Episode 2

Gainsight’s CEO on the conference that launched the customer success movement

In Episode 2 of Heart of Business, Gainsight’s CEO Nick Mehta shares how his team rallied thousands of people around a brand new job title and industry, making customers feel a part of something larger.



Anthony Kennada I’m Anthony Kennada. 

LB Harvey And I’m LB Harvey. AK, I have some good news and some not great news. 

LB Harvey We’re here in a shelter in place in the Bay Area. Curious how things are in Arizona, but reason to be optimistic. Pfizer’s vaccine dropped today. Pretty exciting. 

Anthony Kennada Pretty exciting. I watched the livestream of the first inoculation given in New York, which is a signal for some hope, some optimism. But obviously we know the next several months are still going to be pretty grim for us. So it’s kind of a weird mix of emotions, to be honest. 

LB Harvey Yeah, it’s odd. I mean, I think heading into the holiday season, this is certainly an unprecedented time. And you definitely have to really feel for some of the small businesses out there that are trying to kind of get through what is normally their best month in a very unideal situation. 

Anthony Kennada Totally. We talked about this offline. We’re trying to do our part to contribute to local small businesses, whether that’s shopping locally for gifts or honestly, I’m just going to the same coffee shop every day, like at the point now where they know me by name, which feels really cool, and being able to be a regular member, tipping, understanding that, you know, a lot of folks that are working to operate the businesses when they are open, these are hard times. 

Anthony Kennada And so we’re trying to do our part that way, too. 

LB Harvey Yeah, absolutely. We’re doing the same. I would be not being totally genuine to say we’re not doing some online shopping for sure, but we’re also trying to support some local businesses around us and wherever we can kind of default to that. Speaking of the holidays, talk to me a little bit about Front. What are we doing here to celebrate and support employees during the holiday season? 

Anthony Kennada So I had the opportunity to come in just before the holidays last year. So I saw sort of what we were able to do live in person, which is pretty cool. The company has a tradition through the Front Foundation to do a giving tree where people bring in gifts for the less fortunate that get distributed over to them and hopefully trying to spur some happiness and joy during the season. It’s been pretty cool this year to see that we’re moving it virtually so same type of spirit, same gifts delivered. And the impact is the same, but the medium is moved to online. So that’s been pretty cool. 

LB Harvey Yeah, I love that. I think everyone wants to do their part around the community, around them, and making it super easy just helps enable that. I saw that come out and I was really excited to participate and see that Front was was leaning in there. 

Anthony Kennada The other thing we’re doing actually we’re doing is for the first time this year, we’re doing a mandatory shutdown between Christmas and New Year’s. And I think this year in particular, we’re going to appreciate the opportunity to take a step back and reset as we think about the next year and starting 2021 refreshed thinking about everything again that we’ve all had to endure. But one thing that I can’t help but think about, LB, is as marketers, it’s very easy to say that and just shut off our email and turn it back on. 

Anthony Kennada But I appreciated customer-facing teams, be it sales teams who have a quota, support teams who have to be there, success teams to serve the customer maybe for free, but also just for folks that in the profession, how do they view kind of this end of year hustle? 

LB Harvey Yeah, well, first of all, I’m really excited that Front is doing the holiday shutdown. I’ve actually been fortunate enough to be part of two other companies who have the same policy. And I think it is such a wonderful give to employees to really just be able to enjoy the time with friends and family, do a little travel. I think it is a great time of year just to refresh, like cutting into the new calendar and fiscal year for most businesses. So I’m a big, big, big fan. 

LB Harvey And by the way, I think it’s really smart of the business as well, because the reality is this would be kind of a low productivity week with a lot of customers out of the office. With people, even if they’re in the office, hearts and minds are probably still with their families and friends, et cetera. So totally I love that we’re doing this. The reality is for customer support teams specifically here in Front, but in my my previous lives as well, we’re going to want to be here to support our customers, even those who are in the office. And I do think that’s more rare these days. But there will be some businesses that need to contact our customer support on the 26th, 27th, 28th, etc. and we’re going to want to be there to answer this query. So the reality is we will have a kind of lighter staffed week and our support organization will take shifts and then hopefully take the time back in the first couple of weeks of January to recoup some of those hours. But we will want to be appropriately reactive on the sell side. 

LB Harvey I think the reality is that people who have deals in flight that have a chance to close will do sort of the necessary things during this week. But what I think it really gives the sales team permission to do is treat this week as an opportunity to close some deals that if they can get done, but not do some of the more proactive. If prospecting activities, etc., and really kind of enjoy the majority of the time during this week to themselves and then the kind of give back is this year, it’s June 4th, they’re coming back really refreshed and ready to really rock and roll as we head into January. We’re lucky in that we do have a Jan fiscal here at Front and in my previous gig as well. And I love that because it allows you to really try to get business done before things trail off before the holidays and then kind of have a sense of a close and then have a second close in January. 

Anthony Kennada LB’s I’m thinking on since our last episode. It feels like it’s been IPO just bonanza for the last several, several weeks. 

Anthony Kennada It’s been kind of crazy and none probably crazier than last week’s news with both Airbnb and DoorDash having massive, massive IPOs that we’ve already covered. DoorDash on the show and found out we’re both big DoorDash users, which is awesome. But what do you make of this with both Airbnb and DoorDash having such such massive news? 

LB Harvey Yeah, I mean, I think on Airbnb, how cool to have 2020 be both a really tough year as a company. Right. That’s in pretty public layoffs in the spring with covid hitting. And obviously they’re in the travel industry, which was very hard hit. But then to bounce back and have a December IPO is pretty cool. So really excited for that business. I think it bodes well for a big travel bounce back in 2021. Certainly 2022. I know I’m getting busy planning trips and I’m getting on the travel industry. I think that there’s going to be a big boom on the other side of that’s a lot of pent up demand. So help Airbnb benefits from that. And again, just a really cool story of resilience. Speaking of resilience, I sent you this over LinkedIn. I am really, really inspired by the DoorDash story. So I didn’t know sort of the journey that the three co-founders went on, that it was sort of a scrappy bootstrap startup, Stanford kids surfing the Stanford campus. 2013. They obviously had like an amazing boom in business around a Stanford football game. For those who don’t know the story, they like tripled or 5-xed the volume in a given night, but they hadn’t had a customer service challenge and that they weren’t ready for that volume. And so reading the article that they posted on LinkedIn was really cool just in how they responded. They actually refunded all the folks whose food was delivered kind of egregiously late. They stayed up till 3 a.m. baking cookies. I mean, talk about the Heart of Business. Yeah, these were guys that had like both a best case and worst case scenario in one night for their business, you know, enhanced demand. But the inability to meet it, they did pretty amazing things, particularly baking cookies until 3:00 a.m. and delivering those to customers. Pretty amazing things to stay afloat. And even in 2016, 2017, they were having trouble getting funding. So to be able to IPO then in 2020 amidst a global pandemic, it’s just really cool.

LB Harvey Totally. And what I think is cool, I remember reading that same article that they were like jumping out of class to respond to customers and stuff while at Stanford. 

Anthony Kennada These are both in the case of DoorDash and Airbnb founders who did things that "don’t scale" as they say and have that done all in the service of supporting their customers and proving out the business model. And now several years later, they’re able to go and get this big validation, this moment in the market. So congrats to to those two businesses. But they weren’t alone on the M&A front. It’s been a particularly hot season here for customer experience in general, this broader category that we’re always being a part of Salesforce bought Slack, which rocked the world for I think it was about $27 billion cash. 27 billion casual. No problem there. Facebook bought a company called Kustomer for a billion dollars and then one that feels pretty close to home here personally, Vista, which is a pretty massive private equity company, led a majority investment into to Gainsight. The company I actually just joined Front from, for $1.1 billion, which was pretty validating and exciting. 

LB Harvey Yeah. I mean, talk about validation of the space. It’s really, really, really clear that companies are figuring out that customer communication is critical and that contextualized and collaborative customer communication is kind of where it’s at. So really interesting to see the acquisitions and congrats on the the Gainight acquisition. I know you were a big part of really helping create the category with this. 

Anthony Kennada Thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah. And actually it’s kind of funny for today’s episode. Gainsight CEO Nick is our guest. But, you know, we recorded this thing before the news of the Vista transaction broke. So it’s going to be kind of interesting now playing it back here in kind of the perhaps the undertone in his voice as we’re as we’re sort of talking through these topics. 

Anthony Kennada And what we’re going to talk about is a conference that we decided to plan called Pulse, which was not about Gainsight, not about our product, but all about the industry of customer success, and we decided to plan this industry conference about three months into the job. We were barely a series A company. I think we had like 10 customers and none of us had ever put on a conference before. So the sort of story that we’re going to unpack is why we arrived at this decision to host the industry conference, how we actually banded together to pull it off as a team, and what the impact was not just for our customers, but for the broader customer success community at large. 

Anthony Kennada So it’s really interesting. I think listening back, everything that we talk about was really recontextualized in this news. Now, Vista and just having that validation that a private equity company of that scale and magnitude sees the value in customer success, arguably just the same amount as, as you could argue in Salesforce seeing the value, and in Facebook seeing the value and everyone else has been investing in customer experience. 

LB Harvey Well, I am so excited for the interview with Nick. You know, it’s easy to see billion dollar acquisitions and sort of lose sight of the human component. And that’s honestly what this podcast is all about, right? 

LB Harvey It’s hearing from all of the businesses that are going the extra mile, connecting customers with their teams and creating special experiences. So I couldn’t be more excited to hear about the Pulse conference. I didn’t realize that you guys had spun it up as early as, like your series A. That’s pretty incredible. So looking forward to hearing more of the details and the successes that came out of that. 

Anthony Kennada Awesome. Thanks so much. And in this next segment, we have Heartbeats.

LB Harvey So for those of you who are tuning in for the first time, Heartbeats is our recurring segment that shines a light on the good news coming out of 2020 in the business world.

LB Harvey It’s been a tough year, but it’s been amazing to see how some businesses have really risen. They’ve innovated, they’ve pivoted, and they’re connecting with customers in new and creative ways. So each episode, we’re bringing you some of our favorite stories to shine a light on the positive stories of 2020. 

Anthony Kennada All right. I got two Heartbeats features for us. The first just given Airbnb being such a big part of the news lately, it hasn’t all just been for economic profit. 

Anthony Kennada They actually launched a new nonprofit called Airbnb.org last week that connects people to places to stay in times of crisis. And the founding team, the executive team put their money where their mouth is. They committed 400,000 shares of Airbnb stock to support Airbnb. Doug and the co-founders donated additional $6 million. So really nice. I think we talked earlier about how their is particularly has been hit quite hard in this sort of historic IPO moment. They’re still finding a way to give back to the community, which I think is pretty profound and good on them for doing it.

LB Harvey Absolutely. And I love the fact that, you know, they’ve had some tough times this year. Brian Chesky, I think, was pretty public with the emotions and having to lay off so many folks from from his team and then to have a positive platform to rebound in December and to really kind of like tangibly put points on the board and give back to the community in a profound way, is really incredible. 

Anthony Kennada Totally agree. All right. The next one, I admit, I’m sort of in uncharted territory here, but there’s a company called Beauty Counter, a clean beauty startup. I think we’re chatting offline. You have heard of Beauty Counter, correct? 

LB Harvey I have. In fact, I use some Beauty Counter products. One of my friends hosted a little party last year and we all got together and bought Beauty Counter. 

Anthony Kennada It’s great products, great spirit to the company as well. They were planning to open up their first brick and mortar store in 2020, which unfortunately was choice timing. I think all of us in some way, shape or form might be dealing with some real estate decisions and rents and all things. While our offices kind of stay vacant, however, they pivoted and are launching basically a live stream of their inaugural store that’s meant to kind of bridge the gap between the in-person shopping experience and obviously all of us being at home. So they’ve set up basically a studio in the office that’s going to allow folks to do everything from browse their aisles to makeup demonstrations, even hosting community events, all streamed digitally. And what’s interesting is as customers are watching from home, you can comment on what you’re seeing and get live responses from the folks working in the store. So the idea is that this really becomes a two way conversation that we so desperately miss when we’re online and working from home. So I thought this was really neat. I think creatively pushing the boundary and finding new ways to make genuine connection with the customer when not being able to be there in person. 

LB Harvey Yeah, I think this is amazing. 

LB Harvey I personally still love going out and shopping brick and mortar. I might be the the exception. And again, with Covid, we’re doing a lot more online shopping than we traditionally do but there’s something about the experience. And also if you’re someone that doesn’t necessarily know all the products that they might be a good fit for or want to buy, I think it’s great to be able to have that two-way dialog. And I just applaud the creativity, the innovation and the scrappiness. Like they had this real estate. They have this big plan and they’re sort of making the best of the situation and a pretty cool way. So I hope that that attracts even more buyers and ends up being a great thing for them heading into the holiday season. 

Anthony Kennada All right. Well, let’s get into our interview today. We have my very good friend, my mentor, my former boss, Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight on the show. Now, as I mentioned, we recorded this before the Vista news happened. And so we’re not going to dive into that in the interview. 

Anthony Kennada But we do talk about is the customer success community that we had the honor of helping facilitate. And that really happened primarily through our flagship event called Pulse. And I am unapologetically a event person, a conference marketer. I’m wearing the CMO hat. You have to really appreciate the entire marketing stack by showing a lot of bias towards events because I just love the in-person experience you get when you get a chance to meet a customer or a prospect or a partner in person. LB, where do you stand with 2020 aside Covid aside, where do you stand on this whole live event thing? 

LB Harvey You know, I will admit I am a big fan of live events because I think that there are a great way to reach out to your customers and your prospects and engage with them in real, meaningful ways. I think sometimes you get great insight, like product insight. It’s a great way for a team members to meet one another, etc.. I’m personally not a huge attender of events for software that I buy, but I certainly realize the power of events. The first tech company I worked for, a software company I work for of LinkedIn, always has a great event.  And I think that became a real preeminent event for talent professionals and really created a home for recruiters. And in my experience from attending, recruiters loved to go to Talent Connect and both get insight into some of the evolving tactics in recruiting as well as let loose. So that was always a good, good event. 

Anthony Kennada Totally. And maybe that’s the difference between attending conferences that are purely about the software, purely about someone trying to sell you something, and then conferences where it’s really about education and training and all that and the connection and networking. And we found that while there’s executive type programs, executive type forums, really the long tail of attendees really stand to benefit from these types of programs. And she has to kind of sharpen their career over time. So I’m really excited to dive into this or without any further ado, let’s take a listen to my chat with Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight. 

Anthony Kennada Today is special because this is part interview, but also part kind of a walk down memory lane. I’m absolutely thrilled and overjoyed to have Nick Mehta on the show, a good friend of mine, two time CEO that I’ve worked for and just an all around amazing person. So, Nick, so happy to have you on the podcast. 

Nick Mehta Awesome to be here and really, really excited to walk down memory lane. Should be fun. 

Anthony Kennada Awesome. And I’m not sure if you remember this. Do you remember where we actually met or how we met? 

Nick Mehta I remember that well, because we’d hired you and it was a company called Live Office. A couple of hundred people in the company. Anthony had come in as a business development person. And I heard your name or actually heard great things about you from your boss. But I didn’t interact with you much. And we had a meeting about one of our big partners. And honestly, I was just blown away by the quality of the presentation as kind of one of those things where you notice sometimes people that are early in their career and you’re like, wow, that was like not just like what you talked about, but how you talked about. It was really impressive. And I think you had, like, literally taken a map of the world, if I remember correctly, and kind of like put our strategy on that map or something. And I was like, that’s really impressive. So it’s kind of funny, the impact, the impressions people can leave in those little moments. And that led to us working together today. 

Anthony Kennada Totally. I think it did. I mean, I very much appreciated you, I guess being willing to bet on the guy that did that map basically and presenting that opportunity come together at the inside. So I’m thrilled to be to do this show with you now. And Heart of Business, I think just to give you a quick overview, the goal for this is we want to profile the best teams in business. As I think about what we’ve done at Gainsight, really around the zero to one motion for launching an industry conference, something that I know you talk about quite a bit. Folks come to you for advice on how to do this. It’s not trivial. But also we brought a lot of first practices into how we did it. So I’m excited to unpack that with you. But before we get into it, I want to do our favorite segment to kick off. Weird question of the week. If the NFL were to adopt a bubble model, just like the NBA, which Pittsburgh Steelers player, past or present, do you think would do the worst in that environment? 

Nick Mehta Oh, that’s a good question. OK, I will go with and for if you’re not a football fan, don’t worry, I’ll explain. I probably go with James Harrison because he was this, for people that don’t know Pittsburgh Steelers, there’s this linebacker from five years ago who is kind of pretty much like the toughest guy ever. And I’m pretty sure he would just physically break out of the bubble. If there was a bubble, he would just completely break out of it. So I think that would be my choice before we dove in here. 

Anthony Kennada It’s kind of fun asking you this question after having answered it myself over the years now on podcasts like this. But maybe for our audience, tell me a little bit about Gainsight and just overall, kind of what the company’s focused on. 

Nick Mehta There you go. You don’t have to do the pitch. That’s good. Yeah. Again, we really align so well, Anthony, with what you and the Front team are working out, which is that we think the future of business is to put the customer at the center of business. And that’s because customers have so much power now in these business models where they don’t have the they’re not locked in. They’re paying as they go. They’re paying based on usage. They’re in a subscription contract. They haven’t purchased everything upfront. And in that model, you’ve got to make the customer the center of your business. Gainsight is all about implementing this process called customer success, which is driving this end and focus on driving value for the customer. Part of that is customer success team that’s managing your customers and part of that’s making your product better at driving value for your customers. Part of that to make your sales team better drive value. And for each of these areas we gain, Gainsight makes technology products that help you in each of those areas, helps you scale your customer success team, helps you drive product adoption and product engagement, helps you drive more revenue from your customers and helps you measure the experience your customers are having. And pretty sure you wrote that pitch many years ago. So there you go. 

Anthony Kennada I was going to say a very, very familiar. 

Anthony Kennada But take us back. I want to go back to twenty thirteen. And this was when you’re the new CEO. Customer success wasn’t really a thing back then, or at least by name today. It’s now one of the fastest growing professions in the world. But walk me through the company that you sort of inherited or that you joined and how you came to realize that customers and the market in general was really gravitating around this new thing called customer success. 

Nick Mehta Totally. And you were right there. So I’ll just tell our story and you fill in some of the gaps. Yeah. So I did not found Gainsight. I joined very early. Anthony joined right shortly after I did our two founders and he had worked in a SAS company and had felt that pain, that when you’re in a SAS business, you don’t get the customer forever. And just because you sold to that right, you have to reorder their business every day. And so they saw this opportunity to start a company around this. And they were very, very early stage and they met an investor, Battery Ventures, who decided to kind of make a bet on them And so they basically kind of collaborated together. And as they were looking to find the company, I had just sold my last business, actually, the one that I worked at. And I decided to take the plunge because I had my last company was a fast company. I felt these problems myself. And I joined Jim as a CEO as we were just about to launch. So we had some beta customers and basically a very small amount of revenue, like a hundred thousand dollars or so of revenue and came in here. And as Anthony said, the company had different name. But beyond that, like this idea, the customer success is now everywhere in tech was not true at all. Honestly, if I had told anyone at that time working on customer success, they definitely would have thought I would say I work at customer support, that I’m actually probably in a support job somewhere answering phones. Right. And so which is an important job, but definitely misunderstanding what this role is. And so early on, we decided that we needed to market the role, not market our company. We needed to convince companies that customer success should be at the heart of business and it should be everywhere and it should be something that companies really take seriously, like they take sales and marketing in other areas. And so we decided and honestly, based on your vision, to focus on kind of creating the category of customer success, not just marketing Gainsight, a lot happened after that, which we’re totally thinking about. 

Anthony Kennada It almost sequenced out. We did a few things pretty early. We maybe even counterintuitively, we talked to Gartner and Forrester others and their guidance was actually not to go to call it customer success, or at least their recommendation was aligned to some of their existing research areas. And so we sort of, I think, had a moment. This was going back in February, March of 2013 when we said, are we going to follow our conviction that we should call this thing customer success, go after that market champion the role and the profession, or should we just take a Challenger position against Zendesk.

Anthony Kennada From the CEO’s perspective, you’re, what, three months in the job at that point, four months, something those insider information gathering, you’re talking to customers, what gave you the conviction to say like, all right, we’re not going to listen to Gartner, we’re not going to listen to these other analysts. We’re going to focus on following our heart, following our our intuition and championing customer success. 

Nick Mehta Yeah, it’s interesting because I think you and I’ve talked about this a little bit, you talked about this in your book that like there’s this opportunity to either take an existing category and kind of reshape it. But you have the benefit of that name of the existing category management, customer support, or you can create something totally new. And the downside of something new is people initially won’t have any idea what it is. And it also, by the way, is for a lot of people, they’ll say that’s a bad idea because it doesn’t sound that big, because by definition, anything that’s new won’t sound that big. And so I remember meeting friends, CEOs actually, who are super great advisers to me in other parts, but actually said don’t call it customer success, call it customer analytics, customer intelligence, etc., because that customer success was just a concept that didn’t mean that much. It didn’t mean anything. But I think the thing that you and I, you talk about this a little bit, this idea that like it was a job. And so if we tied the category to the job number one, we could help people in the job, which on its own just feels great. But number two, you can kind of ride the growth of that job. And that’s definitely been the story of Gainsight . And the story of this kind of customer success movement is you’re not software that just writing a technology trend. Right. There’s some software out there that is writing a tech trend. We’re software that’s writing a career track and an underlying business trend. And so I think we made that decision. And I think that was like going through our minds. OK, well, maybe we can make this group a hero. And I think, like everything in hindsight, it looks like it was it’s probably a decent decision at that time. It was very uncertain. And I think we were all really unsure what we want to do. 

Nick Mehta The interesting thing is, though, what if you just go do it and, like, put yourself out there, you kind of end up committed that. You just you’re like, all right. So we kind of you know, as we’ll talk about, we did a conference, that first conference on customer success and things like that. And then we were sort of all in. And for that point forward, you don’t question the decision anymore because that’s just who you are. So we don’t we don’t question customer success anymore. You can see we have three books behind me all about it. So I think that’s something I kind of learned is like, you know, at some point you just go all in and then you just make that work. And luckily it’s worked.

Anthony Kennada So I remember that one day it was right after we sort of had this moment that we decided, hey, we are going to go all in. And you and I think it was Jim Eberlin, our founder, came to me and said we need to do an event. And I remember vividly trying to downplay it or at least minimize the scope of this thing and say, hey, I do a launch party or that kind of what you’re talking about. Both you and Jim were pretty convicted on wanting to host a conference, a conference for an industry that didn’t even exist yet. And we were still JBara Software. We were working through a rebrand. And so we didn’t have a company brand really that we really have a website where we’re sort of a kind of a website, website or whatever. 

Anthony Kennada Yeah, totally. So I’m curious and maybe for the marketers or in the audience to have had a CEO come and ask them to do these big, bold things. Why was a major event, let alone an event, the right first move? And maybe from the customer perspective, like why did this matter?

Nick Mehta It’s funny, my memory, which is a memory, is so fallible, is that you’re the one who had the biggest ambition and that I was the one who had the smaller ambition. So I think you’re probably right about your story. But it’s funny. I remember the opposite. But either way, I think that we definitely had this, like, tension of, OK, we got to shoot for something small, it kind of more intimate thing or something really big. And I think that it was very unclear because people if you haven’t thrown your first event, you really do have no idea how many people are going to go. And it’s very hard to size and like build a budget and things like that. And later on, you can get this down to more of a science. So I totally think that we were in two minds about that. But you you came to me with this amazing presentation on the vision. You called it the Gold Rush presentation. I still remember it well. And it was about this vision of kind of creating a category through events and through community. And literally it’s kind of what we do. And we ended up doing so. But I totally agree. Like at that moment, it was very uncertain what we wanted to do and whether it would work and what we should call it. And so if people are like listening, I think that that is a real moment. And by the way, it doesn’t always work out this way. 

Nick Mehta Sometimes it works out better, sometimes it works out worse. We had no idea. All we knew was there were people called customer success managers. So we thought there was something there. 

Anthony Kennada And they I think if I remember they had like smaller meet ups and conferences, but I knew they like to get together in person. We knew that they had this hunger for community. But I think we said if we can get them all together in a really meaningful way and do better, perhaps then just to meet up and maybe that would be something that all success. And so I know a lot of folks have asked you this over the years, but how did you guys do your do Pulse? Events are hard. They’re high effort, they’re expensive months of planning. But we were a team of 25 people at this point, and most of them, I think we’re writing code. And then it was, what, five to eight of us, I think in in California. So it wasn’t like a massive team that put together. Do events as you look back today make an impact that’s differentiated than something we can do virtually? 

Nick Mehta Yeah. I mean, I think the the thing that you and I learned is that, like, you build a sense of community connection, belonging, being part of a movement. 

Nick Mehta Those are things I hear when I hear people going to Pulse and feeling that like there’s thousands and thousands of people out there like, oh, my God, I remember my first Pulse and being in the audience and seeing all those people, I think there is definitely a phenomenon about feeling like you’re not alone. You’re one of something that’s bigger and that helps you feel better about what you’re doing and feels more confident you can move forward. And we all have that experience in our business lives, right where we’re like, oh, my gosh, am I the only one dealing with this? And then you go to a place where you’re like, I used the expression, "like your home." Right? We would tell people welcome home, because this is a place where people are thinking like you and in your own company, you might be the only one thinking about this. But in in the broader world, there’s a lot of people like you. And I think that as we live in the virtual world now with the pandemic and all that, I think there is a there’s ways to do that. But I do think that it’s hard to imagine the kind of physicality and the connection that you get by seeing all these people, the core experiences, this idea of like this sea of people all like you and hearing all these conversations that are about the things that you’re thinking about and seeing these presentations about the things that you care about and are interested in and hearing from people that inspire you and even even the silly stuff, the jokes and the music videos and all the things that are like exactly what you care about. Right. So I think that is the powerful thing about building a community is you get people to feel like, wow, I’m not alone. 

Anthony Kennada I think that’s exactly right. I admit that I sort of blacked this part out because from the moment we said we’re going to do this to the day of the show, feels like a blur. I mean, it’s been several years, but in general, it feels like, you know, we didn’t know what this thing was. Yeah, right. And we were working hard to make it great. This is kind of a two part question. The first is like, do you remember how you sort of rallied us to pull off something that seems kind of impossible, or at least like having this vision of not all of us having, like, context for what this would look like, but also maybe the back of your head? What mattered, like what showed up to the board on the board slides the quarter after? Was it how many people were there? Was it the experience we created for for the customers who were there? Like what were the things that really made this important initiative to you? 

Nick Mehta Well, it’s interesting. I think there’s I’ll do the second one first and then the first one on what mattered. I think that what we think mattered and what actually mattered, were probably different. 

Nick Mehta I’m sure we had some side that said there was this many people here and this was the pipeline in the room or how much pipeline created. What mattered in reality was we brought people together, created a movement. They had a great experience. They thought about how other people should be part of it. They felt more like they belong. They felt more confident in their job. And that eventually led to many of them buying Gainsight. I bet it would be interesting to look at the first 300 people and how many end up becoming customers. That’s a good analysis to do. But it’s kind of like one of those things where you look at the the micro and you probably wouldn’t capture the picture just saying how much pipeline was created, how many meetings did you have as you get more mature? We certainly do that analysis. You did that when you were your Anthony. And it’s good analysis, but I think it always understates the impact of these kind of community movement things on how we rallied. It’s a great question. 

Nick Mehta I remember the first one is a blur, being honest, May of t2013. It’s kind of a blur because it just kind of happened, like your team did a lot of work, but it kind of like just it was like so winging it. I remember the second one after we’d done one and sending some kind of an email that was to the effect of like being a sports fan. This is our Super Bowl. This is like the one day when it all kind of comes together and for our customers, for investors, for our team. And the over the years, you realize that it really does help all three of those constituency of these events, definitely motivate your customers to do more and get more value. They definitely have ambassadors of your industry because it definitely becomes a source of sales and growth, but also helps your team. It’s such a rallying event. When we if we if we measured our team engagement right after Pulse, it always goes up every year. I don’t think that’s actually just Gainsight. I think that’s true for a lot of companies events. They really are partly about engaging our team for sure. 

Anthony Kennada I think it’s totally right. I want to touch on experience really quick, we both share that desire to create a great experience and not make an event, just an event. And over the years I think we’ve done some pretty crazy things, including Vanilla Ice performance at 9 a.m. Still so great. Disney Musical. We did have a long road to get to that greatness, I’d say. And so if you remember year one, our big moment was hiring a stand up comedian to pretend to be the CFO of a publicly traded company. They’ll go nameless. And he came up on stage completely deadpan, made up stories about the other presenters in the audience. And it went interesting, I would say I’m curious to get your recollection from it, but why do we do this? Why do we push the box creatively on some of these things? We sell software, right? 

Nick Mehta Yeah, it’s funny because one of our values, this childlike joy, bring the kid new to work every day. And I think both of us just enjoyed bringing that creativity. And I’ve done some great collaboration together of a comedian or we had a sing along, as you remember, a surprise sing along with your Vanilla Ice, Taylor Swift impersonator doing a music video parody. We rewrote the famous rap video inside the studio. And I think it was it was really a couple of things. One is us scratching our heads for creativity and fun and that being a valuable insight. 

Nick Mehta But the other thing I think is like it’s a way to connect with your customers and connect the community, because it’s a lot of this stuff. Just, I think marketing. I’m not a professional marketer, but like so much of it is that making the customer and the community feel like, wow, they get me, they get me. That’s like, you know, there’s an inside joke in a certain community and they know that inside joke. They know what it’s like to be a CSM. You know, we’re doing a as you know, we also now have a product for product people and we have a conference focused on that. And we’re doing our own like, OK, what’s the version of that for product people? How do we get them to feel like, wow, Gainsight gets me? So I’m working on, as you saw a preview of it, I’m working on some stuff there, you know. And so I think that it’s like part of it is our own kind of selfish desire to be creative and have fun. And part of it is like we want our customers to feel like we get them. 

Anthony Kennada I’m wondering if there’s a moment that happened to you at the conference. So and again, we’re stretching back here at 2013 to Four Seasons Hotel, Market Street, San Francisco. The show went great with the exception of a fire alarm going off in the middle of a key opening. Was there a moment for you there where you looked out into the audience, going to think 300 people there some first year? You’re like, my gosh, we might have unlocked something here. And you talked about earlier that something about like it’s a rallying call for the team, too. So I imagine as a relatively new CEO at the Gainsight, at least at that point. Like this was probably a lot of emotion of like, OK, the team pulled this off, but then also like, look at all these customers. So I’m curious if there was a moment that stands out to you where it all kind of started clicking totally. 

Nick Mehta Yeah. I mean, I think each year when you do big events, you actually get this amazing like snapshot that you can kind of remember forever. And there’s so many from every year from probably the other years of Vanilla Ice, Michael Lewis being on stage, me interviewing him and you and I being backstage right before when when actually that Disney musical that we did. And a lot of different things like that. Don’t we not talk about copyrights during this discussion? So, yeah, exactly. In that first one, though, I do remember there was a CEO panel at the end. And we were all in this panel and I was kind of leading it. And I remember looking at the audience a lot. And actually what’s interesting is people are like, oh yeah, it was a little distracting. Look at the audience, because actually I’ve done many of these now. I believe actually looking at people, the audience is sort of irrelevant. I think I was looking at the audience is like, holy jeez, all these people are here, right? Like, whoa, all these people are here. And so and that feels that, you know, now 300 people feels like, oh, there’s only 300 people here when we do like a regional event. OK, fine. But I guess we don’t have to do anything big and we still enjoy it obviously, but it’s becomes relative. But in those early days I was like, wow, all these people are here for a little bit, for a little company. That’s pretty cool. 

Anthony Kennada We know that over the years, the the first event basically became the proof point. Yeah. The basis for our entire marketing strategy. Just six years later, we’d have over 6,000 people at Moscone Center conferences in London and Australia, local chapters of Post Local and over 50 cities around the globe. More than that, this customer success thing that we sort of followed our conviction on went all in on has become a movement. And LinkedIn continues to validate that with their reports that customer success managers are one of the fastest growing professions in the world. We see that taking sort of a guess in 2013, an educated guess led to something pretty profound. I’m curious what has been the impact of Pulse over the years? And I’m curious on three different dimensions on the team who worked on it. Maybe I can even speak to that a little bit on Gainsight and its mission and on you, on you personally. 

Nick Mehta So it’s all three. Can you go on the list of things that are the most important to Gainsight history? It’s number one for sure. And it’s the impact is I kind of think when you have a new category, a lot of that kind of category is about creating the category and convincing people that there’s something here. You’re a person at a big company and you just create a small team and you’re not sure if there’s something here. And you go to Pulse and you’re like, oh yeah, there’s something here. These other people can be wrong. You know, you’re an executive whose team asked you to come to Pulse to check it out. They want to buy the software and say, you’ve never heard of it before. There’s something here. You know, your investors think about investing. One of our investors is doing diligence that while there’s something here, you know, so I think that’s like a big part of it from a business perspective is convincing people there’s something here and aligning them on what the future looks like and over the years and differentiating your business and stuff like that, too. I think on the team side, it is an unbelievable proof point of all your hard work on one day. Like, it all kind of comes together and it sort of we all know that like things that feel meaningful or ones that you work really hard at, particularly with a team. And when it works, it’s just the results are amazing. You and I would do these celebrations afterwards where we just get into some bar somewhere with the whole team and you’d be shouting out all the highlights and you could go on for hours and people’s voices were gone because you couldn’t talk anymore, because it’s so many presentations and we’re out of energy, but we feel so great. And I remember so well some of the highlighted moments. And I think the team just kind of felt like they grew so much in one day and people had chances to speak in the biggest stages they’ve ever spoken at in front thousands of people. And so I think that in the team, it’s just so clear. And then, yeah, for for CEO, I mean, you know how it is. It’s actually really hard to just keep going because it’s just super hard and it’s hard for everyone, by the way. So I mean, CEOs are very privileged and lucky and tons of benefits. But, you know, it’s hard to keep going with the company. But anyone in a company, it’s hard. Right. But a CEO, theoretically, you probably are one of the people that go the furthest, the longest, if you’re fortunate enough. Right. And the journey is pretty lonely at the end and stuff. And so that conference becomes this like embodiment of, OK, wow, there’s something worth fighting for. So I think it does touch all three of those stakeholders. 

Anthony Kennada It resonates with me so much. I mean, we call this podcast Heart of Business, which I define as a space where companies and customers really connect. And for me, I kind of view us as the heart of Gainsight’s business in that in that sense, obviously, the product is a big part of it, the value that we’ve created for customers from that perspective. But I really do think about as the heart of the business. And that’s something that has impacted me profoundly in my career. And as I think back to some of the the best kind of highlights of my career, almost all of them have something to do with the time that Pulse. 

Anthony Kennada We have one more segment to get to, Nick. We call this the speed round. Also give you 5 seconds or less to answer each of the following questions. Are you ready? Let’s go. All right. Best book you’ve read recently. 

Nick Mehta I will say, OK, I’m going to give you three. I’m going to cheat, Super Forecasters, which is all about how you can kind of do a better job of making great predictions and how people that are really good at predictions can make great ones. So that’s kind of very practically useful. I read a book called The Case Against Reality. That’s a that’s a view into my mind. It’s about whether there’s anything real here or whether there’s something that’s that’s beyond us that we can’t perceive from a science perspective. It’s a very interesting science read. And then I will say the one actually, I don’t think after you heard about this yet, we have 14-year-old, 11-year-old, 8-year-old. My 14-year-old is an aspiring author. So the best book I read this year is the first novel that she wrote that she gave me the draft out, which is called Every Spring. And it’s a pretty amazing to see the kid that you helped make a book, not published or anything. But I think hopefully I think it will be. And it’s pretty amazing. 

Anthony Kennada It’s an unbelievable answer. I can’t even imagine as a father myself seeing our children do something this. That’s incredible. 

Anthony Kennada That was much more than five seconds, though. Let’s go back to speed. Favorite podcast. 

Nick Mehta Sean Carroll is a physicist, does a podcast called Mindscape. Awesome work from home or work from the office, work from home and hopefully get to do this a lot and going for it. I like it. 

Anthony Kennada Favorite purchase that you made during quarantine? 

Nick Mehta DSL, our camera I’m trying to set up right now. Not set up yet. I’m working on it. 

Anthony Kennada Finally, the brand that you admire the most? 

Nick Mehta Southwest Airlines, because it’s a tough business and their employees seem to like working there.

Anthony Kennada All right, and finally, Nick, just to end on this, as a customer yourself, what’s the most memorable interaction that you’ve ever had or that you can remember with a company? 

Nick Mehta I will give a extremely stereotypical answer for a Silicon Valley CEO and say the first time I drove my Tesla. So Tesla is a pretty remarkable reinvention of a car. Now, a lot of other electric cars are out there, integrated experience end to end, then that’s one of the gold standards out there. 

Anthony Kennada Well Nick it means so much that wou were on this. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for reminiscing with me and going back to 2013 as folks want to find you or learn more about Gainsight. Where can they go? 

Nick Mehta Yeah, Gainsight.com. Or you can find me on Twitter and look forwardd to getting to meet some of you down the road.

Anthony Kennada Awesome. Thanks so much, Nick. 

Anthony Kennada That was so awesome to hear back. And I got to say, you know, when we talk about Pulse being at the heart of our business at Gainsight, like, we really mean it, it’s not just a platitude. The community, the people behind the profession and we heard a lot of words like "movement" on that episode—that’s what drove us. That’s what really kind of fueled our ability to build the business. It opened up our sort of creative muscle more and allowed us to really kind of power through the forgive the term. But the dog days of category creation, which is is a tough, long effort. And so now, again, in light of the news that Vista has made a major majority investment in Gainsight, it’s just so validating. And I’m so excited for what this means for the community to now get incrementally more resources to help shape and advance the interests of the profession and a lot more kind of innovation. I’d imagine it’s a different kind of software stacks to help them can be more productive in general. Win, win, win, I suppose, for Gainsight, for Vista and for the community at large. LB It’s time for your last word. What did you think? 

LB Harvey Yeah, I mean, so the two big things stood out to me listening through the interview between you and Nick, AK. One, I love that Gainsight aligned to people and not technology and not trends. Right at the end of the day Gainsight really hitched its success to the folks who were betting on customer success as a career and the people who are really driving that as a thing in the industry. And those are the people who attended. Those are the people who bought Gainsight software. So I love the idea of really understanding your customers and knowing that it’s the people they’re going to drive your business a success, not just technology, not just the current trend which will come in, which will go right? And the second thing is, while I as a revenue leader, love the pipeline generation, no doubt, that events bring, events really are more than just a pipeline event. Right. They help build brands. They create the passion out there in the environment. And then I think what’s really cool is all of the behind the scenes chemistry and kind of camaraderie that a big event like Pulse can build within your company. I think it’s just a really unique rallying cry and something that people can get really excited about and drive morale across your own organization as well. 

Anthony Kennada Totally. That’s that’s so, so important. Well said. I’m looking forward to the next time we can we can all be in person again. I feel like I say that on every episode and who knows, maybe a Front conference at some point in the future. 

LB Harvey I absolutely hope that’s the case. At least 2022. All right. Well, that is all we have for this week. Please hit subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a rating and review as well. 

Anthony Kennada And you can follow the Heart of Business podcast honestly, as well as many other great stories of how teams and customers are working together and how they’re making their missions possible by subscribing to Front Page. 

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