Note: This AMA is closed for new questions, but you can check out the existing conversations below.
This September 9th, we’re really looking forward to hosting Productboard’s co-founder and CEO, Hubert Palan. Having closely observed the intertwining of the tech and business worlds as an engineer turned consultant, Hubert first marshalled his unique grasp to master product management. And then scaled up the canvas to co-found Productboard, a system of record for that very discipline. Across his work, Hubert has continued to meditate on the collaborative cultures and systems that shape better product thought and, by extension, better products.
AMA Index (Hubert’s brain-pickings)
( Hard-won insights, opinions, and observations; thoughtfully examined and articulated )
— The non-obvious dimensions to tease apart when assessing customer segments
— “…pricing can always be improved.”
— Notes on Productboard’s evolving tech stack
— On choosing the venture capital path; “I also really believe that having a boss is a good thing and while it creates stress it also drives focus and productivity and so I searched for the best bosses (VCs) I could”
— How to sort through the complex tangle of segments, personas, ecosystems, and most critically, user behaviours
— Want to build an all-in-one, SaaS? Deeply grasp the “closeness” of workflows
— Balancing the the IFs of PLG vs enterprise; “you don’t want to go upmarket too fast”
— Two resources that have informed Hubert’s thinking on category creation
— On the passage of Productboard’s sales motion
— On recognizing the founder’s curse of knowledge
— Furthering Steve Blank’s thinking on customer-centricity with the Product Excellence framework
Further reading/listening/pondering from the interwebz /
(Other insightful excerpts drawn from blog posts, interviews, and conversations)
On the perils of merely stumbling upon product-market fit:
The strategic aspect needs to be there. If you just go and you stumble into it [product-market fit] by accident because you saw something or you tried something. And you don’t really have a system in place that allows you to consistently go forward and validate and test and iterate, in a smart, strategic way, you’re in trouble.
Because what happens when you get to product-market fit is that the market at that point starts pulling you in all these different directions…
People start asking you, ‘oh, can you do more use cases, kind of more broader.’ And other people who’re not really the persona that the product is for, see it and they like some aspect of the product and say, ‘oh, this is great, I know this is a sales tool, but I can also use it for marketing.’
Or for us, with product management, ‘oh, this looks great, I would also like to use it for my personal task management. Because you guys have this flexible hierarchy and I can put in a mind map.’
So, if you don’t have the muscle of thinking strategically and systematically about it, the risk is that you will start responding to all these asks. ‘This is great, the market will pull us where we need to be.’
But without a strong strategic lens, you’re in trouble…
If you’re not focussed on the ideal customer segment, you hopefully should have defined, then you’ll…be throwing random stuff into the product, the product starts bloating, and you slow down.
I would argue that this is the biggest challenge for most companies…
[Product-market fit] is typically just a sliver of, if you want to build a big company, the initial PMF is just a small subset of the company that you’re going to build. It’s a small, small segment. And it’s a small set of needs that you’re satisfying. But how do you go from there?
Source: 20VC | 2021
On why founder insight is a tad overrated:
It’s important to have an insight. If you don’t have an insight, you cannot uncover something new in the market opportunity and then you don’t have a business.
While you may have the early insight, you don’t know whether it’s going to be the foundation of the large, big company that you will scale.
And so to me, it’s much more about the flexibility of the founder and not holding these insights too strongly. And there’s many people who’re very stubborn, who hold their opinion super strongly…
The second thing I would like to highlight is that it isn’t just the founder. The people I named, there’s the teams around them. From what I see, the best product teams… are those that have figured out how to share the insights. How to unblock the communication lines between people.
So it’s not like, ‘as a founder, I know what to do. There’s a directive. And I’m like a general telling the teams, you go here, you go here.’
It’s much more around: ‘here’s the model, here’s the structure, here’s a segment of the market and the personas. Here are the needs. Here are competitive alternatives. How can we all get together and figure out what is a superior solution?’
And it requires much more collaborative thinking. So that’s where I say, the founder insight is there but it’s a very small part of the whole story.
Source: 20VC | 2021
On what Newtonian physics can tell us about product strategy:
Now we have two products, Slack in the messaging space and Asana in the task management space. And if you think of them as planets, Slack would be a bigger planet and Asana would be a bit smaller planet because the product value [importance x frequency of usage] is like the mass of the planet.
And if you think about the broader space that they operate in, it’s Internal Collaboration. In it, there’s Slack, there’s Asana for task management, maybe there’s Trello, there could be calendar systems. All the use cases that are relatively close to each other when it comes to how people collaborate….
I find it useful to think about this way because just like planets, if you have two gigantic use cases, it depends on how close they are two each other. And the closer they are, the more they interact with each other. And the more they influence each other.
Again, to give you an example…me as a worker in the modern era, I’m spending my time and I’m sending messages to Slack and then here and there I jump to the other planet of Asana and I make a note that, ‘this is my task.’Then I go back and chat again. Then I go back and forth and so on…
Imagine that you’re a PM at Slack and you’re thinking about, ‘should we introduce task management as a feature for Slack. So now, we have a messaging use case and Asana is doing that other thing, should we do it strategically or should we stick to what we have?’
Am I risking losing people to Asana if they introduce messaging? Or vice versa. And now what position am I in?
When you’re thinking about this and the jobs-to-be-done and needs, make sure to identify this system that you’re playing with and make sure that you understand what are the other planets circulating your little planet of use cases and make sure that you don’t spread yourself too thin.
I argue that if I’m a product manager at Asana, I’ll be actually very worried. It seems to me that because of Slack’s use case and the need that Slack satisfies is of bigger and higher gravity, because it’s more important and more valuable.
If Slack starts making strides towards my task management system, the task management needs, if they deliver a really well designed or even a simple way to deliver on task management, because Slack as a messaging use case has higher gravity, it’s much more likely that people are going to abandon Asana and stick with Slack.
Vs the way around, if Asana builds messaging, they’re coming from the worse position comparatively. At the same time, if I’m at Asana, I would want to invest into messaging because in the long term, this is going to be super hard for me to compete, as Slack grows, they add new functionality to it, whether it’s directly or through acquisitions. Or strong integrations.
People will be absorbed by the gravity of the core [Slack] use case of messaging more and more. If I don’t start building my mass and fighting proactively, I’m likely going to lose in the long term.
So if you think about the value of the needs and what you’re protecting, you kind of think of Newtonian physics, you can actually have an informed conversation with the rest of your team.
Source: Empower | 2020