“Do what you’re doing until it doesn’t work anymore, and then do something else.” This applies in work and life in so many situations. In tech companies, there’s no single product, technology, or operational system that lasts forever. Good businesses and teams adapt to what’s current. Rather than fearing change, it’s best to accept the fact that change is inevitable — it’s not a sign of failure, but a sign of progress. This very much applies to the personal journey as well. Do what you’re doing until it isn’t working for you, and then do something else. This is how we grow.
I had the pleasure to interview Kieran Snyder. Kieran is the co-founder and CEO of Textio, the augmented writing platform. For anything you write, Textio tells you ahead of time who’s going to respond based on the language you’ve used. Textio’s augmented writing engine is designed to attach to any large text corpus with outcomes to find the patterns that work. Prior to founding Textio, Kieran held product leadership roles at Microsoft and Amazon. Kieran has a PhD in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I have a PhD in linguistics and have spent my life measuring the effect of language on people with math. First, I worked at Microsoft and led the group that integrated the Bing search engine into Windows. After Microsoft, I headed to Amazon where I led design, product, and instrumentation for their advertising products. My dad is an entrepreneur, so I probably always had the bug, but I finally bit the bullet and left Amazon to co-found Textio in 2014.
Why did you found your company?
As someone with a background in data and language, I knew there was a way to measure language and the impact it would have on the world. What if you could know, before you ever published something, who was going to respond?
I met my co-founder Jensen Harris who built the first user experience for email with Outlook and led the user experiences of Microsoft Office and Windows for several years, so it made sense to combine our strengths to create Textio.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Since writing on a computer was invented, the experience has only gone through a couple of real sea changes.
When graphical user interface came along, it made it possible to create documents that went beyond plain text into something formatted and visually appealing. When the internet came along, it enabled people to work on documents collaboratively rather than in isolation. But as important as both of those changes were to digital writing, none of this progress helped improve the words themselves. What if you could know before you published something how to make the words work for your intended audience?
Textio is the augmented writing platform that tells you who is going to respond to anything you’ve written. As you write your document, Textio compares your language to the language of millions of other similar documents with strong response rates. You get real-time suggestions that will statistically improve your response rate from a diverse and relevant set of people. The first application on the platform is Textio Hire, which is used for writing job posts and recruiting email messages that are guaranteed to see high application and response rates — across our customers, jobs fill 2–3 weeks faster. Customers include NASA, Johnson & Johnson, and Cisco.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
Steven Sinfosky and Julie Larson-Green were both tremendous business leaders that I was fortunate enough to work for in my time at Microsoft. Steven has an unparalleled deep and comprehensive view into how you make enterprise software for real people, from product definition to development to the full go-to-market. Julie knows how to build teams with people of varied skills and has always managed to get the best out of her team members and teammates. I admire both of them tremendously.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Writing is the currency of modern business. Whether you make widgets, sprockets, or an app, probably the thing you make the most of every day is words. You write email to colleagues, reach out to sales prospects and customers, write marketing copy, and so much more. As Textio grows, augmented writing will learn the patterns that work for all these varied types of writing. We see a huge opportunity in marketing and sales communications. Data can tell you which messages are getting the prospects you want to respond.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“Do what you’re doing until it doesn’t work anymore, and then do something else.”
This applies in work and life in so many situations. In tech companies, there’s no single product, technology, or operational system that lasts forever. Good businesses and teams adapt to what’s current. Rather than fearing change, it’s best to accept the fact that change is inevitable — it’s not a sign of failure, but a sign of progress.
This very much applies to the personal journey as well. Do what you’re doing until it isn’t working for you, and then do something else. This is how we grow.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
One of my favorites is American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard. It was originally recommended to me by a prominent HR tech analyst, because he thought it would speak to my love of linguistic nuance.
So much of language and culture are regional in nature, and this book does an outstanding job of setting out some of historical anthropology that underlines so many of the language patterns that Textio’s software notices in real people’s writings.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I lived in the same house as Elon Musk in college, but we haven’t hung out since. Just saying…
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I tweet a lot, so you can find my musings @kieransnyder