An Interview With Chris Anderson From Guru

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With more and more organizations working remotely, the need for clear and accurate information is more important than ever. Even just one outdated announcement or document can cause major delays in group projects, and the difference in time zones and working schedules can make a miscommunication go from bad to worse.

Guru is a cloud-based knowledge management system that helps businesses access the crucial information they need when they need it. 

With Guru’s user-friendly platform, anyone can create their own personalized knowledge base and share it with others in real time. This ensures critical information is always kept up to date and verified. 

We chatted with Chris Anderson, Guru’s Senior Director of Lifecycle Engagement and Retention, to learn more about the thought process behind Guru Academy.

So Chris, tell us about Guru and what was the reason behind creating the academy?

Sure! Guru is a company wiki that works right in your workflow. No matter what function you’re in within a company or organization, everyone needs access to knowledge and information to do your day-to-day work. We focus on how to make that information as easy to access as possible. Whether you’re in Slack, your inbox, or a browser tab, that information you need to support a customer, close a sales deal, or to confirm your PTO policy, for example, should be right at your fingertips. So that’s our philosophy and what we enable with Guru. 

Prior to launching the Guru Academy, we ran a lot of training sessions primarily through our customer success team that were all geared towards “How do we help our customers best utilize Guru and get the most value across their companies?” These trainings are really important and we continue doing those, especially for our higher touch clients that really need personalized training. 

But we realized as we continued to grow our customer base that we could scale these trainings, and we could make them more self-service so that we could ultimately deliver more value for customers. That’s really what catalyzed the need for launching the Guru Academy.

What does your role entail? What does a typical day look like?

I lead our Community Learning and Love team. It’s a little bit of a mouthful, but the overall charter for our team is that we help our customers be successful with Guru, primarily through scalable one-to-many channels. 

We also have on our team a phenomenal technical support team. More specifically, we manage the Guru Academy, but also our help center, our community, as well as life cycle communications. So a lot of different touchpoints with customers serving different needs depending on their preferences, as well as where they are on the customer journey. 

It’s all geared around how do we make those resources to help customers learn the product, get inspiration and ultimately have the most success with Guru? How do we deliver that across our entire customer base? So in leading that team, I help with planning and leading some strategic projects, and overall just making sure that my team is set up for success.

Who takes your courses? 

We’ve designed our academy to be there for every type of Guru user throughout their entire customer journey. There’s still a lot of space for us to keep adding learning resources, but that is the charter for the team. And if you go to the academy currently, you can see courses for specific user types. 

In our world, we have admin users, we have authors who are the subject matter experts writing the content in Guru, and then read-only users, folks who are there mainly to consume that information. We have different courses catered to each of those learners based on their role. We’ve also started to roll out more use case-based trainings. But to answer your question, we’ve designed our courses to be for any customer type. And that starts as soon as someone signs up for a Guru account.

How are the courses laid out? 

When we first launched the academy, we started out being very role specific. We thought that was the best way we could tailor the learning experience to what someone needed to learn and get the most value from Guru. We worked through that role by role, starting with our admins. Those are the folks who use Guru the most and are required to know the product the deepest. So we started with admins, and then we layered on author training, and then lastly read-only user training. 

From there, we started to think about what are the specific problems that our customers are looking to solve with Guru? We looked at it through that lens. And that’s where we landed on our three primary use cases, which you can see in our academy. For example, internal communications, which covers a lot of ground, but that includes all types of information sharing across an organization.

That’s when, if I’m working and I say, “Hey, I need to take a day off. What’s our policy?” Instead of bugging someone or spending a bunch of time searching, I can quickly search PTO policy, get my answer, and get back to work. Or if I’m a sales rep, and I need some specific product detail because  I’m on a call, I can quickly check and get that answer myself. So internal communications and new hire onboarding are big use cases. When someone new joins, they have to learn a ton. So Guru is there to deliver all that knowledge right when they need it. 

And then product enablement, which is always changing, always evolving. How does that information flow from the product and engineering teams to all your go-to market teams, and how is feedback being delivered? So we started to really understand and define what those use cases are and build training around them as well.

What do you hope your customers gain from taking the academy courses? 

Confidence in how to use the product. That’s priority number one. We want to make sure people feel confident after going through the training in the academy. I think secondarily, but also really importantly is inspiration. They might be learning about something they want to solve with Guru, and we can then expose them to all these other ways Guru can benefit them.

For instance, someone that’s going to be hiring 10 new employees could use Guru to revamp and reframe their onboarding flow, and so we want to generate that awareness. We really want to use it as a way to inspire. Again, how can you get more value out of the product? That’s our north star, really maximizing the value someone can get with Guru. 

Do you ever get customer feedback where people say, “Hey, I didn’t know you could do this with Guru”? 

For sure. Yeah, those are my favorite moments. I even get a little tingly whenever I hear our customers say they had an aha moment and they actually like to share it with us. That is so rewarding because you’re like, “Oh my gosh, that is their experience!” That value makes their lives a little bit easier. Our full team manages many different customer touch points. We work really cross-functionally across our teams to reflect on how a customer might start in the academy, but they might want to click over to a relevant help center article to get a deeper written explanation of something. And they might go from there and jump into a conversation with other customers to get that feedback from the community.

So we try to be mindful of these different resource hubs that we’ve been investing in and how to make it as fluid as possible, no matter where a customer gets in to find relevant materials in those other places, so it feels cohesive. Because I think that’s just naturally how it works as we’re learning things, it’s like we want to maybe dig a little bit deeper and learn about it through a different lens. So we really try to incorporate that and break down those barriers between things like our academy, help center, and our community.

What is next for the Guru Academy? 

We’re going to continue expanding our product training, because there’s still so much green space for us to explore. In addition to that, one thing I’m really excited about is all the feedback we’ve been getting from both our customers and other market signals. A lot of companies are increasingly understanding the importance and value of knowledge management, but don’t necessarily know how to approach it. 

It’s not like you pick Guru or any other tool, and that just magically solves your knowledge management challenges. As with most big investments, especially something that might be deployed across your entire company, you need a strategy. There’s change management involved. In our case, you have to think about who are your subject matter experts and how do you think about governance around your knowledge and all these other topics, which a tool in and of itself can’t solve.

So we’re starting to think about what knowledge management education could look like, that’s really agnostic to Guru. It’s not about our product, but is more about building a best in class knowledge management program. So that’s something I’m really excited about because I think it pushes us beyond pure product education to how to be successful with, from a strategic sense, this full program that Guru certainly enables.

Any advice for first time course takers? 

For someone going through a course in Guru, two things come to mind. One is to be open-minded. You might come to a course and have a specific thing in mind. Obviously we want to help with that, but be open-minded to other things that might actually help you get more value out of the tool. 

Secondly, we always recommend folks have their actual Guru account open so they can apply what they’re learning. We have prompts throughout the courses so they can apply what they’re learning, so it’s not purely a conceptual exercise to understand a concept. It’s also, “Hey, you’ve learned this thing, now here’s a way you can do it easily.” 

That’s where I think learning really clicks, is in understanding the concept and then applying it. 

How can users enroll? 

For every course in our academy you do need to register, but all you need to register is a Guru account. We have a free account option as well. That’s all you need. 

How did you decide and choose which topics to cover when designing your courses? 

We first started out with identifying who our learners are and trying to define them. There are different approaches to that, but in our context, we felt that doing it by role made the most sense because there are distinct ways in which an admin will use Guru, and things they need to learn about to be successful that are different from what an author will need versus a read only user. 

So we took that approach first and foremost, and then for each one of those learner types, we started to really unpack them. We worked very cross functionally in developing the curriculum for them and thinking about the different things they would need to learn. When you sign up for Guru, what are those primary things? We had lots of input from different teams and what we’ve learned over the years, and started to build that out into a curriculum. And we did that exercise for each user role.

What kind of organization would you recommend using the layout that Guru has for their courses? 

I guess the caveat is that every organization is different. Your learners are different, so your mileage may vary. A lot of SaaS companies are in this world where you have different user types with varying permissions, different access to the product, and different behaviors in terms of how often they might use your product. 

So I think looking at it through that lens can be very helpful for zeroing in especially on your higher use types of customers. And what are the barriers that maybe aren’t super intuitive in your product now that education could help ease some of that friction and make it easier for them? I think those are the real opportunities that start to pop out, where our approach could be applicable there if you have those distinct learning differences between user types.

How long does it take from ideation to launch when making a course? 

This will probably accelerate a bit as we grow the team, but currently we’re a pretty small team. We average two to three courses per quarter, which kind of breaks down to roughly a course per month. 

Sometimes we have projects that we’re tackling that aren’t new courses, it might be a big product release, which necessitates some maintenance work. So we’ll do some of those cycles to keep our material up to date. 

What do you think Guru Academy’s key to success is? 

I’m proud of a few things that I think we do really well and it’s been validated through feedback. One is I think we do a good job of making our content very engaging, very consumable, and very actionable. The combination of those three things is something I’ve been really proud about us maintaining a high bar for, because people are very busy. Our customers certainly are. 

We collaborate with our brand team heavily, which helps us have a really high production quality and an amazing look and feel. So we’re very fortunate that we get to collaborate with primarily our brand team, but other teams as well when we need to bring in a subject matter expert to speak to a specific topic, or to help us flesh out a curriculum. It’s really a cross functional effort that helps us achieve the caliber of materials that we have. 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to create their own online course, university, or academy? 

I think it always starts with defining the strategy and business objectives. If you’re going to launch a whole program, you’re going to need to get buy-in typically depending on where you sit in the organization. And in order to do that, it helps to be able to articulate what OKR or company goal you’re trying to impact. That’s really, really important, is being able to identify the trends or areas of opportunity, and how some form of scalable self-service education would really help the company. 

In our case, it allowed us to augment our CS trainings and enabled us to deliver that level of training to a much wider customer base. If you’re the individual that’s looking to champion it, you don’t need to put that all on your shoulders. A lot of that can come through discovery conversations. If you’re not in a particularly transparent organization, hopefully you can talk to some folks to understand what are those big priorities you have as a company, where you may be slipping behind, what’s coming down the pike in the next quarter or two, that’s going to be really important. 

And then seeing if there is a connection to building an academy or building a course. I also think you can start small and have a proof of concept. If you have a team that is manually running a high volume of a particular type of training, maybe you just start with one and say, “Hey, what if we created a standard curriculum for this, recorded it, put it here and made it accessible.” And then if you have success with that, that can open the door to expanding into other opportunities. Strategy and aligning with business objectives are always number one. But then also being comfortable with crawling before you walk, and walking before you run. And that might mean building proof of concept first.

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An Interview With Chris Anderson From Guru

With more and more organizations working remotely, the need for clear and accurate information is more important than ever. Even just one outdated announcement or document can cause major delays in group projects, and the difference in time zones and working schedules can make a miscommunication go from bad to worse. Guru is a cloud-based

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