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Automating Know-How with Jennifer Smith

George Grombacher March 25, 2022

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Automating Know-How with Jennifer Smith

LifeBlood: We talked about the world’s first operating system for know-how, the differences between being a management consultant with McKinsey to being a Founder, what it’s like to be the first of its kind, and the experience scaling a business, with Jennifer Smith, CoFounder and CEO of Scribe. 

Listen to learn why it’s imperative to know what you’re good at!

You can learn more about Jennifer at, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Thanks, as always for listening!  If you got some value and enjoyed the show, please leave us a review wherever you listen and subscribe as well. 

You can learn more about us at LifeBlood.Live, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook or you’d like to be a guest on the show, contact us at contact@LifeBlood.Live.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Come on

one left, this is George G. And the time is right welcome. Today’s guest is Dr. Baraka, Jennifer Smith. Jennifer, are you ready to do this? I am. Let’s do it. Alright, let’s let’s go. Jennifer is the co founder and CEO of scribe, they’re the world’s first operating system for no how excited to have you on. Jennifer, tell us a little about your personal life SmartBox your work and why you do what you do. Excited to be here. So, as you mentioned, I run a company called scribe, we’re based here in the Bay Area in San Francisco, I live here with my husband and now two month old baby. So first time parent and adjusting to everything that comes with that. And scribe as a company is a productivity SAS tool. So we make it really easy for people to share what they know how to do.

Jennifer Smith 1:00
And it’s interesting to me, you know, you asked the question, why do you do what you do? I had a professor in business school who said once, do the thing that you’re always apologizing to everyone about yourself? And for me, that’s I’m always trying to be as efficient as possible. You asked my husband what one of my biggest flaws it’s, it’s a Jennifer’s always trying to get too much done in too short of a time. She’s obsessed with efficiency. And so when you look at what we’re doing with scribe, it’s really about how do we help people be more efficient in their day to day? The idea is that there are all these people around the world who are experts in something everyone knows how to do something unique and valuable. And so how do we unlock that collective intelligence, all of that know how, and make it really easy for people to share that information? And right now, if you want to share what you know how to do, you have a number of different options, right? You could hop on a phone call or a zoom with someone, you could send them an email, you can write a really long document, copy paste screenshots, show them how to do something. And oh, that’s a lot of work. Right? Bless your heart if you take the time to do that. But that’s time that you’re not spending doing your actual job or whatever it is that you want to be doing that day. And so with scribe we said, well, what if we could watch someone do work? What if we could just watch you do the thing that you know how to do and automatically create documentation? What if it was just digital exhaust, just a byproduct of you doing what you do best and automatically proof outcomes a step by step written guide with screenshots that you can then share with clients, customers, partners, friends, communities, whomever you want to show how to do something. And so that’s the whole idea behind scribe, which is how do we take what’s special that people already know how to do and share it with others in a way that just improves efficiency for everyone for the person who’s sharing that information. So they’re not taking time away from their day to do that. And for the person getting the info on the other side? Now, they’re getting wisdom on how to do something rather than bash trying to fumble through and figure it out themselves. Nice. And you mentioned your your professor in business school, when did how to ascribe you were doing something before this. So how did that sort of gap get bridged? It’s about the opposite. as far off as a eureka moment as you can possibly get, I’d say it’s about 15 years in the making. There’s that famous Steve Jobs quote, that your life only makes sense, you can only connect the dots looking backwards. And that’s certainly how I feel I’ve started my career at McKinsey. As a management consultant, I did a lot of Oregon ops work. So literally going into operation centers and looking over the shoulder of agents for eight hours a day. And if you do that work, at least as a consultant, you learn the name of the game, and you figure out who the best person that ops center is. And you go and find them, and you sit next to them. And you say, what are you doing differently, George, and George tells you, you know, hey, I was trained to do this. But I found these 30 shortcuts instead. And my team would write that down. And PowerPoint would sell that back for half a million dollars or more a month. And I always thought, like, gosh, if that person that George had had a way to share what he knew how to do, he could have had really big impact on his team and that ops center. And then fast forward a decade, I’m working on sand hill now at a venture capital firm on the enterprise software side. And I just got really curious about how buyers of enterprise software were thinking about their tech stack and problems to solve. So I talked to over 1200, CIO, CTO, CTO type folks at large enterprises, and just ask them, What are you buying? What do you wish existed? Where do you see gaps in the market? And what was shocking to me was the world really hadn’t changed in those 15 years, if you still wanted to understand how work was getting done within an organization, capture what your employees knew how to do, what made your business run every day, you still were either asking them to take time away from their jobs and write it down. Or you were hiring some version of a 27 year old Jennifer with a little Lenovo ThinkPad to run around and interviewing for you. And to me, that was crazy that in so much time we’ve made so much technological progress, but something so fundamental to how we work sharing the processes that we do every day was still

Incredibly manual and not technology driven. And so I kept looking at it saying, Gosh, this is this is a solvable problem, someone else will solve it surely. And no one solved it. And so here we are with Scribe A Few Years Later.

george grombacher 5:12
Nice. You strike me as a really good question. Asker

Jennifer Smith 5:17
It’s, uh, you know, I think one of the things that I know you get to the difference making tips, I don’t want to jump ahead. But But uh, I think curiosity you got to lead with curiosity, the folks I’ve seen who I think lead the most interesting, productive successful lives are those who just follow what they’re most interested in. And you can learn something from everyone. And it just starts with asking question.

george grombacher 5:42
Fascinating to I think, me, and certainly a lot of people who are listening, they hear McKinsey, and then they hear sand hill, and they go, Wow, these are like the, the Disney and the Coca Cola of, of, of the industries that that you worked in? How is it different? Or what what’s what’s what’s what’s sort of the vibe, the experience like working in those two worlds, and now being the entrepreneur,

Jennifer Smith 6:10
very different. You know, when you start as a founder, it was a, you know, literally me and two, three engineers to start. And we were really focused on how do we do the absolute MVP. So we raised the smallest amount of money that we wanted to take, we were actually oversubscribed, the round, so we’re taking less money, we believe in forcing constraints on ourselves. And we’re going to have only a couple people. And what we’re really going to do is try to build the most basic version of what is now scribed that we can put in the hands of people and test and see what they think about it, and ask them questions, and learn and see how they’re using it and iterate it and explore. And so I think forcing yourself to work in a very under resourced environment, on purpose, forces you to make some really, I think, to ask really good questions, and to be really honest with yourself about the responses that you’re getting. And at the end of the day, as a company, what you really need to be doing is, at least as a startup is listening to your customers and constantly iterating to find your way to product market fit. That’s obviously very different than if you’re coming from a very large consulting firm in a place like Coca Cola, or Disney that that found Product Market Fit decades ago, right? And now they’re really about how do we operate at scale? Whereas when you’re building a company, you’re first trying to figure out, are we even building the right thing? Are we answering the right questions around why we’re doing this and who we’re doing this for? And what we’re delivering? And then as you answer those questions, then you can start to say, hey, how do I scale this, but it’s a very different environment, as you can imagine. Yeah. And it’s interesting, you know, I had a lot of execs from big companies come visit when I was working in venture capital. And that, you know, from the kinds of companies that you mentioned, fortune 500, CXOs. And they would say, hey, how do I operate more like a startup? I would say, Well, that’s an interesting question. But I’m curious why you’re asking it, because you in many ways shouldn’t be operating like a startup. If you’re Disney as an example, right? There are just fundamental differences between it. I think the crux of what people were trying to get at was, how do I stay nimble? How do I stay innovative? How do I stay closer to the customer?

george grombacher 8:16
Yeah. And were you able to give them a satisfactory answer?

Jennifer Smith 8:21
Well, I would I would start off by saying like, I’m not sure that’s the right question to ask. And that was not a popular answer. So I learned that to be backpedal a little bit from that and try to share what I think was behind the question they were asking,

george grombacher 8:36
being first recognized, it’s such a such a gap, you’re like, Well, why why has this? Why isn’t this a thing? So now? Now? It is, and you are first? How is that?

Jennifer Smith 8:51
Yeah, it’s I’m smiling, as you’re saying that? Because I’d say one of the most common reactions I got in the early days of the company, when I would show this to folks is they would say, Oh, this is great. This is kind of a no brainer. Why has no one shown this to me before? Why have I never seen this before? And they’d almost sort of be suspicious, suspicious of me, right? Like, does this actually work the way that you’re saying it does? Because otherwise, I would have seen it, which I would always kind of chuckle at right. And I think sometimes some of the best, at least software products that you see, when you see them, you say, oh gosh, why? Why did this exist before but the truth for us was we spent a year and a half in market talking to people iterating develop quietly doing this behind the scenes, not talking publicly not doing any marketing, just doing investments in product and talking to users so that we could get to something that feels like something you should have seen. But I think often you hear these stories of overnight success or oh, this thing and it just must have been so simple. And the truth is there’s actually like usually a ton of work and a really long story that goes behind it. I think what’s interesting for us are sort of one of our biggest challenges is scribe preparation. Since a new paradigm, a new way of thinking about things, so everyone can relate, I think, to the feeling of frustration of not knowing how to share something with someone, right? Like a colleague who’s asking, Hey, can you show me? How do I generate that report again? Or a client who’s like, Wait, how am I supposed to log into my portal and do this, and you having to, you know, hop on the phone with them or send them a really lengthy email. But Everyone just assumes that’s a cost of doing business, right? I don’t think anyone thinks that that almost is a big tax on their time, because they just say, well, that’s the way that things are. And it’s because they don’t believe that there’s a solution. And now with Skype there, there is an alternative way. Now, you could just send them a scribe, and the average scribe takes under a minute to make. So you do it really, really fast. And so for us, there’s a big, I think, education and change management piece, which is just saying, like, hey, that thing that you’re doing all day long, they’re actually estimates out there. That’s 20% of people’s work. Actually, McKinsey did this work, I was not part of it. But to plug my former employer, they said, look, it’s 20% of a knowledge worker is weak, to just explain to people how to do things. And so I think for us, there’s a hurdle around education and just, you know, kind of shining a light on the fact that you are spending all this time and hey, guess what, you don’t have to be spending it right here. There’s a different way to do that. So there’s there’s kind of a shift in people’s mindsets that we have to really be leading because we are the first people to be doing this.

george grombacher 11:24
Yeah, that’s fascinating. 20% of knowledge workers time is spent walking you back through it again, Kevin, unbelievable. Here you go.

Jennifer Smith 11:33
And Kevin, on the other side, saying, Wait, how do I how do I do this? And that, by the way, is not only, you know, kind of a not great use of time, it’s a pretty disempowering feeling. If you’re Kevin on that other side, right? And you’re and you’re just trying to figure out how to do your job do something you need to do and you don’t have the answers how to do it. That’s not a good feeling. That’s a disempowering feeling.

george grombacher 11:52
Yeah. So you spent 18 months iterating figure this thing out, making it work tweaking it. And here we are, the product is now in the world. And it’s it’s helping Kevin, at every level of every company and household in in, in in the world. How are how are you continuing to, to iterate and change? How does the company what what does the future look like?

Jennifer Smith 12:21
Yeah, it’s a great question. We continue to just be really this, this won’t change, at least for as long as I’m running the company, and that we continue to be really focused on what are we learning from users? What are we seeing behavior? How do we continue to add more value. And we actually get more of those insights faster as we grow as a company. So scribes now used by 10s, of 1000s of organizations in over 100 countries, we’ve got users everywhere, from the independent professional to the school teacher to startups to teams in Fortune 500, fortune 100, big, big companies. And so we learn more and more every time someone uses our software and sends us a note or we see what they’re doing with it, it helps us get better and serving them in what we’re doing. And so we’re really invested now in two things. One is now telling our story publicly, up until even a few months ago, you wouldn’t have heard about scribe or known scribe unless you were one of our users. And now we’ve started telling our story, you know more publicly about why we’re doing what we’re doing and why we believe this is important. And then continuing to build out that product to be more and more robust. Our users are not shy about telling us what they want to see in the product, which is wonderful and incredible. And it really helps drive our product roadmap in our areas of exploration for our product team of, Oh, that’s interesting. People are using it this way. That’s not how we intended it. What problem are they really trying to solve with that? How can we deliver a better solution to

george grombacher 13:42
it? Nice. And so you, you go from working for these massive, well staffed well organized organizations to being the founder with you and a couple of engineers. And now

Jennifer Smith 13:57
you’re and the janitor, and the customer support and everything that in those first early days, right? It’s it’s a very different role. Very fun role.

george grombacher 14:06
And now there’s probably more people, and how is how has that process been for you?

Jennifer Smith 14:11
Yeah, it’s just been incredible to really see the team grow. And I’m really proud of the group of people that we brought together. They’re just really talented and also wonderful humans. I think one of the incredible things about building a company is you get to also build a tribe of people together alongside it. And we’ve grown really quickly that company so I had my my baby a couple of months ago. Now before I went out on maternity leave to right now the company has more than doubled in headcount. And so in some ways, it’s been interesting for me kind of coming back from maternity leave to what feels like a different company, right, where you now have a lot more people. And so our challenges internally are more around how do you maintain the culture and the things that made us really special when we were a smaller team and now scale out across a larger team, especially when you’re having so many new people joining every single week and getting them everything that they need to be able to get up to speed on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, what we’ve done historically what we need to be doing next. And it’s really about like, what’s that speed to impact where we can just help them ramp really quickly and, and feel like they’re contributing to the team, even from the first day?

george grombacher 15:16
Are you capping the number of scribes that you are allowing within your organization? You say, we’re only going to have 1000? So if you add one, you need to get rid of one somewhere, or are we just are there scribes everywhere? But

Jennifer Smith 15:30
everywhere, scrubs everywhere? Yeah, no, there are no limits. And that’s really important. Because if you come back to again, what we’re trying to do, it’s a different paradigm. What we want to see our North Star is when someone somewhere says, Hey, Kevin, how do I do that thing? How do I do something? We want Kevin to reply, scribe that or send me a scribe. And right now, there’s no standard for what that is, right? Again, Kevin can be zooming slacking. There’s a whole host of different things. And so really, we’re here to help as many people create and share scribes as easily as possible. And we really focused on how do we make that very, very easy. So we track from the moment that someone lands on our site to the moment that they’re able to create and share a scribe is under four minutes. And so we were really focused on just how do we make that as easy as possible? Because I think another thing you see in the world today with the decreasing costs to ship software is a proliferation of many different tools. And they all have a learning curve associated with them and your productivity tool, and it takes 30 minutes to learn how to use you, you need to make up those 30 minutes right now, that was a sap on that person’s time. And so we’ve said, Hey, how do we take the learning curve to almost zero. So really, it’s just intuitive easy, anyone can figure this out, regardless of kind of their digital literacy or comfort with tools, so that you don’t have a learning curve. We’re not here to try to add an additional tax on your cognitive load for the day, we’re here to try to take it away.

george grombacher 16:56
Amazing. Love it. Well, Jennifer, the people are ready for that difference making tip, what do you have for them?

Jennifer Smith 17:01
Well, I already talked about the importance of curiosity. But I’ll add kind of an addendum to that, which is, know what you’re good at and know your worth. I think a lot of times at least in school, we’re sort of raised to try to make ourselves well rounded, right to lean into your weaknesses. Oh, what I’m not so good at now, I should really try to get better at math. And my push would be actually find the things that you’re really great at, okay, maybe you’re really great at reading, it’s the school example. And just get better at that. And know what that’s worth and stand up for it. The people I’ve seen who, again, I think are leading the most interesting, productive, successful lives, got really curious about something got really good at doing that specific thing, and realize the worst how much value they could add to the world with that and found ways to make that you know, a big part of their lives. So figure out what you’re good at, know what it’s worth, and go lean hard on that. And don’t worry about filling the other things delegate to other people find other ways to do that. Spend as much of your time doing the thing you are uniquely good at as possible.

george grombacher 18:06
Why think that that is great stuff that definitely gets caught. Jennifer, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you and how can they start scribing

Jennifer Smith 18:16
people can just go directly to our site, WW scribe,, scribe, hey, Joe There’s a big shiny button right on the landing page that says try scribe for free scribes free to use so you know, go ahead and create an account. As I mentioned, it takes under four minutes for someone to go through the whole process and create a scribe, we have a paid pro version, that’s an upgraded version for listeners here if they’d like a free month, I can share a promo code its lifeblood, feel free to go ahead and do that. But as I mentioned, the basic products also free so go ahead and give it a whirl.

george grombacher 18:52
But well, if you enjoyed this much as I did show, Jennifer your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to scribe and see how long it takes you to create a scribe click on the button and take advantage of that free trial and use the promo code lifeblood for a discount on the professional product. Looks good, Jennifer.

Jennifer Smith 19:16
Thanks so much George chairs.

george grombacher 19:18
And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

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