Nick Francis, Co-Founder of Help Scout

6 Questions with Nick Francis, Co-Founder of Help Scout

15. January 2016

Nick Francis is the Co-Founder and CEO of Help Scout, software that empowers small businesses to deliver personalized customer support at scale.

1. First of all, can you tell us a little about your role and what you do at Help Scout?

I co-founded the company with two people I’ve been working with for about twelve years. Today I’m the CEO, but all three of us are very much “product people.” My background is UX design and I’m still very involved in product development on a daily basis, in addition to overseeing everything else.

2. Can you tell us a little about your go to market strategy, current growth/marketing channels are working for you right now?

When it comes to marketing, my goal has always been to add value before asking for anything in return. I want us to sell to others the way I’d want to be sold to as a customer.

That’s why we don’t have a commissioned sales team today, we’d always prefer to be helpful first, then earn your business if there’s a good fit.

Since our values dictate that we only sell a certain way, content marketing is a channel we bet big on from the very beginning. It’s tough to put an exact number on it, but I’d say that our blog and free resources are responsible for about 60% of our business today.

We put a lot of time and resources into making those valuable for people.

We also leverage paid acquisition channels, but the customer economics limit those channels to 15-25% of our total customer acquisition.

There’s no magic bullet, all the paid growth channels take a lot of time to test, validate and optimize. We have two full-time growth people and can only focus on optimizing 1-2 channels at a time.

Adwords and remarking are the two channels that have been most successful for us, but a channel like Twitter is very good for us as well because we create so much content.

3. What is the biggest mistake you have made with Help Scout so far that other founders can learn from?

I made a few bad hires early on. We didn’t fully appreciate how critical those early team members are to long-term success. It took a couple of years for us to learn enough about hiring people and understand what kind of team/culture we wanted to build.

I could talk for ages about hiring, because it’s by far the most important factor that determines future success. Some of those early mistakes still haunt us today to some extent, but we’ve finally gotten the team to a really great place and I’m so proud of what we’ve built. It only took about five years.

4. Let’s talk you… what apps, blogs, and tools can’t you live without?

Apps and Tools: Trello, Dropbox (and Paper), Mixpanel, Wistia, Slack, Workable, Litmus, Balsamiq, Principle, Gmail, 1Password, Jekyll, Github, Sublime Text, and Help Scout, of course. 🙂

Blogs: Wait but Why, Design Milk, Use Your Interface, AVC, Feld Thoughts, Thomasz Tunguz, Seth Godin.

5. What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

This may sound cliché, but I try not to take shortcuts. In every aspect of my life and work I want to be and do my best. So my life hack is to be present, to be focused, and to give 110% to everything I choose to invest my time in. Hopefully that forces me to be very picky with my time.

6. What resource have you watched/read/listened to that’s had the biggest impact on your business/life recently, and why?

I’m a huge fan of mid-century architect Joseph Eichler, who built about 11,000 homes in California in the post-war era. There’s a 45-minute documentary called People in Glass Houses that talks about his legacy. I very much enjoyed it.