Episode No:113

Revolutionizing Meetings and Feedback with AI ft. Richard White

Richard White

CEO and Founder

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Ep # 113: Revolutionizing Meetings
and Feedback with AI ft. Richard White (Founder & CEO, Fathom)
Ep # 113: Revolutionizing Meetings and Feedback with AI ft. Richard White (Founder & CEO, Fathom)
  • Ep # 113: Revolutionizing Meetings and Feedback with AI ft. Richard White (Founder & CEO, Fathom)

Episode Summary

In this episode of the Hyperengage Podcast, host Adil Saleh converses with Richard White, CEO and co-founder of Fathom, a pioneering platform in conversational AI. White shares his extensive experience in the SaaS industry, particularly through his work at UserVoice, highlighting the evolution from user-driven feedback to AI-enhanced product development. He discusses Fathom’s inception as a tool to improve meeting efficiency and the transition of UserVoice towards leveraging AI for better data organization. White emphasizes the importance of balancing founder vision with customer feedback, the strategic use of AI to refine product offerings, and Fathom’s commitment to accessibility through a freemium model. This conversation illuminates the dynamic interplay between technology, user experience, and business strategy in the development and scaling of AI-driven platforms.
Key Takeaways Time
Richard White discussing the challenges of building UserVoice and how AI can help mitigate challenges with scaling operations 4:50
Richard discussing how he started Fathom due to challenges taking notes during meetings and how meeting notes would be forgotten 11:30
Richard covering Fathom’s freemium business model and how they avoid traps of limiting free users 24:30
Richard explaining Fathom’s go-to-market motion of leading with a free product and expanding to paid team editions 30:30

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Adil Saleh (0:00:03) - Hey, greetings everybody. This is Adil, your host, for Hyperengage podcast, you know, trying to keep it very real original all the time. And that's why we meet people and we chase people that are real original. They share the practical knowledge and experiences today as we spoke to a lot of AI coaching and assistant platform ever since the evolution of AI and this one platform that I'm talking about, they came one of the first words when it talked about like conversational AI, you know, we are, I'm talking about fathom. I have like Richard White, who's the CEO and, you know, co founder at Fathom also. He's been working at user voice for quite some time, more than ten years now. And it is also a product discovery platform, competing the big players for good amount of years, 15 years. Thank you very much, Richard, for your time today. Richard White (0:00:52) - No, thanks for having me. Adil Saleh (0:00:54) - Love that. So, Richard, thinking about, you know, looking at your background like, you know, like an old timer, old veteran, being in the SaaS, been there, done that like for 15 years. How, what is the number one thing that you think like, building user voice was a real challenge. Challenge. And how do you think that it, you know, you can mitigate that in terms of scaled operations scales, GTM scale, customer success, you know, product development and, you know, all this new evolution. And people come up with these new, I would say integrations because you talk about product managers, they have like, they're using five different platforms. When you talk about these AI system, like conversational AI, like generative AI llms, and talking about this meeting, I can do this meeting for like five or six different purposes, you know, so how you find a fine line, a focal point as a founder from a market landscape to position your product? And what were the challenges if you just come anything on top of your mind? Richard White (0:01:55) - Yeah, I mean, there's certainly a lot better tools now. I mean, user voice was partially existed because like 15 years ago when I was working on this company, it was actually in the first batch of YC. I was the first employee with Justin Coney at Shear on this product that was like the product before Twitch. And part of the reason I built user voice was it was kind of like Reddit for customer feedback, because we got so much customer feedback, couldn't possibly sort it all. We spent a lot of time, like spent hours a day coming reading all this feedback to just this mental image of, here's the top things people want us to fix or improve. And then we built user voice so that maybe a lot easier because crowdsource it let users do it. But now we're at the point where a lot of this AI's and LMS, even user voice itself, is now transitioning to work. It uses a lot of AI to actually do the organization rather than crowdsourcing it. And so obviously, just the amount of accurate collated data you can now consume as a product founder is just so much better. It's funny too, because the reason I built fathom was I was actually doing product research for a different product and was on a bunch of Zoom meetings, talking to customers, trying to do that early customer development type stuff. And I was, you know, I'm really bad at talking to people and taking notes at the same time. And then I look at my notes like two weeks later and I don't remember like, which conversation was what. I try to share the insights with my team and like, falls flat. So now you've got tools like fathom and there's other ones out there, but like, you know, can record your meeting and synthesize it in a way that is like, much less lossy than, you know, writing down some notes that you're going to forget two weeks later. So, you know, I think the key to me for early stage product is one, having a strong vision. Talking to someone the other day about, I think some founders don't take enough feedback, some founders take too much feedback. I see some vendors, it's the last thing they hear is what they're going to build. And so you have to have an internal compass of, here's the core of what I'm trying to solve. And then outside of that core, I'm flexible on exact, the last mile of implementation details or the exact features and how they get presented. And that's what you want to talk to users about, right? And now I feel like you can talk to a lot more users, you can get a lot more streams of feedback very quickly. Synthesize that and keep going because there really is no substitute for just getting it all in your head, right. The human brain is the best LLM out there, at least today, right? And it gets really good. You could just get all of it into your brain and synthesizing these things and then it feels very natural to you be like, oh, this is clearly the thing we need to fix next. Yeah. Adil Saleh (0:04:34) - Because it is super important. Even, especially in these days when you see a I can do whole lot like you can, you can do, like, if you think of a problem, AI can do something about it, maybe it cannot fix it, like, you know, accurately to that you know, precision, but you can definitely have a lot of ideas and people doing a lot of things. You know, looking at this YC directory, like, we came across more than 30 platforms that are AI powered at wannabes, you know, so it's super important to, you know, know your appetite as a founder, you know, what you can take and where is your vision of the product, like if you want to. You mentioned twitch. If you're just solving a smallest problem and doing it right, it's still successful with this AI capabilities, it's still successful. So great. So looking at like user wise, like what was, where you guys at now? You know, sitting at I think Series A, right? Richard White (0:05:25) - Yeah, so I started fathom four years ago. So I've been on the board of uservoice since. So I'm not as engaged as I once was when I was CEO there. But yeah, that company sells the product managers, is focused on helping them. Usually these are product managers at enterprise companies that user voice is focused on today. And that's where they're shitty on top. So on top of a ton of qualitative feedback and they're using now a mix of AI and crowdsourcing to make sense of it and get to these PM's. Hey, we heard from 100,000 customers, here's the top five things your group needs to work on or things like that. It's pretty cool stuff. Adil Saleh (0:06:00) - Love that. I love that. Because on the enterprise side it becomes a real big challenge because there are complex operations, global use cases, changes with companies, teams and all of that. And AI can definitely have an augmented source alongside a platform like user voice. As you mentioned, looking at Fed and initially, I mean, this is one question I wanted to also ask. Like when Zoom hit this feature just about a year and a half back, what was like, did you change your marketing? Like go to market strategy? Like, what was that like? Because if from a, from a commercial standpoint, it must have gave you some churn. Richard White (0:06:41) - Actually, no, I mean we, you know, we, we were one of the first apps on the Zoom app marketplace. Zoom actually has invested in us. Like we're very well aware of their roadmap and things they're building. And so I think one thing you learn working with Zoom is the Zoom user base is massive and there are a lot of non professional users in that user base. There's a shocking darn people that sign up for Fathom come from Zoom, that have no Zoom meetings on their calendar. I think when you realize that, you guys go, okay, we're targeting professional users, we're targeting founders, salespeople, product marketers, customer success. I think there's opportunity for both things to coexist. Zoom is building the base level functionality that everyone might need. Your grandma, your PTA meeting, whatnot. And we're focused more on the business use cases. And so I think that's a good classic, good division of labor. They're the platform and we're building the professional version on top of it. Adil Saleh (0:07:43) - Amazing. Amazing because I find Fathom because I knew the platform, I use it back then during the COVID times and it's one of the fewer platforms that expanded quite fastly alongside Zoom. And thinking of fasting, meaning not just the revenue wise, it's not relevant. It's like a lot of users that got adopted the platform. So now thinking of now four years down, a lot of teams are remote first. They happily, they're so proud of being remote first. So what do you think in terms of customer segmentation? You're also tapping into mid market enterprise. How does that motion look like when it comes to onboarding, acquiring customers, all of that? Richard White (0:08:24) - It's kind of the same for everyone. For us, we lead with our free product and I think, and this is the same model I did at user voice where it's like make a really good free product that you can actually use forever. Not, I think there's a lot of free products out there that are kind of a trap where it's like you sign up for it, you know, like within two weeks you're going to hit some limit. You got to like migrate onto a paid plan. Thats not our strategy. Our strategy is its build a really good free product. We did that because we had some insight into the market. When we started three years ago, 90% of the cost of running this business was transcription cost. It costs $3 an hour. We had this theory that we think that costs going to go to zero and if it goes to zero we can afford to give this away for free. We’ll have to pay AI costs on top of that once AI gets there. But its not wildly, it's not insane that we give a good product away for free and indefinitely. And if we do that, then I think there's a lot to be said for having a product someone uses day in, day out and they're taking their meetings, they're introducing to their colleagues and stuff like that. And so our whole good market motion is based on that free product getting picked up by again, professional users. They could be salespeople, they could be founders, marketing product, you name it, bringing it to their company using it on their meeting, seeing the value of it. Uh, and then eventually, you know, bring it into. Bring it to their boss or their manager and say, hey, whole team should have this sort of thing. Um, and I think even though you see more remote first companies that are smaller, COVID means that every company now has some percentage of their workforce that's remote. Right. Um, and so, you know, the. And the other thing is, like, even if the remote workforce isn't remote, a lot of their meetings are still remote. Right. Like, you know, any customer facing meeting. One thing that definitely went away during COVID is probably not coming back is in person customer meetings. Unless you're doing enterprise deals, it's all happening on Zoom. Right. So I think that shift obviously was a huge tailwind for us, and I think even with return to office, it continues to be a huge tailwind. Adil Saleh (0:10:27) - Very interesting, very interesting. And thinking about your post sales, like, I know that you have a free product, and it's going to be. It's more of a product led sales motion. But thinking of some of the data points, how you guys are staying on top of some of the data points that indicate expansion and expanding an account. Are you using any kind of analytics dashboard for customer facing teams, not just other teams? Richard White (0:10:52) - Well, what's interesting is we lead with product led, but then the back half of our process, all sales assist. So, like, we now have some versions of fathom that you can get without ever talking to a salesperson. You can just upgrade in app sort of thing. But we actually started with sales assist, and I think that's super important because you want to talk to customers and understand what do they want to buy, what features should we build and help understand how that grows out? And then. Yeah, and now we're adding in a lot of the analytics for that team to manage that expansion. Right now, we actually don't use any third party tools for this. We just have a host of internal retool dashboards that our data team has built out. But, yeah, it's an interesting challenge because everyone's used to the traditional sales funnel where it's like, yeah, do a demo, talk to them, close the contract, deal is done. And that's not the case here. It's like they're signing up for a free product. We're just monitoring, like, oh, look how many people are active at this company. Oh, let's go find a manager. Oh, let's sell them this. Let's now find another manager. Okay, let's find that. Like. Or who's in charge of this entire business unit, that sort of thing. So it's an interesting challenge from a go to market perspective, because it is much more complicated than your traditional sales motion. Adil Saleh (0:12:04) - Yes. And especially with the teams that are, like, with the customers that are using it for different use cases at the same time, you got to make sure that, okay, let's say a founder using the fathom for some of his meetings would not be likely to pay. Then a sales manager who's doing for the customer calls and taking all these notes and all, because that's more of a business outcome, you know? So you got to make sure that you are tracking and you have the success metrics. So you have any success metrics that are directly complementing the bottom, of course, the revenue and commercial side of things. Richard White (0:12:41) - I mean, you know, actually what we've seen is Baden's value is almost directly correlated to how many meetings you have, especially having customer meetings you have. So even if you're a founder or salesperson or even product, one of our goals, too, is we want to price this thing as aggressively. You won't find anyone that we get all these accolades, or we won this award, highest satisfaction product on g two. And we focus on building a really high quality product. We also focus on being like, we also want to be the most affordable product in the market. What we find is when you lower the price point down to that level, you kind of open it up that even casual users. Right. Maybe the founder isn't doing as many calls as a salesperson, but they're doing more than five a month, and that's more than worth it to spend $20 a month on a product like this. And so I think there's something to be said. I think a lot of businesses focus on, let's try to extract the maximum amount of dollars from each user. We focus on, like, how do we lower the price to the point where we maximize the number of users in New York? We want everyone in the company to be using it. That's where we see have them be more successful when you can just say, hey, hey, I'm going to roll this out to the entire company. That way anyone who happens to be on a customer call ends up in my fathom. And we have a kind of an add on product called team edition where you can see all the meetings across your company, right? So you could see all the meetings we had with this customer and the summaries of them and stuff like that. And so it's just, I think, been a super value. Like, it's a very different tack than the legacy competitors, like things like gong where they were sales only and super high priced. We are for everyone and very affordable and free to get started. And I think that motion of like free to get started PLG versus like a talk to sales, it's, it's, you know, it's bringing a gun to a knife fight sort of thing. Right. Like it's just a huge force multiplier. Adil Saleh (0:14:28) - Yeah, absolutely. Because you cannot take away the human touch and human component from it because that's when you know how you can standardize based on learning the patterns and customer behaviors and exceptional behaviors as well. So thinking about like some of your segment, that is, that is the lifetime values, like slightly bigger than the rest. What kind of motion that you have, like you have account managers or customer success managers. What is the formation on the post sales? Richard White (0:14:54) - Right now it's pretty nascent. So right now it's just, we have just a hybrid kind of amcs role and it's reactive cs. Right. We're not yet to the point where we are, you know, named accounts and stuff like that, is looking at the metrics and seeing like, who's, who's struggling or like, yeah, who's usually dipping, whose usage increasing and having someone kind of airdrop into those accounts. Adil Saleh (0:15:17) - Interesting. And do you have the real balance? And of course, once the book of business increase, you add more people, like more CSM, more cool. Richard White (0:15:28) - Love. Adil Saleh (0:15:28) - That said, how many active users that you have right now? Richard White (0:15:31) - Oh, we don't share that publicly. Quite a few. Adil Saleh (0:15:35) - I mean, just three users. Quite a few. Quite a few. That's a great answer. So thinking about. Because when we came across companies using these technologies for these use cases, they have like three or four different options. So I'm always thinking that what is that one thing that is fireflies is doing better or zoom natively doing better or like, what is the market positioning in terms of messaging, how you're messaging around this to stand out in the market from the competition? Richard White (0:16:06) - Yeah, I mean, I think our target is, like I said, any professional user. We don't, we don't try to pick favorites in terms of roles. I think we see, like I said, whether you're in sales, marketing success, founder, anyone on meeting, especially on external facing meetings, benefits from having a tool like this. And so relative to something like Zoom, we're going to get you the meeting summaries much faster. They're going to be much more accurate. We're going to be integrated with your CRM. And again, you can get started for free relative to other startups in the market, I think similar sort of pitch. I think we have the most accurate meeting summaries. I think also what we focus on is just making fathom really easy to use and also helping you during your meeting. So fathom actually is unique in that it said most of our users use our desktop app. So fathom is actually there when you're on your meeting, it's in the corner of the meeting. So you have control over when fathom records, when it doesn't play pause, stop, it gives you little alerts when you monologue like I am right now, when you're talking too much, that sort of thing. If you want to flag something, if I'm on the call with you and here's something really important, I can flag it and create a little highlight clip I can share with my team. So we focused a lot on, like I said, being the only product out there that's unlimited use for free, lowering stakes to sign up, lowest price point, highest satisfaction rating, and just having, like, best quality summaries, best ease of use to get the thing set up. I think, you know, whenever someone's using a product like this, they're in a hurry, right. They're jumping on a meeting. And so it's really important to have something that's, like, really easy to use. And so that's my, my background's actually engineering and product design. And so that's why we focused a lot on. Those are the two disciplines you'll see in fathom. It's like, there's a lot of engineering work that goes into this on the backend to get you these call summaries within 30 seconds. Zoom itself takes 30 minutes to get your recording, which is crazy. We'll get to you in less than a minute. And there's a lot of product design into it. So those are how we position versus the rest. Perfect. Adil Saleh (0:17:56) - And how do you see this AI evolution and what kind of impact is going to make into the segment that you're playing? Richard White (0:18:03) - Yeah, I mean, our, you know, we always thought that, like, there's value in just having a good meeting, recording you can refer back to and having the transcript. But we always knew that the hard part is building all this recording infrastructure. You know, I think you spoke with, with David over at recall. He can, you know, he built the whole business out of how hard it is to build that infrastructure. Right. But our theory is always like, people don't want a transcript. The transcript is just what you will need to get good outcomes out of an AI. Right. And so I think we're seeing a massive acceleration in business now because we're able to take what we built, which is a really reliable meeting, recording infrastructure, transcription infrastructure, and then basically drop in really good AI that can pull out your action items, write really good notes, write the follow up email, do all those sorts of things pretty soon, like find highlights, send them to your slack channel, like you can imagine. Look across all your calls you had with the customer. Da da da, right? There's a lot you can do once on that foundation of, you know, recording and transcription with kind of the, you know, the new GPT four level llms that are out there. And so it's pretty exciting. Like, we're, you know, most of our. Adil Saleh (0:19:13) - Roadmap is just like. And they're less expensive, too, you know, as compared to, like, open air. Richard White (0:19:19) - Yeah. And so there's a lot of stuff coming out now. Yeah, it is kind of interesting because, you know, at our scale, we have to care about cost, right? You know, we can't, you know, we can't turn on things that cost us, you know, 1020 bucks per user per month that it's not a good recipe for. Absolutely. Adil Saleh (0:19:35) - So that's what I love about this conversation, Richard. Like, you always wanted to be a free platform. Like, you can say, like, anybody can use it at scale, individual. And you have made all the engineering decision to make sure that you optimize the cost along the line at scale. And it is not as an easy job to be very honest and kind of, well, you're playing because there's so much data, so much, you know, server cost because everybody's recording meetings and all, you know, cloud storage and everything. Richard White (0:20:08) - Okay, perfect. Adil Saleh (0:20:09) - So now, thinking of you, like, going into this next two to three years, what is that one thing that you think you want change or you want to divert more towards, like, scaling or infrastructure? Everything, like, on the engineering side, making it, like, a really, really strong infrastructure so you can scale, like, on the customer side or you want to add some more features because you've been looking around a lot. You know, a lot of people are, you know, leveraging this AI, maybe having this more for sales team feature, like coaching assistant of something like this. Are you thinking along those lines? Richard White (0:20:39) - Yeah, I mean, most of what we're. We're really excited about today, there's kind of two. Two fronts, right? One is just more like extensibility and integrations. Right? Plugs into CRMs. Today we're seeing. We plug into, like, all sorts of task trackers, you know, kind of project management type stuff. So just like, I think a lot of opportunities to plug into systems people are using. We already have a lot of integrations today, but I hope to have ten to 100 x more by a year from now and then. Yeah. The bulk of what we're looking into is just there's so many more ways you can deploy AI here. Think about all the jobs that happen, all the things you want to do before, during, and after a meeting that AI can help you with. Whether it's research, whether it's writing good, better notes into your CRM, whether it's highlighting trends. There's a significant challenge that we sell. We sell ics, people on the front lines doing meetings, we sell them peace of mind where you're going to have less stressful meetings because this thing's recording, taking notes for you. You don't worry about missing something for the manager. If you're running a team. What we're selling you is visibility. You need to know what's happening in all these meetings. You don't have time to watch all of them. And so there's a lot of opportunity there for AI to. Yeah, it's sort of a report dashboard. Adil Saleh (0:21:52) - That you have for leadership teams. Richard White (0:21:55) - Yeah. And so there's a lot ways we can add to that. Right. With it, you can imagine. You can almost imagine AI being kind of like your sales trainer or your success trainer or your product trainer. Right. They're watching all these meetings for you and they're reporting back. Hey, here's the five minutes of content across 20 meetings that we think you really need to see. Going back to my original thing. Right. I think it's not as exciting if I just give you a bullet points of like, here's what we learned. What I think humans are better at. What feels more credible is when I can give you like, hey, here's some bullet points. Click on these and watch the actual clip. Adil Saleh (0:22:28) - Next vac section. Yes. Richard White (0:22:30) - Right. Adil Saleh (0:22:30) - With next vacation, what step they need to take next. Interesting, interesting. I mean, this conversation, folks, everybody listening. This is more about, you know, making the right decisions on the top line. Maybe on the days when nobody would clap engineering wise and do things for scale is the biggest. And that's what fathom has done. So, so good for a good amount of time. Thank you very much, Richard, for, for your time and insights and being so practical. Richard White (0:22:57) - Yeah, thank you for having me. Adil Saleh (0:22:59) - Love that. Have a good rest of the day. Richard White (0:23:02) - All right.

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