Oct. 5, 2022

People Enabled by Products with Matt Peters of Expel

People are good at two things – judgement and relationships. Everything else is largely automatable. When it comes to building software, product managers should really focus on giving people the opportunity to utilize those skills. That’s what Matt Peters really believes in and shares in this podcast with us. Through creative customer interviews, experimentation, team empowerment and good UX, Matt has transformed many organizations in 25 years, including FireEye and Expel.



Time Stamped Show Notes

Getting into product [01:00]

Operational metrics [05:00]

Making your team feel safe to experiment [08:04]

Hiring for product teams [12:43]

Identifying your team’s superpowers and super weaknesses [14:55]

Supporting your team’s career growth [16:54]

People enabled by products [22:45]

Understanding your customers’ workflows [25:39]

Investing in good UX [27:03]

Unboxing your own product [27:44]

Advice for aspiring product leaders [29:30]



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Kayla: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning into product Chats. On today's episode, I talk with Matt Peters, who is the Chief Product Officer at Expel, and we talk about operational metrics and people enabled by product. So hope you enjoy the show and don't forget to leave us a review.

Hey Matt, thanks so much for coming on today. 

Matt: Thank you so much for having me. 

Kayla: Awesome. Well, in a minute or less, can you tell us about yourself? 

Matt: Sure. I'm Matt Peters. I'm the Chief Product Officer at a company called Expel. We are a managed detection and response provider, which basically means we help customers by watching their infrastructure for attackers and like cyber criminals and things like this.

As the Chief Product Officer there, I run the team that is responsible for product strategy, our roadmap, also the engineering team that build the product that we use and the operations team that does the the security monitoring and things like that. I've been there for about five and a half years and been doing this class of work for about 25.

Kayla: Let's talk about that 25 years and how you actually got into product and what that journey has looked like. [00:01:00] 

Matt: Sure. So, so I started, I got a degree in engineering. I went into software development and I did software development for a big chunk of my career. During that time I ended up becoming sort of like an architect on one of my products and then gradually got into sort of like leadership positions.

And the thing that I learned over the course of the first sort of 10 years of my career is I would, you know, build software and that'd be awesome. But then I got to see into other parts of the process. So I got to see how sales and engineering went and I got to see how training went. I got to see how you know, like QA and things like this went. Everything I got to see was really interesting.

And I realized that good solid software, good solid product development was a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for success of a product. And so, over time I got more and more interested in like all of the different aspects of this thing. So then the job that really sort of flipped it for me was when I went to Mandiant, which then got subsequently acquired by FireEye. 

There, we were doing a very similar thing, sort of a managed service of sort of security service. And we had a product, but we also had a very strong service component and we were going international and doing a lot of [00:02:00] expansion and growth and things like this. I really got to see how, when particularly going international you know, hit a market and you think you have a solution.

You've got all this great engineering and you have this great service. And then like, it kind of bounces off the hall and you're like, wait, what? And then realizing, oh, actually that market, they don't want that. They want it like this. And so really thinking about the customer and things like this. So, you know, fast forward to my next job was Expel.

And as I took over the product organization, really spent a lot of time with some very talented people, including, you know, very talented UX people who think a lot about, you know, customer interviews and things of this. Talented product managers, but trying to spend a lot of time thinking about customers.

So that's sort of like my gradual transformation from engineering, where I was largely thinking about like the coolest, technical way to solve a problem. To, you know, product management where I'm largely thinking about, okay, so what does a customer really? What do they really want? How do we do that as a thing? 

Kayla: So on that subject of listening to your customer, right? What are some of your favorite frameworks or things you always do to make sure that you're actually listening to your [00:03:00] customer, their needs rather than building out a product and you say, oops, our market doesn't want this? 

Matt: Sure. So it's a great question.

So first off to start with, when you're starting with an already with an existing product. So one of the things that we've been in business for about five years, so we have a product that, that we use. We actually have instrument and we have a ton of metrics that we're watching what customers actually do with it.

Right. Because it's one thing to have a customer tell you they want something. It's another thing to like interview them and really tap on it and that kind of thing. Okay. Fine. There's a whole nother framework of like a, if I can actually see what they're doing to inform those decisions, it's hugely powerful.

The other thing that we do is we do a tremendous amount of like, exploratory research, which includes a combination of customer interviews where you'll go out and say like, okay, like tell me about the class of problems you're dealing with right now. Like just like an eye search, open ended research kind of thing.

We do a lot of guided, we'll show you a UX or user experience. And then like, have you describe it to us? And this is actually a thing that I've discovered is kind of powerful is if you show up with your thing and rather than telling people, oh, this is my thing, and this is how it works. And this kind of thing, if you just [00:04:00] show it to me, like what do you think it does?

You know, it's fascinating because people like that will tell you whether your thing is intuitive or not, you, this kind of stuff. Then one of the other things that we've done. And a framework or a utility that I would always encourage people to use is like the go to market engine is a huge and powerful way to learn about what your customer wants, right?

Talking to the sales team. And you have to filter that you cannot just build whatever sales wants, but talking to your sales team. And then once you have customers who are saying, okay, well, I'm really interested in this feature, a release process that gives you the space and the time to say, okay, we're gonna build a first version of this and try it with a couple of test customers and really pair with them, see what they did, see what roadblocks they came into and that kind of stuff. 

So, so those sort of the, kind of the big phases. There's a bunch of tools that we use that like, you know, are particularly you know, productive. I mean, we use all the standard you know, mock up tools and things like this.

We actually also end up using, when we're doing prototyping and stuff like this. We actually end up sometimes just writing the thing for real, and then being like, yeah, what does it look like? So, that, that's a lot of the stuff that we tend to. 

Kayla: So I think something you talked about right was the success of the product [00:05:00] and let's talk into operational metrics.

Matt: So. What are the things that we believe really strongly in? And actually there's some really good research and writings on this, but we believe really strongly in measuring things to understand what's really going on. Right. Now the way that I think about this and actually there's a thing on Spotify talks about this DIB framework, like, you know, data insight belief, bet, right?

And that's a sort of a feedback loop that you can have, but it starts with data. It starts with something that you can see. That data might be a user interview or a collection of user interviews. It might be, you know, something like that. It might be, you know, metrics or numbers and things like this.

What we do is we try to steer each one of our teams. Like we have a team that focuses on a topic, like turn on and monitoring, or we have a team that focuses on our fishing product and we try to have them aim at a set of metrics that sort of reflect something about the real world. So there's a belief you have about like, I think in turn on and monitoring, that if I can reduce the time to a device being connected and operational, that will yield higher customer success. 

Now that's a statement of [00:06:00] belief. Like you, can't a hundred percent falsify that, but that is a metric I can transact on. So now my team's gonna get to work and say, what can we do to move that metric?

Okay. Well, if we build a wizard, it might be able to speed that up. Okay. Fair enough. So we're gonna do that. We're gonna try to, we're gonna try to move that metric. And the process of doing that does a couple things. So the first one is it gives you a way to kind of steer you're steering around a metric.

It gives you sort of a bit of a north star, right. 

But the second thing is it builds a process if you do it right. And this is the downside, like many people will say, well, you can't be too metrics focused. There is a way in which you can like overuse the metrics and forget that what you're really doing is you're having a conversation about belief, right?

I believe that if I move this metric, the following thing will happen. I'm gonna make things faster to onboard. My customers will be happier. Okay. Fair enough. So move that metric, prove that you can make it go up and down and then check how happy your customers are. Right. And that will be, become a cycle.

And one of the things I really like about that DIB framework is it kind of does become a cycle of like, Hey, we're gonna make, and it really does. It uses the word belief in the word bet. [00:07:00] Right. I believe that if I do this, something's gonna happen. Right. I'm gonna make a bet on it. I'm gonna make some investments.

We're gonna make some do some projects and then we're gonna see if that works. The thing I think is so powerful about that is, by saying, Hey, it's a belief, I'm gonna, I'm gonna normalize the fact that most of the time, we don't know what the hell we're doing. Let's be a hundred percent clear. Like, like I don't care how much data you've got.

How many customer interviews you've done. Most of the time we are like 70% on any idea. And the bet part is, Hey, it might not work. And the power of that is I take away the fear of measuring something. Cuz a lot of people like, oh my God, there's a number. My boss is gonna have me in their office and they're gonna be showing me this number and it's gonna be too low or too high or whatever.

And if I could say, look, it's a bet, it's a gamble. Maybe we can do it. Maybe we can't. It sort of gives people the psychological safety to be like, okay. Yeah, we can actually really start steering. 

Kayla: I think that you bring up a great point around failing quickly and allowing your team to feel safe, to fail.

So are there other ways, obviously by saying bet, right? That gives your team the space to say, I don't know if I'm totally right. Like I'm going off this feeling and you're [00:08:00] giving them the space. If it doesn't go right to be like, that's okay. Like there's learnings, but are there other ways that you make your, feel, your team feel safe to kind of fail and give them the space to experiment in that way?

Matt: It's a great question. And I think it'd be interesting if you found out if my team really felt that safe around me, but like, let's just go with that as a thesis. Right? So, so one of the things that I think is really useful is to, when you're dealing with development teams, and this is a very counterintuitive thing, and everybody who joins my organization kind of freaks out about it is that we don't tend to use deadlines.

Right. Like, I'm interested from an engineering team. I'm like, okay, what units of time is that measured in? You know, fine. Okay, great. Because it gives the team a little bit of flexibility. The second you put in, like, and by December 2nd, this has to be true. A lot of the degrees of freedom that the team experiences and has go away.

So that's one thing is like, if you don't have to have really hard and fast deadlines, if a quarter deadline will work, like try that. The second thing is you actually have to live it. So one of the things I do a lot [00:09:00] of is cracking jokes and laughing. And when like things, when we have something that's a real train wreck, I always try to make the first thing that happens in the meeting.

Cause like, I'm gonna say something dumb or I'm gonna, I'm gonna, I'm gonna laugh because I'm just like, that's terrible. You know, it's such a much better way to do this than be like, okay, well we have an escalation now and the executives are gonna have to get involved and all that kind of kinda hootenanny.

Right. The last thing is. Or the last two things. I'm transparent when I screw up. Okay. And my organization, one of the things I'm blessed by at Expel is that we have a very transparent organization. So our CEO and our entire executive team will come out and be like, yep.

Screwed that up. Right. Totally blew that call. Right. Our bad. And the second thing is we built a culture of analysis on hot wash, right. And so there's a bunch of different ways to do it. But if you get any good operations book on doing a hot wash, a blameless hot wash, where you just sit down and be like, okay, what happened?

You know, in everything, even if it was a disaster, some stuff went well, some stuff went, eh, and some stuff went badly. Write all that down. Walk through it, [00:10:00] ask why, ask, Hey, so what about this? What about this? What about this? And what you come out with 99% of the time is, you will never find, or at least I have not and I've been doing this for 25 years, is you'll never find someone who maliciously sabotaged your project. Right? 

You will never find someone who through just pure idiocy screwed your project up. Like I've never worked in an environment where it was just, you know, like people being absolutely dumb. It's always, Hey, like it's humans doing human stuff with human things.

And like, we didn't a hundred percent understand that. And that was harder than we thought. And that thing over there turned out to be the wrong, you know, whatever. And by pulling all that out and being like, okay, well, why, what do we do next time? What do we think about that? That sort of stuff.

People actually get excited about the ability to get better. So that's a little bit around that psychological safety, but you gotta practice it.

The first time you come in and you're like, all right, who's responsible for this. Like, it's over, you know, like, like you're gonna, you're gonna, you're gonna be in real rebuild mode for a while right on that.

Kayla: And I think something you bring up is the natural curiosity, right. About, Hey, we tried this out, let's just look at [00:11:00] what we can do better. Right? And so it, it also allows people and I'm guessing in your organization, this allows you to see people who can pivot quickly, right. And people who can kind of look at that.

And so when you're hiring, you could say, Hey, I'm looking for people who can pivot quickly, who are willing to make mistakes, because how can we like grow and learn if we're not willing to make mistakes? 

Matt: Yeah, no, I mean, that's absolutely true as a trait when you're interviewing, I mean, cuz you can have all the experience and all the skills you want.

But when we think about traits, we like to look for things like problem solving and you know, the ability, a certain level of agility and things like this. Now calling out a thing, right? One of the things I think is interesting in, and people spend a lot of time thinking about it now, is the different problem solving types of people.

Agility to me might not look like agility to you. So like, I think really well on my feet, like, it's a thing that I'm good at, right? Like I throw me a problem and we'll start whiteboarding and I'll bluff my way through it. Why not? Right. There are plenty of people who don't think well on their feet, but that doesn't mean they're not agile.

And so one of the other things about [00:12:00] say leading a hot wash or dealing with a team when they're having issues is you gotta kind of take into account, like, I might not want to show up and start asking everybody questions without letting them prep. Which is why we actually in a hot wash, use a document ahead of time.

It allows people to like, you know, get their thoughts down on paper and that kind of thing. It levels that playing field a little bit. But yeah, absolutely. You want people who are agile. You also want people who are the, just the, sort of the natural curiosity thing. It's not a thing you can teach, but man, is it powerful if you get a couple people on a team who are like, why is that way? What if we did this instead? 

You know, that kinda thing, that is a huge benefit and the number of interesting solutions and things like this that have come out because of that, like, you know, just tremendous, you know.

Kayla: So when you're hiring, what are other things that you're kind of looking for?

Skill set, traits, like what are things where you're like, this person will bring something to my team and, I guess the second piece of this is, how do you make sure you're hiring cohesively for a team? [00:13:00] 

Matt: So great questions. So there's a couple things I would call out is I, we break things down into skills, experience and traits.

So like, we'll talk about experience first, right. Experience is just like, I've been doing this for 25 years. I've done X, Y, and Z. You know, a number of times, right? And so if you're hiring somebody who, to do your taxes or something like that, you want them to have experience doing taxes. It's like, that's and that's water under the hall.

You can't fake it. You can't you can't get around it. That's just time on, on task.

The second one is skills like I can program in C, or I can write a Python code or I know a particular framework or something like this. That I can use Azure. Those things you can teach people. Okay. And in a certain amount of time, some number of months, you can usually take somebody to make them reasonably combat effective in whatever skills that you need.

Unless you're like doing like nuclear physics or something. And then, traits are the thing that's really important, right? Because traits are really hard to teach. Those are things like curiosity, right? Like, you know, you know, dedication, you know, things like this. It's the things that show up when you're [00:14:00] dealing with a problem or something.

It's people's natural attitude towards something. Right. And so we tend to break down our jobs and we think about like, you know, when we make a job role, we think about, okay, what is the actual job description look like? Okay.

What do we need this person to do? And then take that and turn that into skills, experience and traits. And come up with a matrix and be like, how would we screen for that?

And that usually is like the part where I, I'll be honest with you. That's the number one place everybody screws up is they don't take a sort of a structured approach to, I've actually got a job description, and I'm gonna break that down into skills, experience and traits. And then I'm gonna think hard about how to screen for those.

What they do is they're like, eh, we just get some smart people in a room and have, 'em ask some smart questions.

Maybe we'll do a couple of riddles, and then we'll hire somebody. That's a terrible way to interview, right. Because what you're gonna do is you're gonna hire a lot of people who are exactly like you. Right. Which I gotta be honest. I would not wanna work with an entire team of people like me. Right. I think that would be terrible.

And also you're not gonna end up seeing the actual stuff that you need to see. Right. So that's the first part. 

The second part is you're gonna ask yourself the question about, you know, when you're thinking about the [00:15:00] superpowers on your team, right. This tends to be more like you've built your team and you're coaching them.

I always think about it in terms of superpowers and super weaknesses. Right? So I have some people who are amazing at like they're incredibly analytical and they're super deep in their understanding of things. And they can think in frameworks. But maybe their super weakness is they do not think on their feet.

Well, right. So you're never gonna walk into a room and start asking 'em questions. But if you put them, if you play to their strength and obviate their weakness by doing everything over Slack, for instance, it's gonna be amazing. So you gotta think about your team makeup that way as who's going to, as you're making your next job description, given my super strengths and my super weaknesses, like what else do I need to do?

And what else do I need to build? The last piece, sorry, I'm gonna go on and on. 

Kayla: That's great. 

Matt: But the last piece I would say is, way too many people think you gotta hire the person for the job and that's the job they're gonna do. Your organization is changing. Your product landscape is changing.

Your customers are changing. Why the hell aren't the people on your team changing? 

So what you're doing is when you hire traits, that is actually like the slope on the line. That's like what the [00:16:00] person's gonna be in two or three years. Right? I'm gonna pay to send you to classes. We're gonna make an investment in your learning stuff.

You're gonna get experience when you go. So you gotta think about the fact that this person you're hiring is dynamic. They're an investment. They're gonna be a person on your team. And so you can't just think about it like a point in time. You also gotta sort of say like where are they, in their arc of their career? 

Some of the best hires that we've had have come in and like haven't had the skills exactly that we've needed.

You know, like they roll in, they're like, yeah, I don't know that. I don't know that. I don't know that. Like, yeah but you have an unbroken string of like successes across a weird set of things and you seem to be incredibly curious. Why don't we put you in the seat and see what happens?

You know, that kind of thing, that class of stuff is, has led to some really good stuff. 

Kayla: I think you also bring up a great point about the professional development, right? Like you have to also, not only do you have to hire these great people, but when you're retaining them, what are you doing to support their growth and their path?

So like you said, like continued development or continued like classes, what are other [00:17:00] things that like a leader can do to support their team in that growth? 

Matt: Sure. So, a couple of things. So, so first off, starting with at a structural level, actual, I'm gonna go back to actual job descriptions, right? So if I'm, if I have a senior product manager, for instance, I should have a job description for a principal product manager, and I should be looking at that person either quarterly or twice a year or yearly and saying, what is the Delta between your capabilities and the required capabilities of a principle.

Now let's take a hard think every quarter about, ok, we need to have you work on this to get here and this, to get here and this to get here. Let's figure out what projects you're gonna work on that will give you an opportunity to really stretch on those things. That's management, that's good quality management, and everybody should have that.

Right. Everybody should have somebody in their organization who's thinking about how do we make sure at the end of this quarter that, you know, Susan is better than she was coming into the quarter. Right? 

The second thing is, add a corporate level at a corporate ethos level. There's something that we do at Expel that I think is like kind of unique, but I think it's like it helps [00:18:00] me with this. One of the reasons I think that people don't invest a lot in, in, in training and like, like their staff is because they're afraid they're gonna leave. Right. And in, in the era of the great resignation, like, man, isn't that terrifying, right? A lot of places they're like, well, we'll send you to class, but you gotta sign a contract that says you won't your leave for a year or whatever kind of silliness.

At Expel, we look at it and we go like our job as managers, right, in this case is to prepare people for their next job. Even if it's not at Expel, right. So we think about not people leaving Expel, but people graduating. Right. You know, I have somebody leaving one of my teams and I'm super jazzed because dude's gonna go onto a good, like the new opportunity's amazing.

And we have done so much to prepare him for that, that they're gonna be like, wow, like people at Expel are monsters. You know, that is part of what we're supposed to do. That's just part of being the, sort of the professional human community. So, so sort of changing the way you think about people, you know, going through and then graduating from your company is a really useful thing.

The last thing is, I think we don't take nearly enough account of the kinds of things that we can learn from other people at [00:19:00] our jobs. And so giving people on teams an opportunity to, you know, is it pair programming, or is it working with somebody on a particular thing or something like that.

And as a manager thinking about like, I know people's super strengths and super weaknesses, therefore I can pair them. So they might learn from each other on certain things is a super duper useful a thing. And again, not go on and on. The last thing is an anti pattern. So we have a, in our budget, we have $2,500 allocated for every single person to take a class, go to a conference, whatever. And I don't care what it is.

Right. So if you are a product manager and you come and wanna, I wanna go to GopherCon, which is a Go lang programming conference. Cool. Like, like take some notes. Tell me how it is. I'm sure you'll have a great time, you know? Because that, that, you know, maybe it sparks some interesting ideas or something like that, but that's professional development.

You're interested in it. We're gonna make sure to help with that. Now, I'm not sure I would send something to a pottery class, right. Like that would be a little bit of a stretch for me. But like, you know, within reason I don't necessarily need every single thing that you do or learn to a hundred [00:20:00] percent reflect in your job.

You know, for me, for instance. 

Kayla: And I think, I guess it could be right. If you had a product that was related to pottery, you could send someone. Yes, exactly. But I think a piece of that, that you bring up that's really important is investing longer term, right? And you were talking about like the shift from the fear of, oh, this person's gonna leave versus thinking in the, okay, if someone gets better, I did my job as a manager and also like, they're probably gonna stay longer because they know that we're invested in them and they understand that, like, they don't need to sign a contract that we believe that they're gonna stay around because we've supported them in what they want to pursue.

Matt: Yeah. Yeah. And the thing is just like, if you are, if you're in a situation where people are phenomenally unhappy at your company or something like that, you need to take a look at the company, not the people, right. Something else is going on. So, so, you know, trying to keep people, you know, through whatever, you know, walled garden kind of approach you're taking is a little bit weird. Versus like, we're gonna try to make a place that's really amazing for people to, to work at and they're gonna learn new things and this sort of stuff.

[00:21:00] I don't like, you know, if I go through it just, being for myself, if I go through a quarter at my job and I feel like I haven't learned something new, I get kind of irritated. Right. I'm just like, look, I'm gonna get a certain number of go arounds on this thing. Can we please, you know, pick up the pace?

Can we do something new, that kind of stuff. And so I think it's important to you know, like, like recognize that's just part of like, like being, you know, good to each other. Now there is, you know, I'll sort of say, and I, and a counter balance is, there are times. And I remember specifically, I was talking to a young lady that that we were, you know, saying, Hey, like what about going and doing a particular class here.

And she said, look like I've been in grow mode for quite a while now. Okay, right now, I'd like to go into flow mode for a little while and just not like, not right now, I'm not down with the, like, learn a bunch of stuff. Right. I'm still digesting the last set of stuff. So we also have to know it's not always, you know, graduate school, you know, like, like, like not everybody all the time wants to do that. But like making sure that everybody's learning, getting a little bit better, every quarter is just a huge thing.

Kayla: I think that's just about understanding your team right? In her case, it was just [00:22:00] having a conversation say, hey, we think this could be great for you. When she says, hey, I don't like right now, I just don't have the brain space and you're like, cool. We're just offering this. Right. And she also knows that it's there if she does wanna do that. Right. 

Matt: Exactly. And being and being open to the notion that like yeah, you know, later on, maybe sure. But totally it absolutely makes sense, you know, that kind of thing. I think the thing that too often, we lose in sort of corporate America, and I think this happens, you know, like particularly at big companies that I've worked at and stuff like this is like, you just like at a certain point, people just become widgets, you know?

And you know, that, like when you lose that versus, hey you know, we think every single person here, like from you know, developers all the way through to, you know, like the office support staff should learn some new stuff and get some opportunities to grow professionally. 

Kayla: So on that note, we've been talking about people a lot.

So I wanna kind of shift and talk about people enabled by products. Can you tell us a little bit about that? 

Matt: Sure. So it's kind of a, it's a hot button topic for me. So what we do at Expel is we're fundamentally about sort of security operations. So you can [00:23:00] think like things in the world show up.

And then we have analysts who have to react very quickly to them and they could be dangerous. And like, you know, if there, there could be something, you know, malicious going on, stuff like this. So making a good call quickly is critically important. But that's not unique to us. Right. There's plenty of places where you can go and you can say like I'm in tech support or I'm in customer success or I'm, you know, designing a product or something where you exist in a decision space.

And even if it's not time limited, Making a good high quality decision is really important. And so one of the things that I think a lot about is how do you make a product that makes people more effective at doing the things that people should do? So, one of the things we say a lot is that people are good at two things and then everything else is largely automatable and they're good at judgment and relationships.

Right. And so when I think about something like you know, let's use customer success for a second. If you're building a customer success software, you wanna think about, okay, well, people are very expensive, right. And you know, we've just talked about, like, you have to make all sorts of investments in them and their cantankerous and they [00:24:00] have bad days and all this sort of stuff.

And so when you're gonna have those people, you're gonna involve them in something, you wanna make that, those moments that they're in there absolutely the most valuable you possibly can. So. How do you surround them? How do you envelope them in exactly the right set of stuff so that their judgment or their relationship building is perfect.

So, you know, perfect example, in customer success, when you call up a customer success line you know, there are places that have invested in caller ID. So they're actually gonna say, like, they'll say to me, ah, Mr. Peters, you know, so glad that you called, if they're even a little bit better, they have a database that tells whether or now I've called before and they'll say Mr. Peters good to hear from you again, right? That's a little tiny human touch that immediately builds a certain amount of trust. Now on a counter to that, imagine for a moment, you call up customer success on something and they mispronounce your name, or they screw up the name of your company or something like that.

That builds distance in there. So our relationship is no longer, you know, as good, right? Those are all things that we can think about when we're building a product. They're little tiny things seemingly, but if you do them right, they add up to the [00:25:00] person being ridiculously effective, and we've all seen this.

We've all done this before. If you've ever used a product. Where you're like, somehow it's just intuitive. And like, my hands are just flying and, oh my gosh. I'm just, I'm like 10 times, like you let you, like, at the end of it, you end up you know, just giddy with the power of it. You know, that kind of thing.

You're dealing with a product that like, somebody has sat down and thought about like, how do certain classes of people work with it? And the converse is also true if you've ever dealt with, and we all have, you know, something that's like crufty and like the buttons don't quite work and it's just in the way, right.

It's like the exact opposite. So I like to think a lot about that human computer interface. How do we sort of segment off, this is what a, a person does. This is what a person needs, that kind of thing. 

Kayla: And I think a piece of that right, is fully understanding your customer and what they do and their workflows.

Right. And that allows you to build trust. Because maybe there's something that you think is good and your gut tells you as a product manager, oh, this would be really good. But if you're not able to like go in the weeds and actually interview and talk to those, like [00:26:00] people who are working or would be using your tool, you're never gonna be able to build that trust cuz you don't actually understand their workflow.

Matt: Oh, yeah no, it's hugely true. And this is one of the places where I think a combination of interviewing, but also observation. And again, I'll go back to metrics, right? So we have metrics embedded in our work bench. So we know how many times someone clicks on a particular button or where they go and this sort of stuff.

There's tons of, if you're doing a web based product, there's tons of different software that you can get that can literally do things like, I can tell you how long their mouse dwelled. Right. You know, like one product that I looked at a while back was really awesome because it could actually detect rage clicking.

Right? Like if somebody clicked multiple times in an accelerating pattern, it would like make a thing that said like you screwed this up. Right. Which is really powerful. But getting that kind of information to understand what's really going on, because yes, we can all together, fool ourselves. I will tell you, my background is in engineering.

I know a ton of math. I love nothing more than to like make a screen that is just full of numbers and charts and just be like, ah, here's the data. That is usually not great for people. Right. So I have to know that my first impulse is almost always wrong in this respect and then go out and like interview, [00:27:00] trust the data, watch people use it.

That kind of thing is hugely important. That's where if you're going to build a product from scratch, I think investing in people who are good at UX early in that process is hugely important. Finding good UX people is hard. I get it. But people who are good at user experience, or if you are designing something, that's a tandem of a service and a product people who are good at that service design, this is critical.

There's a reason why. Disneyland is the way Disneyland is. And it's because they have trained professionals who think hard about like, okay, so you're walking in the gate. Where is the soda machine? How far away is it? Am I tired when I get there? You know, that kind of thing. You have to, the other thing is there is honestly no substitute for one other, one other, you know, technique that I've seen used incredibly effectively is unbox your own product.

Okay. Do it periodically, do it regularly. And periodically, like, we used to do this when we first started Expel, is we would just go grab some rando. Like we would like be like, you know, the CEO, we made him do it. We sat him down. We [00:28:00] were like, tell him nothing, make him onboard right. Like go through the process and watch how screwed up it all gets.

Right. And while you're doing that, if you're good at it, what ends up happening is you end up in a situation where you learn a ton of stuff about it. I, just as a side story, I used to work at a company where we built boxes. We built like, like network hardware, and every time you built a new one, you would have to go to the VP of Network Products, his office with the operations people and the customer support people, like everyone would troop in there with one of these things in the actual shipping container and you'd sit down and he would, everyone shut up and he would cut open the box and he would take out the product and he would plug it and he would go through all of the setup and he would like, you know, be calling out comments the whole time.

So he'd be like, the cable is wrapped wrong. And the product isn't like, I'm stuck on this. And this is taking too long. And that sort of stuff. It's an incredibly, it's incredibly humbling, let's be a hundred percent clear. I was super uncomfortable. I hated doing it, but it's also a really productive thing to think.

I remember the first time that I tried this on a product. I sat down and I went through and there was like, like the, I opened the box and there was a sheet with help. And [00:29:00] it said, you know, in case of trouble, call this number. Okay. I'll bite. And I called the number and I got the receptionist at the company and I was like, I'm having trouble installing my blah, blah, blah, can you help me?

And the, she had no idea what the hell was going on. And I'm like, yeah, this is a miss. Right. You ship this to a customer and you've got an angry customer, right? It's like that class of stuff where getting in the mind of who's using your product, just hugely useful. 

Kayla: I think to that, right? It's just like, that's something that like all product leaders should emphasize for their teams.

Right? Understand your customer, understand the customer journey. So on that note, what is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring product leader? 

Matt: You know, like, like not to be trite because you just said it, but like understanding your customer is huge. Right. And if you're talking to your staff and they're saying, well, okay, we've heard this, right.

One of the things to do is challenge that and be like, okay, well, like, can I talk to that customer for a minute? Like go out, like, like as a product leader every now and then go out and just talk to customers independently. You know, see them use your product, that sort of thing. Right? Like open ended questions, that sort of stuff.

There, there is [00:30:00] like no substitute for knowing who's using your product and how they're using it. Right? Like, that's that would be my one, one piece of big advice. At the very beginning of a product, of a company, you can kind of YOLO it and everybody does. But, you know, once you're one or two, you know, rounds of investment in, you better have a notion of who your customers are.


Kayla: So usually when you're one or two rounds of investment in you're hiring. So on the note of hiring, what roles are you hiring for? 

Matt: Oh, we are hi- I mean, I will tell you BTW we're hiring. So we are hiring for product management. We are hiring in UX, we're hiring engineering, sales, like everything. We're growing like a weed.

So like in, within my product organization, we are on target to hire 65 people this year. 

Kayla: Wow. 

Matt: Yeah, so now the product organization is big. So like, when I say that number, people are like, oh my, but it's like, we're adding 60 people to an organization that's already like, you know, close to 200, but all different roles.

So if you expel.io you know, come on, we'd love to talk to you. 

Kayla: So where can people connect with you?

Matt: I'm on LinkedIn. So you can search with search for me there. And you can also come find me on expel.io, both places. 

Kayla: [00:31:00] Awesome. Thanks for coming on today. 

Matt: Thank you so much for having me.

Kayla: Thanks again to Matt for joining us on today's episode of Product Chats. If you want more product management resources, feel free to head over to canny.io/blog, and we'll see you next time.