We interviewed UX Fest speaker Martin Eriksson as part of our Product Hero series highlighting outstanding members of the product management community. These industry leaders share tips on processes, team building, how to be a better product manager, and who they are outside of their careers.
As Co-Founder of Mind the Product and Founder of ProductTank, Martin has been on the forefront of connecting product leaders with one another to share insights, best practices, and how they are solving their biggest challenges. Mind the Product is a top product management blog with annual conferences in San Francisco and London. ProductTank is a global meetup for Product People with over 100,000+ members across 150 cities. Together they combine to form the world’s largest product management community.
We are big FOMs (Fans of Martin) and his work. We are such big fans that he was one of the first people we reached out to when curating our list of potential speakers for UX Fest. Fortunately for us, Martin agreed to hop across the pond and will join us on stage on June 4th!
In order to build products people love in today’s fast-moving world we need to be experts on everything from design to engineering to machine learning. Since no one person can have all that information it’s critical that we stop worrying about titles and build cross-functional teams who combine all this knowledge and experience with the autonomy to execute. In his UX Fest talk, Martin will show the benefits of thinking cross-functionally and how to set up teams for success this way – whether you’re a leader or a team member.
If you like what you hear in our interview, register now to hear Martin and twelve other amazing product and design leaders who will be sharing their insights and inspiration.
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C Todd: Martin Eriksson, founder of Mind the Product, world renowned product guy. Welcome to Product Hero.
Martin: Thanks a lot. Pleasure to be here.
C Todd: Let’s just begin at the beginning. How did you get into product? What brought you there?
Martin: I think like most people, I got into it by not actually doing it. I started building websites and stuff online in ’95, back when the internet came on floppy disks. I guess I called myself a web designer, web developer for the first couple of years of my career after that. Web design was pretty basic back then. Web development even more so. It was HTML and a bit of CGI scripting. I graduated from that to titles like Website Manager, where I would manage startup websites and e-commerce platforms, things like that. It wasn’t until 2000, when I joined an American company called Monster that I realized that what I’d been doing all along was product management. It was the intersection of those three things, bringing together some design skill, some development skill and the business degree I dropped out of, into a kind of generalist role.
C Todd: Did you become a Product Manager at Monster?
Martin: Yeah, I was hired as a Product Manager when I joined them. It’s the first time I’d really heard of the title and started looking it up. It made complete sense that that was, like I said, what I’d been doing already and was a great fit for my skills.
C Todd: Okay, cool. You now then, evolved. Talk about that transition from your first PM job at Monster to now having started what is probably considered the largest product management conference in the world. How did we go from there to there?
Martin: I think it’s all about people, really. I started ProductTank, which is the meetup that then became Mind the Product, the conference and blog in 2010, when I was at a startup in London called Huddle. I was a VP of Product, I was the only real product person. I had a small team but it was mainly UX people who were business analysts. A kind of Scrum master so not really product roles. I didn’t have anyone to learn from or share with or basically bitch to about the job. As we all know, it can be a pretty lonely job. I just wanted to start a meetup just to meet other people and get a sense of what everyone else was working on, whether we were facing the same challenges.
Got some beer money from my boss and found a crappy venue at the back of a bar in London and managed to get 25 people, I think, for that first meetup. It just took off. We would have been perfectly happy if that’s where it stayed, just every couple months 20, 30 people meeting and sharing lessons with each other but there was obviously an unidentified latent demand there. It took off so within a year we had over 100 people every month at the meetup in London. Now, seven years later, we have the meetup in over 105 cities around the world right now, with over 50,000 members. And then in 2012, we spun out the conference, as again, just a way of bringing people together to share and improve on this craft of ours.
C Todd: What was one of the things that … It’s always interesting, scale, right? Scale is always a challenge. You talk a little bit about it in book and especially Nate was always like, “Scale breaks things.” In terms of scaling from that 25, to even if you can get me to the point of that 2012 conference. What were the things that you said? “Okay, we really need to make this, we need to go bigger. This needs to go beyond this small group in London. This needs to go to different cities.” How did that scale happen, to the point where you said, “Yeah, we need a whole conference.”
Martin: Some of it’s just natural … there’s natural break points when it comes to events and things where, to make them cost efficient and just be able to do a conference, you need a certain scale to even be able to start finding speakers and do things like that, then you can’t do that from meetups. You need a couple hundred people paying ticket prices to be able to make that happen so it naturally becomes a conference. And then scaling from there, we’re pretty proud actually of the fact that we’ve never spent anything on paid marketing. All of our growth has come from word of mouth and ICO and organic growth rate. It’s really come out of the community, right?
We started the meetup in London and then people came along to that meetup from other cities or who were then moving to other cities, said, “Hey, how can I do this in New York?” Or Amsterdam, or Manchester, which I think were the three first ones that we launched. That way we could grow very organically with people that we knew, who’d been to our meetups, who understood the community, understood the event format and grew it from there.
Then the growth beyond that has definitely just continued on that really strong community focus where we can vet people to make sure they have the same idea about what that community means and make sure that events aren’t run by recruiters or vendors, things like that. We trust them a lot. Just like any good scaling internal organization it’s all about finding the right people and then giving them direction and some tools and then giving them the autonomy to go do what they need to do in their local market.
C Todd: What are some of the things that, for the readers who don’t know, you probably do. Mind the Product is one of the largest product management-focused conferences in the world, and there’s two of them. One in London and one in San Francisco. The San Francisco one’s coming up very soon and the one in London is later this Fall.
Really interesting that you’re able to do this without any marketing. Certainly it speaks to having a sufficient demand, because demand generation is oftentimes a big challenge for any product. What are some of the things that you’ve gotten to … you’ve obviously gotten to a pretty large scale now, with so many multiple conferences, hundreds of meetups.
What’s some of the focus that you’re looking at now? Where are you steering the ship for Mind the Product in the future?
Martin: I feel like we’ve hit a upper bound for those conferences. We’re actually capping them now at around 1500 attendees each, because with the format that we have, the one day/one track, we want it to still feel like a community event where you have time to meet other people. We have time to network. The conversations we have during the day with other product managers, other designers, are just as important as the talks that you’re going to hear. We’ve naturally hit that limit and we’re going to stay at that point.
Looking for our own growth as a company now, how we go beyond that, we’re looking at what are the other things that product managers need and where can we help with those needs. A big focus for us this year is actually improving our product management training offering. We’ve started workshops around the conference and that we’re now rolling out, both for corporate customers and public workshops in all those communities around the world, because we identified that’s a huge need in the market as well. It’s something a lot of different people struggle to build a comprehensive and solid product management training practice.
C Todd: Having been to business school, there’s definitely an overlap in the business school or MBA curriculum but there is no specific product degree. You can get a degree in biology, you can get a degree in design, you can get a degree in engineering, where you study all the things you typically do, or analogs that you typically do once you get into the world, but it’s hard to study product and product management. I think the story there is: a number of different companies that are recognizing this and saying, “Oh hey, we need to improve this.” Or they’re hiring consultants and people like you and I to teach them …
Martin: Yeah, it’s one of the biggest strengths of product management but it’s also one of the biggest weaknesses, in that there is no one background for everyone, which makes it amazing because we have this really diverse skill set and tool set that everyone brings together when you build a team of Product Managers. Ideally you need to think about those things when you’re building your team so that you’re bringing in someone from a design background, someone from a tech background, and someone from a business background to really flesh out the team and be able to work together.
But I always say it is also a challenge when you’re hiring, to find the right fit for your team or if you’re hiring your first product person in the startup, to find somebody who actually can do all three things. I’m not sure we ever will solve that problem. There’s a catch-22 in good Product Managers that you have to learnt the job on the job. But what we are trying to do is at least level set the language, bring those teams together so that they have one cohesive and common way of working and talking about product and what they’re doing. Balancing discovery and delivery and all those great things.
there’s a lot of room for, as you say, consultants and other trainers like us to come in and help teams work better together. But I don’t think there’s ever going to be a solid product management school or degree because the strength of the role is that we bring in people from different backgrounds. Some of the best Product Managers I know have a biology degree. I think it’s a really good strategy.
C Todd: As someone who has a biology degree I have to agree with that. I think one of the cool things about biology, it makes you 1) think scientifically, 2) think in systems. When you’re studying nature you’re studying systems that are made up of a bunch of complex parts which ultimately is what a product is. You’ve got a whole bunch of different parts that are coming together and you’ve got to understand how they work and be experimental and rigorous in the way.
That’s cool. As a conference trainer, talk to me about how you apply the principles of good products to your own company. How do you … What’s your relationship with your users? How do you do any kind of user testing/feedback? Talk to me about how does Mind the Product quote-unquote ship product?
Martin: Well, I think our biggest frustration as a company is that we are almost all Product Managers and we’re used to building digital software. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career. Then we get to this conference, this event, this experience that we build and we can iterate on an annual basis. Really frustrating to do the event, have that one little thing go wrong and know that you can’t fix that until next year. We do obviously try to apply all the best practice from product in terms of talking to our customers, our users, our attendees as much as possible.
We engage with them throughout the year online and we also try to be engaged in our community and keeping it going through meetups online, on Slack, through the blog, to really get a finger on the pulse of what people are talking about, they’re worried about, what their concerns are, and product in general so we can try and address those with speaker line-ups that we have and the content we present at the conferences.
Really for us, it’s thinking about it as an overall community experience as opposed to just, “Hey, come buy the tickets,” and then we’re going to forget about you the next day after the conference. I think that’s symptomatic of general trend in product, as you know, of moving from selling software to selling a long-term relationship and selling a experience and customer engagement over a long period of time. We do obviously practice what we preach in terms of listening to our customers, listening to our users, applying that. And again the biggest frustration is the annual iteration cycle.
C Todd: Right. You got two a year?
C Todd: And probably what works in San Francisco may or may not work in London.
Martin: Yeah, exactly. They’re very different audiences in many ways. A great example is the after parties. We put a lot of effort into putting on a great after party at both conferences but I always say the San Francisco crowd is very different to the London crowd in terms of drinking after work. That’s just one example where we can’t just take the lessons we learned at San Francisco and apply them to London, or vice versa.
C Todd: Are you calling Londoners drunks or Americans prudes?
Martin: Well, maybe not quite that extreme.
C Todd: Okay. Thinking about that, how do you measure success of your product, your experiences? What are the things that Mind the Product says, “These are the things that we measure to see if we’ve done a good job, or we’re meeting our criteria for success.”
Martin: Obviously we have the bottom-line numbers so, in terms of profitability and how we’re doing that way, but we also do a lot of qualitative research so we look at two numbers in particular. We look at promoter score from every event that we do, and we look at … another one that we’ve measured from the beginning that we really like is, we ask attendees whether they would buy a ticket for next year’s event, even without knowing what the lineup is, if they’ve enjoyed the experience enough that they know they definitely want to come next year. That last number has always hovered around the 90% mark which I think is an amazing stat for us. That’s something that we always keep a very close eye on to make sure that the experience is as good as it can be.
C Todd: It’s always good to see when somebody’s really thinking about the experience. It’s always a testament if, without even knowing what next year is, you give them such a good experience that they trust you enough to say, “Well, yeah, I had such a good time this year I’ll definitely go next year.” It’s certainly a big metric of, indicator of, success, for sure.
As you’re growing, you mentioned to hitting up against this plateau, so to speak. How does this change how your team is structured, how you think about things if suddenly now, Mind the Product which may have been more accessible to people because there’s always some tickets available, to then if it’s limited to 1500, it may sell out pretty quick. How do you then think about that evolution as you move forward, in light of some of those metrics you just mentioned too?
Martin: A part of it is definitely looking at the overall experience for our attendees over the years, so it’s not just the conferences although obviously they are a main revenue source at the moment. It’s thinking about how a attendee, almost like a user journey map across the whole year, what events they might go to, right? In London in particular, we also actually help support actively the local Product Camp in London, in spring because we think that’s a great event. Obviously as you know we run the one in Boston or have been part of it in Boston. It’s an un-conference format. We open on a Saturday, free to attend, open to anyone to bring a talk and bring an idea and bring in a discussion point.
It’s thinking about, like I said, the full picture, right? It’s making sure that people have the ability to come to meetups, events like Product Camp which we try to support in as many cities as we can as well and then the conference as well. It’s not just the be-all and end-all of coming to the conference. I think that’s, again, why that community aspect and not meetup aspect is so important to us, that it’s a long-term engagement not just a one-off. We’ve seen that people come out. They come to three conferences and then for family reasons or work reasons they can’t come to the next one but they’re coming to meetups so they’re still engaging with us and with our community, and still getting a value out of it.
But we are also looking at what other things we can do, like I said, to meet that audience demand of other events or … either around the conferences or throughout the year. We’ve just launched this year, a new mini-conference I suppose you could call it, in Hamburg that we called MVP Engaged. It was a pilot to see what we can do on a smaller scale, on a more regional scale, because again, we have these meetups in 105 cities. At least a dozen of them are ready to do something more than a meetup but probably couldn’t do a full-scale Mind the Product conference the way that we do it. One of the ways we can something in between to help them have something in their local or regional markets as well.
C Todd: I’m sure we could do something like that in New York or Boston easily too, because Product Camp Boston has six hundred and something people at it, so it’s a big event.
I’m going to ask a slightly selfish question. Given you’re a product person and you’ve got somebody on your staff who are one of the co-founders of Mind the Product, runs a product road mapping tool company. Does Mind the Product do product roadmapping, and if so, how does that work?
Martin: You know, it’s funny. We don’t actually do roadmapping. We have just started this year to redo our online presence, so there’s a bit of a road map for that but it’s much more Kanban-style working progress as opposed to a plan. It’s a really interesting point. I think that’s one of the Product Manager practices we don’t apply in our business because we don’t have the same sensitive releases and the same sensitive ‘A’ product experience for us to improve those. It’s much more project management-oriented to deliver our conferences, for example.
C Todd: Yes, you have the solution now, it’s a matter of iterations and tweaks rather than huge changes.
Martin: Yeah, it’s a huge program at work to delivery at conferences, obviously. It’s six to nine months of prep and lots of suppliers and lots of different work streams that have to come together to make each experience, each conference, work.
C Todd: Yeah, that’s much more about project plan, release plan type of activity versus a more strategic roadmapping type of activity.
Martin: I think we do. We have some sense of very high level strategic vision and mission and a very high level road map but we’ve not taken that to that next level of actually having a road map of what we’re doing in any kind of more tactical sense.
C Todd: You mentioned vision and so you just co-authored this book, Product Leadership. I know a lot of it talks about vision. Talk to me a little bit about, first, how you employ the vision for Mind the Product but then, on a broader scale, what are product people and do you think about in terms of their vision?
Martin: Vision is one of those critical components for any product leader or any startup leader because it’s, especially if you’re trying to build these autonomous teams that we’re all such huge proponents of in the book, the vision is the thing that will provide alignment for all these autonomous teams so they’re not running in 20 different directions. I think a product leader needs to be very good at articulating that vision in a very clear way, and then what that means in terms of the mission after that and then being able to boil it down into that road map we talked about. It’s one of those soft skills. It’s actually one of the hardest skills to learn and be really good at.
C Todd: When you think about vision from a, “It’s a soft skill.” How does somebody develop that or how does somebody say, “How do I figure out what my vision is? What’s my product vision or my company vision? How do I actually pull that whole thing together?” If it is a soft skill how do you nurture that?
Martin: It’s a soft skill because it’s a lot about storytelling, right? For me a good vision is a story you tell about your product and what you think that product will be in five, 10, 15, 20 years. It’s an overarching goal that can motivate everyone on your team, give them a sense of purpose of what they’re trying to achieve and also provide clarity to the market your customers have. What it is you are going to do, and maybe what you’re not going to do as well. That’s where it becomes really hard to articulate that in a short and concise and succinct way. That is the challenge of it, but I think that’s why it’s so important because if you have that vision …
One of my classic tests, almost, that I do when I go in and consult with a company, is just ask five or 10 different people in the company, what the company vision is, what the product vision is. It’s perhaps no surprise that you often get very different answers. That’s usually not a good sign and that’s one of the first things I try to get the management team and the product leaders to tackle is, to crystallize that idea and what that means. It can be a, depending on the company’s stage, everything it can be … it can be a pretty high level goal.
I think Google’s is always a good example of organizing all the world’s information. It gives you a very high level goal to go after. It’s applicable whether you’re working on Gmail or search engine or Google Books or anything like that. It aligns the whole company, but it can also give each individual team direction of, “What are we trying to do here?” When you’re prioritizing your road map, does this actually fit in with our vision or is it a distraction from that vision?
C Todd: Cool. Is the company vision and a product vision … How are those things the same or are they different? How does one differentiate that? Does it need to be differentiated?
Martin: I think they’re very much aligned. I think it probably mainly comes down to the stage of the company or the scale of the company. Obviously if you’re a startup, they’re basically the same thing. The product vision, the company vision, are one and the same. I think if you’re Google, the company vision/mission might be organizing the world’s information but then each product team under that should have their interpretation of that vision. I don’t know exactly what the Gmail team is, but obviously they would have a version of that, that applies specifically to email which is the problem they’re trying to solve and the challenges that they’re trying to solve for their customers.
C Todd: What are other takeaways from product leadership that you’ve gleaned or, we should talk about as going beyond just product vision.
Martin: From the book process, you mean?
C Todd: Yeah.
Martin: Yeah, one of the big ones, just to reiterate the point, is really the difference between a great product manager and a great product leader is those soft skills. It’s ironically probably the hardest skills to pick up. We should maybe rename them hard skills but it’s really those soft skills of coaching your teams, having those communications, being a storyteller, putting out the vision, aligning all those teams together. That’s what makes you a great product leader. There’s some great stories and anecdotes in the book from the people that we interviewed, around that. I think that’s one of the toughest things for people to learn as they take that step up and realize that they’re not an individual contributor anymore, and they’re not focused on managing products. They’re focused on managing people.
C Todd: What’s a good anecdote or story from the book that you could tell that helps drive home one of those points?
Martin: There’s some good coaching ones, for example. Ellen Chisa that we interviewed, is a VP of Product at Lola in Boston, had some great things to tell about how to train your team, how to think about coaching and soft skills, how she finds team members and then elevates them to Product Managers and eventually project leaders.
There’s a great story I think from Jeff Dean from Typekit and Adobe about how he treats his communication with his team and focuses on that equanimity as he calls it, as one of the most important skills that he brought to bear with his teams.
C Todd: Right. Given that you’ve interviewed … how many people did you interview for the book?
Martin: I actually lost count. I think it’s somewhere between 75 and a hundred that we interviewed and not all of them made it into the book as quotes, which is why the count’s a bit off. But it’s nearly a hundred people at least.
C Todd: Yeah. Yeah, for roadmapping I just counted yesterday, we have 64 people we’ve talked to. We’re-
Martin: Again, this underlines the point we started this conversation around. Product Tank and Mind the Product, right? It’s all about the community because there is no one right way to do this and that’s so important for us when we wanted to write this book, that it wasn’t Richard’s, Nate’s, and my idea of how to do product, but it was something that we went out and talked to people and learned and did that discovery process like all good product people should do. Going out and understanding what people are actually doing in the real world and how are they solving these problems.
C Todd: Yeah, and I’m sure there’s probably the answer to this question is, been in the book, but what is missing from the conversation around product, today?
Martin: It’s come a long way in the last 10, 15 years. We’ve had some small part in that process. The thing that’s still missing is, there’s still a sense in lot of organizations, especially in the enterprise of product, is project management. They still have a slightly outdated view. There’s also still a lot of discussion and argument around titles and who owns the customer and all these things. Is it UX or is it product or is it design or is it marketing. I wish we could all move on beyond that.
That’s one of the big things that we try to push at Mind the Product is that it’s … we really talk about the concept of product people. It’s not just Product Managers. It is mostly UX teams. It is the marketing teams. It’s everyone who cares about delivering a great product and a great experience. I wish we, as an industry, could move on beyond from that and just focus on the ‘how’ we do that as opposed to who owns the customer or who is a UX designer, who is a Product Manager, because I don’t care any more.
C Todd: Right. A lot of the readers of this blog are in some varying stage of product or design or engineering or development. What advice would you offer to someone who is relatively new in getting into the field of product or getting into a product role, whether that be a Project Manager, a product designer, or a developer?
Martin: It’s one of those big challenges, right? As we said from the beginning, because there is no one degree and you have to learn the job on the job. There’s that catch-22 when you’re trying to get into the job, of having no experience but needing experience to get a product management job. The advice I would give is to figure out in your current job how you can show those traits and those skills and help out the product team, or help out the VP of Products, or Head of Products, or whatever their title is, to show that you can do more than just design or just, this is analysis or just marketing. Show that you have a generalist skill and you can help see the big picture of how the product or the experience that you’re working on fits in with everything else the company’s doing.
The great part of people I’ve seen in the last five to 10 years, are the ones that make space for themselves, almost, in the organization by showing that, “I’m not just a designer. I can actually help figure out what the business plan should look like, what the roll-out plan should look like, et cetera.” Be a fully fledged product manager even though they might not have that title. Even if you don’t give yourself an opening within the current organization by doing those things, you can show to a future employer that you’ve actually done the things that a Product Manager does even if you didn’t have the title. You’ve actually been working on the road map. You’ve been working with the development team. You’ve been working with the design team to deliver a full-fledged product even though your title might’ve been something else.
C Todd: We need to coin the phrase ‘product thinking’ and maybe steal a page from Tim Brown and the whole design thinking, discipline. How do we encourage product thinking?
Martin: Yeah, I agree, but it also, and maybe this is my hesitancy to apply labels to things. As soon as you start talking about product thinking, and someone else is going to come in and start arguing, “Oh, we should talk about service design or service thinking because we don’t deliver a product any more, we deliver experiences and services.” That’s where I can get a little cautious about the naming and the titles but I do agree. There is something broader than just design thinking which is a great discipline and has done a lot of great things. But there’s something slightly broader that great product people and product leaders need to know which is product thinking, service thinking. It’s a bigger picture thing that’s evolving at the moment.
C Todd: Yeah, years ago I left conferences around design and products and I think the thing I wrote down, looking in my notes, I think I wrote down in big letters was, ECO-SYSTEM THINKING. It was that people needed to think more about the ecosystem of what’s around them because the service design was taking the service down to the next level which was, yes, we might be delivering a service. However, the touchpoints that you might control, or you have touchpoints that you control, but your customer or your client or the person who is going through this experience, their experience is going to depend on what their eco-system is, not just your touchpoints. How do your touchpoints interface or are influenced by, other touchpoints from other organizations or other companies that you can’t necessarily control?
Thinking about it in that more holistic manner going beyond your own, “Yes, this is the experience we’ve designed,” but it turned out that not everyone’s gonna go through that experience because they, let’s just take your conference for example. Sure, you designed a particular experience at the conference but you may not have designed the touchpoints of the coffee shop they went to across the street to get coffee or the place they went to dinner that night, or the other interactions that they’ve had with people at some point.
Martin: Or the airline that they took to get there.
C Todd: Right, all those things that are essentially the ecosystem of the Mind the Product experience of what they did from when they left their house to actually go to the conference and then they walked in their door once the conference is over. But there’s all those other things that you can’t control and so how do you think about that in delivering your experience? It was an interesting conversation but it was that … I just remember writing down these big words, like, “I’ve never heard this term before but this is what it seems like we’re trying to talk about.” I think that’s what you’re getting to is, how do you meet a holistic thinker and pull in all of that understanding because, as we’ve learned, contacts matters.
Martin: Exactly. That’s a great word for it, is contacts. That’s how Nate speaks about it. I think we touch on it in the book as well that you have to consider the context that your product fits in. It’s going to be very different for a busy executive in an urban center that’s using your product versus someone who is rural and retired, or whatever. How important that product is in their life, their eco-system. It is that big picture that we need to be thinking about. It requires everyone.
This is the other thing. I don’t think there is … I try to talk a lot about there is no supremacy of product management over design or anything like that. It’s about all of these people and all of these skills coming together. That’s why I like the idea of product people but maybe we should talk about eco-system people who are service people. Really it’s about all of these skills coming together, right? We need great designers to do this. We need great product people or product managers to do this. We need great engineers to be able to do this. Great marketers, great copywriters. You need that whole team together because everything is moving so ridiculously fast right now, that no one skill or no one person’s going to be able to keep up and do all the things that need to happen to deliver a great product or a great experience in the market right now.
C Todd: So true, so true. You said things are moving really fast right now. Are they going to get faster or are they ever going to slow down?
Martin: I don’t think it’s going to slow down anytime soon. With the pace of change we have in front of us and the advent of AI especially, things are just going to move faster. There’s going to be products that have no human touch to them and how do we compete with that when we’re trying to build great experiences and great products. There’s a lot of change still to come.
C Todd: Yeah, there’s an interesting conversation, probably for another time but what happens when products are less human. Are they more human? Are their products no longer going to be serving humans? They’re just going to be robots talking to other robots. It’s a whole other interesting conversation about the future.
Martin: Yeah. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, the designer in me, but I believe that the products that serve humans will be better served by being more human. We need to figure out how to use AI to deliver better and more human, more complex, appropriate experiences for those human beings. But there will absolutely be a whole field of products that are just robots serving robots. I’m sure that will happen too.
C Todd: What are some of your biggest mistakes as a product person? Any stories you could share that might be interesting and like, “Oh, here’s something that happened that I did. Don’t do this.”
Martin: The single biggest failing I’ve had is, one of the hardest things to let go of is, the idea of you as the genius product designer, this sole person who can solve all the problems. Letting go of the ego is one of the biggest challenges for a great Product Manager, designer, engineer, product leader. It’s definitely something I suffered from in the past where I believed my idea would be the best one and maybe not done enough testing or enough validation of that. I’m just gonna shove it through the delivery pipeline, got it out there, and it met with thunderous silence. That’s one of the big things to let go of. A specific example, which is another challenge, is around that alignment piece and around that product vision piece.
The last startup that I worked for was a fin-tech marketplace and in hindsight, of course, hindsight’s always 20/20, we were never aligned enough on what the mission and the vision for that company was, between the old-school finance team that was running the products and making sure that we were compliant, et cetera, and the new-school team of just trying to solve customer problems and design great product experiences. We never brought those teams together enough and we never aligned the teams enough to truly be successful in that market. We had some great ideas, we did some great stuff, we had an exit at the end of it, but it wasn’t the success it could’ve been if we’d been able to marry those two sides better.
Again, that just underlines my point around the importance of product vision. Being able to articulate that and get everyone in the company, not just your product team, around that vision.
C Todd: Cool. On that note we’ll say thank you very much, Martin, for chatting with us. Product Leadership is now available on O’Reilly.com or Amazon.com or whatever your favorite bookstore may be. We’ll put a link in the show notes. Martin, thanks for sharing your experience with us today.
Martin: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
C Todd: Of course.