Dovetail’s founders built their tech startup on the cultural values of ex-employer Atlassian

Dovetail

Dovetail co-founders Bradley Ayers & Benjamin Humphrey

The ex-Atlassian duo behind Sydney-based startup Dovetail are staying true to the values espoused by their former employer as they attract the likes of Nike, Deloitte and Freshworks to their customer feedback management platform.  

Launched in August, this year, Dovetail has already had 1200 sign-ups for its cloud-based platform, which enables users to analyse and share user feedback. After Dovetail secured a $25,000 Minimum Viable Product (MVP) grant from government-backed agency Jobs for NSW, this week, Deputy Premier John Barilaro praised CEO Benjamin Humphrey and his co-founder Bradley Ayers for “taking a leap of faith” and launching a business with the potential to generate new business growth and jobs. He added, “After initial support from the NSW Government, Dovetail is now growing strongly and hopes to succeed both in Australia and internationally.”

In conversation with Dynamic Business, Humphrey – a former lead designer with Delicious in Silicon Valley – revealed how the idea for Dovetail spun out of his work at Atlassian. He also discussed the influence the tech giant has had on his startup, and how the MVP grant will help Dovetail generate increased value for its customers.

DB: What is the elevator pitch for Dovetail?

Humphrey: Dovetail helps professionals identify patterns across user research and customer feedback. Researchers use Dovetail to tag interview notes or transcripts when they notice opportunities for improvement or pain points to address. Product managers import customer feedback (such as survey responses, tweets, and support tickets) and use Dovetail to tag and organise it all. Through Dovetail, product managers can get an understanding of whether something is anecdotal or systemic, which is incredibly important when prioritising customer­centric roadmaps.

Our software is cloud­based and interactive, whereas a lot of our competition are native Windows or Mac apps, or in the cloud but read­only. This means our users can collaborate on research and customer feedback analysis—even across geos—and come away with actionable insights they can share with their team, clients, or stakeholders.

DB: What motivated you to launch the startup?

Humphrey: I started Dovetail in my spare time towards the end of 2016. As a lead designer at Atlassian, I noticed a gap in the market, looking at the tools available for researchers, designers, and product managers to help them analyse user research and customer feedback. Specifically, the process of identifying patterns across data to find opportunities, pain points and common feature requests typically involved a combination sticky notes, spreadsheets and word processors. I felt this was very clunky because data was being stored in different formats, insights were being lost over time and research data wasn’t easily accessible by other members of the team.

DB: Since its creation, how has Dovetail evolved?

Humphrey: I launched Dovetail 1 in October 2016 focused on a niche. I had a big vision for the product but didn’t have the time nor expertise to realise it. Earlier this year, I convinced Brad to join me as a co­founder, and both of us left our jobs Atlassian to work on Dovetail full-time. I’d learned a lot from Dovetail 1, so we spent a few weeks on a new version and launched Dovetail 2 in August this year. It’s a much more flexible product built on a new tech stack so we can move faster.

DB: How would you quantify Dovetail’s success?

Humphrey: More than 1200 companies have signed up for platform, and we’ve been working closely with researchers and product managers at Pinterest, Deloitte, MacMillan Learning, Freshworks, and Tyro to shape our MVP.

DB: Can you discuss your work with these companies?

Humphrey: The relationships developed in a lot of different ways. With Tyro, it was through some ex­Atlassian designers. We went into Tyro’s office and spent a couple of hours brainstorming with them, critiquing designs and so on. This was tremendously helpful for us when developing Dovetail. We also worked with researchers from Pinterest & MacMillan Learning who just signed up on our website. We talked with them over video chat and held up sketches of new features in front of the camera.

Freshworks and MacMillan Learning are definitely key customers – I think we have the entire design and research team at Freshworks on Dovetail across India and the United States. They’re huge fans of the product.

DB: How will the Jobs for NSW grant assist Dovetail?

Humphrey: The MVP grant will help us double down on our cloud advantage by investing in features like automated sentiment analysis and suggested tags through natural language recognition. These features will help our large customers handle lots of customer feedback at scale.

DB: Has your time with Atlassian influenced Dovetail?

Humphrey: Yeah, definitely. Culturally, the biggest lessons we apply at Dovetail are the Atlassian values – no tolerance for bullshit, being transparent both internally to each other and externally to our customers, and knowing the importance of a great work/life balance to prevent burnout.

From a business perspective, there are a lot of similarities between the approach we’re taking and how Atlassian operated in the early days – namely, we invest heavily in product over marketing and sales; our subscription­based pricing model gives us recurring revenue and predictability, our disruption of non­cloud products is similar to Atlassian’s journey with their cloud offering, and we’ve funded Dovetail ourselves which means we retain majority ownership as co­founders.

DB: Was leaving Atlassian to bootstrap a startup tough?

Humphrey: Day to day it’s actually been easier. There’s an order of magnitude – less people you need to talk with to make a decision on something. We can be laser-focused on our product and customers and not get bogged down with bureaucracy.

Some things are much harder though. For example, Atlassian has an established brand with high trust. This means they could ship a new offering and leverage their brand, marketing, and cross­sell engine to attract lots of paying customers quickly. There are also specialised roles in Atlassian. With Dovetail, we have to do everything ourselves but at Atlassian you could defer to an expert in legal or marketing, etc.

Weirdly enough bootstrapping is actually a great differentiator for us. There’s no pressure to have insane growth, so we can offer a low-priced offering and undercut our competitors. We’re less stressed as founders and we’re very efficient. We have to stay lean and fast because we don’t have a lot of capital to throw at the problem.

DB: What are the biggest wins at Dovetail to date?

One would be getting our first paying customers only two months after launching. As a startup founder, there’s nothing more motivating than getting those emails from Stripe! In a lot of cases we’ll get customers upgrading who we have no relationship with, basically a ‘no­touch’ conversion. This is especially valuable because it means our product positioning and messaging is getting the job done without human (sales) intervention.

Another win has been receiving the MVP grant from Jobs for NSW — it helps us build new features like automated sentiment analysis which further differentiates our offering from the competition and provides real value for our customers, especially at scale.