“The erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of our deepest knowledge.”
– Audre Lorde
“The erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of our deepest knowledge.”
“The erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of our deepest knowledge.”
– Audre Lorde
This is pretty much the entire text from the talk I delivered at Paymentsfn 2018 on May 24, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina.
This is an abolitionist one. They came in many different themes.
But by 1843, the year The Gold Bug was published, a number of innovations made publishing cheaper and easier than it had ever been before.
These innovations include the first lithographic rotary printing press, a press in which the type is placed on a revolving cylinder instead of a flatbed. This sped up the printing process considerably and a form of it is still used today.
The inventor Charles William Siemens, of the same electronics company Siemens that exists day, had also helped to roll out anastatic printing, a process of printing using zinc plates that made copying of prints, designs, and literature faster and cheaper.
This is incidentally around the same time that Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage were pulling together their work on the Analytical Engine, largely considered to be an example of some of the earliest computer programming.
So lots of experimentation was going on. Electricity was in the air.
We are living in a similar period.
However as our poor unfortunate Mr. Poe discovered, there is quite a difference between riding a wave and being submerged by it.
While I’m not an engineer, in the beginning at Clubhouse we were a tiny team and I worked very closely with the engineers to set up and maintain the payments system.
And the process hit us rather hard.
Enabling payments was one of the biggest hurdles to clear before we could formally launch.
Like at many companies our engineers were hired for their competency in the skills necessary for building our product. While we have to build or integrate and also maintain a payment system, that is not our product. We build and maintain a payment system so we can get paid for building our product.
Now the payment system is integrated in the backend and our backend developers work with a functional programming language called Clojure and a database Datomic. For those unfamiliar, Datomic is a system that is immutable, which of course means that an entity holds on to values over time and as such you get a lot of fancy “time travel features”.
For billing and more importantly for understanding a customer, that is so valuable.
Knowing who did what and when at any given moment in the span of the customer journey is so valuable. For example, if someone was an active user and then left for a long stretch that is useful to be able to trace back actions to find out what may have lead to them abandoning the product. Being able to see the fullest picture of the past and the present is important to people who do any sort of account management. And if you are interested in this, there is also a really great talk called “Exploring Four Datomic Super Powers” that I encourage you to check out. There is a lot of great functionality there.
However, for us, leveraging Datomic to get that full picture meant that we had to take on a large share of the complexity of the payment system and set up our own trialling and payment logic. Something we weren’t terribly thrilled to do. Taking on this complexity also means that we have a hard time using the out of the box integrations with many analytics, metrics, and subscription management services.
Most of the integrations tend to only work properly with the vanilla implementation of payment processing not the sort of mixed up version we’ve implemented.
So at Clubhouse we are still very much in the process of trying to find a middle way where we can leverage the cool innovations of the day like Datomic without losing the great functionality of the payments software and— perhaps more importantly — the expertise of engineers who actually specialize in payments.
The third area where Poe’s life and work proves illuminating is internationalization.
As I mentioned before, Poe’s work particularly The Gold Bug and later The Raven gained him popularity not just in the US but in Europe and even Asia. In fact, the great French poet Charles Baudelaire spent some seventeen years translating the works of Poe, often putting his own writing aside to do so.
Unfortunately all of this international fanfare proved of little monetary value to Poe. In Poe’s day there were no international copyright treaties. The absence of such treaties meant two notable things:
1) Instead of paying American writers to produce new content, American publishers often simply copied the work of British writers and issued it from their presses. There was no author to pay so all the profits could be pocketed.
2) Poe had no real way of brokering to get compensated if and when his work was issued across the pond. Though his work undoubtedly circulated around the world, as an American whose work had not gone through whatever arduous registration processes England or France or wherever required, he had no standing in court to make a claim on his works or their translations.
While I consider myself a copyright minimalist, I do sympathize with Poe as he was faced with a significant obstacle to getting paid. As we know, the primary convention for payment on SaaS software like Clubhouse is a major credit card, but that simply doesn’t work for everyone who would like to use our software and we also know that much of the rest of the free world has wisely rid themselves of checks.
According to a 2012 World Bank report, “at least 110 money mobile systems have been deployed, with more than 40 million users”. Some six years later, I can imagine it may likely be double that number.
When credit cards don’t work but mobile payment systems are on the rise, payment system purveyors should more easily enable tech companies to hook into the ways people around the world can and do pay for things.
When our products have avid fans all across the world, we need payment system providers us help us find more ways to let them pay.
To close, I want to share one last nugget of wisdom from dear old Edgar Allan Poe.
In a piece called “The Philosophy of Composition”, Poe explained why he wrote The Raven backwards saying:
“There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story….I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect.”
My ask is that payments system providers work with a consideration of the effect on customer success and support people like me, on engineers who are not payment specialists, and most importantly on our end user.
Help us iterate on our ideas while keeping the payment experience easy and constant for the user, help us leverage innovation without losing functionality, and enable us to cultivate an international user base that pays us in the ways that work for them.
And maybe, just maybe, we’ll all get a little closer to our fortunes.
You can read Part I of my SupConf NYC experience here
So after months of preparation and practice, SupConf arrived! The day before the conference, we had a speakers and organizers dinner at the venue so we could familiarize ourselves with the space and also get to know each other. Aside from getting to meet so many of the fantastic people I chat and joke with on the Slack, the highlight of that night was insanely delicious cheesecake in a jar. I’d never had that before! It was dangerous! Stuffed and excited I headed home to rest up so I could come back energized fo the conference the next day.
Day 1 of SupConf was a whirlwind of socializing and listening to wonderful talks. Every one had harrowing tales to tell and sage lessons to share.
Some of the people I admire most in the support field were in the room and it was hard not to vibrate from enthusiasm and sheer smitten-ness (is that a word?) as they spoke. I’d actually told Scott, the organizer/founder of Support Driven, a few weeks before that, “There will be so many people that I admire in that room, I wish I had some sort of SupConf yearbook, so I could go around and ask my favorite people to sign it!” And so it was!
After the first few talks, the organizers came around and passed out the SupConf mini-yearbooks. They featured headshots of every attendee, their name, company, and Slack handle. It was so cool and also exceedingly handy since they didn’t do nametags or lanyards. It also included a headshot page of every speaker alongside a blank page where you could note Key Takeaways for their talk. More conferences should seriously consider doing this!
A slightly racy “GIF battle” (Support Driven folks LOVE their GIFs) officially closed out a full day of talks and discussion, after which I wandered off to take a little time to myself (and get an impromptu manicure). That evening, one of the conference sponsors hosted a smaller group of us for lovely drinks and dinner. This was a good opportunity to get to know more folks and also calm my nerves a bit before Day 2, when I had to give my own talk. Shout out to Caitlin and Carin, my new support pals in Bozeman, Montana (the Brooklyn of the Northern Rockies!) and Rex (my UK-based Ghanaian brother from another mother) who gave me a big boost of confidence ahead of my talk. I left that night knowing that when I spoke the next day, I would be amongst friends.
On Day 2, I got up early and dressed in the way Lara Hogan prescribes when she says (in Demystifying Public Speaking)
I was a ball of nerves as I dropped my kid off to school and then rushed over to the venue. I avoided any coffee fearing it would make me too jittery, and I did my best to engage with the other attendees and the other talks. However, as time grew nearer I could feel my stomach knotting up, so I went off into a quiet corner and listened to one of my favorite songs (Akosua by Georgia Anne Muldrow and then did a quick guided meditation). I wasn’t speaking until a bit after lunch and I considered skipping eating so I wouldn’t have anything weird in my teeth, but I couldn’t hold out and ending up grabbing a small bite and rushing up front so that the day’s MC (shout out to the amazing Michelle Bearheart from Trello! ) could get me wired up for the mic. I had to go to the bathroom to clip the lav mic pack up under my dress and on to the waist of my tights. I knew this was going to be the deal, but
After sitting on the side of the screen through Emily’s great talk on setting career goals, I quickly reached into my dress and clicked the mic pack on. Unfortunately that was a few beats to early and shrieking feedback echo’d throughout the room. I clicked it back off for a second while Michelle announced me and then clicked it back on and walked up to the front. It turns out it was *still* too early to have it on and the first few beats of my talk were feedbacky and weird. I rolled with it and continued on.
At one point, I felt my throat dry up and realized I had no water but I powered through it, mentally noting that I should have that next time (or ask the organizer to provide it/remind me). At another point, I forgot my next point and had to grab my notes, but even then I felt like everyone was with me cheering me on. When I was done, I got great applause and lots of enthusiastic feedback and tons of high-fives (which I normally hate but relished on that occasion).
I think I am an engaging new speaker, and I will definitely grow and improve over time. I thank all the organizers of Support Driven for this incredible opportunity, and I am excited for my future speaking engagements as well as the growth and ongoing success of the truly nurturing SupConf community.
And without further ado, here’s the talk!
Boy did this month blow by super fast. Wowee. Before it’s gone for good, here’s a list of a few things I was grateful for this month.
My pals over at Help Scout summarized my SupConf NYC talk into a schmancy looking blogpost. Check it out here – https://www.helpscout.net/blog/avoid-burnout/
Believe it or not, I only just sat down and listened to the Hamilton soundtrack this month. It is so adorable and catchy! Lin-Manuel Miranda kept reiterating in interviews that the soundtrack is the whole show but it only clicked for me when I heard him say it again in this chat with Damien Chazelle, Donald Glover, and Issa Rae.
I bingewatched season 1 of Chewing Gum and I am officially obsessed with Michaela Coel. Issa Rae is cute and all, but I am LIVING for Michaela Coel right now. She is my cool younger cousin in my head and since her family is also from Ghana, I am hoping it turns out that we are somehow related. Not likely, but I can dream. Oh, also no Season 2 spoilers please.
The Women’s March was controversial and problematic (this interview really resonated with me) but it still felt huge and important and I was glad that I went. This is a sociopolitical moment I have been waiting for, and if it were anything less than messy then we’d surely be doing it wrong.
What were you grateful for in January?
I joined the Support Driven community last year after searching around for groups and newsletters catering to people working in tech support. In the time since I initially signed up, the amazing newsletter and Slack group have come to be an invaluable part of my life and professional development. When I am confused or need a guidance I drop a note in to my peers, who are ever at the ready to answer questions. When I am frustrated, they commiserate with me and drop in appropriately empathetic emojis and GIFS. When I have a big win, they whoop and drop celebratory GIFS.
So last year, when founder/community manager Scott Tran and his team announced that they were pulling together a new Support Driven conference to be called SupConf, I bravely put together my first ever conference CFP and shipped it off. While I was unfortunately not selected and was ultimately unable to attend, my proposal got me seriously thinking about starting to try and speak at conferences, and after I saw the pictures and read the Slack chatter post-SupConf SF I was resolved to make it to the next one. I think I remarked in the Slack chat that if felt like every one had gone to band camp but me.
So when it was announced that the next SupConf was to be right here in NYC, I got back on the horse, pulled together some better proposals (with the help of some amazing women in tech!) and resubmitted……This time I got in!
While I was beyond excited to get the acceptance email. I was also a bit nervous. This was going to be a room full of hundreds of my peers — people I admired and looked up to. People I really liked in the virtual space and was hoping to connect with IRL. What could I say? How could I remember it all? And most importantly, how could I avoid being boring or outright embarrassing?
Luckily, Scott and the rest of Support Driven team were already on the case. They had pulled together a speaker development program that set out clear deadlines and concrete requirements, and they gave every speaker an experienced mentor who would hold their hand through the process. I was partnered with the wonderful Pat East (now of GitHub) who was a constant source of encouragement, challenging questions, and (of course) support. I was also able to draw on the expertise of people in the community like Automattic Happiness Engineer Andrew Spittle as well as public speaking expert (and Andrew’s fellow Automattician) Luca Sartoni. My fellow SupConf NYC speakers also shared numerous helpful talks, blogposts, and book titles.
I ended up spending hours upon hours learning as much as I could about the art and science of public speaking (see my resource list at the end of this post), as well as practicing every chance I got. As I went along I began to be so grateful to have been selected to speak not only because I was able to begin to develop myself as a public speaker but also because this time-boxed assignment gave me an opportunity to think and write (and corner unwitting friends and family into conversations) about the topic I’d chosen: responsible time management. I’d long wanted to write a blog post about this topic (as a follow-up to my blogpost on how to quit) and now here I was writing a talk! And being so richly assisted in the process!
So how’d it turn out? Well, in the next post, I am going to tell you about the conference and the actual speaking experience, but for now, here is my list of helpful new speaker resources: