May 5, 2019
At MAU 2019 in Las Vegas, we set up our Tell All Zone for members of the martech community to give us their confessions. Hear about the biggest mistakes they've made as well as what they learned along the way. Bill Magnuson (CEO and founder of Braze) and Mike Molinet (COO and founder of Branch) give their insight on the need for mistakes and making them a foundation for growth and agility.
PJ Bruno: Hi. Welcome to brace for impact. I'm your host, PJ Bruno. This week we brought our mics out to Las Vegas for MAU 2019 at MGM Grand, and we were able to gather some confessions for this weeks episode, when shift hits the fan. When you're running a marketing campaign, it's like having a global megaphone at your fingertips. The power of hitting launch, and communicating with hundreds of thousands of people at once can't be undervalued. However, that power can also be terrifying. One fall step can have far reaching impact on customer engagement and faith in your brand. But making a mistake is a hallmark of what it means to be human. So, the sooner we can embrace the idea that mistakes are a given, this sooner we can perceive them as what they actually are. Opportunities for growth. After all, true innovation isn't possible without taking a risk. The following are a series of confessions from various employees in the Martec community. We've given them a safe space to share some of their blunders and the learnings that came along with them. These are their stories.
Speaker 1: So, I'm Dante Ledbetter. I'm the senior marketing manager at Fintech company. One experience that is really sort of embarrassing for me was, so I was running a campaign, and you know there's like first name personalization where you can sort of test it and see what it looks like with your name in it. And I accidentally put my fist name in an email and sent that email with my first name to about 3000 people. So, yeah that was pretty horrible.
PJ Bruno: So, you called 3000 people Dante.
Speaker 1: Yeah, yeah, essentially. And My coworker...I actually didn't know about it but my coworker got the email and she was like "hey, Dante" I'm like "what, what?" Luckily...
Speaker 2: So, my name is Beth. I work in product marketing for a tech company that makes API's. I messed up last year when I sent out a press release before it was officially approved. I had sent it out for a time and a date that we had previously agreed on before there were changes that came down from the powers that be. And so, because I didn't change the time and the date, guess what happened? It went live. Not the end of the world, but I got a little hand slap. Always double check your times and your dates.
PJ Bruno: Always, right?
Speaker 2: Always, always always.
Speaker 3: So, my name's Will Cracker. I run our customer experience team at Braes. To protect the innocent, PJ, I hope you understand I can't use names here, you know?
PJ Bruno: It's an admirable thing that you're doing, I appreciate it.
Speaker 3: It's important. A customer decided to send out...have you ever gotten a test notification from internally at store
PJ Bruno: Sure, with the brackets "test" in big letters?
Speaker 3: Now, imagine if you were the person in the company that accidentally sent that out to, I don't know, forty or fifty million people all at once. That's one horror story I've seen, where we've had tests go out and push notification to the entire user base of this major media brand. And of course internally we're all like "oh God, this isn't good. Like they're going to be really upset" but low and behold it was really funny because this brand actually came back to us and we were like "we're so sorry, we're so sorry this happened. What can we do?" And they're like "actually it's all good." We're like "what? Why was it all good?" And it turned out it was their best performing campaign of that half of the year because so many people engaged with it because they were like "what the hell's going on? This is weird "Test" from this company? Are you kidding me?" And so many people clicked on it and engaged with the app that it actually worked. The take away from that one is that, you know so many times, so many brands out there are just like so afraid of tweaking their customer experience a little bit, or tweaking their branding or tweaking the way they talk to their customers and that just shows that, especially in a one off basis, you can get away with a lot. You can get away with just really coming out of left field and trying something new and different and really standing out from the crowd matters. Should you use just the word "test" to do it? Probably not, but uh...
Speaker 4: I'm Maddie. I am an associate communications director at a mobile shopping app. Okay, so it's hard to choose just one over the years, but one that definitely sticks out is a dormancy email campaign that we were sending to people who lapsed after 45 days I believe, and we had a server side bug come up where the campaign started triggering over and over again for our dormant users and the subject line of the email was "First name, did we do something wrong?" And we literally sounded like a psycho ex that was hitting people up over and over again. We sent it to some people I think over a hundred times in a row. So, it was just like "Maddie, did we do something wrong? Maddie, did we do something wrong?"
PJ Bruno: Did anyone respond "Yes".
Speaker 4: Yeah
PJ Bruno: You had a lot of those?
Speaker 4: Oh like social media, everybody was posting it and they were like "yeah, you are doing something wrong, like leave me alone. We didn't feel like it was appropriate to send more emails to them apologizing to them, but we apologized to the app itself and gave them a little extra bonus in there and said "our bad, we didn't mean to sound so crazy there." It doesn't hurt to put some additional safety guards on your campaigns, so frequency capping for example, you might not thing that it's going to trigger a lot of times within a small period of time, but it happened so, Coding in any liquid and putting on some filters just to allow for some buffering in those situations that you don't necessarily expect is something that we learned from that. So, adding that to more campaigns moving forward.
Speaker 5: yeah, my name is Donald and I'm a CR Manager for a delivery service app based in Austin Texas called Favor and we had a bit of a fun snafoo in the last 6 months with a little Q/A targeting issue with a push campaign before where there was a campaign that was supposed to be going to people who had received another campaign and the filtering got flipped and it actually went to, was targeting people who did not receive. So, we're talking you know, a 50K audience turned into about a 600K audience. So luckily though the campaign was pretty generic and would have been open to any of our customers regardless, but we definitely lost out on some of the learnings from the campaign that it was supposed to be targeted to on the incrementality side, but it was a good learning on just with all the 10-20 campaigns we're trying to launch in a day, make sure you meticulously look at each on in the filtering for sure before you're hitting launch, so.
PJ Bruno: Was the engagement decent on it?
Speaker 6: I'm Adee. I'm an engineer turned sales engineer. So, the first time I was at an event my boss told me that we should probably get some customers to eat dinner with us and it was my first event, first time talking to customers, wasn't an engineer before and I was like coming up to people, talking about my company and asking if they wanted to go out to dinner, and I approached this girl and I said the whole shpeal of this is what we do, if you want to come for dinner and she was like thinking that I'm hitting on her and just ran away.
PJ Bruno: Jesus. And so what was the big learning moment from that. What was the take away that you
Speaker 6: not to ask people for dinner.
PJ Bruno: Do it in email.
Speaker 7: I'm Cody. I sell software at a fast growing company. I guess the time I had a blunderous mistake, one that really really sticks out to me is y young and early in my sales career, which was I guess just 4 years ago, I was working in consulting prior. Just got in, moved up to San Francisco, got a job, thought I was really ready for this. 2nd day on the job we were tasked with leaving voicemails, you know just giving the pitch. And they've pretty much curated this list of people that were surely not to answer the phone, you can leave, you can you know just run free on this and just, you just give a great pitch. And of course I go in a phone booth, get the call list, first guy I call, I'll never forget, I won't disclose the company but it was the CMO at a pretty important company for I don't know why the were on this list but, ring ring ring, hey this is Tyler, and I just completely froze and I actually thought I saw a ghost and I'm like "uh uh..." click and just hung up and I was so scared man. You told me this guys not gonna answer. And he answered sure enough and it was pretty PRST but my take away from that I think we talked about was 1)in life I just like to grab the bull by the horns I think honestly, I probably would have done a lot better of a job if I'd have tried rather than just hanging the phone up and next always prepare. Be prepared in this life and don't just, even if it's you know, in hind sight I think I could have done a little bit more instead of them telling me what to do, I think I could have don't a little bit of work on my own, and maybe just not hung up like an idiot.
PJ Bruno: So, do the ramifications of a mistake vary depending on the product? Kevin Wong, VP of product at Braes offered me some of his insights.
Kevin Wang: I think one of the really interesting things about product is that you tend to release things with a lot more early pre thought going in them, I think than say like any mail newsletter. Like, everyone knows if you're sending out a newsletter, you write this content pretty frequently. Or if you're sending out like a particular promotion, you're probably running a lot of promotions, and so it's bang bang bang and these things are going out fast. Whereas for product, you know we release fast, we build quickly, but there's a lot more pre thought that goes into it. And so what that means though is that when a mistake comes out, if there's an issue, in the court of public opinion, you're just not standing on the same ground that you would have been with that newsletter with the weird typo, where you know, hello--first name because you know that email is a femoral but that product, you got a while to look at this, like everyone kind of knows that in the court of public opinion that you are thinking about it going in. And so, and the other thing is that when the wrong communication goes out, that communication goes out there but, but then its' gone and it's sort of you're already in that mode of it being a little more femoral and it's already in your past once you see it. As opposed to a product where its like that's just sitting at you, you know all buggy not rendering right in front of you, and so I think back to some of the times earlier in my career, no names to protect the innocent, but you know those times when you launch something and everything looks good for a few hours then you get that phone call in the middle of the night and when that phone call comes in, you know you see who it's from and you just know that you're not good enough friends but they want to hang out. You know what's coming before you even pick it up. Before you even look at the text and what could be really fun about a deep product bug or like a deep engineering bug, especially a rare one is that like finding a weird leak in your house or like finding out that you know the sewage system in your house is having a problem where you know what the problem is, you can see the symptoms really obviously, but like what's actually going on, I don't know. Gonna need some gloves and a wrench and we're just gonna have to kind of figure this whole thing out an night, and so it's a different sort of exciting sort of problem and of course it comes with the business, but I think that the main thing that you learn is that each mistake that gets made, I mean something that they say often about senior engineers is that like all senior engineers have seen a lot of stuff and over time I think you just get that osmosis and that wisdom and you sort of become the old grisold lion on savanna that's just seen so much crazy crap happen that you can kind of see around corners.
PJ Bruno: So, the more mistakes we see, the better equipped we actually are to trouble shoot problems in the future. My high school soccer coach always used to say "you learn a hell of a lot more from losing than you do from winning." I sat down with tech founders, Bill Magnuson of Braze and Mike Molinet of Branch to hear their thoughts on mitigating risk and the merits of error.
Mike Molinet: As a founder you guys know that things go wrong all the time and that's pretty much what your job is, to fix all those things and catch them. Especially when you're moving really quickly. I'd say one of the most probable ones was in late 2014, early 2015 when we were still relatively new and still ramping up, we had a small team, and we were starting to scale and started to close some big customers, but our infrastructure couldn't really handle them so we were constantly going down, constantly apologizing and then going and putting things back up. I remember one day we were about maybe 10 employees and a large customer went live and it totally took down our entire infrastructure and we were just sitting there, you know 3 people, trying to figure out what the hell to do, how to get this thing back up. We had a guy, and engineer who's still with us, who was interviewing at the time and we had him break out his laptop and help us troubleshoot in the middle of the interview, trying to get the infrastructure back up. We ended up you know, getting through it and I think there's a number of learnings that came out of that. One is things are always gonna go wrong and as long as you move quickly to fix them, that's okay. 2nd, try, you're gonna move fast but try not to hurt your customers too much or take them down with you. But I think the 3rd that really came out of it afterwards was, people are okay and accepting of issues or bugs, or challenges as long as you take ownership over them. As long as you work quickly to fix them and resolve them and are honest and transparent about it and I think that was one of the biggest things that we did, which was we took full ownership over it, we were honest and transparent about it and we apologized and we told them exactly what we were going to do to prevent it in the future and people actually value that a lot, vs. if you try to hide or you try to blame someone else your or don't tell them.
PJ Bruno: Right. Try to cover it up with something.
Mike Molinet: Yeah yeah, people do not appreciate that, so it helped definitely rebuild the trust and I think we came out stronger in the end because of it.
PJ Bruno: Bill what do you think, does that spark any thoughts on the early days?
Bill Magnuson: Yeah, definitely, you know ours was really a story of starting to the learn the responsibility that you have when you have a really big system operating on the internet. We have a future called connected content and what it allows you to do is, when you're sending out a message at send time, we can reach out to another web service or 3rd party or a partner or something in our customers eco system and pull back content in real time to template into the message. SO we had a customer early on that wanted to use a translation service and they had you know, a pretty complex email that they were building out. They wanted to be able to translate different parts of it based on the you know, hundreds of different combinations of languages and locals. And when our system gets up and running, it sends messages very fast. It's what it was built to do and we actually in the process of sending this campaign, we hit the translation service so quickly that we took it down. And not only did we take down the API, but this poor company hadn't isolate their API's from their own website. SO we actually took their website off the internet. And you know this was a scenario where they also didn't, they thought they were under attack, and so it was like you said the transparency there and taking ownership over it. We reached out to them and told them what happened and we actually went back and modified the campaign but it was an interesting experience for us because we realized that the scale that we were operating at, we needed to be a good citizen on the internet, basically. We couldn't have our customers being able to point kind of the massive machine gun of our system at you know random services and potentially taking them down. And so we actually over time also then developed automatic backups. If we see a service start to slow down while we are using it, we will slow down. If we see a service start to respond with errors, we'll completely stop, take our foot off the gas. We'll alert people and you know its' not the only service we've taken down and we learn every time on how to mitigate that potential in the future, but it was definitely an interesting learning experience for us.
PJ Bruno: Nice. Had to put up a lot of safe guards after that I bet, right?
PJ Bruno: That's a lot of power you're working with.
Mike: That reminds me of a time not too long ago where we made an update to one of our link services and for a brief period we found that accidentally in some cases all the traffic when people were clicking on links was re directly to the branch website, which was great for our website traffic for you know, a good 30 minutes, but for our customers who were using
Bill: Marketing [inaudible] through the roof
Mike: Yeah exactly. For a specific type of link that redirecting was not so good. So, I think the lesson there learned was it wasn't an engineer that pushed the change, it was somebody else that modified the change and pushed it to get up and we rolled it out into production even though we had tested it, but we had to pull back really quickly. That was pretty fascinating.
PJ Bruno: So when it comes to, I mean obviously you two, you guys have high expectations of your team and their performance. How do you balance that, like having those high expectations on a performance, but still creating that culture to where it's okay to make mistakes and realizing the merit of risk and stuff.
Mike: Yeah, I think working in a fast paced start of up like ours you have to be okay taking risks, you have to take risks, you have to make mistakes and I'll tell you that no one makes more mistakes than me and my co founders, we make the most mistakes out of anyone. I think there's a couple things, those 2 things aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, they you can really create an environment where you can have strong results and have good high expectations but also have a place where people are okay taking risks. I think there's a couple things that we do. The first is we try to set very clear expectations. So yo can have strong results but strong results really come from what are the expectations and are you meeting them. And by setting very clear expectations and also holding accountability, you can push people to really perform at a very high level, but when people do screw up, in a way you have to celebrate learnings, you have to celebrate the mistakes, you have to celebrate what went wrong. You have to make sure people know it's okay, you have to tell them it's okay. If you do need to correct something, you should do it private. This is something we've gotten a lot better at, not in a public slack channel saying "why the hell did you do this" but rather privately having a discussion and saying "what lead you to this" and also I think asking them how you can help them and trying to trying to actually understand why they made that decision, and telling them in the future, this is how I might think about it and I think that's gone a long way. Because I thin we've read a lot of studies and there's lot of studies about this but basically around the highest performing teams and the most common trait between them and it's psychological safety and having a place where it's okay to make mistakes and people feel psychologically safe, allows them to take risks and to move really quickly and to feel okay about making mistakes because if they don't have that psychological safety, they're never going to and you'll find that you slow down a lot and you no longer are iterating or innovating as quickly as you used to.
Bill: And I think for us from high level starting point, one of our values is conviction and what that is, or the way that that comes into being is that it's a charge to, our employees that if they find that hey are not able to operate with conviction, that they, you know, raise their hand, they go to their managers, if they need a new skillset if they need new resources, if they need more training if they need better access to data, you know all of these are ways that kind of people get that confidence to be able to operate within uncertainty and a fast growing start up environment, you've got a lot of dynamic conditions, you've got a lot of uncertainty and you know that ability to follow through and execute on something and be able to take action and get it to the finish line, despite all that uncertainty and despite those dynamic conditions, I think is one of the few properties that start ups really have as a strength against established incombants that have much more scale like many more resources and I think when things then go wrong, you know it's important that everyone is able to understand that they were operating in uncertainty, that you know, we don't have perfect information, we can't always predict the future and we need to create an environment where you know we can approach those things and say did the process, you know, lets set aside the outcome, and let's set aside judgements about the outcome. Let's look at the process and the approach, you know, did the person that took the risk, did they do it in a way that was balanced, did they have access to the resources that would have given them a good chance at being successful and really kind of analyzing it from that perspective as opposed to only looking at the outcomes, because I think that you want people to be confident that if they've got the right ingredients in place, if they you know have that certain level of you know conviction or confidence, that they should be able to take an action in an uncertain environment and if the outcome ends up negative, that what we judge is the process and the contributions in the approach.
PJ Bruno: Any final words to tech founders out there that might be starting off from the road that you guys have come so far?
Bill: I mean, one of the things that I think about a lot, you know we're around 350 employees, we're approaching that right now. And one of the things that changes quite a bit as you go from the early days you know when you're, you've got a runway that's, you're fast reaching the end of it, you know you don't necessarily know where your next meal is going to come from and you've gotta just survive, is that in the early days, fragility in terms of not having redundancies in place is being really lean, being really efficient is the only option because you're competing against a landscape of other people that are willing to be fragile. But then over time what you need to do is understand when you need to shift from that to becoming and enduring institution and one with durability. And so an interesting, just a simple example is that having multiple people responsible for one thing in and early start up that's only 10 people could be the difference in your cash burn between you making it to the next financing round or not, whereas when you're a few hundred people, only having 1 person doing something is potential risk of the business because you've got too much key person risk there and knowing when you can actually accept those types of risks and knowing when you need to build an environment that is durable to them and making sure that you're making that transition at the right times as your company grows, I think is vital to being able to scale an enduring institution.
Mike: I think that's spot on. I would definitely agree with that and we're approaching 300 and we're going through that right now. Some other things, I think 1, especially for founders, I think 1 biased for action, just always take action. Don't sit there and analyze things too long. Some momentum even if it's in the wrong direction is actually than not even starting in the first place, and then the 2nd thing to be aware of is you know, we're talking about starting a company that you start as a couple founders and then you grow to a couple hundred employees and what I've found is, as a founder if you, in the beginning you want that, you want to be big. You want to raise money, you want to have a bunch of customers, but really as you go through it, you actually realize a lot of it sucks and I think the most important part is you need to have the psychological, or the mentality oft you need to constantly be reinventing yourself as a founder because as a founder of 4 people or a 4 person company, you're job is very different that when it's at 50 people, which is very different than when you cross 100, which is very different then as you approach 200 and 300 and beyond, and so you not only have to change your responsibilities and what you do, you need to reinvent yourself and your psychology and your mindset and actually figure out what you enjoy doing, right, because in the beginning, I never had to do HR meetings, I never had to do one on ones, I never had to like sit with people. I just like was at my keyboard all day and same thing with Alex, right. He was coding everything. And as the company has grown, he's no longer coding, I'm no longer at my desk anymore. I spend all day in one on ones and with customers. Alex spends all day managing his folks, and so it's a totally different job and I think as a founder you need to be mentally prepared for that, where if you actually are successful, your job is going to be very different 6 months, 12 months, 18 months and years down the road and so just be prepared for that and always reinvent yourself as the company grows.
Bill: Yeah and I think that at a meta level, as a founder and as a just a leader in general in a dynamic environment, what you need to do is be able to embrace the change for the changes sake as well. You know I think one of the reasons that I love technology and working in technology is that you're constantly solving new problems with new tools. You know you're able to kind of build on the shoulders of giants, like take new innovations, multiply them with your own creativity and drive and really drive toward and impact. And a growing company is exactly the same thing. You are getting new capabilities, new teams, new people, new specializations, new skillsets and you're able to go and solve new problems and it's exciting to be a part of that change. But you need to appreciate that it is in fact constantly changing.
PJ Bruno: New teams and new tools will always breed new problems.but we can't let that fear of the unknown hinder our momentum or stifle our innovation. We must enter the void headstrong, prepared to reinvent ourselves as new frontiers expand far beyond our view. In a highly competitive landscape with constant advances intact. Playing it safe has become a more dangerous play than taking a chance. Just be sure it's a calculated risk and a documented result. We'll see you next time.