We Need More Empathy In Software

For the past two years, I've been conducting a grand experiment: to build a software company where empathy is at the center of everything we do. It's been an incredible journey, and I started this blog to share how Empathy-Driven-Development has completely transformed the way I do business.

So let's start at the beginning.

In February of 2013, I was a new mom and worked in a typical boutique consulting firm with about thirty other people. Like many technology companies I'd worked for in the past, this one was fast-paced and frenzied. I liked the people I worked with, but somehow the collective intelligence gravitated to a sacrifice-everything-including-your-health-and-your-sanity-for-the-client-no-matter-what mentality.

Even when I worked eighty or ninety hours per week, I felt like I was spinning my wheels more than I was delivering value. Life felt rushed. People were rewarded more for putting out fires than preventing them. I was tired, stressed, felt utterly powerless to my situation, and ultimately quit feeling like I would never be able to balance motherhood and a technical career. (I've since discovered research that indicates I wasn't the only mom who felt this way.)

One afternoon I stumbled upon Dr. Brené Brown's two TED talks on shame and vulnerability. She presented her research on why I felt so stressed trying to keep everything together and how empathy was the antidote. When I watched these talks, I felt understood. I could see how being a perfectionist who was trying to do it all was contributing to my downfall.

Eager to learn more, I purchased a six and a half hour lecture series and encouraged my husband to listen to it with me in the car. Over the next few weeks, we became transformed by the content. We fought less. We communicated more effectively. We opened up and felt more deeply.

I decided to launch a strategic communications company focused on helping organizations understand themselves, their audience, and their message better. My first client under this new brand was a Fortune 50 company, and my role on the project was to revise over four hundred email templates to help them deliver better customer service.

Armed with my new knowledge on empathy, I developed a framework I referred to as using your E.A.R: Empathize, Acknowledge, Resolve. Within three months of launching the new templates, their customer service ratings were up 20%. Within a year, they were being noticed by the media for their dramatic turnaround, and they could link the better customer service to an increase in sales. That's when I started to see how empathy could make a difference to the bottom line.

Over the next year, I continued to work with some amazing clients, including The Smithsonian and Virginia Commonwealth University. Over and over again, I saw how empathy was at the core of truly transforming cultures into the companies we all wanted to buy from and work with.

I decided to write a book about my experience. I gave presentations and did my best to share this amazing new knowledge I had. I worked hard, but even with excellent research and my real-world experience, I struggled to gain traction on the idea. I decided that what I needed was a company where I could test these ideas completely, and not just as a consultant who was looking in from the outside.

About a year after I'd started freelancing, my husband attended a Startup Weekend. He came home energized and felt a strong urge to reboot the software development company we'd run together for a few years. I saw an opportunity to put my ideas around empathy to the test, and he agreed to use the framework I'd developed to launch our new brand.

Today, after two years of infusing our company culture with a healthy dose of empathy, we have a lot of successes to share. Empathy has helped us come up with better products and services, connect with staff in a meaningful way, serve our clients, and increase our bottom line. Now, I'm on a mission to share what I've learned, especially in the field of technology where these concepts are so desperately needed.

It's been an amazing journey. I've learned a ton along the way, and I'm eager to use this blog as a way to share stories, research, and conversations with you. Welcome!