Founder and Chief Evangelist, Pendo
Amid the bustle of the dot-com era, Eric Boduch (BSIM 1996) was finding his footing as a fledgling tech entrepreneur while studying at Carnegie Mellon. From a young age, Boduch was interested in computer programming, and he was drawn to the university’s computer engineering program. But in his business classes, he was inspired by his entrepreneurial studies and his connection with such faculty as Jack Roseman, Jack Thorne, and
Together with fellow CMU student Todd Olson (E 1997), Boduch launched Vision Systems while still an undergraduate student. As the company shifted from a focus on software consulting to product development, the pair rebranded the company as Cerebellum Software, which built programs that connected front-end web-based systems with back-end data.
When Cerebellum experienced a series of layoffs following the burst of the dot-com bubble, Boduch and Olson left the company, which closed for good in 2002. Boduch took on a variety of marketing and product management roles at public companies and startups before coming back together with Olson to launch Pendo, a company that builds software to measure user data and enhance user experience for its clients.
What is your elevator pitch?
Pendo is a product cloud that provides user insight, user guidance, and user communication for digital product teams. With Pendo, these product teams can understand product usage, collect feedback, measure Net Promoter Score, onboard users, and announce new features in app — all without requiring engineering resources. In essence, what we do at Pendo is help our customers create products that their users love.
What was the “aha” moment?
The idea came from a lot of pain that my co-founders and I had in the past. There are four co-founders at Pendo. We had all managed products to a greater or lesser extent. We always wanted to try to understand how our software was really being used. Getting that data is always hard, and you had to put engineers on it. But then you have an engineer who is in essence just giving you data, spending time writing code just to give you data about how your software is being used, as opposed to working on the core functionality.
The thought process behind Pendo was, “What if we provide a layer that makes it really easy to see how their software is being used without having to engage their engineers?” So that’s what we did. Our customers don’t have to write any code. They install a snippet of code into their products, and we can capture everything their users do inside their software.
Early on, we figured out that getting that data for our customers is great, but we knew we could do more. Via Pendo, our customers learned that people struggle with, say, setting up staging servers. So we thought, let’s help our customers guide their users to a better experience. To do that, we added in-app messaging on top of Pendo very early on, so that our customers can say, “Hey, I see that you’re struggling with this. Here’s how you do it.” Or “Have you seen this new feature that we just launched called spell check? You don’t need to have a dictionary at your desk anymore. Check it out. This is how it works.” With this added functionality, our ability to enhance the whole product experience is really powerful.
Pivotal players who get included in the thank-you speech?
Every one of my co-founders added a ton of value. There’s a possibility we wouldn’t have made it to where we are today if we were missing even just one of them.
Rahul Jain has experience in software startups, larger companies like Cisco, and on the venture capital side. He helped a lot by opening doors with many of our early customers.
Erik Troan worked mostly at different startup companies. He was one of the early engineers and the first VP of engineering over at Red Hat, a big open source company. He was just marvelous in getting our products off the ground.
Todd Olson [E 1997], who’s my CEO, had worked originally at Cerebellum Software with me. He was also more recently VP of Products at Rally Software. He was not only the driver of the product vision, but he was great in closing deals with most of our early customers.
And then there are the wives behind the co-founders. All four of us are married. Even today, travel schedules for Rahul, Todd, and me are a little crazy. In the early days, Troan was working late all the time to solve technical issues. You definitely have to have tolerant significant others when you’re working super hard to get a startup off the ground. They’re wondering why you’re behind your computer at midnight or why you suddenly need to fly out to San Francisco tomorrow.
What did you have to have to learn to get things started?
Todd and I started consulting when we were in school. It was a way to have a little extra money for things like pizza, or beer, maybe. And then from there, we grew it into what would become Cerebellum. We started as a consulting company. At some point, we didn’t want it to just be a consulting company, and pivoted to being more of a product company. We grew it up through the ups and downs of the internet times.
We raised capital right out of school. Over the years, the company continued to grow — I think we peaked at about 68 people at the height of the dot-com era. We had an offer to sell the company that ended up not working out. They were negotiating right around the time the market crashed, when the dot-com bubble burst. The company eventually closed down. So it was an interesting story about growing a company at an early stage, almost having a great exit, and then seeing what happens with a dramatic shift in macroeconomics.
It was a great learning experience from that standpoint. I used to tell people, if I had made a ton of money off of that company, I would have probably been overly confident and pompous. I think humility is an important attribute for business people to have in general. I had the opportunity to learn humility at an early age.
How about growth?
When we embarked with Pendo, we were really finding a solid product market fit. There weren’t good tools out there for product managers. We got rapid adoption and growth from the onset, which is great. That’s not to say it wasn’t hard work — it was a lot of work getting those early customers.
We have a core value about a maniacal focus on our customers. I think that instilled in us a focus on making sure our customers are successful from the earliest stage of Pendo. In part, because of these happy customers, we have been able to attract a strong team and solid financial backers. When Battery Ventures got involved, they preempted our A round. They said, “We’ve heard great things about the company, the software, and the value customers are getting out of it.”
What key piece of information gets overlooked when getting started?
We were able to get some really solid people early on. Shannon Bauman, who was an ex-Google product manager, is an early employee who headed product for us. Probably one of the most important things Shannon did was help us instill a strong culture inside Pendo. Shannon made sure we did the things we needed to do to grow our culture inside the company. I think our culture is one of the strongest parts of Pendo and is one of the reasons we’re successful. It’s helped us through a lot of challenges. How do you hire the right people? How do you attract the talent you need? No company is successful without a lot of really talented people adding a ton of value. You can point back to core values, to the culture of who we are. It has helped us hire. I’m amazed at the quality of people we’ve been able to recruit.
How did Carnegie Mellon help shape your companies?
My computer engineering background gave me a way of looking at problems logically. It’s an approach to solving problems and evaluating opportunities that may be a little bit different. It has been of great value not only on the engineering side of the house, but also in the marketing and business development side of the house and the sales side of the house. That mindset that I learned from computer engineering — more than the underlying programming algorithms and languages — has been extremely valuable.
Interacting with people like Jack Roseman, Jack Thorne, Don Jones [former GSIA entrepreneurship faculty members] — all of whom have been through it before — was valuable. I learned a lot from their experience. Even though the way software businesses are run, from a metric standpoint, is a lot different than the companies they created, I learned a lot about handling people issues from them — a lot of knowledge that stands the test of time despite how the underlying technology and business models might change.
Does anything keep you up at night?
The big issues that are out there are probably beyond my control. It’s hard to worry about macroeconomic things that you have no control over. There are always little setbacks: deals you lose, product launches that don’t go as well, products that are delayed. I tend to be more of an optimist. I try to keep a calm and steady view about where we want to be in the long term and not get overly concerned with little bumps in the road—and also not get overly excited about the positive things that happen.