The Future Is Inevitable: Building Relationships at Scale

The Future Is Inevitable: Building Relationships at Scale

Below is a version of the talk I gave at our first ever Klaviyo conference in Boston this September.

Today I look back at the first seven years of Klaviyo as one of our founders and our CEO. Most of those years have been spent listening to our customers, understanding their problems and engineering solutions to those problems. I’ve always felt if you’re really good at those things, everything else will take care of itself.

And in our case, that’s been true. I met our very first customer, Blank Label, in Boston back in 2012. I’m happy to say that now, seven years later, they’re still Klaviyo customers and going strong. Today, the Klaviyo community is made up of more than 15,000 businesses and hundreds of partners throughout the world.

I’m a big fan of visuals, so I wrote a script to plot the location for each of our customers and partners on a world map. Here’s what that looks like:

The Future Is Inevitable: Building Relationships at Scale

Now, this is a neat map, but it doesn’t provide you with the best visualization of what Klaviyo is yet. Klaviyo is all about connecting businesses and their customers. So I took that map and added all of our customers’ customers. Then I drew a line between each business and each of their customers.

You can think of each of those lines as a relationship.

There are well over a billion relationships on this map. All of them started — and were enriched — through experiences created on Klaviyo.

The Future Is Inevitable: Building Relationships at Scale

Are you a math nerd like I am? If you are, you probably can’t help but see a graph when you look at this map. When we talk about mathematical graphs, the lines that connect two points are called edges. So each edge represents a relationship.

I’ve been fascinated by the number of edges and “quality” of edges for a long time. How meaningful are the relationships we have with one another?

The world has gotten a lot more connected and feels a lot smaller than it did a few decades ago. We’re so used to this that it’s hard to think of it being any other way. Of course, today we can reach out to someone on the other side of the world and get a reply within minutes — or seconds.

But it wasn’t always that way.

If you rewind 30 years to the 1980s, here are some of the experiences we all considered normal back then:

I want to find a business to help me with a problem…
Find your copy of the Yellow Pages, search by the type of business, call down an alphabetical list of businesses and see if they can help. The businesses listed are only those geographically close to you.

I want to buy something without going to the store…
Find an advertisement or catalog for that business, browse through the catalog, mark what you want on an order form, mail that form and a check to to a P.O. box, and wait a few weeks for a package to show up at your door.

I want to check on the status of my order…
Call an 800 number where someone can tell you if your package shipped, but can’t tell you when it’ll get there.

I want to hear about new products or services from the businesses and brands I like…
Expect a postcard in the mail every few weeks or months with general updates from that business. Also expect a postcard from lots of businesses you didn’t know about trying to sell you something…

If you’d asked folks back then what they thought of all these experiences, I bet they’d say, “It’ll get better.” Eventually we’d be able to search more quickly than flipping through the Yellow Pages. Eventually buying would be easier than filling out an order form and waiting a few weeks. They might not have been sure how it would happen or exactly when, but it would happen. It was inevitable.

It was inevitable back then that we’d get to where we are today. We’re more connected and it’s made a lot of experiences better. Finding products and services has gotten easier. Buying and transacting has gotten easier. Communicating with each other has gotten easier.

It’s easier to talk to each other today, but does that mean the quality of the messages we get from brands has improved? Do we feel closer to the brands we love?

I don’t think so.

In fact, I think we’re frustratingly stuck in a place not much better than 30 years ago.

Here are a few examples from my own experiences with businesses and brands I love:

  • My favorite running shoe company doesn’t tell me when I need a new pair, even though I buy one every 6 months
  • An athletic organization doesn’t tell me when the signup deadline for a big race is coming up, even though I ran in it last year
  • The airline I take to fly the same route regularly doesn’t tell me when that flight is on sale

I’m fascinated by this problem. Why can’t brands take the experiences their employees can deliver one-on-one and replicate them at scale?

When I talk to people at these companies, they’re as frustrated as anyone. They desperately want to build better experiences for their customers. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s what will make them successful today.

Humans are amazing at being personal, but we don’t scale. And when you have thousands or millions of customers, you can’t sit down with each of them.

So how can we fix this?

Klaviyo’s strategy is to take what we innately do as humans — create these personal, meaningful interactions —and use technology to get it to scale. We’re going to make it possible to take the same instincts and logic we use every day helping customers and translate that into software you can use.

To do this, we have to break down what it is we as humans do so well. There are four parts:

  • We’re good at listening and learning, collecting information.
  • We take all of that information — which is an incredible amount — and store it in our brains.
  • We recall facts or make judgments based on rules and assumptions.
  • We communicate in a variety of ways: we speak, we write, we convey emotion and emphasis with our hands and facial expressions.

If we can box up those abilities and put them on computer servers, we can scale them. And, even better, we can store more information and run more complex algorithms on servers than can fit in any single person’s brain. So we have the opportunity to learn and think beyond what we as individuals have time to create.

If we do this, I think we can make each of our voices, our personalities, our brands scale. And our relationships with customers will be stronger; they’ll be the way we want them to be. Customers will be happier and businesses will grow faster.

I think we can do this.

In fact, I don’t just think we can build this. I think it will get built, it’s inevitable. And when we it does, the world will look like this, where relationships are good and valuable for everyone:

The Future Is Inevitable: Building Relationships at Scale

And this makes me so excited. I’m very proud of all we’ve built so far and our community of Klaviyo users, customers and partners. It’s been an incredibly fulfilling seven years since we started, but there’s no doubt our greatest accomplishments are still to come — it’s inevitable.

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