with Josh Elman

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On Product

How to manage to lifecycle of your product throughout growth

Josh Elman

Product Guy, Greylock Partner, Growth Expert

Lessons Learned

A product must have a unique value proposition that is so compelling it pulls people.

The first people on your product will always go through more hurdles than later adopters.

Being a product person at a startup is nebulous, fuzzy, hard, and incredibly gratifying.

Ask: what is the company vision? What's our belief of how we can change the world? How can I help?


Lesson: Growth with Josh Elman

Step: #9 On Product: How to manage to lifecycle of your product throughout growth

A lot of people do ask if there's this set of core things that every product should have when they get started. And I think the short answer to that is no. I think the short answer is a product has to have this unique value proposition that's so compelling that you want to pull people on to it just for that product itself, even if it's very hard to get started or super high hurtle rate. Even when I joined Twitter, the product had millions of people using it really, really actively. The VP Product at the time, Jason Goldman, kind of had this funny analogy. He'd say "Getting on Twitter is like climbing a cliff with no handholds and no rope, but if you really make it to the top you know there's a promise land up there, and the people who did, loved it.”

What we really spend most of our time building was a much better path up the cliff, but the core of Twitter was already there. You can look at a product like Snap Chat which when it started it wasn't particularly easy or had all the great friend finders or other viral tools to use, but once you started using it and getting a few friends on, you have this incredibly deep and engaging experience.

So I really think that getting that core is so right, and once you have the core then how do you expand from there? So a lot of people will look at should I use Facebook Connect or Twitter login to help me get my bootstrap? And that can really work if you think having these products and having a few friends on the system will be better. Should I have a simple sign in, sign up process or the App Store makes a lot of things easier, so should I have a mobile app or just do a website? All of these things really depend on your product, and how you can have the lowest friction to get the first people involved. But you have to know the first people will always go through more hurtles than you'll get over time.

Being a product person at a startup is one of the most nebulous, fuzzy, hardest jobs you can take on, but it can be incredibly gratifying. When you join a startup or a big company, especially in a product management role, your job is not to come do, "I have this great vision that I'm going to go execute it." Your job is to come say, "What is the vision of this company, of the founders, of the belief of this thing we can create in the world and how can I be a catalyst to help the teams around me get this done better and faster and at more scale?"

I was the first product manager hired at LinkedIn, the first product manager hired at Zazzle, and the first consumer product manager hired at Twitter. When I joined each of those three roles I was specifically there to take the vision of the founders, help understand it, and help the very first teams begin to build more products that really served that mission. That's been really the dream whenever you join a company. When you're joining a company, your job is to help that team be successful. When you join a larger company it's actually still essentially the same thing. You're the product manager in charge of product X or feature Y that serves the larger mission of the entire company. Even if you're at Google and you might be a product manager on one piece of Search, you're still serving the entire mission of Google.

You never want to let that go of, how can I make sure that this product delivers more value for our users, more value for our customers or other business, and ultimately helps the company be better? The only way you can measure success is if you have a team of people who successfully are able to deliver on that product and the team of people still wants to work with you on future products time and again.

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