How Searchlight Builds Customer Trust With a Collaborative Partnership

With Kerry Wang, Co-founder and CEO

Searchlight helps companies make better hires by assessing soft skills match between candidates and their unique teams. Searchlight's intelligent referencing software creates a profile of a candidate's team fit, strengths, and areas of growth without a single interview. As a result, teams can identify and hire the best talent much faster, especially in a remote first world where there's limited opportunity to meet face-to-face.

Searchlight was part of Y Combinator's Winter 2019 batch. Currently, their team of 12 people is distributed, with a San Francisco HQ.

Searchlight helps companies make better hires by assessing soft skills match between candidates and their unique teams.

Kerry Wang is the co-founder and CEO at Searchlight. I chatted with her to understand how Searchlight gains customer trust via a collaborative partnership with its customers.

"I love Searchlight, I want to say thank you all for being great partners and treating this as a true partnership and not a vendor transaction. That's the main differentiator, it makes it seem like we're a part of the same company rather than two different companies." - Searchlight customer

Tell us about how Searchlight got started.

We spend so much of our lives at work. Our professional identity is intimately tied with our social identity. Helping match great people with the right teams is key to employee happiness, team productivity, and company success. The current COVID crisis, and its impact on job security, elevates this mission.

I started Searchlight with my co-founder and CTO, Anna. We’re twin sisters, and we came at the hiring challenge from the perspective of candidates. We were at Stanford (she was getting her Masters in AI, I was getting my Masters in CS), and we had accidentally ended up with the same resume. We had gone to the same school, and worked at the same companies like Google and McKinsey. As we went through the recruiting process, we realized that people just assumed that we were the same person. In actuality, we have very different working styles and very different skill sets. Our experiences illustrated that most interviewing processes miss key signals on candidates that are fundamental to making the right hire. This reality not only disadvantages candidates from being fully seen, but also presents challenges for companies who are trying to create a team that was bigger than the sum of its parts. With that personal pain point, Searchlight was born.

The gap in recruiting today is about matching the soft skills of the candidate with the teams that need them. And Searchlight very much fills that gap — because the best way to understand what a person is like to work with is through the people that have worked with them before.

What major channels do customers provide you feedback?

  • Live Chat via Intercom

  • Shared Slack Channels

  • Email

Who handles customer conversations?

Everyone. For us, customer success is a whole team effort. And so everyone on the team knows our customers and everyone helps with customer support and success.

We all take turns being on-call for our Live Chat that is available in-app for all users. We also have Shared Slack Channels with every enterprise customer. So if any one of our customers pings us on Slack, we all see it and address the feedback together as a team.

Since everybody talks to customers, how does your team resolve differences on how to solve a customer problem?

I love that my team will present a variety of solutions to what customers are asking for. This is a big reason why I believe teams should be greater than the sum of its parts. As we often come up with different solutions for customer asks, we are religious about our own internal processes in determining the path forward. We have a bi-weekly product/sales/customer-success sync — we of course talk asynchronously, but every two weeks, we have two hours on the calendar when we discuss what customers have said and decide what we should build to solve their user needs. The framework of this meeting is to highlight user stories, gather input from all sides, understand technical challenges, and make decisions. Ultimately, the person that makes the final call is the product lead. That's Anna, my co-founder and CTO. I feel like this process helps us move with high velocity while listening attentively to our users.

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How does your team discover new insights?

Powerful insights come from asking the right questions. Just as we are able to get predictive insights on candidates from carefully worded assessments for their references, So the same philosophy applies with every interaction with our customers. Two examples for you: (1) We never ask our customers "Do you find Searchlight valuable?" but rather we ask, "On a scale of 0-10, how valuable is Searchlight's partnership to you, and how do we improve that by 1 point?" (2) When we ask for product feedback on potential new features, we guide the discussion with a list of user stories that our customer goes through to assign 0-10 values.

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

Our engineering velocity is very high — on average, the time from when a customer asks us for a feature request to when we launch the feature is 16 days! We also complete 80% of all feature requests that our customers have asked of us. We prioritize a quick turnaround because making sure that our customer is successful will support our own success. An internal mantra we have is - “How can we get our customer stakeholders promoted?”

I'm going to pull up the Slack message that one of our customers wrote, "I love Searchlight, I want to say thank you all for being great partners and treating this as a true partnership and not a vendor transaction. That's the main differentiator, it makes it seem like we're a part of the same company rather than two different companies."

It really comes to the core of how we listen to our customers. We don't act like vendors, but rather as strategic partners. When a customer asks for something, we take the time to be thought partners and ask: "Why are you making that ask? What's the specific context? Could you share the exact problem that is leading to this ask?" We always go a step deeper, we always ask why. What we end up building is 10 times better than what the original ask was because the customer didn't even know what was possible.

Any interesting outcomes as a result?

At Searchlight, we've launched an initiative to help those impacted by COVID-layoffs. The idea for it came from our own customers.

A few of our customers had to perform layoffs, and they were looking for ways to support teammates who had been impacted. They asked us to help, so we started referring some of them to our other customers who were hiring.

After doing this a few times, we realized that our proprietary technology and pre-existing relationships with top tech companies uniquely positioned us to build something that could scale. Traditionally, we at Searchlight work directly with companies to gather the most relevant soft skills data on candidates through feedback from past colleagues. It wasn't too difficult flip this relationship and make it free for candidates to proactively gather that feedback so that Searchlight can match them with open jobs at companies. This way, we can support any company that is performing a layoff in helping their teammates soft land somewhere great.

Our customers inspired us to build something that first helped them, and then we expanded it to help anyone. We did a two week sprint to do an initial launch, and after seeing positive results where candidates are landing interviews at great companies like Sentry, Notion, and Figma, we've opened it up to all jobseekers. We do have a waitlist because we handle the referrals personally, but anyone can recommend someone for early access to our referrals at https://www.searchlight.ai/support-a-colleague.

This is a classic example of of how fast our team moves to bring value to our end users.

Kerry, thank you for talking with Userstand. It was great to learn a bit about Searchlight and how your team operates as a collaborative partner of their customers rather than as a vendor.