March 1, 2023

Building Your MVP with Bill Sherby of Havenly

Bill Sherby started his career in advertising. After exploring analytics, data science, and product development, he found his passion in product management. He shares his career story, explains how he consistently delights his customers, sets his team up for success, and prioritizes his projects. Let’s dive in!



Time Stamped Show Notes

Getting into product [00:37]

Delighting customers [04:16]

Team structures [06:34]

Prioritizing [09:49]

Defining minimum viable product [16:26]

Advice for aspiring product leaders  [19:28]



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Kayla: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning into Product Chats. On today's episode, I talk with Bill Sherby, who is the VP of Product at Havenly. And we talk about structuring teams and also MVPs. So hope you enjoy the show and don't forget to leave us a review.

Hey Bill, thanks so much for coming on today.

Bill: Thanks for having me, Kayla.

Kayla: So in a minute or less, can you tell us about yourself?

Bill: I'll tell you in less . I am the VP of product at Havenly. We're headquarter here in Denver, Colorado, and I've lived here for about six years.

Moved here from San Francisco and have loved it ever since.

Kayla: Great. And then let's talk more about how you got into product and what that looked like.

Bill: There's not really a traditional route into product, and I don't know if mine is different or not. So I started my career in advertising in a couple different roles in advertising – from brand research to media strategies to analytics.

From there I took a leap into a startup in 2000 and, [00:01:00] what was that, 13 maybe. I was working in an analytics role, kind of spanning a little bit into data science, product development, and then started actually being a product manager. And I kind of went back and forth between what I was doing there between actually working with the data and creating products with data versus like managing that, that process and trying to understand what the market needed.

And then from there I went back into data again. And that's when I moved to Havenly and I actually started at Haven ly as the head of analytics and I built up our analytical capacities. How we access data, how do we use data, how do we make decisions with data?

From there I moved over to head up the product team.

Kayla: And I think you bring up a great point, right, of moving back and forth, and there's no set path around like product, right? We all have these different paths and so when like you showed, right, you kind of dabbled in product, you moved into analytics and you kind of moved back.

So I think there's just like such an open way of getting into product, which is kind of like a beauty of the industry.

Bill: Yeah, I mean, in general, I'd [00:02:00] say product is an ultimate generalist. You're trying to build the experiences and the way that your company interacts with customers or operates and streamlines operations.

I mean, it can be different in different industries about what products is actually responsible for. But at the end of the day, you're required to understand what the opportunities are for the company and what you can do from a product perspective, to actually build into that and test into what will work to continue to increase the value of your company and increase the light of your customers.

Kayla: So, we'll hop back into delighting your customers, but something I kind of wanna touch on and dive a little bit deeper is how has your background in analytics kind of helped you be a better product leader and product manager?

Bill: Yeah, I mean, it's a good question. Sometimes I feel like it helps and it hurts at the same time because I think so much about data. In general, the way I fundamentally believe product should operate is about deeply understanding what is making your [00:03:00] business and your industry work. And sometimes the best way to do that is by doing it analytically.

Looking at the dynamics of the business from like a business model perspective. And sometimes it's, a little bit more qualitatively – looking at the qualitative aspects of your consumers and their needs. But from my perspective, the way that I think that you succeed the best in product is by really being hyper focused on how to measure what you're doing, how to understand in a really short turnaround time, whether or not the things that you think are gonna work and think are gonna move your business are working and moving your business forward. And I think that the only way to really do that is by really defining those metrics really well and understanding what goes into those metrics and what can make those metrics false reads on reality some people call 'em hypotheses.

But you never know if it's actually gonna work. And you need design everything in a way that will tell you as, as fast as possible of what your strategies are or working or not so that you can pivot and try something new if it's not working, or continue to increase the resource allocation [00:04:00] if it is starting to work.

So that's from an analytical perspective.

Kayla: You bring up a great point, right, about using the data and having these goals in mind, right? Like having, making sure that you're working towards goals and what's like, using the data to make sure that's lining up.

I kind of wanna hop back though to delighting customers. So let's talk a little bit about that and kind of how you're doing that and things you use to make sure that you're really focused on the customer and putting the customer first.

Bill: Yeah, I mean, I guess it starts with talking to customers , you can't know what a customer wants if you don't talk to them. And at Havenly we actually, we have I mean we have one ultimate customer, which is a customer who we're designing their space for and trying to make a room or a home that they love living in. But we have another customer as well from a product perspective, which is our designer and the things that our designer needs to be able to service our customers well.

We at Havenly spend a lot of time talking and interviewing and surveying our customers on both sides of that so that we can understand how they're interacting together, what they need to [00:05:00] better communicate and get to the results well. So I think it really comes down to, you know, talk to your customers, see what they need, see what they love, see what's hurting their experience is first and foremost, that's really how you get the qualitative insight about what they need.

And sometimes you can find things that are, just subsets of your customers. So the next thing you need to do from that is understand how much of what you're hearing is true for a larger set of your customers, and not just the customers you have, but the customers you want to have as well.

So that's where you take the time to try to quantify what that is, and that's where you move more into surveys or setting up tests for instance. Does somebody actually want to do something a certain way? You might set up a test on your website to say like, how many people actually go in and click through on this thing if we have a value proposition over here. And so we can get a little bit of a demand test from something that we heard by interviewing. So, that's one way. I think the other way from a retroactive perspective. And I guess this goes into surveying as well, but people know it as [00:06:00] NPS scores, right? Like, how do we continue to get a pulse on the things that we're doing, the operations, the way we're servicing customers, the experiences that we're giving to our customers, whether or not that's meeting their expectations.

And you know, industry standard on that is, does it meet their expectations enough or they're overjoyed to wanna share it with somebody else? So there's a lot of pros and cons with NPS. It, it has a lot that's baked into it, and it's a really lagging indicator. But it's really the, one of the only ways to, to ultimately at the end of the day, see how everything boils down to whether or not your customer is happy and whether that's gonna lead into ultimate growth for your company.

Kayla: So with that, you mentioned that you have two like core customers, right? And I wanna kind of talk about how you structure your teams. Do you structure them in a way that they're kind of creating product for each of these customers? Or do you structure teams in pods? Like what are ways that you've seen teams structured really well?

I guess it, it changes as your company grows . Right? And you have more resources to like, break things down. [00:07:00] For us we in a lot of ways are, even though we have. Like those two customer types. It still is one, one business model, one, one product experience. And the way we think about it internally, and then I'll get into how we structure the teams is that the like the designer product is a great, like a good product for them, and that's how they're running their business. At the end of the day, it's about giving them the tools to actually have the ultimate customer experience for our actual customers who are coming to us for, to solve their problem. So we kind of think of those not as separate individual products and individual audiences.

It is a system in how it works together and how the tools that we give to our designers and the product experience we give to our designers, how they use them to, to service our customers. So it kind of goes all ladders to the same thing. Going back to a metrics perspective. Those metrics are really tied together.

So it's really about how we've delighted our customers and solved their needs. And we have some metrics around whether or not we've done that or not. And we look at both of those experiences towards a very similar light. So the way I, the way we organize our teams, and this has been, you [00:08:00] know, ever changing but it is about objectives. So it is: how do I give each of my product managers a very clearly defined objective and work with them to structure how they're understanding whether they're on, on the right track for those objectives. And then allow them to say: here are the strategies and the initiatives that I think are gonna move the needle on that stuff. So right now we, we have an objective of customer growth, right? Like most companies and we're consumer, a consumer company, so it's slightly, obviously slightly different than B2B SaaS company or anything like that. But we have a, you know, a growth initiative.

So how do we acquire more customers at lower cost s and how do we add more organic mechanisms to those, to that that growth engine? So there's one, one group of my product managers who are focused on those objectives around customer growth and cost of acquisition. And then there's another group of product managers that are focused on the design outcomes, right?

How are we servicing our customers and are we servicing them and and [00:09:00] monetizing them, because if we service 'em well enough, that's what they came to us for, right? So measuring against that aspect about once we've acquired the customers, are we servicing them well enough?

And that has both of those aspects of what do the designers have at their disposal to service their customers? And what is the experience? How is it easy to engage with us? And then lastly there's our e-commerce aspect of things, which at the end of the day, we are an e-commerce company.

So, and those are very heavily intertwined. It's kind of like a Venn diagram where all of them are overlapping with each other. In a business like ours, it's really hard to draw objective lines that doesn't have overlap in terms of the customer experience or the product that's enabling that experience.

Though I, there are other companies where it's like very clear lines or of, business units. And then inside of those business units, they might break 'em up a little bit differently. But we're kind of one big product experience right now. So we just, we subset elements based on the objectives inside.

So you have those objectives, and then within those objectives, obviously you get, you listen to a lot of customers and what they want and you have different like feature requests and there's like kind of a lot of voices coming in. . [00:10:00] So how do you figure out, obviously you are looking at the objective, keeping that top of mind, but how do you figure out what's prioritized and what to actually build within those objectives?

Bill: This is a place where, like, you know, there's a lot of different ways to do it. . So like, you know, people can disagree and agree on this, but kind of taking two, two tax, something you said is like feature requests. A lot of that, in my perspective, doves tales to a little bit more of how, like the B2B side of things works.

Like you have customers, you have customer success representatives or account managers that are working with them, and they're kind of talking about what is working for them and what's not, and they have feature requests that come in and you have like a list of things that you can actually pull from and prioritize.

It's a lot different when you're working with a consumer in the sense that you don't have that touchpoint the same way. You have to you go out and look for it. You kind of try to understand the problems and then you bring them in and organize them to see where our big opportunities are.

There are mechanisms that we do have internally, people reaching out to our customers. But that's mostly where they have like issues, right? So, that's one, one great source for understanding [00:11:00] where we have issues and problems in our experience or our business that we need to resolve.

And the way we think about those internally is sometimes those are, like, that's a clear issue that we have a clear solution for, but a lot of times they're components of a bigger thing and we need to bring them together and draw a bigger picture about what's actually happening and combine it with our other understanding about where our opportunities are in our business.

So I think the long and the short of it is that we continue to, and this is a big part of my job in general, assess where our opportunities are as a business, and particularly from a product perspective about the experience that we're delivering to our customers and evaluate the effort and the impact from a very high level to address those opportunities.

And then organize the teams or work with the teams to better understand like what we could do there and put one of the teams in the driver's seat for figuring that out. Usually it's, all laddered up to their objectives, right? So like they're also learning that stuff.

They're also trying to understand that stuff in terms of where it belongs in [00:12:00] their objectives. But it all, yeah, it all comes down to opportunity. The size of the opportunity, the impact, and how much effort it is to actually find a solution that will work for that. And then choosing which ones we're gonna do right now, and put the other ones off for later.

That's the hardest thing about product really. It is prioritization you, there's always a million things. There's a million things that somebody wants. There's a million things that we want to do. And it's about how do you choose the best option to do now, because that's really where the success comes from about, in a world of limited resources, which I don't know anyone that's not in that world, even when you have more resources, they're still limited.

You have to choose really wisely in what you do. And that's the key to it. I mean, we could go on forever in terms of the ways to do that. And there's different ways depending on what the opportunities are.

Kayla: And I think you bring up a great point, right? There's a big difference in like B2B to B2C. With B2C I guess that's kind of potentially played to your advantage because you have so many data points in B2C. A lot of times early B2B companies will have like five customers. And [00:13:00] so yes, you're surveying these customers, but with you, you do have a fair amount. And I don't know if that can be a negative or that's always a positive, but you have so many customers, ideally right, in B2C, that you have a lot more points of data to build out the product that way.

Bill: That's true. I think there, to your point, there's pros and cons of that, right? More data also means more variance and variability of perspectives. You know, to like see what's actually causing that behavior. Whereas if you have a direct line to somebody who says they want this not to say that's easier, but.

But like, it's you, you have fewer customers that you need to get. It's obviously more volatile in the perspective of if you lose a customer, that can have a big impact on your business. But if you gain a customer, it can have a big impact on your business. And but the cost to acquire customers and the timeline to do so is very different.

I think that more than volume of customers, I think the hardest thing with understanding, whether or not you're [00:14:00] doing the right thing and you're building a valuable product that customers want is the differences of times to understand that. So what I mean by that is everyone's trying to, I mean, to simplify it, increase the revenue of their business, right?

Kayla: Let's be real .

Bill: And depending on what the strategy is or what the timeline is of how your business works, the things that you need to do that, it takes time for that to actually hit the, your bottom line. And if you're trying to move agilely and trying to take your hypothesis and validate if that's the right thing, That's where the complexity really becomes, like seeps in even above and beyond the volume of customers.

Cause we, at Havenly, we have a decent volume of customers. We don't have as many as like Amazon, where they can learn something in, you know, minutes maybe.

Kayla: Yeah.

Bill: But we have a decent volume of customers. The problem that we have is actually the time to decide to do a fairly [00:15:00] high intent purchase and the time to do a design process to, to come to that conclusion of what you're actually gonna buy and then go in and buying that stuff can add a lot of complexity in terms of what's actually driving those behaviors.

And if you're trying something, how long will it be until you actually learn that it's working ultimately. And going back to what we said before about defining the best metrics to help you operate quickly. That's where like trying to figure out how to cut through time is really tricky and one of the most important things about moving fast and learning fast.

So I think that's something that's important, right? Moving fast and learning fast, and that's something we talk about a lot in product is like failing quickly and also moving fast because you could put a lot of time and effort into building something out and then it kind of falls flat, especially when you don't always know and you have a more complicated buyer journey, right?

You don't know always. Okay. Is that the reason why we think our gut says yes, but what it, like a lot of companies struggle with that, where it's, hey, let's [00:16:00] put a lot of time and effort, and then they build it out and it's so important to build out. Where you can a lot of times where you can like fail quick because then you're not putting a ton of time and effort and figure out smaller ways to say, okay, this points to this and this points to solving this, but let's not put six months, like you mentioned, we're resource constraints.

So it's not just: "Cool, let's hire 20 engineers to fill this out." It's, let's actually put some more thought into this.

Yeah, that's, and that's a very tricky thing cuz you're essentially saying, how do you define the minimum viable product? And minimum viable product is like a, is like an ongoing thing.

Every time you do a change, you're thinking about the minimum viable increment, right? And I'm sure this exists in lots of other industries and product experiences, but trying to make sure you didn't go under minimum viable. And the time it takes to really define what is minimum and viable.

You might start taking stuff off that makes the rest of the experience not actually really flow and work and feel cohesive to get [00:17:00] something out sooner and then give you a false read. You failed fast, but maybe you didn't give yourself a chance to win. You know, like, and trying to make, balance that out as much as possible.

I don't think it's a science to be honest. I think that's a little bit of where you have to, where the product manager, the product designer, UX designer, the engineer, have to all come together. And anyone else who is really deeply involved in the discovery solution process at your company, need to come together and think really hard about what the whole experience looks like.

Were the things that are really hard and whether or not they're worth it or not. And cut back but then try not to cut too much. Right? That's, I think that's where personally I've gotten into, I've done things wrong on both sides of that. Right? I've gotten, I've done a too minimum viable.

I've done it too holistic and thought that I needed to do more than I needed. And that's probably the thing you, that you just learn over time on the job. And, but the best way to do it is just continue to question yourself on whether from a and like put your customer hat [00:18:00] on and say, if I was using this, how does this look?

And then that's from like a planning perspective. But then always adding cycles of user testing, right? How do I add a cycle of user testing to then validate or devalidate whether or not we're on the right track here? Before I've gone into the effort of building I think everyone like focuses on the implementation effort of those things.

Which is good to do because that's usually one of the more expensive aspects of product development. But the process that I'm talking about can get really expensive too. When we're defining the solution of it, and we spend a lot of time in that cycle on a opportunity. We need to like, you always need to keep in check that as a resource allocation as well. And not just think of that as free. And you're just trying to define the best thing for, from a dev implementation perspective. So that's really tricky to do. Cause you're, they're essentially, it's a trade off, right? Like the more time you spend on trying to figure out what the minimum viable, cuz that's, so I'm saying like, that can get, you can go in through cycles of validation, [00:19:00] designing evaluating.

And that can elongate become way longer than an implementation process. So trying to make balance those things out.

Kayla: And I think you bring up a great point with that around like putting your customer hat on, right? What is gonna be the best experience for the customer and what is like, obviously you have to think about it, that MVP and what will be the best experience in that MVP rather than like going and putting way too many resources or putting too little resources and kind of falling short.

Bill: Mm-hmm.

Kayla: So, on that note, I kind of wanna pivot and I wanna know – what is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring product leader?

Bill: I mean, I feel like I'm gonna beat the same drum again. Be very clear on how you understand your product strategy and communicate your product strategy to your team and above and out around how you know if you're getting there or not. Right? Like be very focused on the measurement of success on it.

Cause I think that too easily that can either [00:20:00] be like, an afterthought or feel like a no dub because you're going after like revenue or something like that. But to best set yourself up for understanding if your strategies and how you're thinking about it are working and to give your team an operating model that they feel empowered in really focusing on really clear and smart metrics.

And I guess I meant that by the, like specific, measurable, actionable timely realistic, I guess is the way that goes. But like, it actually takes a lot to define interesting metrics. And they're not always like conversion rate. So like being really focused on how you ladder your strategies to metrics to give your team and your company a really good roadmap and operating model to evaluate the things you're doing and whether they're working or not.

The one learning I've had through my journey is that the more you focus on that, the more you spend time organizing that for your team, the clearer picture you have as a leader too, on whether or not your team is doing the right thing. And [00:21:00] then you can manage and dive in and help your team think through the problems a little bit better because you have a good view of how they're operating to it, and know and feeling confident that they know how to operate.


Kayla: And then where can people find you?


Bill: notoriously not on all the social medias. I am, but I'm not really active. I'm most active is LinkedIn. So if you want me, hit me on LinkedIn.

Kayla: Awesome. Well, thanks for coming on today.

Bill: Thanks, Kayla.

Thanks again

Kayla: to Bill for joining us on today's episode of Product Chats.

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