I lead the West region for our Enterprise Customer Success team. I’m originally from the great state of Ohio (O-H!) and came out to the SF Bay Area about 10 years ago. My wife and I told ourselves we’d stay for a few years, and then here we are 10 years later with a baby.
I’ll give you the long answer…
I started off my career consulting at Accenture. I loved consulting. I loved the tough problems, the camaraderie of being part of a team, and being customer-facing. I just didn’t love the vertical that I was aligned with, which was banking. I remember a specific moment: I was in a meeting talking about something like loan origination and thought to myself, “I don’t want to be doing this 20 years from now.”
I had a friend who had just started at a hot startup called Optimizely. He never stopped talking about how great it was. I had no clue what SaaS was, and definitely no clue what Customer Success was. To be very honest, at that time, I thought Optimizely had made up that term. That was back when companies called people “ninjas,” so it wasn’t too crazy of a thought!
So there was an early Customer Success role at Optimizely, where we basically handled everything post-sale (implementation, onboarding, support, etc.). I really loved the problem that Optimizely was solving and the people I met were amazing, so I thought to myself, “yeah I’ll join this customer facing role and find a way to move to Product, because that’s what everyone thinks when they join a tech company, right?”
But the more I learned about Customer Success, the more I loved it. I really liked how it was this space that was still forming. I could have an impact and help shape it. I realized that I had a passion for working with customers because of the unique and dynamic problems you’re always solving. Last, but not least, I really like how Customer Success changes depending on the market you’re in, the customer base you’re working with, the product, and the maturity of the company.
That’s complex and that’s fun.
About 7 years ago, I was working with a colleague on some challenge with the business and she said to me, “We can’t be the only ones thinking about this. You should start a meetup so we can talk to others in the industry.”
So I did! And it ended up being one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career.
I think the growth in our membership is more a reflection of the maturation and increase of awareness of Customer Success as a profession. That said, I think consistency and iteration have contributed to us being able to grow in proportion with the growth of Customer Success.
When I first started the SF CS Meetup, our very first event had more pizzas than people show up. That was tough. But in that first event, I met someone else that had started a similar CS meetup. We eventually merged our meetups and decided to make the meetup a monthly event.
Up until the pandemic last year, we held the SF CS Meetup every month. That consistency of every third Wednesday has helped us create predictability for our members. The other thing we’ve done was iterate on the format and structure of the meetup over the years to ensure we’re always bringing valuable content and experiences to our attendees.
Of course, because we’re CS professionals, this is done by looking at NPS data.
Get help sooner! And be thoughtful about how each person’s passions, skillset, and experiences complement each other.
The current team that we’ve got running the meetup is perfect: John Gleeson, Grace Lee, and myself. It’s the perfect balance of agility and making quick decisions for the meetup but also enough hands to make the work light enough that it’s sustainable for all of us. Before we had our current crew, Emilie Davis and I were the ones who teamed up.
Running a community is extremely rewarding but is a lot of work when you’ve also got a day job. Getting the right partners is absolutely critical.
Networking and community are absolutely critical for a CS professional. In addition to all the reasons you should be networking for any career (e.g. mentoring, finding opportunities, etc.), for CS it is especially important because of how different CS can look depending on the product, market, maturity of the company, and target customers you’re working with. CS is constantly evolving as the company grows and matures, so getting comfortable with a diverse set of CS models is important. Having a community allows you to get the benefit of the collective experience of your network without having to experience all of these different models yourself.
I wish I could share something groundbreaking that completely changes the game for how people think about expanding their network; but I’ll be honest.
It’s hard work. It takes time and energy to grow and maintain your network. You gotta put yourself out there. Attend events. Talk to people. Ask for introductions when you do meet with people. Stay in touch with your network.
I’ll share one tip for when you do end up connecting with people. Figure out what makes your experience and skill set unique and create a point of view for how that can be applied to other CS teams. That will allow these networking conversations to be an exchange of value rather than one sided.
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