Life and Times of a Customer Success Maverick with Typeform's David Apple

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| Last Updated: September 01, 2017 |

Reading time: 41 minutes


Read the mind of unuttered words and you’ll know why most conversations die. Awash with unpleasant emotions of a possible failure, an exchange with a teammate or a friend, seldom sees the light of the day.

A good conversation acts as the UI for our ability to pay attention and care about the hopes of others. Building a business that produces value for its customers and for the teams behind it, depends on this very ability.

If the practice of Customer Success underscores most discussions in the SaaS world today, it’s because it’s an ideal framework to have those conversations, and thus, to realize that ability and make change happen.

Today’s guest hails from a team that’s attempting to weave the best of this ability not just in their everyday tasks, but even more ardently into the product itself.

In today’s show we’ll speak with David Apple, the Director of Customer Success at Typeform, a startup that is reimagining the most fundamental interface between screens and humans.

Before joining Typeform, David worked as a Mechanical Engineer in London and Berlin, started and sold his own business, and tried getting into FC Barcelona.

In this episode, we cover:

David’s planning rigor.

Is an MBA still worth it?

What does it mean to be customer obsessed.

How to think about conversations, and the magic of small talk.

Lessons on being customer driven, learned from his father.

The two ways to think about competition.

How Typeform makes crucial decisions.

The unlikely beginning of Customer Success at Typeform.

The five pillars of Typeform’s Customer Success team.

What being proactive really entails and why David applied for a position at FC Barcelona.

What it takes to understand fellow sapiens.

***

Tune in. And then, obsess over your customers.

And once you’ve heard the episode, if your eardrums have made answer, and would want more such conversations, you can subscribe to the show on SoundCloud.

Here’s a lightly edited transcript of this conversation.

***

Akash: Hello David, welcome to the show.

David: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Akash: Well, it’s a pleasure. Wanted to pick your brain on a lot of things, how you think, how things happen in Typeform. And where are we headed in this industry. So, yeah, really excited about the conversation.

David: Me, too, thanks.

Akash: To start with, I would want to go back, as we usually do, in Live The Questions, you’ve spent eight years as a mechanical engineer, working in Berlin and London. It would be great if you could go back to the moment when it was made clear to you that you had to move on to something else.

David: I think, the reason, I got a little bit tired of working as a Mechanical engineer, designing buildings, is that for a while I was learning a lot. But at some point, even, though, it was interesting stuff, it became pretty repetitive.

And I wanted to be more on the business side, I was inspired seeing our Managing Director, and the stuff that he got to work on. And I wanted to work on similar stuff.

So, I decided to that the best way to put myself in such a situation is to get an MBA. So, I went off and got an MBA, actually, sponsored by one of the engineering firms I worked for.

And that’s what allowed me to pivot in more managerial type roles or business type roles. And I pivoted into tech.

Akash: So. Going back a little. What was it, exactly, that you saw in the way your Managing Director worked, you thought was lacking in what you were doing?

David: Well, he got to do all the fun stuff.

He was the one negotiating the deals with the customers. He managed the team.

Basically, he wasn’t doing the detail. He was doing the high level, the big picture stuff. Which my impression was what really mattered, and he left the detail to people like me.

Akash: Big picture. That reminds me of dreams. Your move, your decision, it seems like a logical extension to what you were thinking back then. But it doesn’t speak for the dreams that you might have had as a kid, what do you think, you were dreaming of becoming when you were young.

David: Good question. I don’t really remember, what I wanted to be, to be honest. But I think, of course, like a star athlete or something like that. And my dream has evolved. I still don’t know what I want to be.

But somehow I feel like I’m getting there. I’m headed in the right direction.

I’m not sure. I’m sorry.

Akash: Okay. So. What are the cues, what are the hints, that tell you that you’re getting there?

David: I’m a little bit of a dork. I make a one-year, three-year, five-year, plan for myself, every year. I tell myself, what do I want to achieve this year, where do I want to see myself in three years, or in five years. It helps me put perspective.

And put me into kind of a, instead of just letting the river take me wherever it takes me, actually, dive myself in the direction I want to go.

So that’s what made me realize that I wanted to get an MBA, not because necessarily in one year I’m going to make a big change.

But three years or five years down the line, I would be in a position, where I would have that type for responsibility, and the tools that I needed to get there are an MBA.

It’s kind of putting myself in a position, where I have the tools to take advantage of the opportunities that hopefully will present themselves in the future.

Akash: So. There’s this school of thought that says, “if you want to learn something, just start doing it.” Or join someone who is doing it. There’s a lot of talk on how valuable, an MBA ends up, as an education, compared to what you’d get when you’re working.

Do you think, that actually makes a difference?

David: Do I think that having an MBA makes a difference?

Akash: Yes, compared to just jumping into something.

David: Good question. I get that question a lot. Because I met a lot of people, who’re debating, whether or not to do an MBA. I think the answer is different for different people.

An MBA is really expensive.

So, there needs to be an ROI. Return of investment. I think, if you’re doing an MBA because you want to start your own business, I think, it would be a much better investment, to just buy the right books, speak to a few people who’ve done an MBA, buy the right books that they recommend.

And that will save you probably like a $100,000, and you can invest that money in your business.

If on the other hand you’re working your way up the ladder, or you want a career change or a pivot, as I did. And I didn’t have the skills to pivot.

Then, it can be the right thing that gives you that knowledge that allows you to apply for a different type of role, then the one you’ve had up until then.

I think it depends on the profile.

Akash: Your Twitter bio says, you’re customer obsessed, how does that affect the choices you make throughout the day at work?

David: Basically, what I mean by that is, I try to be very empathic, or I guess, I’m naturally very empathic. And I’m always trying to put myself in customer’s shoes.

Day to day, what I’m doing is trying to make our customers happy, the way if I were a customer, the way I’d like to be treated.

Akash: When did you realize the importance of this thinking, was it learned growing up, or through experiences that you’ve had in your previous line of work?

David: I guess, in every role I had, I evolved towards the customer.

Even though, I studied Mechanical Engineering, which is kind of as far as you get from the customer. In my first role, I was doing the tendering and pricing for an engineering firm, so I was figuring out how much it would cost to do one of our projects.

And to do that, I had to visit the site and and speak with the customers. I always really enjoyed that.

The sales team saw that I was good that. So they started bringing me along, more and more often. And eventually, the directions saw that I was good at that, and they put me in a business development role, trying to launch a new product to the market.

And, so I didn’t actually ever had a pure sales role until after my MBA. What I had, was that engagement with the customer, that I really enjoyed. I think, also because I didn’t have a sales quota, it wasn’t at all stressful. It was just relationships and I really enjoyed that.

Akash: So. You mentioned you were good at conversations. That’s what got you into business development, and sales, now you’re doing customer success. So, could you tell us a bit about, how conversations begin for you?

David: Sure. I think the… Again, it starts with empathy, so it’s trying to understand where the other person is coming from. So, I’m going to take this from the example of, I work for a company, I’m speaking to someone who is either interested in using our service or something like that.

First of all, the first step for me is always small talk. I’d just like to know who the person is, where they’re from, what they like, stuff like that, to build a personal rapport, and hopefully a certain level of trust.

Trying to find things that we have in common, so that we can talk about it next time we speak, and again that builds trust.

Then, I try to understand what their situation is. Why they’re potentially interested in our tool, or service, maybe try to identify ways in which our service could help them, in ways they haven’t even thought.

What other problems they have, maybe there are other ways our solution can help them other than, what they thought of initially.

And then like, the way I feel like a deal should be closed, if you’re looking at sales or an expansion should be achieved if you’re talking about account management is very naturally.

Because you’ve spoken to the person, they trust you. You’ve understood their problem. And you’ve shown them how your solution can solve their problem.

If all that goes well, you don’t even have to ask to close the deal, you don’t have to… It just happens as a part of that process.

Akash: You mentioned small talk. I’m bad at it. I’m just so. And the idea of getting into a conversation with someone, you’re speaking with for the first time, or you know that you’re going to discuss something else, eventually.

The talks about the weather, I don’t know, Usain Bolt. Just don’t arise on their own. They don’t happen. So, for people like me, who don’t buy the value of small talk right away, I know it’s important, what would you tell them?

David: It’s a really good question. And the truth is, I don’t know what to tell them.

I think, for me, it’s really genuinely, because I enjoy it. It’s not a strategy. For example, I would tell you that I went to India for two weeks for a friend’s wedding.

I went to these different cities. I had enjoyed this type of food. And it builds rapport, and I would ask…I just enjoy sharing. It’s really something that I enjoy rather than doing with an end goal in mind of something.

I realized taking a step back, the small talk builds trust and a relationship, but I’m not doing it as a strategy to build trust or relationship.

I think that’s why it works. Because it’s something I enjoy doing, rather than something I’m programmatically doing. Hope that makes sense.

Akash: It does. I know it’ll take some time for me to jump on the other side. But yeah, it’s a good start.

David: Our small talk. I enjoyed our small talk before we got on the call. I wouldn’t say that you’re not good at it, to the contrary.

Akash: Thank you!

David: And everybody likes humility. I think you’re just being humble, which is also nice.

Akash: I remember in our conversation last time, that you learned the importance of serving the customers the right way from your father a lot, could you talk a bit about that, if you could recollect some stories that he told you, or something specifically that he said about how things work?

David: Sure. I would say that my dad is also customer obsessed. And I always loved hearing his business stories when I was a kid. He started his own business.

He started a telephone service. He was the first competitor of France telecom with a company called Telegroup. At first, it was just so much cheaper than France Telecom, everybody hated France telecom at the time, it was easy to get customers in.

But obviously that advantage lasts for a while, and you get a lot of other competitors coming in, and rather than trying to compete with all of them on price, he made customer support one of their most important thing. That was one of their big differentiators.

I can’t recall any specific stories. But I just remember the theme. He hired great customer support people. He was checking them, making sure they were doing a good job, and basically he was, it felt to me, that he was always more focused on his customer support team doing a great job, rather than focused on sales and marketing.

And ultimately, he was quite successful. That’s pretty inspiring for me as well.

Akash: A lot has been said about the importance of customer success over the last few years. Increasingly, especially in the SaaS space, mostly because of generous teams and founders that share their learnings.

Just reemphasize the importance of it. Their writings. Their speeches. Their keynotes. But for someone who hasn’t evolved in this sort of an industry. Or someone who hasn’t seen someone, say, in your case it was your father, who believed in it.

Who has just dealt with brands on a level of exchange. Where in, you pay for something and you’re get it. You’re done. And they’ve just dealt with big brands. How should they think about this? What would you instill in their mind?

David: About customer success in general?

Akash: Yeah.

David: I think, there is a number of reasons why it’s important. And I’m going to name a few. But obviously there are a lot more than I’m going to be able to name now.

I think, there’s a study by Bain that shows that it’s seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain your existing customers.

So, for any type of service or product that people come back, would pay on a periodic basis. It seems like keeping your customers, so they come back, is a much better investment than trying to go out and find other customers.

Also, if for SaaS, if you’re able to be better at retaining your customers, your customer ultimately spends more money, becomes more valuable, so that they have a higher lifetime value. Which means you can invest more money in hiring new customers.

It’s actually, kind of, also helps you justify investing in new customers, if you’re able to retain your existing customers longer. I guess the third thing I’d say, your retention rate, that’s how well you’re able to retain your customers, directly impacts your overall growth rate and health as a company.

I’ve seen some graphs, basically, if the company is generating the same amount of new business month on month, the same amount of new customers coming in every month.

Their retention rate can determine whether or not, whether the company will grow exponentially, or just linearly or completely fail.

It seems like, everybody, historically, has been focused on sales and marketing because maybe the market wasn’t as open, it wasn’t as easy to find other products that could replace.

But now, I think, it’s become clear to everybody that retaining your customers, and keeping them happy, is the key to growing, and to having a healthy business.

Akash: Speaking of markets, you’re in a market, where there’s Wufoo, and there is SurveyMonkey, and Google forms, all successful at what they do, in the same space, so, how do you think about competition, being in such a space?

David: Good question. So, I’ll share with you the two ways that I look at it. The first thing when I joined Typeform, or when I was looking at joining Typeform, two years ago, there were only fifteen of us.

At first, I was kind of thinking, ‘forms, that’s not very sexy,’ and I don’t know anybody who spends a lot of money on forms. Knowing that there’s a SurveyMonkey out there. There’s some Qualtrics.

There’s basically, two billion dollar businesses that do forms and surveys, was kind of reassuring to me that this is a big market, and if we have a nice edge, then we can grow a big and healthy business from it.

But the other side, the way we look at it now that I’m at Typeform, one of our values is compete with yourself.

We take that very literally. We don’t look at what SurveyMonkey does or Wufoo or Google forms or Qualtrics. What we’re focused on is being the best that we can be.

So, we don’t look at them, and see what features they’re developing, what the pricing is, and any of that stuff, and part of it is also, we want to become… we want to be perceived as more than just a form or survey builder.

Because Typeforms are so beautiful and so engaging, people have used it to do much more than what they generally do with form or survey builders.

People build applications with Typeform. Workflows. All sorts of really cool stuff.

So, we’re still figuring out how, exactly, we’re going to communicate that with the market. One of the ideas now is to have a tool with which you can create scalable conversations.

It’s like having a conversation with someone, because it’s a good interaction, it’s one question at a time, like a normal conversation, and have that in a scalable way.

Which, I think, is much more inspiring, than just building a form builder.

That’s also part of the reason why we’re not looking at competitors. We’re trying to think, how, how we can do something different.

Akash: You did mention that you joined in quite early. You were probably the 15th or 16th employee.

David: That’s right.

Akash: So, Scott Belsky, the founder of Behance has this quote, where he says, “some new products seem especially compelling, because they’re yet to face and make the difficult decisions,” that is true for a lot of products.

As you joined Typeform early, I’m sure you’ve witnessed quite a few of those decisions being made. So, could you talk about a few of them, and also how you drove through them?

David: Sure. There’s a lot of tough decisions. There’s a lot of decisions, when we’re making them at the time, sometimes it really feels like it’s make or break for the business. But then looking back, when I do, it wasn’t actually such a big deal.

It’s weird. But that’s the way I feel.

One of the big decisions that we’ve made relatively recently, is, rather than focus on continuing to build on our existing platform, to shift, and to basically rebuild a new platform.

We haven’t launched it yet. It’s going to be another several months before we do. So, I can’t tell you too much detail, and the truth is, we’re not exactly sure, what we’re going to launch when.

A lot of companies have the same issue, when they start they build something really quickly, and it’s not such a robust platform. And then you build and build on it. And then we have 1.5 million users.

So, you have tons of users, and things are breaking. And it’s hard to build on top of it. Because it wasn’t structured in a way that is conducive to building a big platform on top of it.

I think a tough decision was rather than trying to continue to build, and to add the features that we know our customers want, to understand that we should put that on hold, and think longer term and build something that is robust and that’ll be great for us in the longer term.

It’s kind of like a short term vs long term decision.

I think that’s a big decision for our business. Because we know our growth could have been higher if we continued to build new stuff. But we think that it’s better to invest now for the future.

That’s a decision that comes to mind, as it’s the one that we did recently.

Then there’s other smaller decisions.

Generally the way we look at it, I heard this from Google as well, is we should always be optimizing for the customer experience. When we have that value in mind, it makes the decisions a lot more easier.

Even if something is better for revenue targets, we take it into account first, the impact that it’ll have on our customers.

Akash: When you were talking about the market as well, you said there are two lenses to look at it. One is that there are a lot of companies, they are successful, so that validates the opportunity for you.

The second lens, is based on the value of building something that isn’t out there, to build something more than a simple interface.

And then, you again, spoke about values. Values, you could say, the source of these values are usually founding members or early employees. It’s a way of thinking.

How does it cascade through to teams, as a company starts growing, is it something that’s in the air, and you’re supposed to pick it up, or there is something else, something deliberate at work?

David: Good question. In our case, it evolved.

At first, it was something that was just there and you had to feel it, adjust to it. We didn’t know how to describe it.

It’s funny.

Because at first, we did it for hiring. We realized, “okay, what is our culture,” because we wanted to hire people who were good culture fits. What are the most important things to us?

So, we looked around to the people, who were successful in our company and the people who we liked working with. We chose three things, which were, humble, passionate and smart.

When we’re looking to hire somebody, they need to have those three qualities. And then, we realized, the next level is how do we work and how we make decisions. And then we came up with a number of values, which we’re constantly refining.

In fact, we have a company off site in October, we’re going to be working on that. And so out of that comes, ‘compete with yourself’, which is good because it means, we’re not competing with competition, we’re also not competing with other people in our team.

And trying to make that one of our values. One of my favorite ones. We have one with the word ‘users’ crossed out, and instead it just says ‘humans.’

It’s a value of our company to focus on people that are using Typeform as human beings with problems, who’re trying to solve something and create something great with Typeform rather than just another user.

There’s a number of values like that, that guide the way we perceive our business. And how we make decisions.

Akash: I remember the story of two founders, Typeform founders attending a conference where they first heard the idea of customer success. I have two questions based on that. Because based on their visit, is how you ended up adopting customer success as something you wanted to focus on.

First question is, was it the first time that you heard about this, too?

And second, is that how a lot of decisions get made, based on rapid conversations?

David: Great question. Yeah, so, our founders found out about customer success at a conference organized by one of our investors, at Point Nine Capital.

In which, the now Chief Customer Officer of Vend, whose name is Sharad Mohan, presented and made a really compelling case for customer success.

They were impressed. They came back from the conference. Asked Sharad to give a little workshop for our team. Brought me in, at the time, in charge of sales, our head of marketing, and our head of support.

He presented to us.

It was the first time I heard of this customer success concept, which was much more proactive. And it was very organized. I really liked the way Sharad presented it, and I thought ‘this is really cool, but I’m in sales so, lucky person who heads support gets to build this out.’

But then the CEOs offered me the opportunity to switch from Sales to Customer Success, and I saw it as I was mentioning earlier, one of those tools that will put me in a better position, to be a better professional, to learn this new discipline.

That’s how I got into customer success. That’s how we at Typeform decided to get into it.

Your second question was about, if we make a lot of decisions in that way, I think the answer is yes.

And I think the reason that the answer is yes is because our CEOs are very smart and humble and passionate.

The three things that I mentioned. But the humble in that, they don’t think that they know everything, or how everything should work.

It does happen frequently that they’ll speak to either an investor or another CEO or something like that, and come back and say “Hey, I hadn’t thought about this. But we should probably invest in changing our strategy for this that way.”

A recent example was for our marketing growth team. Our strategy used to be that we had a lot of different writers, they were writing for their own channels. They weren’t really unified.

And now, after speaking to a guy who had experience at Prezi, and at Invision, who gave us the advice of putting it all together. Creating one centralized big piece of content.

That then, you share through all the different channels and different ways, which seems like it will be much more powerful. That’s another example of how we changed a strategy based on a conversation with one person who inspired us.

Akash: That is fascinating. Because you end up having a lot of filters. When you catch on to new ideas. Those filters are like questions. “Am I acting on it too fast?” Or “Is it just a subjective lens, it appears like a great idea to me, will it really work for us?”

From that point on, you’ve come a long way. Now, you have 15, sorry, 25 members in your team. And you’ve structured your team as you mentioned before in five pillars. What are those pillars and what’s the thinking behind them?

David: Sure.

So, the Customer Success team at Typeform is structured in, we have team called Customer Support, another one is Customer Experience, we have another one that’s Education, Account Management, and I’m just starting to build a Sales team at Typeform.

Which would probably, eventually break out of my control, we’ll probably hire a VP of Sales at some point. But in any case, right now, it’s all those five.

Which is fine, because it gives me a holistic, continuous view of our customers from the Sales to Support to Account Management e.t.c

Why is it structured that way?

Because I like having people focused on specific tasks and specific metrics. So, each pillar has their own mission statements, their own KPIs that measure their performance.

For Support, for example, their KPI is, first, response time, customer satisfaction rating, and cost to serve.

And then, Customer Experience, is doing all of our one to many communication with our customers. So, all the onboarding, and they are also doing our customer voice.

That is tracking all the metrics that we get from our customers through all the different channels, aggregating all that information, and identifying trends and feeding that back to our marketing team, to our product team, so that we also influence them to make the right decisions for our customers.

Our Education team, their KPI is more ticket deflection, and also SEO, because we get a lot of traffic through our help center.

And then, Account Management is something similar to our customer experience team, but one to one. They engage with our higher value customers and try to make them successful.

And then, we also have a Sales team. The angle, I’m trying to setup the sales team with is to, as I was mentioning earlier, not to be pushing customers into deals, but rather pulling them into deals.

Which is, very subtle difference, but I hope that it will work better. We never want to be pushy, we just want to show the value, and let the customers come to us. As opposed to the other way around.

Akash: Again, you spoke about planning and organizing and metrics. KPIs. And you’ve been working for about 14 years now. Since 2002, I suppose.

So, were there things that you were doing back then, in terms of thinking about work and life, in terms of reading, in terms of meeting certain people that have somehow influenced where your thinking, or you yourself have ended up, in hindsight?

David: Great question. I mean, everything influences me in different ways.

My dad, when I was just out of University, gave me a sales book to read. Which I thought was really fascinating. It showed me that sales wasn’t just a soft skill that a lot of people associate it with.

Like a used car sales guy, who is like going there and schmoozing people. There’s science behind it. And there’s a process that you can follow to be more successful. To be more methodological. And to not waste your time with the wrong people.

So, I think that really opened my mind to stuff that I just didn’t realize. Because I was a mechanical engineer, and I had never kind of studied or thought of the business side of things.

That maybe sparked my interest in the business side of things.

I think, also, this is not the right thing to do. But I’ll say it anyway. I think, when I was a Mechanical Engineer in London, financially I was just getting by. And I wasn’t satisfied with that.

I had friends in Finance who were doing much more than just getting by. So that was also something that made me feel like, “okay, I need to break out of this. I need to figure how to get to the next level.” To be more comfortable financially.

So that also kind of pushed me to realize that in engineering you’re selling your time, basically, your hours as I was working in an Engineering consulting firm. That’s not scalable. There’s only so many hours I can work a day.

And I felt like Tech is something much more scalable, that I could grow in. Turns out, I love Tech. It’s a great match. That’s also maybe what pushed me a little bit to do more and challenge myself to do more and do better.

I don’t know if it’s really the answer you were looking for.

Akash: Yes, I think we’re getting there. So, I have a following question. You mentioned that another thing you learned when you were young is the idea of being proactive.

And so if you just tell somebody to be… “Okay, you got to be proactive. You got to be doing it this way.” Is that enough? How would you break it down for someone, the importance of taking a lead?

David: Great point. I think, being proactive is very important because it allows you to effectively get what you want, as opposed to what other people are willing to give you or wherever the wind blows you.

I think, in my personal experience, I was telling you before that when I moved to London, I had worked as an engineer for few years, then had started my own business that I sold, didn’t have a profile that would be appealing to any potential employer.

I found out because I applied to about 500 jobs and didn’t get any offers. So, then I decided, instead of reactively applying for jobs that were there, that I know other people were applying to. I’m going to be proactive and go out and find opportunities where I feel like I could be well suited for.

Because I spoke several languages, I looked for international firms. Because I had a mechanical engineering degree, I looked for people that had engineering.

I didn’t cold call but I cold emailed companies in that category and that’s how I ended up getting my job, in London.

And since then, because that worked, it’s the advice I give to everybody of how to go about job searching, and it’s also what I apply to myself.

When I moved to Barcelona, I did the same thing. I went out and proactively networked, in fact when I moved to Barcelona, I was thinking what would be the coolest job that I could possibly get, and of course that would be working for FC Barcelona.

Akash: Oh! Okay, did you apply?

David: Actually, they didn’t have any job offers, otherwise I’m sure they’d get like a million applications. So what I did is I went on LinkedIn, and just searched FC Barcelona, and I found a bunch of people who work for FC Barcelona, and requested to connect with each and every single one of them.

And then, like six or seven accepted my request, which was awesome.

Then I crafted an email and sent that to each of them, and then only one of them actually accepted to get on a call with me and tell me that basically there was no chance for me to get a job at FC Barcelona.

But, yeah, it was… That’s when I’m talking about, ‘being proactive.’ And going after what you want. And thinking, “what’s my ideal?” instead of thinking about what just comes on your plate, rather like what would be the ideal thing that I want to get, and try to go after that.

Akash: Okay, we’re moving towards a close here, so I have two final questions for you, one is about events, certain events end up changing how we think about our own ability and the world and they just make us look at things differently.

I think it was the journalist and cultural critic H. L. Mencken who said that discovering Mark Twain was the most stupendous event of his life. I think it was at age 9 or something. So, what do you regard as the most stupendous in your life, or events?

David: Good question. I guess there’s several.

I’ve had a lots of twists and turns in my career, and each one was triggered by something like that I would say.

But if I had to just narrow down to one or two, I would say, getting the company that I worked for in London to sponsor my MBA, and getting an MBA was massive.

Because it meant that I didn’t have to be indebted when I finished my MBA, which was nice. But more importantly, it gave me the tool that I needed to get to the next step of where I wanted to be. Which is, now I am very pleased with where I’m now.

Then after the MBA you have to get that first job, which is not so easy, because you have to convince somebody that even though you don’t have the experience doing some specific thing, that they should trust you because you have an MBA and because you want to get there.

I was really fortunate in Tel Aviv, which is where I went after my MBA, to get a job in a SaaS business. Where I started in implementations and then evolved into being VP Sales ultimately.

I learned a lot. A lot of what a company should do. I also learned a lot about what a company shouldn’t do. And it really kind of put me on the path.

I would really say that it was the MBA and the switch to working in SaaS, that’s the pivotal point in my career overall.

At Typeform, it was obviously, very clearly to me was when the CEOs offered for me to get into Customer Success.

And I think, you know, maybe ten years down the line, that’d be the biggest turning point because I really enjoy customer success much more than I would have enjoyed a career, just in Sales.

So, I’m really grateful for them, for giving me that opportunity, and I’m doing my best to make the most of it. And I’m lucky now so I get to speak to people like you.

Akash: So, well, thank you, that’s a compliment, okay, another question is, you’ve been talking about changes and how you’ve looked at them, one is through the lens of ambition, the other is through the lens of opportunity, so what was the last thing that you changed your mind about?

David: Like the most recent thing that I changed my mind about?

Akash: Yes. Something important. Something that you really believed in. But you did change your mind about it.

David: Well, I guess, something that comes to mind pretty recently was a Sales candidate that we had. I interviewed, I really liked him.

But then, our CEO wasn’t quite as convinced as I was. And we had a few more interactions with him, and realized that he wasn’t the best cultural fit.

And it took the CEO to explain that to me, and despite the fact that at the beginning I was saying, this is our first Sales guy, he’s going to be great.

I changed my mind, influenced by our CEO, who kind of opened my eyes to this, saying he’s not the right culture fit for this and this reason, and I agreed with him.

That was something that was a big decision because our first sales hire was a really big decision, now we have our first sales hire, and I’m really pleased that we said no to this other guy. Who I’m sure will have a great career in Sales.

But the woman that we hired instead is the right culture fit.

It’s worthwhile having the patience to find really great, amazing people, rather than someone who isn’t 100% the right fit.

Akash: I’m going to ask you an extra question, okay. I requested for two but you’re too kind. Perhaps we’ll get another one. I’ve been thinking about this, the more we embrace technology, the lesser we get to speak with people.

And businesses ever since they’ve existed, the norm has been, of course, you have to be able to speak with people and connect to them, for people who’re entering the working world now, with a certain mindset about how they look at the world.

There’s always a screen between us and the people. And you’ve held jobs, even when, so you were a Mechanical Engineer, but you were still talking to people. And that ends up being, there’s some sort of resistance in a lot of people, in figuring this out.

What would you tell someone about understanding people? Is there an operating principle? How do you think about this?

David: Wow. I haven’t really thought about it. I’ll share whatever thoughts come to my mind now, and may regret later but we’ll see.

In any case, I think the best way to understand people is to know a lot of people different types of people. Until my Dad was successful in business, basically I had different types of friends, different social groups, different economic groups, different religions.

I was born in the US, I grew up in France, and I went to an international school, where there were Spanish, Norwegian, Russian, etc.

And I think that opened my mind to realizing that at the end of the day, nobody is really right, nobody is really wrong, everybody has an interesting story, everybody has something to bring to you that you don’t know that you weren’t aware of or a new perspective.

And I think, if you treat people with that level of respect, understanding that a lot of people think that they know everything or think that other people might not have much to bring to them are generalized too easily about a specific group of people.

If you’re open to that and you genuinely believe that you can learn stuff from everybody then it makes conversations much more engaging. And much more genuine.

I would kind of say, realize that you are not, I don’t know, I’d have to think more about what suggestion I’d give to millennials.

But I think that’s one of the things that I really strongly believe in, this is not scientific at all, but I know that there’s a study that was done that said that you only use 20% of your brain.

So, I think that everybody has the capacity to surprise you, basically. I don’t think that the difference between one person to the next is big in terms of brain capacity, I think it’s more based on how we were raised and educated.

And also luck of the draw.

I have some friends who grew up in tougher situations, who haven’t had the luxuries that I’ve had. Certain education that I had. But asking them the right questions, I can still learn a lot from them.

I don’t know. That was a bit of a brain fart.

Akash: It wasn’t. I think, that sums up how you think about this, in a true sense. That is a good way to look at this, for people who’re coming up. Alright, thanks David, thanks for doing this, sharing all your thoughts and learnings, tough decisions that you’ve made so far.

I wish the journey at Typeform just goes on, you guys do even better. I’m a fan. Like the work that you guys do. And that’s perhaps one reason why Typeform ends up in quite of the posts that I write, and especially if it is about design and experience.

It’s somehow that is the first name that comes up. Great job there. And you’re bringing in a great point, when you say “humans” instead of calling everyone users, that is also reflected in how you think about the world and people. Just keep doing the great work.

David: And thank you very much, and thanks for having me today. I’m really flattered that you asked me to participate and I really enjoyed it. So thanks a lot.

Akash: Thanks David, have a good day!

David: Thanks, you too.

Author of the post

Akash Sharma

Product Marketer at Chargebee. An Avid Reader, Seeking Cerebral Turbulence

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