David Cancel the CEO and Co-founder of Drift, the world’s first conversational marketing and sales platform. He talks to us through his experience of entrepreneurship while highlighting topics such as leadership, impactful routines, marketing, and influence.
Question [00:03:51] Can you tell us a more about your Product, Drift?
David [4:06] We basically had an idea that in the beginning that the whole way that companies market and sell to other businesses and consumers had to change. I’d spent my career building marketing sales software, we thought the paradigm had shifted from one where the company ran everything to one where the buyer had all the power. That was the aha moment.
The next step was like if we were to reimagine all of sales and marketing software, think everything from Salesforce to everything else you can think of, how would they change in this buyer-centric world?
Salesforce was created over 20 years ago now. So, if you were to reinvent the 20 years later, what would it look like? What are the technologies, what are the paradigm shifts? Then do it from a buyer-centric view. The first thing that we did was like, if we think about our website, if you think about it in your head, like a store, and you want to go in and buy something that is a difficult item to buy. Let’s say a highly considered purchase. What’s the first thing you want to do?
You want to ask some questions? You might want to talk to somebody, but if we looked at all the business websites in the world, none of them allowed you to talk to anyone on the sales side. People were using chat for support, but no one from a selling side.
We started the company Drift with a messaging chat on the website and then that’s expanded from there. Our notion has always been something much bigger, but from a product standpoint, you have to start with a wedge and our wedge was chat.
Then you have to start also thinking about what are the undeniable trends that you could build upon? Our undeniable trend was that everyone default messaging now and it was now normal, so we could use it for sales finally.
Question [00:08:36] How do you continue learning and growing as a leader?
David [8:41] Now that I can look back, I think my one obsession throughout my whole life has been around learning. I’m a lifelong learner and it doesn’t have to have mythology. It’s can be about be anything.
The only real hack or productivity hack that I’ve ever seen is to learn from other people’s mistakes. The only two-saving hack is to learn from a mentor, learn from a book, learn from someone else who’s experienced the same thing in a similar context. That will save you years of pain and misery drive going through.
Question [00:10:38] Is there any particular routine that you think that has a positive impact on your work life?
David [10:45] I’m constantly testing and trying new routines to try to become this optimal self. I think the one that has been the most consistent has been for me is morning routines. That’s important for me, which is obviously reading a book, spending time reflecting, and doing things like that.
I have kids and spend time with them. The one thing that I’ve taken on more and more, especially as we’ve grown as a company is to make a deliberate thing with myself to just do nothing and not think, not do any activity aside from going for a hike or walking or something mindless like that.
I think that is the space between when you actually have the breakthroughs, everyone talks about the shower, having ideas in the shower or on a walk or whatever. But those things do not create ideas. If you can spend all your life in a shower, it’s not going to just create ideas, I guess it’s all the things you do before that.
You give yourself the time and space and permission to let those things ferment and for something to come out of that. So I make more time, I’m kind of going the opposite way. I’m trying to find more and more time. The more I do that, I find the more things become clear for me, the things crystallize and the more breakthroughs I have, more than when I was just running and be inactive all the time.
Question [00:15:24] What’s your take on giving value versus capturing part of that value?
There’s a whole bunch of reasons that I personally do that and why it’s important to us as a company. I think on one end, I didn’t have any role model and have any real people that I could look up to. I didn’t have any books that talked about problems that I cared about when I was growing up and I didn’t have the internet and didn’t have all these things.
So I had been spending my life searching for these answers and for this help. Now that I’m in a position to have had been done this a few times, then being able to learn and share my failures. That saves people some time and so I think that’s my motivation of like “Hey, maybe I can share some of this stuff”
Most of it, no one will listen to, even if they are actively listening to it, they won’t, they won’t truly feel it. I don’t have to fail on their own, but there’ll be some small percentage of people that maybe I saved them some time by sharing some of this stuff. I wish someone would have done that for me. And so that’s part of it.
The next part of it is that, as I said, we believe that the world has shifted from a company centered paradigm to a buyer-centric paradigm. In that world where all information is free, we believe that you have to, the best marketing comes from your customers. The second best marketing comes from you.
If you give enough, you will get in return. I believe in that, and we have been a benefit of that at Drift. We have given and given, never asking for anything back. Even if someone that was a great customer for us three years ago, we were to never ask them that. Maybe now three years later, they’d come on their own because they’ve gotten so much value from the stuff that we’ve given to them without ever asking them for anything. I think that’s the way the world is going.
Question [00:17:44] Marketing and Product tend to overlap. What do you think is the appropriate place for those two teams or groups to overlap?
David [17:59] That’s an interesting question because I was an engineer and then I became a product person, even though I was building marketing and sales software throughout that whole time, I was not a marketer. I didn’t know anything about marketing and when starting Drift, I kind of dove deep and became obsessive around learning marketing.
Now that I have done that, a lot of people say that I’m a great marketer. I’m like “I don’t know anything about marketing” but it’s because what I figured out from an engineer’s mindset was one marketing the way that people talk about it didn’t make any sense to me coming with this engineer product mindset until I reduced it back to the human elements and understood and started to study, cognitive biases, social psychology, human decision making, and once I started to understand and study that then everything and all these tactics and why they worked and why didn’t it work, it was a light bulb moment for me.
The amazing thing is that if you study those topics that apply as much to everything leading teams and what have you, but it applies as much to product and building products, especially in today’s world as what we would consider marketing. I think those things are, are blending and you see that with obviously growth marketers and other people like those, the lines between those things, I’m going to blend.
I think the CMO and the CPO, or like will become one thing over time. As we moved from a world of brand PR communication to demand generation. Now we’re moving towards kind of revenue generation in that world, the make is controlling the marketing. So I would tell everyone on this team, on this call to basically go study how people make decisions and that will benefit you in running a team, forming a company, marketing to people, selling to people, whatever you want.
Once you understand cognitive biases, how we make decisions and the different personality types, you can look at something as simple as that we use every day like the Amazon product detail page, and understand why every one of those elements is there and what it is doing to our decision making.
You may look at that naturally from a product or design-centric standpoint and say, “this page is ugly, it’s too busy, it’s got a bunch of stuff, I don’t really understand it” Once you understand it from a decision-making standpoint, you understand how this page can influence decision making from all different personality types and that it is not a mistake.
Question [00:28:25] How do you create that balance between the influence that you want to have as the ultimate product person and also allowing others to create their own work?
David [28:35] Great question. Because I come from a product background, obviously whoever is going to lead or the set of people that lead our products probably have the worst job you’re can imagine. If you came from a sales background, the CEO comes from a sales background, the head of sales has the worst job, etc..
This is because you are always going to try to bring that perspective there, the way that I think about it is that I try to operate more at like zoom in zoom out level is like super high level. I’m involved with some themes and what we think from a vision standpoint, from a company, but then I’m not really involved in anything else like how things get made or what our process is or what our cycles what are the dates and so on.
I don’t have any opinion on anything kind of day to day basis and then I zoom in at a very low level of the quality and the details and the way that we’re expressing ourselves from a customer perspective. That’s where I’m involved.
So I’m involved at those two levels. In my view, they’re kind of more coming from the perspective of the customer, at the high level which is all of our customers and how would they view us from a vision standpoint and where we’re going. At the very low level, it’s what is the actual tangible experience that they have and everything in between
Like where people spend a lot of the time as product managers geeking out and thinking about methodologies, I don’t really have an opinion on that. So that’s where I let those experts really shape that.
Thank you, David, for talking with us today!
We’ll be back next week with Dave Fowler with even more of the latest insights from the Product Management world.