week and customized to fit the needs of each unique carrier or agency. AgentSync is built to evolve and scale alongside each business using it, and the team is constantly listening to customer feedback and building new features to best fit their needs. 

Why were obsessed 

The sector is ripe for disruption. The outdated manual tools agencies and carriers have available to them are slow, inefficient, and highly prone to introducing errors.

AgentSync co-founders Jenn Knight (Dropbox, Stripe) and Niji Sabharwal (Zenefits) are the dynamic duo that’s well positioned to bring change. They have deep experience in both compliance requirements and technical infrastructures. (CTO Knight has built a technical team that’s mostly female, yet another way in which AgentSync is blazing the path forward.) And we’re not the only ones who can see AgentSync’s star is rising.  

Get involved

It’s easy for insurance carriers and agencies seeking compliance-as-a-service to get into AgentSync’s orbit. And that gravitational pull is also attracting top tech talent as the company grows to meet demand and capture the potential of this enormous market.

(P.S. They’re hiring!)  

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: Revenue leader Erica Schultz

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 Erica Schultz, President of Field Operations at Confluent.  

The world feels a little unsteady these days, which manifests differently in every employee. How are you supporting Confluent’s employees? 

ERICA: We’ve done a few things as we’ve navigated this past year. We’ve spent some time with our leadership team on “Managing Inclusively,” and on coaching all leaders how to really check in with their team members. We’ve offered extra “re-charge days,” in addition to our existing vacation policy. We’ve launched ERGs for 6 under-represented groups and introduced lots of (optional) fun activities. The past year has presented many challenges, but through it all, I do believe we’ve grown more connected as a team and more authentic, vulnerable, and resilient as human beings.

As we kick off 2021, what are some of your top strategic priorities?

ERICA: At Confluent our #1 company value is “Earn Our Customers’ Love.” To us, customer success is not just a functional area, but a company sport. Everyone gets involved; it is our north star. So in 2021 we continue to make investments in customer success such as hiring and training more CSMs, creating Customer Advisory Boards, and adding technical architects — we will do everything we can to help our customers realize maximum value from our technology.

What do sales leaders need to be successful right now?

ERICA: Sales and GTM leaders are always well served by deeply understanding their customers’ journeys and the needs of the various stakeholders involved in a technology decision. How can you communicate with and engage each of those customer stakeholders in a way that best meets their needs? For developers, it may be a great self-service experience and technical documentation. For change agent CTOs, it may be forums with peers who are also leading bold change at their companies. Think persona-specific.

What will change for sales leaders post-COVID, and what’s here to stay?

ERICA: Digital is here to stay, both as a way to engage with your customers, as well as a key initiative that your customers are investing in. What role does your technology play in your customers’ digital transformation, and are you doubling down on your unique value prop to address that need?

What’s one thing sales leaders can do to foster teamwork and a sense of belonging? 

As you create culture on your own team, think about the behaviors you reward. Sales is often hyper-focused on the outcomes and results, yet how you get there is just as important. If you want a collaborative and inclusive culture, consider how you’ll recognize and reward that. How do you call on all leaders in your organization to set that tone?

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?

ERICA: I was a competitive swimmer growing up, and in my late teens I coached a competitive swim team. I loved that job, even though when I did the math I made about $1/hour. But it was amazing to help those young swimmers learn how to set goals and work hard. It brought me such joy to see them realize new possibilities for themselves, in the pool and beyond. It’s what I love my role today – the ability to find and unlock potential in individuals, teams, businesses is so rewarding.  

What’s your secret super power?  

ERICA: Well, my 10 year old says I am excellent at ping pong, and my 8 year old says I have a big vocabulary. Can those count?

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.

13 business trends and venture opportunities for 2021

After the turmoil of 2020, we’ve opened our 2021 calendars with renewed optimism. We’re still feeling the effects of COVID-19, social unrest, and political strife – and will be for a while still – but in its own strange and somewhat masochistic way, last year paved the way for opportunity. Here are 13 business trends and venture opportunities we think are poised to take off this year and beyond. 

  1. Digital transformation
    No surprise here. According to McKinsey, the first few months of the pandemic accelerated the digitization of business operations by roughly seven years. While many companies were basically forced to go digital, the resulting efficiency and business continuity left them ready for more. We expect the move to SaaS to continue to grow.

  2. Unsexy products in unsexy industries
    We’re not shy about our preference for the unsexy – the often not-super-visible solutions that have the potential to transform industries in need of disruption. That rise we mentioned in digital transformation opens the door for more of these under-the-radar products to hit the market and make a big impact.

  3. Black founders and investors
    2020’s push for social equality renewed our focus on the stark data on Black founders (who get a miniscule percentage of the venture pool) and Black investors (there aren’t many). Organizations and programs (like our own Black Venture Institute) are working to address this, and we both expect and look forward to seeing more efforts from more sources this year.

  4. Investing in companies with diverse teams
    The landslide of evidence proving diverse teams are more effective than homogenous ones has investors piqued. A silver lining of 2020’s racial reckoning is that leaders are working harder to build inclusive teams, rather than reach for the low-hanging fruit in their current networks – which is great since investors everywhere are eager to showcase more diverse portfolios.

  5. Diversity on the cap table
    And speaking of diversity, more and more venture-backed companies are taking a hard look at who’s on their cap table these days. Sure, many of them still want traditional VCs, but savvy founders are also seeing the benefit of bringing in diverse voices, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. We especially love seeing more women on cap tables and anticipate those numbers to grow stronger this year. 

  6. Disruptive models
    We’re seeing a rise in founders who start from scratch, dismantling the traditional way of doing something in favor of building a company from the ground up (SetSail and Cube, for example). Some of these are first-time founders or new to the industry – founders who don’t come in with preconceived notions of how things should be done. We appreciate this trend and look forward to seeing more of it this year.

  7. Women CTOs and technical co-founders
    Let 2021 be the year of technical women. We’ve seen a slow-but-steady increase in technical women leaders over the past decade, and we expect that number to begin climbing higher and faster – this year and beyond. We’re proud that 30% of our portfolio companies have a female CTO or technical co-founder, and hope to increase that number ourselves.

  8. Workplace flexibility
    One thing we learned last year is that employees want and need greater flexibility in order to thrive. Just as companies have worked hard in recent years to create personalized experiences for their customers, now they’re starting to create personalized experiences for their employees, and that includes the freedom to decide how and where they work best.

  9. The globally connected economy
    Great minds, ideas, and employees are not limited to one area, and the increase in video conferencing and virtual events brings the entire world within reach. Yes, our world is full of distinct, separate economies, but we expect to see more togetherness – more global collaboration and global investing this year.

  10. Models like Goldbelly
    Goldbelly was a 2020 highlight for us. From rainbow cakes, PieCakens, and giant cupcakes to breakfast favorites, bacon samplers, and New York bagels, we tried a ton – and there’s still much more on our wishlist. This model brings the world to you; Goldbelly, specifically, lets you try famous foods from across the country and support these small businesses when they need it most. We foresee its popularity translating to new areas.

  11. Content marketing in b2b
    The content revolution has been strengthening for years, but it’s just one more thing elevated by the pandemic. We’re hungry for something (anything!) to consume – blogs, podcasts, webinars, videos – and the content marketing and social media worlds feed right in. Savvy businesses (Fast is a great example) are building enthusiastic followings on social media, and then have an incredible way to disseminate their messages.

  12. Athleisure
    We’ve been living in sweat pants for nearly a year, and honestly there’s just no going back. It’s why established consumer brands are doubling down on their work-life hybrid products, and new brands are popping up like mushrooms to compete. So go head and get going on those branded joggers you’ve been thinking about. Also, Crocs – Can we just go ahead and remove the stigma already?

  13. Work/life balance apps
    Several weeks into the pandemic, many of us had to take a step back from work; we were spending far more hours at our desks and in front of screens than we did pre-COVID. Work/life balance doesn’t happen magically; it’s up to us to create and enforce it. So look for related business opportunities to help, like apps for scheduling, productivity, fitness, wellness, self improvement, and more.  

What else is on the rise in 2021? 

So what’d we miss? We’d love to know what business trends and venture opportunities you see on the rise in 2021. Send us a tweet at @OperatorCollect with your thoughts. 

From all of us here at Operator Collective, we’re wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous year. 

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.