David Cancel of Drift Shares Lessons from Founding and Scaling 5 Startups [Podcast]

We’re very excited to share that we’ve transformed our Secrets for Scaling series into a podcast! The series still explores the stories behind fast-growing companies - the challenges they’ve faced, the lessons they’ve learned, the tools they’ve used, and more. But rather than text posts, each episode is now an interactive conversation on our new podcast channel, accompanied by a brief post (like this one!) with key takeaways from the conversation.

Our first guest was David Cancel, Founder and CEO of Drift, a messaging app for sales and customer success. He’s a five-time founder and has worked with some of the biggest names in tech, including as Chief Product Officer for HubSpot. Not only is he a serial entrepreneur, he’s also an advisor of and investor in several startups. Needless to say, we were excited to talk to David about his hyper growth journey with Drift.

david cancel

Listen to the full episode below!


Episode highlights

Good ideas often come from frustration. David spotted a broken system. He saw that the best in class B2B communication systems were insanely complex, making it difficult for customers to get in touch with brands. This, along with the consumer trend in direct messaging on Snapchat, Instagram, etc. was a signal that there was a need for a new way for B2B companies to communicate with their customers.

Looking outside of your industry can be incredibly insightful. Drift saw an adoption curve among social networks and that the lines between B2B and B2C were blurring. They were inspired by social platforms to scale one-to-one communications for B2B.

Sometimes lofty goals are arbitrary. David says most goals start as arbitrary numbers you work towards then refine to be accurate as you get closer and learn from your actions.

Drift’s metrics are based on customer experience. Drift closely watches how customers are interacting with their product. They’re paying attention to if, when, and why they stop using their product. They design all of their metrics around the customer experience, such as activation and retention of a feature. Those metrics signal if they’re doing a better job serving their customers.

Customer happiness is measured by several variables. “Customer happiness” sounds like a fluffy metric but it doesn’t have to be. Drift measures it through a mix of concrete quantitative stats along with more abstract, qualitative data. Customer happiness is measured through usage rates (volume, return, frequency), referrals, the sentiment of freeform messages from customers, and NPS (net promoter score).

Dashboards unify metrics for a picture of overall health. Drift uses internal dashboards that track all of their most important metrics and are visible for everyone, so they can never be forgotten or ignored. They go a step further to review the metrics in person, especially when making a change to the business, such as pricing.

Customers care about their goals, not yours. Customers don’t care about your sales targets or how you’re modeling your pipeline. They care that they’re being served with an optimal experience. Consider that when communicating with them. What do they want to hear, when? And how?

Customer centricity makes competitors irrelevant. From starting and selling five companies, David has learned that it’s your job as CEO to do what the company needs to do to best serve your customers. Competitors will come and go; they won’t matter in the long run as long as you do what’s best for your customers.

Drift found its voice through the power of words. Having started many marketing related tech companies, David has seen the power of messaging first-hand. One turn of word or phrase can make all the difference in the world. The most powerful thing is the exact words used to convey a message and the feelings it gives you. It’s all about stripping down your communications until they sound not only human, but like the human you want your brand to be. To stand out, be yourself. Read old copywriting books from the 1940s and 50s from Ogilvy and others on the importance of wording.

When using bots, don’t try to fake a human interaction. Rather, use them as a starting point to kick off the conversation and to point you in the right direction - to help facilitate the conversation. Think of them as a greeter.

Too many entrepreneurs start off obsessed with their own ideas. David says too many people idolize having a shower idea and turning it into a business. In any creative process, the first version is never the final version. It’s a game of experimentation and iteration. Lean into and force yourself to demonstrate humility and dedicate yourself to build the best thing for your customer base.

Your ideal customer changes, go with the flow. Sometimes you have to hire your first customer. Always cater to your best customer. The customer is always evolving.

Decide if you want to be venture-backed or bootstrapped. There is no in-between.

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