Let Your Documentation Do the Work: How Scribe Revolutionizes Efficiency

Discover how Scribe’s innovative documentation platform is eliminating inefficiencies, empowering employees, and transforming the way organizations capture and share knowledge.

Let Your Documentation Do the Work: How Scribe Revolutionizes Efficiency

Discover how Scribe’s innovative documentation platform is eliminating inefficiencies, empowering employees, and transforming the way organizations capture and share knowledge.

Let Your Documentation Do the Work: How Scribe Revolutionizes Efficiency

Discover how Scribe’s innovative documentation platform is eliminating inefficiencies, empowering employees, and transforming the way organizations capture and share knowledge.

interview with
Jennifer Smith


Enamored with efficiency

How many hours a week do we spend asking our colleagues “quick questions?” How many hours do we spend answering them? According to McKinsey, employees spend an average of 9.3 hours a week searching for information. While some of that time includes internet searches and other kinds of information gathering, it also represents “quick” calls, texts, or messages between co-workers. For Scribe CEO and Co-Founder Jennifer Smith, manual knowledge-gathering has been an obvious pain point for a long time. 

“I had a professor in business school who said to find the thing about yourself that you're always apologizing for and build a career around it,” says Smith. “I'm just really obsessed with the efficient allocation of time and talent.” 

Smith’s interest in efficiency led her to McKinsey, where she launched her career providing operational consultation to tech and finance companies to increase efficiency.

Her typical approach? Find the most efficient person in the op center, befriend them, and ask them what they do differently from everyone else. Smith would spend hours with that person, and found that, unlike most of the other employees, they were bypassing the employer-supplied binder full of step-by-step guides and screenshots because they’d found more efficient processes to follow. Those are the processes Smith noted in her reports. 

“If that employee had a way to share what they knew with everybody else in the ops center, they could have had a really big impact,” says Smith.

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Lost knowledge, wasted time

Smith assumed someone else would find a way to fix that inefficiency and moved on with her life —until she started working in venture capital and she began to wonder why people choose to buy specific kinds of software.  

“I talked to over 1,200 CIOs and CTOs at larger enterprises to try to understand what keeps them up at night and what they wished VCs were investing in,” says Smith. “And there was a theme.”

All of the executives Smith spoke to have employees working for them every day, all day, creating value using a range of digital tools. But most of them had no idea what processes employees were following and they wanted to understand the information and knowledge powering their companies.

This realization, coupled with Smith’s experiences at McKinsey, brought her to a nexus point. At most companies, people had to take time away from their regular tasks to create documentation that usually landed in a wiki and quickly became outdated. 

“It became this downward spiral where nobody ever bothered to look at the wiki,” says Smith. 

There were three primary issues with this: 

  1. Some people rely on their co-workers’ knowledge, which is unproductive for both employees.
  2. Others don’t take time to document processes at all, resulting in loss of knowledge.
  3. Some don’t want to bother their co-workers with questions, so they waste a lot of time trying to figure things out for themselves.

The result is an informal type of knowledge sharing that's manual, inefficient, and only covers a small percentage of a company’s actual processes. Smith began to explore the possibility of creating software that could watch an expert work and automatically capture their processes. “I wanted to make documentation like digital exhaust, just a byproduct of doing your work,” she says.

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She began networking again, looking for someone with the expertise and enthusiasm for building software. “I wasn't looking for somebody who wanted to start a company,” says Smith. “I was looking for someone excited to solve this problem with me. I didn't even need to start a company—I was happy to join someone else's company if they were doing it the right way.” 

But no matter how many people Smith spoke to, no one was addressing the issue. Then, after speaking to more than 80 engineers, she met Aaron Podolny, who was working for Google at the time. 

“Meeting Aaron might be one of the greatest blessings of my life,” says Smith. “I feel incredibly lucky that our paths crossed and that we're on this journey together. He's just an incredibly talented builder and a gem of a human. When I met him, I thought, ‘You are a special person. You will do really special things. Let's see if it makes sense for us to do this together.’”

Together, Smith and Podolny developed a product that automatically creates step-by-step documentation for a particular task. To generate a guide, users just have to hit record and start going through the motions. 

“Now, anytime someone needs to know how to do something, Scribe can serve up that documentation,” says Smith. “This allows anyone on the team to produce the same level of work as an expert without ever having to take the time away to ask.”


A remarkable partner

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An emotional response

Over the course of 4 years and many iterations, Scribe turned to the market for guidance time and time again. With each release, the company collected and implemented substantial feedback from users, weighing it against the company’s overall vision and how people were actually using the product.

Now, all that work has paid off. 

“People have told us that they literally shed tears when they used Scribe for the first time,” says Smith. “I get very emotional messages every day from users, saying, ‘You don't know me, but I just want to tell you, this has been life-changing for me. I used to spend hours of my free time trying to create documentation, but now I can do it in minutes.’”

In addition to saving time, Scribe gives employees confidence that they’re doing their jobs correctly. Even experienced employees use Scribe documentation to guide them through difficult, complex processes. “Then their teams’ KPIs improve,” says Smith. “Not only are employees more efficient, they’re more effective because they’re consistently doing the work the right way the first time—and then they can move on.”

One of Smith’s favorite outcomes is when a quiet, understated employee gains recognition by using Scribe to show what they know. “A lot of the experts are behind the scenes,” she says.  “They're just quietly making things happen. Now, they can be recognized for what they know without taking extra time to create documentation. They can have a much bigger impact on your team by sharing knowledge with everybody else.” 

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Time well spent

Scribe is particularly exciting because almost everyone can benefit from it. “What’s really interesting about our business is that our user base is anybody who uses a computer and works with other people,” says Smith. “That could be anyone from a manager at a local dry-cleaning franchise who has to document how they run payroll, to fast-growing start-ups that have to document how things are done for the next set of people coming in, all the way to legacy Fortune 500 companies that need to codify and institutionalize.”

Northern Trust, a financial services company based in Chicago, is a great example. The company has been using Scribe across an increasing number of departments to reduce the time spent on non-productive work so they can focus more on client service. The company did a detailed workforce time study and found that without Scribe, employees were wasting between 9 and 13% of their workweek asking and answering questions. With Scribe, they reduced that wasted time by 67%.

Another Scribe customer, an IT manager, told Smith she was able to take her first vacation in 2 years because she was finally able to give her team the resources they’d need to do their jobs if she took time off and wasn’t around to answer questions. 

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Knowledge, transferred

With Scribe already making a significant difference in people’s work and personal lives, Smith is excited about the company’s future. But most of all, she’s looking forward to helping more people spend more time doing meaningful work, instead of spending hours every week looking for information and answering questions.

“We’re marching towards earning the privilege to work with customers until we're wall-to-wall within their enterprise, and Scribe has become part of the working standard,” says Smith. “Everything that’s done is automatically captured. Employees are automatically receiving the documentation they need to do their jobs. And the end result? Now anyone can do any process like they’re the expert.”

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Trusting the market

During the planning and development phase, Smith and Podolny relied heavily on their target market for guidance. This approach led to a successful product, with a few unexpected challenges along the way.

The team originally built a product similar to Scribe—it documented processes in the same way—but then went a step further by attempting to replicate the task. But, their market research showed that while customers were passionate about the documentation features, they didn’t really need or want task automation. For Smith and Podolny, the challenge was accepting that they needed to adapt their original vision in order to solve their customers’ real-life pain points—despite pressure from some investors. 

“I had investors say to me: ‘You're trashing this company’,” said Smith. “‘You don't have a future with this. You're wrong.’ But I had more data than them. I talked to customers every day. I had a different view, and I was sorry they disagreed. But we carried on, and that was not easy at the time, but we didn't feel like we had any other choice. It was clearly the right thing to do.”

Smith and Podolny’s customer-first approach also made the rollout process more complex. “We weren't doing nine-month sales cycle contracts, which is totally appropriate for some businesses, but it wasn’t right for us,” says Smith. “We couldn’t sell something and then wait a really long time before anybody got their hands on it and told us what they actually thought.” 

They needed to get the product in front of as many people as possible, as early as possible, so they could gather and apply feedback quickly. “We released it early on, just to see if it would go anywhere. Then, we started seeing downloads, and people wrote to tell us how helpful it was. I think we had 10 magazines in 10 different languages write about it. So that was early proof that people really did care about it.” 

Once the excitement started to wear off, reality kicked in. Scribe needed to figure out what the next stages would be. Fortunately, they just had to stick to the plan.

“We needed to tighten and shorten the feedback loops so they were as quick and iterative as possible,” says Smith. “For us, that was having a free product that we distributed as widely as possible. Then we could look at the product telemetry to see how people were using it, which allowed us to iterate and change the product pretty quickly.”

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Now, Scribe is a more mature company with millions of users across millions of organizations in every country in the world, but it’s still putting customers first. Employees from Scribe’s marketing, product, and customer service teams almost constantly have an eye on the company’s product usage dashboards. And they’re still talking to users, getting feedback, and engaging with them on social media. 

“There's no secret sauce,” says Smith. “You just have to do it.”

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