Catalyst’s CEO Edward Chiu recently took to Reddit to answer questions from the r/CustomerSuccess subreddit community in an AMA. Topics ranged from building a career as a CSM, to parenthood, to building a company from scratch.
We’ve taken the best questions from the AMA and listed them below for your convenience (and enjoyment). All responses are direct quotes from Edward and unfiltered. Questions may be shortened for brevity.
It’s all in the name
Why did you go with the name “Catalyst”? It’s always fun to hear how companies got their names :)
Edward: We originally called ourselves Helix (the DNA of customer success), then a few days right before I submitted incorporation documents, a mattress company called Helix raised millions of dollars of funding and there goes that.
Catalyst then came about from a brainstorming session with my co-founder and his ex-girlfriend (he's gonna kill me for mentioning this but who cares it's Reddit) and we just loved the fact that we believe our CS platform will be the "Catalyst" to every company's growth, retention, and company experience.
Switching to a new company
Hey Edward! I am making a switch from being a CSM at a Fortune 500 company to a startup SaaS company with 150 employees. What advice would you give to someone coming from a very structured company and CS role to a more undefined and ambiguous role?
Edward: I've never worked at a Fortune 500 company so it's tough for me to say for certain how to make that jump. THAT SAID, having been an individual contributor, a "Head of" who built department from ground up, and now a CEO at 3 different SaaS companies, my advice is the following:
- Be comfortable with chaos. Onboarding will likely be messy or nonexistent. You'll probably feel very alone when you first start with no friends, everyone is working 150 mph. The way to deal with this is just focus on learning as much as you can about the company/product/culture/people. SPONGE.
- Ask people to coffee and lunch (virtually) proactively. Unless the culture is amazing, no one will ask you. You'll quickly learn who are the people you need to know because you'll hear their name all the time. Those are the people you want to learn from since you don't have time to meet 150 people.
- Don't be afraid to try things and speak up. From what I've heard, speaking up at a Fortune 500 meeting with 5000 employees rarely happens, but there are many opportunities at a 150 person startup to ask questions, shine, and promote yourself.
- How you show up in your first 3 months is generally how you'll be defined, first impressions matter when it's a small company.
- Lastly, the CS team at a 150 org is likely still very small, processes are likely still being built, EXCITING time to make suggestions and share ideas to make them the best CS team in the world!
The right time to buy Customer Success Software
It's my mission in life to help build Success teams at early-stage startups. But, I constantly face the chicken or egg problem of when to buy a Success software.
Do you have any pointers for when you think it's the right time to start thinking about buying one?
Edward: People and Process come first. You should always start by recruiting/building an incredible team. Having a few folks who are data-driven and who have experience supporting a project rollout is a huge plus. Having a small team of 2 CSMs where both people are managing hundreds of accounts, the last thing they are going to be capable of is rolling out a tool even if it's a platform like Catalyst that's designed for easy/simple deployment.
Once you have the people in place, working as a team to define the fundamental processes such as what makes healthy/unhealthy customers, what are your best playbooks to engage churning customers, what does a successful onboarding look like, etc. This will all feed into the automation that you're going to create to get the true benefit of a CS tool.
Lastly, if your team is feeling the pain of anything below, it's likely the right time to start looking.
- You find yourselves spending hours and multiple windows (Evernote, Google Spreadsheets, Salesforce, Internal Tooling, Project Management Tools) just to manage customers
- You struggle to take actions on the insights you're finding in a BI tool like Looker or Tableau
- You're having conversations with product and engineering about building an internal tool to improve visibility into customers, or if you have an internal tool and it's a brutal chore to maintain
Starting a new career as a CSM
I'm a customer success newbie but super excited about my future starting with making my career pivot into CS knowing that it's the growth engine for tech companies.
I have a couple of certifications, speak in interviews about my transferable skills, and when I find a product I'm passionate about, it shows, but I have a feeling there are many others who have more relevant experience than I do. These last few months I've absorbed so much knowledge about what it takes for a customer success department to thrive but it's all just theory.
Do you have any recommendations for standing out as an individual, leaving zero lingering doubt that an organization should take a chance on me as an entry-level CSM?
Edward: The fact that you've studied CS, have certificates in CS, have theories about CS, makes you 1000 times more exciting and qualified as an entry-level CSM than many people out there. I think that's awesome.
If I were you, I'd apply somewhere that has a product you LOVE or are passionate about, that's the best place for an entry level CSM to start because you can bring that passion to quickly elevate your skills organically.
The one thing I would shy away from is trying to sound like you know everything about CS to overcompensate in an interview, the hiring manager knows it's "entry" level, they are mainly looking to see your ability to be organized, efficient, great communicator, reliable, and a culture add. Most importantly they want to feel the excitement you have about the company/product. So make sure you do a ton of research, sign up for a free trial, and read their company blogs/twitter.
Balancing parenthood and work
Thanks for doing this AMA! I'm wondering - how do you balance being a parent and a CEO?
Edward: “I don't” is the short answer lol.
The blessing in disguise here has been COVID where it forced me to stay at home and that enabled me to not miss any of the precious moments (first walk, first crawl, first words) that most parents miss. Otherwise I would've been living in regret.
The one thing I do that I am proud of is, on weekends, I COMPLETELY check out to be with my daughter. If you send me a slack/text about work, doesn't matter if you're my biggest investor, you're not getting a response till Sunday late evening or Monday morning.
Catalyst and Salesforce
Hi Edward, curious how customer success platforms like catalyst work with CRMs like Salesforce to bring deeper insights of our customers?
Edward: We sit directly on top of Salesforce, syncing bi-directionally any time you make any changes. Best part of Catalyst is not only are we connected to your Salesforce, we're also connected to all the other systems that house customer data - (Zendesk, Jira, Redshift, Segment, Snowflake, etc), then we present it all back to the end user in a beautiful single pane of glass.
Not only do we intuitively display information that's hard to find or not connected to Salesforce, we provide you with incredible automation on of that such as task creation based on triggers, automated emails to customers based on data attribute changes, and customizable reporting that doesn't require an admin to configure.
There's a ton more but I don't want to turn into a commercial.
Visit the AMA on Reddit for the complete collection of insightful questions and responses.