Episode No:79

Harnessing the Power of Small Changes for Big Impact

Vlad Shlosberg

Founder, Foqal.io

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Ep#79: Harnessing the Power of
Small Changes for Big Impact ft. Vlad Shlosberg (Founder, Foqal.io)
Ep#79: Harnessing the Power of Small Changes for Big Impact ft. Vlad Shlosberg (Founder, Foqal.io)
  • Ep#79: Harnessing the Power of Small Changes for Big Impact ft. Vlad Shlosberg (Founder, Foqal.io)

Episode Summary

In this Hyperengage podcast episode, Taylor Kenerson interviews Vlad Shlosberg, the founder of Focal. They discuss Vlad’s past experiences and how they have shaped his venture. Vlad emphasizes the importance of building security into a product from the ground up, as well as integrating new features seamlessly into existing user behavior. Focal is described as a customer support software for B2B companies, helping them connect with clients through messaging platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams. They also touch upon trends in the industry, such as the increasing focus on AI for reducing ticket queries and sentiment analysis. Vlad shares insights into how they prioritize features and adapt their product based on customer feedback and how Focal has helped companies reorganize their teams for better support and communication with customers. Finally, they discuss their outlook for the coming year, with an emphasis on sales efficiency and retention, as well as potential expansion to new messaging platforms based on customer demand.
Key Takeaways Time
Vlad’s LinkedIn experience taught the importance of integrating security into a product’s foundation and aligning products with existing customer behavior. 1:55
Focal focuses on incremental improvements to adapt to customers’ current workflows, making product adoption smoother. 4:53
Focal offers B2B customer support software, streamlining client interactions through platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams. 8:06
The choice to integrate with Slack and Microsoft Teams minimizes adoption challenges by enhancing existing user experiences. 10:04
Focal uses an iterative approach, gathering feedback from hundreds and prioritizing features based on customer needs. 13:43
Companies are shifting towards cross-functional teams in shared channels for a dynamic and unified support experience. 21:11

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Taylor Kenerson 0:02 Hi, everyone, my name is Taylor and I am here with a beautiful guest today chat Vlad, from focal. Vlad Thank you so much for joining us today. Vlad Shlosberg 0:13 Ready being here, I'm glad that you say ChatGPT. So often they you just think that I am ChatGPT as well. Taylor Kenerson 0:18 It's, it's in the mind, it's on the top of the mind, especially with, you know, AI and seems like it's taken over the world, but it's really been around for a really long time. So that's, that's also an exciting conversation to dive into in the future. But yeah, walk us through your past experience and kind of where you are now. And I'm really interested also to know how your past experience has shaped you or prepared you to start your own venture. Vlad Shlosberg 0:48 So I was born and No, thanks. So before this, I was the founder of vocal before vocalist started working on LinkedIn for a while, kind of setting up security in like in security engineering and on that side. And it caught a lot of that stuff that I think the two lessons that I got out of that really were like, building security from the ground up, because I remember trying to add on security features and stuff like that to LinkedIn is was, was really, really hard. So I figured, let's just build security into the product from the ground up, and it actually paid off pretty well. But the other side of that, that I think I found was we're doing these projects, a lot of LinkedIn. And though we needed to do everybody, we need to have everybody in engineering, or everybody in the company takes some kind of action. And it was always really, really hard to do those, but we found out is doing the most possible to kind of like, low with the, with what everybody's already doing. So if you want to get people to do something, don't try to get them to change their behaviour and try to change, you know, try to adapt your product or adopt whatever you're trying to do into that existing kind of stream of whatever they're doing. And that's kind of where I, you know, there's my kind of my lessons that I think I try to apply to starting poco. Um, then when I started, Taylor Kenerson 2:09 I gotta I gotta stop you because I'm really curious. What, how do you think about approaching a scenario where it's almost like, like you just said, it's not about showing someone, it's almost like you have to project where their feelings are, what their needs are, what their challenges are, and almost align your product into that, instead of, you know, a reverse approach where you're, you create a product, and you're trying to push the customer to use that. So what is your thinking? How would you approach or how would you, you know, maybe recommend to other startups and founders that are, you know, maybe creating their own thing about how to approach a scenario like Vlad Shlosberg 2:50 that. I mean, I think the way that I think about it just is just whatever, just figure out what people are already doing, and then try to you want to get them to do something different, get them to do something different by like 1%, by a lot. So this is why for example, we say this is why initially we launched in the slack atmosphere, is people are already using Slack anyway. Right? So we're just augmenting their experience by adding a new app inside of slack or by changing some of their behaviours, just like we're not trying to tell them, hey, you're, you know, you're using ABC, here's a different product D that you have to log into every day and have a tab open and do all this other stuff. It's it's harder to get people to adopt that. So it's kind of like using already existing tools, just modify it slightly. Taylor Kenerson 3:37 I think that's a really important thing is sometimes you I mean, when we approach problems, often we look to completely revamp something. And oftentimes it is just that iteration of the one the three percents, the slight changes that really make a drastic impact. And sometimes it's not flipping things on their head completely, but dive into a little bit about what Fogle does, and what kind of pains it solves for and who in for him. Vlad Shlosberg 4:05 Yeah, so it's funny, I'm so used to that when people ask me what I do just it's never a description of what I do anymore. It's just a description with vocal does. So focus on the customer support software. So we help b2b companies connect better with their, with their clients, through messaging platforms, such as slack and Microsoft Teams and some other ones. Really what that means, and this is kind of a pattern that we saw growing over the last few years is a lot of b2b companies to kind of create a better relationship. They're creating slack connect channels and these shared, shared Slack channels with their customers. And what we've seen is, you know, if you have one or two customers, you're just starting out, that's great. But once you have 2030 customers, or like some of our customers have 800 channels that becomes really, really hard to manage. So we built a ticketing system that kind of sits on top of that and helps companies manage those conversations. Taylor Kenerson 4:58 That's awesome. And when you You decided to choose to integrate with Slack and Microsoft Teams. What was your why behind that? And how did you actually decide to build your product around those two software's? Vlad Shlosberg 5:12 Well, I mean, I think the initial idea was behind just staying within people, kind of what people are already doing. So, you know, from the beginning, or just like atmosphere, I did it deliberately like when when I left LinkedIn I launched but it's kind of build a couple of other things that really didn't work out those already. But those things were also on Slack. So it kind of didn't pivot too hard, I stayed within the slack atmosphere. So really, the thing we're the motivation, I've had to start poker was, you know, build something was really working to pivot. And then what I did was I talked to lots and lots and lots of people. And one of those, you know, one of the groups of people that I talked to, it's all this company that was doing something pretty crazy. I asked him about it, and I talked to him about it. And they, you know, they're, they're liking it, and what they're doing, they're supporting their customers and plaque. But they're doing it in a really manual way. So I came up to them and said, Hey, why don't we set up an automation? Like, why don't we automate this for you a little bit better as to why don't we just integrate what you're doing with your Zendesk or something so that it's not crazy. And it's done? Yes. And then that was our first customer, they're our customers, you know, pretty cool to be there. And then from there, we just kind of grew up. So it was never really a conscious, like decision of, hey, let's go and explore this one particular area and the product there. That's kind of, hey, we found a customer that doing this, and hey, we found a lot more customers that are doing this. keep iterating on kind of what they're doing and what what they want to do. Taylor Kenerson 6:41 I love that aspect of your journey that it was almost like a fork in the road, you were building other things. And then at some point, which I want to dive into a little bit, because I feel sometimes I mean, with a lot of founders we talk to you often get stuck in this, when do you know that the time is not right for something you're building? Or maybe the what you're building is not right? And when to pivot and how to take different measures to pivot. Like you just mentioned, one of the tactics you use was talking to more people. And maybe you were doing that previously, but how did you approach it now in a different way? So can you unpeel that journey a little bit further for us on you know, maybe not so much on what what you were building, but how you recognise the that you had to you know, make those pivots and how you came to where you are now. Vlad Shlosberg 7:27 I don't know if there's a kind of a formula for it. I probably wish I knew how to do it better than I do, though. And remember the last pivot it was really, really the reason we pivoted in this iteration was because we found a customer that was willing to pay before we even had much of a product. So I think that was kind of helpful and decision. But before that it was kind of, we build a product that we saw a need for it. But we actually so we before this, the reason we pivoted was we found a need for this product. And we started building it. We tried to find people that are interested, we had a bunch of people that are interested in it. But the problem was that because of the state of like the world and technology, which couldn't build it, so So we ended up kind of saying like, Okay, this isn't impossible, this just kind of wind that down and look at other areas to explore. And then in but the thing is, in all of those areas that we went to explore, it wasn't just a, okay, let's just stop this entirely do something else, it was kind of, okay, well, while we're doing this, where are some lessons, okay, we learned that this is some behaviour that people want. So let's go explore this behaviour some more. And then let's go talk to more people about this one behaviour. And but I think in a lot of those, every one of those iterations, I think somebody told me once that you got to talk about 100 people. So I think that was the goal every time was okay, go talk to about 100 people and see what what they think about this area, or you know, what they think about this idea? Taylor Kenerson 8:50 And then because you're having so many different conversations, how did you go about, you know, prioritising what you actually needed to, you know, develop and put into motion. I mean, the conversations are one sliver of the whole pie, that's like really critical. But once you have all this information in these insights, then what's next? And how did you go about getting from zero to one? Vlad Shlosberg 9:16 That's simple. It's just what are people paying us to do? It wasn't really much more than, you know, we prioritise the stuff that our customers want us to build or what we're not not want us to build. But we try to understand what it is that the customer is really trying to do, right? We're not going to just build whatever the customers say. But we try to understand what the customers are trying to do. And then we try to figure out and talk to them about like, what is the actual best experience for this? We don't want to just build in you know, in a closet and then come out and say, oh, here, you know, we found your problem. So here's a solution. And then they go, Well, that doesn't really solve our problem because of XYZ. But we, you know, work with them. We talked to them, we iterate and we do that, you know, let's launch something that's have built in and some beta version just to get them to start testing and just to give us feedback. So I mean, from the very beginning the prioritisation. So it's been about what customers want, or you know, rethinking what customers want or applying what customers want to our existing product. Taylor Kenerson 10:15 And how do you align like, what customers want? How do you think about this, you know, what your customer wants, right? And you're getting, you're getting these insights, and you're having these conversations with your customers. And then also what your roadmap, your product roadmap, looks like, what your company roadmap looks like, how do you align the two? And how do you make sure that you know, your customers insights are really valuable, but sometimes, not every customer understands also what you have in your mind as the founder, you know, of the company and where you see the company going. So how do you make sure that you're listening and you're pivoting and you're iterating, and also driving value, but not just blindly doing that? Vlad Shlosberg 10:57 I mean, I think in generally, what we try to do is we try to follow the, we try to listen to what customers want, and then we try to kind of aggregate that feedback into, you know, some kind of system where we identify, Okay, what are the top issues that people are really asking us for? I to be honest, we're not doing this in a very in the best way possible. There's, you know, better ticketing systems out there that will, or better, you know, like, like, back end engineering ticketing systems out there that will kind of say, Okay, there's 15 customers that want this and that kind of thing. We just tried to get an idea of what is it that customers want overall balance that between, you know, things that we actually need to do in the background that customers will never ask us for, but it just things that will maintain infrastructure, and, you know, can increase security and that kind of stuff. And then the other kind of fun thing is that we sometimes feel balanced in those features that a customer might want, that is not really on our product roadmap, and it might even only affect that one customer. But if it's simple to do, and it's not completely crazy, we try to balance though, then. And the thing that we found is if you go and build a feature for a customer, they will it especially if it's a you know, something really obscure something unique to them, they will love you forever. So it's it's one of those, like, we've done that, and our customers love us. So you know, we retain better and we have better relationships. Taylor Kenerson 12:20 I love that, that's a, you've even noticed that you know that at the core of it, when you go into building a product, and you have conversations with, you know, potential customers that potentially lead into customers, you're actually listening to them. And you're not just trying to solve their problems with your product, but you're genuinely trying to get a grasp on who they are, first of all, who you're even talking to you on the other side, what their business model is like, where their challenges their pains are where their thinking models are. And then you almost assess and apply different recommendations. And then if you obviously you know, your product matches and aligns with them. So that's almost like a secondary thought where you're almost so focused more on that conversation, delivering for their challenges, and then driving different value with your product in the future. And I think that's a really important note, too, for founders is relationships are critical. And having those conversations can really give you a lot more insights, then, you know, developing a product roadmap, and if you truly listen, you could drive value in the little details. Like you just mentioned, a customer expressing maybe a challenge and you building a small little feature around that to specifically serve that specific customer is really critical. But how now how, when in scale when you're scaling and growing? How would you apply this kind of personalised approach in a way? Vlad Shlosberg 13:52 That's a That's a fun question. Because this is this is really the point of using our products. And this is kind of why we use our product internally as well, right is we bring in our customers into a flat connect channel from actually from the very beginning before they're before before they become customers, the first conversation we have with them, we send them a flat connect channel. And when we found the site is a great sales tactic, it's great for everything right, and we've a customer joins me on Slack. If they accept that slack connect invite, then you there are a lot more likely to buy from you. You can contact them on a weekly on a daily basis and just kind of say, hey, what's the status what's going on? And they're gonna respond to you a lot more often than I respondents like, though we do that and then we you know, as soon as they sign the contract, then we do onboarding with them that way we do the support long term. So we we use our product, and I think they did there's evergrowing instance scaling and some ratio just using our product a lot to to aggregate all that stuff to figure out what features and bugs we want to build and in everything else based on just input from our customers. And because of the way that our product works, that's really scalable. We can, you know, we've seen customers using it from there, you know, when they have five customers to when they have 800, and, you know, hundreds and hundreds of channels. So it's pretty scalable that way, I think that's one of the things that we do is we just actually use our own product, which also is great, because then we're, you know, we know our own product here, we're using it, we know how to improve it. And actually, that's the other fun balancing thing in terms of prioritisation, a feature that sometimes we just prioritise features based on what we want and what our customers want. Taylor Kenerson 15:27 Yeah, and that's important too, because, like you mentioned, like, you understand where the vision is, too. So it's really important, not only taking that customer feedback, but if you can use your product yourself internally, like definitely doing so. Because that feedback in those the different iterations and insights that you can make on you know, your usability and how you go about using it can be critical to determining you know, the success of it, and even maybe pivoting, you know, you customers might be saying one thing, but your understanding their usability could be a completely different, you know, approach. And I think that's, that's really important, too. So you touched a little bit on I mean, the whole conversation really, it's how do you drive value to customers? At the core of it, you know, whether we pin the word customer success on it or not, I feel like at the core of every business, that's the essential function is how are you delivering value to both your customers? And then how do you deliver that value back into internally as the company through the product roadmap through your different TTM strategies? So can you touch on, I would love to hear your insights on what does customer success mean to you, as a founder and CEO of your company? Vlad Shlosberg 16:42 It's funny, we've seen so much in the last few kind of years, I guess, we've seen so much blend between sales support and success that we just call it customer love, team, or customer love function. I mean, actually, you know, the side, this is why our logo in the heart is that we believe that we're delivering customer love. I think that's kind of the core of it is that we want to make sure we want to iteratively understand what is it that our customers are trying to do and trying to deliver that using a product. And I think a lot of that is our product ends up being very kind of dynamic and very configurable, which we're now finding out is a little bit of a detriment as well, because the more configurable it is, and the more the more options there are, the more confusing it becomes to people and sometimes. But yeah, I think it's it just we tried to continuously work with new customers to understand what they're trying to do. And we try to apply, you know, whatever we can we try to drive roadmap based on what new customers want to do. And then we try to listen to our old customers. And at the end of the day, what happens is that they're constantly messaging us on slack with feature requests with, you know, sometimes bugs and stuff that I think be interesting, what are they telling us about what they're trying to do, what they're trying to change how they're iterating, their support model, what they're, what they're playing around with, and then we try to figure out how our product can adopt to adapt to what they're doing kind of a global, you know, across all customers not handled in just a handful of favourite ones. And I think that's a good indicator of kind of where the industry is going as well. And maybe it's a biassed sample, because it's based on our customer size, but but we try to understand where customers are going with their features, or what's their, what they're requesting. And we see that it's kind of where the segment is going. And based on that when we talk to new customers, we kind of have an idea of where they're probably what they're kind of thinking about based on what our existing customers are thinking about, and then kind of directing it. Taylor Kenerson 18:47 At its core, like taking a look at the past few years. What what are the core have some of the feature? Were the whys behind some of the feature requests that have been requested maybe three years ago versus now? And how do you see the difference in the shift in those feature requests now on this on a specific level, but on a macro level? Because you know, the economy has certainly changed over the last few years to say the least and how are companies now asking for value from your company, for example? Is there like a common trend or connection maybe in how customers once were viewing how they use the product versus now how they're viewing using a product? Vlad Shlosberg 19:42 Yes, I'm trying to think of trends like it's hard to tell if we're seeing it as a trend because our we kind of wander a little bit of markets or our kind of requests changes a little bit and I'm not sure if it's because of because we went up Mark And then there's a, it's a little bit of a different thing or it's not. I think some of the I mean, I think you know, more recently, there's there's a lot more kind of focused on AI and using AI, Ford and things like so using AI for kind of reducing ticket questions as a very first first level AI thing. I think that's what everybody starts doing. But I think the other fun part is things like sentiment analysis as a whole from these conversations, which things are quite a system that existed before but now, because I think everyone's thinking about AI, I think everyone's trying to focus on that. Kind of AI different applications, you know, routing, and things like detecting if the conversation is urgent or that kind of thing. So I think there's in the last, you know, especially the last few months, there's definitely been a lot of focus on that. I think the other side of it is just the types of conversations and how people orient their teams around around the stuff. So we've seen, we kind of seen all kinds of functions where people when they're creating slack connect channels, for example, they might have just support a little channels, and they might have support, and sales and engineering and all these other functions all within the same channel. And the product has to adapt in terms of routing compensation correctly, based on what their configuration is. So I think we've seen over time, a little bit more of this, which I thought I could do the opposite way. But I think we've seen more places where there's more dynamic types of roles, there's more roles in these channels, as opposed to left roles in the channels, I thought it would be, it would kind of get to the point where the more people you have, the more you want to just, you know, just funnel everything into support. But actually, what we're saying is no, this in a lot of these customers, there's lots and lots of different like sales and marketing and kind of all these roles all working together. So I think our product has to change a little bit to adapt to that. Taylor Kenerson 22:01 That's really interesting, the point about that diversity in how certain companies are repositioning and maybe re integrating different and integrating different teams. I mean, I feel like that's a huge thing, also in customer success that the conversation of in the handoffs and like from your, from your sales, to your customer success, and like the gap of this information. So it, it seems like an interesting strategy to connect all these different teams to alleviate any of these gaps, and or maybe support sometimes can't handle some of the questions and have to escalate it. And then that uses so many resources, that it's almost easier to just have these different teams, you know, these different representatives from the teams a part of, you know, just at least the know, of what's going on. And if they have to jump in at any point, sometimes, now that we're seeing the whole thing about doing more with less. It makes sense. But it's also interesting that that, you know, teams and companies are actually shifting to being more dynamic and cross functional, then more focused on these different niches and being very driven toward that. So before we wrap up, I just wanted to know where you're headed in the next year, and what maybe some of your outlook looks like for hiring or anything like that. We have a lot of people that listen to the podcast. So if you're ever looking for our team, just give a shout out. And yeah, just tell us a little bit about what that looks like in the next year, what your goals look like. Vlad Shlosberg 23:33 Okay, I think our I think, like everybody else, building are kind of in the startup or company right now, your goals in the beginning of this year, were really before this year, and your goal is now slightly changed the beginning of this year, I think everyone's goals were, you know, mazing amount of growth. And now it's a little bit more on, you know, sales efficiency and retention and that kind of stuff. But I think we're probably a little bit in that boat, as you know, a little bit on sales, potential sales, efficiency, retention, that kind of stuff. I mean, I think a lot of our because we're still fairly small. And we're trying to pivot some of our sales function from direct sales, a little bit more product, lead growth type of motion. So I think we're focusing a little bit on that. But in terms of kind of where we see this going, I mean, the interesting thing is the last time slack had a financial call or whatever, I think they mentioned something that the flat connect channels were growing something like 250% year over year, so there's, there's a lot of people doing this and it's growing by a lot so I think it's one of those areas that we're definitely we're definitely gonna see a lot more people due for definitely going to see a lot more people kind of supporting each other and working with each other. If I can, I've ended I mean, I fully support this not not just because you know it helps Our product can gather sales, but because I think it's actually the best way to get connected to your customers and just build that customer love from the very, very beginning. So you know until your until you IPO or even further, you're the best way to kind of build the best relationship with your customers. So yeah, pickets regrowing as blocks were growing to flex support. Probably a little bit more on the team than some of the other messaging platforms support as well. I think people are using discord and some of these other platforms that I think are gonna grow a little more as well. Taylor Kenerson 25:35 Do you plan on integrating with other platforms like the discords and stuff as they grow? Vlad Shlosberg 25:43 I mean, we, you know, we got to make intelligence because based on what people are asking us, and again, that's based on what customers are wanting, if we, if we have customers come up to us and say, Hey, we really want your porn, like, Okay, how many other customers want this cord? Are you gonna pay us to build this cord integration? So probably until that happens, but I think the type of people that are using this cord for support is a little bit different, a little more gaming companies. You know, like, there's some AI stuff on there that some of that so it's not exactly the right, exactly. It's not exactly the same kind of GDB function that we're very used to. Probably not discord, but I think there's other ones like we recently started working with this company called Rocket rocket chat was kind of a fighting competitor for things like Madison. Very interesting. Taylor Kenerson 26:32 While we're very excited to see where you're headed, and you can always reach out to us in the community if you ever need anything. Lana, it was such a pleasure speaking. We really appreciate you taking the time. Thank you so much. Thank you for the honour of being here. Thank you. We'll talk soon glad. Thanks. PS

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