Brightback Team Spotlight: John Finkelstein, Senior Software Engineer
Aha moments are special. It feels good to see the light, and it’s an experience many employees go through as they explore new companies solving new problems. We talked to one of our engineers about his work on teams big and small, retiring from surfing (temporarily) and his aha moment with customer retention as he considered joining Brightback. Read on and get to know John.
What’s your role at Brightback?
My official title is Senior Software Engineer, but I’m a jack of all trades back end developer for Brightback. I touch pretty much everything besides the UI. (Editor’s note: John has helped build our software from the ground up. And we’re looking for more engineers like him!)
How did you get to the role you’re in today?
I’ve had some pretty diverse experiences. My skills are in back end development, some Android development and a smattering of front end development. And I’ve had experience at a variety of companies. I founded or co-founded two startups in the collaboration and data visualization spaces. I was at a health tech company. I worked together with other engineering employees at 4INFO and Twitter. Before Brightback, I was at Hulu. When you’ve worked at both small and big companies you get to know the full range of workplace realities.
Why did you join Brightback?
When it came to deciding to join the team, the first level validation was knowing that Guy (Brightback’s co-founder) was building a company with good, solid people.
I asked Guy point blank: “Why build this?” He told me he had been deeply involved with customer retention at three companies in a row. In tackling churn, he found that there wasn’t an easy and systematic way for companies to improve customer retention.
Up to this point, I hadn’t thought much about customer retention even though this was a big problem at Twitter and Hulu, and it’s an issue at nearly all user-based companies. Churn is one of those problems where it’s not like entertainment. It’s something that businesses need to solve. Once I understood this, I realized something important: when most companies fight churn, they have to roll up their sleeves and get their devs to build custom UIs, implement integrations and manually send files here and there. It’s a scotch tape and bubble gum solution — it’s not great.
For the people in charge of keeping customers, Brightback is a godsend. It automates some of their main tasks allowing them to focus on understanding their customers better and improving their product. I wanted to be a part of that.
Why are you excited about working in customer retention?
It’s intriguing to see a full picture of the customer’s world.
When you’re building a product, you can look at usage data to learn more about your customers, like what features they’re using. The cancellation process also provides insights that go beyond tracking clicked buttons.
When customers are leaving or about to leave, their responses are the most leveraged form of feedback. What I mean by that is you get different feedback from customers who are cancelling than from customers who are really happy. In the case of a customer who’s cancelling, you get the opportunity to change your product and have tangible effects on your profit. I can’t miss the opportunity to drop a classic sports phrase here: “You learn more from your losses than your wins.”
What surprised you the most about customer retention?
Superficially, it always seemed to me like the acquisition side of startups was the biggest lever, because it feels like the biggest challenge early on. What has surprised me is realizing when your business is up to speed, the retention lever is just as powerful. What every company should know is measurable improvements on churn make a major impact.
What are you interested in doing outside of work?
In my days before I was a parent, I was really into surfing. I still love surfing, but don’t have the time for it right now. What hasn’t changed is that I’m a really big sports fan. I probably follow more sports than I should. It’s a bit more parent-friendly. I also run and go to the gym. I’m 99% gym rat and 1% surfer now. (And 100% dad.)
P.S. We’re a remote-first company.