Yammer is Not Just Facebook for Enterprises: A Deep Dive with CEO David Sacks

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post status updates to each other. We always thought it had the potential to be a separate company, but we basically built it for ourselves. We decided to spin it out in 2008. We launched the product that September at TechCrunch 50, and it won that event. Now it’s three years later. Geni is in Los Angeles, and we founded Yammer in L.A. also, but we moved the company up to San Francisco about two years ago, the reason being that it’s so much easier to scale a company in the Bay Area.

X: Geni is a genealogy site. Did you feel like enterprise social networking was a better bet?

DS: No, Geni is still doing great. They’re creating a family tree of the world; it’s a unique, crowdsourced approach to doing genealogy. When we first started, the idea was to create a family social network, layered on top of this growing family tree. But by 2007 it was pretty clear to me that Facebook was going to eat the family social networking space. So Geni started focusing more on genealogy than on generalized social networking, and we took the social networking part of the team and put them on corporate social networking, and that became Yammer. It’s not that I’m less interested in what Geni is doing, but the person running the company now understands genealogy much better than I ever could.

X: Inside Geni, how were you using the tools that became Yammer?

DS: The way the product started was as a real-time feed of what everyone was working on. And then that grew into conversations. People could ask questions. If you needed help, but you didn’t know exactly who to go to, you could just post it to the feed for everyone to see it, and whoever is online and willing to give you their attention can respond. If someone was going down a path that pertained to your work, you could engage them on it. Managers had more visibility into what everyone was doing.

X: It sounds like classic dogfooding.

DS: I don’t think we could have spun out Yammer as a separate product if we did not ourselves live it as a product. We dogfooded it for about six months before we ever launched it. So it had a degree of policy control built in that some of our competitors still don’t have. Even today, the dogfooding aspect makes it very rewarding to work on Yammer, because we are on the tool all day, every day. The sales guys can sell it more easily because they are using it and understanding how it creates value. Likewise for customer support, product development, and engineering.

It’s really fun to work on a product that you actually use all day. I think this is true to a much greater degree with Yammer than any other product I’ve worked on. With PayPal, I used it, but realistically, once a month. We’d have to find excuses to use it, like splitting a dinner bill. It’s a very valuable product, but it’s not something you’re constantly using. With Geni, I got to the point of saturation where my family tree was known and fleshed out, and there wasn’t as much for me to do. But with Yammer we never stop using it.

X: You’ve got 200 employees. Do you really try to follow everything that’s going on at Yammer on Yammer?

DS: Until we had about 100 employees, I prided myself on reading every Yammer conversation, and then I just gave up, because there was too much information. I now rely partly on people to “@” mention me when there’s something they feel I should see. The other thing is that groups are becoming an increasingly important part of the product; as your organization scales, you can divide into groups, and Yammer automatically figures out … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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