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FlashPanel Graduates From Beta (Email to the BetterCloud Team)

David Politis

September 12, 2013

9 minute read

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Today marks a major milestone in BetterCloud’s history – we’ve taken the beta tag off of FlashPanel. Earlier this morning I wrote an email to the team here to reflect a little (or a lot) on what the last two years have been like and what we can look forward to in the coming months and years. Because there are so many people who have supported us along the way (customers, partners, investors, peers, family, friends or just those rooting for us) I thought it would be worthwhile to publish the internal email on our blog. It’s long, and if you’d prefer to get the details about the launch of our enterprise plans, you can check out the press release here. We’re looking forward to this next chapter.

Team –

Today is an important day in our company’s short, yet very eventful, history. Taking the beta tag off of FlashPanel is a big move for us. Literally overnight we’ve changed how BetterCloud is viewed by our customers, our partners, our peers and the market as a whole. In 14 months, we’ve gone from a company / product that nobody had heard of to a product used by tens of thousands of organizations all over the world. FlashPanel has transformed from a product that gave IT admins minimal directory management functionality to a tried and tested IT management and security application that has truly changed how thousands of IT administrators do their jobs every day.

While this is no doubt a very exciting time for the entire team, it’s important not to lose sight of what has gotten us to this point. We need to continue doing what we’ve been doing…it’s working.

When I talk to customers, potential hires, investors, reporters, family, friends (really anyone who will listen) about BetterCloud, I’m always asked the same question: what makes our company successful? For me, it’s three key areas: our team, our product and our customers. I know we’ve had a long couple of weeks (maybe months), but I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to reflect on the success we’ve had up to this point and what this new chapter has in store for us.

Our Team

When we founded the company back in November 2011, we had a team of 8. Today, 41 people comprise our team across two offices…who knows where we’ll be a year from now.

We’ll continue to hire great people. We’ve spent a lot of time interviewing literally hundreds of candidates. Even at our busiest time, we’ve made it a priority to conduct thorough interviews to make sure any new hire meshes with the culture we’ve built. We’ve been very selective – at times perhaps too selective (thanks to Hardwick’s grueling interviews and brain teasers), but in the end we’ve ended up with an amazing team.

My favorite part about the culture we’ve built is the fact that even the newest team members quickly gain autonomy. New people come in, find something they can take ownership of and run with it. When you have a group of people from different backgrounds at different stages of their lives with different expertise and they all get along, you know you have something special. The challenge for us is to keep that going. We have at least another 10 to 15 hires to make this year alone and we need to stay selective to protect the culture we all love.

Through it all – the very late nights, cramming into our small offices (it’s getting tighter every day), working on the weekends – we’ll continue to have fun. We (and people in general) spend too much time at work not to love the people we’re working with. You spend everyday together, you rely on each other, you have lunch together, you drink together (sometimes a lot), you spend more time together than you do with any of your close friends or family….you, in fact, have become close friends and like a family. As the stakes continue to rise and FlashPanel becomes even more prominent, we can’t lose our culture. I love that we can get our work done with a smile on our faces and that needs to hold true no matter how large the team becomes.

Our Product

When we first launched FlashPanel in the Marketplace on July 17, 2012, the application had very basic, limited functionality – simple user and group management features. Now, a little over a year later, we’ve released 20 additional versions with over 100 new features.

While we’ve grown the product to cover nearly every aspect of Google Apps – Directory, Contacts, Calendar, Sites, Drive – we can’t stop here. Google Apps has already changed how organizations around the world conduct business and Google’s not going to stop innovating, which means we won’t stop either.

The way data is stored / accessed / shared in the cloud has introduced a whole set of new challenges for IT and security personnel and all of this brings with it new opportunities for BetterCloud. It’s our responsibility to continue to help IT admins overcome these challenges with FlashPanel. Where we are with the application today is just the beginning, part of the value to our customers / partners is the fact that we haven’t stopped innovating and building out the application. Even while expanding the team, we’ve kept up our rapid pace of development and remained in lock-step with the growth and sophistication of the Google Apps suite. You can see this with the adoption of different FlashPanel features. We’re now at the point where 20 people from an organization are logging into the application over the course of one day and each person is using 2 to 3 features. The breadth of the product is amazing.

Going Wider

Though FlashPanel covers much of Google Apps already, there’s still room to grow. In the coming months, we’ll extend the application to allow auditing and management of third-party applications installed on a domain. If any of you have sat in on wireframe reviews between Kevin and our customers, you know that there is a lot of excitement surrounding this new functionality (on a couple of the calls it has even been hard to get the customer off the phone in time for our next meeting).

The key to our success so far is that we’ve taken a lot of the functionality available across many point solutions and wrapped it into one product with a consistent UI and price point to give users a more integrated experience. We need to continue to expand across the suite to build on this experience.

Going Deeper

While we’re broadening FlashPanel’s coverage of Google Apps, we must also delve deeper into areas of the suite we already cover. We need to go back and review what we’ve already built. Everyone always says hindsight is 20 / 20, so if you knew back then what you know today, what would you have built differently? What areas could have been more streamlined? What could you have refined to give the customer a better experience? I challenge our entire team to take the feedback we’ve received, the tickets opened about different features, the feature ideas on the support forum and any other information we can gather about our product and internalize it, digest it and put together drastic improvements that enhance the app two or three times over.

We’ve already begun to rethink some of FlashPanel’s earliest features and our customers can see the results of this effort today with access control by OU. Simple improvements like the ability to ‘select all’ at each level of permissions or the ‘people selector’ may seem like small improvements, but they make the customer experience significantly better.

We need to do this kind of work throughout the application. Our next area of improvement is shared contacts. We all know from the emails we receive and our shared contacts webinar a couple of months ago just how important this feature is to our customers. I can confidently say that we have at least 3,000 companies that are eagerly awaiting these improvements.

When it comes to the product, I don’t want to be driven by always having to release new features, I actually believe that sometimes the ability to go back and rebuild the most popular features provides a better experience for our customers in the long run. Cloud applications in general don’t often deliver here, but I would argue that this is something people have come to expect from Google, so now it’s something we must come to expect from ourselves.

Infrastructure

Another area we aim to improve on over the next few months deals with the core of FlashPanel – how and where it’s built. We’ll be heavily investing in the application’s underlying infrastructure for the next 3 to 6 months. With some of the items we’ve laid out for next year’s roadmap, we need to make sure that we have an even faster infrastructure put in place. This will be a major undertaking, but our efforts will undoubtedly change the way we think about the product and what kind of tools we can build. Ultimately, I don’t want the lack of a beta tag to stop us from thinking big and experimenting. Thank you ahead of time to Steve and Cooper, this is going to be a huge endeavor.

Our Customers

Since day one of launch, more than 20,000 organizations have installed FlashPanel in 133 different countries. While that kind of reach is no doubt very impressive, what I’m most proud of is the relationship we’ve been able to build with our customer base.

We need to continue to listen to our customers. Realize that we would not be where we are today without our customers’ ideas and feedback and know that we will not succeed in the future if we take this relationship for granted. Many of you have probably heard me talk about my experience with customers at a previous company. A customer there told me we were building in a bubble and had no idea what our users wanted or needed. I swore from that point on that I would never give a customer reason to tell me that. So, when we started BetterCloud, I said we would take a unique approach to building FlashPanel. We would let our customers drive the roadmap, we would spend time one on one with customers to show them what we’re working on and we would rely heavily on their expertise to tell us the challenges they faced.

Right off the bat, we made this interaction a tenet of our business. Before launching FlashPanel in the Marketplace, Eli did 28 hour-long one on one sessions over the course of a week with alpha testers back to back to back (at one point I thought he was going to pass out, we were trying to keep him hydrated) to gain customers’ feedback, show them how to use the application and iron out any initial issues. Now, somehow, through your diligence and dedication, we’ve stayed religious about how we engage with our customers. The key to keeping this going has been all the channels we’ve opened up for communication – phone calls, hangouts, chats, emails, surveys – FlashPanel is the result of listening to and hopefully solving the pain points of our customers.

Keep in mind though, that none of this would work if our customers weren’t willing to give us their thoughts and spend time with us. The fact that people who are so busy with their own day to day jobs are willing to review wireframes, fill out surveys or spend an hour on the phone with me, Hardwick, Eli, Eliza, Peter, Mike or Dylan is incredible. We’ve really built a special relationship and we should all plan to deepen that over the coming months and years. Now that we’re out of beta, we can’t become complacent or neglect this relationship. We should continue to share our roadmap, take the time to hear customer feedback and really nourish existing relationships (this is already occurring through the Customer Advisory Board) and build new ones. We owe it to our customers to deliver more now than we ever have before.

We’ll continue to go above and beyond to create a memorable experience for our customers. When a customer walks away from an interaction with us, whether it’s opening a ticket, a phone call, a training session or attending a webinar, I want them to think to themselves that the experience was at a different level than what they expected or have experienced elsewhere. I want them to get to know the team, I want them to have access to us at all times (we’re announcing 24 / 7 support in the coming weeks) and I want us to be proactive. This is going to be a long term investment, we’ll need to add people to the team, we’ll need some new tools to help in the process, but we can do it. Going forward, we need to work to create amazing experiences for both paying and nonpaying customers.

What’s Next?

If we continue at our current pace, by the end of the year FlashPanel will be managing 20,000,000 Google Apps user accounts, our team will be 55 people and we’ll have added another 4 to 5 major features. We’re just hitting our stride, we need to deliver what our customers ask for, we are becoming a crucial piece of the IT infrastructure, we need to keep our product priced where it is today while adding features – we need to keep doing what we’re doing. We are no longer an unknown company / product, we’re powering IT departments around the world and that presents both a serious responsibility and opportunity.

Being part of this team and company has taught me a lot and truly inspired me. We’ve laid the foundation for something special. It is not everyday that you have the chance to be part of an organization like this, but there’s still so much we have to prove. When you finish this email take a step back for a minute and think about where this company was when you started, whether it was 2 years ago or just last month, think about where we are today and visualize where we’ll be in the next 12 months. It’s going to be fun.

I can’t thank you enough for all the hard work and sacrifices you’ve made. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

David

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