Building a Rockstar Product Team

Have you ever wondered why there are so many amazing musicians but so few rockstars? We all know someone who’s fantastically talented. But being a rockstar takes a lot more than talent. The Piano Man waits for someone to put bread in his jar while Billy Joel is worth a cool $160 mil.

Tech products seem to work the same way as music products. We only have a few ‘platinum selling’ products like Facebook, iPhone, Google, Amazon, and Wikipedia. Everyone talks about them; no one can touch them. Some products have their 15 minutes of fame. But as in music, being Almost Famous in tech also gets you nowhere.

So how do you build a platinum selling product? You need rockstars.

I’ve been building rockstar Product teams for the last 5 years at startups (Showpad, eMeter) and big companies (Symantec, Cisco) . Here’s a few things I’ve learned about hiring, retaining, and coaching rockstar Product Managers, Designers, Data Scientists, and Engineers.

Don’t Hunt for Unicorns

You’re not trying to find the person who plays lots of instruments at once. You’re trying to find someone who’s insanely good at one. Do you have an expert in Product Analytics, Mobile Design, Data Science, Database Design, and DevOps? If not start there.

Are you a Tech company or Design company

People may cringe at this choice, but avoiding choices is the key to failure. Google relied heavily on technical interviews which led to huge success on Search and disaster for Google Plus. If you’re not sure, hire for Design.

Don’t Interview Candidates

Interviews suck, and resumes are misleading. Don’t interview. Pick a mock product that you’ll design, architect, and get to market. Our interview candidates design a “Calendar App for Sales People”. If 1M people wouldn’t pay $5/mo for it, we know all we need to know.

Nurture Talent

Rockstars can’t be hired unless you already have a rockstar team. So first you need to develop your team into insanely great performers. Take action on this. We do “Feature Friday” where every team member participates in Design for something new. Everyone learns theory and hones their skills at building product.

Don’t Have Meetings. Run Workshops.

Like interviews, meetings suck. Workshops are fun — you have a clear purpose and leave having built something meaningful. We do Workshop everyday at 1:00pm, where people bring designs, specs, and prototypes for a Creativity, Inc. style review.

Final Lesson: Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

If you know any actual rockstars, you probably know most of their day is extremely mundane. Hours and hours are spent rehearsing every chord. Our practice is user interviews, paper prototyping, clickable mockups. Most get thrown away. The ones that make it totally rock.

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