A few weeks back, I spoke to Sofia Quintero for The Lean B2B Podcast. We talked about entrepreneurship, customer development, user research, neuropsychology, and continuous research.
Etienne Garbugli: My guest today is Sofia Quintero. Sofia is the CEO and co-founder of EnjoyHQ, a company in the customer research space that was recently acquired by UserZoom. Prior to co-founding EnjoyHQ, Sofia was head of growth at Geckoboard, a data visualization platform. Prior to Geckoboard, she had many ventures and hustles from selling flowers made of toilet paper to selling skateboards. Sofia’s journey into entrepreneurship is fascinating, so we’ll dig into this.
Sofia, welcome to the podcast.
Sofia Quintero: Thank you so much. I’m very excited to be here.
Etienne Garbugli: Great. Maybe we can start at the beginning. Could you maybe walk us through your early path into entrepreneurship and work in technology?
Sofia Quintero: Wow. Okay, entrepreneurship. Let’s just start there perhaps. I was born in Venezuela a long time ago. My parents are both economists, and they worked most of their life in corporate. So they worked for Ford Motors and other organizations. I grew up with this idea that that’s what you needed to do, that you needed to go to university, get a degree, and then somehow get an amazing corporate career.
As I grew up and I started discovering who I was and what I was interested in and the things that I wanted to do, I recognized very quickly at early age that the only way to do that was generating some money. But I couldn’t wait until I finished university and get my corporate job to actually do the things and buy the things that I wanted to get. I think every single kid goes through that process of realizing, “Oh my god, I need actually money to buy the things that I want and I need to produce it in some way. I cannot wait 15 years to get there.”
Naturally, I came up with a lot of ideas when I was leader at school to make all sorts of tiny amount of money. So I remember very clearly buying candies and lollipops and so on in a shop nearby my house and then bringing those to the school. I had to hide all that stuff because, of course, that’s not allowed in school. But I will hide it, and I will sell it during the recess, during the break.
I don’t even remember if I actually was making money. Bro, I was losing money. But I was just so excited that I could bring something, and somebody else will give me some money for it. That was one of the first experiments that I did, and it was just literally because I wanted to buy my own things. I wanted to have this power that all these adults had though I didn’t know how to create that magic as a child. Then going to the toilet paper flowers, that sounds awful now that I think about it.
Etienne Garbugli: No, it’s good.
Sofia Quintero: I don’t even know how I sold them. I have a couple of family members in the United States where I’m living now. They live in Texas. I went to visit them when I was 12, my uncle. I don’t know, I found myself excited about being in United States. It was really cool and very new. But at the same time, I got really bored very quickly because we were not going out all the time. We were at home.
I don’t remember why, but I remember being bored and thinking about that experiment that I did at school and thinking, “Well, maybe I can do something to make some money.” Because, certainly, there’s a lot of things that I could buy here in United States. I remember that I did some craft classes before. I don’t know.
I started building some with toilet paper. I rolled it, and I turned it into roses. I went, and I sold that door by door in the neighborhood where my uncle was. I think before he was just sad for me. I was selling those flowers, but I was selling them for one cent. And so I got a little bit of money there at the time, that’s a long time ago.
But the interesting thing to take away from doing those things when I was a child is that I learned to not be scared to talk to people. That was the first thing, to do something and not be scared about what other people might say or think about what you’re doing.
That was very important because later in life as I grew up and I went to university and I started my career, along the way, I did many other experiments, very tiny. A lot of things didn’t work. A lot of things work a little bit, but I kept doing things and partly building the skateboard shop. I actually didn’t build it out.
My boyfriend at the time had a skateboard shop. I remember I was working as a consultant. That’s my early twenties, my first job as a consultant. I made a ton of money as a consultant. It was an amazing project at the time. I was lucky to get involved with that company. I made good money from it, and I invested it all in that shop.
I literally quit, and I started working on the shop and just skating a lot and being involved in the skateboarding industry which also taught me a huge amount of things. If I have to think of entrepreneurship, I have to think about skateboarding.
Etienne Garbugli: Is this an experiment? Tell us a little bit.
Sofia Quintero: Yeah. Yeah. First of all, skating and also how the skateboarding industry works or at least worked at the time and how it has evolved. But generally speaking, skateboarding as a sport or as a lifestyle has a lot of components on entrepreneurship. I don’t know, I did a ton of experiments. I had a magazine in Panama. I lived in Panama for six months. This thing was crazy. Not even sold, I published an ebook when I was like 19 years old. I had to buy an e-commerce platform that was super expensive at the time. I had to borrow money just to sell an ebook.
That was the case. You couldn’t put an ebook online at the time. I’m talking about early 2000s, maybe the late ‘90s. So I experimented with internet. I experimented with businesses and different types of things throughout the years. I don’t know where it came from. But I really think, now that I look back, it was just this powerless feeling that I had when I was a child that, “I just want to buy my own things.” And I just reacted that way.
Etienne Garbugli: You had a very early start into some aspects of entrepreneurship, in that case. Because you were mentioning the candies would have been before you were 12. You had this realization very early where you were like, “Okay. I want to fix my problem, but I don’t have money.” or, “I need to have some way to buy what I want, so I’ll get into trying these experiments to see what actually works for me.”
Sofia Quintero: Now that you mentioned it that way, probably a big element or influence there is that my parents were really good at trying to put me in the right schools and in good universities and so on. But we were middle class, maybe not even middle class. They put me always in universities and schools where there were a lot of rich people, a lot of people that had a lot of money. All my friends would have a ton of things that I wouldn’t. And so I think that probably drove a lot of that need of, “I want to have the same things. I want to have the cool clothing and the toys.” and so on.
That might have been a reason because when I look back at university, that was even more pronounced. I remember very well feeling like an outsider because I didn’t have enough money. Maybe that was the case, I have no idea. Psychology works that way.
Etienne Garbugli: Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting how people evolve. Your start with the ebook and maybe the skateboarding shop, the consulting was your start in technology in a broader sense. But then you ended up moving to the UK and actually had a path that led you to working at Geckoboard. Can you maybe talk about that transition a little bit?
Sofia Quintero: That was a big jump. Moving to the UK mostly was driven by the fact that Venezuela was collapsing as a country, as a nation. We were going through dictatorship, and life was becoming really hard and really insecure as well in Venezuela. I knew that I wanted to travel the world. I knew I wanted to do something outside Venezuela, but the situation that was evolving there really pushed me forward. I just really needed to do it. I remember wanting to move to the UK just for a year because at the time I didn’t speak English. We used to learn basic English at school, but it wasn’t my second language.
I moved in 2006 to the US. Sorry, to the UK to learn English. That was the first point. It wasn’t even to leave Venezuela. I wanted to leave Venezuela, but I wasn’t sure if England was going to be the place and if I could do it. It was so scary just to move to a completely new country and just to start from scratch. I did that. I moved in 2006 because I didn’t have good English, and maybe I still don’t. But definitely it was worse then.
I basically had to start working at all sorts of jobs. I was working at Subway, the sandwich shop. I was working, that’s a funny story, in a strip club. But not as a stripper, I was just a receptionist. I was a receptionist charging people to get in in a very small town in England called Bournemouth. It’s in the south, and it has a beach. It’s also just for students and so on.
I did all sorts of jobs. I was trying to learn English. I went to school to learn English there. So it was really tough for me to be coming from having a good job in Venezuela and having all these career and projects and things that I have done and just really starting from scratch in the UK. I couldn’t just jump from what I knew into some cool job because I have this limitation of not knowing English and also being very insecure about moving to a completely new country, and I needed to bring back my confidence.
I spent a lot of time getting back to something similar to a career, learning English. I did a master’s degree in London after a while, mass communication.
Etienne Garbugli: In a different language? Yeah.
Sofia Quintero: Yeah.
Etienne Garbugli: In a language you had just learned?
Sofia Quintero: It was literally a good reason to do it because I felt like…
Etienne Garbugli: For sure, but it’s very impressive. Yeah.
Sofia Quintero: Thank you. If you can do a master’s and a dissertation in English, I felt like if I can do that, I can totally go and work for a company. I can work in these…
Etienne Garbugli: Normally, yeah.
Sofia Quintero: Yeah, we will hope so. I did that, and then I was just desperate to build my skills and my understanding on the industry in England and understand my way. I had my first opportunities in big digital advertising agencies. It was basically internet but just focused on advertising. I found that that was one of being a creative endeavor. I liked it.
It was a good opportunity to get started in the UK, but I quickly realized that you cannot be as creative as you think you can be in an agency environment. And so I started to focus more on the digital marketing side of things and trying to understand where could I learn more about building software companies, growing software companies or digital products in general.
That was around 2008 or nine. Then I started really to focus on developing a stronger career on that area. I learned a lot by myself. I didn’t have a ton of money, so I basically read a ton of books and online courses and so on. The experience that I have selling my own little projects and trying my own little things helped a ton there. I was very lucky that after working for a couple of agencies, I managed to land this job at Geckoboard. That was amazing because I was the first marketing hire there. The company was, I don’t know, six, seven people maybe when we started. I had the opportunity to bring all these things that I wanted to do in one place.
I was able to really build the foundations of what growth and marketing will look like there. I’m always grateful to Paul the founder at Geckoboard because he just was excellent, an excellent boss, an excellent leader. And so that helped me to learn on the job and also do the projects on the side as well. I still did all the random projects on the side that helped me to put in practice those things. Sometimes you’d get a job, and those jobs you want to do a lot of things and others you cannot do because they don’t apply to that particular job. But you still want to stream in with those things, with technology, with other channels and so on.
I would use this personal experiment to try to see, okay, what that looks like if we did some weird ad in this new platform, stuff like that. That helped Geckoboard grow. We had a ton of success for a while. After being working there for three, four years, I think, I was starting to feel that I needed to do my own thing again but full-time. Now with all these experiences that I had and all these failures, I felt like, “Okay, cool. Maybe now that I know a little bit more,” I thought that I knew more, “I can do something interesting here.” I looked very closely to the pinpoints that I had when I was working. What are the things that made my life difficult when I was trying to grow Geckoboard and implement all these growth strategies?
Part of that discovery and thinking is where EnjoyHQ, at the time NomNom, came from. It came from this constant frustration around not being able to access the data that I needed to have access to in order to make decisions around how to position our products, what to build as well next, how to think about customer experience in general. It was this need of, can we have a bit more visibility into what we are gathering from customers? Whether it was support tickets, social media, interviews, whatever it was.
I wanted to have more access, and it was very difficult. Because of the systems that we were using because there was not a lot of user research experience in the company. A lot of different factors, but I felt like there was a way to solve it from a technology point of view. There was a way to at least alleviate the pain in a substantial way. That’s a very compressed background of how I got there, but that’s how I started thinking about my company.
Etienne Garbugli: Great. That’s a good launching point from there. The original vision there was to use what types of data, specifically? What was your original idea specifically at that point?
Sofia Quintero: Yeah. At that point, it was more of an aggregator. I just wanted to have this mini Google in the company where I could just search something, put the keyword analytics and see all the feedback and all this stuff that we have researched in the past about analytics in the company because we had our components of dashboards and so on.
I just wanted to be able to tap into the things that our customer support teams were exposed to, the things that product managers were exposed to through interviews without having to ask them, without having to get a license to one of their tools, without having to necessarily go through the hoops of understanding, “Can you give me the data? Can you just explore the CSP?”
Those micro interactions feel very tiny, but people tend to stop themselves from asking what they need just because you have to do a ton of things to get it done. Things like literally asking other people to stop what they’re doing to give you some export. I wanted to eliminate that friction and just be independent, have my data, and be able to do my own analysis, especially qualitative analysis. Because quant, it’s different. It’s split away. It was more developed. We were a data-driven company at the time but very focused on the numbers. But the qualitative side of things, that was the tricky part.
Etienne Garbugli: Okay. So it was all over the place? Different teams had information that was interesting to you and other people in the company but was not accessible?
Sofia Quintero: Correct.
Etienne Garbugli: What convinced you at that point when you started thinking, “Hey, maybe there’s an opportunity there.” What convinced you that there’s actually substance there, that it was more than just you that had these problems or that was facing challenges there. What convinced you that this might be a business?
Sofia Quintero: I think there are two things there, one almost like a personal situation, if you like. And another one that is more of a professional opportunity. The personal situation was that I was reaching the point at Geckoboard where I felt I had done a lot of things but I wanted to have this other next level type of experience. I was feeling a bit on this crossroad. I wanted to define, okay, what I’m going to do next. So I really want to go and get another job and another place or do I want to try the things that I like to do which is just starting things from scratch and see if I can be a little bit better this time.
I was going through that process of making that decision, understanding what is the next thing that I want to do that is going to make me really happy. Then the other side of things is that while I was working at Geckoboard, I also had the opportunity to build some profile in the UK, in the industry by speaking at conferences and so on. That helped me meet a lot of people. Within that, I met a micro VC in Portugal. They invited me to talk at one of their conferences, to talk to their portfolio companies just to tell them how we grew Geckoboard. And I did. That was the first time that I met a VC, actually, and the first time I understood what they do.
I was thinking about this problem of data access and so on. And so I just wrote an email after the event, and I sent it to him. Not to ask for money, not for nothing really. I just wanted somebody that invests in companies to tell me what they thought about this idea. I just wrote my rationale, the market, what I think. No idea about pitching and so on.
But he thought that my background and the idea was good enough to give it a shot. And so he said, “If you’re ready and if you think that you want to do this, I can give you this tiny amount of money so you can quit.” I had my co-founder already, I convinced somebody to do this already even though I didn’t know if I was going to do it. It was just mostly like, “Okay. If I have to build something, I need to find somebody to help me out.” But then when I sent that email…
Etienne Garbugli: Did you get a solution at that point? Was there a solution in something you built?
Sofia Quintero: No, we didn’t build anything. It was literally just a concept in terms of an idea that I described, but I was just talking about this with one of the engineers at Geckoboard that’d end up being my co-founder. When I presented this email to this VC, yeah, he felt it was compelling enough. So it was easier for me then to feel, “Okay, I have the drive and the motivation. I’m in that right moment now when I need to decide what to do next.” I have, I wouldn’t say validation. But I have this moment of confidence where somebody else that is looking at a lot of companies might think that it might be worth at least to give me some money to get started.
That’s when I told Lukasz, my co-founder, “Look, we have this chance. You want to jump? You want to actually go for it?” We did, and I felt alive again. That’s actually the description when we did this and we got the support of a VC saying, “I’m going to give you a little bit of money to get started.”
I remember this feeling. I was walking in Soho in London with my co-founder and just being in this state of, I don’t know, ecstasy I would imagine. I don’t know, this extra happiness where I was like, “Oh my god, I feel alive again. I’m back to who I am.” It was very strange because I always felt like that with my little projects, but this time it felt more real.
Yeah, I knew at that moment definitely that’s what I wanted to do there and also for the rest of my life. I understood that this is the type of person that I am. It took me quite a while, but it was good.
Etienne Garbugli: Yeah. Yeah. We’re all on journeys to discover ourself but as well what we do and all that. That’s interesting. So you had a moment of clarity, you said? Where at that moment you were like, “Okay.” From what I understand, you also discovered about yourself. You discovered about the opportunity, and there was this nice fit there.
Sofia Quintero: Yeah. Perhaps just to add there is the fact that I didn’t know a lot about entrepreneurship. I didn’t know what was a founder. I didn’t really understand that on a personal level. I knew there were companies and the founder of Geckoboard, and I was just trying to grow the company. That was the concept that I had.
I always thought about my experiments as projects, never as companies. When I came up with this idea of EnjoyHQ, I had my co-founder there at the time. He’s literally a friend that was helping me to understand this space. When I talked to this VC, what really happened there is an understanding that there is a type of people. They’re called entrepreneurs, and they can go and pursue things that are big.
That understanding there sounds very basic. I didn’t internalize it until somebody told me, “Go, I believe in you. Let me give you some money. Go and build this thing and build it big.” Until that moment, I hadn’t internalized that I could be that person. Before, I thought of myself as a growth professional, as a person interested in marketing and in internet, as a person that is proactive doing different projects and creative. I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, a person that starts companies as a career. So that was my moment.
Etienne Garbugli: That’s really interesting because we could easily argue that what you were doing in Venezuela was entrepreneurship. At that point, did you put the label on it? Or you hadn’t seen it like that?
Sofia Quintero: I think I added a label, but that helped me also feel more confident and understand, “Okay, I’m not weird.” Because when you’re doing a lot of projects on your own, you are the weird person. So think about it. I’m a woman, 21 years old. Left my job which was paying me very well to start or join a skateboarding shop. I’m skating in Venezuela with a bunch of people and then selling boards and selling clothing in this shop. At least in Venezuela, it was perceived as a very risky thing to do, as an outlier. You’re throwing away your location and everything else and your job for this weird thing that you’re never going to make money.
For me, all these things that I tried before were more of me being the weirdo instead of being entrepreneur. But then once I got the label and I knew what an entrepreneur was, I was like, “Oh, okay. That’s much better. That doesn’t sound like a weirdo. It sounds actually cool.” So that was my conceptualization of that.
Etienne Garbugli: So it was your entry in that tribe that was started when you met that VC and he was like, “Hey, there’s other people like you. There’s other people that have ideas like you that want to pursue these things and do these things.” Can we mention the amount that you got from that funding? I know it, but…
Sofia Quintero: Oh, it’s so tiny. It was huge for me at the time, but it’s tiny. That tells you how much I didn’t know about business, but it was 40,000 euros.
Etienne Garbugli: Okay. And so the question there is, did you structure things? You have a co-founder, you don’t have a product, you have an idea, you have 40,000 euros in London which is one of the most expensive cities in the world. How do you set yourself up so that either there’s more money at some point in the future or you have a product that actually has sales or whatever? How did you set up that initial timeline so that you would be successful as a company?
Sofia Quintero: Oh my god, if I could go back. The truth is that I didn’t know any of those things. What I knew was that I understood the problem because I was experiencing that issue that I saw before because that was not the first time that I experienced in Geckoboard. I experienced in my other jobs when I was doing consultancy for customer experience, when I’m doing marketing. All the other jobs that I had in my life, I always had that problem one way or another. So I knew the problem. I knew that it could be solved because I could imagine very tangibly what was the solution in my head, what would be helpful. I knew that I had a partner that wanted to do this with me, and that was huge because I’m not an engineer.
Once I got that commitment of somebody saying, “I’m going to give you this money to make it happen.” I knew I was going to make it happen. I didn’t sit down as I would do today if I start a new company to create a roadmap of how I’m going to distribute this or how I’m going to build a product and sell it. I just didn’t know. I just focused on learning, researching, looking, meeting people, meeting my ex boss, I found the rest successful founders. I just was desperate for learning. When you are very ignorant and naive, the cool thing about that is that you learn very fast and you feel like everything is new. That’s how it should be anyway.
I just started experimenting with everything that I learned. When people say, “Oh, you need a roadmap.” “Oh, shit. What is a roadmap? Okay, let’s do a roadmap.” Yeah. “Okay. Oh, well we need to grow this part.” Well, growth, it was easy because I knew about growth. I knew that once I had a product, I knew some of the basic things to do to take it out. But the most important thing was the product at the time, how can we solve this problem that is very complicated in a way that is elegant and in a way that other people can actually use and see the value? The product was my biggest concern at the time, and so that was my focus.
Literally, I managed to raise more money because the same VC that gave me that opportunity literally said to me, “At some point you’re going to run out of money, so maybe you’ll want to join an accelerator or you’re going to have to race around.” I didn’t know what that racing around was.
Etienne Garbugli: Googled it?
Sofia Quintero: Yeah. I went, “Okay, what is racing around and what is an accelerator? Okay, let me do that.” That’s the thing. It was as basic as that. I would like to tell you that I knew a lot of things and I was involved in the industry and I was super strategic, but the truth is I don’t know anything. Therefore, I’m going to have to research and meet people and get shit done. That was it.
Etienne Garbugli: Do you think that, I don’t know if naivete is the right word, but that not knowing these things is actually maybe a positive thing to some extent at that pitch?
Sofia Quintero: It is positive for the first company. You always want to have to go through that process, and I think it is positive because you don’t know how hard it’s going to be. So you keep going, and you don’t know how the journey is going to affect you and what are the things that are going to be successful or not. So not knowing is a blessing.
But once you get to something that starts working, then it’s a detriment because you really have to implement things that have been done before systems and processes that help you scale. I think that was very good in the first few years of the company, getting to a point where we’re innovating this space and we have something solid that people are using. But later on, I felt like, “Okay, now I need the experience. I cannot carry on. This is already a big unit.
Etienne Garbugli: Yeah, just make it up over time. Yeah.
Sofia Quintero: Yeah, exactly. I was very passionate about the problem space. I understood the problem, the product, and passion about all the areas, but then not necessarily very good at understanding scaling processes. So that was a different stage. Therefore, in that part of the journey, you definitely want to rely on people that have done it before and have a lot experience.
Now, if I think about my next company, let’s say, I wouldn’t like to have that naivete at all. I think there’s nothing better than having this experience and being able to make different mistakes. I think it’s important, yeah, to be curious and not to feel bad that you don’t know a lot of things at the very beginning.
Etienne Garbugli: That’s good. What convinced the early customers of EnjoyHQ to sign on? You were working on a new product or you were in the process of working on it. What convinced the first few customers to say, “Okay, I’m in.”
Sofia Quintero: I think what was awesome for us is that as we were building the beta program and trying to open it up, first of all, I didn’t expect that so many people were going to be interested. I remember we had a couple of thousands of registrations for the beta program. So that was a good sign of, “Okay, we’re doing something good here. People are interested.” Then as they signed up for the beta program and we’re just giving access to this really bad product at the time, what I learned by talking to them was how painful this actually was.
It was not necessarily a pain that they might like to solve someday or something that was just bothering them but they could live with. I really understood, “Okay, people are really not liking the situation and they want to solve it or they’re already solving this problem. But they don’t like what they built internally.”
That was the time where I understood, “Okay, this is a big problem.” The only reason that I think people signed up for EnjoyHQ and NomNom at the time was because the pain was so heavy in their operations. It was so difficult for them to manage and do the research and understand the data that they were willing to try anything to solve it.
That’s massive. That’s when I understood the lesson of build a painkiller, not a vitamin. I happened to be lucky to build a painkiller. That was just luck. A lot of people told me that was a vitamin at the beginning, a lot of the initial investors and people that didn’t want to invest and other kinds of customers.
Etienne Garbugli: People that didn’t have the pain? Yeah.
Sofia Quintero: Yeah, exactly. But once you meet the people that are really suffering from the program, you realize, “Okay, this is actually very important and they’re willing to solve it with a product that is not even finished.” So that gave me a ton of motivation. I have to say the first users that we had really gave me the conviction. I didn’t know it was going to be a huge company, but it gave me the conviction to carry on.
Etienne Garbugli: How did they express that pain or that frustration or what they had?
Sofia Quintero: Oh, the common thing that I remember is I will clip the videos when I interview them and I talk to them. And I will clip the parts where it will describe the pain because they will say things like, “Oh my god, I’ve been dreaming with this for so long. This is amazing,” or, “Oh, I really wanted to build this myself,” or, “My previous company tried to build something like this, and it was awful. Man. I want to see this.”
There was also always this sort of like, “Oh, it’s great that finally somebody is doing this.” Maybe it’s not the most precise type of language for you to infer that, “Oh yeah, definitely. We have something that people need.” I wouldn’t necessarily say that you need to hear those things to confirm and validate it. But at least at the time, it made me feel, “Okay, this has been in people’s heads.” It has occupy their thoughts during work enough for when to take the time to jump and verify what is that I’m offering and to try to understand how to be better and give me time.
That was a little bit of another sign that I was going on the right direction. Other people will actually describe it like, “Oh my god, it’s a pain that I have to talk to this team to get this rapport. And it doesn’t work because I don’t get that raw data, I’m just getting their interpretation. Then how do I know that they know how to do research?”
I would get all these complaints that were very similar to the things that I would say myself as well when I was back in Geckoboard and other places. So that was another sign. It’s just little things like that that help you move forward because then you have to validate a bigger scale. But at the time, I just needed to get the first 10 customers, the first 100 customers. That was enough for me to carry on the process of developing or redefining the solution.
Etienne Garbugli: How did you guys drive those initial sign-ups? Because you interviewed these people that were signing up, but how did you drive them? How did they initially discover the value proposition or the pitch?
Sofia Quintero: Got it. This is a nice thing about investing in your network early even if you don’t know what you’re going to do with that network. By working in all these other different companies, by doing my little projects, by trying to meet people to learn from them when I started building the company, by learning about growth in companies and hustle, basically initially I contacted a lot of people by email, like, “Hey, I’m doing this. Therefore, can you try it?” in a very silly way because I wasn’t even asking if they had that problem.
I just wanted people to try the product. But then, of course, they’re willing to introduce me to other people. Or I will go directly on LinkedIn and ask product managers or growth people like, “Hey, I’m doing this.”
It was just a one-on-one-on-one-on-one conversation. It was just trying to, through my network, get to places where people will pay attention. It helps when you build a little bit of a reputation because then they know, well, I’m not a crazy person that wants to talk to them. I’m somebody that had a job before and now is doing something else. So I think it was that, just the hustle one person at a time.
Etienne Garbugli: Do you think it’s partly because you had a fairly focused network as well? Did that help in that sense?
Sofia Quintero: It could be perhaps. I don’t know. I knew a lot of people at the time. Most of my network was growth people, product managers. That was when growth hacking was a thing.
Etienne Garbugli: Yeah, a bigger thing. Yeah.
Sofia Quintero: Yeah, so you had a lot of product managers doing some growth or getting into growth. Then you have a lot of marketers there. So a lot of the initial people that I talked to or they signed up for the product were either growth people, product managers, marketers, some designers as well. Yeah, that was the initial network that I had.
Etienne Garbugli: Okay. So, initially, you guys were doing customer interviews with the people that are signing up to learn and improve the product? How does a company in a customer research field evolve it’s customer research practice as it goes along? Throughout the years, how did you guys evolve how you learn from customers?
Sofia Quintero: Until now, it hasn’t changed much. Because when I think about user research or customer research, you have different methods, you have different ways to go about it. However, for me, building relationship with customers is what really drive those deep insights. All of that sounds like a jargon, but let me explain a little bit.
What I mean by that is if you sign up for my product the first time when I had this crappy version, you get to see that I care about my product, that I really want to solve the problem and you are having that problem, that is a very obvious win-win situation. And so that’s fine being on the other side.
What often happens is that once I talk to you and I got what I needed as a founder, I forget about you. Unless you pay me, I just literally don’t talk to you again probably. That happens all the time. I’m always interviewed for some new product and never hear about these people before or later. But what I kept doing is I will talk to you again and ask, “Oh, sorry. I don’t want to bother you. Do you have like five minutes? Because I just have this question. I have this thing.”
I try to build these often constant interactions with all the people that I was talking to for the first time. So instead of thinking of one-off interactions for the purpose of customer research, I thought about us building this network of customers even though they hadn’t paid me first. So, getting at that point.
That brings some problems as well later because you don’t know if they’re paying you because of you or paying you because of the product. But you learn that later that people are not that friendly. Even if they like you, they will still not pay money for your product if they don’t like it.
Generally speaking, I never thought about user or customer research as a one-off thing or a transactional thing. I always thought about it as an ongoing process. We did a lot of usability testing and surveys and all these things that everybody does in different methods, but I really focused on building those relationships.
What I noticed though is that after you have talked to a team, for example, 10, 12 times over two years in very deep conversations, they start telling you things that they would normally not tell you in user research. They start telling you things that have a context. So they will say, “Oh, you remember last year when I told you that I needed to do this feature? Blah, blah, blah. Well, I don’t need that anymore because this thing happened in my company. And so now what I need released is this other type of feature.”
You start understanding the request of a new feature in the context of how the user evolved through their journey in the app and how they solved the problem. That historical context around how people use your product is so rich. A lot of innovation, a lot of the new things that we build that competitors copy later were features that came from that type of conversation where people really told me how they have evolved their thinking of their own problem and the usage of the tool through the years because of how things changed in the company.
So it gave me this big understanding of how my tool, my product sits within the ecosystem of things that a person does in the company and also how it sits throughout time. It’s not like I’m solving this problem for this person this year. It’s like this customer changes. Things happen in the company, the company grows, they buy all their tools.
That constant understanding of that evolution is what drives ideas and different innovations that you don’t get by doing a usability testing or doing one customer interview here and then. That was the secret sauce that I’m planning to use forever which is continuous customer discovery. But it’s more than that. It’s building meaningful relationships with the people that you’re doing research with.
Etienne Garbugli: Can I ask, how many people are we talking about? Or how many companies are you in contact with over these years?
Sofia Quintero: Oh, thousands.
Etienne Garbugli: Are you yourself speaking with all these companies or?
Sofia Quintero: Yeah, I was doing until now.
Etienne Garbugli: Oh, that’s amazing.
Sofia Quintero: Yeah. I was doing demos, sales conversations, customer support. I would join the conversation. So I’d have catch-up calls with customers literally like a friend. I would go, “Hey, we haven’t talked in like four months. Let’s talk about things.” And we’d start talking about work and the product, but you’d end up talking about other things.
Then that brings you back to additional context or you’ll build the relationship a little bit better. So I just built all these relationships, and I kept doing it. That gave me a lot of headaches because, of course, I didn’t have enough time to step back. There was a lot of noise coming in. There’s a lot of things that come from it. But even the downside of being the founder and doing all of that by myself, it’s not enough. I still would do it again the same way.
I think the gains from that practice are way bigger than whatever sense of overwhelm or time management or issues that I had at the past. Honestly, I would do it again. Now, of course, I need to scale it. So now we know when I’ll acquire. We’re scaling other people. I hire other people to do partly that job as well, our product managers and marketers and so on to do that research. But I never stopped. I never stopped. Until this day, I still talk to customers.
Etienne Garbugli: But as you’re scaling, are you trying to get your team to follow that blueprint that you established where they are doing that research over time?
Sofia Quintero: Correct. I do my best to share those. There are principles. Again, maybe this will lead us to psychology and neuroscience and so on. But it is about understanding human psychology, how people share information and how you can be in relationships to really understand the context of everybody’s situation and understand the problem from different angles, not just your angle, not just your product and how people use that product within their context. There are so many things going on around humans and within organizations. So I try to share the value of that with everybody in the company now and anybody, a user as well. I try to share the importance of it.
There’s always friction because if people don’t want it initially, they feel like that’s unnecessary work like, “Oh, but I’m already talking to customers. Why do I need to talk to them again?” Those types of things, that type of friction will always exist. But I think it’s important to keep pushing and talking and convincing and helping people understand that you are dealing with humans. You’re not dealing with users or customers. You are dealing with humans that have life, that have context, they have problems, that have emotions, that make irrational decisions. Therefore, you have to spend the time to understand all of that. And that means many calls. So that’s how I think about it.
Etienne Garbugli: Oh, it’s amazing. Okay. You mentioned that that ties in to neuroscience. You’re actually studying neuroscience now. How does that tie in into that journey both as a person and as a CEO of a company or CEO of a company that was acquired by a big company?
Sofia Quintero: Well, I have so many reasons for studying neuroscience now. All sorts of reasons. I can mention some of them. One that comes to mind immediately is normally our need to understand customers much better as humans but the huge responsibility that we have as founders and creators with society. I really got fed up with what has been happening in the last 10 years with the big companies, with the whole manipulation, misinformation, using the dark patterns, everything that we have experienced especially in the last two years with Facebook and so on.
I grew up very tired of being part of an industry where we have this type of problems. We think that it’s just these big companies behaving this way. We are all involved in this problem. We are all building companies, and we are also repeating different patterns based on the incentive that we have.
If you’re a VC-backed company, you might have very good intentions. But you do have a different incentive. You have the incentive of growing really large, and therefore your product team and your user research team and your marketing team will think about growth in a very different way. That will influence the type of features that you build. You might not consider what those features might do to people when it comes to behavior and their well-being.
So I think one big part is that I think every founder should have a deeper understanding of the human brain and how the human psychology works so when we build products, we build things that don’t make humans build unhealthy habits or manipulation or anything that might affect society at large. So that’s one part. Second part is that the more you understand about your own brain and psychology as well, the better you feel, the more control you feel about your life, the better you can build relationships, the more creative you can be. From a personal perspective, I like to invest in that area. Also finally, and more recently my mother was diagnosed with dementia. They don’t know if it’s Alzheimer’s just yet.
So that was another trigger. It’s like, “Okay, wow. I have to go through this like many people in the world, and it’s a very painful and difficult disease. So I might as well understand that deeply.” Neuroscience also is allowing me to make sense of that situation. Oops. Sorry. We have lots of these elements. That’s why I’m doing it. And I love it. I’m a nerd. I love it.
Let me show you this, and in your podcast you won’t see it. But this is a brain model. Yeah, this is a brain model that you can disconnect and so on. I have a bunch of stuff. So I love it. I love anything related to how we think and why we think the way we do.
Etienne Garbugli: Yeah. I think we’ve never spoken before this call. So I think one thing that I had read somewhere is how your hustle and your drive is apparent. I saw that on the internet widely written. I see just the transition. The insane transition from where you started to where you are today is very impressive, and I see that you’re not stopping which I find both fascinating as a human but as well as someone that studies entrepreneurship.
I take it the way you guys approach studying customers and their evolution and the never-ending… I think that’s definitely the right way to go, especially moving in the future where retention is more and more important. Maybe as the last question, if you were to speak to a new person aspiring to be a B2B entrepreneur, what would you suggest they do to find their approach in you?
Sofia Quintero: Yeah. Whether you are a bootstrap or a VC company perhaps, this sounds like a startup cliche, but it is true. Build intentionally, have intentions. What is the intention that you want to have with this company? What is the purpose of this company?
It’s not only to make you rich or to solve a problem or perhaps just to improve society. All these things are really great, but you need more than that. You need to understand, “Okay, I’m going to put this out in the world because I want all of these different things to happen. And so I want my team to be financially independent after we sell this company.” Or, “I don’t want to sell the company. I want this to be a very large company that helps the environment and society in these very specific ways. I want to build this because, as a person, I want to explore these areas of my life.”
Or, “I want to dedicate my time to really understand this problem as deep as possible.” Or, “I want these to have an impact on my family in whatever way.” Or, “I want to be an example in the ecosystem because I believe in those values or these specific values, and I want to build my company as an example of those values.”
It’s being intentionally 360. Intentional with the product that you’re building, the reason why you’re building it, the market, the impact on society, the impact in your family, the impact on your friends, the impact of your team, the impact on your dog, whoever is around you.
You want to make sure that you have a clear vision of what are your intentions. It cannot be just, “I want to build the company, and I want to make money.” Or, “I want to scale.” or, “I want to be famous.” Those are also legitimate reasons. I’m not saying that they are wrong. They are totally legitimate, but it cannot be the only ones.
You really want to see every aspect of yourself as a human being and understand that when you build a company, you are building an extension of yourself. That thing takes its own life later. You want that little monster you created to be good.
Etienne Garbugli: It fits your model, yeah.
Sofia Quintero: Yeah. The intentions that you put at the beginning are extremely important, and they are not separated from you as a person. It’s not like I create a company but then I’m a separate human being here. You are just one human being. So it will affect your life. It will affect your relationships. It will affect how you see yourself. So you might as well spend some time thinking about what are your intentions.
Etienne Garbugli: That’s great advice. So thanks for taking the time for the interview. Where can people go to learn more about you and your work, your company?
Sofia Quintero: All right. About me, you can go to sofiaquintero.me. That’s a little one-page site, and there you can find all the links to LinkedIn, to EnjoyHQ, to Instagram, whatever, all the stuff. So you can go there and learn more about what I do. You can also email me directly on the website or ping me on Twitter. Yeah, I think Twitter is @sofiaqt. But you can find the link on the website.
Etienne Garbugli: Okay, we’ll link it as well. Thank you very much. Really appreciate it.
More on Continuous Research
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- [ Interview ] Lean UX Co-Author Jeff Gothelf on How Product Teams Should Do Product Discovery in 2022
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