Please join us tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM Pacific for the (final in this form — see below) SaaS Product Power Breakfast with Skilljar cofounder and CEO, Sandi Lin, discussing why product managers make great founders and the potential pitfalls they should look out for along the way.
Skilljar, founded in Seattle in 2013, is a fully distributed, ~150-person company that provides a customer education platform to over 400 customers that’s raised $50M+ in venture capital from top investors including Techstars Seattle, Trilogy, Mayfield, Shasta, and Insight Partners.
Sandi is well, a dynamo, with an impressive academic background (two engineering degrees from MIT and a Stanford MBA) matched by equally impressive work experience (~4 years in consulting followed by ~4 years at Amazon in product management followed by co-founding and leading Skilljar). Our prep call was a whirlwind; it should be a great episode.
Among others, we’ll address these five questions with Sandi:
- Why do product managers make great founders?
- How has your product planning process evolved from founder to startup to scaleup stages?
- As CEO with a product background, how do you interact with your product team now? Has it been challenging to pull back?
- You used to work at Amazon. What are key similarities and differences in product management from a large company to a startup?
- What have you found as your blind spots as a former Product Manager?
Thomas and I hope to see you there!
The End of This Format; The Start of a New One
I should note that this will be our last episode in this current form. While we are pleased with the success of the podcast version of the SaaS Product Power Breakfast, the live rooms have several drawbacks we’d like to address:
- The platform. While we started the series on Clubhouse as a deliberate way to participate in the evolution of a new app, I believe the platform has technical limitations for what we’re doing and, moreover, is in general trouble. We’d like to try something else.
- The name. While Thomas is in Germany and I am in Silicon Valley, we nevertheless decided to call the series a “power breakfast.” That instantly posed timezone challenges for the live events (e.g., Thomas has a “power breakfast” over a beer at 5:00 pm) and didn’t translate well into the podcast. Moreover, we have strong international audience that should only grow with the recent announcement that I’m joining Balderton Capital as an EIR. So the name was a fail and that’s on me. We need a new one.
- The timing. I’m not sure how to fix this one, but 8:00 AM Pacific isn’t a great time for a live event. The West Coast is just starting work, the East Coast in their last meetings before lunch, the UK is getting ready for a pint, and continental Europe finishing up before heading home for dinner. With Thomas and I separated by 9 time zones, maybe the best answer is no live event at all. Just a podcast. We’re deliberating.
- The duration. While an hour is a relatively short Clubhouse room, it’s a relatively long podcast. We should take a lesson from Harry Stebbings of The 20 Minute VC and work towards a shorter format. Who knows, maybe it will be The 21 Minute Product Leader. (Think: ours goes up to 11)
To those who’ve attended the live rooms and/or listened to the podcast, we thank you. Thomas and I will be back in several weeks with a new name, a new platform, and a new format.
Please join us for tomorrow’s SaaS Product Power Breakfast where we’ll speak with Dan Faulkner, CTO of Plannuh, about building great product teams. I serve as an advisor to Plannuh and I wrote the foreword for their book, The Next CMO, which Dan co-authored with Plannuh founder and CEO Peter Mahoney.
After getting a master’s in speech and language processing, Dan worked for speech recognition powerhouse Nuance for well over a decade, first as a researcher and later moving product and business unit management.
Our topic will be how to build great product teams. Among other questions, we’ll ask Dan:
- What makes a great product team?
- What is his four-part framework for thinking about product teams (e.g., context, talent, change, and location)?
- Why context matters so much?
- How to deal with the army you have vs. the army you want?
- How to think about change and risk?
- The tradeoffs in location strategy and colocation of PM and ENG?
- How to think about and drive diversity across a number of dimensions?
Hope to see you there!
Please join us for tomorrow’s SaaS Product Power Breakfast with entrepreneur and venture capitalist Paul Jozefak, CEO of Receeve (an all-in-one platform for collections and recovery), on how to use SaaS as a layer atop legacy systems to prove return on investment (ROI) and smooth the customer’s transition before setting out to rip and replace them.
This is an interesting strategy that I’ve seen numerous times in SaaS and it cuts to core product strategy issues, most notably, to what extent and in what timeframe do you “design in” versus “design out” the underlying technology.
In addition to both impromptu and (hopefully some) audience questions, we’ll be asking Paul:
- Why layer on top in your target segment?
- Are there any risks to layering?
- What are your customers trying to accomplish when it comes to working with Receeve?
- Where is technology in the segment headed?
- What hurdles do you hit with decision makers?
Thomas has not been feeling well so, while he’s slated to be our lead interviewer tomorrow, I may end up taking the lead on this episode.
Either way, see you there!
I’m delighted to say that tomorrow’s SaaS Product Power Breakfast will feature one of my favorite people to riff with, Alation cofounder Aaron Kalb. Our topic will be on design, data, and disagreement in the context of product and product management.
In addition to cofounding Alation, the inventors of the data catalog, the category leader in data intelligence, and a high-growth company that recently raised a $110M Series D (placing the company squarely in unicorn territory), Aaron serves as Alation’s chief data & analytics officer (CDAO) and before that worked as a designer and researcher in Apple’s Siri advanced development group after graduating from Stanford with a master’s in symbolic systems.
We’ll speak to Aaron both as a product-oriented cofounder of a highly successful company and as a design-oriented product leader. (We may get a little data-oriented decision-maker mixed in as well.) Questions we’ll address include:
- How do you synthesize data-led and design-led product management?
- How did your psychology and software engineering background help you as a product leader?
- How do you hire strong product leaders?
- What was like for a product-oriented cofounder to hand-off the reins to an “outsider” (i.e., newly hired outside expert) product leader?
And, with a little luck, he’ll tell us what the heck symbolic systems is anyway. See you there. It should be a great episode.
Thomas will be joining us from a trip to Paris and says he won’t be asking too many questions, but I’m thinking this subject matter will inevitably draw him in. On verra.
As always, the session will be recorded and made available on the SaaS Product Power Breakfast podcast.
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(Disclaimer: per my bio and FAQ, I’m both an angel investor in and director of Alation.)
We’re back this week with SaaS Product Power Breakfast and tomorrow’s guest is Andy MacMillan, CEO of UserTesting, and our topic is a framework for hiring product teams.
Andy started his career building web applications at EDS (so he presumably has lots of old white shirts somewhere in his closet), was VP of product marketing at content management vendor Stellent, was acquired into Oracle where he spent nearly 5 years in product management before serving as COO of Products at Salesforce (where we crossed trails), then CEO of marketing automation system Act-On, and now CEO at UserTesting, a human insight platform that helps companies get feedback on user experiences — so he’s definitely at the right place at the right time as the whole world starts to value design, user experience, and product-led growth strategies.
Net: Andy’s got a great background, some real product chops, and can simultaneously give us both the Product and the CEO perspective on product issues. Our topic is Andy’s framework for hiring product managers and product management teams. My five key questions for this episode will be:
- Why do I need a framework for hiring PM teams?
- What is your framework for hiring PM teams?
- What goes wrong in hiring PM teams?
- What do you think of the PM as GM or mini-CEO concept?
- When should an early-stage company start using such a hiring framework?
Thomas Otter, my co-host, and I look forward to seeing you at our chat with Andy tomorrow at 8am Pacific time. The session will be recorded and released subsequently as an episode of the SaaS Product Power Breakfast Podcast. See you there!