Claire Lew is the CEO of Know Your Company, which creates a platform that helps growing companies unlock honest feedback from their people. You can follow her on Twitter @cjlew23. She got her start by creating a consulting company and Jason Fried (the co-founder of Basecamp) was actually her first client.
From there, she partnered with Basecamp to spin out an internal tool they were building and launched what has today become Know Your Company. Over 15,000 people across hundreds of companies use the product to facilitate regular, open and honest feedback.
In this interview Claire shares:
- How Know Your Company has over 15,000 users with just 2 employees (including herself!)
- The one question she asks founders to determine whether they really understand their customers
- How Jason Fried counseled her when she discovered a critical bug in her product that related to the confidentiality of employee feedback
Note: there are a few places in the interview where Claire or Christie suggested edits while they were live, but we felt they added to the vibe of the interview, so we left them in 🙂
Christie: Today, I have the pleasure of talking to Claire Lew of Know Your Company. Know Your Company is a software tool that helps business owners get to know their employees, and overcome company growing pains. Welcome Claire. How are you today?
Claire: I’m doing great. Thanks so much for having me on the show, Christie.
Christie: Excellent. Well, I saw that your personal mission is to help people become happier at work. I’m very curious as to how that became your personal mission. How did that lead you to become the CEO of Know Your Company?
Claire: Absolutely. Thanks for reading that off maybe my Twitter bio, or LinkedIn bio, or whatnot. Here’s the thing, it is actually very true. Where did I get that from? Honestly, it started when I was younger, believe it or not. I remember growing up as a kid. I moved around a lot. I was born at Atlanta, which I know where you’re based, but I moved into Washington State, Ohio, Minnesota. Now, I’m in Chicago today. I moved around so much because of my dad’s job. My dad, he’s a mechanical engineer. He has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. His first job coming out of his PhD programme was to build robots to clear nuclear waste. When he came out, it was his first job.
Claire: Yeah, I know.
Claire: It’s above my head too.
Christie: Right, right.
Claire: Yeah. He had changed his job though a lot going from research, to teaching, to working in business because he felt like his job or something was missing. There was something about the work environment, or the way that the boss treated people, or the culture in the organization that caused him to be really unhappy. He would spend so much time going to work too.
Even as a kid, I was like, “Okay. He’s not enjoying his job. We’re moving all the time because of it. Is that going to be what I do too? Is that going to be my fate?” Even, I remember being 13 years old, and thinking about this question of what does it mean to go to work? How do people become happier? I went, and I bought this book when I was 13 called What Should I Do with My Life by Po Bronson because I wanted to answer that question.
When I went to college, I actually ended up studying learning an organizational change, to study of how people create change in an organization, and to study how people communicate at work, and can ultimately find fulfilment in work. Then, when I graduated from college, I started my first company with a few friends called the Started Lead. It was the first beginner-focused software school in Chicago, and one of the first in the country. You know how there’s all this sort of coding camp, right?
Christie: Right, right.
Claire: We’re one of the firsts. We taught over 1400 people from all over the world. It was a really amazing experience, but I did it for a little less than two years, and was just thinking, “You know what, I don’t know if this is what I want to do.” I was starting to feel those same questions of, am I really happy at work? Being pulled back again to that big question of, “Yeah, am I really enjoying this?” I realised I don’t know if I was.
I took some time off. At the time, I was 22, 23. I never worked for anyone before. I went to go work for someone else. It was at this early stage e-commerce start up that I was an employee. As an employee, Christie, I hated my job at this place. I hated it. I was trying to figure out why. I love my coworkers, but I didn’t enjoy coming to work every day for some reason. I was trying to figure out why. It was really bothering me.
I realised, you know what it is? It’s because I feel like I can’t give honest feedback in the company. It’s because I feel like any time I have an idea, anytime I have a suggestion, I don’t think that it’s going to be heard. It’s dallied in the company. My voice doesn’t matter. It felt very futile.
Christie: Or you’d have to go through several channels to even-
Claire: Yeah, and here’s the thing-
Christie: … get to anybody.
Claire: Right. Here’s the craziest thing about this, Christie, which is that it was a six-person company. We’re not talking about a huge company. We’re talking about a six-person company. I thought-
Christie: You didn’t feel like your voice could be heard in a six-person, that’s pretty crucial.
Christie: That is crucial.
Claire: Exactly. I thought, if this is happening in a six-person company, can you imagine in a 60-person company or a 600-person company? I decided, you know what, this is the problem that I need to figure out how to solve one way or another. I quit my job to start a company to solve this problem, and to help employees not feel the way that I did at work, to help them feel heard, to help them feel that they matter, and to help CEOs create an environment where they themselves would want to work in.
What I ended up doing is I first started consulting practise, working with CEOs one-on-one to help them do this. My first client was a company called Basecamp. You may be familiar with Basecamp.
Claire: Yeah, they make one of the world’s most popular project management softwares. They have, I believe, over 15 million customers-
Christie: I’m one of them.
Claire: … and have a few New York Times bestseller.
Christie: Yeah, exactly. Me too.
Claire: They were my first client.
Claire: Thank you, yeah. Trust me, I was like, “Wow, they’re my first client. Okay.” Then, here’s the craziest thing, not only were they my first client, but funny enough, they themselves happened to be building their prototype to solve this problem. That product was actually Know Your Company. They had built this small product on the side. Wasn’t really sure what to do with it. They started selling it. It actually took off. It took off, and it became successful, they realised, “Okay, this is actually a lot bigger than we thought this is going to be. We don’t really know what we’re getting into.”
The co-founders approached me, and they said, “Claire, we have this crazy idea. We’ve never done this before, but what if we spawn Know Your Company to be its own separate company, and ask you to become the CEO? We would split ownership 50/50, but you run the whole thing, you grow the whole thing. What do I think about that?” I said, “Yes. I’d be up.”
Christie: Right. What else could you say, right?
Claire: Dream job. That was about three and a half, almost four years ago. Since then, as you mentioned in the bio, we worked with, today, over 15,000 employees in about 25 countries, companies like Airbnb, Kickstarter Medium. I do a tonne of writing. I’ve been published everywhere from Harvard Business Review, to Inc. Magazine, Business Insiders, CNBC. I do a lot of speaking on the topic. I’m just really honoured to have taken … I mean, that’s where this come from, taken what has been a very personal problem to me ever since I was a kid, and feel grateful to get to be doing something small about it every day.
Christie: That’s awesome. That’s a very inspiring story.
Claire: Thank you.
Christie: I think that’s what makes knowing how you got there so much better, that it was very personal for you. It was a personal problem that you wanted to solve for yourself, but you knew that so many other people ask that same question of themselves like, “Really, why am I here? Why am I doing this to myself every day?” It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go start your own business, but if you aren’t, you should be happy where you’re working.
Claire: Absolutely, yeah. It probably circles back to a big theme of I know this series, which is how deeply being happy at work really affects and trickles out, not just to employees, but the clients and customers that they interact with.
Christie: Right, which actually is-
Claire: It’s huge too, yeah.
Christie: Yeah, which actually is a good point because as a quote from Richard Branson that says clients do not come first, employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of the clients.
Christie: From your perspective and working, I guess, in everything that you have done, especially with Know Your Company, how does employee engagement help with driving customer engagement and improve customer experience?
Claire: Absolutely. It’s all a trickle effect. There’s that quote that you shared from Richard Branson. There’s also a very well-known statistic. I think Gallup does a poll every year where 70 to 75% of the workforce is disengaged today. The majority of folks at work are disengaged. Then, you look at the trickle effect, and you say, “Okay. Well, what about their managers?” Well, what’s interesting is about 60% of managers are disengaged.
If you’re looking at why employees are disengaged, it’s because of managers. If you’re thinking, “Okay. Now, let’s look at customers. Let’s back out for a second.” Now, there are no formal statistics on this, but if you can only imagine that if 70% of your employees are disengaged, if they don’t trust their employers, which, by the way, one of out every three employees don’t think that their employer has their best interest in mind. If they don’t trust you, the employees don’t trust you, if they don’t think that you have your best intention in mind, if they don’t care about the cause and the mission of the company, how do you think they’re going to treat employees? They’re not going to bring up mistakes. They’re not going treat employees … Sorry, the customers-
Christie: Yeah, I know what you meant, customers.
Claire: Yeah, thank you. Customers with care, they’re not going to go above and beyond the call of duty. They’re not going to proactively think of new ways and new solutions to approach a customer. Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more with that quote that you shared because if you think about it, your employees, they are the frontlines to your customers. It’s like that very well-known phrase of like the best salespeople, for example, are the ones who truly believe that the product or the service that they’re selling is helpful and good. All they’re doing and all they believe is they’re just giving the information to people for people to make decisions on their own.
It’s the same case with employees and their relationship with customers is that if your employees don’t truly believe that what they are selling and what the services that they are providing are inherently in the best interest of customers, then you can sure bet that that’s going to be reflected at how they treat their customers.
Christie: Yeah, I can imagine. Well, because they have to believe in what they’re doing.
Christie: If they don’t, then I don’t even think they mean to. I think it’s just a trickle-down thing because they’re not feeling fulfilled where they are as employees, so it’s hard for them to project that to a customer. I mean, you got to love what you do, and you got to believe in your product. I mean, how can you sell it, or how could you even help a customer with that problem if you’re not feeling your environment, your-
Christie: … place in the company, or even the product. I mean, you’re just there to collect a paycheck. Anybody that I know that is in a place where they just got that mentality of just collecting a paycheck, you’re not it. They’re not in, and they’re probably not doing their best work at that. What are some ways that you all facilitate employee engagement at Know Your Company?
Claire: Yeah. It’s such a good question. I think, first and foremost, one of the core tenants of our culture is honesty. You can’t expect your employees to be honest with customers if you yourselves are not honest with your employees. This belief that honesty, whatever the cost. A real example of how does this has played out because it’s very easy, Christie, to write honesty up on a chalkboard or something. You see it on a poster, and be like, “This is one of our five core values around, but it plays out very tangibly in our company.
One example of this, and then actually how that’s translated into even how we treat our customers is we, a few years ago, made a really, really big mistake with our software. We made this mistake where there was a bug where it caused private answers to be shown to employees who are not supposed to see private answers. Yes. It affected about 80 companies, 80 companies, and hundreds of employees.
Christie: That’s like, “Huh.”
Claire: Yeah. It had been happening for months. The mistake that we had made, yeah, and it affected 80 companies, hundreds of employees, and it had been going on for several months. It’s this big deal. Here’s the thing, no one … Yeah. Here’s the thing, no one had told us about it. No one had brought it up. It was only one customer who brought it up. They brought it up in a very friendly way. They’re like, “Hey, I don’t know if this is supposed to be happening. Just FYI.”
I remember being faced with this very interesting decision, which is, “Okay, if that’s the only company that brought this up to us, do people even know that this is happening?” I have a big decision to make, which is, “Do we even proactively share that this is something that happened when people might not even have known?” We could essentially, by being honest and upfront with people, we could risk, at the same time. Can you imagine maybe losing clients, maybe making people really upset, causing paranoia? It’s this big question of, “How honest really are we supposed to be in this situation? Do we just fix it and move on, or do we make a big announcement about it, and potentially lose clients, or have people get angry at us?”
What I did is I called up Jason Freed, who’s the CEO of Basecamp. He said, it’s on our board. I called him and told him about the situation. He says to, Christie, he goes, “I love situations like this. Let’s fix that.” He said, “I love situations like this because they show what kind of company you are.” That’s all he had to say, Christie. The minute he said that, I knew exactly what we had to do.
What we ended up doing is I wrote this big long email to every single customer personally saying exactly what had happened, what we had fixed, why it happened, and offered a small, personal compensation as well, gave them my personal cellphone number, and said, “We are so, so sorry. It’s never going to happen again. You probably didn’t even know it, but we wanted to let you know.” I did that.
Christie: Just in case, yeah.
Claire: We did that for all 80 clients. Then, I braced myself for the reaction. I braced myself for … Yeah, exactly, for people who are going to leave the product, or yell at me, or be really angry. The craziest thing is we didn’t get anger responses. We got a few questions, but the majority of the responses I received, and I received a lot of it, almost every single one of them was, “Thank you.”
Christie: Thank you for telling me.
Claire: “I’m so grateful, Claire, that, first, you’re sharing this. This confirms my trust in you, guys.” Even some people said, “Claire, this happens all the time. Go get a drink,” or like, “Don’t even worry of it. it’s not a big deal.” Then, someone even said, “Claire, I loved your email so much, I actually forwarded it to the rest of my company as an example of how to handle a mistake.”
Claire: Long story there, but to show that when you decide within your company that a certain value, and in this case honesty, is going to become a part of your culture, it’s going to be the thing that you act on, and decide it’s going to be a tenant of who you are as a company, showing and reflecting that through all levels, and not just, again, just putting it into the company hymn, or writing it on the wall. That’s not what culture is. culture is the true embodiment of whatever values that you want to have to be true, and it trickles all the way down to interacting with customers.
Christie: How many employees do you have at your company?
Claire: This is pretty crazy. We are a two-person throughout the company. Yeah, over 55 people worldwide, which blows a lot of people’s minds.
Claire: Culture, for us, if anything, it’s even more important that we have to be incredibly intentional about it. We’ve expanded and been a little bigger. We’ve been smaller. Actually, I ran the company by myself for the first year and a half with hundreds of clients. It works just because our belief is that growth doesn’t mean headcount. To run something efficiently, and to run it well, and to run it sustainably, that’s really what’s more important to us rather than just hiring for the sake of hiring.
My goal is for Know Your Company lasting for as long as we can. To be frank, when you hire quickly, it’s your biggest expense. I can’t tell you how many friends, unfortunately, I’ve seen who have to shut their businesses down because they hired too quickly and spent too much cash. It’s very hard and painful to undo that.
Christie: Yeah, for everybody involved.
Claire: Yeah, definitely.
Christie: I am wildly impressed. I am because I just knew you were going to say you had … I mean, I wasn’t thinking that it was huge, but that was, at least, 20. Maybe remote people doing stuff like that, but you’re like, “No. We’re just two people, and we’ve got a million clients.” It’s like, “What?” It really makes it even more interesting that you are … We’re hearing how customer-obsessed you are, but also employee-obsessed, even if there’s only just two of you, but it’s important. I mean, you could see how you care about your customers. Knowing that you do have a pretty extensive customer base, how you actually are able to give that personal touch when it’s just two people.
Christie: Knowing that you’re doing it with just two people, how can other companies make sure? I mean, other than honesty, are there any other principles that would benefit, say, a company that has maybe 10 employees, or 15, or 20 employees?
Claire: Absolutely, absolutely
Christie: The honesty police, I think, is fantastic. I think that’s the best way to get out in front it, and you may get some people that are like, “Screw you,” but you’re definitely going to get more people that are like, “I appreciate you for letting me know.”
Claire: Yeah. I think it’s a testament to our clients as well that we’re lucky to work with amazing, amazing CEOs who use our product. To your point of being customer-obsessed, it couldn’t be more true. Being such a small company, I mean, here’s the thing, I’m the CEO, and I respond to our support tickets. Our CTO, and my business partner, and the other person in the company also responds. The CTO of the company responding to support tickets, which is unheard of in any sort of tech or any company in general. Yet, it’s incredibly important. It’s something I purposely held out on hiring.
I’m not naïve to think that, “Okay, that’s sustainable.” We’re not, first of all, always going to be two people. Our product is going to grow in different ways. We’re going to need to, eventually, hire support folks. Right now, we really just don’t need one. I love-
Christie: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Claire: Exactly. Here’s the thing is you’re so right. As the CEO, I think it is imperative to be answering those support items because it is the closest pulse to the customers as possible. I just sneezed.
Christie: What’s so funny is I’ve been like, “Oh god, don’t sneeze. Don’t sneeze.” I say this to myself, and then we sneeze.
Claire: This idea of being customer-obsessed, I think as the CEO, it is imperative to be spending, at least, some time, whether it’s every month or every week, responding to support tickets because that’s the pulse of your customer. That’s where you could actually get a sense of someone’s tone, or you can see the frequency if something is bubbling up.
Here’s the other thing, is you can also really make someone’s day, to form this development. If someone is confused about the product, or wishes something could be better, sure, you could have someone on the support team answer that, which is wonderful. Folks in the support industry do such a great job. If you can imagine, if you get a note from the CEO about, “Here’s some thoughts on how to use the product. Here’s some advice I might have. Let me answer your question for you,” it sends a really, really strong message, and it builds this rapport as well.
At the end of the day, people like to buy from people. They don’t like to buy from companies, they like to buy from people. People, “I think that’s one of my favourite products, and it’s because my friend recommended it to me,” or “I really like the founder of that company.” It’s about people. Even in your interactions with customers on customer support tickets, if you can think about how this is an opportunity for this customer or potential customer, this prospect, or current customer to really connect with them and remind them that they’re buying from a person and not just faceless entity.
Christie: Online entity. Yeah, exactly.
Claire: I mean, one of the things that we’ve been inspired by definitely is at Basecamp, they have this policy called EOS, everyone on support. They are a 50-person company. Every person every single month spends a few hours working support just to make sure that, again, they’re establishing that relationship with their customers, and you’re never out of touch. I know for sure, as we scale and get bigger in terms of headcount at Know Your Company, that’s something that we’ll definitely do too, because as a CEO, I never want to lose that personal touch with customers. That’s something that has been enormously important.
The other thing is getting on the phone with customers, which sounds so obvious maybe to a lot of folks. The question I like to ask is, how many customers do you know by first name or could you recognise if they walk down the street? For me at Know Your Company, to be frank, close to a hundred people. I could easily recognise on the street. I know their first name, phone numbers in my address book.
When I first took over for Know Your Company, and became the CEO, I made that a priority. I gave everyone my phone number, and I said, “I want to get on the phone with as many customers as possible.” During the first month, I had close to a hundred phone calls with different CEOs from all over the world. To this day, go to coffee or lunch with local CEOs here in Chicago. When I travel and go speak at conferences in Boston, in San Francisco, I always try to step by an office, and say hello.
Again, unheard of for the tech industry at the very least, for a service space industry. If you have a coffee shop or a clothing retail store, you know your regulars. You know people’s taste, and their habits, and you can chat with them, and get a sense of what they’re thinking. When you run a software product, you don’t know them at all. I mean, it simply becomes this very anonymized and almost sterile way, I think, in some ways to do business. The way we try to break that barrier is to always try to get on the phone with someone. If someone has a question, I always offer, “I’m happy to jump on a call.” Again, to try to create these personal relationships.
I think why that’s really helpful from a business perspective and not just from a romantic idea of, “You should just be friends with your customers,” from a business perspective, the reason why that’s so helpful is any time that we launch something at Know Your Company, I know exactly who I want to first beta test it with. I go, “You know who’s really going to love this feature? It’s these 10 CEOs because I know what their habits are. I know how they use the product. They know that you slack. I know that they do this in their company meetings. We need to get this for them.” It’s a great way for us to improve the products because we know our customers so well.
It’s also a really great sales technique because when we have customers come, or perspective customers, or prospects come in, and who say, “I want to talk to someone who’s been using the product similar to us,” and they’re a third-person remote company that’s growing really quickly. I know already, “Okay, it’s these 10 CEOs.” I think I’ll connect them with these two people because, again, I know exactly what their profile is. I’ve talked to them. I’ve gotten to know them. Really, spending that time just to get on the phone with customers has also been really helpful for us.
Christie: That’s great. That’s something that I’m hearing a lot in this video series. A lot of the founders and CEOs really like getting on the phone, which, like you said, it’s antiquated and unheard of. We prefer chatting and text message. I, personally, it’s like sometimes I want to be on the phone with a customer service person, but if they have a chat, I’m all down for that. It’s like, sometimes I don’t always want to be on the phone.
Christie: I like the chat because I still feel like I’m having a conversation with the person instead of having to type out this long drawn out email that I feel like it’s just going to go into a queue somewhere, and I never know when I’m going to get a response.
Christie: I do like that though. I like how the founders and the CEOs who have been a part of this video series, so many of them are like, “I personally want to pick up the phone and talk to my customers. I want to hear their voices. I want to know them.” I’m positive that they find that to be … I mean, I would feel really special if I’m getting a call from the CEO, or the CEO of the company is like, “Here is my personal cellphone number. Call me if you have any questions,” or anything like that. I’d be like, “Wow, that’s pretty neat.”
Claire: Definitely, definitely. Yeah. I mean, it’s amazing what that report creates. It means that those customers that you created those relationships, they’re so much more likely to say, “Hey, Claire. I have this cool idea that I think you guys should think about,” or “Hey, I noticed this weird thing in the UI that I don’t know if you’ve notice, I think it could be better.”
The other way that it’s been enormously helpful is also for referral business. When you build these relationship, the customers are so much more likely to refer you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a CEO literally refer me five or six clients just because we have this rapport. We’ve gone to lunch. I know their wife, their kids. I know their hobbies, and honest. It’s not superficial like, “I’m just getting lunch with this person, so they might refer me.” I just genuinely want to help them. I’ll make introductions for them, and to help grow their business. I’ll give them clients and contacts too. It’s just this real true relationship, and it grows to know them when you put that effort in, I think. Yeah, yeah
Christie: Yeah, and they just appreciate it. I think it’s just a very great gesture for them. I mean, whether they refer you or not, they just appreciate it. They appreciate it. You will always be on their mind if something happens to come up to where they have an opportunity to say something about you. You’re always there. It’s a great marketing tactic, even if it’s not a marketing tactic. It’s great.
How often do you reach out to your customers? Is it on a monthly basis? Because you have a quite a few, and it’s just two people. How often do you deliberately-
Christie: I mean, I know you’re answering tickets and stuff like that, but how often do you do almost that checkup? When do you do it? Is there a particular time where you feel like, “Okay, after they’ve become a customer for a certain number of days,” or how do you measure, or how do you decide when you’re going to make those calls?
Claire: Absolutely. We definitely are in touch with customers throughout their entire life cycle with us. Everything from when they sign up, they’re getting emails from me asking questions about how the product is going. It’s not from, again, sort of like, “info@knowyour company.” No, it’s actually from my personal account, firstname.lastname@example.org. You continue to get those emails once a month. I check in, and ask how are things going. There’s that qualitative aspect.
From the more quantitative aspect, every year, we’ll run a big customer engagement survey asking questions to better understand what benefits we provide, and how people perceive them. Then, just ideas and things that we might have missed of what people would like to see differently. That’s really helpful.
Obviously, from a marketing perspective, we use a lot of this statistics. For example, we found out last year that 94% of employees feel more connected because of Know Your Company.
Claire: Yeah, or it’s helped, I think, it’s 90% of CEOs make better decisions. Things like that. That’s, obviously, really helpful from that standpoint. Then, we also get a lot of just really good … Sorry, a really good understanding of trends and patterns for what people are asking for, or thinking could be better. That’s really helpful as well. Then, again, just more informally, every time I do a lot of speaking, I’m in a new city, I think, “Okay, which of our customers happen to be in that city?” I’ll reach out and see if we can get together.
Christie: That’s really cool. That’s really cool.
Christie: Any companies out there right now that are, in your opinion, killing it with customer obsession? Who you see out there is doing as good a job as you or better?
Claire: So many companies are doing an even better job. One of the companies that I think is really leading the field is a company called Help Scout, which is actually a client of ours. They are a help inbox service for customer support professionals and for companies. They walk the talk. They live what they preach. I learned a lot from them in terms of understanding different concepts. For example, like that quality is better than speed when it comes to customer service. There used to be a really big debate in the company, our company, about, do you answer things quickly, or do you take some time, and make sure that it’s really thorough and exactly what that person needs?
Help Scout, they have an incredible resource database. I recommend folks who aren’t familiar with their work to check them out, to go through that because one of the pieces in it talks about how contrary to popular belief, yeah, you want it to be quality, and not just answering things fast. I definitely learned a lot from them. I think, yeah, they take a lot of pride. Again, obviously, the product they’re selling is about customer service, but they really walk the talk on that.
Christie: Cool. I’m pretty sure that they’ll appreciate the shout out knowing that you’ve helped them, and they helped you. Do you find that a lot with a lot of your clients? Do you find that you’re learning from them, as well as they’re taking what you’re putting out to make their companies better? Do they teach you things?
Claire: All the time. All the time. I mean, there are so many companies and clients of ours that have been so generous with their skills. I mean, one of them, for example, is a PR firm that has done PR work for us-
Claire: … and helped us build out. Yeah. I mean, they approached us as a client. They were like, “We want to do stuff for you. Let’s make this work.” I do a lot of writing, but really understanding the craft and skill of planning out content, and reaching out to media links, and how you elevate a brand. That, I’ve learned so much from. There are so many clients who I’ll get lunch with or breakfast with, and understanding just how they’ve grown their business, or how they’ve improved their business, whether it’s an onboarding flow, or “Hey, Claire. This is how we hired our staff person,” or “This is a really big mistake that we made when we changed our pricing model up.”
Lots of lessons learned in talking through different stories with fellow founders that way. Yeah, I feel really fortunate that a huge part of my job, Christie, is literally just talking to different CEOs all day, and I learn so much.
Christie: That sounds like the coolest job ever, so congratulations.
Claire: Thank you. I am so grateful. Like I said, I’m truly, truly grateful.
Christie: I almost want to ask this question because I feel like I know the answer, but if you could go back in time, at any point, and change one thing, what would you change, if anything?
Claire: Yeah. I wouldn’t change a thing, which I don’t know. You may have guessed that, but I’m not a big person on regret. This idea that, “I wish something could have been in a different way,” because every time that I have failed spectacularly, every time I think about a moment, and cringe, and go, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I did that,” or “Oh, god, we shouldn’t have done that,” if I hadn’t done it, the wisdom of that experience I would not have today.
Christie: You would not learn.
Claire: Exactly. I mean, for example, one of the biggest lessons I learned is when I started that first company I mentioned, Starter League, and I got burnt out. I was not honest with myself about why I wanted to do it, which is why really lost my way, and wasn’t into it anymore. You could definitely call that a failure, or you say, “Claire, she wasn’t cut out for the role. She didn’t know what she wanted,” or what it’s actually done for me now years later is it’s been this amazing source of energy to make sure that I am 100% honest with myself in everything I do that it is what I want to be doing.
That honesty only comes from the fact that I wasn’t very honest with myself when I was starting that company. When I was 21-22, I wasn’t honest with myself. I had to go through that in order to, now, today, say, “Okay. Now, I know what it feels like to be honest with myself. Now, I know what self-deception looks like, or doing things for other people, and not listening to your gut looks like.” I mean, that’s wisdom. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Christie: Excellent. What other advice would you give someone who might be listening to this, and wanting to get started listening to their customers a little bit better?
Christie: Of course, you’ve given already a tonne of awesome advice, but what last little nugget would you like to leave?
Claire: Sure. I think the concept of do the things that don’t scale is, I think, very important when it comes to customer service. That’s a phrase I definitely didn’t invent. I think Paul Graham wrote a big piece about it a year or two ago. I think it’s especially applicable to customer service because the way you treat your customers, the way that you can wow them, and make their day, I mean, that’s a huge differentiator. If you can do it differently, if you can do it in a way that’s not commoditized, if it doesn’t feel stale, that isn’t the way that everyone else is doing.
Trust me, the way everyone else is doing it is they’re optimising for speed, efficiency, and maximisation. If you can go the other way, and optimise for care, humour, joy, delight, support, quality, if you can go the other way, that differentiation becomes very clear. Being brave enough to do something and try some things like picking up the phone, like being a 100% honest, like making sure that everyone in your company, including the CEO and your leadership team, is answering support tickets, all those things don’t scale very well. Maybe that’s not what matters. I don’t think it’s really what matters when it comes to support, at least, for companies of a certain size. I think that’s something that I would ask folks to consider.
Christie: Yeah. It’s probably something that they probably wouldn’t have considered until you put it in perspective. I think that’s amazing. I think that’s amazing. Well, this has been a fantastic interview, Claire. I feel like I’ve learned a whole lot from you.
Claire: Thank you, Christie.
Christie: Just wildly impressive on how you handle costumers almost all by yourself. That alone is really impressive, but we know you’re going to continue to grow and you’ll still-
Claire: Thank you.
Christie: Once you do have a few more folks behind you, they’ll be just as customer-obsessed as you. If you’d like, those of you who are watching out there, if you’d like to know more about Know Your Company, you can just go right over to knowyourcompany.com. Correct?
Claire: Yes. You got it. There are few things that other folks … Sorry, keep going.
Christie: No, no. Go ahead, go ahead, go ahead.
Claire: I was just about to say, if you’re on our site and you’re curious to learn more about how we’ve grown our business, and then also just learn some of the topics around building a more open and honest culture, we have a knowledge centre that we always recommend folks to check out. I write a weekly or a biweekly newsletter called The Heartbeat as well. We also have an online community for leaders called The Watercooler. For anyone who’s interested, and they’re looking to learn more about what we have to offer, I recommend checking that out.
Christie: Excellent. How can they get in touch with you on Twitter? I can’t remember what your twitter name is right off the top of my head.
Claire: Yes. No, it obscures. It’s cjlew23. Yeah, please feel free to ping me on Twitter, and send me an email at email@example.com. I’d be happy to connect with you.
Christie: Excellent. I think everybody has … I mean, you just gave a wealth of knowledge today. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this, and sharing your insight with us today. Just awesome. So glad you were able to do this.
Claire: Thanks so much, Christie. This was a lot of fun.
Christie: It was. I had a lot of fun. Well, once again, this is Christie with Fieldboom. I’m so glad that you guys joined us today, and hope you learned something. We’ll see you next time.