Many challenges come up along the way when launching a product. In this live panel event moderated by Nathan Henry and recorded at the Postlight offices, product experts Tait Foster, Phil DiGiulio, Grace Mangum, and Andres Glusman share insights on how to get to a successful product launch — from finding and validating data, prioritization, managing team, managing up and more.
Grace Mangum: Getting them excited about redesigning the website was actually really canvasing those folks within the international content sales team and getting their ideas. They know their customers better than I do. They interface with them every day. So I wanted their ideas.
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Michael Shane: Hello, Postlight podcast listeners. This is Michael Shane, head of digital strategy at Postlight. And this week we’re really excited to bring you a special live edition of the podcast recently recorded during an event at our office in Manhattan. This is the first in a series of events focused on doing more with less. Our head of product management, Nathan Henry, assembled a fantastic group of product leaders to go deep on just what doing more with less means when it comes to shaping your roadmap. In the months ahead, we’ll bring you more conversations about doing more with less from other post light departments, like design engineering, and strategy. But for now, sit back, relax and enjoy the panel.
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Nathan Henry: Well, thanks so much everybody for joining us. Uh, this is the first of our four part panel series of events focusing on, uh, ready, set, go. Kickstarting your product roadmap. So I’ve got a panel of product experts. I’m super excited to dive in. Uh, let me do some introductions for us. I’ll start on my left. Uh, with Tait Foster. Tait serves as lead strategist for Postlight. Uh, he’s a digital strategist and product manager with over 10 years experience in media campaigns and government technology. His career began at Bloomberg, where he first worked to integrate global newsrooms into digital tools to speed, and then develop those into easily contextualizing complex breaking market news for consumers. He also was chief product officer at the Tuesday Company and director of product at Helm. Uh, he’s also worked with products that we’ll dive into, but focusing with every town for gun safety, color of change, the DCC, human rights campaign, and numerous Democratic parties for senatorial and presidential campaigns. And also as a side note to the bio that he provided, uh, he’d also like to apologize for the three paywalls in the two years that he helped shepherd into the world. So Tait, thanks so much for joining us on the panel.
Tait Foster: Happy to be here.
Nathan Henry: Continuing on. We’ve got, uh, Phil de Julio with us. Phil’s a multi discipline product innovator and leader with over two decades of experience taking brands and flagship products from zero to one, uh, for startups and enterprises alike. Phil co-founded Welcome Mat, which is a leading video technology provider for real estate marketing. He’s also the co-founder of the Product Council, just a host, a series of events providing product owners and organizations, a new. For feedback, ideation and improvements with their products. And most recently served as chief product officer at Video Shops, an e-commerce startup, and now he’s working on launching a new product in the optical eyewear space, which I’m super excited to dig into. So Phil, thanks so much for joining us really glad to have you on the panel. Self-serving note, I’m a huge tennis fan. So when I had the opportunity to reach out to Grace Mangum at the United States Tennis Association, I took full hold of that. Grace is a Webby and M.I.N. Award honored strategist and product manager. She brings over 20 years of experience in digital marketing transformation, product development, content strategy, and monetizing of digital products serves as senior director of digital product management for the United States Tennis Association which has the best product in the world as a tennis enthusiast, I can make that claim. Her deep expertise in sports, media and entertainment has allowed her to execute for brands such as A&E, AMC, Lifetime TV, British Airways, CNN, Cadillac, JP Morgan Chase, a few small brands, maybe you haven’t heard of those before, uh, just to name a few. Uh, in addition to her consultant work, she’s also an adjunct professor in the MS integrated marketing program here at NYU. So Grace, thanks so much for joining us. We’re really excited to have you on the panel as well.
Grace Mangum: Thank you for having me.
Nathan Henry: Of course. And our final panelist, uh, I’m super excited to, uh, to get to, to meet and talk to Andres Glisman. So Andres, as you might know, is the co-founder and CEO of Do What Works. It is like a magic wand, uh, that detects and analyzes everyone’s split tests to help grow, uh, teams wins faster. But how we know him is that he led, uh, product and growth at Meetup, uh, which is you know, a meet space, which is kind of exciting that we’re –a little irony here of having a meeting, uh, with the leading the product from Meetup. He was a pioneer in the lean startup movement. He’s also a behavioral scientist who loves to figure out what make people tick. So very exciting to everybody here on the panel. So thank you all so much for joining in. We are gonna do some questions, some round-robin, really dive into some product works. I’m super excited. Again, our, our theme here is really thinking about kickstarting your product roadmap and, and how we can give some tips and guidance to others. Uh, so in thinking of like the roadmap, Andres, I’m wondering if you could provide some tips on how to start with, with prioritization of features on a roadmap. What’s important when you think of features?
Andres Glusman: It’s a fascinating question in part, cuz it’s really heavily dependent. The stage of the company, right, and where you are in your product journey. And I tend to find myself in the early stages, in terms of going from zero to one, uh, a lot. Although Meetup, we also agree considerably, but either, either way, there’s a lot of challenges that you face or that I particularly am drawn to, which is the challenges of how do you get people to use the thing you build. And that to me is the hardest part of everything that we can build. So in the last 20 years it’s gotten dramatically easier to launch things. And I think it’s gotten no easier to launch things that people actually use. And, and so when I think about the prioritization and what we’re working on, I always just work backwards from the point of view saying like, what is the number one thing that has to break in our favor, uh, in order for people to actually be using this product. And generally make all of my decisions based on the assumptions, or how do I de-risk or figure out the things that have to break in in order for the people to ultimately adopt and then work backwards from there. So more often than not a large chunk of what I’m either doing is working on a one phase, which is the, “are people going to use it?” phase. And then the, “how do you get people to use it more?” phase. And I think depending on which of those two things you’re working on, the answer to your question will be dramatically different.
Nathan Henry: Yeah. That’s super exciting. Let’s have Grace answer the original question here. Sort of think about how to kickstart your roadmap. And then I do wanna come back and dive into that. So thinking about sort of, you know, juicing the roadmap and getting it started from zero, what what’s important? What things should we be thinking of?
Grace Mangum: From my perspective, actually, everything starts with data. Period, right? Whether that’s third party or first party data, if you’re looking at your analytics, if you’re doing your UX, you know, research or surveying audience members or having one on one interviews with audience members or potential audience members, that’s the, that’s the starting point for me actually. I’ve always been in a situation where I’m dealing with a lot of different stakeholders, not really occupying the startup space, but more sort of the brand space. So having to deal with a lot of disparate stakeholders, oftentimes across a lot multiple time zones, sometimes some language challenges with that as well. But, um, if you start with that data conversation, and it’s like, that helps develop actually, this is the space that we wanna occupy. Here’s where there’s a hole and an opportunity. And so let’s figure out how we develop functionality and features that actually occupy that space that provide you, that provide value to the users, basically.
Nathan Henry: Awesome. I, I wonder if the, the data aspect layers back into your hypothesis there, Andres, of, you know, sort of figuring out if we’re building, you know, for, for adoption or acquisition or retention. And I’m wondering, is that part of the question that Grace has helped set us up to? And I’m curious if there’s an extension here.
Andres Glusman: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the nature of the data is, is there, is there a reason to believe? Is kind of reason number one or the number one thing, and there’s so many sources of data that you can dive into that even before you have anything there’s, there’s signal everywhere. I mean, not, not built a company or scratching that itch myself personally, but there’s so many like places that you can go that you don’t need to launch the whole thing in order to be able to get the data. There’s a lot of opportunities to learn well, before you even have the beginnings of a clue as to what you want to do, so that you don’t waste your time. And most importantly waste like the most limited resource where besides time is actually engineer’s time, right. And so if you can keep from wasting that resource by virtue of using a little bit of data, using some signals early on, it can dramatically change the outcomes of a year.
Nathan Henry: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And I think at some point, you know, data is exciting and interesting, but paralysis by analysis does kick in at some points. Maybe there’s a, a spot where you don’t have data. So in absence of data, let’s imagine that you’re making decisions here, maybe finding data or supplementing that in ways where, you know, sort of, doing more with less. That’s one of our central hypothesis here of our, of our conversation. So what can you use in absence of data? And, and I’ll start with Phil. Let’s say we don’t have a bunch of data. How do you find the void? How do you understand that you’re sort of working through your central hypothesis with some sort of validation?
Phil DiGiulio: I think it depends upon obviously the context and the situation at hand and what you’re working on. Right? So I’ve, I’ve worked in the ad tech space where there’s, there’s a ton of data being thrown at you, but you’re wondering, like, “is the advertising product I’m building really something that the customer wants?” And then there’s data when you’re starting a startup and you have an idea and you’re just hopeful that people want to subscribe to that idea. And you have really no data. In that context, the latter example, I think you, um, it all ties back to your objectives no matter what, right? So, uh, in the latter case of startup, you have to just think back to “what are our core objectives here? What are we hoping to accomplish?” And then set some defined objectives. Kind of almost like OKR- like approach and just talk to talk to customers. So, you know, I’m, I’m building a, a startup right now, startup it’s a new business. It’s easy to get work caught up in, in data and trying to figure out or, or go about your work in an effort to secure as much data as possible. But really, I just need to talk to my customers and then, and the feedback they give me is information I can use to then go make a decision going forward with product and my roadmap based on those objectives. But you also have to be careful because as a product owner, there’s a tendency to rely on data almost too much. Right. And I’ll give you one quick anecdote. I’ve built a product. I, I won’t get into the specifics just yet, but it’s a, has anyone seen The Jerk?
Nathan Henry: Steve Martin?
Phil DiGiulio: Yeah. It’s not that, but you know that, you know, the, the glasses thing he does with the, with the, you know, so it’s kind of a, a version of that, but not quite, it’s a, it’s a clip that helps you, your glasses from falling off. Super simple, super basic, not a retainer. So, and the reason I mention that though, is not so much to pitch the product. I don’t mean to do that at all, but really I, I had a situation where I’m, um, it can be used for sunglasses, eyeglasses safety, glasses, readers. So I’m building out my direct consumer product and I started to differentiate the clip for each different audience and created separate pages for each audience. I build the pages out. And then I send the pages off to my wife and a few others for feedback. My wife is like, “well, I don’t understand why you would do that because this is a universal clip that works for any pair of glasses. So you’re just confusing your users. You’re giving them too much to think about when they come on the site, they should just be able to order the clip. They shouldn’t have to be thinking, oh, wait, am I ordering the right clip for the right eyewear?” And in that case, so I listened to the feedback I was getting and thought, you know what. Trying to secure data that I don’t necessarily need just yet. I just need to build what the customer’s telling me to.
Nathan Henry: You also listen to your wife, which also might be probably a good, uh,
Phil DiGiulio: always a good thing. Yes.
Nathan Henry: Relationship.
Phil DiGiulio: Yes. Usually not always, but usually.
Nathan Henry: That’s awesome. I wanna bring Tait in. So I wanna talk a little bit more about around data and, and, you know, obviously user feedback becomes data, becomes currency to help us make decisions. Are there other ways, uh, you know, I’m thinking of limited access sometimes, you know, clients or customers, whether they maybe they don’t have data or analytics or they don’t wanna share it. What are other places beyond just straight user feedback, which is a tremendous amount of data. Are there other places we can look to help validate our decisions as we build our roadmaps?
Tait Foster: To me, one of the things that I always try and do, whether you have data or not is, you know, it, it’s very trite and almost to the point of being stereotypical within product circles, but there’s the whole tricycle bicycle motorcycle car. And the reason that I always sort of looked at that was, it was a way to understand, not only the future, but the potential steps to that future. And the thing to me was you wanted to have… what I always look at when I’m thinking about a product or even a feature is can I see, just myself, three or four different iterations of where it could go? Three to four different evolutionary end points for something like that? Because to me, one of the, the nitty gritty points of, of product, and this is maybe informed by my masters, which was in the very useful topic of, of war studies, was you eventually have to marshal -that’s a pun, um, that I apologize for- you eventually have to marshal resources, you have to marshal stakeholders and you have to do a lot of things to get moving. And to me, if I could envision three or four different end points, which usually involved another three to four different evolutionary paths, it was a way to then contextualize data if I had it, or if I didn’t at least be like, “well, In that initial point of like, I might not know where I’m going,” or I might not be fully confident that this is absolutely the way, but if I see different areas where it could go, then there’s that inherent flexibility. Then I know that it’s not just, you know, “okay. I need five things to break my way. And then it works.” It’s like, “Ooh, this has potential because it has this wealth of areas.”
Nathan Henry: It’s really exciting, especially how they can, you know, mold together and then become, I think of it as a way of like the sum of their parts. And then that equation can always bit more complicated because math is really hard. So that’s becomes the larger, uh, you know, sort of long stream for the product. I’m wondering, I want to bring Andres back in here and something that Tait said was, you know, sort of thinking of bicycle motorcycle tricycle– I did that in the wrong order– you know, as you founded Do What Works, is that something that resonated with you? I, I imagine you had an idea, but did you have a second version of that and a third version when you began to build, I’m just kind of curious, you know, in absence of data, you have an idea and then maybe you can make some hypotheses. So I’m curious, like what your, what your orientation was around… did that, does that resonate with what Tait said with what your experience was in founding Do What Works?
Andres Glusman: Yeah, I’m, I’m a big fan of sort of looking for things that have a lot of different options or optionality. But with that being said, the thing that I always think about are all of the questions that need to, I need to answer. But then what is the one most important question right now? And that question will evolve. In general as a framework, it’s sort of like, does anyone care? Like does, does it create any value for somebody where are they willing to pay for it? Are they willing to use it? How much does it cost me to service this? Can I make a profit? Does this thing have the ability to exist for the long haul? These are all these questions that have to get answered. And some of them are way more important answer earlier than later, you sort of have to have a sense for like a yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. What what’s fascinating for us is when we launched this thing is, uh, I was working with my co-founder and we were exploring different ideas. I hatched up this, to this idea. I talked to my co-founders like, Hey, do you think we could, if we did this, this and this, do you think we could detect what people’s experiments are online? And he is like, yeah, I think we could, or maybe we could do it this other way and it’d be even better. And he was totally right. He had a much better way of doing it. And so he then very quickly like made a very rudimentary prototype of it, of the underlying technology. And then I took that and I manually like processed it and massaged a little bit and I showed it to friends. And then they said, yeah, this is really cool. If you build it, we will pay you to use. And we said, that’s great. Here’s a Stripe form. We literally, we sent them the only thing we had online. If you went to do what orgs.io, the only thing that was, there was a like credit card form to give us money. We sent it to those three friends that were working in different industries and they each agreed to pay us a monthly subscription for the thing. And we agreed in return to send them, you know, just PDFs. We didn’t agree to send them this really cool dashboard or anything of the sort. And because they filled that out and they paid, we knew that they were serious. That was the real data, right. To your point in terms of like, it wasn’t just a, an opinion. It was literally like they were putting their money where their mouth was. We actually never even built the PDFs. We just built the dashboard really, uh, first version and got into their hands within 30 days. Right. So that was the proof point that I needed to really believe, yeah, this is a business worth pursuing. And if I can do this, if I can find other people like them, or if we can, we can now move on to the second question. Like, can I get somebody to keep using or can we find more people like them or whatever the case may be. But it’s all a sequence of questions that all started. And I only got the right to address the next question. It’s almost like going on a, to an amusement park and you get to only, you can only ride one ride at a time and you’re only allowed to go to the next ride when you complete the one before. So to me, those questions that I posed were very much like the kinds of questions that you have to answer in the right sequence. And those people filling out that darn Stripe form, the credit card form online were what gave me the permission to then go on and answer question number two, you know. And now two years later, two and a half years later, I feel like I’m just looping through the questions over and over again, which is what we then end up doing every single time you iterate on anything from there on.
Nathan Henry: Yeah, I mean, iteration, definitely asking yourself the same question. Sometimes you’ll get different answers and that also then goes to, you know, keeping/ the roadmap going back to our, our, our theme here of keeping that updated. And sometimes things don’t matter anymore. Sometimes things become critically important that we’re sort of backlogged. Adding onto your, your anecdote about the, the, the rides in my mind, I was thinking through of, as you’re going through the questions, you’re finding the ride with the shortest line, to maximize your ride ability. You want to get on that ride fast so you can get done with that ride, have a great time to go to the next ride. And so that the prioritization sort of factors into that in a way wondering what your lens on, on prioritization was answering those questions. I, I somewhat, obviously very clear cuz they’re core to your business, but when you weren’t sure the order of the, how did you prioritize the need for data?
Andres Glusman: Yeah. Great. To me, the the data that I want next is always the most likely to kill me. Right or kill the business. There’s so many different things that can put every single business out of business. Right. But the one that I need next is not necessarily the easiest one or, or the most pleasant one. Uh, but it’s the one that’s the next most pivotal question. And so, for example, once you have some users paying you the questions, are they gonna keep paying you? And that’s such a fundamental question, and then will they tell their friends? A lot of these other questions don’t really matter. Like, can this be delivered in an efficient cost at scale? Doesn’t matter, until I’ve gotten the, the answer to that “will people pay me and will they keep paying me?” question. To Tait’s point. I sort of have to know down the road. Yeah. I can probably get into the right sweet spot of, of, of cost. I can probably make, make this margin or whatever the case may be, but it doesn’t matter until question number one and two are, are basically knocked off.
Nathan Henry: Yeah. That that’s tremendous. And sort of getting into sort of that user’s intricity of, of will they adopt the features? Will they do this? So layering in from that, I wanna bring Grace back in the conversation. You mentioned earlier in your setup that you know, a lot of stakeholder management. And so let’s say we’ve got some hypothesis, we’ve got some data, we’ve got some users who are paying for a product. How do you make sure that you’re communicating that alignment with stakeholders? You know, you, you mentioned, you sort of alluded to the fact of sort of wrangling a multitude of stakeholders. So I’m curious, like how do you keep your decisions made clearly to a consortia of, of stakeholders who might not be themselves be aligned?
Grace Mangum: Ooh, that’s a really big question actually, but I I’ll do my best. I’ll give an example from like A&E Networks. So I worked in international, which was basically like a mini business within the business. We had our own finance group, we had our own marketing group. We had our own on- air programming team and so forth. And we had international content sales, which was, brought in 60% of the revenue for the international business. So they became my new best friends because I was like, there’s a sales website. It doesn’t do anything. It hasn’t been touched in eight months. There’s no content management system behind it. It was a series of like XML files and HTML files and some platform videos. And that was pretty much it, actually. So, getting them excited about redesigning the website was actually really canvasing those folks within the international content sales team and getting their ideas. They know their customers better than I do. They interface with them every day. So I wanted their ideas. We started there. It also is a great way to get buy-in from your stakeholders, if you’re really canvasing them for information and ideas of what needs to be. In this instance, it was a website. And then it became an app actually, that was also used as a screening system at, you know, internationally when they traveled and also at different conferences and stuff. But because there are so many, you know, voices in the room with that, one of the things that we did was sort of divvied up by genre. So it was like, you’re a person who knows scripted programming. You’re a person who knows lifetime movie- bless your pointed little head that that was your area of interest, but, or expertise- and then, you know, folks who are transactional programming and so forth. So, those were the folks that I interfaced the most with, and it was their responsibility to canvas their teams, to get their ideas, but also their alignment on feedback and collating that feedback. So it was a really easy way to get, you know, 25 people, 30 people aligned around individual ideas just by breaking it up by the, that genre and making those people, the experts. It went a long way, like I said, to get buy-in from them, but it also went a long way to make sure that we didn’t have, you know, 50 people in a room every single time that we were meeting to do, you know, a review of, you know, a milestone review or whatever it was, actually. But it’s kind of freed us up also to, to stay embedded in a very agile environment and iterate on that as well. So…
Nathan Henry: That’s fascinating. So, you know, now we’re, I’m hearing, you know, prioritization, sorting, gathering alignment to help out with sort of that, that cross section of, of, uh, you know, making sure everyone’s moving in the same direction you’re, you’re using, you know, resources to, to Andres’ point earlier that you don’t wanna waste. And so you’re making these decisions in service of the greater good. I’m wondering when, when conflict arises. How do we rely back on either our users? And I think you, you touched on this a bit of like advocating for users because they became the, the subject matter. How do you advocate for, for your users or their needs in those conversations, maybe where stakeholders aren’t aligned? I’m I’m proposing that maybe there is some prioritization issue where someone’s feature feels more important because their user base might be more important. How do you help make those decisions on priority? When, when you’ve, you’ve sort of divvied up the work divvied up sort of the categorization and there still isn’t quite clear alignment. How do you advocate in those as sort of the, the product person responsible for like the, all, all of the users? Not just a subset of the users?
Grace Mangum: I think it goes back to monetization to a certain degree, right? So if you have a feature that’s directly tied to revenue in some ways, shape or form, sorry, that’s the thing that’s gonna move up the ladder.
Nathan Henry: Totally fair.
Grace Mangum: Yeah. Exactly.
Nathan Henry: I mean, that’s totally fair. It’s commerce. Yeah.
Grace Mangum: Funny talks, unfortunately, but yeah, that’s, that’s really, and that’s also was an easier way to get buy-in from people was just like, okay, so this is directly tied to revenue. Your feature, or your idea is an interesting one, but let’s put it in the backlog. Um, definitely. We’re not saying no to it. We’re just saying that we’re gonna deprioritize it because this has greater impact to revenue.
Nathan Henry: Sure that makes a lot of sense. Phil, and sort of thinking of your experiences, how, you know, going from zero to one, you, you co-founded, you know, a couple different pieces in your history here. How do you work with, as you bring folks in to help you build and help you develop, how do you help them sort of keep with what Grace has set us up with, in terms of like the prioritization advocating for users, how do you get alignment from your internal teams to make sure that they’re representing back to what, you know, what your customers or end users are looking for?
Phil DiGiulio: It depends on the circumstance always. Right. So, um, just to piggyback on the.. Look, product management is project management, it’s political sci- I mean, it’s a smorgasbord- Everything. So managing…
Nathan Henry: marriage counseling?
Phil DiGiulio: That too! Managing people’s expectations is a very important parcel to that. And that a lot of that comes down to just having a very clear, concise, um, vision for what you’re building. And for the teams that are building for your, the work that you’re well working towards. So I think it’s incredibly important to have a roadmap mapped out. Now, roadmap might only be a path to, you know… I like to, I’ll probably use too many analogies if you around me enough to you learn, but you’re always climbing the mountain. Right. And so you’re just trying to initially maybe get to base camp. And so you’re trying to get everyone …
Nathan Henry: There we go. It’s on theme…
Phil DiGiulio: Oh, perfect. I, and so you’re others?. Okay. Um, and so you’re, you’re climbing the mountain and you’re trying to get to, let’s say base camp. Um, and you’re just trying to get the team to agree to a certain location and point along the way. And you know that, and this is very true startups, as you guys probably know. Um, you know, you, you see the mountaintop, but you don’t know if, how you’re gonna get there. As far as like figuring something out, you’re you get to a certain point where you find a path that wasn’t necessarily visible to you at the bottom. Um, you might have envisioned it, you know, when you’re planning your, your war gaming. But you don’t see it until you get there. Um, and so it’s just getting the team, I think, aligned on the vision to say, this is where we’re headed. But to get there, realistically, we have to start here and it’s not “A” to “B.” It’s “A” to “F” to, and so forth.
Nathan Henry: Tait, I wanna bring you in here. And, and I wanna talk a lot. I wanna pivot the conversation just a little bit, you know, as I look out into the room, I see my manager sitting here. And so at some point you have to sort of manage up and deliver like what the team is doing and how you’re connecting the motivations of the team with the user brass, baking in all the data in your roadmap and packaging that in a way that makes sense that, uh, executive level. Why I bring this forward is, I think that executive pitch my hypothesis in, in the answer that you might give to validate or disconfirm this, is that executive pitch is also important for the internal team. And I wanna make sure that, you know, when I’m thinking of building product, I’m always thinking. Why are we doing this? And that’ll help us inform how do we do this? And I think both things have to play together. And if that can be done as sort of whether it’s a north star or an executive summary or a brief statement, I think that’s an orienting factor. So I’m wondering one, how do you manage up for those decisions? And two, does that make sense to you think, and sort of helping build Phil’s point of view of keeping people that internally with that vision moving forward, complex question there!
Tait Foster: I discovered that the, the acronym of highest paid person’s opinion, “HPPO,” like about three years ago. And it, it was really instructive at the startup I worked at because we had investors and they would sort of parachute in with these ideas of like, this is what’s gonna save democracy and it’d be like, okay, but! That’s great, but like, what we need to do is get more people to vote. And while that’s a really wonderful idea and you should totally throw $10 million that direction, we’re focusing on this other theory. You know, to me and Phil sort of hit on it a little bit with trust. Like to me, I sort of look at the three sort of pillars, uh, within product, you know, on the internal side are trust and transparency. And you have to sort of develop those things. And I think one develops the other by being transparent. In a weird way, has the reaction of building trust. If I’m coming to you and I say, here’s everything that I’ve thought of, and you say, oh, well this is missing, or this is missing. And this is missing. That trust is already built and you just sort of build on and build on and build on the more that you’re transparent. So when it comes to HPPOs or, or, or executive level, I think the thing that I always tried to do was to come at any sort of encounter sort of with a level of transparency, and then to recognize positive intent. And sort of recognizing that there were elements, there were things that, you know, I wasn’t fully aware of. Which I think is really hard to lose sight of at all stages. Fundamentally, a lot of the time it’s very easy to get tunnel vision. And that’s true of executives. That’s true of folks who are on the ground. I mean, I remember when I was at Bloomberg, I was basically put on our– we had this huge, uh, data and content service team. The head of digital said, well, you know, they haven’t launched anything in, you know, a year and a half. And we built this data lake. So put Tait on it and give them, you know, six months to figure out a use for them. And so I started digging in and we were tied up in everything. I mean, they were powering apps, they were powering front end experiences. They were all over the place, and no one was being transparent of that work. They were just picking it up and doing. So I think, you know, when dealing with executives, I think you have to have that empathy of what do they know, what are they worried about? What are they thinking about? And the best way to, to, to match that is to sort of assume positive intent of what they’re saying, but to be transparent. And I think a lot of the time, that’s very hard. Being transparent is very difficult because in incumbent in it is a vulnerability of, I don’t know, and we’ve gotten to a place, I think a lot of structures where that is worse, the worst thing that you can say. And I think a lot of the time I found that saying, I don’t know, or, or being that level of transparent has been helpful with folks in that executive level, because then they can say either they have the information or they also don’t know. And then it’s like, well, we’ll find it out. It’s like, oh great. Oh, you want me to find it? Oh, wonderful. And then you go and you, you fix that for both of you.
Nathan Henry: You make such a great point in terms of, uh, you know, your, your Bloomberg story, where you’re asking them to make decisions, because you had more information than you had given, just in terms of efficiency, expediency. I also think maybe that’s, you know, sort of the, the, the management, the executive level of, you know, they may have more information than you do. And so saying, I don’t know, actually creates the safe space where you can be given that information that you don’t have, or that you do need as long as positive intent comes through. And I think that’s super important, uh, and advocating for the users at the end of the day, whether you’re an executive or product builder or a designer engineer, like you’re, you’re making decisions for software or a product that can change someone’s life, their experience, whatever their goals are.
Nathan Henry: And probably try to make that company that’s sponsoring that money as long as that positivity and that user centers becomes forward, I think that safe space can, can create that conversation. Sort of thinking through, you know, the managing expectations. I’ve sort of brought in this layer of like, you know, executive and, and reporting out an accountability and, and trust within our inner circles and teams that either we’ve built or part of, or we’ve created. I I’m just wondering, you know, What are some things that we can, we can look for and I’ll sort of open this up to everyone. I’ll start over here with Andres. In terms of like pitfalls, like through execution, whether it’s, you know, early on where you’ve got your product hypothesis and you’re on your way, what tips would you give somebody on their product journey around? You know, they’re starting the roadmap, they’re beginning to build some products, like what pitfalls that they may encounter would we, would we council folks to watch out for?
Andres Glusman: Yeah, it’s a very good point. And I thought Tait brings up a great point around acknowledging what you don’t know. And the reality is is that in our business, which is usually the behavior change business. Anybody who does products is generally in the behavior change business. Nobody knows.
Phil DiGiulio: We are all making it up is what I mean.
Andres Glusman: That’s that’s a hundred percent the reality. And, um,
Nathan Henry: Eric cut the mics uh, the secret sauces out! .
Andres Glusman: When. When, why did I become so enamored with lean startup is because, oh wow. I can acknowledge that, there’s something I don’t know. And oh, wow. There’s a methodology it’s called experimentation and split test that you can use to figure out what actually does affect behavior. And that was amazing for me. And I got really addicted to it and I got so enamored with the idea of having certainty that I wanted to test everything and I wanted to test every single pixel on the page. And I went in extreme direction in the other way, because the reality is that even when you’re running experiments, you don’t get that data until it’s over. Like you still don’t know, you’re guessing at the start as well. I mean, that was the itch. That was the kind of the burning fire that motivated me to build the, the product. We ended up building to start to have data up front. But the reality that nobody talks about is the fact that even when you are running experiments, you’re still making a guess.
Nathan Henry: That’s yeah, science is only science when it’s proven, I guess is kind what I..
Andres Glusman: Well, and you only get the data looking backwards, you know, we’re, we’re doing our best to try and inform people upfront based on what other works for other people. But even then, like, they still have to sort of figure it out for their own situation and what works for them. And so when, like you think about sort of all that, that challenge around saying like, well, what do you know or not know? The, the hard thing or the important thing is to acknowledge that you don’t. Gather the signal from wherever you can and not be in a position where you feel like you have to like have the certainty across the board. One of the things I’ve started to get into from a, uh, philosophically related product is this idea of like, like poker players. They just play the best hand they can. They’re just sort of stacking the odds in that hand, based on what they’re seeing. And the data they’re seeing and you still have to make bets all across the board. You, you wouldn’t want to go and not play any hands, which is what a lot of people like to– I guess, your, your earlier point around analysis process. So like they, they preclude themselves from being able to get into the game. Um, so you need to place bets. You need to play hands in order to be able to, to actually have the game work in your favor, but you are ultimately placing bets. And to me, the ultimate question is acknowledging that, but then questioning or asking yourself, how do I maximize the odds that this bet pays off in my favor.
Nathan Henry: Yeah. So it’s de-risking as we go, making sure that you’re taking accountability for the, the situations around you, the variables controlling what you can and making the best, educated guess that you can, using, you know, experimentation when you can, or hypothesis along the way, user feedbacks, centricity. So that’s a great, there’s so much we can unpack just in that one. I wanna come to, to Grace. Things we should look out for from like mistakes and, you know, I think the analysis paralysis gambling and making it up, uh, as, as we go, what are the bad habits and traits we should we look out?
Grace Mangum: I’ve worked for a pretty unique organization right now, actually the USTA has… it’s a bit of a flip flop actually. So the business users and specifically marketing have a lot of influence on the roadmap. I’m trying to shift that around actually, cuz there’s a lot of assumptions that are made. So I’m just using, I’m rooting this example and specifically in USTA actually, where, for example, we’re pretty bullish on parents and education. So if you’re kind of at that top of the funnel, you’re 10 year– you’re not a family that plays tennis. You have a 10 year old kid who has expressed interest in playing tennis. How do you get them started? And how do we, as USTA, and specifically on USTA.com or any of our apps, actually answer that question. There’s a lot of emphasis on parents and education. So with that, someone was very high up in the organization was like, we should build an app. It’ll be the fastest way to get to market. And I’m like, hang on a minute. [Laughter] Could we ask a couple of questions in advance of that? So I get the speed to market, and I appreciate that as, as, as wanting to get out there and be first to market with that. Do we know that these folks are heavy app users. Do we know what are they using apps for? What are their favorite apps? Like, let’s do a little, a little bit of competitive analysis before we even get down that road of of saying, yes, this is the right platform to use for this particular product.
Nathan Henry: I actually have an answer to your hypothesis of how do we get 10 year olds interested in playing tennis?
Grace Mangum: Do tell!
Nathan Henry: This is what worked for me. Yes, you, you put on the 1991 US Open Semifinal, it was Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati. It’s the greatest tennis match that has ever existed. It goes to seven, six, in the third. It’s tremendous. I will never forget the..
Grace Mangum: And a lot of grunting happening actually.
Nathan Henry: Grunting, yes. It was tremendous. I could, I could go for two hours just on that match. That lasted two hours and 35 minutes.
Grace Mangum: So I would say McEnroe and, uh, and Borg. I mean, that’s..
Nathan Henry: Absolutely. There you go. I could riff tennis all day. So thank you for, for indulging me. Thinking through, you know, sort of pitfalls and landmines that, that we don’t want our fellow product managers to step on, Phil..
Phil DiGiulio: Advice for product managers?
Nathan Henry: Advice for product managers. What, what should we, what should we think through?
Phil DiGiulio: So I, I got, we were earlier before the panel start, when we were all getting to know each other, uh, we were talking about, it’s a common conversation with product folks. Like where, what was your path? We all have different paths. I’m an interactive kind of design person used to try to squeeze video into banner ads. I’m dating myself, but… and like that was my intro to design. And then I became product manager– I’m getting to answer your question real quick– by way of starting up a company and having to build product and work with developers. And then I left to, uh, jump into ad tech and I was working at Tremor Video. And my first day on the job, I was like, I got off the train and all of a sudden everyone was speaking French because I didn’t recognize the world that it once existed that I knew, which was ad tech prior to this whole revolution where all these acronyms were being thrown out. I didn’t understand much, but I pretended to understand everything. And it was a mistake. I, I, wasn’t willing to just ask questions. I think I’m a pretty good product owner, but I was afraid to ask questions and, and, and be vulnerable. And really at the end of the day, as a product owner, you have to be someone who’s curious and always asking questions. And if you’re not, you’re not gonna be very good at what you do. So my advice would be just to be vulnerable to, to a point and, and ask questions. And you can do that in a way where you don’t sound like you don’t know what you’re doing, but ask the questions. The only other piece of advice I’d add to that is as a product owner in a large organization, you should have someone that’s kind of rogue.. Meaning like there are so many different groups working on different projects. At one point, when I was at Verizon, I was focusing on innovation and I ended up being in a position where I was able to sit in a room with about 25 other teams. And we all kind of just put out the work that we were doing on the table. And this was post acquisition of Verizon and acquired AOL and then Yahoo. And there’s a lot of work going on and nobody was sharing the work. Usually, and it’s understandable because you, you know, you might have duplication, you don’t want to come off as like, well, my video player versus your video player, but at the end of the day, we’re all working towards the same goals, which is making money for the company. So it’s, I think it’s helpful to have someone there that can observe and make sure that everyone’s sharing what’s going on so that you’re not duplicating. And there’s transparency.
Nathan Henry: Totally agree with that. I think there’s also some, some level of, of that, of, you know, asking, showing humility of like, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m gonna ask you some questions, but also being able to show your work as well. But I wanna go back to my, my last question for the panel here. Phil you’ve… this is a question I, I want to do an entire conference on people’s entree into product management. And so I’m gonna go down the line, and I wanna ask everybody, how did you get into product? Like, what was the first thing that, that brought you into the, into the product world? How did you know you were product manager or what was the thing that set you up to become a product manager?
Andres Glusman: Yeah, it’s, um, it’s an odd path. Everyone’s is yeah. Uh, I, I mean, at, at the heart of it, for me, it’s that I’m a behavioral scientist and, and, um, that I think product in a lot of different ways, there’s lots of different times of product. But the kind of product I do is very much around user behavior. First start set me up was in the very earliest days of the internet, probably around the time we were trying to jam banners, uh, videos into banners, I was putting Winnie the Pooh on them, uh, in, uh, 1998. Running online ads like some of the earliest ads online and got exposed to experimentation there, right in the earliest possible way in the most manual, most brutally difficult way of doing it and was able to start looking at data. So I cut my teeth, looking at data there. Well, thankfully that company was run by somebody who ended up starting Meetup, got me in a really interesting position a few years later in terms of being very early in, in Meetup and, and having a opportunity to lead a lot of different functions there. The thing that drew me into a career path at Meetup though, was actually started at consumer research. So I built our usability lab. Well, led, led a lot of the business initiatives around revenue, but then also built our usability lab, which gave me a lot of insights into user behavior. And then that became the strategy team. And then right around that same time, lean startup movement took off and started running experiments inside the company. And then the more experiments I ran, the more wins we got and the more wins we got wins beget wins, momentum begets momentum, and as the company’s needs grew, and as there was a need for a different approach to product management, I was asked to take over product management to lead that function in that certain way.
Nathan Henry: So it was clear from day one. You knew you were exactly —[laughter]—just kidding. Just kidding!
Andres Glusman: So there’s a lot of different kinds of product managers. There’s very technical product managers who are really kind of around building very complex, like technical systems. That’s not the kind of product manager I am, but, um, but that’s the route that, that got me in a role that was very much around user behavioral, product management.
Nathan Henry: That’s awesome. And it sounds like you found a niche. To advocate for what you like doing behavioral skills and, and assessing that sort of scientific lens of, of users in, in changing their behaviors through product. So sounds like it was destined to, to become a product manager. Grace, how did you get into product or how did you know you were doing product? Cuz I think sometimes folks were doing product that they didn’t know that’s what it was called. I don’t know if that’s your story but..
Grace Mangum: No, my story is very much like bump into the furniture approach to my career path actually. But I’m a firm believer that when you quit learning, you’re dead. And I think as a product person, you always have the opportunity either to learn what state, what individual business users are doing, actually like what the editorial function is versus a content strategist function versus a UX function versus, and even like breaking that down to UX research versus design versus, you know, etcetera. So. To me, I came up through the ranks in digital as, as pretty much, I think many folks here on the panel did as well, which is that you kind of had to be a generalist, right? You had to know a lot about a lot of different stuff. So I started out as a technologist that got me into database marketing, which was a lot of data analysis. So then suddenly I was given the responsibility of like building out our data and analytics reporting and, and actually like the insights that were, you know, I could glean from that, sharing that up to, you know, the C-suite level. And then, you know, also being involved in marketing, also being involved in, you know, teaching this stuff as well is, has really kind of reinforced that I continue to have to learn things as this is an ever shifting landscape. Right. So you always kind of have to be curious to go back to your, to your statement of that, but I, you know, being in product is the opportunity to, to continue to learn. And I, and I love that about it actually.
Nathan Henry: That’s the fascinating part. And you, you think, you know something, but then the landscape changes, your user base changes and you have to relearn or resolve problems that might have already been solved.
Grace Mangum: And just a quick comment about something that, um, that Tait brought up, which is, you know, don’t be afraid of the things that you don’t know. Right? Don’t be because how else do you learn? Right? You can’t go from first grade to college in a day. And how boring would life be if you knew everything out of the gate? So, you know, don’t be afraid of what you don’t know.
Nathan Henry: Phil, curious, uh, you, you, you’ve toyed a little bit about sort of like, you know, your curious nature and how you wanted to solve things and, and video was important to you, but how did you get into product or what did you, what did you first realize was “I’m doing product management?”
Phil DiGiulio: I don’t know if there was that one when they got, when I got hired as a product manager,
Nathan Henry: I mean, there’s that, on the, the paycheck.
Phil DiGiulio: I, uh, you know, back to pay, like I left the startup because we were, we were succeeding, but not enough to really.. We had employees to pay and I I’ve, uh, part of the business, but it was not, we weren’t where I wanted it to be. And so I took a full time job and I got paid as a product manager. I enjoy product because I enjoy building brands and I enjoy bringing new ideas to life, quite frankly. That’s what I get my kicks out of. I will say that the role often requires, you know, you’re kind of like the translator at the UN you’re having to translate so many different points of view and, and that, and, and from, from, from.. Back to the question about where, how I got into it, I like I’m kind of a generalist too. Like, I, I can design, I can Photoshop. I can crunch some data. I’m not, I can kind of hack code, but I’m not a writer. I’m not exceptionally great at one thing, but I’m good enough at all of it to understand it and appreciate it and work with others to help them be their best at it.
Nathan Henry: One of the things I think of is not only how can I make the best decisions, but how can I empower those with me to help make good decisions with me instead of me, or, or despite my decisions, cuz sometimes I make it wrong too. And I think the team and what you said there is like really empowering your team to help part of it.
Phil DiGiulio: You trust that, you know, people that are experts. Back to your point about the HPPOs. Um, you know, good HPPO does the same thing. They empower their team to do great work and they trust their team. They help drive the decisions, but they trust the people that they’ve hired to do the work. That’s why they’ve hired them to do that.
Nathan Henry: That’s awesome. Uh, coming on Tait. I know that you, you serve as a strategist, but you’ve got such a product background. And so I’m gonna focus on the product side of your world, which I know there’s a, like a Venn diagram here. But curious, like when did you realize you were in product or how did you get to product your origin story?
Tait Foster: It’s a little retrospective, but my first, like, serious job, I was an intern, but I interned for a summer for a Congressman who represented Brooklyn and Queens. And the first day the staff said, who wants to be the immigration intern and no one immediately rose their hand. And so I waited three seconds and I was like, eh, okay. And I spent that summer. I mean, Brooklyn and Queens. District that we represented was, has one of the highest groups of immigrants in the city, which has the highest groups in the country. And so I spent that summer learning about our immigration system and it was, you know, people would come in, I’d ask them questions, I’d help them fill out their paperwork. Um, I would call, there are all of these immigration centers all around the, the country where all of it gets processed and like they’re in Ohio and Iowa and stuff. So you call these congressional lines, which are different from the, the public lines. You’d almost invariably get these very nice, almost entirely older women. And you’d talk to them and you’d give them the immigration numbers and you’d catch up on their day. And then they’d, you know, and then you’d go back and you’d talk to the person. You’d talk to see if there were other things that you could do, but all of this was done for the congressional office. And I ended up having sort of a, a career in politics where I worked in all facets of a state, local. And all of it was basically the same thing of, there are people that I have to talk to and ask them questions and they will give me information. I’ll get better at learning the types of questions to answer, to know. And that’s an opportunity to ask a question. Fast forward to, to my first job in media and, you know, my first like product role. And it wasn’t clear if I was a project manager, or, product manager. And I remember being terrified cuz I was like, I am, you know. And what I realized was it was the same gig. It was talking to people, piecing together things that other people had told you and putting together a wider picture and frankly, translating from one group to another and back and forth. And I mean, it took me years to sort of realize this cuz I was like, oh no, I had my political career. And then I did, now I do product. And now I do strategy. And what I realized is that it was the same thing and it all sort of probably has the same outgrowth of I’ve always been that person that reads two paragraphs into The New Yorker, Atlantic or whatever article and go, dammit, why didn’t I become a Marine biologist? Like, what am I doing with myself? And I think, you know, we’re all like, I think you feel a hundred percent right. You know, like with doctors, product people aren’t monoliths. But I do think that there’s a, I know’s for, Tolstoy. It might be the Aesop originally, but there’s this concept of all people are either hedgehogs or foxes. Hedgehogs do one thing. They do it exceptionally well, which is they ball up and spikes. Foxes go all over the place. And I think that that not to disagree with you, Phil, but I think that that in a way is the, the simplest personification of all product folks, is that you put a product person in a room full of people in a couple trees. They’ll talk the bark off the tree, you know, goes to what Grace was saying. Like, there’s that curiosity, there’s that interest. And so that’s a little bit my origin story, but it probably started way back before I had a consciousness.
Nathan Henry: Definitely is like, you know, curiosity asking questions, getting to the truth, refining a, a point of view. You know, there’s a lot of similarities in sort of how product people approach situational, uh, settings to make sure that we’re advocating for our users or, or people who are looking for citizenship status, making good decisions, translating that to the next thing. I wanna thank the panelists for joining us, Andres, Grace, Phil, Tait. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. This was super fun to record. Uh, I’ve always wanted my own talk show. Uh, so thanks again so much. Uh, this is the first in our series stay tuned for, for part two. Next one. Thank you so much for everybody for joining.
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Nathan Henry: Hi everyone. Nathan Henry here. Hope you enjoyed the panel. Thanks as always for listening. And if you have any feedback or want to talk to post light about your roadmap, you know what to. firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next time.
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