Gainsight was a geographically distributed company from the start. We were co-founded in two locations (St. Louis, Missouri, and Hyderabad, India); later we added a Bay Area office. Some of our first customer-facing people worked from home in other cities around the U.S. There were many advantages to this, but it also came with challenges, which we did our best to address from the beginning. We developed many of the best practices for inclusive communications that are now used commonly in the post-COVID-19 world. We did the best we could with the tools at our disposal, but inevitably, we weren't perfect.
One of the most difficult scenarios to handle was the whiteboarding session. We'd have technical support folks calling in from St. Louis, members of the Field Sales and Customer Success teams calling in from their homes around the U.S., engineers calling in from Hyderabad, and several people calling in from the Bay Area. Often, the conversation would center around a Google Sheet or Doc. One person would be the primary scribe, and sometimes other participants would add text or comments, being careful not to interrupt the flow of the scribe — which usually meant adding the text in a place that people couldn’t see. Invariably, at least one person on the call would feel excluded. And who could blame them?
We'd try to get around this risk by bringing everyone together in person frequently, but this was expensive in dollars and time and couldn't be done every time we wanted to brainstorm. Often, it was simply a lot easier to have impromptu brainstorming sessions among people who were in the same location, which didn't serve our goals of inclusion or optimal decision-making.
Wait ... there's a better way?
It wasn't until last fall that I saw a solution for changing the status quo. I was visiting New York and stopped by the office of some former coworkers from my investing days at Bain Capital to discuss how I could help some of the companies in their portfolio. They introduced me to Mariano Suarez-Battan, who also happened to be in town that day.
Mariano is the Co-founder and CEO of MURAL, a company that takes a design thinking approach to enabling whiteboarding sessions online. His fundamental premise was that the classic sticky-notes-on-a-whiteboard approach to collaboration had merit, and that it could be replicated — even improved — in a virtual environment.
It was easy to believe he could do it. From a personality perspective, Mariano was 100% IDEO, 0% accountant-living-in-spreadsheets. His vision was to make remote collaboration actually fun. And he was well on his way.
The headlines for G2 online reviews described MURAL like this:
"No more dull meetings!"
"Great remote experience!"
"Engaging, Creative, and Easy to Use!"
"Bring imaginations into reality."
These headlines suggested that MURAL is changing the status quo for remote collaboration, not only bringing that collaborative, in-person experience to a virtual space, but making it better. For example, Mariano aspires to create a Peloton-like community among the design practitioners, workshop facilitators, and end users who brainstorm using MURAL.
Over the next few months, we spoke several times about his intended executive hires, org structure, and go-to-market model. MURAL was already growing quickly, and when the pandemic hit, the widespread shift to work-from-home simply added fuel to the fire.
Ultimately, I decided to invest in MURAL’s Series B round, alongside lead investor Jeff Lieberman at Insight Venture Partners (and other investors in the round). I also brought along a syndicate of over 20 CEOs, go-to-market leaders, and other C-level folks who were excited to support MURAL along their journey. If you want to see a real mural, you can check out some of those operators who joined me here:
This “new normal” is here to stay
A recent G2Crowd review described MURAL as a "Game changer for the new normal," obviously referring to the COVID-19 era. I think that's right, but I do think that important aspects of the "new normal" won't go away once there's widespread adoption of a COVID-19 vaccine. At Gainsight, we experienced the challenges of remote collaboration many years before the pandemic, and since I joined the company in early 2014, I've seen countless venture-backed companies hire a large percentage of their staff all around the world.
Nowadays, you can't scale if you only hire people in San Francisco or New York City — due to the higher compensation costs, the higher competition for local people, the imperative to find the best talent wherever it may be, and the need to serve customers in widespread geographies. MURAL as a company is no different, having its headquarters in San Francisco and a large office in Buenos Aires from the beginning. And of course, larger companies ranging from IBM to Intuit to Atlassian to Github have had team members around the world for many years, and they rely on MURAL to enable collaboration across their massive organizations.
When I picture the "new normal," I think of the frustration, loneliness, and depression that many of us have been feeling. But joining a Peloton-like community? That sounds like, just maybe, it could be fun.
Read more how visual collaboration is going global in Mariano Suarez-Battan’s recent blog post on their $118M Series B funding round.