GoInstant is Gone But the Story Continues


Some time ago, GoInstant finally turned off their website and said “goodbye”. I know this was a bittersweet moment for many, because I worked so hard, side-by-side, with the team for 3 years. I’m no longer at GoInstant (which was acquired by Salesforce), but it was sad for me too. In the end, GoInstant was not meant to be. At least not in the incarnation that we were building publicly online.

This sort of thing happens when a company is acquired. Sometimes acquired startups are shut down completely. Other times they live on. No matter what, you have to expect a lot of change. There are many factors that play a role and I don’t think the “right thing to do” for the acquirer or the acquisition is always obvious.

At GoInstant we definitely had our ups and our downs. It’s not my place to tell the story publicly, but being acquired is definitely an experience. And I’ve been involved in the process a few times (e.g. when Standout Jobs was acquired by Talent Technology (now Talemetry), and when Localmind was acquired by Airbnb). Unfortunately, we don’t see a lot of acquisition stories shared online (they’re often works-in-progress, or people don’t want to air dirty laundry). But I can’t help and reflect personally on my experience at GoInstant and how things transpired. After all, it was an amazing experience.

Recently, Salesforce held Dreamforce 2014, which from what I can tell was a huge success. Dreamforce is the largest tech conference in the world and I was in awe both times I attended (in 2012 and 2013). I didn’t go to this year’s Dreamforce, but I watched eagerly from the sidelines. And it was awesome to see GoInstant’s work revealed in a big way.

Salesforce SOS

This is a bit of an outdated screenshot (courtesy of a Techcrunch article), but it shows you the Salesforce SOS product that the GoInstant team has been working on for awhile. I was actively involved with the project, and now it’s out there for everyone to see and experience. The transition from the original GoInstant to being a part of Service Cloud and working on SOS wasn’t easy, but I truly believe it will prove very worthwhile for Salesforce and for the GoInstant team.

Getting integrated into a big organization isn’t easy. Taking a small company (we were ~10 people when we were acquired) and giving them an opportunity to have a huge impact at a global scale isn’t easy either. But everyone worked and continues to work hard at GoInstant, looking to deliver the best product possible. You combine the tech and product chops at GoInstant with the amazing sales machine at Salesforce and I think you have a winning combination.

I’ve heard a lot of positive things from people about Salesforce SOS at Dreamforce. And I’m proud of the role I played in getting the product there–although I didn’t see it over the finish line. I’m even more proud of the GoInstant team and what they’ve managed to accomplish (and what I expect they will accomplish going forward). This is a message to the GoInstant folks as much as it is to anyone else that’s going through an acquisition and figuring out how to make it work: good job, congrats and keep on going.

Joining VarageSale (and Moving to Toronto)

Three years ago I joined an early stage startup, GoInstant, and moved to Halifax. A year after that, we were acquired by Salesforce. It’s been an incredible experience. A genuinely life changing one.

But as they say, “all good things must come to an end,” and as of last Friday I said goodbye to GoInstant and Salesforce and started a new chapter in my life. It was not an easy decision, but I’m insanely excited about what comes next.

In a week from now (after a short vacation) I’ll be joining VarageSale as VP Product.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 1.35.16 PM

VarageSale isn’t a household name (yet!) but it’s a company I’ve known since it started. In fact, it was my first angel investment at the end of 2012. And I’ve known one of its founders, Carl Mercier, for many years (his wife, Tami Zuckerman is a co-founder). Carl is one of the few people that I’ve always wanted to start a company with. I didn’t co-found VarageSale with him, but we’ll finally get a chance to work together.

VarageSale is an app (web, iOS and Android) for buying and selling your stuff. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Lots of people have tried and failed. It’s a massive, complicated and messy market.

And VarageSale is a rocket ship. I can’t share many details with you, but suffice it to say I’m convinced we’re on a path to amazing success. I wouldn’t have joined if I felt otherwise. (And I’ll leave it at that!)

Along with joining VarageSale, I’m moving to Toronto in mid-August (and yes, my family is coming with me). We’ve really enjoyed our time in Halifax, but now it’s time to move on. I look forward to meeting lots of startup folks in Toronto, but please be patient, it’s going to take me some time to settle in. I also have a new (416) phone number; if you have my old one and want the new one, send me a message.

I owe a lot of folks at GoInstant and Salesforce some huge “thank yous”, including Jevon MacDonald, Gavin Uhma and the entire team. I know they’ll continue to build amazing products, and help Salesforce innovate and lead. It’ll be sad watching things from the sidelines, but change is also good. And in this particular case, I couldn’t say no.

I’m looking forward to getting to know the VarageSale team and working with them. We have an incredible amount to do. And it couldn’t be more exciting!

One last thing: VarageSale is hiring a Web / Mobile UI Designer. If you’re a designer, you’ll want this job. Trust me. So apply!

Engagement is a Long-Term Process


Drip marketing is a way engaging people before they buy. You capture people’s email address and then reach out on a regular basis with something of value. Most people don’t buy or sign up the first time they visit a site, it takes multiple visits, which is why drip marketing is so important. Most companies don’t do a great job of it. They might send a lot of email (e.g. e-commerce sites often send daily emails with new products I should buy), but they don’t really engage me or walk me through a path to purchase that makes sense. They’re spamming. Email is a powerful tool (possibly the most powerful tool for engaging users and turning inactive users into active ones or browsers into purchasers), and the best companies get this.

Drip marketing focuses on how to get people to a conversion.

But what happens after someone buys? Or, what happens after someone signs up to try your product?

By now you should appreciate the importance of onboarding users. And if your onboarding isn’t working, go fix it. Most startups don’t do a great job of this, but it’s essential. But beyond onboarding, you should think of engagement–long-term engagement–as a process.

For example, let’s say you have a user-generated content site that only wins big if you can convince a lot of people to submit a lot of content. It’s a fairly big ask, even for the small percentage of crazy people that are obsessed with the subject matter. You could push users to submit content right away, making the big ask, but you’ll likely confuse or scare them. They’re not ready to commit the first time they come across your site (even if they were referred positively by someone else); they need to be wooed first.

Instead, you should engage these users in a lighter way before making the big ask. They need a light touch way of interacting and creating value (for you and themselves) before they decide to invest more time. Maybe you ask them to “like” or vote on some of the content that exists on the site first, before asking them to create content of their own. Clicking a single button is pretty easy for a user, and it’s something they already know how to do (from other sites / apps).

Provide opportunities for early users to engage in common ways, so there’s no learning curve and they get an immediate reward.

Changing people’s behavior is very hard, so don’t ask them to right away. Don’t push them through some new content creation process (or something else) off the bat, engage them lightly with something they know how to do instantly.

Look at all the “features” on your site or in your product and figure out how one leads to the next.

First, you want people to “like” or vote on something, then you’d like them to come back again and do the same (possibly because you’ve sent them an email on items they might also like to vote on), and then you’d like them to leave a review (which is a slightly bigger ask), and then you’d like them to create new content on the site (the big ask). One of the biggest questions for a lot of products is when to ask users to sign up? That has to fit somewhere in the flow, but is it the first thing you ask people to do, or the third?

Each step along the way has to create value for you and for the user.

That’s the key to “gently” pushing a user through a path (or funnel) that you’d like them to go through, which you believe is necessary for succeeding. If you don’t have a clear path and you make the wrong asks at the wrong time, users will churn out.

What do you want a “good user” to do?

You need to define a good user, over time, and then focus your feature development, marketing, etc. on bringing users through the path to becoming good. You can’t get married on the first date.

Product managers and developers can learn a lot from successful drip marketing, because essentially you should be doing the same thing, in part via communication channels (like email) but also through how your product works, what you focus on in the UI, how you bubble up features and how you guide users.

Photo from Daniel McDermott on Flickr.

Ben Yoskovitz
I'm VP Product at Codified (makers of VarageSale).

I'm also a Founding Partner at Year One Labs, an early stage accelerator in Montreal. Previously I founded Standout Jobs (and sold it).

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