Chris: I wanted to have you on the show today to talk about what I think is actually a really interesting topic, which is how to think about product market fit, especially when you're at a big company. But I have a lot of thoughts. I want to ask you a bunch of questions before we dive in. Can we talk a little bit about your background because everybody sort of lands in Product from a different path. So tell us a little bit about what took you to Product. How did you get here? And what do you love about it the most?
Jamie: So I started out as a BA. Anytime I'm coaching an organization I let them know that because it comes through in a lot of the stuff that I deliver to clients and stuff I encourage to get delivered. And I navigated to product really because I had a forward thinking leader who really saw the value of having a product manager understanding the customer first and he decided in the organization that we were in to flip the switch but not like a lot of organizations do which is I'm going to night you a product person on Friday, your business analyst on Monday your product, right he actually took the time to teach us what the difference was and let us go and make our mistakes. And I sort of grew into it. From there I really started to learn some valuable and hard lessons about delivering things that I think are cool versus things that the customers actually want, and navigating through individual contributors, getting into the consulting side, and really looking at what a product organization looks like.
I've spent a lot of time across multiple domains, lots in the healthcare sector, manufacturing, cable television, retail, you name it. The thing that I like about it, though, is that it has continued to reinforce the notion of a customer-first product lead. And it doesn't matter what domain you're in. If you come into it with those principles, you're going to build some pretty cool stuff that solves valuable customer problems. I consulted for at least 15 of the years that I got started, and to that end, you know, here we are, and now I get deployed. I have the pleasure of coaching up and down the portfolio stack. I spend a lot of time in the system too because I like to practice. I’m a practitioner at heart. But I also like to work on the system and think about the way that product management is evolving and how organizations, quite frankly, sometimes aren't. So that's kind of where I'm playing a lot today is, ‘How might we play in a space where Conway's Law is something that we have to battle so that we can be a product-led organization?’
Chris: What's Conway's Law?
Jamie: Conway's Law? Really it states that systems are built in alignment with your organizational structure. So it can cause siloing, it can prevent a lot of cross communication collaboration, because your systems are structured in the way that your organization is. And so to decouple those and think about shaking things up is, number one, super expensive; number two, it's scary; and number three, it's a big gamble, right? And some people don't particularly love gambling their careers on moves like that. So it can be a challenge.
Chris: It can be a challenge! God, when you said that I remembered a project that I worked on probably about 10 years ago in my career it was for higher ed institutions. And it was how to stand up a brand new web presence for them. And I kid you not 80% of the debate was what do people want when they come to this website? versus what is our org structure and how do we make sure everybody's represented? More than 80% of our conversation was around how we navigate making sure no one's feelings get hurt when we're trying to figure out what people actually want when they go to the site. So Conway's Law certainly rings true to me and your point about it being a challenge to coach and help organizations navigate through it is exactly right.
Jamie: It's a fun challenge though. I've had some really courageous leaders lean into it, and to see the way that they're approaching their business decisions and the seemingly overnight focus on the customer is the part that is really cool. Because they start asking the How Might We questions instead of focusing on we have to increase our earnings per share or revenue or whatever, right? That's always going to be the end goal for a private company. That question becomes how can we do that in a way that's valuable to our customers? And they start thinking about which competitors are nipping at our heels, that are solving problems better than we are in, you know?
Some of the best advice I was given by a mentor of mine, his name is Scott Silver, he's fantastic product guy, and one of the things that he told me was: “Journey map your competition.” Look at what they're doing or what you're doing, try to objectively look at the things that they're doing better than you and why the customer flocked to them for that sort of thing. Those conversations can sometimes be scary, but to see them happen in an organization that has been around for 50, 60, 70 years…they were always focused on building – “If you build it, they will come,” but now they're more focused on: “How can we solve the problems for the customers so that we can be the disruptor and maybe avoid disruption or at least give our competitors a run for the money so that we don't lose a big portion of market share?’ So to hear those conversations is, to me, when I know we've got to win, like, that's when I start to really get excited, because focus is now really where it should be, because the customer is the one that's making the money at the end of the day.
Chris: I love so much about what you're saying. You've already given a great template for how you go after really defining a good product market fit – start with the customer. I love the idea of journey mapping your competition. And let me ask you this: Jamie, you mentioned the word “disrupter,” and I think when you're at a startup, it's very easy to think of yourself as a disruptor, because it's brand new. And you're like, ‘We have to go after something that already captures a part of this market, and we're already going to look at our competitors because we are starting from zero, and so we have to think about the landscape because we're going to go try to establish ourselves and grab a toehold in that landscape.’ It would be a lot harder when you're at an enterprise. Like, you're saying 50 or 60 plus years of history, not all of it digital, but some of the digital, and you're trying to disrupt yourself as much as you're trying to disrupt what's out there in the market. And sometimes you have a pretty good position in the market. And so you have to think about product market fit that is future facing and a little bit different from where you are in your current state. And so I'm curious about your thoughts on that. Like how do you have to change your perspective if you're coming at it from a well established position already versus a new entrant into the market?
Jamie: I love this question, because my entire career has been in large enterprises. The startup space is a place where I've studied, and I've had lots of conversations through lots of industry meetups and conferences and stuff like that, and, of course, I'm a bookworm, so I've read lots of interesting stories as well, but I've lived large enterprise since I was in my early 20s.
When it comes to product market fit in the enterprise, I have two things I want to talk about: Number one, just the project cycle and how work gets done and how it gets prioritized; Number two – the three horizons, because I think that's where a lot of companies will really lose sight of it when it comes to what their choosing to build and why, and the investment that comes with that. That’s the three horizons: (1) My core offering, my first horizon, 85% of my money, really is to go into my core offering. This is what I have out in the marketplace. I've secured this market share. If I were to do nothing else, I would post along and just deliver this value proposition out to the marketplace, 85% of my wallet. Another 15 percent, however, is, I think, where that nature of disruption can come into play, in getting that 15 percent out of the coffer can be really difficult because it's a lot of experimenting. And the purpose for that experimenting, I think, can sometimes get lost in the request. When in reality that should be the conversation, right? Because if I'm going to ask you for money, you should be able to justify what you think is gonna happen when I spend this money. Because I'm taking this and I'm putting it on the Roulette Wheel. In asking you for it, I had better have a reason for thinking that I'm going to hit black. So as a person asking you for money, you want to look at that other 15 percent; (2) The second horizon might be – here's our core offering and maybe how can we add some bells and whistles to that? Maybe there's a smaller market that we can add on to it. Or maybe there's a side project that we can do that might get a little bit of market share. That goes out of our comfort zone, right? It's not necessarily, you know, groundbreaking stuff, but it just makes your products better. It expands your offerings and it offers more solutions to customers; and (3) the third horizon, that's where another 5% comes from. So I go by the 85 percent, 10 percent, 5 percent of budget, that's just kind of where my head needs to be. 5 percent is the experiment. That's where the prototyping comes into play. That's where I have a hypothesis. It's testable. It's very scientific method-driven. I'm telling you what I'm going to test. I'm telling you who I'm going to test it with. I'm going to go talk to my customers. I'm going to perform contextual inquiry, which is literally going and watching you use something and talking to you about it. And I'm going to share with you my findings, and then we're going to determine if we should ask for more money or if we should double down on that bet and start to invest, because we might have uncovered a diamond here, you know, so it's really all about testing. And I've found that in large enterprises, sometimes that 5 percent is really hard to let go of, or it's really hard to justify for a couple of different reasons – number one, the infrastructure can cause you to spend all your money on the Now because you have a monolith, you have not updated your hardware, your software, your roles are no longer human size, so you're having to augment, and you just don't have the budget to do it. So there are a lot of peripheral things that can cause that; and number two, you have people in the industry in your company who say, ‘Listen, I've been doing this for 20 years, this is what we need to go build,’ because they're going off gut right instinct. I know this business is fine. These people are smart people, I have no doubt in my mind that they make good decisions, right? But they don't always make good decisions, and, unfortunately, even though I like to think I can predict the future, I can't predict the future. That's where the 5 percent comes into play, right? I really want to take that and try to sprinkle some wisdom on my crystal ball, remove some uncertainty, and say, Because we've spent 50 grand here, I think it's worth spending another 500k because we can really get a big return on it, because early indicators say Yes. So that's where I think the play comes in.
Chris: You just said a lot of very smart things, and I want to unpack that. So, a couple of things that I want to make sure we just linger on for a minute. Number one, you said it's a roulette wheel is real like you are as an organization as a product team. You're making a bet when you're in the 5 percent land, you don't know what is going to show will return. And so you have to allow for the fact that the experimentation could fail and failure is not failure. Like it is okay to try something and learn that it didn't work and then adjust and try something different. Right? This is the idea. They are informed decisions, right? You have a point of view, but when you're in 5 percent land, so many enterprises miss this. They say well we have to do something that is a sure thing, because we know we know we're going to succeed. And the reality is you should be spending some of your time, some of your energy and some of your dollars on trying totally new things. And even if many of them don't work, that's okay because if one of them does work, it could be extremely valuable to your business. This is how big new revenue streams get opened up. This is how you introduce an entirely new product or an entirely new platform to market because you are trying new things that are still in your business but are not part of your offering. There's a method of madness, right? What you said is exactly right, which is that you can constrain it. You can make it very small prototyping. You can do hands-on user interviews with those prototypes to start to gauge what's making sense and what's not. And if you want to further invest or if you want to kill it. We spend those dollars in a smart way, even though ultimately they are x and if you make some good bets, you can be rewarded tremendously because you started to see the traction and then you go further. So I absolutely think that big enterprises are thinking about how to go after new adjacent markets. One of the ways to do it is to allow for some of your budget to be experimented with product people and designers who are really doing these tests. So I love that idea. And then to come back quickly to this 10 percent, saying, Have you ever heard of this concept that you want to build features that have 100 percent reach? Yes. I think this is super interesting. When people think about the bells and whistles, the additional feature on my core platform, so it's not part of the core core, but it's, like, one step removed, and sometimes what I think enterprises get wrong here is that they try to do something that is related to the core business, but it's only going to be meaningful to a very small slice of their users. Like, it's only going to really scratch your niche for like 5 percent or 10 percent of their existing user base. What I've seen really be the game changer is when you look at an existing platform, an established platform, and say, ‘How can I add value that's going to hit 90 percent of the users or 100 percent of the users?’ Doing something like that means you've got to go back to the fundamentals. You've got to say, ‘How do I identify the core workflows of what we're doing and add on to those, or maybe rethink some of those? I'm going to make navigation really safe. I'm going to make onboarding go really well. I'm going to clean up the speed of our mobile app.’ It's these kinds of things, many of which are not considered the core offering, but they have close to 100 percent reach. They touch all of the users and they make a tremendous improvement that can lead to happier clients and more repeat business. And, ultimately, if you're doing it right, they can open up new lines of revenue. So I like the idea of saying, with that ‘10 percent’ time, it's a little more focused, it's a little more connected to our 85% core business, but there's a way to do it where we're trying to think about who this is going to hit, then how to make sure that we're doing something really amazing for the maximum number of people.
Jamie: I cannot tell you how often companies will fall into the trap of solving for the local, and it might be an objectively good solution, right? Like, this is going to make these 10 percent of people so flippin happy that, you know, you can sell that all day every day. But they lose sight of the reach, then the ROI really isn't a fraction of what you could have. Again, it might be an objectively good idea. When you're investing dollars in that second horizon, might not be the best spend, or the best choice on which to spend.
Chris: Because there's a limit, right? The maximum return is lower because the audience is lower.
Jamie: And I mean sometimes you have to do that, right? Compliance comes into play and legalities or whatever, but, I could not agree with you more.
Chris: Yeah. Let's go back to the 5 percent for a second. You know, we were chatting about this a little bit and we were talking about some of the client work that you've been doing. And part of this is education, I think for big orgs about when you're in that 5% land and you're introducing something new to the market and you know something that's connected to your platform maybe or maybe it's an entirely new thing. What do those early days look like? And specifically what is the what's the chasm, like when you think about introducing a product to market and the user adoption? There's a graph that you showed me, which I love and it has this big space in the graph. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Jamie: Yes. So the graph that you're talking about is by a guy named Geoffrey Moore, “The Diffusion of Innovation,” and it's this bell curve that really talks about the innovators, the early adopters, the early majority, late majority, this is, like, economic theory, right? Just standard stuff, any product that goes to market, you have the people who will grab it and run with it and then you have certain things that die when they hit the chasm. When we think about the chasm, that's the place in that adoption lifecycle where you've got your early adopters, which I happen to be one of them. So like, I can't tell you how many times I'm like, Oh, this is obsolete now. I have video gaming accessories that are no longer relevant. Leave it there. You know, those are your innovators, and then you've got your early adopters, who are basically the people that I talked to him like you gotta get to know some of those people are gonna grab it. So these are the folks who probably have a little more expendable income, a lot more curiosity, and they're going to be that first little bit that probably gets you excited about your product. chasm is where the reality sets in, and where the notion of if you build it, they will come really just flies out the window. Because at the end of the day, there's a real good chance that that's where you get stuck, because that's the thing that you have to have to cross in that lifecycle where you're transitioning from the early market to the mainstream. And making that transition is quite literally a leap. You know, going from the new little known to this big, big thing. And we've all seen it right? We saw it with Uber, we've seen it with Airbnb, we've seen it with Peloton, right? All of these companies had these little startup moments and then suddenly, bang, they crossed over the chasm, the mainstream and majority started to get hold of it and they took off and that chasm is where startups go to die. Or they go to a gazillion dollars by getting bought or just really leaning into their market fit.
Chris: So how do we put this in an enterprise context? Because I think a lot of the same lessons apply, right? I spend my 5 percent energy investing in some new things for my platform, start to get traction on some, and then those early adopters start to show up. I feel like the vibes are good. What do I as an enterprise do next to be able to cross that chasm where I have to take care of the core business but I want to give this thing a real shot?
Jamie: This is where I think two relationships are super, super important – one, your product marketing and your sales folks, and, two, your friendlies. So what I mean by “friendlies” is people who I might work with as a customer whose feedback I really appreciate. Like they will call me and say, Listen, I love your product, but this, this, and this are really causing me problems, or this and this are really great, keep investing in those because I love them. They're the customer that you have true dialogue with. Bridging your friendlies, in my opinion, is one of the opportunities that companies can often overlook, and that’s no small statement, because I don't think they're overlooking it simply because it doesn’t occur to them, I think strategic Partnerships and all of the legalities that go with trade secrets come into play here, so I know that that's a complex thing, but it's worth the investment, because you can really get an in to the system, test and feedback and view outside of your innovation lab, outside of your prototype, to really see, can you test this real world thing for me? And if you get it right, now you have potentially an advocate, right? So you can make arrangements as part of that relationship to really leverage getting something out into the market with a Friendly who is actually using it, and they're using real life data, real life experience to give feedback on it. Then with your product marketing folks, having that relationship and making sure that you clear with your value proposition that your marketing folks really understand what problem you're hypothesizing that you're solving and knowing how to leverage your current reach to get that out there is where the opportunity is. That's actually the advantage that a lot of large enterprises have, especially if they're going into a peripheral peripheral market or if they're really advancing the current technology that they're using, can stand that they this is where they can rest on their laurels and leverage that credit credibility to elevate in to get people to take you know, I know like, I have bought certain things I will go tried and true. I happen to be a specific brand of television fans. And when I'm trying a different gadget, if that brand of television happens to come out with that gadget that's most likely the one I'm going to buy, because I've had good experience with that.
Chris: It's a very real thing. So you said something about working with marketing, make sure you have a really good shared common understanding about the problem that you're trying to solve. A lot of people overlook that. And that's a really important point. How do I, as a product team or product person, really connect with my colleagues in marketing, orienting around the problem, just as much as the solution can be really helpful? Because, you know, it's like, you define the pain and suffering and then you say, we've got a good antidote. You know, we gotta get some pain relief that we can start to talk about to people, but making sure that it's clear, like, why did we do this? Why do we think that there's traction here? Why do we think we want to evangelize this? Well, this is why – because there's real pain points that we're addressing…makes total sense to me. And the point about, you know, leveraging your brand equity, and saying, Hey, you know us for this one thing, and we do it really well, and now we're doing this other thing, but we were bringing the same level of industry expertise. So rock solid security, hopefully, you know, reliability and customer support and all of those other things. Use the power of your brand, assuming you've got a good brand, and let it bolster the case, because the startup can't do that, the startup is trying to build that brand from the get. I think those are great points and making sure that you've got strong relationships internally, your product team and your marketing team is really important. I would also sort of relate to this – I wonder about a customer support or customer success team, because it feels to me like they also play an important role, especially when you're introducing something new. Curious if you have thoughts on that.
Jamie: I do, however, always encourage clients to not over invest in support. That is investing in failure demand. If you are spending a lot of money on support, that is a canary in the coal mine that there is a failure within your product that you need to address. Quickly. It's a usability or a user experience thing. So knowing that, I think at the beginning, especially customer support folks, you can really partner to understand where we got it wrong, even if you do cross the chasm. I can pick up my iPhone that I have used a version of for forever. I can tell you things I don't like about it. This was the version one customer support group would be very important because you can start to ingest and synthesize and really look at what stands out as that 100% reach – where can I actually invest our dollars where we want to enhance or improve that will satisfy the many? Really increase, you know, our credibility as problem solvers. That's where I think they become valuable upfront. The goal should be to reduce their role and get them focused on you know, something else or even in the next area, right because if you're spending millions of dollars on applications so that you can get better support. I would urge you to look at what you're supporting and see if you can carve out some of that money and solve some of those issues. So you're not having to deal with that person. I love that.
Chris: That's a great hot take. It's a good one though. That is a you know, that's like hey, look at where you're spending your money. And read between the lines, because you may be putting band aids on problems that you should just be putting solutions to.
Jamie: Oh, yeah. So, I read a book called Build, actually recommended by our VP of Engineering. And it's written by Tony Fadell, the guy who created Nest, the home automation system, and he has the best quote, I love it, and I throw it in presentations all the time. And it is: “People like painkillers way better than they like vitamins.” Am I gonna take something for my back hurting? Or am I gonna go get on my Peloton bike and ride to improve? Which one feels better? So it's that same concept, right? Aligning with your executives and understanding, what pain are we solving? How are we really going to get this done? And then telling that story with your marketing folks gives you a really, really good recipe for success.
Chris: I think that is a perfect place to leave it. That is a wonderful sentiment that everybody's taking. Everybody's feeling pain relief right now. Hopefully they're not popping pills, but they're just feeling really good. I would be remiss though, Jamie, if we ended without me asking: Do you have a favorite piece of antiquated video game tech that’s sitting in a closet somewhere in your home?
Jamie: Right, you have two things – one of them is not necessarily tech, but it is an E.T. Atari cartridge from the dump, which is just wild. And then the other one that I have is an old Oregon Trail handheld, and it works.
Chris: Amazing. You can die of dysentery whenever you want. That is incredible. Thank you so much, Jamie, this was fantastic.
If you are listening to this and you're thinking yes, if this is making sense I have been struggling trying to figure out product market fit my team just doesn't get it. I would really love help or at least just some ideas. Please reach out. We would love to hear from you. We have a brand new email address email@example.com. I will get those emails, Jamie will read those emails, we will figure out how we can help you, and we'd love to talk about this stuff. So please don't hesitate to get in touch if you would like to talk about your problem.
There are new episodes of catalysts every Tuesday. Please make sure you subscribe in your podcast listener of choice and we are so thankful to have you as listeners. Thank you so much Jamie thank you and we will talk to you all soon. It was a pleasure. Take care. Bye.
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