In our final episode of Product Management Confessions, April Underwood shares some lessons from her diverse career in engineering, marketing, product management, and investing. April was also recently named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business (a list that includes Amy Poehler!), so we were excited for a chance to interview her.
In this last video, April talks about the following:
- Her advice for technical founders when it comes to launching products
- How crucial it is to illustrate a product’s value for the consumer
- “Engineers make product decisions every day” and why it’s important to communicate business goals to the entire team
If you missed Parts 1 and 2, check them out now:
April Underwood: ... Unique, and it's been really great to see the reception and we feel like we definitely tapped into something given the amount of interest that we've seen coming in.
Matt Pasienski: How do you feel like the transition was between evaluating partnerships and, and ... Because you guys were really ... Corporate dev and all these things you were doing on Twitter. I think a lot of the same skills probably parlay into evaluating the success of a particular start up within, you know, this is the place we're attacking. It's part of a lot of the same stuff you were doing in terms of analysis at Twitter. Do you find a lot of your skill carry over? Where are the places you've had to learn new things as you move into investment?
April Underwood: I would say some of the work that a few of us, who have been on the partnership side at Twitter, have done is absolutely relevant in that because Twitter has always had an open API there are literally millions of developers out there and so some of the same sort of analysis and the kind of, the bets that you make around which partners to focus on is relevant as you think about which companies you want to back for investment standpoint. But, I would say, even more so we can put ourselves in the shoes of the folks that are building these companies. Because a lot of the questions that they're trying to answer, the problems they're trying to solve ... Our problems weren't related to scale.
We've been through that. Figuring out how to hire the first person of his or her kind, that maybe has a skill set that no one else in the company has. How do you do that? How do you even evaluate them? We all ... Those are the types of things we've all done a number of times through our experience at Twitter, but also at prior roles. We really think of ourselves as someone that can empathize with and hopefully be real useful to companies that are getting started but also starting to scale up and tackling all those problems that we've been through.
Matt Pasienski: As someone who given advice, what are the types of advice that you find yourself most frequently repeating yourself when you're talking to people who are pitching to you or that you've invested in? Is there a common theme that this is what people need to focus much more on across the board?
April Underwood: One of the things that I really enjoy, because I used to be an engineer and then I've now done product and I've also run marketing teams and I've run business development teams, is especially for technical founders, giving them a little bit of perspective on the world of things that can be done to make their initial launch or a big launch coming up more impactful. There's a school of thought which is the pushing code to production which is the launch in that you've launched. But there's a lot of opportunity, particularly for platforms, to bring partners into that launch experience, to have a really great set of partners lined up, to help the world understand what a launch is all about. I think that that's one of the things I enjoy doing. That's from a product marketing experience. Just helping them, helping them recognize that there are these moments where you can bring a lot of attention and get a lot of people to understand what you know about your product is great. Those windows are sometimes relatively narrow and to capitalize on those. I help some teams think through some of those areas and sometimes connect them with people that can help figure out how to get it done.
Matt Pasienski: You work a lot with Berkley.
April Underwood: We do. Yeah.
Matt Pasienski: What do you think is the types of experiences ... You're coming from a technical background. What are the types of experiences and what are the ways you can get those experiences that are going to help you understand how to make a big impact when you release a product or put it in the market?
April Underwood: Since I work a lot on platform products, one of the things that I think is important is to select a handful of partner that will be able to really show off what's great about the product. Really let the product speak for itself but doing that through great partnerships. So, when I see companies that are building products fro developers, for example, I think it's ... You know, there can be a big focus on the technology and why the technology is great, that's wonderful, too. But a lot of people may sort of lose that interest. But if they see that technology in use in a consumer facing experience that really helps them understand why its great then I think you just changed to conversation and it helps illustrate the value of a new technology or a new product to end users. That's ultimately what it's all about.
I don't believe people build developer products for developers. If you're really doing it right, you're building developer products because it helps developers build great products for users. I think that connection is one that sometimes it can be ... It's easy to overlook when you're really busy, when you're visibly focused on the technology.
Matt Pasienski: This seems like a very clear message that you need to ... Maybe that's the results of experience. That you really need to focus on that end to end and technology maybe is the start. But if you don't see it all the way through maybe once or twice, you're not going to really communicate the full value.
April Underwood: Yeah. I've heard the advice. It's not something I came up with. But I definitely think the idea of sort of writing your press release first is an interesting one. There are ways in which focusing on that too much can be a little bit of a pitfall. But I think that intention there, of even having that conversation amongst the team and making sure every person on the team understands what you hope the world sees in the product that you're launching, can be really helpful and can actually help every person on the team understand how to prioritize the things they're doing. Because a lot of people sort of think of it as there are engineers and there are product people. But as I would say engineers make product decisions every day. Every single line of code you commit probably has some inherent product decision in it. So you have to make sure that everybody on the team has as much information as possible about what the end goals are so they can make the right decisions.
I felt that back at Travelocity. That's when the light bulb turned on for me, was at Travelocity. I was writing code for a partnership platform. It was literally sort of like if it's Yahoo, do this and if it's AOL, do this, and then I realized we're going to do ten more partnerships. Its possible that from architecture standpoint, we actually need to think about this quite differently than we have in the past. In making that connection between the engineering team and the business team, that this is the reality of where the product is and this is our aspirations for where we want to go. Bringing those two things together was an important step to actually be able to scale partnership, so I think about that a lot when I talk to the engineers I work with, too.
Matt Pasienski: That's definitely something we continually hear over and over is that a product manager is like an educator as much as anything. It's a communication and education on what the… Well, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much
April Underwood: Thank you.