20Product Why You Should Not Go Into Product Management, Why the CEO is Always the CPO, How to Build the Best Product Teams & Why You Should Hire People Who Aren't In Product Already with Databricks SVP Product, David Meyer

Summary Notes


In the podcast hosted by Harry Stebbings, David Meyer, SVP of Product at Databricks, shares his journey from engineering to product management and emphasizes the importance of truly understanding customer needs and product intricacies. Meyer discusses the challenges of maintaining product vision alignment with CEOs, the necessity of high-bandwidth, truth-seeking communication, and the delicate balance between customer obsession and product focus. He also touches on the art of product management, the dangers of reality distortion, and the critical role of human connection in leadership. The episode also includes a nod to Miro, the online workspace for innovation, and their sponsorship of the show.

Summary Notes

The Role of the CEO as CPO

  • The CEO drives the company's vision and does what is necessary to make the vision a reality.
  • Great leaders in startups bend reality and create things that seem impossible.
  • Human ingenuity is capable of achieving the impossible through sheer will and determination.

"The CEO is the CPO. The CEO is driving the vision of the company and knows the right thing to do."

This quote highlights the idea that the CEO, as the Chief Product Officer (CPO), is the visionary force behind the company, responsible for guiding its direction and ensuring that the company's goals are met.

Introduction to David Meyer and 20VC Miro Board

  • Harry Stebbings hosts the 20VC podcast focused on product leaders' tactics and strategies.
  • David Meyer, SVP of product at Databricks, is the guest, known for his previous role at OneLogin.
  • Ali Godsey, founder and CEO of Databricks, introduced David Meyer to the show.
  • Miro, an online workspace for innovation, sponsors the episode.

"Now today we have one of the best personalities. He's just so much fun. You can feel the storytelling, the life and energy that he brings."

Harry Stebbings introduces David Meyer as a guest with a vibrant personality, emphasizing the energy and storytelling he brings to the conversation.

David Meyer's Journey into Product Management

  • David Meyer started as a civil and nuclear engineer.
  • He transitioned into product management at Plumtree Software after critiquing the product manager's decisions.
  • Initially, David did not want to take up the product role because he didn't understand it and thought engineering was more important.

"But once I got into it, it was incredible."

David Meyer reflects on his unexpected but rewarding transition into product management, indicating how the role became a significant and fulfilling part of his career.

The Value of Naiveté in Problem-Solving

  • David Meyer believes that not knowing what you don't know can be a superpower.
  • Curiosity, rather than hubris, is what drives him to solve problems and learn new things.

"I think it's a superpower. I'm not a CS guy, but I ended up being like an architect at Plumtree software and like running engineering at a bunch of places."

This quote illustrates David Meyer's belief that his lack of a formal computer science background did not hinder him; instead, it fueled his curiosity and ability to solve problems innovatively.

Customer Interaction and Product Vision

  • Walking customers through your vision involves understanding their vision first.
  • Product managers should interrogate customers to understand their needs and then align these needs with the product's vision.

"I think it's walking yourself down their vision and then vectoring their vision into your vision."

David Meyer explains that successful product management involves empathizing with customers' needs and perspectives and then integrating those insights into the broader product vision.

Customer Questioning and Truth Seeking

  • Leading the witness in customer questioning is a common challenge.
  • David Meyer values having others observe his customer interactions to identify biases.
  • The goal is to seek the truth rather than confirm pre-existing biases.

"Truth seeking, you want to get at the truth."

This quote emphasizes the importance of seeking the truth in customer interactions, avoiding biases, and asking open-ended questions to get genuine feedback.

Balancing Customer Feedback with Product Roadmap

  • Being "customer obsessed" should focus on the collective customer, not overfitting to one customer's needs.
  • Product managers must balance various stakeholder needs and prioritize based on common customer requirements.

"You never want to overfit to a customer because then it'll be a tiny tam."

David Meyer warns against focusing too narrowly on a single customer's needs, which can limit the total addressable market and the product's broader appeal.

The Misconceptions of Product Management

  • Product management is not about creating something beautiful and having everyone follow; it's about finding compromises.
  • The real job of a PM is to make incremental progress towards a vision while maintaining the company's viability.

"It's finding a way to make baby steps towards the vision while staying alive, basically."

David Meyer defines the essence of product management as making incremental progress towards long-term goals while ensuring the company's survival and growth.

Data-Driven Product Management and Adjusting Targets

  • Being data-driven should be about seeking the truth and identifying blind spots.
  • Product managers need to be flexible in adjusting targets based on validated learning, not just hitting arbitrary goals.

"The goal is not hitting your target. The goal is seeing where you're varying or going way above your target."

This quote underscores that the purpose of setting targets is not to rigidly adhere to them but to learn from the data and adjust strategies accordingly.

The Importance of Learning Speed in Product Management

  • Speed of learning is crucial, not necessarily the speed of shipping.
  • Maximizing the learning curve can sometimes feel slow but is essential for making informed decisions.

"The key is maximizing your learning curve."

David Meyer highlights the importance of learning quickly and effectively to make better product decisions, even if it means taking seemingly slower actions.

Pitfalls of Data-Driven Product Management

  • Data can be misused or serve as a crutch when product managers are unsure.
  • Data should lead to actionable insights and align with the product vision to be valuable.

"It's like infinite scroll. I want to see if the next bar is green or not."

David Meyer criticizes the habit of constantly checking metrics without actionable outcomes, comparing it to the unproductive nature of infinite scrolling on social media.

Gaming Metrics and Value Creation

  • Metrics can be manipulated to create the illusion of success.
  • Active user time is a significant indicator of product value.
  • Time spent in a product reflects its value to users, irrespective of immediate revenue generation.

"If people are spending time in your product, there's value there."

This quote emphasizes the importance of user engagement as a metric for product value, suggesting that if users dedicate time to a product, it inherently has worth.

State of Product Management

  • Product management is perceived as a desirable career path, but the quality of product managers may be declining.
  • The influx of business school graduates into product management may not necessarily equate to quality in the field.
  • Product management requires dedication and curiosity, often lacking in the current workforce.
  • Hiring focuses on demonstrated impact and understanding of the mechanics of product management.

"I think they're worse than ever."

David Meyer expresses concern about the current quality of product managers, suggesting that the popularity of the role has led to a decrease in the caliber of individuals entering the field.

Impact of Company Size on Innovation

  • As companies grow, maintaining the pace of innovation becomes challenging.
  • Large teams can slow down processes and decision-making.
  • The innovation process differs at various stages of a company's growth.
  • Maintaining product knowledge becomes increasingly difficult as the company and its product offerings expand.

"But do you worry that with the 6000 you just can't move as fast and we have this incumbency challenge?"

Harry Stebbings raises the concern that large company size may hinder agility and innovation, a common issue as organizations scale.

Optimism in Product Development

  • Optimism is essential for product development and driving new ideas.
  • Founders often start companies due to a desire for independence and a vision to solve problems.
  • The belief in the possibility of creating something new is a driving force for innovation.
  • Engineers' belief in the product is crucial for achieving high development velocity.

"I think we do impossible things all the time because we just don't think they're impossible."

This quote reflects the speaker's belief in the power of optimism and determination in achieving what may initially seem impossible in product development.

Communicating Change and Sunk Cost Fallacy

  • Leaders must effectively communicate changes in direction to their teams.
  • The sunk cost fallacy can prevent individuals from letting go of unsuccessful projects.
  • Empathy and understanding are necessary when shifting goals, acknowledging the team's hard work and emotional investment.

"You just have to give it the mourning cycle."

The speaker suggests that acknowledging the emotional aspect of discarding work is crucial when changing direction in product development, allowing team members to process and accept the change.

Emotional Investment in Product Management

  • Emotional investment can be beneficial in product management, driving passion and commitment.
  • However, being too emotionally attached can impede rational decision-making.
  • Product managers need to balance emotional investment with rational analysis.

"But a lot of the job is not about specking the product and building the product. A lot of the job is about enrolling customers you talk to into what's possible."

The speaker indicates that product management involves more than just technical aspects; it also requires engaging customers emotionally to understand and believe in the product's potential.

Career Paths and Passion for Work

  • One does not necessarily need to do what they love, but should find aspects to love in what they do.
  • Solving problems for humans can provide fulfillment, regardless of the initial career choice.
  • Passion for the work can lead to better outcomes and a more enjoyable career.

"No, but you have to love what you do."

The speaker distinguishes between pursuing a passion and finding passion in one's work, emphasizing the importance of enjoying and finding meaning in one's career.

Product Management: Art vs. Science

  • The balance between art and science in product management is debated.
  • Data-driven approaches are essential for understanding product performance.
  • However, creativity and human insight play a significant role in product development.
  • The speaker believes that understanding the system and using data is a given, and beyond that, product management is mostly art.

"So if you assume that that's just free, then it's 90% art."

The speaker posits that if one naturally incorporates data and system understanding into their approach, the majority of product management comes down to creativity and artistry.

Leadership and Team Management

  • Tailoring feedback and leadership style to individual team members is crucial.
  • Understanding and empathy are key leadership traits.
  • Leaders must be open to feedback on their feedback to ensure effective communication and team alignment.
  • Building strong product teams requires adapting to the needs and motivations of each team member.

"Every one on one I have is fundamentally different."

This quote highlights the speaker's approach to leadership, recognizing the importance of individualized interactions to effectively manage and support their team members.

Emotional Impact in Management

  • The way people feel in a work environment is crucial to management effectiveness.
  • Managers who are not directly overseeing an employee may struggle to make them feel valued or motivated.
  • Direct interactions can have different effects on employees depending on their familiarity and relationship with the manager.

"It's not what you do, it's how you make people feel."

This quote emphasizes the importance of the emotional response that management elicits from employees, which can be more significant than the actions taken.

"And the challenge is, if they're a manager removed from you, they may not be made to feel the way that you would want them to feel."

David Meyer points out the difficulty in ensuring that employees feel valued when there is a hierarchical gap between them and their managers.

Management Styles and Approaches

  • "Seagull management" is a term used to describe a management style where a manager swoops into a situation, causes disruption, and then leaves without resolving issues.
  • This approach can be particularly jarring for employees who are not accustomed to such interactions.
  • The balance between being hands-on and maintaining a bird's eye view is tricky for managers.

"And when I come into meetings, in my maddening way, there's like, you know the term, like, seagull management? Like, you swoop in and shit over everything, then fly away."

Speaker A uses the metaphor of "seagull management" to describe a problematic management style they're trying to avoid, which involves disrupting meetings or processes without contributing constructively.

Optimism vs. Cynicism in Management and Product Development

  • Striking a balance between optimism and cynicism is necessary for both venture capital and product development.
  • Over-optimism can lead to failure if not everyone is enrolled in the vision.
  • Being selective and focused can lead to more powerful and impactful decisions.

"I kind of embrace becoming cynical with time because we talked about, one of my weaknesses is I'm too optimistic."

Speaker A acknowledges the potential downside of their natural optimism and the need to temper it with a dose of cynicism to make more realistic decisions.

Narrowing Focus as a Strategy

  • Startups often fail by trying to cater to too many customer demands at once.
  • Maintaining a narrow focus is essential for success, but choosing the wrong focus can be detrimental.
  • Opening up the customer base too quickly can dilute product marketing effectiveness.

"There's so many dimensions of it, but one of the classic failure modes of a startup is they get, like, early signal of product market fit, and then they start talking to customers, and customers, big deal."

Speaker A discusses the pitfalls of startups losing focus by trying to be everything to everyone, which often leads to being nothing to anyone.

Importance of Fanatic Users

  • Fanatic users are crucial for product success and can drive both viral growth and product innovation.
  • Products that become too generalized risk losing these core users.
  • The challenge lies in balancing the needs of fanatic users with making the product accessible to new users.

"But your fanatics are the ones that talk about it in bars, bring their friends in, have the viral coefficients and stuff, but they're also the ones that push you to do unimaginable things, to really break through barriers."

Speaker A highlights the importance of fanatic users who not only promote the product but also push the company to achieve exceptional feats.

Product Complexity and User Experience

  • Product managers need to have an appreciation for the user persona they are targeting.
  • The complexity of a product can increase over time, which can be both beneficial and detrimental.
  • Understanding the core needs of the user is key to maintaining the right balance of features and simplicity.

"Products become complicated over time. You add a feature for one person, it might be another click for another person, but I think that's where the art is. It gets down to the human connection."

Speaker A discusses the challenge of evolving product complexity and the importance of maintaining a connection to the human element of user experience.

Effective Product Reviews

  • Product reviews should be continuous and involve the core team to prevent wasted time on misdirection.
  • The size of the group involved in decision-making should be limited to maintain effectiveness.
  • Remote work can change the dynamics of product reviews, but clarity and intensity of communication must be preserved.

"You should have like continuous product reviews for the core team, and then monthly or quarterly for management."

Speaker A outlines the frequency and scope of product reviews, emphasizing the need for ongoing evaluation by the core team and periodic reviews by management.

Communication and Documentation

  • Clear communication and documentation of decisions are crucial for effective team performance.
  • The failure to provide proper context can lead to suboptimal actions by team members.
  • Partnering with a program management person can help maintain the necessary documentation and follow-through.

"So if someone does stupid shit on my team, I didn't give them the context because they're smart people."

Speaker A acknowledges that mistakes made by team members often stem from a lack of context provided by leadership.

Hiring Process for Product Teams

  • The hiring process should involve understanding the impact that candidates have had in their previous roles.
  • Technical skills and understanding of how products work are critical, especially in enterprise software.
  • The hiring process should also assess how candidates handle difficult situations and whether they take responsibility for outcomes.

"So I want to understand impact you've had, and then you'll say something, and until I think I could do it, I keep asking questions."

Speaker A explains their approach to interviewing candidates by deeply understanding the impact they've made and their technical abilities.

Hiring Committee Structure and Dynamics

  • Companies have unique cultures and needs, which affect hiring decisions.
  • Doubts about a candidate can lead to confirmation bias among hiring committee members.
  • A hiring committee should be small and cross-functional, including a technical person and a naysayer.
  • Members of the hiring committee must be deeply respected within the organization.

"If someone comes in and there's non believers, confirmation bias is very real. So if you can't enroll the hiring committee to believe that this person's great, they're going to fail."

The quote emphasizes the importance of having a hiring committee that believes in a candidate's potential to avoid confirmation bias and ensure the candidate's success.

Scaling Product Teams and Maintaining Connection

  • Rapid scaling can lead to a disconnect between leadership and individual contributors.
  • Leaders may not be aware of the cumulative burden of tasks on individuals.
  • Teams can become focused on process over innovation, losing sight of customer needs.

"Losing touch with the day to day of the individual contributor. I don't know what people spend their time on intrinsically."

This quote highlights the challenge of staying connected to the day-to-day work of individual contributors as a company scales.

Time Allocation for Product Teams

  • Product team members should spend time talking to customers, using the product, and collaborating with engineering.
  • Time management is crucial but challenging, with administrative tasks often consuming a significant portion of time.

"A third of their time should be talking to customers. A third of their time should be using the product and working with engineering, and a third of their time should be thinking."

The quote outlines an ideal time allocation strategy for product team members to ensure they are engaged with customers, the product, and strategic thinking.

Friction Between Departments

  • Friction often occurs between engineering and sales departments due to differing short-term and long-term motivations.
  • Sales may push for features based on customer requests, while engineering may resist due to broader implications.

"Engineers and sales have. Opposite is a good word. Motivations."

This quote captures the fundamental conflict between engineering and sales teams: their differing motivations and perspectives on company priorities.

Mediating Interdepartmental Conflicts

  • The role of product leadership includes mediating conflicts and finding creative solutions that align with company strategy.
  • Engaging with customers can help clarify needs and reduce unnecessary feature requests.

"I'm like the fixer or the mediator for a lot of these things."

The quote illustrates the product leader's role in resolving conflicts by understanding both sides and finding a solution that benefits the company.

Reality Distortion in Leadership

  • Great leaders in startups often bend reality to achieve seemingly impossible goals.
  • There is a risk of leaders becoming delusional and damaging the company if they are not truth-seeking.

"That's reality distortion, but you enroll people in it so they can hunker down and prove everybody wrong and accomplish it."

This quote describes the positive aspect of reality distortion, where leaders inspire their teams to achieve ambitious goals.

Relationship Between CPO and CEO

  • The relationship between a head of product and CEO can be complex, with potential for conflict and miscommunication.
  • Effective communication and alignment on vision are key to a successful partnership.

"The CEO is the CPO. So it gets back to, are you a rock star or are you a roadie?"

The quote reflects on the dynamic between the CEO and the head of product, where the CEO often drives the vision and the product leader supports that vision.

Self-Reflection and Improvement as a Product Leader

  • Product leaders may underestimate the impact of their demeanor and communication on their teams.
  • Being aware and direct with communication can help mitigate misunderstandings.

"Because I form this human connection with people, I underestimate the negative impact my words can have."

This quote reveals a personal insight from the speaker about the unintended consequences of their communication style.

Advice for Product Managers and Leaders

  • Understanding the customer and product is crucial for product managers seeking promotion.
  • Clarity on the level of agency in product roles is important when hiring.
  • New CPOs should focus on building relationships and avoid making sweeping changes too quickly.

"Really know the customer and really, really know the product."

The quote advises product managers to deeply understand both the customer and the product for career advancement.

Reflections on Parenting and Work-Life Balance

  • The speaker reflects on the wonder of parenting and the importance of being present.
  • Balancing career and family life is an ongoing challenge, with different strategies needed as children grow.

"Just like hold on to the wonder."

The quote encourages new parents to appreciate the small, amazing moments with their children rather than rushing their development.

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