Product & Startup Builder

Business People are from Mars, Academics are from Venus.

Added on by Chris Saad.

They are worlds apart. 

Neither is better or worse (and both are desperately needed in our society) but it’s an interesting challenge when they try to cross into each other’s field.

Where academics seem to be much more concerned in differences and intangibles, business/product are much more concerned with generalities and tactics. 

Where academics are interested in describing the world, business people are more interested in affecting it.

Where academics are interested in consensus building, business people are much more interested in finding hard facts and acting decisively to affect change.

Where academics work on the timescale of years, business people tend to work at the scale of quarters.

Are you ready for partnerships? Probably not!

Added on by Chris Saad.

In an early consumer business, If you can’t sell your own sh*t then it’s unlikely a partner can do it for you. 

Partners are usually a great way to spend endless hours in negotiation and ongoing alignment struggles only to see a meddling success when the partnership is executed.

Even then, all they usually do is magnify your own process. So if your process produces poor results then a partnership will just multiple that out. Zero x 10 is still zero.

Instead, figure out how to tell your own story with a gorgeous website, explainer video, self-serve onboarding and training flow and more. Then figure out how to scale it with low hanging fruit like ads, content marketing, mailing lists, etc.

Then, and only then, lightweight co-marketing partnerships might be useful to supercharge these activities.

Deep integrations should typically be left until later.

Consistency Is The Bedrock of Effective Execution

Added on by Chris Saad.

Consistency is the bedrock of effective execution. Be wary of people who are sometimes amazing, but often not dependable or consistent in their behavior.

They are analogous to an abusive relationship. They give you just enough hope that things will improve and then they let you down.

The amount of time and energy you spend trying to manage their feelings and their behavior can be better spent replacing them with someone more consistent (and therefore more effective).

At best these people are unreliable and distracting, at worst they are toxic and dangerous.

Further, getting rid of them can actually boost team morale because colleagues see that bad behavior is not tolerated and their own consistent efforts are recognized and valued.

Make the hard decision and move on quickly.

Originally Posted on Facebook

Lean into meetings

Added on by Chris Saad.

"You're always very engaged in meetings"

A startup exec I've been working with said this to me recently. 

She then went on to ask "Is it because, as an external advisor, you feel like you have very short windows to add/prove value?"

My answer:

The truth is I've always felt the need to be super leaned in to meetings. I've never felt like I could coast/relax at any stage in my career.

Why?

  • When I was very young (15-22) I was the youngest person in the room - trying to convince 50+ year olds to do this "technology thing" my way.

  • When I was slightly older (20-30) running my own startups, I felt like every day and every decision was life or death. I was deeply invested and felt the weight of the world on my shoulders to come through for my team and my investors.

  • When I was at Uber, I was surrounded by some of the smartest and most experienced people in the world at their job. Combined with the fact that I felt like I had a real opportunity to make a difference at scale, meant that I had no choice but to be wide awake!

  • And now with my Advisory work, as she suggested, I feel like I have very small windows to really contribute/come through for the founder and the startup.

It's interesting because I'm also increasingly realizing I've been at a disadvantage my whole career due to my lack of caffeine intake!

In any case, I had always assumed everyone felt fully engaged for pretty much every meeting. 

Originally Posted On Facebook

Engineers Make Terrible Product Managers

Added on by Chris Saad.

Now that I've made you angry. Here's what I actually mean.

Even the best product thinking engineer should not be placed in the position to be both a product manager AND an engineer on the same product/project.

Product management is often about saying NO. It's about long term, big picture thinking. It's about the what, when and IF something should be done. It's about stakeholder discussions, consensus building, visual design, marketing, customers, business considerations and more. It's about picking which hill to take, bringing the right team together and motivating them to get it done (to use a military metaphor).

Engineering, on the other hand, is mostly about saying YES. It's about getting the job done. Solving problems. Figuring out HOW something WILL be done. It's about being deep in the details of the code and trying to find your 'zone' to make magic (a zone that is easily interrupted by meetings!). It's about being the person the product manager can depend on to actually run up the hill and plant the flag while they're off picking the next battle field (to continue the military metaphor).

These are totally different head-spaces and roles. Often they work well together. Sometimes there's a healthy tension with one side pushing the other to "do more" or "get more focused" or "be more specific" etc (in both directions).

Someone with an engineering background might actually be an excellent product manager when placed in that role (and they often are!) but asking ANYONE to do both roles is often asking too much.

Originally Posted On Facebook

You Get What You Pay For

Added on by Chris Saad.

In most cases, you truly get what you pay for.

Time is often the most precious thing of all. I find myself willing to spend more and more money to save time or improve the quality of the time I spend.

Whenever I balk at the price of something premium, my beautiful wife reminds me "Would you expect a company to pay a recent grad the same amount they pay you to do the same job? Why not?"

She's right. Paying to fast-forward to the future - especially for a company - can be the difference between wasting enormous amounts of capital, life force and time on a failure and winning the proverbial lottery.

Hire great people. Listen to them. Ask them the right questions. Hustle.

Originally Posted On Facebook

Pitch Decks Are Not Just For Investors

Added on by Chris Saad.

Investors are not the only ones who need pitch decks.

Your team, customers, partners and other key stakeholders also need strong, clear and concise narratives that help them get excited, get aligned and get moving in the right direction.

For customers and partners: Developing strong, reusable decks allows you to construct a strong story that unfolds naturally and gets continuously updated to cleanly handle all objections. This process allows for you to scale your core message across all sales people. Ideally the deck mirrors and fleshes out what's on the website and other self-serve materials.

For the internal team: The right kind of decks/meta-narrative that is updated and presented on a regular cadence empowers everyone to act and make good decisions without "the boss" in the room.

Originally Posted On Facebook

Opportunity Cost Is Not Soft Or Abstract - It's Expensive

Added on by Chris Saad.

Opportunity Cost might be hard to measure, but it is not a theory or a soft abstract idea.

On Google it is defined as "the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

The example they give is "idle cash balances represent an opportunity cost in terms of lost interest"

So, in simple terms, the money you leave in savings cost you whatever additional profits you could have made by investing it more cleverly in stocks or property etc.

Opportunity cost, however, is not just found in clearly defined scenarios where you can measure the alternative route retrospectively and do a calculation to figure out how much you lost. It's also felt in an infinite number of small decisions and procrastinations you might make every day.

Pushing a meeting to tomorrow. Passing on some hard work due to laziness or emotionality. Not following up with someone when they offer to introduce you to someone that could be helpful. Not following up when an introduction is made. Not taking or making a key investment. Staying in a small town when a different geography might suit your needs better.

On and on

I've been guilty of this many times. Most weeks. In fact.

My constant struggle, though, is to recognize the countless opportunities to optimize my costs and maximize my effective execution through life.

Originally Posted On Facebook

Defining True Value Creation

Added on by Chris Saad.

Value creation is when you put 1 unit in and get 2+ units out. When you put in a sketch and get a high fidelity rendering back out. When you give some feedback and the spirit of what you wanted is translated into a final product that is as good or better than you expected. When the questions get answered correctly before they get asked. When you can leave something with someone and it just gets solved with minimum fuss and frustration.

When you get fast-forwarded to the future.

Originally Posted On Facebook

Startups Should Prioritize Growth Over Profit

Added on by Chris Saad.

Reminder for VC backed startups regarding revenue, profitability and growth:

Typically, the goal is not to build a profitable business. The goal is to build something people/companies love whereby you understand the cost of growth (unit economics, revenue short fall etc) - and then fueling that growth as fast as you can with venture capital.

Over time, economies of scale, network effects and new revenue streams should make up the difference and blast you through to profitability at scale - or someone buys your big, growing and unique user-base for lots of $$

Originally Posted On Facebook

Product Strategy Is a Combination Of These 3 things

Added on by Chris Saad.

Often times product strategy is a combination of experience (knowing how apps typically solve a UI/UX problem - i.e industry best practices), good taste (having good judgment about what looks good and what doesn't), and empathy (having strong intuition about how and why given users might behave or react to certain things). Data and research can then be used to interrogate these instincts.

Originally Posted On Facebook

Understanding The Difference Between Strategy & Tactics

Added on by Chris Saad.

When developing a strategy, be careful not to get caught up in any single tactic.

A strategy typically involves a number of strategic principles and focus areas. Tactics are the concrete steps you’re going to take to get there.

The Strategy is “we’re going to take that hill because it will be a great place to live”

The tactics are “we’re going to get 4 tanks, fuel them up, fill them with troops and go up the eastern side”

Also, as a leader, it’s your job to keep track of the big picture strategy while your team will get bogged down in the details. Very often they will confuse their focus area or passion project as the Strategy. It is not. You need to get all the moving parts right for any particular tactic to ultimately matter in the long term.

Originally Posted On Facebook

The Goal Is To Win The "Best Business Award"

Added on by Chris Saad.

The goal is not to win the “best technology” award. The goal is to win the “best business” award.

More often than not, a more effective sales and marketing operation with a simpler/easier to use product will beat the most comprehensive/powerful technology.

If you’re struggling to build your business around technology that most people don’t understand or can’t digest then consider going back to a blank piece of paper and building something very simple that is easy to understand and adopt. Even if that thing is not necessarily new or novel. Then expand from there.

Let’s call this the “gateway drug strategy”

Originally Posted On Facebook

Sell Your Own Shit!

Added on by Chris Saad.

When thinking of sales/go-to-market for your software, it’s very easy to believe that it’s cheaper/faster/more scalable to partner with others to sell your stuff.

This is almost never the case. Channel sales (selling through others) can be a useful booster once you have your core sales engine running, but initially you typically need to do the hard work of finding your own customers and telling your own story.

No one else will be as effective, articulate or motivated to do it as you and your direct team. There’s no other way to get the learnings you need. There’s no better way to build direct connections and brand awareness in the market. There’s no better way to fast track your sales and control your own destiny.

Figure out who your end customer is and “call” them

Originally Posted On Facebook