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David is the founder and CEO of Drift, a messaging app that helps sales and customer success teams connect with their customers. Prior to Drift, David was the Chief Product Officer at HubSpot, hired most of the HubSpot engineering team, growing from 20 to 100 engineers after HubSpot's acquisition of David's last company, Performable.

As a five-time founder, there's been one common thread between all of the products David has built: the connection between businesses and their customers.

In his new book, HYPERGROWTH, David will share his modern approach for building products and structuring teams that make customer communication a central priority.

HYPERGROWTH tells the story of how Cancel’s customer-driven approach started out as a test with a product team (Performable), transformed an entire organization (HubSpot), and sparked a new movement (Drift).

Be the first to get your hands on the book when it launches (it's free): https://www.drift.com/hypergrowth/

David will be live on Nov 3 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which he will answer as many questions as possible.

  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    4 months ago #

    David, it's like a treat (without trick) to have you on GH :) Big fan of your medium blog and you & Dave's Podcast Seeking wisdom.

    I have two questions for you:

    1) As a product guy, what are your thoughts of this emerging role Product Manager Growth? Do you think it is different from product manager, or it's really the same thing? At Drift or Hubspot, do you have such a role in your team? How do they fit in with the big organization structure?

    2) How does customer driven approach differ between B2B and B2C? For example, for SaaS, your tool is built to solve a specific problem and your customers naturally will ask you for features, it feels easier to listen to customer and create your product; but for a consumer app, for example, Snapchat or Mint, it seems 1) you can't add as many features as SaaS software, adding more features doesn't necessarily help you either 2) your users use your apps in different ways 3) Your users can't tell you clearlily what they want. So how do you take a customer-driven approach in consumer apps?

    Look forward to your insight!

    Hila

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      LOL. So great to be back on GH!

      Thanks for all the kind words. Big fan of yours as well.

      1. My view is that modern businesses, like Drift, are going to converge these roles so the Product Manager and the Growth person become one. This is an exciting time to be a growth person as every business in the world is going to need your talents. Baking growth right into the core product is the only way to go.

      2. I think about it differently. The way I think about things is "what is your proximity to the customer?". The businesses that I see winning in the future are those closest to the customer.

      It's AirBnB vs Marriott/Hyatt, Uber vs Taxi/Car Services, Tesla vs Ford/GM, Amazon vs Walmart.

      What's different about the companies on the left is their proximity to the customer, they own the customer relationship. The companies on the right that are being disrupted didn't own the customer relationship, they largely shipped product to the anonymous masses. It's not technology alone that is the difference, every company in the world uses technology at this point, it's the proximity to the customer.

      Customer-driven approach works for any company that is close to their customer, regardless if they are B2B or B2C customers.

      Also users can never tell you clearly what they want. If they could we wouldn't need Product people. The machines would just rank feedback and produce output. The job for Customer-Driven Companies is to experiment->capture feedback->repeat. In other words it's the scientific process all over again.

      5 Share
      • HQ

        Hila Qu

        4 months ago #

        Very enlightening! So before everything, make sure you are closest to your customer among all your current & potential competitors.

        I guess a natural follow-up question (maybe it's already in your book :) is how do you become close to your customers?

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        4 months ago #

        Would you agree if I said that every company you pointed out as being closest to the customer is either a marketplace (Airbnb, Amazon, Uber) or a platform (Tesla) type company?

        If yes, then is that the logical conclusion of what you're saying ie unless you are going to be/become a marketplace/platform you will never be closest to the customer?

        If you agree with that, then how does Drift become one of these things (or is it already)?

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    4 months ago #

    Bonjour David,

    Thanks for this AMA.

    1) Where is the future of messaging?

    2) How can we spawn customer growth with the current state of chatbots?

    Merci!

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      Hola!

      Love your questions. It's what we think about at Drift. :)

      1. I think it's the most important shift in communication since the telephone. Some would say it's more important than the web browser, time will tell.

      We've had messaging for me entire career (~20 years). The patterns behind Drift, Facebook Messenger and Slack are not new. They are modern versions of very old patterns, this is all innovation and little invention.

      The patterns aren't new but what is is the rate at which these patterns have been adopted in the last 3-5 years. The old versions were used by 10s or 100s of millions of people. The new versions are used by billions. The new versions are also used by entire nations who have never the old patterns of software most of us think of as "normal". In other words this is the "new normal".

      When a shift that large happens this fast businesses everywhere have to respond. Because of all their customers will expect this new pattern to exist when communicating to these businesses.

      2. Love chatbots. We have had a lot of early success with the Driftbot at Drift. It saves our customers up to 60% of their daily bandwidth (back and forth messages) a day. That's exciting but we are still warming up for the 1st inning of this game.

      The simple answer is solve a real problem. There are so many obvious problems to solve but so many people building chatbots today are solving non-problems. That's to be expected this early in the game but the future is bright.

      3 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        4 months ago #

        Who have you come across so far (other than Drift :)) that is building chatbots to solving real problems?

  • SA

    Shaker A

    4 months ago #

    Hey David,

    Thanks for being here!

    1)How did you get your first few customers? I know you're a serial entrepreneur, so can you go back to your first company when you didn't have the experience and the credibility that comes from being successful. How did you overcome your lack of both to get your first few customers? How did you convince your first few customers to take that leap of faith with you?

    2) What are the most valuable lessons you've learned in your career?

    3) In your opinion what are things early stage startups have to do to not only survive, but thrive? Conversely what do you see startups messing up that they can't afford to, and how do they fix them?

    4)What are the biggest challenges you've faced growing drift (and your prior companies), and how have you overcome them?

    Thanks

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      Yo!

      1. Starting new companies always requires starting from scratch when it comes to getting your first customers. You don't get credit for past companies from customers. I never try to convince customers, I try to focus on solving a real pain for them (serve them) when I do they naturally want to be your customer because the pain is real and they need a solution.

      Pushing means it's the wrong customer or the wrong solution.

      2.
      * I AM NOT THE CUSTOMER.
      * IT'S 99% PEOPLE and 1% everything else (software, design, etc)
      * SERVE.

      3. Be customer-driven. When they are too focused on internal ideas they often mess up.

      4. Remembering that I am not the customer and that my ideas don't matter. SO HARD TO WALK THE TALK DAILY!!

      2 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        4 months ago #

        "I never try to convince customers, I try to focus on solving a real pain for them"
        THIS!

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    4 months ago #

    Dr. Cancel - we meet again!

    I'm curious as to the timing of this book.
    Why now specifically? What's the confluence of events (for you personally or within startups/marketing/growth as a whole) that told you this book is needed right now?

    Also, if there was one thing that someone could take away after reading it, what would you hope that would be?

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      What's up brother!!!!!

      Timing? Truly random. Finally had the right team at Drift to help get these lessons out of my lazy self. :)

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        4 months ago #

        If you're "lazy" the rest of us have no hope...
        Follow up question: Why decide to release it as a free e-book vs a more formal/traditional book release?

  • SK

    S Kodial

    4 months ago #

    Hi David - thanks so much for joining us today.

    In the summary of the book in the link above you say:
    "When it comes to building a great product, a great team, and a great brand, relying solely on the ideas of internal stakeholders will get you nowhere. The key to achieving HYPERGROWTH is to always be listening to — and communicating with — your customers. The key is being customer-driven."

    Its fair to say that actively focussing on the customer has been table stakes for any startup that hopes to make it for a while now.
    So could you about what it is about being customer-driven that you've discovered and are proposing in the book that is different from what is already known/practiced today?

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      Hello,

      Actively focusing on customers is dead simple. How many startups do that today? How many companies do that? Not very many at all.

      Why do we have 1000s of books in healthy eating? It's very simple. How many people do it? Not many.

      All the great books that I have read in my time have all centered around a very simple premise.

      What I cover in the book is how to actually organize a company, build products and sell in a customer-driven way. Almost all of us incent our teams against metrics that aren't related to the customer therefore you are architecting a system that will always optimize for non-customer activities.

      2 Share
  • AA

    Aldin A

    4 months ago #

    Hey David,

    Great to have you at GH!

    1)How do think about retaining users, if your user only need to use your app occasionally by nature (ex shopping app)? If your app isn't used frequently building up the habit is hard, which makes it even harder to retain the user. How do you go about trying to stay top of mind so when the user has a need that your app solves they think of you?

    2)How do you increase your chances of determining that a feature that you are thinking of building is of genuine value to the user vs just leading down the path to a more bloated product? Do you have a process for vetting features? Additionally as your product grows how do you make sure your product doesn't become bloated?

    3)How do you look at competition, specifically when you're going up against bigger, and better-funded competitors? How does that affect your strategic plan, if it does at all? What is your mindset when you go to compete against the 800-pound gorillas in your space?

    Thanks,
    Aldin

  • RB

    Ry B

    4 months ago #

    Hi David,

    Thanks for doing this ama.

    1)What are the top qualities that founders need to succeed? What are the top qualities that a manager needs to bring out the best in their employees?

    2)How do you go about empowering employees? What does empowerment look like at Drift? How do you instill an ownership mentality in them?

    3)How do you look at hiring? Can you talk about some of the mistakes you've made hiring (and also seen others make)? What have you learned about hiring A+ talents?

    4)How do you look at balance in your professional and personal life? When it comes to work, how do you decide what you have to work on today (I'm sure you have a million things you could be working on each day)?

    Thanks

  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    4 months ago #

    Hi David, it's great to have you hear today!

    Can you talk more about the customer-driven approach becoming a movement? When did you feel that this becoming something more than what its always been? What in your view has this evolved into from when you first tested it at Performable and where do you see it going?

    Thanks!

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      Love this question!

      Like all things the discovery (or my personal version of it) started as a happy accident early at Performable. I then tested the model at scale at HubSpot and now continue to refine it at Drift.

      Over that time I've been able to develop several guardrails and frameworks for implementing this approach for folks new to the process. I talk about them more here: http://go.drift.com/dc-mtpcon

      The evolution for me: started as just a way to build products and has evolved into a way to manage and build a company and every department within the company (sales, marketing, support, etc).

      3 Share
  • JD

    James Dunn

    4 months ago #

    Hey David

    Nice to have you on!
    It's fairly obvious that you like to build products that your customers love - and become vocal proponents of.
    This is something every business would want.
    So what is it in your view that most (still) dont understand about making products that others customers will fall in love with?

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      Hi James,

      Thanks for the question!

      Being customer-driven is like being fit, both are fairly obvious but we still seem to get both wrong.

      I think we all tend to overthink things and let biases creep in. The thing we all miss when this happens is that we aren't creating products just for ourselves, we are here to serve the customer.

      Simple but not easy to do.

      It's a simple mindset shift but the results are night and day. Lean into serving, not selling.

      2 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        4 months ago #

        "Lean into serving, not selling" - feels like something you'd hear on an episode of Seeking Wisdom :)

  • DH

    Dani Hart

    4 months ago #

    Hi David,

    So glad to have you on this AMA today. You have quite an impressive background and I'm sure a wealth of knowledge to share. :)

    I'm curious...

    1. When you hire people for your team, what are you looking for? Do you have any recommendations for hiring managers?
    2. What's the biggest challenge that you encountered while growing the HubSpot as the Chief Product Officer?
    3. Are there any specific tools or processes your team at Drift uses to manage growth?

    Really looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

    Cheers,
    Dani

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      Dani nice to meet you!

      Hard questions!

      1. Lean into your intuition when hiring. Only hire people you can learn from, want to grow and you feel energized to be around. So simple but no one does it. They let the rational brain takeover. Hire people not resumes.

      2. SO MANY!! Rebuilding an entire product in-place during rapid growth. Rebuilding an entire team and 4x the size of that team at the same time we rebuilt the product. Shielding the team so we could focus. Building a culture that I was proud of and that people loved to be a part of. So many challenges.

      3. I think the tools don't matter as much as the philosophy and framework. For us it's aligning our entire company around the customer. Everything comes after that.

      We aren't marketing-driven,
      we aren't sales-driven,
      we aren't product-driven,
      we are customer-driven to the core.

      2 Share
  • JB

    Joe Bloom

    4 months ago #

    Hey David,

    What are your thoughts on communicating with prospects during pre-launch phase of a new business idea?

    What can we learn from customers before we even have put a product in their hands for them to play with?

  • GH

    Glen Harper

    4 months ago #

    Hi David! Thanks for being on the AMA today. I'm interested to know what overlap, if any, with the focus on customer success that appears to have taken on more importance (at least if you look at the number of posts addressing the topic showing up on GH over the last year or so) with what you're proposing in your book. Much appreciated,

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      Great point.

      I think there is tight overlap between the rise of Customer Success and the Customer-Driven approach.

      I believe this is natural as software/markets/products matures and many of our business move to a subscription economy. Those two things are converging now in history and it is leading to a need to focus on the customer via software, bots, and humans. In other words we are back to where business started, serving customers 1:1.

  • JL

    Jice Lavocat

    4 months ago #

    Hi David,

    I love the customer-driven philosophy. Quick question for early stage startups which have not any customers yet.
    What's your main discussion channel in this case ? Where and how do you interact with potential customers ?

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      In that case we pick a potential customer type/persona and we spend as much time with those types as possible. Not to just interview them but to observe their days and spot problems that are often too dull for them to ever mention to you.

  • DO

    Danielle Olivas

    4 months ago #

    Hi David,

    Thanks for sharing your time today!

    I have a few questions after reading the Drift Marketing Manifesto (excellent stuff btw):

    1. In regards to good marketing vs bad marketing, could you point out some examples of companies/people demonstrating good marketing as you see it?
    2. Regarding, "how can I make this 10x better than anything else out there?," could you talk about how you're putting this into practice at Drift?
    3. In relation to, "ship based on customer feedback. Not just because our roadmap or content calendar said so," how do you balance feedback vs long term strategy? When does customer feedback take precedence and when does it not?

    Thanks!

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the Drift Marketing Manifesto. :raised_hands:

      1. Apple, Whole Foods, Slack, Mailchimp, Drift (of course), Wistia, Ikea, Tesla, Porsche, GoPro, Snapchat, The Verge, Amazon, Netflix, Audi, Universal, Disney, AirBnB. So many more.

      2. Simple way we do it at Drift. We force ourselves to lean into discomfort in order to level up our results each time we approach a new project. Most people don't grow because they naturally move away from discomfort. Breakthroughs of any type require some level of discomfort. Comfortable is regressing to the avg.

      3. Good question. No simple answer. Always prioritize the customer feedback except for when you are pushing into new markets that lead you to a new customer type. Those pushes should be brief, you should always come back to focusing on customer feedback.

  • MC

    Mike Costanzo

    4 months ago #

    Hey David,
    A lot of what you talk about and your principles seem based in lean and agile principles but you don't generally speak of them using these terms. What is your experience with these frameworks/principles?

    • DC

      David Cancel

      4 months ago #

      I'm not a fan of agile. :)

      More here: http://go.drift.com/dc-mtpcon

      Why? The customer is missing from Agile.

      I am all about the customer.

      3 Share
      • MC

        Mike Costanzo

        4 months ago #

        I think that's a misconception of agile and often why people pair lean with agile. Lean more clearly states a focus on the customer. And this leads to the idea that lean is agile's brain. But I hear you.

        I wonder if a statement like "I'm not a fan of agile." throws the baby out with the bath water though.

  • PS

    Patrick Smith

    4 months ago #

    Hi David,

    Gotta few questions for you.

    The last time you embarked on a front-end dev project, how did you prepare for it? How did it go? What were the biggest stumbling blocks?

    What have you done in the past to increase your conversion percentage for new users?
    What are the most common complaints you get from new users?
    How important is it to you to convert trial users to paying customers?
    What are you doing to decrease the number of users who churn out in the first month?

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