Peter Peter - Founder, UserActive

Building a Successful Product with Henry Latham

Peter sits down with Henry Latham, the founder of Prod MBA. After working with around 400 Product Managers, Henry shares his invaluable insights on the world of product management and the key factors in creating a successful product.

  • Common misconceptions in building SaaS products: pitfalls of the waterfall approach and sales-led decision making
  • The significance of a clear product strategy that focuses on solving specific user problems and delivering unique value
  • Filtering feedback and ideas through the product strategy to maintain the product’s value and keep the team empowered and engaged
  • Practical tips for SaaS founders to empower their product teams, including providing guardrails for success and fostering close relationships with users for quick feedback loops.

Discover the power of product strategy and gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to create a successful product and team by watching this interview.

Transcript

[00:00:02.850] – Peter

Okay, so I’m here talking with Henry Latham, founder of Prod MBA. Henry, thanks for joining me for a chat. Would you like to take a few moments to introduce yourself? Who are you and what do you do?

[00:00:13.700] – Henry

Yes, sure. So I started my first business about ten years ago, failed pretty quickly with that, but gained a huge amount of experience and then the last ten years just and really been driven by the burning question of what makes some products succeed, what makes others fail, and then fast forward to three years ago. I decided to start a business a bit more on my own terms as a solopreneur, not raising venture capital, where we essentially train product managers to become confident, effective, successful product leaders. Rather than just giving them lots of theory, we get them to actually build a real product in the process. And yeah, eleven cohorts later, that’s sort of where I’m at now. 

[00:00:54.110] – Peter

Fantastic. Okay, so you’re coaching up current generation of product managers, helping product teams build the best products that are most likely to succeed.

[00:01:02.410] – Henry

Exactly.

[00:01:04.870] – Peter

So I think you’ve got really valuable insight into how to effectively build and market a product. I think you had some initial points around misconceptions. We mostly deal within the SaaS space and I know your remix is a little bit more broad than that, but did you have any comments about common misconceptions in SaaS that might be amongst your audience or the industry?

[00:01:30.630] – Henry

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I’ve worked with 400 product managers now, many of which roughly 50-50 come from SaaS space. And a big mistake I see when it comes to building SaaS products is on one side, we see a waterfall approach where it’s… We see this in any type of product that the founder says, okay, we want to build these things. Like, this is how I envisage the product. Hey, product manager, just go build it, or whoever the team is, right? Go build this thing. That’s wrong in any product because we tend to find that our ideas are wrong. 80% to 90% of product ideas fail, so that’s not a great approach.

On the flip side, or specifically with SaaS, we tend to see what we call sort of sales led product decision making. And that can actually be the case where we listen too much to our users. So any product manager would recognise this situation where we’ve got our sales team, our CEO, all these different stakeholders saying, hey, Pete, we need you to build this feature and that feature, that one, it’s going to make or break this deal. We’ve promised it already, make it happen for us.

[00:02:40.310] – Henry

And they’re not deliberately putting pressure on. But what we tend to find then is that we end up with a pretty messy product because there’s no coherent product strategy, right? There’s no sort of focus like, what are we going to do uniquely? Well, it’s just like a hodgepodge for want of a better word, of different requests put together. And we end up further down the line actually losing market share because we’re not actually satisfying everyone. We’re doing a little bit of maybe pleasing John over here, Jane over there a little bit, but not with a really nice coherent, well thought through product experience.

So that’s the biggest or the biggest sort of misconception let’s say within SaaS is, okay, we should listen to our users, great. But we shouldn’t just build everything they say. We should have a strategy in place, really clarity over what are we going to be really good at and what are we happy to not be good at.

Simple example, Prod MBA, small business. We compete against big venture capital funded businesses, many of which B2B model. We’re really good at hands on actionable content. We’re not the company to go to if you want to go work at Google or you want specific mentors from Silicon Valley scale ups, that’s not what we do. So we’re focused over here. Now it’d be really easy for someone to go like, hey Henry, I give you 50 grand to train our product team. If you have someone that works at Twitter, for example, we just say, no, that’s not our thing. And by being really focused we’ve managed to keep driving forward and keep growing steadily.

[00:04:14.540] – Peter

So you have to use some discernment. You’re getting some feedback from your users but you’re not letting them pull you into a direction that’s just for their use case that doesn’t satisfy the broader market.

[00:04:24.900] – Henry

Correct. Because if you start opening up that gate you might close the deal short term, but long term you’re setting yourself up for failure with this sort of behemoth.

[00:04:34.390] – Peter

You’ve kind of diluted the value of your product by doing different things in case.

[00:04:38.960] – Henry

Correct. And I mean, obviously we’ll talk about this later, but you also completely disempowered and disengage your product team because they’re not there to do project management which is just tell me what to do and I’ll make it happen. Product managers are there to discover opportunities themselves, work out what they think makes sense to work on and then put it out in the market and see what happens.

[00:05:01.260] – Peter

And we’re just going to about to move on to another point, but just before we do, is there a way you can quickly summarise what are the ways that they can gather that insight and information besides just evaluating the requests from users or potential deals? So that getting a broader insight into the opportunities in the market?

[00:05:22.390] – Henry

Yeah, great question. I think it comes on to a topic. I think the most important point when it comes to SaaS products, which is we like to separate particularly B2B versus B2C, right?

Business to business versus business to consumer. We like to think that they’re very different. There are differences. So for example, SaaS B2B, you have somebody that you need to sell to. Ultimately that’s usually they have to work. Okay, where does the budget come from? What’s the role? We have things like usually a difference between the buyer and the user, the end user, for example. These are things that your SaaS founders know, right?

[00:06:03.830] – Henry

However, the thread across all products is the same. And I’ll come back to answer the point more directly. Every product is ultimately there to solve a specific problem that the user faces and then move them to the ideal outcome they’re looking for.

Secondly, we need clarity over like who actually are we trying to help? Who specifically are we trying to help? And then thirdly, how are we going to deliver value in a unique way? And that is the key thing when it comes to decision making, whether a CEO or product manager or the most senior product person is you need to be crystal clear about who you’re helping, what you’re ultimately helping the user achieve or drive towards.

[00:06:46.690] – Henry

And you need to be absolutely crystal clear about how you’re doing it in a way that means you’re going to be far better or provide at least different value than one of your direct competitors or existing alternative when you’re clear on that. So again, in our example, that’s hands on actionable learning when it comes to feature ideas or a user gives you some feedback or let’s say one of your clients gives you some feedback, even your CEO gives you some ideas about what you could build. You just filter it through the product strategy and say, look, is this going to help us be more hands on and actionable? If so, let’s talk about it. Maybe that’s something we work on.

If not, not our thing. We’ll leave that to somebody else to do. Really great example of this in practise is Superhuman, which is a B2C email product. Their big headline hasn’t changed for a couple of years now. We are the fastest email experience ever. So what do they do? They simply go, okay, if we got a new idea, is it going to help us be faster? If so, let’s talk about it.

[00:07:47.130] – Henry

If not, whatever. Not our problem. Right?

[00:07:49.980] – Peter

I like that idea of having your predefined strategy and then any opportunity that comes up, you filter it through that to assess exactly whether it’s worth pursuing or not. Henry, you came up with an interesting point when we were speaking before, which was about the nature of what is a product at its core. I wondered if you could talk to us a little bit about that.

[00:08:08.750] – Henry

Yeah. So product at its core is essentially the vehicle for moving someone from problem they have to the ideal solution. So for example, that could be, let’s say, weight loss, right? Products essentially someone’s struggling with weight and then the product should be any way to move them to feeling confident, good in their body, et cetera, et cetera. So product that could be a diet, it could be a coach, it could be a digital product as well. But the reason why that’s really important to remember is it’s really easy, again, relevant to SaaS to be like, look at all these awesome features we built.

Apple tried to do this in the 80s with the first Mac. Steve Jobs big full two page printout in the newspaper, hundreds of specifications. And people went like, I don’t care. What is that doing for me? I don’t care if you put loads of work in how amazing your team is. Look at all these cool technology we’ve developed. I want to know what’s the problem it’s solving for me and where it’s going to take me, essentially. And then we see how Apple actually completely transform their successes when they have single word on two words on a two page spread, which is think differently.

[00:09:19.390] – Henry

Why? Because it helped people buy into this thing of where am I going? I identify as a creative person at the forefront, and Apple seems to be the company that’s going to help me get there. So product outlets core is essentially we have a problem and we’re simply that elevator that’s going to move us up towards the ideal outcome. And to tie it back to that product strategy, I think in terms of how we think, then about, okay, what do we build or what frame to look through? It’s really simple. We put an offer up about here’s the thing. We’re going to give you, for example, the fastest email experience ever if we’re super human and then let’s just deliver on what we’ve promised. So let’s deliver the fastest email experience ever. If you do that, everything else sort of clicks into place. You can’t go too far wrong there. Revenue model tends to click into place if you’ve got a really valuable product that users love. Generally speaking.

[00:10:13.770] – Peter

I like that superhuman example because it’s such a clear and simple objective, right?

[00:10:20.070] – Henry

I use it every week, because it is so simple. They’re charging $30 a month in a market. If you said someone, hey, launch a product in the email market, outcompete Gmail, I wouldn’t know where to start with that. And they’ve absolutely smashed it out of the park. Great.

[00:10:36.860] – Peter

That’s awesome. Yeah. Henry, I think you’ve got some really good insights onto what makes an effective product management team or product team. Could you give us a quick summary on what SaaS founders can do to empower their product team and get the most out of them?

[00:10:51.810] – Henry

Yeah, great question. I think it’s also worth… These teams. As I’m sure founders know, they cost a huge amount of money getting really experienced technical people. They’re in high demand. So actually hiring, paying for and then retaining them is hard, as I’m sure all of you are aware. So I think there are many tips.

The key thing to focus on is to try to empower them as much as possible. This is one of these fluffy words, right? But empower them so that they can go and put the work in and solve the problems themselves. How do you do that? You can’t just say, hey product team, product manager, go build a successful product. No, you want to put guardrails in. The guardrails are the product strategy.

So if I can give you content and say, hey Pete, look, here’s what we’re trying to do. High level, we’re trying to be the fastest human experience ever. Go work out how we do that. That’s great leadership because then you’re really going to impact, you’re going to get them to step up to the plate rather than getting just to emotionally, psychologically detach when you just give them a list of things to work on.

[00:11:54.640] – Henry

People step up to the plate in almost all cases when we’re there to support them and actually empower them. Or if not you’ve hired the wrong person and you want to get someone else in at some point. But generally people are actually really happy and excited to step up to that kind of challenge. So recapping that. Be really aligned on product strategy, crystal clear about where you play in the market and where you don’t play. And that then allows you to say, hey, you’re the product expert, go work it out. You don’t need to be so involved after that.

[00:12:25.600] – Henry

I think the second thing is really encouraging them to… Second tip, really encouraging them, particularly in a SaaS environment, to do very close discovery work. So what does that mean? It means things like push them. Are they speaking to their users every week? Have they got close relationships with maybe four or five so that they can test out an idea quickly, same day, for example, honest feedback from these kind of people. Any way of getting this ongoing relationship particularly important in such because you’re usually not dealing with hundreds of thousands of users. It may be ten, it may be 50, 100, for example. So that close relationship means you’re able to get a quick feedback loop.

[00:13:05.110] – Henry

And I think the third thing is psychological safety. And this is the most important part of effective teams. Again, it’s a fluff phrase. How do you create psychological safety, ie. A situation where people are willing to take risk? Just be clear and accept that 80% to 90% of product ideas fail. And that’s true of LinkedIn, that’s true of companies like Pinterest. So if you communicate that and say, look, we just want you to move quickly, try things, see what sticks, then you’re going to create a really effective team. That again, one, two out of ten of those ideas is going to be the thing that really helps you take off.

[00:13:42.170] – Peter

Awesome. Hey Henry, awesome to hear your tips. I know you’ve got so much knowledge in this space, so I think that’s really valuable for what people working in product teams or SaaS founders trying to get the most out of the product teams and build the best product that they can. So appreciate those tips. How can people follow you or cheque out what you’re doing at Prod MBA?

[00:14:00.510] – Henry

Yeah, best thing to do, I post every day on LinkedIn about products, product challenges. Anyone that works in product, or is related to it, worth checking out. So just search Henry Latham L-A-T-H-A-M on LinkedIn. Just follow me there.

[00:14:13.820] – Henry

I’ve also published two books. So one is Product Strategy Is Simple, really a breakdown of what I talked about. With product strategy. The other, Product Leadership Starts With You, and Product MBA is something you’re interested in. If you want to move into product or fast track your path to Product leadership, just go to P-R-O-D MBA. So Prod MBA and you’ll find all the info there.

[00:14:33.650] – Peter

Sounds fantastic. Okay, Henry, thanks so much for sharing this. It’s been great talking with you today.

[00:14:38.520] – Henry

Cheers, Pete. Thanks.

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