🔱 The Big Bang of Customer Success - How did Gainsight attain the Holy Trinity of growth

Leadership isn’t always field goals and platinum-selling records, in fact, for the most part, it’s a self-doubting path that forces you to re-evaluate every decision you make.
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Priyanshu Anand
April 5, 2022

Updating the status quo

There are not many who come to mind when you think of the word ‘pioneers’. But the ones who do are capable enough to go down in the history books as era-defining influences of their time and for the times to come. Musk, Bezos, Zukerberg - these people are carving the landscape for future generations as we speak and it’s fairly obvious given the work they’ve done. And it’s not about how rich they are or how successful Amazon or Tesla is; it’s about how they’ve nurtured an entire generation of people and companies. Influence is like wildfire, once it starts, it takes a village to get rid of. It’s multidimensional, with each little expansion giving birth to infinite other possibilities, each one capable of birthing infinite other ones.

The term ‘customer success’ was unheard of before the late 2000s. This became the brainchild of the duo Sreedhar Peddineni and Jim Eberlin who were working together on their first startup called Host Analytics. Enter a ‘point of no return’ which was described by Sreedhar as a juncture where you start seeing just as much revenue from renewals as you do from new sales. This becomes a turning point for companies, so to speak, from where revenue stream stabilizes and molds into the foundation on which further growth can be leveraged.

There was only one problem with this, not at any point is the company able to realize when the customers might leave, and on the other hand, at what point retention becomes more prominent. As long as it’s the latter, you barely pay attention to it, but as soon as the regular revenue stream is compromised, it becomes a standing threat to the company’s growth. Or so the founders thought - why isn’t there a way to get on top of this and steer the ship before the collision? Yes, there were Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys to quantify customer satisfaction but you still had no idea how many responded, how many didn’t, or which responses are from which customer - it was too vague of a metric to rely on.

This was the seed of the idea. What if the customer is unhappy? How can we drive the right metrics to understand the customer better? If we can address this part of running a business, we can use these metrics to gain actionable advantages, understand the nooks and crannies of customer retention and take the right measures to reduce customer churn. And there you have it - Customer success. Sreedhar and Jim pioneered the idea of Customer Success as we know it. Not only were they the first ones to call it, but they also took that leap of faith and started JBara software in a market that didn’t understand what customer success even was.

Gaining insights into Gainsight

Today, even 10 people strong startups pay tremendous attention to customer success, but of course, it took almost a decade to get here. JBara wasn’t more than an idea in 2009 and gradually started gaining some momentum in the market a little road down the line. By 2011 and 2012, they had a few names associated with them like Eloqua, a marketing automation Oracle subsidiary, and Informatica, a software development company. Raising Venture Capital in that market for a company that specializes in something no one knows, was quite an uphill battle. Most investors thought it has an extremely narrow target audience which will get narrower with time.

But greatness recognizes greatness. At the time, Battery Ventures were looking into this new category of technology that could help companies understand and manage their existing customers better. With a bit of research, they found JBara. Around the same time, they had recruited Nick Mehta who had recently sold his company LiveOffice to Symantec. In early 2013, Battery invested heavily in JBara, rebranded the company name to Gainsight, and brought Nick into the founding team as the new CEO. Over the next couple of years, Battery helped shape the product, their go-to-market strategies, and most of all, took funding rounds from Series A to E. Altogether, Gainsight has raised $156 million in funding alone since 2013. Along with raising Series E for $52 million in 2017, Gainsight also announced a 167% increase in revenue, leaving them only one step away from becoming the first-ever customer success unicorn (more on that later).

Anything that had to do with ‘retention’ were not commonly referenced terms a decade ago, and now most companies are looking at customer retention as an imperative on the same pedestal as customer acquisition. It’s a shame that a lot of companies take a lot of customer data but never put it to good use. However, over the last decade, companies have been dividing more and more focus towards providing real ‘value’ to their customers. Companies have well realized that simply stacking up new customers and siloing essential data is counterproductive and maybe even an incompetent way of working in today’s world.

Gainsight dashboard with customer overview - source

Gainsight’s goal was simple - give companies a coherent tool that visualizes and breaks down a customer’s journey from onboarding to renewals. It was constructed to be the pillar for Customer success professionals to build meaningful relationships. By operationalizing the customer lifecycle, you can give priority to the necessary steps involved in optimizing the lifecycle. By leveraging one-on-one personalized customer interactions and solutions, professionals and executives can identify customer risk parameters, and respond accordingly. Once they’re able to single out concerning factors, it can be used for expansion, product advocacy, and eventually growth. By using Big Data analytics across sales data, usage logs, support tickets, surveys, and other sources of customer intelligence, Gainsight epitomizes customer success and how a product around that should truly function.

Gainsight dashboard with customer 360 view - source

All of this sets you up to come forward and manage your customers more effectively. Automation and digital transformation are arguably ubiquitous; the market has never been more competitive; customers’ expectations are sky high and they won’t hesitate for a second to switch to another solution if they don’t see value with you. There’s a lot more than just a product that goes into establishing and then nurturing customer relationships, which is equally as valuable as a good product.

When a customer buys Gainsight, they aren’t buying a product, they’re buying a whole company, and they expect us to be everything we have to them, all of our thought leadership, all of our best practices, what other customers are doing, what we do internally, etc., and I think that really differentiates us. -  Dan Steinman, Chief Customer Officer at Gainsight

Shoshin, Childlike joy, and Human-first leadership

I’m passionate about family, football, philosophy, physics, fashion, feminism, parody music videos, community, product experience, and customer success. I’ve made it my life’s mission to combine all of these things into one epic metaverse (or as I like to call it, “MehtaVerse”) one day! - Nick Mehta (source)

Nick Mehta is a lot of things but the one thing he’s not is boring. For someone whose childhood wasn’t worth reminiscing, he sure did figure out a way to put himself out there. From a traumatized little kid to CEO, now that’s quite a rap sheet in the court of life. But leadership isn’t always field goals and platinum-selling records, in fact, for the most part, it’s a self-doubting imposter syndrome laden path that forces you to re-evaluate the sheer fundamentals of existence after every decision you make. One can even go as far as to say that it’s ineffable and far too inexplicable a role to be restricted within the parentheses of orthodox descriptions.

Nick’s leadership is - well, we don’t want to put a label on it after saying what we said but - unconventional and often poses a ‘stop to wonder’ situation for anyone who’s observing. A CEO by day and a science entranced philosophy addict by night, the brief moments in time shine light on the one thing no human being can ever be free from the grips of - a conscious mind. Nick talks about the core of what makes us human and our constant debate with a lifelong lingering question no one has the answer to - what is my purpose?

A lot of us at some point stop to wonder about our place in the universe. You can’t help but feel small, insignificant, and irrelevant at times, and at that moment you’re nothing but a ‘blip’ in a perpetual cosmos. Apologies for turning this into a philosophy lecture but the point is, these unbiased moments are necessary too. It’s important to strip away yourself momentarily to figure out who you are; sometimes, you have to lose yourself in order to find yourself. Nick realized in one such moment that he and the team might not be able to change the world but they can change the worlds of those around them.

From the values that Gainsight has, some of them for instance are:

  • Shoshin - a method described in Zen Buddhism as having a ‘beginners’ mind’, meaning no matter what you do, always approach everything with an open mind, despite how advanced your concepts might be about that subject.
  • Childlike joy - bring the kid in you to work every day.

This led to the ideation of a human-first approach to leadership. What’s human-first? Treating the guy who cleans the office and the guy who runs it as equals. Keeping work flexible enough so the team doesn’t have to miss their kid’s school recitals, family trips, or a friends’ night out. Being vulnerable and open and transparent without the fear of being judged or frowned upon. Nick’s ideology was grounded both internally and externally. Treat your customers as people, and set an example for them to look up to when they work with their customers. Make business human.

With this flair for being a people-driven organization, the call for community wasn’t hard to answer. As Gainsight shaped into a human-centric company, community started taking hold, rooting itself into their culture and eventually, their identity.

And by the way, Nick is an absolute delight as a person. Do check out his blog - Mehtaphysical - where he walks you through different shades of his perceptions of the world and why he thinks the way that he does.

This for instance 👇

P.S. - Would absolutely listen to an album by Block chains if it drops, ever.

Completing the Holy Trinity of growth

Since the uprise of customer success that was an entirely new concept back in 2013, Customer Success Managers were at the time outcasts without a place they could call home. Gainsight thought that CSMs needed a reason to stick to what they were doing, someplace that understands, values, and appreciates their contributions. Nick and the marketing team decided to call a meetup for these CSMs. Over 300 people showed up to the first-ever Pulse conference and it has been growing ever since, but more on that later. The significance of such an event is that Gainsight realized the importance of community and how it helps offer a home to people who empathize with one another.

The first-ever Pulse event in 2013

Over the past almost decade, Gainsight has time and again further solidified its trust in community-led growth. Witnessing the emerging needs of their clients and the demand for building a better community, led Gainsight to make a progressively informed decision. At the beginning of this year, Nick took to his blog calling community the past, present, and future of customer success and announced Gainsight’s acquisition of inSided - a community management platform for organizations to build their online communities. The platform allows you to host advanced discussion forums, create a knowledge base, host events, and product ideation, among other great features.

We know inSided well since many of our clients – like Gong, Bizzabo, LinkedIn, Glint, and Hopin – use them today. Our own Gamechanger Community has been hosted on inSided for several years. I am so excited to have nearly 70 talented inSiders becoming Gainsters. - Nick Mehta

A glimpse of inSided’s dashboard

Robin van Lieshout, the CEO and founder of inSided, also shares his journey from being bored at home and building basic discussion platforms to finally founding inSided in 2010. inSided gradually grew to prominence over the years with a mission to power online communities for some of the largest brands out there. The last two years brought in explosive growth by almost tripling the customers they had prior. Torn between raising a Series B or joining hands with Gainsight, the latter seemed like a better fit for Robin and the team.

InSided is now part of Gainsight, it’s the start of a new chapter and we’re all excited about what’s to come. Personally, I will continue my journey and for the first time ever report to a boss. Lucky for me, that’s Nick Mehta. I’m thrilled to now be part of their executive team.- Robin van Lieshout

With inSided now a part of Gainsight, they became the only company that combines customer-led growth, product-led growth, and community-led growth - completing the holy trinity of growth.

Gainsight’s concept for driving better Net Retention

Community is key to scale customer success

Gainsters are dire advocates of Net Revenue Retention. They even go so far as to believe that NRR drives market cap. Customer success teams have time and again seen that NRR is one of the top metrics for creating shareholder value, driving stability in growth, and spearheading success altogether. However, scaling such initiatives for thousands of clients becomes unimaginably complex and often leads to hitting a ceiling.

By introducing community-led growth and completing the trinity, Gainsight realized it’s not about the vastness of it but about how cohesive the journey of a customer is. It’s about integrating company, customers, and products into one comprehensive journey which becomes easy to navigate. Community, ever since, has been a key player in Gainsight’s growth.

At every CS event that we hosted, from big to small, from high-end hotels to Holiday Inns, attendees would say the same thing on the way out, “I realize I’m not alone – other people are going through what I’m going through.” This is what community is all about. - Nick Mehta

The Pulse Conference

As you might’ve guessed by now, Pulse is an annual conference bringing together some of the greatest industry thought leaders to discuss CS strategies, net retention, careers, the future, and a lot more. Gainsight also uses the Pulse platform to announce product features updates and/or anything new from within the company.

Pulse has proven to be a monolith for Gainsight’s tremendous growth over the years. Bringing together a community of customer-driven individuals propelled Customer Success from an idea to a movement. Seeing a community being built around this, Customer Success Managers went from hundreds to thousands to be an indispensable piece of the puzzle when it came to running a business. Pulse conference grew from 300 audiences to 20,000.  Of course, nothing would be complete without parody videos and karaoke.

Our favorite - Nick’s Creek 💀

Pulse Everywhere was 2021’s annual virtual event spanning 3 days featuring dozens of conversations with leaders from some of the biggest companies in the global ecosystem. In a binge-worthy fashion all the ‘episodes’ pack insightful conversations and most importantly, guaranteed laughs.

Check out the opening note for Pulse everywhere which kicks off with Nick and the team in ‘The Office’ like setup where Nick - the world’s best boss - proposes to make a subscription streaming service for subscription streaming services! Needless to say, Nick Scott, I mean Michael Mehta, I mean NICK MEHTA, opens Season 2 with quite a bang.

GameChanger Community

GameChanger Community

GameChanger is Gainsight’s official community platform where CS professionals can hang out and share a common space for discussions, ideas, insights, and events. Here’s how you can get involved and navigate the community:

  • Onboarding and getting started - Welcome to GameChanger. Get started with the community, get acquainted with everything you need to know and learn how to earn community points.
  • Product News & Updates - Latest trends and updates.
  • Share Industry Knowledge - Get and learn industry best practices.
  • Submit a Product Idea - Submit features requests.
  • Discuss Product Features - Q&As on product features.
  • Gainsight Events - Webinars, meetups, training, and office hours about Gainsight and CS.

GameChanger VIP

This is a program that features Gainsight’s customers who walk hand-in-hand with the future and vision of customer success. Gainsight shares its inspiring stories of growth and success through blogs, the GameChanger Podcast, and webinars featuring guest speakers who talk about their CS journeys, possibilities for growth, and what the future beholds.

GameChanger VIP

There are also the GameChanger awards which have been designed to recognize and celebrate those customers who are disrupting the CS wave with innovation. The awards are divided into 6 categories:

  • The Visionary - Team that is ahead of the curve and has mastered the art of being proactive using a 360 view of their customer data.
  • The Experience Maker - Team that has harnessed the power of Gainsight to improve their relationships with customers.
  • The Challenger - Team that not only faces challenges but thrives on them.
  • The Dream Team - Team that has mastered the art of blurring the lines that divide an organization.
  • The Defender - Team that has immensely improved their Customer Success using Gainsight.
  • The Transformational Leader - Team that has transformed Customer Success within the organization for the better.

Nominations for this year’s awards open in May, and all of Gainsight’s customers can participate. The winners will be announced during 2022’s Pulse Conference.

Gainsight Essentials

Get access to Gainsight’s resource library which is never short of a paradise for CS professionals. Watch on-demand webinars, read articles by industry leaders, get detailed guides & e-books, and read customer success stories of companies who achieve CS nirvana.

Gainsight Essentials - A resource library for CS professionals

Gainsight University

Instructor-led training is a live training option for anyone who wants help on specific modules of the product. It features interactive sessions with the instructor and has allowed a 60-day bandwidth for participants to circle back with the questions they might have.

Certification programs span from beginners looking for a career in Customer Success to admins looking to showcase their professional accomplishments. Depending on where you lie on this spectrum, certifications are divided into 3 levels.

Certification levels

Courses are divided into learning modules as per product.

Training guides and courses as per role in the team or organization.

Pulse+

Pulse+ is a refined extension of the certifications offered by Gainsight. Refined in the sense that it has been specifically handcrafted with just the right guides, industry-grade certifications, and learning from the success stories of exemplary organizations. It includes on-demand videos, interactive lessons, and certificates.

Pulse+ offering

Customer Success + Community = Future of Gainsight

After having explored plausible options for an IPO, Gainsight decided to be acquired by Vista Equity Partners in a deal that makes them the majority stakeholder of the company at the end of 2020. The acquisition pushed Gainsight finally beyond the billion-dollar mark valuing it at $1.1 Billion. This valuation played a critical role in Gainsight’s acquisition of inSided.

Forbes, in their article announcing their update in valuation, said that they proved more successful in building communities than meeting the revenue target that was hoped for. As bitter-sweet as that may sound, the silver lining is that community comes first for Gainsight. Bringing people together is what opened the third eye for the company. Customer success was incomplete without community, and now - like solving the Riddler’s unseemingly sadistic and elaborative puzzles - all the dots have been connected. The future of Gainsight is scaling NRR, and the future of scaling NRR lies in building better communities.

We’ll be looking forward to Pulse 2022. In the meanwhile, the parodies will suffice 🙂


To Summarize

Updating the Status quo

  • The power of influence, and the significance of being the pioneers in something.
  • How did the early founders come up with the idea behind customer success?
  • Founding JBara Software.

Gaining insights into Gainsight

  • Early days of JBara and gradually gaining recognition.
  • Being discovered by Battery ventures, fundings, rebranding to Gainsight, and Nick becomes CEO.
  • Why does Gainsight exist, what does it do, and how is it different?

Shoshin, Childlike joy, and Human-first leadership

  • Nick Mehta’s struggle with the meaning of life.
  • Figuring out the importance of human-first leadership.
  • Nick’s hail marry attempt at being a rapper.

Completing the Holy Trinity of growth

  • Hosting the first-ever Pulse conference and realizing the importance of community in customer success.
  • Acquiring inSided - a community management platform.
  • Becoming the only company to have customer, product, and community-led growth, thus completing the holy trinity.

Community is key to scale customer success

  • The importance of community in driving Net Revenue Retention at scale.
  • Gainsight’s community-led efforts:
  • The Pulse Conference - A yearly conference bringing together Customer Success professionals.
  • GameChanger Community - A community dashboard for everything Gainsight.
  • GameChanger VIP - Recognizing the Customer Success OGs, free content, and podcasts.
  • Gainsight Essentials - Ebooks, guides, blogs, webinars.
  • Gainsight University - Instructor-led training, certifications, and courses.
  • Pulse+ - A handcrafted certification course for CS industry professionals.

Customer Success + Community = Future of Gainsight

  • Vista Equity Partners acquiring Gainsight and pushing their valuation to $1.1 billion.
  • Gainsight’s future with community and customer success.


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