Season 1, Episode 4 How a Salesforce plug-in empowers the neurodiverse workforce.

Scratchpad was designed as a tool to simplify Salesforce. But for neurodiverse individuals, it’s also a lifeline. In this episode, we peel back the curtain on Scratchpad to find out how its founders tapped into its neurodiverse users, and how designing a product for the various ways people think made all the difference.
When It Clicked

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Ilana Strauss: ABC. Always be closing. I'm going to be honest – most of my knowledge of sales actually comes from this movie, Glengarry Glen Ross, made in 1992. Remember that iconic scene when Alec Baldwin berates this group of stressed out sales reps. You know, "Coffee is for closers". And then he swears a lot and runs to fire everyone.

Ilana Strauss: Of course, that's just a movie. But sales can be a stressful gig. Chasing a new client, delivering samples to another, and, oh man, is that an urgent text about a missing order? And on top of that, all this personal stuff. Whose kid just made the honor roll, the client who only calls while walking his dog...Banjo, Bandit, some B name... It's a lot of plates to keep spinning. So sales reps use a tool that should help them keep track of all this stuff, the CRM, which stands for customer relationship manager. But instead of helping, it sometimes just makes things worse.

Ilana Strauss: In the CRM business, Salesforce is the biggest name. And if you work as a sales rep using it can put you in a cold sweat.

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: I just remember this person feeling just overwhelmed and unable to do her job with Salesforce. There was so much information on the page that she had anxiety and literally almost quit her job.

Ilana Strauss: And there's something else. If you're among the 20 or so percent of the population that's neurodivergent – that is if you live with a condition like ADHD or dyslexia, or you're somewhere on the autism spectrum – using CRMs is even more challenging.

Tarun Malik: I was very poor with engaging Salesforce just because it was anxiety-inducing because of the way that information isn't filtered according to my own processing or workflows.

Ilana Strauss: This is a problem because there are a lot of neurodiverse people in sales.

Ilana Strauss: Then, in 2019, Scratchpad came along offering a basic Chrome extension to simplify CRMs. To them, it was the solution salespeople needed. To others, not so much.

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: Most investors had written it off and they said, "There's nothing here."

Ilana Strauss: This is When It Clicked, an original podcast from ClickUp. I'm Ilana Strauss. On this show, we meet the people behind the business stories and the products that you think you know, and bring you the secret history of how it all came together, to the one moment when it all finally clicked.

Ilana Strauss: Today, how two engineers found themselves in the complicated world of sales, changed the lives of sales reps with a simple Google Chrome extension, and accidentally became champions of neurodiversity in the workplace. This is When It Clicked for Scratchpad.

Ilana Strauss: OK. Back to CRMs like Salesforce. Basically, it's this program that keeps track of all the work that sales reps do: the potential clients they're chasing, the deals they've closed, all that stuff. Each client, each deal, it's like its own little project, and there's a lot of them, because sales reps work on commission and have to meet quotas.

Pouyan Salehi: And so you as the individual have to be on top of your game. You have to be on top of every single one of these opportunities to move them forward so that you attain your quota, so that you get paid.

Ilana Strauss: That's Pouyan Salehi, Scratchpad's co-founder and CEO. CRMs like Salesforce are used to keep track of all the info you need to demonstrate your sales quotas. But there's one major problem with CRMs; they're usually designed for managers so they can oversee all the info provided by sales reps. User-friendliness on the sales rep side was never a priority.

Tarun Malik: When I'm working inside of a CRM, I mean, it's very overwhelming because of how much information there is, but at the same time, it's a little bit slower than my brain moves. And so I'm sitting there getting anxious because I'm moving three steps ahead whereas the program is three steps behind in terms of my brain functioning.

Ilana Strauss: That's Tarun Malik. He's an account executive for TouchBistro. That's a point of sale system for restaurants. You know when you go to a restaurant and the server takes your order by punching things into an iPad? That's TouchBistro. Anyway, Tarun sells TouchBistro to restaurant owners, and Tarun has ADHD. He was diagnosed as an adult.

Tarun Malik: For me, I process things a little bit differently. I'm always a couple steps ahead in my mind. And so when I see so many words on a page, it's almost like it provokes a certain degree of anxiety.

Ilana Strauss: But Tarun is competitive. He went to his school on a baseball scholarship. He wants to win.

Tarun Malik: Being a competitive athlete I've always been someone that has thought that you just got to find a way to make it happen.

Ilana Strauss: And the people who would ultimately help Tarun win? They never had any idea of the kind of effect they'd have in his life and career. We'll hear more from Tarun later.

Ilana Strauss: Let's go back a bit. Pouyan never thought he'd create something that would be embraced by the neurodiverse community. He never even meant to go into sales. Before developing Scratchpad, he worked in operations at Apple, and then co-founded the startups StackMob and Lera Labs.

Pouyan Salehi: If you would've told me then that we'd be spending the better part of a decade working on products and solving problems in sales, I wouldn't have believed you back then.

Ilana Strauss: But that was before he met Cyrus Karbassiyoon, his co-founder and Scratchpad's CTO. Actually, Cyrus never thought sales would be a huge part of his life either.

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: I have an engineering background, I've spent my career learning about engineering, design, product and had very little context on sales leading into when Pouyan and I started working together.

Pouyan Salehi: I think we shared similar but separate journeys, on the way we found ourselves in the San Francisco Bay area quite a while ago.

Ilana Strauss: They met over a decade ago at some tech networking event in the Bay Area and they hit it off immediately.

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: I'm half Iranian, he's Iranian, and so we bonded over that. And we also shared a passion for design, so we bonded over that as well. And Pouyan was really good at reaching out, every probably six months we'd connect and get tea and jam on ideas and start developing a relationship from there.

Ilana Strauss: After a few years of growing their friendship, they decided they were ready to take their relationship to the next level. Business partners.

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: It worked out that we were both ready to start something.

Ilana Strauss: The first thing they worked on was something called PersistIQ. It's a program that helps automate email marketing design, especially for salespeople. For the first time, they were working on a project that required them to do sales, cold calling potential customers to get them to buy their product. And this turns out to be crucial.

Pouyan Salehi: Fast forward again, we built a lot of empathy for sales because we were doing sales and we noticed this problem that existed for starting conversations with folks that you didn't know, or what's known as outbound sales. And at that time you either had a CRM or you had a big marketing automation system like Marketo, and we just felt the need that there was something in the middle, something that was designed for an individual salesperson to be able to reach out at some sort of scale, but still keep that personalized, authentic manner behind it, and help automate a lot of the tedious work and a lot of the common mistakes that might happen. And so we just aimed to solve our own problem.

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: So when Pouyan and I first started working together, we were building different solutions and one of my friends suggested that we do outbound. And in order to do outbound, he was like, get a spreadsheet, get a bunch of leads, put some templates and text files, do a cold email blast, a bunch will bounce, some will reply, update the spreadsheet, do it again, do it again, do it again. And it was just a complete mess.

Ilana Strauss: There had to be a better way. And with their engineering brains and their newfound empathy for salespeople, Cyrus and Pouyan turned out to be uniquely qualified to solve this problem.

Pouyan Salehi: There's certainly an engineering product mindset that helps you break that problem down and look at it as components and solve each one of those. But what drew us to this, too, was we felt like we had the empathy, because we had personally tried to do the job and lived through the pain.

Ilana Strauss: Remember all those spinning plates from the top of the show, and all those headaches induced by CRMs like Salesforce? So this is the part where Pouyan and Cyrus realize that there's a problem here they might be able to solve.

Pouyan Salehi: But one of the first few we noticed was, you go to any sales organization and you'll see now that they have a CRM, most likely Salesforce, you'll have an email tool, you'll have a call tool, you'll have maybe a calendar scheduling tool if it's not connected to one of those. But with all of this tooling that exists in the sales tech space, if you look at how individual account executives or individual salespeople still work, most of their work is done outside of these systems. Notes are taken in Mac notes or Evernote or OneNote, pipeline and account management is mostly done in spreadsheets like Google Sheets or Excel. And tasks, I mean, forget it. That's all over the place. You got everything from tasks being put on calendars to post-it notes, to random task applications.

Ilana Strauss: There's so much information, but it's spread over so many different tools. And entering it all into a CRM like Salesforce had to be done manually. You're essentially doing the same work twice. It's tedious. It's time consuming. It's the worst part of the day or week for most salespeople, like Tarun.

Tarun Malik: I would literally just have a running log on Excel of every prospect that I was working with, and I would just have to manually scroll through that spreadsheet on a day to day basis and see what the notes were, the activities, things like that to ensure that I could be successful. And oftentimes just given how manual of a process it is in terms of navigating and using, it's not easy to keep on top of.

Ilana Strauss: So Cyrus and Pouyan set out to really learn about how sales reps were working, so they could design something that would actually improve their workflow.

Pouyan Salehi: We asked one of the companies that had some interest in it and said, "Hey, can, can we just come and just watch how your reps work? We'll try not to be a distraction, we'll just sit there and just watch." And that was one of those first moments that it clicked because we saw one rep doing exactly what I said. Stuff was all over the place.

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: I remember we were in a small room watching over this guy's shoulder, watching him make calls. I'm pretty sure he had a ton of tabs open. He was constantly flipping between tabs, and just the entire workflow was kind of a mess. But he was doing the best he could with the available tools at that time.

Ilana Strauss: There was this one particular thing they noticed that they knew they could improve on.

Pouyan Salehi: Because what we learned was, in Salesforce specifically, the task object itself, working with that object, was incredibly difficult. Just to complete a task required multiple clicks. And so we said, "Well, what if we could reduce this and make a consumer-like task experience that exists in more modern applications" like Todoist or Asana, or honestly, any modern task manager, and say, "What if we could create that type of an experience, but still connect it to the Salesforce database, and make it delightful for a salesperson?" That was our what if question. We knew the problem was there, but I think that's what brought it all together.

Ilana Strauss: So they got started designing a prototype. They started off very simple.

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: There's been probably 100 versions, but the very, very, very first, I would say, prototype, was a Salesforce off button. You'd click it, and then magically you would get all of your tasks with a really modern interface to managing your to-dos and Salesforce that was enjoyable, easy to use. It was very, very narrow, very focused, and it resonated really well with a certain set of sales folks.

Ilana Strauss: It started as a browser extension for Chrome.

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: You would come to Scratchpad, you install this Chrome extension, and it would take over your new tab with a beautiful experience. You know, "Hello, Pouyan", and then it would give you the time. And then every time you opened a new tab, you would see Scratchpad and you would have your tasks one click away.

Ilana Strauss: Basically, here's how it works. Instead of manually copying your notes from Evernote or Excel or whatever you're using into Salesforce, Scratchpad gives you a simple way to keep track of all your tasks and contact info for customers, and automatically enters that info into Salesforce. They were working with a focus group of sales reps to make sure that what they were designing was actually helpful. And turns out, it was.

Pouyan Salehi: We saw that this actually became the default way for one or two of the reps that were using it. And they said, I'll never forget this, they said, "When I first come in, the first three applications I open are email, calendar, and Scratchpad." And it was that moment that I was like, okay, we're onto something. I don't think we've solved it, but we're onto something where we have built something that somebody is now using as their default.

Ilana Strauss: Scratchpad was clicking with the sales reps. And it was especially clicking with a particular group of sales reps.

Tarun Malik: Candidly speaking, this might sound crazy, but I feel like it saved my life to a certain degree, just because I've been able to create a workflow environment that works for me.

Ilana Strauss: Tarun Malik. Being able to customize his own workflow is crucial to the way he manages his ADHD.

Tarun Malik: Candidly, I mean, before Scratchpad I was very poor with engaging Salesforce, just because it was anxiety -inducing because of the way that information isn't filtered according to my own processing or workflows. And so I think I found myself doing a lot of things outside of Salesforce, like I would write notes on paper and try to keep track of my pipeline on paper notes or sticky notes or post-it notes or whatever.

Ilana Strauss: And it turns out Scratchpad's customizable features really work well with Tarun's brain.

Tarun Malik: I think the one thing I love about Scratchpad is the full customization ability in terms of being able to control what you have in front of you.

Ilana Strauss: And Tarun is far from alone.

Tarun Malik: There's so many people in the sales community that are in this position. I've realized it in a dramatic fashion over the last couple months, that neurodiversity is an incredibly prevalent topic in the sales community. And number one is, it's not spoken enough more often, and I think part of that has to do with the overarching stigma.

Ilana Strauss: From the start, Scratchpad's development process involved constantly receiving and responding to user feedback. And that hasn't changed now that it's out in the world. But they started to notice a specific kind of feedback.

Pouyan Salehi: A few users are being bold and courageous enough to share their stories with us and say, "I process information differently than everybody else. I get overwhelmed easily when there's a lot of stuff being thrown my way."

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: I just remember this person feeling just overwhelmed and unable to do her job with Salesforce. There was so much information on the page that she had anxiety and she almost quit her job. And when she started using Scratchpad, we have some functionality that's able to reduce the amount of information on the page, it's called, for example, one is a Tile, and so she was able to hone in on the important information versus being insanely overwhelmed by everything that is in Salesforce. She had a sense of relief that she could actually do her job and not have this insane amount of anxiety every single day.

Ilana Strauss: Pouyan and Cyrus didn't set out to design a product specifically to cater to the needs of the neurodiverse community. They were just trying to create a customizable, user-friendly product. But the benefit to the neurodiverse community has been huge and incredibly gratifying.

Cyrus Karbassiyoon: I think I was surprised at the magnitude of impact our product had created, to be honest with you. Just put bluntly, it's just we try to make everyone's lives a little bit better, but that's pretty significant. And it's incredible when that happens.

Pouyan Salehi: It's a really exciting area for us to dig into as well, because as creators, as builders, we certainly strive to be inclusive, but I don't think we've fully appreciated what that meant. And if you think about the most I'd known is on user design, for example, in colors you want to make sure that you're not just relying on colors, but you're relying on different patterns for folks that may be colorblind to be able to identify certain actions to take. But this concept of folks that actually process information in very different ways and work in different ways to us too, is really interesting, and I think ties very directly with our mission around creating products that people absolutely love to use.

Pouyan Salehi: I think it requires extra effort on our part on the design piece, but I think it's so important to be able to build a product that's flexible enough that can adapt to the people that are using it, versus forcing people to adapt to the product that you've built.

Ilana Strauss: Ultimately, the key was listening to how all these different kinds of people like to work and designing a product based around those needs. This kind of responsiveness is incredibly important to the way that Scratchpad operates. In fact, the company has published a neurodiversity manifesto. It commits to designing software for everyone, including users who process information differently. And as Scratchpad continues to grow, they haven't stopped making adjustments and improvements based on what they hear from users.

Tarun Malik: There are very few organizations I have come across that value what their customers say as much as Scratchpad does. I feel like I have been part of the upbringing of this product because of how heavily they have valued my feedback and opinion.

Ilana Strauss: One day, recently, Tarun had an idea for a feature that would help him work more smoothly. Something about associating tasks in his calendar.

Tarun Malik: On a whim, I messaged one of the product guys there and, I kid you not, within three weeks, they built it.

Ilana Strauss: You've been listening to When It Clicked, an original podcast from ClickUp. I'm Ilana Strauss. Just like Scratchpad, ClickUp is also committed to supporting neurodiversity in the workplace. ClickUp was also built to break down barriers. Ultimately software should work for you, not the other way around, no matter how you work.

Ilana Strauss: For more about ClickUp's neurodiversity manifesto, visit Thanks for listening. Don't forget to leave us a rating and a review in your favorite podcasting app. See you in two weeks for our season finale.

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