Category Archives: Startups

SaaS Product Power Breakfast 4/22/21 with Norwest Partner Scott Beechuk

Thomas Otter and I are having a great time running our series of enterprise SaaS Product Power Breakfasts on Clubhouse on Thursdays at 8:00 AM Pacific time.

Thus far, we’ve had sessions with guests:  Thomas; Dave; ex-Oracle and ex-Planful EPM product leader Mark Bauer; and ex-Oracle, ex-Salesforce product leader and Skyflow founder Anshu Sharma.

In response to both our experience and listener requests, we’re now starting to conceptualize these sessions as “podcasts recorded in front of a live studio audience” so we can get the best of both live audience engagement and Internet-scale reach.  Ergo, we should shortly (hopefully starting with Anshu’s episode) be posting (potentially lightly edited) recordings of the sessions in podcast form.  More later on that.

Which brings us to our next session, 4/22/21 at 8:00 AM Pacific,  where we’ll be interviewing special guest, entrepreneur, ex-Salesforce product leader turned venture capitalist, Scott Beechuk, of Norwest Venture Partners.  Scott and I worked together at Salesforce almost a decade ago and work together today with Bluecore.  This should be a great session!

Areas that we plan to touch on:

  • What VCs look for in product teams
  • How to hire top product talent
  • How to accelerate the roadmap
  • How Scott made the transition from product leader to venture capitalist
  • What Scott takes from the world of music to the world of product

Product Power Breakfast: Mark Bauer on Product Management in Early vs. Late-Stage Companies and More

Join Thomas Otter and me for Product Power Breakfast #3 this Thursday, April 8th at 8am on Clubhouse.

Our special guest is Mark Bauer, a career product leader who started on the end-user side as a business planner at Pepsi, flipped to the vendor side at OLAP category creator Arbor Software, which was acquired by Hyperion Solutions which in turn was acquired by Oracle, and then quit a perfectly good job at Oracle to do it all over again as one of the earliest employees at Host Analytics.

In the middle of Mark’s tenure at Host, he took a sabbatical to lead a non-profit (LaunchCode) which provides free education to help people launch their careers in technology.

So Mark really has  done it all:  from Pepsi to Oracle, from behemoths to ten-person startups, from category leaders to category creators, from corporates to non-profits, Mark’s been there and done that.

In this episode, Dave and Thomas will talk to Mark about topics including:

  • What makes for success in product management?
  • Scaling an organization with proper PM ratios
  • The biggest differences between PM at small and large companies
  • Working effectively with offshore development and PM teams
  • Difference he’s seen in PM across different countries (e.g., US, India, Israel, UK)
  • How to best serve the constituents of PM?
  • Inbound vs. outbound PM?
  • Maybe we’ll even sneak in a conversation about technical debt

I look forward to seeing you there!

The Three Un’s of Founders

[Edited 4/16, see notes at bottom]

I’ve worked with scores of founders and companies over the years and I’ve come to make bright-line distinction between founders and managers.  Let me demonstrate it with a story.

One day long ago I was in a board meeting.  We were discussing the coming year’s budget.  The hotly contested question was:  do we spend $8M or $9M on R&D?  After much wrangling, the board agreed that we should spend $8M.  The meeting adjourned shortly thereafter.  The VCs left first and I was walking out of the room with only the founders.  The CEO said to the CTO as we were leaving, “spend the $9M anyway.”

My jaw hit the floor.  I was aghast, dumbfounded.  What the CEO said was literally incomprehensible to me.  It wasn’t possible.  That’s just not how things are done.

At that moment I realized the difference between a manager and a founder.

As a professional manager [1], we grow up climbing the corporate hierarchy.  We have savoir faire.  We know the rules.  We disagree and commit.  We horse trade.  We split the difference.  But, unless we want to do a deliberate end run to the person in charge, we abide by the decisions of the group.  We are team members in an organization, after all.

Founder aren’t.  While they may strive to be some of those things, in this case, the founders were fresh from university, with little work experience and certainly no ladder climbing.  This wasn’t some organization they were part of.  They started it, based on their research.  It was their company.  And if they thought it spending an extra $1M on R&D was the right thing to do, well, they were going to do it.  That’s a founder.

I write this post in two spirits:

  • To former-manager founders [2] as a reminder that you are now a founder and need to think like one.  It’s your company.  Your investors and advisors will have plenty of opinions but if you end up buried, you will be buried alone.  Unlike your VCs and advisors, you have but one life to give for your company [3].  Act like it — you’re not an EVP at BigCo anymore!
  • To investors [4], advisors, and startup execs as a reminder that founders are not managers, even though sometimes we might like them to act more as if they were.

Example:  a founder is raising a seed round off $1M in ARR and a VC is asking a lot of questions about CAC and LTV.

  • Manager response:  “Well, I know a CAC of 1.7 is high but we are ramping quickly and carrying a lot of unproductive sales capacity that hurts the CAC ratio.”
  • Founder response:  “This is a seed round.  I have two barely qualified SDRs and me selling this stuff.  We don’t have a sales model, so why are you calculating its efficiency?  The only thing we’ve been trying to prove — and we’ve proven it — is that people will pay for our software.”

The manager tries to be reasonable, answer the question, and preserve optionality in raising money from this target.  The founder highlights the absurdity of the question, wonders if this is a VC that they want to partner with in building their company, and isn’t shy about letting their feelings leak out.

The first example, combined with many other experiences, has led me to create the three “un’s” of founders.  Compared to managers, founders are:

  • Unreasonable.  Heck, the whole idea of starting a company is unreasonable.  Taking it to $10M in ARR is unreasonable.  Thinking you have the best product and company in the category is unreasonable.  Becoming a unicorn is unreasonable.  There’s nothing inherently reasonable about any of the things a founder needs to do.   In fact, that’s one reason why some founders are successful:  they don’t know what they can’t do.  Don’t expect someone take a series of very unreasonable risks and then be entirely reasonable in every subsequent management discussion thereafter.  It’s not how it works.  We expect every parent to think their child is the greatest and want what’s best for them; the same holds for founders and companies.
  • Uncompromising.  Managers are trained to split the difference, find middle ground, and keep options open.  In essence, to compromise.  Founders can’t compromise.  They know they will fail if they try to be all things to all people; they know the old saw that a camel is a horse designed by committee.  They know intense focus on being the best in the world at one thing is the key to their success.  If one VC on the board wants to go North and another wants to go East, a manager will tend towards Northeast, North, or East.  A founder — because in their mind it’s their company — will make up their own mind about what’s best for the company and potentially travel in another dimension, like up or down.  Getting promoted in a big company is about keeping those above you happy.  Creating a successful company is about getting the right answer, and not whether everyone is happy with it.
  • Unapologetic.  Managers are professionals who are paid to do things right.  Thus, they tend to count negatives like errors and strikeouts.  They apologize for missed quarters or bad hires.  Founders own the team.  They want to win.  While they don’t like errors and strikeouts, they neither obsess over them nor even necessarily care about minimizing them; they’re not trying to keep their resume free of red correction ink.  They’re trying to win in the market and create a leading company.  Errors are going to happen.  Fix the big ones so they don’t happen again, but let’s keep moving forward.  Yes, we missed last quarter, but how do we look on the year?  We don’t belabor the mistakes we made in getting to where we are, we focus on where we are and where we’re going.

I’m not saying all these un’s are great all the time, and I would encourage founders to recognize and appropriately mitigate them.  I am saying that manger-founders, particularly those who founded companies (or took over as CEO) after long successful careers at big tech companies, need to think more like founders and less like managers.

# # #

Notes
[1] Having never founded a company and as someone who has indeed climbed the corporate hierarchy I view myself as a manager — an entrepreneurial, and perhaps difficult, one — but a manager nevertheless.

[2] And, to some extent, first-time CEOs

[3] You are not living, as one friend calls it, the portfolio theory approach to life.

[4] Who probably don’t need the reminder, but the advisors might.

[Edited] I remove the word “successful” from the title as it was a last-minute, SEO-minded addition and a reader or two correctly called me out saying, “plenty of unsuccessful founders have these three traits as well.”  That’s true and since arguing that “the three un’s” somehow separate successful from unsuccessful founders was never the point of the post — they are, imho, what distinguishes founders (or founder mentality) from managers (or manager mentality) — I removed “successful” from the title.

Product Power Breakfast: Thomas Interviews Dave

(TLDR — Link to Episode #2, Thursday, April 1st at 8 am pacific.)

Well, we just finished the first episode (“Dave interviews Thomas“) of our Enterprise SaaS Product Power Breakfast series and wow, was it crazy.  In addition to our regularly scheduled interview on product management with Thomas, we had:

  • A guest appearance from the ever-brilliant Jason Lemkin, EchoSign founder, VC, and creator of SaaStr — thanks for coming!
  • A surprise cameo from Dharmesh Shah, cofounder and CTO of HubSpot (who I think Jason pulled up [1]) — thanks for coming!

While it was definitely a romp in terms of structure (or lack thereof), it was high energy, full of great content, and fun.

So, we’re going to try it again next week with Episode #2:  Thomas Interviews Dave. Topics on the agenda include:  product management, product strategy, product positioning, and product roadmaps.

Maybe he can control the room better than I did.  See you there!

# # #

Notes

[1] I was following the “it can’t be that Dharmesh” and the “let celebrities be audience members in peace” principles.

 

Ground Rules for our Clubhouse Product Power Breakfasts

As recently announced, Thomas Otter and I are starting what we hope will be a series of Clubhouse Enterprise SaaS Product Power Breakfasts, Thursdays at 8 AM Pacific time.  The link to the first one is here and the Slido Q&A is here.

In order to keep things flowing smoothly, and in response to my experience on Clubhouse thus far, I started writing a ground rules document for Thomas and me, but decided it could be useful for everyone who joins us — particularly because I’m suspecting many of us are pretty new to Clubhouse.  So here goes.

Moderators

  • Keep the room on topic = enterprise SaaS product.
  • No soliloquies = back and forth makes Clubhouse interesting.
  • Let other moderators talk. (Hint:  we’re all type A.)
  • Answer the question for the room, not just to the person.
  • Answer the question you thought you were asked.  (So audience please make questions clear!)  We want to avoid triple restatements, which are sadly fairly common –> The question is X.  Was your question X?  Yes, my question was X.
  • Go on mute when you’re not speaking (particularly if you see the grey outline flickering; it means you’re picking up noise)
  • Come off mute to indicate that you want to speak
  • Flash mute on and off to “clap” when someone else is speaking
  • By default, avoid what I’ll call Clubhouse Verbose Protocol (e.g., “Hi, this is Dave speaking, the answer to your question is no, this is Dave and I am done speaking.) [1] [2].

Those Moved Up to Stage

  • Ask your question clearly as possible.
  • Do a brief, one-line self introduction (e.g., “my name is Dave, I’m a PM at Zendesk, and my question is …”)
  • Please try to keep questions reasonably brief and of general interest.
  • Don’t be bothered if we put you back to the audience after your question.  We’re just tidy.
  • No self or company promotions please (i.e., please don’t try to use this forum as a way to market your goods or services).

Audience Members

  • Ping people into the room if you’re enjoying the content!
  • Raise your hand to ask a question; we love questions.
  • Use Slido to ask questions as well.  The event code for our first event is 569975.
  • Please fill in your bio so we know who you are.
  • Mute your phone when you’re moved up on stage (bottom right of screen); it’s not muted by default.
  • We’ll try to answer all questions from those we pull up on stage; if we’re near the end of the session, please be sensitive to that as we want to end on time.
  • We reserve the right to promote special guests and bring them up on stage out of order.
  • While we have not (yet perhaps) created a club and ergo have no Club Rules, normal rules of business and social media decorum apply.
  • I’ve had requests to record these sessions and make them available in other media (e.g., podcasts) but have not figured out how to do that yet.  Once we’re not total noobs on Clubhouse, we’ll explore doing so, in accordance with Clubhouse norms.

# # #

Notes

[1] Typically used in my experience in rooms with a large number of moderators and/or people on stage.

[2]  We will do so by request if members of the audience desire it, for any reason, in order to better follow the conversation.  For example, visually challenged people sometimes request this, particularly if all the speakers have similar voices and/or accents.  In our case, Dave has a New York accent (and accompanying pace) muddled by years of living in California.  Thomas has a South African accent, perhaps muddled by years of living in Germany.

A Tip of the Hat to Grid On Their Launch Day

It’s not every day you hear about a startup in Iceland, founded by a guy whose last company was a data marketplace that he sold to Qlik.  And it’s a small world when a friend and fellow board member had independently discovered the same tool and built a SAFE calculator  and an inverted pipeline model using it.  Moreover, I included this tool, Grid, almost tangentially in my next-generation EPM round-up, as it’s not really an EPM tool, but it looked interested anyway and I thought it was worth mentioning.

With all this karma pointing me towards Reykjavik, I sat down for a Zoom call the other day with the guy in question, Hjalmar (pronounced like Hallmark without the k) Gislason, founder and CEO of Grid.  After being impressed with him and the tool, I decided to do a quick post to support their official launch, which is today.

Grid is pretty simple in essence.  It’s not a reinvention of the spreadsheet.  It’s not a replacement for the spreadsheet.  It’s a layer atop spreadsheets, a no-code tool that lets spreadsheet users build interactive web documents using their spreadsheets as data sources and publish them on the web.

Here’s an example of what you can build using it in about two minutes.  Among other things, it gives a whole new look to driver-based planning.

The company raised a $12M series A back in August, led by NEA. Congratulations to Grid on their official launch and best of luck to Hjalmar and the team going forward.

SaaS Product Power Breakfasts, Thursdays at 8 AM Pacific on Clubhouse

Interested in all things product?

Then please join me and my friend and esteemed colleague Thomas Otter on Thursday mornings at 8 am pacific for what we’re hoping will become a series of Enterprise SaaS Product Power Breakfasts where we will talk among ourselves, with invited guests, and with the audience about all things product, including:

  • Product management
  • Product strategy
  • Product marketing
  • Product design
  • Product positioning
  • Product roadmaps
  • Product requirements (to generalize or not to generalize)
  • Application / platform dynamics
  • Product input and feedback processes
  • Pricing strategies
  • Product portfolios
  • Product-led growth
  • Managing new vs. existing products
  • The transition from 1 to N products
  • Product development processes (e.g., agile, scrum)
  • Minimum viable product
  • Managing product managers
  • The transition to general manager (GM)
  • And much more

For those on Clubhouse, here’s a link to the event.  If you’ve not tried Clubhouse yet, well here’s a great reason to join — ask a friend for an invite if you need one.  In a real pinch, ask me or Thomas via DM on Twitter (we each have a few).

My interest in product stems from my overall fascination with strategy and my experience in product marketing at Ingres (RDBMS), CMO at Versant (ODBMS) and Business Objects (BI/analytics), SVP/GM at Salesforce.com (Service Cloud), and CEO at MarkLogic (NoSQL) and Host Analytics (Planning).  That’s not to mention lesser involvement in strategy working in board and/or advisory mode at companies including Aster Data (NoSQL), Nuxeo (ECM/DAM), and Alation (data intelligence).

Thomas’ interest in product stems from his infinite curiosity about the intersection between technology and people.  Thomas was part of the leadership team that scaled SuccessFactors to over 50M end users, managing not only product but literally scores of product managers.  Prior to that Thomas was an analyst at Gartner where he drove the HRTECH research agenda that helped shape the industry.  Truly a multidisciplinary thinker, Thomas’ PhD dissertation “sits awkwardly at the intersection of IT, law, and business.”  He’s thus a heck of an interesting guy to talk to.

See you there!