May 28, 2019
Our very own Kevin Wang, VP of Product, sat down with me in our San Francisco office to discuss some of the recent SaaS IPOs (Zoom, Slack, PagerDuty) as well as the latest emerging channels and what the future may hold.
PJ Bruno: Hey again. Welcome back to Braze for impact your MarTech Industry Discuss Digest. I have with me a very good friend today. Kevin Wang or Kevin Wang. Both are correct?
Kevin Wang: Both are correct enough. I like it pronounced right, but I also like it spelled right and so we can go with either.
PJ Bruno: That's W-A-N-G for all you listening. This is Kevin Wang on Kevin Wang, VP of product at Braze. I'm so glad we finally got to do this man. This has been a long time coming.
Kevin Wang: I know, I know it. Really excited to be here.
PJ Bruno: Well, we're kind of coming off MAU. Both of us are a little bit tired, but we needed to get ourselves together for this. The communications episode, some sass IPOs that went on in April, all around communication. So our first up is Zoom. Now I know, Kevin, this one was a really interesting IPO for you, right?
Kevin Wang: Yeah. Zoom, I think it's fascinating. So in addition to just being an incredible business, I think one of the things that's really neat about zoom is the fact that they've been so successful. Essentially just literally building the proverbial better mouse trap. It's the thing where they already had a really powerful captive audience that's actually growing, in a large way as remote work continues to get more popular, where we've got all these folks who need to do video conferencing and the existing tools, I mean, we've all used them like a lot of the tools out there, just not that good. And Zoom literally just they knew all about the system. A lot of them are ex Cisco folks and they looked at the situation, just said, "We know how to do this better." And so, I think that, as a product person and as someone who thinks a lot about how we build products and how one makes products, I think there's a very strong pull in the industry to try to be completely out of the box, off the wall innovative. And I almost say, "Air quotes, innovative." With the idea of people wanting to build things that were never seen before. So let's look at a company like SpaceX, like reusable rockets. There's not a cottage industry of reusable rocket launch and orbital delivery products out there. And zoom looks at it from a completely different way. It would be like if they were looking at Honda civics or something like that, and they were like, "We can just build a Honda civic that's like the same price, just 20% better." In what way is it better? "It's just better." And I have a huge amount of respect for that because there's already that huge market there, and they knew exactly what they want. You just do it better. And delivering on that I think is really impressive.
PJ Bruno: Right. I mean, do you think that also makes them equally vulnerable for someone to come along and create a Honda civic that's 40% better or?
Kevin Wang: I think it isn't. So I've read a bit about zoom, especially in the wake of how successful their IPO has been because you look at the numbers, it's pretty eye-popping and at least in their case, they actually had a lot of knowledge of the space at a very, very high technical level, but also had the ability to execute really rapidly product wise. And I think that that was a huge advantage for zoom. And that's not something that's particularly easy to replicate. There are perhaps other teams out there that could do that, but it's not like there's tens of thousands of teams who could just try, and make a better version. So it's a very interesting, almost pure technology, defensible mode. Because one thing that's pretty common, I think, in the tech industry is that companies end up very able to defend their place in the market because they have a huge network effect and that gives them more data that gives them more customers. So Facebook, Google, they're both examples of doing this. In zooms case, that's not necessarily the game that they're playing. It's literally just knowing the problem and the technology better and then executing really, really well. A very interesting contrast to that would be PagerDuty, which is another one of these recent tech Ipos.
PJ Bruno: PagerDuty, when I took a look at this outline, this is the only one that I didn't know. So PagerDuty, it has to do with pagers? It's bringing back pagers were going to go retro and we're...
Kevin Wang: Yeah, they go out there and they just sell pagers just door to door and it's, they're really cool. There are at ease and all like wood and a little bit of gold plating.
PJ Bruno: Bringing back the door to door salesman too.
Kevin Wang: Yeah. It's everything. PagerDuty's business is that they essentially help an operations team for technical operations, running servers and things like that run better and they will page you in the old school sense. They will actually page folks saying, "Hey, this server, this system is down. You need to go in there and fix it." Because when we're talking about these really large distributed technical systems, you have hundreds or thousands of servers, they're running all sorts of code and the universe is just a big scary place. It's a big scary place to be running a lot of code and stuff breaks, things happen. And when it happens, you need to very often get somebody to go in and verify what's wrong or fix the problem. And PagerDuty just automates that. But the genius of Pager duty I think is that, often when these systems break, when these very complex systems, a server goes down, it can break in such a bad or catastrophic way that it can't even scream for help. And so there's a huge amount of value in PagerDuty, just literally not being you, the customer just running on their own system because that gives you that additional level of reliability. And additionally, they've done a number of clever things around how you actually run the responses to these incidents that can happen. And so PagerDuty in contrast to zoom is, is really playing more of the game of saying, "Here's how you run your operations better around your servers and your technology." Whereas zoom is just saying, "Hey, you want a video conference, wouldn't it be nice in the video conferencing was better?" And that in itself adds a lot of value and of course assumes that it has added a number of other features on top of it. But their core really did come from almost a very, very pure quality standpoint.
PJ Bruno: Got you. So PagerDuty, effectively it's a third party flag razor. Right? And then it helps a little bit with the next step after the flag is raised. Like who needs to know what step is.
Kevin Wang: Exactly. And they've got some other features there. I'm not doing either of these products, quite the justice that they deserve in terms of the different things that they've added on. But a large part of it is really that communication and inter mediating the communication between whatever is going on with your servers and your team who are actual human beings who need to actually make a decision or take some form of action.
PJ Bruno: Something that I found a little strange as I was doing a little research on Zoom. They're whole thing that the CEO talks about his happiness. He just keeps using it in their pitch happiness, happiness. He says delivering happiness is what we do at zoom. And that just tells me nothing about the product. I love amplitudes, we help companies build better products. Just like these taglines that are like really removed from what actually is going on. I love happiness, don't get me wrong.
Kevin Wang: Yeah, it's a great thing.
PJ Bruno: It's a good thing. But I'd love a little more information. A nice tagline that's really buttoned up and putting it a little boat for me.
Kevin Wang: Yeah, I agree with that. And I think if anything just says something about the state of brand marketing today that really, really enormous visions play quite well in a lot of ways. I mean, just look at car ads. I mean, if you look at a vehicle ad for like a Lexus versus how somebody actually buys a car, it's so completely detached, because people buy cars off of spreadsheets, they buy them basically off of spreadsheets. But the car ad is like, this is the lifestyle represented by whatever vehicle it is that their marketing, it's also like the same lifestyle for all of them or the same two lifestyles. Sunsets on the highway or just like in the mud, and this thing works in the mud.
PJ Bruno: I think my favorite one is the Lincoln commercials with Matthew mcconaughey.
Kevin Wang: Oh those are incredible.
PJ Bruno: Those are great. Right? And it makes you want to hang with mcconaughey because he's being all like, "I was driving a Lincoln way before I was paid to drive one."
Kevin Wang: But the incredible thing is, I am convinced that that's actually what hanging out with Matthew Mcconaughey is like. These commercials...
PJ Bruno: Jumping into a pool wearing all of your clothes, an amazing three piece suit.
Kevin Wang: This is like, he does that like twice a day. Like that doesn't even own a shower. Just like, "I just jump in my pool. It's just a great day."
PJ Bruno: So the next one here, we have Slack. You want to open up on this one Kev?
Kevin Wang: Yeah. Slack is again, phenomenal business. These are all phenomenal business.
PJ Bruno: Phenomenal product, I live in it. I live in Slack.
Kevin Wang: The amount of time that I've spent in Slack, I mean, we set this time up in Slack. It's so pervasive. I think one of the real challenges I have with Slack though is just that, Slack has some of the properties of email. Like I have something to say. I take that thing I have to say, I sent it to you and it's in a place where you can find it, but just the volume of traffic that goes through Slack, warps it into a completely different beast. I find this isn't maybe the most flattering characterization, but I think of Slack as almost like a screaming river of voices that's constantly flowing by you and occasionally you hear your name and you stick your head underneath the water and you just hear even more voices and it's madness. And then if you walk away, you don't know even what flowed past you, "Did I miss something important? Did I miss nothing important?" I think this is one of the real challenges of modern life speed of modern life, speed of electronic communication and Slack is not necessarily causing that, but there are certainly privy to that transformation and reduction of attention spans and all of that. But on the other hand it's really effective. It's really efficient. I rarely look at Slack and think, "Wow, this is impeding me from doing something." And so I think that their future is incredibly bright. They just need to figure out a way to help people manage the world in which they were created.
PJ Bruno: I think you're right. I think we just need that layer of like how to manage Slack and not get lost in it. But yeah, I think it's also since the barrier to initiate conversation is way lower. It's just like the simplicity of it, that makes the communication volume much higher. And then the importance of the message is often decreased. I mean, I send plenty of messages on Slack that are not that important. To me, I chalk it up to culture ads, giving kudos to someone, like making someone feel comfortable. Giphy obviously like...
Kevin Wang: I love Giphy.
PJ Bruno: I mean, what an amazing creation that is.
Kevin Wang: Yeah. Genius. Something like printing press.
PJ Bruno: I know.
Kevin Wang: Exactly.
PJ Bruno: [crosstalk] get better please. But yeah, no, I mean, but at the end of the day, it's just a matter of convenience. And because it is so convenient, it's just so easy to put your time into it. And earlier I liken it to the Jewel, right? As opposed to smoking cigarettes, you need to walk outside, you need a lighter, you need to light that up and the jewel and vapes have made it so easy to just smoke wherever you are. And usually it's fine to be indoors and so you're doing it a lot more. And so I think there's that pendulum swing, when it moves to the left, as it moves to the right, it gets more and more convenient and it makes your life easier but at some point you're utilizing it so much because you think that convenience makes it more available to you to use as often as you want. And so then you use it, maybe when you don't actually need it.
Kevin Wang: Yeah. I completely agree with you. And I think one of the interesting things with Slack is that, it doesn't devolve to madness because of the tool itself. The tool is just the tool and it's a high quality product. It starts this descent into madness because of social constructs or more broadly the lack of social constructs around Slack. Because I mean the way that I view it as, we're all still mammals using this product Ed. We're all still just social animals, but all of the restraint that comes from not wanting to just go and tap someone on the shoulder and bother them and look at the look on their face of, "Who are you and why are you tapping me?" Like that just completely disappears in Slack. I mean, one of the things that I almost wish you could see in Slack was in a large channel, I wish you could just see that face of every single person that a message was about to go to because I think that the range of nonessential communication that goes on there would not be nearly as broad as it is. I mean, it's the equivalent of going into an auditorium and just tapping on the mic and say you declaring some large funny Gif to this entire audience, nobody would do that. And this ties into something else that I'm really excited to chat about, which is this idea of when we're looking at these new communication methods, when we're looking at these new channels, how do we actually decide, or how does one know what's going to be successful and what's not going to be successful? So this is a question that we ask at Braze. All the time on the product team. We're a product that crosses many different channels, many different ways of reaching end users or customers of a particular brand. And really our raison d'etre, our reason for being, is very much to help to bridge that gap and allow brands and their customers to have these much tighter, more personalized, richer experiences. But the question that we are constantly asking as a result is when there's some new technology announced like a magic leap, for example, something very next level augmented reality. What's going to make sense? And what's going to just be another palm pilot? And how do you time the market around these technologies to figure out where you're going to invest your time and your energy researching. And one thing that I always come back to, just from almost a first principle standpoint, is what are our brains actually evolved to handle? What are our brains good at? Because if we look back historically, that tends to be a major impact of the technologies that ended up succeeding. Humans are very visual creatures. So we like having really big TVS and we've just seen TV's get bigger and bigger and bigger because we like looking at stuff. I'm humans are also very auditory creatures like we speak to one another. That's one of our primary communication methods. And so that I think explains a lot of the success historically of radio now of podcasts and audio and things like that. And also to a lesser extent, we're also very tactical creatures. Like we have really fine grained motor control. That's how we can handle so much of the world's input in the business context is now handled via typing whether on a phone or whether on the keyboard of just because we have that control. And those are the sorts of trends. Those are the sorts of kind of universal truths that are going to continue to carry forward with us. Because we see now technology's changing so fast that within a single career, let alone a lifetime, you will see multiple technology waves crash and crest over you. But the brain and the raw tools and material that we're using to interact with these technologies is exactly the same. It's going to be the same now, it's the same with our kids and our children's kids. And so that is I think, a really strong leading indicator in terms of what is going to be successful and what is not.
PJ Bruno: And so real is the idea. It's funny because it's an idea that's been around for a while and that's when our technology has far surpassed, the evolution of our minds and have like our social constructs. Now we're really getting into that place, aren't we? Where technology is going to exponentially be zooming past maybe what we're able to handle as human beings.
Kevin Wang: Yeah, I think so. And as a result, everything that zooms too far is generally speaking, going to just not be that successful. And so I think part of the challenge that we have in the challenge that a lot of businesses, a lot of brands have, it's figuring out for your brand, for your use cases, what actually makes sense given that the raw materials of humanity aren't going to change. But everything that we can do to those raw materials is changing and expanding. One example that one of the engineers on our team likes to bring up is that, I don't know if you've seen the movie minority report? Minority report has the scene where they basically,[inaudible] yeah, that huge iPad. And Tom Cruise...
PJ Bruno: Yeah paint the picture for us, for those of you at home who haven't seen the film, this scene.
Kevin Wang: It's got Tom Cruise, he spends the whole time during the Tom Cruise thing where he alternates between looking really serious and looking like he's in a real rush. The whole movie, that surprised but hurried expression. Like you're bothering them a lot at McDonald's or something. And so there's this whole scene where they have basically a huge touch screen and it looks just incredible because it's flashing lights and it's flashing colors and like beeps and boops and people love that stuff. When I saw, I was like, "This is the greatest thing ever. I want it. I don't know why. I just want it." Like watching an apple keynote, like I want it and I've no reason for this. But suddenly this engineer at our team like to point out, I'm not sure if he thought this or he'd just read somewhere else, but I think it's a great salient point, is that nobody wants to go and poke a UI that's on the wall because nobody has arms are physically set up to just be stuck out pointing at stuff all day. Like that would just be an exhausting thing. And that's just a mechanical aspect of your arm, that like your arm is just not good at being fully extended or even partially extended for a long period of time with you standing up, especially without you getting really annoyed. And that's something that helps you predict something about technology. But you almost didn't even need to know anything about the tech. He didn't even need to see it. You just needed to know about like body position and purpose.
PJ Bruno: What does it take physically to use it?
Kevin Wang: Exactly. And it's the same reason that there've been jokes about like smellovision TVs forever, but no one cares because like human beings have a terrible sense of smell. Like this is why dogs are but men or women's best friend because dogs are really great at smelling, they're really good at tasting things and deriving information from that, their auditory range is fairly different from ours. So they can pick up on different cues than we can and as a result smell is like a useless thing to us. There's no iPhone for smell. There's not going to be, in my opinion.
PJ Bruno: Probably not.
Kevin Wang: Let's hope not. That'd be gross.
PJ Bruno: What about touch?
Kevin Wang: Yeah. I think touch is a really interesting one. Like your brain devotes a pretty decent chunk of its size to touch and management of touch. But I think what's kind of interesting about that one is that these very fine grade motor skills are something that you can learn and you can adapt to. Like, everybody I know who first got a touchscreen smartphone a little bit later on in life. Everybody liked that, struggled with it initially but was able to learn it because I mean, and I think that maybe this is getting a little too Scifi fantasy out there, but I think it's literally just because in an evolutionary sense, if you weren't able to, as a cave person, learn how to use very fine grained motor skills and train very fine grained motor skills that was like just not good for your overall evolutionary prospects. And so we all in the modern world retain that and we're really, really good at that. But I think that what's interesting with touch is that we're ultimately somewhat limited in that we can only gather so much data out of a particular situation because something like reading or hearing allows for much, much faster structured information input. Which is why those are the two channels which have just by far outclassed everything else in terms of the overall interactions.
PJ Bruno: And so I mean, for the sake of getting Scifi fantasy, because I know you like Scifi and I do too.
Kevin Wang: Of course just pass me the fourth. So very timely.
PJ Bruno: So I mean obviously we're not talking product roadmap, we're not talking about what's on the future for Braze product. But when we talk about data inputs, like once you surpass the channel or the device I mean, is it like physical augmentation like chips and like to contact lenses? Is that the next for the way we are going to be receiving our messages?
Kevin Wang: Yeah. So my own personal belief is that some form of onboard augmented reality is the future in the sense of being the next step for displays. And that just comes from a few core beliefs. And this being a potential logical conclusion from that. So the first one is that at any given point in time since basically the printing press and even before that, any visual communication method has been really, really important. So we've got printing press, you've got newspapers, TV, books, computers, smartphones. This is just a way of engaging in information that is really, really popular with people. This is obvious stuff.
PJ Bruno: Right. Groundbreaking.
Kevin Wang: Yeah, exactly. People like their eyes. It's like, not really changing anything now, but I think what's also interesting in terms of being very relevant to AR is that the way that people, that a lot of the capabilities that will be possible, I will hope, with augmented reality, add new dimensions to that and accentuate the ability to which we can use vision. So, two of the main ones are that, so you can imagine more sophisticated augmented reality systems that track where your eyes are looking because the actual amount of the actual area that's really tightly in focus of your visual field is very, very small. Relatively speaking. Most of it is peripheral, and it's not as focused in. And so augmented reality that's has the ability to take advantage of that. Because this is literally just more information into a system. And then the other thing that I think is interesting is that we tend to find experiences that are broader and take up more of our peripheral vision are more immersive. I mean this is why people still go to the movies. This is why people care about like retina screens and just big 4k TVs. And so there's clearly an aspect of human sensation and perception that's drawing us towards those more immersive experiences. But the other thing around AR that I think is really exciting is that it opens up, and this goes to your question about touch, it opens up a number of really interesting use cases around touch because it essentially frees up your hands if your monitor is always on, and it's on your face, and it's everywhere. And so again, we're evolved to handle it very physical and visual world. And so you can now imagine that we can have experiences for like educational technology where kids are looking at something and learning about or even learning to read, but they can actually physically touch something. Like you learn what a rock is, and it shows you how to spell a rock, spell the word rock or the type of rock that you're looking at, but you can actually pick it up and that just gives you all these different ways to imprint that learning. And the other thing is collaboration. So like something that I think is really valuable in the future is, when we're thinking about a presentation. This is something that should be fully interactive and can be fully interactive with augmented reality. PowerPoint should be something where I can point and like a laser pointer comes out of my finger, and I point at exactly what it is that I want to show you or I could zoom in or zoom out. All of that starts to become possible when we're getting into a world where everyone's display is on them or just the fact that, I mean something I think we talked about the other day, is that just physically the act of pointing is trying to get you PJ to see through my Kevin's eyes and with augmented reality or certainly hypothetical future versions of it. That's something that becomes directly possible. You could literally see what I'm seeing, and I think that it starts to go down a very powerful and very interesting road. If I had to pick, I'd also say probably apple is the best suited to really make a lot of this reality just because apple stuff is always really cool. And people like cool stuff.
PJ Bruno: That makes sense. And so I guess I got one final question for you and that is, is inception possible?
Kevin Wang: I also can't tell if that's a facetious question, but I'll just answer it dead serious, which is that, I mean I think that the true Scifi future that gets people all excited and if you really want to get the tech crunch articles running, you start talking about like what Elon Musk talks about with neural links, and literally that company, I think it's called Neuralink that he started, or he's saying he's going to start. And I think that that idea of how close, how bare to the metal can we get in terms of communication, like digital communication and hooking it up to your brain. This is the obvious conclusion in a certain sense of your brain should just be able to be extended in a digital fashion. But just to bring it back. I think that aspect of things in many ways goes back to the human aspect and that the blending of humanity and technology, which is that, if you have a system that requires doing surgery, if you have a system that requires very invasive procedures, this is just not something people like doing, like people don't like necessarily going in and doing very invasive things to their bodies. Even for these shorter term forms of entertainment or even or longer term forms of communication. So it'll be really interesting to see where that gets bridged. I mean, I know people who don't use contact lenses because that's something that they just find to be an uncomfortable experience. So at what point does society change enough that people are willing to accept that? I don't know. And I think that that's a really interesting question around both pure technology but also around uses of technology. Like things like privacy and security. So to what extent does a generation, five generations from now where they have, not only have they always had social media, but everyone who they ever meet their entire lives has always had social media? How does that person view the interaction between social media and social technology and their lives? It's probably very different from us, and that in turn is probably very different from folks would have a hundred years ago.
PJ Bruno: Kev, thanks for joining me on the communication episode.
Kevin Wang: Thanks so much.
PJ Bruno: You guys come visit us again? Take care.