Nico Roberts is the Head of Customer Success at OnboardIQ. Customer success is a highly important in any startup. It not only ensures client satisfaction and handling customer complaints, but it also bridges the gap between different teams in the organization, ensuring its able to achieve a unified goal. Prior to OnboardIQ, Nico served as a consultant at Deloitte. A native from South Africa, Nico hustled his way through the United States with the goal of living the American dream and becoming a famous Hollywood director. Instead, he decided to finish his Bachelor’s degree, landed a job working as a consultant at Deloitte and found himself breaking into the startup world which he currently enjoys.
|Years in Tech||2|
|Grew Up||South Africa|
|Current Job||Customer Success|
- Before you work on your Plan A, work on Plan B first. Plan B could mean getting a great education a solid degree, and building a foundation, then you can pursue your Plan A, which is where your passion lies.
- You don’t have to have the exact technical skills to break into a startup. As long as you can hustle and grind then you could learn anything. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to companies you’re interested in because you never know what door that could open up for you.
- Customer success manager is a very important startup job because it requires you to work closely with different teams and act as a bridge between them.
- Building something is like constructing the Titanic and moving it through the ocean with massive engines and then building a brand new cruise liner on the same engine and slowly swapping the engine parts. It takes time to get one thing changed, no matter how small it is, in order to get it right the first time
- Living by the YCombinator ethos of making something that people want, truly spend time with the clients listening to what they want and seeing how their needs are changing and then learn to adapt, modernize, and automate as needed.
Show Notes (focus on the Stepping Stones):[1:17] Nico grew up in South Africa and moved to America in high school: Transitioning from a more structured school environment to a free, unrestricted way of living [3:23] From wood-making back in Africa to a Major in Accounting, International Business, and Management Information Systems in the USA for college. Nico’s dream was to become a Hollywood director. He spent considerable time at Columbia College but the culture shock led him to attend Westminster College in Missouri being the more conservative school.
[4:13] Nico’s fathers Advice: – Working on Plan B first before working on Plan A: Plan B is getting great education, getting a solid degree and start building the foundation while Plan A is where your passion is[6:10] Landing his first gig: Nico and his friends toured across USA visiting 19 states and 22 cities in just a little over 2 and 1/2 months. It was then when they hung out at a bar in Nashville that he chatted with a man who turned out to be a Partner at Deloitte and gave him the opportunity to work in Chicago. The consulting industry was new to him but took the job anyway so he could stay in the states while having a great job [8:50] Working at Deloitte: Started out helping the banking world and getting homesick two years after. Nico then contemplated on going back to South Africa in order to apply all the things he learned. He ended up working at Deloitte for 3-4 years focusing on the Energy Resources and Mining fields. He got to travel frequently to Africa, advising companies from the Democratic Republic of the Congo all the way to Zimbabwe [10:31] Nico’s transition from Chicago to San Francisco: Getting exhausted from traveling. His former colleague, connected him up with Keith (Co-founder of OnboardIQ), who flew him out to San Francisco to chat with the two co-founders Keith and Jeremy. After this visit, he got the job
[12:57] Take the risk – Contrary to common perception, you don’t have to have the exact technical skills to break into a startup. As long as you can hustle and grind and you keep an open mind then you could learn anything. At this point, Nico’s wife encouraged him to jump into this opportunity and so he did.[15:07] About OnboardIQ: A workforce automation platform that helps companies to scale and customize their onboarding and screening process (includes sourcing, first in-person interview, scheduling, background checks, document signing, switching customized positions) Nico moved from sales to customer success manager, working closely with different teams including product, design, dev, sales, and customer accounts [16:48] The main job of a customer success manager is elevating customer frustrations with the product and dev teams. Customer Success role acting as the bridge between sales and the dev team
[18:17] A typical day in the life of a Customer Success manager: – Intercom as a cool tool to communicate with the customers dealing with any of these three issues:
- Fixing bugs
- Customizing features
- Creating, building, and inserting a full-on feature
[20:37] Approaching Change – Building something is like constructing the Titanic and moving it through the ocean with massive engines and then building a brand new cruise liner on the same engine and slowly swapping the engine parts. As with tech, it takes time to get one thing changed, no matter how small it is
[21:50] Living by the YC ethos of making something that people want – Truly spend time with the clients, listening to what they want and seeing how their needs are changing and adapt, modernize, automate, etc.
[24:26] The more hustle the better – Keep on cold emailing or reaching out (without stalking) to a company you’re interested in and they’ll probably open doors for you[25:38] Employee demographics at OnboardIQ: 12 full-time employees with 60% engineers (front-end & backend engineers) and 40% (a mixup between sales and customer success) [25:51] OnboardIQ being a SaaS (Software as a Service) company: Instead of software installed in your computer, it’s hosted in an online environment in the cloud. Customers log in and have full access to those features and benefits [26:44] Hiring dev team for now (August 2016) but solely hiring customer success and sales in 4 months time
[27:09] Skills a customer success representatives should have:
- Great interpersonal communication skills
- Good organizational skills
- The ability to have fun
- How long is the first response
- Ability to identify the upsell/upgrade opportunity and how quickly you can bring it to the organization
- 1st shift: Morning crew (8am to 6pm)
- 2nd shift: Late morning crew (begins at 10 am)
- They don’t have a time clock. It’s all about the results.
- Unlimited vacations days with 2-week minimum
- A week’s notice for each day off
- A month’s notice for a month off
[34:01] The career progression of a customer success employee:
- Customer Success Entry level: Makes sure customers are happy, communicates issues upstream, and identifies upsell opportunities
- Senior Customer Success Rep: Works closely with the product team, defines features, and takes it to the next level
- Customer Success Manager: Few teams under you, managing multiple books of business
- Customer Success Director
- The number of years is not important to move up the career ladder but how well you can get the job done.
- Roles can also be switched laterally.
[37:07] The Lightning Round
Let’s take it back to the basics and imagine that you got dropped in a new city, you only have $100. You don’t know anybody and you’re trying to start over again. What would you do and how would you spend the $100 to get your break?
- Nico would go straight to Yelp and look for a bar where all the startups go and network. Go to the bar. Sit down. Drop the $100 on the table and just network the hell out of the place and meet someone. Won’t leave until someone says, “Come in for a job interview.”
Whenever you hit some of those roadblocks, was there any piece of music or any movie that you watched that inspired you to break through that moment of doubt or frustration?
- Nico listen to the songs by Queen. He also does a reality check. He would take pictures of the cities he’s landing in and the traffic jams and the millions of people just to remind myself that there’s these tons of people out there probably going through the exact same thing who are in a less fortunate situation than he is. So suck it up. Soak it up. And hustle until the good days are back.
What is the one piece of advice that you have for them having gone on this journey and transitioned from consulting to startups?
- An advice his father gave him: Have a look at the magazine rack. See which one you’re most drawn to. And over the period of your life, you’ll be drawn to completely different magazines too. And that will tell you what your true passion is. If you’re passionate about it, you will succeed.
What is something that you fundamentally believed before and then once you finish it, you changed your mind on?
- The rite of passage – Coming into any type of corporate job, you have to have a certain number of years under your belt. You have to do certain things to progress on. Now, Nico has taken the whole conception of age and experience and completely thrown it out the window. If you can get the job done and done properly then he would work with you any day of the week.
Nico shares about the story of their intern, Jay, who already started hustling at 15 years old, relentlessly reaching out to them through Facebook posts and cold emails until he finally got his break as an intern.
Are there any online resources or books that you’ve read throughout your career and travels that have inspired you or helped you get to the point that you’re in right now? And what would you say is the most helpful for listeners that want to follow your path?
- The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- The Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge
- Searching “from rags to riches tech” on Google
Articles Mentioned & Resources:
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
Good to Great by Jim Collins
The Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge
Intro: Growing up we’re told that in order to be successful, you have to be a banker, a doctor, or a lawyer. That’s what the gatekeepers want us to think. But we’re a part of something bigger. We’re part of a technological revolution. Either you’re at the table or on the table. Getting eaten. 10X.
Ruben: Yo, yo, yo, this is Ruben here so I’m here with the homies Artur and Timur Meyster and this is the Breaking Into Startups Podcast. Timur, can you please tell the people what we’re doing today?
Timur: Yeah. Today is another day when we’re recording the Breaking Into Startups episode. Coming to you from Hack Reactor. It’s a little bit of a cloudy day and a lot of our friends are probably getting brunch right now. But we’re sitting here with a very special guest and we’re about to talk on how to break into startups. Artur, take it away.
Artur: Thanks Timur. Today, we have Nico Roberts who’s Head of Customer Success at a really cool YC company called OnboardIQ and he’s also a number one FIFA player in the office, at least, self-proclaimed. Before that, he was a consultant at Deloitte and he has a very interesting story of going from South Africa to Missouri to become a consultant and then making his big break into startups. But before we begin, tell us a little bit about where you grew up and where you’re from?
Nico: Sure. Thanks Artur. It was a beautiful, October 10th morning. My mother gave birth and a wonderful gift, that was me, came out. I’m originally from good old sunny South Africa. I love the continent. Love the whole country. And came over as you said. For high school, I grew up there. I loved it as most Africans do, you are into rugby, cricket, or soccer. I was either the rugby or cricket guy. It’s quite a bit of woodwork, metal work classes in high school. Loved it. Learned a bunch. Had a couple of first loves, had my heart broken and they I came to good USA for the American dream. So I came over 2004, spent my senior of high school here. Loved it. It’s kind of living in a movie. You know that basketball court or the swimming pool where cheerleaders in their outfits, people what we call cevies. It’s really the toughest thing when you’ve come from a structure like South Africa does even the public schools where you have a school uniform to wear every single day. All of a sudden, you’ve been thrown into an environment where you have to wear normal clothes. It’s super stressful because you don’t know what to wear and people are going to think, “Oh shoot! Did I wear that the same day, or yesterday, the day after?”
Ruben: Can you tell us a little bit about the culture change? How was it in Africa versus going to school in America?
Nico: Definitely. South Africa, we’re colonized by the British and then the Dutch as well. And so we’re probably say about 20 years behind the times of the west even with public schools, we had to wear tie to school every single day with a blazer. If when the school bell rang, we used to line up in front of the classroom and the girls were going first, sit down. Once all the girls were sat down, the guys were going afterwards. All the teachers, very sir and mam and nothing else.
Coming to the states, it’s a fantastic culture shock in that most of my first days, people rocking up in pajamas, flip flops, that type of thing. The guys had dreadlocks going on and the girls just make up to the crown. It was great because it’s such a free, unrestricted way of living. South Africa is a little more boxed, a little more structure. So I think that was the biggest difference on those from the get go.
Ruben: And so you’re passionate about wood-making in high school. And then when you decided to go to college in the states, what did you decide to pursue? Wood-making in college?
Nico: Yeah, great question. No, I actually came over and in college, I actually majored in Accounting, International Business, and Management Information Systems. I think that the biggest thing there is it’s actually a really funny story. Growing up, you watched tons of American movies and screens and I was sort of set on becoming an American director to produce a film. So when I came over and I was in high school, I went up to Chicago and I spent a lot of time with Columbia College and I was dead set on becoming, make a Hollywood blockbuster and so live that dream. And I rocked up and the person who gave me the school too, you know how universities guys to us, had big blue, hair spiked up, tons of earrings, tattoos were such a shock to my system. I said I’m not ready for this yet. So then I looked for the most conservative school in mid-Missouri I could. And that was Westminster. And that’s where I kind of stuck with. My dad at that time said, “Listen, I want you to work on Plan B before you work on plan A.” To him Plan B was always, get a great education, get a solid degree, start building the foundation and then wherever the passion is, the Plan A, you can sort of jump into. That’s why Accounting was sort of the social, pressurized from the good olds. Our country, South Africa, a lot of people say it’s a great job, tons of security, and that’s what I ended up doing.
Ruben: Awesome. So you’re going through all of your classes in school. You’re thinking about what you want to do. You’re taking business which is pretty broad. If you go Accounting, you go to Finance. How did you decide what you wanted to do before you graduated?
Nico: I don’t think anyone really does. I think a lot of people have preconceived notions of, “My dad’s a lawyer, my dad’s a doctor, let me go into that realm. My mom’s in teaching, I should probably as well.” What I did and I was a part of a fraternity house, what the guys did too is, you’d come in with “Hey, I’m going to do xyz preconceived notion because you have seen the success in it through high school. You see the lawyers, three-piece suits. Investment bankers, every single day, cutting deals. MMA. That’s my life. That’s what I want to do. So how do I get there? Great. College. What degree do I need? Okay, Bachelor of Science in xyz. Correct. That’s what I’m going to do.” Halfway through, you do the whole self-discovery phase. You meet the girl or the guy, and like great this is where it’s going to be and that house has got to go. And then from there you take yourself away through and so straight up from there, I decided, along with the fraternity guys, you kind of switch it up. You say, “Listen, am I going to the science route, business route? I still have the credits for whatever. Let me finish that and then switch it up.” And that’s how I got stuck in Accounting. And also, it didn’t hurt that Accounting was an easier degree at the school I went to instead of the science and all that.
Artur: Nice In the pre-interview, you told us this amazing story of how you actually landed your first gig, can you tell our listeners a little bit about how that happened?
Nico: Oh yeah. 100%. When I was going to school, my dad always said, “Go to America. Get the American education. Get as much as you can from it. Come back to South Africa. And then start a nice little business in South Africa.” So I said, “Dad, that sounds bomb. 100%.” And so that was the idea of the whole way through. And then my senior year of college, we graduated in May and some of the fraternity guys said, “Let’s do a road trip.” So we did it across the USA, top thing and we went to about 19 states and 22 cities in just a little over two and half months. And we were at Nashville, Tennessee for the CMT Awards and we were sitting in a bar called Tootsie’s. So we’re at the Tootsie’s bar, everything was going well and one of these guys walked up and 6:52 . And at this time, there were a couple of drinks in. Someone has got to sober up to make sure everyone gets home safe and all that. So I put up my hand and said, “Boy’s I’ve got this one.” Long story short. I sobered up. Drank a little bit of water so I ended up chatting with this guy and it turns out we had tons in common. We spoke everything under the sun. It was happening part-Politics at a time and what’s going on with the economy and all of that. And towards the end of it, he said, “What’s your story? You said you graduated. What do you want to do?” I said, “I’m probably going to head back home. Help mom and dad over a few things.” He said, “I want you to give my company a shot.” He slid me his business card. He was a partner at Deloitte. So that’s when I first got the first and interviewed up in Chicago. And probably about three months later, I started in the Chicago office.
Ruben: That’s amazing.
Timur: Yeah, amazing story So did you at that point what consulting even was? Is that something that you considered doing? Or was this completely out of the left field?
Nico: I’d never really considered to be honest. You always hear about the consulting firms. You’ve got Deloitte and you’ve got ECG. And you’ve got all of those. It’s a great question because I’m sitting back to think about it now. Yeah, you always consider trying to become an expert in something and help the people and train. But at that point in time, honestly, I saw the left field but I just didn’t mind what I did as long as I had a job at that stage that would keep me in the States. I wasn’t going back home a job that’s fairly decent. I started working on honing my skills.
Ruben: How did your parents feel about the switch out from…
Nico: Oh they were super pumped. I suppose, any parent when you reach a decent fir when you graduate, it’s all worth it. The hard work, the money that’s been poured into it, you finally have a good paying job. They could go tell their friends, “My son’s doing xyz in Chicago. That’s so awesome.” And so they were very, very proud. That and too, it just really gave me affirmation that I made the right choice.
Ruben: And so how was your time in consulting? What did that lead you. Was it everything you expected?
Nico: No. It was very different to what I expected. I was always the guy in college that said, “If you get a desk job, you’re pretty much an idiot. It’s a big world out there. Grind. Go do what you want to do.” And here I was, exactly, had a desk in Chicago, trying to get stuff done. But even then, I still had no idea what I wanted to do and I think most consultants when they start they really don’t. So each one got put into a position in consulting where they think your strength is or what you think your strength is and that stage, I was more of strategy finance and that type of thing. So I started out sort of helping out in the banking world. I thought it was really cool. If I wanted to become an investment banker, it’s a great networking opportunity. I can learn the lingo, that type of thing. And about two years into it, I started getting really homesick and so I said I’ve learned a ton of things from these guys anywhere things from interpersonal communications skills, syncing up data, and qualitative/quantitative analytics. And I really wanted to apply some of that back to South Africa in general. So I looked for a discipline that allowed me to do that. And that was energy, resources, mining. And so then we do a ton of that over in the continent. And so, Deloitte had an office both in Houston and in Phoenix, Phoenix more for mining and Houston for the oil and gas part. Reached out to a couple of those partners, got on a client that would take me there. So I spent a lot of time out in Africa before I joined OnboardIQ for about three or four years straight, doing a lot of consulting on the side of mining, breaking into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa all the way through Zimbabwe. So that was an eye-opening experience.
Ruben: Wow. And so, during that time when you were doing the consulting in Africa and things like that, how did you end up deciding to go to San Francisco?
Nico: That’s a great question. I was on the way back for a trip in September last year and I was tired. I’d done probably about six trips that year already. My longest trip in Congo was actually 13 weeks and so this was I think a four-week trip and I was sitting in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and I was texting Joe, and so who Joe is, Joe was actually OnboardIQ‘s first employee. And Joe came on right when they started the YC batch. And then we have huge aspirations on going through Y Combinator company in San Francisco for a startup but knew he wanted to do something entrepreneurial. And so, he knew our CEO then, Keith and he sort of jumped into that batch. And so I texted Joe, just saying, “Hey, how’s it going?” Because Joe worked with me at Deloitte’s and Joe got the offer from OnboardIQ and Joe confided in me and said, “Do you think this is a good opportunity?” I said, “For sure it’s a good opportunity. Go ahead. Take it with both arms.” At that stage, you’re super young. He was 20-21 at that time. I said, “You’re young enough. Just grab it with both arms. Learn as much as you can because you never know what’s going to happen.” So I kept in contact with Joe throughout the months that he was there. That was in May 2015. So it was in September 2015 when I’m in the airport. And so we’re texting and Joe goes, “Listen. You sound a bit tired. Do you consider leaving Deloitte?” I said, “I’m thinking about it. I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug that I wanted to take and I’ve been looking around.” He goes, “Don’t do anything. Just stay right there. I want to go talk to our founders, Jeremy and Keith and I really want you guys to meet.” I said, “Alright. Go ahead. Set up.” Not really thinking much was going to come from it.
So I landed back in the States and end of September, early October, I got this phone call from Keith and Keith is like, “If you wouldn’t mind, can I ask you a couple of questions.” I said, “Sure, go ahead.” He said, “Yeah, the typical questions. What are you doing right now? What did you enjoy doing about it? Would you ever consider a startup? What do know much about startups? Do you have any technical expertise?”
A lot of people think you have to be a coder in order to break into tech and I think that’s a huge misconception. So I had no coding experience. I was brutally honest with the guys. “Listen, I know you guys are trying to look for salespeople. They’re super early and one of the big metrics that you have to hit is month of month growth. And that’s just not me. I’ve sold stuff and sold projects all of that, but I’m not super well-versed.” And he was just laughing, “It’s alright. 100%” And then towards the end, “You know what I love if you fly and just meet myself and Jeremy, the two co-founders just to purposely chat.” And so I did, I flew out, had an in-person chat. And yeah, we just struck it off. I think the biggest thing to them and what I’ve seen right now is if you don’t have the exact skill, that’s perfectly fine. If you can hustle and grind, you can learn anything. That’s the reason people go to college right because you learn. As long as you have the willingness to learn and an open mind for it, and that’s what happened with OnboardIQ and it goes well.
Ruben: Yeah, and we talked a little bit in the pre-chat and a lot of people have this misconceptions that you’ve been talking about and I know that you went from Africa to Missouri. Now, you’re considering going to San Francisco and your parents were involved in the decision making process but was there anybody else in decision-making process that was involved?
Nico: Oh yeah, 100%. My beautiful wife, Katie. She’s definitely been a handful and blessing at the same time. She’s always been my cheerleader from day one. When I got the job at Deloitte, she was super pumped. She helped me prep for those interviews. When she graduated, she came to Chicago, served me a bunch as she was trying to sort out her life. She works for Yelp so good little shout out to Yelp, great company. So she said, “We just got married.” So we got married in July. September was my trip. And she was startled and said, “Before kids, before life truly starts hitting us. We’re in this unique position (late 20s myself, mid 20s for her), why don’t you just give it a go?” So one thing for all the listeners out there, you often think, “Well, I need a great idea or I need to have some skill set to go join a certain startup.” To me, my perception was tech. Shoot! I don’t know how to code. I don’t have a huge technical background. I don’t have a Computer Science degree. Yes, I have MIS degree but it was more so of MIS business.” And it was X’s, already 200%. Well, I guess MIS, I guess they’d think about it as soft. So she said, “You know what, give it a go. It’s completely out of your realm. It’s your fish out of water. We never know.” The whole 14:42 of lack and short. It truly is. So I did jump straight into it.
Timur: So it sounds like your dad gave you the advice of going with Plan B but you had a Plan A so now it sounds like you’re on the ground in San Francisco. You’re pursuing Plan A. Tell us more about what OnboardIQ does. What do you do there? And did it meet your expectations once you started the job?
Nico: Great question. OnboardIQ for the guys listening right now. We are a workforce automation platform. So you think about the UBER FX model, if you need to scale quickly or if you have an customized onboarding, screening process, we’re pretty much a software that does that. It takes you all the way from sourcing to your first in-person interview, so scheduling, background checks, document signing, just sort of switching up any type of customized positions. We do a lot of that. And my role at OnboardIQ when I first started was more on the sales direction and as the company grew and started maturing, I switched over to the customer accounts success side and I’ve been loving it. So I work really closely with the product team, the dev team, design team, the sales guys, and of course the customer accounts people. And what we pretty much do is we have a list of all the customer accounts and we figure out, okay, we are a pretty early stage startup so there’s going to be some bugs. There’s going to be a few learning curves and a few little humps we’ve got to get over. So identifying which customers really need what, what the issues are, a quick timeline to get those resolved, reaching out to sales guys, say, “Hey listen, we did xyz with the contracts. We’ll be able to deliver the following that we did promise. We’re behind these other ones. This is the revised timeline.” Sort of talk about things on how to communicate that, how to exceed expectations, and how to be as clear and transparent with all the customers as possible.
Ruben: That’s really helpful. I get a lot of people that reach out talking about customer success. A lot of people think about it as this lower level position but it’s really, really important.
Nico: It’s super important.
Ruben: It sounds like you need to get in touch with a lot of people. I mean you’re prioritizing a lot of things. So when you talk about your time between products, sales, engineering, etc., who are you spending most of your time with when you’re elevating these customer frustrations?
Nico: Probably I say 9 or 10 times just with the product in the dev team. And this is the other thing in this great point that you mentioned especially for an early stage startup up, any startup in any stage, you want to show that growth and even producing one customer, the growth is impacted negatively and it puts more pressure on the sales team. So it is such a massively important component of the business structure. But yeah, we spend a lot of time with the dev guys and the engineering guys and that’s where it’s fun because I see us as the bridge between sales and the dev team. And the cool thing with that is you have the engineers and they don’t really dabble too much on the sales side. So they don’t really understand that world 100% all the time. And the same thing with the sales team. So when we’re talking to the dev guys trying to explain why it’s needed and they can’t really see the value in it, they’re like, “What do you mean you need an extra box that it works perfectly fine. Nothing’s broken.” The sales team is like, “You have to have it. It’s such an experience, the emotional connection.” I’m not going to say we’re caught in the crossfires but it’s such a parental role because we have to make sure both parties are happy and then we’ve also got the clients too who you have to have enough forces because client is king so you’re going to make sure that they’re all there, objections or bugs or feedback, they’ve been taken into consideration every decision being made.
Ruben: That’s very helpful to understand it. Related to the product team that you’re working with all the time, what does their day-to-day look like? Because we talked a little bit in the pre chat about how product management at a startup versus product management at a larger company differs. How does it look like at OnboardIQ?
Nico: Definitely and great question. A typical day in the life of the accounts success person, so we wake up in the morning and we use another great software called Intercom as our tool to communicate with the customers. So typically, we get a message on Intercom that is one of three things. Are there some things broken and it’s a bug, it needs to be fixed immediately. So in that same point, all hands on deck, getting in touch with the dev guys, the right guys whether it’s a front end issue or a back end issue or full stack issue and say, “Hey, we need that resolved ASAP.” So from there, you have the emergency in place,, the objection handling is all the way through. Am I ready to production?
The second type is, “Hey, we see you guys at this type of feature, it would be really awesome if we could also do this with it.” So now we’re entering the feature realm and that feature realm is taking an existing feature and enhance on it. So we take on that for one second. The third thing is a full on feature itself, saying, “Hey listen, nowhere in the software or in your product suite do I see xyz. Please could you guys consider creating, building, and inserting. And now we got a brand new feature. So now, what we have to do is we have to sit down in a meeting with design guys, product guys, and dev guys at the same time to make sure there’s no miscommunication, no telephone going on and we sit down and then we said, “Alright, for enhancement, this is the current product or this is the current feature, are we on agreement? You know what it does? Great. This is what this client is asking. Does it make sense for them individually as a client and as product as a whole? Will it benefit all the other clients?” And so the debate starts. The dev guys say, “It’s really tough to build it because what they’re asking for, it’s not built as a logic right now. So we have to read the decode and we take another four or five months…” “Okay great, that’s good to consider. Product guys, from your standpoint?” “Well, it’s super easy to do because the specs are already there. It lets you just adding on extra this, this, and this.” “So design guys, do you guys agree?” “Yeah, perfect we’ll get the wire frames out. So on this side, it’s a good to go.” So we now take that expectation and time on back to client saying, “Hey, right now, is this an inhibitor for your guys? Can you not get accomplished what you need to get accomplished because software can’t do what it needs to do whether it’s enhancement or we currently have a workaround for it and this is a wonderful, it’s nice, it will make your life a ton easier once it’s in place?” So they go, “Yeah, fantastic.”
The full-on feature, that’s when we have the in-depth conversation, the late nights, a couple of glasses of whisky on, should we spend a dev timeline? One thing I had no idea is how long it takes to actually build something. I often just thought no, it should take about a week or two and get this whole thing up and running. I mean the whole Microsoft thing. I’m sure Microsoft took a couple of days to build and we’re good to go.
It’s funny in that it’s almost like constructing the Titanic and moving it through the ocean with massive engines. And then all of a sudden, saying, screw the Titanic. Let’s put a brand new yacht or brand new cruise liner on the same engine. And then slowly start swapping out the engine parts. And that to me was a big eye opener on, even if you want one little thing changed, it takes time to get right and right the first time.
Timur: Yeah, and sounds like a very interesting way to evolve your product, that a lot of the innovation is being driven by customer needs and the customers are telling you, “Hey, I love this feature but I would love it if it could also do xyz” or “Hey, I really need this feature and it sounds like the communication part is essential to your business’ success because if you could identify those needs, address them, and put out new features that make them happy, then they’re going to remain your customers and get other people to sign up and that’s what’s going to make you successful in the long term.
Ruben: That sounds like it’s actually consistent with the whole YC ethos of making something that people want. So is that something that was taught to you guys or something that you guys discovered on your own where you were building things and theory and realize that that’s actually not all customers wanted before you came onboard or is it related to what you learned at Deloitte?
Nico: Definitely, no. I think it’s a bit of both. We have one of the YC posts up in the office. Make something people want. And from my side, at the Deloitte, we truly in the Deloitte business, and big shout out to anyone currently in the industry. It’s tough. It’s a grind. It’s very different to what I’m doing right now. And I truly loved it. So not that I preferred one over the other, it’s just such a different experience. And the one I’m having right now I prefer so much more that I don’t think I would ever want to go back. But at Deloitte or any of those big firms, you’re not really selling a physical, tangible product. What you’re selling is expertise and the people that are delivering that message. So every single day, we would spend hours in front of clients, spent hours in front of teams, trying to guide, teach, learn, and truly listening to what they needed and then based on that, take that to the next level of, “Alright, here’s the solution to implement.” I think that’s one thing that I truly try to instill when I came to OnboardIQ is, you guys are smart. Everyone that comes into the industry is super intelligent. Now I’ve met tons of guys who didn’t go to any Ivy Leagues that are just killing it out there because they’ve got great hustle but using their logic every single day which I love.
And these guys were doing that and they were pretty much developing a product that they knew people would love to have. And they did that and have found great success on OnboardIQ. We did and we sort of came towards that chasm of “I will continue on going down the line of what we think is trying to put ourselves as industry experts, what we think you should want in the product” versus “Let’s scrap everything we know.” Let’s throw away our gut feelings and truly spend time with the clients listening to what they want and seeing how their hiring needs are changing.And try to adapt as such. Try to modernize, automate, or all of that. And so we took that approach and it’s been super, super, super successful for us.
Artur: Awesome. And one thing we talked about on this podcast is hustle and it sounds like you guys are always looking for new people and you’re scaling the team and recruiting. So the advice we give people is find the startups that you like. Research the founders. Research what the company does. And then just reach out. Speak to them. I guess from your perspective since it sounds like you guys are hiring and there’s a lot of different positions are opening up. What is your view on people who take the initiative to cold email you or reach out to you on LinkedIn and say, “Hey, I’m interested in your company. Let’s meet for a coffee.”
Nico: Yeah, 100%. Love it. the more hustle, the better, without a doubt. Even for myself, coming from a more traditional background. If I don’t know your name and I don’t know who you are, I’ll never be able to offer you anything. I’ll never be able to open up a door for you or anything. But if you keep on cold emailing me or calling me or making sure to figure out when I’d get my cup of coffee without being too stalker-ish and bump into me and say, “Hey, listen. I know you guys are doing hiring space. Right now, the whole world is falling down because right now, the ally workers may be our temporary workers and independent but I’m sure doctors and lawyers and 20 or 50 want to set their own schedules, work for different hospitals, how are you guys thinking about doing some of that?” And the fact that you’re just thinking about what we’re thinking about and showing some passion in it, 9 out of 10 times, you’ll probably get in front of us and we’ll open up some sort of door for you.
Ruben: Yeah, and related to Artur’s question and your answer that you just gave, something else a lot of people think about when they initially reach out to us is what you were thinking before you came here where it’s only like engineers that work here and things like that. So right now, maybe talk a little bit about the size of your team, the percentage of engineers versus non engineers, how that shifts over time or how are thinking about that? I know we talked about it in the pre chat but things that will be helpful for the listeners.
Nico: Right now, we’re at about 12 full time of which about 60% are engineers both frontend and backend. I think for our stage, startup being a SaaS company, it’s super important because we are developing a product.
Ruben: And what is Saas? For the people that don’t know.
Nico: SaaS is Software As A Service. We think about the grand booba out there, Salesforce. It’s basically instead of having software installed on your computer or PC or laptop, it’s hosted in online environment to the cloud and you basically can log on and then have full access to those features and benefits with it. And then from there, the other 40% is a mix up between sales and customer success. Because we’re really good friends since we’re moving out to San Francisco and they also have a couple startup companies and right now, they have a much larger sales team and the big reason for that is they found the perfect product market for it. We found a really, really good one. But we’re not done yet. We still want to develop. We still want to make sure everything is good to go. And once we found out the recipe, the customer success and the sales side of it is going to be super important. And that’s pretty much we’re all going to be hiring for. So right now, we’re sitting here close to being August 2016. We’re looking for dev team but probably in about 4 months from now, it’s going to be solely customer success and sales once we found the perfect formula.
Artur: Awesome. Nice. And for our listeners, let’s say they are graduating college. They have certain skill sets. But they’re not really sure of whether they see themselves going in at a startup. What would you say are the main skills that a customer success rep should have? And that would give our listeners an idea of “I’m good at this thing. So maybe I should consider doing something like customer success.”
Nico: Definitely. Great question. I’d probably say the number one skill is just great interpersonal communication skills. You are dealing with customers on the day-to-day basis. I see us as the hospital. To be clear when customers reach out, it’s not because they’re healthy and they’re super happy. It’s because something is not going the way they wanted to go or they’ve come to a road block and they need help getting over the next hump. So you have to have that great skill set of knowing when to read the customer is upset versus not 100% all there and being able to objection handle from that point and onwards. So that’s the first skill.
Second skill is just good organization where there be if you keep tracking things on Excel or using all the cool little things like Asana or Fieldbook or any those of the other great companies out there. But good organizational skills. So make sure you have a list, YOu work off a list. Then you get the job done because there tons of email communication, from messaging communication, phone calls are going on. It’s happening every hour on the hour so if you can’t keep track of what needs to be done and it falls through the cracks, that’s going to be a big issue.
And the last thing is fun. I think that’s one skill people kind of forget with the customer success role, is you need to be someone who can really enjoy having a good time because some of your days are going to be tough because you’re going to come in and from 7am until the time you walk until 7 o’clock you go home at night, you’re just going to be bombarded by complaint after complaint after complaint. And then you have to send that complaint over to a dev team who says, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” a product team that says, “Add it to the par, add it to the par, add it to the par,” and you’re going to feel that nothing’s going on. So you need to be able to go home, switch off, have a drink, and just enjoy life in general. Because any other skill that you need, that startup or that company will teach you from day one. Be that be a product that you’re selling in operations, whatever the customer success role is, you’ll learn about that industry because that’s truly what you’ll be selling, for lack of a better word. Because you have to also understand is like OnboardIQ right now, is a huge majority in percentage of your sales is going to come from upsells and upgrades with your current customers, not brand new inbound/outbound. So you become just as important as a VP of Sales because you are generating revenue for the company and in this day and age, in order to do well, you have to show those numbers.
Ruben: So related to upsells and VPs of Sales and things like that, what kind of metrics are you guys measuring for someone to be successful in a customer success role?
Nico: Great question. Currently, the metrics that we’re trying to optimize for and goal-orientate is number one, how long it takes from the first time that communication comes in, whether be email or through Intercom, to do a first response. It doesn’t have to be the answer, but the first response says, “We are here. We’re not just going to take 29:51 basis, we’re looking into it.
Second thing is if the upsell or the upgrade opportunity is there and whether you do it or you identify how quickly is it brought to the organization because some people, and this is really cool if you can learn the skill, great. Please come to me. I’d love to learn it from you too because I’m not having quite mores so myself. But there’s something a customer will say that will trigger, say “Aha! They’re ready for the next thing.” “Hey, we’re just raised a serious bee. We’re breaking into 13 different new markets.” Ding! Ding! Ding! Great. You just jump on the phone. Figure out how we can grow it with them, help them, and do all of that and sort of assist the whole process through. And I think that’s what a lot of companies have misconception of is that typically, the first point that’s identified is your customer success person because they’ve heard it first. They listened to what the needs are. They know when it’s going to happen, when things are going to be executed on which timeline so they can provide such valuable feedback for that whole sell. So I think that’s super important to know too.
Ruben: Do they, let’s say that you have someone in customer success that does identify an upsell opportunity, brings it to the account exec or the VP of Sales, they close the deal. Do they share any percentage of that revenue (commission)?
Nico: 100%. Which is great.
Artur: That’s awesome. For our listeners, I think there’s a lot of misconceptions around how many hours people work at a startup and I know it varies a lot based on the stage of the startup that you’re at. With OnboardIQ being a YC startup, what are the typical hours are for you and your co-workers?
Nico: We sort of have two shifts. The first shift is the morning crew and then the late morning crew. The morning crew consists of someone like me because I love waking up early. So I typically get into the office between about 7, 7:30, 8, and then grinding through till about 6 or 7, going home, having a little bit of something and just kind of plot and checking through the emails if there are any fires, addressing, otherwise, good night, goodbye. The second crew rocks up around about 10-11.
Nico: Typically engineers. So they rock up 10-11 but then again, you’re getting tons of communication from them 2 or 3 in the morning. So I think that it all kind of depends on you as a person. Are you a morning type of person or likes to get stuff done in the evening? Me personally, morning. And to us, I think most startups are the same way that you’re not going to have a time clock. You’re not going to clock in and clock out. No one’s really going to be watching your hours. It’s all about the results. Are you getting your job done and are you doing it in such a faction that it makes sense and you’re getting results? If that’s the case, whether you work one hour a day or 20 hours a day, no one could care less. But if you’re working one hard day, you’re not producing the results, then it’s not only going to be leadership that comes down on you. Your peers are going to start looking at you and be like, “Really? We’re doing tons. We’re getting the results. And you’re just taking your own approach?” So we in OnboardIQ believes in that social justice in that we don’t have to say anything from a leadership standpoint, your peers will tell you. They’ll do the job for us.
Artur: Yes, definitely. And it actually ties in with the vacation policy that a lot of startups have. A lot of startups these days give a lot of approach to their employees and one of them is unlimited vacation policy but I’ve actually heard studies where people will actually take class vacation days knowing that it’s unlimited versus when you’re entitled to 25 days or how many days a year because then you’re obligated. You’re not going to just take off before release or you’re obligated to your peers to deliver on what you’re job is.
Nico: That’s great. Actually at OnboardIQ, we do have unlimited vacation days with a two-week minimum. You have to take every single year and how you kind of accrue and how you should think about it as for every day you want to take off especially if you’re an engineer for every day you want to take off, you have to give us a week’s notice. So when you want to take a full week, you’ve got to come and give us a month so we can also make sure stuff.. I mean definitely things would come up and the trips are planned so that have to be taken in consideration. But yeah, definitely.
Timur: Awesome. What does the career progression for a customer support person look like? You started out facing the customer a lot. You work with product, designers, engineers, so what is a two, three-year timeline for someone like that and what are the next positions that open up to them?
Nico: Great question. So you have the entry level customer success person that comes in and you get given a book. And in the book, you’ve got a list of clients and your job is number one, make sure they are happy and the issues are being communicated upstream and that any upsell opportunities have been identified. At that stage, you move into sort of a senior role in that you now have a few books and you start working a lot closer with the product team and defining what these features look like because you should be familiar with, in our case, the product and make sure you can take it to the next level. And then you’ve got the manager role. Of course, you’ve got a few teams under you. You now manage multiple books, the communication back and forth. From there, you’re the senior manager role and then a director role. And that’s one of the biggest changes that I went through as this coming from the consulting world is you have such a rite of passage. You come in. Others, associate or senior associate whatever the skill set is. You start working your way up the ladder. Here, if you come in day one and all of a sudden day 20, I mean you’re just delivering stuff that’s unreal, probably you won’t go to a senior next. And we always talk like, “Sky is the limit. what do you what do you want to do? What makes sense? Are you a title chaser? If I just throw a title director at you, is that what makes you happy, keeps you motivated? If I do so, will you perform as such if not even better? Great. Let’s have that conversation.” So the fact that you can truly an entrepreneur within a startup itself, not just being employee and entrepreneur, are things very appealing as one thing that kind of brought me to it is, it’s no longer about how many years have you done it? Who’s in front of you? It truly is how can you get the job done and the way you actually can get the job done that really speak in leaps and bounds.
Ruben: Yeah, that’s a great answer. It also makes me think about the interaction that you’re having with the designers and the product people and things like that. At OnboardIQ in general from what you’ve seen, have you seen anybody lateral over into a PM role or into a design role or a something like that?
Nico: Definitely and it happens every single day. Joe is a great example. When Joe started, he was in sales. And then Joe needs to switch over and went to more of a product role, a lot more product design, sat with the dev guys, specking a few couple features. He had to learn how to code a little bit so he was super excited about that. From there, he transitioned into more of a strategic growth role for new markets and has come 360. Now, he’s back in sales. So what happens is, and everyone out there listening, typically when you join an early stage startup like I did, the team is small. And if you think about a massive corporation, there are tons of roles that needed to be filled and you just don’t have the manpower. So the “wearing the multiple hats” cliche is definitely there. You walk in one day you’re doing sales, the next day you need to hop onto customer success, the next day you hop out on products, the next day, you need to jump and maybe do a couple of little finance things. Hop on the team with invoicing and AR and AP and all those wonderful things. So if you’re someone that does not like change and likes that full consistency, customer success is, in a small stage startup, probably not the best fit, maybe in a later stage startup, but there’s tons of change happening every single day with roles too.
Timur: Awesome. With that said, we’d like to go to The Lightning Round. That’s where Artur, Ruben, and I will ask you several questions and try to give us short answers but fill them with strategies, tactics, any resources that you’ve used to get where you are in life. With that said, Artur take it away.
Artur: Yeah, so with this question, let’s take it back to the basics and imagine that you got dropped in a new city, you only have $100. You don’t know anybody and you’re trying to start over again. What would you do and how would you spend the $100 to get your break?
Nico: I’d go straight to Yelp. I’d say Yelp, I want to look for a bar where all the startups go and network. Go to the bar. Sit down. Drop the $100 on the table and just network the hell out of the place, meet someone, and until someone says, Come in for a job interview, I do not leave.
Ruben: I like it. It sounds like you had an amazing journey and it sounds like smooth-sailing. We didn’t talk a lot about the down or the frustrations that you went through, if any, but whenever you hit some of those roadblocks, was there any piece of music or any movie that you watched that inspired you to break through that moment of doubt or frustration?
Nico: In moments of troubled waters, I definitely go back to Queen. I love Queen, the band Queen. It has very many fans, 110%. Their story, love it. That’s sort of my go-to. Second thing is I do a reality check. One thing that I love to do when I fly is as soon as we come into land, I take pictures of the cities I’m landing in and the traffic jams and the millions of people just to remind myself that there’s these tons of people out there probably going through the exact same thing that are in a less fortunate situation than I, to suck it up. Soak it up. And hustle until the good days are back.
Ruben: Quickest way to happen…
Timur: And for our listeners, what is the one piece of advice that you have for them having gone on this journey and transitioned from consulting to startups?
Nico: Two pieces of advice. The first one is given to me by my old man. So I traveled a bunch and so when I’m in an airport, this little kiosk. I’m sure you guys have always seen them. I buy a little snack, a little to drink of some sort. There’s an old magazine rack in the back always. So my dad always said, “Have a look at the magazine rack. See which one you’re most drawn to. And over the period of your life, you’ll be drawn to completely different magazines too. And that will tell you what your true passion is” Whether it be gossip column, finance, the entrepreneur, anything. That will tell you the industry to choose and once you’ve chosen that industry, you join a startup, and early stage company, whatever it is. The fact that you’re passionate about it, you’ll succeed.
Second one is the golden handcuffs. I’m a firm believer just from where I came from in my experience, my co-founder, dropped out of college is killing it. And that’s the path that he chose. I chose a path of I first wanted golden handcuffs. I wanted to work myself in the position, get a skill set where I was doing well, where I was comfortable with the money I was earning , the life I was living, that when I did jump ship and I wanted to start my own thing or join a small startup like I did, I had those golden handcuffs that I feel I could fall back to if you’re on that stage.
Ruben: That’s great advice. And so, we also like to talk about related to the advice thing. What is something that you believed going into this process that you fundamentally believed after going this process?
Artur: Something that you changed your mind on that you fundamentally believed before and then once you finish it, you changed your mind on?
Nico: The rite of passage. Coming into any type of corporate, you have to have a certain number of years under your belt. You have to do certain things to progress on. I was 100% caught in that race. I have been there for three years, some guys has just graduated from college all of a sudden could come in above me and all of a sudden when I came out here to the startup world, I’ve taken the whole conception of age in experience and completely thrown out the window, to if you can get the job done and done properly and to satisfaction, by all means, I’ll work under you any day of the week.
Artur: Yeah, and in the pre interview, you mentioned about your intern. Can you tell us a little bit about his story and how he got the job?
Nico: We have an intern with us right now. His name is Jay and he’d be probably super pumped that I say his name out for you guys. But he’s 15 years old. And he reached out to us in a bunch of Facebook posts and just cold emailed the heck out of us about OnboardIQ and he’s sort of a design guy. So we thought, you know what, love the passion, love the hustle, let’s jump on a call with him. And I will never forget some of the first calls. He was in his room studying for the SAT. “Hey guys, one sec.I’ll just close the door. I don’t want my mom to hear this. She just knows that I’m studying.” I said, “No worries. Go do what you have to do.” And he’s actually with us for the summer and loving it. And the fact that at such a young age, he’s got the hustle, that even if you’re 25, 35, 55, 65, by all means, reach out because you never know.
Ruben: Yeah, and the last question is, are there any online resources or books that you’ve read throughout your career and travels that have inspired you or helped you get to the point that you’re in right now? And what would you say is the most helpful for listeners that want to follow your path?
Nico: For me personally, the book that I’ve read over and over and over again that I love is by Bryce Courtenay. It’s called The Power of One. It’s a little more about South Africans struggled coming through. So many South Africans on the line so definitely read that one. The other online resource that I think if you’re thinking about it and just going through it, believe it or not, this app that I downloaded has been around for a while called FlipBook. I’m sure a lot of you guys haven’t… news articles and what you’re interested in. To me, that’s the online version of my dad’s stand in an airport. I keep going through it and I sort of catch myself clicking on the same topic over and over and over. And I’ll make a little note saying, I need to do more in this or in that industry or in this specific topic because I’m finding myself really, really liking it. Same thing with the wife, she and I are very, very different. So to get her perspective, I kind of see what she’s been up to and she’s reading.
So definitely everything online, the Cosmopolitan’s, the Vanity Fair’s, all of that. And that’s such a different market too that I always want to find myself saying, hey, why the interest there for her and try to learn from that too. In this day and age, there are tons of books out there. Whether it be in sales books, when I first started in the sales role, it was from Good to Great. There were great books, The Acceleration Formula is another great one. But truly, to me, the only resource that I rely on day in and day out is going on to Google and typing “from rags to riches tech.” And just reading the stories of co-founders and founders who literally came here with nothing, which was not my case. Please don’t view any conceptions. I did not sleep on any couches. I come out here in my car. I did not have to hustle to that extent. My story was a little bit different.
So if you are graduating college, that’s what you want to do by all means. You probably can’t relate to the way I did it, but my co-founders exactly what they did. And if you have any questions, just reach out to me, I’ll put you in contact with them. But for me, it was more of, I’m in my late 20’s. I’m coming from that industry that I truly enjoyed. So everyone else in the consulting, finance, investment banking world, and wanted to make the switch. And so the switch was coming out, finding a place, that wasn’t too grungy, going to join a startup and just making the most of it.
Artur: Awesome. And what is the best way for our listeners to get in touch with you?
Timur: Are you on Twitter too?
Nico: OnboardIQ is. I personally am not.
Timur: Okay. Sounds good. Well, thanks for coming on our podcast. We had a great time and we’ll include a lot of those useful tips and resources in our show notes and we’ll have to have you on again in a few months.
Nico: Right and I appreciate. Thanks guys for reaching out and I’m excited and have a lovely rest of your day.