My guest today is Henrik Mattsson, CEO of Lookback.
Founded in 2013, Lookback is a video capture and sharing application used by User Experience professionals to conduct both moderated and unmoderated user research projects that is used by over 1,600 companies globally.
Prior to joining Lookback, Henrik was the co-founder of Authentique Partners, an entrepreneurial advisory boutique.
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Jamin: Hi, I’m Jamin, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. This is a special edition of the Happy Market Research Podcast, aiming to help companies cope during this tumultuous time. My guest today is Henrik Mattsson, CEO of Lookback, founded in 2013. Lookback is a video-capture and sharing application used by user experience professionals to conduct both moderated and unmoderated user research projects that is used by over 1,600 companies globally. Prior to joining Lookback, Henrik was the cofounder of Authentic Partners, an entrepreneurial advisory board. Henrik, thank you so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.
Henrik: Thanks for having me, Jamin.
Jamin: Let’s start out with a personal note. How are you and your family during this time of COVID-19?
Henrik: We’re doing fine, thank you. They closed the schools here in Montreal where I’m based, so the kids are very excited about that right now. But I’m sure as time goes on here, we’re going to have to come up with some things to do to keep them busy.
Jamin: There’s a whole parenting thing here happening. So I have a 12, 15, and 18-year-old, all of which are in school. Now their schools are postponed. Right now it’s one week, but potentially it could be through the balance of the year. It’s interesting to me because they’re home right now alone, which I don’t like very much. And I haven’t figured out what the trigger’s going to be for us to be able to, “Now you’re going to come in with Dad to work, or there’s going to be jobs for you,” or whatever is going to happen. I don’t know. Do you have any parenting tips?
Henrik: Not yet. I think that’s for a later episode. Just roll with it and try to be helpful. I think in times like these, you have to just calm down, be helpful, and roll with it. So that’s what I plan to do. We’ll see how it goes.
Jamin: Perfect. Well, I’ll certainly apply that advice for this week. We’ll see what next week looks like. I feel like they’re going to be professional Snapchatters by the end of the week, but anyway. So Lookback is entirely remote. You’ve got employees literally around the globe. I don’t think you have a centralized office where people gather every day. Tell us a little bit about some of the biggest issues that employees face when joining or participating in a work-from-home or remote-work environment.
Henrik: Sure. So I think there’s probably four main things. I know there’s supposed to be three things always, but I think there’s four at least. Number one is that social gets filtered out very easily in remote work. And what I mean by that is that if you go into an office, you’re always going to have those in-between spaces where you just catch up with your colleagues or talk about the game or something like that. In remote, you would just jump from browser to browser, from meeting to meeting, and it’s very easy to filter out social. So that can be quite challenging for people. Number two is that you can’t bump into things, unexpected things as easily. And if you co-work together in an office, you will bump into the unexpected. Now, that’s not necessarily going to happen by itself if you go remote. So you need to make space for that. Third, the measures that you put in place to make space for that can create overwhelming situations. So you will end up bumping into everything. So you got to find that balance. Either your organization hasn’t set this up very well and you won’t bump into anything unexpected, or they sail the other way around and you’re going to bump into everything and just start muting everything because it’s too much to handle. And the fourth one that I would bring up is that it can be hard to collaborate without the whiteboard. If you’re used to that, you need to find other tools. Luckily there are a lot of other tools to deal with it, but you have to find them and you have to set them up, so on.
Jamin: It was Steve Jobs when – I don’t know if you’ve read the book Creativity, Inc.
Henrik: Not yet.
Jamin: It’s great book. It’s the story of Pixar and Steve Jobs’ injection into that and subsequent success of that company. Of course, Pixar brought us – for me, all my children’s go-to movies way back with Finding Nemo to whatever’s being released nowadays. So in the office design that he created, it was specifically – and it’s funny. He made the bathrooms and kitchen areas difficult to get to or not convenient. And his reasoning was – and I liked how you framed it – it created opportunities for people to connect that otherwise would not connect. So what are some solutions wrapped up in these four issues?
Henrik: So I think if we take them and turn them, the social part getting filtered out, I think that has to be addressed on multiple levels. Because especially if you’re going to do this in the long-term, this will really drain you and it will be hard to onboard as a new employee with people that you’ve never met. Then you don’t really know them. So number one is every employee has to do their part. Make space for the social in your meetings. Perhaps hang out a little bit after a meeting instead of jumping straight into the other one. Plan some one-on-ones with your colleagues. And also the leadership of the company has to make sure that there’s proper investment into these things so that you have – I’ve seen some people now do a five-to-seven or whatever you call it in the US, but one of those after-work things where you just go for drinks together. You can do that over webcam too, right? And see each other, have retreats, meet up every now and then. At Lookback we do this three times per year. That’s been tremendously valuable. So that’s on the social part. On the bumping into things either too much or too little, I think there are two things you need to do there. I always say transparency by default. So a lot of companies now were a bit worried about what information to share with whom. I think in a remote organization, you need to be transparent by default, because people can’t bump into you but they can bump into information. So just put everything out there. Obviously there might be some HR issues or something like that that you can’t share widely, but really push yourself there and try to be as transparent as possible. At the same time, you need to be disciplined and use the right channel or tool for the right thing. So if you have for example Slack as your main communication tool as we do, understand that that’s just like the office space. That’s just people calling for each other through doors or across the room or something like that. It’s not where things live forever. And if you just start shouting everywhere, it’s going to be quite hard to do this, so stay disciplined on that. And then finally on the last one with the collaboration piece, that’s a tool issue, I would say. You can use tools to make sure that you have a whiteboard, a virtual whiteboard, or all those design tools or code reviews or whatever it is. Make sure that you have that set up properly. Don’t under-invest in tools.
Jamin: So you spent a fair amount of time in your early career in management consulting probably – I liken the whiteboard in management consulting to the six-shooter in a Western movie. It is the tool that you use to create your battle strategy, and some people even use it on a weekly basis to cross things out in their to-dos or what have you. It is really powerful. What are some tools that you would recommend people use in order to address some of the – well, to address the four big issues that you’ve outlined?
Henrik: So if we start the other way around now with the whiteboarding, I’d say that for me it’s the tool called Whimsical has been a game-changer actually. I’m very impressed with this tool. It’s very simple to use. You can make flowcharts. You can make mind maps. And I use it for myself just to – a lot of my work is just breaking problems into their component parts. So you can make all of these flowcharts and issue trees and what have you. And it’s also collaborative, so you can just share this and you can work together in it. And so that’s very powerful for making sure that you get your team aligned on, “What are we actually talking about? Are we over here in the issue tree or are we over here?” So yes, Whimsical, very good. Then in terms of the day-to-day communication and keeping that discipline, we use three tools. So we use Slack for just everyday chatter where you just communicate with people, and we have a lot of different channels. Most of them are open and transparent, and you can join if you want to but you don’t have to. And so we have a code channel where the developers discuss code. We have a customer success channel where support can reach out to different aspects of the organization to deal with issues, and so on and so forth. And then we have for more wiki-like things, things like notes from meetings and also agendas. Agendas, obviously always an important thing, but perhaps even more important than remote. We keep all of that in a tool called Notion, a really good tool. It’s hard to explain in voice, but once you start using it, you’ll see it’s just a living document. Anyone can just change anything. It can keep all your things that need to be accessible async in there. Slack won’t be good for that and it’s not built for that either. Things will just disappear into yesterday and so on and so forth. But with Notion, you can keep all your things there. And then finally we use a tool called Clubhouse that we use for project work. So when we implement code projects or something like that, we track that on stories that have different states. And I’d say you go a pretty long way on that as a company. I guess Airtable also deserves a mention here, which is where we collect data in tables to discuss. For example, our long list, which is all our feature requests and product ideas and stuff like that. Basically what all of these have in common is that they are purpose-built for a very specific purpose, and they’re very good at that thing. And they are good for collaboration and notifications and async work. So you’d get a long way on those, I’d say.
Jamin: So there’s a lot of different tools. How do you keep track of those tools as a practitioner, as a user?
Henrik: So there’s a lot of trial-and-error over time. I think the only of these that persisted throughout the lifetime of Lookback is Slack. That’s the only one we haven’t changed, but the other ones we changed. So you can’t be afraid of innovating here. As soon as – this is your office now. This is your infrastructure. And if you’re having issues or if you can’t get people on board with it or if it’s not working well, you can’t be afraid of trying a new tool and shift things. We’ve been successful with that. Once you have that though, you have to police. You have to have very clear processes of how this should be used. And you shouldn’t be afraid to help new employees out in terms of “this thing doesn’t go here, this thing goes somewhere else.” So it’s a culture thing, but it’s really just understanding that this is your new backbone now. And I think that might be challenging for companies that come – that either don’t go full-in remote or where one part of the company is more of a non-remote culture, and they don’t understand that this is not your key infrastructure. That can be challenging. But for us, we’ve always been remote-only, and that’s been really helpful. So I don’t know if that answers your question, but those are some of the important things to think about.
Jamin: So prior to joining Lookback, you were not a remote-only culture. You’ve been in more of a traditional sort of on-site or HQ-based company. Is that correct?
Henrik: Yes. So I’ve been on-site also in management consulting. You parachute into Teams and you go to their offices. It’s been two years actually commuting between Montreal and Stockholm and working for a big company based in Stockholm where all the company was basically non-remote. And we had a few people like myself who would work remotely, and that didn’t work at all. I can say that.
Jamin: The hybrid sort of because – well, so that’s one – actually, let’s explore that issue. Then I’m going to get to actually my intended question. One of the dysfunctions I have personally experienced is my last company, I didn’t have a remote culture. We had offices. And then as we started scaling our sales force, we realized that we had to have employees that were based out of regional areas that we just frankly couldn’t support an office around, didn’t need to support an office around. It was like any operational headcount or any more than one person that was going to be in that area. So probably the first year, I failed miserably at bringing those people on and retaining any level of employee engagement. And the reason why is they were – using your words, which I really, really like, there was no opportunity for them to bump into. There was no in-between spaces. So it was meeting and then gone. And there was just a massive amount of cultural void that that person was plummeted into. And probably the biggest realization of that for me was at the company Christmas party, because they would come to the Christmas party, but they’re more like the person in the corner on their phone as opposed to connected with the humans. And it’s just such a big issue there. When you think about companies that are rolling out right now this new infrastructure of “you’re going to be remote for the next month and maybe longer,” which is basically every big company, what would your counsel be? Put on your management consulting hat here. What would your counsel be to the management team about things that they should be paying attention to?
Henrik: The key is to avoid – I guess the expression is “second-class citizens.” You say that in the US, right? People that are –
Jamin: Absolutely, yes.
Henrik: So that’s what happens with people where you have some people who are perhaps meeting in real life, in an office day-to-day. And then you have some people that are outside of that. And that creates these second-class citizens that won’t engage and that won’t have the same information and opportunity to collaborate. And that’s not a good situation for anyone. It’s not good for the company because you’re just wasting these resources, and it’s not good for these employees because they’re not going to have fun and they’re not going to have success. They’re going to move on. So even if it’s only temporary, I would say go all-in on this and understand that either you are remote or you are not. And now we are in a remote situation, and I don’t care if you and your friend and someone else took a lunch meeting. You need to document that in the remote tools so that that doesn’t become privileged information if people need that information for their collaboration. So it’s for everyone to step up and be remote, and realize that even if my situation may not be as remote as my colleagues’ situation, but we’re all equally remote and we need to go all-in on that. It can’t be an issue of “it works for me, so I’m just going to do it this way.” It has to be all-in. So that would be my number-one advice for sure.
Jamin: I love that. And you think about the training that’s happened to us as a society using social media. So things as silly as taking a picture of a meal, posting it on Insta. And then of course Twitter, which is my sort of – I love Twitter. Very native in that environment more than any other platform. But it’s a great way to be able to just communicate thoughts and feelings and activities that are happening. So it’s really about in a lot of ways, just about taking that discipline that you would normally do on a personal level, and then just applying that to your eight-to-five. So my real question was moving into a remote-only culture, what actually surprised you about that transition?
Henrik: That’s a really good question. I think the fact that it’s harder – I don’t want to scare people now, but it’s harder than you think, than I expected it to be. I thought this would be a small adjustment, but what’s happening really is that we’re creating completely new forms of work and interaction. And even now I learn – we’re at what, year four, year five of this now for me? And I’m still learning new things, and I have to course-correct on how we build a remote culture. And this is really uncharted territory for most companies. We haven’t been doing this for a long time, especially not on a company-wide basis. There’s always been people working from home, but that’s not the same as being a remote company completely. So I think just expect to be surprised, is the lesson learned here. And roll with it, and it’s just like anything. Don’t be afraid to keep innovating. It’s never done. And keep your ears to the ground and try to stay ahead of the curve.
Jamin: My guest today is Henrik Mattsson, CEO of Lookback. Thank you, Henrik, so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.
Henrik: Thank you so much, Jamin. Always a pleasure.
Jamin: Everyone else, I hope safety for you and your family. I hope this is an opportunity for thriving. I know there’s a lot of economic uncertainty right now, and that will continue. Having lived through two other bubbles, first in 2001 and then later 2008 and ’09, I can tell you that it will end and everything will be OK. I know it’s a platitude, but it is the truth. I hope you have a wonderful, safe rest of your day.