Tech lessons 2020: LaunchDarkly CEO discusses app x-factors, virtual events, serendipity, and more

"I think we've seen 10 years of change compressed into a month in some cases," said Edith Harbaugh of COVID-19's impact on accelerated digital transformation.

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Due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizations around the globe have transformed their business operations. This has involved a shift to remote work en masse and embracing new ways to interact with employees and customers alike. That said, 2020 has presented myriad technical, logistical, and existential challenges for businesses worldwide. We recently spoke with Edith Harbaugh, CEO of LaunchDarkly, to discuss a wide range of topics including virtual collaboration, building better apps, serendipity, and more.

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The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated digital transformation initiatives worldwide. From technologies to support remote teams to apps to enable curb-side delivery, many businesses are leveraging a vast suite of technologies amid COVID-19. Harbaugh discussed this rapid evolution as companies embrace new systems and engagement strategies.

"I think we've seen 10 years of change compressed into a month in some cases," she said.

In particular, Harbaugh explained that some financial institutions have transformed their business model "overnight." The "old rule," as Harbaugh put it, was to ensure customers could access a physical bank branch and now it's enabling online access from anywhere.

A similar shift has happened with LaunchDarkly customers in the restaurant industry. Harbaugh explained that supporting online ordering was once an obstacle for some customers and these features are now driving their business.

"The brands that have been able to adapt to this new world [where] everything's online, all our orderings online, are really thriving right now," Harbaugh said.

During the pandemic, LaunchDarkly has worked with organizations to streamline historically time-consuming processes. Harbaugh explained that a major healthcare customer was able to take a process that once took hours to complete and now manage these tasks in a matter of minutes with their software.

LaunchDarkly's feature management services have been particularly critical as companies increasingly rely on online and mobile-friendly platforms to conduct business. However, adding new capabilities introduces the potential for error. Simply put, if a feature doesn't work when a customer uses it, the organization runs the risk of losing that customer. Harbaugh detailed a specific financial industry example highlighting LaunchDarkly's staggered rollout capabilities.

"If you have a new feature that you only want some bank branches to get, you could for example, release it only in New Jersey and make sure it worked before you release it to the rest of New York, Connecticut, or the rest of the US. So this has been extremely helpful for our financial customers because they can move fast, but do so safely," Harbaugh said.

While delivering a user-friendly app or easy-to-use website may have allowed companies to set themselves apart from the competition in the past, the playing field evens as these tools become standard in a given industry. We asked Harbaugh about the next x-factor for apps and customer engagement as user-friendly apps proliferate.

"I think you just have to always be building a better app. I think the idea of the 2000s was that apps were a project that you built once and then shipped and then walked away from," Harbaugh said. "I think now the really smart companies see that it's an ongoing product that you're continually tweaking and improving to have the best experience. You don't just ship an app to the app store and leave it there for five years. You're continually adding new functionality."

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Due to COVID-19, business travel has come to a standstill and hallmark conferences have been held virtually with varying degrees of success. While the virtual format allows more people to attend, Harbaugh noted a few of the comparative drawbacks including the networking and the general happenstance of in-person events.

"They're very one-way, you have a presenter who's talking and it's hard to get the same part of what a conference is, the networking, the hallway conversations, the [ability to say] 'hey, let's get coffee and talk about that topic we just saw.' That's very hard to do virtually just the serendipity," Harbaugh said.

In 2020, LaunchDarkly has embraced remote work and has continued to hire throughout the pandemic. In fact, the company has hired about 50 employees who have never met in-person, according to Harbaugh. Originally, the company planned to return to the office by July, but continues to operate remotely. For Harbaugh, the main challenge during the initial wave of the COVID-19 was considering the new normal of day-to-day business.

"It's just been this rolling realization that we're going to be remote and even when we do come back, it's going to be a different world."

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