Creating UI that drives product adoption

A conversation between Adam Avramescu of CELab, the Customer Education Lab, and Candu about how to help your users along the product adoption journey.

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Of course, we should make products more intuitive. I don't think anyone disagrees with that. But I think if you only worry about the 'where to click problem.' I think you're not thinking about sort of the conceptual understanding that needs to happen also...for someone to actually be successful, to use your work, to do a job that matters to them.

Adam Avramescu [00:00:18] Hey, everyone. Adam, here from the CELab podcast. I'm proud to announce that I just released a new book. It's called Customer Education: Why Smart Companies Profit By Making Customers Smarter. You can actually find it now on in e-book or in print format. You could also do 'bit dot ly slash customer education,' made you an easy little link, so I'd really appreciate it if you pick a copy up and let me know what you think. Thanks, everyone.

Adam Avramescu [00:00:55] Welcome to CELab. The customer education lab where we take those myths and bad advice about customer education and just throw them in the trash. I'm Adam Avramescu, and today I'm happy to have Jonathan Anderson, who's the co-founder and CEO of Candu a UI Builder in the Customer Education Space. Welcome, Jonathan.

Jonathan Anderson [00:01:13] Adam, thanks for having me.

Adam Avramescu Yeah. Would you like to give a quick introduction to yourself? 

Jonathan Anderson Absolutely. I'm a co-founder of Candu. We help build user interfaces—so the actual web page—for SaaS applications and we work with customer educators and product managers, mostly for SaaS apps.

Jonathan Anderson [00:01:33] And what day is it today? 

Adam Avramescu That's right. We always do our national day of. Now, today actually is. It's a real holiday, which very rarely happens on this show, but today is actually Earth Day.

Jonathan Anderson Amazing.

Adam Avramescu [00:01:48] It's also National Jelly Bean Day. I would be remiss not to mention that as a jellybean lover, but I'm glad those two coincide. Yeah, me too. Maybe it maybe most importantly, given the state that our planet is in today, that Earth Day is the the better one to focus on. So, Jonathan, just to tee things up here, as you might know. You know, we've been doing a CEO interview series and some of the CEOs like yourself have been co-founders. But I'm excited to speak with you today because you've had a really interesting journey as a startup so far. And you're really in some of those early stages evolving and iterating your product and in some ways defining a new category. And we'll get to that in a moment. But first, we always like to find out more about your path to founding a company. So I'm really curious what led you to this point?

Jonathan Anderson [00:02:36] Great intro. Yes. So I used to run the professional services team at a data analytics company in Boston called InsightSquared. And my team built all of the custom workflows and front end for the application. And we actually missed a key funding round when I was when I worked there. And I had to let go of six of seven members of my team. It was my first time being a manager and it was a very hard period for me. But I will say that one silver lining from that period is that I started toying with this idea of how do you actually make the same type of customizations that my team was working on in a way with the product. So not having to basically, you know, use developer time to sort of customize things, but to actually do so as part of the product experience.

Adam Avramescu [00:03:32] Yeah, it's definitely a super relevant question that a lot of people working on products and product education are thinking of. But how did you take that, I guess that, germ of an idea and actually turn it into a company?

Jonathan Anderson [00:03:46] Well, I don't code. So it sort of hit a dead end there.

 I actually moved to London and I was there when I met my co-founder, Michele, through Entrepreneur First, an accelerator. And he'd worked as a product manager and an engineer. And he had experience working at Coursera, which is probably actually the best example that I can think of, of people voluntarily diving deep into all kinds of crazy topics, which is, if you think about it, kind of like a perfect analogy for what we want to happen with SaaS applications: we want people to really get invested in learning the content and becoming power users. And also, he's just an amazing engineer and product thinker, so I worked to snap him up. 

Adam Avramescu [00:04:29] That's great. And having that background in Coursera, Coursera has really been on the forefront of the move to online learning, which a lot of people are now thinking about. So...yeah. What made you think about starting your company, I guess, in the customer education space specifically?

Jonathan Anderson [00:04:46] Yeah, so I came at this from a slightly different perspective. I came in from the world of professional services, but really I was thinking about how does this, what is this? What does a SaaS company need? And kind of where I think I kind of came down is that the the standalone LMS—learning management systems, and also, sort of guide products—I think, are under-serving SaaS, at least, for products that require a little bit of both how to do things, but also you need to learn something to be successful doing them.

Adam Avramescu [00:05:18] And by guide products, Jonathan, you're talking about the digital adoption platforms that are out there? 

Jonathan Anderson [00:05:22] Precisely. Yeah. So in the world of, like the, on the LMS side, it's actually relatively hard to get people even to your core product. So pushing them into another system often creates a lot of conflicts, um, when we think about sort of getting people deeper into the product itself. There's also this break that happens between the content that's consumed in the LMS and then actually the features that are ultimately adopted. So there’s a pretty tricky reconciliation that needs to happen. Whereas on the other hand, a lot of guide products are often pretty ephemeral and they're almost too fast for someone to really comprehend a kind of core concept. So I thought...

Adam Avramescu [00:06:04] Yeah, a lot of the times you're not even ready for it, right? You get the guide and you're still trying to figure out how to toy around with the product and then you can never get the guy to come back. 

Jonathan Anderson [00:06:15] Yeah, there’s also, it's really hard to match intent with a guide because at some point we're guessing. You know? Is this the right moment for a user to learn? It's not sort of driven from the user experience is more different from say, you know, our experience is maybe in products trying to say, hey, let's let's let's inform people about this feature, as opposed to them pulling on, hey, this is the right moment for me to actually pick it up.

Adam Avramescu [00:06:36] So ironically, you actually end up with the same problem as the LMS, where there's there's a disconnect between the learning experience and the desire to have someone learn a concept, and when they're actually gonna apply that. 

Jonathan Anderson [00:06:46] Exactly. And then I think also fundamentally, like whenever you start a company or whenever you're working with an early stage product, you just really have to love your core persona. And I just have found that customer education folks are sort of my favorite people because they're super thoughtful, they are really focused on making things engaging, and then they're also just really curious about what things should be out there. So I think they're just the best type of nerds.

Adam Avramescu [00:07:12] I agree. It's one reason why I love being in this field as well. You get to meet a lot of beautiful nerds.

Adam Avramescu [00:07:18] So I remember actually speaking with you in the very early days where I think your pitch to me was it's like an LMS app. And then over time, I think you started going more towards the digital adoption platform or the guide category. And ultimately, now you're in more of an interface builder. That's the type you described yourself, a UI builder. So I'm curious, how did you get there? How did you get here from there? What was the process like along the way?

Jonathan Anderson [00:07:44] Yeah. So. Yeah. So today Candu is very much a UI builder. So the way that it works is that we ingest all of your app's components like this is what a button looks like. This is what, you know, your typography is. And then we basically let you drag and drop those elements into your application to actually build a UI for one user or for different types of users. So you're actually kind of building the core product experience. And I got to say, this was not like a, this is not like an idea that just came to us in our sleep, we've done about, I would say probably, we do about user interview every day. And we’ve been working on this product for over a year. So we have done a lot of user interviews with product managers, with growth hackers, with customer educators, and basically anyone who's worked on kind of these core issues of software adoption. And then I'll just say, as a quick aside, if you're looking for a guide product today, there are four amazing unicorns in the space. And if you're looking for an LMS, there are thousands to choose from, so we were partly also looking for some way to sort of innovate in the category.

 Adam Avramescu [00:08:53] Mm-Hmm. Yeah. It's, it's starting to become a much more crowded space. Both of them are.

 Jonathan Anderson [00:08:58] Yeah. And I think that's what was so surprising to me was that there's so many tools available to you. But nevertheless, in-app learning is not actually the best experience, but it really should be. You have all this amazing data. You know exactly what the users already done in the tool, you know what content they've consumed. And so you should be able to work out not just what to serve them next, but also really how to improve the content that you have. But it's actually really, really hard, I think, as a content creator to get that level of granular insight into what's actually moving the needle on adoption.

 Adam Avramescu [00:09:34] Yeah. And you think that those should be so connected to each other and often they aren't, whether that's because of the actual data constraints or whether it's because of where the initiatives are housed in the organization. Like a lot of the time, I imagine you have trouble getting into the product team who actually might be the one that's most interested in getting those analytics and doing that core messaging experience.

 Jonathan Anderson [00:09:58] Yeah, and I think I think on the product side, it's actually really easy to get addicted to just continuing to apply guides to an existing UI. It's actually one of the reasons that I have just so much respect for specifically what Pendo has done, because they've actually combined: they’re first a product analytics tool, helping you figure out where to use the guide, and then second, allowing you actually had a messaging platform. You know, ultimately what product really cares about is making a better product. That's really where their focus is and that's where their focus ought to be. And I think in the world of customer education, for I think it's actually really around creating the best content. And so I think that's actually a little bit of a disconnect that we're trying to correct for in ours. And really the way that we do that is by making it so easy to build the product UI that at no point you actually need to add a hotspot to it to say, 'hey, look over here.' If a user doesn't say, for example, see a button on the page, it's probably time just to make the button bigger or to move the button to a more prominent location.

 Adam Avramescu [00:11:02] It's the first conversation that you have when you're interviewing for a customer education position in an early stage company and you're talking to like the CEO or whoever from from the C-suite is sponsoring that position. And they go, 'well why do we need customer education? Shouldn't I just be able to look at the product and intuit my way into the right approach? Shouldn’t I just be able to figure it out? You know that awkward conversation, right?

 Jonathan Anderson [00:11:29] Of course. And I thinkthis idea around 'Of course, we should make products more intuitive.' I don't think anyone disagrees with that. But I think if you only worry about the 'where to click problem.' I think you're not thinking about sort of the conceptual understanding that needs to happen also... for someone to actually be successful, to use your work, to do a job that matters to them.

 Adam Avramescu [00:11:49] So, if someone were. Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.

 Jonathan Anderson [00:11:52] Oh, I was just going to say. Like, for example, if you were to take Mailchimp, for example, they do a great job sort of showing you visually where and how to build an email campaign. But then they also include a lot of content around what makes an e-mail campaign good. It's not just, you know, 'hey, I can add up my person's first name to the email.' It's really thinking through, you know, what makes content engaging. And I think as a SaaS provider, you really need to be thinking about not just do people know where to click, but to know why they're clicking. And, you know, what is the actual benefit of doing that?

 Adam Avramescu [00:12:28] Absolutely. There's there's a Lincoln Murphy quote that I'm going to misquote right now where he says, you know, when it comes to a customer success and customer education, you often have to educate someone not just on how to use your product, but what even is your product and why it is and why are you using it? So you have to become, this is like the S.A.T word, your product has to be autodidactic in some ways. Like your product has to teach you to use it by you using it.

 Jonathan Anderson [00:12:54] Yes. Yes. And that is why. Yeah. That's really what we're working with Candu is how do you make the product in a way sell itself or at least teach people as they use it. Exactly.

1 - Market Trends in Customer Education

Adam Avramescu [00:13:05] So I love that you have this perspective because you've been conducting so many user interviews. You've been out in the market, you've been talking to your board. Well, we'll dive into a few of those. But I'm curious, just in general, you're working with a lot of customer education professionals out there. What trends are you seeing in the market and what can you tell us about the state of customer education from your point of view?

Jonathan Anderson [00:13:26] This is, I think, such a fascinating and also scary time. We are I think the entire world is waking up to the power of remote learning or scaled learning. Coursera, for example, had more enrollments, I believe, this month than in all of its history. But at the same time, there's a lot of uncertainty. And so if you're a SaaS company at this point, you're really thinking around 'What is like a non-core team?' And so I think the question, unfortunately, for a lot of customer educators and SaaS companies is, you know, 'Is customer education considered core here or not?

 Adam Avramescu [00:14:07] Yeah. You know, I was planning to do an episode with someone else I know in the industry. And we talk about this sometimes, like how do customer educators prepare for the next downturn and you know, maybe, maybe this even speaks to my thinking on it. I didn't expect it to come so soon and now we're actually living through the middle of it. So you're right, it's a study in contrasts. On one hand, we're being asked to do more online education than we ever had before because people have just moved in that direction aggressively. But I think you're right. We're fighting a battle to be seen as an essential function, even within a SaaS company who should be moving in that direction. So in your opinion, what makes the E core? Like, how can a customer education leader prove that?

 Jonathan Anderson [00:14:53] Yeah, I. I think this is, really, this is the critical question for any kind of customer educational leader. And I think the short answer is that you kind of have to go back to 'what is the SaaS company attempting to do?' And the answer that we have is that you really need to be moving the needle on adoption. So I think for us, it's really 'how does the content that you create encourage users to adopt the features that provide value to them?' Because ultimately, that's what makes a SaaS company survive and also grow.

 Adam Avramescu [00:15:27] Yeah, I mean, when you when you think about it at the board level, certainly product adoption and making sure that whatever your daily active user or weekly active user, whatever that metric is like, that that's that's still a very it's a king metric in a lot of ways. Right?

 Jonathan Anderson [00:15:41] Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely. And then I think because I think that the logic here is that it's not that there's a correlation between content consumption or course completion. And, you know, revenue I think through actually what you actually want to think about is 'how does content consumption or course completion translate into feature adoption?', because we know that that will cause, you know, renewal and upsell. And I think especially in times like this, a lot of companies are really worried about retention. And the best way to stay retained is to have people, a large cohort of people, actually using the product.

 Adam Avramescu [00:16:15] Yeah. And, you know, in some ways it actually really speaks to the power of developing education versus developing good education, if that makes sense, because anyone can throw a PowerPoint slide up there and, you know, quote unquote, teach someone a feature. But if that's out of context or if that's divorced from the actual product experience or if it's something that that doesn't actually sufficiently motivate someone to make that learning stick, then you're actually not going to see that retention. Right?

 Jonathan Anderson [00:16:42] Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. It's the information, not education, construct. And I think it's really, really well applied here.

 Adam Avramescu [00:16:53] Absolutely. So, you know, how are you seeing SaaS companies adjust to this world? What kinds of changes are they making?

 Jonathan Anderson [00:17:01] Yeah. So if you're a SaaS company right now, you fundamentally were focused on your core business, which frankly is usually software development, not customer development. And then fundamentally, because there's so much uncertainty right now in the market, you really want to become profitable as quickly as possible. And that actually means trimming as many expenses as you can get away with. It's kind of like the expression, you know, 'Measure twice, cut once.' at least coming from my perspective or from my background. The flip side of that, when you have to cut twice, for example, if you have to lay off headcount subsequent times, that's incredibly painful and difficult for a SaaS company. So let me put it this way. I think many SaaS companies are being incredibly conservative at this point in time, even if it's they also know at the same time that they really can't go back to the business as usual of, you know, running in-person trainings and doing on-sites. You really, really need to take on a really a product-led approach both for how, you know, both in terms of the content you create, but then also in terms of like how do you actually support your customers in a scaled way?

 Adam Avramescu [00:18:12] Yeah you know, the fact of the matter like in-person training feels comfortable to a lot of people because that's the way that it's been done. And the same is true of a lot of business processes that exist largely because people were comfortable doing them. And I think this is a forcing function to your point for people not to do things the way that they happened, to realize that some of these things were grossly inefficient. So let's let's consider them something to do strategically as needed, but not the default.

2 - Your Customers

 Adam Avramescu [00:18:39] So maybe we can transition from the state of the industry to your customer base. I'd love to talk about some of the common use cases that customers are using your UI builder for.

 I know we've both explored the idea of onboarding frameworks before. I did one with Linda Schwaber Cohen on a webinar and I've seen you do one as well. So how do you think about that, that onboarding framework or that matrix?

 Jonathan Anderson [00:19:02] Oh, I'm laughing because everyone needs a good onboarding framework. You know, it's critical. Yours was a little bit more mature than mine. I actually have a background in consulting and we joke that the whole world can be reduced to a two-by-two matrix.

 Adam Avramescu [00:19:18]I'm not from consulting and I agree with you. 

Jonathan Anderson [00:19:22] And I believe that to be true.

 The one that we use actually most consistently with our customers is this concept of breadth versus depth. And really what you're doing is you're measuring how your product is being adopted. And so really what you're trying to figure out is the two axes are breadth, so how many people are actually in your tool regularly, versus depth: how many features or how many use cases are they adopting? And the kind of insidious thing about SaaS is that the more users you have that are in your product and the more things that they could do in your product, the more bloated your overall feature set becomes. So therefore, the less likely that anyone can figure out what they're supposed to be doing. And so a lot of what we try to do is help figure out like, how do we kind of distill down where does the company need to focus right now? Is it on the first user experience? Is it on the user who is invited to an existing account? Is it on sharing a new use case that the product team has worked really hard on? And then how do we actually make the UI change or be dynamic to sort of reflect that kind of core use case.

 Adam Avramescu [00:20:34] That makes sense. You know, I'm thinking about the differences between your matrix and my matrix. I think the one I worked on with Linda, we focused a lot on risk as well, right. Like, what's the risk of using your product improperly? Because that defines whether education is considered an essential function or not for better or for worse. But I think I think you're I think you're right, though, like breadth and depth are... It's a really useful way of thinking about it. And it simplifies things in some ways. There's an old joke about two-by-two consulting matrices the joke is: there’s only four types of people in the world...Yeah. OK. So sorry, audience. So maybe thinking about how some of your customers are actually building UI patterns based on these categories. What kinds of use cases do you see them building? Yes, so we can talk about some of those breadth and depth combinations.

 Jonathan Anderson [00:21:29] Yeah, for sure. So, I mean, the reason that you'd want to use an editor like Candu really a drag and drop UI builder is, whenever you have to iterate pretty fast over a part of the product, so this is a lot of change that is just expensive to have a developer go in and recode a button, or if you have situations where you actually want to, you don't want to show the same UI to every user. So for example, maybe you're a marketing persona, but you also have an operations persona. And so they're going to have really fundamentally different versions of they should have different versions of the product based on what their needs set is. So a lot of times we're just trying to figure out is sort of what is the right, what is sort of... Everyone kind of sees the same UI that exists today in most applications. And then if we could actually change it, what would be the ways that we would flex? Is it by making it catch up to where the product is because you're not iterating fast enough? That's very common on like a user onboarding or on old settings pages. Or is it because want to create different versions of the same user experience?

[00:22:36] For example, you want a strategic account to have a special welcome message or you want your self-serve accounts to see a self-serve checklist, whereas a more high-touch account might actually have a button to contact. Support. Contact their customer success manager, things like that.

 Adam Avramescu [00:22:57] Yeah, we used to focus on this a lot when I worked at Optimizely. You know, we've talked about the idea of personalization. And, you know, I think that I'm editorializing here, but the personalization, the word 'persona' is baked in. They come from the same root. Right. So unless you actually understand the persona who's going to be viewing that specific page of that specific experience, it's really hard to personalize for them.

 Jonathan Anderson [00:23:19] Yeah, and I think Optimizely did so many smart things, but I think they had the benefit of a huge amount of traffic, so it was very easy to actually optimize, for example, a marketing site. And one of the key lessons actually of e-commerce is that personalization, or making things relevant, really helps. Users love seeing their actual need as the, kind of, core need of the application. But for a lot of SaaS companies, you don't have that luxury. You have relatively less traffic. And it's all kind of you need to support all of these use cases in the architecture of the existing app. So with Candu we're actually not thinking so much around 'How do we optimize the experience to make it perfect?', but rather 'How do we kind of construct different sets of experiences for different types of users?'

 Adam Avramescu [00:24:02] So you've written about this before. I've read some of your articles on this. You know, I remember one where you were talking about the Facebook ‘Seven Friends revelation.’ That was the key activation moment for Facebook. But you were talking about this in terms of once you have some of these personas and these keys, these key you, excuse me, words are hard, these key use cases identified. Yeah. Then you can kind of craft towards that moment where the product is actually going to deliver value. And the goal is to boost the signal on that moment of value and remove the distractions along the way. Right?

Jonathan Anderson Right, right. 

Adam Avramescu So how do you do it? or how do you see customers doing that within Candu?

Jonathan Anderson [00:24:44] Yeah. So actually, I think this is such an interesting concept because I think Facebook fundamentally has like one product for users and obviously has a separate advertising product. But, for users, it had this magical moment of as soon as you had seven friends, you could basically ensure that you'd continue to be active on the platform, and you had to get to that seven friend threshold within 10 days. And the way that we would talk about it was that it was, you know, ‘this is big.’ It's statistically significant. And here's why it's a great thing. But really, it was important because it was just a way to really clearly say, ‘does this feature or does this, you know, UI, or does this content, help push that metric up or down?’ It's just a really clear way of saying yes or no. And so I think in B2B SaaS applications, we don't have the traffic for this fiscal significance.

[00:25:40] And we're also trying to serve a bunch of different types of users. So maybe you have an admin, maybe you have a first-time user. And so instead of having this one super crisp and clear, you know, Northstar guideline, what you instead kind of need to do is think through ‘OK for this type of user, what is gonna be the thing that actually gives them value from the tool, from our tool?’ And then the thing we always recommend is at that point you're actually good to go. At that point, remove everything that you can that's irrelevant. That's not relevant for that user’s use case and just take it off the page. And so a lot of actually what we work on is sort of simplifying UI as opposed to sort of layering in more use cases.

 Adam Avramescu [00:26:22] So maybe, maybe we can take this down to a specific. Like thinking about how a company might actually implement a user onboarding or a persona-based onboarding, like how might a customer go about that?

 Jonathan Anderson [00:26:34] Oh, yeah, there's so many cool examples of this. So a good example would be when you first log in. Let's just take, for example, QuickBooks, if you look into QuickBooks, one of the initial questions they'll ask you is ‘Why are you here?’ You know, are you here to send invoices or are you here to, you know...Like, are you here for tax purposes? And you can click the icons. And then based on those icons, that will then change the tiles that are presented to you when you first log into the application. So it's really making the product experience dynamic based on what the user sort of opted into. And I think the role for customer education is kind of in this kind of framing is first off helping sort of consolidate ‘What are the kind of core use cases here?’ and then ‘What is the type of content that really helps people understand them and actually then make use of them?’ So I think it's a really nice tie-in between what you might think of as like a product or growth function, but then also really like what is the value that customer educators can bring to bear?

 Adam Avramescu [00:27:40] Yeah, absolutely. And I imagine that there are probably some content strategists listening whose eyeballs are currently burning out in pain hearing this because as you create more content and more branches of content...I'm sorry, that was really graphic...I don’t know why I said eyeballs burning out...

 Jonathan Anderson [00:27:53] Yeah, it’s a good thing it's a podcast. 

Adam Avramescu You know, gonna leave it in.

 [00:28:01] But, you know, as you create more content, you have to maintain more content. And so I'm curious.. How how do you work with clients maybe to strike that balance between we want these totally bespoke onboarding paths where, you know, all the tiles change and they get this, you know, very, very custom experience versus having to then maintain that content.

 [00:28:22] How do you how do you advise them kind of along those lines?

Jonathan Anderson [00:28:27] Yeah, the never, the never ending content continuum. I think in this case, actually, the thing that kills content strategists I think are actually mostly versioning, I would say. Keeping up with product updates and changes is so much more content and more difficult than helping a user understand here the key use cases of the product. To me, those are actually like those could not be more more different. I think the um uh, I think you should be investing. This is I—not to make it to consulting specific.

 [00:29:01] But I guess coming back to the 80/20 rule, you know, 80 percent of value comes from 20 percent of the content. I think you really want to be spending 80 percent of your effort on thinking through what are the ways that my product creates value and then how do I communicate that? And then instead of actually creating a path, we would actually recommend—and I think most SaaS companies are moving toward this—is to think of it more modular, Lee. So you should have some content that supports in this case sending invoices or some of the tax functions. You just don’t need to show all that content to every user, if that makes sense. So, you know, yes, I know it's a lot of work, but it's the right work to do. 

Adam Avramescu Yeah, that that that makes sense.

 [00:29:43] Maybe. Maybe. Let's take a different example. You know, we spend a lot of time as customer education professionals, especially in that valuable Face-To-Face training time, just talking about account configuration and setup. And that's one of those things that seems primed for a really great, in-product, UI-based experience. I'm curious how you're seeing customers use you there.

Jonathan Anderson [00:30:08] Yeah. Okay. To pick a favorite. So I think a lot of customers right now start from it's I think that's actually interesting based on sort of the SaaS company's initial customer base...because if you have an enterprise product, you basically try to over-invest in kind of more feature functionality that fits a wider array of possible options. And then you kind of rely on your customer team to help sort of configure those bells and whistles. Whereas the more consumery face— or S&P type products really think through like ‘What are the simplest pathways we can create for users?’ And so really what we try to think through with most of our customers is first starting with what does that self-serve pathway look like? Like what is the simple version of this? And then how do we basically make it make some start to make some conditional elements that flex up based on, you know, some of the additional features you might want to include on the sort of the enterprise side? One company I will say that I think does a really good job with this is Expensify. They have an amazing sort of task list that it's actually a very clever thing because the more things you complete within their task list, the longer your trial is extended by which is sort of a funny concept: the more, you know, the more work you do to set up your account, the longer you get to have your account. But it's a very addictive way to actually configure what is an incredibly complex product in a format that is fun.

3 - Talking to the Board

Adam Avramescu [00:31:33] Yeah, I like that. I like that there's an incentive there directly tied to the idea of a product setup. Maybe we can take just one more example here. You know, let's think about. We talked about it earlier. Product adoption is key, right? You're being looked to by your board, by your customers, gotta drive product adoption to be essential. How can a product like Candu promote product discovery and adoption?

Jonathan Anderson [00:32:01] Yeah. So product discovery and adoption is, I think, one of the thorniest challenges of any SaaS company. We have this idea that isn't it amazing that we create all this great stuff? Isn't it amazing that we're always releasing new features? That's the whole point: SaaS gets more valuable over time. The reality of what that actually looks like, though, is that you end up creating a lot of features that you then sort of push up product announcements on that users may or may not actually want. So it's actually quite it's actually very difficult to know if one incremental update is actually relevant for a specific audience. And so what we really try to think about on these use cases is how do we bubble up the information when the user's ready for it as opposed to when our product team is ready to ship it? So it's actually, I think, disaggregating a user's discovery of new features, say, for example, with cards that appear along the top of the page versus a product announcement that is sort of a banner that, hey, this thing is launch, pay attention to pay attention to us. So we really try to push people toward the, ‘How do we have the product kind of unfold as the user kind of levels up?’

 [00:33:09] So it's a different perspective.

Adam Avramescu [00:33:13] Yeah, there's sort of an idea here of timeliness both for the customer and for the company. Right? The company is ready for everyone to start using the feature of the moment it's released, but the customer is ready to use it when they're ready to use it. So exactly. You don't necessarily want the same UI element or even the same convention to fulfill both of those needs at the same time.

Jonathan Anderson [00:33:31] Right. And that's actually, I think, a really nice tie in with sort of this idea of this maybe. Let's take Expensify’s task list again... 

Adam Avramescu I love Expensify. 

Jonathan Anderson I know you've gotta love Expensify. When you find a good UI pattern, you've got to talk about it. What they do is they actually, as they launch new features, they decide where within the task list it appears. So they really want to push out their card… I don’t know why I’m acting as a commercial for Expensify right now but that’s fine.

Adam Avramescu [00:33:57] and Expensify, If you want to sponsor this podcast, we we don't have sponsors today.

Jonathan Anderson [00:34:04] Yeah. So what they do is they they actually put the you know, ‘Hey, we launched a new card’ as the first task in the task list. So it's still kind of in the same format and the same sort of flow as setting up your account. But they've basically said they've found a way to sort of meet those two needs that both user being exposed to things at the right time for them, at the same time pushing the products that they really want users to adopt, 

Adam Avramescu [00:34:32] I think it's a super, super salient example, I guess, before we move on to our next topic, are there any other patterns or use cases that you'd like to discuss that might be relevant for our audience is thinking about how to how to integrate their education into their product experience?

Jonathan Anderson [00:34:49] Yeah, I think one last one that we haven't spoken about is just how do you make something more personal? In general, in the application. A lot of the use cases we talked about are very growth or product-focused, but I think there's a lot of really good content that's been created sort of for our strategic accounts. And very often our strategic accounts are actually just creating the content themselves in Google Docs or confluence pages about how to use our product. Anyone who's ever been asked who's built an LMS, or who owns an LMS, to basically give the customer videos, so they can upload it to their own system, can know what I'm talking about here. But I think a really nice thing that that we're trying it we're working on with Candu is actually creating a home for that type of content so that if you do have something that is specific to an account, say, ‘Hey, here's what we call things’ or ‘Here's how we do things’ there’s a nice home for it somewhere in your product experience.

 Adam Avramescu [00:35:44] Yeah, that from an information architecture perspective, that makes a ton of sense. If it's not clear where the home for something is or kind of what folder it goes into, so to speak, even if there's not an actual folder structure, you don't really have like a mental schema for where to go back to the next time you need it.

Jonathan Anderson Exactly. 

Adam Avramescu You could even see that's all. You know, I'll talk from my own experience right now. We just recently, while we're in the process right now of releasing an information architecture revamp within Slack, and a lot of that is actually devoted to putting things in a place that more obviously people would think that they should find them, instead of relying on some kind of insider knowledge. Oh, ‘Here's where I go to format my text...’ or ‘Here's where I go to, you know, sort my channels into folders.’ We're trying to make a lot of that a lot more apparent and obvious now.

Wrap Up 

Jonathan Anderson [00:36:34] Yeah, I think I think this is especially with I would say with high-growth SaaS companies. When you've done a lot of iterative development, there's often it often thinks it’s helpful to sort of step back and say, ‘OK, we have all this amazing functionality. What is... where and how should we expose it?’ And I think it's super, super salient discussion to have.

Adam Avramescu [00:36:56] Yeah, absolutely. So let's move into our final topic. Usually we call this ‘CEO to CEO’ because we say, you know, as a CEO, you're often talking to other C-levels that are your customer or you're talking to your board and curious is what those was, what those discussions are like. We don't always get to find out what what goes on in the room where it happened. But I imagine right now, as a CEO and co-founder, this is a time of uncertainty and you're really thinking about how to adapt quickly and continue growing your business. So I'm curious, when you talk to your board, what kind of conversations are you having and what do they care about when they're thinking about the customer education space?

Jonathan Anderson [00:37:37] Yeah, I think great question, we actually. The timing is as good here. We had our first board meeting yesterday. So I don't know if that was Jelly Bean Day or the day before Jelly Bean Day. But it's fun to...

[00:37:50] The day before Jelly Bean Day. Let let us mark it all down. Yeah. So…

Adam Avramescu I think yesterday was National Kindergarten Day. 

Jonathan Anderson Great. Actually, that does feel fitting.

 [00:38:02] So, yeah, we I mean, so we are in a phase of you know, we're still very much in honing our product market fit and really building up kind of the core functionality of our product. So it's unsurprisingly that we're really looking for most of our discussions around or around sort of product development, how quickly we're moving, what we're learning, how we're adapting. And I think in general, there's just more appetite, at least for early stage companies to say, you know, it's true that companies are less likely to invest in software at this time. And so for us, it's really about getting usage, getting customer stories. The things that we know are important at an earlier phase. But yeah, absolutely. I mean, things are super different now, right? You know there's no travel. We're not going to conferences. We have frozen. We had plans to grow our commercial team faster and we're spending more time on building out the core product. I will say, though, that there has been one really important thing that's happened here, which is that the worst thing actually for any startup is basically it's nice—people who are nice. And what I mean by that is when you're working with someone who's working with you because they want to be helpful as opposed to because they actually have a need that you can help solve. And people, especially in the customer education space, are incredibly helpful and incredibly thoughtful. But it's really important for us to figure out is are they working with us because they're nice or are they working us because they actually need what we're ultimately building? And so in some ways, we've helped to clarify that a little bit for ourselves.

Adam Avramescu [00:39:48] You're you're really you're making me think of a book here that has some personas in there like buyer personas where there is there's the person who's really nice, but ultimately, it's just kind of wasting your time because they want to have the relationship versus the person who's actually going to mobilize. Oh, you know what it is? It's the challenge or customer. That's the book that I'm thinking of. Have you read that one?  

Jonathan Anderson [00:40:08] Yes. And actually, it's it's that's a great sales book. We’re...I'm actually thinking about this more from a less from a sales perspective and more from a product perspective. But yeah, absolutely. It's it's it's very similar. It's a very similar construct. Yes. 

Adam Avramescu [00:40:22] For a startup product, the tales probably aren't aren't all that different. You're kind of intimately tied together. 

Jonathan Anderson Absolutely. Absolutely.

 [00:40:28] And I have the benefit of being able to, you know, send it, send it, send a slack to my co-founder when I hear something really great in a sales conversation, say, hey, let's build this and then you can tell me yes or no. But yeah, I'd say they're very at this stage, they're very, they're very intertwined.

Adam Avramescu [00:40:43] You know, there's the product and then how you bring it to market. But I guess that that also brings up an interesting point. You know, in some ways, you're really thinking about category creation here. So I'm curious how you're pitching that and how your board is is grokking that idea?

Jonathan Anderson [00:41:02] Yeah. So don't worry, they’re bought in. Yeah.

 [00:41:05] I mean, we're I think I think any startup, you know, strives to be innovative in the sense that they want to create something new into the world, but not so innovative that it's too crazy to exist. There's lots of good ideas that don't make any business sense. And we've, I've, iterated through many of them so far. But, yeah, I mean, fundamentally, we are doing something that's pretty critical. We're basically saying to a SaaS company that ‘We're going to basically pull your components and then we're gonna figure out how to represent the front end of your SaaS application, your core user experience, your core product experience.’ And that's that can be pretty scary. There's a lot of trust involved there. And there's one other big problem with what we're doing, which is that we call it the ‘Blank Page’ problem. But really it's the you know, assuming that you could build, you can drag and drop any element from your SaaS application to create any kind of user interface, you know, where would you start? I mean, what would you build? I'm asked. I think the net for the number one question I get asked by people all the time is, you know, what are the best practices for user onboarding or for account setup or whatever else might be top of mind. And so actually, a lot of what we're thinking through right now is how do we actually create a library of these sorts of UI patterns that people can actually look at and actually edit and modify and sort of learn how this new kind of world works, where you get to quite literally create the UI yourself.

 Adam Avramescu [00:42:30] Yeah, it's is a really interesting story to tell, and I'm sure it's one that people are not exactly used to because in some ways you're talking about going a little bit further than I'm building a guide product. The layers on top of your existing UI or I'm building an LMS product that exists outside of your product that's intended to drive learning in your core products. That kind of brings our conversation full circle in some ways.

 Jonathan Anderson [00:42:56] Indeed it does. But I think for customer educators to really succeed and maybe this is a controversial statement, but I think you at some level have to be working in-app because ultimately a SaaS company is...the the user of the product. So I think the more we can do to sort of make customer educators actually get involved and collaborate and create some of these product experiences, the better off they'll be. But also the better off the products will be.

 Adam Avramescu [00:43:26] Absolutely. You know, I can think back to the days at Optimizely where we were really, you know, we were a customer education team, but really the help center and the academy where our core domains and we didn't we didn't have very much access into the actual product. And that's actually when we implemented Pendo for the first time. And Pendo was a very small company at the time. One of their co-founders was our CSM and we started getting in there to start revamping the old onboarding flow, which was this wonderful little thing called Guider’s J.S. and it was a custom-built solution. But because it was custom built, it was really hard to maintain and it would take significant development time to really modify and modernize. So just by by actually being able to bring some of the things that we'd really already learned about effective education and then partner with our product design teams, who knew what UI patterns would work best to drive engagement that actually ended up becoming a really fruitful partnership and one where the education team ended up getting more influence because we were getting closer to the actual customer journey. And then the Product Team and Design Team gained efficiencies because they didn't have to worry about how to devote precious developer hours towards doing this thing that that kind of was seen at the time as an essential.

 Jonathan Anderson [00:44:43] Right. Exactly. And I think yeah, I think that's a beautiful story of collaboration. [00:44:49] At least in the early phases. But I really think that this sort of this cross-pollination of customer educators can really think through actually what a user doesn't know yet and how that product experience should help them actually do the job if they came to do in addition to sort of the product manager perspective around you. How do we actually with the needle on specific KPIs is and how do we you know, how do we sort of minimize engineering costs? I think. I think that's company really benefits for having both perspectives working on the same experience.

 Adam Avramescu [00:45:18] Yeah, absolutely. So. So where do we go from here? What's what's next on your radar at Candu?

 Jonathan Anderson [00:45:24] Yeah, I mean, well look forward to a...We are launching our self-serve products so people can actually go ahead and go ahead and use it. For us, it's very....What's the right word? We're eating our own dogfood, so that’s very nice. You know, we claim to be an onboarding product. Let's see how we onboard people to Candu so it'll be quite...quite good for us. And then also we're hunting for more great use cases. We're looking for someone as a sort of a creator of...creator of a builder, I think, you know, we can build a lot of things that we think are cool or we think are helpful for solving specific user problems. But I think ultimately our too will only be successful if we get others who are actually in it and actually building things that are there that are interesting and I'm confident we'll have... we’ll learn art so much more when we start having actual customers in there creating their own experiences themselves. So that's what I’m really looking forward to.

 Adam Avramescu [00:46:27] Yeah, that'll be that'll be really interesting to see. So Jonathan, this has been honestly a really insightful conversation and I really appreciate hearing about the journey that you've been on and some of the the problems that you're helping customers solve, as well as just how you're looking at this industry that is just constantly now reinventing itself after after periods of not really having done that. Things are changing really quickly. [00:46:52] Is there anything else that you'd like to share with our audience?

 Jonathan Anderson [00:46:57] Yeah, I think I think maybe as a parting thought, I think I think for a lot of SaaS companies, the frame has shifted in the last month and it's what is valuable to the company is actually...or where to invest may look really different. And so I would really, really encourage everyone to actually really think about, you know, what is kind of the core thing that the org needs now? And really how does customer education fit into that? How can you actually move the needle on the new mission? Because, frankly, we look we live in a we live in a different world. And I'd also say that, you know, I think that a lot of folks who are, you know, maybe were between jobs or for looking for work or maybe now thinking, you know, hey, are my skills really as valuable or, you know, what's next for me? And I guess what I would just say again is that, you know, all of the skills that you've developed in customer education are only gonna get more valuable in this post-apocalyptic world. truly that people who can teach people in distributed ways are going to be the ones who are foremost successful. 

[00:48:02] So I'd say hold on to that as an important idea.

Adam Avramescu [00:48:09] I love those. I love those wise parting words. I completely agree with them. You know, Dave and I have talked about this a little bit as well, that, you know, we're kind of at a point now where we can't hold on to some of those things that we used to hold dear in the old world of customer education, like if if we didn't change ourselves, the world has now changed a lot of these things for us. And so it's more important forever, or more important than ever, I should say, to really be attuned to what your business is trying to achieve and to figure out how the things that you're doing in customer education are ultimately going to drive those. We can't really afford to live in a world anymore where customer education is divorced from the broader business context. I would argue that we haven't been in that world for a while, but now it's becoming especially clear.

 Jonathan Anderson [00:48:57] Yeah, I think I don't think that this crisis has fundamentally changed the course of the world [00:49:04] but I think it has clarified the path that we're on. So. Yes.

Adam Avramescu I would agree. [00:49:12] So for those of you who have been furiously Googling Candu but haven't figured out how to spell it. Jonathan, how can we learn more about Candu?

Jonathan Anderson [00:49:21] Yes, you can reach us if you Google Candu. That’s  C A N D U dot A I. And yeah, if you have a great use case for how in-app education should work percolating in your in your brain, we'd love to bring it into the world. So feel free to reach out. You can reach us at our Website or on LinkedIn.

Adam Avramescu [00:49:44] Amazing. So, Jonathan, thanks again for a great discussion and for taking the time to share your thoughts. Like you, we are passionate about customer education and we're committed to connecting our growing audience of leaders and professionals to the people and ideas they need to understand in the field.

 [00:49:58] So with that, if you want to learn more, we have a podcast Web site at Customer Dot Education. I think it's a pretty good domain name. I hope you do too.

 [00:50:08] And there you can find show notes and other material. On Twitter I am @Avramescu. I mostly use it to enter contests. But you're always free to reach out to me there. Jonathan, how can we reach you?

 Jonathan Anderson [00:50:19] You can actually chat to us on our Website.

  [00:50:21] I am the person at the other end of the Candu chatbot, so I'm happy to say hi.

Adam Avramescu Amazing. And so it's not automation. It's actually a human. 

Jonathan Anderson Indeed. Indeed. Yeah. 

Adam Avramescu Perfect. All right. Well, human-to-human. I was super excited to chat today. I'm really happy that we had this opportunity. And for our audience, if this helped you out, you can help us out by subscribing in your podcatcher of choice. That's a podcast app, by the way, or by leaving us a review on Apple podcasts because those two things really help expose our podcast to other people. They help us gain momentum and in turn, they connect our community. So to our audience. Thanks for joining us. Go out and educate, experiment, and find your people. Thanks for listening.


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