For this episode of the HelpHandles™ Podcast Series, I thought it would be great to catch up with Derek, learn more about his new business Median and share some of our thoughts on the importance of getting started…

Back in late October 2015, I had just released an early version of HelpHandles, when a guy named Derek Homann, who was heading up social media support at LinkedIn at the time, contacted me and kindly offered his feedback.

Over the course of a few months, Derek encouraged me to develop my idea further and get it out there. Derek’s feedback was invaluable, but most importantly, he became a trusted friend.

For this episode of the HelpHandles™ Podcast Series, I thought it would be great to catch up with Derek, learn more about his new business Median and share some of our thoughts on the importance of getting started…

I hope you enjoy our chat!

Key highlights in this podcast

0:54 Dean welcomes Derek to the HelpHandles Podcast…

2:22 Derek recalls how he connected with Dean on Twitter back in late 2015…

I was heading up social customer support at LinkedIn and came across a review for the LinkedInHelp Team on HelpHandles and wanted to get in touch as I was interested in seeing how LinkedIn ranked against other companies for social support.
3:03 Dean explains how he jumped on the opportunity to talk with Derek, and asked him for more feedback…

When you are just starting out it’s important to get your idea out there, even if it’s not finished, to get some initial feedback…early feedback can help you take your idea somewhere…
4:15 Derek explains how he left LinkedIn in early of 2016, after 8 years, and took a position as Head of Support at a managed WordPress hosting company Fly Wheel in Omaha…

LinkedIn is an awesome place to work, and had grown from 300 employees to over 9,000 since I had been there, but part of the reason I moved was that I wanted to be part of a smaller company again…
Derek talks about how Omaha’s roots in customer support and the emerging startup scene…

A decent amount of Bay area, and Silicon Valley startups — as they got bigger opened up customer support offices and operations in Omaha. PayPal, LinkedIn and a few others did it, and so Omaha became known for tech support and startups…
The startup scene in general is not huge in Omaha, it’s small and growing, it’s a tight knit community of people who want to help each other out and see each other succeed…
7:21 Derek talks about the main drivers and motivations behind starting Median…

For a long time I’ve wanted to start my own company and I’ve always been interested in tech…I’d worked in customer support for over 10 years in various different roles, and eventually found myself in a position where I felt I could take a risk and build some products and useful tools that would help people doing customer support and make their lives easier…
After meeting his co-founder Ben Stevinson at Fly Wheel, it was during Derek’s paternity leave, after his second child was born, Ben and Derek both started throwing around some ideas over drinks and after a number of weeks they came up with some early versions of some support products they wanted to develop and eventually built the first early versions of what would become Median…

Biggest thing for me was finding someone with complimentary skill sets, I would have done this years ago had I met the right partner, i’m glad i didn’t as I’ve learnt and gained more experience in the last few years which I believe gives us more chance to be successful…
9:54 Dean talks about how his main motivations behind getting started with HelpHandles was the birth of his daughter 5 years ago…

I’d been working in the tech space for over 10 years and around 5 years ago, I noticed a shift, where front-end development and customer support started to become more accessible and emerge as key disciplines within their own right.
These things were going through a bit of a revolution….
This motivated me to get back into web development and to start experimenting with new tools and technologies. From there it led me onto WordPress, and I started developing my own WordPress Themes, over a number of years I learned how to make niche products that fit a market and worked hard on coming up with products that people wanted to buy on sites like ThemeForest.
It was during this time that the seeds were sown for what would eventually become my idea for HelpHandles…
14:00 Dean asks Derek what was the first thing he started working on when developing Median. Did he research other tools or products?

I’ve been embedded in the customer support industry for a while now and i’ve always checked out new products and tools. When we very first started we intended to build our own live chat product, a different take on live chat. I like live chat as a mechanism, you can get answers really quickly, but i know its hard to provide support via live chat so we wanted to make it easier for companies to provide live chat in a really scalable way and offer awesome support….
We originally started building out a live chat product with screen sharing built into the core. We soon found out that the screen sharing product we were building, called “CoBrowse” was a full on product within itself, and we were trying to build out two products in one…
We found out that by talking with people and demoing the initial idea, that the co-browsing technology was of real interest to people, so we decided to break this out and make this a standalone product, and integrate it with existing chat providers on the market to improve and make live chat better…
19:30 Dean talks about how he was familiar with web analytics tools like Google Analytics, Web Trends, Adobe Site Catalyst…

These tools were large and clunky to use, required resource, specialist skills and knowledge and were really difficult to get some useful insight from…
Dean goes onto explain…

I didn’t look at any competitor platforms in the social media analytics market, and built HelpHandles away from all that, in some ways this helped me build a completely unique new product that I could easily use and understand myself…
Derek goes onto to explain why he likes HelpHandles…

HelpHandles is an independent platform and not tied to any specific provider….most social media management systems provide siloed data and analytics, and it’s in their own interests to keep the data siloed and away from competitors….
Derek says while he was at LinkedIn he was always asking himself questions and seeking verification on how his team were really performing across the wider landscape…

Are we doing a good job? How do we stack up against other companies? How fast should we be responding? How do I know what the industry average for response times are, so I can benchmark that against our own response time?
HelpHandles answered these questions, to get access to industry averages, on how other companies were performing, to learn from the good things and bad things other companies were doing in social support…
…this is why HelpHandles was super interesting to me, it helped me go from guessing how my team was performing to actually verifying it, in an easy and digestible way…
24:02 Dean asks Derek what his biggest challenges were with getting started with Median…

The hardest thing is we think we have an idea of what we should build and how we should approach things, it would be great if someone could tell us the right order to approach things. We’re two guys sitting in a closet trying to work it all out, so it would be really great to know on which order to start…how do we prioritise and what order do we put features in…we can’t do all the things at once…
Derek talks about the challenge of pricing…

We went back and forth on pricing and changed our pricing ten different times, although we settled on something pretty good with the help with the folks at Intercom…
Dean talks about the frustrating but nice to have problem of working it out for yourself…

…you know you’re facing this problem, and you know you have to go through this journey of discovery, but you know the answer is out there, or someone has this answer, and in someways it’s a nice to have problem, because you are going to learn so much, but it’s frustrating at the same time as you know the answer is out there and you want to move on quickly and solve problems quickly so you can move on the next stage of your startup journey…
Derek mentions that the interesting thing about taking advice, is that no-one knows more about your business more than you….

It’s really hard to figure out what advice is the right advice and what is bad advice, there’s lots of good advice out there, its hard to decipher what is the right thing to do and what order to apply that advice…
Dean talks about how he wants to make his own mistakes…

The whole idea of doing my own startup is to learn, and make mistakes, I want to feel a sense of achievement when i get things right….
26:26 Dean and Derek talk about the challenges of work life balance…

We both have kids and young families so balancing that on top of everything has been a challenge…
Derek talks about how making compromises are hard but necessary…

I really want my company to be more successful than I want to spend playing 20 rounds of golf per year…
28:54 Dean asks Derek what he is working on next at Median..

We’re going heavy into the integration space, whereby we will be announcing formal integrations with other platforms, such as Live Chat, Intercom and a few more which will be exciting…
Biggest thing is to continue to build out the product. Focused on giving more context to what your customers are doing, and to take it a step further to allow your customer support team to teach people on how to do things, and be able to annotate on screen, to help guide and walk users through an onboarding process…
30:49 Derek asks Dean what’s next for HelpHandles…

We’re continuing with our values and mission of democratising access to social customer service data and insight…
We’re starting to work with some innovative companies who are using the product, listening to customers, getting feedback, in addition to that talking to people like yourself and producing more insight across social customer service space…
31:28 Dean thanks Derek for taking time out to talk…

33:18 Ends