Product Management as Portfolios - Eeke de Milliano

Product Management as Portfolios - Eeke de Milliano

I recently listened to Eeke de Milliano (ex. Retool, Stripe) speak on Lenny's Podcast and forwarded some clips that were directly applicable to the COO of a SaaS startup thinking about growth.

The proverbial "PMF boulder" was quickly rolling downhill for the COO's startup, and she was thinking of hiring me as their Head of Product to chase growth.

She felt like she needed to hire outside PMs with experience to help homegrown talent independently build new projects.

Below is the email I forwarded to her.

Hey 🙋‍♀️,

I just listened to this podcast with Eeke that made me think of you + 🌸.

Some bits that I thought could be useful:

Hiring: How 🌸 should think about empowering in-house teams w/ outside PM hires. (57:08)

Eeke: I really like to balance product teams with homegrown product managers, who really get the product. They've probably been in it. They're amazing culture carriers, often. They really set the tone. But they may not have seen product management at other companies, and they may not have some of the more conventional and traditional product management skillsets.

So I want to balance that with product managers who've come from other companies, and have done it, and can bring a little bit more of that product manager rigor. Even though they don't have, in the Retool case, the core Retool product management vibe.

New Products: Keep the team small and separate from Core Product. Treat them like a startup -- they get finite resources and have to prove revenue/profitability/impact. (35:00)

Ira: I think it's extremely important that new product initiatives engage with core product as if they were customers of core product.

Often new product teams need help from core product--whether it's engineering resources or just documentation on how core can be leveraged for the use case.

For example, at LiveRamp, the newly-formed Fraud Detection initative never successfully validated their hypothesis, because they needed ETL resourcing from Core Data that would not be prioritized for several quarters.

Though the new initiative was clearly beneficial for the company, Core PMs would never prioritize Fraud's unvalidated bet.

For a startup, speed is of the essence, and two quarters of no ETL meant the project was DOA.

Moreover, repeated asks to Core Eng felt meant costly context-switching. Eventually engineering grew tired of answering questions and stopped providing support altogether. Though both teams were working hard at their jobs, it was a lose-lose situation.

Bc new initiatives are often executive pet projects, they can either: demand too much time/resourcing from core product or not get help at all. There needs to be a contract or interaction mechanism to align core PMs with new bets.

Eeke: We started really small with all of these initiatives.So I think I mentioned, we really had one or two people working on each of these products for the first six months. So it was one engineer and one designer, or one engineer and one PM. And they really didn't get funding until it was clear that there was something there.

So those teams, they spent a ton of time with customers. They spent a ton of time building, a ton of time prototyping. And it was kind of the moment where it was like, "Okay, they are there." That we started bringing more people onto the team.

So, that was the first piece. The second piece is that, we really treated them like startups. We're like, Retool's the VC, and Retool funds with resources and Retool's existing customer base. Which is obviously quite valuable, because you have all these customers you can market to and promote to.

But then, the teams really had to prove that ROI. Either in engagement, or eventually revenue, in order to be able to move forward.

And then the third thing... And this one, actually I think it can be quite controversial. Is, we were really deliberate about keeping these teams separate from the rest of the org, especially early on.

If your startup is experiencing hyper growth, Eeke recommends considering new product initiatives and new PM hires as part of a product portfolio strategy. What will complement the existing product portfolio? How should you hire for what your product org lacks?  

Listen to the full episode here.