Shahed Khan, co-founder of Loom, the video messaging software that enables more effective communication, sat down for an Uncommon Conversation to discuss the importance of building with and for a product's user community from the very beginning, and how he and his co-founders baked a reverence for community input and feedback into the organization at every level.
As a C-suite leader, Shahed offers a perspective from a different seat at the table, yet the takeaway remains the same—community must be valued above all, and this ethos must be believed across the organization, including at the top.
Our interview has been lightly edited and condensed:
Uncommon: Before we dive into your specific thoughts around community, would you tell us a bit about yourself?
Shahed: I'm currently based in San Francisco, California. My day job right now consists of helping Loom on a couple of our strategic initiatives, working closely with some of my portfolio companies on product, go to market, and also being thoughtful around building that core community early on and how important that is, which we'll dive into in a bit. And when I'm not working on trying to get my pup to be more active and outdoorsy again, so she's really taken advantage of being a couch potato during the pandemic.
Who do you consider as the Loom community? And as a co-founder of Loom, how do you think about community from that seat of leadership at the table?
[The Loom community has] definitely evolved over the years as our product has matured. In our first two years, the majority of people using Loom are what I call product pioneers. They're typically the first ones to learn about new products and tend to be the first ones to try it out and share with others. As Loom grew within this group of users, we would then branch out into other people at the company that they would work at. So eventually making its way all the way up to the executive level. Today, Loom's community is very broad. We have over 10 million users across 100,000 companies that use Loom to effortlessly send a video message to anyone anywhere they are in the world.
To answer your second question, I think it's pretty simple. Your users are the foundation of your product, the value they can provide on your product roadmap, your marketing, word of mouth growth, is honestly priceless. We saw our community as another term that I coined was horsepower for building our product faster. The closer we were to them, the more we understood their desires and needs, and the faster we were to shipping and building product.
I'm wondering if, at the beginning, you had to bring people along with you in that thinking—that community-first product building is the way to build?
I think the biggest shift that we've seen in the last couple of years is the idea of going from a user base to a community, where community, going back to that thoughtfulness, that's where there's a lot more empathy and care for your users. And I think once you start to invest in community, both time and capital, you start to see the benefits everlasting. And it's just this strong network effect that keeps you and your community stronger when competitors come out and build competing products. You could put a product side by side, they could look identical, they'll be just as fast, but if it doesn't have that strong moat of a community, then that other product, it's not as strong of a solution.
We actually made it a company-wide habit really early on to round-robin our support tickets and to respond to every single question, compliment, [and piece of] feedback that we would get that we'd find on Twitter. And that made it very obvious to our entire team how important interacting with our community was. Every decision that we made from product marketing, even down to pricing was always with the Loom community in mind. And I think even just sitting in a product meeting where we would kind of hash out what the next roadmap looks like, or even looking through quarterly updates or quarterly planning, it always comes down to, how is this going to affect our community? What is our community going to think about it? And even if we have to have, say, a difficult conversation or difficult announcement about a product, or if the free version of our product is changing, how are we going to communicate that, but also empathize with our users that are using this product?
Can you talk about the first channels that you used in order to interact with your community?
So Loom, for those that don't know, is a product led company, so anyone can sign up and start recording videos for free, share it with their coworkers, their clients or customers, anyone who they communicate with on a semi-regular or even a daily basis. And because of that, because of the natural notion of anyone [being able to] pick up the product and start using it, we [started to ask] how can we go where our uses are? This is in 2016, unfortunately before Common Room, so we weren't able to leverage the product back then, but the thing that we did have access to was really understanding where our users hung out, and just creating a persona of each of our users and what their entry points were into the product and understanding their desires.
So if they are active on Twitter and are very passionate about different products or ways of communicating, we would try to be very active as all three founders, including our early team at Loom, and even to this day, whenever a tweet or compliment, anything, even a bug is reported, it gets immediately shared on Slack. And then my co-founder, the CTO, will jump in to the user's tweet and start responding right away. So I think building that culture habit extremely early on, and I think the word we're probably going to use the most aside from community in this conversation is thoughtfulness—having that level of thoughtfulness, and also genuinely caring, I think, is what will allow you to build that culture longterm, even at 135 employees today at Loom. I think everyone kind of embodies that empathy with the user and thoughtfulness with the user.
The diversity of teams that are affected by community - the product teams, the customer success teams, the marketing teams, the community teams themselves - can you tell us a bit about Loom's approach to community interaction? What the role type or structure is, who spearheads it, and how you build out the community function at Loom?
I would say community interaction at Loom is definitely a company-wide effort, and still is to this day, like I mentioned, from support tickets to our engineers hopping on Zoom calls with our users to debug an issue, to our user researcher interviewing people from our community and sharing insights back to our product and marketing team. I think there's a lot of cross-functional interactions. I wish I could [see] just what that web looks like of how [a piece of feedback] makes its way across the team and then into the product and then into production. That feedback point touches a lot of people throughout the organization. I think that element of it is what we’ve embodied within the company—[that] community interaction isn't just on the marketing team, it's everyone inside the company, regardless of your role, title, or what you do at Loom. You're always connected to the user.
I think the element of community, while it's certainly a full-time job and it's a full-time effort from the marketing team, I think it's also a non-written bullet point that is [baked into] the expectations of every single role of every single job rec that we write—being as close to the user as possible, being as close to the community, engaging with them. And I mean, our users, because we have 10 million people around the world who have interacted with Loom, are using Loom, I think it's important to understand that these people are everywhere.
Do you have any advice for people who who want to build community and want to connect with people? Anything that you told yourself in the beginning when you were trying to ease anxiety around meeting new people or presenting your ideas as an entrepreneur?
It's a great question. I would say there's a couple of key things that I've learned, one being, people underestimate how much others are willing to help them if they just ask. And once you understand that, and once that's embodied in you, then you just have to unapologetically just ask people. You can cold email people, people are willing to help. It's the quintessential famous quote where you miss 100% of the shots that you don't take. It's the cheesiest quote out there. It's in every poster of every classroom, but I think it's entirely true.
In the past, you've talked about mentors you've had along the way. I'm wondering if you can speak to some of the themes and lessons that have stuck with you.
As I was growing up, I realized that there are a lot of people who just wanted to see me do well in life and were willing to go the full mile to help me get there. And once you understand that, that people, even when push comes to shove and they're giving you really hard feedback, you have to understand that their best interest, and the reason why they're giving that to you, is because they want to help you succeed. I've had a lot of mentors just naturally come into my life that I've been very thankful for. And even when I did seek out mentors, I was always upfront and always wanted to make the relationship feel very balanced.
On the opposing end, being a mentor myself to others, I think it's just a form of giving back…I try not to tell them what they want to hear, I try to tell them what's going to get them to where they're trying to go.
And I would say, so I started Loom with my two best friends and we have this saying even internally to this day at Loom, it's called API, assume positive intentions. Whenever I'm talking to you, if we have a one-on-one and I've noticed that something seems off, even if it's just a mood or if I'm having a bad week, my co-founders would tell me. I think just always knowing and having that in the back of your head that they're coming from a good place, they mean well, they just want to see me do well, really changes the dynamic and the framing of the conversation.
We have a core value at Common Room: We're all in this together. I think it gets to the same heart of the matter which is, I foundationally trust you, and you foundationally trust me, so let's start from there, and then have the conversations on top of that. It’s also, I know engineers everywhere are saying, lol 'API'.
Yeah. It's another version of the API that they're used to.
Something that [we’re proud of] at Uncommon is the Uncommon Support fund because to us, it’s important to embody what we believe, which is that a community is strongest when we're uplifting one another. Could you tell us about the organization that you chose to dedicate your Uncommon Support to?
First of all, thank you for doing that. It's a great cultural mission. And in fact, something that I will think about along with Loom and other portfolio companies. I would say one of the nonprofits that I've supported for a long time has been the ASPCA, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In fact, the SFPCA is where I fostered and then adopted Luna, who's my dog. She's kind of sprinkled in throughout the Loom products.
A couple months ago, if you were trimming a video, you would seen Luna with a hard hat on saying that Luna is trimming your video. Animals are near and dear to my heart—I love taking care of them. And I think the great thing about the ASPCA is even for $20 bucks, you can help get a pet get adopted, or for $50, you can help transport, feed, and give the medication that they need to get inside of a healthy home. So the ASPCA has been a fund that I've been a big advocate for a long time.