By Avery Guest
While working in user experience (UX), Josh Cooley grew curious about what his co-workers thought about the company’s product and how they thought it could be improved. That curiosity led to Cooley creating Incubie, a Slack-centric web application that brings everyone’s ideas together.
Cooley, a University of California, San Diego alumnus (2012), majored in Cognitive Science with specialization in Human Computer Interaction, with a minor in Computing and the Arts. After graduation, he found himself working in UX as an engineer, designer, and later an architect.
Working in UX, his goal has always been to “get a pulse on what the users need to improve the process”, yet he found that it was rather time-consuming to obtain this data. He found that his team was “continuously solving problems, but missed sales because of unaddressed system features.” He knew there had to be a better way to receive feedback from peers, and so he created an effective way to do so with existing company platforms via an integrated tool, Incubie.
We connected with Cooley to further discuss his journey as an entrepreneur among the tides in the San Diego tech ecosystem.
Year Founded: 2019
Key Players: Josh Cooley (CEO and Founder)
The team consists of Cooley, a contracted developer, and recently hired Sonam Jain, who works as a product marketing intern, a recent FreshBrewedTech intern as well.
Headquarters: San Diego
Technology: Incubie’s technology allows companies to receive feedback without requiring users to log into another website or platform. Incubie operates primarily as a plug-in on Slack, but has a standalone web application for more admin-based functions which many companies utilize for internal communication.
“Through integration, there will be endless possibilities for fitting Incubie into product leaders existing workflows. Incubie will play a role in capturing external feedback from a Google Form, email responses, or tagged customer support requests. This helps product leaders gain more visibility into the trove of ideas and issues that exist across their companies,” Cooley says, explaining how the platform helps manage and centralize ideas from various sources.
Companies often hire researchers to receive customer feedback, but Cooley said that they often don’t hear from people who are much closer to the product, like the sales, customer support, or the users themselves. Cooley has “found that their feedback is a very important dataset to be added to the overall problems that users are experiencing.”
Like many Slack integrations, Incubie makes collaboration much more seamless. The plug-in allows employees, clients, or users to submit feedback, which then makes its way to a public Slack channel. Within its own assigned channel, employees can vote and communicate about the posted ideas — keeping the conversations organized within Slack.
By automatically sending approved ideas to a company’s respective issue tracking software (on the paid plan), decision makers are left with more time, while other employees ideate and problem solve. Although all suggestions are publicly available on Slack, stakeholders have access to an additional web interface where they can ‘promote’ or ‘decline’ ideas. This increases transparency between decision makers and employees, as suggestions can be monitored by the suggesters. The majority of engagement happens within Slack, with the remainder taking place on the web interface.
Market Potential: With Slack boasting 12 million daily active users with a total of 156,000 organizations subscribing to the service, there is an abundance of businesses that could utilize Incubie’s plug-in tool. Josh additionally plans to expand to Microsoft Teams as well, expanding the platform’s reach to Teams’ 75 million daily active users.
Competitors such as Aha! And ProductBoard boast annual revenues of $45.8M and $35M respectively. Cooley is “looking to take some of the pie,” following in their footsteps. He believes that offering a more focused and affordable solution will bring over customers who are otherwise paying for functionality that is overwhelming and under utilized.
Inspiration: As a Cognitive Science major, for Cooley, going into user experience seemed like a no brainer. Working in UX, he was constantly looking for consumer feedback; he wanted to know what was going to optimize the experience for the user.
“Customer-facing employees are pushed off into their own corners, being told to simply offer support or make a sale. While they get a lot of customer feedback, their voices aren’t as heard as those on product development teams. Yet, I found that their voices are very important to the overall picture of what we can do to improve our products,” Cooley said.
Josh noted that opportunities were often missed because there were problems that the company didn’t even know existed, given the lack of feedback.
Cooley knew there had to be a better way to collect this feedback without constantly interfering with stakeholders’ processes. Through Incubie, he created a space for employees to point out problems users encounter with a product, while also offering a space for product managers to reflect upon at their own convenience.
Challenges: Originally, Incubie operated as its own application, which required employees to log into a platform outside of the ones used daily. Through his research, Cooley realized that users prefer not to log into another tool, and by requiring employees to log onto another platform, there is a higher drop-off rate, which results in less feedback and collaboration. As a result, Incubie pivoted from only a web application to a plug-in that can be utilized on Slack and Zapier. This pivot allows companies to receive more feedback on a daily basis.
Additionally, Cooley works full-time at the director level, so while Incubie is a high priority project for him, there is a limited amount of time he can dedicate to the platform. Bringing on other employees has also been a challenge, given that very few can work for “sweat equity” alone. Being a one man team, Cooley mans all sales himself, making it rather hard to gain buy-in from companies to test out the product. He is working on growing the team in order to scale the company.
Funding: So far, Cooley has not sought out funding. He doesn’t want to reach out to investors until he has a “profitable, well-tuned machine.” He doesn’t like the idea of pulling in funding on promises he hasn’t come through on yet, but hopes to eventually secure enough funding to work on Incubie full-time.
Mentors: Cooley thanks James Davis who runs a startup mentorship program, Diversion IQ for helping him out in the early stages of Incubie pro bono. He also appreciates the supportive San Diego community, which is filled with entrepreneurs willing to help.
On the Horizon: So far, the company has experienced rather slow growth, but not without reason. Cooley said he wants to learn from users and iterate based on the data he receives from them. He has been keeping Incubie “close to the vest,” while focusing on this learning-centric model.
If companies are interested in Incubie, they can first use the free trial. The free trial allows companies to post and track ideas internally in Slack. On paid plans, users can integrate and automate their idea workflow via Zapier, and have access to a library of pre-made zaps. This allows ideas to come in from any external source, and output into any preferred product management tool. Different levels are available for purchase on a monthly subscription basis.
Cooley believes that if all insight was allowed a space to breathe, employees and users “would be able to contribute on a more equal level, and this would eventually lead to higher profit margins and more of a collaborative workforce.”
San Diego Tech Ecosystem: Cooley is optimistic about the system and values how “small and tightly knit” the tech community is. When comparing it to Silicon Valley, he said that in San Diego you’re a fish in a lake, rather than the Valley’s ocean. However, this lake is more inviting – with other entrepreneurs more than happy to provide support and feedback. Although he did not start Incubie while attending UCSD, he says that “UCSD is doing a lot to build up the [tech] ecosystem,” here in San Diego.
Editor’s Note: TritonTech is an original series on UC San Diego created by Fresh Brewed Tech that showcases the innovative ideas born in the halls of academia that are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond.