March 14, 2018 –
The defining mantra for businesses today is customer experience. While, products and services need to be easy to understand and intuitive to use, great training is key to making customers successful and lifelong advocates. One only needs to look at Apple and its Genius Bars in how seriously it takes educating its customers despite the intuitive and easy to use nature of its products. The need to continuously equip customers with the knowledge to use products and services is even more acute in the B2B world, where complexity is higher and often more is at stake for both the buyer and seller. In the modern service economy products are increasingly sold as a subscription, where delivering a superior customer experience is a constant, requiring that users know how to use a product cold.
In today’s competitive world, as a business your customers must say: “You had me on my first 5 minute training video ….. on my iphone …. in the back seat of my Lyft.”
Need for a new training platform
While the need for customer training is not new, the opportunity has never been riper for it to be personalized, with the proper learning modality, delivered at scale and cost effectively. And many B2B industries, from technology to life sciences to financial services to logistics, are feeling a big pain as existing solutions fall short. These include class room based training, home grown systems or traditional LMS (learning management software) typically focused on a fundamentally different use case of employee training and compliance. The problem is so bad that even the “progressive” software industry suffers from selling “shelfware” where many industry studies have found that as much as 30-40 percent of business software licenses are unused, not in small part due to inadequate user training and lack of adoption.
As someone who built, sold and implemented enterprise software and has used complex business software in the past, I have lived both ends of the problem. And as venture investors, we have seen all our enterprise-focused portfolio companies facing this issue. An area of specialty for us is business application SaaS companies such as ServiceMax, Qventus and Outreach and they live and die by the adoption and usage of their offering by end users. And as always, effective training is a critical gating factor to ensuring customer success.
Investing in a Vision and a People-First Philosophy
It is unthinkable that in our current day and age this problem has not been solved. However, as is often the case, there is a time and need for every market to emerge only to be met by the right entrepreneur with the vision, perseverance and aptitude to crack it. This was not unlike how we developed our approach to the marketing technology landscape which led to our partnering early on with successes such as Marketo, MOAT and Gigya.
To enable truly effective customer training, the maturation of cloud, mobile, video, social and machine learning technologies are necessary ingredients. After exploring the market for several years and evaluating a number of companies and entrepreneurs to partner with, we were introduced to Sandi Lin and Jason Stewart at Skilljar, a SaaS company based in Seattle over two years ago by another entrepreneur we have partnered with: Manny Medina, co-founder and CEO of Outreach, which is also based in Seattle.
We were fascinated by Sandi and Jason’s vision for the market and their backgrounds. They both met and worked at Amazon, where Sandi recognized the need for a platform to train the thousands of Amazon Marketplace sellers at scale on how to best use and succeed with Amazon. At our first meeting, Sandi described how she is a lifelong learner and believes in the power of learning and training as a way to empower people and customers. As such she had left Amazon to start Skilljar, originally as a company focused on helping learning companies and course developers to connect with customers. Out of that experience she recognized the opportunity for what Skilljar is today, a modern customer and partner training platform powering customer success for hundreds of companies such as MapR, Cisco, Procore, Verizon, Spotify and zendesk with millions of end users across the globe.
When we first met Sandi and Jason, Skilljar had eight employees and handful of customers, validating the market and embarking on finding product market fit. Over the next two years, we got to know them and exchanged ideas on the market, how to build a successful SaaS business, the occasional challenge, and most importantly the values and the vision that drove them. Every time we interacted with them, Sandi’s belief and commitment to winning and ensuring their customers succeed and users win was simply infectious.
While it is still early days for Skilljar, the product and the customer love they have created (NPS of 42!) is a testament to the grit and perseverance of the team Sandi and Jason have built.
As is often the case for us at Mayfield, while technology and markets maybe a starting point in our investing, our people first opportunity to partner with an entrepreneur is the essence of our approach. We are excited to partner with Sandi, Jason and the team at Skilljar to build the defacto training platform transforming customer experience and success.