Best SaaS Companies and Secrets of Their Success
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What does it mean to create a good SaaS product?
The rosy picture is the following: you have an always-growing subscriber base, you're able to monetize your subscribers, and, once tried, customers continue using your product over time recommending it to colleagues and friends. Voila! You're among the best SaaS companies, right?
However, the reality is different. As a SaaS design agency, we know, building a successful SaaS product is like playing a Rubic’s cube — to make it good you need everything to magically click together. Sounds obvious, but the only chance for a newbie to win a Rubic’s three-inch beast is to google the winning algorithm.
In the case of SaaS, you don’t even have an algorithm to google it. Otherwise, we’d have 100% of successful startups.
However, there are two ways out here:
- We can investigate what prevents SaaS products from becoming good and gently mark those danger zones with black & yellow warning tape to avoid getting caught.
- We can analyze popular SaaS companies to figure out what makes them successful and learn from their experience.
Or we can do both! Let’s take a closer look at two variants.
What can go wrong with you SaaS and how to cope
Achieve your product-market fit
Despite being a top-line buzzword, the product-market fit is imperative for SaaS success, since for any business to survive, there must be people who will buy what it sells. The lack of market need is the #1 reason for failure, noted in 42% of cases.
The concept is vivid, but what are the indicators of the product-market fit? Sean Ellis, who ran the early growth of Dropbox and Eventbrite, came up with a simple survey.
Ask your users how they’d feel if they could no longer use your product with the three answers given — ‘very disappointed’, ‘somewhat disappointed’, and ‘not disappointed’. The group that answers ‘very disappointed’ unlocks your product-market fit.
After going through this survey with almost a hundred startups, Ellis found that the magic number was 40%. Most companies that struggle to grow have less than 40% of ‘very disappointed’ users, whereas companies with strong traction almost always exceed that threshold. And that’s in no way an easy task to keep 40%, as the case of Slack shows.
2015 was the year when Slack’s growth skyrocketed and the company called itself the fastest-growing business app ever. That year, Hiten Shah posed the question to 731 Slack users to find out that 51% of them would be very disappointed to lose Slack.
In 2019, a similar question asked by ProfitWell showed the product-market fit decreased to 26% only.
The remarkable reading here is the story of Superhuman. The company built its ‘very disappointed’ segment up from 22% to 58% and explained their road beyond 40% in the iconic product-market fit article.
Fight customer confusion
If your new shiny fitted-to-the-market solution is buried under the big, clunky, wasteful mess, the good chance is that nobody will notice how fitted it is.
Customers see your product and ask themselves. What problem does it solve? Why do I need it? How do I use it? What do I do next?
SaaS products are systems with multiple design layers and tricky user flows. They are difficult to explain, difficult to design and understand. So the answers to the questions above are not always clear enough.
X-tech is a flexible and efficient price optimization & management software used for advanced price setting in various industries to ensure your pricing strategy forces you to provide reasons for the users to make a purchase and allows you to automate pricing analytics, optimization, and execution.
Pfff, goodbye. Didn’t get what you do. I’d better stay with my good old app.
One more shot, how we do it at Eleken.
“Eleken is a pragmatic design agency for SaaS”.
A bit of cheating here — it’s easier to articulate a UI/UX design agency than a never-before-seen X-tech, but you got the idea.
Think different (no kidding)
When in doubt, B2B businesses keep their best serious face. To play safe, they use muted blues and greys everywhere. To decide on their next moves, they look to the left, and then to the right on their competitors to clone their new features and pricing policies.
It seems to be a proven, less risky way to go, but it’s completely ignorable.
What is so different about successful SaaS that makes them stand out? They get beyond the boundaries of boring B2B software and create products that are not just convenient but fun to use. People love using them.
Look at Notion with its nerd aesthetics and Slack with its confetti cannon color scheme.
If you’re seeking a way to break down the inertia and make people try something new, you can’t allow yourself to be an ignorable brand.
If you’re making money convincing people to prolong their subscriptions every month, you need to be an addictive brand.
If you’re Microsoft — it's alright, skip to the next step.
Define what can be considered a rock concert in your product niche and do it to become a rock star.
Take pricing (more) serious
Pricing strategy, or its absence, is what makes the difference between a fail and growth for 18% of startups. It's no surprise, given that the average SaaS startup spends only six hours to decide on a SaaS pricing strategy. Six hours, overall, to set, test, and sharpen everything.
So much blood and tears and sleepless nights to bring the product close to perfection and at the final stage of purchase, you have no idea whether you’re turning the potential clients away with huge price tags or, more likely, leaving your money on the table.
When companies think about growth, they think about customer acquisition and retention. But in fact, improving monetization had the largest impact on your bottom line, followed by acquisition and retention.
In the world of tech, pricing rarely depends on production cost, rather on the consumers’ needs and willingness to pay.
Think one step ahead
Over time, things are moving according to your product life cycle. As things move, you need to adapt.
When you're launching, it's about going all-in and working hard. When you're growing, it's about hiring the right leadership and climbing your growth curve as high as possible. Being on the top, you should be ready for stuff that comes beyond growth.
Here’s what is just around the corner:
- Audience saturation, when most of the audience that needs your product already uses your (or your competitors’) services and growth starts to slow down.
- Channel saturation, when your proven growth mechanism doesn't work so well anymore and growth starts to slow down.
- Market saturation, when more and more competitors rush in to capitalize on your market with lower prices and improved products. As a result, again, growth slows down.
Saturation happens sooner or later with any successful product, giving you a narrow window for innovation that can jump-start the new round of growth. So you need to figure out when it’s coming, accumulate resources for further expansion and decide in which direction you’re going to expand.
There are many other dangers lurking along your way to a good SaaS product, but they can't stop persistent entrepreneurs from building good SaaS products.
Now, let’s look at cloud-based companies that managed to make their way to the top.
Top SaaS businesses and what makes them successful
Here are some of the best SaaS businesses that managed to become successful, let’s see why people choose them.
Revenue: $ 883 million
HubSpot is a cloud-based marketing and sales platform. It focuses on attracting customers and leading them through the whole buyer’s journey. HubSpot is known for its wide range of tools for business growth. They help businesses with email marketing, blog optimization, and social media interactions.
Even though many software companies provide similar solutions, HubSpot stays at the forefront of digital marketing. What makes it different from other services?
- Inbound marketing. The first point is that HubSpot follows the inbound marketing methodology. It means they attract customers via content they create and not with pushy ad campaigns. Hubspot provides readers with valuable information and lets them decide what product to buy. They constantly create useful and relevant content on how to boost business growth. This way they gain credibility in the readers’ eyes. Whenever you type something related to digital marketing in your search engine, you get the results written by the HubSpot team at the top.
- All-in-one solution. This cloud service locates a full stack of tools to support the customer's marketing and sales process in one place. The user doesn’t have to switch between different platforms that, besides, do not always integrate with each other. HubSpot combines tools for different purposes in one cloud saas application.
- Easy to use. HubSpot's UI lets the user intuitively navigate through each component in the platform and learn very quickly how every tool works. The layout is clear and well-categorized so that even a non-technical person would understand how to complete the desired action.
In order to improve its UI and UX, Hubspot has even conducted a drunken user test. Yes, a drunken guy tested their UI design to measure how simple it is to navigate through the website. It’s funny, but it proves that HubSpot cares about a user-friendly interface.
To sum up, Hubspot’s strengths are inbound marketing, a full stack of tools in one place, and the ease of use of their product.
Revenue: $1.914 billion
Dropbox is one of the most profitable software companies that provide a cloud storage service. It allows us to store the information, share data, and synchronize files on different devices.
There are a couple of reasons why Dropbox is more popular than its competitors.
- It’s simple. Simplicity concerns everything in the Dropbox service. It doesn’t take much time for a person to understand how this platform works thanks to its minimalistic user interface. As well, no matter what OS you have, access to all features is available anytime on the Dropbox website. Dropbox doesn’t try to “look smarter” than its users. All features that it offers just work well and efficiently perform their function. This popular SaaS service is not overloaded with tools that no one tries, because they are too complicated for a regular customer. In general, Dropbox looks like just one folder that is extremely easy to use.
- It’s fast. If you have a new device and want to synchronize data on it, you don’t have to wait hours while the information is being transported through the Internet. Dropbox uses LAN synching which allows you to do it much faster.
- It’s platform-agnostic. Dropbox’s UX is equally coherent on Windows, iOS, or Linux. You will be able to access your files or shared data on different web browsers, devices, or platforms. Dropbox’s team did a great job of designing a consistent experience across desktop, iOS, and Android.
Dropbox does its job really well, it is fast, easy to use and it has great cross-platform support.
Revenue: $ 2,7 billion
Zoom is a company that provides cloud-based remote conferencing services. Except for video meetings it gives an opportunity to chat, share the screen, create workspaces, and hold webinars.
Many people are wondering how Zoom managed to become so popular, leaving behind such strong competitors as Skype and Google Hangouts. And again the general answer is the ease of use.
- Easy to install. As one of the SaaS benefits, you don’t have to download any applications, install them, and update. All you need is the browser and access to the internet. The user doesn’t need to spend time getting accustomed to this software. After registration, you understand how to use it intuitively. That leads us to the next advantage of Zoom.
- Great UI and UX design. The consumer-centric approach has raised the demand for convenient and simple video conferencing. Zoom made it possible to use their software from any device with only one click. They care about UI so much that when you look at the Zoom interface it almost tells you what actions to perform next. There is nothing that disturbs the visitor or makes them think of some technical issues of the software. The user can concentrate on their online meeting only.
By the way, one more feature that made Zoom so popular is that the user interface is consistent on the smartphone as well as on laptops.
Zoom cares a lot about the usability of their product and this fact makes them stand out.
Revenue: $2,93 billion
Shopify is a cloud e-commerce platform for online and retail stores. It provides a complete set of tools to set up, customize, and manage your business. Here are a couple of reasons why people prefer Shopify to other services.
- Non-tech friendly. Shopify allows people without technical experience to create and run an online store. Users subscribe to Shopify as they don’t have to care about development, updating, and server hosting. All features on the admin panel are logically structured which promotes an intuitive user experience.
- Graphic interface. Although the appealing interface has nothing to do with the platform’s functionality, it can improve the way the customer interacts with the service. One of the reasons Shopify has gained its popularity is a clear UI. It lets the person who sees this platform for the first time can handle it quickly and easily.
The above features make Shopify especially popular for those who want to save time and don’t want to care about any technical issues.
Revenue: $375,6 million
SurveyMonkey is a cloud software for conducting online surveys. Today the name of this company sounds like a gold standard in its niche and there are several reasons for that.
- User-friendly interface design. And again it’s all about being easy to use. SurveyMonkey dashboard will guide you through 5 main steps to design, distribute, and research your survey. As well, SurveyMonkey’s surveys work well on mobiles.
- A big choice of templates. This cloud platform offers more than 200 survey templates. They are divided into categories and are especially useful for beginners who struggle to construct an effective form. There is also a possibility to create a survey from scratch.
- The logic tool. This tool takes into account the user’s earlier answers and based on this information can hide some further questions. Depending on the answers the logic tool can redirect you to different pages.
SurveyMonkey managed to make complex software look user friendly.
Revenue: $401 million
Slack is the best cloud-based software for business communication. This real-time messenger allows employers to organize and manage dialogues according to specific topics, have private conversations, share files, etc. Slack has become a trusted means of corporate communication because of its:
- Design. Andrew Wilkinson, one of Slack’s designers, said that one of the reasons this messenger became successful is because it looks different:
“To get attention in a crowded market, we had to find a way to get people’s attention. Most enterprise software looks like a cheap 70's prom suit — muted blues and greys everywhere — so, starting with the logo, we made Slack look like a confetti cannon had gone off. Electric blue, yellows, purples, and greens all over. We gave it the color scheme of a video game, not an enterprise collaboration product.”
Slack’s interface was made not just for fun, it helps the user understand how the messenger works and makes it easy to use.
- Integration power. New technologies appear daily on the market and in case you need to include one in already existing software, there might be some problems. This doesn’t concern Slack, as it can integrate any technological innovations. For example, if you use Google Drive a lot in your work process, Slack can include its functions and allow you to interact with files from this platform without leaving the messenger.
Slack looks and feels different. The way the visual aspect is connected with this platform functionality makes it special and popular among users.
Okay, *slaps knees*
Now, if you’re making a SaaS startup, and everything seems too complicated – no worries. Take deep breaths, recall about the pitfalls that are waiting for you (carefully pay attention to your product’s market fit, its clear performance, personality, pricing, and life cycle stages), get inspiration from SaaS gurus' best practices, and come to Eleken for a human-centered design that will beat all your competitors.
Blue Ocean Strategy: Grow Your Business Without Having to Compete
Crystal clear waters, beautiful deserted beaches, and complete peace of mind… Who hasn't been dreaming of the blue ocean?
Like with the real ocean, many SaaS entrepreneurs dream of capturing the blue ocean market. The reasons are obvious: the SaaS market is growing, and it’s getting harder to win in never-ending competition. Founders who dream of a blue ocean market free of competition often think they should offer a cutting-edge technology product. And many give up if they don't have any innovative tech ideas. The blue ocean remains nothing but a dream for them.
But what if someone told you that to create a blue ocean you do not have to always rely on breakthrough technologies or even be the very first to apply them? On the contrary, true visionaries know it is not technology that drives changes, but unique ideas. And sometimes creating a blue ocean requires an ability to see things from a different angle and offer a new value.
As an agency focusing on product design, we at Eleken had the honor to collaborate with several companies that later became blue ocean swimmers. In this article, we will share our experience and talk about the blue ocean strategy to help you come up with an innovative product.
What is blue ocean?
The concept of the blue ocean was introduced by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in their book Blue Ocean Strategy. Authors believe that the red ocean stands for a market that is overwhelmed with competitors, while the blue ocean represents an unknown market without rivals. While in the red ocean a lot of businesses sell similar products and try to compete mainly using different pricing strategies, in the blue ocean companies try to create new demand.
Advantages of blue ocean strategy are tempting:
- Opportunity to bring a previously unknown value for users
- Low or almost non-existent competition
- You are among pioneers on a new market or niche
If you decide to pursue blue ocean, your goal is not to be better than your competitors, shifting from red to the blue ocean. Your goal is to get rid of the competition at all by creating a new market niche. And for that you need to offer a unique value to users.
The importance of value innovation for blue ocean
The most important characteristics of blue ocean strategy is a new way of solving users’ pains, which means creating the solution no one expected to exist, but that everyone needed. This is called value innovation.
In their book, Chan Kim and Mauborgne put stress on the importance of value innovation, offering different tools and frameworks for blue ocean strategy. Authors provide a canvas to measure your value innovation potential by balancing between the value upgrade you would bring to the customer and its cost.
However, blue ocean solutions are not always successful. Let’s take the case of Motorola. The company used Iridium technology to create the phone that could work in the remote desert, which could become a life-saver for many people. The downside of this product, though, was that it did not work in the buildings and cars, so instead of becoming a market leader, a poor phone became a market failure. It’s a clear example of a blue ocean strategy that didn’t work.
Companies that intend to capture the blue market sometimes fall into the same trap. They have great new technology and idea how it can be implemented in the product, but they rush to the market and forget about linking their innovative technology to value.
For you to avoid the fate of becoming one of them, here are some pieces of advice on how to implement the blue ocean strategy and succeed.
Tips on applying blue ocean strategy
Now, let’s talk in more detail how to use the blue ocean strategy on the example of the iconic ERRC framework suggested in Chan Kim and Mauborgne’s book. It consists of four main steps and some preparation.
- Analyze industries. First, you should start with a precise analysis of the industry to identify a new trend or demand. Check if customers are fully satisfied with already existing services.
- Define a problem. As soon as you find something that is not as good as it could be, think about what you can do to solve this pain for customers and make them happier with your offer. Do not think about what your competitors have done wrong, think about how you can make the customers' lives easier.
- Follow four actions of the blue ocean strategy framework. The authors of the Blue Ocean Strategy book give us a strategy that includes the following points:
- Implement. When you have answers to the four questions from above, it’s time to implement the strategy.
To better understand the way you can apply the blue ocean theory into practice let’s analyze companies that successfully coped with this task.
Blue ocean strategy examples
Here are some examples of the companies that created uncontested markets:
- Did you know that before unlocking a blue ocean Netflix was one of many DVD rentals? Netflix did not invent movies, but it offered a unique opportunity to watch them online.
- Uber did not compete with taxi owners; instead, it created an app connecting drivers and customers in seconds.
- Airbnb changed the whole traveling industry by simply creating a platform where people looking for accommodation would find those who can offer it.
- Apple is known as the most innovative company. But none of their products were the first to apply the technology they use.
Apple followed the blue ocean strategy when developing iPhone. Take a look at the image below and you will find the points mentioned above:
Designing blue ocean products is an incredibly challenging and responsible process. But at the same time, there’s room for fun and creativity. Here at Eleken, we worked on two projects that belonged to the blue ocean market, and we would like to share some of our experience with you.
Handprinter is a startup offering a product that inspires and helps you contribute to saving the planet by tracking your impact. A product like Handprinter has no analogs in the world and needs to communicate its value proposition and encourage people to sign up very actively. That’s why they turned to Eleken to create outstanding UI and UX that would serve this purpose.
As there were no similar products that we could look at as a reference, there was a lack of data on user behavior for us to make design decisions, while mapping out the customer journey for an early-stage startup can be tricky.
Eleken designers have conducted thorough research, worked closely with eco-experts, drafted user personas and intuitive user flow, and unleashed our creativity. As a result, Handprinter became a user-friendly platform that clearly communicates its value.
In March 2022 Handprinter closed its last funding from a Seed round and continues healing our planet.
The Covid pandemic turned many fields upside down and it touched even the religious life of believers. Going to church was risky, so the idea of creating an online platform for the religious community was hovering in the air. And Faithful is the first platform for preaching online, unlocking the blue island of religious online creators. The platform connects preachers and believers for online sermons. Eleken team was hired to design an MVP for Faithful.
We had a strict time frame and had to do all main screen designs in two months. Eleken designer made one screen after another, and they were approved during regular meetings with the client. The work was finished in 1,5 months. After that, the specs and art were delivered from Figma to Zeplin and got into the hands of the developers.
The interface of Faithful makes the technical side of online preaching as frictionless as possible so that creators can focus on their communication with the community. The signup process was designed to be quick and simple.
The result turned out great: an app has over ten thousand downloads and awesome reviews, getting 4.8 stars on the Google Play store. And the reviews prove that Faithful app was something people were waiting for.
To sum up
The blue ocean is closer than you might think.
To cut the long story short, the blue ocean strategy suggests business owners focus on their idea, perform market research to find something that differentiates the company from others, and offer a clear value upgrade. The four-step blue ocean framework we mentioned can help you analyze your situation and come up with a game-changing solution.
Ah, right! Even a unique product with the potential of unlocking a new market will fail if it was poorly designed. Eleken product designers are ready to work on the new blue ocean product, so don’t be shy and contact us!
What Is Product Mindset? A Talk with an Experienced Product Manager
Anna is a Product Manager with six years of experience in the field. She started her career as a Project Manager in the IT industry and now pursues a product management path. She was building products in the B2B segment and is now focused on consumer-facing products. We got to talk to Anna at quite an interesting moment in her career: she just left her position as Product Lead at Boku (formerly Fortumo) and joined Fintech company Riverty as a Product Manager.
We at Eleken design SaaS products and believe that the product mindset of the team is an important factor in building digital platforms and apps. So we could not miss the opportunity to talk to an experienced product person and ask her about her career journey and share some insights about what impacts the success of digital solutions.
Hey Anna! It’s nice to have you with us. May you please tell our readers a little bit about your journey to becoming a Product Manager and how it all started?
Hi! To be honest, I think my path in product management started as early as I interacted with the IT world in high school. Now it sounds a little funny but I took part in an Informatics school competition and I realized that it is a combination of things that I love! Math, logic, analytical thinking, and creativity combined gave birth to my new passion. Those early achievements in school competitions sparked my interest in the IT field.
During my university years, I did not waste time. I started with a free internship to just get a taste of work in IT. This experience helped me to understand the field from the inside, build a network, and learn about different professions and career paths. At the same time, I was taking programming courses and participated in IT events. I met a lot of IT professionals, worked with different people, and eventually, I realized that I want to try myself as a project manager.
The first years of my career were a bit explorative and I collected every experience I could. In those early days, I worked as a Project Manager at a digital design agency in Kyiv for a while. There I actually learned more about user-centric design, how digital products are built, how to make proper UX research, and how to empathize with customers.
After I moved to Estonia to pursue my Master's degree, I decided to look for a product management job, since I felt I have the right skills and experience for this position. I found my first job in Estonia as a Product Manager at Estonian mobile payment company Fortumo and started building fintech products. There she was promoted to the Product Lead position.
And soon after you made an interesting shift from being a Product Lead to a Product Manager. Why did you choose to go back to product management?
I simply did not want to miss an amazing opportunity to build consumer-facing products from scratch. I believe that to become a great Product Lead you have to get enough experience in different product types. But I will definitely be back on the leadership track in the future.
What is the difference between these two roles?
I am pretty sure that roles and responsibilities vary from one company to another. As a Product Lead, I was responsible for:
- leading a team of product managers
- making sure that they have everything needed to succeed in their job
- setting up the strategy
- helping to solve any obstacles
- getting aligned with stakeholders
The Product Manager collaborates closely with both the Product Lead and the product team and is responsible for one part of the product that the Product Lead oversees.
What is in your current scope as a Product Manager at Riverty?
At Riverty, I am responsible for consumer touchpoints of a financial payment product. It means that we are building a new product that has a consumer-facing part and also solves consumers’ problems. By consumer, I mean the common folk, like us. So, my job is to make sure that:
- all problems of consumers are actually solved
- the experience of consumers with every product touchpoint is seamless, transparent, and enjoyable while using our product
- when we launch in new markets we provide consumers of that market with an experience suitable for them
Honestly, I am quite obsessed with my mission on this product because I help people with their day-to-day pains making their lives easier and more enjoyable. In addition, I am thrilled by the fact that the product is new. The first MVP was launched only this summer, so there are tons of opportunities to explore, hypotheses to validate, and metrics to measure. And I love growing together with the product and the team.
What are your main challenges as a Product Manager?
First of all, we will roll out products to new markets such as Sweden, Norway, and Germany. I need to study these markets to be able to deliver products that fit the market and that users will find useful.
Secondly, I need to find ways how to get qualitative and quantitative insights from consumers. Since the product is at the MVP stage, there is a task to get an analytical dashboard to quantify consumer behavior.
On the other side, I want to learn consumers’ feedback on using the product, do user testing, and interview potential consumers before going to market. Since the product is B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) there is no direct way for me to reach out to consumers, so there is a challenge to get in touch with them.
But over the last 6 months at the company, I found ways to get some consumer insights that led to data-driven decisions on product features. For example, we use the VWO recording tool to record user sessions and then analyze consumers’ behavior and find patterns that indicate their confusion.
As a design agency, we are curious to learn more about the relationship between design and Product Management. How do you collaborate with designers?
I may be a little biased here because I love working with designers! They were always the best partners in crime and I involve designers in my thought process, prioritization, and day-to-day work as much as I can. UX professionals, as well as Product Managers, are the ones to know everything about the product’s clients, advocate for them, and define the product strategy. I love to have a close relationship with the design team to bounce ideas and hypotheses, brainstorm, and gather requirements.
Of course, there is a bureaucratic part to it such as creating tickets and commenting on Figma files. But what I want everyone to understand is that design is not a standalone part of a product, but is fuel to the engine which keeps it running. Designers should not receive specific tasks only and then produce results, the design flow should be a natural flow that sheds light on each and every roadmap item and provide necessary insights to drive it further.
We totally agree that design is essential for product development. In your opinion, what drives the success of products?
Failed products are products that do not serve the customers, for whom they were designed. In most cases, it happens because the whole product was built on the assumption that something might work for the customer without any validation.
If you examine the failed product patterns, you might see that tremendous work was done to get it live, the opportunity cost was enormous, managers came up with ideas and engineers started to build something. However, usually, there were some typical mistakes like:
- not including engineers and designers at the ideation stage
- not doing research and validation of the idea with the product’s prospective users
- not building a prototype and testing it with users
- not learning from the received feedback
- or even basing the whole product development on the assumptions born in managers’ heads.
I believe that a product mindset is key to the success of the product. By the definition, product mindset refers to creating meaningful value for customers. This should be the first thing the whole product team works on. In teams with such a mindset, every member is eager to deliver value, not just a feature.
From my experience, teams that possess a true product mindset have certain practices:
- They ask themselves “why” something is planned to be delivered.
- They are data-driven and rely on quantitative and qualitative variables to justify decisions.
- They use the MVP approach not even when it comes to the product's final result, but also to the MVP features and release parts that can bring value at first and are all nice-to-haves later to add value.
These qualities are not naturally given to the teams: they require the right coaching, experience, company culture, and vision. I am so honored and pleased by the fact that at my previous job, I had a chance to work with people possessing a product mindset and learn from them, so now it is a natural part of my competency.
Failing fast is a pillar of a product mindset. In order to have that product team need to be eager to deliver an asset in live to get feedback from the users, validate if it is even worth driving further, what should change, maybe the audience chosen is not right at all or the features that were prioritized do not solve any problems.
You work in international companies, can share some insights about the cultural specifics?
I have worked both in international companies in Europe and in local companies in Ukraine that work with international clients. A lot of differences between these two experiences were in the essence of work culture.
For example, in Estonia, the work-life balance is very supported by the government and also the management of the company. When I started working in Estonia and was still a student, by the labor law I was entitled to thirty calendar days of study leave, which is a vacation that is used for studies despite having regular yearly vacation days. Even though I was not overusing them, I found them very helpful when I needed to complete my Master's thesis and when I was doing my exchange semester in Switzerland while working remotely. I am also very grateful to my manager who always encouraged me to take some study leaves and advise the same to all working students.
When I joined Riverty I was surprised at how people take work-life balance seriously in Nordic countries. Once I scheduled a call with a Norwegian colleague at 4 pm on Friday, he texted me that at this time the whole Oslo office is dead and people are off work to pick up kids from school and do family things. Although, some of them might resume work at 10 pm after the kids are in bed. So everything that is written in books is true.
Can you please compare working in a startup and in a big corporation?
I think it all comes down to the company size. Working in a startup versus a corporation is two different but fulfilling experiences. In a startup or company that developed after the startup, each employee is taking full ownership of the culture and is encouraged to be proactive and do even more than expected. In a corporation, you have your own responsibility which might be ten times smaller than in a startup, but you will have the full focus and resources spent on one specific aspect of the product.
What do you read? What resources help you grow professionally?
I read a lot when I do my day-to-day work. For example, when I do not know a term or concept I will google it and read as much until I understand the high-level meaning of it. I talk to people in the field, which helps me to learn about their challenges and different perspectives on the role.
At the moment I read “Inspired” by Marty Cagan and before that, I watched some lectures of his on YouTube about how product-driven organizations work. Would definitely recommend it.
From my bookshelf, I can recommend such books as:
- The Agile Samurai: How Agile Masters Deliver Great Software (Pragmatic Programmers) by Jonathan Rasmusson.
- EMPOWERED: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products by Marty Cagan
- The Culture Map by Erin Meyer.
What would you recommend to aspiring product managers?
- When choosing the first company you work for, research the product type and domain it belongs to. Do not start with a domain that you are not passionate about. For example, if you do not like financial topics, do not go to fintech. It is important that you use, love, and are obsessed with the product you build. In addition, later in your career, you will be hired not only because of your product management skills but also for the domain knowledge that you gathered. You're first company choice will more or less define your whole future career. So choose wisely!
- Ask questions! I know it might sound cliche but this skill is crucial for this role. I have been recently involved in a candidate interview for the Product Manager role. That candidate did not get many votes because he did not ask questions. One of the skills a PM must have is curiosity. Your ability to ask questions shows that you are eager to learn and you have the potential to succeed in the role.
- Decide for yourself why you want to be a Product Manager. For that you will have to do some research, talk to people and learn that this job it has its flaws, like any other. Product Management is quite an independent role where you need to come up with many things on your own and find and prioritize thousands of problems. For that you would need to fully own your timeline, spend it wisely, and control, and prioritize your backlog while being flexible with leading the team, making research, and gathering information on the product daily. It is not easy and it is not for everyone.
Thank you Anna for the interesting conversation and insights into the product field!
Thanks for the talk! Good luck to you and your readers!