How Textio Founder Kieran Snyder is Transforming How We Communicate

December 16, 2021

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series” is comprised of stories, Q&As and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds and are now leading successful companies, or investing in them.


Kieran Snyder is the CEO and co-founder of Textio, the creator of an augmented writing platform that surfaces advanced language insights as you type. Companies like McDonald’s, Cisco and Twitter use the platform to create more inclusive, on-brand hiring and employer brand content.

Snyder holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from University of Pennsylvania, and held several positions at Microsoft and Amazon prior to founding Textio in 2014. Despite market headwinds in 2020, Textio had four of its six best quarters in company history in the past year, and has doubled the number of customers since the start of 2020.

In this Q&A, Snyder shares how her strong vision to transform business communication, a constant and intentional investment in internal culture, and rapid product experimentation has kept Textio thriving.

 
Kieran Snyder, CEO and Co-Founder of Textio

Q: What is your backstory? Did you always know you would be an entrepreneur?

I have a Ph.D. in linguistics and have always been fascinated by the intersection of language and math—how can we measure and learn about the impact of language? I spent a decade at Microsoft and Amazon in a variety of product and engineering leadership roles, working mostly on language products. My father is an entrepreneur, so maybe it was always destined to be.

 

Q: What inspired you to start your company?

Textio is built on this idea—what if we could know the impact of our words and language before we sent them? It would transform the way we communicate, and this vision continues to guide us. 

Over my career, I’d spent many years looking at the empirical data behind language use and its impact, particularly around gender bias and other social dimensions. I’d spent years at Microsoft creating the world’s most used productivity software. The opportunity was clear. People wanted to communicate with more intention, but the software they used to do their work wasn’t helping them at all.

Recruiting seemed especially ready for disruption. Job seekers are constantly making decisions and forming impressions about companies based on what’s written in job posts, career sites and recruiting emails. The tools for writing all this content were hugely outdated.

 

Q: What problem does your company solve?

Every day, there are word choices we make that impact how someone responds. Every time we communicate with someone else, especially when we have something important to say, we’re guessing. But our guesses are limited by our biases, and the more different our audience is from ourselves, the more likely it is that we guess wrong.

Textio helps writers get beyond guessing. Critically, Textio helps teams write inclusive, on-brand hiring and employer brand materials that reflect their most central cultural values. As you write, Textio flags biased and harmful language that gets in your way. The software also helps you identify the language patterns that work better in saying what you intend.

Especially right now, when so much communication is happening in writing and online with distributed and hybrid work environments, getting the words right has never been more important.

 

Q: How did your previous experiences at Amazon and Microsoft shaped how you have built your company?

Before I was at Microsoft and Amazon, I was an academic. As a researcher, my job was to uncover new knowledge about how language and computers worked.

My first couple of years in the industry were a significant culture shock. One of the most important things I learned is how to think in terms of products. In contrast to the research world I’d come from, the world of industry thinks in terms of product and user value. Put simply, a product is something that people pay you for. That means it has to solve a concrete problem that they have—and the problem needs to be important enough for them to pay real money to solve.

This product-first orientation is central to how we work at Textio. We are not just advancing the state of knowledge about language and bias, though that is interesting and important. We make products that solve real problems that our customers have.

 

Q: How have you integrated your values and mission into your own company structure?

Our principles are our values in action. We integrate them into all parts of our work—including how we provide praise and feedback. 

In the past year, two of these in particular have helped us through a challenging time: learn by making and listen to the loop. When hiring slowed globally in 2020, it was challenging given that Textio’s core product served recruiters and hiring teams. We were able to lean on our principles, quickly iterate, listen to feedback from our customers, and invent powerful new capabilities—including applying Textio to a much broader spectrum of employer brand and team communication outside the hiring pipeline.

 

Q: So many companies have had to make changes to the way they work in the past year—what changes have you made and what takeaways do you have?

So many! In addition to just bringing new products to the market, we’ve also invested heavily in our own internal culture to help our team. 

We moved from being nearly entirely co-located in Seattle to becoming a fully distributed team. I believe this is the next front of equity work in modern organizations, and we are committed to making distributed work a great and equitable experience for our team. 

On top of our regular holiday schedule, we’ve introduced several additional companywide shared days off to promote true rest, expanded to support distributed work in eight states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington), and invested in new coaching services with Bravely and additional manager training. At every stage, not just in tough times, it’s been so important to listen to our team—the whole team—and actively and intentionally invite more voices in. 

 

Q: What one piece of advice do you have for other founders just starting on their journey? 

One of our early investors talks about wanting to back inevitable founders: Founders who, by virtue of all their prior experience and backgrounds, simply had to start the company they started. I love this.

Choose an area where you have personal competitive advantages that are so purpose-built and unique that virtually no one else can compete with your ability to win. It’s incredibly hard moving from 0 to 1, getting a company off the ground where none existed before. Choose a space where you, and uniquely you, have the best chance of success. Don’t start a company that just anyone could start. Don’t start in a space where someone else is better suited to win. Start a company that only YOU can start.

 

Q: How did you know you were choosing the right investors? What have they brought to the company?

Your investors work for you! It’s common to think it’s the other way around, but they really are a resource for you. Almost all the problems you face, they’ve seen before and have valuable advice they can share. We’re in the early stages of building a new tool called Umeo that helps teams have rich conversations and facilitate feedback that has really transformed how I interact with our board. It no longer is just formal quarterly meetings and separate one on ones, but it really feels like we’re collaborating together on important issues. 

 

Q: What do you find most rewarding about your experience as a founder so far?

Making something that brings genuine inspiration to our customers. There is nothing better than hearing about the real moments of joy and delight people have found in their Textio experience. And the broader impact: Every person that Textio makes more thoughtful means we’re creating a better experience for every single person they work with.