Ep 13 Transcript

Shani Taylor - Airtable

Delian Asparouhov: Hi everyone. My name is Delian and I'm a principal at Founders Fund, a venture capital firm based in San Francisco. This is Operators where I interview non VC, non CEO, non founder operators that make the startup world go round.

Today I'm interviewing Shani Taylor, Mid-market Customer Success Manager at Airtable. Shani joined Airtable as the first Customer Success hire and the fourth go-to market hire four years ago. Prior to joining Airtable, she worked at Matthews Media Group and Cross Culture Ventures.

I hope you enjoy the show.

Shani, thanks so much for coming on the podcast today. Really excited to have you on.

Shani Taylor: Thank you, super excited to be here. I appreciate the invitation.

Delian Asparouhov: So maybe before we dive into your work at Airtable, we can go back and talk a little bit about your sort of like educational background. I feel like for somebody that works in the world of startups, uh, you have a lot more degrees than the, uh, the, the typical person. You've done so much work across psychology, business design, African American studies, health education.

What led you to pursue like all these various different areas?

Shani Taylor: You know, I think it was by virtue of just an innate curiosity and a desire to learn a little bit more. And, um, you know, anything that interests me, I want to pursue it. I think that's part of it. And I think, uh, it's also a function of my background.

You know, I grew up, um, my parents immigrated to the US uh, from Jamaica and they came here with full intention of making sure that their children, my sister and I, had a better life than theirs. And, um, that was very much rooted in this desire to use and see education as a currency for access and opportunity.

And so, to them, that was success. You know, the me telling my mom "I'm applying to grad school", or "I'm thinking about business school" was just like music to her ears. So, um, I think it was something that was very much ingrained in me.

Delian Asparouhov: Love that, love that. And so between your sort of first digit school and your second stint, uh, you actually worked at this like media group as a project manager and project director.

Can you talk about sorta, you know, uh, that sort of career path, that life choice, and it was almost like, you know, three, three and a half years roughly, uh, what led you towards that and how has that experience?

Shani Taylor: Yeah, it was great. I was actually working at a company, it was called Matthews Media Group, part of the Omnicom Network.

And that company was focused on patient recruitment. So enrolling patients into clinical trials and another arm of the business focused on health communications. And so this was my opportunity to use my degree. Um, I had just finished up my program at Hopkins and it was an opportunity to partner with the National Cancer Institute, the CDC and FDA to really get health messages out to their constituents. And what was exciting about that was that we were using, you know, at the time new media strategies, which was like that early web 2.0 kind of foray, um, and using those technologies to try to get closer to our audience. So getting people to quit smoking. Um, one of the exciting things that we had developed was a text messaging program, uh, that was rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy.

So someone could opt into the program, sending a message, sending a request for support and get the right message at the right time. Um, and that actually was quite impactful experience and really getting me excited and interested in leveraging technology for positive health behavior change.

Delian Asparouhov: Super cool. And so, you graduated from Northwestern and then headed off to Airtable as their first sort of Customer Success Manager, sorta like why customer success? You were their fourth ever go-to market hire, supposed to be like super early on in the company.

Uh, what got you interested at that sort of early stage companies and was there anything like, particularly special on Airtable that sort of convinced you to join a company that was so young in their lifecycle?

Shani Taylor: Yeah. I was particularly excited and interested in the early stage. You know, I wanted to go to a place where I could have a lot of impact. Um, I could, you know, basically work and operate from a blank canvas.

I really wanted to build and to sort of partner with the team to build. So it was, it was honestly less about customer success, more about the stage of the company. And then, um, mostly about Airtable. I just loved the product and they were really, really excited and passionate. Uh, in fact, I had applied for a Marketing Manager role at the time.

Um, I think it was a little bit early for the company and our CEO, how he reached out, let me know that they were in fact hiring for Customer Success Manager, which I thought was perfect because it was actually more aligned to my background. I had previously worked in client services and so it felt like a natural fit.

Delian Asparouhov: Makes a ton of sense. And so Airtable had been around for about four years when you joined. Uh, so what did the company look like? I guess when you joined and was there anything that you wish you'd known, uh, you know, back then that you know now, um, or things you would have done, like, let's say, you know, differently in the early days of Airtable?

Shani Taylor: It was, it was such a fun, exciting time.

You know, when I joined, we were about 15 or so employees, mostly engineering. Um, and this actually was before we even had an enterprise plan, it was before we even had a mechanism to collect payments from customers who were excited and wanting to subscribe to Airtable. Um, so it was a very early time. I remember in fact, uh, sitting in the stairwells because we didn't have enough conference space.

And so my colleague Sasha, who was our first sales hire. We'd be in the stairwells taking phone calls from customers. And I think it just characterized how scrappy we were at the time. Um, it was an environment where you were, you know, I know startups, you are expected to wear multiple hats, but it was really inherent at the time when we were at, when I was at Airtable early on, I felt like I wore a bit of a support hat, a sales hat, a marketing hat in addition to customer success.

And so that was exciting. And I think that's probably one, you know, takeaway or, um, one thing that I wish I had known just how much of that opportunity would be in front of me, which was exactly what I was looking for. Um, a couple of other things that I think was really useful to know and sort of, as I look back, um, at my time, just the lack of specialization.

So doing some of this unscalable high touch things early on, um, actually served us really well because you've got to learn a lot from your customers. You've got to really get close to them and, and get connected and to understand what they were looking for. And that's sort of the foundation for us to dig in and understand where we actually did want to specialize or where we wanted to, um, you know, create separate support functions.

So that was something that was really important. Um, and I think just having that balance of highly unscalable work, um, and then eventually getting to a place where there's much more efficiency, what was critical.

Delian Asparouhov: Yeah. Can you talk about one of those, let's say like unscalable things that you noticed, started to work really well or really got customers engaged or excited that you guys ended up sort of like deciding to scale and how did you identify that and what was the process for like, you know, scaling that up or making it more scalable?

Shani Taylor: Yeah. Yeah, there are a couple of things, you know, um, one, so there, there are the things that are unscalable that you do want to operationalize and incorporate and keep. And then there are things that are unscalable that yes, you have some great learnings, but it's not going to be, um, beneficial to neither yourself nor the customer.

So I'll talk about those two things. One was, um, the way that we worked with our customers: Airtable, we, you know, empowers anyone to create custom applications and so, um, early on, we would often build those applications for our customer. We'd understand what they were looking fo, you know, they'd send over their spreadsheets, they'd send over their process and we'd build it we'd even import the data for them.

The data import was something that was unscalable that we've not moved forward with because you lose sort of this investment in the process, you lose the customer's confidence and ability to, to do this on their own. But what we did end up keeping and sort of spinning out, we noticed that our team was spending a lot of time building these applications for our customers instead of in, in conjunction with them. And so we did a time study and audit, and I think this is one thing that's really, really helpful for teams that are growing to regularly evaluate where people are spending their time. We did a time study and we saw that a significant chunk of CSMs were spending a lot of time building the application for our customers.

We knew that was a high leverage activity. And so we ended up spinning out an entirely separate team and implementation specialists team who was really understanding the process and, um, you know, creating an effective path forward for our customers as they are building up their applications. And so that was an example of something that was unscalable for us to do, but we knew it was high leverage and really impactful for our customer and we decided to operationalize it and figure out a better path to basically execute against that.

Delian Asparouhov: Makes a ton of sense. Um, and so you never really built, obviously a customer success team before Airtable, your work was like an immediate group around like, you know, messaging, uh, but you know, what of the past experience has sort of helped prepare you for that versus what were some of the things, um, that were maybe, you know, more foreign or things that you kind of had to like learn on the fly?

Um, and do you think there are any mistakes that you made that, like, you feel like a lot of young companies sort of make, um, that, uh, you know, are more generalizable that people, you know, should avoid or pitfalls that you feel like people should avoid?

Shani Taylor: Yeah, you're right. I had never, um, built a customer success team or even been part of one and actually Airtable was my first time being at a tech company and working at a startup.

So it was a lot of firsts happening at the same time, but I think, um, you know, the, the guiding principles and taking a first principles approach to everything was key and being successful early on and being able to build the team that we built. Um, you know, a lot of it really just was rooted in understanding our customer needs and really being deeply curious and looking at every engagement with our customers and learning opportunity to figure out what would be the optimal way to partner with customers, what they are actually looking for and what they need and what will be beneficial to the relationship, um, and being very deliberate and intentional about defining what success looks like in our customer's words.

And so that was really critical for me and I think it was hugely helpful for us early on. In terms of a couple of learnings, you know, I think we established that customer journey a little bit later and maybe that was probably  by virtue of taking this constant learning approach. And so every engagement was different and we would sort of try to figure out what the customer needed, but it was, um, really helpful when we got to the place where we did define that customer journey. So I'd say one piece of recommendation or advice is to establish that early, but be very comfortable adjusting it and evolving it over time.

Because it's helpful to have this sort of North star as to where you're guiding the customer, not only for your team and how your team is operating, but so that the customer knows like, what is next and what should I expect in this partnership?

Delian Asparouhov: And, you know, it sounds like when you first joined early on, there was a pretty technical team. There weren't that many sorts of go-to market hires. Was there like a particularly effective way to communicate with the engineers, how to maybe adjust parts of his customer journeys, that things are already sort of, you know, the, the customer is more likely to be successful on their own as opposed to like relying on their team, like, how did you sort of make the case for it say, you know, features that were needed or, you know, particular messaging in the product or things that need to be adjusted, um, to sort of push people through these sort of ideal customer journey. What were the best ways of going about that?

Shani Taylor: Yeah, I'd say one of the things I do really love about Airtable is just how tight our relationship is with our product and engineering team. You know, early on everyone at the company wore a support hat and everyone did support. And I think having that ability to hear what our customers are saying, what they're looking for, where they're running into stumbling blocks and where we can help unblock them and make them more effective that coming directly from our customers, which is usually helpful, of course, as we grew, that was not scalable for our entire team, but we do still have an environment and sort of the way that we operate as engineers and product join us for customer calls regularly, they have access to information. And so, um, then being brought into the loop has been really, really helpful and understanding what our customers are looking for and incorporating that feedback and, uh, those insights into our product development and roadmap.

Delian Asparouhov: And do you think there are some parallels between, let's say like the marketing messaging that you did to consumers, and then also you stated your background in like psychology or maybe even health education that allowed you to sort of successfully understand like customer psychology and how to partner with them and communicate with them, or like, what were some of the parallels that you brought in from there?

Shani Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, I think being customer facing, there are a lot of parallels, not only from education, but just my background as well. You know, I grew up, I have had over a hundred siblings in my entire life. My parents did foster care. Um, and so having that diversity of siblings, um, people from lots of different backgrounds, it just forces you to have a great deal of patience and ability to be adaptable and deal with lots of different personality types.

And I think that has been hugely helpful in working with customers. Um, but I would also say to your point, uh, that education has been helpful. So when I was at Hopkins, um, I studied, uh, health behavior and there are a number of theories around how people decide they're ready to make changes. Um, and there's, you know, the Transtheoretical Model, which is also known as the Stages of Change.

And I think that is great parallel to thinking about how to move the customer through the journey. Like, are they even ready to adopt a new tool? Do they have the tools to be effective? Um, do they have a deliberate intention around maintaining that tool and keeping it, you know, within their business or making sure that the team is using it. And so I think that there's a lot of parallels just around understanding someone's readiness to actually move forward with changing the way that they work. Um, and so I think that that has been critical and incorporating and how we train our customers and communicate with them.

Delian Asparouhov: I mean, is that something that you guys at Airtable actually like pretty actively track, sort of like the customers' readiness, your sophistication with the products, you sort of know, okay, this person is somebody who has already built pretty sophisticated applications, when they're coming in, their questions can be routed to a more expert team versus this is somebody that actually probably needs to get routed more towards like a education team that is going to help teach the person about Airtable. Is that sort of how you guys deliver thinking about sort of, uh, the, you know, gradiate gradations of, you know, customer sophistication.

Shani Taylor: Yeah, we, we definitely think about customer sophistication and less around how we're routing them, but more around the insights and making sure that we're creating an experience that is inclusive for all of our customers. Um, I'd say that the other thing that we take, you know, in consideration is when our CSM team is training our customers or no, facilitating a Lunch & Learn or something like that, we want to make sure that we have accounted for the different types of, um, you know, uh, customers in the room and their different like level of readiness and sophistication. Then we can modulate how we're actually interacting with them. So definitely, it manifests itself in how we're engaging with our customers.

Um, and it is something that we think about, um, as we're building the product and thinking about messaging. We do have these different profiles. I actually say one of the things that, um, you know, I learned early on was just, it's almost not every end user is equal in that way. Where, for us, one of the learnings that was really helpful was just understanding and finding that tinker persona, that tinker who actually had influenced you, because that helps ensure that what they were trying to drive, which was changing the tools that they were using internally would be more successful. And so that has been really helpful, making sure that we have that relationship or at least that persona as part of our contacts within a particular company.

Delian Asparouhov: Was there a point after you started at Airtable where like, it felt like it really clicked, like, you know, this is when you know, it's really, you know, it feels like it's working up into the right, it's going to be like super successful. Um, and like, you know, maybe it's who were some of the early and maybe anchor clients or things like that, where like, when it felt like it was really resonating and with them, we were like, okay, if it's resonating with this customer, like, you know, this is going to be big because like, if they're going to be using it, there are lots of people like them that would use Airtable like this.

Shani Taylor: Yeah. You know, for me, it's always just been about my belief in Airtable and sort of its success has always been influenced by my love of the product. And, and honestly, where I felt like Airtable occupied and sort of from a mission standpoint, the ability for this tool to be picked up and used by anyone, regardless of your technical expertise or background and empower you to be able to drive such a significant amount of change, um, whether it's in your business or in your life.

Um, I think that is what clicked for me. And that's where I felt like, okay, this is going to be exciting and important. Um, I also remember at the offer stage, I was perusing Twitter and I just did a search for Airtable. And I was so excited by just the unsolicited feedback and love that people had been sharing.

And so that got me really excited, even before I joined. But when I think about our earliest customers and our anchor clients that I think really helped us grow and learn, it was much more from a, um, uh, you know, what they were able to teach us standpoint as opposed to like revenue. So one of my earliest customers, when that was Netflix and, you know, they're larger than Airtable is, and being able to understand what Airtable looks like and how it was being used in a much larger company than ours, at the way and sort of level that they've been using it, was hugely helpful for us as we were growing. For example, you know, Airtable today is about 300 employees. We would never understand what it's like to collaborate on a single application in Airtable with a team of 500. And so being able to have that insight from, you know, early customers like Netflix was hugely helpful.

We had such a great relationship where they gave lots of helpful feedback. We would showcase things that we were thinking about with them early and I think that was, was really critical from like a, you know, early customer standpoint.

Delian Asparouhov: And do you know, sort of how it came about that? Like Netflix started to adopt it at such a wide scale? Was it sort of like a pure bottoms up approach that, you know, somebody started discovering the product and they started to use it and then do you have a particular, let's say like favorite use case of something that like Netflix taught you about a way that Airtable either could have been used that you guys sort of incorporated into like the core product strategy?

Shani Taylor: Yeah. So I'm very much a bottoms up, you know, having those individuals as, uh, employees who have an idea about the way that something should be operating or very opinionated about what they expect from their software and just haven't had that before. Um, and it was, you know, an individual who noticed Airtable, which fit the needs that she had established, um, and brought it into the company and it flourished.

Yeah, Netflix uses Airtable for a number of ways, but I think the thing that we were able to learn most, and that has been really critical for our product strategy is just really understanding what it looks like to operate and collaborate at that level and making sure that the product is seamless and, and, you know, for users who are collaborating at scale.

So again, imagining, you know, a single application being used by hundreds of people at the same time.

Delian Asparouhov: Makes sense. Makes sense. And I'm sure that you, uh, you know, have run with it, like a variety of different, let's say, you know, strategies, whether it's, you know, implementing aspects of this, like customer journey, understanding, you know, particular sophistication, how did you sort of, you know, bounce experimenting with sort of like, you know, new strategy and new ways of interacting with customers versus like doubling down and sort of scaling the ones that were sort of like working and like, how did you find sort of the time to do both? Or was it kind of alternating between the two or, um, yeah, I'd love to, I would love to hear about that.

Shani Taylor: Yeah. You know, I think honestly, we're, we're experimenting all the time. Um, and I think, you know, the way that we experiment is not only establishing a new strategy or a new tactic, but how can we also make that new strategy or tactic more effective and more efficient.

And we have an incredible, incredible team that is, um, you know, incredibly smart, has lots of ideas ,and we work very collaboratively. So there are ideas around what to do and experiments that are happening all the time. In terms of how we think about doubling down on an experiment, it's being able to see that it's been repeatable and it's driven similar outcomes.

So one thing that we've been very deliberate around is identifying sort of the power users within a, an account or within a customer, um, customer base, and really trying to kind of, um, work through that, that team as a way to collect feedback and disseminate helpful information, and being able to see that that replicated across a diverse set of accounts is helpful for us to understand, okay, this is something that we might want to incorporate into the way that we're working, as opposed to just have available as an, as a, um, a tactic that we might try with one or two accounts. So in short, I really think it's this constant desire to experiment and then recognizing that something is working for multiple accounts and in wanting to take that forward.

Delian Asparouhov: Can you talk a little bit about, you know, it sounds like you've had a, it'll take you to two different jumps while you've been, uh, at Airtable, uh, you know, one into sort of a more enterprise, it sounds like also, you know, moving cities and, you know, shifting to a different, like certain different segments of the market.

Uh, can you sort of talk about, you know, sort of both those changes and then also maybe, you know, what led you to Austin or, uh, how, how that all came about.

Shani Taylor: Yeah. So, um, I've been in Austin since February, so it's pretty recent. And it was, you know, prior to, prior to moving to Austin, um, I did focus on our enterprise segment.

So those were some of our earliest customers. Um, but we recognize that, you know, Airtable, of course it can be used by a wide, wide variety of, of customers across a number of different industries and, and, um, uh, segments. But there is a real opportunity for a lot of these smaller teams who may not have the ability to have, you know, many, many different tools or they may not have as many resources available to bring to life the processes and applications that need to, you know, need to be built internally to help them execute and sort of achieve their work.

And so the opportunity across the SME and mid market segment, we just recognized this was quite large. Um, not only from a customer base, but also an opportunity for us to really double down and think about how can we still provide a really effective and excellent experience for our customers in the segment, given that it was quite large, we would inherently like, just have to scale.

And so for me, what I was excited about was the opportunity to shift and sort of apply what I had learned being a little bit more, um, uh, involves a higher touch sort of level of service with our enterprise customers and thinking about how we could revamp that, um, our service level for mid-market and SME, but in a way that would enable us to scale.

And so I was, I was specifically excited about the opportunity to come to Austin because it felt like a blank canvas. It felt like the early days at Airtable, again, starting from scratch. Um, but this time doing it in a much more informed way. So when I first joined, of course didn't have a customer success background, but here I'd be able to apply the things that we know were working well for our customer base um, and, and sort of experiment with this new segment.

Delian Asparouhov: And, you know, I feel like one of the benefits of being such an early employee, you get a lot of like, you know, moral credibility, you know, with the, with, you know, future hires. And, you know, especially, so when, you know, sort of setting up a new office, obviously, I assume during COVID, you know, most everyone's sort of been pretty remote, you know, even if they're in Austin, but you talk about sort of like what it's been like to sort of open up a sort of blank canvas.

And how do you feel like you're transferred the values and culture, you know, from the, you know, San Francisco office to Austin sort of what's been effective, what's been maybe more difficult than expected? Uh, both with, let's say like the move and also, I assume being remote during COVID.

Shani Taylor: Yeah. You know, um, we had one, one solid month of being in person with one another and we were working out where we worked before we were getting office space and then moved to a remote, um, only kind of environment. And I think we've had to be just incredibly deliberate about really making sure that, um, you know, new hires who hadn't had a chance to meet anyone in person could feel and sort of understand and embrace the culture of Airtable.

And I think it's not a thing that, you know, the way that I think about culture, it's very much something that it's not always organic. I think you can, you have to be very deliberate and intentional about preserving, sort of building the culture you want. And so that's something that we have done, you know, lots of, uh, activities online, lots of team outings and team events. We are, um, you know, every time a new hire joins, we have, uh, an exercise that basically allows them to share some of their experiences, their interests, um, you know, what gets them excited, um, their background, um, we even have a, like a Austin playlist where everyone gets to add one of their favorite songs.

So a lot of activities where we are really hoping to just make the experience feel a lot more cohesive since, you know, many of us have not even met each other before, aside from just, you know, working on Zoom. Um, and I think in terms of how that translated to working with our customers, they're going through the exact same thing they're having to, um, accelerate their digital transformations, they're having to rethink how they're operating, how their processes were and how they've been operating. Um, and so we've been able to, to be very supportive of that, um, with a, with a platform like Airtable.

Delian Asparouhov: You know, you talked a little bit about, you know, the, the new hires that you bring on. Can you talk about sort of what you think, you know, makes an ideal, let's say, uh, you know, customer success, uh, you know, so a higher, uh, are there particular, you know, uh, you know, behavioral traits or properties that you're looking for, are there also aspects of, you know, somebody that can be great at customer success, but maybe not necessarily a fit for the Airtable type of, let's say customer success or within the Airtable culture, sort of, how do you think about what the ideal sort of archetype looks like for somebody that's joining your team?

Shani Taylor: Yeah. The interesting thing about this is I think over time, that's definitely something that evolves, you know, early on our first, um, uh, CS hires were oftentimes product evangelists. They were users of Airtable. They had  introduced Airtable within their businesses, within their companies. And they were effectively wearing the hat of the customer success manager, wherever they were working.

And so they were, um, product experts. They were just very passionate and very much athletes, you know, because again, the role was broad, you were doing a little bit of everything. Um, and as we've grown and as we've evolved and really established our strategy, that profile has shifted a little bit to, um, you know, candidates and individuals who have had past customer success experience, who were really effective navigating different organizations and building deep relationships with their customers.

But also people who can contribute and sort of bring, um, their experience to helping us expand our practice in the way that we're working. But regardless of the stage that you joined, I think things that are true, um, for the types of CS individuals want to bring on are those who are curious and like have an intense desire to learn more and to tinker and to explore. This is useful, not only from the perspective of you know, understanding what our customers are really looking for and what's driven them to change and to consider a new platform, or even what they're aiming to build and to get out of this partnership. But also Airtable's evolving constantly. And so tinkers, you were ready to get in there and to, you know, create and build, um, so that they're even more informed and more effective for their, for their customers. That's very much the profile that we're looking for.

Delian Asparouhov: And it sounds like the customer support team is sort of starting to specialize over time. You obviously mentioned one set of specialization, which sounds like it's just like customer segment, you know, enterprise to like mid market, which I assume is differentiated by just like level of, you know, hands on and you can sort of be with each customer, but can you talk a little bit more about sort of the different types, the other types of specialization that you guys have gone through and sort of, uh, you know, what each specialty particularly, you know, focuses on and how maybe the different, you know, roles differ.

Shani Taylor: So in addition to, you know, kind of the different segment that exists across the customer success team, we've also spun out the implementation specialist team, as I mentioned earlier. So a team really responsible for figuring out the optimal approach to building solutions in partnership with our customers.

Um, in addition to that, because one of the other hats that CSMs wear early on was extensive amount of training. They were doing all the training. We even hosted webinars. We have created a dedicated team and education team, which actually sits under marketing that is responsible for bringing to life a lot of that live and on demand content through the form of webinars and training videos and snippets and things like that. That's another team that we have, I've actually specialized in sort of spun out of what was the core responsibilities of the customer success team early on.

Delian Asparouhov: I feel like one of the things really neat about working at customer success at a, an enterprise software company versus, you know, let's say, you know, a customer support that somebody's just selling consumer hardware or a door dash, something like that is that you guys actually drive a significant amount of the revenue. Like, you know, most, you know, most customer or most enterprise software companies, you know, only get a small amount of like the ACB and bookings in the upfront. And it's mostly the like negative churn and the growth from customer accounts that leads a lot of the revenue growth.

Can you talk about sort of how that impacts your guys' organization? Do you guys structure yourselves around sort of like, you know, revenue goals and think about that pretty actively as you're sort of working with customers, a lot of it is like sort of, you know, expanding. And, uh, how do you think about, let's say, uh, you know, do you guys have some sort of like commission structure? How do you guys think about the commission structure within the customer success team? Um, yeah. We'd love to hear.

Shani Taylor: Yeah. So for us, it's, it's incredibly important to make sure that our incentives, our team's incentives are aligned to what is actually most important and meaningful to the customer. And so for us, we've actually landed on basically 20 day, like, you know, monthly active usage, essentially.

Um, we believe that that's important to our customer too. They want to make sure that this product, the solution that they're spending money on the purchase that they're getting the value out of it, that their teams are using it and have successfully adopted it. And so that's what drives the customer success team.

Um, that's essentially our harvest metric where we believe that the inputs that we're we're, um, focusing on day in and day out, training and supporting our customers through workflow consultations and, you know, having those regular partnership reviews will lead to that increase in activity. So that's what we're comped on and really focus on as essentially our numbers star.

Delian Asparouhov: And I imagine your team, especially now at a later stage, you know, it nearly sounds like obviously tons of, you know, engineering and, you know, product interactions, but I'm sure now there are many other functions you guys have to work with, you know, uh, you know, finance to determine maybe what the, you know, comp commissions look like, you know, sales for, I assume one seat or somebody who's sort of leading a close to the client, handing them off to you guys, you know, marketing, it sounds like they work with you on the education product, we obviously like talked about. Can you talk a little bit about like the various, you know how those various like partnerships, you know, work and, uh, strategies that you found that are successful across these various organs. And again, I think maybe the most interesting would be, let's say like, you know, finance, sales and marketing we would chat through.

Shani Taylor: Yeah. So I've, I've always seen, um, customer success as like a highly cross functional team for the reasons that you just outlined. You know, we do work very closely with many, many, um, orgs within the company. Um, one thing that's unique about Airtable and the way that our team is structured is that both sales and customer success are under the same umbrella.

Um, so we both roll up into the same leader on our team and we're, I think it's, it's designed to really make sure that we are in lockstep, that we have this very seamless approach to how we're working with our customer. We don't want them to feel like they are having a disjointed experience. And so, um, we have regular, you know, syncs and meetings with our sales colleagues.

We do regular offsites just to make sure that our goals, our incentives and our approaches are aligned as much as possible so that, that is reflected in the relationship that we're, um, managing from a customer standpoint. In marketing, you know, we, uh, I sort of look at it as  it's like this, this feedback loop, you know, a lot of what marketing is doing, brings the customers into the company.

We then manage them. We learn more about the customers, what they're looking for, how they're talking about their successes, how they're talking about their challenges and we're able to feed back that information to marketing. So, you know, I love, and I'd say it's a similar relationship with product too.

Um, things that really make it a successful relationship, I think honestly starts at the company level, knowing that we are all rallied around the customer, that our goal is to really make them successful, to make them competent and capable and sort of how they're approaching and using our platform, knowing that that is sort of true  and it's the mandate across the company. It helps us have a similar conversation. It helps us bring, um, you know, insights and priorities that, um, are for the most part aligned across the team, because they're all rolling up to this broader company goal. So I think an effective partnership really starts with a company mandate that can bring all teams, um, basically rally all teams together.

Delian Asparouhov: Yeah. What advice would you give, let's say to like another early stage, uh, you know, enterprise company, that's looking to make their first, you know, customer success, hire, you know, what do you think, you know, how would you advise a founder and sort of what the ideal candidate looks like? You've talked a little bit about like this athlete being willing to, you know, uh, wear multiple hats, but you know, what do you think somebody should be looking for, especially if they're trying to, you know, hire somebody scrappy or we can't afford somebody that has previous customer support or customer success background they need, they need to go for a broader search.

Shani Taylor: Yeah. You know, I think there's a lot of value in, um, having diverse backgrounds, um, and especially those early hires against someone who can be very adaptable and can jump in, maybe has seen a lot and has had a lot of experiences that they can draw on, um, as they're building from zero to one, essentially.

So I do think it's really important to, um, you know, prioritize that diversity in their background. I think the other thing that is really important that I would recommend is being very thoughtful and deliberate about the hiring process. Like what are you asking candidates to do? What does the structure of your interview loop look like?

And does it really set you up to extract and understand whether the candidates are bringing the qualities that you were looking for that are critical for you in that role? You know, one thing that's really important for us is having candidates or team members who are comfortable with ambiguity, who are ready to dive in and, um, you know, tinker, who are collaborative in their approach.

Um, and we have an exercise that, um, is technical in nature and it's essentially helping having the candidate make the assets, essentially to have the candidate use Airtable um, to set up an integration. And oftentimes we expect that they've never done this before, but it's less about "Are they able to do it correctly?"

It's more about being able to see how do they talk through what they're attempting to do. Do they, you know, have this disposition or this predisposition to partner with us to try to collaborate, to get to the end answer. Um, and if they don't get it right, how do they respond to that? And I've actually had a candidate who didn't get it right, had a great disposition, didn't get it right, was super excited about the exercise, flew back home to New York and emailed me the next day and said, "I tried it again. I figured it out. I'm so excited." That's what we want to see, that perseverance. And so I would really impress upon the Founders to be very thoughtful about what that loop looks like, and what's being asked in the hiring process to make sure it's going to help yield insights into what they want from that first hire.

Delian Asparouhov: I absolutely love that. Um, I'm sure there are times where, you know, maybe even with like Netflix or some of these, like, you know, early, like anchor clients that you, you know, you learned a lot from, uh, where there was a use case that they sort of like wanted, you know, implemented, or they maybe, you know, wanted customer successes time more than was expected or the, you know, product to implement something.

And it just felt like it was too much of an ask and you guys had to like, sort of decline it. Like when did you guys sort of decide on those trade offs? How did you decide sort of which, you know, customer needs to go satisfy versus which ones were too maybe custom or extraneous or not in the corporate strategy?

Like how did you sort of balance when to say no, versus when to say yes to a customer's needs?

Shani Taylor: Yeah. So, so the, the beauty of the product is that a lot is really possible in Airtable. And so, um, oftentimes one of the biggest, uh, opportunities for us is really just helping the customer understand that what they're looking for is achievable and doable in the product.

And so in many instances, not all, but in many instances, it's often an education gap. And so our CSM team is a clip to really support our customers through that. Of course, there are instances where, what they're looking for, it might require, you know, technical or development resources that they don't have on their side.

And, you know, we might not be able to, um, offer in depth, but we do have teams that are available that we can pull from. For example, one of the teams that we've um, you know, introduced maybe two or three years ago is a Customer Solutions Engineering team, which allows us to serve a little bit as the gap for customers who just don't have the dev resources internally.

And while we'll not, we're not always able to really build for them, and again, we typically take a stance of wanting to avoid building for, because we really want to invite our customers into the process and make them comfortable using the tool, so we really want to take approach that's education first.

Um, but we do get to partner with them and fill that gap. Um, the other thing that we're, you know, the way that we approach some of those questions is really understanding, you know, why they're not able to achieve what they're looking for today. And that is really helpful for us, um, on our product engineering team, because we're constantly looking for ways to make sure that our customers understand how to use the tool to achieve those goals. So again, it's, it's an education gap sometimes and onboarding gaps. Um, so that information is useful to take in. There have been instances in the past where we have done some custom work. And I think again, another example of doing some of the unscalable stuff, you can't do it for every customer, but if there's an opportunity for us to learn and, you know, um, and incorporate that into what we're doing, there are instances where we want to take that. So early on, there was a customer that wanted to have, um, and, uh, integrate or wanted to have the ability to push content directly from Airtable to social media. And this was a few years ago, this was before we even rolled out Apps, the platform that we've recently launched.

And I think a lot of the learnings from that experience suddenly built in partnership with the customer, but understanding the need and just the challenge that existed for that customer and why they needed that was useful as we, um, you know, built out that for that native functionality to actually be able to use an Airtable app, to push from the platform to the social.

So in short, I think part of it is also recognizing what the learning opportunity is. And can we benefit in a way that we could then sort of, um, disseminate that learning to our broader customer base?

Delian Asparouhov: And do you think that's an example of maybe one of the more impactful, uh, projects that the customer solutions engineering team sort of worked on as a custom basis, but then ended up, uh, actually being, you know, pretty impactful to the product? I mean like, yeah, your guys sort of, quote unquote, app store that Airtable has now, um, is a pretty significant aspect as to like why people really love the product. Like, do you think that's sort of whether it was impactful or do you have others that you can share that are sort of examples of the side of, you know, custom one off projects, but that are actually ended up yet really leading to, you know, big changes in Airtables, you know, product.

Shani Taylor: I think that's, I think that's one, you know, I think it's, um, that was, uh, work done by our product and engineering team. And I think that was actually, um, part of the broader vision. So it was a great opportunity to see this being requested by a customer. And it was so essential to their business that they were willing to go above and beyond and, you know, pay extra for custom work.

Um, I think having that understanding of just how core to our customers' workflows, that, that kind of functionality would be just, I think, um, it very much connected to the broader vision of what we were expecting from Apps and how it can really be valuable to our customer base.

Delian Asparouhov: It sounds like both, you know, customer success and sales roll up into a single leader, which sounds like it keeps you guys aligned, but I'm curious, how do you guys balance the tension between, you know, I imagine you guys are comped on, like you said, monthly active users, which probably just incentivizes you to really focus on the organizations that are already successful because I imagine each additional monthly active user, uh, bringing them on and onboarding them at a place like Netflix is probably significantly easier uh, than the early days of a customer, that's only just getting started. In each individual user, uh, is probably somewhat not painful per se, but yeah, requires a lot of education and you're starting to understand the use case versus at Netflix, like, "Hey, there's already this thing working and you just like, you know, plug them in."

Um, and so how do you guys balance sort of, you know, deepening the relationship with preexisting companies, uh, as opposed to sort of, you know, beginning and fostering the relationship, sort of like new customers that might not be as easy to bring on or as easy to get as many monthly active users.

Shani Taylor: Yeah, you know, it's important for us. So it's less about just the absolute, you know, terms of monthly active users. We also want to look at it as a proportion of the number of seats that that customer paid for. Um, we really want to make sure that their investment in Airtable and this partnership is maximized. And so even if it's a brand new customer, um, what's most important to us is that the customer succeeds and so, uh, we would never, you know, um, we would look at that opportunity of a new customer as exactly what we want to be able to do, which is deliver the best experience for them, make sure that they're, they understand how to use Airtable and are getting the most value out of the product. So in addition to just thinking about like ensuring our actives, you know, stays up because it does align to what our customers are looking for, we also want to make sure that there is no gap between the actives relative to however many seats, they initially contracted.

Delian Asparouhov: And if you were to go back in time, let's say five years ago before you really got into like the world of, uh, you know, startups, uh, and, uh, in particular Airtable, uh, what advice sort of, would you give to, you know, maybe somebody that's, you know, in a similar set of shoes of, you know, has a great educational background, uh, it doesn't know anything about the world of startups and like, who wants to get into it. How do they end up landing, you know, sort of a position like yours, where they get to, you know, join a rocket ship company, uh, early on and get to, you know, learn so much about, uh, you know, completely, uh, in a new skillset that they maybe never had before.

Shani Taylor: You know, I think there was something to be said about, um, you know, really following a product that excited me. Um, you know, when I first learned about Airtable, I was in a moment where I needed it. I remember I went to undergrad with our co founders and I saw our CTO, our now CTO, um, uh, tweeted about Airtable raising their Series A and it was like serendipity that I was here.

Here I was, you know, managing this process that can really benefit from a tool like Airtable. And I saw it and I signed up right away and I really enjoyed the product. And for me, it was following the product, following something that actually had an impact in my own personal life, in my own world. Um, I think, especially for something like customer success or being on a customer facing team at a product led company, it's going to be important to have that passion about the product that you're selling or that you're promoting, um, have that, uh, you know, your own personal stories as to how it has been impactful for you, because I think you're learning everything else on the job, regardless of if you have experience in that domain or not.

But being able to, um, you know, feel that affinity towards the product. And I feel like it energizes me. It's what gets me excited about coming to work every day, because of how much, um, I feel aligned to what our mission is overall. And so I would say for individuals who are looking for their next opportunity, you know, follow what interest you, and I think you will land on something that, um, you'll be excited and passionate about and ready to go build with longterm.

Delian Asparouhov: Well, Shani, thank you so much for coming onto the podcast today. I really appreciate your time.

Shani Taylor: Well, thank you for having me.

Delian Asparouhov: Thanks for listening everyone. If you'd like to support the podcast, please sign up for a paid Substack subscription, which we use to pay for transcripts, mics and other improvements. If you have any comments or feedback on what kinds of questions I should ask, who should come on the show or anything else, please do let me know. Have a great rest of your day.