Why I Started Appcues

Reaching for Coals

Sam Siskind and I worked together at HubSpot. I think it was mid-2011 when he got everyone thinking of implementing Optimizely’s Guiders.js in the app. A bunch of us thought it could be really useful to customers if it was implemented across the entire app as “always-available” contextual help. After all, HubSpot at the time was pretty ugly and hella complicated. Customers were confused and frustrated with the product, and we wanted to alleviate that pain.

Unfortunately, Sam isn’t an engineer, and I didn’t have time to maintain these guiders whenever the app changed (HubSpot averages 200+ deploys/day). In typical developer fashion, I turned to software. That weekend, I started building a Chrome extension that would let Sam create these guiders from his browser. I got the basic functionality working in no time, but for some reason the tool just didn’t feel right.

I spent weeks polishing the design and adding animations, yet I still couldn’t get past that hump. When I finally took a step back, I realized what I was actually building: I was building a tool that made a bad UX into a worse one. I was basically helping people with broken designs to build popups. Something was fundamentally wrong, but I was stuck.

So I walked away.

That problem haunted me for over a year. During that time, I noticed other open source libraries and companies spring up. They were doing the exact same thing I had tried. I casually evaluated them, and saw they were suffering from the same challenge I did (though they may not see it as a problem).

I sat and watched as more companies and open source projects appeared, until a few months ago, when I decided something was just not right. Here’s a market that’s saturated with both free and low-priced solutions, yet new contenders are joining every month with the exact same solution. Why?

I talked with a bunch of people and sought to learn as much as I could. The founders of Kera (competitor) were extremely insightful, as were the guys at Klaviyo (competitor before pivoting). After numerous conversations, I discovered that there’s a real problem here that people are desperate to solve.

That problem is that great user experience is hard. LinkedIn, Optimizely and all the others created these tools to pull people through a complicated/confusing process—to drag them over coals. When these projects hit the mainstream, developers and product managers clamored for them. It turns out that everyone has their own product coal bed.

I started Appcues to fix this problem: to eliminate product coal beds and empower everyone to deliver amazing user experiences. Today, I leave an amazing job and a phenomenal team at HubSpot to pursue Appcues full time. I believe in this problem, I’m confident in myself, and I’m ready to serve this customer.

So here it goes.