(110) Best insights from my conversation with Jens Fabian, Head of Products, RevenueCat

I speak with at least one product leader every week from anywhere around the world for around 90 minutes.

However, my interaction with Jens Fabian should be one of the best ever episodes I have ever recorded. He was extremely sagely, grounded yet radical in his ideas on product.

I was glued to every bit of what he uttered in this 120 minutes conversation.

Do listen to the audio only episode on Spotify:

Or on Youtube:

Here are the best insights from the interview:

What do you look for in a startup before you decide to join it?

  • A startup that you can relate to and understand the need for the problem to be solved.
  • Is this the problem that world want to see being solved?
  • Do I get along with the team?
  • To what extent do I believe that the product might be successful?
  • Who the founders are and what is their approach to build the organization?
  • How much do the founders understand the role and the need for it and does it fit with my understanding of the role?
  • What is the founding team’s vision for the product? Is there a product strategy?

The running gag is the that the first product manager of any startup gets fired because they have to live out all the conflicts with the founders, and all the tissue rejection of the organization.

What was your plan for the first 100 days in your organization to set yourself for success?

  • Setting up clear expectations on how does this role fit in the organization.
  • Getting to know the people — both your team and stakeholders. Go on a listening tour with everybody within the first few months.
  • Understand the needs of the stakeholders and perspectives.
  • Understand the motivation and goals of my team and know what drives them.
  • Understand the product itself and make myself familiar with it.
  • To talk to as many customers as possible. It’s so easy to be stuck in your own world and in your own perspective of things and finding them wronged when you talk to customers.

“I am failing as a product leader, if a week passes by without talking to a customer” — Jens-Fabian Goetzmann

  • Understand the strategy and the product and ideally start influencing it.
  • Understand the processes and structures and start improving them.
  • Starting to get a lay of the land quickly and seeing where I can improve things quickly and where are things that can be improved gradually.
  • I am not a fan of coming up with a big vision for how things should be but rather coming up with whats working and not working today to pick areas of improvement.

How to build trust in the early days of your PM role?

  • Trust is best built by delivering small successes.
  • When you talk to stakeholders, the feeling heard part of it is already a trust building exercise.
  • You build a reputation for making a difference.

How can you find allyship and support for your initiatives in a new organization?

As a head of product, you cannot come in all guns blazing. When you start changing a lot of processes and way thing are done, without others understanding the need for them, people are not going to follow that. Even if people are going to be coerced, they are eventually not going to live the processes.

Hence, you need to approach this as a change management effort. If you regularly talk to the teams trying to understand their problems, and show them how your initiatives are a step towards solving them, you will gain allies.

Do you need to be likeable to succeed in any organization?

  • There is no one profile that is best suited to effectively lead and influence in any organization.
  • You have to lead without authority.
  • No matter what kind of personality you are, you definitely need to be willing to interact with people a lot.
  • There are different kinds of likeability — some product leaders are stronger on the personal, social likeability who have a natural inter-personal ability to build rapport and are natural connection builders. I am not that kind.
  • My strength is understanding the different perspectives of different stakeholders and putting myself in their shoes and making sure that as I talk t. To make people see that I heard and listened to them and seen things in their perspective.
  • You can never please everyone but ensure you make them know that you understand what their concerns were.
  • Likeability is in work context — it is about collaborating effectively. Some people do that in a relationship sort of way, some people do that in a transactional sort of way.

What are your product principles?

  1. Seeing prioritisation as a pyramid but not as a single process.

Prioritization is often talked about in a narrow way. No body can prioritise hundreds of things to prioritise. At any given point of time, you should be able to narrow the number of options you are looking at simultaneously.

Have fewer options at the highest level and more as you go down.

In the highest level, I see the vision and the strategy.

What are the market segments we should focus on next? There can be five different market segments, but we prioritize on one or two segments. What are the areas of the product we should build on next and why?

And vision and strategy cascades to strategic objectives to opportunity spaces to individual opportunities to solution ideas.

A strategy that gets everyone’s yes is an indicator that of a not-so-good strategy. That indicates that you didn’t make tough choices.And if you dont make touch choices at the level of strategy, how are you going to make tough choices. And then you end up with a product that is opinion-less and shapeless with no point of view.

2. Empowered teams

I have the fundamental belief that product work is best done when you haev cross functional teams that are durable and that work on problems and missions and achieve outcomes, not outputs.

3. Principle of continuous discovery

Talk continuously to customers, continuously mapping your assumptions, continuously learning, and not just stopping once you feel you are done with something.

This was the summary of the first 45 minutes We covered a lot more ground in this 2 hour conversation. Do listen to the audio for more.

Building nextgen real estate platform at PriceHubble & podcaster at productlessons.com. I blog about products, business around products, and growth strategies.