What does ‘Product’ mean in a startup?
Bernat Farrero talks with three digital product leaders: Ignasi Buch, Product Manager at Typeform; Kike Alonso, Product Maker at Factorial; and César Miguelañez, Product Director at Factorial. Product people adopt all kinds of names, and it is a role that has gradually become a key role in any digital company. This interview explores what product means and what product makers do.
How does ‘product’ mean?
It’s the manifestation of a solution to a problem. “Product” necessarily begins with a problem, an opportunity that is relevant to solve. In the digital case, the solution comes from a digital tool, many times, the border between tool and service is connected by experience. It is a digitized solution to a problem that above all, I insist, has to be real.
It’s a very difficult question, but I always think that the product team is a facilitator. Digital companies grow a lot in size and, there comes a time when there is so much complexity that someone has to be the facilitator and the one who takes into account that everyone has their point of view. If the business objectives can be very disconnected from the technological solution, the product has to propose a methodology, not only to define what the problem is but also to know how we are going to solve it.
Everyone has to be involved and the solution has to be aligned with the rest of the company. The role of the product team really for me is that. In the end, when you make a decision, you have input in many places. You have from users to business, marketing. There are many inputs that the product team has to collect and shape. And then that obviously has an output that can be the development team, for example.
As time passes, the more I discover what are all the things that a product manager or a person who is a product of a lifetime does. Something that we do like this at Factorial, being a company that really is the product that we sell and it is the software, it is what in the end ends up adding value to the companies.
The product people at Factorial do have to have a fairly exhaustive control of the process. That is, it is not only a piece that is within the process, the inputs are these, but you also have to be the owner of the output, which in the end is the technological solution that the developers end up implementing and the business results that these have. things we produce. If we are not in control of all that context, we will not see the same results.
The moment of genesis of the product is when you detect that opportunity, that unsolved problem and you go and create it. I think the key is in how you do it, in the transformation. Every year there are market changes. We do not have to lose focus of what we are solving, for whom, if it continues to work or we have to pivot.
Especially since, normally, businesses start in niches, in customer segments as very small, very specific. But if you want to grow, this process of finding new business and scaling it becomes a day to day. And that means every time to rethink a solution, collect the input and think of a competitive solution where you can really add more value than those that are already in the market and insist on wanting to compete for the same.
When does the need for a product role appear? Why do we need product people?
In the case of Factorial, at minute zero there was indeed a product component, but really we were all making a product and we were all talking to customers, we are all proposing solutions and I was a little more the one who did the design implementation. But as time goes by, you need people who are continuously in charge of doing this because the founding team cannot do it continuously, but there are a lot of other purely organizational challenges of growth of the company.
Your company starts to scale and you need to add customer support people, you need to add salespeople. The founder is fundraising, talking to investors, and not the client. Precisely for this reason, the fact that in very strong organizations the product role is very important is cause and effect. If they have given that importance to a product role, it is for a reason. Product people are restless people.
What is a good product maker like?
I have met great product people and they are diverse profiles because the skills you need are what we call soft skills. In the end, it would be someone who is very well balanced in business vision, understanding in a digital and technology environment, domain understanding and analytical ability, data analysis.
It has to be well balanced in all three to always balance the definition of the strategy with the execution, with the evaluation. It has to be someone with a business vision, capable of absorbing a client’s input very well, capable of generating a strong opinion that resists that million inputs.
To be a well-performing product person, you need to manage both the macro and the micro. You have to get resources all the time and focus on that. And you have to manage each of your units in the best possible way while maintaining the macro part. You have to go where they need you, and at the same time, you have to keep that vision a little more global, more macro of where the product is going. Trying to put the two together without anything breaking is the biggest challenge.
How is product success measured?
In such a sense, you can’t. Many times companies and products do not work, despite the work we put in. But in the end, how do you measure? Here I introduce the idea of the hypothesis. In the end, the company or startup that is starting has a huge hypothesis that there is a market, a problem to which the solution applies and that, furthermore, yours is the good one and the one they are going to buy. This is a huge hypothesis. If we achieve the discipline of looking for and generating the hypotheses that we are making in all the decisions, we will find the measure or the metric or the indicator that can tell us if this works or not.
We believe that we have the way, but we cannot duplicate the company in another parallel universe. At some point, you will have to stop and evaluate if what you did and the hypothesis that you generated at the beginning is still valid. The risk in getting this solution you have to have already reduced much earlier with research, prototypes, validation, and so on. If it reaches production, you already have enough confidence, you don’t need an alternative solution, you need the non-solution. Then you explore the groups with a solution and without a solution and measure the behavior.
If this solution reaches the goal that we have set at the beginning and that the leadership has bought, then release without problem. If it is a little below, but we see potential, then if we throw, if we see that it is at zero or below, then to the garbage. So the important thing is to break up those tests in a way that if it fails, basically looks for the parameters in which you were going to measure where the success or failure was.
How do you measure productivity?
I don’t measure productivity. In other words, my team doesn’t care if one day they don’t work. If in the end, they end up producing the outcome that I want, and if they end up having the business effect that I want, I don’t care if one day they honestly decide not to go to work. The hours that I am at home just thinking about Factorial, that this happens a lot, is not measured. For me, the issue of hours honestly does not matter to me. The issue is that the objectives have to be consistent with the productivity of each.
I believe that in the end the output and the quality of the output are measured. And obviously there are limits to seeing that people are not at home all day by the pool.
It’s also about soft skills, about going to talk, about being well connected with the rest of the company, about reading. You need that space and that space is very difficult to measure.
Yes, I agree. It happens to me that there are days of 8 hours dedicated, and another day in an hour I do what I did in 8. Therefore, in the management of these product teams, people have to be a little more back off, you have than go find the outcome you are trying to pursue.
I’m not talking about monitoring individual productivity, I’m talking about team effort. This PM (Product Manager) is an important step, but the execution after the team is just as important and without the PM, maybe the team executes or executes badly. And if the developers, the PM does nothing, he is thinking and writing things. So in the end it has to be productivity at the team level.
How are product teams organized?
At Typeform we are growing, we are between 9 and 10 and we have to incorporate two or three more, probably before the end of the year. There are four major product groups. There is the Creator Experience, which is the one that creates the forms, then there is the one that focuses on the product that is shown to our clients, another is Platform – integrations and tools for developers – and the Growth area. This is how we organize ourselves and each of these areas has a PM.
In the case of Factorial, we are nine people in the product. The funny thing is that, at Factorial, we are divided into teams, but we rotate every quarter. Changing the team people, both product and development people, that’s a bit controversial, but we believe that touching different domains every so often enriches people a lot and also makes those parts of the product that a person has been touching For three months, someone else has fresh eyes and comes up with solutions that the person working on it hasn’t come up with. So that’s what we’re doing right now.
In fact, what we have done has been three teams focused on different countries. We have a Growth team, which is global, applies to all countries equally and therefore we have a team focused on the Factorial core, which is the most technological core of the platform, which takes care of more technical things and also of the design system. So we have between one and two product people on each of these teams, except for the core team. There are between 5 and 6 developers for each team of approximately. We rotate every quarter.
I am in one of those teams right now in Factorial. At Carto, for example, there were nine of us on the product team. There were basically three Product Managers who each took care of one of the verticals: platform, integrations, and connectors, and then another area focused on data science, where the data market was growing, and so on.
So we had a product manager for each of the areas, then within the product team. There was also Design. Designers and PMs complement each other to work together on the same problem, the same solution. Then we had two non-product profiles: Product Marketing Manager, which was basically the go-to-market for the entire product part, and the Product Solutions Manager part, which was the customer feedback part.
There has always been a product, the traditional is the physical product, the digital product is more modern. In addition, product has traditionally been a part of marketing, like pricing, promotion. It can be said that it is the tangible value proposition that a company offers its customers.
This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)