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Pioneering Women Who Are Breaking Through the Digital Ceiling Part 3

What would you do if your customers revolted against a new company policy? Would you put it to a public vote on the company blog?  When Amy Muller and her business partners were looking for an inexpensive CRM or trouble ticket solution for their side project “Valleyschwhag” to help improve customer service, they couldn’t find one, so they built it. Soon after, the “people powered customer service” company Get Satisfaction was born to bring customers and the right company employees together to solve consumer issues. 

What would you do if your customers revolted against a new company policy? Would you put it to a public vote on the company blog?  When Amy Muller and her business partners were looking for an inexpensive CRM or trouble ticket solution for their side project “Valleyschwhag” to help improve customer service, they couldn’t find one, so they built it. Soon after, the “people powered customer service” company Get Satisfaction was born to bring customers and the right company employees together to solve consumer issues. 

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Inspiration To Start Get Satisfaction
The inspiration for Get Satisfaction was from a side project called “Valleyschwag.” It started out as this just-for-fun idea of sending tech schwag care packages to people around the globe who otherwise didn’t have access to all the logo t-shirts, pins, caps, etc that are filling our drawers here in the web 2.0 community in the Bay Area.

We (myself and my business partners, Thor Muller & Jonathan Grubb)  started a subscription service for these carefully curated care packages. The first month we had about 50-60 sign ups. But then we got covered on TechCrunch and BoingBoing and by the second month we had about 1500 subscribers. Suddenly we had CUSTOMERS. A lot of them, which also meant we had to provide good customer service.

It was just instinctual to us to want to be really hands on with our customer service. We really enjoyed interacting with them. We responded to every email and were very active with our blog.

Then there were a series of Eureka moments where we simultaneously realized that about 80% of the email was about repetitive issues AND that our customers were really creating a community with each other in the comments of our blog and on Flickr including posting solutions to any technical issues they were having.

We also had one business situation where we made a policy decision and our customers revolted!  So we put it to a vote on the blog and tallied the “votes” as they came in as comments to the blog post. Everyone was really happy with this more democratic way of making a decision.

Due to these experiences, we had this idea that we needed a better solution for customer support than Gmail and blogging. And we also knew that we didn’t want qne couldn’t afford some enterprise CRM or trouble ticket solution. We figured there must be some free/cheap web-based solution out there that used the principles of community for customer engagement and support. Well, we were wrong. We couldn’t find anything. So we decided to build it.

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Social Media And Technolgy Landscape
The power has shifted — media has been democratized. Anyone with access to a computer can be a content publisher now.  Also, with the emergence of the open source community it is SO much more feasible for someone with a great idea and the right skills to start building something without much capital. That is a huge difference from the first wave of the web. The open source community has really contributed to an overall collaborative spirit that exists in the tech community today. I’m sure some people will think I sound pollyanna-ish, but I really believe that the prevailing attitude is less about “me” and more about “us” these days. There’s more sharing and collaborating going on — you see this with the growing population in co-working spaces and events like BarCamps (and all the spin-off  “fill in the blank”Camps, many of which have taken a “social good” path) and SuperHappyDevHouse. There’s a lot of “What cool thing can we build together?” — even if it’s not ever intended to return a profit.

Challenges Of Being A Women In Tech
To be perfectly candid, I would say being ignored. Not by those I’m working with or directly doing business with, but by the media and the power brokers. Being the female partner with two very extroverted and charismatic male partners (Lane Becker and Thor) who do a lot of public speaking, I tend to be the forgotten partner. And I think it’s just expected by some that the founders of a tech startup are going to be men.

To be fair, I’ve long shied away from the public podium, preferring to stay in the background.  But then it’s frustrating, for example, when you’re left out of news articles when they mention the company’s founders.

I’m doing more now to push myself out there into the public — even though that’s not the most comfortable place for me. I’m overcoming it by acknowledging that it’s up to me to do something about it. I just need to put myself out there more. Make my voice heard.
We’ve also recently hired a female CEO (Wendy Lea) and she’s been a real inspiration. Working with her has been really empowering.

Why Mentoring Is Important In Getting More Women Involved In Tech
It would be great to go to tech conferences and not be in the 10% minority!
I feel like I know a lot of women who *are* in tech, which is great! I know that’s not the case in certain sectors of tech. I think it’s important that we set an example for our daughters. That girls who are in school today, interested in technology can look to us as role models and see that it *is* a real possibility for them too. The more women involved with tech, the more women who will follow.

Amy’s Advice To Women Who Are Interested In Launching Their Own Startups?
1. Do it with a partner or two. Doing it alone is a big burden to carry. You need to divide and conquer. And you need a variety of strengths and skills, some of which don’t generally come in the same package.

2. Don’t spend too much time on the “business plan”. Yes, do some research. Talk to advisors — mentors, people you look up to and trust. But then start building it. Build, learn, iterate. When it’s time to raise outside money (if that’s what’s appropriate for your business), you’re much better off if you have a proof of concept rather than just an idea.

About the author

Allyson has been named one of "Top Tech Titans" by the Washingtonian, one of the Most Influential Women In Tech by Fast Company and one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter by Forbes for her leadership role in technology and social media. As Founding Partner of Rad Campaign she leads the firm’s client and online strategic services.

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