Keeping Things Whole

When I walk

I part the air

and always

the air moves in

to fill the spaces

where my body’s been.

— Mark Strand

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I think about this stanza from the poem, “Keeping Things Whole” by Mark Strand from time to time about various aspects of my life. It’s a melancholic poem, and one that likely resonates with everyone at one time or another. I think about it when I feel lonely at a party, surrounded by friends. I think about it when I fall hard for a guy and yet I am just one of many for him … And most recently, I thought about it at work.

As a customer success manager at Keen IO, I was managing many accounts, constantly talking to customers about how they were using Keen and helping them with various integration aspects. I moved from one customer to another and then another and another. I was afraid that projects would fall apart and yet I felt that I had to keep moving to make sure Keen was whole.

And then there was the uncertainty in myself. I wasn’t sure what things I should already know and what was ok if I didn’t. I felt a persistent fear of being exposed as a failure, and that I was going to drown in customers… Would anyone even notice if I did?

But then I stopped and took a step back. We value introspection at Keen, and it’s something that I do regularly through journaling and talking outloud to myself.

What was causing me to feel this way? Was I failing? No. I was managing more customers than anyone else on the team at the time, which meant that my team trusted me to do well. I was likely experiencing cognitive distortionand succumbing to imposter syndrome (which is a term I don’t much like because I don’t want to admit that about myself, but…).

 

0_XqYbxRT8lpxdQs2k.pngAnd what about the work itself? I knew there were aspects I really liked and areas in which I could continue to grow and improve. I just needed to create a list to understand what those were:

  • Relationship building with customers, teammates, and the inquisitive
  • Defining scope and managing the logistics of how to deliver projects in a timely manner
  • On-boarding through understanding the customer’s business needs and modeling their data
  • Taking notes and summarizing information to provide context to others

Was there a role at Keen where I could implement these aspects?

We had recently begun to shift focus in the Customer Success Team to provide Professional Services to help customers more holistically with their analytics. It wasn’t about only using the Keen Compute Platform, but about helping customers answer the questions they most cared about and using the Keen compute functionality as the foundation to build products on.

I made the decision that I needed to change something — to find an unfilled space to fill.

And with that realization, I transitioned my role to that of Delivery Manager. We have some flexibility at Keen in choosing our titles and positions, and this one seemed the most crucial in supporting our Customer Success Team goals. We have a variety of customers that need support with on-boarding, building dashboards, creating complex queries, transferring historical data into Keen, etc. Those customers can now rely to me to help scope out this type of work; and depending on the complexity, I can call upon different team members across the Keen IO team to support these projects. I define the scope and ensure that we deliver what is expected while managing expectations and team workloads. It’s something I enjoy and excel at.

I am grateful that Keen values introspection and personal agency, which is what helped enable me to identify a new opportunity while playing to my strengths. I can see the lasting impact of these projects in the success of our customers; and now, when I move, the air does not just fill the space where my body had been.


Rocking Customer Success from a Segway in Portland

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There are many reasons why Customer Success is important to a healthy business — from growth to retention to referrals to product development — but I do it not for those reasons at all…

I do it because I love it!

I was in the middle of a Segway tour in Portland this past weekend and we stopped for drinks (yeah, apparently it’s legal to drink and ride a Segway there), and as soon as I found out that one of the other Segwayers was interested in adding analytics into his company, I started quizzing him about how he was looking to grow his business and talking about what he could do with Keen. I just couldn’t help myself. It’s like a puzzle he and I could work together to solve and then hop back on our Segways feeling refreshed!

The big difference between Customer Success and Customer Support

Before the Customer Success team existed, we had a team dedicated to helping customers, but it was reactive. If a customer wanted help modeling data or had a question on how to create a dashboard, we would help them. And sometimes we got to learn about what they were doing. We prided ourselves on being customer oriented, but it wasn’t really customer success. It was customer support.

Customer success is about preemptively helping a customer before they have even really asked for it. I am a people pleaser by nature, and if I can help a customer before they even know the need it, then I feel great!

I went to a talk the other day about Consciousness Hacking and they talked about how there are studies to measure whether people can tell what image they are going to see before they actually see it. I am still processing the talk, but I love that idea. If I could apply that to knowing what the customer is going to have questions about, and helping them before they even ask, that would be amazing.

Fortunately for me, it’s a little easier to predict customers’ behaviors than determine whether we can really predict which future image we will see. (By the way, Robert Krulwich from Radiolab has an interesting commentary on that subject)

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Did Alice know what was behind that curtain?

Understanding customers’ needs before they feel the pain

The customer may not always know the best way to achieve their goals. By getting an overarching understanding of how they want to grow their business, we can figure out how they can get the most value out of Keen.

These conversations help us avoid the potential pain points a customer might have with our product today and also help us understand how our product needs to grow to support them in the future. We can now align our product roadmap based directly from an understanding of how our customers would like to expand. I love this! I get to help the customer by being their advocate at Keen and I get to help Keen by making sure customers are taking advantage of new features and capabilities we add.

And, I get to hear about really cool projects that people are working on!

One customer, mic.com, used the metadata of where they placed different news articles and advertisements on their webpage to provide information to their editorial staff which could then optimize how many articles a user was likely to read.

Another customer, Net-a-Porter, was able to use Keen to monitor web performance, which they displayed in their common room to alert them when the network went down.

Another customer, deskmetrics.com, built their own desktop analytics right on top of Keen] and used that to provide information to their clients about user engagement with their own application.

And I even learned about a customer, Whitesmith, that used us to measure happiness in their workplace. How cool is that?

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Customer Success is a win for everyone

I feel like Keen has really stepped up the growth phase ever since we started the Customer Success team. We have become proactive instead of only reactive. We have gotten a much better understanding of our customers’ growth plans and how to provide direct value as they scale. Most importantly, we turned on the faucet to enable a constant stream of communication between the customer and our product team. Now we are aligning our growth to the growth of our customers.

And I get to be in the middle of all that, helping customers even before they are our customers, just riding around on a Segway.

If you’d like to talk more about Customer Success or building analytics with Keen or Segway safety tips, I’d love to chat! Feel free to drop me a line at maria@keen.io


How to Set Yourself Up for Predictive Analaytics Success

Many companies are investing in predictive analytics models to better predict things like churn or fraud, or to identify better advertising and selling strategies. But before you can plug data into these models, you need to understand your current data.

Peter and I gave a talk on this topic at H2O World in November, which was a good fit, since H2O is creating an open source machine learning platform to help companies make smarter predictions.

In our talk, we focused on the key components you need to set yourself up for predictive analytics success. Here is an overview of the topics we covered.

What you need to understand your existing data

  • Create a team with a champion who can allocate resources and budget; the key stakeholders who need to give input on their requirements; and people with the technical background required to collect, store, and visualize the data
  • Understand what types of data you can collect, which tools are available, and how to create an effective data model
  • Understand how to address various challenges in data collection: accessing data stored in multiple locations, differentiating between duplicated data vs. new information, enriching data, and following privacy regulations
  • Figure out what your data is telling you by asking the right questions. What are users doing or not doing? How many users log in every day? How many people are converting to be paid users?
  • Agree on your most important business or product problems and what the right metrics are. Can you impact these metrics by understanding them and modifying your business or product?

What you need before running a predictive model

  • Understand what predictions you are trying to make. How will these predictions impact your business or product?
  • Understand the leading indicators that will influence your business or product. Be sure to define success — how will you know it’s working?
  • Understand who will see the results of this data. Is it for your internal team or external clients?

Additional Thoughts

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate. The analysis will never be perfect the first time. You’ll learn things and need to make adjustments, whether it’s changes to the initial data model or the predictive model. That’s ok and expected. After all, the whole point of analytics is to discover things that weren’t already obvious.

With great power comes great responsibility. Make sure to think through your product and brand implications. What impact will this have on society? What privacy should you protect?

As you can see, it’s a lot to think about. But once you have these components in place, you will be ready for success!

Next Steps

If you’d like to get more details on the areas we covered, you can watch our full presentation below:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiCNCCJTuV0

And if you’re interested in learning how Keen can help you lay the groundwork for predictive analytics success, please reach out to us for a free data consultation or try Keen for free. We’d love to chat!


An Introvert Confesses

I recently went on a couple dates with a super friendly, happy, sociable guy I’d known for a few years. On our second date, he said he had a confession to make: he was actually an introvert.

The confession surprised me, partly because I had a different image in my head of what an introvert was like, but mostly because it made me sad that he thought of it as a confession.

I consider myself an extrovert, drawing energy from the people around me, and I hadn’t really thought about the barriers in our society both personally and professionally for people who just want a little more space to reflect inward.

Why did he feel like he had to apologize?

Based on a recommendation from an introverted co-worker, I looked up Susan Cain, a self-described Introvert. In both her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and her TED Talk, she describes how American society became increasingly extroverted in the 20th Century due to the rapid growth of cities where people needed to constantly network and prove their worth to strangers.

This trend has only intensified in the 21st Century.

Our modern workspaces favor open seating to foster better communication. Promotions are often received based not just on the quality of work, but also on how well you can present to large audiences. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg specifically advises women to raise their hands and make themselves heard in order to become leaders.

Meetings fill up each day of the work week. Brainstorming is frequently a group exercise. And companies often require employees to be in the office during core hours to demonstrate productivity. In 2012, the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, created a policy banning telecommuting.

Those constant extroverted activities can drain the energy out of an introvert, and it’s debatable whether they improve productivity for everyone. Thinking and working alone can help people enhance skills, discover new ideas, and create something from nothing.

As an extrovert myself, I know that working alone can sometimes be draining, but I also know that it’s the quiet moments when I’m left alone that I can be most productive (writing this piece, learning to code, choreographing dances).

The world needs introverts too.

Is your work environment good for both extroverts and introverts?

At Keen, a lot of people work remotely, so we try to make it easy to work from home (using Slack to communicate, Google Hangouts for video calls, and GitHub for pulling and pushing requests).

Right now, we can’t control our physical environment completely because our office is in a co-working space, but we will soon be moving into a new space that will have different rooms with varying degrees of isolation and noise levels.

Our organizational structure is flat, which means that being comfortable presenting to large audiences doesn’t enable you to move up; it just puts you in a role that’s best suited for your comfort level.

We also have regular book clubs and writers workshops to bridge the divide between quiet reflection and outward communication, which can both be important parts of ourselves.

What can extroverts learn from introverts?

Susan Cain talks a lot about how an introvert often has to act like an extrovert in order to interact within our society. Perhaps extroverts should also practice acting like introverts.

Keen encourages everyone to work remotely for at least one solid week (#remotematters challenge), but I haven’t done that yet. It may be something to try, not only to better understand what it’s like for remote folks, but also to isolate myself from the buzz in the office.

I once saw a TED Talk by Jason Fried on productivity that encouraged people to have at least one day a week in which talking was not allowed. That would also enable introverts to relax, knowing there wouldn’t be any forced group interaction that day, and enable extroverts to turn inwards on projects best done in solitude.

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Interruptions can stress out introverts and decrease productvity

Perhaps I should bring this to my personal life, too. I could disconnect from the internet each night for a week. I could periodically practice Shavasana or some other form of meditation. And probably most importantly, I could make sure to listen to the quiet introverted people in the room.

My extrovert resolution

I want to be more inclusive of introverts because I value what different perspectives can bring and genuinely believe that you need both introverts and extroverts to be able to create and communicate new ideas and projects.

But also, I really like that guy. I don’t want him or others like him to feel that they are confessing a secret. They shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for being introverts just because our culture is one that can’t stop talking.


Knowing When It's Time to Just Quit

Quitting my job was one of the best decisions of my life.

I had wanted to leave my previous company for a long time, but I wasn’t confident I would be able to find something better. I didn’t understand what useful skills I had, and I didn’t know what kind of job I would be good at.

I felt comfortable in my role and knew I was valued at my company even though I wasn’t always given opportunities to expand my horizons.

Then last year, work began to get worse.

I had always cared deeply about the project I was working on and the people I worked with directly. Then senior management basically disabled open communication with the people I had worked with for years. They didn’t seem to care about the distrust that was developing as long as we were under budget.

Additionally, the company I worked at was very risk averse. Individuals were not really allowed to make their own decisions. It was frustrating how little I could accomplish on my own.

Work sucked.

I felt stifled from the lack of communication and empowerment. I had low-self confidence in my ability to find another job, since I wasn’t a software engineer; and it seemed like that’s what most companies wanted.

I felt like I was getting lazier at my job and it was completely unnoticeable. And mostly I felt hopeless about ever finding a new job. I came to work feeling like Peter Gibbins from Office Space explaining to his therapist that “every single day of my life has been worse than the day before.”

Then, my relationship of over 10 years began falling apart, and I couldn’t take the misery in both my personal and professional life.

 

0_-RZ-bxg07p2u6iX9.jpgThis pretty much sums it up

Something had to change.

Around that time, I also read Think Like A Freak by Levitt and Dubner, which had a chapter on how failure can provide valuable feedback and how quitting can be beneficial to your life.

That chapter pushed me over the edge, and I decided I was done. It made no difference that I didn’t have a job lined up. I was going to quit. And as soon as I made that decision, I felt strong and liberated. I agreed with Levitt and Dubner that it was ok if I failed. Regardless of what happened next, I had made this decision. It was mine. I owned that choice.

Looking back, I feel like I had been sleep-walking through the last 5 years of my life. Most of my days were spent at a job that sucked the life out of me, and then I would be too drained and tired to do anything but watch television when I came home.

Once I made my decision, I had time to think about what I actually wanted in my life. What was I actually good at? How could I meet people who would enable my success? What did I think success meant for me?

What could I do about living my life, instead of just plodding through each day?

One of the best parts about being unemployed was that I could reflect on what I actually wanted in my life. I realized that what I needed in order to be happy was a good working environment.

I needed an environment where the people around me were also self-reflective, where people tried their best to communicate openly and honestly, where there was a lot of positivity and encouragement for both work and personal goals, where people were valued as individuals, where all learning was encouraged regardless of whether it directly related to your job title, and where people actually cared and were invested in the company’s success.

I began attending networking events and conferences, and talking to friends about what kind of jobs they had and what a typical day was like. I saw a career counselor who encouraged me to do informational interviewing. I took the Gallup StrengthsFinder test, which made me feel more confident that I did have useful strengths. I started seeing that there were many different jobs I was qualified for.

And then I got lucky.

I think that luck is always out there for everyone, but sometimes you don’t see it. I saw it in the form of a company called Keen IO. And yes, I got the job through networking. I made connections with people who then decided to take a chance on me. So yes, I was lucky, but I would never have seen that opportunity had I not decided to just quit. I needed to understand what I wanted, and I needed to do something that empowered me instead of staying down on myself for remaining in an environment that was harmful to my well-being.

The kind of environment at Keen IO is right for me. It isn’t right for everyone. There are many different work environments, and I think that when you don’t know what you want and you have some financial security, you need to allow yourself the ability to take time and figure it out.

You also need to allow yourself to fail.

You need to be the one making the decisions, not the people around you. If you don’t, then you can remain stuck forever in an environment that can leave you unfulfilled and miserable. I am happy that I didn’t fail, and that I am in a place that makes me feel happier.

I wish I hadn’t needed the end of a relationship to be the catalyst that enabled me to quit. I wish I could have had the courage to quit years ago.

But that doesn’t matter. I did quit, and I am much happier today because of it.