The best part of being an entrepreneur is getting to work with amazing people, and I’m excited to be able to once again team up with the folks at LCatterton, and of course, Ken Landis. And just as good, getting to work with Courtney Shields and Jeff Lee from day one on this venture. Exciting times ahead!
L Catterton is betting once again on the founders of Tula Skincare. The private equity firm has just made a “significant” growth investment in color cosmetics brand Dibs Beauty, launched in September 2021 by Tula Skincare founders Ken Landis (who also cofounded Bobbi Brown Cosmetics) and Dan Reich, with Austin, Texas-based influencer CourtneyShields and former chief operating officer of A-Rod Corp Jeff Lee. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
What a time to be alive. I asked a machine to provide me with a template to reflect on the year, and now, I’ll do just that.
Personal Reflections: Our family grew to four with the addition of our son, Brayden. Our daughter Michaela is now three and a half years old, and the “time flies” cliche becomes emblazed in my skull a little more each day. I became an uncle, we moved to a new town, and the silver lining with Covid-19 became apparent: I could spend more time with my family and experience a work-life balance I never experienced before. And speaking of family, I was able to make another small dent in the universe by rededicating my childhood school, and renaming it in honor of my grandparents who were Holocaust survivors.
Professional Highlights: I achieved some of my financial childhood dreams with the sale of two of my companies, TULA and Troops, to incredibly iconic companies with Proctor & Gamble and Salesforce (and Slack). But the best part? The people that helped me build those businesses also had life-changing events. There is something incredibly rewarding about building a platform that lets other people do their best work, and seeing it come to fruition is one of the greatest gifts there is. This is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to entprenuership. And if that wasn’t enough, I went on a wild goose chase trying to free some crypto coins from a hard wallet, backed a bunch of amazing founders, and doubled down on beauty with another business I’m excited about called DIBS Beauty.
Challenges and things that keep me up at night: One of my grandfather’s best friends past away. He too was a Holocaust survivor, having survived Auschwitz. I used to think, “one day they won’t be here, and they won’t be able to tell their story.” That day is here. And as their voices diminish, the drum beat of anti-Semitism gets louder and louder with incidents and hate crimes being at an all-time high. Against this backdrop, we have a recession, a population with insufficient education and understanding of history, an economic environment that provides incredibly ripe conditions for scapegoating, and people with pulpits willing to use these conditions to their benefit at the expense of humanity, decency and democracy. We’ve seen this movie before. I’ve been warned about this movie before. Only now, I wonder to what degree my kids will experience this movie.
Looking ahead: I mix these things and more together and I’m still the most optimistic I’ve ever been. We have rockets launching into space and landing on floating barges, artificial intelligence driving cars for us and creating generative images on the fly, gene editing being commercialized, energy being created using nuclear fusion, and the list goes on. I believe that our political institutions will continue to erode, but I’m also confident that founders and innovation will outpace our self inflicted wounds. As one example, while politicians debate things like climate change for political theater, entrepreneurs will develop products and services that people will love (e.g. Tesla) and also produce benefits needed to combat climate change. In short, the spirit of American entrepreneurship will continue to win out.
Conclusion: Despite the hardships and global conflicts that exist, and yes, there are a lot, it’s never been a better time to bet on yourself and try to be a change agent for good. It’s easy to get hung up with the million and one broken things going on, but we each have an opportunity to make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others. The question we should all ask is, how do we do that? And with the year coming to a close, what will our New Years’ resolution be?
For me, I’ll continue to invest in myself, invest in my family, and be a change agent for good. Seems like an appropriate and simple list.
When we started Troops, we wanted to reimagine how work gets done. We wanted to make work easier, more intelligent, and more collaborative. In 2016 we launched our first product making that vision a reality by injecting mission-critical, actionable workflows into a new medium people were gravitating towards.
Troops is a Slackbot for sales teams. It makes it easy to use CRM data to do your job — no more trudging through Salesforce. Troops lets you instantly push and pull CRM data in and out of Slack, turning it into the sales hub for both you and your team.
Since that time, we’ve been a leader in the industry, working with some of the fastest-growing companies in the world, including Salesforce and Slack. We’ve done this by delivering real-time insights from systems of record like Salesforce to systems of engagement like Slack, bringing together information and actions that customer-facing teams need to close new deals and support existing customers.
Today, we are pleased to announce that in furtherance of that vision, we have signed a definitive agreement to be acquired by Salesforce. The acquisition is expected to close in the second quarter of Salesforce’s fiscal year 2023 (ending July 31, 2022), subject to customary closing conditions. Upon closing, Troops will become part of Slack, a Salesforce company.
This announcement marks an incredible milestone in the Troops journey and we’d like to thank our community, our valued customers, our partners, our investors, and our team for all your support and partnership.
We’re excited about the future and the best is yet to come!
Like all startup beginnings, the earliest days of TULA were filled with a lot of emotions. For me personally, some words that come to mind are things like “depressed” “anxious” and “lost”. After all, I spent about a year and a half wandering the desert trying to figure out what I wanted to work on for my next business.
During this time, I started to do a little angel investing, trading notes, and deal flow with people. In particular, I found myself most engaged with Great Oaks Capital. Just a year or so earlier, they were one of the VC firms that had issued us a term sheet for my last company Spinback and the founder, like me, went to UW-Madison.
After a while, they suggested that I work out of their office and look at companies together. We talked about how I could leverage their balance sheet and they could leverage my network and operating background to incubate or invest in great startups.
That sounded like a great idea to me.
So all of a sudden, I started ‘going to work’ as a VC of sorts. I wasn’t formally employed but at least I was more formally collaborating with other like-minded people that wanted to win and do so at the intersection of startups and technology. For a while, I debated if I should be a full-time VC, but I knew I wasn’t quite ready for that path, if at all.
We ended up getting involved in a few companies together, Olapic being one of them. It reminded me how much I missed operating.
I needed to get back to it.
So off the heels of working with the Olapic team, I started to think about the world I had just come from: e-commerce.
For context, my last software company Spinback helped online brands and retailers measure how much money they were making from Facebook and social media. This was around 2010 when Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) was just coming to life. We saw firsthand what that world looked like because some of the original D2C companies like Bonobos were our customers, and this was certainly accelerated when we merged with Buddy Media (we later sold to Salesforce). But other well-known brands and retailers were our customers too. Companies like L’Occitane, Under Armour, QVC, and more worked with us to figure out their social media monetization strategy.
And then at Olapic, the team took a similar approach but instead of leveraging Facebook, they leaned into Instagram as the primary medium to promote, sell and measure e-commerce sales.
It was clear that despite both companies exiting for good outcomes, it was still super early days for e-commerce, D2C, influencer marketing, and more.
Why not revisit this idea?
So that’s what I did.
I reconnected with all of my old customers and we discussed new ideas to help them continue to innovate and navigate their digital transformation not just as brick and mortar retailers, but as digitally native brands.
One of those customers was QVC. (thanks Chris Fralic for the intro!)
We met a few times to talk about how we can pick up where we left off, but rethink strategy around things like personalization, influencer marketing, and video. I started to get a line of sight into the product I was going to build for them as a beta customer. And then in one of my meetings, the conversation shifted.
Something along these lines emerged from QVC…
“We know the world is changing. Things are moving away from traditional media like print, radio, and TV to digital media. At QVC, we have finite shelf space with TV. Our shelf space is limited to 364 days per year, 24/7 with the exception of Christmas as our only day off. We think we can unlock new shelf space by launching brands digitally. And, we also know beauty is the hottest and fastest-growing category for us. What do you think of launching brands digitally on QVC?”
As I was listening to this, I had a flashback to a day at Buddy Media. There had been a huge spike in traffic and sales in QVC’s analytics, but it was for a brand and product that wasn’t on air. This was highly unusual since they only saw spikes in sales when brands were on TV.
So I dug in and looked at our analytics. As a reminder, we helped brands facilitate and measure how much money they were making from social media and influencers. And low and behold, there was some blogger that posted on the QVC blog about how much she loved some product. Buried at the bottom of the page amidst hundreds of comments, this one blogger ended up driving more sales than most brands saw from their TV appearances. I thought then, that if I could ever build my own omnichannel brand, and partner with a retailer like QVC, with some of these new strategies and tactics I learned over the past few years, I would do it. This stuff was just getting started. We were still so early with D2C and influencer marketing and I had a front-row seat over the past few years for what worked, what didn’t and where the puck was going across all of these brands and ecosystems.
Back to the QVC meeting…
“Dan, so what do you think? Is this something you might be interested in helping with?”
I said, “It’s a great idea. After all, I know your business well and digital pretty well, but I know nothing about beauty. However, I know someone that does. Let me run this by him to get his take. Maybe we all get lunch to talk about it.”
I went back to the office on 60th and Madison.
Now, during that time working out of the Great Oaks office, I had the chance to meet other people in the office.
There was another person that was doing his own private equity investing. He’s been able to do this because of a previous success he had as one of the founding partners of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics which later sold to Estee Lauder. By that time, Ken Landis and I had gotten to know each other pretty well. I was literally working out of his office and at his desk while he was out of the city. I also got to hear his story first hand and hear how he was CEO of the cosmetic division of a publicly-traded fashion house and then later, a co-founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics.
I debriefed him on the meetings I had and a lot of what we discussed resembled the earliest days of Bobbi Brown. Similarly, a lot of what we discussed also resembled the best-in-class customers of mine that were the most successful with digital marketing.
We believed that for a digitally-native brand to work in the environment we were in, and actually break through all the noise and get to $100mm+ in sales, a few things needed to be true:
We needed to be digitally native. As I mentioned, I lived and breathed this world for years working with some of the best brands and retailers in the world helping them invent their social media strategies at a time when “Facebook likes” were all the rage. Moreover, my first company in high school was a D2C e-commerce site selling urban clothing wholesale. I knew how to do this part. I could also build our first website and save us some money. Check
We needed to understand beauty. I heard countless stories from Ken about the beauty and fashion industry. There were so many nuances that people just overlooked. Basic and obvious things that, if not accounted for early, could kill a business. Ken had this part covered through and through. Check.
We needed to plan for retail. I saw the early days of brands trying to be D2C only and quickly understood that it doesn’t really work. At least not all of the time. For this type of product and category, we always knew we needed to work with third-party retailers. Not just QVC, but brick and mortar too. We would need to develop our product assortment, margin profile, and cost structure to let us work with retailers like Ulta and Sephora. We knew what was important to them and what it took to work with them. We believed that, just like the streaming services all vying for their own unique content, retailers would also be evolving their business to curate special, semi-exclusive brands. So we figured we could start with QVC as our first motivated retail partner, but parallel process plans with brick and mortar, while also standing up our own D2C channel. Check.
We needed to be smart about our capitalization strategy. This was not a tech company. This was going to be a brand, turbocharged by technology. There is a difference. And that difference matters a lot especially when we thought about financing and valuations. We always anticipated a forever home for TULA to be a company like P&G and we understood how they thought about multiples in the space. We did not ever want to get ahead of our skis. So we self-financed the business to start with some friends and family coming on board too as investors.
As we worked through the must-have list, it was clear we had enough of the pieces in place to give this a real shot and keep digging in.
I shelved my tech startup.
I was now building a skincare company.
There were a few more things on our list of ‘must-haves’ that we did not have yet.
We needed the idea! We had no idea what the concept would be and even if we did, it wouldn’t be authentic. We needed help there. We weren’t going to spend our time building a new company if we didn’t think it had a real shot of positively impacting people’s lives.
We needed a credible, experienced partner that could help us develop the concept and business in a way that was set up for long-term success, with real science behind it. In short, we thought we needed someone with a medical and scientific background who could bring insights and perspectives we felt we were missing. In addition, we wanted someone that could relate to our targeted customer base. Ideally, someone that was a young mom, with one or two kids, running around multi-tasking and operating as a modern-day superwoman. And lastly, for icing on the cake, we wanted someone that had some commercial savviness or better yet, had some media background. We knew at some point, if we did our jobs well, that we would quickly evolve from our digital-only channel to an omnichannel brand that appeared on TV too.
Where the hell were we going to find this unicorn?
I asked my wife, Amy, for her thoughts.
While she is a modern-day superwoman, unfortunately, she was not a mom at the time nor did she have a medical background. So we’d have to go elsewhere.
A few weeks later she sends me a link.
It’s a video of the Bethany Frankel show.
I watch it and sure enough, I see this well-spoken, highly knowledgeable gastroenterologist talking about gut health.
I think to myself, she is the missing piece. We need to meet with her.
I quickly shared the link with Ken and after maybe a 30-second conversation we both agreed we should try to meet her and see if she might be interested and willing to help us determine if there is an opportunity here.
I sent her an email.
She responds almost immediately and we set up a time to speak on the phone. A few days later, standing outside the New York Times building, I gave her a ring. We hit it off almost immediately. When we spoke, she mentioned that she had already been working on her own beverage line that was focused on digestive health using probiotics and superfoods. She already had a prepared mind, and work in progress, for her own consumer packaged goods company. I thought this was perfect!
Next step… we had to meet in person.
A few days later she came by the office to meet with me and Ken. We talked about how we might be able to apply some of her thinking and work but for a skincare line instead of beverages. She shared stories about how some of her healthiest and most radiant or glowing patients, all took probiotics. There indeed was something here but we needed to investigate further. And sure enough, as we’re deep in thought contemplating this wacky idea, she takes out a few pieces of paper from her bag. She pulled out a recent article that was written by the American Academy of Dermatology that claimed “Dermatologists encouraged by early research showing link between probiotic use and clearer skin in acne and rosacea patients.” From there, we did a bit more homework and diligence in the area and we were sold.
We were going to create a health and beauty company using probiotics and superfoods in skincare products.
We started to meet more regularly.
In one of those meetings, we needed to figure out what the hell we were going to call this thing.
Roshini showed up with a list of names.
Sure enough, on the list was TULA, the Sanskrit word for balance. Healthy and beautiful on the inside and out! It seemed fitting since we’d be the first to repurpose probiotics for the largest organ in and on our body. Our skin.
In another meeting, we picked out some packaging concepts and the color. There was a certain blue that Roshini liked. Ken didn’t have a strong preference because he is color blind. This has been an ongoing joke in every creative meeting we’ve ever had.
So there we were, with the name, the concept, the first SKUs, a launch strategy, and a diverse but highly complementary founding team.
There’s a whole lot more to the story and perhaps one day I’ll tell it. Like one time I had to work at the factory for two days straight inspecting, hand by hand, 10,000 cleansers otherwise we would have been out of business before we launched. Or the time we thought we completely bombed on our first on-air QVC appearance, only to have sold out. Or the time we beat a patent and copyright troll at their own game. Or the time I fired myself as CEO because I realized there are other people out there better suited than me to run a women’s beauty company day to day, plus, I really missed building software. See Troops.ai.
The list goes on.
People often ask me, “what’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?”
My answer is almost always the same..
Surround yourself with people better than you, that you look up to and want to learn from. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.
I think Tula is a perfect example of me heeding my own advice. From the beginning, I tried to find people better than me, to help make this crazy idea a reality. And you know what? It worked.
None of this would have been possible without the team that made it all a reality that did the hard work, day in and day out. To each and every one of you, whether you are at TULA now or were a part of our journey in the past…thank you. You are the reason we are here.
To Ken and Roshini, we’ve come a long way!
And now, TULA will be able to continue to thrive and grow with P&G as a partner and continue the mission we started just seven years ago.
Yes, I had $2 million dollars locked away on a crypto-hard wallet that I couldn’t access because of a forgotten password.
But let’s start from the beginning…
In 2013 I started to learn everything I could about the world of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. It was clear that a new “internet of money” was being born.
I started reading, writing, buying, and experimenting with the world of Bitcoin and everything around it. I almost started a company with the premise of letting people more easily buy and sell Bitcoin. I’ll add that one to the woulda, coulda, shouda list.
As we now all know, a few years later the ecosystem started to pick up. More people were getting involved, including some of my friends.
One of those friends had been making a living as a professional poker player. Instead of only trading cards and chips on digital poker tables, he now also started to trade various cryptocurrencies on a number of exchanges.
I was however busy with my day job building startups and didn’t have time anymore to focus on the crypto world. But, I still wanted to get in early on some of the emerging, off-the-beaten-path technologies that most people hadn’t heard about yet.
So in 2018, my friend Jesse and I were chatting and decided we should make a larger, more concentrated bet on an alternative coin. I would transfer him the money and he would buy and hold the coins for us.
And that’s exactly what we did.
On January 18, 2018, I sent my friend 2 BTC, which at the time was about $12,500/BTC. And with my 2 BTC, and his 2 BTC, together, we bought about $50,000 of a different coin called Theta at about $0.21 per token. This seemed a bit crazy at the time since the logical, sensible part of our brains told us we were basically lighting money on fire.
This is what lighting money on fire looks like.
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago” – Warren Buffet
That was my plan.
To buy and hold, and not look at it for a very long time.
A few weeks go by…
We get a notice from the exchange where we had purchased and been storing our Theta coins. The exchange was about to shut down because the Chinese government was putting them out of business. Apparently, the Chinese government was working to ensure they had much more control over Bitcoin and the ecosystem. If we didn’t pull our coins and tokens out of the exchange by a certain date, we’d lose it all. I guess that’s China for you.
So we had to move the coins. We asked…
“Should we keep them?”
We decided to keep them. HODL!
Jesse bought a Trezor One hardware wallet and moved the coins onto the device for safekeeping. A hardware wallet is sort of like a digital lockbox for cryptocurrency, where the private information is stored within a physical electronic device. It looks a bit like a USB stick. We managed to move our coins mere minutes before the exchange disappeared.
Life went on.
I forgot about the coins and really the rest of my crypto holdings for that matter and just got back to work on my business.
Prices crashed. It was a nuclear winter in crypto land.
My $25k was now probably worth a few pennies on the dollar and at that point in my life, I just didn’t want to deal with the emotional roller coaster of big swings in the crypto markets. I had enough on my mind with work and didn’t want to be distracted and stressed with these insane markets. I wanted to sell off all of my positions and just ignore the crypto world for a bit.
So I asked Jesse to transfer me my coins so I can sell them and be done with it.
“I can’t do that.”
I asked, “What do you mean you can’t do that? Just send them or sell them.”
And then he said something that would set us off on a wild adventure:
“I forgot the password!”
You see, this is remarkable for two reasons. First, Jesse remembers everything. He remembers all of our friend’s license plate numbers from high school. After all, he plays poker for a living playing 8 tables at a time, knowing the odds, and remembers how probably dozens of different players play the game. In fact, one of the first places we heard about Theta was from another poker player!
Secondly, if you guessed the password incorrectly too many times, the device self-destructs. I mean, it doesn’t actually blow up, but the entire contents erase and our coins would be lost forever! The good news however is if you forget the password, you can always restore the device using a recovery seed which is basically a 24-word passphrase. Jesse wrote this down on a piece of paper while originally setting up the Trezor, but it got thrown away by accident along the way.
We were screwed!
At this point, I was almost relieved. After all, the investment basically went to zero and in many ways, it made living with that shitty investment decision a little bit easier to stomach.
I forgot about the coins and went on with my life again.
The nuclear winter in crypto land was over. Prices started to go up again.
Our $50k was back to about half.
Prices went up again….back to $50k.
Now we figured we should really try to get this wallet open.
“Dan, you’re an electrical engineer. You can figure it out!” I should have paid more attention in class because there was no way I would figure this out. And even if I did, I had absolutely no time to even try.
At this point, I had convinced myself I would never see the money again so I ignored it.
Prices went up again!
At this point, we decided to get a bit more active to figure this out. Jesse started googling the earth to find people that could help.
We found engineers that allegedly hacked this wallet before, but they weren’t interested in helping.
We found a few engineers who seemed like they could pull it off but they either flaked, weren’t interested or ran into obstacles quickly. Some of those engineers were even engineering professors from my school.
Finally, we found some guys in Switzerland who claimed they had done this before. They seemed like they could actually pull it off. The problem now was that I needed to meet them in Paris at their secret lab and Europe was shut down due to COVID. For a few weeks, we went back and forth trying to figure out how we could rendezvous in Europe to pass off the wallet but the combination of the shutdown and not being able to physically go to the lab to watch them hack the wallet made the prospects of this working a bit grim.
Group chats with our friends were becoming ridiculous. I told Jesse if we couldn’t find a technical way to free the coins, we’d find a chemical way to free the coins. As in, we’d go away for a weekend and I’d feed him hallucinogens until he remembered the password.
We found another engineer in Portland. He was a part of a famous hacker group back in the day and testified on the Senate floor saying, “Yes, we can take down the internet in 30 minutes.” We had been exchanging emails to see if he could be our guy to figure this out and free the coins.
He bought some hardware and special devices, made a few calls to some friends in the hacking world, and off he went, trying to hack an exact make and model of our Trezor to prove he could do this.
Over the next few weeks, he went to work and would update us on his progress.
I said as soon as he could prove success, I’d book a ticket out the next day to come to meet him in person with the wallet. We also talked about the fact that if he could actually pull this off, he could offer these services to many more people like us that are locked out of their wallets. In addition, we agreed that we’d have to film this hack because one way or the other we would have to tell this story.
It would either be a triumphant story or a miserable and expensive story, but either way, we were going to document the whole thing.
And sure enough, I eventually get an email with something to the effect of…
“I did it!”
The next day, I drove to Jesse’s apartment, picked up the wallet, and booked my flight to Portland to meet the hacker, Joe Grand.
The rest they say is history…
After two days in Portland, spending a few hours in his lab performing the attack on the wallet, he freed the coins!
At the time the wallet was officially hacked and unlocked, the total value of the wallet was about $2.5 million dollars.
At the lowest point, it was about $20k. At the highest, it was just over $3 million.
Joe is now making his services available to anyone that is locked out of their wallets with a new company called offspec.io.
Did we sell the coins? Yes, we sold some.
The rest? We put on another Trezor and locked it away.
And that’s my story about how I had $2mm locked on a crypto wallet.
And you can see the whole thing go down in this video.
At 6:20am in a coffee shop you fully expect to hear things like, “Hi sir, what can I get for you today.” Instead I heard a loud car crash followed by a blood-soaked woman screaming at the top of her lungs…
“Help! Help! My boyfriend’s been shot. Help!”
All heads in the coffee shop turn towards the windows…
I got out of the Starbucks line and walked over to the glass door. Sure enough, there was a car up in smoke with a women franticly screaming for help. The bystanders all seemed confused and shell shocked. After all, who is getting shot at 6:20am on a Tuesday morning in the middle of San Francisco? I guess the tenderloin isn’t a great place after all.
I walked outside and checked the scene for safety.
“Where is the shooter?” I thought.
It was dark and hard to tell what was really happening, who was involved and who was not involved. You could see other people slowly approaching the car but people couldn’t comprehend what was really going on. After about 20 seconds of surveying the scene, I felt it was safe to approach the vehicle.
I walked over to the driver side of the car and sure enough, there he was. The boyfriend, completely soaked in blood, head to toe, slouched over his seatbelt with the airbag deployed a few inches from his face.
“Help. Get me out of here,” he said, in a soft voice. It probably had to do with the fact that he was shot at least 3 times in the chest which makes it difficult to breath.
I had one person call 911, another person take out their phone to give me some light with their flashlight, and another person go get napkins from the Starbucks. They all do their jobs and at least we get the ball rolling to help this guy.
The person with the napkins comes back. I take them from him and apply compression to his chest wounds. I try not to get blood on my hands, arms or clothes, but it’s somewhat unavoidable.
He was talking, which meant he had an airway open and he was breathing. He also had a shallow pulse which is not a great sign and he was quickly beginning to lose consciousness.
“Stay with me!” I said. “Help is on the way.”
I couldn’t move him and even if I could, I probably wouldn’t have. After all, he was reasonably stable and if I moved him, who knows if he would have turned for the worse. Not to mention, this guy was just in a major car crash and the car was totaled with the front left wheel and hood of the car destroyed. This means there could also be serious neck and back injuries too.
He loses consciousness twice and both times I think he is dead. Both times I yell at him to wake up and he does. And now given the massive amounts of blood loss, I’m expecting this guy to go into shock.
After a few minutes of this, more help arrives.
The police show up first.
I ask for gloves and a knife and the officer hands them to me.
“Black latex gloves?” I thought. I’m used to white ones when I’m patrolling. I guess it goes with the police uniform.
I glove up to make sure blood doesn’t get all over my hands. I take the knife and begin to cut off his shirt. I still can’t really see the bullet wounds but I know they are there. I cut off his seatbelt to give me some more maneuverability around his body to treat the injuries.
A few minutes later the firefighters show up.
They help me rip off the driver’s side door and then things begin to move much quicker. At any incident I’ve ever been in, especially at Mount Snow, the best feeling in the world is when things are going really, really bad and you see more red coats coming to help, or in this case, more red fire trucks coming to the scene. It’s times like these when I’m thankful and grateful for my ski patrol training after all these years. But this one feels different. It is different.
With the door off and more hands and help, we were able to take the victim out of the car and lay him on the ground. We cut the rest of his shirt off and do a full body assessment to see what other injuries or bullet woulds, if any, there may be.
We flip him over to check his back.
No bullet holes…
He begins to lose consciousness once again and once again I yell, “wake up, stay with us!”
The paramedics and ambulance arrives.
We tell them to hurry and get the stretcher, backboard and oxygen over as fast as possible. We load the victim up on the backboard, strap him in, get him on the stretcher and then finally into the ambulance. By the time we got him fully loaded into the ambulance, he was still alive which is the best I could have hoped for.
The ambulance doors shut and the truck drives away.
My mind starts to race..
“Did I miss anything? Was there more I could have done? Is he still alive? Where is the shooter?”
I ask the firefighters for antiseptics and hydrogen peroxide to clean some blood of my arms and shoes. I wondered if this is how medics feel when they are in a battlefield.
I wonder if the blood will come off my shoes.
Yellow crime scene tape goes up.
The police take interviews.
I go back upstairs to take another shower. Those were certainly some of the stranger ‘shower thoughts’ I’ve ever had. I get out to dry off and get dressed for my day once again. I put on a clean version of my Troops t-shirt and head back downstairs to meet my team so we can head off to the Slack Frontiers conference.
One of the first computers required punch cards. I repeat, punch cards. Yes, you would take a piece of paper with tiny holes and use it to interact with the device.
Now we have computers the size of soda cans that sit in your house and control your lights, provide weather updates, solve math equations and tell jokes, all by simply speaking to them… and some of them have better jokes than my actual friends.
In many ways, we all should have seen this coming — we can thank our Hollywood friends for that.
We had C-3PO and R2-D2 running around the galaxy with Luke trying to help him save the universe from his dad.
“Artoo says that the chances of survival are 725 to 1. Actually Artoo has been known to make mistakes… from time to time… Oh dear…”
More recently, we’ve had others as full-fledged assistants that are smarter than most humans, like TARS from Interstellar and Jarvis from Iron Man.
As you’re reading this, you’re probably doing some kind of work. It’s a thing we spend one-third of our lives doing, after all. (Sleep and Netflix supposedly make up the other two-thirds.)
Given the massive chunk of our lives spent at work, shouldn’t we enjoy the tools we need to use for our jobs? Shouldn’t they feel more human and delightful, like Amazon’s Alexa or some of the other consumer-facing applications we rely on daily?
I think so.
And how much more effective and productive could you be if you had something like TARS or Jarvis helping you with your job?
I think the answer is… a lot!
How do we get there?
Many of the consumer-facing AI solutions we see today are built on the backs of generic APIs.
Let’s take something like Siri, for example. If you wanted to know the weather, you would simply ask: “Siri, what’s the weather?”
Siri could then transcribe your question and reach out to weather.com or another weather service for the answer using your location as a proxy.
Based on the answer, you’d have the immediate information you need to determine whether you should take an umbrella to work or not.
However, introducing a similar, frictionless AI assistant in the enterprise is a bit more challenging. Things are a bit more complex because each organization uses varying degrees of tools and workflows to run their business.
Borrowing from the weather example above, let’s say you wanted to know how much revenue was booked for the business in the first quarter. You might ask: “Siri, how much revenue did we book in Q1?”
If this “Siri for work” existed, it might give you an answer along the lines of “$100mm.”
From here you might want to drill deeper into revenue generated from each product line. If you were the Chief Revenue Officer of Microsoft, you might want to know how that revenue breaks out between Office 365, Windows and Xbox… and you might want the answer to be in top-line revenue because that’s how you like looking at the forecast.
Shouldn’t we enjoy the tools we need to use for our jobs?
Do you see how nuanced this can become? As we start to account for organizational preferences, things get complicated very quickly.
It’s easy to see how replicating “Siri for work” is a much heavier problem to solve because of the variance amongst organizational processes, systems and preferences. For consumer applications, there isn’t nearly as much divergence in the answers users expect (see above); this does not hold true for businesses.
This same issue applies in the context of scheduling. There are companies like x.ai and Clara Labs trying to take the simplicity of Alexa or Siri and apply it to the tedious task of scheduling meetings.
It’s one thing to say: “Siri, book me a meeting with Jon for some time next week.”
But all of a sudden you realize there are a handful of non-trivial variables this “scheduling Siri” would need to take into account. Things like the location of the meeting, preferences of the person taking the meeting, the availability and coordination of both parties instead of just one and so on.
And let’s take one more vertical application similar to “Jarvis for Work.” Within the legal industry, an AI-powered lawyer called ROSS has emerged. Firms can ask ROSS questions like they would their colleagues on important data, like citation resources, and it returns an answer. Their secret sauce is based on using natural language processing (NLP) to query publicly available law documents.
But can ROSS adopt to the style of the firm and specificity of a given case? Maybe some firms have found that very recent court rulings tend to be the best support, while others rank searches based on credibility and prominence.
In all the instances, there is nuance, which means some level of unique configuration and intelligence is required. This should comfort those fearful of waking up one day and having their job completely replaced by a robot. More realistically, the robot will allow them to be 10x more productive and allocate more time to higher-leverage tasks.
We’ve seen this story before; each time we experience new technological breakthroughs, we learn that people’s jobs are changed but not altogether replaced.
From a 1928 issue of The New York Times:
Different, yet the same
In all these different instances, the end result and goal for a user remains the same.
A perfect “Siri for work” would help reduce complexity and guide the end user to more quickly arrive at the information they need to make a decision or take an action. In the enterprise, even slight improvements can mean huge revenue increases and significant cost savings.
But, let’s take it a step further and explore how this artificially intelligent assistant at work evolves and becomes more intelligent over time.
The previous example highlighted the ability to look up information. What about having the AI suggest and take actions for you?
As we start to account for organizational preferences, things get complicated very quickly.
Say the VP of Sales at Microsoft needs to forecast her revenue for the quarter. We’ll call her Samantha. To do that, Samantha would need to have accurate close dates of when she thinks her deals will close. In this hypothetical example, she has five deals that are supposed to close in one week, but the AI knows there has been no communication with those accounts for more than four months because it understands your email, social media and phone communications.
Is it likely those deals will close? Probably not.
Therefore, the AI would know to automatically change the close dates for forecasting purposes, or make a suggestion like, “Hey Samantha, I noticed a discrepancy between your sales activity and your proposed close dates. Would you like me to change the close date for you?”
Voilà. The dates are closed and Samantha doesn’t look like a slouch at the next forecast meeting.
It’s easy to see how facilitating this level of workflow is entirely too complex for an out-of-the-box plug-and-play solution like Amazon’s Echo or Apple’s Siri. It requires a greater degree of configuration that is specific to the organization and which becomes smarter over time based on user input and data.
To facilitate this there needs to be a middle layer or conversational run-time between the various systems and data sets in an organization so an end user can quickly and easily do their job without having to open a new app or piece of software.
As Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft puts it: “In software development terms A.I. is becoming a third ‘run time ’— the next platform.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Toward the future
So what does this all mean?
The next frontier of software development and technological breakthrough will happen in a conversational run-time. I call it “conversational CRM.” It is the inevitable evolution of the technology stack for the enterprise.
This next era will occur on top of conversational interfaces because it is where work is already getting done and everyone already knows how to use them. This is why we are building on messaging platforms like Slack, which will serve as the conduit to facilitate enhanced intelligence at work.
Moreover, there will be even more companies, big and small, that crop up to help power some of the underlying technology that makes this intelligence and conversational workflow happen.
For example, Google recently unveiled TensorFlow, which is an “open source software library for numerical computation using data flow graphs.” To break that down in English, this sort of technology enables computers to do computations that more closely mirror the way human brains think and make decisions. Some people call this “deep neural networks.”
There’s also IBM Watson, which provided the backbone for ROSS mentioned above.
Within the realm of smaller startups, you have companies like API.ai and Wit.ai, which was recently acquired by Facebook, that have built a simple natural language processing API that helps developers turn speech and text into actionable data. This sort of technology will help bring that “Siri-like” experience to many other applications and experiences.
So as computers continue to shrink, and eventually shift from robots the size of soda cans to no interface at all, the next area of innovation will live in the messaging context (voice, text, email). Interactions between humans and machines will occur in the same place, side by side, all working toward a common goal of driving businesses forward.
The lines will get blurry, and, just like the movies, we, too, will have our own R2-D2 or Jarvis at work — no matter where “work” may be.
There was once a vision to put a personal computer in every home. Many companies today have a similar vision, which is putting a personal AI assistant for work in everyone’s hands. Think of it as a “Jarvis for Work” of sorts, except Jarvis will have cousins that each specialize in their own, unique vertical.
It wasn’t too long ago that my partners and I found ourselves obsessing over an idea for a product that we’ve always wanted. It would help us be more effective at what we’ve been doing our entire lives: hustling –or in a more traditional sense, “selling.”
In the world of technology that support sales and account management teams, the most commonly used software is a broad category commonly known as Customer Relationship Management (CRM). If you’re not familiar, maybe you’ve heard salespeople at your company complain about having to use it.
It seemed crazy to us that despite the fact that there are now self-driving cars, the advancements in a category that pervades such a large portion of the workforce has largely not evolved in 30 years. We talk about the applications we use in our personal lives as “delightful,” but not the ones we use at work. There had to be a better way to arm organizations and sellers to succeed at their jobs.
It had to be mobile first.
It had to be intelligent and predictive
It had to be turnkey and work with the tools we were already using
It had to be easy to use and dare I say fun to use
In order to imagine the future, sometimes the best place to start is by looking at the past.
In 1977, Oracle launched with the goal of building a relational database. This database needed to be installed on-premise at a specific physical location, and could be managed using a bunch of fields, forms, buttons and boxes. And then Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce, very astutely realized that this database should live in the cloud and not have to be installed on-site, so that people anywhere could access these same fields and forms whether they were in a hotel room or at the office.
As time went on, our computers became smaller and so software developers all over the world tried to pack a ton of functionality into a little screen by simply making those same field and forms smaller.
If you ask most people today who rely on this software to do their jobs, they’ll tell you the experience isn’t exactly enjoyable.
To date, enterprise software companies have been trying to get humans to adapt to software, when instead, the software should adapt to humans.
We think this is the wrong approach. Instead these companies should be striving to build solutions that mirror behaviors people already know and enjoy.
That brings us to our mission and what we’ve been quietly building at Troops. Today we’re excited to share more publicly what we’re up to.
At Troops, we fundamentally believe that the future of “getting things done” is going to look a lot less like static fields and forms, and more like a conversation with a human being… an intelligent one for that matter!
Furthermore, we believe that messaging, or conversation, will be the defacto UI for a growing number of software applications. The “bots”or human-like inhabitants of these interfaces will not only be highly responsive to real-time requests, seamlessly cutting out a myriad of clicks, but also be able to intelligently suggest actions based on my process and workflow across all the tools I already use.
Everyone already knows how to message. We believe so strongly in messaging and conversational interfaces because these are already behaviors we’re accustomed to in our everyday lives.
Six of the top ten apps in the world are messaging apps, and it’s no surprise that the apps we use for work are looking more and more like the ones we use in our personal lives. Ten years ago, would you expect cat giffy’s to be shared in the workplace? The consumerization of the enterprise has arrived and it’s here to stay.
Whether it’s Slack or Facebook and their new announcements at F8 to make messenger the place where businesses and customers interact, it’s clear to us that messaging is beginning to permeate the work environment in a very different way than we’ve seen before…and we think it’s the first inning of this trend.
“At work, we’re thirsty for data to guide and inform decisions and we bring with us similar expectations of technology’s ability to answer questions instantly. As chat becomes an increasingly important user interface in the workplace, there’s a massive opportunity for startups to enrich conversations with answers to questions that pop-up in Slack and elsewhere.”
So back to Troops and what we are announcing today.
Troops is a Slackbot for sales teams. It makes it easy to use CRM data to do your job — no more trudging through Salesforce. Troops lets you instantly push and pull CRM data in and out of Slack, turning it into the sales hub for both you and your team.
Over time, this Slackbot will evolve and become smarter. It will live on all conversational platforms that are either controlled by text or voice. It will become your artificially intelligent assistant for work — completely agnostic to medium.
We’re starting with the roles and functions we know best: people who interface directly with customers — sales, business development and customer success teams.
We’ve been fortunate enough to work with many leading sales organizations and customer success teams. These teams are trailblazing their respective industries, and we are excited that Troops is playing a small part of their success.
For those of you who are excited about our mission of making it easier to be successful in the workplace, drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you. And if you’re interested in giving Troops a try, sign up for the beta at Troops.AI.
There is a tidal wave coming and it’s changing the way we do work. We caught a glimpse of it in 2014 when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. Forget for a moment that the company only had 30 engineers. The fact that Facebook was willing to pay such a high price for this asset was a window into the world to come. That window showed us how important and scalable messaging can be. That window of messaging is only getting bigger.
People now are beginning to ask why? Why are companies rapidly adopting conversational platforms like Slack? Why do we need it when we already have things like email? And more importantly, how can we use it in our organization when it seems like just another tool to add to the mess of tools? As one CEO of a large technology company told me, “we already have email, Gchat, Facebook messenger, text messaging and WhatsApp. What do I need one more tool for?”
Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to look at one of the most successful CEO’s of all time, Andy Grove from Intel. In the 1980’s he also saw a tidal wave coming and he used it to his advantage to outperform his competitors, namely the Japanese DRAM manufacturers. The Japanese would work in the same rooms, side by side, in order to foster the most efficient means of team communication. However, the tidal wave that would help shift things in Intel’s favor, was their rapid adoption of electronic email, especially as the business became more global. From Andy Grove’s, High Output Management:
The informed use of e-mail— short for computer-to-computer electronic messaging— results in two fundamentally simple but startling implications. It turns days into minutes, and the originator of a message can reach dozens or more of his or her co-workers with the same effort it takes to reach just one. As a result, if your organization uses e-mail, a lot more people know what’s going on in your business than did before, and they know it a lot faster than they used to.
Now we have electronic conversation and thanks to companies like Slack, which have matured and polished this form of communication, it is now easier than ever to collaborate and work. It doesn’t turn “days into minutes” but minutes into seconds.
So how can you create “high output management” process and organization on top of Slack to accelerate your business and productivity? Here are five tips to best utilize Slack to organize your teams for optimal efficiency.
Organize around key objectives. You have a sales team, a customer success team, an account management team, and maybe 5 other teams that touch the customer. Do you create one channel or group for each team? Do you create one channel for each customer? Do you create a generic sales channel? This answer will largely depend on the size and scope of the company. Consider the following scenario, which could be taken from an ordinary day at a large enterprise software company. You have an account executive working on large multi-million dollar deal. That deal represents one customer but requires the help of at least 10 people from various parts of the company including management, product and engineering. We’ll call that deal the “IBM” deal. In this example, it probably makes sense to create one dedicated channel for IBM, however it probably does not make sense to create channels for each and every account. Understanding the most pressing key objectives at your company is a good guiding light to how your team should organize in Slack.
Real-time leading indicators. One of Slack’s innovations is their ability to integrate with third party systems and services. For example, every time our engineering team pushes out an update or fix, I can see the real time update and context around that update in a stream. Our engineering team uses this to gauge the pulse and health of our company’s engineering output. Before slack, this data was more obfuscated living in different silos. Now the entire team can optionally check in to gauge velocity on product. This concept of real time leading indicators can work in a sales situation too. Consider the scenario where a sales rep has five meetings but forgets to follow up with all five customers. Wouldn’t it be helpful to automatically and in real-time notify the sales rep that they forgot to follow up? This is the power of Slack. We can now seamlessly integrate with third party data sets and make those leading indicators available in real time for all, or just some, to see.
Workflow. At Troops, when someone signs up for our newsletter, we get a real time alert that someone signed up. Moreover, we append third party data in real time so we can give the team greater context of who exactly the person is. For example, if firstname.lastname@example.org signs up, we can quickly determine who he works for, what the company size looks like, where it’s located, what he’s been talking about, all in a fraction of a second simply by looking at just his email address. If we think the person is a VIP of sorts and needs immediate attention, we can quickly start a dialogue around the alert. The team can quickly give an emoji thumbs up or thumbs down on how valuable that person is, and if enough ‘thumbs ups’ are accumulated, a sales rep can reach out in real time. There are all sorts ways the messaging stream can be adapted to custom workflow but this is just one example.
Cultural Development. If you ask someone about Slack that has any familiarity with it, you might hear them mention the word “giphie” within the first five seconds. Many people recognize that Slack itself just makes work more fun. But fun, has a very real implication on culture and productivity. If left unchecked, it can erode productivity. However, if embraced correctly, it can enhance culture and subsequently drive happiness and efficiency. At Troops, we are automatically surfacing client wins in real time in Slack. This happens automatically and ties in unique content to drive a stronger, sales-oriented culture. Before Slack, companies would resort to things like trophies, sales gongs, and bonuses, which is especially hard if teams are spread out across multiple geographies or time zones. Now, there is a greater ability to increase culture through “digital gongs” and celebration, across large teams or sub-sets of teams.
Speed. As you are reading this article, it’s likely that you have over ten web browser tabs open. Each tab represents entirely different context, modes of thinking and ways of working. When you consolidate systems and services into one stream or one messaging interface, you can begin to increase the speed at which you do work. For example, at Troops we are able to execute commands in third party systems like Salesforce, Gmail, Calendar, and GitHub all from within one command line. This is very analogous to the google search box. Instead of having to click through a set of listings to find information, you can simply type a request and have Google spit back the information to you. Slack represents a similar opportunity, only this time, you can get more creative with what type of information you search for, what is returned, how it is returned, and who it is returned to.
This is just a short, high-level list of ways you should be thinking about maximizing the use of Slack and the other conversational platforms to come within your organization. If you think this trend is fleeting or that these messaging tools are just a fad, consider this. WeChat, another messaging platform in China, already has 20 million companies selling and marketing products through a messaging interface. This change in user behavior is so profound that it has driven Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, to orient the company around this paradigm shift, and it seems this is his first major product decision that deviates from Microsoft’s legacy product lines. It’s still early days and we’re going to see the next wave of enterprise solutions being created through messaging interfaces like Slack.
What questions or comments do you have about Slack?