Events April 14, 2013

Insights from #ProductSF 

Greylock’s First Product Event


Last week, Ty Ahmad-Taylor from Samsung and I hosted an event in the Presidio with over 120 Product Managers from around SF, Silicon Valley, and beyond. Our idea was to create an event we wished we had been to earlier in our product management careers. We wanted product managers to learn and talk about career paths, growth strategies, team management and hiring, product processes and tactics, and much more. And we hoped to make everyone realize that it isn’t just their company where people frequently ask — what does a product manager actually do?


The amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge couldn’t overshadow the amazing talks. All of the speakers and attendees were current or former product managers, some of which included former Director of Product Management for YouTube, Hunter Walk; Allen Blue, co-founder LinkedIn; Srikanth Rajagopalan, Director, Product Management, Google; Tom Conrad, CTO of Pandora, Joe Zadeh, Head of Product at AirBnb, and many more who contributed to a full day of product discussions.



It was great to hear stories from people who have been in the trenches building products. We had a few people who talked about stories from the very early days of some of today’s biggest companies — and one that could have been — as well as discussions on growth, storytelling, and architecture.

I wanted to share some of my favorite insights from the day organized around words that were repeated many times:


At the beginning of the day, Hunter Walk talked about the blend of science and art, and how curiosity is the most important trait of a good product manager because it means they are constantly trying to figure out what people want and how the world works. During our growth panel, Pete Davies from Medium suggested that the best product managers for growth are “data curious”, or hunting through the data for learnings to make better product decisions.


Nearly everyone spoke about how important focus is for the team, especially around the challenges of balancing short term prioritization with long term vision. Allen Blue, (also my first boss in Silicon Valley) told the story of LinkedIn. He reminded us that it took 477 days for LinkedIn to get to 1 million users, but that their unwavering focus on growth of the network meant they never tried to rush into other areas. Srikanth Rajagopalan pointed out how important for Chrome their focus on speed has been. They keep that top of mind as they build all of their features. Tom Conrad shared how Pandora keeps focus by resetting their roadmap every 90 days. Unlike most companies with never-ending roadmaps, they start with a blank slate every 90 days, and ask everyone in the company to answer the simple question “What would we be stupid not to do in the next quarter?” and then prioritize from there.


Stan Chudnovsky from Paypal said that the most important part of figuring out how to make your products grow is being willing to fail. If you are afraid failure, you won’t experiment enough and won’t take big enough risks. Joe Zadeh from Airbnb then showed us that experimentation doesn’t just apply to the product development, but to the hiring as well and showed us how AirBnb has iterated their way to one of the best hiring processes I have heard of.


Ian McAllister from Amazon encouraged us all to write the story of our product before we start writing specs and building it. This helps product managers think through the narrative and make sure the product will reach its ultimate goals. Allen called this “User-centered vision”, and James Buckhouse from Twitter gave a rousing talk at the end of the day reminding us that the product manager’s job is simply “Story”. And to think carefully about the stories our products create in the world and how to tell them best.


Multiple speakers talked about how important it is for product managers to keep the process fun. Ken Norton got some of the most laughs telling us how to be the worst possible product manager (“take all the credit”, etc) but ended by saying that it’s always a product manager’s job to bring the donuts.

But beyond a number of great talks, most exciting to Ty and me was the crowd. We hope the best memories will come from the offline discussions and new connections and friends made among product managers. Product managers are often very connected within their companies to all of the different teams they need to work with, but many of them told me this was the first time they had met so many product managers at other companies.

While Greylock regularly hosts events on a number of topics, this was the first event Greylock has co-hosted on product management. Given the response, we plan to do more on this.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more, you can find a superb wrap-up of the event here by Ian Kennedy and on Quora by Vivek Sundaram, and some tweets at #productSF. We are also posting more slides and pictures on our Facebook page.