Doug Camplejohn is the Founder and CEO of Airspeed, a suite of Slack apps that help employees feel more connected and appreciated. We discuss how leaders can be more deliberate about building their culture, ways to build relationships among employees in remote settings, and how AI and automation can help facilitate and improve six key points of culture in a business.
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Adopt a Culture Operating System with Doug Camplejohn
Thanks for having me, Steve.
Well, I’m excited to have you because you have a really interesting combination of backgrounds, big tech, and then from big tech going to startup and actually serial big tech to startup, which is not that common. So how do you evolve being a top executives of Apple, LinkedIn, and Salesforce to finding your own startup?
Yeah, I started my career at Apple, came out of Carnegie Mellon University and worked on a little project called QuickTime there for a few years. And then for a number of years, I was in startups, had joined startups and kind of seen firsthand how it’s done and also how it’s not done. And then decided to do my own. My first was a company called Fliptop that was a music locker before iPods and before iTunes, and that got acquired by Bertelsmann. Then I went on to start a security company, MI5 Networks, named after the British secret agent, secret service that I got acquired by Symantec. And then the last company was a company called Fliptop, and that was doing machine learning for sales and marketing and that was acquired by LinkedIn. So I was at LinkedIn running the sales navigator team for about four years, and then got acquired, then got recruited over to Salesforce to be the general manager of Sales Cloud. And I started in February of 2020. So you know how this goes. Six weeks later, the world looks like this. And on the one hand, I loved it. I never want to go back to an office five days a week ever again. But I miss people. And we did all the same things that everybody else did. We did Zoom happy hours and lots of fun Slack channels and more all hands meetings and communication. And it was in the middle of that I realized, wow, there’s really no central place for all this information is being kept. There’s no operating system to culture system record. And that’s how Airspeed was born.
Okay, so I’m going to ask you about Airspeed because I’m really curious about this concept of the culture operating system, so to say. But before we go there, I want to just ask you about, so you had this company flipped up, and then you sold it to LinkedIn, and then you became, you ran the Sales Navigator. What formerly was your business, LinkedOut, or that’s a different?
No, so Sales Navigator, at the time I joined LinkedIn, LinkedIn makes its money in multiple ways. So obviously advertising is a big piece of it, but recruiting up until recently, I think was the biggest, may still be the biggest division, multi-billion dollar part of LinkedIn’s revenue, selling a version of LinkedIn called LinkedIn Recruiter. So Sales Navigator was a version of LinkedIn for salespeople to help them find leads and find accounts to go after. And the acquisition of Fliptop was helping them do integration with CRMs like Salesforce and syncing those systems in a better way. So we took it from when I was there, it was about $250 million division. It’s now over a billion dollar business for LinkedIn. So it was a big growth curve over those four years.
Yeah. No, sales navigators definitely. Sometimes I can’t even make the difference. What’s the difference between sales navigator and LinkedIn? They look the same thing and with an interface. And LinkedIn used to include some of the same functionalities that now sales navigator includes. So it’s just confusing, but that’s cool. So with the pandemic, you started your business or actually you joined Salesforce, then the pandemic hit, then you decided that it’s an opportunity to create some kind of a system to help people who are working remotely to not feel so isolated. So tell me a little bit about this idea. Where does this idea of an operating system for culture, if you may call that, come from? And then how did it evolve into a product that your company has?
Well, I’ve always been from the very first time I joined a startup, I’ve always been as fascinated with building cultures as I have been building products and the elements of what makes up a great culture and what contribute contributes to a not so great culture. So it’s always been something that I’ve tried to implement things in my startups and my positions in larger companies. And it’s all been pretty ad hoc. And so I think the the realization was the belief, first of all, that if you want to really have a high productivity company, obviously you need high quality employee, you need a very crisp mission that everybody kind of understands and is working towards.
But the third element that is really important is that you’ve built these kind of bonds, this kind of trust level of communication between employees so that it’s almost like you’ve been in a personal relationship for a long time. You can finish each other’s sentences. You can just like, you know, there’s just a presumed level of trust and connectedness. And when that doesn’t exist, you really impact the productivity of the team. So our mission from day one was how do we help employees feel more connected and appreciated. And I’m a big believer in keeping the mission consistent, but the path to get there might change along the way. And so when we started, we actually thought that maybe the solution is a mobile app, right? Maybe this is all about almost like an internal Instagram where people can share a lot of stuff. So we spent a bunch of time building that. And we rolled that out at the end of last year, end of 22. And people said, this is great, except I live on my laptop. I live inside Slack. This is yet another app for me to think about. And so after we heard that a number of times, we realized we really needed to shift the strategy and really be about have our entry way to be Slack. And so we’ve now rolled out a series of, we decomposed the mobile app into a series of these six Slack apps that each cover a single use case around culture.Our mission from day one was how do we help employees feel more connected and appreciated. Click To Tweet
Okay, so the key word was trust and connectedness. So how does trust develops between people? What is your view of that? When people are in physical workspaces, what creates trust between them?
Trust is really consistent behavior over time, right? Whether it’s in your work life or your personal life. And I think one of the things, culture is not about ping pong tables and free beer on Fridays. It’s really about those things are catalysts for people getting together and getting to know people, the person behind their LinkedIn profile and really finding these moments of connection. And then through both the work projects they’re working on and these personal connections, building these consistencies of communication and trust that built up over time. So I think that’s that for me is where a lot of this comes from. One of the things I want to point out is I think COVID was a catalyst for AirSpeed in that, you know, it was the tectonic shift in how the entire world thinks about work. And I don’t think that genie is ever going back in the bottle. But what we quickly realized at AirSpeed is this problem exists whether you’re in person 100% of the time, you’re remote 100% of the time or anywhere in between. The fact is that a lot of these, you know, when Facebook started, it was really about how does, how did Mark create a system to help facilitate personal relationships? And there’s a bunch of tools to help facilitate that. We’re really starting off saying, how do we build a set of tools to help facilitate professional relationships within your company? Right.Culture is not about ping pong tables and free beer on Fridays. It's really about those things are catalysts for people getting to know people, and finding these moments of connection. Click To Tweet
Ok, that makes sense. So the problem is not necessarily caused by being remote, it’s just maybe exacerbated by being remote.
Exacerbated by us being remote and I think what COVID did is it made this problem has always existed. I think what COVID did is made us all a lot more empathetic because the past you might be working in headquarters and forget about the remote development team in India or about the folks in the remote sales office or frankly, even somebody moved from your floor to one floor down. In a lot of cases, they might as well be remote in that case. So I think it just realized that you’ve got to be a lot more deliberate about this. One of the insights I had when I went from a small company and flip top and we got acquired by LinkedIn and what I watched Jeff Wiener, the CEO do and a number of executives was be very deliberate about cascading communications. And so they, they took a lot of care and feeding to making sure that whatever messages they were trying to get across were repeated multiple times and cascaded across different levels in the organization in different ways. And I think what COVID taught us is we have to be that deliberate with culture as well. We have to think about this as something that we can’t just leave to chance, that we actually have to take proactive actions on. And so one of the things that we always wanted to build into our apps was to not make culture automatic, but to help empower employees and help empower managers to do the right thing and make sure things didn’t slip through the cracks.
Okay, so let’s talk about this app or this new style. It’s a series of apps you said that it’s a badge that you embedded into Slack. So what are these six use cases, so to say, and why did you choose those? Why are those important? Can you elaborate on them?
Yeah, so we have six apps and the idea here was, let’s take all these individual moments of culture that are really important, that people have been addressing in different ad hoc ways in the past, and let’s make them better. So I’ll start off at the top. So celebrations, for example. State of the art for most companies today is to have an admin chase people around and sign some digital birthday card or some digital work anniversary card. And there was a lot of manual work doing that. We just put that all on autopilot. So we’re pulling in information either from the HR system or directly having employees or somebody upload a CSV of all those dates, and then it’s all on autopilot. We’re sending out the notifications of who should sign the card. We’re collecting all the responses we’re delivering on the right date. They’re getting reminders if they don’t. So making it a way to make that a lot more personal and not to have a lot of heavy lift of somebody kind of chasing people around for that. So that’s celebrations.
The second one is coffee talk. So coffee talk is about, hey, if you’re in a decent sized organization, once you start getting to even 100 plus, there’s probably a bunch of employees you’ve never met or don’t really get to know. So coffee talk is a way for you to opt into a channel in Slack and say, hey, I’m open to meeting people that I don’t normally meet with. And we ask you two questions. What kind of people do you want to meet with and what kind of things you want to talk about? And we use AI to actually match people up in a better way than they might have been in the past. And then when you get matched up, we help facilitate you finding a time. And then when you’re having that match, actually give you topics, suggested topics for you to each talk about. So it’s a great way on call it a weekly or bi-weekly basis for you to go meet somebody new inside the company and get to know them a little bit better.
That’s very cool. So if I have an interest, let’s say I’m interested in fencing as a sport and I go for a big company like Apple, then AI is going to find the other fencers in the company and then we can talk shop with them.
Yeah. That’s very cool.
Coffee talk icebreakers was actually something that we used to do at both Salesforce and LinkedIn, where we’d go around the room and we just beginning of our team meeting, we’d say, what’s a personal win for you from last week? And the problem is when you do that manually, even when you’ve got like 10, 15 people in the room, that’s half an hour, you know, or half the meeting at least to get around the room. And if you’ve missed that meeting, you’ve missed it all. You don’t know what’s going on. So we made icebreaker something that again, through slack, you’re getting a message 24 hours before the meeting, you’re saying, Hey, what’s up, you know, a personal or whatever question you want to ask. And we have a whole bank of questions that we can, you know, randomly pick from or you can choose from. And then people can answer not only just in text, but they can attach pictures, they can attach videos. So I can find out, oh, when somebody just had a baby, somebody just bought a house, somebody’s just finished their degree, their master’s, whatever it is, in our meetings now, we take five, 10 minutes at most, and all of a sudden I know what’s going on with everybody else. It’s all in this permanent record where you can always go back and take a look if you’ve missed the meeting. So that’s the icebreakers. Intro’s another one.
Are there any other icebreakers? Is it always the same or do you have different icebreakers?
It can be any question you want. We have got hundreds of questions. We’ve actually used chat to generate a whole bunch of questions for us that are interesting for people and safe in the workplace. But it’s interesting to go learn what might be an interesting question to go learn about somebody on a weekly basis. So in our case, we actually use the same question, but you can actually set it up to randomly generate one or you can manually choose whatever is that’s the first three. I’ll keep going. So we have intros is being used not only pretty heavily inside companies, but we’ve got large communities like we’ve got women in tech or we’ve got angel investor groups that are using this app to just as a way to go introduce yourself as a new employee to the company or as a new person on a project. And for example, in our case, we ask five questions of every employee. We ask things like, well, first concert, what’s something we’d be surprised to know about you? What do you like to do for fun outside the office? And because it’s in the standard template, people can quickly answer it and fill it out. But then again, it’s always in a database. As you said, we now know you like fencing. When we’re trying to match you up with other people who like fencing, we’ve already got that data from the intros app. We can now go match you up in a coffee talk chat with somebody else. So super, super simple and a great way to get to know people as they’re coming into the company.
That’s really cool. So some of these apps actually work together. You can use the information and you can make other apps more practical as well. So what are the last two?
The last two, so the last one is maps. So one of the things that’s just interesting is to see where everybody is on a map, not in real time, but what’s their home office location? For example, if I’m going to New York City and I was at LinkedIn, there’s no easy way for me to find out, hey, who likes fencing in New York City? I’m going to be in the town. Can we go connect together? Or just so you can put in your travel plans and you can also see where everybody is. So let’s say I’m organizing an offsite for my team. I can say, filter by direct reports. Let me see where everybody is, let me find out a central location and start to do that. So it’s where to see where everybody is on maps. And we’re going to continue to evolve that. So you can start to make recommendations for things in your hometown. So if somebody is coming to visit, you can get notified if somebody is coming to see you and also give them recommendations of things to go check out.
That’s really cool. This is actually something I just had, um, actually a client session this morning with this European company, and they were, they were talking about this issue of since they’re remote, they’re seeing the culture eroding and what should they do and what are the big companies are doing and they have to do some research and actually made an action item that they have to research what the biggest companies do and what kinds of tools are they using. So what do they tell them about Airspeed and your apps? Is it called the Airspeed app or what’s the name of it?
Airspeed app family. The last one we have is Shoutout, which is a very popular app. And so shoutouts is obviously a way to give somebody recognition. But some of the things that we did beyond just getting and the way we worked with HR people to put best in class practices for how do you give recognition. So it’s who am I recognizing? What did they do? What was the impact of that? And even flagging company values. So you can like hashtag passion or hashtag get stuff done. And that way, all of that stuff is reportable. So if I want to say, Hey, I’ve got an all hands meeting coming out, coming up next month, who got the most recognition for passion company value, I can go highlight to based on that, or if I’m doing a review from somebody, I can say, okay, let me take a look at all the shout outs Steve got over the last 12 months and that he received and go get it that way. But two other things that we do that I think are cool is we also have, we call Feedback Fridays. So we can encourage people to give feedback at least once a week. And as a manager, you can even set a goal. You can say, hey, listen, I’d like to give at least, you know, two shout outs a week. And we’ll kind of remind you as you get through midway through the week and towards the end of the week, whether you’ve hit your goal or not. And then finally, I can recommend other people giving feedback to somebody. So let’s say Dan, my VP of engineering, has an engineer who just kicked ass over the weekend, did a great job, and he could give him a shout out directly, but he says, I think that would even be better coming from the CEO. He can basically fill out the form and then have that routed to me. I can say, okay, yeah, of course, I’ll modify it maybe to be in my language and they’ll send it out. So it’s a great way to kind of get, elevate where the recognition is coming from.
Okay, so I can imagine if a company embraces this app family and they start doing three or four or five of these, then it’s going to make a huge difference for them. And do you see the use of these apps over time? Is there like a tipping point where people burn out using these apps. I’ve seen the shout outs being used for a coaching organization that I was part of and they use it every quarter and after time it became repetitive and people felt like it was becoming redundant. Do you see, is this the mixing of the different tools that keeps them fresh or other ways of keeping them fresh?
Yeah, what we try to do is we try to keep this very lightweight actions. We try not to be like a very HR heavy top down kind of approach. This is very much a bottoms up kind of motion. We launched our first app in March of 23 and the last one just hit earlier this month. And so we’ve now got thousands of organizations using it, tens of thousands of users. We’re seeing over 50% weekly engagement on average across the apps and we’re seeing healthy growth with the organization. So once something lands, they install in the channel, that channel is expanding and or they’re adding it to new channels in Slack as well. So we’re definitely seeing great engagement with the apps and people, them being very sticky.
Very good. So in terms of future expansion, what is coming down the pipe? I’m not thinking about other platforms where you might integrate with, but also other apps. Do you guys have other ideas that you want to turn into apps?
It’s secret or can you share some other? I can definitely give you that.
I mean, we’ve got a long list of ideas. Question in startup is always, how do you prioritize? So I think that right now we’re finishing off our HR integration. So all the leading HR platforms, we can, we’ll have one click authentication. And then the nice thing about that is as soon as you do that, all of a sudden your map is filled out with everybody’s location and all of the birthdays and work anniversaries are there and who reports to whom. So all that information becomes, just makes the apps even more useful. So we’re doing that. We’re doing a lot of stuff with AI right now. So we’ve done very simple things. Like if I don’t know what to write to you as a birthday card, I can say, Steve likes sensing and European travel and write it in the voice of a pirate. Right. And I can think and basically like generate the birthday greeting for me and do those kinds of things. So we’re doing a bunch of fun and simple stuff like that.Question in startup is always, how do you prioritize? Click To Tweet
But the bigger thing that’s exciting to me about AI is understanding connectedness, points of connection within the in the company, engagement based on the data that we have in our apps and other systems. So I think there’s going to be a lot of valuable data for managers to understand how their team is doing. And then along that line, we’re looking at building a polls app right now, and you’ll have create simple polls and stuff like that. That’ll be the basic part, but two custom polls that we’ll have. One will be about how do you just do a temperature check on your team, right? How do you say, let somebody say your direct reports, hey, every week, just get an automated message going out and saying, how you doing? And you can respond in an emoji. I’m burned out, I’m energetic, I’m tired, I’m sick, whatever it is, and you’re understanding what the overall temperature check is. And maybe it’s green, yellow, red, maybe it’s an emoji, maybe it’s a weather pattern, different ways to do it. And the other one is just an inclusion check, right? So people who are in DIBs groups inside the company for diversity just checking in and saying, hey, do you feel included? Do you feel like you’re being listened to? Do you feel like you’re really being a part of this organization and create an early warning system if you’re off track on that? So I think that’s also an area we’re very interested in going, again, all in the spirit of towards feeding the mission of how do you help employees feel more connected and appreciated.
Yeah, that is fascinating. I haven’t thought about culture. I haven’t thought about culture being an area which you can amplify, so to say. You can turn it into tools and concepts. I love business tools for other areas like execution strategy, but now culture is kind of the next frontier. So I love that. Are you working on integrating on some of the video communication tools like Zoom? A lot of people use Zoom and I see that Zoom already has a number of apps that they are offering. Is this something that you maybe also on the horizon for you guys?
Yeah, we actually had a hack day a little while ago. We built a little Zoom plug in, but we haven’t productized it yet. The idea there is that as we’re collecting this information, you’re basically building a profile of who you are. That’s beyond LinkedIn profile. And so we actually have this profile card that’s almost like a baseball card. Here’s your work side and here’s your play side. So the idea could be in a Zoom call. Imagine you start a Zoom call and there’s almost like a background for each of us that you can go choose or some kind of info button where you can go find out more about the people who are on that call without having to go type their name into Google or type their name in the LinkedIn beforehand.
That’s fascinating. So lots of great ideas to explore. And I can’t wait to see these culture apps proliferate and help people transition for this fully virtual environment. I think people recognize that, as you said, the genie is out of the bottle. Suddenly I go back. So how do you embrace it? And some companies say, hey, we already hired people in remote locations so we have no way of going back. We give up our office. Now what? You know, they debent the bridge. Now we have to move forward and embrace it. And this is a great way to do that. I particularly like this map and the travel thing. So when you travel, you can actually make up for lost time with people in those locations. So awesome. So if people would like to find out about AirSpeed and maybe they want to experiment, how do they go about it?
So you can either go to getairspeed.com and all of our apps are listed there. They’ll click you directly into an installation or you can go to the Slack app store. We’re all listed in the Slack app store. All the apps are free for this year. We will always have a free forever tier. So we’ll start charging next year. So anybody who’s using up to 50 has up to 50 unique users that’s using one or more apps will be in a free tier. Beyond that, we’ll have a couple of paid tiers, one for a bunch of customization capabilities and one for integration into HR systems, single sign-on, more of the enterprise capabilities, but very inexpensive. Kind of the price of our entire family of apps will be the price of most single-function Slack apps.
Wow. Okay. So I’m definitely going to check it out. So getairspeed.com is the website. And then do you have to have Slack to be able to use this?
Today you have to have Slack. Eventually, again, in our mission of helping employees feel connected and celebrated, we want to be where the people are. So eventually, you can imagine us on other platforms, including web, mobile, Teams, etc. But today, the apps are restricted to just Slack.
Fantastic. Okay, so that’s the Wild West of culture. And that is becoming mainstream as well. And it’s great to know that there are tools that we can use to make our remote teams feel at home. So thanks, Doug, for coming on the show. I really enjoyed it and have a great day.
Thanks, Steve. Have a great day.
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