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How Gem Keeps its Team in Tune with Customers

With Nick Bushak, Co-founder and CTO

Gem builds a recruiting CRM that makes individual recruiters more efficient and enables recruiting teams to build relationships with passive talent. This saves time, doubles candidate response rate, and gives visibility into what’s working. Their customers include the recruiting teams at Pinterest, Dropbox, Slack, Snap, Brex, and more.

Gem is a 2.5 year-old startup, that was part of the Y Combinator's Summer 2017 batch. They are growing fast and experienced 4x revenue growth in 2019. The team there is currently 42 people; including 11 engineers and 1 PM.

Nick Bushak is co-founder and CTO at Gem. Neel and I recently met with Nick to understand how Gem keeps its team in tune with customers.

Tell us about how Gem got started.

Both Steve [Bartel] and I always wanted to work together and fortunately the timing lined up for both of us to start a company.

Gem builds a recruiting CRM that makes individual recruiters more efficient and enables recruiting teams to build relationships with passive talent.

Originally we were working on an idea in the sales space. We spent a few months talking to sales people and sales managers to see if they would buy the thing we were planning to build. They really didn't want to buy it but we noticed they were super excited about the sales tech built out over the last 5-10 years. We realized that all the tech available to sales people was not available to recruiters. In fact, we would have benefited from it when we were hiring at Dropbox and Facebook.

What major channels do customers provide you feedback?

  • Email

  • Chat widget

  • Video conference

  • In person

  • Surveys

Who handles customer conversations?

  • Founders

  • Sales

  • Customer success

  • Product

  • Engineering

It seems everyone at Gem is involved in customer conversations. How come?

Running ideas by customers and getting their thoughts on what we are building is crucial for our success. Before we even wrote the first line of code, we spent a month and half, talking to 50-70 recruiters of varying experience and seniority. It's not the default for engineers and even PMs to have direct lines of communication with customers. But we've really tried to push for it as we believe it is vital to build a successful product.

How do you get your engineers to do customer support?

We don't actually have them to do first-line customer support as we do have a customer support team. However, we do have them shadow customer success and/or sales calls few times a week. When they are working on ill-defined features, we have our product team setup customer meetings.

We've hired people who are interested in building products and as such they are happy to listen to customers. For the most part, most of our team is product-leaning and entrepreneurial so that makes it easier.

We encourage anyone who receives customer feedback, including product managers, salespeople, engineers, etc. to post to that list. Product managers are especially encouraged to summarize their customer conversations since they do a lot of them, and their conversations are always focused in on new product development.

How do you channel customer feedback to your entire company?

We try to let everyone build context around where the opportunities are in the product, what's some of the most important feedback, etc.

We share high signal summaries of customer feedback to an internal mailing list that everyone on the company is a member of. The higher signal stuff comes from sales conversations when we lose deals, when we churn, or proactive conversations with customers who might be interested in new product areas (that we plan on building).

We encourage anyone who receives customer feedback, including product managers, salespeople, engineers, etc. to post to that list. Product managers are especially encouraged to summarize their customer conversations since they do a lot of them, and their conversations are always focused in on new product development.

A member of Gem's team shares customer feedback with the rest of their team via feedback@ mailing list.

How do you incorporate customer feedback to make product decisions?

The first step is making sure that engineers and PMs working on a feature either collect or have access to existing customer feedback.

Our product managers spend a significant portion of their time talking to customers, and are responsible for setting up customer conversations proactively whenever we feel like we need signal on a new product area. The tech lead (and potentially other engineers) working on the project sit in on those customer conversations.

Ready to take a data-driven approach to customer feedback?

Herald is the best tool for teams to collect, tag, share, and analyze user feedback to make data-driven decisions.

How does your company prioritize product development?

We try to build things that are meaningful to our current and potential future customers.

We track in Asana what features are requested by what customers. At prioritization time, we go over all things that have come up over the past month.

We do a monthly prioritization of our roadmap with our leadership team based on our collective intuition from the customer conversations and context we have. We tie that with our longer-term product vision and thinking. Leadership does first cut at prioritization but we present a draft to engineering to provide feedback and make adjustments as needed.

What is something that your team does well with?

Our engineering and product team really values sales and customer conversations—almost everything we build has been run past our customers for feedback, or originated from customer feedback.

We encourage engineers to randomly sit in on sales and customer success conversations weekly.

What is something that your team struggles with?

One of the challenges that we'll face as we scale is making sure engineering and product continue to have a culture that is rooted in customer feedback as we grow.

One area I think we could be doing better is getting our product team in front of potential customers pre-sale, and providing guidance for sales to run discovery questions for potential future product directions as a part of their initial sales calls.