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Hi, I'm Janna Bastow and I'm the co-founder of ProdPad.

We're a bootstrapped team of product people making product management software for other product people.

We’ve always been focused on building a business, not a startup. By this, I mean we haven’t gone for external funding. Instead, we focused on building something we could sell from Day 1 and have successfully grown the business organically, from our own customer revenues (and sweat and tears).

Thanks to my talented co-founder and CPO Simon Cast and all-star team, we’ve been able to dream up and implement incredibly creative and technically challenging ideas that have fuelled our organic growth.

An example of this is our new user onboarding, which we affectionately call the “magically extending trial.” We designed an onboarding flow to start users off with a 7-day trial and automatically rewards them with more time as they try new things in ProdPad. Our trial-to-conversion rate more than doubled as a result.

Pulling this off was definitely a team effort - digging out user analytics, talking to our customers, designing a “badass” user experience, developing a persuasive email flow. But this is standard practice at ProdPad - everything we do is product, so we’re always all hands on deck by default.

As for me, I’m originally Canadian but moved to London to take on my first product manager role at a startup. I had no idea what I was doing at the time and started a small meetup to meet and learn from other product managers. As the community grew, I co-founded ProductTank, a now global meetup taking place now in over 80 cities around the world and Mind the Product, the community and the world’s largest conference for product people.

Lately, I’ve been spending more time on the speaker circuit. Most recently, I was on stage at Turing Festival (Edinburgh), MicroConf (Barcelona), SaaStock (Dublin), and I hope to see some of you in the audience at the upcoming SaaStr in San Francisco!

You can connect with me on Twitter at @simplybastow

I will be live on Oct 18 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which I will answer as many questions as possible.

  • AA

    Aldin A

    5 months ago #

    Hi Janna,

    Thanks for doing this AMA!

    1)I love the idea of the magically extending trial. How do think about retaining users in a consumer product setting, if your user only need to use your app occasionally by nature (ex shopping app)? If your app isn't used frequently building up the habit is hard, which makes it even harder to retain the user. How do you go about trying to stay top of mind so when the user has a need that your app solves they think of you?

    2)How do you increase your chances of determining that a feature that you are thinking of building is of genuine value to the user vs just leading down the path to a more bloated product? Do you have a process for vetting features? Additionally as your product grows how do you make sure your product doesn't become bloated?

    3) What are some of your favorite resources pertaining to not only growth, but business in general (books, podcast, blogs, courses, etc)?

    Thanks

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      3) I try to read the FoundersGrid newsletter when it comes in (it’s daily, which is a bit much for me, but always has entertaining and insightful reads). I read a bunch of business books, but if one stood out for me recently, it was The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.

    • BS

      Bhaskar Sarma

      5 months ago #

      Hey @aldin

      @simplybastow mentioned Nir Eyal's Hooked method in creating customer habits.

      In this post http://www.nirandfar.com/2016/09/hooked-customers.html he talks about habits and real estate. You cannot make buying houses a habit like you would taking an Uber. it fails the Toothbrush Test, which is what Larry Page uses to determine whether a product will be used once or twice every day.

      But you don't necessarily have to build a habit around your app usage to stay on to of the mind. Real estate agents can create habits out of other things related to houses, like home improvement, gardening, finance etc.

      They can create content around these topics, and get people to interact with them on a regular basis. Or they can create a Facebook group to talk about the same topics, and run geographical ads. People will also get in touch with each other in the local area, and they will remember the real estate agent as the facilitator.

      Content marketing and a robust community will keep you on the top of mind of prospects, and when the time comes for the transaction they will consider you first.

      YCombinar followed this strategy with HackerNews. Founders don't apply to startup accelerators every day, but they will often go to HackerNews to keep themselves updated with the latest news.

      Hallmark's Keepsake Ornament's Club also pulls off exclusivity and community to pull in revenues and usage for products that are seasonal. They are so successful that Chirstmas themed celebrations in Auguest have lines of people outside the stores.

      More than the actual revenue, you should focus on increasing true engagement. That's more valuable than cart completion rates, and will net you higher LTV

      • AA

        Aldin A

        5 months ago #

        For sure. I love Nir Eyal's work. Totally agree on what you said about community

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Hey Aldin, thanks, it's good to be here!

      1) Whether for consumers or for business users, building habits is hard. One book that covers this well is Nir Eyal’s Hooked: http://www.nirandfar.com/hooked
      In essence, it’s about finding out what might trigger the user to think about using your app, and giving them a really simple way to act on it, and then making sure that even the smallest actions result in some sort of value so that they are willing to spend more time in the future coming back and using the app more.

      This will look different in every app and every user base though!

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      2) It's important to listen to what your customers are asking for, but to take feature requests with a grain of salt. Instead of just building whatever seems to be most popular, I always recommend talking to customers until you understand the core problem they're having, and investigating different ways they currently solve it. Once you know the problem, you can start sussing out to see if it's a valuable problem to solve (would they pay for it, would they be excited to see the new feature, or is it just something they already expected, or is it something they are already a bit meh about when you follow up a week later?).

      We never build anything just because one customer asks for it, but as we talk to customers we figure out trends and try to build towards what they are seeing as best practices.

      And we're not afraid to take out functionality if it's holding back progress or usability on the app! If something's not being used, take it out, or tuck it away somewhere where it won't impede the usage of your product for regular users.

      2 Share
  • SA

    Shaker A

    5 months ago #

    Hey Janna,

    Great to have you here.

    1)How do you decide how long to run an experiment for? You could take forever to analyze the data (always another piece of data you could look at). How do you know when you've done enough analysis to declare it a winner or loser? Declaring a loser would probably be harder since if you look hard enough you could probably find something of value.

    2) What are the most valuable lessons you've learned in your career? What are the most important lessons you've learned about building a product people love?

    3) In your opinion what are things early stage startups have to do to not only survive, but thrive? Conversely what do you see startups messing up that they can't afford to, and how do they fix them?

    Thanks

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      2) As I shared with Arsene earlier, I think it’d be when we learned that we are not our market, even though we were product managers ourselves. We had to accept that even though we knew the space well, unless we really took the time to talk to our customers, we weren’t going to build a product that was any good.

      Strange that experienced product managers still had to learn this lesson, but it’s something I’ve seen trip up a lot of great product managers! Lesson of the day is that your assumptions are probably wrong, so get in the habit of checking them constantly :)

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Thanks Shaker, good questions!

      1) Some apps get enough traffic to determine a winner (statistically significant results) in a matter of hours or days. Not all of us are Facebook.
      So when it comes to running experiments at the early stages, you’ll probably need to run tests for a couple weeks… this also has the benefit of smoothing out ‘bumps’ that you get from weekly usage patterns or holidays or other events that might have otherwise caused a weird skew in your data.
      In order to get the most out of your tests, test wildly different variants to start. This way, you don’t get stuck with only your ‘local maxima’ (when you test a bunch of minor things like changing button colours and copy to get a strong version of that particular page layout, but you don’t think to test a completely different layout that might have stronger results straight out of the gate). Think of it like playing Battleship: You don’t just start from the top corner and work your way down. You throw in a bunch of random coordinates, and only start really checking that area closely when you get a hit!

      2 Share
    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      3) Move fast. In the absence of all the resources and people that larger companies have, the only thing that a startup can do to win is to run circles around their competition by being more nimble. The design, build, test, learn cycle should be measured in days, if not just hours. Time and time again I see companies trying to build way too much into their first versions of the product, complete with native apps, automated emails, push notifications, etc. The first version of a product that adds (tiny but measurable) value might simply be you, a phone, and some long hours, to test the concept of your product.

  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    6 months ago #

    Hi Janna,

    Thank you for coming to GH:) A while ago, I stumbled upon ProdPad's product, and immediately shared the magical onboarding experience with my team. It is so brilliant, and I wonder why not everyone is doing that!!!

    1. You described a lot around how the team redesigned that onboarding flow here: https://www.prodpad.com/2016/06/ux-new-user-onboarding-extending-trial, and it's really a great read. When you have a big scale change such as completely re-design a flow/feature or launch some new features, what are the steps/framework you should follow? Any tips for a team which didn't do that systemically before to get started?

    2. In term of product management, each company is likely to have their own process, when you design ProdPad, how do your team solve this challenge?

    3. What's the key reason for ProdPad to be able to sell products and self-sustain from day one? What do you think of the future of the product management tool space will be?

    4. And last one (sorry for too many questions here but I already edited out a few), what do you personally do to learn about building good products? Any resources/recommendations?

    Thank you and look forward to your answers:)

    Hila

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      3) When Simon (my co-founder) and I first talked about starting ProdPad, we explicitly said we wanted to start a business not a startup. By that, we meant we wanted something that gathered revenue from customers instead of depending on outside capital to survive. So when ProdPad was first launched to the public in 2013, we attached a price to it from day one. We realised that if we weren’t able to sell even the basic version of the app as it existed back then, then it wasn’t likely going to be a promising business as it grew.

      As it turns out, people needed product management software and we started getting our first sales within the first month! Over the years since we first launched ProdPad, we’ve seen the product management tool space grow and change. For starters, people are actually looking for tools now! A few years ago, most people were looking for ‘spreadsheet templates’ or similar, and didn’t realise that there were tools that were purpose built for exactly what they were trying to do.

      In the future, I expect that more and more companies will be adopting product management tools - we’re starting to hear from large enterprises who’ve got dozens (or hundreds) of product people and want to roll out tools to work at scale. We’ve already got a few of these on board, but I think there’ll be more customers like this with each coming year!

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Hey thanks very much Hila, it’s good to be here :)

      1) One of the important things to do when you’re doing a big redesign is to break it down. I remember at one of our early ProductTank events in London, we heard from a speaker at Moo.com, the business card / tech startup. They’d just done a redesign, which in my opinion looked awesome and from the outside, looked like a really smooth launch. But their product manager went on stage to admit that it was a bit of a mess, and urged anyone going through a similar process to not attempt to take on as much as they did: They rebuilt the backend product and the customer-facing ecommerce site at the same time, and as a result, bit off more than they could chew. The result was that the project was delayed and took them more time and effort than expected.

      At the time, I nodded along and said ‘I’ll never do that myself’. But when ProdPad was due for a redesign (both in terms of the technical architecture and the front-end experience), we made exactly that mistake. We took on a larger project than we were ready for and weren’t able to stick to our deadlines. In hindsight, we would have tackled one part at a time, perhaps rebuilding the API first, then the front-end, and then implementing UX and design changes in an iterative fashion on top of a more stable base.

      With the onboarding flow, this was actually not a large project in comparison, and it helped that our tech infrastructure was all new so we didn’t have tech debt to deal with!
      With this project, we didn’t set a goal for what would be built (ie. X features), but instead aimed towards a goal: Let’s get our trial-to-paid conversion rate up by X%. The magically extending trial was just one of the tactics we did over the course of the following few months that did in fact push those numbers up and up, which gave us all a real sense of progress and helped us keep pushing forward at pace with new experiments.

      So at the end of the day, if you’re faced with big projects like a redesign, think about:
      a) what are the ways you can break it down. Even if it seems like an inefficient route to have to loop back over the same bit of the product a couple times, think about how much time it’ll save if the larger project ended up stalling for one of the hundreds of reasons they do. At each stage, it should deliver something of value, even if that value is really more about how much more clarity it gives your team on what to build next and how (rather than the classic way of thinking about value, in what the customer actually sees).
      b) focus on the problem you’re trying to solve, rather than the features you’d like to see (and tie it to a metric or objective that you can quantify). This way, you don’t get too attached to one particular idea of how the product should work, but instead are open to trying different solutions and seeing which one moves the needle the most.

      3 Share
      • HQ

        Hila Qu

        5 months ago #

        Love your insight, a) divide & conquer to learn b) focus on the problem/goal, rather than the feature

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      2) We’ve actually been really surprised to find out that the product management processes across teams can be remarkably similar at a certain level. The process of finding your customers, talking to them to figure out their problems, outlining a product vision and the steps that need to be taken to reach it, and fleshing out ideas and feature requests into product specs that the dev team can use are all part of a common thread that just about any product-centric company needs to tackle.

      Once it actually gets to development, this is where processes tend to differ a lot, as some teams are more agile, others use Kanban, others have some special variation on a process that works (or not) uniquely for their team. But product management looks more at the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, rather than getting stuck in the ‘how’, and so we’ve been able to capture the best practices and bake them in to how the app works, while still leaving plenty of flexibility in how it works with other tools like JIRA, Trello, Slack or whatever other tools and processes the team is using.

      2 Share
    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      4) I’ve learned a lot of my product management by trying and learning for myself (there were no training courses out there when I started in this career!). Today, I can look back and say I’ve learned from the hundreds of speakers I’ve seen at ProductTank and at Mind the Product. There’s a huge pile of past speaker videos to check out here: http://www.mindtheproduct.com/category/product-management-videos/

      Sign up for the Mind the Product ‘Prioritised’ newsletter (once a week with a handful key links to read: http://www.mindtheproduct.com/product-management-newsletter/), Ken Norton’s Bring the Donuts (https://www.kennorton.com/newsletter/), and read everything from Marty Cagan (http://svpg.com/articles/). I hope that starts you off well!

  • SJ

    Sebastian Johansson

    5 months ago #

    Hi Janna and thanks for doing the AMA :)

    Liked www.prodpad.com!

    Few questions.

    1. How would you describe the role of a product manager? Whenever I hear product managers talk, they seem very similar to founders (-finding capital, -hiring). Maybe its a dumb question.

    2. What do you think are the best ways monetize communities and meetup groups?

    3. Have you discovered any other great hacks for growing communities and meetup groups that you could share?

    The “magically extending trial” hack was really simple and clever!

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Hey, that’s not a bad way to think about them - not a dumb question! It’s been said for a long time that the product manager is like the mini-CEO of the product (great article on this here: http://www.mindtheproduct.com/2011/10/what-exactly-is-a-product-manager/). Now that’s not entirely true, in my opinion, as the CEO has the ultimate power and responsibility, and more leeway to make big decisions than a typical product manager will have (plus as you say, they don’t have the hiring, financing, and the same management responsibilities as a CEO).

      The role of the product manager is to sit in the middle of the business, the customer-facing team, and the tech team, and work with them all to figure out what would be feasible, usable, and valuable for the customers. Their job isn’t to have all the answers, but to ask the right questions. This prompts the team to dig into their assumptions, do their research, and provide insights into their specialised area. The product manager then uses these answers (and a good dose of common sense, gut feel, etc.) to help craft the product specs and the roadmap. A product manager should also be incessantly curious. The best PMs I know are ones who are new to their space and ask the most questions!

      4 Share
    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      I'm going to answer 2 and 3 together:

      Building a community is like building a product in a lot of ways. In order for people to turn up (and spend their time contributing to your community), you need to provide a space and a format that helps them see the value in coming along. Of course, the value you provide will differ hugely based on what your community is about and who’s in it!

      In monetizing a community, remember that it’s a lot easier to get people to come along for free pizza, beers and talks, than it is to get them to pull out their credit card for it. There’s a lot of meetups out there, so you’ll have to do something unique that they really value! Remember, they are already committing their time to the community, which is sort of a form of ‘payment’ in exchange for value (and this shouldn’t be discounted! If people didn’t bother taking the time to come to your events, there’d be no value for anyone involved - no one likes networking by themselves!).

      There’s no hack in growing and building a community. With ProductTank, it took years and years of consistently putting on great events every month, going a tad larger each time. It was a lot of work, and it took a whole team of us to keep it going to get where we’ve grown it today.

      Sorry, wish I could tell you there was an easier way! ;)

      3 Share
      • BS

        Bhaskar Sarma

        5 months ago #

        I have been part of multiple groups and masterminds both online and offline. Some, I have paid month on month to be part of some groups while I have quit others that were free after a few weeks.

        From my personal experience and from what others have felt, a successful community follows the 3S formula:

        1.) Save time: Are your members saving time when they join your community/group/meetup?

        2) Support: Are your members getting enough support with their daily activities after they have joined your group?

        3) Simplicity: Is your group/community making your member's lives simpler?

        If you can offer these three benefits over and over again your community will survive and thrive.

        For example, Ryan Levesque runs a highly successful Facebook group called Next Level Mastermind. People pay $97/month to be members and in exchange, they get high-value information and exclusive content, along with handholding on anything from:

        1) Customer development
        2) Copywriting
        3) Buyer personal development
        4) Sales strategies
        5) Funnel hacking
        6) 10X'ing your business and getting off the hamster wheel
        7) Hiring and outsourcing advice from real world.

        I find great value in this group because I don't have to waste time Googling about what kinds of ads Facebook will ban or what marketing automation solution will be best for a particular budget range.

        I can just search in that group, or simply tag one of the admins, and I will get my answer in a few hours.

        There's no spam, the discussions are moderated, and I am guaranteed not to waste my time digging through mountains of mud to find out a nugget of gold.

        Building a community isn't like firing a bullet. It's more like firing a cruise missile, and monitoring it's flight path as it traverses through deep valleys and high mountains until it hits some cave in Bora Bora. As @simplybastow says , it's not easy to build a community :)

        (Full disclosure: I am not affiliated with Ryan in any way other than being his customer. I am just a fan of his work).

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    5 months ago #

    Bonjour Janna,

    Could you share with us a transformational product-market fit experience?

    Merci!

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Salut Arsene!

      Among my own experiences, I'd have to say it was the moment that we realised that we were *not our market*.

      In the early days of building ProdPad, we’ve built it to suit our own needs. After all, we were two product managers who just wanted a tool to help us with our jobs. Turns out other product people didn’t work the same way we did (this was back in the days when our roadmaps looked like Gantt-chart/timelines, which we now know is a bad practice: https://www.prodpad.com/2013/01/roadmapping-without-dates/), and so we had to throw out an entire module of the app, which was months of code work.

      Once we started talking to our potential customers about how they worked and what they needed, we hit the gold mine with our current roadmap format and things really started to pick up.

      You’ll never hit product/market fit if you don’t listen to your customers intently!

  • LS

    Logan Stoneman

    5 months ago #

    Hey Janna! Has there been a product or idea you have heard about at ProductTank that radically excited you, but actually did not prove to work? If so, what was the main reason behind the excitement and also for the failure?

    Thanks!

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Wow, what a good question, let me think. I doubt I heard about this at ProductTank specifically, but I definitely remember when Google Wave came about. For me, the fact that you could see you and your colleagues working in real-time, and it did away with the classic chat or post format that teams were often working with (these were the days of Yammer and email), meant that it was able to change how I worked with my teams.

      I used to use it with my team to flesh out product specs together (this was before we built ProdPad!), and the collaborative system meant that my work was faster and more informed than if it was sent around as a .doc (the old way of working). However, it was crushingly slow, hard to find your ‘documents’ and the workspace, and eventually just killed off by Google as it became a joke in the tech community.
      But they learned from it, and implemented the best bits of it into their Google Drive product, which has been a success by any measure.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        5 months ago #

        Hah - im with you - I loved Google Wave when it came out - the idea seemed so visionary at the time. Too bad about the execution the first time around - thought there was real potential there.

  • RB

    Ry B

    5 months ago #

    Janna,

    Excited to have you here.

    1)How do you look at hiring? Can you talk about some of the mistakes you've made hiring (and also seen others make)? What have you learned about hiring A+ talents?

    2)What do you think are the top skills/traits that a manager needs to have to bring out the best in their employees?How do you go about empowering employees and what does that look at Prodpad?

    3)How do you look at balance in your professional and personal life? When it comes to work, how do you decide what you have to work on today (I'm sure you have a lot of fires to put out every day)?

    4)What, in your opinion, are the top qualities founders need to succeed?

    Thanks

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Thanks Ry!

      1) Ugh, hiring mistakes are so painful. Yeah, I’ve seen bad hires come and go, both in ProdPad once and (more stories here) with previous companies I’ve worked for. Once classic mistake is hiring just for ability but not for culture fit. If you hire all ‘rockstar’ developers, for example, you might run into a problem where no one on the team agrees with the best approach and just spend their time refactoring each other’s code!

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      2) When hiring, the top thing I look for is their ability to communicate. You might be awesome at what you do, but if you can’t write well enough to get your ideas across to the rest of your team, then your talent will just get wasted. I hired our Head of Customer Success because I could see her past blog posts and awesome release notes about previous products she’s worked with. I hired our Head of Growth because she was the best damn b2b content writer I’d come across. I hired our UX Designer because he sat me down in his interview and showed me clear ideas on how he would improve how our product looked and acted.
      Once someone’s part of our team, I try to get the entire team involved in training them on how we work and what the product is capable of. I try to get them in front of real customers as soon and as often as possible. I try to give them a great space to be productive in. And then I try to get out of the way and let them do their best work :)

      Here’s a fabulous article written by Nandini on our team just a couple weeks ago, which will give you a flavour of what it’s like to be a ProdPadder: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/i-have-something-important-tell-you-being-head-growth-nandini-jammi

      • BS

        Bhaskar Sarma

        5 months ago #

        I like the stress on talking to customers as soon as possible. One of the reasons why I failed at my first go as a growth marketer was that I didn't talk with prospective users as much as I should have. I did 3-4 interviews when I should have done 20.

        Many people think that user persona documents prepared by someone else might fill the role, but so much gets lost in translation and assumed as obvious, especially when the person preparing the document is experienced and lives and breathes the product.

        It's like me teaching someone how to set up events and goals in Google Analytics when they don't even know the basics of setting up Wordpress.

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      3) I once got some well-meaning but terrible advice: “To prioritize your work, always think: what’s the most important thing for me to be working on.” While it helps you focus and keep pushing on things that move the needle, it’s very rare that it helps you live a balanced life.

      The thing is, if you constantly work and force yourself to crank out code or emails from your desk, it’ll work for a short while, but after a few months, you’ll naturally begin to burn out. You give up proper sleep, exercise, time for friends and hobbies, and you end up feeling like you’re making progress…. But often times will result in you becoming restless and less productive.

      Now I’m a top-grade procrastinator, so I work well to a deadline. So actually, forcing some of my time to be out of the office to hit the gym, go away for a night, play the guitar, or whatever else I’m having fun filling my time with… well, it results in me being willing and able to be more productive with the time I do have working. You’ll get so much more done with 3 hours of focused effort (knowing that in 3 hours, you’re going offline because you’ll be on a flight or getting your butt kicked at the gym or something) than you would if you tried to crank out 10 hours in a row at your desk.

      There will always be fires! Make sure you have the energy to fight them.

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      4) A lot of the same qualities that Product Managers need! See my answer to Sebastian above :)

      Persistence, ability to work with others while letting their own specialities and skills shine through, and intense curiosity and desire to improve the world (even if it’s just the smaller subset of the world that is product management and SaaS ;))

  • NL

    Nick Lock

    5 months ago #

    Hi Janna,

    Thanks for doing the AMA. I already send ProdPad to my product team to review.
    You mention from the beginning you wanted to build a business and not a startup.
    What were some of the things you did to gain early traction?

    Thanks,
    Nick

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      We talked a lot. By that I mean, we wrote a bunch of blogs on our site about the types of things we knew Product Managers were asking (after all, we were Product Managers ourselves, and had had all these similar questions and experiences!). Things like ‘How to do a roadmap’, or ‘Writing good product specs’. That was step 1.

      Step 2, once we started getting a few bites (ie. trial sign ups), was simply to talk to every last potential customer. Instead of setting up an automated welcome message, I wrote every last one and included enough detail to make sure they knew it wasn’t some bot-welcome, but instead I was genuinely reaching out and asking how they found us and how we could help. We still have some of our earliest customers on board with us, who remember all of the feedback sessions and back and forth as we figured out what was working and what wasn’t! It took *months* to get our first 10 paying customers, but once we got those folks on board, we started growing a lot faster.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    5 months ago #

    Hey Janna - stoked to have you on!

    What do you think separates the average product manager from the truly great ones?
    If you were interviewing for a PM, what would you ask to suss out if the person truly might have these traits or not?

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Thanks Anuj!

      Hmm, great question. It’s certainly not their education, or certifications, or years of experience, or even if their past products were awesome and well known (it’s easy to forget that great products are built by teams, so if you’re interviewing, say an ex-Facebook or ex-Foursquare product manager, just because they were on the team doesn’t mean they made a big difference to the success).

      I’d say that a truly great product manager will have a deep understanding of what would make a product successful: Both for the customers, but also profitable for the business. They should be able to talk about what questions they’d ask and how they’d go about figuring out if the product was working today and what could be improved. They wouldn’t have the answers, not in an interview - and if they seem to think they know the solution to all of your product problems already, that’s a red flag! But they’d be able to communicate their thinking process and how they’d learn and iterate to reach the product objectives.

      2 Share
  • DH

    Dani Hart

    5 months ago #

    Hi Janna,

    Thanks for joining today!

    As your building your company, how do you keep your team focused on the best opportunities?

    Also, awesome onboarding! Can you give us background on how that idea came about and what it took to actually implement? Were there any specific tools used?

    Looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

    Cheers,
    Dani

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Hey Dani, thanks!

      Thanks! The idea isn’t necessarily a brand new one, but borrowed from what we know some of the other ‘greats’ in SaaS have been doing. For example, Dropbox gives you extra storage space if you download and share. Slack gives out credits which can then be used against your first bill. Lots of apps have the concept of gamification like this… though we didn’t have storage space or credits that made sense to give out. Instead, we knew that people were often asking for trial extensions if they didn’t get a chance to use it enough in their first few days. So we decided to offer free time in exchange for completing actions! And like Dropbox and Slack, we aligned these actions with things that were easy enough for the user to complete, but also would mean they are using the parts of the app that are most likely to get them to sign up (for example, we give you more time if you install an integration… partly because it’s more effort, and partly because we know that people with integrations set up in their ProdPad account are more likely to stick around!).

      We used a mixture of tools to build and test (lots of sketches, post-it notes, and crumpled paper!), though at it’s core, it’s simply a fixed set of rules that pings our billing provider’s API (Recurly) to update the ‘trial end date’ for customers as they complete actions.

  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    5 months ago #

    Hi Janna, It's great to have you here today!

    Can you talk more about the "persuasive email flow" you referred to in your bio? What have you learned about what works and what doesn't (andy why)?

    Thanks in advance!

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Thanks Javier!

      Sure! This one was really fun.

      What we mean by this email flow was a more human way of interacting with our users… in an automated way. I mentioned this in one of my other comments in this AMA today, in that I used to write all of the welcome emails myself, one-by-one. And I had an amazing response rate, because instead of a generic ‘Welcome to AlphaApp3000’ email, I tailored it to who they were and how they were using it.

      The email flow we have today is based on that same principle. If you sign up and then don’t use the app at all, we know there’s no point in sending you a string of emails telling you more and more about the app. Instead, we take the opportunity to say ‘Hey, that was weird - you were here but you left straight away… what happened?’.

      Likewise, if someone jumps in and starts using the app and a bunch of the key features, there’s no point in sending them an email telling them about some basic feature they obviously know about. Opportunity to tell them about some cool advanced feature they otherwise wouldn’t have unearthed!

      At the end of the day, we just wrote the emails to be as human as possible, and really thought about ‘If I were to manually email this person, what would I say in the email?’ Turns out being human works :)

      2 Share
  • JM

    Jason Meresman

    5 months ago #

    Hey Janna - Great to see you on here. I’m sure the community will learn a lot from your responses!

    Could you talk about what you’ve learned about pricing from your ProdPad experience? Any tests you’re at liberty to discuss that provided any insights?

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      Sure - I file this one under ‘things I wish we’d tried 2 years ago’: Annual pricing. When we first launched ProdPad, we had a single price plan and a single package, on monthly only. Over the years, we’d had a small handful of customers ask for an annual invoice, which we processed manually using Xero invoices, but the volume of customers wasn’t big enough to make us think that annual pricing would be popular enough to justify complicating our pricing.

      Earlier this year, we released an annual plan which gives a couple months off for free. And straight away, without prompt (or months of previous use) people starting paying upfront for the whole year. We were blown away - and it makes such a huge difference to cash flow for a SaaS business like ours.

  • KA

    karim Abd El Kader

    5 months ago #

    Thanks for conducting this AMA, what do you think of the best case studies of product features who positively affected products growth?

    • JB

      Janna Bastow

      5 months ago #

      To be honest, I can't think of a single time that features made the difference in product growth. As a matter of fact, I'd argue that growth and traction has very little to do with product growth!

      As a case study, look at Slack vs. Hipchat. Hipchat has been around longer, and had a bunch of features. Slack came in and replicated a lot of that functionality... it didn't exactly do much that Hipchat didn't have! However, it was considerably more pleasurable to use, easier to get set up with, and had little delighters like slackbot and amazing copy. No one feature set it apart, but a careful eye for what users respond to and love meant that Slack skyrocketed in growth as compared to Hipchat.

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