Product Management Lessons from Spotify, Google, Zapier, and others

Here’s a short overview of the most interesting bits I heard at Ready to Launch (a Slush side-event for product managers).

Kaapelitehdas, Helsinki

This is a very personal perspective.

Not all the presenters are included, because either I was networking at the time or they just covered things that I was personally already aware of.

And some presentations were just very good stories — there’s no point in retelling them here.

Note that the quotes are not 100% verbatim — I wrote them down as fast as I could but probably made some mistakes. The meaning should be the same though.

Okay, so what had PMs from Spotify, Zapier and elsewhere to say?

Gustav Söderström, Chief R&D Officer at Spotify

Spotify considered launching a separate app for podcasts at first. They then realized it doesn’t make sense. There were already apps with very good UX out there but they just didn’t have much traction.

“The biggest challenge in podcasting is distribution, not UX. This is why we integrated podcasts into our legacy app that wasn’t optimized for podcasting.”

The recommendations (for podcasts) were launched only after they were good enough. They first tested it extensively inside the company.

He claims building for yourself is a good start for international B2C products. As a big company there’s enough diversity (Spotify has 20+ locations around the world with thousands of employees), so, that approach scales.

He also touched on some past failures:

“Talk is cheap, so, you should do a lot of it. When people say “there’s something there”, there’s probably nothing there except laziness when it comes to the hypothesis.”

From Done to Launch — Setting Up for Successful Product Adoption

Deepa Daniels, Product Director at Peakon

Her advice was directed for B2B companies with 1–50 mln in ARR.

The most interesting bits for me were around product marketing. I’ll let the slides speak for themself:

Identifying stakeholders, needs, and responsibilities for launch
A sample launch timeline

Her final advice for keeping the team motivated:

“Celebrate together before you move on.”

Easy to forget but very necessary.

Lessons From Launches — Product Management Principles From Startup to Google and Back Again

Jonathan Rochelle, CPO @ Zapier

Jonathan founded 2Web Technologies which was acquired by Google and had the first real-time collaboration tool that became Google Sheets. He later also worked on Google Docs, Slides, Drive and other collaborative apps while there.

“Simple” is a feature — every feature you add takes away “simple”.

Ie just because you spent loads of time working on a feature, doesn’t mean it works for customers. Remove it as soon as you can if it isn’t being used. The more you postpone it, the harder it gets emotionally (see also sunk cost fallacy).

I think this is especially true in B2B — business apps grow very quickly in complexity. And it’s very hard to get people to remove crap even if it’s not being used.

“Don’t hedge. Decide and test. A or B. Don’t try to merge tests together or postpone must-have stuff to V2 — something in V2 might be essential for V1 to work.”

This is something I see quite often (and have been guilty of myself as well) — testing for the sake of testing not learning.

Testing should only be be done when you’re actually going to learn something. Learnings are binary — A or B. It can’t be “a little bit of A and a little bit of B”.

It also resonates with Gustav’s point — there should be a clear hypothesis for every test and feature. If there isn’t one, don’t do it.

“Get data… now! You’ll thank yourself later.”

I can definitely relate to that. It took me months at my own startup to implement proper retention metrics and it changed the picture completely. Instead of thousands of users, I had thousands of signups and a few hundred (active) users.

He briefly also touched on why Google Docs doesn’t have edit locking of specific sections:

“Trusting people is less complex and better.”

But you should backups in case trust gets abused. Google Docs, for example, has Undo, Version History and View-Only sharing.

Whose Turf Is It Anyway? Exploring The Balance Between Founder And Product Leader

Janna Bastow, Co-Founder and CEO of Prodpad
Audrey Tsang, Chief Product Office @ Clue

“So many product managers have imposter syndrome because as a product manager you are surrounded by people who are better than you in sales, design, engineering etc. But actually no one is better than you at everything, they are just specialists in a given area.”

- Janna Bastow

I would add to that — no specialist has usually better general knowledge/overview than a product manager.

“Great product managers feel the sense of ownership. They are first to recognize problems and first to volunteer to solve them.”

- Audrey Tsang

Why Agreeing The Game Is The Actual Win

Leo Nilsson, CPO at iZettle (acquired by Paypal)

Leo spoke about his experience of going from a relatively small company to having 20,000 colleagues — how do you scale that?

At iZettle they set a 3-year vision (ie they agree on the game). That’s a company-level mission.

They then break that down to strategic missions that can be achieved in a year.

Team missions are aligned to strategic missions and are set every 3 months by the teams and reviewed every 6 weeks. The review is called taking the company pulse.

Note that teams can be from every department — product, marketing, sales etc. Whoever is needed to make a given mission happen.

Basically, what he was saying, was to organize the structure of the company around goals.

Additional sources he recommended:

I can absolutely recommend Inspired as the best book on product management. Marty Cagan (Silicon Valley Product Group) also runs a good blog — most of the book content can also be found there. But for the sake of structure, I’d recommend getting the book.

The same goes for Reforge — by far the best courses on growth, retention etc. If you can’t afford them, then this blog post will give you a good taste.

I haven’t read the two other books yet, so, can’t comment on them. But knowing and truly understanding the OKR framework has been eye-opening for me. It’s partly covered in Inspired as well.

He also pointed at that Justin Kan quote ☝️.

I think it’s 100% true. Not only in the context of products as a whole but also in the context of features.

Features only get used when they are tightly integrated to where the work actually happens — whether it be inside or outside the product. Your product is never used in isolation. Sometimes the best place for solving a problem is doing it outside your own app (as an extension, integration etc).

This was (surprisingly) my first time at Slush. It was great connecting to and learning from others in the industry.

Unfortunately, I can’t make it to any of the main events but maybe you still can — go check out their schedule.

Head of Growth @ Planyard.com. Ex-Pipedrive and ex-Amazon. Will occasionally comment on growth, product, marketing, and tech. @teemast on Twitter.

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