Listen to your customers, or suffer

[Full disclosure: I’m a long-term Redditor]

A lot of digital ink has been furiously poured last week, over Victoria Taylor’s (u/chooter) departure from Reddit — she’s truly a gem and such an important part of Reddit — handling famous IAMAs like President Obama.

Yesterday Brian Lynch and Courtnie Swearingen (volunteer moderators of the AMA subreddit) wrote a very frank op-ed on why they made the decision to take the subreddit private. It made sense, from an operation point-of-view to handle a situation that got out of hand, no thanks to Reddit’s CEO, Ellen Pao.

But what struck me the most and kept me thinking all weekend was just how badly Reddit’s corporate management alienated Reddit’s community. Yes, Reddit is a company, and it does need to make money to stay afloat. But in the rush to return to churn profits, management completely lost vision of what Reddit was supposed to be, and what keeps it running.

Reddit is a community. It’s not just about customers consuming content, it’s about users generating, sharing, and moderating content. Without its users, Reddit would turn into yet-another lame version of Buzzfeed or Cracked (no prizes for guessing where most Buzzfeed articles come from anyway).

And in losing sight of that, Reddit’s CEO completely lost her community. In fact, choosing to explain Reddit management’s actions to Time magazine, instead of on her own platform, either speaks volumes about how little upper management understands Reddit or indicates unwillingness to engage in conversation, preferring a mouthpiece instead.

Ellen Pao may not retain her post as Reddit’s CEO — not because of this alone, but because of her track record of mismanaging Reddit’s community in the past.

However, as a silver lining to this, we did learn a lot from her mistakes.

While Semantics3 is a product-focused company selling access to a tangible good (data), our biggest resource is our customers. Customer feedback is our bread-and-butter — it’s one of the reasons we never outsource our API management.

Our customers are an integral part of our product development and roadmap. Customers tell us which features they need from the API, they tell us what data they need from our API, how fresh it needs to be, and what could be done better about it. Each day, we receive emails from our biggest fans not just telling us how awesome the API is, but also what could be done to improve it.

It is absolutely priceless insight, and no number of surveys or form-filling can equal these valuable inputs.

Which is why we constantly monitor and collate our support emails, reviewing them every week to extract majority opinions on what works, what doesn't, and what needs to be built.

This is then discussed internally with our globally integrated engineering team, and distilled into 6-week long product roadmaps. New products are either pushed out, improved, or re-designed.

Everyone at Semantics3 does support — no ifs or buts. It has a two-fold effect: support email turnaround is much faster, and no one is insulated from the market. It has the effect of making everyone aware of what the market demands, and what could be improved, which is great for teamwork and cohesion in product engineering.

And that’s why I will always personally read and address every customer email.

Hari Viswanathan

Always lovingly made in San Francisco