Episode 29

Building a Great Customer Experience with PLG

In this episode of Good Data Better Marketing podcast, Ilan Frank, Head of Platform at Airtable, discusses the PLG gap, how Airtable is helping customers leverage AI, and driving alignment through culture and communication.


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Guest speaker: Ilan Frank

Ilan is the Head of Platform at Airtable, a cloud collaboration service and spreadsheet-database hybrid, with the features of a database but applied to a spreadsheet. In this role, Ilan leads product strategy, direction, and delivery for Airtable's foundation, including integrations, scale, and extensibility to help power Airtable's growth, particularly into the enterprise. Ilan brings over 20 years of experience in building productivity solutions where there are specific requirements within administration, security, compliance, and scale.

Prior to Airtable, Ilan was an early leader at Slack, helping the company scale to win the enterprise, including 80% of the Fortune 100.


Episode summary

In this episode, Kailey sits down with Ilan to discuss the PLG gap, how Airtable is helping customers leverage AI, and driving alignment through culture and communication.


Key takeaways

  • The most successful companies these days are the ones that start with PLG. They are creating value and delight for their end users who then share those positive experiences with their colleagues.

  • Using AI to create a great customer experience needs three things. The first is getting AI into the hands of app developers so they can deliver more functionality to end users. Second, use machine learning to make decisions and predict information in your app. And finally, use AI as an assistant to builders so they can build faster.

  • When growing your enterprise software, relationship building is key. It’s important to connect product managers and engineers directly with customers to figure out which features they’re most excited to try. These relationships create champions for growth of your software.


Speaker quotes

“The companies that are going to be successful now in this decade, are ones that start with PLG. They start with creating value for end users, and those end users are just delighted and can't wait to share it with their colleagues. It's going to be very difficult for a company to come in and just basically create a better ServiceNow, or a better Workday, or better Salesforce without that.” – Ilan Frank


Episode timestamps

‍*(02:47) - Ilan’s career journey

*(07:50) - How AI relates to customer experience in enterprise technology

*(18:59) - Ilan explains the PLG gap

‍*(26:51) - How Ilan defines “good data” 

*(36:44) - An example of another company doing it right with customer engagement (hint: it’s Snyk and Figma)

‍*(39:45) - Changes in customer experience in the next 6-12 months

*(42:43) - Ilan’s recommendations for upleveling customer experience strategies


Connect with Ilan on LinkedIn

Connect with Kailey on LinkedIn


Read the transcript


Ilan Frank: The companies that are gonna be successful now in this decade are ones that start with PLG. They start with creating value for end users, and those end users are just, again, delighted and can't wait to share it with their colleagues. It's gonna be very difficult for a company to come in and just basically create a better service now or a better work day, a better sales force without that.

Kailey Raymond: 10 years ago, sales-led growth models were incredibly popular during the onset of cloud. And as all things change, we're now entering a new era. Product led growth is now the go to GTM strategy, and as often now being combined with SLG for a one-two punch. If you wanna become the next Slack, you have to start with PLG. Delighting end users who then share their experiences with colleagues can create that growth flywheel. In today's episode, I sit down with Airtable's Ilan Frank, to discuss the PLG gap, how Airtable is helping customers leverage AI and driving alignment through culture and communication.


Kailey Raymond: I'm excited today. I have Ilan here. Ilan Frank is the VP of Product at Airtable. He leads product strategy direction and the overall delivery for Airtables Foundation, so he has a lot to share about their growth in particular as they're going into the enterprise. He has over 20 years of experience. In particular, he came from Slack most recently, helping the company scale to win in that enterprise segment. Ilan, welcome to the show.

Ilan Frank: Thank you so much for having me.

Kailey Raymond: I am excited to dig in. First question for you is, tell me how you got to where you are today. You've had a lot of experience in the tech world, you've been at some pretty amazing companies, led a lot of scale, and tell me in your own words, your own story.

Ilan Frank: Yeah, well, there's a short story and a long story there. I'll keep it on the shorter side. I'm an accidental PM. I was an engineer and based on vocation, I was closest to the customers, and so asked to go and meet with customers and became the first PM at a startup back in the late 90s, and then that was an enterprise software company, and it really resonated with me to build enterprise software. You have a customer with a specific pain point, you deliver value to that person, they pay you money. It seems very straight forward. I like that. And so I've stuck with enterprise software my whole career, 25 years of PM experience, really in enterprise and enjoy it very thoroughly. Most of that has been, like you said, in productivity and analytics tools, things like Slack and now Airtable, but it's been fantastic.

Kailey Raymond: That's great. I love the snippets from a career that highlight how... You just mentioned geography was a part of the decision-making process, like careers are never linear in the way that you think they're gonna be when you're growing up, you know?

Ilan Frank: Yeah, absolutely.

Kailey Raymond: That's great. So tell me a little bit about your role as it relates to building the customer experience and customer journey at Airtable.

Ilan Frank: So I am one of the customers of Airtable. We sell to leaders in product, in marketing, in sales organizations. So I'm a trusted advisor to our customers in one way, and so when I meet with customers, it's to listen to them, of course, and understand what it is that would drive them to use Airtable, but also it's really to show them what good looks like as far as our usage of Airtable. Many of the customers ask me, What do we do with Airtable? And so I'm part listener, part demo person, but regardless, I'm really here for the customer, delivering customer value.

Kailey Raymond: Drinking your own champagne as they say.

Ilan Frank: Absolutely. Yeah. It's the only way to develop software these days.

Kailey Raymond: A 100%. Yeah. I think being able to really relate back to your customers because you are the one that is actually using the tool, you know what's really good about it, you know some of the things that could be a little bit better and that you're working towards. It brings that realness and trustworthiness as well, back to the customers.

Ilan Frank: Yeah. I think that you have to live the customer pain. It's very important. It's not just understanding basically features and as you launch features, dogfooding and all that, that's okay, but I think that teams really feel very easily... We forget the pain. We make excuses, we see our product as great, just perfect, and as much as possible I encourage the team to really live that pain as much as possible and understand what it is that's not going well in the software that we're rolling out in our software.

Kailey Raymond: I love that. I've been speaking to a few leaders recently, and this has come up quite frequently, which is that feedback loop and making sure that you can understand some of those pain points that your customers are having or celebrate those wins together. Do you have any feedback loops in particular that you're fond of, that you've seen in your experience that you use at Airtable?

Ilan Frank: So at Airtable for those feedback loops, we rely heavily on our customer success teams and our sales engineering teams. They meet with many, many customers, and what we've done is we've developed actually an app using Airtable that allows them to bring that feedback instantly into our product organization. We get several hundred pieces of feedback per week from that, and it's great to have that much feedback. It's also a lot of feedback. And so what we've done recently actually, is used AI to take that and summarize that feedback. So each PM can summarize the feedback within their area, or I can go into an account by account and say, this customer, what are they saying in general over the last six months about Airtable? And that's been really helpful.

Kailey Raymond: I love that. So you're taking in all of this text data and feeding it into a model and then being able to take the most common factors and saying these are the most acute issues?

Ilan Frank: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And able to map that feedback also to sentiment or categorization. So what is that feedback relaying to, so that we can actually direct it to the right PM, the right area in the product.

Kailey Raymond: So you're going as far as tone too. I heard the word sentiment. Are you taking the tone analysis from the text as well?

Ilan Frank: We wanna see everything. That's right.

Kailey Raymond: Incredibly cool. I love it. We might as well just dive into this right now. I think AI is probably one of the trends that everybody wants to know and to learn about, and I know you all have been launching some AI features and capabilities recently, but before we get into the specifics there, I just wanna learn how you are generally thinking about the trend of AI as it relates to customer experience in the enterprise technology space.

Ilan Frank: It's interesting. It feels in one way, like it came out of nowhere, and of course, we've all been working with models and AI, or at least machine learning for many, many years. And so it just got to the point, I think now, of course, where we see the fact that this is actually going to be very, very transformational. It came at a very interesting time because one of the trends, I think the word for 2023, if it's not AI is efficiency. Let's put AI aside for a second and pretend it's not there, the word that every company is struggling with right now is efficiency. How do we do more with less? And here comes AI, almost out of nowhere. Right at the right time. And it's... I think that it's, right now, still more promise than delivery, but it's very, very clear having seen trends like cloud and big data and mobile in my career, that this is bigger than all of those.

Kailey Raymond: Wow.

Ilan Frank: It is more like, I think the invention of the internet or personal computer than it is one of those. It's not there quite yet, but those took years, right? Internet, 30 years before it was something that really affected us all. And so I think we have to give it a little bit of time, but there is no question in my mind that this will be transformational from specifically the efficiency perspective, but really the productivity and what we get as knowledge workers.

Kailey Raymond: That's really funny. That's exactly the way that we've been describing it to people here on the Twilio side of things, which is like, no movement that I've lived through yet in my career feels as big as this. And so it does really feel like the internet or it feels like the creation of the computer. I love those examples. So tell me, how are you using AI? You mentioned some of the feedback loops you're using AI with already, which is fascinating, but how are you using it in your product and for your customers and to build those customer experience strategies?

Ilan Frank: Yeah. So I think that there are kind of three things that we wanna do with AI, and we're gonna do them roughly in this order. The first is being able to give the power of AI to builders that build Airtable apps, so that those apps can have the power of AI built in, so that you can deliver more functionality to your end users. That's really the top priorities. Give that power of AI, put that power in the hands of the builders as soon as possible. The second is what we've actually been trying to use with machine learning or doing with machine learning and predictive analysis actually for. I've been working at it for more than 10 years now, is help make decisions.

Ilan Frank: And so that is more than just AI as far as prompt engineering. Here's the prompt, what's the response back? Summarize a set of features or give me the sentiment for a set of features, but just ask questions of a general set of data. I have this data, who are my top five customers, what are my top churn risks that I need to think about that maybe is not really sorted by just information that I have, but the AI can really predict that information given what it knows and what I have inside my app. And the third is more of a base building or app building assistant. So now act as an assistant to the builders, so that builders actually can be empowered to build faster. So maybe by typing in something, I wanna build a applicant tracking system, and those components are built for you much more rapidly through AI. But we see it in those kind of three lenses.

Kailey Raymond: Watch out Greenhouse, Airtable is coming for you. Interesting. So do you have an example? I'm talking about the first one. Giving AI, putting in the hands of your builders, and I love this. We talked about, in a resent show, we talked about terminology and how that actually changes a lot of the way that you think about your customers. Like at Airtable, they're builders, right? They're people that are actively participating in this process of building these apps. I love that terminology. Do you have any examples of use cases that those builders might have with some of the AI features that you're gonna hand over to them?

Ilan Frank: Yeah, absolutely. I mentioned already on the product side, for many of our use cases are around product road mapping, and so being able to collect feedback and analyze feedback is very popular. But also, for example, being able to take from a feature that is being written, given us back, what is the quick blog post that could be written about this feature? We use that, we don't post that blog post externally automatically, but it's just used to summarize and explain to internal audience, what this feature does, which is very, very important obviously. So internal, and then I think external communication is gonna be a very, very important feature and a use case of AI.

Ilan Frank: I think that the other thing that you see a lot with Airtable is marketing operation type solutions. How does content get generated basically. Everything from digital content like shows to campaigns and content for campaigns, and how do we assist a customer in going through the pipeline of all of that? I think this too is an area where AI can play a huge role, analyzing assets that are already existing in an asset library, so that when you search for something, knowing all the great things that you already have at your disposal, how do I find that? Because no one tags assets. No one spends the time to tag assets.

Kailey Raymond: So true.

Ilan Frank: So automatically tagging thousands or millions of assets so that you can easily find the perfect asset for a campaign is a very obvious use case. And there are so many more of course in writing, marketing content, copy, titles, emails and so forth, that could be assisted with AI. But that I think is only the first of course, example of AI, the lens that I mentioned, which is AI just embedded kinda simply as a task worker almost in a process. I think that there's gonna be predictive AI and the ability to analyze large amounts of data to actually help with decision support that we're yet to see, we're yet to really realize I think with a lot of the company's use cases of AI. And this is where we're going as well, but we're not quite there yet.

Kailey Raymond: And yeah, pairing those two things together, I think is just like absolutely gonna be a really fascinating place. I was having this exact conversation yesterday with somebody on my team, which was the idea around an LMS. People are typing in something and they're trying to find a competitive take down or whatever it is, there's the sales team, but some sort of AI chat bot would be able to completely crush that overnight because you don't have to have a human tagging all of these documents individually to say it's this individual competitor, oh man, I forgot to tag it today. It's really gonna change the game.

Ilan Frank: Yeah, that's exactly right. And getting more information about that competitor, right? So tagging that competitor and then going off and finding information about that competitor, how many employees, right? What are their... Some of their latest press releases and things like that as AI becomes a little bit more real time, it's gonna be really, really impactful.

Kailey Raymond: So we're talking about a blend of things that are kind of theoretical. Some of them are real and they're actually in use right now, and so the feedback loop I think is a good example. How are you getting this into the hands of your customers and actually helping them to adopt this, to leverage this because I think we've been talking around this a little bit, but it's like... I have the sense that we're at the very, very, very beginning of this and not a lot of people are actually using the LLMs and the Gen AI and all the things that you're hearing about in the times every single day, and they want to. 'Cause maybe they don't know how, so how are you thinking about helping your customers actually adopt some of these features and feel comfortable in using them in the workflows?

Ilan Frank: Yeah, I think that's right. I think, first of all, take a step back and agree with you here that we hear AI in almost every boardroom conversation. So every time that we come in and meet with a customer and meet with executives in that boardroom, they are mentioning AI. What is their AI strategy? What are they doing? When we get on smaller conversations with four people on a Zoom call at that company, it's not exactly being discussed at that tactical, we need to do this right now. When do we roll this out? So we've rolled out a limited availability version of our AI as of June, and we're testing with customers.

Ilan Frank: And so we have early hand-raisers and adopters where those individuals who are builders have said, I'm really interested in this, and I'm gonna be that champion, that AI champion inside my company. And so we're working very closely with them. So that's the first thing is, how can you deliver value? This is almost with any product market fit type of situation. How can you deliver value first to early adopters, to champions, and then you figure out basically the next S-curve, which is, alright, how do you now go and develop something that delivers or shows value to people who are more hesitant of new technology like this.

Kailey Raymond: Definitely. Taking that small group, making sure you work out the kinks, finding out the ways to make them adopt it, replicating that and putting a playbook in place. It sounds simple, it's certainly not. It's a lot of hard work that goes into that, but I do think that reminding yourselves that that incremental progress is the way to build instead of going for the whole thing all at once is a good reminder.

Ilan Frank: Yeah. It's really classic PLG, and it's good that we have those as our roots because that's what you're doing here is you're really figuring out what is it about the product delivers this instant delight, this instant value that someone that is using it will say to their friend, right? Use their social capital, so to speak, in their workplace, "You've gotta try this. This has made me more productive." We're having instances of that throughout Airtable where people that have had access to this for now many months, will say, "Look, I did this overnight and it saved me hours." And so we have actually a Slack channel where people share those stories internally. We're gonna need to do that in a more broad sense, of course, with our customers.

Kailey Raymond: I smell a customer conference and some customer stories coming. You just mentioned PLG, and you're an expert in this. I want to ask you about one of the trends that I think has really been coming in full charge for the past few years. Slack, probably one of the leaders and actually driving this movement is PLG. Tell me a little bit about... I think there's this term around it called the PLG gap. Can you just talk to me a little bit about the trend around PLG and what you've been seeing as it relates to building great customer experiences?

Ilan Frank: Yeah, and specifically, by the way, my expertise is on increasing a company's reach by adding SLG to PLG. I don't like saying transitioning because I think that...

Kailey Raymond: I love it.

Ilan Frank: Implies that you're leaving PLG behind. I think that you layer on an SLG or sales-led growth motion on top of the product-led growth motion. And I think that both, by the way, just as background, are very important right now because the companies that were traditionally just SLG and not PLG were really born during the turn of the cloud decade, 2010 to... And that was a very different. What you were doing was you're providing something that didn't really work very well on-premise, works much better in the cloud, much more efficient to purchase a number of seeds and all that, so you had a different sales motion. The companies that are going to be successful now in this decade are ones that start with PLG. They start with creating value for end users, and those end users are just, again, delighted and can't wait to share it with their colleagues.

Ilan Frank: It's going to be very difficult for a company to come in and just basically create a better service now or a better workday or better sales force without that. I just don't see that. So again, start with those roots of delivering value to individuals. Now, when we layer in SLG, you are adding in there also the focus on the account, on the customer, not just the end user. So PLG equals focus on end user, SLG equals focus on customer. And sometimes you have different parts of your organization. At Slack, this is what we did, where I ran the SLG product group. And that was our focus was really developing those features that are really focused on accounts, what do accounts need to be successful? Or customers need to be successful on top of Slack?

Ilan Frank: Sometimes this is something that you can do with one team, and that's a little bit more of what we do at Airtable. We certainly have a team that's focused on just the security and compliance and administration features that our customers need, but we look really holistically at how do we take Airtable and build it so that the types of apps that you can build in Airtable now serve a much broader audience? So it's much more than just security compliance administration. It's really how does the product fit now for a larger organization. So it's almost another product market fit S-curve on top of the old team-based or personal-based S-curve that Airtable is known for from the last 10 years.

Kailey Raymond: I have literally so many questions for you. The first one, are there any industries that you think can't apply SLG plus PLG? Are there any limitations to this model? Do you think that this is like, everybody can apply this?

Ilan Frank: I do. I think that there are some limitations. For example, I think that PLG is very important when your end user has some agency. If the end user has no agency, for example, you're developing a firewall, you have to have the whole company or at least the security department and the CIO and everyone else sign up to to deploy that firewall. So you need to have some personal agency for PLG to work. That's not to say, by the way, I picked a security example, I don't think that's to say that security can't have PLG. There are certainly security features that an individual can take, code-level security, personal desktop device security, things like that. I think that individuals, as long as they have agency over how they use the product, or if it's security that's very specific to a team, a location, an office, something where an individual or a very small set of people can make a call and say, let's try this out. We now love it? Great, now let's spread it throughout the organization.

Kailey Raymond: That makes perfect sense. It's like users have some autonomy in being able to make and to build and have decisions, have their own workflows. Come with me on this thought exercise, what do you think happened to propel this movement to have PLG and SLG come together in a real way? I know obviously, like Slack, one of the big ones coming in 10 years ago or so, but were there any catalysts to this? Customer behaviors that have changed in that timeframe or big macro trends that you think we're propelling this and leading to this movement?

Ilan Frank: I think so. For one, individuals have been given a lot of leeway and a lot of power to help bring their own tools or choose their own tools within organizations. We've seen that of course create a proliferation of SaaS tools where some reports from Okta claimed that 400 to 1000 are the number of SaaS tools within an organization. And so...

Kailey Raymond: I would believe it. [laughter]

Ilan Frank: Yeah. So, there are downsides potentially, of course, with siloing of information and all that that happens with this. It's actually one of the things that we're seeing Airtable being brought into organizations, is to help with some of that siloing and create bridges between those desperate systems of record. So I think some of that is the individual power. I think the other is, again, that we've gotten to the point where the cloud revolution of just switching everything that's on-premise to the cloud is, pretty much saw its way through most industries, most lines of business applications. And so, companies that hope to really be successful and innovate, I think understand this, that you have to make something that's delightful and impactful, and really productive to the end user.

Ilan Frank: Gone are the days of convincing someone at the top to just basically buy software and roll it out without any regard for the end users. And again, with SLG, you start having conversations with the top, so it's not that that's gone, you layer that in. But it's so helpful, and we saw this at Slack and we're seeing this at Airtable, it's so helpful that when you go and have those conversations, there's a champion or a set of champions already within the organization that love your tool and can speak personally to how it's helping them with that organization's work. That speaks much more to that CIO, the CRO, whoever it is that you're talking to, than us coming in with use cases or slides or anything like that about the power of your Airtable or the power of Slack.

Kailey Raymond: It's so true, having 10, 20 people at your organization come in and say, here's my use case, and by the way, here's the ROI that it drove, is really going to get the C-Suite attention more than whatever slide deck you spent a lot of time and it's very beautiful on. But yes, they're going to believe their employees for sure. One of the outcomes you were talking about of this movement was this proliferation of apps. A lot of people have all these apps, data get siloed, it's really hard to bring it together. Airtable is solving this in a lot of ways, in some use cases, Segment solves this in a lot of ways, in different use cases. And it's really an interesting problem that we're solving for a lot of organizations, is unifying this data and making sure that people can actually activate it and be productive with it and make decisions with it. And so I'm wondering, do you have a definition around what you might call good data at Airtable?

Ilan Frank: Yes, specifically, we look for impact, so good data is data that drives impact. And we make data available to our product organization through several means, and we have a team that works along with our product organization. And so we're trying to basically take... And I can explain a little bit more about how we work with data inside the product organization at Airtable if that helps. We basically layer our input metrics into the output metrics of the organization. So it's difficult for the product organization, for example, to directly drive ARR revenue. We can certainly help by creating some features that help unlock or help answer the call, the compliance and security calls of these larger organizations, and that's probably about as direct as we can get right to revenue. But beyond that, there are a lot of indirect or input metrics that we can help drive.

Ilan Frank: And so that's what we look at. We do some work on basically identifying those metrics, we have about 20 product metrics that we help drive, and we have done work to basically identify which ones of those are actually helpful in driving the revenue or the impact that the company objectives are really defined. So an example of which is one that we call successful apps. That's an app that has 20 people using the app on a regular basis, and that is something that's more tangible. And so we have data around that, around what is helping us move that forward. We can do A/B testing, we can really have ownership and accountability from the product organization for driving that metric. And that's at the level that we really look at as far as the data and really try to drive as actively as possible on the product side.

Kailey Raymond: I love that example. I really appreciate that successful apps as one of the big goalposts that you all are driving towards. I'm wondering how you get to that. So I'm assuming there's a lot of different directions you can go in to figure out the ways to measure yourself and a lot of different ways that you can take and slice and dice the product data that you have coming in to show, this is working, this isn't. How did you get to successful apps as one of the things that you're tracking that you know is unlocking that growth?

Ilan Frank: Yeah, well, there's two answers to that as far as the back story. The first is that we really did an analysis of what type of metrics help with or predict conversion from free to paid. And this is one that is a very good predictor of free to paid. That's one answer to that question. The other answer to that question is that we use something very, very similar at Slack. And when I came over to Airtable, I said, this is something that feels familiar and worked before. At Slack, we called it successful teams, so it is five people within a Slack workspace or team that are using it four out of seven days.

Ilan Frank: And that was also a predictor of conversion to paid. But it is data-based as far as the analysis here at Airtable, and we definitely took a look at what is that number? Is it 20? Is it 30? Is it five? Where is it for us as far as that, or are there other things? We initially thought of a successful app or an advanced app as one that has automation or API usage, and is that a predictor of upgrading to paid? But we really narrowed down to the more simplified version that seemed to be both a good predictor and as well very controllable, grokkable by the product organization.

Kailey Raymond: Yeah, it needs to be simple, it needs to be memorable so that people can latch on to it. And I think there's something to that as well, is not making it too complex with too many different layers to it, of if [0:30:56.1] ____ vin, ven that. Removing all of that.

Ilan Frank: We had a version of that, we decided to eliminate it because after several meetings and looking at that version, and with each new meeting, it started off with, remind me again, what are the three variables and how they layer into this metric? And we figured at that point that it was time to probably move on.

Kailey Raymond: Yeah, yeah. What's the time horizon and how long has it baked and what about the level of the people and... Yeah. For sure.

Ilan Frank: Exactly.

Kailey Raymond: Do you have anything surprising that you've learned from the data that you've collected? It can be an example from anywhere in your career, just a unique insight that you've pulled out.

Ilan Frank: As far as surprises, one of the things that we saw early on at Slack actually was that these enterprise features that customers were asking for were rarely used, and...

Kailey Raymond: It doesn't surprise me at all.

Ilan Frank: Yeah, so that's what I thought. But what I say rarely used, I don't mean like 50% of the time they were used.

Kailey Raymond: Two.

Ilan Frank: I mean like... Yeah, exactly. Or zero. Now, we looked at it and we said, is there some reason to basically not build some of these features? But the truth is that they... When you look at the sales cycle, if you look at the data from the product perspective, they're not used. If you look at the sales cycles, if you look at RFIs and RFPs, and where these features show up as far as chat boxes that you need to fill out, they are there. They are very, very common. And so we really looked at it, we did an analysis of what it would look like, but it would greatly elongate the sales cycle to basically try to convince every customer that these features would not be used, and that other customers that ask for them are not using them, or we could just basically build them and really get on with it. And it was very clear that that was the case. Now with that, it's interesting.

Ilan Frank: You have to then think, okay, so does that mean you do a really quick job and just release a feature as a check mark and move on? And our answer was always no to that, because again, I think that this is something that Slack really got right, which is that it's really important to have those champions for growth of the software, if not for any other reasons. And what we heard over and over from customers that would go to deploy these features, and even if they were just using them in sandbox, test them out, is they said basically, Slack is the gold standard of how enterprise software should be done. I wish that other vendors did it this way. And we're bringing a lot of that to Airtable as well, but that type of loyalty, I think is also very important this day and age. So we had a turning moment where we could have fought the fight, but I think that it was really important that we didn't.

Kailey Raymond: I love that example. It highlights this really interesting tension that exists within businesses, and it's something that y'all made the decision to always go hard in the pain, to always deliver the best product that you possibly could, because that's who you are. That's the ethos of your team, that's who you believe your customers to be as well, they want the best. And so that's what you're going to do, but at the end of the day, to see those numbers roll in and to see zero adoption on that must be so frustrating, from the product managers and the engineers and all their perspective, but if they don't make sales, I mean, that's kind of the end of it, right?

Ilan Frank: It is somewhat frustrating. One of the ways that we actually took and try to address that is by actually connecting the product managers and the engineers directly with the customers who are asking for it.

Kailey Raymond: Nice.

Ilan Frank: So it was about building relationships all along, it wasn't about just closing the deal or having utilization, I think that those are important, but we looked at it more as a relationship building activity.

Kailey Raymond: That's incredibly smart, and that's something that I think is... Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones. It's like I could filter this down through a channel of AE-led feedback that's coming in through salesforce, it's coming up through the AI generation and telling you what the most acute product features are or whatever, how many layers of telephone did that go through to get to the eyes and ears of a product manager and an engineer? A lot. And so building that trust between your customer and being able to hear it and see it and understand their pain, I think that's probably what we were talking about at the very beginning of the show, feel it. Feel your customers' pain, feel your own pain.

Ilan Frank: Absolutely.


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Kailey Raymond: So I'm wondering if you have any companies that you look to, that you think are doing it right as it relates to customer experience.

Ilan Frank: Yeah, besides Airtable and Slack, of course, I think that there is a lot. I mentioned security, so I think that Snyk is doing a great job on the security side. I hear fantastic things about [0:37:06.8] ____ Vant as well. And lastly, I think that one of the companies that I've been really impressed with is Figma, not only because of the product market fit and the love for the users, but you can look and see even in the way that they do pricing and packaging that they're really thinking about the enterprise buyers as well as the everyday designers that are using their application. They're thinking about delivering value to a larger set of users. I think that they're doing a lot of things smart over there.

Kailey Raymond: Walk me through why you said that. What are the indicators for you that you know that pricing alone is an indicator that they really care about both sets of these end consumers?

Ilan Frank: Because I think that all too often, companies basically price all the security features in the enterprise highest paid plan. And I think that that's not the right way to go. I think that one of the things that you need to do is you need to really be delivering value to companies at each growth cycle. So as your product spreads within a company, what value is our customer using? There should be a package that's right for you. It's hard to get that right, 'cause you only have usually four, maybe five price points. And so, it's kind of like Goldilocks.

Ilan Frank: You can never be perfect with that, but if you look at their packaging, it's very clear that they've thought about basically small departments within large organizations that have some security needs, but maybe not at large organizations or small organizations that have some security needs. And so they're really thinking about the different types of customers that they have, and that is one of the things that I talk a lot about when you layer on SLG. Many times many companies go through this and look at their pricing and packaging and take a refresh and look at that again and say, hold on a second. Now, this first version was really looking at a user, and it was like more advanced user, more advanced user, enterprise.

Kailey Raymond: Yup.

Ilan Frank: And now I need to think about, okay, what does a customer look like from a team to a department to a full organization and so forth.

Kailey Raymond: That is really smart, and it's showing you that they really listened, that they actually know their customer, they talk to their customer, they understand that it could be these nuances, and actually that's a large percentage of their base. And so they want to make sure that they are doing well by them as much as they are the large enterprise whale that they're looking to land.

Ilan Frank: That's right.

Kailey Raymond: So we talked about AI, we talked about PLG. I'm wondering if you see any changes in the horizon, if you are clocking any trends that you are watching out for in the next six to 12 months.

Ilan Frank: I think so. As far as trends that are coming up beyond AI and PLG, which is every... Well, at least it's my entire world, basically. One of the things that I've seen and we've seen with our customers is a little bit of a figuring out where people work, where some have come back to three days, four days, even five days in the office, others are remote. And this isn't a trend that's starting right now, this has been going on over the last year or so of return from COVID, but it's becoming very mixed as far as companies. It used to be that all companies were remote, but now, where are you? Where are your customers? Where are your executives? It's starting to become a very top of mind as far as how people work, where they work.

Ilan Frank: And specifically, I think what's important there is culture, culture and communication, and that all is in service of driving alignment. I think that if efficiency is the word for 2023, I think alignment will be the word for 2024. I think it's going to be very difficult during these times, companies are going to try to figure it out, and I think that it's going to be very interesting, I think from a tool perspective, what tools help you drive efficiency and then later on drive alignment. I think those things are going to be very, very important as we come out of this economic downturn, and then all strive for growth and all that, but we're not going to be able to get that without alignment.

Kailey Raymond: That's very, very wise. And I think it's interesting too to think about how you're building your programs and you products to support hybrid or entirely virtual. Or what does the training look like? How easy is it? One of the things that's probably propelling beyond the cloud movement of PLG is everybody has been sitting at their house, a lot of people, especially in tech for many years, and so making it as easy as humanly possible for somebody to understand exactly what to do the second that they sign into your app for the very first time, big win. Really, really big win. Interesting.

Ilan Frank: You nailed it, on-boarding is definitely a word that I've heard over the last two to three years, much more so than the 10 years before that. I think that even in this time when companies are slowing down hiring, it's so important that every employee that is brought on to the team is onboarded efficiently and effectively so that they can really maximize their efficiency and their impact as quickly as possible.

Kailey Raymond: That's great, that's really insightful. I have one last question for you today, which is, if you had any steps or recommendations that you might share about how somebody might look to up-level their customer experience strategies, what would that be?

Ilan Frank: One of our core values here at Airtable is customer first. And so, I think that it all starts with that mantra. If that's not really at the core, the ethos of your company, I think that you're going to set yourself up probably for failure, you can't really fake customer first or building value specifically for customers. Stewart Butterfield had a sentence that he used to repeat that I now have stolen from him and repeat often, which is, value creation over value extraction. And I think that it's really important for a product organization to think in that way, how do we build value for the customer? It goes back to why I love enterprise software. There's a problem, you solve that problem by creating value, you get paid. If you think about the payment first, you've lost the order of those things. It starts with the culture, but really a focus on value as part of that culture-centricity.

Kailey Raymond: That's great, you cannot fake customer centricity. Always create that value. Ilan, I've enjoyed this immensely. I really appreciate you being here.

Ilan Frank: Thank you so much, it was a pleasure to be here.

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