Episode #2 - Alison O'Brien, Head of Accounts at Giggster in Los Angeles
In this episode, we interview Alison O'Brien. Alison is the Head of Accounts on the Customer Success team at Giggster, an online platform that connects property hosts with renters looking to film in their home or space. We discuss what it's like to work in Customer Success at an early stage startup. Alison was the Customer Success team employee number one (it was a company of five when she joined), responsible for creating the entire roadmap and team processes having never worked in CS before. We also talked about why Alison loves working at Giggster and sees CS as a great opportunity to get your foot in the door at a tech company straight out of college.
Alma Mater: UCSB
(Transcript paraphrased for clarity)
What is Giggster?
I would say the easiest way to describe it is like the Airbnb for filming and event locations. We’re basically a marketplace style platform that connects anyone who owns a property they want to rent out for filming to anyone who is looking for a filming location.
How would finding a film location work if you couldn’t use Giggster?
In the past, many film locations are repped by agencies, and they take double the commission that we do and don’t always talk directly with the owner. We feel our platform really caters to the 90% of the market that can’t afford the standard premium. We just cut out the middleman.
What do these filming spaces look like?
We do have commercial properties and professional film studios but I would say the majority of our listings are residential. Think about anytime you see a TV commercial filmed at a house that looks like it could be anywhere in America, chances are it was filmed in Los Angeles. Giggster allows producers to access quadruple the number of houses they would normally have access to at cheaper prices. And it allows anyone who wants to, be able to host production in their home.
We have everything. We have houses, abandoned warehouses, plots of land in the desert, bars, libraries, schools, cafeterias. It can really be anything.
Who are the typical people looking to rent filming spaces on Giggster?
Could be indie production companies, students, well established production companies, fashion brands, reality TV shows, network TV, Youtube stars. Really anyone who needs a location.
So you started at Giggster a little under two years ago in Customer Success, right?
Yes. Correct. So I started in August of 2017, right after I graduated UCSB.They had officially launched in May of that year. I started as Customer Success Manager (CSM). I was the first CS hire. I essentially founded the department, and yeah, it was a really interesting experience. I still remember actually the very first meeting I had with my company. The guy who hired me made me get up in front of our entire company and write out our first quarter roadmap on my second day of work. I was so scared, like “this is the moment that I get fired.” I think you can get from that story the kind of environment that I was thrown into right away.
I want to get into some of the nuts and bolts of what a CSM does. Can you explain what the role is generally and maybe some examples of how you worked with a customer through a problem recently?
One thing that should be known with marketplaces is that you may have very different kinds of users. You have users on the demand side like producers, the people looking for the locations. And then you have the users on the supply side, which are the hosts putting their locations up on the site. My job is essentially to make sure that both sets of users can successfully use our product.
For example, with hosts, a lot of these homeowners may be older and less tech savvy so I might need to help them upload their location and figure out pricing.
On the renter [producer] side, I do a lot of custom location work. Producers may have a place in mind and I can help them find the right location. They’ll come to me and say ‘I want a house that looks like middle America, but isn’t in Hollywood because permitting is terrible, is under $500 a day, and has a red door.’ And I’ll help them find it.
I also do a lot of pretty hand-held customer service for our bigger clients. Like drafting contracts, negotiating rates, tending location scouts. Basically, everything start to finish in the booking process.
How do you have time in the day to do all of those things?
Delegation and automation. I now have two interns that work below me and they’re amazing. I wrote up a ton of documentation and trained them and now they’ve stepped up to handle a lot of the work. And with automation, for example, I implemented software to automate an email sequence instead of doing it manually.
I think something important for anyone that's interested in tech is that you don't need to be a technical person to work in tech. You can have no knowledge of technology at all. But as long as you're in there understanding the product, understanding the users and where the pain points are, you can figure out a way to solve that problem by talking to other people at your company who are knowledgeable in that field.
You also briefly had to take on some responsibilities on the sales team. Why did you end up back in CS?
It’s such a unique opportunity to work at a company like this. I feel like I need to be trying out as many different positions as I can. I treat it like my business school. But really I was just there because I needed to be to help set up the processes. And now we’ve got the pros working in sales that have the industry connections. I’d rather let them handle that.
I feel like CS gets a kind of a bad rap, but CS is the backbone of the company. You’re on the front lines talking to customers every single day. You’re the one getting all the customer feedback. I feel like there’s so much more we can do as Giggster scales and I want to use this opportunity to learn and be challenged as much as possible.
Zac: And that's a point I really want to hammer home because CS is viewed often times as being an unglamorous role but as Brendan and I source opportunities, especially internships and entry level opportunities, there are probably more of those positions than any other. You made several really, really great points about why CS is a great place to start your career. We talk to a lot of students who tell us “I want to work at a startup but I don’t want to work in CS” and it’s like “Why not?”. You’re an awesome example of how much flexibility there is once you get into a company and have spent time with the customers.
Alison: 100%. If I had been applying to an Account Manager position with no sales experience there’s no way I would have been hired. But if you have experience talking to people and being a problem solver then you will have a good chance getting hired into a CS role. And then there’s so many places you can transition to, like marketing, sales, or product. You have to pay your dues a little bit.
Brendan: I agree, I love what you said about a startup being like your business school. I think that’s why Zac and I are so bullish on people starting their careers at a startup. Giggster is a perfect example of that, where you have the flexibility our of necessity to try all these different things because the company needs that. And as the company grows, you’ll have the opportunity to probably do something that you aren’t even really qualified for. You would need years of experience to find yourself in that role if you were applying to a Facebook, or Amazon but because it’s a smaller company and there’s that necessity, you get that opportunity.
Alison: Definitely. And working for a small company definitely has its pros and cons. But like you said, a big pro is that you're going to get a lot of responsibility, you know, probably more responsibility than you may be ready for. You learn to be resourceful. And if you’re ever put into a position later at a company where you do actually have the resources it’s going to be much easier for you.
Before we wrap up, is Giggster hiring?
I am hiring for a CS intern to start in January 2019. It's a really fun and dynamic role. I think it's pretty unique to most internships because it's essentially the job that I was doing when I first started at Giggster. Of course, you're going to have guidance from me and a lot of resources. Giggster has a really, really great supportive environment. If you're interested in tech, if you're interested in entertainment, please apply. I'm really looking for someone who's a problem solver and really comfortable talking to people.