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Meet Sean Laurence: Our New Customer Champion

Sean laurence

If we had a megaphone, we’d use it. That’s how excited we are about our first real employee (other than co-founders), Sean Laurence. Sean has been with us for a little over a month in his new role as Customer Champion. The title is a tall order, we know, but Sean is already exceeding our every expectation (and, most importantly, our customers’ expectations!).

Sean’s charm and quick wit have been an instant hit on our fun-loving team, and we can’t wait for our customers to get to know him. Below, Sean answers a few questions about how he landed with us.

Where are you from?

I'm originally from Westborough, Massachusetts, and have lived in Boulder, Somerville and Cambridge.

How do you like living in Boston?

I absolutely love living here. There are loads of interesting people, lots of compelling events happening constantly and great seafood! It's such a great place to be as an entrepreneur, too. I love meeting all the different folks who are in involved in the Boston startup community.

What's your professional background?

I've been in the business of making people smile for a while. Most recently, I was one of the super-friendly people who you'd buy your iPad or iPhone from at an Apple Store. Before that, I was helping employers and job seekers meet through Monster.com. My entrepreneurial fire was lit, though, when I started my own company, Doctor PC. All of this experience helped give me a foundation of knowledge for how to help turn a small company into a bigger one.

What about working at Brightwurks appealed to you?

There's something extremely exciting happening in Boston right now. People have a burning desire to innovate and build greatness. It's a vibe that's known as Boston's Silicon Valley. I had a yearning to join this innovation community. I consider myself very fortunate to have found both a product and culture fit. I wanted to work for a company that is bringing smiles to peoples’ faces everyday.

How's the new job going so far?

There's a saying that goes something like this: "Find what you love to do and get paid for it." I found it! The feeling of getting out of bed every morning and doing something you're passionate about is absolutely incredible. If you don't have that feeling now, drop what you're doing and start looking for it.

What are you most excited about in your new role as Customer Champion?

Bands have their groupies. Apple has their fanatics. I want to build an army of people that can't stop talking about how much they love using Help Scout. People like making other people smile. That's what I'm most excited about—making people happy.

Do you have a favorite customer story?

Many of Apple's customers have amazing stories. Once this little girl told me how she lost her iPod just before the winter. It was her first iPod and she was very sad. The snow came and she couldn't find it anywhere. When the snow melted, she found it. She was sure that it wouldn't work anymore. She let it dry out and it worked!

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Come Work with Us!

We're really excited to have a growing business on our hands, which means we get to add some outstanding new people to the team.

New Jobs Page

To learn more about the available positions, visit our new jobs page. We can answer any questions and tell you more about the company once we meet you.

Meet Us on September 7 in Boston

In partnership with the other TechStars Boston companies, we're putting on a job fair at Microsoft's NERD center in Cambridge. It's tomorrow September 7 at 5:30pm. Eight of our companies will have 5 minutes each to pitch you and talk about their open positions.

Even if it's just for fun, come to the job fair and say hello. We'd love to meet you.

Register on this event page to attend: http://tsbostonjobfair2011.eventbrite.com/

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Lessons Learned Running a Private Beta

On the web, building a successful business depends on moving quickly, testing often and talking to your customers. We're big believers in launching your MVP (minimum viable product) because it accelerates the learning process.

However, what if your product simply isn't ready yet? It might be close, but still has bugs and UI issues to figure out. That's where we were about 6 weeks before launching Help Scout, when we decided to do a private beta. I've never been a fan of the "beta" tag, but it felt right in this case. We were desperate for feedback.

If you decide to do a beta, planning is critical so that you can make the most of your participants' time and willingness to put up with your product in it's early stages. Here are some of the lessons we came away with:

1. Qualify the Participants

A private beta is for true early adopters, with patience and a genuine willingness to help. Make sure you seek out participants that fit this profile, have the pain point you are solving and are able to spend time using the product.

We announced our private beta on this blog and stopped taking applications after the first 100 signups. We then reached out to every single person with a series of questions. Such as:

  • What does your company do? How many people are there?
  • What's appealing to you about Help Scout? How would it fit into your business?
  • How many email inquiries do you get on average per day?
  • What do you currently use to solve this problem?
  • What features are most important to you in an email ticketing system?

Most of our participants answered the questions. If I had to do it over again, I'd make everyone fill them out. If people aren't willing to answer a few questions from you, they aren't going to provide good feedback about your product. We ended up with about 30 companies that fit the profile and we gave them access to the application.

2. Talk to Participants

Most of your participants will not be pro-active in communicating with you. You must go out of your way several times during the process to reach out for feedback. This feedback is absolute gold, but you have to ask for it. The more rapport you can get with your participants, the better feedback you can expect.

Looking back, the best feedback we got by far was over the phone. Nothing really does the trick like talking with someone in real-time about their problem and your product. We still listen back to some of our calls when we envision how our customers would want a certain feature to work.

3. Keep Participants in the Loop

It can be really frustrating to use a product that doesn't always work properly. With that in mind, you must be overly transparent with participants about bugs, ongoing issues and so forth.

In Help Scout, we created an "outstanding issues" page that outlined everything we knew about. We also listed forthcoming features and items that were recently knocked off the list. This cut down on the number of repeated inquiries we got and kept our participants in the know. Win-Win!

4. Reward Your Customers

At Brightwurks we're huge fans of saying thanks. We rewarded people based on their level of participation during the program. 10-15 of the most active companies got free accounts with unlimited users for life, provided they agree to keep giving feedback and let us reach out every once in a while to get their opinion.

For other participants, we gave them a free month or year based on how active/helpful they were. For EVERY company, we said thanks. That's really important.

5. Don't Draw it Out

When the product is ready, launch it! Our private beta was less than 6 weeks, just long enough for us to knock out some bugs and build all of the account management/billing tools. Launching the MVP is still crucial; private beta just gives you a short time to bridge the gap. Don't lose momentum and stay focused on launching.

Running a private beta is something that requires a LOT of time and thought if you want to get a lot out of it. Put a plan on paper and free up your schedule to talk with customers every day. Follow these steps and it will be incredibly helpful, putting you on the right path to launching a solid product.

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TechStars Demo Day: Our Pitch

Our team spent the last three months in Boston, MA taking part in TechStars, a truly amazing startup incubator. All our time was spent working on Help Scout. I plan on writing about our TechStars experience in detail, but here's the short version: apply, it will change your life and your company in extraordinary ways.

Last week was demo day; an event where the 12 companies in our group present to roughly 500 investors, friends and family. We've had a lot of people asking to see it, so we've embedded the slides and video below. Sorry the slides aren't in the video.

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New Help Scout Blog

Programming note: last week we launched an official Help Scout blog. We'll be talking about product news and updates there, but any sort of behind-the-scenes or company stuff will still be posted here. Feed My Inbox news will also stay here. 

Stay tuned to this blog ... our next article will talk about lessons learned running the Help Scout private beta. But if you are a Help Scout customer, it's a good idea to check out the new one too!

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LAUNCH: Help Scout

Help scout logo

About 10 months ago we had an idea. We blogged a lot about the process of making that idea a reality (27 posts). Over the last couple of months we've been working with beta companies and building more features. Today we get to release the first iteration of our idea to the public, called Help Scout!

Why build Help Scout?

Sharing an email inbox is hard. Help Scout empowers any team of two or more to stay on the same page when sharing email. We don't host your email; we just sit on top of it and bring a lot of value-added tools to the mix.

For us, Help Scout is a great way to communicate with our customers and stay on the same page. It works much better than email because you can delegate, add notes and see the customer's entire history on a single page. It helps us support customers faster, and hopefully it will do the same for you.

Whatever your experience with Help Scout is, we'd love to talk to you about it and make it better. Try it out and let us know what you think. Thanks for all the kind words and feedback over the last several months, folks!

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Two Big Announcements

Today we're excited to announce a couple things. First, our new product Help Scout is part of the 2011 TechStars Boston program!

TechStars

If you aren't familiar with TechStars, it's a mentorship-driven program for technology startups. Nearly 700 companies applied and we were selected as one of the final 12. For 13 weeks, we will be working alongside the other companies and nearly 70 experienced mentor entrepreneurs to refine our product, launch, and demo it to investors at the end.

We packed up and moved to Cambridge ten days ago. Help Scout is already a much better product as a result of being here and we're excited to work hard and keep improving. For more about the other companies we get to share an office with, check out this article from the Boston Globe.

Secondly, we launched a new HelpScout.net website today! We're still working hard on the right messaging for the site, but this is the latest iteration. There's no better way to test the design and content than to put it out in the wild, so that's what we are doing.

We're getting really close to launching Help Scout publicly. There are over 40 companies using it in private beta now and we're making great progress. Stay tuned, as we'll announce the launch on the blog first.

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Is Help Scout a "Help Desk"?

Since we started building Help Scout, we've fiercely denied that it's a help desk. We even mark it with a big red line on the current landing page for extra emphasis. Why? Because most help desks are mammoth, complicated platforms for large customer support teams to deal with customers through one of several channels (email, forums, knowledge base, social media, etc.). They require a lot of setup, configuration, re-branding and have a steep learning curve.

Obviously, we chose a different direction for Help Scout. We focused on one channel (email) and are taking a different approach from others in the help desk space. Setup takes a few minutes and there is nothing to re-brand or customize for customers to see. Forward a copy of your email to Help Scout and you are all set to start using it.

We've recently learned that despite Help Scout being a completely different experience than other products in this market, it's clearly a help desk. Even if we can build the world's smallest, smartest help desk, we're still a help desk nonetheless. Denying what the product is just creates confusion.

We've seen a lot of products make this mistake and still managed to screw it up. We put Help Scout in a bubble, pretending it justifies a product category of it's own because it has so many use cases. In reality, that point of view is a bit naive and silly. It paints a dismal picture for people and creates more questions than excitement. Twitter and Facebook are completely different platforms in most every way, yet they still fit in the same category. There's nothing wrong with that.

So we're a help desk and proud of it! Our copy will have to be adjusted accordingly. Today we've got over 35 beta companies using Help Scout and we can see light at the end of the tunnel. We won't be posting much more about Help Scout until launch, but rest assured we are working really hard and are SUPER excited to show it to you.