My top 7 takeaways from Product Leader Summit 2019

Rohan Balwani
Nov 11, 2019 · 4 min read
Product Leader Networking at the Summit

I recently attended the Product Leader Summit held at Spero Ventures in Redwood City. Product Leader Summit is an annual event where about 120 founders and product leaders get together to learn from one another through keynotes, workshops, and round-table discussions.

It was a great day of learning, and here are my top 7 takeaways from the day.

1. There isn’t a pre-defined route to becoming a CEO.

Amanda Richardson, the former CEO at Rabbit, shared her journey from Chief Data and Strategy Officer at HotelTonight to CEO at Rabbit. She informed the audience that the route to becoming a CEO isn’t pre-defined as CPO -> COO -> CEO. Product Leaders should instead talk about their aspirations to the CEO & board. The CEO then can help them get exposure to areas with which they aren’t familiar.

Amanda also shared insights on how CPOs can make the transition, what they should know about the CEO role, and why CPOs would make great CEOs. Amanda’s talk can be found here.

2. When you can’t iterate, do lots of research

Marc Tarpenning shared his story of founding Tesla with Martin Eberhard in 2003. They started with a mission to reduce oil consumption, and researched everything — technology, and issues with current (in 2003) EVs, and components that could be outsourced. The team then created a plan for a better product. Their “MVP” was the Tesla Roadster.

Another great insight was to “Raise money when you have something to show your investors.” Since Tesla had high capital requirements, they raised funding after each significant development milestone.
Marc’s talk can be found here.

3. Distraction isn’t the opposite of focus, but traction

Nir Eyal shared insights from his new book, Indistractable. He defined traction as anything you want to do with intent. It could also include watching sports or scrolling through your newsfeed on Facebook.
Distraction is anything that takes us away from something we intend to do. It is caused by external triggers (pings, dings, and rings) and internal triggers (uncomfortable psychological states that we seek to escape). We should adopt a curious attitude about the triggers and “surf” the urges by using techniques such as a 10-minute delayed gratification rule.

Other nuggets of advice include making time for traction through planning your day and hacking back external triggers with technology.
Nir’s talk can be found here.

4. The most successful teams are those with psychological safety.

Deb Liu, the VP of Marketplace at Facebook, spoke about creating a fertile ground for product innovation. She shared that the most successful teams were those who had the freedom to try something new, to iterate, to evolve, and to fail without fear.

Deb also advised against falling for common traps such as “We’ve tried that already.” She emphasized the importance of having a growth mindset and encouraged trying to dig deeper — If it failed last time, why did it fail? Was is due to strategy, tactics, or execution? What did we learn after the previous failure? What is different this time?
Deb’s talk can be found here.

5. Talent making is everyone’s job

Sarah Bernard, VP of Customer Success at Greenhouse, spoke about the importance of talent development.

She stated that excelling at hiring is not just for great recruiters. It’s a company-wide commitment as the average tenure of an employee at a company has shrunk to about 24 months. Sarah asserted that talent development is an org-wide responsibility. Leaders should develop a culture of hiring within their teams. Engaging with the community through affinity groups and meetups will help make the org a talent magnet. Leaders should also partner and work closely with their talent acquisition team so that the recruiters have a clear idea of the cultural and expertise requirements of the team.

6. Apply the “Power of the Suck” to inspire a shift in perspective

Shripriya Mahesh, a partner at Spero Ventures, shared her experiences battling cancer. She spoke about how her experiences prompted her to gain empathy for marginal users. Her advice to everyone was to recognize the power of the suck. Everyone goes through ups and downs in life. Along with working through them, we should use “the suck” to think about how we could make our and others’ lives better.
Shripriya’s talk can be found here.

7. Iconoclasts break convention

Todd Yellin, the VP of Products at Netflix, presented the closing keynote of the day. His advice to everyone was to create a team of iconoclasts. As product leaders, we should foster a culture where people feel safe in trying something new that might fail. Innovation relies on challenging the status quo, where every assumption is questioned (kindly). Your team should feel safe to say, “I don’t agree with that.”

He also encouraged everyone to empower their teams to make decisions and allow for a diverse set of voices.
Todd’s talk can be found here.

Product Leader Summit is one of my favorite product conferences to attend every year. I’ve already started counting down to the next one!

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