Ep. 66: Culture in the Cloud: Revolutionizing Connection with Airspeed – Doug Camplejohn, CEO of Airspeed

Learn more about Airspeed at: www.getairspeed.com
Find Doug Camplejohn on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/camplejohn/

JC: Welcome, everybody to another episode of the Future of Biz Tech. I’m your host, JC Granger. And I have another fantastic guest on the show with us today. And listen, if you end up loving this episode, please show your love and appreciation by following this podcast wherever you’re listening, and be sure to give it a five-star review, preferably with some nice comments behind it. Because that is how other techies like you and I find cool podcasts like this. And today I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing the CEO and founder of Airspeed Doug Campbeljohn. Doug, so great to have you on. Tell us a little bit about yourself. And what is it that you guys do?

Doug: Thanks for having us. JC? Yeah, so Airspeed is a relatively new company. We just announced our seed funding, we are on a mission to help employees feel more connected and celebrated. And the way that we’re going about doing that initially is through the family of Slack apps that we’ve just released five to the Slack App Store that all around how do you capture these moments of culture that became have always been an issue, but became much more exacerbated during the times of COVID? So everything from how do you introduce yourself to your team? How do you celebrate wins with recognition? How do you make sure you’re not missing any birthdays or working anniversaries? How do you make meeting a little bit more fun than beginning maybe through an icebreaker? And finally, have you seen where everybody is in your company on a map? Super helpful if you’re traveling location, and want to go meet up with some of your colleagues.

JC: So who would be kind of your perfect client? Obviously, being a Slack app? You know, anyone who uses Slack, could use this, but where do you find it? Like what industries do you find are gravitating more toward your product than others?

Doug: Yeah, so it’s it’s super early days, we literally just had our last Slack app approved about four weeks ago.

JC: Okay, that it’s that early then, okay.

Doug: Already we’ve got close to 1000 customers who are on who have downloaded the apps and implemented them, we’ve got over 40,000 users on the platform already in just a very short period of time. But we’re seeing a wide range. It’s everything from 10-15 person companies through divisions of large companies, we’ve got some great logos on our website like Adidas, Meridian, and ADP, and folks like that. 

JC: Oh we were on there, too. Yeah, yeah.

Doug: Uber’s on there. And these are, you know, as you said, the first criteria is you’re a slot you use Slack. Second it criteria is that you care about culture. And so the way that we’ve designed it is that you don’t, this doesn’t have to be a top-down HR decision. This can be any person, it could be an administrator or a manager. It could be somebody in HR, who just says, Hey, I just want to get to know my team better. Typically, we’ll install it into a channel just for their team. And it grows from there. 

JC: So what kind of motivated you to start this? I mean, were you at another company before? And you found that it was just really hard to connect with people? I mean, just what was that kind of like villain origin story, if you will, right? Yeah,

Doug: I mean, the origin story is all about COVID. So my last company got acquired by LinkedIn, as well, flip top, we were doing machine learning for sales and marketing, got acquired, and I ran the Sales Navigator division, which was at a time about a $250 million business for LinkedIn, and now over a billion dollars of their business. And I got recruited away to go be the general manager of Sales Cloud for Salesforce. And that was an interesting gig. And my first day was the first of February 2020 weeks later, the world looked like this. And yeah, zoom. And on the one hand, I loved it, I never want to go back to an office five days a week, never again, I love the flexibility of remote work, we still as a company get together at least once a quarter and put everybody in a plane somewhere fun. I love the ability to mix both. But the thing I didn’t like was not feeling connected to the people that I was working with, especially because you know, hadn’t met everybody. And it was relatively new to the environment. So we did all the same shit that everybody else did. We did you know, zoom, happy hours, we did Zoom cooking classes, we had lots of all-hands meetings, we set up Slack channels for fun things. And that in the process, I kind of realized there’s no system of record for culture inside companies. It’s all these ephemeral things. It’s sitting in a Google Drive folder. That’s all hands on deck. It’s sitting in Slack channels that are like a continuously running river where things just wash downstream. And the idea of getting to know somebody beyond their LinkedIn profile became harder when you’re not in the office and seeing everybody face to face. So how do you create these tools that help facilitate a lot of that interaction, and that’s really where Airspeed came from?

JC: So where does go? We talked a little bit before this about AI. Where does AI come in for this particular model that you’re doing?

Doug: Yeah, I’m, you know, so I’ve been in tech for a long time. Over 30 years. I’m more excited about what AI can do than anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. And I think that what is so exciting is the ability to interact with a lot of these systems on a very, you know, using human language. And to not be able to say I have to know how to operate a certain menu or user interface or make that stuff happen. And also to be able to really humanize a lot of the interactions. And it’s not a replacement. I think the Microsoft branding of Copilot, for example, is brilliant, because it’s saying, Hey, this is an assistant, this is an augmentation of who you are as a human.

Doug: But we’ll give you a couple of just simple examples for our administration system. We started building the classic “have a whole bunch of reports and dashboards of”, you know, how do you figure out how many users you are and what apps are being used and all that kind of stuff. And when you know, ChatGPT came out. And we just kind of took a step back and said, How does this going to affect us? We said that’s dead, right? You know, like, I think companies like Tableau and others are going to see a whole new guard is going to come in because all we’re going to have is a simple little chat box. It says what do you want to know? And you know that today is sitting on all of our data. So we can tell you, Hey, what are the most interesting, you know, who are we, as a team, like describe us from what you know, or you know, who’s got work anniversaries coming up this month in my team, or who is what’s the most unusual interest, you know, we have in the company.

Doug: So there’s just a bunch of stuff where you can kind of query the system that way in an interesting way. The other one is just, goofy and fun. Like we have you writing these birthday cards, for example, or work anniversary cards, you could say, Hey, I know that JC loves beer and skiing, right? Write me a funny greeting card message, or write me something in the style of a pirate, you know, and just like things that are just bringing a lot of creativity and levity and boosting what you get, as opposed to what we all see in Facebook, you know, happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday. So I think there’s a number of ways that these are going to affect, what we can go do, and ultimately give us a lot more insight as to who we are as a team and as a company. 

JC: So your, your program your your software, in the plugins into Slack and whatnot, it has a culture side to it, there’s an AI side to it. I have a question, too, is, is any part of your system? Does it help with preventing things from going wrong, so to speak, like so for example, I’ve seen things that pop up on like Instagram, and Meta released a version of this not too long ago, where if you were going to type something, and it thought that that might be inappropriate, or it flagged a word, it would say, “Hey, are you sure you want to send this?” when you have a software that’s culturally based, and you got people just kind of, you know, free gaming on the, on the keyboard? Are there any protections in place for the user, like, just say, Hey, listen, you’re about to put this on the record, you know, and our system has decided that maybe given the culture of this particular company, maybe these types of words or types of things may not be appropriate? Is that something you’re either doing or that you plan on doing?

Doug: I guess, something that’s interesting for the roadmap, I mean, you know, Slack is a great example that has none of those controls. And obviously, it’s just a big channel where lots of people are communicating in those ways. But I can imagine a lot more of that kind of smart system and say, Hey, you sure you want to compose it this way? Or we’re certainly being able to flag stuff automatically and not wait for user intervention? To flag something? To have AI help with that?

JC: That’s interesting. Yep. Cool. I was just curious because I started seeing a little bit of that. And, you know, it’s kind of like, you know, helping people get out of their own way in advance can, you know, nobody wants an issue. So if it’s pretty, you know, preventive maintenance is always always better, right? Um, so you guys are new. And you’re here, you’re on this podcast, and I know you’re doing PR. What other I’m a marketing guy by trade. I’ve always asked the marketing question, what other types of marketing and ways are you guys getting yourself out there? So people even know about Airspeed? Then stuff like this? Yeah. So we

Doug: we really want to kind of build our blog into a great resource for people who are kind of at the forefront of remote and hybrid work. So we are, we’ve conducted an interview series with a number of leaders about how they are handling the issues of remote work. And I think, you know, I’ll keep going. But one thing to just point out there that I think has been interesting is an observation when my last company was acquired by LinkedIn, we went from a, you know, just under 30 person company to suddenly 10,000 plus employees. And it’s a bit of a culture shock. And I think the biggest aha for me in the first few months was realizing how deliberate you had to be in cascading communications. So I would watch Jeff Weiner the CEO, roll out things to his executive team, then roll it out to the top 250 leaders in the company, then roll it out. To the entire company in all hands, and then repeat, rinse, and lather that stuff with a lot of deliberation. And I think we’ve taken culture for granted in the past and just said, Hey, you know, we’re going to get people together, and we’re going to do some fun activities, and it’s just going to organically happen.

Doug: And I think it’s always been an issue because we’ve always had remote sales offices or remote development offices, or even people on different floors of the same building or different buildings. But now more than ever, we have to be as deliberate about cascading culture as to what we do in terms of cascading communications. And so the blog is one way where we’ve gone and surveyed about 1600, leaders, and executives into individual contributors, and publish the results of that in the paper about how are, how are people wrestling with the issues of remote work. And we’ve talked about continuing the series on the blog, and really just want to start highlighting people who are great culture champions inside their companies, and what are the hacks that they’re doing. So that’s going to be a big megaphone for us, obviously, coming from LinkedIn, we’re big fans of LinkedIn advertising. And so we’ve been playing around with that, and love all the kind of information that we see out of that, and have been very pleasantly surprised. And the tests that we’ve run, they’re in terms of super high click-through rates and super high kind of conversions into downloads. And then, you know, things like this and kind of getting the word out. I think, for a lot of folks in the Slack app store, they just published in the Slack App Store, and then just kind of watched downloads happen. And we’re trying to be a little bit more deliberate than that.

JC: I saw you had a feature on there, there was a Maps feature that you can look like you can look at the US or probably another country and then see where everyone’s at. Just out of curiosity, if you can, do you guys get any feedback? Are you finding that people, especially big companies with a lot of employees? Do you find that people are actually looking and seeking out other people within the company that lives close to them with their own kind of one-to-one meetups, even if they’re not in the same department? Like is there any it was too new to have that kind of data back? Or I’m just curious.

Doug: So anecdotally, yes, you know, so we’ve got examples of customers who have said, I love this approach. By the way, one HR department said, Hey, listen, we’re going to go create a kind of a face-to-face budget, right? And so we’re going to allocate, if you got more than 10, people within call it a 50-mile radius, we’re going to allocate X dollars per month or per quarter for you guys to go get together for a beer or pizza or go, you know, to an event or something like that. And the way that they’re doing that is the Maps application that we have. So you can basically zoom in just like you would in Google Maps, Zillow, whatever like that down to a specific region and say, Oh, here’s all the people that are part of this. Let me go create a new channel for them. These are the New York peeps are the San Francisco Bay Area, folks. And so that’s a way that they’re kind of creating an understanding of this without having to do huge slicing and dicing in their HR database.

Doug: The other thing I find is it’s super powerful. I mean, this was always the case for me, Salesforce, or LinkedIn and previous companies is, I’d be jumping on a plane to go visit a customer, let’s say, I’m going to Boston, I don’t even know like what folks are in my group or outside my group in that area. How do I go zoom down that area and say, I’m going to be there between Tuesday and Thursday? Anybody wants to go grab dinner, anybody wants to go grab a beer and be able to do that. So we kind of take you out of Slack into this, you know, very rich web map experience. And then you can kind of zoom in on what you want. And then you can miss going back and messaging folks directly in Slack to go make that face-to-face happen.

JC: How are you guys monetizing up? This? Is it per download? Proceed, just as of right now anyway, and I know, you know, Podcasts can age, right? So we’ll I’ll say to the listeners, if you’re listening to this a year later, it could be totally different. But as of now, as a startup, how are you planning to monetize off of this?

Doug: So right now it’s free, we’re in the early access period. So everything’s free, the way we will eventually monetize is to have multiple tiers. So there’ll be a free forever tier. So if you’re, you know, a 25-person company, you’re probably still gonna just be able to use all of your speed apps for free. The next tier up will be, you know, a modest per-user fee, sometimes sub $5 per user per month. And that will allow you to do all kinds of customization. So you know, we call our work anniversaries, this, you know, we want to be able to modify the messages that are going out, having more storage for media, things like that. And then the final tears, we’re doing all the HR and system integrations. So you can just kind of plug into the workday, plug in the bamboo HR, or whatever you’re using, and automatically sync this stuff with your hierarchy. And that’ll be a slightly higher tier.

JC: Very cool. Well, in the aspect and in the spirit of the Future of Biz Tech title, this podcast. Let’s talk about the future a little bit. So the first question is, where do you see this industry going? Right? I mean, you know, Slack apps with AI, right? Because you know, you guys are picking a particular lane in it. There are all sorts of things that can be done with this idea. Where do you see that and, maybe also specifically, just one Remote engagement, I guess would be the overall term for it in the next five or 10 years. I mean, and then that might be two, honestly, with AI, we should probably say the next five to 10 months of how far out and you know why said years at this point, but where do you see the future of you plus your competitors and other people in the space when it comes to that.

Doug: So for us, like as an entry point, Slack is not the end destination. So ultimately, as I said, we want to create what we call this kind of operating system for culture, kind of a system of record of all these events. And so I think, you know, you’ll see us having interfaces and going through different platforms, having full web and mobile capabilities, all of that in the future. But I do think that what’s interesting for the Future of BizTech is, you know, I was, I had this very interesting timing, where I was at Salesforce when the Slack acquisition was announced. And so before I left, Salesforce, I spent a decent amount of time kind of thinking about Slack and how it would impact not only Sales Cloud, but Salesforce in general, and spend a lot of time with Mark and others there. And I think one of the things that Slack is a really interesting playground for testing these things out is it is a messaging user interface. And I think one of the things that Stewart got, right, was, you know, for the past, you know, two, three decades, 2-3-4 decades, we’ve had this forms over database kind of model of the world. So all CRMs are like filling a bunch of fields in a browser or on a piece of desktop software and writing back to some server or some server in the cloud. And I think what Slack did is say, not only is this just a way for you and me to message each other as we would in, you know, iMessage or WeChat, but it’s actually a user interface to your applications.

Doug: So very simple, you know, free ChatGPT, just imagine you got Slack. And you want to say, hey, like, how big is the Boeing deal that’s closing at the end of this quarter, I shouldn’t have to log in to Salesforce. To do that, I just go into Slack. And Scott is connecting to a bot. It’s fetching information and feeding it back to me. Now, suddenly, fast forward that and say, now I can go apply the LLMs, you know, apply these large language models. And now I can start to do some really interesting what-if stuff, right? So what is my biggest whitespace? Opportunity, right? You know, what are the customers that are at the highest risk of churning this quarter? What are the customers and I’m obviously talking in the sales context here, not SP per se, but I think this applies to every single vertical, you can imagine, I think the user interface is going to look like Slack, it’s going to look like a chat window you type stuff into, which is what chat GPT has shown us and borrowed and others now. And it’s going to be able to pull information not just from a single system, but from multiple systems across the organization. So you know, to give you a glimpse of where we’re going, you know, right now I can go query as I mentioned, all the data that we’re collecting. Now, you suddenly add-in, you know, Slack integration, you add in Google Calendar, Gmail integration, you add in hrs, you know, HR system integration, now, you can start to do some pretty interesting things like, hey, you know, just looking across my company, what are the teams that are actually like, seemed to be working really well together in the teams that might have some disconnects? Or, you know, where do I think I might have attrition risk, or, like a lot of these kinds of larger questions you might ask, are going to be where I think a lot of this tech goes.

JC: That’s interesting. Let me ask you this, given that you’re in this kind of new space, with everything you’re doing is relatively new if you think about not just the company, but just the concepts that you’re following. Who are the people in the industry or outside of it, that you find yourself following the most for inspiration? Technologically, business-wise, whatever. I’m, I’m curious who, you know, people follow you probably, given your expertise. So who do you follow? 

Doug: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors along the way. You know, I mean, way back when in a company called Epiphany, there’s a guy named Steve Blank, who kind of invented the lean startup movement. You know, more recently great pleasure working with folks like Reed Hoffman, Ryan Rhodes Lansky, and Jeff Weiner, at LinkedIn. And then obviously folks like Brett Taylor and Marc Benioff at Salesforce. So, you know, I pay a lot of attention if you haven’t listened, for example, that reads a set of posts, blogs, and podcasts around AI, especially given his gray locks investment in that space is one of our investors, just for full disclosure, but it’s fascinating to see where the future of that is going to go. And I think even reading or writing a book in conjunction with chat GPT or interviewing chat GPT and having the responses converted in a text to speech and you having you listening and going like, I have to remind myself this isn’t a person he’s talking to. This is just text that was generated by an LLM that is being read back by the computer.

JC: It’s gonna get really great real soon. 

Doug: Yes, it gets real fast. And so I would say, you know, listening to the job of a CEO is pretty straightforward. Someone wants to describe it as MVP, but doesn’t stand for most valuable player stands for money vision, and people. And I would say probably in reverse order is the most important part. So I spent a chunk of my time focusing on you know, do we have the right people on the bus? And are those people, you know, clear as to what they’re doing? And are we building kind of like the, you know, the legendary, you know, Lakers or Chicago Bulls kind of class team, I spend time obviously making sure that we have plenty of money in the bank, we’re not going to run out the most of my time these days is saying, what’s the vision? And how is that going to continue to expand? And I’m a big believer and being kind of, you know, firm on the end state, but loose on the details of how you get there. So our vision from day one has been a mission has been how do we help employees feel more connected and celebrated? But I’m spending a, in order to an amount of time digging into, you know, ChatGPT and Bard and all the AI stuff. And we’re spending time as a team even going through these thought exercises of how we can go leverage this in an interesting way. Because my assumption is all of the existing players are going to add chalky, petite-like functionality as a sidebar to their products. So what are really the opportunities for startups to really disrupt the old guard? And that’s where we are.

JC: So last question, my audience likes to kind of have the inside scoop, right? They want to be the first to hear things, is there anything on your roadmap that’s coming out soon, that you might be able to give us a little preview on something cool coming out?

Doug: So I think the thing depends on when this airs again, but we have a sixth app that is about to drop called Coffee Talk. And coffee talk is about applicable as you get to, you know, mid-size or larger companies. It’s how you get to know the people inside the company. And then that might just be, hey, I want to just meet other people on my team. Like when I was running a Sales Navigator team that was hundreds of people, obviously, lots of people I didn’t have face-to-face meetings with, and where it might be, hey, listen, I just want to meet people who are outside that team. I want to meet people in different geographies, I want to get to know more folks inside of the company and build my network. And where we see this even in a lot of communities, like a lot of women and technology, Slack communities, a lot of business development, sales, communities, etc. are using some of the Airspeed apps right now, there’s a product out there called donut what’s been doing this for a little while in Slack, which is achieved great success. And I give them a tip of the hat.

Doug: But I think that it’s not particularly intelligent. It just kind of randomly matches you to people in a channel that you join. So we’re actually leveraging AI to ask you two questions. What kind of people do you want to meet? And what do you want to talk about? And based on the answers to that, and the people who have joined the channel, we’re making smart matching decisions, almost like a dating app, here are three candidates, who do you want to go meet with? And then not only do we do that, but we kind of also have a better version of Calendly to actually facilitate that where rather than just saying connect your calendar and find a slot, we just say, what are some good times for you, or just connect your calendar and we’ll take care of it. So you can just say, Friday afternoons are generally pretty good for me. And we take it from there. So we match the right people, we tell you some interesting things you might want to talk about. And we actually find a time for you to me.

JC: I like that. That’s cool. I’m glad we got to get a little preview of what’s dropping next there. Listen, how can people reach you in particular, they may be some higher-end deals or the company itself online or in other ways.

Doug: So we’re at www.getAirspeed.com.  I’m just the letter d@getAirspeed.com. So feel free to email me directly. Or come to the website we’ve got we’ve got chat and we can connect you to whatever function you want, whether it’s we have customer support, support folks, and customer success, folks, I can kind of handhold you through the whole getting onboarding process to any kind of partnerships from sales and marketing. 

JC: Awesome. Listen, for everyone out there listening again. If you liked what you heard today, be sure to subscribe to this podcast and give it a five-star rating, some cool writing behind it, so that techies like us can find it and enjoy learning about all these amazing and helpful b2b software on the market today. Doug, thank you so much for being on the show. And I look forward to checking out your apps. I use Slack too.

Doug: All right. Thanks, JC thanks for having me.

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