A deep-dive into how Dovetail's building community, one step at a time

Unable to find the right piece, he decided to convince Bradley to go full-time with Dovetail and quit Atlassian once and for all. They took a leap of faith.
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Priyanshu Anand
February 8, 2022

A tale of curiosity

A few years ago I was working on the Atlassian growth team. At the time we were interested in improving the experience people had when signing up for our products. Purchasing decisions are rarely made in an instant; instead they’re made over a few days. We wanted to understand what the ‘aha!’ moments were that caused people to fork out their credit cards and convert. - Benjamin Humphrey, Co-founder, and CEO at Dovetail

Dovetail co-founders Benjamin Humphrey and Bradley Ayers are both ex-Atlassians, the former a designer by trade, and the latter a software engineer. The idea, however, was Benjamin’s Northstar ticket to setting out on a journey he would never look back on.

The founders - Bradley Ayers (Left) and Benjamin Humphrey (Right)

Benjamin was a part of Atlassian’s growth team. Curiosity fuels chaos just like how it fuels adrenaline - it’s a double-edged sword really. He noticed that payment decisions are rarely made in an instant but rather over the course of a few days after a prospect signs up. And so he thought, what is that pushes the prospects towards becoming customers?

Benjamin realized that there was enough quantitative data at their disposal to understand what people do, but that doesn’t clear the air around why they do it. Now, why questions are the mother of all questions. To answer why someone does anything, you have to be closely involved with that person’s life and monitor what probes their decision-making process. What this lead to was a two-week-long study from participants willing to document their lives in a journal.

The research team made a Tumblr blog for each participant and mailed it to them along with the reminder to fill out their journals every day. After the study was done, the researcher copied the highlights of the journals into post-it notes, which ended up becoming a report on Confluence. Benjamin and the team did end up getting some extremely valuable insights from that study but the cost was too steep to settle for. Could data collection be automated? Will breaking down questions be less demanding from people and thus, less intrusive and more likely to be filled? An idea started taking shape. An idea that had to do with qualitative user behavior analysis. Basically about exploring the human side of research.

Knee-deep into it

Next thing - competitive analysis.

What are the products being offered? What is the pricing model? Is it intuitive to use? How big are the companies? Are they worth competing with? Will I be able to push through? More questions, fewer answers. But diving headfirst into competitive analysis did bring out one thing into the light - there wasn’t anyone doing anything like what Benjamin had in mind. After pitching his idea to friends, despite good feedback, no one was ready to leave their reliable paying jobs to do something uncertain. Benjamin set out on the journey and decided to build a platform himself. It wasn’t until later that Bradley joined him.

In general though, there will always be competition, and often that’s a good thing. Competition proves there’s a market for your idea.

Evolution of Benjamin’s idea and pitch - source

Can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs

Benjamin details in one of his articles that building a MVP (Minimum viable product) is about cutting scope without compromising on quality. Because often in a startup, you have to compromise on a few things and it’s better to compromise on your long-term game plan instead of compromising quality right now. If you’re wondering, MVP is built to test the viability of the product in accordance with the idea to find that sweet spot where both collide.

When you’re a solo founder, you’re very interested in cutting scope because not only do you have to design the product, you also have to build it. I realized my long-term vision for Dovetail as a ‘qualitative research platform’ would need to hit the back-burner as I decided to focus on diary studies first. - Benjamin Humphrey

Not being a full-fledged developer himself, Benjamin decided to outsource his project to experienced developers on Upwork. So that’s exactly what he did and was able to get a working model within 4 weeks from scratch. Despite having a ‘reasonable’ backend, he wasn’t impressed with the not-so-customizable frontend built with bootstrap. However, this was enough to get the idea on track and get a viable product.

The first version of Dovetail

This skeleton product managed to bag 200 users, of which 20% were active each week doing real research. But it was like software built with patch-works and repairs and there still wasn’t everything working independently. For instance: Benjamin needed to restart the app every 6 hours due to a memory leak and the scheduling system wasn’t reliable. Being built by a team of external developers, it was difficult to get all of them back on the same product, in fact, some of them had quit by the time he went back to them. This would be the last time he tried outsourcing his work.

Unable to find the right piece, he decided to convince Bradley to go full-time with Dovetail and quit Atlassian once and for all. They took a leap of faith. According to Benjamin, there are a few things that make up for an ideal co-founder relationship: complementary skills, trust, mutual respect, similar experience levels, and compatible personalities.

In November 2017, dovetail got to 1200 signups including Product Managers from Deloitte, Freshworks, and Pinterest, and secured a grant of $25,000 from the government-backed agency Jobs for NSW. With this grant, the founders wanted to focus on two things to improve user feedback and data research. The first was Automated Sentiment Analysis to analyze user sentiment and offer project trend reports. And the second Suggested tag will use Machine Learning to suggest the right tags and speed up the analysis process.

Updated Dovetail dashboard

Taking off while staying down-to-earth 🚀

Since inception up until 2020, Dovetail grew to a team of 11 members, with hundreds of customers worldwide and all that without any investors or paid marketing. In the same year, they raised $6.5 million in two seed rounds (the primary round raising $4 million) from Blackbird Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Culture Amp’s CEO and co-founder, Didier Elzinga. The founders reflect in this article the reason behind raising which was, in a nutshell, to improve the product, grow the team, and build on their vision to revolutionize how researchers do research.

Dovetail’s newest dashboard

In January this year, they announced their Series A funding of $63 million led by Accel Ventures, keeping their existing investors, and have raised their valuation to USD 700 million. Dovetail has now grown into a flourishing team of 65 people with more than 2,600 paying customers.

Qualitative research for the win!

Dovetail has big plans for the year - with their offices opening in San Francisco, they will better cater to their global audience without any downtime. The team is expected to grow by another 100 in the coming year with in-person office culture. Oh yeah, the founders are a big fan of in-office culture and don’t follow into the likes of tech giants going remote given the recent predicaments. They took to their blog to explain why they prefer the classic way to sticking to an office-first culture but haven’t left any stones unturned to keep the office culture where people wouldn’t mind going. Dovetail cares about its employees’ wellbeing and ensures that they don’t lose sight of what’s important. KitKat days or Kitkat afternoon on Fridays for instance is a way to break away from the monotony of meetings and Slack DMs to unwind, relax, and reconnect with yourself or your close ones.

Dovetail’s values at a glance

People spend a third of their lives working and therefore, it’s more than obvious for people to expect a sense of purpose from their work and desire to create an impact. A lot of people at Dovetail come from jobs where they’ve been frustrated and have felt out of depth, incomplete. Although they have primarily had a product-led growth model, the community is gradually making a splash. And when efforts are in full swing, growth is inevitable.

Doing more for the community - A work in progress

Dovetail’s community is new but not uninitiated. In 2021, the online community grew to over 3,500 people across product, design, and research, from all corners of the world.

We don’t just want our community to be the fastest place to receive product support or provide feedback. We want it to be a place for you to learn, connect, and be challenged about creating impact with customer research within your organization. - Team Dovetail

A community slack channel

A dedicated slack channel with 3,600+ members is home to the art of research and development. You can talk about research, events, get feedback, ask questions, and overall just interact with everyone who shares a common interest with you.

Ben Davies - Community Manager at Dovetail talks about updates for the community during the week

Method in madness

Dovetail’s blog is a well-crafted curation of research-related content with over 45,000 subscribers. This blog aims to navigate the challenges faced by people in the madness of working in organizations worldwide.

Glimpse of ‘Method in Madness’ - A blog by Dovetail

We believe it isn’t just our platform that helps make this happen, but also the community around it. Our community is curious, vocal, enterprising, engaged, and passionate, and we would love our blog to reflect that. We’re creating a centralized spot where you hear from thought leaders, where you engage with your peers, where those new to the space feel inspired, and where your stakeholders come to learn. - Team Dovetail

They have also curated a collection of series like tagging taxonomy series, or a collection of conversations with fascinating minds around the world.

Method in Madness - A collection of insightful content

And the best part is that you can contribute to this by writing a blog post or an article. Here’s a snippet of how you can do that:

  • Either get a free template, fill it out, and send it over or get in touch with the Dovetail content team and then get your writing approved and published.
  • Include pictures, tweets, scribbles, videos, any type of content really - there’s nothing out of bounds (as long as it’s relevant).
  • Reach out to the team for any problems or updates.
  • Give in all the relevant links or resources you would like to add to the content.

As a result? You will be compensated for your work but that is subjected to the quality of what you bring to the table. If it’s good enough, the reward is even better. Read this blog for more details if you want to get involved.

Building a public roadmap

Dovetail was formulated as a platform to make qualitative data research more viable for product owners and business-runners worldwide, which means that the product itself traverses a very niche jungle of sensitive changes with limited scenarios for success. Dovetail realizes that having transparency is important for building trust and establishing an empathetic balance between business and the solutions that make their lives easier. At startups, there’s always something or another that keeps changing, and it’s important to not just keep track but also keep everyone on the same page about everything that goes on.

So, they have their own roadmap - it’s simple, and it’s on Notion.

Dovetail’s public roadmap - source

Dovetail’s help center

  • Getting started with Dovetail

Dovetail understands that understanding Dovetail can be more than a handful. And even if you have experimented or wrapped your head around how it works, it is easier to just follow in the footsteps of those who built the platform.

A comprehensive guide to learning Dovetail
  • Guides to increase impact

Dovetail doesn’t just leave it at how-to guides but takes it a step forward by offering guides to improve how you work and scale with Dovetail so that your research has the best impact that it can.

A glimpse of what guides Dovetail offers to use their product better

Community events

Online events are still nascent at Dovetail but better late than never. With some events happening in and around their community, community engagement is becoming prominently more intricate with time.

Here’s a glimpse of a recent webinar hosted on the releases set to feature in the first quarter of 2021.

There’s also an event coming up as the first-ever community event hosted by Ben Davies, who is a Community Manager there, and Aqil Pasha, a Product Marketing Manager.

Panel for the event titled - Designing successful Repositories- source

They also recently hosted a tagging taxonomy event attended by 1000+ people that talk about collecting, interpreting, and acting on research. Taxonomies communicate an opinion about what’s important and inspire the exchange of insights across organizations. Here’s a glimpse of the first session 👇

Building a community, one step at a time

There are big plans for the Dovetail community in the times to come. The research space is something that can thrive in the presence of collaboration and perspective. Given that, a community around a product that does just that is a goldmine not just for resources, but for opportunities that might not come your way otherwise.

  • A chance to attend in-person events (if Covid dials down a bit).
  • A first-ever virtual conference this year which might be named ‘Dovecon’.
  • With the help of the community, they will be launching a template gallery to make things easier for the customers.

Team Dovetail

All the very best to Dovetail and their growing community 🙌

Dovetail turning heads

To summarize

A tale of curiosity

  • Benjamin explores the question around the human subconscious and realizes that it’s easy to answer ‘what’ people do with data, but not ‘why’ they do it.
  • Conducting two-week research and realizing that this research can be automated to help make qualitative research easier.
  • Thus, an idea came to life.

Knee-deep into it

  • Competitive analysis and some market research.
  • A few elevator pitches but not much traction.
  • Setting out on a solo adventure.

Can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs

  • Outsourcing to a team of developers to get a MVP into play. A good enough backend, but the frontend was paralyzed with bootstrap.
  • Few hundred signups from the first iteration of Dovetail.
  • Benjamin convinces Bradley to go full-time with Dovetail.
  • A grant of $25,000 from the government-backed Jobs for NSW.
  • New and improved Dovetail.

Taking off while staying down-to-earth 🚀

  • Seed funding of a total of $6.5 million since inception; the team grows to 11 members.
  • Series A funding of $63 million backed by Accel and the initial investors, bringing the valuation to USD 700 million.
  • Expansion with offices opening in San Francisco to meet global demands.
  • Looking towards a community-powered growth curve.

Doing more for the community - A work in progress

  • A community slack channel - A place for all things Dovetail with 3500+ members and going strong.
  • Method in madness - Dovetail blog curated for researchers. Also, a place for people to contribute to the blog and get rewarded.
  • Building a public roadmap - A open roadmap to keep things transparent both externally and internally.
  • Dovetail’s help center
  • Getting started with Dovetail
  • Guides to increase impact
  • Community events - Online events to engage and grow the community.

Building a community, one step at a time

  • Dovetail’s plans for the times to come in terms of community.

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