Welcome to the Making of Gusto Academy. In this six-part multimedia series, we’re serving up a detailed, insider guide to imagining, designing, building, and launching an impactful customer education initiative—all wrapped up in a roller-coaster of a personal and professional journey.
No matter how or where customer education functions at your company, we’re here to show you how it can be more. We’re here to help you transform it from a languishing support function to a viable, valuable product...and have a little fun along the way.
The Chapters of Our Story
With the blueprints drawn and a customer-informed strategy in line, our team of unlikely heroes was ready to push forward. But could they build the house to house their vision?
If you’re caught up on Parts 1 and 2 (linked above), you know that our journey started with a vision to push the limits of traditional customer education. It started with a call to do more—to be more. With that vision guiding our every move, we spent the time and the resources to understand customer education from our customers’ diverse perspectives. We discovered how to create a path to holistic professional development that was unique to the accounting profession and could have a meaningful, measurable impact on our company’s and customer’s bottom lines.
We knew we weren’t just writing some course material that would check a box. But as the scope of our goals came into focus, we realized how much bigger this really was. We were going to need the perfect tech, a killer team, and next-level integrations to pull this off.
Want to get the whole story? Watch the Making of Gusto Academy in the Intellum platform with a free account.
It might seem like knowing the content you want to create is 90% of any customer education strategy. But the truth is that no matter how perfect and engaging your instructional design, executing your vision is by far the biggest hurdle you’ll face. You need to know what you need before you start building.
Beyond the content, you need an end-to-end customer journey strategy—and whatever tech you use needs to be in service of that strategy. When would your customers take each course, and what’s their funnel from start to finish? What metrics are you trying to hit and why? And how does your tech support those goals? What integrations do you need to track those metrics to make the business case at the end of the day?
To bring it all together, you need the right people behind your project both front-of-house and back. As big as your vision is, you need the right tech and teams to create and support it.
Remember how back in Part 1, I started in 2019 as a team of one? Well, we’d doubled in size to…two people! Yes, Annie Arthur had joined me in 2020, and she was doing a fantastic job helping to keep all of our plates spinning. But Annie and I are mere mortals. We need to eat and sleep and spend time off of our laptops. In order to pull off our ambitious Academy build and an LMS migration—all with less than four months to our launch deadline—we were going to need some help.
We needed a team who could not only rise to the task, but run with it. We weren’t just trying to make it through the launch in one piece. We were trying to make something bigger and better than anything that had come before. Our customers had to be entertained and engaged; our content had to both educate and delight. Our customers had to feel the value in the courses we were building and be excited to share them with their peers.
To produce this thrilling, blockbuster customer education experience, we needed to know who we needed—who we could trust to bring it to life. For us, this was a diverse, incredible, cross-disciplinary team who weren’t afraid to speak their minds. From Gusto, we had:
And on the creative side of things were our long-time partners and trusted vendors working day and night (literally) to help turn our vision into a reality:
While our all-star creative and education teams were busy growing our vision, I was growing nervous. We still didn’t have a Learning Management System powerful enough to make it work, and I knew the entire Academy was impossible without it. We’d outgrown our previous LMS, and we needed to rip off the band-aid—but the prospect of migrating our content, data, and systems made my head spin. As daunting as it was, however, we had one thing going for us: we knew exactly what we needed it to do.
After all the competitive research James and I had done, we had a 10-page wish list (read: highly detailed specs doc) outlining all of the baseline features and services we were looking for, along with all those extra bells and whistles that made my heart skip a beat when I saw them in action.
And the other thing we had going for us was…I was pretty sure who we needed to do it. Back when we were poring over all those best-in-class examples, one thing had become abundantly clear: they were all powered by Intellum.
Intellum checked all of the boxes we needed and more. We needed an enterprise-ready solution to act as a micro-site with a great UI/UX for our learners. We needed single sign-on (SSO) integration for ease of access as well as to carry in user data from Gusto that would link up with Salesforce for that cross-functional data visibility. And we needed integrated content management tools to help us create the truly engaging, interactive content we knew would take Gusto Academy to the next level. What we needed was more than a two-dimensional LMS. We needed a fully integratable, scalable, and customizable OEP: an Organizational Education Platform.
Intellum had all of the specs we needed to satisfy our wish list. No other vendor came close. But there was one last thing we were looking for that wasn’t listed in our specs doc.
We were looking for a partner. From the moment I got on the phone with Lizzi, our sales executive at Intellum, I knew we had found the one. Perusing their “about page” before the call, I saw everything I had been thinking and feeling about what customer education could be reflected in their own ethos. They were disruptors and innovators—they had been working to evolve the customer education space for decades. They embraced curiosity, creative solutions, and were ready to roll up their sleeves to make our customer education vision a reality. Then I met Lizzi and saw that she embodied those values through and through. I wanted her on the team.
Lizzi wasn’t just talking the talk; she was genuinely people first. It wasn’t just about nailing down the contract for her. We knew each other’s kids’ names after the first two hours. From day one, she was there working through the granular side of what we needed to do for our initial launch while helping us crystallize and build out our vision for the future.
It was clear to me that Intellum would sit at the heart of our customer journey, and that they could handle everything we were about to throw at them. Their powerful platform—and the powerhouse that is Lizzi—were ready to grow with Gusto in our strategic, multi-year education initiative.
With our top-tier tech lined up to support our team of creatives, content creators, and visionaries, it may have seemed like we were ready to go. Except for a few burning questions…
How do we get people into the Academy? How do we report on the impact of the Academy? How do we integrate the Academy into the fabric of our partner program?
In a word? Systems. We needed to set up the systems, integrations, and tooling to transform the Academy from a siloed content offering into a seamless extension of our in-app experience. We needed to pull together a strong bench of back-end support to pull off this migration for each stage of the customer journey. We needed a team to build the damn thing.
Behind-the-Scenes Teamwork Brings the Journey to Life
I knew exactly what cross-functional support I needed to rally, but I still had to convince all of these departments within Gusto that the Academy should be on their roadmap. How? Any way I could. I created memos and more memos; I did a bit of posturing; I strategically used well-intentioned emojis to convey deep need and appreciation…and I backed it all up with the occasional swag drop.
It may have been just a few of us leading the charge from within Gusto, but instead of psyching ourselves out that we were too small or too inexperienced to pull off our ambitious Academy, we instead simply redefined what ‘team’ could mean. To us, our team is made up of the core vendors and cross-functional partners we work with over the long-term who lend deep expertise, allowing Annie and I to work as generalists. Kind of like… Product Managers. Annie and I are the PMs who distill business requirements and manage all the moving parts while our creatives, engineers, and content experts work on building the content products we’ve identified. And the most important piece of all of this? Trusting the people you’ve got in your corner.
I knew I could trust our copywriter to take the traditionally academic scripts from our core content and breathe the warmth and humanity into them that they were missing. I knew I could trust our partners at Gamma Media to design and build out this beautiful, interactive, perfectly branded eLearning journey even though we had turned traditional instructional design on its head.
And I knew I could trust Intellum. Not only did signing with Intellum mean we had Lizzi, we were also given a project manager, a customer success manager, a UX consultant, and a technical consultant to help guide us through the implementation process. I knew I could trust them to work with our internal teams to brand the portal, import our historical data, and set up the integrations we needed. And their graphic designers and solutions engineers were there to help expand our creative vision and bring it to life. I knew I could trust them to be there when we needed them every step of the way, both now and in the future.
No matter how impressive a product you’re building, if you don’t have the right people in your corner, you’ll never get out of the gate. To bring a visionary idea to fruition, it takes a team of people willing to see beyond the status quo. To make a product that puts people first, it takes people who care about people. But it also takes a solid plan in conjunction with support and buy-in from a whole lotta people who can easily get overlooked along the way.
When we talk about the human component, it’s not just about connecting with the people using the platform, but the people behind it as well. It’s about values alignment and support from the ground up. Finding the right people to champion your product from behind the scenes is just as important as finding the right people to evangelize your product from center stage. Knowing everything you need to get a project done is just as important as knowing what you want it to look like.
A vision is nothing without the people behind it willing to put in the work. Intellum’s architecture was there to help us raise the load-bearing beams of our content strategy from the get-go, but no technology is a panacea on its own. Without knowing what we needed and fighting to get it—whether that was the top-tier LMS to house our vision or the dozens of people we needed to build it—Gusto Academy never would have gotten off the ground.
Of course, there was one last thing we needed to bring it all together.
Coming Up in Part 4:
Gusto had the people, they had the idea, and they had the tech. Although she had moved mountains, Jaclyn began to doubt herself. Was Gusto really doing anything different than what had been done before in the customer education industry? She was about to find out.