Dubsado: The emotional moat can be the essential ingredient for a company


The makers of Drift published a great little book called This Won’t Scale. Play #8 in this was Build an Emotional Moat Around Your Brand. The author goes on to talk about “crafting a consistent story” and every “touchpoint” being part of that—which is all good, but still sounds a little mechanical, if you ask me. But the book is great, and they gave a name to this thing I want to talk about. The emotional moat is loyalty.

And the big point here is that we are swimming in an ocean of options for just about anything you can think of. But what we are not swimming in an ocean of, is things where you feel like anyone actually gives a *!@#$% about you. That is what an MBA type would call a market gap. The only thing is, you have to fill that gap with actually demonstrating care, otherwise you just increase the cynicism in the world, even more (and it won’t work).

The emotional moat that Drift is referring to is the loyalty that you create when you are actually there for people, and demonstrating it in numerous ways. I would like to highlight the company Dubsado in relation to this. They do proposal/contract/contact management type stuff for small businesses.

From the top of their home page, you can tell that they are genuine, different, and a kind of real and human.

Just after that, they invite you to join the Dubsado family. They live up to this throughout their customer experience. When you sign up, they USPS mail you a little card to celebrate your membership in their family, that also includes a sticker (which of course I put on my laptop right away).

And the welcome email invites you to join their Dubsado Community Facebook group.

cover photo, Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing, outdoor and nature, possible text that says 'welcome to the dubsado facebook community'

It’s a very active group, usually with at least a couple of posts a day. Sometimes the posts are about how to use the software, which is extremely flexible (which also means there can be a learning curve to figure out all of what it can do). You may have someone asking how photographers do contracts for wedding shoots, or how accountants use it to do recurring billing, or graphic designers put together their proposals.

And you might just as well see someone post “Not Dubsado related, but does anyone have recommendations for a good business coach for graphic designers?” In either case, people are very ready to respond with helpful advice and tips. There is an extremely warm feeling that is created. This is all really important, even if it can’t be quantified.

The audience is strongly female, and feels very weighted towards kind of 20’s/30’s women, who may be raising kids and perhaps wanting the freedom of working for themselves (though I certainly don’t feel out of place there). But it gives it a very warm, welcoming, friendly vibe. People are supportive and demonstrative. I cannot stress enough how important this thriving community is to the “brand” that Dubsado is creating.

Aside: Maybe I should just get rid of the term “brand” all together, I often think. It makes me think of Darren Stephens or Don Draper. I think we could do better with the term overall impression, or emotional impact. What do you think?

Cultivating the Facebook group is obviously an investment of time, but the payoff is huge. In “branding” speak, it creates “innumerable touchpoints” that “strengthen the brand”—i.e., support you in feeling connected, listened to, and part of something. (We were listening to part of Brené Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness the other day in our carpool. She does a great job of stressing how important that sense of caring is to someone. And yes—this is the same thing as what I am talking about here.) And while you have to put energy and time into curating a group like that, you also get all the free benefit of the members you have brought together supporting each other. You get to legitimately win from bringing them together!

Just as it is hard to overstate the impact of the Facebook Group, I cannot overstate the impact of their in-app support. They use Intercom to provide this.

The ability to ask for help is right there. Although it provides a knowledge base, every time I have asked a question, someone has responded within a minute or less.

This level or response and the helpful but also human responses have made a huge difference in my overall impression and feeling about them. As I said, their software is very flexible, which also means there is a learning curve. Perhaps they stumbled into the need to give great support for this reason, I don’t know. But the impact is that you feel held and cared about, and happy to make the investment every month. You don’t feel stupid. You feel like it is not a big problem that you couldn’t figure it all out! They are there for you, totally different sense. And I am sure this is an investment, but I’ll bet that the return is huge, because of this emotional moat, this loyalty that it gives you.

I mean to be truthful, it sounds like they have a cultural that must be pretty emotionally available. Because a different software company would have been cold, abstract, and said “If they are smart enough, the customers will figure it out for themselves. Let’s go build some more features!” So I am willing to bet that it was the culture at the heart of the company—founded by a couple (Becca and Jake)—that allowed it culture to emerge. In short, you need to look at who you are being in order to come across this way.

But then, lots of people are nice, and they have managed to build software that is also useful, and they have managed to scale it into a growing company. So the willingness to show up with these ingredients of support and put the caring into their story and their actions, was really important.

Their free webinars, and warm posts about updates, about how the company is growing and what they’re up to, provide really valuable “touchpoints” as well to lend to this overall impression.

The upshot

To be honest, there have been moments when I’ve felt frustrated with the software. I left Harvest for my time tracking, and their built-in time tracker is still in beta; its feature set is limited. And there are a few things about the interface that I would like to be different. These things can affect my workflow, although there are lots of things I like about Dubsado.

And so sometimes I find myself wondering if there are alternatives. It’s hard to find one, frankly, because they are doing so much in one package. But here—at last—is the point to this whole thing, that has made me want to write this: The emotional bond that I feel with the company is its own feature. It makes me feel a bit like I’m part of something. Like we (the community, the company) are all in this together. That we are excited and growing, together. (This is a powerful gravitational force that keeps me a lot more loyal in so many ways.)

This sense of loyalty and excitement—from the community members’ generosity and thoughtfulness for each other, from the company itself, make Dubsado feel more like a special thing, that has human characteristics, and adds some feeling of community and life somehow, to my life. And so this is the “emotional moat” that—in times that I am feeling less than delighted about a single feature, for example—I still feel so good and solid about the company and about what they are working on. Essentially, by sharing so much about where they are going, their enthusiasm, and their obvious generosity, I am brought in to an entire story. And in this way, they become their own category; they cannot be compared to anyone. They stand far above the other ones, who feel a lot more like a functional piece of machinery. When you get this software, you become part of a community. And that is incredibly powerful as a force of loyalty to their brand.