Podcast: Glean CEO Arvind Jain on Unearthing Hidden Knowledge

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Transcript

Mark:

Welcome to PeopleTech. The podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. My guest today is Arvind Jain, the CEO of Glean. His product is designed to help users find information that’s available, but often hidden throughout a company systems. The idea is that this data is critical to a business. It helps people do their jobs better, by giving them access to what they need to be more effective. We’re going to talk about that, where content’s been and where it’s going, on this edition of PeopleTech. Arvind, welcome. It’s good to see you. First of all, can you describe Glean? What’s it do and what’s the problem that it’s trying to solve?

Arvind:

Absolutely. So we are a young technology company that was started in 2019. The core product for Glean… So Glean is your work assistant. It’s a tool that employees in a company can use to get more things done at work. It helps them in variety of ways. The core part of our product is number one, it’s a search engine for work. So, as an employee when you’re looking for information that’s spread across so many different applications that you use, or you just have a question that you need an answer for Glean brings those answers back to you quickly. So, it sort of helps you find the information you need, answers that you need to get your job done. It’s also a tool that allows you to stay connected with your company, with your work, with your teammates.

Arvind:

So, think about what’s new in the company today. I’m working from home and not actually getting to talk to the different people in the company to see what they are up to. So Glean is also that place where you discover new information, that’s relevant to you in your company, you get to learn about people, what they’re working on. You also get to learn about, “Hey, where should I be paying attention to?” Is there some new knowledge, some new documents, some news articles that I should be paying attention to because they’re relevant to me. So Glean sort of brings that notion of discovery and assistant to you as an employee as well. So those are our core use cases. The problem that we’re trying to solve is… Again, is if you think about the modern workplace, there are two very large trends that are sort of really transforming that workplace.

Arvind:

Number one is that companies are increasingly becoming more distributed. As a company, we have people all over the place in many different continents and people are sort of by themselves. They’re alone, they’re at home, they’re working when other people are sleeping. And so in that model where you get distanced from the company, like how do you help them stay connected with the company? How do you actually get them the help they need? When I’m working from my home and I have a question, there’s nobody that I can lean on to actually get that answer from. So how do you help them with that? So that’s, what Glean does. And then also the other big trend in the workplace is we are… Business technology has completely gotten transformed with the SaaS revolution.

Arvind:

If you know businesses today, they’re using a very large number of business applications. Each one of them solving some very specific business need and that number of applications keep going every year, because these days is there’s a democratization of business applications where I think I should application. And it’s very easy for me to get it distributed. It’s also as a person within a company, it’s also very easy for you to go and start using a tool or a product. It’s easy. You can just go on the web, like swipe your credit card and start using an application. So in this new model, the… What has happened is that lot of awesome applications have gotten built to solve different business applications and companies have started to use them.

Arvind:

So the number of applications that you use has grown up quite… Has grown a lot. And so that’s great because you get as a business owner, you get to solve different problems with best in red tools. But the problem is that your… If you think about now your company knowledge, it’s sort of gotten fragmented across all these applications. So when you actually… When your task is actually find a specific piece of information, it becomes hard. And so that’s why Glean search technology sort of helps solve that problem.

Mark:

Now, I’m curious about what’s going on under the hood. Glean searching across data from the entire company.

Arvind:

Yeah.

Mark:

So, installing it or implementing its more than flipping a switch. What do you do to get yourself set up for a particular company?

Arvind:

Yeah, that’s a great question. So, actually setting up Glean and getting it to work at a company is actually a very quick, fast process. Typically, companies are able to set up Glean in under an hour because what is… The other thing we were talking about this big transformation driven by SaaS applications. One of the things is that in this modern world, there is an expectation from any application developer, to actually build really good APIs so that application can work with all the other applications that I have in my company. So, applications have become open. They have really good APIs and you can actually connect to them and you can connect to them and actually get content from those understand who has access to that content. And so for us when you’re trying to deploy Glean, you go… The process is very simple.

Arvind:

You go to our web app and you will see the directory of tools that Glean can connect to. And you will just click on the ones that you want to connect to the ones that you use in your business and follow a few screens where you sort of hit a few buttons, enter a few information, and there you go. You actually establish a connection between Glean and say, for example, Slack. Say, another application that you use is Google Drive you’ll do the same process. You’ll go through the Glean app go and hit the button, the Google Drive button and say connect to that. And it’ll take you through a few screens of where you enter some information and then you’re done. So that’s sort of, it’s a fairly lightweight process to actually connect Glean to your different enterprise side reps is the what… So, you can actually be up and running in just under an hour. If you’re trying to connect five or six or seven applications, it’s fairly easy. You don’t have to actually do any implementation or engineering work.

Mark:

Now, one of the things that struck me is, you have a lot of connector partnerships Slack, Microsoft. I think it’s more than 30 if I was counting, right?

Arvind:

Yeah. Probably more like 60 or more. Yeah. It keeps growing. Yeah.

Mark:

Well, let’s talk about them cause they seem to be an important part of your strategy. And so I wondered if you could explain that strategy and how do the connectors fit in.

Arvind:

Yeah, absolutely. So, one thing to note is that again, we are benefiting from the open API ecosystem. So we actually haven’t made… Actually done any partnerships as such. We don’t actually have a formal partnership with Slack or Microsoft or any of these companies. We’re just using their open APIs to connect with those tools and just like us, anybody else can also do the same. So, just wanted to clarify that. Basically our core product capability is we can connect with, the most popular, SaaS applications, enterprise applications that exist out there. And then we can build a unified search experience or over the content that resides in all of those apps. Now, to be able to do that again, we are leveraging the open APIs that these tools have and they need to have… The thing is that any… Today, if you’re going to be a… If you want to actually build an enterprise application, let’s say your Slack, or you are let’s say a document authoring tool.

Arvind:

If you’re going to build an application and you want it to be a big tool in the enterprise, then you will have to build it in a way where you have open APIs to it. You have to actually give your customers the ability to actually inspect in all the content that sits in your application, given ability for them to export all of that content. For example, if they wanted to migrate away from your app to some their applications. So these are demands that are actually today placed on any enterprise tool that wants to actually have good traction. Because otherwise you won’t be able to sell your product if you don’t have those open APIs. So, our strategy is basically to just write on that modern trend, which is all applications that are going to get built they won’t have open APIs and therefore we’ll be able to connect with them.

Mark:

How many of your users are accessing through a connector? Is it a large proportion, a medium proportion?

Arvind:

Sorry. So, when you say that, how are users connecting through connectors being? I didn’t understand that. Yeah.

Mark:

Yeah. Well, how are they accessing Glean? Are they when… If they’re doing it through Slack say, or any of these. I see 60 partners. I’m curious to know how many Glean users are accessing it through one of these connectors.

Arvind:

I see. So that’s actually… So the two parts with one is we connect to these applications, but then people use Glean as a standalone product. And we have mechanisms where you can actually make this your default homepage on your browser. So every time you open a new tab in your browser, you’re going to actually see the Glean search box. Well, similar to your Google, you have a search box and you’ll go and type in whatever question you have. Now, the answer to that question could have been in Slack or in Google Drive or in Confluence or Jira. It doesn’t matter. Glean will actually bring those searches back to you. So you’re not using Glean through Slack or through Google Drive. You’re using Glean as a standalone product. In the back end, we are connected to those applications.

Arvind:

And we did that so that we could search over the content in those applications. So as end user this is a new product for you so that’s the core. That’s how most people use Glean is that they go, they look at Glean as their workplace search engine and workplace knowledge discovery engine and they use it directly. But actually there is an additional part which we have not talked about so far, which is yes, you can actually also experience the Glean product from, for example, right when you are within Slack. So an example of that is say that you are in a channel and you ask a question and you really asking the people in that channel, hoping that one of them is going to answer your question, but you can actually install the Glean application within your Slack environment as one of… Because we have a Slack application for Glean.

Arvind:

And if you install that then Glean is sort of looking for these conversations. And when somebody asks a question and if Glean knows the answer to it is going to actually show that answer to the user before an instantaneously, obviously before somebody else in the channel has to go and answer that question. So that’s a different integration and so people do use Glean embedded in these native apps also, but the primary way, how people use Glean is using it as an independent product.

Mark:

There’s a lot of talk this year about delivering services in the flow of work through Slack or something like that. And some people I’ve heard say… They’ve said the UX is moving away from the vendor and going to the connector delivering information through Slack or someone else. What’s your thought about that? Do you think there’s a movement among HR tech vendors to emphasize these third parties?

Arvind:

Yeah. So, I think there are two parts to this. So one is, as a business, you are buying a very large number of applications, like hundreds of them. And it’s really hard for as a user in the company for you to actually remember and keep track of so many different applications and each one of them having their own UI. And that’s sort of the overload that people are struggling with. It’s hard enough as a individual. Once you start to use more than 10 applications, it becomes overwhelming for you. Ad therefore that drives this notion of that, “Hey, if you have solved a business problem, can you actually bring that value in one of those existing apps that people are already familiar… We are already familiar with, we use it every day.”

Arvind:

So that’s definitely a big trend. And Glean does the same thing, which is, we know where a user is. For example, if you’re an engineer, you spend a lot of time maybe in tools like Jira and Confluence and GitHub, right. If you’re a salesperson, you are actually spending a disproportionate amount of your working time being logged in into Salesforce. And when you are in these tools, you have questions. You have questions all the time. When people have questions… When any task you’re doing you’ll have some questions, some need, and it’s painful. When you have a question that you have to leave that workflow that you are in, say that you’re actually looking at a customer and a case that they filed, and that a question you need an answer to that.

Arvind:

Now, if you had to actually go from that Salesforce app, go to your browser, open a new window and go to a different search tool and try to go and find the answer to that question. So that then you can come back into your Salesforce case page, where you were before to answer that question, that’s taking a lot of… There’s a good amount of overhead and inconvenience there. So that’s why with Glean also, what we do is that, “Hey, you are in Salesforce, bring up the Glean search right there. Don’t leave that page.” So we have a keyboard… For example, for our users, they give them a keyboard shortcut. They press command J and right where you are, you may be on the Salesforce case page, or you may be on a G dot ticket.

Arvind:

And the Glean UI just pops up on top of that. And you can quickly ask the question, see result, take that result and embed that into that case screen that you were on already. So you don’t… You never have to leave so that’s a big trend. So that’s certainly, that is something that every vendor today they need to actually think about when they build… When they solve a business need, they should both think about how to build their own native product experience, but also ensure that they bring value to their customers in that sort of skinless mode. Where you can embed into any other workflow or any other application and add value there.

Mark:

And how much thought did you give to these kind of workflow issues when you were designing and developing the product?

Arvind:

This has always been core. So there… You mentioned this term before that help the users where they are. That’s really the key that has been our guiding principle from day one. And actually is… Let’s discuss an example, say that you are in Slack, in a channel, and there’s some discussion happening and you see a person writing something, and you see that response is interesting and you want to learn who this person is. Now is the right model at that point that, “Hey, you go in a separate screen and then you log into Workday, which will take 15 seconds. And then you load the employee search page, type in the name of the person, and then get the information on them.” Or you actually you just stay in Slack and just quickly click on their name there and all the information pops up right there.

Arvind:

And that HR tool could have actually enabled that by building that integration with Slack or with Glean and sort of bring all of that information to the user right, in that Slack experience where the user was at that point. So it’s really important. So it’s been as we have designed our product over the last few years, that has been one of our core requirements always that we need to be… We need to help users where they are. We don’t, we don’t want them to have to sort of come to our tools separately. In fact, most users don’t. They actually come to us either through these app integrations or through their Chrome new tab page, where we bring the Glean search box right to… Everyone they open a new window, they will actually see a Glean search box. So nobody, for example, typically would go and type in a URL in the browser address bar to go to Glean, it always comes to them.

Mark:

My last question is, you get this very sophisticated platform that can search a lot of data. What’s your thinking about its growth? You’re a relatively new company, but where do you want to go to?

Arvind:

So our vision is you won’t actually help every worker in every company in the world find answers to their questions quickly and get more things done. Now, if you think about this problem, which is that as an employee, as a worker you have to do tasks every day and you always have a lot of questions, a lot of information needs where you have to find the right piece of information to do your job. People spend a lot of time on this. I mean, there’s studies that have been done that show that as employees, we spend a quarter or a third of our time, just looking for information. If you look at our work day, your work day or my work day, one third or one fourth of all of that time is just going to get spent where we just looking for some information.

Arvind:

So this is a very big problem. And it’s getting harder and harder for people to find those pieces of information that they need. Because first, there’s so much information… We are in a data driven world. There’s so much data that as a business we generate and we store. And so the volume of the information that is out there that we need to sift through and find what we need that is growing a lot. And second, the fragmentation, like how siloed that information is across a very large number of tools that is also getting more and more complicated every year. And that coupled with the fact that you don’t have help as a remote worker for example. You don’t get to actually look over your shoulder and ask the person sitting next to you, “Hey, how do I do this?”

Arvind:

Every time you have information you need, you have to actually go on your computer. You have to actually either ask a question on a communication tool like Slack, or you have to do a search. So, we’re talking about one quarter or one third of all working time that we could actually bring back to people. That’s what our vision is. We don’t actually make people more productive. We want to get back those two hours for them, or everyday so that they can get so they can do actually a lot more in their day than what they’re able do today. So, from that perspective, our product, we feel it’s applicable to every worker and every business in the world. And our mission will be arise. Then we know that everybody who we know, our friends, our family, every person who works, they use Glean in their work life, every day, many times a day to get more things done.

Arvind:

So now with that as a context, so this is a… We have a big vision. We feel this is a very fundamental, and universal problem that we’re solving, but then you have to start, you have to actually still focus. Who do you actually have first? And so far, our focus has been mostly on working with modern technology companies, and we’ve been bringing our product to those companies. And then of late, we’ve actually started to look at a few more knowledge focus industries like FinTech and professional services industries like growth and bring our product to those industries. So, we’ll grow over time, but in general, the problem statement, this is universal, all industries, all workers, they all face it.

Mark:

Arvind, thanks very much for coming on today.

Arvind:

Yeah. Thank you for having me really appreciate that.

Mark:

My guest today has been Arvind Jain, the CEO of Glean, and this has been PeopleTech. The podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of RecruitingDaily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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