You’re reading hot dogs and eggs, a blog by Chris Gallo since 2014.

Be the Plumber

This post will take you about 5 minutes to read.

A 30-something immigrant with no fancy education or consumer product experience started a company in 2003. The product was first sales came out of the trunks of cars.

9 years later, the company’s products were being snagged by people checking out at Walmart and sales exceeded $1 billion.

How the hell did that happen?

One of the hardest parts about supporting customers is seeing things from their perspective. There were plenty of customers who knew the product better than me when I first started at Highrise 17 months ago.

That’s not a great feeling. Because people are asking you questions and you’re supposed to have answers.

How do you get to know the product better?

You use it.

In my first 12 months at Highrise, our team tried using the product more and more. We assigned tasks for following up with customers. We tracked email with our dropbox addresses. We built support to autoforward in tons of mail.

We were learning the product, but we really weren’t using it as much as we could. Especially for supporting customers.

The majority of my time was spent in help desk software. That’s where I was replying to customers. It wasn’t spent in Highrise.

One day, our CEO, Nathan, asked me what would it take to use Highrise to support customers?

My first reaction was that wouldn’t even work. There is no support queue. It would be terrible and slow us down a ton.

But Nathan knew if we could pull it off, it would mean our entire team would spend a ton more time in Highrise.

By using Highrise, it would become more useful to us and our customers.

But it wasn’t going to be all ice cream and nuts. It was going to be tricky. Rough spots were ahead.

Our team started small. One of the first things we announced was autoforwarding support for Gmail.

All email was being autoforwarded into Highrise. It was a firehose of information. Overwhelming. Noisy.

It became impossible to search and find information. It sucked.

But if our own team was having trouble with it, customers probably felt the same way.

This shitty experience put pressure on us to make it better.

A little later our team built a way to connect Gmail and send emails directly out of Highrise. Our support email address used Google Apps, so we were inching closer to being able to support customers with Highrise alone.

The first version to send email out of Highrise was a bit underwhelming. You couldn’t attach files. No way to CC or BCC others.

It was good enough for us to start using it, but there was still too much friction.

Weeks later we introduced rules including a way to only forward in email from existing contacts. This reduced the noise and made it easier for us to use Highrise. The firehose was no longer always on.

It was still hard to find notes and emails when searching. Tons more email was still in our account. So we improved search and made it easier and faster to find things.

When replying to customers, we sometimes needed to copy others or attach files when replying to customers. So our team made it possible to CC/BCC from Highrise and followed that up with attachment support.

More progress. But still more pressure too. No queue for emails. We had no idea what needed to be replied to or what was outstanding or important.

Next, we introduced a personal assistant. We call it Good Morning.

Good Morning helps us organize and respond to incoming activity that needs attention. It’s our take on a support queue.

Now we were damn close.

We couldn’t tell who was replying to what. Our team sometimes replied to a customer twice because we had no idea someone else was already replying to them. Definitely not ideal.

Our team built presence to see if someone else is responding, and it improved. No more replying to the same customer twice.

By the fall of 2015, our team was using Highrise to reply to every customer email. Something I thought wouldn’t be possible.

5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava will tell you he grew his product company to over $1 billion in sales with combination of common sense and a sense of urgency. By not doing dumb stuff.

Bhargava claims his company isn’t efficient at all. They just don’t do useless stuff. He cut out everything that didn’t make money, didn’t improve the product, or didn’t make the customer happy.

Business isn’t complicated to Bhargava. It’s just do useful stuff. And avoid useless.

That belief turned 5-Hour Energy into one of the most popular consumer products in the world.

Bhargava, who dropped out of Princeton after one year, doesn’t believe in MBAs. Why? They’re useless.

It’s a simple thing. If you’re going to learn plumbing, go learn from a plumber that has actually seen a pipe. That has fixed a leak.

Not just written about pipes, lectured on pipes, and researched pipes.

I’m not for theoretical plumbers.

Manoj Bhargava, Why a MBA is Useless

Our story is similar. Our team made a commitment to using Highrise more. Instead of being theoretical users of the product, we became customers of it. We depended on it.

We felt the pain our customers were telling us about. It wasn’t pleasant. But it gave us a new insight into what it was like to use the product. It forced us to improve Highrise and to do it quickly.

Sometimes you have dig in and fix it from the inside. It might take a little pain, but it may also be the only way you’ll figure it out.

This post was inspired by this talk from Manoj Bhargava.