20 Product Twitter's Former Head of Product, Kayvon Beykpour on How to Structure and Manage the Best Product Reviews, The Core Set of Questions to Ask All Potential Product Hires and When To Continue vs Quit on New Products

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 Product," host Harry Stebbings interviews Kyvon Bakepour, a pivotal product leader from Twitter. Bakepour shares insights from his journey, starting with his live broadcasting app Periscope, which captured the attention of investors like Scott Belsky before being acquired by Twitter. Bakepour emphasizes the importance of storytelling in product development, advocating for products built with passion and emotion. He discusses the nuanced balance between customer feedback, data, and intuition in product decisions, and the critical role of product managers in articulating vision and coordinating teams. Additionally, he reflects on the challenges of prioritizing amidst a barrage of feedback and the value of transparency and speed, citing SpaceX as an exemplary model. Throughout, Bakepour stresses the necessity for product leaders to be deeply passionate about their work, underscoring the transformative impact of such dedication on product success.

Summary Notes

Introduction to 20 Product and Guest Kayvon Beykpour

  • "20 Product" is a monthly show hosted by Harry Stebings.
  • The show features interviews with leading product leaders to uncover their strategies and insights.
  • Kayvon Beykpour is recognized as a prominent product leader, especially for his work at Twitter.
  • Beykpour's background includes founding Periscope and its acquisition by Twitter.
  • Scott Belsky played a key role in both introducing Kayvon to the show and providing question suggestions.

This is 20 product with me, Harry Stebings. Now 20 product is the monthly show where we interview the best product leaders in the world to reveal their tips, tactics and mindset to scaling both product and product teams today.

This quote introduces the podcast and its purpose, highlighting that it's a resource for learning from top product leaders.

Airtable and Productboard Promotions

  • Airtable is promoted as a flexible tool for product teams.
  • It centralizes and analyzes customer feedback, aiding in planning and prioritization.
  • Airtable integrates with other apps like Miro, GitHub, and Slack.
  • Productboard is a tool trusted by product managers and leaders for creating impactful products.
  • It facilitates a scalable product process and helps in understanding customer needs and prioritizing features.
  • Both tools are positioned as essential for data-driven product decisions and aligning teams.

And speaking of incredible products for product teams, there product managers love product board and product leaders trust product board to help them create products that matter.

This quote emphasizes the value of Productboard as a tool for product teams to create meaningful products and streamline their processes.

The Story of Kayvon Beykpour and Scott Belsky

  • Beykpour was introduced to Scott Belsky through an investor during Periscope's early fundraising stage.
  • Despite many rejections, Belsky resonated with the idea of Periscope and offered substantial financial support.
  • Belsky's storytelling ability and vision for Periscope as a form of "teleportation" influenced Beykpour's product thinking.

It was instant chemistry. First of all, he had been thinking about this idea, and at the time, we sort of were imagining what we wanted to build with Periscope was like the closest thing to teleportation.

This quote illustrates the immediate connection between Beykpour and Belsky due to their shared vision for Periscope.

Lessons from Scott Belsky's Impact on Product Thinking

  • Scott Belsky's approach to storytelling transformed Periscope from a mechanical concept into a dream.
  • Belsky's influence helped Beykpour see the importance of connecting product mechanics to the larger dream or vision.
  • This approach aids in generating excitement, recruiting talent, and conveying the potential of a product.

Being able to interpolate between the mechanics of a product and the dream of a product, I think is really important.

The quote highlights the significance of bridging the gap between the technical aspect of a product and its aspirational vision.

Takeaways from Periscope Experience

  • Beykpour faced skepticism about the viability of another live streaming app.
  • He learned the importance of perseverance and discerning when to ignore negative feedback.
  • Periscope's focus on reducing latency in live video was a key technical challenge and a defining feature.

One of the most magical things about periscope in the first few months of it being live was people who used it for the first time. Their minds were blown when they would say something and the broadcaster would respond almost instantly.

This quote captures the innovative aspect of Periscope that created a real-time interactive experience for users.

Product Management: Art or Science?

  • Product management is viewed as a blend of art and science by Beykpour.
  • While there are scientific aspects like data analysis and communication, the art of storytelling and emotion are crucial.
  • Beykpour believes that the most iconic products were built with a high degree of emotion.

I cannot think of a single product that I love that wasn't built with a high degree of emotion involved.

The quote suggests that passion and emotion are integral to the creation of memorable and beloved products.

The Intersection of Art and Science in Product Development

  • The creation of products involves both artistic vision and scientific approach.
  • The best products emerge from a blend of passion for solving a problem and methodical execution.
  • Artistic conviction is necessary to envision a product's necessity and potential impact.

"And so I think to me that's like where a lot of the art comes in, right? Like having conviction and passion about something needing to exist in the world and fixing some wrong or improving or making less frustrating some existing experience."

This quote emphasizes the importance of passion and conviction in developing a product that addresses a specific problem or improves user experience, highlighting the 'art' aspect of product development.

Defining Product Management

  • Product management's definition varies among individuals and teams.
  • Product management involves defining a product's vision, mission, purpose, and strategy.
  • The product manager ensures the team understands the product's goals and measures of success.
  • For larger teams, product management coordinates various disciplines to achieve a cohesive outcome.

"The distinct role of a product manager is they are the person who should be defining the vision and mission and purpose and strategy of product and why it matters for the customer and why and how it can be impactful for the business, like the why of the product and the how we will measure its success."

This quote defines the core responsibilities of a product manager, which include setting the strategic direction for a product and establishing how its success will be evaluated.

The Right Time to Hire a Product Manager

  • Hiring a PM is appropriate when teams are reactive rather than proactive about product direction.
  • A growing team with communication and prioritization issues may need a PM to organize and clarify.
  • Product managers help balance the workload and maintain focus on proactive product development.

"I think one signal is if the team is constantly reacting to what the product needs... And so that might be a one good signal of like, well, the division of labor and the time allocation right now just isn't right."

This quote suggests that a key indicator for needing a product manager is when a team is overwhelmed and reactive, indicating an imbalance in labor division and a lack of proactive planning.

Structuring the Hiring Process for a PM

  • The hiring process for a PM should be tailored to the company's stage and needs.
  • Early-stage startups require PMs with specific skills, such as customer understanding and comfort with ambiguity.
  • The hiring process should identify candidates who can adapt to the startup environment and wear multiple hats.

"Well, rather than process, maybe first talking about what some of the most important skills are, and then you can build a process around that."

This quote suggests that before structuring the hiring process, it's crucial to identify the skills a PM must possess, especially in an early-stage startup, to ensure they align with the company's needs.

Key Skills for Early-Stage Startup PMs

  • PMs must be truth-seekers, deeply understanding customer needs and product performance.
  • They should be comfortable with ambiguity and willing to take on various responsibilities.
  • The ability to navigate a startup's uncertainties is crucial for a PM in an early-stage company.

"I think at an early stage, a PM needs to be like an infectious truth seeker of what customers need and want."

This quote identifies the essential skill of a PM in an early-stage startup to be deeply involved with customer needs and product insights, demonstrating the importance of customer-centricity in product management.

Identifying Candidates Comfortable with Ambiguity

  • Candidates' past experiences and stories reveal their comfort with ambiguity and adaptability.
  • Specific questions about past challenges and how they were navigated can provide insights into a candidate's suitability.
  • Anecdotes from candidates offer a more genuine understanding of their capabilities than standard interview questions.

"I think hearing about their experience, hearing stories, what folks have done in their prior roles and what challenges they overcame... can be far more helpful than the sort of cookie cutter interview questions."

This quote highlights the value of delving into candidates' experiences to gauge their comfort with ambiguity and their problem-solving skills, which are critical for a PM role in a dynamic startup environment.

Common Mistakes in Hiring Product Teams

  • A frequent mistake is not recognizing a hiring mistake quickly enough and delaying corrective action.
  • The cost of retaining a misfit in the role is high for the team, the individual, and the company.
  • Founders should act decisively when a new hire does not meet the role's requirements.

"I think the most classical mistake is actually not in making hiring mistakes, but in making the mistake of waiting too long to realize you made a mistake."

This quote points out that the real issue often lies not in making a hiring mistake, but in failing to acknowledge and address it promptly, which can have detrimental effects on the team and company.

Conducting Product Reviews

  • Product reviews are held weekly to assess progress and discuss products.
  • These reviews are led by product leaders and include various stakeholders to maintain alignment and focus.
  • The structure and frequency of product reviews may vary based on the organization's size and needs.

"So in terms of the what, I host product reviews on a weekly basis, and the reason I say I is like cascading down our product organization."

This quote describes the practice of holding regular product reviews, emphasizing the importance of consistent evaluation and discussion of product development within the organization.

Product Review Process

  • Product reviews have a structured 45-minute slot followed by a 15-minute debrief for the leadership team.
  • The goal is to conduct three product reviews per week, each falling into one of three categories: strategy formation, experiential review, or post-launch evaluation.

"Typically try and get an average of three of these reviews in a week. Sort of mechanically like team comes in, they share some product reviews, either like an early hypothesis stage. Like we're sort of like forming the strategy... Or it's more of an experiential product review... Or it's usually a post launch review."

This quote outlines the frequency and types of product reviews: strategizing, experiential, and post-launch. It emphasizes the systematic approach to gathering feedback and learning from each product stage.

Role of Product Reviews for Teams

  • Product reviews serve as a platform for feedback from a cross-functional leadership team.
  • Teams can present their convictions, strategies, and roadmaps to knowledgeable leaders for insight and input.
  • Reviews can help teams that feel stuck or need critical decisions from leadership.

"The purpose of the product reviews for the team is this is an opportunity for them to get feedback and input from hopefully smart group of leaders cross functionally."

This quote explains the purpose of product reviews for teams, highlighting the chance to receive diverse feedback from leaders across different functions.

Role of Product Reviews for Leadership

  • Product reviews give the leadership team insights into team performance, product evolution, and strategic contemplation.
  • They allow leaders to assess whether teams are aiming correctly and have appropriate success criteria.
  • Reviews are instrumental in recognizing patterns that indicate issues within teams.

"And also it can be a helpful macro look at how the teams are actually working right. Are we seeing the right dynamics? Do we have the right velocity, do we have the right calibration of ambition?"

The quote emphasizes the leadership team's perspective on product reviews, focusing on evaluating team dynamics, velocity, and ambition.

Identifying Issues in Product Reviews

  • Signs of problems include slow velocity, lack of strong conviction from the team, and teams trying to appease leadership rather than presenting their own strong perspectives.
  • Leadership looks for teams to defend their strategies with conviction, even if it challenges leadership's initial views.
  • It's crucial for leaders to differentiate between giving directives and providing feedback.

"Signs that it's not working well, slow velocity... Another sign is if the team doesn't convey strong conviction."

This quote identifies key indicators of problems during product reviews, such as slow progress and a lack of conviction from the team.

Clarifying Leadership Communication

  • Leaders should ask questions instead of giving directives and make it clear when they are merely providing feedback.
  • Regular communication with teams about the purpose of product reviews and how to interpret feedback is essential.
  • Leaders must be explicit when giving directives to ensure teams understand the difference between feedback and mandates.

"But just to be clear, this is me not conveying a decision, this is me just asking the question."

The quote illustrates the importance of clear communication from leadership, ensuring teams understand the difference between questions for exploration and actual directives.

Prioritization of Feedback and Ideas

  • Teams and product managers must organize and prioritize amidst a barrage of input from various sources.
  • It's essential to discern which feedback to incorporate immediately, consider for the future, or ignore.
  • Leadership has a responsibility to provide clear, non-distracting feedback and to distill discussion into actionable takeaways.

"You're constantly getting a barrage of input... And your job as a team and as a product manager is to take all that input in and make organization and prioritization out of chaos."

This quote conveys the challenging role of teams and product managers in filtering and prioritizing feedback to maintain focus and direction.

Balancing Customer Feedback with Product Intuition

  • Listening to customers is crucial, but teams should focus on understanding customer problems rather than adopting their proposed solutions.
  • Distinguishing between customer problems and solutions helps teams avoid the trap of implementing every customer suggestion.

"I think, well, listening to customers is always important. I think that the mistake sometimes people make is listening to their solutions rather than listening to their problems."

The quote emphasizes the importance of listening to customer feedback while cautioning against taking their solutions at face value, advocating for a nuanced approach to customer input.

Balancing Intuition with Data in Product Decisions

  • A balance between intuition and data is essential for effective product decision-making.
  • Intuition helps to avoid choice paralysis and excessive data requirements.
  • Data and insights provide validation or invalidation for decisions.
  • The balance is crucial, and getting it right can be challenging.
  • Intuition should not be disregarded but used alongside data and customer research.

"I believe that a healthy dose of intuition is always valuable. Right. And I think you have to balance intuition with data and insights."

This quote emphasizes the value of intuition in the decision-making process, highlighting that it should be balanced with data and insights to make informed decisions.

Learning from Product Mistakes

  • Kayvon Beykpour discusses a significant mistake made with Periscope's data retention policy.
  • Initially, Periscope content was ephemeral, but the policy changed to make broadcasts persist indefinitely.
  • The decision was motivated by the desire to preserve iconic moments, but it did not align with the primary use case of users.
  • The default settings should have been tailored to the primary use case rather than exceptional ones.
  • Reflecting on mistakes is important for understanding and improving product strategy.

"And I think in retrospect, that was one of the downfalls of periscope."

This quote reflects on the decision to change Periscope's data retention policy as a mistake that contributed to its downfall, highlighting the importance of aligning product features with user needs.

The Importance of Passion in Product Leadership

  • Product leaders should work on products they are passionate about.
  • Passion is the driving force behind creating great products, not just for product managers but for the entire team.
  • Passionate work results in better products and a more fulfilling career.

"Don't work on a product that you are not insanely, irrationally passionate about."

This quote advises product leaders to choose projects that they are deeply passionate about, as this passion is necessary for creating exceptional products.

Angel Investing and Offering Guidance

  • Angel investors must recognize their distance from the operational details of the companies they invest in.
  • Advice should only be given when solicited.
  • Supporting startups involves being available and supportive without overstepping boundaries.

"You have to know that you're so far from the details and you shouldn't necessarily volunteer your perspective unless it's asked for."

This quote advises angel investors to be mindful of their role and to offer guidance only when it is requested, respecting the operational independence of the startups.

Admiration for Scott Belsky and Adobe's Transformation

  • Kayvon Beykpour expresses admiration for Scott Belsky's role at Adobe.
  • Adobe's successful navigation of multiple business transformations is impressive.
  • The shift from box software to cloud subscriptions and AI-driven software are notable achievements.

"I think what he's achieved at Adobe is incredible."

This quote highlights Scott Belsky's accomplishments at Adobe, particularly the company's successful navigation through significant business transformations.

Inspiration from SpaceX's Ambition and Transparency

  • SpaceX's ambition to make life multiplanetary is inspiring.
  • The speed and public nature of SpaceX's work, including the acceptance of public failures, is admirable.
  • Transparency in the process can be motivational and assist in recruitment and public support.

"I am awestruck and inspired by what SpaceX is doing."

This quote expresses admiration for SpaceX's ambitious goals and transparent work ethic, which serves as an inspiration for other companies and industries.

Final Thoughts and Acknowledgments

  • Kayvon Beykpour appreciates the opportunity to share his experiences and insights.
  • The discussion touches on various aspects of product management and leadership.
  • Acknowledgment of Scott Belsky's contribution to the show and the value he's provided.

"Thanks for having me here. It was a lot of fun."

This quote conveys Kayvon Beykpour's gratitude for being part of the discussion, signifying a positive experience sharing his knowledge on the show.

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