Unlocking your next Startup Product Job – June Wrap – Part 2

After holding a variety of Senior Product roles across many different companies, building product teams from the ground up, rising to Chief Product Officer at the startup accelerator and incubator, BlueChilli, and even founding 2 startups herself – Claire Sawyers knows a thing or two about working in startups. 

Why work in a Startup?

Are you sick of the daily corporate grind? There are plenty of up-sides to working in a startup. 

  • Autonomy: the empowerment to go get stuff done.
  • Career progression: moving between roles can be easier in a smaller pool.
  • Mission driven: more than just a pay cheque, and working on something that really matters to you.
  • Less of a cog in the machine: in a smaller environment, it can be easier to see how your efforts directly contribute to the outcomes.
  • Learn and try new things: with a smaller team, and less formal structures, there’s the need to be more T-shaped, and getting in there yourself – a great way to experiment and learn.

The Challenges

But it’s not all roses.

Corporate life has its benefits too. From stability, (sometimes) better budgets, to be able to freely hire specialists, access to mentors and supporting functions. If you’re leaving these behind, be wary of the potential:

  • Stress;
  • Workloads; and 
  • Job security.

If you’re not deterred by the above, and working in a startup sounds like something for you, then the next hurdle is what you’re up against:

  • Intense competition: Claire once received 250 candidates for just one role. Applicants from across the globe, including Silicon Valley.
  • Startups not knowing what they want: Sometimes, product roles can come about in strange ways in a startup. From the board telling the founder they need to step back and focus on investments, to copying and pasting product descriptions from LinkedIn. 
  • How does your experience read: Don’t assume your experience is perceived the same way in the startup world compared to the corporate. What does 10 years experience at the same company say? Comfortable and unable to handle challenges? Or lots of internal opportunities to try new things?

Applying

What are startups looking for in candidates? Take the time to understand your customer (the hirer), so that you can position yourself effectively.

  • Curiosity / Lateral thinker
  • Passion
  • Energy
  • Autonomous / Self Starter

So with this in mind, how do you go about applying?

Highlight your experience – breadth and diversity. Use your initiative. Show your desire. Reach out to the company directly. Or find a referral. 

Make sure your CV is a good user experience. Get your CV reviewed by someone in a similar seniority and/or style of company.

Interviewing

Like any interview, make sure you are prepared. 

  • Do your research. 
  • Use the product.
  • What are the market conditions.
  • Have a point of view.
  • What relevant experience do you have that will make you a star?
  • Have some questions prepared.

Final checklist

Before you accept any role, a few things to consider:

  • Do you believe in the mission? Through the ups and downs that are inevitable with any role, belief in the mission is what will get you through the tough times.
  • Are you aligned to the founder? The founder is likely to be heavily invested in the mission, and may have strong opinions of what should be done. And how. They may be your toughest stakeholder.
  • Is there enough support? As mentioned above, with limited budgets, workload and stress can also be part of startup life. Do you have the right support to be able to succeed?
  • Are there enough challenges? Nobody wants to be in auto-pilot. Are there enough challenges to keep you engaged?

Thanks again to Claire for all the startup advice, much of which can also be applied to larger companies, and best of luck with your next job search.

Resources

For a different perspective on startups, read about product leadership in corporates and startups.

See the slides from the session.

Thank you to our host: A Cloud Guru

A Cloud Guru Logo

Thank you to A Cloud Guru for hosting us online again this month. A Cloud Guru’s mission is to teach the world to cloud. The largest online cloud school on the planet, with training that feels more like logging into Netflix or Spotify – it’s entertaining and playful. 

Scaling Product Leadership – June Wrap – Part 1

Steven Bladeni moved from strategy to product leadership within a large corporate, to leading internal incubators, before transitioning into Head of Product and Chief Operating Officer roles in the startup world. Steven chatted with us, and shared some thoughts on product leadership in corporate and startup environments.

Building the Team

Regardless of the size of your organisation, as you move into product leadership, there are some universal truths – your success now depends on your team. More about team achievements and performance. Less about your personal accolades. 

Your first step is to build your team.

Unless you are starting your team from scratch, in both startups and corporates, you will inherit team members. So you will need to get to know them, and assess their fit. 

Then the differences between corporate and startups start to become more apparent.

Corporates

  • Larger budgets, and ability to hire specialists.
  • More mentoring.
  • Access to support functions, like HR, Legal, etc. 

Startups

  • Limited budgets, and more T-shaped generalists that can span across functions.
  • More hands on training.
  • A lot more do-it-yourself – want to hire? Go write that job ad.

Advice

Get to know your team, their strengths, weaknesses and aspirations. Where are the gaps? Will you fill them with another hire, training or mentoring? If you can, get a specialist for the things that really matter to you.

Create the Right Culture

Now that you’ve put your team together, how will they operate? It’s time to set the culture. Collaboration is almost a given. But how do you create a healthy tension, and ensure it is effective? And does that look different in different organisations?

Collaboration is encouraged, but sometimes too much. Seeking consensus will get you there, but sometimes it will just take a lot longer to get there. 

Corporates

  • Leaders prefer to control, rather than empower. Whether due to governance or legacy, the control and accountability can be hard shackles to break.
  • Challenging the status quo is accepted, within limits. You can design a safe place within your team, but as you move wider, more politics come into play.

Startups

  • The founder cannot do it all themselves, so it is essential to empower staff. Set the team in the right direction, and let them go. 
  • Amongst a small team, people are less likely to question the authority of the founder.

Advice

Trust the person with the most domain knowledge.

Manage your Stakeholders

No matter where you work, there will always be stakeholders to work with. And there will always be some decisions that are made, that you don’t agree with. Whether that be from an executive leadership team, or a founder. Either way, you need to know when to suck it up, and move on. But also get your team to move on.

Corporates

  • There will usually be more stakeholders in corporate. From brand, legal, support, sales, and maybe even the cleaner. 
  • With all these additional stakeholders, there is much more rigor to the decisions. 
  • Slower decisions

Startups

  • Although there may be fewer stakeholders in a startup, it could be just one key stakeholder – the CEO or Founder, who is passionate about the product, and with strong opinions of what and how things should be done.
  • Less process and rigour, which can make for faster decisions.

Which path is better?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Both corporate and startups have their benefits and drawbacks. 

Corporate environments can give you the opportunity to learn from more experienced leaders, expand your toolkit and build good habits. Startups allow you to utilise your toolkit, and embed product thinking at an early stage of a company, and take it to the next level. 

It’s more a question of which is a better fit for you, the stage in your career and what you are looking for to be fulfilled.

Thanks again to Steven for sharing the insights!

Resources

You can see the slides from the session and below is the video. Plus find our summary of our other speaker, Claire Sawyers, on how to land a product job in a startup.

Our Sponsor:

A Cloud Guru Logo

We’re on a mission to teach the WORLD to cloud. A Cloud Guru is the largest online cloud school on the planet. Our training feels more like logging into Netflix or Spotify – it’s entertaining and playful. The people are the #1 reason employees say they stay at ACG. We’re a quirky, tight-knit crew that cares about our customers and each other. No egos here. Our leaders encourage thoughtfulness, compassion, being humble, and we have a bit of fun along the way.

Up Next:

Our next session is this Thursday June 25th when we team up with Leading the Product for their lightning talk pitch fest! It’s too late to put your hand up to pitch your idea though it’s a great evening to support your fellow product people and get an idea about what it’s like to speak at LTP. RSVP now!

Leading the Product Pitchfest

While Leading the Product is going online this year, they are still continuing the tradition of short lightning talks and once again, ProdAnon is involved with the LTP Pitchfest.

What’s pitchfest? Pitchfest gives you the opportunity to pitch for one of the conference lightning talks. Pitches are voted on by both the audience & conference judges.

RSVP for Thursday June 25th

I’d like to pitch! Well then… get onto this NOW! 😉

LTP is requesting video submissions so pick your favourite Product Management topic (loves and hates) and create a 90-second video of your idea and submit it. The Brainmates team will pick our top videos and then present these to the audience on the night for their vote. No slides… just you sharing with the crowd & judges.

You do not need to give the talk via video or on the 25th… this is a short pitch.

Add your name here and send your video to the LTP team by Monday 15th June.

I’d like to vote & support folks! RSVP and you’ll receive a Zoom link prior to the event. You’ll be able to watch the pitches & vote for who you’d like to hear at LTP!

The judging panel in addition to you!
– Liz Blink and Jen Leibhart – Co-Founders, Product Anonymous
– Adrienne Tan – CEO, Brainmates
– Christopher Rolik – Director of Digital Product Experience, IAG

Product Leadership

This Thursday June 18th, we have 2 fantastic speakers who have experienced product in companies at different stages. RSVP now

What does product leadership entail at various sizes of organisations? How do you transition to 1st product person at a startup? What’s the same and what’s different at various sized companies in different stages?

We’ll kick off at 6:30pm with the Zoom open at 6:20pm. After the talks, we’ll utalise breakout rooms so you can say hello to folks! We hope you can stay & meet (or catchup with people you haven’t seen in a while).

Our Speakers:

Claire Sawyers
Claire has an amazing background with product management in startups – having been the 1st product manager at a startup through to chief product officer building a team PLUS she has founded 2 startups.

Claire will talk about what it’s like to work at a startup – especially how to get the job – and how to survive it!

Steve Bladeni
After years of product & strategy at large corporates (including in an innovation space), Steve went to a startup as the head of product/COO.

Steve will share how different – yet how things are the same – when you’re working in and scaling these various types of business.

Our Sponsor:
A Cloud Guru
We’re on a mission to teach the WORLD to cloud. A Cloud Guru is the largest online cloud school on the planet. Our training feels more like logging into Netflix or Spotify – it’s entertaining and playful. The people are the #1 reason employees say they stay at ACG. We’re a quirky, tight-knit crew that cares about our customers and each other. No egos here. Our leaders encourage thoughtfulness, compassion, being humble, and we have a bit of fun along the way.

RSVP for Thursday June 18th

Encouraging Ethics Conversations – May Wrap

In recent years, the harm caused by technology has come under greater scrutiny. Whether at an individual product level, or the ecosystem created by a combination of products. 

  • How can we anticipate and mitigate against harm?
  • Bring an ethical lens into the product design process?
  • And map the potential bias in the systems we create.

If you’re struggling to find an answer, you’re probably not alone. 

After numerous years working in tech companies and startups, Laura Summers identified a lack of tools to facilitate ethics conversations. This led Laura to found Debias.AI, and create Ethical Litmus Tests – a deck of cards with prompts and questions to help reframe a scenario, and apply different lenses during the design process.

We were fortunate to have Laura join our May session, and using the Litmus Tests, take us through an interactive exploration of ethics in product design.

https://twitter.com/summerscope/status/1263290459217989639

Why is it so important?

Making trade-offs is part of designing and building products. But have you ever deeply considered what the impact of those options could be? Do you justify the decisions with yourselves, for the net (or greater) good?

But would you feel comfortable explaining your choices to a close younger relative?

Or what if the user was your elderly grandparent?

By applying these types of lenses, would you change the way you approach these decisions?

How does the Ethics Litmus Test work?

Define the motivator or driver

Describe the problem or scenario. The motivating concern can be either broad (eg, I’ve got a niggling feeling about this outcome), or very specific (eg, what if data was misused). 

Pick a litmus card at randOM

Select a card to help you reframe your view.

Write down your responses individually

With the litmus card in mind, spend a couple of minutes to consider:

  • Opinion: your position to the scenario
  • Questions: if you need to know more information
  • Next steps: action items

Share your responses

  • Compare and contrast your responses. 
  • Are you surprised?
  • Explain your thinking.

Some alternative activities to share your thoughts and responses:

  • The Blind Advocate – pass your response to another participant, and take turns to argue for another person’s opinion. A true exercise in empathy!
  • The Brainstorm – good for bigger groups, share your thoughts on post-its, or a digital retro board (like FunRetro), and then you can sort the responses into themes.

In this session, we all had some practice and fun, as Laura ran through several interactive scenarios with the Litmus Tests. Using the breakout rooms, we were able to discuss each scenario in small & bigger groups.

Resources and Further Reading

Read more about Laura and her work:

Thank you to our host: A Cloud Guru

Thank you to A Cloud Guru for hosting us online again this month. A Cloud Guru’s mission is to teach the world to cloud. We’re hiring

April wrap – Ten steps to lead through influence as a PM

Product managers are under pressure to drive results, but cannot wield direct power or authority to achieve their objectives. If you don’t know how to influence people at all levels of the organization, how will you create the best possible product?

In this talk, Ken Sandy shared ten techniques from The Influential Product Manager that product managers can immediately apply at each stage of the product life cycle to achieve the best outcome for the customer and their organization.

Key Takeaways:

1. Influence goes well beyond aligning stakeholder and team behaviours behind a common purpose – it is winning their hearts and minds through context setting, establishing a shared set of beliefs, and a passion to solve customer problems.

2. As a PM, being influential starts with how you view and approach your role – such as embracing and stress testing ideas, establishing collaborative relationships with stakeholders and decisively making prioritization and trade-off decisions.

3. Powerfully, product managers are at their most influential when they focus on owning and communicating the problem to be solved (enabling solutions to emerge collaboratively) and driving towards meaningful customer and business outcomes (over simply delivering projects).

Our presenter:

Ken Sandy is a 20+ years veteran in technology Product Management. Ken pioneered and teaches the first Product Management course offered in the Engineering school at UC Berkeley, which has over 400 PM alumni. Throughout his career, Ken consistently defined, launched and managed award-winning, innovative Web and mobile products loved by customers and used by millions of users across 60+ countries.

Previously, Ken served as VP of Product Management at leading online education companies, MasterClass and lynda.com (Linkedin Learning), and is currently an executive consultant and advisor for startup and scale-up companies in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia.
​He’s recently released “The Influential Product Manager – How to Lead and Launch Successful Technology Products” a highly practical and approachable guide to becoming more effective and navigating the challenging collaborative aspects of the product manager’s role.

Ken’s book is on sale for a limited time: https://bit.ly/AustraliaBookOnsale ($A paperback) or https://www.bkconnection.com/specials/ebook ($US ebook). If you are interested in having Ken do a talk at your company or just have some questions for him, don’t hesitate to connect with him at kenjsandy@gmail.com or on linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kensandy/.

Here are the slides and the video for your viewing pleasure.

Click here to watch Ken's talk
Click here to watch the video of Ken’s talk

We had such a great time running our first talk online – we had folks pop in from other cities In Oz and countries as far as Brazil & New Zealand. It was really nice to welcome our friends from other cities.

Just like the f2f sessions, there’s always those folks who don’t know when to go home. 😉 Chatting after the session.

Thanks again to A Cloud Guru for hosting us online this month! We’re on a mission to teach the WORLD to cloud. A Cloud Guru is the largest online cloud school on the planet. Our training feels more like logging into Netflix or Spotify – it’s entertaining and playful. The people are the #1 reason employees say they stay at ACG. We’re a quirky, tight-knit crew that cares about our customers and each other. No egos here. Our leaders encourage thoughtfulness, compassion, being humble, and we have a bit of fun along the way.

March Wrap – Working remotely

We were super excited about our March event so it broke our hearts to reschedule Becoming (more) Brilliant with Impro. With things changing so quickly re: Covid-19 and new advice, it was most definitely the right answer. We will reschedule this session in the future.

So… we quickly decided to change the session into a roundtable discussion about our new reality of full-on remote working. A quick summary…

What were people enjoying about WFH?

  • no commuting
  • flexibility of the time as in being able to adjust hours
  • home cooked meals
  • ability to do chores at home during breaks
  • pets!

What is challenging?

  • Lack of whiteboard solutions
  • Overhearing conversations in the office (bc often it’s very valuable customer feedback or something related to what you work on)
  • Less time to focus because there are more meetings/catch-ups to make up for not being f2f
  • Being paranoid about being seen as ‘online’ and thus available all the time aka PEN syndrome (please everyone now)
  • Hard to see micro-expressions and the body language
  • The distraction of text chat happening in the meeting room at the same time as the meeting (yes, this happens F2F also but easier to get distracted when virtual)
  • If you didn’t have a remote team or WFH folks with a standard set of tools already, people have been receiving multiple invitations. This might feel like overload and could result in documents all over the place.
  • While many of us thought we’d have MORE time to focus, we find there’s even LESS focused time now because you need to increase your communication and there’s so many channels to reach you that you get interrupted more. They can’t see you’re busy or focused so you need to better manage this. Which leads to maybe needing better expectations around work hours & response times.

What we are missing

  • Spontaneous idea sharing
  • Having an expert within earshot
  • Water cooler conversations
  • Random social interactions
  • For those with kids at home… missing adult conversation
  • Reduction in drinking water
  • The commute – gives you time to think! To walk! To see people!

How to keep that social thing happening

  • Virtual lunch with your team
  • Friday pub drinks over Zoom
  • Host a trivia quiz
  • 3 minutes of squats every day virtually!
  • Plant competition
  • Leave a Zoom room running all day (ie water cooler chat)
  • Acknowledge pets & kids joining calls
  • Contests of best virtual background
  • Making a conscious effort to reach out to individuals

Tools mentioned

  • Krisp for filtering out background noise during your calls
  • Mural & Jamboard (part of GSuite) for collaboration
  • Milanote
  • Miro (aka Real Time Board)
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Freehand by Invision
  • Funretro.io
  • Pomodoro technique
  • For whiteboarding – Zoom & Teams
  • BlueJeans – video conferencing

BYO Dumplings Evening

Last year in April, we decided to have a social event instead of a talk – because with all the holidays and school holidays, people were away. We decided to do a dumplings evening at a place on Lt Bourke instead.

This year …it’s looking like we have the beginnings of an April tradition. 😉

This Monday April 6th, we’ll virtually host a BYO Dumplings (& bevvy) evening. No speaker… we’ll chat, catch up & get to know each other.

If you’re on the ProdAnon slack, details will be posted in the dumplings channel (yes, we have had a dumplings channel for almost 3 years…..)

Join the ProdAnon slack for more details and session login details.
http://bit.ly/2vXZ4mS

FYI, there is a meetup in the calendar but we’re not using it for RSVPs.

AND .. we’ll be announcing the usual April event soon.

February Wrap – Transitioning to a Product Led Company

The other Thursday we heard from Josh Centner, Head of Product & Delivery at PageUp about their journey to being a product-led company.

Josh started with a bit of background. PageUp began in 1997 as a custom software house building various things which translates into a very sales led company. Over time they realised companies often had the same issues and even the same requests which is when they decided to focus on building recruitment software. For years, the company grew – people, teams, features, products, revenue – though still was quite sales led.

They realised they needed to make a change if they were going to continue to grow and move faster. They had previously been the fast mover in the industry but the industry had changed with lots of big and small players making a difference. Shifting to a focus on product-market fit rather than custom features for clients which only work for that client was a key part of the change to stay ahead.

Josh outlined the pillars to work.

  • Starts with people – Ensure everyone is well prepared and supported from a skills, mindset and culture perspective
  • Process – Put metrics in place so you can understand if time is being lost and if improvements are working
  • Strategy – Your strategy needs a story
  • Culture – the culture at PageUp is amazing. Everyone is really nice, so it’s fun but people don’t hold each other accountable because they are worried about hurting someone’s feelings
Credit: Neha Jaiswal

As part of the people change and bringing teams together they focussed on creating cross-functional teams – which INCLUDED the sales crew. (In other words, sales needed to write their own Jira tickets!!)

In order to improve the process & start to shift culture, a couple of actons were taken. The company did a values assessment. This assessment was an important step to define where the company wanted to be and brought people together to define it. Turning the output of those sessions into statements was critical because it was the beginning of behaviour changes.

PageUp also ran innovation workshops and in-depth training on design thinking, jobs to be done and lean startup with the exec team. The goal was to make sure people at the top knew what was going on & could speak the same language as their team. While everyone across the company went through the training, some were not able to implement it right away. They were focused on business-critical work. This ended up being a mistake because, by the time those folk had a chance to put their training into practice, it was very much forgotten.

With all this change, you want to show progress. Josh used delivery metrics at first because they change quickly – you can see speed improving, output, costs going down, and begin to see predictability come into the work. The product metrics Josh used were the HEART framework to help link to the lagging indicators of retention, growth & costs. This brought comfort to the organisation and allowed room to invest in risk & new areas of product innovation.

In terms of building out the product strategy ensure you’ve covered your compelling boundaries – 

  • Story so far
  • Under attack
  • Purpose of this approach right now
  • Markets and customers
  • Deepening the competitive advantage

What would Josh do better next time:

  • Have metrics ready before starting the transformation. Start tracking as soon as possible!
  • Baseline the needed skills and have a long-term plan
  • Have a strong product strategy ready to go as you roll-out to ensure alignment & enable autonomy

Josh Centner, Head of Product at PageUp

Josh has spent the last 10 years knee-deep in the world of startups and innovation. Attempting his own startups and consulting to both small and large organisations intent on creating disruption for themselves and their industries. After working with over 20 different organisations, Josh has deep insight into what does and doesn’t work when it comes to organisational transformation and product management.

Thank you to our Host: UniSuper

At UniSuper, our mission is simple—helping our members enjoy exceptional retirement outcomes underpins everything we do. 

UniSuper logo

Transitioning to a Product Led Company

Product transformation is easy and everyone in our organisation is both excited and happy to be on the journey….

This sounds far fetched but is the reality of what’s happened at PageUp. Josh Centner, Head of Product will walk through the journey of PageUp – a successful Melbourne based software company and how they went from a custom software house to a fast paced, customer focused product company.

Josh will cover their approach to introducing organisational transformation and how the organisation has combined the best of Design Thinking and Lean Startup to revolutionise the structure, process and mindset that drives our strategy, operations and product development practices.

Structure, culture & process will be covered with a ‘what we did’ approach and how you can learn from their experience.

Our Speaker:
Josh Centner, Head of Product at PageUp

Josh has spent the last 10 years knee-deep in the world of startups and innovation. Attempting his own startups and consulting to both small and large organisations intent on creating disruption for themselves and their industries. After working with over 20 different organisations, Josh has deep insight into what does and doesn’t work when it comes to organisational transformation and product management.

Our Host:
UniSuper

At UniSuper, our mission is simple—helping our members enjoy exceptional retirement outcomes underpins everything we do. 

https://twitter.com/UniSuperNews
https://www.linkedin.com/company/unisuper

UniSuper logo