Product & Startup Builder

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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

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

Great Collaborators Should Challenge Your Thinking

Added on by Chris Saad.

In your startup, you should be looking for collaborators who challenge your thinking. 

This does not mean they are 'assholes' or devil's advocate just for the sake of it, but rather they are sure to delineate the risks (so that they can be managed), help reveal blind spots, and fill in the blanks in terms of your own skillsets and capacity. 

In some cases these people should make you a little uncomfortable because they're giving you new data and areas of focus that you hadn't previously understood or considered important. 

It's important, though, that those people are able to 'disagree and commit'. Once you make the call, they should get on board and work their heart outs to make your decision and vision a reality.

Originally Posted On Facebook

It's Not A Startup Unless...

Added on by Chris Saad.

It’s not a startup until you quit your day job. Until then it’s a side project.

It’s not a product until users are onboarding themselves. Until then it’s a technology/prototype/experiment.

It’s not a business until your product is generating revenue.

It’s not truly scalable until you can grow users/activity/revenue without a corresponding growth in employees. (H/t Colleague)

It’s not sustainable until your business is breakeven/profitable.

Originally Posted On Facebook

Product Managers Need To Say ‘No’

Added on by Chris Saad.

I've noticed a lot of product managers end up in a situation where an avalanche of shit is landing on their head from multiple sources. 

When in this situation they often take it all on and view their job is to just keep shoveling - trying their best to dig themselves out - all the while failing to meet anyone's expectations and not having very much fun.

While this might seem admirable it is ultimately ineffective.

Part of the Product Management role is to clearly communicate to all stakeholders (including the people providing resources) how much is on your teams plate and if you need more resources, time and/or prioritisation. 

The most powerful thing you can do is say "No" as clearly and thoughtfully as possible.

You do this in multiple ways, including...

1. Be ruthless about prioritizating your backlog (in collaboration with your stakeholders)

2. Provide clear information/visualization for your stakeholders about what's on your roadmap and how long things will take to get done. 

3. Push back against stakeholders who say "Isn't it easy to..." or "Can't we just..." and instead make it very clear what it takes to build and ship a quality product (using your roadmap as a tool for communication).

4. Insist that if your team is going to be responsible and accountable for more than it can handle, that you either get more resources or fewer responsibilities.

If the stakeholders around you don't understand or respect this process, then you're also free to move on.

Originally Posted On Facebook

You Need To Hire When...

Added on by Chris Saad.

Don't hire until you're absolutely ready to hire. Building a team to run an imaginary business just burns time and money.

You know you need someone to join your team when...

1. You, or someone on your team, is underwater and the tasks hitting the floor are holding the business back.

2. You don't have anyone on the team who is good enough to complete an essential and immediate task at the level of quality/effectiveness needed.

For example, don't hire a sales person unless you have a product to sell - and you've personally figured out how to sell it with the first few sales. Don't hire a growth marketer until you have a self-serve product ready to onboard and retain users. Don't hire a community manager until you have a product worth building a community around.

Noticing a trend? Build a PRODUCT that people want to use and is ready to scale before scaling your team.

Originally Posted On Facebook

Product Management Isn’t That Hard.

Added on by Chris Saad.

It just requires a little bit of... 

  1. Empathy

  2. Common sense

Oh and a little bit of...

  1. Taste

  2. Design skills

  3. Technical understanding 

  4. Project management

  5. Leadership and consensus building

  6. Diplomacy

  7. Pattern matching

  8. Data analysis

  9. Vision

  10. Pragmatism

  11. Attention to detail

  12. Long term discipline

  13. Experience

  14. Passion

  15. Curiosity/truth-seeking

But that’s about it...

Originally Posted On Facebook

Use Internal Updates To Drive Alignment

Added on by Chris Saad.

Internal stakeholder updates can make all the difference between alignment and chaos.

Be sure that your investor update emails (and internal stakeholder updates of all kinds in fact) start with clear charts to show key KPIs and include Highlights, Lowlights and What's next.

Ensure each section is concisely written with bullet points that contain key facts and implications without too much fluff.

Be sure to be real so that your stakeholders can help you when possible and aren't blind sided if things go off the rails.

Originally Posted On Facebook

Recruiting Is A Real Art

Added on by Chris Saad.

It’s a cliché these days to say people are the most important part of any company. But it’s absolutely true.

Hiring strong people, particularly product managers, is a real art. 

Prior to my experience at Uber, I considered myself pretty poor at interviewing and recruiting candidates. 

However, seeing how Uber does it up close, and going through many, many, many interviews as part of the hypergrowth the company was experiencing, really gave me new insights into how to do it well.

One of my favorite compliments I received after leaving Uber was how effective a team builder I was.

Even though people can really make or break a company’s success, I find that most startups really don’t know how to recruit for key roles. So these days I’m increasingly helping the startups I work with think through how to describe their job requirements, find and reach out to candidates, and build interview loops that really test for a great fit with the company’s needs.

It’s so rewarding finding amazing people to supercharge the dreams of founders.

Originally Posted On Facebook

Product Is About Nuance Across Multiple Dimensions

Added on by Chris Saad.

Product is about nuance across multiple dimensions - context, intent, markets, personalities and more. 

As someone who started out as an engineer, I’ve made the mistake of forgetting this over and over in my career. 

As a (good) Engineer, you want to generalize things as much as possible. You want to look for common patterns and implement as few entities and workflows as possible.

An asset is an asset, right?

Wrong. 

As a Product Manager you need to understand the difference between Persona A and B, Use Case A and B, Intent A and B etc. they can and should be very, very different. 

Word choice, framing, UX metaphors etc should all radically change even while the underlying entities might remain the same. 

The goal is not maximum system elegance/rationalization but, rather, maximum user understanding/alignment with their existing mental models and needs.

Originally Posted On Facebook