“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who build them – operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game – building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next.
This month we spoke with Pratima Arora (@pratima_arora), the chief product officer responsible for the entire R&D organization, at blockchain data platform company Chainalysis, which just raised $170M at an $8.6B valuation. Pratima’s rock-star track record also includes serving as head of Confluence Cloud at Atlassian, and nine years leading product strategy for strategic initiatives like the machine and deep learning platform at Salesforce. She is a builder, always a learner, and a mom.
After extensive experience in SaaS, you recently moved into the world of cryptocurrency. What attracted you to this opportunity and what have you learned in the process of changing markets?
PRATIMA: An ability to have an impact and my curiosity is what always drives me, and attracted me to this role. The Internet made information accessible to everyone, whether you are in Cambodia or New York. Everyone has the same information at their fingertips. I believe crypto currency will bring the same equality to the financial systems in the world and I hope to play a small role in it. My biggest learning is that everyone is a learner in the Web3 space. The technology is moving so fast that even if you joined the industry a decade ago, you need to relearn all the new waves of things.
You’ve led several wildly successful product organizations over your career. How do the best teams maintain a product strategy focus that drives overall business impact?
PRATIMA: It all starts with the people. The best teams build the best products. Building successful products is a balance between art and science – you need the science to build, measure and learn. You need the art and right side brain to build highly usable and delightful products, but also have the intuition to make decisions without perfect data.
What is changing in product right now that early startups should optimize for?
PRATIMA: The best and fastest way to build products is to use hypothesis driven development, especially when you are in an early stage startup. Use an iterative approach to build fast, measure everything, and learn. Experimenting and feedback loops are extremely important.
What’s your take on product-led growth vs sales-led? What do you need to do differently across customer support, marketing, and sales? How is it re-defining roles and responsibilities? What’s next for PLG?
PRATIMA: I get this question a lot and I personally think it is a non-question. Everyone should follow the business model that fits their customer base. You will follow a traditional sales model (sales-led) or a product-led model depending upon your customers. Salesforce started selling CRM to the Sales teams and the sales-led model fit perfectly. It is very hard to sell into the public sector using a self-serve model. For companies like Atlassian – their customer base is developers who do not like talking to salespeople, hence the product-led model was a natural fit. You do a lot of things differently between the two models, starting from the ownership of the revenue number and which leader is responsible for it. Product leaders own a target in product-led companies vs. sales leaders. Another big difference is the percentage of company resources going towards GTM vs. R&D – it’s reversed. If product-led and sales-led are two ends of the spectrum, we are seeing one can pick up useful tactics from the other. For example, a sales-led company can benefit from a free trial model that helps them build a pipeline.
What are the metrics early stage companies really need to nail to indicate product-market fit?
PRATIMA: User engagement is probably the most important metric to nail for product market fit. Are the users finding value and are they coming back? Engagement can mean very different things from one product to another. For example, the engagement metric for Pinterest can be the number of pins or boards vs. for Airbnb, it could be successful trips made.
What are the most important traits you hire for when building out a product org?
PRATIMA: The first skill-set is communication. Product folks interact with so many different internal and external stakeholders that without concise and clear communication, it’s hard for them to succeed. Other skills are leadership, the ability to deliver outcomes, and product craft. Product craft is composed of product management frameworks that can be learned and the intuition needed to make good product judgment.
Why do you feel cognitive diversity is so important for product teams in particular? Can you share a specific example from your experience?
PRATIMA: Diversity is essential for product teams for two reasons: 1) your customers are very diverse so it helps represent the population and build better products; and 2) diversity helps you solve problems more creatively and you often end up with better solutions. The key job of a product manager is to solve customer problems with creativity.
Last year, you also joined the board of cloud infrastructure company DigitalOcean. What do you wish someone had told you before taking your first board position?
PRATIMA: I did quite a bit of homework before I took my board seat. I can only sit on one board due to my time limitations, so it was very important for me to pick the right one. Three key things:
- People: do you like the board and the CEO, is there a positive relationship where board recommendations are implemented vs. where the board is a formality?
- The stage: it’s extremely important to identify the stage of the company based on what you are looking for.
- Learning: is there a good balance of where you add value and get to learn from others as well.
What was one of your first jobs and what’s one big lesson you learned?
PRATIMA: I was a software engineer at Intuit and did not get my first product management job. It took courage to go ask the hiring manager about it, and I got the best feedback. It was about speaking up more about my opinions and not waiting until I was 95% sure to state my opinions. “Strong opinions loosely held” is a great value for every PM to hold.
What’s the best advice you’ve received – or given – about how to manage people?
PRATIMA: I love Kim Scott’s book on Radical Candor and ask almost all managers to read it. First and foremost, you need to care about your employees and team, and then you need to be honest. A good manager is always looking out for their people’s growth irrespective of whether it is within your company or outside.
What’s your secret super power?
PRATIMA: Grit – the superpower that gives you the ability to get back up again and keep going. Personally, I also love the “Get Back Up Again” song from the movie Trolls. I learned this the hard way and I just don’t like to quit.