Wade G. Morgan

Wade G. MorganShare

Product Strategy & Operations Lead, Airtable
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Wade G. Morgan
Wade G. Morgan
Product Strategy & Operations Lead, AirtableFebruary 17

Love this question as well, and I'll approach it from a couple different perspectives. First, I'd acknowledge that some markets are so big or fast growing that multiple amazingly successful winners can emerge. As of today, Apple is worth $2.8T and Microsoft is worth $2.25T. While I'm sure both companies wouldn't mind adding their other's market share to their portfolio, I also think any reasonable person would consider both outcomes desireable.

This example is not to say there's not need to play defense if a market is large or fast growing enough. Quite the opposite, both companies needed to battle furious competition until they helped the market consolidate from multiple dozens of players to a handful. That said, the example highlights that the way we strategize & define "defense" is contextual to a variety of factors, and changes over time.

Second, there's the old adage that the best defense is a great offense. While not perfect, there are a couple ways to translate that sports parlance to business:

  1. Recognize if you have a better mousetrap
  2. Identify ways you can uniquely innovate 

Keeping Apple & Microsoft in mind, they've demonstrated the ability to innovate on multiple dimensions - product innovation, distribution channels, platform ecosystem and more.

For Airtable, having a clear idea of the type of market we are in, the maturation stage of that market, and our unique / potential pillars of innovation are all inputs into how we play offense & defense. Clarity within these dimensions enables us to lean into or away from potential product investments. While it can be tempting to try to build every capability each perceived competitor has, being rooted in your unique advantages and your perspective of your environment can guide how you think about which areas make sense to defend, and which areas are ok to ignore.

Last but not least, keep your customers first. Sounds simple, doesn't always turn out to be. As company's scale, it can feel harder and harder to track the challenges customers face. Create systems that incentivize people to maintain a customer focus, and fight the urge to over-index on short term, unsustainable wins. As best as you can, set customers up for long term, sustainable, thoughtful success. 

Wade G. Morgan
Wade G. Morgan
Product Strategy & Operations Lead, AirtableFebruary 16

Love the spirit of this question, and will broaden it a bit to "how do you balance market needs with the vision your company may have?"

Prior to shifting to Product Strategy & Ops, I was hired as the 2nd Account Executive at Airtable. I found this experience so valuable because I had a front row seat to literally thousands of customer perspectives on what our product needed to evolve. One of the biggest lessons I took away from that experience was how to think about the balance between providing what people ask for, vs providing something they never would have conceived of--let's call it the iteration vs innovation decision.

When it comes to "building what customers ask for", one of the most valuable mechanisms we used during those early days was to figure out the ask behind the ask to determine what we should actually provide. Often, a customer would ask for a "demo", but what they really needed was a conceptual understanding why Airtable was different than existing solutions. No need to set up a 60 minute screenshare, if I can get you past that gate with a 5 minute discussion. I use this situation as an example because it's analogous to customers requesting specific features.

Just by taking the extra time to uncover their ultimate objective, and being willing to sit in a bit of discomfort (customers are often very eager to solve their challenges), you may learn even more than if you just provided what they asked for. Sometimes you'll find that you should build exactly what they asked for, other times it will be something different.

With that in mind, it is not our job to only build what customers say they want. Sometimes, despite their best intentions, they can't imagine the future you can because their thinking may be constrained by current limitations. It's also your (our) job to innovate, and when you try to innovate, you won't always get it perfectly right, but that shouldn't stop you from trying.

In short, when iterating on customer requests, consider investigating their ultimate objective to determine whether you should build exactly what they're requesting, or something that solves the same problem in a better, more sustainable way. At the same time, don't be afraid to innovate. The world would be a lot different if we just had faster horses.

Wade G. Morgan
Wade G. Morgan
Product Strategy & Operations Lead, AirtableFebruary 16

This is a natural question and I would specify the question a bit to say "how do we validate that our product strategy is the right one for us?" 

Might seem like a small delineation, but the truth is, no one strategy is right for every company or product. What works amazingly for one company could yield paltry results for another. 

For that reason, I'd say the best starting place to determine whether you're developing a strategy that is right for your situation is

  1. To be clear on the first principles you're designing around
  2. Try your hardest to maintain an environment of intellectual honesty that normalizes healthy friction (by healthy friction, I mean people care, are not afraid of unnecessary repercussions for sharing original ideas, and communicate in a compassionate way with one another) 
  3. Have a bias for action instead of perfection

Every strategy looks great in a deck or on a whiteboard, but you have to be willing to put something out there and see what the world tells you. To paraphrase Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. If you've designed your strategy from your principles, aligned them to your goals, brought people along the journey with you, and aren't afraid of changing your mind due to feedback (👊🏾 ), you'll be able to inch yourself closer to what's best for your company.

Wade G. Morgan
Wade G. Morgan
Product Strategy & Operations Lead, AirtableFebruary 16

Our mission as a team is to clarify & accelerate the product roadmap. For us, clarification means a couple things:

  1. Do we know what we aspire to invest in over the next quarter, half year, or FY?
  2. Have we clarified our decision / prioritization framework of what causes an initiative to be above or below the line for what we will commit to?
  3. Do we have a shared understanding of the tradeoffs that will occur as a result of our decisions, and are we ok with the outcomes of the tradeoffs?

On the acceleration front, one helpful lens we've found has been:

  1. What are organic ways we can accelerate the roadmap?
  2. What are inorganic ways we can accelerate the roadmap?

Product & investment prioritization stems from company strategic prioritization, so it's critical to have a clear understanding of what the company is focused on and why, first and foremost. Organic levers to accelerate the roadmap could include things like streamlined internal process, quicker feedback & iteration cycles, strategic investment in particular product surface areas now to unblock / enable future developments down the road, and more. Inorganic levers to accelerate the roadmap could include product partnerships, technology partnerships, or M&A. 

In all, we measure success based on the degree to which these efforts clarify the direction of the product.

Wade G. Morgan
Wade G. Morgan
Product Strategy & Operations Lead, AirtableFebruary 16

For us, product strategy stems from company strategy, so it's first important to have a firm grasp on where the company strategy is headed holistacally, and why. Additionally, we serve as a partner function for the entire ProdDev org, so rather than owning a specific segment of the product, we're responsible for helping the company zoom out a bit to identify key areas that could make sense to invest in. 

As a result, when working with our exec team it's critical to understand both the company strategy & priorities, functional strategy & priorities, as well as the audience we're communicating with. Similar to working with customers, no conversation is one size fits all. It's critical to understand how to communicate at the right altitude, align your recommendations to existing priorities, and understand how to listen / iterate on feedback to achieve the best outcomes. 

Some specific advice for influencing leadership, whether at the executive or other levels would be:

  1. Clearly define how your suggestions accelerate the achievement of goals you know they care about
  2. Proactively provide the appropriate framework / structure to assist their analysis of your recommendations
  3. Invite / proactively think through the devil's advocate perspective to your recommendations
  4. Possibly most important of all, be clear about what you're asking them to contribute to / decide on
Credentials & Highlights
Product Strategy & Operations Lead at Airtable
Product Management AMA Contributor
Work With Wade G.
Senior Product Marketing Manager, IT Audience
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