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Understanding your customer with Wonderment’s Jessica Meher

Episode #

19

Jessica Meher is the Co-Founder and CEO of Wonderment.  Wonderment helps e-commerce merchants grow and scale their businesses.  She has a ton of experience leading marketing and at companies including Notarize, HubSpot, and InVision. Here are just a few of the topics we discussed in this episode

  • How Wonderment came to be
  • User journey, pain points and why coding can wait
  • Mastering customer research for product
  • Avoiding bias in your research
  • Operationalizing your customer research
  • Understanding the why behind what your building

Resources

Reaching Out

Stuart Balcombe
Hello, and welcome to the Customer Conversations podcast. Today, I'm joined by the amazing Jessica Meher. Jessica is a marketing exec and startup advisor with a ton of experience leading marketing at well-renowned companies like Notarize, InVision and HubSpot. She also advises founders at 500 Startups and Techstars. And as if that wasn't enough, she's also a founder herself. She started Girl Capital to invest and empower female entrepreneurs, and is currently working on Wonderment, a new product for e-commerce store owners.

Stuart Balcombe
Jessica, welcome to the show.

Jessica Meher
Thank you so much. And I would say in a nutshell, from that introduction, I don't sleep. But I love what I do.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah, there is certainly a lot going on from your bio, which, a lot of very impressive companies, held a lot of impressive roles. I'm really curious to dive into in this conversation, what you've been working on most recently, and also talk about that transition from in-house marketing roles to founding your own company.

Stuart Balcombe
So maybe what are the things that are taking up your time and causing you not to be sleeping right now?

Jessica Meher
Yeah, well, I'm very fortunate for the things that I do, so I will say that. And thank you so much for having me. I just love to have conversations with people and learn a lot myself, so that's partially what I do. But I think you covered it, that right now, I'm full-time founder, starting a company for the first time.

I've always been entrepreneurial, but most of my experience has been having joined companies that have already existed and being part of that growth. And so now, I'm doing my own startup for the first time and we're very early stage. We're three employees. We are less than a year old, so we're very early, but it's been a lot of fun so far.

Stuart Balcombe
Amazing. So what is Wonderment? That is one thing that purely, selfishly, one great reason for this conversation, is for me to find out what Wonderment is. So maybe what's the elevator pitch for Wonderment?

Jessica Meher
So unfortunately, I'm going to have to tease you a little bit more on that one because we are in stealth, so I'm not going to give away too much, but what I will say, is we're building a platform for SMB e-commerce brands to help them acquire and grow customers and retain those customers at scale. And so we know that at a high level, it's really expensive for small companies to acquire customers and to keep them, and we've seen over the last couple of years that the, what we call, the D2C playbook is broken. We can't rely on only top of funnel growth to sustain a business, and we saw that start to break.

So we want to solve that problem, we want to help small brands grow and acquire customers and start to build more profitable businesses. So we're building marketing technology to help solve for that. There's a couple of different things that we're working on. I can't go into too much, but that's the problem at a high level that we're going to be solving for.

Stuart Balcombe
Cool. Yeah. It's really interesting that your previous roles have not been D2C, is that sort of a fair summary? They've all been ... I mean, you've even worked in some enterprise marketing roles at much larger companies. How did you come to this being the problem that you wanted to solve?

Jessica Meher
Yeah, so my background is in B2B, so we're still building a technology product for businesses. So we're the product directly for consumer, so it's still related. I actually had experience working for an e-commerce company many, many years ago and experienced a lot of these challenges myself as an actual e-comm marketer. And with my background working for companies like HubSpot, where we were educating small businesses how to do marketing, how to think about marketing, a lot of those customers were also e-commerce customers. So I've always been been in that vertical for awhile.

And then also, the other reason to do something in this space, is me as a consumer. Me, as a consumer, kind of getting annoyed by a lot of the things that I was seeing in the market. So I'm seeing it both as a business owner and as a consumer, and seeing a lot of that change in the market. So that's why I'm really passionate about this industry specifically.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah, that totally makes sense. It's nice to be able to combine that almost big company, operational experience with scratching your own itch as a founder on the consumer side. It's interesting. I had Kristen La France on second episode, I think.

Jessica Meher
I love her.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. She's amazing human and doing incredible stuff in this space. And CX is the big thing that sort of ties everything together, which you touched on there, as getting annoyed with things as a consumer.

What were the first steps that you took as you started this journey? How did you identify what your first solution was going to be? How did you really dig into those pain points as you were starting Wonderment?

Jessica Meher
Yeah. We spent the first many, many months talking to people before we even touched a line of code. We recently started to build product, but we wanted to make sure that we understood really a lot of the pain points that a lot of companies experience. What we did, is we talked to both consumers and business owners to get that perspective on both ends. And actually, a lot of the conversations that I had, mostly last year, was exploring a product specifically in the home goods market. Because I, as a shopper for, I had to furnish a house and I find it super frustrating to find furniture and products for my house, so that was one area that I started to explore specifically.

But then as I was talking with people in that space and talking with more merchants, I realized a lot of these problems are actually across vertical, in cosmetics, in CPG and other industries. So we actually realized that the problem is much bigger than in that market alone. But a lot of what we have decided to focus on was from talking to people and understanding what their lives are, what keeps them up at night, wanting to validate some of those problems and frustrations that I had myself, with other people. I think that insight is very important to building a product. Especially because I am not an engineer, my background is in sales and marketing, I could not sit down and start to write a full on product. I needed to make sure that before I invest in something like that, that I have a lot of confidence that what we're building is solving a big problem.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. That totally makes sense. If anyone who's listened to multiple episodes of this podcast will know, that customer research and understanding your customers is a recurring theme, certainly something that-

Jessica Meher
Yes, ongoing. It never ends.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. I'm really curious to hear you contrast the difference between the type of research and the type of understanding of customers that you looked at, from a purely marketing perspective, in roles ... I'm sure there is always crossover between marketing and other things. But in a role where marketing was the main focus versus now, everything's the focus, right?

Jessica Meher
Yes.

Stuart Balcombe
You have to think about marketing products, the whole nine yards. Did you approach research differently because of that or are there things that you have found that were equally applicable?

Jessica Meher
Yeah. Well, I think as a marketer, there's a part of me that always been a researcher to some degree. I think what I've had to learn, and what I still have to master, is customer research from a product standpoint. I'm very fortunate that especially having been at companies like InVision, where the majority of our customers were product developers and product managers and product designers, I got to learn a lot of the benefits of doing design thinking and design sprints, and those sorts of things, understanding the frameworks of jobs to be done, and applying that.

I've also went through the Y Combinator startup course, which has a phenomenal course on how do you actually do customer research and how do you actually get to the heart of understanding what they're telling you? So me, yes, I've had experience, but then there's also a lot that I'm learning and a lot that I had to go do research myself. How do I actually research how to do research? That was very meta, and it's just something that I enjoy doing. So that's one of the things that yes, I could apply from my background, but then there's also this whole other layer of things that I've learned for the first time.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. I think it's really interesting, talking to founders about where research fits in the bigger picture of all the things that you're doing. And so this idea that you had to go ... I mean, I guess being very self-aware to know, "I actually need to know how to do this beyond just I'm talking to people. Everybody says I need to talk to customers, so I went and talked to them." There's a big difference between just having conversations and conversations that actually get you to insights that are helpful to move the business forward.

Jessica Meher
One thing you want to be cautious of too, is to avoid biases in your own research because it's really easy to ask questions, to have people tell you what you want to hear versus what you really need to hear. So that was a lot of wanting to make sure that I could avoid that if possible.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah, totally. Even just in the idea of trying to validate an idea, is in itself biased, right?

Jessica Meher
Yes.

Stuart Balcombe
It's really easy to either ask people who you think will share your opinion or ask questions that are leading to one outcome.

What would you say has been the biggest learning for you in this process when it comes to research? Or I guess maybe this is two questions, but the biggest unexpected thing. You went in thinking, "This is the way that it's probably going to be, or that I think it's going to be," and it turned out that once you did the research, it was something totally different.

Jessica Meher
Yeah. Well, I think because that happened, I'm very glad that it has, because you go in with certain expectations and when customers tell you things that you never knew about or totally change your perspective, that's actually what you want. We actually got that a lot.

So for example, there were a subset of core features that I'm like, "I'm pretty sure most merchants will value this or want this." I actually learned that some of them were actually for things that were the complete opposite or different, and I'm like, "Wow, that's not what I expected, but it totally makes sense." It opens up your world to thinking about what they're really trying to accomplish and what they're asking for. So I think in a lot of those conversations, there were some things that were totally validating and totally spot on, then there were other things that I never would have thought of unless I had talked to that customer, which is part of the insight you want to get.

Stuart Balcombe
Right. I think that's where part of the, where a lot of the nuance and the experience in doing research for the purpose of getting those deep insights comes in, is that you can, depending on the questions you ask, you can really pigeonhole yourself. Even with somebody who has a great insight, you may just never get there, depending on how you approach the conversation.

So one thing that is, I think, always a big question for founders, not necessarily just founders, but people who are bought into the idea that talking to customers, doing research, understanding what their customers want, need, is a good thing. How do you actually translate that into progress on the business? How do you then go on and say, "Okay, because we found this out, we're going to go build that. Or because we found this out, we're going to position the product this way."

Can you give me examples of, and it doesn't have to be from Wonderment, but operationalizing the learnings from customers?

Jessica Meher
Yeah. That is something I'm still figuring out, so I don't know if I could have a perfect answer for you. But one resource that I think is very helpful that I've learned from, and still continuing to learn from, there's a really good book, I believe the title of it's called The Right It, and it's from a former Google executive. He talks about the right way to quantify feedback and research and the right way to apply that so that you can ... Kind of like a lean startup mentality, like, how do you actually validate your idea so it's a good idea?

Because what happens with a lot of businesses, is they get so far along and they haven't hit product market fit, or maybe they're not building the right thing, and so there's a lot of good exercises in there about how to get really scrappy and lean, to validate and test your idea and to continue to test those, what he call, pretotypes. So it's the stage before prototype.

Stuart Balcombe
Interesting.

Jessica Meher
So how do you build that pretotype before you build that prototype? And again, my background in InVision, which is all about prototyping, thinking about even the stages before that, is really fascinating. And so that's the stage that we're in, in terms of how do we take these pretotype stage and building those pieces of feedback into prototypes? So that is one resource I would definitely recommend, and something that I am applyingin real time, right now. So that's why I can't say I have a good answer for you, but in a couple of months, maybe I'll have some more learnings on that.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. I think you said this earlier, but this idea that it's an ongoing, always evolving process, right? I think it's very easy to think of this is a very, think of it as a linear process, which we have to do research first, then we move on to the next step, then we do the next thing. Whereas in practice, it works best everything's, the cycles are really short and you keep revisiting the things that you found out.

Jessica Meher
More of a loop than it is linear. Yeah.

Stuart Balcombe
Right, right. Yeah. I'm really curious to hear more about some of the learnings from working with these amazing companies, you mentioned from InVision you took the idea, learning from product designers, and I'm assuming you researchers at InVision too, that you've been able to apply.

What are some other things that are maybe not the same, but have being applicable either across industries or across domain, making the shift to founder?

Jessica Meher
Oh, gosh. What's interesting, is what I have not been able to apply across companies has actually been the biggest learning for me.

Stuart Balcombe
Interesting.

Jessica Meher
One example, I'll give you, so at HubSpot, we were marketers selling marketing software to marketers, which is also meta. What that had to teach you, was it forced you to be on the forefront of marketing and to break conventional wisdom often. And that's what made HubSpot so great in terms of being a resource to look up to, because HubSpot was always testing themselves against the marketing best practices of the world. As soon as a best practice was established, it suddenly became not a best practice anymore.

Stuart Balcombe
Right, yeah.

Jessica Meher
And what I learned, especially going over to InVision, is that it's a completely different audience, selling to product designers and product managers, completely different audience, and so what they value is very different. So I think one thing that taught me, is making sure that you understand the customer very, very, very deeply, in what they value and how they feel and what they think about. And yes, there are some common tactics that crossover and some universal truths that can crossover, making sure you provide value, focusing on the customer and all of those things. But I think my strategy changed a lot in different companies, and so I'm applying all those things that I wish I had done differently, or those things that are, I think, just different, to what we're doing now.

Because now we're in a different market. And even though we're in marketing and talking to marketers, we're talking to marketers in e-comm, and e-comm is different than a lot of other industries. So we just want to be very mindful of that, in wanting to make sure that we try to focus on creating the most value, and also making sure that we translate that value to educate the customers on what we're different and what we stand for and how this helps the industry overall. That's one thing I would take away from my experience at HubSpot and InVision, is creating a category that people can understand and be a part of, is something that's very valuable.

Stuart Balcombe
Right. Yeah, that totally makes sense. It's really interesting, that idea that lessons learned are almost like ... What's the right way to put this? Yeah, the things that you can't just expect it to repeat the same process and work, you have to really go in and get personal, I guess, with customers.

One thing that I'm always curious about, and I think this applies to what you just said, where people are coming from ... You worked at HubSpot, which is very different audience-wise than InVision. And obviously now, as you're building a team, you mentioned you have three employees who, I don't know that they all come from from e-comm, but people coming from different different industries who don't necessarily have the same understanding of your new customer as you do, because you're doing all this research, how have you been sharing that learning? How are you try to get everybody on the same page around who the customer is, what's important to them, and help them really understand the why behind what you're building?

Jessica Meher
Yeah. So one of the things I did take away from my experience at HubSpot was transparency on knowledge sharing. And part of that is understanding the customer and the journey, and why it is that we're doing the things that we do today. So for example, all of our customer research and conversations are being posted on our Wiki, so that anyone that comes into the company can listen to them, read them, learn from them. At some point, when we actually have some kind of formal onboarding, learning about the customer will be part of that onboarding experience, learning about the customer, all of that.

We are going to be looking for more ways to ingrain the customer in part of the experience. And so one thing that we did at previous companies, is we always had a customer come speak at monthly meetings, company meetings, things like that. So I mean, we're small right now, we don't have that formality, but as we grow we'll be thinking about that because. At some point, we'll develop personas and learning about those personas because we think that's important. And the other thing too, is we're building a product that we ourselves wants to use, right?

So we want to drink the Kool-aid, and making sure that every employee that comes into the company is using the software and understands why it is that we're using it, and being a customer ourselves, I think is also going to be important. So those are just some of the things at a high level that we're thinking about.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. I love this idea that it's so deeply ingrained in company culture that it's part of onboarding, it's the thing that everybody is ... And this is also great, the tool that you're building in general, that it's not just this thing over here that product works on and that our customers see, but everybody is in it all the time. Which I guess gives you more opportunities for feedback, more opportunities to question the assumptions that you make whenever you're building something.

Jessica Meher
Yeah. One great benefit that we have, is we actually have a lot of investors, friends and family, who are e-commerce brand owners. So we are talking to them on a regular basis, and we're helping them and advising them and working together. So we have a lot of people within our network and that we're working with, and understand them at a deep level, what their struggles are, what their challenges are, what things are working, what's not working. And so that too, is very helpful.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. That's certainly, this idea of transparency and being able to collect feedback from wherever it's available. Which I think is part of the challenge early on is, how can you keep those loops really short? How can you not go a day, a week, whatever it is, without talking to somebody who isn't ... How can you get out of your own head and your own context and make sure that you're actually on the right path as a founder?

So let's switch gears a little bit and talk specifically about the founding experience. We've talked a lot about the customer side and the product direction side, but from a founder perspective, one thing that you mentioned right at the top of this was, "We're currently in stealth, can't share too much about the product itself."

What went into that decision to start building in stealth, rather than going like let's really be public about what we're building and build in public and really share more broadly from the very beginning? What drove that decision? Was that a strategic decision that you considered the other option or was that just the way that you fell into?

Jessica Meher
Yeah, that's a good question. I will clarify to say that stealth, for us, does not mean go in a corner and hide for a year and then come out with a product. We are very much going to be very public about what we're doing and what we're building and why we're building it. The reason we're stealth right now is because we are testing a lot of things and testing our hypothesis and still early on product.

So there's some things that are going to be stealthy and then some things are going to be very transparent because that's how we roll and that's where we come from. So we are going to be more transparent, we're going to be more public about things, but there are some reasons that we're being stealthy about product right now. So expect more to be published soon.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah, I do think that that's a common ... I think it's been a more popular trend recently. I know the example that comes to mind for me is Superhuman, that still very invite only, very ... I mean, I guess, [Hey 00:21:20], even this week that like ... Just because they have only given access publicly at one point in time, will still control access, doesn't mean that there isn't a very short feedback loop and lots of people who actually are seeing the product and what they're working on.

Jessica Meher
Yes. Yeah. I mean, that's a totally different strategy. There's not one right way or wrong way.

Stuart Balcombe
Right. Totally.

Jessica Meher
I think it depends on the brand and the company. I'm a big believer in doing marketing before you even have a product. That was one of the benefits that HubSpot had in the early days, was as they were building a product, they were spending a lot of resource and time on doing marketing. So when they launched the product, they already had a list of 30,000 people that they could promote the product to. So I think it's really important to do that, and how you do that is really up to you. But I think there's pros and cons to either strategy.

Stuart Balcombe
Totally. Yeah. I'm just always curious, every founder has their own unique advantages and their own approach to doing things, and like you said, there's no right or wrong. It's just, if it works, then keep doing what works. Right?

Jessica Meher
Yeah. I think the thing that we value and that's important to us, is involving the early customers that have already been part of that conversation with us, so that we're having this feedback loop with this core subset of customers. And that will grow over time, but as long as we're very transparent with those people and getting feedback in as almost real time as we can, and then build, for us, that's what works for us.

Stuart Balcombe
Right. Yeah. That absolutely makes sense. I'm curious, from a founder perspective, product aside, I know you tweeted a couple of weeks ago when I was reaching out, about all the new things that you were having to figure out as a founder for the first time, which just don't apply if you're an employee in general, but especially a large company that has lots of resource for more back office or non-role-related things.

What's been, I guess, the biggest challenge and the biggest learning on the founding a company side of things?

Jessica Meher
Well, I think it's all these things I've never had to do before. I think to your point, fundraising and all the legal paperwork ... I legit spent an entire week learning how to do cap table management because whenever there's something that I don't know enough about, but I feel like I should, it makes me very uncomfortable and I have to get really deep into learning it. Now, at some point, I will be very excited to hire people who are smarter than me in all these other things, because at some point I'm going to need a CFO and somebody in HR. I want to welcome all those people with open arms.

Engineering and product, for example. So I knew that was one of my biggest weaknesses, so I'm very fortunate to partner with Brian Whalley. He used to work at Klaviyo and he's got phenomenal background in product. He balances me out very well and he has different perspectives. And so the best thing that I know that I can do, is surround myself with people who are smarter than me in the things that I'm not good at. No matter how much I try to train myself, there's going to be a line that breaks in terms of my passion in that area. But I know the best thing I can do, is to have a good enough foundation of knowledge so that gives me good context in terms of why we're making decisions in these areas.

So even though I'll never be a full stack developer to a certain extent, I want to understand why we're using the technology that we're using. How do they work, how they scale, what's the cost, how are these going to be costly for us in the long run? Understanding those things, I think, is really valuable. So in any case, I think the challenge is just learning all the things I've never done before and realizing that there's still a ton that I don't know, and I probably will never know. But hopefully, I can do a good enough job where the foundation doesn't crumble. That's my crossing my fingers right there.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. I mean, I know at least for me, that's part of the fun, is that there's always new things to learn and new ... Which is scary at the same time. Like you say, if you feel like you don't know enough about something that you should know about, it becomes a potential risk.

Jessica Meher
Yeah. And then part of the job too, is I know my role will change as the company changes and at every new inflection point. The first 10 employees, 25 employees, a hundred employees, is a different kind of company, and so that means I'll need to be a different type of CEO. And for that, it's it's always changing and that's the fun part of it. But it's always a learning.

Stuart Balcombe
Totally. So to bring this full circle and wrap things up here, I have two final questions for you. One, I know you tweeted about this the other day, you can tell I'm always on Twitter, but Shopify and that ecosystem and where they go in terms of building a marketplace.

I'm really curious now that you're entering the e-commerce space with Wonderment, what do you think the ecosystem looks like in three, five years time? What do you think is the next big thing in that space?

Jessica Meher
I think at a high level, product discovery and shopping will be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Web Smith talks a lot about linear commerce and integrating products within editorial and within content, and I think that's going to happen more and more and more. I like to study a lot of what's happening in China, especially with all of the mega apps and purchasing and integrating of shopping and fulfillment, and how easy that is, even at a local level in China, and starting to see more of that happen in the United States. I think Shopify in particular is going to be one of the main platform players that's going to help do that, particularly on the SMB side.

Because a lot of that early innovation has been very fortuitous on the retail side and the companies that have the big budget to spend. What's happening, is you're having all of these smaller brands and D2C brands that are having a hard time being discovered and are having a hard time building up loyal customer audiences and doing that in an affordable way, which is one reason that Wonderment exists, for helping to be a part of that. So I think the challenge with Shopify, and this is one thing that I mentioned, is that they're a B2B company, and one of their biggest challenges for their customers is how do you connect the consumer shopping experience with the B2B technology side? So they're starting to invest in that. I think it's not going to be an overnight thing.

And so one thing I stress with a lot of companies, is Shopify publishing a marketplace, isn't going to solve the discovery problem overnight. It's going to be an evolution and there's going to be a lot that we're going to have to figure out. But I'm super excited that they're attempting it because as a B2B company, that's hard, that's really challenging, and no other company has really started to figure out that problem except for them. So I have a lot of faith that they will. I think they'll learn a lot too, but I'm excited about it, but there's going to be a lot that's going to change. I think there's going to be more amazing companies, like Shopify, that are going to start to come out in the ecosystem, and I'm excited about those too.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah, I would say, I think that's a really interesting take. It's definitely an interesting space to watch. Shopify seems to have been on a big announcement tear at the moment, just-

Jessica Meher
Yes. Executing at all cylinders, which is amazing.

Stuart Balcombe
Yeah. All while remote and changing their work or changing their vacation policy too.

Jessica Meher
Yes.

Stuart Balcombe
So final question for you. As a founder, what has been the biggest ... I said, final question, it's really two questions. As a founder, what's been the biggest learning for you, or the biggest piece of advice that you would give from your learning to somebody who's starting a company in 2020? Somebody who's making that jump from employee to founder, what's the one thing that you would tell them?

Jessica Meher
If it's in your gut that you want to start something, go for it. I had that feeling sitting in my heart for years, and I was afraid to take that risk because I had a very nice, comfortable, paying, full-time job with health benefits and all these things. But I realized that there was a point that I could not sleep at night because I knew this was something I had to do. So if it's something that is keeping you up at night, go do it.

I think the second thing is don't be afraid to ask for help and recognize there are things that you don't know, and that's okay. Surround yourself with people that you can trust and mentorships and advisors and people who can help you along the journey. Because I think there's an expectation that it looks easy from the outside. It's hard once you get going at it. And not being shy or afraid to ask what you think are stupid questions. Because if you can put that out the window, it's going to help you tremendously. I'm very, very upfront with VCs about asking questions that might seem very obvious to them, or obvious to other people, and I've gotten comments from them to say like, "Hey, I wish more entrepreneurs asked questions like you do." Because I have no ego. I'm ready to ask any questions that I need to. So ask for help, ask the questions and go for it.

Stuart Balcombe
Awesome. And finally, where should people go to follow you online, to follow Wonderment online and to keep in touch with what you're up to?

Jessica Meher
Yeah. Go to wonderment.cc, is our domain name right now, and sign up or follow me on Twitter. Have a conversation with me. I love connecting with new people. I want to hear from you, so would love that.

Stuart Balcombe
Amazing. Well, this has been really great. I've learned a ton, which is always fun. Thanks so much for doing this.

Jessica Meher
Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

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