Episode 088 : Building Products That Solve Problems with Eric Prugh

Eric Prugh oversees product, design and solutions engineering at PactSafe. PactSafe is a SaaS company that securely powers clickwrap agreements & eSignatures for businesses like Dell, Wayfair, Door Dash, Extra Space Storage, Upwork, HomeAdvisor, and more. Prior to his current rule, Eric spent 7 years at ExactTarget and Salesforce in enterprise pre-sales as well as the product organization. He is a proud Purdue grad and lives in Meridian-Kessler with his wife Liz, their 2 daughters and 2 dogs.

Questions

  • Could you share with us a little bit about your background, how it is that you got into product design and solutions engineering?
  • Share with us a little bit about PactSafe. How does it help to basically envelop the customer experience for your clients and of course, meet the user experience better for their customers?
  • In terms of customer experience and its level of priority for your organization and even you, just as a consumer, you know what the importance of it for you as an individual. How do you think it has changed in the last maybe 3 to 5 years? And do you foresee greater change in that spectrum over the next 3 to 5 years?
  • How do you stay motivated everyday?
  • Could you share with us maybe one online resource, tool, website or app that you absolutely can’t live without in your business?
  • Could you think of maybe one or two books that have had the biggest impact on you?
  • Can you share with us what’s one thing that’s going on in your life right now – either something that you’re really excited about, something that you’re probably either working on to develop yourself or your people?
  • Where can listeners find you online?
  • Is there’s a quote or saying that during times of adversity or challenging, they would revert to these particular quote or saying to help them navigate through those rough waters or those rough times to kind of get them refocused. Do you have one of those?

Highlights

Eric shared that he has been writing code and working and design since he was 13 years old. So, it’s really kind of a nerd early on and he has always been fascinated with the power of technology and the power of the internet.

And so, at a pretty early age when he was 16, 17 years old, he decided it was something he was really passionate about pursuing both in his college degree and his career and so he went to school for that type of stuff, web development, graphic design, became a developer out of school and just realized he’s not a very good developer and didn’t have the level of detail, the attention span for it.

He certainly has a massive respect for software engineers and engineers of all types because it requires a ton of hard work and got into consulting. And that’s when he moved into software as a service and found a really interesting consulting job at a company called ExactTarget based in Indianapolis. And that took him on an amazing journey around the world and a big acquisition by Salesforce and got to join the product team from there.

And the reason he joined the product team is that he became fascinated with the problems that a single cloud based product could solve for such a myriad of people and how a lot of different companies can make products their own and solve their own specific problems that ultimately become broadly applicable problems for many companies, whether it’s within the same vertical or within the same size of organization.

And so, he really just became enamoured with building products that solve problems for people. When he was in sales engineering, it was all about being the catalysts to solve the problem, being the person that was helping customers realize the value of the product.

And then he really got excited about how can he build products that are going to enable people to solve problems at a little bit higher level. So, that’s how he moved into it. And then obviously the opportunity impacts that came along. One of his really good friends of a very long time had this amazing idea. He was a lawyer and he (Eric) had a lot of experience in SaaS. And so it’s really a very good combination of skills, complimentary set of skills that they were able to come together and start the business and certainly been a roller coaster since.

Eric shared that PactSafe has a little bit of a unique perspective and when we talk about contracts and accepting contracts, generally, you’re thinking about a very arduous, multi-step approval workflow, trying to get a contract signed or a contract logged or you’re managing contracts for vendors. They’ve really created a very disruptive product that is designed from the very beginning to serve all the companies that have to do contracts at a massive scale. So, if you think about Wayfair, who is an amazing customer of theirs, doing amazing things in the market, they’ve completely disrupted the way people buy furniture.

They don’t talk to their customers and have each of them go through a contract workflow to sign something. You’re going through an e-commerce flow, you’re buying furniture, you’re buying a really nice light fixture or whatever for your home.

The contract is just a seamless part of the experience of checking out and Amazon, Facebook, early tech companies really pioneered that as a legally enforceable way to enter into a contract with customers. But legal teams at these big companies that were doing business in this way didn’t have a way to manage the terms that were being presented to ultimately present those contracts as part of the customer experience.

And there were technology teams that were designing these experiences without really knowing what’s the right, legal, best practice for doing so. And so, it creates all sorts of issues in the process and the bigger the company, the bigger the problem.

And so, that’s really where the business came from in the initial problem that they solved. But what they found is that they became consultants for how a lot of larger, more don’t want to say old school, but businesses that had done business in a more traditional way. They had salespeople going door to door, calling on businesses. They were doing larger contracts. Now that everything is moving online, software as a service has really kind of pioneered the way people expect to buy; e-commerce has changed the way people expect to buy.

And so, you have companies like Dell that are trying to figure out how best to implement the right customer experiences for doing more business, doing it faster, helping to recognize revenue for their business faster.

But then they have an army of lawyers that are concerned about doing business in this way because there still needs to be contracts as part of a workflow where customer engages. So, they really bring those two people together, the product person that’s designing the experience and the legal person that’s ensuring the right level of compliance is there. And they allow them to work in harmony and design the best experience and not worry about all the legal controls or compliance measures because they offer that out of the box.

And so, the product is great, it does amazing things. But, it’s their people, it’s their team that’s helping working with these big companies to navigate how best to do these experiences in a way that everybody benefits, the customer, the end user, and the business.

Me: So basically, your integrated platform with a lot of these large organizations that require these contracts from a legal perspective makes the process that much easier for the end user.

Eric shared that you see in the largest businesses in quarterly earnings calls and annual reports in the last 3 or 5 years, you’ve started to see this transition of what CEOs are talking about.

Customer experience has always been important, but now it’s talking about introducing new ways of doing business, new business models, companies are talking about. You’ve got Cisco, who’s a huge business that’s traditionally been selling hardware for networking and routers and all that sort of stuff.

They’re trying to move towards more of a digital model where they’re buying companies like Duo Security that are primarily SaaS and they’re trying to bake that into their overall go to market strategy. So you’re seeing a lot of big companies trying to lean into the subscription model. And companies like Zuora have been evangelizing that transition for quite some time but you’re really starting to see it from even the world’s biggest companies. And he thinks a lot of that centers around the way people expect to access the products that they buy, whether it’s B2B or B2C.

They wrote a big e-book on how a lot of these big companies are trying to transition to self-service and one of the interesting stats from a future commerce report was that

72% of buyers now want self-service access to their accounts, to their orders, to their transaction history and even the ability to buy products online and that’s at the enterprise or B2B level.”

Future Commerce Report

And he thinks it’s a big thing that’s driving that is, as a consumer, you can do so much from your phone. Even in the last 3 to 5 months, like, wow, he really doesn’t need to go to a grocery store, he doesn’t need to go anywhere, really. He doesn’t have to go anywhere because there’s so much at his fingertips on his phone to be able to get delivered to his door, whether it’s alcohol, groceries, you name it.

And so, that shift is like the second a B2B buyer wants to engage, a B2B brand, usually there’s a gated form where they have to talk to somebody and it feels so heavy. 

And he thinks in the next 3 to 5 years, you’re going to see a lot of companies and it’s already starting. A lot of SaaS companies are moving towards self service, enabling their customers to find what they need to buy online.”

Eric Prugh

They’re being more transparent in how they’re pricing going to market. You’re seeing a lot of B2C companies that have traditionally done business through grocery stores, through Wal-Mart. 

Even PepsiCo, for example, is a great example. They just recently announced they’re launching all these direct consumer sites for all their brands where people can go and order products online. And Pepsi is able this to start a direct relationship with their customer as opposed to having to work through the grocery stores of a Wal-Mart or Costco or whoever.

So, the whole business model is shifting, whether it’s offering more subscription based products, if you’ve been a traditional, more on premise or hardware type company. And then you’ve got these direct consumer brands or these big B2C brands moving into a direct consumer model.

And you’ve seen a lot of companies like Warby Parker and you got like Casper, you got Harry’s Razors. There are all sorts of companies that have established that that’s a great way to do business. And primarily serving the customer directly online, being great, easy to do business with and even offering a subscription type model is a great way to go to market and people love buying in that way, reducing his upfront cost, make it something that’s recurring and then add recurring value over time through a great customer experience.

Me: Your phone is definitely a very powerful device. I totally agree. I mean, I’ve seen so many changes, as you indicated, just from this pandemic. It’s actually forced a lot of businesses to do things that maybe they may have had on their radar before, but they’ve definitely bumped it up as priority because of the time that we’re going through.

When asked how he stays motivated, Eric shared that it depends on the day; it’s definitely had its challenges. He has 2 very young kids and which has been so amazing in some aspects and so challenging in others. He thinks what has helped him to stay motivated is laser focus on priority and ultimately trying to keep his own sanity by starting his week, he just started a process where on Sunday he’s making his to do list for the week. He’s not doing it on Monday morning, that way on Monday morning he’s just going through and starting to execute on what he needs to get done for the week.

He hasn’t hit a week yet where he’s actually gotten everything done, he’s always too ambitious, so, a good way to stay motivated, you knock out your to do list and you check everything off the list, that feels awesome. But he also thinks for him, it’s about being realistic and honest with himself and okay with the fact that he’s not going to get everything done, there are going to be some things that don’t move quite as fast as he’d like.

But ultimately, it’s about managing, trying to manage what he can control and ultimately holding everybody on the team accountable and in a very similar way and understand that we all need time to go and hang out with our kids and know that ultimately there are people in our lives that we’re doing this for. Whether it’s a spouse, partner, family, friends, what have you, that’s helped kind of bring him back to normal when things do get a little out of control.

But really, one thing he’s most excited about is the speed at which things are happening in all markets right now, it’s a pretty inspiring kind of action, amount of action being driven in healthcare, in manufacturing, in all sorts of fields and industries that have needed that, whether it’s digital transformation, whether it’s innovation, whether it’s collaboration around the world on a cure, on a vaccine, it’s really been amazing to watch and he tries to balance the news that he intake with that sort of mentality and information and news stories, as well as like trying to stay up to date on the data on what’s happening. What a long winded answer to your question.

Me: That’s okay, it would be of great influence as a representation because people deal with things in different ways. And it’s a question that we ask all our guests. It’s interesting to see how different people stay motivated because what may work for you may not work for someone else, so at some point, I’m sure that maybe a blended approach or a little bit of this or a little bit of that will work for some of our audience that is listening to the different episodes. So, we are grateful for all that you shared.

Eric shared that they have a couple online resources. One thing that has helped him stay sane is he uses an email app called Superhuman, which he knows is an up and coming solution or product. It basically just helps people maintain their inbox and state inbox zero, it’s amazing. It has a lot of keyboard shortcuts and stuff like that that helps you pound through email, which is super important to him because obviously it’s more important than ever to stay on top of things, but not letting email be a huge distraction.

They also use Quip to help collaborate and not the toothbrush. It is actually a product by Salesforce. It’s a great collaboration tool that their whole team has access to and you can build spreadsheets and kind of manage projects and collaborate really well and all that sort of stuff. So, that’s been really great.

And then other tools that have been immensely helpful to him, they also use a project management tool for both their product design and development and his entire product and design teams use it. It’s called Clubhouse and it’s great for just managing, knocking out reporting on tasks across the team, so he’s not having to constantly hammer people with questions about what they’re doing, it just gives me really good visibility and gives the whole team visibility into what people are working on, how we’re tracking towards goals and all that sort of stuff.

Me: So, the clubhouse is very much like a productivity app as well for you to ensure that people are actually doing work.

Eric shared that he tries not to read too many startup kind of books, but there’s a book he read right as they’re starting the business, there are two books he read that he really liked.

One, for those considering starting a business, there’s a book by a guy named Peter Thiel. If you’ve seen Silicon Valley, he’s represented as Peter Gregory on the show. And he wrote a book called Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, which is an amazing book. A lot of people probably talked about this, but it talks a lot about how to build a big business when you’re considering starting a company, how to think about the market, how best to carve out your niche in the space, how to expand all that sort of stuff. It’s really good. Peter Thiel, he’s a little bit controversial, the character but it’s good.

And then he also read The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz, which is a really good one and definitely in times like this has been very good to go back to and really kind of think about how to work through tough times, which we’ve been very fortunate right now.

But certainly it hasn’t been easy. He’s reading a book right now called Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner. It’s about the guys who created IDSoftware, which is the firm that actually created the game Doom. So it’s about their story and it’s super interesting and kind of a nice, crazy story, but lots of cautionary tales about building a business the right and wrong way. That’s for sure.

Me: Storytelling and experiences is so important because a lot of us learn from other people’s stories and their own experiences.

Eric shared that one thing they’re really excited about at PactSafe that they’re working on as a team is one of the things that has been not a challenge, but really trying to carve out a space is the combination of building a new product and having to explain and educate people on it, as well as really quantifying what the market is? How big is it? What types of customers can they serve? What’s the story? That’s challenging when you’re really building something new.

There’s no competitive set for what they do, which is a good and bad thing at times because you’re not coming up against people that have bought this type of product before. So, they need help understanding how to buy it, what the value is, all that sort of stuff. They’ve recently partnered with a third party research firm that’s going to help them kind of understand and carve out what the space looks like for them and  engaging analysts or research firms like this is a big bet.

It’s a long, expensive endeavor to kind of help understand how best to build the company and product that’s going to be unique and build a new market and help establish where they fit and all that sort of stuff. But overall, the prospects have been really good and he thinks for them, it’s giving them a good perspective at a high level on how to think about their role in the customer experience, which is a huge part of what they do.

But they haven’t done the best job of capturing the highest level of value for what they do. And then secondly, what the space really looks like. So, they’ve been working in startup world, you kind of work hyper focus at a very low level for what your product can do, because they don’t have 5 or 10 years of research and development of a bunch of engineers building this thing out. They’ve got a limited set of engineers that have been hard at work for 5 years.

They have been very in the weeds on the problems that they solve and what these analyst firms help with. And for those that don’t know Aragon ResearchForrester,Gartner. These types of firms, you’re trying to look at high level macro trends and understand what’s happening and what markets exist and what people are trying to do. They’re really helpful in shaping what’s really happening and articulating it in a clear way that speaks to the real trends in the market.

And so, he doesn’t advise it for everybody, but he thinks for people that have similar problems as them, they believe it’s going to be transformational. So, super excited about the opportunity and it’s something that his whole team is helping them sort out all the way from the CEO down to some of the product marketing folks on his team who are hard at work trying to cast the vision, if you will.

Me: Data is king, so the more capitalized you can get on your data to understand specifically what the pain points of your customer avatar is then I’m sure you’ll be able to add value to those people if you get extremely granular about it, so the research approach is definitely an excellent technique to get specific on it.

  • Eric shared listeners can find him at –

            Twitter – @eprugh

            LinkedIn –Eric Prugh

When asked about a quote or saying that helps him refocus, Eric shared that as product person, he has always subscribed to Henry Ford’s quote of, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Because you take customer feedback on how you’re building your product or your experience as a very key, important input and data point as you build out your company and product. But ultimately, as the business owner, entrepreneur, you’ve got all this experience and tribal knowledge and vision for where things could go. And you’ve been thinking about it every day, 10 times more than any of your customers really would. So ultimately, he has learned a lot by relying on that quote over the years.

Links

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