Ahead of hosting a webinar on using alliances to build and scale awesome products, we caught up with Charmain Tan, Founder & CEO of QuickDesk to discuss teamwork, career goals and product-led growth….
Hi Charmain! To kick things off, it would be great to learn a bit more about your background. What drove you to found your own business when you were just 21?
I set-up my first business in Sweden, inventing winter gloves for touchscreen devices. What got me to kick start my first business was really the whole idea of if not now then when? In Singapore, you are considered an adult when you turn 21. So the moment I turn 21, I told myself this has to be the year that fulfill my life's dream.
And what about your current organization, QuickDesk, which you launched in 2014? What led you to move from winter wear to CRM?
When we launched the glove business we were all so enthusiastic about creating a great product, which we did… but I was never focussed on driving more sales. While I had an awesome product, I had missed out on a very important element - driving revenue and profit for the organization. I realized there were many other entrepreneurs in a similar position to myself, who had a great product but limited commercial acumen and sales experience. So I said to myself, how can I use technology to help businesses track more sales and empower talented tech leaders to drive revenue? That was how QuickDesk was started.
You were nominated as one of Forbes APAC 30 Under 30 in Tech last year. How did it feel to get that kind of recognition?
To be honest, the moment I knew I got the award, the first instinctive feeling was - Thankful. Thankful for the recognition and encouraged to continue being of impact.
This award is actually quite unique. It goes beyond the merits of the company, it's really about what we do as an individual to make a dent in the world. I still remember the long conversation I had with the editor where he mentioned this theory called the ripple effect. The theory is that when you throw something into the universe, it’s like throwing something into a river - there will be a rippled effect. So what can we do as individuals in our career to create that positive ripple effect?
I initially built QuickDesk with a simple dream to help start-ups, business owners & salespeople drive more sales with technology. But over time, that dream evolved into a mission to help those less privileged than myself. While profits, money, and revenue is important, the amount of impact that I could make drive me as an entrepreneur more.
What role does product play at QuickDesk? Would you describe yourselves as product-led?
Um, to be very honest with you for now, no! But it's definitely the vision, the dream, and the journey for QuickDesk. Our mission is to eventually provide self-serving SaaS so that we can scale and compete globally.
I’ve always believed in the idea that no man is an island… and one of the reasons that led me to talk to the PLA was specifically that word… Product-Led Alliance. It’s about working together to achieve a common goal. 1) you need to build a good team and get the ‘A players’ into the organization. 2) You find other people with relevant expertise - for example, I have 4 core partners and we all have different areas of expertise; one is great on the cloud telephony, another at omnichannel chat and the third is great at lead nurturing, and lastly one on Email automation.
I know I can’t do everything alone and I will surely need experience to drive the company forward with me. We don't see ourselves just as a CRM, we see ourselves as a platform, integrating the various services that are needed for a salesperson to be more effective in his sales activities.
What, in your opinion, is the ideal relationship between product team, marketing team, sales team, and customer success team in a successful company?
I think the relationship is crucial and integrated communications is key to alignment. When I first started QuickDesk I made the fundamental mistake of compartmentalizing each part of the organization, believing it would help to drive efficiency. From an efficiency standpoint, having people focus on their own silo of the business is great in theory… but the reality is your product vision needs to resonate with marketing, which needs to resonate with sales… So my answer is what’s most important is integrated communication whereby everyone has an aligned understanding of the objective of the product and business.
If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?
I ask myself that question all the time! The thing is everything is a learning journey. I am not who I was five years ago and that is due to the failures I’ve made. The reality is that every great product comes from a product discovery journey… and if there is one thing that has remained constant from then until now its the need to remain adaptive to the market. If you were to ask me one thing I would do differently, it’s to seek to understand than to be understood. The Achilles Heel of many product managers is that they want people to think about their original idea, and that their original idea is always the best. The reality is that your idea is only the best if the market tells you so.
How has COVID 19 impacted your organization?
I think for us, it was good because it further validated a few features that we wanted to build. For example, omnichannel chat automation, because not everything is digital, right? And engaging digital platforms for communications internally and externally becomes a lot more critical. In the past, you could turn to your right, turn to your left, but not anymore. So I guess what the pandemic has shown us is that, thankfully, our systems, our products, and our services are very COVID resistant, because we are here for a digital era, which means you don't really need to be face to face.
You’ll be hosting a webinar with the PLA soon on the topic of building alliance in your product strategy to drive users and customer growth. Can you give us a hint as to what we can expect to learn from the session?
It links up to what we discussed earlier. I am going to share from my experiences what it means to build a product based on your own knowledge and expertise together with elite partners who have different but complementary specializations to your own. It’s a different way to build a product and enter the market. In collective intelligence we think in 2 ways - number one is thinking about the user, the customer & their prospects. The second is what do I really want to build? I want to bring a perspective in this whole process of building a product development plan. What can you do by collecting data from your integrated partners that will be joining you to keep the target market together?
And finally, Who do you think would benefit most from attending this webinar?
Anybody who wants to think about product and those who are thinking about the bigger business picture & partnerships. Marketers will benefit from learning about cross-market exposure and product people will learn how to use different perspectives to really define your product offering.
Stay tuned for more information on Charmain webinar!