Sharing your (startup) baby with the 1st Product Manager – November wrap-up

What’s it like to start a company & then bring in a product manager? How do you know when the time is right?

We gathered 3 founders to talk about sharing their baby along with 1 product manager who’s the 1st PM at a startup to facilitate!

Our panel was Danielle Bodinnar, CEO of Karista, Rod Hamilton, founder & VP of Product at Culture Amp, Linus Chang, founder of 2 software companies (Backup Assist & Scram Software) and our facilitator,George Tsigounis, from A Cloud Guru.

Trust came up very early in our discussion. For CultureAmp, trust is part of their company values and differences of opinion is a good thing. When you challenge things, it’s from a good place. Karista has 1 product person & Danielle was super impressed by the research and prep the PM did before their 1st meeting – which quickly earned her trust. Linus talked about the differences people have in the way they think of earning trust. Some people start from a place of trust while others need to build it up.

When did they realise they needed a product manager?

Rod went to the rest of the founders & said he needed to start hiring because he was getting slammed. Some of the other teams at Culture Amp, including technology, had scaled up previously so it wasn’t a surprise when he came to the realisation. Danielle brought on the 1st PM shortly after launch. As a solo founder, she needed someone she could hand stuff over to and know it will be done.

Why are product managers needed?

Danielle laughingly said she doesn’t know what a product manager does (as in what the job description should include) but she knows the only product manager at Karista gets stuff done!

One of the reasons Linus realised they needed a product manager was no one was paying attention to trends of the market & what opportunities were out there. They had a product owner who was internally focused & worked closely with the dev team but only he & his business partner ever talked to customers. He sees the product manager as being visionary as in really knowing customer needs, not just what the customer says they need.

The ‘special’ deals

Startups often have the ‘special’. That thing(or multiple things!) that was built for the 1 customer so the business can get the revenue or a specific client or (insert reason). It’s completely sales led, isn’t validated as a customer need and often ends up with code that says ‘if customer X, do this’. Saying yes to a special for 1 customer is saying no to all the others so if you’re going to do this, you need to put it in context – communicate clearly with the team why you’re doing this.

Later Rod reminded us that it’s the product manager role to ‘win the market not the client’ & quoted Gibson Biddle’s definition where our job is to delight customers, in margin-enhancing, hard-to-copy ways (from Gibson’s Leading the Product talk )

Scaling the product team

Beyond the 1st PM, you will need to scale your own team. Culture Amp now has ~ 9 product people and is continuing to grow. They are creating product rituals like a Monday catchup to review the week’s goals and one on Friday for the team to talk about what went well/not well during the week (a bit of a therapy session).

Now that there are several PMs & Rod isn’t involved at the same level as previously, he sometimes wonders why X was prioritised and knows he would have done X differently but has to let go of those decisions. The team has built trust amongst themselves so when Rod does challenge something – it’s a positive thing & discussion to follow.

Lastly, a few tips for startup product people from the founders: (which apply to all product, not just startup!)

  • Don’t just talk to existing clients, know the potentials too
  • You need to constantly be in touch with customers
  • Don’t assume growth is not your job
  • Be commercially minded

Thank you to Culture Amp for hosting!!!

Culture Amp logo

The 1st Product Manager

When – and how – does a startup decide they need a product manager? And what sort of challenges will the first product manager at a startup face?

Those & more questions will be put to our panel of startup founders.

RSVP now for Thursday Nov 22nd

If you’re a product manager at a startup, considering a role as the 1st product person at a company or a founder, come along to hear from our panel of founders – what’s their experience been, why did they decide they needed a product person, etc.

Our panel

Danielle Bodinnar, CEO of Karista
Danielle is a passionate entrepreneur and mother of two, who has held senior management positions in sales, marketing, supply chain and project management in large corporations for over 20 years. She founded Karista after being inspired by the changes emerging in the healthcare industry.

Doug English, Founder & CTO at Culture Amp

Our facilitator for the eve is George Tsigounis who has been the 1st product manager at a startup!

RSVP for Sharing your baby with a product manager on Thursday November 22nd

This is the last Product Anonymous of 2018 so we will definitely be going to a pub after – consider it your 1st xmas party of the season!

Culture Amp logo Thank you Culture Amp for hosting!

April wrap-up: The Making of Milanote

In April, one of the founders – Michael Trounce – of Melbourne startup Milanote, the notes app for creative work, let us in on a few secrets of their success.

Time

First of all, it’s been 3 years in the making. The 4 founders already have their own UX consulting business, Navy Design, and always had the ambition to start their own product business so back in 2014 they dedicated a week to working through potential product ideas. Ideas like a weather app and a hydration coaster were investigated then ditched (the coaster was referred to as a gimmicky Xmas present…).

They started working on a product which would solve a need their team had. Previously they had used post-its, a wiki, and other note keeping software but they all lacked a way to make connections and share.

During 2015, they began doing research with designers & other digital creatives and found there was a gap in the market for the product they had in mind. They build a (crappy) prototype & started using it in-house. They knew they were onto something when they found it worked better than any of their previous tools – whiteboards, Evernote, Trello, etc.

It later clicked that what they’d built wasn’t just a tool that could be applied to the UX design process, it was a tool that could be applied to any creative process. This insight broadened their market significantly and gave them the confidence to then break out the product from an internal project within the consultancy, to a product business in its own right.

It wasn’t until 2016 the focus changed to execution and as a result the hours of effort went up! They hired a small full-time team and ran a closed beta program for 6 months. Until then they were seeing where it would take them but those days were over.

They began granting early access when you referred friends and adding people to the waitlist by writing articles on Medium like ‘Why Using Evernote is Making You Less Creative‘ to get the word out (that article drove a lot of signups!)

When they did launch in Feb (2017), there was a flurry of press including reaching #1 on Product Hunt, the front page of Hacker News and #1 for the week on Designer News. It’s also been written up on Lifehacker and The Next Web covered it while it was in beta.

Challenges

Milanote can’t see your content due to privacy reasons. They have no idea what you are doing with their product or how you are using it which makes deciding on what features to build and understanding customers somewhat difficult.

To overcome this challenge, the Milanote team are using a mix of quantitative & qualitative methods to draw out data and feedback from their users along the different points in their product journey. The most obvious tactic is talking to its customers.

Michael from Milanote talking about the early days

A post shared by Product Anonymous (@product_anon) on

Pricing

They are continuing to evolve their thinking on pricing & looking at different models to help align the value of the product with the price.

Acquisition

The articles at launch including Product Hunt, #1 for the week on Designer News and word of mouth helped greatly with new customers. They need to experiment with other methods now to find scalable and repeatable ways of driving acquisition long-term.

Hiring

Milanote are currently looking for both developers & marketers. Check out their jobs.

AND the most shocking news of the evening!!! The Milanote team do NOT use post-its anymore! They have bare walls!

Thank you Michael for a great talk & elabor8 for hosting the evening!

Startup Session: The Making of Milanote

A behind the scenes look at how this Melbourne based start-up went from idea to #1 on Product Hunt

Milanote is a visual workspace for creative thinking. It’s used by designers, writers, marketers and other creative professionals from companies like Facebook, Apple, Uber, Dropbox, Google, Adobe, Sony, Nike etc.

Milanote launched on 7th Feb of this year and reached #1 on Product Hunt, the front page of Hacker News and #1 for the week on Designer News. It’s also been written up on Lifehacker and The Next Web covered it while it was in beta.

In this talk Michael Trounce will reveal:

  • the behind the scenes journey of how the product went from idea to launch
  • the practical challenges faced from a product management perspective (pricing, roadmap, analytics, etc.)
  • how the founders plan to grow the business over the next 18 months

About our speaker

Michael Trounce is not only one of the co-founders of Milanote but also the GM of Navy Design, a UX design consultancy focused on health. RSVP for Thursday April 20th when Michael will join us for a Product Anonymous Startup Session.

elabor8

This month we’re being hosted by elabor8.

RSVP now!

Wrap-up September: Product Management at Startups

This month we talked about product management at startups including how you know when you need to hire a product manager at a start-up.

Our experienced panel to help us in this discussion were:

Megan Linton – currently a Product Manager at Flippa.com but has also worked at TradeMe where scaling was definitely challenging.

Nick Kenn – is General Manager at Flippa.com, hired their first product manager and knows how hard that first recruit is.

Chris Dahl – co-founder of Nitro and currently BDM at Pin Payments. He has grown a product team at Nitro and currently works in a start-up so had lots of valuable insight to share.

Jason Kotchoff – who is a software engineer turned entrepreneur and just had some great coverage for his product StockLight. He is currently doing this all himself so had some insight into why he hasn’t hired product so far and some advice on working with product people.

When did you first recruit or encounter a product manager?

Nick opened the session talking about the first time he had to hire a Product Manager at SitePoint. He had to first understand what aspects of product management the business needed then what types of Product Manager would be attracted to a business with no formal history of the discipline.

There is a lot to consider when bringing in the discipline for the first time.

Megan was one of the first PM’s to join TradeMe and certainly found it challenging to manage the role. Product managers came in really late in the game (10+ years late) and she realised she had to be a chameleon to get things done.

It is a tough gig to be the “jack of all trades” but the master of none and manage the communication that is needed to keep so many people informed as to what is going on with product.

Chris knew he needed product people once he realised he couldn’t get everything done himself and needed help.

The key thing he looked for was culture fit. Chris had some experience making wrong hires but realised that everything except attitude can be taught. It’s better to choose the right fit than try to find a person who can do everything!

[pullquote] Everyone wants a unicorn![/pullquote]

Jason hasn’t hired a product person. His needs have usually required technical knowledge, capability to really drive innovation and the work instead of asking for or suggesting product ideas that just aren’t feasible.

With a lot of engineers already in-house, Jason feels a real clarity of technical language is critical.

What were the teething problems bringing in product?

This question tapped into the scaling perspective.

Megan experienced rapid growth at TradeMe and jumped in first on this question. Communication was difficult to manage as the company grew. Ensuring information flowed from the product team to all staff and all staff back to product was a challenge.

Nick talked about how incoming ideas are difficult to coordinate and the challenge of letting people know if they will be used, actioned or followed up on.

What is great about working at a start-up as a product manager?

You can’t hide anywhere!

What about your relationship with the founder? How do you manage this?

There were a few comments about the founder continuing to be involved with product and sometimes not always in alignment with what may have been agreed to as the current plan.

The audience joined in with some comments at this point about their experience. One topic was whether their founder was “a product person” or not. If the founder is, it can be very helpful as they understand the value of product management rather than needing it proven to them.

You certainly need to be ready to build trust with the founder.

They need to realise that you will evangelise their product as well as they do and bring a helpful impartiality to the discussion. You help bring data and user tests to the thinking as well as know how to execute on the exciting and visionary ideas.

Plus of course you just need to do whatever needs to be done to to suit that company and that product at the time!

Thanks again to Flippa for being a wonderful host and sponsor!

September event: When to get serious about product management? (when should a start-up hire one?)

Continuing our start-up series, we get into startup product management. When does a startup need to hire their first product manager? And then how do you scale?

RSVP now for Thursday September 17th! 6pm for 6:30pm start

We will ask folk who have been there… at startups… when they knew they needed a product manager in their organisation. We have a great panel of speakers who will talk through this experience and then take questions from the audience, with a few juicy ones thrown in from myself (Liz). Join us at Flippa‘s offices in Collingwood (Thanks for hosting!!!)

RSVP

Nick KennNick Kenn – General Manager at Flippa.com

Flippa is the #1 marketplace in the world for buying and selling websites, domains and apps, transacting USD$70m a year. Before serving as the General Manager for Flippa, Nick was the General Manager for SitePoint and prior to that, in the gaming space for 7 years in the UK and Australia at Betfair as Head of Customer Acquisition.
Megan Linton

Megan Linton – Flippa.com Product Manager

Megan has recently joined the Flippa product team after moving to Melbourne from Wellington, where she previously headed up product for Trade Me Property.
Trade Me is New Zealand’s biggest website with over 1 million registered members logging in each month. Trade Me’s family of sites includes the top motors, property and jobs boards in the country and has been listed on the NZX 50 Index since 2012.
Megan will talk about her time at Trade Me and their experiences with fitting product management into a start-up.

 

May Wrap: Startup Session: xLabs – What are your users actually paying attention to?

For our 2nd startup product management session, local Melbourne company, xLabs, shared their MVP story as two of the co-founders, Joe Hanna and Steve Roberts, took us from idea to paying customers.

What is xLabs?

With a unique technical ability, xLabs, provides valuable UX data via continuous real time tracking of eye & head movements using only a webcam instead of complex technical equipment.

The head tracking component does not require calibration so it’s easy for the end user involved in the testing and while the eye tracking does require calibration – having good lighting is the hardest part.

Getting to MVP

The technology behind xLabs was built by 2 additional co-founders – the scientists – Alan Zhang and David Rawlinson – who thought it would only take 3 months to build the algorithm. In reality, it was 18 months until they had a working prototype and were ready to launch an MVP.

Research & Choosing a Market

There are many applications for the technology including the ability for people without the use of their hands to control a computer using their eyes & head. Of course, Joe & Steve needed to choose which market to go after.

In conducting user research, they realised the technology could be really useful for UX research and began down the road of SaaS eye tracking heatmaps.

The research also held two important findings – privacy concerns & ease of use.

It was important that they were ‘privacy by design’ and the end user explicitly turning on the camera. They are very careful to store only the output of the analysis (not the camera data). Everything is either discarded or left on the local machine.

They also found users hated downloading the software to their desktop and so they very quickly switched to a Chrome extension with a much lower barrier to use.

How to go to market?

In a ‘build it & they will come’ moment, they thought users would flock to them once they launched the SDK – but nothing happened.

It turned out they needed to be able to show people how the software worked instead of just describe it. This is when they began working with a proof of concept model.

They built enough tools to show the features & functionality & then partnered with organisations like Loop11 who could benefit from the technology learnings.

It was during this time they found out that their key persona – the UX person – was not an adopter because external UX studies were seen as a more ‘formal research event’ conducted post ideation by which time ownership had passed to the business. There was also resistance to change based on a perception of, ‘what can I learn here that I don’t get from mouse/click tracking’ that Joe & Steve need to explain.

This is when Joe and Steve got more heavily involved in the next evolution of the product and the design to pivot on this first approach.

In tackling these two aspects Joe and Steve used some early adopters to reveal both the advantages of eye-tracking over click-tracking and remove the biases of previous design methods.

Eye-tracking technology reveals there is much to learn about how users engage with their computer screen without relying on their mouse any more. Changes to our behaviour driven both by touch technology and the increased density of information applied to websites has moved us away from pairing our hands/mouse with our consumption of the page.

We finished up the evening with questions & a chance for everyone to try the software themselves. For those of you who couln’t make it please check out what xLabs are all about via their Chrome extension or Developer SDK.

Thanks so much to Xero who hosted this month!

This month - hosted by Xero

And a copy of the slides and videos can be found here:

Startup Session: xLabs – What are your users actually paying attention to?

Product Management at a Startup – Startup Sessions

This month we invite local startup xLabs to share their MVP story.

After considerable time in the R&D stage & working with 1st adopter customers – the co-founders Joe Hanna and Steve Roberts – are looking to get their product into the market & continue working with an MVP mindset. xLabs are keen to share their experience, curious about how to keep focused on the launch & interested in hearing feedback from the product management & UX community.

With a unique technical ability, xLabs, provides valuable UX data via continuous real time tracking of eye & head movements using only a webcam instead of complex technical equipment. You can check out what xLabs are all about before the event via their Chrome extension or Developer SDK

The is the 2nd in a series of sharing stories across the start-up space and the seasoned product manager perspective. Startups usually don’t have a product manager as the founders take on that responsibility – although eventually they’ll need a product manager.

Join us for this session, and if you’re a start-up & interested in having your company featured, please get in touch with Liz & Jen. We plan to get a 3rd product management at startups session in this year.

Xero will be our fabulous hosts for the evening so RSVP now!

December wrap: Product Management at Startups with Rich Mironov

We had a special guest, Rich Mironov, come to town in December – so Product Anonymous were very pleased to add an event into our 2014 calendar!

Getting ready to start sessionRich gave a fabulous and funny talk about ‘Why you’ll (eventually) Need a Product Manager at your Start-up‘.

Within the talk Rich drew on his experiences as PM, consultant & start-up CEO regarding the value of product management for start-ups – one of which is about scaling your start-up for growth.

rich-talk-dec2014

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prodanon-tweets2-richRich has a ton of resources on his blog and especially referenced this area of the blog for more on the topic of organising teams. To keep up to date with more updates from Rich follow him on Twitter.

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Thanks again to our hosts for the evening for such a fabulous location – Sportsbet – who also put on drinks and food for the event.  And thanks everyone who came along on the evening.

See you in 2015!

December event: Product Management at Startups with Rich Mironov

Normally we have a end of year party in late November & then take a break til the new year due to how busy everyone is in December.  This year we had to change our plans because we couldn’t pass up having a session with Rich Mironov.

For those who don’t follow him on Twitter or his blog, Rich is the author of ‘The Art of Product Management’, he’s been a product manager, a coach, a consultant, a CEO, worked in agile environments, been at start-ups & otherwise – and I’m probably missing a bunch of achievements. 😉

When Rich started talking about a trip to Australia and a workshop for Brainmates, obviously he had to come to Melbourne for Product Anonymous 🙂    BTW, check out Rich’s roadmapping workshop … Sydney only.

Thus, why you should RSVP now for Thursday Dec 4th when Rich will be talking about product management at start-ups and specifically ‘Why your start-up will (eventually) need a product manager’.  More on Meetup RSVP page…
RSVP