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77 / Building Human Solutions for Human Problems

Hosted by Sean Flaherty & Paul Gebel



Tatyana Mamut Guest Speaker at Product Momentum Podcast

Tatyana Mamut


Tatyana Mamut is a transformative leader in Silicon Valley who drives innovation by understanding customers deeply and leading through empathy. She is a serial entre/intrapreneur, building successful products at Amazon, Salesforce, Nextdoor, and IDEO. She is currently SVP of New Products at Pendo.

She started her career in global advertising, working at Leo Burnett in Chicago, London, and Moscow. She has won several design and advertising awards for her work at IDEO & Leo Burnett and holds multiple patents for her inventions at Salesforce & Amazon.

Tatyana has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from UC Berkeley and a BA in economics from Amherst College. She is a refugee from eastern Ukraine and comes from three generations of Soviet professional women. She lives with her spouse and two daughters in San Francisco.

We product leaders work to solve problems that are fundamentally human, explains Tatyana Mamut, Senior VP of New Products at Pendo. By the people. With the people. For the people. Applying a human-centered mindset is key to creating value for our customers.

An anthropologist by training, Tatyana brings her unique perspective to how product people work to understand and relate to the customers and their real-life experience.

“The key to building good products is understanding that customers are humans,” she explains. “They are not a market. They are not abstract. Customers are people.”

The human experience cannot be captured in a dashboard or PowerPoint presentation, she adds. Only when product leaders immerse ourselves into our customers’ real-life environment can we bring their “life-world” onto our teams.

Catch the entire pod to hear Tatyana describe the product leader’s #1 challenge, and learn why sharing the broad context that only we have is part of its solution.

Sean [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to the Product Momentum Podcast. This is a podcast intended to entertain, educate, celebrate and give a little back to the product leadership community.

Paul [00:00:32] Well hello and welcome to the pod. Today we are excited to be joined by Tatyana Mamut. She started her career as a Ph.D. in Anthropology and is now a transformative leader in Silicon Valley who drives innovation by understanding customers deeply and leading through empathy. She’s a serial entre- and intrapreneur, building successful products at Amazon, Salesforce, Nextdoor, and IDEO. She’s currently Senior Vice President of New Products at Pendo, leading the creation of the Adopt family of products. Tatyana, thanks so much for joining us.

Tatyana [00:01:00] Thanks for having me.

Paul [00:01:01] Outstanding. Well, jumping right in, you’ve talked a lot over the years about humans shaping software for humans, building teams of humans, and putting all of these puzzle pieces together. And a lot of that is shaped by product leadership and the position that the product leader faces within teams. So just to get a center on your take on this role of a product leader, how do you structure teams as an up-and-coming product leader in an organization? What kind of processes do you look for in shaping that role within an organization?

Tatyana [00:01:33] Sure. So maybe like stepping back, at the highest level, as a product leader, what we do is we organize teams of people to build things for other people that they will love. So these are fundamentally human problems. And both of those things have to come together. Who are the people who are going to build? How are we going to build? How is the leader going to inspire them, right, about how to work together? Who is the customer? And then empower them, or like, just give them the power, the trust, the opportunity to really lean in and to use their human empathy to figure out, what are the experiences that those other humans, those customers, will love? And how do we build them faster and more effectively than anyone else?

Tatyana [00:02:18] So we start with a customer mindset, right? And really imbuing the customer-focused mindset into product teams is what I spend most of my time doing, really talking to customers, understanding who customers are, both our current customers and our aspirational customers in the future. And what I try to do is I try to understand not just what are the sales objections today or what are the blockers to getting to a bigger total addressable market. But what is the life-world of the customers like? And I try to bring that life-world, that entire sort of dynamic of what is the environment within which our customers work, what are the problems that they face, what are the problems that they’re probably going to face? What are the problems that are emergent in their world that they might not even have the words to articulate today? And I try to bring those questions to the teams that I’m leading.

Tatyana [00:03:11] So those humans, right, need to really be inspired and really feel that they are trusted and that they know which direction to go in and that they’re trusted to find the answers to those questions. So organizing around customer questions, what we would call customer value drivers, is how we frame those questions and how we organize the process of road mapping, which is, of course, the primary sort of output or deliverable of a product leader is a several quarter or an annual or even a two- or three-year roadmap. So, you know, the road map is organized around customer value drivers starting from customer jobs to be done, right, that’s how you get to the value drivers, like the jobs to be done are basically like the problems. The value drivers are kind of like the framing of the solutions to those problems.

Tatyana [00:03:57] And then obviously there’s the technology side. When we get down to the nitty-gritty, right, those customer value propositions don’t always map entirely one-to-one to the teams, right? So you actually really also have to look at the architecture. Now I’m not an engineer, I’m not a technologist. Although my mother is an engineer, my father is an engineer, my grandmother was an engineer, my brother’s an engineer, my aunt’s an engineer. So I grew up in a very heavy engineering family. But I myself am not an engineer, and so I need to, again, trust and have empathy with my engineering colleagues to understand what are the technical lines and demarcations around the actual product delivery and what makes sense?

Tatyana [00:04:36] So, for example, one of our big value drivers for our Dot product for the coming year will be cross-app analytics everywhere, right? In terms of employees working across applications in their workplace environment. So we need to give analytics across apps and we have an analytics team. We also need to allow our customers to build guides, actual content across applications. So we have a separate guides team, right? So they’re going to be taking on the cross-app guides work. But the one value proposition is cross-app, even though then that fits into two teams. Right, and those two teams are working together to make sure that the value that we’re delivering to the customer is consistent. But it obviously shows up in two different areas of the product. Does that make sense?

Paul [00:05:20] Yeah, so there’s a lot to unpack there. I’ve heard you use the visual metaphor of the big rocks, little rocks, and sand trying to fit into a jar. You can’t fit all of the material that you’re trying to pack into the jar if you put the sand and the gravel in first and the big rocks in second. The big rocks have to go in first, so the big rocks for the product leader are getting that real, dialed-in concept of the operations addressed to the market. And sometimes there’s not always a one-to-one fit, but also getting the strategy that, you know, adopt and alignment to the cross-functional or cross-app analytics, in your case, dialed into the roadmap. And so there’s this sort of horizontal play of getting the team and the engineers addressed to the market, but also the vertical play of getting the strategy addressed to the tactics, that primary output of the roadmap, as you put it. And I think that kind of spectrum is challenging. That is the job, really. The product leader is influencing without authority across all these domains. And it’s not a small task. Those big rocks of strategy and tactics and operations and market, I think, are really key. And the way that you put it, the anecdote that you just shared, I think is really powerful. Did I get that right? Is that fair?

Tatyana [00:06:28] Yes. The only addition I would have is to make sure that we say the word customer always in this right. There is no market without a collection of customers and those customers are humans.

Paul [00:06:39] Outstanding. I stand corrected

Tatyana [00:06:41] And understanding that they are all humans is the key to building a good product. They are not robots. They are not a market. They are not an abstract concept. And they’re not a dashboard.

Sean [00:06:53] It’s about the environment.

Tatyana [00:06:54] Yes.

Paul [00:06:55] I think that’s something that you as an anthropologist really bring to this table is to get people to understand that we’re creating an ecosystem. Every product is an ecosystem of human beings, and that ecosystem includes, you know, your investors, the people building the product, and the customers using the product at the end of the day. And we have to keep ourselves centered on that vision of how we’re solving problems for those human beings over there. And we’ve talked offline about this so I know we’re aligned, but there’s a tremendous amount of value in orienting your team towards that and also finding people that care about solving those problems for those people.

Tatyana [00:07:32] Yeah. I love that because, yeah, it’s the environment. It’s the context. It’s the human conditions, right, that we’re looking at. And finding product managers, right and marketing people and everyone, right, who understand how to look at the context and who really care about those humans and about shaping the experience for those people is critical. You’re not going to have a great team unless you have people who are highly motivated to do that.

Sean [00:07:58] You also kind of slipped in a word that is really important to me and is really important, I think, in any product ecosystem, the word trust and creating that environment at the foundational level where we trust each other. And I believe that centering on that customer is the first thing you have to do in order to get that trust.

Tatyana [00:08:17] So let me double click on trust. I’m going to challenge the notion of psychological safety just a little bit because I believe that people have misinterpreted what psychological safety means. I think they think it means that everybody’s nice to each other and people don’t argue, and I actually think it means the opposite. I think the way to create psychological safety is for people to feel really safe arguing and arguing against the highest-paid person in the room. And the way that I try to do that is I argue with people, I encourage other people to argue with me, and there’s always a product manager or two, like a junior product manager or two, who is more than willing to take the bait with me and argue publicly. And then I reward those people for arguing with me publicly. You know, and I very often publicly will say, like, “Hey, you know, this junior product manager really changed my mind on this and it’s like really meaningful, and I really appreciate it.” And that’s what I think psychological safety means. It means that we break down the status hierarchy and that people feel free to argue with each other.

Sean [00:09:27] I would agree. I mean, remember we’re producing something that doesn’t exist yet.

Tatyana [00:09:31] Right.

Sean [00:09:31] So the value is in finding the cognitive dissonance that lives in people’s minds and working it through.

Tatyana [00:09:37] Exactly.

Sean [00:09:38] You’re not always going to agree, but you’ll at least come out with something to experiment with to determine who’s right and who’s wrong, right?

Tatyana [00:09:44] And there are tense, there’s going to be tense moments. There are going to be people who feel like their opinion isn’t heard, right? There is going to be all of those things when there is a public argument. Right? If you read the Socratic dialogs right, there are people who get thrown down by Socrates. Right? And I’m sorry to bring up, no I’m not sorry to bring up philosophy. But like that, that’s how we get to better ideas. And it’s the freedom to argue, argue wholeheartedly, and know that even if you don’t win, like, take your ego out of the equation because we’re all trying to get to a better solution and arguing for the right reasons should be rewarded.

Paul [00:10:26] I’m reminded of another visual metaphor that you used. I’ve watched several of your talks over the past couple of years about leading through tumultuous times and found them all inspirational. One of the metaphors that you’ve used is this idea of a ship at sea and the engineers are telling you the engine is maxed out, don’t crank it, the lookout says there’s pirates to our starboard, we have to create the engine. The Admiral is saying we have to get to our north so we can get back on time to get resupplied, the aerographer is saying we need to go into the course of the pirates because there’s a storm coming. And all of these trusted sources are all correct in their isolated domains of expertise.

Tatyana [00:11:01] That’s right.

Paul [00:11:02] But they don’t always have the context that the product leader has, to stretch the metaphor to its breaking point, they don’t always have that context of knowing what the overall mission is. If you have a ship at sea, you know that having a healthy discourse about what your options are in that situation, it is literal life and death. But it could be the proverbial life and death of the product. If you don’t have that discourse, then you’re going to risk not fleshing out that experimental mindset, not finding what those breakdowns are going to be before you get to the humans in the market. Getting to the point of being able to say, “this is right, this is wrong, this is going to work, this is going to fail,” and knowing that it’s happening in an actually safe space before it’s thrown on the rocks.

Tatyana [00:11:43] Yeah. So this is what I talk about, like why it’s hard to be a product leader. Right. On the surface, it seems very easy to be a product leader. And the reason why it seems very easy to be a product leader is because if you’re coming from any aspect of partial knowledge, you know exactly what to do, right? If you are an engineer, you know exactly what the right thing to do is. It’s to slow down the ship and rebuild the engine, right, before you go anywhere else. If you’re in the weather station, you know exactly what the right thing to do is. It’s to tack the ship, crank up the engines and move away from the storm, right? If you’re in the lookout station, you know exactly what the right decision is. It’s to crank the engines the other way and run away from the pirates because the pirates are moving really, really quickly. Right?

Tatyana [00:12:28] So the problem of being the product leader is the fact that everybody else knows what the right decision is based on partial knowledge. And you are the one who has to negotiate through all of those opinions that are correct based on that partial knowledge. I mean, usually it’s just making a call and then aligning everybody as to why that’s the right call. And if they’re not aligned, that’s OK. You know, like it’s like having the courage, right, and the fortitude to not be a people pleaser and to understand that this is the condition. Like, there’s not something wrong with you if the engineers are mad because they know what the right decision is and you didn’t make the right decision. Like, the proof is in the pudding, right? It’s like, “Well, here is the decision, and here were the outcomes.” Like, you can’t do the counterfactual of, “well what are the outcomes then if we hadn’t made that decision?” But at the end of the day, I think people want to be on a winning team and if you’re getting to good outcomes, they will feel OK.

Paul [00:13:29] Right. So succinct. And you know, you’re on a winning team if you’re obsessed with customer-centric outcomes, which is the segue I was looking for. If we’re obsessed with this, if we’re focused on this, then the outcomes are going to speak for themselves. So I think that’s really what the bulk of your product body of work is has been focused on. And I’m curious to hear a bit about where you see that going forward. 2020, 2021 were kind of unique years. Where do you see us going forward in the product community in 2022? What’s different now?

Tatyana [00:14:00] So what I’m really excited about is the fact that we’re starting to talk about product-led everything, right? And, you know, to me product-led doesn’t mean that product managers lead and everybody else follows organizationally. It doesn’t mean that everything becomes a digital solution, necessarily. It means stepping back and actually addressing everything that we do as a company from how, honestly, Peter Drucker defined the purpose of a company, which is to create a customer. How do you create a customer? You build a product that a person will love and buy, and therefore they become a customer. Right. That’s what we’re all here to do.

Tatyana [00:14:40] And so product-led means that everyone across the organization, no matter what function you’re in, understands that your job is to create a customer by delivering something as a part of this organization that they will purchase because they value it. Right. And in some cases, like in social media, right, they value it. But some of our customers don’t actually purchase it, right? It’s free. It’s a free product. So with that mindset, right, this product-led evolution, I think, means that all of us in an organization are going to start thinking about, you know, how does H.R., right, contribute to the development of a great product? And how do we actually drive a product experience through solutions that are really productized?

Tatyana [00:15:25] So one of the things that’s interesting is that there are some companies where, you know, the culture is, you know, a little questionable and people don’t necessarily love working there. And maybe the pay isn’t the best that other people could get in other organizations. But people love the product. And so these companies have no trouble recruiting people, and awesome people, right, because the product is so great and there are so many people who love the product. So what would it mean for recruiting, right, within organizations to be also like really leaning into product development, to tracking the product data, to understanding how to bring the product experience that customers love, right? And then understanding, who are customers that love this product? And maybe we should recruit from that pool as opposed to random LinkedIn profiles. Right? Like, who are the customers who love our product? Maybe they should be managing it, right, or maybe they should be working here.

Sean [00:16:22] Plain insight.

Tatyana [00:16:23] And I think that that’s going to permeate across many, many internal functions. Like product-led is really a mindset as opposed to a process, you know, or a function or anything like that. It’s really a mindset that we are all here to deliver and build a product that customers love. And let’s figure out who loves it and figure out like how to harness the evangelism and the power of those people.

Sean [00:16:49] Build an ecosystem around those advocates, right?

Tatyana [00:16:52] Mm-Hmm.

Sean [00:16:52] I love it. All right. Well, you’re in a unique position because you’re actually the VP of a product that product people use.

Tatyana [00:16:58] That’s right.

Sean [00:17:00] And our audience as product leaders. So you’ve been there for a little bit now. Like, what have you learned about the product ecosystem that you think the audience would love to hear about?

Tatyana [00:17:09] So it’s precisely that, right, it’s that product data is not just relevant to product people or to engineers who are trying to fix bugs, right? It’s actually relevant to everyone in an organization because, again, like you’re in finance or you’re in recruiting or, you know, you’re an infosec, right? If you don’t understand, like what are the experiences that we’re building for the end customer, how do you create engagement on your teams, right? How do you actually drive the right behaviors? How do you actually trust people to make the right decisions if they don’t understand what the product is doing, right, and how customers are engaging with the product today and how that evolution is happening?

Tatyana [00:17:51] So it’s really empowering everyone to have both the qualitative and quantitative data and understanding of who are we building for? What do we exist to do? If our company went away, would anybody care? Right. Doesn’t every employee need to know the answer to that question? How many people? How much would they care? And would it really impact their lives? And that’s what you need both qualitative and quantitative data to really feel and understand so that you can motivate yourself and your team to bring the best work without burning yourself out, right? Because you also need to focus and prioritize.

Sean [00:18:28] Yeah. I think what I’m hearing is that as a product leader, part of our job is to evangelize the thing we’re building at the end of the day, right?

Tatyana [00:18:37] And evangelism starts at home. It starts in our company. And again, the people who are in the non-R&D functions are often the ones who need to hear this narrative the most.

Sean [00:18:48] Yeah.

Paul [00:18:50] Hm.

Tatyana [00:18:50] Right. Again, our recruiters, when they understand what we’re building and they have videos of the vision of the product that we’re building, when they’re armed with that recruiting is so much easier and it’s so much better and they send better candidates because they know, right? They feel and they’re invested in the development of this product experience. And that’s what we’ve done over the last few months. We’ve really worked with our recruiting team to really also help them understand the product narrative and where we’re going and give them videos and prototypes and things like that so that they feel ownership for the product that we’re building. They really feel part of the product team and then they’re able to convey that excitement and that vision to the people that they talk to.

Paul [00:19:34] I had a quote that I jotted down from our pre-production call before the show that stuck with me, and I want to get your thoughts on it before we end our time here together today. You said, “it’s a crime for tech companies who are building for the future of humanity to have product leaders who are not exposed to emerging markets globally.”.

Tatyana [00:19:52] Yes.

Paul [00:19:53] And I believe I understand the implications of that, but your anthropology background, your incredible compassion for humanity, what are those experiences that product leaders need to be exposed to that you think are so important for the future of humanity?

Tatyana [00:20:11] As product leaders, we are making very meaningful decisions often, especially in B2C organizations, especially when we’re talking about apps and platforms that impact how people work, how they get jobs, how they communicate, what kind of information they receive. You get my drift, right? And many of these companies, the majority of their end-users are now outside the United States and in particular in emerging markets where life is very different and the institutional environments are very different than in the United States.

Tatyana [00:20:46] And the people making decisions about what is the right product experience may have been born in an emerging market, but they’ve never lived and worked in an emerging market. I lived and worked in Russia between basically 2002 and 2005. And what you see is that there are very, very, very hard things that seem obvious or easy decisions are sometimes very hard or much more complex when you’re making decisions from the perspective of living in that country. And you have to be, it used to be in the 1990s when this whole narrative or globalization not digitalization was happening in the business world, that you couldn’t get promoted to a VP unless you had done a stint in an emerging market. And I think that’s right. Because you can’t understand it if you’re looking at dashboards, right? People are not numbers. Human experience cannot be encapsulated in a dashboard or in a PowerPoint presentation. You need to be there. You need to live in the environment, in the community, and you need to really start to feel that the texture of life and that the institutional context is really different, and you need to start to struggle with decisions that would have been easy if you were making them from the United States.

Paul [00:21:59] Powerful.

Tatyana [00:22:00] So I’ll give you an example. A company, a very large social media company, called me a little while ago for a very senior product role on their integrity team, and if you’re not watching this, I just put that in quotes and I was like, “I don’t believe your company actually cares about integrity.” And he said, “No, let me assure you we do, because just this morning, we had a three-hour meeting about whether we should allow political advertising during the Ethiopian election.” This was several years ago. And I was like, “Oh, who in the meeting had actually lived in Ethiopian villages?” And he said, “Well, that’s not important; we had a deep three-hour meeting with experts.” I actually did a stint living in Ethiopian villages for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And there are Muslim villages and there are Christian villages, and they are very different. The cultures are very different. It’s kind of a powder keg, right? And I said, “if you actually had me in the meeting because I’ve actually had that experience, I actually know what the context is, you wouldn’t need a three-hour meeting.” I would say, like the money that we could potentially get from the Ethiopian election is small potatoes to our company, the risk of creating a genocide, like, why would we want to take that risk? And you need somebody who has lived and worked on the ground in an emerging market to even understand that context.

Paul [00:23:20] Yeah, it’s a powerful example. Thank you for sharing that.

Sean [00:23:24] Yeah.

Tatyana [00:23:24] So and I think it is a crime. I think it’s a crime for companies like Facebook, like Uber, like Twitter, right, that have very large numbers of customers outside of the United States and outside of developed markets to have product leaders who are making critical, life-critical decisions, political critical decisions, economic critical decisions, who have never lived and worked in those contexts.

Sean [00:23:51] It’s sobering. The reality is we’ve got technology now that’s just so powerful, we haven’t thought through all of these permutations and the ways in which it’s being used. We just haven’t had the time to do that and study it, and it’s dangerous and scary. So thank you for sharing that stuff. If I could sort of close up with one question, we always ask, how do you define innovation?

Tatyana [00:24:10] I define innovation as sensing what are the questions that people have that are not yet being answered, right and answering them. So it’s a lot about feeling, it’s a lot about taking in and synthesizing information. You can’t get to innovation through analysis. You have to get to innovation through synthesis. And synthesis is kind of like, people often say intuition. There’s two definitions of intuition. One is like a personal opinion out of nowhere. “I think this,” right, “I believe this.” And then there’s synthesis, right? “I’m seeing signals, I’m sensing the world is going here, I’m hearing that the emergent questions that people are struggling with are things like this,” and then synthesizing that into a potential solution and then knowing how to get from the idea to delivery.

Sean [00:25:01] Love that.

Paul [00:25:01] That’s a great answer. Last question before we let you go, what is a book that you think every product leader should have on their shelf?

Tatyana [00:25:08] Well, two things. I just re-read last night Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and I see Sean nodding his head. I think that is something every human being should read. Absolutely. And then there are two books that I would really recommend. Peter Singer’s How Are We to Live and Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness. Both of them are about how to live an ethical life. And the reason I think that these are the most important texts for a product leader to read is because we need to do our work ethically. We need to understand what happiness really means for humans. When we talk about growth, we need to understand what is it that we’re growing and why are growing that and not something else? Is it for our egos? Is it for our invalidation and sense of competition? Or is it because we’re really trying to add to the well-being of humanity in some way? And so I really think product leaders should read a lot more philosophy and think about what is ethical decision-making?

Paul [00:26:10] Outstanding.

Sean [00:26:12] Great recommendations, thank you.

Tatyana [00:26:13] Sean, have you read them?

Sean [00:26:14] I haven’t read the Bertrand Russell recommendation yet.

Tatyana [00:26:17] Oh, The Conquest of Happiness, yeah.

Sean [00:26:18] Yeah, it’s been recommended to me like three times just in the last two months. So I’m going to grab that.

Tatyana [00:26:23] Excellent. Well, you read Peter Singer’s How Are We to Live?

Sean [00:26:26] Yeah.

Tatyana [00:26:26] That’s great. Oh, and also wait, one more, a political economy book, The Great Transformation. If you want to understand what’s happening today in our economy, read Polanyi’s The Great Transformation.

Paul [00:26:37] Great stuff. Three-for.

Sean [00:26:38] Thank you so much for joining us and sharing all these amazing ideas. This was really a wonderful podcast, and I’m super proud of it.

Paul [00:26:45] Absolutely inspirational.

Tatyana [00:26:46] Thank you.

Paul [00:26:47] Cheers.

Paul [00:26:50] Well, that’s it for today. In line with our goals of transparency and listening, we really want to hear from you. Sean and I are committed to reading every piece of feedback that we get, so please leave a comment or a rating wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Not only does it help us continue to improve, but it also helps the show climb up the rankings so that we can help other listeners move, touch, and inspire the world just like you’re doing. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you next episode.

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