Building an Executive Team from Scratch

by Prince Sewani

A CFO that won’t commit…

Our current CFO is an amazing human being, but he has still requested to operate from backstage. Someone I’ve known for over 3 years, currently employed at one of the large investment banks and is a certified financial analyst & fitness trainer. He also contributes to a set of family businesses and all of this keeps him pretty busy.

The CFO’s mental todo list

He seemed pretty enthused when I talked to him about the first project, however, a couple of weeks passed by and things didn’t progress (in regards to his confirmation of on-boarding). One fine day, after a gentle follow up, I received a call explaining the image above.

As is very evident, that list lists down a mental todo for the plans he had with his immediate and near term future. I humbly accepted but did strictly suggest that the part about not keeping clear communication with me wasn’t appreciated. I wouldn’t have expected such a behavior from him, at the very least after having been through something our friendship endured in the past year. I decided to give him a call and hang out while I got stuck at the Mumbai airport overnight.

I have a concept: “Be a river”, essentially suggests not to hold stuff in, never good for relationships (primarily the long-standing ones). Be polite, but feel free to convey how you feel, don’t hesitate to do so, if it’s not well received that wasn’t going to last or be fruitful for either person anyway.

Lastly, Product #2, Ghost Souls (ghostsouls.com), I shared the journey of inception and brought him in to help polish the commercials, now we have our CFO onboard.

Learning / Advice: People pursue a passion, readily commit to what excites them.

A hesitant CTO…

One that was open to being a sounding board, but wouldn’t sign an NDA or a contract. Our Current CTO, is someone with 20+ years of hardcore tech experience, is a bit of a geek if you ask me, could easily be a rocket scientist if he wanted, watches so many documentaries, not sure how he soaks & survives all that consistent stream of knowledge.

We’ve known each other for over six years, we’re more like brothers at this point, he’s kind to host and so I have a ritual of staying at his place anytime I visit Montreal, saves me money and also allows us time to catch up.

When I talked to him about Product#1, he did immediately and enthusiastically dove into the mode of exploring the idea, and readily shared his inputs and when offered the position of a CTO, verbally accepted.

Few weeks went by, while I was doing the groundwork, I reached out to him again to check-in and see when can I send in an NDA to discuss further and possibly sign a contract. We arranged a call, discussed the product roadmap at length, and established the baseline for competitor analysis, ending the call with an ask of sharing a contract and NDA template that has worked for him in the past (aka people used to sign him on).

And then began the era of follow-ups, one fine day I received a set of texts, you can see the texts received here:

And my responses here:

After a careful 90 minutes call, deep diving in all the issues he experienced with the three startups, and having subtly conveyed how my approach and thoughts are overtly different, we now finally have a rockstar CTO. The issues, he experienced, were lack of planning, misaligned expectations, and arrogant behavior from the last three founders he worked with, when we dove into my thinking and the history we carry, we were able to collectively clear the clouds that hindered this milestone.

Learning / Advice: When it comes to bringing amazing people on-board, be ready to have tough conversations dealing with past projection on current. If your intentions are in the right place, nothing can stop it from happening. The key is to always have a beginner’s mindset.

VP Business Development & Strategic Partnerships that denied to partner…

He was the first person I called when I made up my mind about registering my own company and starting work on Product#1, someone I’ve known for more than 3 years. Post the initial calls, he very enthusiastically followed up for further discussions and followed through with some proactive research, still love it, the best sign of the perfect person you want to absolutely have on your team.

Few days passed, we decided to talk about compensation, I offered directions to a few websites where startups typically list their jobs to look for some baseline and then come up with his expectations of what he feels would be the right figure. In the next two-three days, I received an email with a tailored cover letter and a business canvassing book (cost him a certain dollars on amazon). It detailed to the point different sets of responsibilities he had kindly offered to take on and to contribute to the verticals of Strategic & Financial Management. There was also an equity ask on the higher side and a little section that outlined his personal exit strategy. 
 

What’s to be loved here? The preparedness, organization, thoroughness, thoughtfulness, and effort. However, I said NO, there were some red flags. You’ll find below my response elaborating and setting expectations:

Which led him to say no, very naturally. But the best part, here again, he insisted on catching up because he didn’t want our friendship to suffer. This tells you miles about one’s character. I was convinced immediately to drive this to collaboration but only after openly discussing the issues and ensuring there is an up-skilling of perspective on the other end.

We talked through all the issues, closed the gaps and we were successful in building that perspective and bringing him on-board with the same level enthusiasm he had initially.

Learning / Advice: Relationships matter always, commercials can always be worked out. Building credibility leads to stronger bonds.
 

Discovering a Rockstar CMO

Took more than a few tries, cycled through six senior leaders in the industry, a few that said no because they weren’t comfortable growing revenue for a startup, including one that ghosted us, in the middle of a team meeting, which was supposed to be for discussing launch & growth strategy, even a few, with their own firms, only to meet our current CMO, during a networking call, with no intentions of going in there to find someone and recruit them. Currently, our CMO is helping us align our Brand Voice Unification, Brand, Launch, and Growth Strategy 

Learning/Advice: It’s absolutely fine to spend time to find the right fit, the right person in the right role, really makes it worthwhile.
 

With that, I’d like to thank SPLSG to extend this opportunity for sharing these details. Should you have any questions/suggestions/advise or need inputs, feel free to reach me at:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/princesewani/

About Prince Sewani

Prince Sewani, Founder & CEO of Prince Multiverse Inc.

Prince brings over a decade of Tech, Business, Strategy, and Leadership experience. Thus far, he has worked in Finance, ERP, E-commerce, E-governance, and briefly in Healthcare & Telecom domains. He has worked with some of the major brands across the globe, including a few blue-chip companies in consulting, management & leadership capacities. He’s currently focused on learning Demand Generation, Growth Marketing, gaining more depth & breadth in Marketing and Design Strategy.

Covid-19 – How does Home Office affect Product Leadership?

covid-19 and home office
Home office under Covid-19 threat

In times of covid-19 home office and product leadership does not always go together very well. After some two weeks of supporting my current client remotely, I can summarize my impressions as follows:

  • Going from one meeting to the next has become tougher as you can’t stand up and walk to the meeting room. There are days now where I walk less than 2,000 steps!
  • Larger meetings tend to be less productive.
  • Unfortunately, not everyone can always use video.
  • Co-creation has become almost impossible.
  • Work is generally more dreading than usual.
  • On the other hand, there is more time where one can focus on thinking without being disturbed.

What do you think? How does the home office affect your product leadership? Please vote now!

[yop_poll id=”4″]

The Healthy Ratio Product Manager: Agile Team

How many product managers should your organization have?

This is a question that is asked many times. And it should be answered on multiple levels:

  • How many product managers should be responsible for the output of a development team of size X?
  • How many product managers does your company of size Y need?
  • What type of product management organization is needed/possible for Z product managers?

There is a good article by Siraj Khalic about this topic: https://medium.com/atomico/europes-product-management-problem-9061bc71dc99. For the “Y” above, he writes about a status quo median ratio of 1:34 in Europe (aka if your company has 60 employees, you have a maximum of two product managers on average). For the “X” above, the number of 1:24 (aka if your company as a development team of 24, you have one (!) product manager on average).

If you take a look from another angle: Let’s assume you are working agile. Your individual squad size should not exceed six to eight. And this number (1:8) is confirmed by Siraj for the Valley, but not for Europe. I have experienced many cases where one product manager was responsible for two scrum teams. Sometimes supported by a “Requirements Manager” or a “Junior PO.”

Let’s finish this post by discussing “Z”. The size of your company is limited by the number of product managers you have and how you organize them – not the other way around. Let’s image you have a development team of 200. With the ratio 1:8, it would require 25 product managers. As one product lead cannot work directly with so many product managers, you need to establish a layer in between. E.g., you could have one Product Director with 3-4 Heads of Product reporting to him/her. This requires senior product leadership. If you don’t have this in place, the outcome of your 200 employee development team will be suboptimal.

Top 7 Experiences Needed as a Product Leader

I have been thinking about this a lot. We are all aware of the experiences and skills a Product Owner/Product Manager needs. But a Product Leader needs more than those “horizontal skills” to succeed in his or her organization. Here come the ones SPLSG believes are the most important:

Top 7 Experiences needes as a Product Leader
  • Large Organization – A Product Leader needs to navigate in large structures. Typically matrix organizations and very senior stakeholders are something that requires personal experience.
  • Large Team – Managing 3-5 Product Managers is relatively easy. But what happens if you are responsible for larger teams? If there is a hierarchical layer between you and your (practitioner) Product Managers? Not to forget: The Engineering Team also becomes quite large. Very quickly a Product Leader needs to steer 50-100 Engineers. You will need a personal leadership experience of that size to succeed.
  • Business & Market Acumen – You need to have a commercial drive to customers and how go-to-market works. As a Product Leader, you cannot leave this to others. You need to actively contribute & challenge your peers and the CEO.
  • Strategy/(Business Model) Innovation – Building features and only looking a couple of months ahead will make your company fail sooner or later. You need to be able to conceive a future, describe it to your organization. You should have done this a couple of times already.
  • Stakeholder Management/Evangelization – Perhaps the most important one. You need to not only sell your product but also influence the decision making of your stakeholders. Beware the stakeholders of a Product Manager are not automatically the same as the Product Leader’s. You will need many years of stakeholder experience on a senior level to succeed.
  • Processes/Organization/Product Development – This is the “bread and butter” of a Product Leader. No shortcuts, no excuses. Organize & deliver – together with your Tech counterparts.
  • Agility/Entrepreneurship – Build-measure-learn is the mantra. But not only on practitioner level, but also on an organizational level. How to be agile/entrepreneurial in a context that is built for a predictable future? If you have never have seen this from inside out, you will have difficulties. But if you aren’t having this as a strong driver, you won’t be passionate enough to make it happen.

So, how many boxes do you tick as a Product Leader? Is there something important missing in this list? Please comment – We are looking forward to your thoughts!

What happens when 10 Product Leaders discuss OKRs for 1 day in 1 room?

Last Monday Luca Criscuolo and Jörg Malang (both SPLSG) welcomed eight product leaders to the second Product Leader Roundtable in Berlin. This time the topic was OKRs.

Product Leader Roundtable Participants
Rohan Garg, Lisette Fabian, Marcus Birke, Chand Malu, Thomas Berszieck, Christoph Borer, Jörg Malang (f.l.t.r.)

In this intimate setting, very honest and insightful discussions could happen. Applying the Chatham House Rule, it was possible to profit from peers without impacting confidentiality. Senior leaders from well-established companies, but also start-ups shared their business cases.

For me, the key takeaways were the following:

  • OKRs have three dimensions:
    • OKR definition (spend enough time and love into this and involve your organization)
    • OKR project implementation (think your project through in advance. Don’t take it lightheartedly)
    • OKRs as catalysator of a massive change process
  • Getting Top-Executive buy-in is crucial. It even boils down to how the CEO sees his/her role, the company values and the role of HR.
  • OKRs get Product Leaders excited.

Everyone in the group said in the final feedback round that they had profited from the day. The quality and intensity of the discussion and the hands-on relevancy of the presented business cases made their days.

We are looking forward to the next Roundtable. In case you are interested in being informed about our next event, please make sure to either become SPLSG member here or sign up for our public newsletter here.

Do you use OKRs in Your Company? – Vote Now!

Do OKRs hit the target or not?

In preparation of our Product Leader Roundtable in Berlin on 16/09/2019 focusing on OKRs, we are looking forward to understanding better how widespread this framework is. Please help us by voting below. Thank you!

[yop_poll id=”3″]

OKRs – Hype or a fundamentally new approach?

Objectives and key results (OKRs) are being discussed everywhere. Obviously, they are helpful to align the direction of the company across different teams. But does this make them fundamentally new?

Origins

OKRs showing the way for organizations?

You should be aware that they have first been mentioned already back in 1975 (read more here). Everyone who has some business education will know “Management by Objectives (MbO)”. We would argue that the framework is anything but new. Nevertheless, the fact that today it has become fashionable to implement OKRs in organizations is new. Above all, there seems to be an imminent need to align not only Product and IT, but also strategy and execution, business and product, product and marketing, etc.

Organizational Starting Point

Let’s take a look at the starting point. Organizational silo structures have made it increasingly difficult to have a competitive advantage over others. In a world where customer demands are getting more and more sophisticated, it is vital to be organisationally effective and efficient. At the same time, defining, designing, building and operating products requires an aligned approach. This cannot be planned like a waterfall project. The big word is “agility”. Most importantly, being able to ad hoc react to new insights and the ability to change direction whenever necessary. In a world where this matters most, a product leader needs to stand up. It all boils down to the ability to influence and to lead people into the desired direction. SPLSG have named those skills “horizontal skills.” Based on product management expertise, the responsibility of a product manager is ever-broadening.

Focus areas of SPLSG - graphical overview
Horizontal vs. vertical skills of a Product Manager

OKRs might be a good framework. But without the overarching skills and without the mandate to lead, the implementation will simply end in a mess.

Get to know more

Discuss this topic more! We would recommend our next Product Leader Roundtable on September 14th in Berlin. It is fully dedicated to the topic “OKRs for Product Leaders.” Secure your tickets here.

Best Summer Ever?

Welcome back!

How was your summer? Slowly, but surely people are coming back to their desks. So have we @SPLSG 🙂

We are super-excited that tickets for our Roundtable event on September 16th in Berlin are selling fast. The focus will be on OKRs for product leaders. Learn more here.

Other than that, it might be worth mentioning that our initiator & founding partner Jörg Malang will be in Berlin September 17th-19th. Feel free to schedule some time with him here.

Speak soon!