20Product Slack CPO Noah Weiss on How to Master ProductLedGrowth, The Biggest Mistakes Founders Make When Scaling Into Enterprise & What Needs to Change with your Product, Team and Processes when Scaling From PLG to Enterprise

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 Product" with host Harry Stebbings, Slack's Chief Product Officer Noah Weiss discusses the evolving landscape of product development and management. Weiss, who has a rich background with companies like Google and Foursquare, emphasizes the importance of speed in product experience, the nuanced balance between catering to end-users and enterprise buyers, and the challenges of product integration post-acquisition. He also highlights the significance of continuously renewing product-market fit as customer demographics and competitive landscapes shift. Weiss shares insights into Slack's journey, including their approach to product-led growth, the strategic pivots toward enterprise needs, and the cultural shifts in product reviews due to hybrid work environments. Additionally, he underscores the complexity of navigating product decisions in the age of generative AI. Throughout the conversation, Weiss reflects on his personal growth areas, the art and science of product management, and the caution required when adopting frameworks and conventional wisdom in the fast-paced world of product development.

Summary Notes

Importance of Speed in Product Experience

  • Speed is considered the most crucial aspect of any product.
  • It is likened to oxygen for a good product experience.
  • The speaker identifies their strength in talent integration but acknowledges struggles in product and technical integration.

"The most important feature by far for any product is actually the speed above all else. That's like the oxygen for a good product experience."

The quote emphasizes the importance of speed in creating a positive user experience, suggesting that without speed, other features may not be as effective.

Overview of "20 Product" Podcast and Noah Weiss's Background

  • "20 Product" is a monthly show hosted by Harry Stebbings, featuring interviews with top Chief Product Officers (CPOs).
  • Noah Weiss, CPO at Slack, has a background at Foursquare and Google.
  • Weiss has experience leading various product teams at Slack and has contributed to significant product developments.

"Now, 20 product is the monthly show where we sit down with the best cpos in the world to hear how they start, scale and manage the best product teams in the world."

This quote describes the podcast's focus on learning from successful CPOs about their approaches to product team management.

Sponsorship and Tools for Product Development

  • The episode is sponsored by Linear, a tool designed to streamline product development processes.
  • Linear is praised for its speed, design, and integration capabilities with other tools.
  • Miro, a visual collaboration tool, is recommended for brainstorming and creating product roadmaps.
  • EPO is introduced as a platform for A/B testing and feature management, emphasizing its time-saving and reliable features.

"Linear is different. It's incredibly fast, beautifully designed, and it comes with powerful workflows that streamline your entire product development process."

The quote highlights Linear's benefits as a product development tool, focusing on its speed and design quality.

Noah Weiss's Career and Lessons from Google

  • At Google, Weiss learned about the "70-20-10 model," which balances incremental improvements, refining new product areas, and making far-out bets.
  • This model influenced his ambition for product thinking and the importance of scaling ideas.

"I think the thing that struck me the most, and back then, they used to have this model, they called it the 70-20-10 model."

The quote introduces the "70-20-10 model" used at Google, which has informed Weiss's approach to product development.

Application of the 70-20-10 Model at Slack

  • Slack discusses the diversification of product areas and the allocation of resources for maintenance, customer delight, and incubating new ideas.
  • The model is adapted to fit each team's unique context, rather than being a strict ratio.

"We do talk a lot about kind of the portfolio and diversification within different product areas."

The quote explains how Slack applies the concept of portfolio diversification in its product team roadmaps, inspired by the 70-20-10 model.

Product Market Fit and Lessons from Foursquare

  • Product market fit is not static; it requires renewal as the audience and external conditions change.
  • The challenge is to understand and design for new customer segments that differ from the initial audience.

"You unlock product market fit, you get to maintain it for a while, but you have to keep renewing it as your audience changes and as the world around you changes."

This quote reflects on the dynamic nature of product market fit and the need for continuous adaptation to maintain it.

Challenges in Renewing Product Market Fit

  • Early-stage companies often design products based on the founders' own experiences.
  • As a company grows, it must understand and cater to the needs of new customer segments that are fundamentally different from the founders.

"How do you have the self-awareness, the humility, and then the intellectual curiosity to learn about what is the next audiences that you should be kind of designing the product for, who look fundamentally different from you?"

The quote addresses the challenge of expanding the product's appeal beyond the initial user base to new and diverse customer segments.

Balancing Customer Input and Independent Research

  • Deep customer understanding is crucial, especially when scaling to larger organizations with different needs.
  • Slack had to immerse itself in the world of enterprise customers to evolve the product for larger scales.

"You have to actually go talk to them and find out and then incorporate it into your view of how to evolve the product."

The quote underscores the importance of engaging with customers to understand their needs and inform product development, particularly when scaling to larger organizations.

Product Principles and Their Role

  • Product principles serve as a cultural shorthand for decision-making and assessing product quality.
  • They help scale the culture and vision of the product as the company grows.

"Product principles are a way of enshrining the culture and beliefs of your product organization into a common language."

This quote explains the function of product principles as a tool to maintain and communicate the core values and culture of a product team.

Implementation and Challenges of Product Principles

  • Startups often delay establishing product principles, which can hinder organizational scaling.
  • Product principles should be introduced early to ensure the company's culture and standards are maintained.

"Most companies wait too long to introduce them."

The quote points out a common mistake startups make by not establishing product principles early enough in their growth.

Speed of Execution vs. Internal Discussion

  • There's a debate on whether more internal discussion leads to better product outcomes or if speed of execution is more critical.
  • Noah Weiss suggests that startups need to find a balance between thoughtful debate and swift action.

"I think speed of execution is everything and you should move as fast as humanly possible."

The quote represents one side of the debate, advocating for the importance of speed in product execution over lengthy internal discussions.

Decision-Making Process in Product Development

  • Different types of decisions require different approaches.
  • Empowering teams to make reversible, "two-way door" decisions can streamline processes.
  • "One-way door" decisions that are irreversible require executive team buy-in.
  • A bad decision can be more costly than extended discussion, but this shouldn't dominate the majority of product discussions.

"I think the thing that we've learned over time is separating the two and trying to empower teams who have context, understand the strategy, have principles to make as many two-way door decisions as possible locally, and not having to have a lot of talk and debate."

This quote emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between reversible and irreversible decisions. Empowering teams to make decisions based on their understanding of strategy and principles can reduce unnecessary discussions for reversible decisions.

Product Reviews and Workshops

  • Product pillars are responsible for different areas of the product.
  • Regular product reviews or workshops are conducted within teams.
  • Executive reviews focus on significant decisions, product roadmap, and major launches.
  • The goal is to refine and ensure quality rather than discussing every upcoming feature.

"The leads for those pillars do product reviews or product workshops on a weekly basis within the team. So the leads can kind of weigh in and give feedback and unblock feature developments."

This quote describes the internal structure of conducting product reviews, where leaders of product pillars provide feedback and facilitate progress within their respective teams.

Evolution of Product Reviews in a Hybrid Work Environment

  • Hybrid work has made product reviews more inclusive by allowing larger groups to participate without the feeling of a performance.
  • Inclusivity allows more immediate context and avoids the trickle-down of information.
  • The shift to hybrid work has been seen as beneficial in this regard.

"Change was they became more inclusive, actually, because what used to happen... is that the reviews, which I tend to love actually is if we're reviewing a key product area crew, we have one right after this today about the new information architecture that we're working."

The quote highlights the shift to a more inclusive review process in a hybrid work environment, allowing for broader participation and immediate context sharing.

Asynchronous Work in Product Reviews

  • Asynchronous work allows for more efficient use of meeting time.
  • Prior documentation and recorded demos enable participants to come prepared for synchronous discussions.

"We do much more of what typically was in a synchronous review asynchronously now ahead of time, whether it's pre-reading or people record clips of demos that people pre-watch."

This quote explains how asynchronous work, such as pre-reading and watching recorded demos, prepares participants for productive synchronous discussions during product reviews.

Challenges with Tracking Company Activities

  • Keeping up-to-date with all major company activities is challenging.
  • Slack channels can be noisy and not always informative about the latest state of affairs.
  • Spreadsheets are a manual but commonly used solution to track top priorities and updates.

"What is actually the latest state of the world for all the major areas going on at the company? And I think Slack itself definitely doesn't solve that."

The quote points out the difficulty in staying informed about the latest developments within the company, a challenge that Slack itself does not fully address.

Preserving Simplicity in Product Growth

  • The mission of making work simpler, more pleasant, and more productive guides product development.
  • Hiring practices focus on individuals who may not have previous enterprise software experience.
  • Simplicity in design is about understandability, not necessarily fewer clicks.

"One of the things when you go to the actual mission and vision of the company to make people's working lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive."

This quote reflects the core mission of Slack, which is to simplify and enhance the working experience, influencing how products are built and the bar for quality.

The Importance of Simple Design in Enterprise Software

  • Simple design aids in understandability and user confidence.
  • More clicks can be acceptable if it helps users feel in control and understand the software better.

"Simple doesn't always mean fewer clicks. So, for example, I think in a lot of consumer, you'll say, okay, we want to remove as many clicks as possible, remove as many options, give less control. But I actually think in enterprise software, often more clicks can be okay because you bring people along."

The quote clarifies that simplicity in enterprise software is not about minimizing clicks but about making the software comprehensible and user-friendly.

Reflections on Product-Led Growth (PLG) Features

  • The freemium model at Slack was generous but did not expose users to the full paid product experience.
  • Introducing a robust in-product trial program helped users realize the value of the paid product.
  • The mindset shifted to ensure users have a great experience with the full product to prevent them from wanting to revert to the free version.

"And I think what change? I mean, I remember when we reviewed this and kind of read the maximum is what we want to do is give people such a great taste of the full slack experience that they never want to go back."

The quote reflects on the strategic shift towards giving users a compelling experience with the full product features to encourage conversion from free to paid plans.

The Impact of Slack Connect

  • Slack Connect allows channels to be shared across organizations, but its rollout was slow.
  • Concerns about changing the mental model of Slack as an internal tool delayed Slack Connect's market introduction.
  • The slow introduction may have missed the opportunity for exponential growth.

"The thing that I think we were maybe overly cautious on is we were really, really slow and deliberate bringing that product to market because we were really worried that people's mental model of slack was very much that it was this walled garden."

This quote discusses the cautious approach to rolling out Slack Connect due to concerns about altering users' perception of Slack as a private, internal communication tool.

Bottlenecks to Innovation at Slack

  • Between 2018 and 2020, Slack's focus on enterprise requirements slowed core product innovation.
  • The pandemic highlighted the need for innovation to meet new customer needs.
  • The pace of innovation has reportedly increased since the end of 2020.

"Covid was a real wake up call for us because suddenly even our existing customers were coming to us and saying, oh my God, I'm living all day in slack. But also now I have all these other needs."

The quote explains how the pandemic served as a catalyst for Slack to reevaluate and accelerate its pace of innovation to meet evolving customer needs.

Diminishing Returns for Enterprise Focus

  • Realization that focusing primarily on enterprise buyers yields diminishing returns.
  • Importance of pushing product capabilities for end-users and teams seeking productivity and delight.
  • The pandemic provided new meaning and urgency for product development due to increased reliance on Slack.
  • Pandemic effects led to heightened expectations for Slack's capabilities.

"Once you get through a lot of the blockers that are just, hey, the CIO is going to say no unless you have DLP and EKM and IDR... then you start realizing what we felt all along, which is you want to keep pushing the capabilities of the product for the end users... the pandemic and the shift to this hybrid world, I think, kind of gave us almost a new level of meaning and urgency to the work that we were doing."

This quote emphasizes the shift from overcoming initial enterprise hurdles to enhancing the product for end-users, with the pandemic accelerating this focus due to increased dependency on Slack.

Startups Scaling into Enterprise

  • Startups often lack understanding of enterprise requirements.
  • Importance of hiring domain experts when removing enterprise blockers.
  • Mistake of over-rotating focus on conservative enterprise buyers at the expense of product innovation.
  • Balancing needs of SMBs who desire continuous feature updates with enterprise security demands.

"You don't want a bunch of folks who worked at an early stage startup had never worked in enterprise before to be like, let me try and figure out from first principles what electronic key management is... But the biggest mistake I think people make... is over rotating on the enterprise buyer."

Noah Weiss highlights the importance of hiring experienced individuals for enterprise scaling and warns against focusing too much on enterprise conservatism, which can slow innovation.

Timing the Move to Enterprise

  • Some products must start in enterprise due to the nature of the market.
  • Signs to move into enterprise include organic demand within large organizations.
  • Organic adoption by teams can lead to enterprise-level agreements and reveal missing features.
  • The move to enterprise begins by addressing needs identified by larger organizations already using the product.

"I think if you start with SMBs, I think the thing to look out for is are you seeing pockets of teams or subsets of an organization that are starting to use your product... And then once you see that, you're like, okay, maybe we don't have all the control and administration that a large company needs, but we have that organic demand."

The quote describes how observing organic, independent use of a product within larger organizations can indicate the right time to pursue enterprise-level engagement.

Prioritizing Customers

  • The primary focus should be on the end-user experience.
  • Making a product that end-users love will naturally lead to broader adoption.
  • Over 85% of Slack's enterprise customers started as self-service SMBs.
  • Balancing the needs of the end-user with the needs of the organization and buyers is crucial.

"Our answer that if we have to choose who we're serving above all else, it's actually the end user who's using the product and living in it for 10 hours a week... Fundamentally, if we have to choose, we choose the end user who lives inside all day."

Noah Weiss articulates the philosophy of prioritizing end-user satisfaction as the core driver for product adoption and growth, regardless of customer segment size.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Product Decisions

  • Balancing immediate feature improvements with long-term strategic bets.
  • Google's 70/20/10 model as a framework for product development.
  • Slack's platform and workflow automation as examples of long-term strategic bets.

"Yeah, I mean, scoops back a little bit to the very beginning of a discussion, right, with the Google 70 2010 model, which is like one way of thinking about it... In that 10% bucket would be the entire Slack platform."

Noah Weiss refers to Google's model to explain how Slack balances immediate product improvements with investments in long-term innovation, such as their platform and workflow automation.

Internal Product Testing and Launch

  • Starting with rough internal prototypes to gauge interest.
  • Scaling from small internal groups to company-wide testing.
  • Using pilot customer networks to refine and validate new features before public launch.
  • Importance of customer feedback and adoption metrics in developing new capabilities.

"We start off always with an internal prototype of something that's big, but we make it rough, we make it ugly, it's unpolished... refine in a bit, scale that to the rest of the company, and then you start actually looking at data."

This quote describes Slack's process of creating and testing new features internally before refining them based on usage data and feedback, ensuring readiness for a wider release.

Learning from Product Failures

  • Recognition that speed is the most critical feature for product experience.
  • The failure of "Posts" highlighted the importance of performance in user adoption.
  • Learning from the low adoption of Posts led to the realization that alternatives must be significantly better to replace existing solutions.

"The most important feature by far for any product is actually speed above all else... And it turns out to build a rich documenting experience... you're going to just say, well, I'm just going to go back to the thing I use every day in some other browser tab."

Noah Weiss reflects on the failed launch of Posts, underscoring the lesson that product speed and efficiency are paramount for user adoption and preference over existing solutions.

Acquisitions: Buy vs. Build

  • Challenges in incorporating acquired products versus building from scratch.
  • Acquisitions are considered when ambitions outpace organizational scaling.
  • Acquisitions for expertise can be beneficial, but product integration is often difficult.
  • Talent acquisitions have been more successful for Slack compared to product acquisitions.

"We've struggled to buy a product that we can then repurpose and incorporate that was faster at the end of the day than if we decide to build it from scratch... But when we're trying to actually buy a product... often the thing we've learned is that it doesn't actually decrease time to market."

This quote reveals the difficulties Slack has faced in integrating acquired products and suggests that building in-house can sometimes be more efficient than acquiring existing products.

Personal Reflection as a Product Leader

  • Continuous self-improvement and reflection are part of a product leader's journey.
  • Creating a supportive team environment is crucial for product managers.
  • Acknowledging areas for personal growth is integral to leadership development.

"I think it's really hard to create a team environment within a product manager organization where people feel really."

Although this quote is incomplete, it suggests Noah Weiss values fostering a strong team culture among product managers and recognizes it as an area for potential improvement.

PM Organization and Internal Connection

  • PMs often feel isolated due to working on different parts of a product.
  • The challenge is to create connections and foster learning within PM organizations.
  • There's a hunger for external learning sources like podcasts and newsletters due to the difficulty of internal connection.

"How do you make a PM organization feel less isolating? How do you create connection between people who work on very different parts of the product, to learn from each other, to push on each other, to build product with each other?"

This quote highlights the challenge of reducing isolation within PM organizations and the need to create opportunities for PMs to collaborate and learn from one another despite working on disparate areas of a product.

North Star Metric in Product Management

  • North Star metrics guide PMs but are harder to apply in enterprise and consumer settings.
  • PMs are motivated by impact on customer experience, product experience, and business.
  • North Star metrics are more about logical guidance than emotional connection.

"North Star metrics help with that. It's kind of like head, not heart when they think about what we obsess about, but different than how you feel connected and energized by your team."

This quote explains that while North Star metrics are important for guiding PMs toward impact, they do not necessarily address the emotional aspects of team dynamics and motivation.

Conventional Product Wisdom

  • There's skepticism about rigid frameworks and definitions in product management.
  • Product management is a blend of art and science.
  • PMs should focus on team and customer needs rather than strictly adhering to frameworks.

"Take a more expansive view of what product can be, take a less rigid view of copy and pasting frameworks and advice, and figure out what the team needs, figure out what the customer needs and focus on that."

The quote criticizes the rigid application of frameworks in product management and advocates for a more flexible, needs-driven approach that considers both team and customer requirements.

Hiring a CPO

  • A head of product should be hired before a CPO in small companies.
  • The right time for a CPO is when the CEO becomes a bottleneck for decision-making.
  • A head of product can help accelerate the organization by relieving the CEO.

"When the development team starts slowing down because the CEO becomes the bottleneck, you probably need someone who can serve as a de facto head of product to start accelerating the organization."

This quote suggests that hiring a head of product is necessary when the CEO can no longer keep up with the pace of decision-making required for product development.

CPO Tension and Conflict

  • Tension varies between poorly and well-functioning organizations.
  • In enterprise software, sales may conflict with product promises versus delivery.
  • In consumer organizations, marketing may have similar dynamics with product.

"At an enterprise software company, the answer is always going to be sales, because what you promise to customers and what you can deliver to customers can often be at odds."

This quote identifies sales as a common source of tension in enterprise software companies due to discrepancies between product promises and actual deliverables.

Product Leadership and Admiration

  • Julie Zhao is admired for her thoughts on product craft and design.
  • She exemplifies the intersection of product development team dynamics and design.

"Julie Zhao. I think she is the most incredible thinker and writer about product craft, product design, the nature of working between a product development team."

The quote expresses admiration for Julie Zhao's contributions to the field of product design and her understanding of product team collaboration.

Art vs. Science in Product Management

  • The balance between art and science varies depending on product maturity.
  • Early stages require more creativity, while mature features rely more on data.

"On a really mature feature area, it's more science than art because it's about optimization and you have so much data and scale."

This quote explains that mature product areas are more data-driven, while early-stage development requires a greater emphasis on creativity.

Advice for PMs Seeking Promotion

  • The key to promotion is delivering impactful changes to customer experience or business.
  • Demonstrable impact is the most critical factor in the promotion process.

"Deliver impact. That's it. Everything else is an input."

The quote succinctly advises PMs that the most effective way to achieve promotion is by creating measurable, positive changes in the product or business.

Advice for a New CPO

  • New CPOs should avoid rash decisions and focus on understanding the team, culture, and customers.
  • Initially, focus on process execution and team dynamics before changing strategy.

"Focus on the things initially that are guaranteed accelerators to the velocity of the product development organization."

This quote advises new CPOs to concentrate on factors that can immediately improve product development processes.

Ideal CPO Role

  • OpenAI is considered an interesting CPO role due to its strategic potential and rapidly evolving industry.
  • The company faces unique strategic questions and pathways.

"OpenAI, forgetting even the technology side of it. I think strategically for them right now, there's just an incredible exponential set of pathways in front of them."

This quote reflects the speaker's view that OpenAI represents a uniquely challenging and intriguing opportunity for a CPO role due to its strategic possibilities.

Slack Product Experience

  • Desire for Slack to cater to both work and work-adjacent use cases.
  • Market saturation has prevented exploration in this direction.

"I wish that there was a way to have both the bandwidth, but also the kind of divergent products experience where we could build for both the kind of like work adjacent and work use cases."

The quote expresses a wish for Slack to have been able to expand its product offerings to include both work-related and adjacent use cases.

Generative AI and Product Development

  • Generative AI is likened to the early days of mobile, requiring close monitoring of technology changes.
  • Products should align promises with the actual quality and reliability of the underlying AI models.

"Keeping a close pulse is one of the, I would call a product principle, actually, from Google back in the day as it relates to kind of ML and search related products, that I still think is really relevant now, especially now, is this idea that I think the prominence and the promise that you put into the product experience needs to match the underlying quality and confidence in the data and in the model."

This quote emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the capabilities promised by products using generative AI match the actual performance and reliability of the AI models.

Company Product Strategy Praise

  • OpenAI's strategy to showcase large language models to consumers was seen as smart.
  • The company's execution allowed people to envision a new model of human-machine interaction.

"OpenAI kind of realizing there's something magical here and figuring out the smallest possible product packaging of that to then give the consumer world a glimpse of what the future could look like."

The quote praises OpenAI's strategic insight in demonstrating the potential of large language models to the public in a simple and accessible way.

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