The importance of alignment, clarity, and cohesion across a team to reduce churn, and how to achieve it

Chris O’Neil


Chief Business Officer


Chris O’Neil
Chris O’Neil

Episode Summary

Today on the show we have Chris O’Neil, Chief Business Officer at Glean. 

In this episode, we talked about how joining Google and being around great mentors helped Chris with his career track and where he is today. Chris then shares what you need to get started as a leader to set yourself up for success in the long run.

We also discussed the importance of alignment, clarity, and cohesion across a team and how to achieve it, followed by examples on how Google, Slack, and Evernote successfully put their vision statements to use with clarity. Finally, Chris explains what Glean is, and what his role as CBO includes. 

Mentioned Resources



How Chris landed an internship at 00:02:05
How joining Google and being around great mentors set Chris off on his trajectory to success. 00:03:59
Getting started as a leader and how to set yourself up for success in the long run. 00:07:58
JTBD: Understanding what job you were hired to do. 00:10:48
The importance of alignment, clarity, and cohesion across the team, and how to achieve it. 00:12:57
Examples of How Slack, Evernote, and Google have successfully put to use clarity on vision. 00:16:04
Glean - Work Assistant and knowledge management platform. 00:29:52


Hey, Chris. Welcome to the show. 

[00:01:31] Chris O'Neil: Thanks, Andrew, I'm thrilled to be here. 

[00:01:32] Andrew Michael: It's great to have you for the listeners. Chris is the chief business officer at Glean and intuitive work assistant that puts company knowledge at employee's fingertips. It touches across all of your apps to help you find exactly what you need and uncover the things you should know or people who can help.

Uh, Chris is also currently a senior advisor at secod puts advantage founder of Bob Kagan, capital and board member at GAP Inc. Prior to glean, Chris served as the president and CEO at. [00:02:00] Global business operations for Google X and managing director for Google Canada. So my first question for you, Chris, is how did you land your internship at and what were your responsibilities there?

[00:02:13] Chris O'Neil: Are you going way back in time? It's a, it's an interesting story. So obviously I enjoy wine, uh, and I was, I was at graduate. In, uh, in Dartmouth, uh, Dartmouth college in New Hampshire. And it was very interesting. I was starting to think about what I wanted to do for the summer. And there was a reunion. I can't remember what year it was, but they cluster them and the founder of wine, a wine shopper, it was called at the time.

Um, an awesome entrepreneur named Peter Sisson was, was back for his reunion. He had went to Dartmouth college. And it was over some wine. He had just raised some money from Kleiner Perkins. It was the hot thing back in 1999, it was in the fall of 99. I'm dating myself, but I'd convinced him that he needed an intern to [00:03:00] basically help him, uh, spend this new money that at Kleiner Perkins had done.

So, you know, amazing, amazing entrepreneur, uh, an amazing concept. You know, like many things a little bit ahead of its time. Uh, but, but a fantastic, fantastic experience than the last day I came out, uh, in the summer of 2000, which, you know, for those of you who around meltdown, it was basically the difference between the fall of 99.

And the summer of 2000 was stark to say the least. So, um, suffice to say, I drank a lot of wine that summer and had a lot of fun, but, uh, you know, that's, that's an interesting place to start. So thanks for asking. 

[00:03:35] Andrew Michael: Yeah. What was it that convinced them to hire as an intern, just coming out of uni? Uh, what was the one thing that.

[00:03:43] Chris O'Neil: I don't, I don't know. I, maybe you need persistence and like, you know, uh, you know, some, some, uh, and to stick to it. And this, I never really asked Peter, um, and this other guy, Rick, who eventually hired me, so who knows, 

[00:03:57] Andrew Michael: who knows. Yeah. Uh, but looking obviously [00:04:00] your career track so far, I think like, it's definitely, there's some magic there as well.

And, um, Looking at some of the places that you've worked. I mentioned like CEO at Evernote and Google there's ups and Google X, like throughout your career, um, what would you say would be like one of the most memorable moments you've had then, like one of the moments that got you ready to really thinking about your career track and set you off on your trajectory that you want.

[00:04:27] Chris O'Neil: Uh, you kind of sale that, uh, I've been very fortunate to be part of some amazing companies at different, you know, pretty, pretty different times different contexts, but the common ingredient is always people, um, in that strike, but it's very true. No, I, I, I, if I had, you know, I've had, so I've been very fortunate to have lots of different experiences that have, I think have been memorable and great and, and shaped me in interesting ways.

And if I had to narrow it to. Um, as we were talking before Andrew I'm Canadian born and raised in Canada, and I've been very fortunate to join Google in, um, you know, [00:05:00] in the middle of the two thousands and, you know, really enjoy enjoying my, like my career. They're just a special company at a special time.

And I'd been asked to go back to Canada to lead the operations up there many times. And I politely said no for a whole bunch of reasons, mostly because I just enjoyed living in the bay area with. Then very, very young family and, you know, and, and I really enjoyed being part of the headquarters of Google at the time.

But if I say I took the advice of some incredible mentors, um, you know, Patrick Pichette, who was, uh, the relatively new CFO of Google at the time. And this person named Dennis Woodside, who I think is one of the world's best operators. They encouraged me to do this, this take this journey. And boy was I thankful that they did, because that was a very formative experience and a very special one to lead a company and a brand like Google in your Homeland, in your home country was, was just an incredible experience.

And [00:06:00] that was a role that took me to the Arctic where we. You know, the street view camera's up to, uh, to the very far, you know, the Arctic circle with the prime minister of the, of the country, um, to really think about how technology can play a role, um, within your population, um, at the, at the time. And now that like I could, I could rattle off lots of experiences and memories, but really as a, as a career opportunity and professional opportunity, it really is when I feel like I came into my own as a leader, and I had the chance to, to really put together an amazing team of people from all over the world, including South Africa, by the way.

And it just was a formative experience that taught me how to lead, how to inspire a place, a pride of place in. No one really be a part of a large global organization that does those really important things and really helped out Canadians and Canadian small businesses. So if I had to pick one, that would be where I would, where I would.


[00:06:59] Andrew Michael: yeah, [00:07:00] it's super cool. And I can only imagine what it must've been like at that point in time being at Google, like, uh, not wanting to leave the headquarters. I could also understand that perspective as well. I wanted to be in the mix of adult. Before the show, we chatted a little bit about like, sort of the direction we wanted to take today.

And, uh, I think, uh, like hearing your experience and, uh, seeing the different companies that you've led in the past, uh, we, we stumbled upon sort of the concept of alignment and, uh, sending vision and strategy and, uh, overall just, um, how you can bring your team along with you on the journey that you're trying to take as a company.

And I think. This is one of the most critical components in my opinion of how to actually tackle churn and retention is like when you have a really strong alignment within the company, within the team, when people know the direction they're heading and why, um, it, it just makes things so much easier and you really see the biggest compounding impacts from there.

So today we'll dive into that with you. Uh, I, I'm pretty sure [00:08:00] you have some amazing stories to share as well and working with some cool mentors. So. What do you get started as a leader? Like, um, other coming into new company or starting a company? Uh, how do you go about sort of setting that initial foundation down that set you up for success in the long run?

[00:08:17] Chris O'Neil: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, if I have to think about and reflect upon my career, Um, you know, part of, I grew up in, in, in Canada, as I said, I, I was a really fairly poor student, um, early on. And I learned most of what I learned in life through playing team sports. And so I have a fairly aggressive mindset and, uh, and also really you believe in curating a team experience.

And so I give that as backdrop, because early in my career, I was very, you know, I was almost, you know, fire, you know, ready, aim, Um, which sounds great. Right. And we talk about and celebrate that is as a, as a, you know, biased action. So forth is a strength than it is, but really I share that because over the course of my career, I find [00:09:00] that the time I spend, when I enter into a new role, um, to, to solicit and learn is.

Alright. So the half-life on listening and learning and asking questions before making decisions. Um, it has grown and then the other, the corroboree of that, he said on the other side, the half-life of taking actions shrinks, but again, that's a, that's a spectrum. So I think that, where do you get started?

You asked by you start by asking a lot of really good questions, right? I think great leaders ask great questions. Great leaders have insatiable curiosity, right? Coupled with drive and coupled with humility. To basically not take yourself too seriously, but really question things, but then be decisive when needed.

Um, but really the first foundational layer is to understand what is, and you talk about alignment. If you don't have a common view of what the problem you're solving is, or I'm a big fan of the jobs to be done theory, like, what job are you hired to do in this. Right. And, and like, if you don't have a clear understanding of that, it's really, really difficult.

Right. Is this a [00:10:00] hyper-growth situation? Is this a turnaround? Is this, you know, what is. Did we have product market fit, right. Do we understand the physics of our business? Right. By asking a series of questions, you can start to relate, like dial in and get a higher resolution. Understanding. At least of the problem is that's there to be solved.

Um, we can talk a little bit about alignment because you know, often people get confused about which direction they're going and it makes it very difficult to be aligned, but then once you are aligned, how do you stay there? How do you orchestrate a team or a group of people? And individual to inspire them around a mission, but keep them more or less aligned on the journey.

Um, as hard as that is. So, but, but it, you know, the first things first is this foundational understanding of what problem you're solving and we can, we can add some other nuances to this as, as the conversation. 

[00:10:48] Andrew Michael: Yeah, I like that. And I think like the jobs to be done framework, you often hear it in the context of like, what a job or your customers hiring you to get done and how can your product to adapt to that.

But obviously the same does apply [00:11:00] with the actual job that you get hired to do at a company and how that changes over time. How. Do you see those, those jobs changing as well? So obviously coming into, in the beginning, it's really trying to understand what you're hired to do. Um, those things shift and change over time.

And, um, how do you go about sort of evaluating at which point in time, which job is the most important and then, uh,

[00:11:27] Chris O'Neil: Um, it's, it's interesting. I, I, I think that, um, I think that great companies build in reflection and they build in comfort with, um, Uh, all forms. And I think that I don't think there's one size fits all to do to make sure that you're you're on the right path. Um, but you can use metrics. You can use, you know, this is why you have to hire people who feel comfortable sharing their perspectives, who are, who share that curiosity.

I was describing earlier to basically question, are we on the right on the [00:12:00] right path? And revisit it both qualitatively and quantitatively, right? Ultimately your customers will tell you, um, is there through, you know, words or even more importantly actions, like, they'll tell you whether you are on the right path.

The harder questions in my mind are, you know, when do you need a second act, right? When do you need to do things that the customers aren't going to tell you? And those are, those are subjective. Um, but really I think great companies do have figured a way to have second and third axis as they go. It's very, very difficult to do that.

Um, but again, I think it, the bigger challenges that I tend to see are lack of clarity, right. And lack of cohesion as a starting point for, for, um, you know, how you build, build out. And how to add, you know, who to hire, how do you know which you know, which, which parts of your, of the customer segments to go after, et cetera, et cetera.

There's a lot of downstream questions from that. 

[00:12:57] Andrew Michael: Let's jump into that a little bit more detail. So [00:13:00] you come into a company first step sort of religious, like trying to listen, trying to understand, trying to see what sort of job you're being hired to, uh, to do. You then sort of noticed that there's no real clarity in the direction.

Like what are some of the things that you want to be doing with the teams, uh, when you joining to, to provide that clarity and to get everybody onto the same page? 

[00:13:20] Chris O'Neil: Yeah. Uh, I've been fortunate to learn from a lot of different folks and ask lot questions and read, read as much as I can. And, you know, one of the things that resonated with me and I was fortunate to have her friend who knew Jeff leaner and he introduced me at a very short period of time with Jasmine.

I asked him for advice, um, in a leadership capacity and one of the things that I didn't quite grok it first, he, he, he told a story about launching a rocket. Right. And you think about launching. All right. If you're off by a couple of inches, when you launch a rocket, right. By the time it gets into orbit you're off by miles.

Right? So it was really a, a bit of a quick way [00:14:00] to summarize the importance of being aligned and w what Jeff had recommended. And I have adopted in your phone of give proper credit to a fantastic leader. Like Jeff is you talked about you all the way from vision to values and practically what you do is you get your team leadership team.

Somewhere to basically get clarity. It doesn't have to be perfect. And some things to your point will change over time, but you have to start the vision. Like what is the north star? What is the dream? What is the aspiration for this company? What is the raison d'etre for the company? Um, what does that translate to in terms of a mission?

Vision is, is the dream mission is something that is eventually solvable and will, you know, will you're achievable rather it should be audacious, but it should be achievable. All the way down. What's your strategy to achieve that? What are the objectives at any one point in time? What are the, the rank ordered priorities?

What are the, what truly are your values? And what's the culture you aim to, to shape and create as a company? You know, he literally spells that out and I'm a big fan of doing this. [00:15:00] So as a company, if you can't answer those questions and it seems overly precise and prescriptive, but if you can't get the team away, at least agree to a straw man of that, then that's where I would suggest to start, you know, really prescriptive, really clear on a page, maybe two.

Um, but that, that's where they have a big fan of. Um, a related part just to build on it is, is the Amazon working backwards piece, right? Where you can basically go into a, you know, either from customers or a future state, a future positive state, right pick pick three, four or five years, whatever the time horizon happens to be, and then write the press release from that timeframe.

I, I, I am a big fan of doing something similar to, to inspire the art of what's. So those are two practical things, right? Get clarity on vision, the values, get out of the office, get the team together. If the team is, is available, um, make it so, and then, you know, really start to think about what's the art of possible in the next 2, 3, 4 or five years.

And then [00:16:00] write that in the present tense, uh, as a press release. 

[00:16:04] Andrew Michael: I like that, looking at it from both sides to get to the same place. Yeah. Let's go into a little bit like specifics on this and maybe if you can speak to some examples of them. So, um, you talked out and you talk from the top, like really having this vision of, uh, this grand vision of what a future tomorrow looks like.

And then the mission is. More attainable and over a time period, and then off the back of that sort of strategies and whether it's using frameworks like OKR's, um, or the like, yeah. Maybe talk us through an example of one of the companies that you've been at and what the vision was that was set. What are the mission, uh, that you put in place and how did they all connect the dots.

[00:16:45] Chris O'Neil: Yeah. Um, okay. If you give you a, just a quick taste of three, three examples, um, and I'll dive maybe into the, to some of that, some of the work that we did up in Canada with Google, um, uh, some of my favorite examples are in when Stewart [00:17:00] Butterfield was launching Slack, right? It was the famous pivot from Tiny Speck.

Um, to become slack. I mean, you know, really starting with with just a, you know, I, I love, I love, love, love the, the, the launch memo that he leaked to the world after he had sent it to the things, you know, we don't sell saddles around here, um, is, is, is probably the best, like example of clarity on vision. And clarity on why?

Like what's the raison d'etre for this thing? Like, why the hell do we exist in the first place? Um, that's, that's a great one. Um, a lot of time at Evernote was really rediscovering the original purpose of the company right now companies sometimes can get off a little bit off. So that was an exercise of rediscovering.

You know, this one, remember everything, this digital extension of one's brain, um, and it really reinterpreting what that meant for the timeframe. But, um, I'll, I'll double click on, on Canada and you know, one of the things I learned, um, again, you learn through. I'd had four or five years of experience at Google at the time.

I think I, I felt like I [00:18:00] had a good grasp on the core product of search and how to build a team that, that really knew what they're talking about around it. Um, and then when I came to a new market and a new opportunity, um, it was different and it needed, it didn't require the same playbook. Right? Often leadership is about knowing when to keep things and when to throw them away.

And when, when to learn. Thanks. And that was certainly the case here. And, but I didn't know that. Right. And I, I thought I was new, new, new everything, and, you know, our, our high grades, um, and set, set the goal for the, for the company up in Canada to say, you know, we're going to turn this into a billion dollar.

And two years, and I, as I that's, that's the goal, right? That's the goal. And in, in my, my CFO at the time, um, you know, she, she was very happy. Uh, everyone else was like, okay, this guy is either not very good at math. Uh, partially, partially crazy. Or maybe both actually. When I reflected upon it and got it literally truly listened to the feedback.

It was [00:19:00] that that's not a mission. That's a financial objective. Okay. And it's important to have financial objectives, but really when you start to think about where we landed, we landed on something which was. Fluffy and hokey, but I'll tell ya it unlocked a different sense of creativity and meaning and said, listen, how do we make the web work for Canadians and Canadian small businesses?

Okay. Like our goal was like, at this time, the web was this mysterious thing for many people, right? How do we make it simple? How do we make it work for them as opposed to the other way around? And again, that sounds fluffy and so forth, but it really meant things. It meant things like, gosh, how do we help small businesses get on.

Right. So we were one of the first countries, um, on the globe to basically give websites and give like, you know, listings away to, to small businesses who didn't have them. Um, and then, and do sessions to teach them about this thing called digital, you know, it's, it's how we worked with government at the time, how we worked with, you know, businesses of course, to, to, to, to experience some of the Google products.

But it, it was a mission that transcended the businesses. And boy, did it [00:20:00] unlock a different energy? So often people get caught up in like very specific and overly precise financial metrics and so forth. Um, at the risk of basically not, not unleashing the, the broader dream of right, really like, you know, in the valley gets this right.

Most of the time, sometimes it carries, it gets carried away. Um, but I, I do think that striking that balance where people can see in themselves a part of a greater mission, something that is worthy of, uh, of the heart. The sweat and tears that comes with doing anything important in this. 

[00:20:31] Andrew Michael: Yeah, definitely.

It makes a huge impact. I think sometimes I see the mistakes you made in this area where you try to be too, uh, too much and try to attach too much of a mission to something that's just not there. And I think striking that balance, which would make sense for the business and the service and the product you do.

Uh, with actually what you deliver it in the day is really important as well, because definitely I've seen startups try to attach this like grand vision and mission to [00:21:00] their businesses, but really there's no substance there. And, uh, yeah. Yeah. How do you, like make sure that you keep on track when it comes to these sorts of things and that, um, while you're going through this process and brainstorming that actually you're being a little bit more realistic and, uh, 

[00:21:17] Chris O'Neil: Yeah.

Um, I think there's, there's, there's, there's a variety of ways. I think that, um, you know, surrounding yourself with great people is, is, is the single best answer I can give to you on this. So whether that's advisors, whether it's board members, whether it's with your team, especially your team. I think that teams need to know.

Mix of people who are Mavericks and misfits. And, you know, I think the, the Mavericks are the people that will push you, you know, and the misfits will push you into this territory. And then you need a dose of like realists, right. To kind of bring you back down to earth. And I think in the push pull debate, um, that, that.

That that happens when those are real honest and open [00:22:00] discussions, they're grounded in trust, um, and really wanting to do what's right for the company, wanting to truly make a difference in the world, not to say you are and then fake it. Um, I, I think that those are the that's the best way, you know, really the, you know, the rock tumbler.

Yeah. Th th that Steve jobs talks about right, putting this kind of gnarly Daggett rock and it tumbling. And through that rocket in emerges in a few days, and it's very smooth. Um, I liked that metaphor where you kind of you're you're debating and discussing, and then ultimately agreeing on, on a direction and clarity for the company.

[00:22:37] Andrew Michael: Yeah. And definitely having that good mix of personalities, uh, helps a lot. And sometimes I think it's, it's quite a challenge. Like I know for myself, like I've noticed my own personality. Uh, I tend to be good at selling ideas, which is a blessing and a curse, uh, because sometimes you end up selling really, really bad ideas and people buy into them and just having.

Strong people around you, they trust, and they can [00:23:00] call you out on your bullshit and just say like, that's a load of crap. Like let's get back on track. And, uh, definitely, uh, having good people on the team makes a difference. I also like the fact that you mentioned as well, like coming into Canada and just trying to replicate the same playbook, uh, is not, uh, it doesn't always work.

It doesn't cut it. And I mean, there's been countless mistakes made. I think JC penny is probably one of the more famous ones, uh, with Ron Johnson and trying to replicate the same strategy. How do you sort of identify, um, what is going to work and what is going to not psych when moving into new markets when trying to open up and, uh, how did you sort of understand at that point in time that it just wasn't going to fit?

Like, what are the flags that you saw? Um, that said, this is not just going to be replicating the U S and the. 

[00:23:47] Chris O'Neil: Yeah, like go talk to the customers, right. Or the potential customers. Is there any different place and there's a structurally different market. Um, the, the, the sophistication at the time was different thereafter.

So [00:24:00] ultimately get out of the building and talk to people is, is the answer. Um, and you know, that, that was, that was how that's really what's helped us like, so we, we had. Slightly different, go to market motion, even like in terms of how we organized and in what we talked about with customers, Canada has, um, you know, multicultural.

So we had a, you know, a French Canadian part of our business, which was, you know, way like, you know, Google at the time. If you think about it even still, I'm sure this is true. I haven't been there for a long time, but you know, it basically mirrors your business tends to mirror the. All right. So in other words, if, um, if a certain group of the population in this case go back right.

About a quarter of the population live in, live in Quebec and, um, have speak a different language for the most part. Um, and we, we had it, we had like less than five, like buds, like five to 7% of our business was coming from that region. So it's like, why. Right. When you really start asking, if you wise, you start to say, well, like, okay, we don't have this thing called [00:25:00] YouTube.

Right. And the product feature set was like very limited. So oftentimes it's very basic like that where it's like, okay, like these are things that are like successful and we know they're successful and they're just not there. Oftentimes that is the case either you're just missing something or you're really metaphorically speaking, a different language to, to a customer that.

It doesn't grok it. Right. So either you're missing the product or you're talking to, to, to the customer, or you're interacting with them in a way that they don't understand. Um, so big fan of getting out of the building, asking, um, asking folks and then, you know, mixing again, experiences like part of, part of the experience I had by bringing people from all over the world was, was like, that's one way to get at it.

Right. It's not just comparing to two things, but compare. 10. Right. And then you can mix them together to say, you know, what is the right optimal mix of things that we've seen elsewhere? What are the things we can discard? What are the things that we double down on? So, um, that that's, that's been a formula for success, but curiosity asking questions, you know, getting, you know, [00:26:00] getting away from just the internal speak.

Um, so. 

[00:26:05] Andrew Michael: Yeah. And we talked about the store, like having the Watson, the Y uh, so it's not enough just to look at data and looking at links and understand okay. There's opportunity, but really understanding why there's an opportunity in what are the customers saying and getting out, uh, we talk about a 

[00:26:19] Chris O'Neil: third, third, third things, how, right.

So, so. You know what, and then how you do things, right? Like the actual experience, whether that's how you deliver and go, go to market, how you deliver the experience, the Polish that you put to the product itself, different parts. I mean, these things are really important. So they have to come together in a comprehensive way to basically, you know, really deliver something meaningful and differentiated.

[00:26:41] Andrew Michael: Yeah. We set out a mission to Google Canada, to like, uh, how is Canada going to get online? How small businesses going to take advantage of this new trend? What came next from there? How did you sort of get the team then on the same page? Uh, how are different teams within the organization aligning [00:27:00] themselves to that mission?

And how did everybody know that they're actually contributing to. 

[00:27:05] Chris O'Neil: Yeah. Yeah. We, we call it one team Canada and it w it, again sounds hokey, but it meant something to us. Right. It meant, gosh, a pride in the place. So I so had kind, Canada has such phenomenal talent, right. And it's just been such a heartening for me to do a wonderful thing to see and watch Canada grow into its potential as, as a technology leader.

Um, you know, 10, 10 to 15 years ago. You know, rim was the thing. And then, you know, very little else was happening. There was Nortel in river right now. Yeah. Yeah. Still, still bumping along, but you've got things like Shopify and you got a thriving AI ecosystem in Toronto and elsewhere. Um, so it's just, it's been amazing.

Um, but, but, uh, really, I, I think it was, how do we act. All parts of the company in the country. So we expanded all four offices and we would do things like when we [00:28:00] did localization, right. Often localizations of very boring, kind of like translation or lowest, common denominator theme, right. Where it's like, okay, yeah, whatever.

We want to take this product from one country or set of countries and bring it to others and, and turn off. Um, there was ample amount of that, but what we started to do, um, I'll give you an example of YouTube, right? We just, like, we just basically took the YouTube, you know, um, code from basically France and stuck it into Quebec at least to start something was better than nothing.

Right. Um, the other things we did were, you know, start to think about not just the Canadian business, but the global business. It's very specific example. We did a hack day and, uh, we basically, uh, did a job exchange to start the hacks to say, look it let's engineers, come on, come on. Some of the commercial conversations with partners and with potential customers or customers, and then vice versa.

And out of that came boy, it's really hard to start an ad campaign on Google. [00:29:00] Um, so a group of people, small group of people basically reinvented the front end of that. Which used to take 15 minutes. If you knew what you're talking about, they got it down to two or three. Um, and that was an example of like, just from spending time with a small business who just didn't really understand what they're doing.

And the product was needlessly complicated, a small. Team went away for three weeks, reinvented it and then sold it to through the headquarters. These are examples of how you start to activate you really, you know, it's one thing to say things, but then you have to have to get some, to some, some wins and some skins on the wall.

So to sort of speak so that you can basically start to, to create the flywheel of success where people can start to see, oh boy, this is these, aren't just words. This is about the losses. It's about being clear on the direction. We're going to go and then speed of execution against them. You put those together and you get.

[00:29:52] Andrew Michael: Yeah, it's so important to have those wins and like to keep momentum running. I think once you start to lose momentum, things get very, very difficult. [00:30:00] Talk to that. Indeed. Let's fast forward then a little bit now to today, uh, Glean, uh, coming in as your role sort of chief business officer, what are you currently responsible for?

And. How did you get where you are today? I clean like, whoa, I can see some connection to the dots, but I think it's better to hear it from. Yeah. 

[00:30:18] Chris O'Neil: Yeah, yeah, sure. So, um, I'm happy to, so my role is basically Arvin the founders. This is incredible leader. He had incredible track record at Google, uh, district attention near, um, as search engineering.

So tactically and very deep, uh, he and a group of, uh, um, three other co-founders created something called rubric. And then to two or three years ago, uh, he was bothered by, um, bothered by the problem that we aim to solve when he was basically doing employee surveys, as many companies do. Right. What's what are the things that you like about work?

What are the things that are detracting from your experience? And one of them was like the inability to find information, right? I don't have the tools and information. I need to do my job. And this is where, [00:31:00] you know, he went out to survey them. And say, Hey, is there a good solution to this? And the answer is no, there's not.

There's been superficially similar attempts in the past, including Google, by the way, we've tried to, to solve this problem, but it's a, it's a, it's a huge problem. That's only growing and it's largely unsolved. Um, so that's really like the backdrop. And to give you a little bit of context, like. Uh, a fan of the future of work.

I'm a fan of productivity. Obviously I spent some time at Evernote and that was really a, an appeal I'd use that product is still use it to this day. Um, I really, I'm really curious about the tools that we use at work. I'm a fan of thing. Like if I can make, if you can make a company slightly more productive in a certain area that the force multiplier that.

So I had proclivity to this problem, a curiosity about the problem. One of them, one of the things I wrestled with at Evernote was his concept. We called Omni search, right? And one of the vision was, gosh, we need to make this thing more powerful when used with others and other applications. What if we could basically have surface.

Uh, let Evernote be the [00:32:00] surface area of connectivity through API APIs, to different applications that people choose to use in the workforce. And then we'd have the ability to search across to all these things. We'd call it on the search. Um, so I we've been toying with that. And then I was doing a back channel reference for a former actually Evernote employee with, uh, with one of the investors.

And we had a perfectly lovely conversation and I asked the investor, Hey, like what else is interesting in your world? I just have a lot of respect for him as a, as a, an investor and a leader. And he mentioned that. This was called CEO at the time. And I got to know Arvin and got to know the problem. And boy, the problem is bigger in COVID it's grown as we've adopted SAS applications, you know, the ability to find work and the stuff that we need to do, our jobs is become really difficult and we're wasting too much time.

So. I really love the problem. I love the mission that we're on. Um, and the team that's been assembled here at back to the point is making earlier by the team. I lead the technical team in particular. Um, at the time it was mostly like 90% technical and 95% even. I mean, these, these are [00:33:00] incredible engineers who really weren't.

Putting to work the latest and greatest technologies and the metrics on the engagement, you know, really talk about retention. Like, you know, the engagement at the end user level for this product is unlike anything I've ever seen before. So that's what led me to here. And I, and I also think it can have an impact by partnering with Arvin and rest of the team to build something very special, like an engineering company.

So that's, that's the, that's the. 

[00:33:24] Andrew Michael: Very cool. Uh, yeah, I definitely like, as you said, it's a super interesting space nobody's really quite corrected yet. And I think that with the acceleration of COVID and remote work, it's only going to grow over time and, uh, somebody is going to, at some 

[00:33:38] Chris O'Neil: point, it's just bizarre.

Like if you just think about it simplest level, why do we have this. Right. That saves say, like provides information at our fingertips anywhere in anywhere. Um, and like we go into work and when we're being paid to do our jobs, like w the tools that we use are materially, like suckier than the consumer versions that we use in our day-to-day life.

And it just, [00:34:00] it needs to be solved and it will be in, you know, we're early in our journey. But, um, you know, we we've, we've been fortunate to attract, you know, the, the Okta's and many, many other, uh, awesome, awesome companies, uh, who are, who are loving our product right now. 

[00:34:14] Andrew Michael: Yeah. Very cool. I mean, this is one of, this is the problem that I chose to go after with my new company as well.

Like not specifically, uh, what Glen does, but really around like user research, data analysis. Like how can you centralize this information? It's typically scattered over a bunch of different tools and services and exactly, um, It doesn't make sense, uh, the way we work today. And that is a very, very big need for like, uh, the space to emerge now and to really help become the hub, uh, for work.

And I think it looks like a very, very promising, uh, take on it as well. From what I've seen over the last few days, 

[00:34:50] Chris O'Neil: we think so a lot more work to be done, but. No that coupled with the technology and AI advances has really unlocked, I think, magical [00:35:00] experiences and, you know, we're, um, we're fortunate to have some good customers who, who agree with us 

[00:35:04] Andrew Michael: and cool.

I see we're running up on time. So I want to save for a couple of questions that ask every guest, the joint has shown let's imagine a hypothetical scenario. Now you join a new company. churn and retention is not doing great. And this year it comes to you and says, Hey Chris, like, we really need to turn things around.

We have 90 days to do it. You're in charge. Uh, what do you do? But the caveat is you're not going to tell me that I'm going to go speak to customers, understand what the biggest pain point is. And start there. You're just going to take a playbook that you've seen. It's been effective in one of your past companies and run with a blindly, hoping that that is going to solve the problem that this company.

[00:35:45] Chris O'Neil: Yeah, this was not happy. Aesthetical. This was the situation at Evernote to be clear. And it's funny, you say 90 days, like we base, I know often when you think about impact, you think about things that have big impact and little impact in, then you think of things that are hard to do. [00:36:00] And what I, what I did in this situation, um, in Evernote and it was in a pretty tough position at this time.

It was, it was like in 90 days, I want to see movement across these things. And it's not about big swing. Really it's easy. Let's go for easy things. And you mentioned turning attention. Um, we, our leaky bucket problem, right? So we had a lot of things. So a lot of where we got the most amount of traction in the first 90 days was basically the very bottom of the funnel.

It was very obvious thing. So the very best known best practice. So I'll give you a very specific example. Um, w at the time the United States was, was, um, was swapping out regular credit cards with. Alright standard most of the world, but it was, it was, you know, late adoption things. So, so what was happening was people who were paying.

Of of Evernote at the time we're using a credit card, the bank changed their credit card number. Right. And we hadn't figured out the, uh, how to update that automatically update that the change, right. The customer didn't want to [00:37:00] churn. Um, so that would be one example. And we strung together like five or six of those little examples.

And guess what? In 90 days we basically moved the retention or the churn numbers by, by like two or three points. It wasn't. Like it was not trivial and on a large business, had a huge effect. So I, so I'm a big fan actually of like sometimes compressing the timeframe and saying, look, it's not about swinging for the home run.

I just want a bunch of singles and maybe even a bond, but let's just show how we can execute against the very tactical, very tractable problem and get some, you know, get some small wins, um, and start building. 

[00:37:37] Andrew Michael: And their credit card. One is a big one. I think it's like when you do the maths as well, if the typical card expires every two years doing public math now, but it roughly comes to like 4% of every card is churning on a monthly basis.

So, uh, on average, uh, and it's essentially like 4% of churn happening is just not necessary. If you can, like sort of solve that automatically. [00:38:00] Um, it can have a big impact. Last question then what's one thing that, you know today about churn and retention that you wish you knew when you got started with your career.

[00:38:12] Chris O'Neil: Yeah. Um, I actually like to say, you got, you worked from turning retention back. In other words, it's not something that you say, you know, we build something, we market it, people use it and then you worry about churn. It's actually the opposite, right? If you think about. How growth happens in a company. If you don't have the mindset, it says, start with turn or potential is a better way to think about it and work your way back.

Like, you know, I wrote this, this thing called go to market engine. And in there we talked about growth maps and I'm fond of drawing growth maps. Exactly. As I just described. So in other words, instead of going right to left with a funnel, actually go the other way around, you start writing for parts of the world that read left to right.

You start with [00:39:00] churn and reduct retention activities on the left-hand side of the chart, and you work your way back to activities going the other way. So look, I, I think great companies, you're seeing this with the subscription and I don't need to convince you and your listeners, but ultimately if you don't have churn under control, um, you know, almost everything else doesn't matter.

Um, so you have to really start there and work. 

[00:39:22] Andrew Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I think talk about the slot in the show, but if you're building a subscription business and people are canceling the script scription, you're not really building a business, it's just a little buckets and yeah. Chris has been an absolute pleasure chatting to you today.

Is there any final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with? Like anything they should be aware of your work? How can they keep in touch with you? 

[00:39:44] Chris O'Neil: Yeah, I'd be delighted to stay in touch with folks I'm reachable in the socials. Um, I think what you're doing is very important to thank you and, you know, I think it is, you know, the other thing I would just encourage people.

This is to constantly experiment, right? I think part of it, part of it isn't like having the answers, but it's having a [00:40:00] framework and a set of like things you're trying to solve for, and then understanding the physics of the problem. Business that you're, you're trying to build and then iterating your way, um, and being okay with being wrong.

You know, the people who take more shots on that are going to be the ones that tend to win, um, and have that mindset of constant experimentation. Um, I think AR is a bit of the hallmark of what I've seen as successful teams of companies. So me, that me as a, as a final thought, that's. 

[00:40:27] Andrew Michael: Very cool. Well, yeah, thanks so much for joining and for the listeners.

We'll make sure to leave all the show notes, any of the mentions today from Chris as well. So if you want to check those out, you can in the show notes and, uh, thanks again for joining OSHA now. Best of luck going into 2022. 

[00:40:41] Chris O'Neil: Thanks. And you too, Andrew. 


Chris O’Neil
Chris O’Neil

The show

My name is Andrew Michael and I started CHURN.FM, as I was tired of hearing stories about some magical silver bullet that solved churn for company X.

In this podcast, you will hear from founders and subscription economy pros working in product, marketing, customer success, support, and operations roles across different stages of company growth, who are taking a systematic approach to increase retention and engagement within their organizations.


Listen To Next