How Linear Leverages their User Community to Dig Into Customer Problems

With Tuomas Artman, Co-founder

Linear is an issue tracking tool that helps software companies build better software. Backed by Sequoia and other prominent investors, in just over a year, Linear is already being used by hundreds of teams on a daily basis to manage their tasks. Currently, it is a fully distributed team of five builders.

Linear is an issue tracking tool that helps software companies build better software.

Tuomas Artman is a co-founder at Linear. Neel and I recently caught up with him to understand how Linear leverages its user community to deeply understand customer pain points.

What motivated you to start Linear?

We realized that engineers are underserved with the current set of tools out in the market. Many are not happy with using existing issue tracking products and feel overburdened by them. In some way, they even feel that the least enjoyable part of their day is figuring out what to do next, report issues, or manage their tasks. So, we wanted to use these pain-points as a starting point for our MVP and provide engineers a more enjoyable way to track their issues.

A personal motivation was that I was in the same boat as all the other engineers — the worst part about my day, as an engineer, was using these issue tracking tools. I needed a tool that would get out of my way and help me focus on actual work.

Can you tell us how you got your first users?

We started out with inviting a few friends to try out a very early version of Linear. Out of this, a few friends started using Linear at smaller startups full time. That was how we got to our first five companies.

When we were ready do introduce Linear, we created a small website with a waitlist and launched it via a few Tweets. People started signing up for the waitlist, and within the first week, we had a few thousand people who wanted to try out the product.

With the waitlist, we could control how many people, or from whom we wanted feedback from. When a person signed up for the waitlist, we would ask them to fill out a questionnaire that would give us an idea of who they were, what they were looking for, what kind of tools were they currently using, as well as their company size. Then, whenever we felt that we could learn from user feedback, we picked a handful of companies and granted them access. And that's how we got our first thousands of users.

When we first started inviting people, we'd pick small teams that we thought our early product would already work well for in order to validate our assumptions. Continuing iterating on our product, we went back to the waitlist and gradually invited larger companies or companies with slightly different profiles in order to gain new insight into how other companies would be using our product.

Did you leverage any other channels besides Twitter to launch?

When we introduced Linear, we wrote a blog post on Medium about what we're doing and why we think it's important. And then we sent out a few tweets. We specifically didn't want to go on ProductHunt or other channels at that point, because we didn't have a finished product. Maybe we'll expand our channels when we launch publicly.

We wanted wanted our users to also engage with each other, a community. So we started a Slack workspace for our users. Today, it is one of the main ways that people give us feedback. I would say, half the feedback may be still be email, but most of the more meatier discussions happen in Slack, as other users also have the ability to chime in.

What are your support channels?

  • Email

  • In-app feedback widget (that just goes to e-mail)

  • Slack user community

  • Twitter

We made our email address available to our users from day one. We said: if you have any question or comments, just shoot us an email. That's what we started with. Then we built a very simple feedback widget into the product itself, and that increased the amount of feedback we got significantly. It seems email adds quite a bit of friction: people don't tend to want to send you too many notes that way, or they feel they have to put some more work in because there's an actual email that they're sending from their account to ours. Whereas if you have a feedback form within your product, people have lower resistance to drop you a sentence or two, be it a feature request or feedback to an existing feature.

Pretty quickly, we wanted wanted our users to also engage with each other, a community. So we started a Slack workspace for our users. Today, it is one of the main ways that people give us feedback. I would say, half the feedback may be still be email, but most of the more meatier discussions happen in Slack, as other users also have the ability to chime in.

Want to track requests from your Slack or Discord user community?

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Who is responsible for talking to customers?

Everybody talks to customers. When you're searching for product market fit, you need to know your customer. And you can't know your customer if you don't talk to customers. When everyone on our team is exposed to customer feedback and feature requests, we starts to get an understanding of what problems our users are facing. Once we know what the biggest overarching problems are, we can start working on solutions.

We have to try to see beyond a feature request and understand the underlying problem. For example, many people request the ability to be able to drag-and-drop issues in the backlog. We could simply implement that feature as such. But we should dig deeper and understand the problem first. Why do they want to drag issues around in their backlog? Is it because they want to prioritize items in the backlog? If so, why doesn’t the prioritization we currently have work? Are there better ways that we could support prioritization?

What is something that your team does well with respect to listening to customers?

We try to answer every single email that comes in and not treat feedback as a one-way channel. We take the extra step of going through every single email and replying. Additionally, we try to tag every feature request. This way we can easily go back and reference users who have requested a certain feature and let them know when we ship a solution.

Tuomas, thank you for talking with Userstand. It was great to learn a lot more about Linear and how your team leverages your user community to deeply understand the big problems.