Hubert Palan van Productschap

Oprichter Koffie aflevering 002

Ik ben Jeroen van Salesflare en dit is Founder Coffee.

Elke twee weken drink ik koffie met een andere oprichter. We bespreken het leven, passies, leerervaringen, ... in een intiem gesprek, waarbij we de persoon achter het bedrijf leren kennen.

For this second episode, I talked with Hubert Palan of Productboard. I met Hubert about a year and a half ago at TechCrunch Disrupt at San Francisco, and I’ve been considering using Productboard to professionalize product management at Salesflare ever since.

Hubert is een productman en een denker in hart en nieren. Zijn visie: meer uitstekende producten door beter productmanagement. We praten vooral over wat hem motiveert, hoe hij Productboard beheert en waar hij inspiratie zoekt.

Liever luisteren? Je kunt deze aflevering vinden op:

Jeroen: Hi, Hubert. It’s great to have you on Founder Coffee.

Hubert: Hoi!

Jeroen: You’re Founder of Productboard. For those who don’t know Productboard yet, what does your company do?

Hubert: Natuurlijk, ja, bedankt dat ik mocht komen. Het is me een genoegen. Bij Productboard helpen we productteams en productmakers om echt uitstekende producten te maken. Producten die belangrijk zijn voor mensen.

What it means in day to day is that our customers’ product teams at some of the leading companies out there use Productboard to centralize research and user feedback and understand what really matters to their customers, by means of having a centralized repository for insights from the market, customers and prospects through what customer success or customer support team professionals are hearing.

Then based on that they prioritize ideas and feature requirements. And they organize them in a hierarchy that’s actually manageable, unlike flat backlogs somewhere in JIRA.

You can create and organize hierarchy in Productboard, and then put it on the roadmap, and make sure that everyone around the company is aligned on what’s being built and why.

We hebben ook een portaal dat klanten kunnen instellen om inzichten van hun klanten te verzamelen zonder interviews af te nemen of rechtstreeks met klanten te praten. Het helpt je om inzichten op schaal te verzamelen.

Jeroen: Ja, cool. Dus het centraliseert en professionaliseert het productmanagement.

Hubert: It’s a CRM for product management. Product managers at Zendesk or Shopify are our customers, and it’s their go to tool. Every day, they go there and they go to find out what’s new, what customers are saying, especially when they want to make a product decision. They see all the features that are being considered and then ultimately prioritize and see the status of it progressing. It’s the product brain of the company.

Jeroen: En normaal gesproken gebruik je verschillende tools om al deze dingen te beheren.

Hubert: Correct, no spreadsheets, no PowerPoints, no Evernote notes, no emails floating everywhere. It’s all in one place.

Jeroen: Begrepen. Is je persoonlijke achtergrond productmanagement?

Hubert: Ja, ik heb een master in computerwetenschappen en software engineering en daarna een MBA op Berkeley. Ik heb een soort brug geslagen tussen de technische wereld en de bedrijfswereld. En ik heb verschillende jaren in productmanagementfuncties gewerkt, eerst in consulting bij Accenture in Praag. Maar toen hier na de business school in de Valley bij een paar startups.

And then at GoodData where I went to be VP of Products. That’s the reason why Productboard exists. Because I was a product manager myself and I understood the pain. And I figured, hey, let’s change that. Let’s solve the pain.

Jeroen: Op welk moment besloot je precies om Productboard te beginnen? Waar werkte je aan? Waar was je en met wie?

Hubert: I’ve always been inspired by people who create great products. And real excellent products will resonate with people, not just on a functional level. Not just like “okay, this works well”, but also on the emotional level. On the level where it actually invokes specific emotions.

I’ve read all the books and everything I could find on people like Steve Jobs obviously, but also Phil Knight of Nike and Disney as a company and even other CEOs of fast growing startups. Especially those that have some strong brands or have some promotional appeal.

Ik heb altijd gedacht: hoe moet het zijn geweest toen Steve Jobs het podium opliep en de eerste iPhone lanceerde? En ik weet dat Apple een veelgebruikte analogie is, maar de gedachte was: hoe was het gevoel van trots en voldoening en voltooiing? Omdat het hele team wist dat dit het leven van zoveel mensen fundamenteel zou veranderen.

Dat wisten ze omdat ze de behoeften van de klanten heel goed begrepen. Ze hebben zoveel tijd gestoken in het analyseren en prototypen maken en testen en sleutelen, met zoveel verschillende versies. Ze hebben echt veel moeite gedaan en veel aandacht besteed aan het creëren van iets heerlijks.

That’s something that I was always wondering and then when I … after business school and after Steve Blank, the founder of the Lean Startup, was my professor at Berkeley, and the whole lean startup movement was happening: “get out of the building” and “talk with customers” and all that.

I got super excited and then I took off. The reality hit here and I started discovering what it’s really like at many of the companies here. Even in the heart of Silicon Valley. And I found that most companies are driven by sales. Like “hey, we sold a deal and there’s a feature request”. Or they’re driven by engineering where you’re building stuff just because you think it’s cool, but you don’t really know whether someone needs it.

Jeroen: Helemaal.

Hubert: Bij het bedrijf waar ik werkte, GoodData, bouwden we een cool BI-platform, maar de cultuur was overwegend een verkoopcultuur. Dat frustreerde me. Ik wilde er zeker van zijn dat de beslissingen gebaseerd waren op inzicht in de echte behoeften van de klant, in plaats van op wat het verkoopteam verkocht.

That was the inspiration. The inspiration was “hey, let’s create a system”.

And of course, if you have a founder who just tells you “Shut up. This is what you need to do. And that’s how product management is done.”, then your get stuck. You first need to figure out how to create the moment of revelation or enlightenment first. Then slowly go and change the culture. Change it into a product driven, a customer driven one. Make sure that you have the deep insight and that you a have solid product strategy and then you can execute.

Anyway, a long answer but it was the motivation. The company where I was at was a B2B SaaS company, $100 million, well $75 million budget, raised by the time I had left, with Andreessen Horowitz and other top investors. I went to see many of our customers’ business, because we were a BI platform. I interacted on a daily basis with senior leadership at other companies. We were analyzing their businesses and I saw how they operate, and how they ran their product teams as well.

That was the motivation. I said: “Come on, we have all these task management tools like JIRA that are great for engineering, but there is nothing that would help you with deciding what should be on top of the backlog in the first place.”

Jeroen: Precies. Je hebt een tool om je klanten te beheren. Je hebt er een om je ontwikkeling te managen, maar het productmanagement valt daar tussenin.

Hubert: Where is this system where you have … In most engineering systems, you have entities in the logical model like features, stories, tasks, … It’s all solution centric. Here are all the features that you want to have; let’s break them down into manageable chunks and let’s push them through the engineering pipeline.

Er is geen entiteit die een klant vertegenwoordigt, of een behoefte, of een probleem, of een belang of urgentie. Geen van de dingen die productmanagement volgt, wordt weergegeven in het logische model van het systeem.

You have some of the stuff in CRM systems. There you have customers, but it’s very sales focused. It’s about what happens before they become a customer and about seeing them go through the stages.

We creëren een systeem dat mensen helpt om een gevoel van trots en voldoening te hebben voor elke functie die ze als productpersoon lanceren. Om iets te hebben dat hun beslissingen ondersteunt, om iets te hebben dat hen vertrouwen geeft. Iets dat transparantie creëert in het hele team.

During the process of building products, people make decisions throughout the whole development life cycle. From the initial research stages, to design, testing and development and product marketing and the whole go-to-market. If everyone throughout this life cycle isn’t very well aligned around the needs of the customers, and if all the people don’t understand very well what matters to the customers, then they will inevitably make the wrong decisions throughout the product development process.

Jeroen: Begrepen.

Hubert: Maybe they design a feature in a little different way because they don’t understand the user. Especially if you’re building a B2B system, and you’re designing system for someone who is not you, then it’s more difficult. It’s about creating this shared understanding for everyone on the team. Only then excellent products can happen.

Jeroen: Ja.

Hubert: I talked to a guy who was an advisor of mine. He was at Apple, 20 years ago. He was on the QA team there. And he said that the difference at Apple was that — typically in other companies the QA, quality assurance team, says “Look, here’s the spec and test it against the spec. It doesn’t work as specified.” — and he said that the difference at Apple was that when he was there that his job wasn’t to sign off on the spec. His job was to sign off on: “Is the customer going to use it the way it’s built?”

That creates a very different mindset, because suddenly you are asked to think about what matters to the customers and about the real use case, the real flow, as opposed to just what’s in the spec. It’s a subtle shift, but it has some major implications, if you create a culture like that.

Jeroen: We try to cope with it personally by… We have issues and features, but then there is an in between point where it’s not broken, and it’s not like we didn’t intend to make it like that. It’s just not working for the customer. We label this a “UX improvement”.

Dit is een ander soort ontwikkelingstaak die we hebben. Dit is ervoor zorgen dat we Salesflare bouwen op de manier waarop mensen het zullen gebruiken, of dat we het aanpassen aan de manier waarop zij het willen gebruiken.

And we take these “UX improvements” even more seriously than issues sometimes.

Hubert: Ja, ja, goed.

Jeroen: We’re still doing without Productboard, but we’re looking at it.

Hubert: Sure, you’ll come around eventually. [laughs] Everyone will.

Jeroen: Heb je altijd al geweten dat je een startup wilde doen of is het iets dat je gewoon te binnen schoot toen je bij GoodData werkte?

Hubert: Have I always known? Of course, I didn’t know. Well in life, are you asking me at the age of eight, did you know that…

Jeroen: Always, I don’t know. But with always I mean from the moment you were actually thinking about professional stuff. Did you feel like you want to start your own company or did this just come at some moment?

Hubert: Yeah, I think that it was on the back of my mind, but the environment where I grew up… I grew up in Czechoslovakia and then in Czech Republic. I’m almost 40. I’ll be 40 this year. It wasn’t the most entrepreneurial culture to start with.

When I go down to college or my masters, I was like: “hey, what am I going to do”. I studied computer science, so I wanted to be in the digital world, but then I figured: “I want to see how companies are run and how companies operate”. That’s why I went to consulting and then I joined Accenture in systems integration consulting and then in business strategy consulting, but still within the technical realm.

At the moment when I started seeing how banks work, and insurance companies and those large group corporations. Then I figured: “Oh my God, this is terrible. And things can be done so much better.” That was the motivation for me to say “I’m going to build my own company one day.”

Ik had een hekel aan politiek en ik wilde altijd bij een bedrijf werken waar iedereen, inclusief de conciërges, trots zou zijn om voor het bedrijf te werken. Waar mensen zich zouden identificeren met de missie.

I never understood people who work at companies just for the money. Why don’t you go do something that you actually love and make money? Of course, in our world, we are lucky in the sense that, if you’re an artist, it’s harder to make money and do what you love. In tech or business, you get both.

Jeroen: We can do what we love and earn money if we’re successful.

Hubert: Right. It’s a big game for us.

Jeroen: For them chances are also there, but they’re much smaller.

Hubert: Yeah, yeah. The scale, it’s the aspect of scale.

Jeroen: It’s maybe also more objective than being an artist. As an artist, you create something and if you can convince people that it’s nice… While probably in our trade there’s much more of a… if you build a nice product, at least you have a bigger chance of being successful, or don’t you think so?

Hubert: Zeker.

Jeroen: Or do you think it’s all marketing?

Hubert: No, no, no. I think that in products the art, that’s kind of the emotional side. And taste is acquired, but you can also influence the taste of other people if you’re consistent, if you have a strong vision.

I like creating things that are practical. Both functional and emotional. Products that solve problems. That’s why I love art and architecture and design as a discipline.

But ultimately, I want to see it apply to something that advances people’s lives.

Jeroen: Je bent begonnen als business consultant en je houdt van kunst en architectuur. Is dit iets dat van je familie of ouders komt?

Hubert: Yeah, probably. Now we’re getting really deep. My great-grandfather was a diplomat and he died in a concentration camp during the Nazi Germany.

And my mom was in marketing. She ran marketing for Hewlett-Packard in Czech Republic — Slovakia, and then for Olympus. I’ve always thought about the soft side of things more than your typical techy guy. And empathy and emotions. I just think it’s so important in product management. And I talk to many product managers, and they’re analytical and very functionally oriented: “Let’s solve the problem.”

Fast moving consumer goods companies, the P&Gs and so on, they’re much better in general in the discipline of product management. They’ve been doing research and are making sure that they understand the needs. They have been thinking with emotions.

But in the tech world, it hasn’t been the case. Even brands and big successful companies like Salesforce, they have a huge followership, but if I say “Salesforce”, does it make you feel warm and fuzzy or something? It’s not like if I say “Nike”. You have an emotional reaction. If I say “Apple”, you have an emotional reaction.

Zendesk had a great brand with the buddha and Zen, because that resonated so well with the customer support people. You’re under stress and people complain, unless your product or service is excellent.

Intercom is doing a great job. It’s being human, but there’s not that many companies like that. The kind of traditional brand and emotional marketing… you don’t see it that much in tech. It’s always about the functional benefits.

Jeroen: Maybe that has a bit to do with the type of companies they’re marketing to. If you’re like Salesforce, you market to enterprises. They find specs lists interesting. While small companies will go much more for the more consumer type marketing where you have emotions and not ROI or something.

Hubert: Totally, I get it, and of course you can say that in enterprise and in B2B the customer is not the user. The buyer is not the user. Therefore, it’s much more about functional requirements and of course this is the case if you’re selling large enterprise deals. You’re dealing with procurement people and that’s a different persona.

At the same time, I think that the consumerization of the enterprise is happening and I read this article just last week in Harvard Business Review. It was a pyramid of needs and you still have the emotional aspects high up. The sense of pride and showing others that you’re competent and just striving at your job and feeling amazing. It’s important even in the enterprise.

I think that it’s changing more and more. And you see it, really in the long term. The user experience I believe is the only sustainable competitive advantage. Because functional aspects can be copied. They are being copied. More and more and faster and faster.

But the emotional piece, the appeal. How it makes you feel and what you got to believe in and why we’re using the tool, that’s something that’s much, much harder to copy. Look at Apple. That’s been their play all along. Of course, the products are great in terms of functionality as well, but the emotional appeal, the delight that it creates…

Of course, it’s a different segment, there’s multiple segments in the market. Not everyone is their ideal target customer and not everyone cares about that. But for the segment that they go after, it matters a lot.

If you just match the features but don’t match the emotional appeal, then people are going to switch.

Jeroen: Tegen welke andere startup of oprichter kijk je op en waarom is dat?

Hubert: I mentioned the big guys. The big successful companies because there’s a long history of what you can study, and there is a history of what they did and how they turned out.

Of course, in hindsight it’s always 20/20, and you kind of forget the bad things, and maybe you connect the dots in a more idealistic way than it really happened.

But still there is more to study. So that’s why I mentioned companies like Nike, Apple, and I even mentioned Zendesk and Intercom.

The Intercom team is inspiring to me. I’ll also look to companies that are in different industries, not necessarily just who’s around here in the Valley.

I put together this blog post and it’s on my Medium. I collected videos of 20 top unicorn companies’ CEOs. I put it all on this one feed and I watched it. I really wanted to see how the CEOs and founders of all these top companies, how they are and I wanted to see how they speak in real life, because there’s so much more you can get from the sense of who they are as people.

Jeroen: You’ll be happy to follow this series as well then. The founder of Intercom, well one of them at least, Des Traynor, is also going to be on.

Hubert: Ja, ik ken Des. Des is geweldig.

Jeroen: That’s going to be cool.

Hubert: I just read this book called “Mastery”. There’s a lot of examples and case studies about the biggest people overall. The biggest inventors and stories of the biggest people of humanity.

I look for examples of people that I know are amazing and I spend more time studying them. I obviously see founders around me who I think are real people. But for me, personally, the biggest inspiration comes from people that really dedicated their lives. Veterans in medicine or architecture or biology. It doesn’t matter. The passion and the focus and the excitement with which they live their lives. How they really stay focused and how they didn’t waste their life doing things that are not important.

They really realized that life is short and that we need to work hard. It comes down to excellence for me. And the strive for excellence in everything that you do. Sorry, I didn’t give you examples of recent startup founders that I find inspiring. But Darwin was super inspiring to me in what he did and by his persistence.

Jeroen: That’s cool. In terms of how this reflects on your ambitions: where do you want to go with Productboard? You want to make it really big?

Hubert: Ja, ik denk dat we een hele nieuwe categorie aan het creëren zijn.

The product management discipline is at the heart of every company. Whether you’re creating digital products or physical products or even services; you are combining the deep customer insight. Your strategic approach to how you’re going to get to where you want to go. How you’re going to form the vision and the execution.

In every company there’s people who are making product decisions. It doesn’t have to be necessarily someone who has a “product manager” title. But there are people who make product decisions.

Ik denk dat de markt voor ons enorm is, in de zin dat we klanten hebben die niet alleen digitaal zijn.

Although our ideal customers are people who are making digital products. Don’t take me wrong. Like SaaS products or e-commerce platforms or apps.

Het feit dat software de wereld opeet en dat alles gedigitaliseerd wordt, helpt ons.

There’s what I call digital product managers. But we even have customers like an RV manufacturer up in Canada or an exoskeletal device company. Because with physical products, you collect feedback and you improve that as well. You have more constraints.

The market in a sense is big. Product management is one of the last functions in any company that hasn’t had a very good toolset.

Je hebt CRM's en je hebt technische tools voor taakbeheer. Je hebt Workday op HR-gebied. Je hebt analytische bedrijfsintelligentie. Dan hebben we marketingautomatisering. We hebben customer success.

Al deze vakgebieden hebben speciale software om hun werk beter te doen. Maar productmanagement is blijven steken. Ik denk dus dat we het potentieel hebben om deze categorie echt in handen te krijgen.

Product uitmuntendheid. Ik wil dat bedrijven productmanagement zien als product excellence.

Jeroen: Je ambitie is eigenlijk om productmanagement te professionaliseren en de wereld vol te krijgen met geweldige producten.

Hubert: You’re an expert in sales, right? Think before CRM how sales were done. You would have a spreadsheet and you would have a Rolodex. You had business cards and you would try not to forget things.

And then CRMs, customer relationship management systems, standardized the process, created transparency, increase the predictability, lowered the risk that you’re not going to hit your number. Because you have the system in place.

Of course, you always have genius outliers, who will sell because they’re charming. They are the outliers. But most of your sales team is going to sell well if they have a good process, if they’re consistent, and if they do the hard work. If they follow up and do the day to day.

Product management is the same thing. I’m not saying that because of a system, you will suddenly turn into Apple, and you will be turning out the best of the best products. But I’m saying that thanks to a solution like Productboard, for product excellence, the chances of launching better products in the market and the chances of eliminating the risk and increasing the predictability of success are going to go up.

Like in sales, like in customer support… If you suddenly have a system, it’s organized, there’s transparency. If a product manager leads your team, the knowledge stays in the company. It doesn’t walk out of the door. All that is contributing.

That’s a big opportunity for us.

Jeroen: Ja, helemaal. Heel mooi. Het zou geweldig zijn als meer softwareproducten daadwerkelijk betere producten zouden zijn.

Hubert: Ja, software is moeilijk in de zin dat het zoveel meer beperkingen heeft dan hardwareproducten.

There’s this joke in the design world. There’s this picture floating around of a remote control that has hundred buttons or so. You need just two to change the channels and change the volume. You can screw up and you can create an over complicated product even in the physical world.

But in the software world, you don’t have the physical boundaries and it feels easy and cheap to just shove another feature into the product. And think “That’s okay, not everyone will use it.” That’s a danger and that’s why it’s harder. The constraints are much more relaxed.

If you do it right, you can actually create infinite variations of your product and the user experience wouldn’t be impacted for any of the customer segments that you’re serving, as long as they would be exposed to the complexity of all the different variations.

The only problem is that it’s very difficult to create a product like that and make sure that the features are really hidden completely, so that you don’t end up with the ribbon in Microsoft Office, where you have so much stuff and you don’t need most of it.

If I didn’t see it, if I’m not the type of customer who needs it, I shouldn’t even see it. Then it’s fine.

But that’s not the reality. That’s not how the software products are built.

Jeroen: They’re more built to show a lot of features that people are looking for, instead of making it easy to actually use those features.

Hubert: Ja, de meeste producten. Niet allemaal. Er zijn uitzonderingen, maar de meeste.

Jeroen: Cool. Do you think that if you win the lottery tomorrow you’d still be working at Productboard, or would you choose to do something else?

Hubert: It’s like a baby. You know it as a founder. It’s your baby. You want to see it grow up. I want to see it grow up.

Als ik de loterij zou winnen, zou ik misschien minder geld ophalen bij VC's en de loterijwinst in mijn bedrijf steken.

But I really like what I’m doing. I believe in the vision.

Jeroen: That’s cool.

Hubert: Maybe I wouldn’t put all my money into it.

Ik heb eigenlijk het vorige interview gelezen dat je deed met Adam Hempy. Jullie hadden het over VC-financiering en zo. Ik vind het eigenlijk wel een goed idee om VC's in te schakelen, niet alleen vanwege het geld, maar ik geloof dat je meer kans van slagen hebt als je het succes deelt. Als je er meer mensen bij betrekt en als je meer mensen bij je succes betrekt.

I found the investors that I’ve had so far helpful in that regard that more people are on your team. More people are trying hard.

Of course, it’s got trade-offs and you’re losing control and all that. But the fact that more people are investing into your success… I think it’s a huge deal.

Jeroen: Do you think they’re really invested in your success? Are they not more invested in their overall portfolio than in specific cases?

Hubert: They look at it from a portfolio perspective. They need someone in their portfolio to succeed. Then the portfolio math works out and they can deliver the ROI that they promised to the investors. That’s something else driving it.

But that means that they want you to succeed, because they want you to be this successful company in the portfolio. I think that from that perspective the incentives are aligned, and I don’t see friction here.

Jeroen: Okay. What is it that you’re busy with right now? What keeps you up at night lately for Productboard?

Hubert: I sleep well. I manage to get my life under control and I manage to distance myself from the stress. There’s this huge business stress. And so many things are happening at the same time. But I told myself that if I’m going to be worried about it, and if I’m going to be stressed out…

Don’t take me wrong, I was so stressed in the early days of the company. There was so much pressure. Everyone tells you, “You’re nuts. This is never going to work.”

I always joked about it. It’s like you have a baby. You just had a baby and you’re walking around and showing it to people and some people say, “Oh my God, this is so beautiful! Congratulations! I wish you all the health.” But with the early stage start up, unfortunately there’s more people who look at the baby and say, “Oh man, I’m sorry that the baby is so sick. It’s not looking good.” Right. You need to get over it.

But right now, we’re doing well and we’re growing. That stress went away a little bit and I managed to distance myself from the day to day.

I have a very strict schedule that I stick to. I planned all my work time, family time, friend time. I have everything in my calendar. I follow the schedule and then I don’t feel like I’m not attending to my family or vice versa to my business. I made a conscious decision of how much time I’m going to dedicate to each.

Of course, it’s not ideal. Sometimes you need to break the rules. But it just gives me this confidence.

Ik sta om vijf uur op en ga hardlopen. Dan ga ik naar kantoor. s Ochtends heb ik vergaderingen en 's middags heb ik een blok van vier uur tijd.

There’s this great book called “The One Thing” that inspired me to do all this. I have an uninterrupted block of time for the most important thing that I’m working on every day. And I have a scheduled time to rip up and plan. It really helped me. I’ve been doing it for several months now and I love it.

Jeroen: What’s that book called?

Hubert: I think it’s called “The One Thing”.

Jeroen: En door wie is het geschreven?

Hubert: Het boek is van Gary W. Keller en Jay Papasan. Het Ene Ding.

Jeroen: Oké. Dus je staat om vijf uur op, zei je?

Hubert: Yeah, well. I’m here in San Francisco and we are distributed. Part of the team is in Prague, in the Czech Republic. So, I need to have an overlap with Europe and in the SaaS business you have customers all around the world. That dictates my schedule.

I’m on the early morning schedule. And I even go to bed early. And I also have a two-year-old baby boy. You can’t sleep in the morning anyway.

Jeroen: Je hebt je afgestemd op de baby.

Hubert: Precies.

Jeroen: Hoe laat ga je dan naar bed? Slaap je acht uur of?

Hubert: I try to, yeah. Like I shoot for nine, often times it’s ten, but I shoot for eight hours. I just think you’re more productive.

I’ve done my crazy, crazy years, where I didn’t sleep much and I saw the toll. The physical penalty. You make more mistakes and you don’t think so clearly. It’s not worth it. It’s so not worth it.

I’ve changed. I said: “Look, when I work, I’m going to put the most and best of my skills and effort into it.” At the end of the day what I achieved is what I could have achieved. You can always spend more time, but you can do it tomorrow and not instead of sleeping.

But again, if there’s a big launch. We had a big product launch in November. That is a big deadline and we didn’t sleep and all that, but that’s an exception. It’s an exception. You don’t do that on a regular basis.

Jeroen: Wat doe je om gezond te blijven? Je gaat hardlopen, zei je?

Hubert: Ik ren en train. Na het hardlopen is er een speeltuintje bij het meer waar ik rondren. Ik doe squats en push-ups, pullups en al dat soort dingen.

Then I get relaxation, it’s time with my kid and my wife. It’s amazing. It’s a different world.

My wife is a nurse practitioner, which is like a physician or family doctor. That gives me also a perspective, because I come from work and I complain like “Oh, this customer is making it so difficult. The legal contracts. There’s so much friction. I had a bad interview with someone.” And she looks at me and she tells me how people are struggling in their lives and dying.

It’s a completely different perspective. That keeps me in check as well. It brings me to reality. That it’s not all just about making products. And that the vision that I have, that is it’s a big vision, but at the end of the day, you’re in a society with people.

I also pay attention to politics a lot, because it’s just frustrates me that there’s so many things that could be done better. I spend time on that. Even though I wouldn’t say that politics is relaxing. It’s not fun and relaxing unfortunately.

Jeroen: Wat zijn op dit moment in je startup de verantwoordelijkheden die je voornamelijk op je neemt? Waar besteed je je dag aan?

Hubert: Mostly, it’s hiring because we’re growing and we just need help on so many fronts. I spend most of my time hiring.

And then, we’re like 25, I think, right now. We still don’t have processes for everything.

And some of the more complex legal stuff. I need to be involved and review contracts. I like to understand everything that’s happening in the company. Maybe I should be delegating that more, but I just don’t feel comfortable leaving it just to the lawyers. I actually take the time to really understand every negotiation point that we’re discussing with our large enterprise customers.

Dat zijn de belangrijkste dingen: aanwerving, complexe contracten en processen.

Another big chunk is communication, especially with the distributed team. We have regular updates. I make sure that everyone understands what’s happening in the company.

I’ve seen the different teams create their own culture. There’s a danger that the engineers would start looking down at marketers. “Engineering is the hard shit” and stuff. “Marketing is the easy stuff.” I don’t agree with that at all. I think that every part of the company contributes and I want everyone to understand what’s happening.

So, we take the time to communicate what’s happening and what every team is doing. We make sure that everyone understands the complexities. Everyone can come up with ideas for how to improve anything anywhere, whether it’s marketing, sales, engineering, design, … I spend a lot of time making sure that I know who heard what and making sure that everyone’s involved.

Dat zijn waarschijnlijk de grootste gebieden.

Jeroen: Wat zijn de belangrijkste processen of tools die je gebruikt om dit te doen? We hebben dingen zoals stand-up meetings. Gebruiken jullie Slack?

Hubert: Yeah, yeah, so we’re on Slack. Everything’s on Slack.

We have a regular all-hands meeting on a weekly basis. On a monthly frequency, the all-hands meeting is more detailed and longer and there is a wrap up for every month and it’s on progress towards the bigger objectives. On a weekly basis, it’s a little more tactical.

We hebben een product call waarin we productspecifieke dingen bespreken. We hebben een klantensuccesgesprek. We hebben een marketinggesprek. Alle verschillende onderdelen van het bedrijf.

One thing that we started doing that I really like is that every team sends every day, a very short daily update into a Slack channel. With just a few bullet points of the main things that they achieved that day. That’s a way for everyone in the company to quickly read it every day in the morning. For me, it’s morning. In Europe, it’s the afternoon. To read it and to get a pulse of what’s happening in the company. It’s been working really well from my perspective. I feel like I know what’s happening and I would recommend doing that.

Jeroen: Yeah, that’s kind of like a standup meeting, but on a team level instead of on an individual level.

Hubert: Yeah, but it’s asynchronous. It’s not a standup meeting in the sense that everyone’s in the room and standing.

Jeroen: Yeah, but standup meetings can be asynchronous as well. Here in the office we do it synchronous, but you can use a software like Standuply. You could do it asynchronously. You just basically do it electronically like you’re doing. And it tracks your progress over time. You say what you’ve been doing the day before. What you’re going to do the next day. And that way it helps to stay up to speed with what’s happening.

Hubert: What’s it called? Standuply?

Jeroen: Standuply, yeah. They’re pretty cool guys.

Hubert: I’ll check it out.

Jeroen: They’re from Greece. I met them at a few conferences.

Hubert: Alright, yeah, I remember. I saw that somewhere. I’ll check it out.

Jeroen: We also spend a lot of time communicating, because it’s really important that everybody knows what everybody is up to. Getting to work as a team.

Hubert: Ja.

Jeroen: You mostly talked about communicating the planning. What’s the schedule for the planning? Do you do it bi-weekly, monthly?

Hubert: Natuurlijk, ja. We hebben nu drie teams. Dit verandert, maar in het algemeen plannen we in cycli van zes weken.

In de zesweekse cyclus stellen we altijd grote initiatieven of doelstellingen vast die we willen bereiken. Elk team heeft één groot doel, één groot aandachtsgebied waar we prioriteiten stellen en vervolgens de taken plannen.

Of course, along the line, there’s always a continuous stream running in parallel with opportunistic things I call initiatives, which is something that maybe you’ll prioritize over others, as long as it’s aligned with the strategy and the direction that we’re going. That goes into the prioritization.

There’s several bug also and there’s regulatory things, right. That’s compliance and now GDPR is happening and so all that stuff is running.

Or something that’s external, like a partner of ours is going to be doing a big launch and they need us to prepare something.

Things often happen at the last minute. That’s something that we will then try to squeeze in obviously.

We’re of course using Productboard. We have all the initiatives side by side in columns. It’s like a matrix. You have all the initiatives side by side, and then in rows, you have all the tasks, all the features that we’re working on. You see which feature contributes to which initiative and you see whether it’s a must have, or should have, or nice to have. And then you also have, next to it, columns with progress.

You have this one big picture view of everything that’s happening across all the teams. It scales beautifully, even if you had 10 teams. You can have them side by side and you see it all in one place. And you can filter it and you can slide and dice it the way you want. That’s how we run it.

Jeroen: Iedereen kan zien wat iedereen doet.

Hubert: Ja, absoluut.

Jeroen: You’re working in three locations, you said?

Hubert: Op dit moment hebben we technisch gezien mensen in Praag, San Francisco en Boston.

Jeroen: Waarom Boston?

Hubert: We just found a teammate who lives there. And she’s great.

Jeroen: Oké.

Hubert: She reached out to us and she’s in Boston. That’s the way it is.

And two of our developers are in Sri Lanka, working remotely. They’re taking some time off as well, but otherwise they’re working remotely.

It’s the digital nomad approach. It’s not like they do it all the time, but as long as they commit and deliver, my attitude is: “I don’t care where you are in the world.”

Jeroen: Is it different teams that are located in different places? Is development in Prague, customer service in …

Hubert: No. We now have three teams. That team is product management, UX and engineering together as one team. It’s cross functional. Ideally, I would also have product marketing on all the teams, but that’s a shared function right now. That’s how I envision to grow the company.

Misschien voegen we hier in de VS zo'n team toe, maar dan wel weer met het hele team: productmanagement, engineering en design bij elkaar.

I’ve seen at my previous company, we had the separation roles. Product management in the US, and engineering and some of the design, or most of the design, in Europe. It’s not optimal, because you need a super short feedback within the team.

Ik denk dat Zendesk het anders deed. Zij hadden het team. Ik geloof dat ze nog steeds teams in Denemarken hebben, maar ze hebben daar een heel team. Of zoals Intercom, als je met Des praat, kun je hem ernaar vragen. Ze hadden het onboarding- of groeiteam hier in San Francisco. En ze hadden product management, design en engineering hier bij elkaar. En andere teams, zoals de platformteams en de andere producten die ze hebben, zaten samen in Ierland.

In plaats van het te scheiden per rol, delen we mensen in teams in.

Jeroen: Ja, ik snap het.

Hubert: That’s how we’re going to do it as well.

Jeroen: Ben je begonnen in Praag en daarna verhuisd naar San Francisco?

Hubert: Nee, ik kwam hier 10 jaar geleden voor mijn MBA aan Berkeley en ben daarna gebleven.

But I found a co-founder coincidentally at … How things start in life… I was a judge on this startup competition in Prague years ago, and I met Daniel there. Then when I started looking for a co-founder, I wasn’t sure where, location wise.

But I reached out to my next network and he said hey I’m looking for a new opportunity and I’d love to work with you on this. It started when I was still at GoodData and I posted on Facebook “a friend of mine is looking for a co-founder for his startup”. Kind of like secretly. That’s how it started. We started working together and it just went from there.

Daniel is now in Prague, and we travel back and forth. That’s how it’s set up.

Jeroen: You didn’t consciously choose the two locations of the company and then Boston neither. It just happened.

Hubert: Yeah, it’s just life.

Jeroen: Nice. Let’s start wrapping up. We’re almost at one hour.


Jeroen: What is the latest book you’ve read and why did you choose to read it?

Hubert: I’m reading multiple books, because some I read for enjoyment.

The book Mastery that I just mentioned. I’m almost done with it. I’m at the very end of it. And I really liked it. Again, I talked about it already, but it’s so inspirational to hear stories of people who really achieve mastery in their lives. And they really make things happen.

Ik heb de laatste tijd veel verkoopboeken gelezen. Hier op mijn bureau heb ik de Sales Acceleration Formula, het verhaal over hoe ze bij HubSpot sales hebben opgebouwd.

I listen to books. That’s what I like. When I go for a run. I run 5K three times a week, and I listen to audio books. Let me quickly pull up what’s there.

De Uitdager Verkoop. De Verkoopversnellingsformule die ik al noemde. Spin Selling. Verkopen of verkocht worden. Ik heb al deze verkoopboeken onlangs gelezen.

I haven’t read “Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built”. I have this lined up to read.

Then I found this book Insanely Simple, which is the obsession that drives Apple’s success. I haven’t read. I’m definitely going to do that.

It’s mostly business books, but I try to sneak in some more. Sapiens: A Great History of Humankind. I had read that, that was awesome.

Jeroen: Ja, ik wil het ook nog steeds lezen.

Hubert: And design books. I bought this book. It’s another book that I have on my desk. It’s called “100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People”.

I decided that I’m going to read, now, for 20 days, five points every day. I’m going to get through it in 20 days. Let’s see how that goes. I literally bought it yesterday or two days ago.

Ik luister naar luisterboeken op dubbele snelheid, of anderhalf, of driekwart, om tijd te besparen. Ik heb mijn hersenen getraind om dat te doen. Daar geniet ik echt van.

Jeroen: Is er iets waarvan je had gewild dat je het had geweten toen je begon?

Hubert: Oh, man, there’s so many things. It’s just…

Jeroen: Eén ding.

Eén ding.

Jeroen: Het eerste wat in me opkomt.

Hubert: I don’t know.

One thing that I’m still struggling with, when I’m hiring people, I always still judge people or I evaluate them… I think of them as myself.

Ik moet mezelf eraan blijven herinneren dat verschillende rollen verschillende mensen nodig hebben. Ik weet dat dit een soort groot ding is.

I have three interviews after this call. I’m hiring even some very junior people right out of college. And I really need to remind myself what it was like when I was 23. Everything was new to me. Because I tend to treat everyone as equal and my expectation is that people know a lot and that they have a lot of experience already. I just need to keep reminding myself that it’s not the case and that people are different in that sense.

Je vraagt me het eerste wat in me opkomt. Op dit moment, op dit moment.

Jeroen: No, it’s good advice. Hiring is not an easy thing to do correctly.

Hubert: Ja.

Jeroen: In terms of advice: what’s the best piece of advice you ever got?

Hubert: I remember one piece of advice that I got: to constantly build networks and partner with people and just nurture relationships. That’s definitely something that’s paid off so much in my life.

I just mentioned that Daniel, my co-founder, I met him because I did this free thing. I’m going to go and judge a startup competition. And I stayed in touch with the people and that’s how it happens. Winston who is here with me building the company. We worked together at a previous company, and it’s been great and I stayed in touch. So just the value of “you never know what you’re going to do in the future”. And reaching out to people and staying in touch maturing their relationships being a good citizen.

That’s valuable and I would encourage everyone to do it and even more so if you’re young and starting.

It’s the value that your personal network will have for you in the future. It is so huge and you should nurture their relationships. You should even not only just focus on your discipline, on your narrow focus that you have, but even outside in different disciplines. It only creates value for you and gives you perspective.

Je neemt de mensen die je het meest waardeert mee van bedrijf naar bedrijf en van team naar team.

En ook vriendschappen. Koester vriendschappen.

Jeroen: Bedankt voor het advies! En voor je deelname aan Founder Coffee.

Hubert: My pleasure. Thanks for doing this. This is awesome. I’m really looking forward to listening to the other interviews.

We hopen dat je deze aflevering leuk vond.

Als je dat deed, review ons op iTunes! 😍

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Jeroen Corthout