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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.

Product Excellence Summit - Pain to Profit

In October I spoke on a panel at the Product Excellence Summit put on by #ProductBoard. We talked about feature factories, and how to avoid becoming one. I talked about why creating value for customers is not enough and why concentrating on just that is a trap. You need to do more and I talk about what more means.

We talk about the current layoffs, why those, while painful, can provide an opportunity, and what that opportunity is. Finally, we talk about how innovation is not about giving the customers what they want. Giving the customer what they want may not provide leverage. I propose another way of thinking about the issue.


[00:00:00] Announcer: Our first session will be a fireside chat with two product powerhouses, led by Product Board's Carolyn Thompson, who's joined by Ramin Vatanparast, Chief Product and Technology Officer at Proximie. Ramin’s passion is to build impactful, user-centric products and scalable solutions that empower organizations to the highest level of performance.

Alongside him is David Subar, founder of Interna. “Better products faster” has always been his mission. David's strategies are becoming the standard for how technology companies scale while continuing to deliver products that impact the lives of their customers. 

[00:00:36] Carolyn Thompson: Welcome, everyone. My name is Carolyn Thompson, and I'm here with David Subar, founder of Interna, and Ramin Vatanparast, chief product and technology officer at Proximie.

I lead up the Value Management practice here at Product Board. My role focuses on helping our customers understand the value they receive from our products and our prospects to understand the expected value. So, with my personal connection to ROI and understanding the importance of providing value to the business, I'm excited to be here at the Product Excellence Summit, moderating this session: Pain to Profit, The Roadmap to Higher ROI. 

I'm looking forward to hearing from both these two amazing product leaders share their personal journeys, and their tips and strategies to drive success in product development, maximize ROI, and boost the bottom line.

Before we dive into the session, would you each like to give a brief overview of you, your company, and your role? David, let's start with you.

[00:01:26] David Subar: Great. Well, thanks for having me. I'm David Subar. I started my career doing research and development in AI and machine learning at a military owned think tank. It was interesting.

I liked it. But what I found limiting there was, we were doing research as opposed to building products. So, I started as a developer first at a tools firm, then eventually became CTO of companies, Chief Product Officer of companies, and learned what it was to build product and to put it out there successfully.

10 years ago, I started Interna where we help other companies build product quickly, ship it quickly, get feedback from the market, do it again. And again, we worked with companies like the Walt Disney company, with before they got sold to LinkedIn. And that's what we engage in is: how do you make these teams effective?

That's me. 

[00:02:17] Carolyn Thompson: Thank you, David. Raman. 

[00:02:19] Ramin Vatanparast: Hello, everyone. My name is Ramin Vatanparast. I'm currently the Chief Product and Technology Officer at Proximie, where we are building a global cloud-based SaaS platform to digitalize healthcare. Before that, I was a Director of Product Management at Meta, working on privacy of our infrastructure.

And prior to that, I was the Chief Product Officer at TrustPilot, where we were growing the company as a SaaS platform, which went for IPO. Prior to that, I also had experience on companies like Yahoo, HP, and Nokia. Thank you for having me here. 

[00:02:56] Carolyn Thompson: Thank you for being here. Both very impressive backgrounds, excited to be able to learn from you.

So, let's dive in. Operating as a feature factory is a situation that no product organization wants or should be in, but it's common. What are common pitfalls that keep teams in this situation? What are some steps product leaders can take to help their teams operate in a more empowered product management model?

Ramin, let's start with you. 

[00:03:19] Ramin Vatanparast: Such a great question. Whenever I hear this feature factory questions, it's always good. I connect to the strategic prioritization. I'm sure you have been in the situation where it comes a time of the year that you have to do prioritization. And like myself, you end up to have a long list of OKRs, initiatives or ideas that you have to prioritize and see which one you have to go to.

Once actually we had this situation and we tried to set up a clear goal and say, we are going to go through this practice by having to create two clear rules. The first rule is to really identify which of these are really impacting our business. And second one was that what is the impact on our customers?

While we were doing that, our main goal actually was to take all of those tiny, small features or value adds out of it and try to really focus on the main key feature functionality that really drives and impacts the business or brings a great value to our customers. That way we want to make sure that we are not draining more resources on activities that at the end doesn't drive value.

[00:04:34] Carolyn Thompson: Yes, definitely important to keep the resources focused and make sure we're not draining the energy from them. David, anything you would add? 

[00:04:41] David Subar: Yeah, so I feel very strongly about this subject. There's this idea about creating value for the customers, and that's critical. But first you have to ask yourself, to whom are you creating, for whom are you creating value for?

Of the possible customers, who are you going to serve? That's the first. What Ramin said was absolutely correct, but I think you need to take that first step. But creating customer value by itself, if you're a feature factor and trying to get out of that, that's not enough. You need to make sure those features that you're creating not only create value for your customer, but talking about what Ramin said, are pushing the company's strategy forward. That's the next thing I think you need to do. 

But then I think there's a third thing because just creating value for customers and doing things that create your business forward won't get you out of the feature factory by itself. You need to communicate with your peer organizations what product is doing, what engineering is doing, what those products, how are they having that impact? Just being good at running down the road is not enough if people don't see you. You got to be good at that communication. 

[00:05:56] Carolyn Thompson: Thanks, David. Very insightful. Demands on product team keep growing. And in this year of efficiency, they're continuously challenged to do more with less and to ship the right features as fast as possible.

What can product teams do to manage these continued demands, stay focused on business outcomes, and not fall into the future factory trap? Ramin. 

[00:06:17] Ramin Vatanparast: I think this is a very, very important. As you mentioned, we are in the year of efficiency. Everybody is looking to how to make sure that there is we're always focusing on return of investment when it comes to our product development.

I think the key is really how we are measuring the success, how we can put a right metrics that actually shapes the way that we are innovating. So the main work here is to be having a clear goal. So let me give you an example. Um, we were actually, had a similar situation where we were debating a lot about how to invest on the short term, about the short-term goals, the goals that are actually having the impact in the short term.

Or should we really invest on much more future oriented goals and targets and objectives? We went through a lot of back and forth. We really try to concentrate and focus on how we are measuring the metrics and how much metrics are connecting to our success and where or which area of it is actually truly driving innovation.

That's really a skill of the business and allows us to be much more successful at the end of that exercise. We actually ended up to really focus on more longer-term initiatives and I never forget that moment that we try to have this focus. Because in a year, we managed to expand our product portfolio and then be able to showcase that around 20 percent of our revenues were actually coming from the product that we started to make a decision a year before to focus on, which was really long-term product.

So that was a very big lesson for me about how to really think about all the success metrics and how to genuinely really evaluate those and sometimes take a big bet and showcase that those are actually could become successful. 

[00:08:06] Carolyn Thompson: Wow. That's very impressive. And I'm sure that the team being able to see that 20 percent impact to revenue was really empowering for them and really helped them see the importance of that long term vision that you were, you're helping them work towards.

David, what are your thoughts? 

[00:08:21] David Subar: I think this is an opportunity. Cutting is an opportunity. Now, you should always be trying to be efficient. This should not be new to this, to this time period. But when being asked to cut, you can ask yourselves, what is it that we, that we let grow too much? What is it that we, that we want to cut back?

It's like pruning a plant. I'm not saying it's fun. I'm just saying it's an opportunity. But I think Ramin is also correct, is you can't cut your way to growth. You can cut your way to efficiency, and in times where there's macroeconomic effects are asking you to spend less, you can get alignment with CFO by spending less, but the real alignment is what Ramin talks about is how are we then going to start moving ahead, starting to move ahead.

The patient isn't bleeding. How do we start walking? How do we start running? You always have to stay focused on that. 

[00:09:21] Carolyn Thompson: Thank you for that answer. From managing multiple stakeholders to ensuring all product work ties back to company strategy, product management is extremely complex today. What are some best practices or strategies you've incorporated to help your teams manage the complexity of product management?

[00:09:41] Ramin Vatanparast: I think one of the one of the hardest skills that any product manager has to learn is about how they can really simplify the complexity. And I think that's a such a skill that everybody has to try to get as good as possible on it. And that's going to open up the window of starting to have a communication with full transparency.

Let me give you another example. I remember I worked with a lot of product teams. But one of the teams, I never forget about them, and something was very unique about them. So anytime we were talking about that team on any meeting or anytime we were in a room when they were presenting, there was a sense of satisfaction across all the table and in all the conversation when I was looking to the.

When I was looking to, actually, the work that they are doing, they were not always successful or hitting their goals. But one thing was unique is that in all of their communication, they were really and smoothly connecting what they were doing to the actual goal of the company and to the metrics they are measuring.

And another thing that they were really good at was that they were making their, those meeting rooms to be conversational. They were making sure that everybody is a part of these conversations to make a decision about where the goal where the team goes, what are the goals that they're focusing on and how to measure the progress of the team.

So, at the end of it, they created a feeling that while the team sometimes was successful, sometimes not at the end, everybody was happy with everything the way that it was going. Why? Because they were really making sure that everybody is a part of this conversation and that was making them. To be very unique compared to any other team because they were really simplifying the whole complexity of the dynamic of a stakeholder management.

[00:11:35] Carolyn Thompson: Wow, that's really impressive. We hear a lot of times about, you know, not wanting too many cooks in the kitchen, but it sounds like in this case, having clear ownership or control of the room allowed them to bring everyone into the fold and communicate clearly and get their insights without it being an overwhelming process that derailed the whole, the whole thing.

So very interesting. Um, David, anything you would add from a consulting lens? 

[00:11:58] David Subar: Yeah, so things are complex. Engineering is complex. Products are also complex. The key for leadership here for product leadership is to be able to explain things in two sentences, in two paragraphs, in two pages, being able to go to, to the other groups, sales, marketing, whoever, and be able to explain the way where they don't have to do the translation.

Where you do the translation for them as product teams have responsibility, but not authority. You need to generate. The momentum behind your product for, from engineering, from sales, from marketing, from finance for all this, you can't get that authority. Unless you simplify that complexity, product managers need to be able to understand it from a customer level, from other departments and explain it once again, in two sentences, in two paragraphs and two pages for everything.

That's one of the things when I'm working with product managers, I'm working with CPOs. I have them explain it to me in all those levels of gradation to make sure they deeply understand it. 

[00:13:12] Carolyn Thompson: Wow. That's very deep. I think it can be hard to, uh, synthesize things down to such a small and concise message, but I'm sure it's really powerful.

You bring in the other groups that aren't as close to the details of what you're trying to work towards, which is a great segue into the next question I have for you to, um, effective communication across the business can really make or break the product's team success. What would you recommend product team should do to improve the communication across senior executives?

Roman, let me start with you. 

[00:13:42] Ramin Vatanparast: Absolutely. I think I touched a little bit on the previous question, but it's really empowering by directional and data driven communication is key here. Um, I'm sure all of you have been in a meeting room where a team comes and gives a presentation. Nobody asks any question, or everything goes quietly and everything finishes.

But at the end of the day, when you check both parties or stakeholders are not really happy about how everything goes, or they're not certain about. If the team is successful or not. I think the key and the skills for each team leader or even overall team is that how to make sure that when there is a conversation happening about the outcomes of a team, how they can have really a genuine conversation between presenters and also audience.

And that becomes a very important part. If everything is quiet and just the presentation leaving the room, yeah, that’s not going to be effective. As soon as we are encouraging and nurturing, creating the right space to have this conversation, usually you are collecting very good feedback from senior executive, or you're allowing them to actually see the data driven, uh, result that you're showing and really build a fruitful conversation around it.

[00:15:02] Carolyn Thompson: David, any tips you have on changing that dynamic in the room to really get that exchange of information flowing? 

[00:15:08] David Subar: I've got, I've got some to pitch in there. So, there are retrospective processes, right? So, it's 1 thing to deliver data, but you want to say you need to engage the room. What does that mean? You need to as the room together to go and say, here's stuff that worked.

Here's stuff that overperformed. That's interesting. What happened here? Stuff that from that's interesting. What happened? And you want to engage the room with being part of the conversation and then not just what happened, but what are we going to do? There are different retrospective processes. People do retrospectives all over.

Frankly, most of the companies I've seen have done do them incorrectly where they don't engage the room, but the output. Needs to be what are we? What do we together? Did we learn? What are we going to together to change? I keep talking about sales and marketing. They're easy folks to pick on, but sales folks know things.

That product managers don't know because they're closer to customers than markets marketing. Those things that that product doesn't know, right? Because there may be more focused out. You need to engage them in the solutions and have them literally, like, I take people if you're in a physical room, stickies, circle, circle, uh, stickers, markers.

Working together to solve the problem. That's the way you get alignment. It's that deep look at here's stuff that worked. Here's stuff we should be proud of. Here's stuff we can learn from this and engaging the room. That also a step to getting out of the feature factory because now your partners, not enemies.

Absolutely. Definitely don't want to start the finger pointing game. Um, as we think about making product organizations to be viewed as irreplaceable. The organizations need to be viewed more as a driver of growth. What are some steps that product leaders can take to get that seat at a strategic table and really drive long term success for the business Ramin your thoughts?

[00:17:19] Ramin Vatanparast: Absolutely. I think they have to be really empowering innovation. So as a product team are really bridging between customers voice and also success metrics, they can create a lasting value. We can look to any organization. There is always a ton of opinions about Where the company should go or what kind of products or feature they have to build.

But, uh, product team are becoming the source of truth or the go to when it comes to what actually customer voice are and their skills becomes very valuable because they can connect that. To the company's strategy and also very importantly, they can really try to question about how we can actually execute these and deliver this experience looking to the number of resources we have or how we are able to actually make it happen.

That's going to become the most important one, and that's going to make the product teams be irreplaceable. 

[00:18:17] Carolyn Thompson: Absolutely. Customers are so important and that's something we truly believe a product board really building, building on the understanding of those needs and the insights we can glean from our customers.

David, how do you think about bringing customer insight into this process? 

[00:18:32] David Subar: I think Raman's right about innovation. But I don't think he's right about giving the customers what they want. I think it's about giving the customers what they need, right? You have to sometimes completely rethink the problem and to start with like first steps from first principles about what you're going to build.

But if you want to have a seat at the table at product, it's about delivering value, like we talked about in the first question and broadcasting the value, the product delivered. To the customer and to the company. It's not enough to help people come and recognize that you did a good job. You need to be able to tell the story, by the way, that's helpful for marketing.

Marketing wants to know how to tell the story that's helpful for sales. They need to know how to tell the story. Your job is to deliver value and tell the story. So people know the product delivered value, and you can help other folks, the other, other groups. Be successful at their job. It's fun to be able to tell the story.

If you delivered something, if you delivered something that's truly innovative, scream it, sing it, like, let everybody know. 

[00:19:49] Carolyn Thompson: I absolutely agree. I think when you don't tell the story too, you allow those other groups to really make their own narrative. And sometimes that's always not aligned to what you were, we're trying to deliver what you did deliver.

So absolutely. It's important. I think like you were saying for product to really take ownership in that and help communicate out, I guess in our final few minutes, what's one piece of advice. To help product teams drive more business impact. 

[00:20:14] Ramin Vatanparast: Sure. I think we talked a lot about, uh, uh, collecting customer voice or connecting to companies’ goals.

But one thing that really helps me a lot is to sometimes take a step back and look to the end of it and look from the end, envision what is the end result, and then do it backwards. How am I able to execute that going back and forth? It helped me to make sure that my - the resource allocation or the return of investment of entire execution is in the right place.

And I actually will be able to really see how am I going to make it happen and what is going to make myself team and organization happy. So time to time, take a moment, envision the end result and work, work your way backward from that. 

[00:20:59] Carolyn Thompson: Very interesting. Well, David, we're at the end here. What is your thoughts on, on working backwards or any past last pieces of advice?

[00:21:07] David Subar: You know, there's this language that I don't like, which is who is your customer where that customer is somewhat internal. Our customers marketing our customer sales. Our customer is the CEO. I think you need like Ron was talking about before. You need to understand the voice of the customer. That customer is someone who pays you.

But you D you do need to understand who your peers are, particularly the CEO or the division head and where they're trying to take the business. If you want to have business impact, you need to hear both those voices, the voice of the customer in the market. Those are frankly nuanced difference, but there needs to understand both.

And you need to understand the voice of the division head, the CEO, your peers, because you're, as I said, the last question, you're driving together, right? You're a team and I might be sorry. I'm gonna use a football metaphor and you'll see very soon. I don't know much about football. I might be the tight end and you might be the quarterback and someone else might be the wide receiver.

The wide receiver running by him or herself, not very useful. If you want to have impact, you got to be in the huddle. You got to help make the play and together score. 

[00:22:30] Carolyn Thompson: I love that we are at time. I want to thank you both for your time and insights today. What I heard was communication is so important and truly understanding those customer needs is going to be critical and helping your team stay focused.

I hope that our audience has learned something that they can take back and apply to their own teams. Thank you both. 

[00:22:50] David Subar: Thanks. Thanks for having us

[00:22:53] Ramin Vatanparast: Thank you, Carolyn. Great conversation.


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