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DavidSubarHS1 (2).jpg
I'm David Subar,
Managing Partner of Interna.


We enable technology companies to ship better products faster, to achieve product-market fit more quickly, and to deploy capital more efficiently.


You might recognize some of our clients. They range in size from small, six-member startups to the Walt Disney Company. We've helped companies such as Pluto on their way to a $340MM sale to Viacom, and on their path to a $1.5B sale to Linkedin.

How To Identify and Meet Your Customer Needs - The Business Growth Podcast

During my recent appearance on the Allan Draper Podcast, we delved into a topic that's crucial for any entrepreneur or manager to understand: how different personalities can affect performance in the workplace. We discussed the importance of understanding team members' personalities and aligning them with the company's strategy and software architecture.

One key takeaway from our conversation was the importance of gaining fresh perspectives before making important decisions, such as when hiring consultants. Entrepreneurs who are too close to their businesses may not see the forest for the trees, so to speak. Bringing in an outside perspective can help decision-makers gain valuable insight into their companies and make better-informed choices.

We also talked about how entrepreneurs can sometimes become too attached to their own solutions and lose sight of the most important factor: the customer's problem. By focusing on building products that answer questions such as "Who is the market?", "What is the problem?", and "How will we know if we solve it?", entrepreneurs can ensure that they're truly meeting their customers' needs.

But understanding customers' needs isn't a one-time job. Markets change, and customer needs change along with them. That's why it's important to constantly monitor and measure changes that need to be made in response to shifts in the market or the customer base. By staying tuned in to customers' needs and constantly adjusting to meet them, entrepreneurs can ensure the long-term success of their businesses.


Allan Draper: Hey, everyone. Welcome to The Business Growth Pod. I'm your host,

Allan Draper. Happy to be here today. Excited for our guest. Before we get to him,

make sure that you hit the subscribe button on whatever platform, or follow,

whatever it is, whatever platform you listen to this podcast on.

Also, let me know how I'm doing. You can leave me a review or you can also send

me a message. Go to my website, Let me know what type of

guests will be helpful for you in starting your businesses. What type of questions you

have, hurdles that you're running into as entrepreneurs getting started.

Today I'm excited to welcome David Subar. David is the founder and managing

partner of Interna. He works with technology companies to improve their product

management and engineering to be more effective. He's worked with really large

corporations, including the Walt Disney Company. We're excited to have him and

we're excited to learn from him. Welcome to the show, David.

David Subar: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Allan: Tell me a little bit about your background. I want to hear about your history,

whatever you think is relative to our entrepreneur listener in terms of how you

became an entrepreneur, your experience with Interna. Take me whatever direction

you think is most appropriate there.

David: I started my career doing research and development in artificial intelligence

and machine learning, working in a military-owned Think Tank, but what we

produced was papers. We didn't build stuff. To the extent that someone might hear

one of the papers or read one of the papers and it might affect what they built later,

we might have an effect on the world or not. I found that to be frustrating. It's

frustrating to do a bunch of work and then not have it live out in the world.

I wasn't a scientist. I wasn't built to be a scientist. From there, I became an engineer,

a software developer at technology companies, and went higher and higher up the

management chain, eventually becoming CTO of companies, Chief Technology

Officer. Then running product too. The advantage of running product and

technologies, you got to envision the product and lead the teams that helped figure

out the marketplace and helped figure out what was on the roadmap and built the

thing and got it released and then see how the market reacted to it and do it again

and again. That was the opposite of doing research and development. That was

really driving, building technology products and change markets.

Did that for quite a long time. Then about nine years ago started Interna, which is

helping other companies through that same journey. How do you have teams that

can envision the product, write the product roadmap, understand the strategy? How

do you have teams that have engineers that build the software, that builds the

product? How do you get to market? How do you do that quickly so you use capital

effectively and learn from the market, and then be able to iterate? How do you get to

product market a bit faster? Interna helps other companies do that.

Allan: I'm almost done with this book, author is Patrick Lencioni, and it's The 6

Geniuses or something like that. In the book he's basically talking about how our

different personalities affect our performance at work. The idea behind it is there's six

different categories that people can be really good at. For example, visionary-- I'm

trying to remember all the terms. The person that sees the mission through, the

person that runs an inventor.

I think it's interesting because you talked about how early in your career, at some

point in your career, you didn't feel like you had the personality of a "scientist" which I

think would fall into the inventor genius, and it made you want to change your career


As you're helping these companies with their products, with development,

implementation and helping them through these different stages, do you take into

consideration specific team members? Are you advising them to that granular level

or are you just a larger scope, you come in and just move larger pieces around with


David: It's both. You have to do both. You have to understand what the strategy is,

what the company's trying to get accomplished, who the customers are, who the

competitors are. You've got to understand who are the people in the organization,

who are they, what do they do? You have to understand what are the processes they

work with. Then from the software side you have to understand the architecture,

what are they building? All of those either create leverage or impede building a

successful product, building a successful company.

One of the things that we do, we have four services we do. One is we'll do a deep

dive into product managing engineering and come back and say, here's the things

that you need your product managing engineering team to do well. Here's how

they're performing on each of them. Maybe call it red, yellow, green. Here's why

they're red, yellow, or green, and here's what you should do. That could be your

recruiting process is broken, or your org design is wrong.

Either of those might mean you have the wrong people in the wrong seats, or you

have the right people in the wrong seats. The way product managing engineering

talk to each other is wrong. What they're focused on is wrong. How they align with

sales and the CEO is wrong. Or they may be right. You have to understand all of

those to say, is the team likely to build a successful product and how would you


Allan: That's an...

David: Go ahead.

Allan: That's interesting that you have that type of perspective. That seems like it

would be very valuable because as entrepreneurs and business owners, it's really

common for us to-- I say that my greatest successes and my largest failures have

been with people. Getting the right people on the bus, getting the right people in the

right seats, and a lot of times it requires this outsider, this consultant or this person

that isn't in the day-to-day and can see things differently.

With my kids, I have 10 and 8-year-old boys and a 4-year-old daughter, and we'll go

see family that we hadn't seen in a couple of months, and they'll say, "Oh, your son's

so tall." I don't see it because I see him every day.

Tell me a little bit about what entrepreneurs can do to keep a fresh perspective. How

can they, outside of obviously retaining your services, which sounds like it's very

valuable and would give them a great leg up, but before they get to you, what are

some things that they can do to view their businesses, the situations, their processes

with new eyes so that they can put some of their knowledge and experience into it

before you come on board to offer that perspective?

David: It is hard. When you're talking about the philosopher Santayana said, I don't

know who discovered water, but it probably wasn't a fish.

Allan: Exactly. I like that. I like that.

David: Here's how I mean, obviously product managing, engineering that's what we

do. Obviously you could talk to us. Glad to have that conversation. As a CEO, as a

founder, do you have a peer group of founders and CEOs who you can come and

say, "I'm having this problem, what do you think?" There's groups that do this, it's not

something we do, bring CEOs and founders together so they can have those

conversations. That won't let you see inside the company, but it'll let you get

perspective on some of your decisions.

It also depends on the relationship with the executives that work for the CEO. What

are those like? I know someone who's CEO of a major retail chain and he has an

executive that he very much trusts and is very open with. That person gives him

perspective, but that's also a little bit fraught because the other executives may know

about that relationship. It's hard to have outside perspective when you're inside. It's

very, very hard.

Bill Gates used to do these week long discovery journeys where he would just leave

Microsoft and go a week without anybody else and just read and think. That's

another option, but it's just hard to have outside perspective when you are the

ultimate insider and founder or the CEO.

Allan: That's an interesting comment about Bill Gates because the way that he gets

that perspective on some level is he has to remove himself from it. The analogy

would be if I didn't see my son for a week. Then okay, I can see some of the

differences. I think it's so important for us to view our businesses with fresh eyes.

I think your services, other business consultants or coaches I think that's one of the

best values that they can bring to the table is, hey, look at this area. Maybe there's

some room for improvement there or maybe you have these ideas in your head

about what your customers think about your product but they're not actually what

your customers think about your product. I think that's such a great value add.

What are some things, and I'm talking mostly about more early stage, smaller

organizations or startups, what are some things that you see them really struggle

with in seeing about their business or their people? What is something that's more

common in the earlier stages, some of those mistakes that are more commonly

made that you're able to go into a business and say oh, well this is a staple mistake

that early entrepreneurs make? Anything come to mind?

David: Yes. There's a few things. One is, people fall in love with their solutions as

opposed to falling in love with the problem they're solving. It's not like I'm going to

build a dog house and paint a blue and no one's seen a blue doghouse before and

so everyone's going to buy a blue dog house. It's, what's the problem you're solving?

Who do you solve it for?

It's falling in love with the problem and falling in love with the customer. Maybe it

should be aqua, maybe it should be light blue. Who knows. It's not about the blue

doghouse. It's about, I am here to serve this kind of customer and we're going to

iterate it on that problem quickly until we figure it out. That's problem A.

Problem B is, it's the flavor of the day problem. Oh, it's a blue dog house. No, maybe

it's red, maybe it's orange, maybe it's green. You have to come with a thesis of

here's who we serve, here's the problem we have, here's how we're going to end up

do it and here are the steps we're going to take. We're not going to just arbitrarily

pivot every day. We're going to be thoughtful about it and we're going to measure it.

We often see product management, engineering groups that are flailing from idea A

to idea B to idea C without a reason.

Then the last thing is the thing that you said before, I say it slightly differently is 90%

of your problems are solved by hire well, retain well, and fire well. You've got to do all

three of these. Fire well, by the way, is the hardest of the three. People make

mistakes on all of those, all three.

Allan: That's incredible feedback. I love this idea of not falling in love with the

solution. I think you're right. I think most entrepreneurs, we start off on this path of

we're open-minded to some extent. I think some of it comes from this idea that as

businesses, one of the first questions we get asked, whether it's from a potential

partner, a customer or a potential investor, whatever it is, our spouses, whatever, is

well, what problem do you solve? What do you offer the world that isn't currently

being offered? It's a great question.

You're saying there's not necessarily something inherently wrong with that question

but you can, an entrepreneur can get too hung up on the solution and lose the forest

for the trees type of thing. We're not focused on the customer, the customer changes

over time and if we're so focused on hammering this peg into this hole, whatever it is,

it's like hey, what are we doing this for? I think that's that's a really great idea. What

do entrepreneurs do about it? What's a practice that they can employ to make sure

that their focus is right?

Then the second thing you said was I think equally important. On one hand, how do

we make sure our focus is correct? Then on the other, how do we make sure we're

not changing it all the time? Because as entrepreneurs we are terrible at that. It's like

we have the squirrel syndrome where it's like wait, oh, that's a good idea. Oh, maybe

we should do that. How do entrepreneurs address those issues?

David: I think it's fundamentally starting by saying here's who we believe the market

is, here's who the believe the people are and here's the problem. Every product that

you build should address those questions. Here's the formula that we use. By

building this product for this customer we believe they'll get this benefit and we'll

know it when we see this metric move.

If we say, there's customers out there that have problem X, great. We're going to put

things in the roadmap that benefit the customer and here's how we think it's going to

benefit them. Not let's try to paint it blue because maybe blue's more attractive than

red, but here's the problem to have. Here's how it's solved. Here's how we will know

if we're solving it or not.

You need to have a clear statement about that for everything you put on the product

roadmap. Clay Christensen had this thing, he had this concept of jobs to be done

and Clay Christensen, if you've never read any of his books, he's brilliant. He's got a

few books, definitely worth reading all of them.

Allan: Is that The Inventor's Dilemma? No.

David: Yes. The Innovator's Dilemma was one of them.

Allan: Innovator's Dilemma. Yes.

David: Yes, exactly right. They went to McDonald's. They were working with

McDonald's. He was a professor in Harvard's Business School. They went to

McDonald's and they were helping McDonald's and people were buying vanilla

shakes at nine in the morning. That seems curious. Vanilla shakes' a delicious thing.

Not so good for you but delicious. Why would you have one at nine in the morning?

McDonald's couldn't figure it out.

It turns out that vanilla shake at nine in the morning solves a job. As people were on

their commute they were hungry and they didn't have time to have breakfast and

they didn't want something that spilled on them in the car on their way to work.

Understanding that now you can design other food that might work for them, you can

broaden their menu if you understand what they were trying to do. It's always about

the customer. It's always about the problem they have. I feel like I'm just quoting a

bunch of people but Draper said, "The job of a company is to create customers.

Revenue is a side effect of that."

Allan: Yes. That's such a great perspective for entrepreneurs to have. How do they

monitor it? Because one of the core components of a business is that it evolves, and

if it doesn't evolve it dies. It needs to evolve because economies change, people

change, technology changes. How does an entrepreneur monitor or measure or

become aware of, somehow, changes that need to be made because their customer

base or some other facet of their market is changing?

David: Yes. You're right, markets and customers change all the time. Actually, by

entering a market and creating a solution you are changing the market and so you

have to go back at first principles and understand the customer and understand their

needs very frequently. You don't do it every day. I would suggest once a quarter to

go and try to understand where you are, what the customers are, what's changed,

what the competitors are. SWOT analyses are one way to do it. There's worthy


There's other techniques to understand what the customers are. Then you ask

yourself, "Do we or do we not want to change?" Because maybe there's changes

that aren't important. Maybe there's market segments that you're not interested in,

but you have to go and understand, it's sometimes a place where having a third

party's helpful, but not always necessary, to help you understand.

Also just monitoring the metrics of the business. The metrics may be financial

metrics. They might be uses metrics. Changes that are up or down or consistent are

both interesting. Oh, we're selling a lot more of this than we did before. That's

interesting. What happened? Did we do something that was successful? Did we do

something by accident? Did the market change? Or things are going down, gee,

what happened? There's a whole process called retrospective where you can

understand those processes. One of the things actually, when we analyze, one of

the things that we look at is looking at trend lines and what happens to be thoughtful

about it.

I mentioned the deep dive we do. Oftentimes companies after they do the deep dive

will say to us, can you help us get to the next step? We'll coach the CTO or chief

product officer, or we'll work as interim CTO and get the groups to the next step to

get them there, but that also often is a process of, how would you put that process of

periodically checking in and seeing how you're doing as part of the process?

Every time you do a product release, after the release you need to say, did this

product do for the market what we expected to do? If a product's been on market for

a long time and hasn't had significant changes, you need to regularly go back and

say, how's the product line doing in general? Probably you're going to trade shows,

you're reading a bunch of stuff online or whatever, you should be attuned to what's

going on. You should be talking to customers. You should once get empathy with the

customer and empathy with the problem.

Allan: Have you run into a scenario where you get hired and contracted, and you go

in and you find that one of the issues is the leadership of the business not being

willing to adapt to change? If that has happened before or if not, what do you

recommend? A lot of times entrepreneurs and business owners, especially when

we've been around a while, we feel like we have all the answers.

I was just having a conversation a couple of hours ago with one of my partners and

this idea of effectuating change just didn't resonate with him, even though it's very

clear that we need to do something differently. How do you get an entrepreneur to,

whether they agree with your idea or not, just open up their mind to the possibility of

some change?

David: First you have to identify if the entrepreneur's right or for me if I'm right. If I

think that they're headed over a cliff, I've got to identify that. I find the best way is by

asking questions. Telling an entrepreneur that the world's going to come to an end,

sometimes is successful, but it's often not, but say-- well, actually let's take Google

and generative AI. Stuff they're doing with ChatGPT that's going on, that's changing

the way people seek information.

Now, Google's very aware of this and Google's very aware that their market has just

changed, but if they weren't, I would walk up to their CEO, if they were to be my

client, and I would say, do you think ChatGPT is a useful information source? Or, do

you think customers perceive it as a useful information source? Then invariably the

CEO would say, let's just say the CEO said yes. Do you think people think about

Google search as a useful information source? Invariably they'd say yes.

How do you think ChatGPT as an information source will change how customers

come to Google? Exploring by a series of questions what it is. If the CEO says, no,

ChatGPT is not a useful information source, or people don't perceive it as useful

information source. Oh, that's interesting. It seems to be getting a lot of press. Why

do you think that or do you think it might change?

Now, it could be the CEO I'm talking to has information I don't have. That's

interesting. Now I've learned something, and I'm going to back off. What I have is

broad knowledge, not deep knowledge. I don't know about a particular CEO's

market, but I've seen a lot of companies over nine years of doing this. So I can ask

questions that I can pattern and match, and I can ask questions of other patterns that

I've seen, and together we can discover if they need to be open to more things or


Allan: I love that. I think it's such an important part of the entrepreneurial journey is

to ask questions, to have an open mind. A lot of times, entrepreneurs, they have

deeply founded beliefs about something, but it's not in data. It's, that's the way things

have always been, and that's the way things are always going to be. I think one of

the greatest attributes of successful entrepreneurs is the ability to question and say,

okay, this is what I think it is, but why do I think that? What are the other

alternatives? It's not something that we need to be doing on a non-stop basis,

otherwise we wouldn't accomplish anything. We'd just be questioning things all the


The flip side of that is the entrepreneur has to say, okay, with the information that I

have, and the advice that I've received, and the research that I've conducted, this is

the best course of action for our business. We are going to follow this course until we

receive contrary information, whatever the case is. That's such an important part of

that journey.

Well, David, this has been fantastic. It's clear that you would be an asset to any

business. Where can people-- where can they go to learn more about what you guys

are doing in Interna, and how you can help them?

David: Our website is Interna is the word internal without the L. You can hit me up at LinkedIn, so David Sobar. My last name is

like Subaru without the U. S-U-B-A-R. If someone just has questions they want ask,

they don't have to engage our services.Hey, I just need to spend a few minutes on

the phone with someone, Just hit me up. You can find me on the website, you can

find me on LinkedIn. I'm D. Subar almost everywhere on the internet. D like David,

and Subar like my last name. Glad just to be helpful.

Allan: All right. Well, thank you so much for your time, David, and we wish you

nothing but the best.

David: Thank you.

Speaker 3: If you have enjoyed today's podcast, please leave us a rating. For daily

inspiration and business tips, follow Allan on Instagram. Until next time, remember,

we build the future one entrepreneur at a time.


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