Top 5 Things We Learned from BUILD in 2021

December 22, 2021

After the holidays the BUILD podcast with Blake Bartlett will be back featuring episodes with leaders at Stack Overflow, Calendly, Chime, Snyk and more. 

In the meantime ICYMI, here’s what we’ve learned this year on the show:

Community fuels product adoption and virality for developer software

Remember that time when Clubhouse was all the rage? This summer, many VCs and startup pundits started suggesting that the key to success is simply winning the “hearts and minds” of a community. One problem? Traditional marketing doesn’t work on developers. We spoke to, Francesca Krihely, Senior Director of Developer Experience at Snyk, who knows all about what marketing strategies are landing with the developer community. 

Key takeaway: Launching a developer-focused product takes these two things:

  1. You must have amazing documentation. If you don’t invest in your docs, you’re cutting your growth.
  2. The first five minutes of your product need to be frictionless. Think about how you can make the product easier and more enjoyable than what developers are used to. Do that and you’re going to win.

Another guest, Paige Paquette built and scaled platform and developer marketing at Slack. The success of the Slack App Store and the like showed her what works (and what doesn’t) with developer programs. She shares her playbook for attracting and engaging developers to build great stuff for your app store or marketplace.

Key takeaway: It’s best to think of developer platform ROI as a long-term bet that delivers long-term ROI. In general, developer platforms tend to help improve retention, reduce churn, increase expansion opportunities, and deliver better lifetime value.

Customer empathy is the path to better products and successful businesses

Yamini Rangan is HubSpot’s CEO and former Chief Customer Officer, and she believes that when customers are struggling to adapt to change, the concept of “growth” itself needs to be redefined if your goal is to truly put customers first. Hear her advice for how to practice customer empathy by embracing the “customer-in, NOT function-out” approach to org design and GTM strategy.

Key takeaway: Empathy is the best way for software companies to grow trust with their customers.

The key to customer centricity is empathy. But where does empathy come from? Actual knowledge of your customer, their pain and their goals. Everyone on your team shares responsibility in developing this knowledge. Hubert Palan, Founder and CEO at Productboard, shares how to avoid the bottleneck where the only person that’s allowed to be brilliant in the startup is the founder.

Key takeaway: It’s easier to say that you’re customer-centric than to actually be customer-centric. Most companies delegate this to user research, annual surveys or maybe the founder’s gut. It’s not enough.

Company culture is a main driver of innovation

Are you struggling to recruit today? Postscript (an OpenView portfolio company) has skillfully navigated the myriad talent market challenges by leading with culture. CEO and co-founder Adam Turner says the key focal points for the company’s culture are transparency and authenticity.

Key takeaway: Nailing these attributes of transparency and authenticity can create a virtuous cycle of employee engagement and referrals for your company too.

Work smarter, not harder. That’s the motto right? Drift CEO and Founder David Cancel says the goal is no longer to be the most productive person, it’s to be the person who has the biggest impact. More often than not, that means connecting the dots between ideas and creating a culture that empowers team members to take accountability.

Key takeaway: The tradeoff to filling more roles quickly is that you aren’t always able to take the same care with the process. But when you realize that you can potentially be more productive and successful with fewer, higher-quality people, it allows you to realign on the concept of talent density.

The path to CEO isn’t linear

We know the route to leadership is less of a straightforward path and more of a rollercoaster. For instance, AJ Carrd, founder of Carrd,was building websites as a freelancer, but became frustrated with the popular options. This led to him accidentally founding a company to solve this problem. Hear his advice on what to do when your side project takes off with users.

Key takeaway: Make your product extremely easy to get into so people can just jump right in and start using it. That’s the key to scaling your user base.

This theme of unconventional paths to leadership continued when Casey Renner spoke with Yvonne Wassenaar, CEO of Puppet for our BUILDing to Boss mini series. Yvonne went from CIO to CEO and credits three fundamental attributes for leading a company: curiosity, connection, and agility.

Key takeaway: With technology advancing so quickly, you’re going to need every possible advantage to beat out your competitors. Studies show that winning software companies have diverse teams that encourage and empower varying perspectives.

Strong teams need a conscious leader

As we get closer to the end of the year and plan for the next, there’s no better time to reevaluate how you choose to lead your team. Merline Saintil has led teams at Intuit, Yahoo, PayPal, Adobe, Joyent, and Sun Microsystems. 

She now serves on the board of directors at five fast-growing companies – most recently GitLab’s Board of Directors. She advises companies on a wide range of critical topics such as enterprise risks, technology trends, innovation, strategy, cybersecurity, and digital transformation. Merline shares these insights and unpacks the important difference between a manager and a leader.

Key takeaway: Titles are great, but they won’t transform you into the person you want to be. And, as it turns out, being a leader isn’t all about command and control. As Merline says, “Your title makes you a manager. Your people decide if you’re a leader.”

Godard Abel, Co-Founder and CEO, credits much of G2’s success to the practice of Conscious Leadership across the management team. It’s a framework that helps leaders build trust and create conscious cultures.

Key takeaway: “In the trenches of entrepreneurship, the ultimate challenge is to seek a more enlightened path that will help you become a better leader and a better human so that you can achieve more success and also enjoy the ride more,” says Godard.

Thanks for listening and learning along with us on the BUILD podcast with Blake Barlett. Until next year 🥂

Senior Manager of Creative Strategy<br>OpenView

As OpenView's Senior Manager of Creative Strategy Meg leads brand development for the firm. Obsessed with software, user experience and design thinking, she works to understand and scale OpenView's brand awareness through thought leadership content programs including: OpenView's podcast 'BUILD with Blake Bartlett' along with the video series 'PLG123' and 'Weekly Walks with Casey Renner'.