What I've enjoyed about being in tech is entire industry lifecycles happen within a few years because the pace of innovation is so fast: you can identify new customer problems, build innovative solutions, and scale entire businesses that transform a given market – all within a year or two. This is that much more true of the creator economy right now, where mobile phone-based tools transform content creation and disruptive innovations in distribution & monetization of creative work converge at precisely this moment.
We're doing everything we can to be nimble, learn fast, and focus on creating value for creators as our north star. Only time will tell how well we'll do in this space, but I like where we're currently positioned.
I think of this in two ways best conveyed through a sports metaphor: learning new plays I can add to my playbook, and building reps so that I can figure out what the right play is for a given scenario.
For the first, I enjoy reading about strategy – lots of Stratechery, various strategy books, stories of people navigating hard choices with clear tradeoffs, etc.
For the second, nothing beats live reps: getting to make decisions on the field and getting things wrong and learning from your successes & especially your failures, ideally with good coaching & mentorship. I did plenty of that as a founder and have been lucky to have had many reps as a PM over the last few years as well.
We leave it to each team to figure out what helps them balance flexibility with clarity to achieve their maximum speed of execution.
We do our best to have a common language around goals, strategy & measuring progress, but largely leave it to teams to figure out how best to build & ship given their own goals, strategies & roadmap.
I generally don't believe in investing in differentiation for differentiation's sake – if the feature doesn't solve a core customer need then I'd have a hard time prioritizing it over a feature that does simply for the purpose of checking a box on a table unless there's a strong belief (preferably: clear evidence) that it will drive a purchasing decision, and that is the right priority for the business at the time.
That said, the place where I could see this being a key driver of strategy is if you're looking to enter a new market or serve a new segment. In this case, differentiators may help test & validate a new unmet need, allowing you to move more quickly to establish a winning position in an adjacent market.
If your execs are pushing your product in a different direction from your customer & market input, try to understand why that is. They may be trying to pivot the business, or they may have a vision for where the market is going that doesn't quite map to where the market currently is. Or there may be a miscommunication or misunderstanding about what the market needs.
In each case, do your best to figure out why you're pointed in different directions, and drive alignment on those inputs so that the product strategy can be grounded in a set of hypotheses everyone is committed to testing even if they're not quite totally sold on them.
A product that is working well for its users will show strong user retention metrics and very positive qualitative feedback from users. If you're retaining the vast majority of your current userbase with some signs of user-driven growth or upsell activity, your core product is probably on solid ground. From here, figure out where in your funnel you're underperforming: are you having a hard time acquiring traffic or in converting traffic to signups or customers? As you analyze each stage, you'll see a varying set of problems & potential diagnoses emerge.
On the other hand, if you're seeing significant churn in your userbase and your funnel is fairly leaky at each stage, focus on nailing your core value proposition for the right userbase first, and then push to get to scale through the right growth strategy.
This sounds to me like your sales team doesn't believe the target market is big enough and/or the right market. It's hard to believe in a product strategy unless you agree on who it's for, so the first thing I'd do here is to get everyone aligned on who you're building for & why, and then articulate why your strategy is the best way to win in that market.
The only stakeholder that must have buy-in for your product strategy is the one accountable for the results of your org or area. That may be a C-level exec or VP or GM or a discipline lead. Once they believe in the strategy as the best path to hit their goals for the business, what remains is largely a communication challenge.
Keep in mind that getting alignment with your primary stakeholder may require you to get the approval of multiple other stakeholders along the way. For my thoughts on how to do that, see the first question on the list.
I generally believe product strategies should be evaluated more frequently the earlier a product is in its lifecycle. A zero-to-one team I worked closely with found the right pace to be testing a new direction & goals every month or so, whereas a scaled team I led had sufficient visibility to establish a high-level strategy that lasted well past a year.
At Patreon, we aim to set strategies & goals that cover 6 months or so for each team. In tech, unless you're working on a platform or infra initiative that is largely independent of evolution in user need, I'd generally recommend somewhere between 3-6 months for early-stage or growth companies and 6 months to a year for more mature companies.
At each of those milestones, I'd suggest confirming your core assumptions about your customer, the problem space, the competitive landscape & your strategy to maintain or grow your market position. If any of those elements change in a fundamental way during that window, you should consider whether you need to update your product strategy even if it's not quite on schedule.
First, define "right" by establishing clear goals – is it product-market fit? Is it growing an existing product to a certain milestone? These will help you determine the right form of validation to apply to each stage.
For products that haven't yet achieved market fit, early & rapid customer feedback cycles are the best form of validation I've seen – push your target users to tell you over & over again in surveys & interviews that what you're building is something they must have, ideally by getting them to sign up or even pay you before you've even built it.
Once you have a clear sense of your goals after product-market fit, figure out what inputs drive those outputs – for example, if your goal is 10x growth in total customers in a year then maybe you need to significantly grow your weekly signups. And if your product initiative is to reduce the number of steps in your signup flow, then your target metric is likely to be improving conversion at the end of that flow. Once you implement your product initiative, test whether it's hitting your goal and iterate rapidly until you find the best path forward.
Pick the right input metric for each product initiative based on the goal for the initiative & track it closely to figure out whether your product strategy will get you to your goals.