Retention and Referral Panel

Students were prepared to hear about metrics and tools for retention and referral, but were pleasantly surprised to gain insight into creating a meaningful relationship with consumers through human engagement.  Both of the panel members for “Retention and Referral” are some of the brightest and most passionate professionals in the Seattle area.

Kate Matsudaira has spent her entire career working as VP Engineering/CTO at several Seattle startups – including SEOmoz and Delve Networks (acquired by Limelight).  She spent time as a software engineer, tech lead, and manager at Amazon and Microsoft.  

Kushal is the founder and CEO of Vittana. Today, Vittana works in 12 countries, reaching thousands of youth and continuing to grow exponentially.  Vittana is an award-winning organization (Fast Company, Seattle 2.0) and its impact has been highlighted in the Economist, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and many others.  Kushal ran technology for a $1+ billion team at and is the author of 20+ patents, papers and talks. In his free time, he runs Ironman triathlons and trains guide dogs for the blind. Kushal was recently named as one of Seattle’s Top 40 People Under 40 and voted the #1 Game-Changer in Philanthropy by 1.7 million readers on Huffington Post.

As you can imagine the students were willing to cut into other class time to allow the panel to continue their discussion.  They panelist were fine with going longer because both Kushal and Kate were also learning from each other’s experiences.

Both Kate and Kushal talked about the importance of genuine human contact with your customers, especially in the beginning of a startup.  Kushal said “your first 1,000 customers should be your best friends, because they are the ones that are taking a chance on you and will be your brand advocates”.  Both panelists agreed that it is important to maintain a close relationship with your customers, especially as a non-profit.  One strategy is to create a blog that puts the CEO/Founder in the public eye, to establish a more personal brand.  Photos on a website are another way to give a personal touch to your company.

In the nonprofit space specifically it is important to focus on the emotional side of a product.  People are not donating to see numbers or figures assuring them their money is well spent.  That is important, but it is the emotional side that donors want to fell an attachment to.  In the for profit world this is also applicable.  The quantifiable benefits of a product or service are obvious such as the benefit from buying a shirt, so it is important a brand focuses on emotional messaging. and Vittana are able to foster these personal relationships through multiple retention and referral strategies such as direct emails.  The panelists stressed the importance of personal email addresses such as joe@company, instead of using support@company.  It is important that the early adopters, brand advocates and super customers know that they are appreciated through personal communication.  “People like buying products from other people, not websites”.   

To end the discussion Kushal gave words of support to the entrepreneurs of the class who are in the startup phase.  He advised us to “enjoy the ride”, which includes failures, victories and mistakes.  He stated that every entrepreneur has moments of doubt whether they admit it or not. 

Related links:

The Struggle:
Stop Building Dumb Stuff:
Story about the mom from Peru:

Rand Fishkin’s blog:


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