Brad Bowery loves a challenge. To give you an idea of who he is, he’s the kind of person who goes kitesurfing for fun. You know, the sport where you have to understand the intricacies of kite flying and board riding and be able to implement both simultaneously all while hovering over the ocean? He’s also an entrepreneur who built two companies from the ground up. So when Zendesk approached him to build out partnerships for its startups program, he jumped in with both feet.
Zendesk is a customer service software company with support and sales products designed to improve customer relationships. Zendesk for Startups offers qualified startups free access to its software and additional benefits that help startups build a better customer experience. Bowery is now the Director of Startup Customer Acquisition, and he leads all aspects of business development for the startup program, including marketing and partnerships with venture capital (VC) firms. His small but mighty team was responsible for bringing in 3,000 startups to Zendesk in 2021.
“My favorite part of being an entrepreneur is building something from scratch and seeing it grow, but if you don't have visibility into what's happening, you're diving into the unknown,” Bowery says.
Here’s how Zendesk for Startups works: qualified startups can apply to receive free access to the platform for six months, and once approved, they also get ongoing support throughout their free trial to ensure they can implement a successful customer experience strategy. Before this program was in place they didn’t have any visibility into where referrals were coming from, or which VC’s were regularly submitting high quality candidates. “We had a small list of 250 VC partners in a spreadsheet and there wasn't really any sophistication around tracking the partners,” Bowery says.
Airtable is the single most important tool to our team.
More than 12,000 startups have gone through the Zendesk for Startups program. At that scale it can be easy to miss opportunities. “With the sheer volume of applications we get each day, we might not notice some really good startups because we just don't have the resources,” Bowery says. Airtable helps ensure they don’t miss those key opportunities.
Airtable has actually given us visibility into the data to understand where our time is best spent.
Airtable empowers the Zendesk for Startups team to get to know their customers better. They have a mechanism in place to track individual experiences and the benefits that Zendesk provides to each customer. Through Airtable forms they’ve created surveys that help them gather insights into different programs that in turn inform the real world impact those programs are having. In short, they’re walking the walk, providing a better customer experience.
It started when Bowery imported all of the data that was living in a spreadsheet into Airtable and integrated it with Zendesk to facilitate customer communications. He then built a custom application to create a startup scoring system, ranking prospective companies on a scale of 0-100. It’s a formula that combines factors including funding levels, the quality of investors, backgrounds of founders and internal data. In short—this app helps his team determine which partnerships drive the highest quality startups, fundamentally changing the way his team operates.
“I now have a single view of our entire funnel from every startup that applies: where they came from, how many are approved into the program, how many of those approved actually convert and become a part of our program. Then, six months later, we can see how many are graduating and become customers,” Bowery says. It also shows where they may be falling short, surfacing insights like where conversion rates are really low, so they can focus on what they can do better.
With Airtable in place, the startups team has been able to drive a 233% increase in referrals from partnerships. “When I joined, 15% of the startups in our program were coming in from VC partnerships, and today that number is north of 50%. What really moved the needle for us is Airtable and that visibility,” Bowery says. Based on the data they are tracking in Airtable, it is clear that the investment in VC partnerships is paying off for Zendesk. In addition to the increase in referrals, startups that come in through these channels are twice as likely to be approved and three times more valuable when they graduate.
One of the primary benefits of implementing Airtable is that the startups team has been able to build, test, and iterate quickly without utilizing internal resources outside the team. This agility means they’re implementing new ideas in days instead of dealing with lead times that can take several months when utilizing shared IT resources within a 5,000-person enterprise.
As a Sr. Solutions Architect on the startups team, Rose Serafini is an integration expert who specializes in helping startups with their most challenging use cases. She has also helped Bowery build out Zendesk’s workspace that now includes 11 bases covering everything the startups team does. Serafini has built a customer portal that allows her to share key information with startups and set up dashboards to report on progress across her portfolio and the rest of the team.
Airtable saves me one to two hours each week. I just go and I open up the dashboard and I have that number in seconds.
By surfacing the impact Zendesk for Startups has had on the company’s bottom line, leadership chose to expand their scope, the team doubled in 2021 and plans to double again in 2022.
Bowery’s affinity for building and seeing things grow has led to a fundamental change in the way Zendesk ushers in new startups and VC partnerships. Now he’s using Airtable to track the growth of his own team, which for him is even more rewarding.
Bowery says, “this tool for me represents everything that we’re accomplishing, how our team is developing, and all of the collaboration we're doing in one place, seeing that growth is what makes me tick.”