Listen as we go behind the scenes with Jess Callery, Product Manager of Bridge, and Forrest Blount, CTO and Co-Founder of Bridge, as they answer questions related to their Q4 strategy which includes exciting advancements to data management, the power of moving away from spreadsheets, giving teams more transparency, and how they are turning the lens towards preparing Bridge for SaaS.
This interview was recorded October 8, 2020 at 10 AM PST. Listen to the audio or read the full transcript below.
Interviewer: Camille Bradbury, Legal Content Specialist and Workflow Tech @ Bridge
Interviewees: Jess Callery, Product Manager @ Bridge, and Forrest Blount, CTO and Co-Founder @ Bridge
CB: Hello and welcome! My name is Camille Bradbury I am the Legal Content Specialist and Workflow Tech at Bridge. We’ve got Jess Callery, Product Manager of Bridge, and Forrest Blount, CTO, and Co-Founder of Bridge, on the call with us today and we are talking about what our focus is for Q4 for the Bridge product.
Tell us what you guys have been working on...
FB: Thanks, Camille. Feel free to jump in and take us through the roadmap of what we have been working on, Jess.
JC: For Q4, we are focused on data and document management that play hand in hand with each other. A lot of the research we have done over the course of the last year, since we rolled out the big improvements in that area, is that everyone is super appreciative of the idea of having records that can be portable, that you can see exactly what someone is working on, but they want it even more. So, in the grand style of being iterative and being fast, we keep iterating on it and have added more functionality. So, right now we are in the middle of the next push to take the product to the next level to make it something that is really easy, no matter who you are -- an employee who wants to find a copy of their latest passport, or if you’re an HR who has uploaded an organizational chart at one point and wants to know where that is, or if you’re an attorney or wants to see specific data across a company or for a specific employee, or if you’re a law firm working with us... anyone that wants to manage this data and see it in different ways. They can splice it and take it to the next level where the data is filterable, searchable, easy to find -- that’s the big push right now.
FB: Yeah I love that, I get so excited about seeing the roadmap getting pushed further and further out since you have joined us last year. One thing I would add to that, to extend the vision there, is when we originally built the Bridge collaboration platform it was so transactional focused that all the data was contained inside of an individual application. So it was taking it through from the beginning of an H-1B application all the way through to the visa. Now, as we have gone more strategic and layered all the program management around the application that is really what is pulling this data to live outside of the application, to live on the employee record, to live on their timeline, and to carry forward naturally to their projected application or across the program guidelines that the company is setting so that is what has been pushing and pulling us in that direction.
JC: To nerd out a little a bit, it is making the data agnostic so the data is not specific to this application. It is saying, this is a passport and this is an image and this is the data that is related to it, and no matter who you are and what you are looking for related to that you can pull out the appropriate information to it and you can do really cool and exciting things in data management. If you are a data management nerd, that is exciting because all of a sudden you can solve problems for people really quickly - I can filter all this information. I wish I could see all the information about X about all of my employees across the whole company. We can figure out solutions to that super fast, like super fast, when the data is structured and organized that way. That’s why we are investing so much time right now in making sure that data management structure underlies everything and is powerful enough to solve problems quickly for people.
CB: That is such a difference from where law firms and traditional immigration firms are coming from, right? We are in this document, physical paperwork, files... audits are a mess. If you get audited by USCIS you are scrambling and the time it takes to get all of that paperwork together instead of clicking for a report or clicking a button is transformational I think in the immigration space, especially.
Are you seeing that with law firms?
JC: We are seeing that with all of our users, specifically with law firms there is a lot of data they manage from the application but there is a lot of data from the company’s perspective too that they are managing. Everybody wants to be able to find it quickly, they want to be able to see it, search it, filter it. We have definitely seen as data has come on to our platform, whether it is a new law firm or a new company, whoever is working with us, we see the struggle of them trying to put that data together in a meaningful way and being able to put it together even for themselves to be able to know what is happening; that’s not a problem anyone has on our platform. What we are trying to do is take it to the next level, it’s not even that baseline, I feel like we have got that, you can get on our platform and find your data... it’s just exciting things you can do with that information. You can create interesting ways to solve problems if that data is really easy to maneuver and manipulate and for our developers to take it and anytime someone says, hey I wish every time an employee does x or is a part of this department or in this, this thing happened. That gets easy to do because we can look at their profile and say oh they are in this department and this is their status and they are about to max out that means that we are going to create a report for this group of people and we can do that solution quickly for customers because that data is easy to manipulate. That’s what takes the power. That’s the exciting thing that is happening.
FB: Yeah I think it is like today, the data is there and we can do a lot of these things but it requires advanced mode or power mode, someone on the development team might be assisting or arranging with some of the stuff and at the other side of this big push is that most of this functionality should become transparent and easy for any user to access, manipulate, and do all of those great things that Jess was talking about. The other piece that I think, to get back to what you were talking about on the compliance or audit side, today that compliance lives in spreadsheets and so the successfulness of your program to survive an audit, respond to an audit in a timely fashion, respond to an audit in a stress-free or reduce fashioned it is really based on whether a human being has correctly maintained a spreadsheet.
CB: With all that in mind how did you guys arrive at developing these features,
We have talked about some challenges and some pain points, what went into all that?
JC: We had some user groups, definitely been interviewing, talking to folks, doing surveys. I started about a year ago and from the day I walked in the door most of the folks I talked to, whether they are any of the users we work with, the data is the deep, meaningful thing that we are working with. So it's a lot of digging back and asking, “Ok, we have all this data what are you trying to do with it? What are you trying to achieve? What is meaningful to you?” And, one of the things we realized is that being able to pull that document and that data out and being able to make it more agnostic was the big thing to solve all these problems. In general, we are trying to make it easier to fill the data out, there is a lot of information that the employee has to fill out: their education, their work history, all their immigration information, that is a lot of information! It is a lot for them so we are trying to make it easy, one for them to provide the information, and easy for the system to have others find and use it.
FB: When Jess joined us last year, we were in the last mile of our relaunch and the relaunch had a new brand and new design and a bunch of other great stuff, but a big kernel of that relaunch was starting to build these more robust data objects that could be discrete and audited and used more dynamically to work with our workflows on the platform and so we started, Jess started really, to come into the beginning stages of this concept but has gotten now, over the past years, to continue to build and expand and figure out all the great things we can do now that we have got this concept introduced. Now that we have got this concept introduced, what other data types and objects should be added? How should they be more finally integrated with our workflows and then do they really deliver that really amazing value to our clients?
JC: Yeah and I think even the term workflows, the “application workflows”, which is kind of this development term, but there is this whole concept of all these tasks that have to be done in order to file paperwork with USCIS. The way that information flows into those workflows is really powerful and I think is one of the coolest things that happened out of that relaunch. When I first started, I was seeing kind of how the power of what that can do to make those applications be so efficient, to be so light touch, to be so elegant, to have a good user experience as you go through it and feel really good about it and not have it feel like this really dense process. I think that is something I am super excited about, I don’t think we are there yet, but where we are just feels light touch and elegant to have gone through the application process, I think that’s really the exciting goal.
CB: Yeah so let’s break this done a little bit for the common user who doesn’t know, someone gets on the platform and walk us through how this data management would go. They would fill out their data in the platform, does it transfer over?
Talk about a use case scenario.
FB: I think you should take them through your vision for onboarding, Jess, and how we start by inviting a new user to Bridge and taking them through these concepts.
JC: Ok, so the basic idea is when a user or employee joins the platform they would have a profile and they would be able to give us information about themselves and fill out records, their identification records about their history, and their work. Then, if there was an application, the application would quickly be able to look at all of those records, and all of that information that the employee has provided us for their profile, and understand how it relates in to an application. Do they have sufficient education as it relates to this application? Have they given us enough information about their education for this specific application? We can write all of that logic into the application process so that really the only thing the employee has to provide for that specific application, hopefully a couple of questions that are very specific to that application, in addition to their profile, that process starts to become very hands off once you fill out your profile. The basic information that is needed, and in addition is easy for the attorney to look at the profile and make some initial reviews, some initial understanding about does this make sense? Is this the right thing to do? And give feedback and advice quickly without having to wait for a lot of paperwork to flow through the system in order to get to that result. I think it’s super elegant.
FB: Yeah, I love that vision for both welcoming them and taking them through the onboarding piece and then building on that most of that data, that profile, that Jess is talking about extending and expanding isn’t dependent on that application at all – this is the stuff that for that user is going to follow them for the rest of their life in any country so whether they stay in the U.S. and continue to build on their U.S. status, whether they travel to another country, this is the data: your passport, your previous immigration records, your work history, your education history -- it is universal truth. One of the ideas is that this profile then becomes a calling card for any immigration attorney, any where in the world to be able to look at your profile and assess what have you done and what are you qualified to do and where they can go with you. Are we going to be able to get the type of visa that your employer is looking for next? Are you going to be able to pursue the family immigration options that you are ready to do next? We are looking at this structure as a way to level up the entire immigration industry and get some coherence firm to firm, you shouldn’t have to always be re-populating your education information just because your employer has switched immigration firms. That’s kind of a ridiculous, antiquated idea.
CB: Yeah I think it would also speak to this global mobility piece, of being able to move around easily and transfer easily. And makes immigration not so much of a manual, heavy-lifting strenuous process that many immigrants and non-immigrants go through.
FB: Yeah, look at 2020, there have been many challenges but a big part of it from an immigration program management side is how do you react? Whether it is a change from the government or whether it is a change because everyone is working in different locations, how can you react with that change to make a request or pull an audit on your employees and decide how to adjust your immigration program? Whether that’s getting new work locations and figuring out what you need to do to make sure those locations are in compliance, or if you have gone through layoffs as a company, changing your program management rules and having that reflect on what visa renewals or green card sponsorships you are going to be able to provide your team in the next 6 months while you re-assess the situation. Those are some of the things that we are enabling by pursuing this work.
CB: I am really hearing the transparency piece is so critical with this product, the transparency for the employer, transparency for the international employee coming over, that once that transparency piece is in play the level of anxiety, so to speak, is greatly diminished in this process.
FB: Yeah, it's a single source of truth. Right now, if you have an attorney or a law firm operating on one platform, maybe their own spreadsheet to manage things, and then you’ve got a global mobility manager or HR team that is operating on another spreadsheet or possible several spreadsheets, maybe an HRIS is in play as well, what is your single source of truth for your immigration program? How do you actually get in sync? Obviously, a lot of great HR teams have solved this problem but all of those solutions require a lot of effort to make sure those things stay in sync. What Bridge is aspiring to be here is the collaboration platform that can be the single source of truth for the HR team and their legal team.
CB: So the employers and the attorneys have to come together on Bridge in order to collaborate? Can you talk about the different users on Bridge,
Say an employer came to you and wanted to use your services they would have to use your attorneys on the backend of that of what Bridge had available? Is that how it works?
FB: Yeah, that’s a great question. This is changing at Bridge. So for the past several years the main way of working with Bridge has been through our full service product so if you wanted to use our technology you would need to work with one of our partner law firms who are trained on the platform and bought into the first principals that the platform is organized on, have some of that support and training so they have access to some of those power features. So what we get by following the roadmap, that Jess is building out here, is the flexibility to start to extend that to other firms. We are developing a SaaS product for law firms or for companies to use individually that would allow them many of the same benefits of the program, allow the same transparency, the single source of truth, the data management, and the application workflows and give them a little more of that access for this to start to become a standard that could be adopted across the industry. What would you add to that Jess?
JC: I think working with some of the SaaS folks we have been talking to, and our full-service folks, it is interesting to see the synergy between the two because a lot of what they want is the same thing but it’s been interesting because a lot of the other law firms have come in and they are looking at the platform and they are asking, where is this document? How does this work? It’s really good to get that fresh perspective of somebody who hasn’t been in our world for so long who is working more on what we would consider the backend processing of an application and see the really big philosophical things we have been trying to touch, which is this document management, the employee experience, they want the same things.
There is not a lot of divergence between what our major groups want which from a product perspective is awesome, is fantastic. It means that we can drive really strongly towards a goal that can make all of our customers really happy. We have got a goal, we have a mountain we want to climb, and we can hit it because everybody wants the same thing. They want to be able to see information clearly and quickly, they want to be able to have a single source of truth, they want to know that it is maintained and is easy to maintain, they want to be able to come on to the platform and find what they are looking for quickly and easily. They want to be able to move through the platform quickly and come to good solutions. That’s what I think is the most exciting about having the conversations with all the SaaS law firms is just seeing that it is aligned clearly with what we were already trying to do and not that it was a big deviation; because anytime you are going after a new user group it has a possibility where they could come in and request this list of 100 things that other people who use our platform don’t want and that is a hard thing because then you got competing priorities and we really have not had that problem with those conversations. It has been a lot of the same driving towards that clear and easy to use and the documents are clean and easy and are accessible.
FB: Can I turn that around to you a little bit, Camille, how are you feeling that this coming together with respect to the knowledge base, the help content, and the application workflows that you work on for the company?
CB: Yeah, absolutely. So we are doing such a drastic change from where we relaunched last year to full circle we have incorporated so many changes from a really robust help center that will give you articles and tutorials that we had to look at these user groups and say what do we need for the employer, and what do we need for SaaS firms, and do they want everything from legal knowledge to just the product knowledge of how to use workflows and application. We have compiled lots of resources there on help.bridge.
We have also gone through specifically to audit all of our applications to understand how are they functioning for our current users, what kind of maturity level are they are at, what kind of new improvements do we need to make to make them more efficient, easier, more intuitive so that people can actually get in there and not need as much help, not need as much hand-holding. Traditionally, Bridge has been a full-service organization so they have had a group of paralegals that can help them through the process and answer their questions through applications. Going to SaaS, has been this transformation to how can you get on and know what you need to do in the immigration process?How can your admin go on no matter what level they are at and get the resources they need or not and be able to use the workflow at any level that they want? They can use it from a document management perspective or really go to this strategy level and understand how their data is working together. By the end of this year, it will be amazing to see. Our most popular applications is where we started first so PERM, H-1B, L-1 , O-1’s are starting to become very popular so we have focused on these primary applications first, and then we are next tackling adjustment of status, family visa, E-1, B-1’s that people can really utilize on their own. It’s been a very exciting time to be a part of Bridge, again I joined last year as well, and I think we have done a big push and since the relaunch there have been some great changes that are really exciting to be a part of.
FB: Yeah I have been really impressed with both the work you have done and the work Jess has done. The alignment across these user roles when we are building the help content, or streamlining a workflow, or building out the onboarding process – it really isn’t different goals for SaaS attorneys or partner attorney’s or HR clients, the same goal of clear and flexibility around their data management and their program management.
JC: To sum it up for me, on top of the product stuff and everything we are doing having come in here for a year and seeing how the team works, the one thing I love about our team is that we are truly agile in the sense that we are kicking out stuff, we are making changes and updates and solving problems quickly. If customers come to us and say they have an idea or problem -- something to solve it is not something where we say, that is 3 months down the road, for the most part we are fixing things, we are solving problems, we are pushing code out on a regular basis and we are not just pushing code out for the fun of it we are driving towards the solution -- we have a goal we are driving towards, this really elegant solution we can see. Everyone has this vision in their head and we are driving towards it everyday. People who are writing knowledge base articles, people who are doing code, people who are designing – we are driving towards that goal and it’s not something that is this mystical thing that is going to happen 6 months down the road, every week we make step towards getting closer and closer.
FB: Yeah if you look back on the year since the two of you started last October it’s like 100s of releases – both code releases but also workflow updates. When sometimes people are comparing Bridge to other immigration case management solutions what is hard to sum up is how quickly the team does move and how efficiently we are able to deploy whether that is a workflow change or response to a government form or a new government rule, which we have all been navigating this week, or whether it is a feature adjustment, or improvement, or expansion, or something completely new, of course, but every week the team is releasing to our customers and that’s one of my favorite parts about working here is seeing us all continue to iterate to making the best possible product.
CB: It is the nature of immigration, the changing landscape is incredible, it’s quick…
FB: Not all years are as crazy as this one! You should not benchmark 2020 as the standard for how much you need to adjust the workflows to the government rules, this is an exceptional year in many respects.
CB: But to stay on top of that legislation is our utmost priority and responsibility of compliance and to make sure that everything is accurate across the board.
Thank you both for joining the interview. Anything else either of you would like to add before we wrap up?
FB: No, I think this was great. Thank you, Camille, for taking us through this.
CB: All right, great, thank you again and we will follow up with more content on new releases and providing some other resources as we roll out. SaaS is very much in a beta spot right now so we will do another upcoming release when that goes and moves forward and do another Q & A, so thanks again.
As always, we welcome your feedback on these updates at email@example.com. To find out more about what the Bridge product can do for you, explore the platform.