There's a growing body of B2B applications that are the brainchild of tech entrepreneurs aiming to fill a gap they discovered when running an earlier venture. One of the pre-eminent examples is Slack, originally created to ease team communications at a game developer led by its founder Stewart Butterfield. Now add to the list knowledge management tool Guru, built to give sales and service staff instant access to answers they need. Co-founder and CEO Rick Nucci previously "lived the pain that Guru now solves" as co-founder and CTO at cloud integration vendor Boomi, which has since become a key part of Dell's enterprise software portfolio.
Founded just months after Nucci and co-founder Mitchell Stewart left Boomi in 2013, Guru takes information that companies traditionally keep hidden away in wikis, FAQs and other knowledge stores, and puts it directly in the workflow of sales and customer success staff. Instead of living in a separate tab or application screen, it's installed as a browser extension, or integrated into Slack. This is key, says Nucci: "The number one thing people like is that Guru works where I work."
The second problem Guru addresses is that traditional knowledge stores are often not kept up-to-date, with the result that even when you do find an answer, you don't always trust it. To solve this, Guru includes a verification engine that associates each information 'card' with a named subject matter expert. The engine automatically prompts the expert to re-verify the information at predefined time intervals.
Keeping how-to answers up-to-date
The card metaphor "encourages brevity from our authors" says Nucci. Most are short — typically less than 500 characters — and often take the form of how-to bullets. When a user can't find the answer they need, they can post a question that kicks off a Q&A workflow in email or Slack. Experts can then reply either by selecting an existing card to paste into the message flow, or by creating a new answer that they can then add to Guru directly from the messaging platform.
The most common use cases are in sales enablement and customer success teams. As well as keeping sales staff up-to-date with the latest product features and fixes, the how-to cards also to help demystify processes such as building sales contracts, handling account handovers, smoothing out implementations or recommending upgrade paths.
Guru has over 450 paying customers, the majority drawn from the tech industry. It's especially popular with digital businesses and SaaS vendors, who need a knowledge resource that can keep pace with fast-moving products and constantly changing processes. Customers in this segment include Airbnb, Bitly, Intercom, InVision, Liveperson, Optmizely, Shopify, Slack, Square, TaskRabbit and Wrike, but the company is also starting to sign some larger, more traditional brands, including tobacco company Philip Morris and of course Dell. "Boomi is using it, which is very important to me," says Nucci.
In a testimonial video from professional photo sharing app SmugMug, its COO Ben MacAskill sums up where Guru shines and the impact it has had:
Those were the two killer features — take your knowledge everywhere, and trust your knowledge.
One of the most obvious changes from using Guru is the number of times I will see somebody ask a question that we don't have documentation on, and within, like, twenty minutes, somebody posts a Guru card to the Slack channel. That's always really impressive, and that just didn't happen before.
Feedback from built-in analytics
One other aspect of Guru that Nucci emphasizes is its built-in analytics capabilities. These fulfil two functions. First of all, they provide metrics that help illustrate the value the platform is delivering to customers, such as how many users are in the product every day — Guru achieves significantly above-average for this metric, which Nucci tells me he watches closely.
The second function is providing feedback on the effectiveness of content. Some metrics are integrated with data from other applications such as Salesforce and Zendesk, so that customers can see which content is most associated with winning deals or closing tickets. Meanwhile, search analytics will show what answers people are looking for but can't find. As Nucci explains:
Before Guru the customer's just guessing what content needs to be added. Search analytics makes it a much more data-driven decision.
Guru got started with $2.7 million in seed funding from former backers of Boomi — FirstMark Capital, which led Boomi's first round, along with Salesforce Ventures. Michael Dell's private investment fund also participated, as well as individuals such as former Salesforce exec Brett Queener and Boomi's first angel investor Michael West.
In September last year, the startup announced a $9.3 million series A round, adding leading SaaS industry backer Emergence Capital as a new investor.
As well as fueling continued growth, the new funding will also bolster R&D. Artificial intelligence will be a big focus for the company in 2018, Nucci tells me, adding predictive capabilities to those analytics.
Hitching your startup to the rocketship that is Slack is turning out to be a great strategy for quite a few ventures, and Guru has certainly benefited from that partnership. But its rapid growth is also a reflection of its founders' astute recognition that there's a new trend towards workflow-native applications — what we at diginomica have been calling conversational computing and headless apps.
This repeats Nucci's early bet on cloud-native applications with Boomi, where I first met him more than a decade ago. As he explains in a blog post on the thinking behind Guru:
Just like in 2007 when a lot of smart people were talking about revolutionary concepts like multi-tenancy and elastic computing, we are now at the beginning of what we believe will be another rewrite of the web. Instead of our devices containing a sea of apps that we must find, open and use, we will flip this pattern upside down into a discrete collection of services and workflows based on the job that we need to do. These services will come to us, we won’t go to them anymore, and underneath the hood a workflow will be possibly dozens of 'apps' built by dozens of different companies each serving their own very specific and valuable purpose. And these discrete services will leverage whatever data we choose to share such as our email, our location, our likes, and give us a simple and intelligent experience.
That was written two-and-a-half years ago, long before I caught up with conversational or others began airing notions such as the serverless presentation layer discussed in an op-ed this week by Mayfield Fund partner Robin Vasan (hat-tip Jon Reed's hits and misses this week).
That strategic vision, plus a real commitment to listening to customers and building a product that demonstrably solves their pain points, makes Guru a company well worth watching.