Megan Murphy is currently the VP of product at Hotjar, where she leads its design, data, and product teams. She has lived and led product teams in San Francisco, Brazil, Spain, and in fully distributed environments on a mix of B2C and B2B products at Skyscanner, Microsoft, N26, and a few early-stage startups.
Megan has earned her stripes in product-led growth in a range of contexts, from validating early demand through prototypes at a Series-A startup in pursuit of its first 100 customers, to experimenting at scale on 100 million MAU products. On the qualitative side, she has designed and run complex, multi-lingual user research studies spanning 4 continents, and today you’ll still find her as scrappy as ever, reaching out to target customers on LinkedIn so she can personally understand their workflows and biggest sources of frustration.
One of the most challenging aspects of Megan’s transition from Product Manager to Product Leader was the ability to find and relate to modern examples of real-world, foundational product work (think Product Principles, lightweight quarterly planning processes, concrete approaches to vision and strategy, etc.). In recognition of this whitespace, Megan is now open-sourcing much of her work at Hotjar to make it easier for other Product Leaders to equip their teams with the artifacts they need to move fast and stay aligned.
Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Difference and Why It Matters, by Richard Rumelt.
Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets, by Alan Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, and Kevin Maney.
The role of product leader isn’t just about numbers and KPIs. It’s really about assembling teams of human beings and setting the stage for them to boost their capacity to build customer value.
In this episode, Sean and Paul catch up with Megan Murphy, VP of Product at Hotjar. “What got us to now won’t get us to next,” Megan reminds us. “So my approach to ‘getting to next’ was to tap into different communities and make the team composition feel more ‘diverse.’ That may not be the right word, but I knew I wanted to have a great mix of people from all around the world.”
The beauty of diversity is the breadth of perspectives it brings to a team; the power of diversity comes from exposing blind spots that get in the way of honest engagement with each other – and with our customers. “When we’re honest with each other,” Megan remarks, “we can get real work done.”
At Hotjar, Megan primes her teams for success by recruiting talent through nontraditional channels to make sure her teams represent a range of perspectives.
Tune in to hear more from Megan; learn how her interests have expanded beyond the product itself into the go-to market, the category creation, and harvesting the value in the category. She urges us product leaders to ask: are we designing a product for a new category? Or a product that harvests value in an existing category?
Paul [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to Product Momentum, where we hope to entertain, educate, and celebrate the amazing product people who are helping to shape our community’s way ahead. My name is Paul Gebel and I’m the director of Product Innovation at ITX. Along with my co-host, Sean Flaherty, and our amazing production team and occasional guest host, we record and release a conversation with a product thought leader, writer, speaker, or maker who has something to share with the community every two weeks.
Paul [00:00:43] Hey everyone. Today in our conversation with Megan Murphy, Sean and I explore some really timely topics. Megan has a brilliant mind for visualization and thinking through how different people understand different parts of what you’re trying to communicate, and you’ll understand more as you listen to the conversation. But I’m really excited to share this with you. I think she’s got a really great message for the moment that we’re in the product community, so enjoy.
Paul [00:01:08] Well hello everyone, and welcome to the podcast. Today, we are really excited to be joined by Megan Murphy. Megan is the VP of Product at Hotjar, where she leads the design, data, and product teams. She’s lived and led product teams in San Francisco, Brazil, Spain, and in a fully distributed environment in a mix of B2C, B2B products at Skyscanner, Microsoft, N26, and a few early-stage startups. Megan, we’re so happy to have you here. Welcome.
Megan [00:01:32] Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Paul [00:01:33] Absolutely. So just to get us kind of situated in your journey, can you just tell us the story of Hotjar and how you started the bootstrap team and up through the acquisition and how you’ve kind of taken it through that evolutionary role?
Megan [00:01:47] Sure. So I joined Hotjar actually in March 2020, so my onboarding at Hotjar is really difficult to decouple from the start of the pandemic. At the time, I thought I was choosing a remote job, and obviously, like much of the world, that was a remote life. So Hajar now is about eight years old, and they were co-founded by five co-founders. And one of the things that was so impressive to me about this very unique tech company to reach the brand ubiquity that it has was that most of the co-founders were actually in individual contributor roles and they were humble enough to recognize that they started something great, but they didn’t necessarily have expertise in leading bigger teams, so they hired a leadership team. Many of them were in IC roles like I mentioned. And that degree of humility was not something I’d ever experienced before, where, in most companies, the co-founders have really fancy titles, and even if they haven’t done the very hard work of leadership before, they kind of bust their way through it.
Megan [00:02:46] So I thought that was really impressive in general, and I think that one of the great things about starting out as a bootstrapped company is really conveying a sense of ownership to so many people across the team. People really act like owners. They’re really aware of the decisions that they’re making and the fact that it could affect the livelihood of themselves and their colleagues. I also think there’s, not necessarily just Hotjar, but just like the mantra of bootstrapped companies having this sort of renegade approach of like we answer to ourselves and we march to the beat of our own drum. So I was really attracted to that.
Megan [00:03:18] But then in September of 2021, it was announced that we were acquired by Contentsquare. And Contentsquare, if I were to describe it to my family, which I have tried, I might say that we offer very similar products, but we serve really different parts of the market. If I were talking to a closer colleague, I think we would definitely have fun picking apart the nuances that differentiate us in the first place. But it’s really interesting to now work alongside and be part of a bigger group, the Contentsquare group, where they’ve reached a different type of scale, right? So where we have brand ubiquity, they have really hallmark enterprise clients. And it’s very interesting for me to learn about, how do you build for the enterprise? What are the differences in the go-to-market and the time-to-value?
Megan [00:04:02] We have really complementary approaches. Like we focus on the SMB side of the market, they focus on enterprise. And actually, this was a relief to me in my role because I think that when you work in SMB, you feel this natural gravitational pull upward toward the enterprise side of the market, and it can create a lot of tension in, should we continue to have a freemium and free trial offering? Should we continue to offer self-service upgrades? And so forth. And when you have this magnetic pull upward, it’s hard to continue saying, “Yeah, let’s do that and not accidentally become a Swiss Army knife trying to do everything in a way that doesn’t do anything really, really well.” So actually, I love the fact that now, as part of the Contentsquare team, it’s really clear what they do best and it’s really clear what we do best and they don’t really overlap too much in that respect. So we get to really create what this product experience insights category is in a way that can capture all ends of the market, which I find very exciting.
Paul [00:04:59] Yeah, that’s a really great story. It’s wonderful to hear when acquisitions have that complimentary sense of filling in roles where you can play to each other’s strengths. So I really appreciate hearing that story and understanding a bit more of sort of how this came to be and where you are in your role. You know, one of the things that I’m really impressed by in the stories that you’ve shared is the team that you’ve built and understanding that it isn’t just about numbers and KPIs, but it’s really human beings that you’re thinking about. And digging into diversity as sort of the flag you’ve planted and growing a team from every seven up to somewhere around 45 or 50 now, how do you manage that balance when you grow so quickly?
Megan [00:05:35] Yes. I love the phrase, I don’t know who coined this, but, “what got us to now won’t get us to next.” And so when I joined Hotjar I was leading a team of seven product managers. I joined as a Director of Product. And within about 10 months or so, I was promoted to the VP role. And with that promotion really came a whole different scope of remit. So I started to lead our experience design organization and our data team as well. And we were going through a phase of quite extensive growth. Our organization across all of product and engineering doubled in 2021. So I thought of that as an opportunity.
Megan [00:06:12] Like I’ve been in companies that have scaled before. I’ve been part of that scale. When I was at N26, we were onboarding 90 new joiners every two weeks. So I definitely know what it’s like to go through that experience where your team has bandwidth. It’s not about how much capacity do they have to build new customer value, but it’s also, how much capacity do they have to help you build the new team? So at Hotjar I took, I would say, a very manual approach. And I just really changed the channel when it came to where we were recruiting. We kind of had, historically as a remote native company, we were really popular with remote job websites back in the day. And I think that that served us really well for a long time.
Megan [00:06:53] But like I said, what got us to now wouldn’t necessarily get us to next. So when I say we change the channel, I joined different communities on Slack that focused on, for example, Out in Tech. There are various, like BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), LGBTQ+ communities, and so forth. So just really trying to find talent in different places. And this was something I took really seriously interesting, something I do take personally. I also have developed a really great community on LinkedIn just by sharing and trying to open source as much work as I can to make it easier for other product leaders to not feel like they need to start from scratch.
Megan [00:07:32] And so with this accidental community that’s come around some of the artifacts that I’ve shared over the last few years, I’m lucky enough to have people who reach out. And that gives me an opportunity to go back through my LinkedIn messages over the years and just see, oh, who might be interested for X Y Z opportunity if we’re hiring? So my approach to, how do we scale the team? Tap into different communities and make the composition of the product design and data team, you know, I feel almost like diverse, it’s a word that can mean many things. It’s a word that can mean nothing. It’s a word that can be very insightful. It’s a word that could be empty. Like, I really don’t know what the right word is, but I just wanted to have a great mix of people from all around the world. And at Hotjar we have our teammates spread across 35 countries. We’ve hired folks on various teams, far outside of my area in product design and data, but within the product team, I’m very happy that we’ve managed to hire folks between the Middle East and Africa as part of that scale and really, just like tapping into different places gave us such great talent to bring on board.
Sean [00:08:35] Well, that’s a fantastic story And I think a lesson for all of us in the IT space in general. It’s a playbook to add to our repertoire when we’re trying to build our new teams. I love how you said, “capacity to build customer value,” which I think is, like, an awesome mantra for product leaders. So do you have any examples, because I think we need to hear these examples and we need to promote them, of how purposefully moving to this diverse workforce has helped you improve your capacity to build customer value?
Megan [00:09:02] Certainly. I mean, over all of that time throughout 2021 when we were scaling up the team to quite a large extent, I mean, not to say that that scaling is over, right? It’s just that we came out of a hiring freeze in the start of 2021 after the dust had kind of settled around, where is the business in the heart of the pandemic? And then we started really hiring again. So throughout that year, we also managed to have record-breaking numbers in terms of top-line growth, in terms of customer reach, and so forth. So we still performed while we were scaling. And I think that’s quite commendable, something I’m very proud of our team for achieving.
Megan [00:09:37] When it comes to the value that we have out of a diverse team, for me, it’s really not rocket science. Like great things are built through great debate and different perspectives. And different perspectives come out of people who have different life experiences, different challenges and learnings to contribute. So I’m just grateful that each person that we hire can help me reveal some of my own blind spots, and I certainly hope that I can do that for others. I think it’s really simple. It’s just, I want to surround myself with people who are different from me, and I want us to collectively think of, “OK, what does the customer need at this time? I might have my opinions and my assumptions and what I heard.”.
Megan [00:10:17] I mean, I just had an interview with a candidate yesterday who’s from the UK, and I know this is a very easy example to lean on, but for the sake of illustration, he said, “I might hear someone say something and think that they’re being sarcastic because my British mind just assumes that that’s what they mean.” And I said, “Oh, if I heard the same thing, I would think this,” right? So even just something as simple as how we perceive humor, the vocabulary we use, the intentions behind certain jokes or whatever, depending on where you’re from, you might be totally tuned in or tuned out to what somebody is really trying to say. So the more that we can get people with different perspectives to help us reveal those blind spots, the better we can engage, the better we can live the practice of radical candor. And when we’re honest with each other, we can get real work done.
Sean [00:11:00] There’s some incredible nuggets in what you just had to say. Our teams, we believe in the same thing. We believe in actively producing as diverse a team as possible, specifically for all the reasons that you just threw out there. Timothy Clark, we had him on the podcast not so long ago. He’s a social scientist who got his Ph.D. studying different levels of psychological safety. And in his framework, at the very bottom level, he describes this thing called inclusion safety. And I think when you when you look around and you see that your culture is naturally inclined to include people who are not like everybody else, I think it just has a natural impact on all the other things that come along with psychological safety.
Megan [00:11:36] Yeah. I mean, at Hotjar, one of the things that I find so unique, at least from my own experience, is that it is a place that really lives its core values. So some of the things that come to mind around that are, everyone’s performance reviews every six months are grounded in how well we embody our core values. And it’s inspiring to see just how the five core values that we commit to can be exemplified and brought to life in different ways. And I think part of the beauty of that is by having a team who’s from 35 countries around the world within this one time zone, mostly.
Megan [00:12:11] But I mean, one of the examples that come to mind that’s just really fresh right now, we have teammates in Ukraine and Russia, and within hours of, I don’t even know what kind of language to use or not to use. But within hours of the invasion on that Thursday, within hours, our team was already reacting and saying, “How can we take care of our team? How can we make sure that they get cash? How can we make sure that they have access to a backup method of payment through our corporate card? How can we make sure that we’re there for them? Could we use our business travel provider to help people who want to fly or take busses or trains? Like what are all of the things that we can do to support our teammates in places around the world right now that are going through extreme conflict?” And one of our values is working with respect, and I think that just the degree of respect for recognizing our colleagues are in a really tough spot and we need to do what we can to help serve them and support them, it’s really inspiring. And within literally hours, like, I think by 8:30 in the morning, we had an action plan on that very day.
Paul [00:13:14] Amazing. I’m honored that you were able to share that with us and that you were able to help them out. That’s really, truly incredible. You know the thing that strikes me in talking to you, even getting ready for the show today is how well you weave in stories and anecdotes to exemplify your points in the strategies, in the product concepts that you’ve built up within your team. You shared a couple of anecdotes, and I’m wondering if we can dig into one or two of them. And the one that comes to mind is the idea of documentation and sort of putting together artifacts and videos. And the point that I believe you’re trying to make, and I’m hoping you can share, is speaking in the language that people are ready to hear. And you shared a story about taking this shelf plan, this PRD-style document that nobody’s going to read or if they do, aren’t going to remember, and turning it into a format that was a little bit more easy to digest and remember and then talk about and understand. Can you share a bit about how you came to that conclusion and why that stuck out as a memorable moment that turned the light bulb on for you?
Megan [00:14:17] Sure. Yeah. So the example that you’re referring to relates to my when I started working on our three-year product strategy at Hotjar just shortly after I joined. And I recognized through talking to the folks on my team, whether it was partners in other disciplines or the product managers there, that the team was kind of craving a, “Hey, where are we going?” And that is expected when you hire a leader. That means there was a vacancy in that leadership. And so people are hungry for the direction that they expect from that role. And I knew that the team expected that from me.
Megan [00:14:50] So my instinct is to talk to customers, and I spent a couple of weeks meeting with 30 or 40 either existing customers or folks who fit our ideal customer profile who weren’t Hotjar customers. I kind of synthesized all my learnings from that. I did a similar degree of discovery within our internal team just to ask questions. I read through support tickets and just searched through whatever artifacts that we had. And I recognized when I sat down to synthesize everything for the product strategy that the expectations from folks across the company were really different in terms of, what do they expect a product strategy to even be in the first place?
Megan [00:15:18] And so I decided before I would even start writing out this strategy that I should first delineate between what to expect from a product strategy and what not to based on my own beliefs and assuming that those beliefs and experience and tacit knowledge that you’ve built up over the years is what I was hired for in the first place. So I used that as the first opportunity to kind of evangelize, what will a product strategy mean at Hotjar and what will it not? So, for example, it will not be a list of features. It will not be a timeline. It will not be a Gandt chart. It will be a vision statement. It will be pillars of what we will focus on and pillars of what we will not focus on. And I used that as kind of the first opportunity to express the product strategy, even in just really theoretical terms of what to expect.
Megan [00:16:13] And that was great because it was sort of like when you paint a wall. I grew up with a single dad and I’ve painted a lot of walls in my life with him. And I’ll never unlearn that if you really want to paint a wall very well, you need to prime it first. And I use that in my work as well. So I felt that by way of describing what a product strategy is and isn’t, it was essentially priming my team, my partners, my stakeholders for what to expect such that once I came into paint it with the product strategy, it would better stick. And I’m delighted that that is indeed what happened. So from that point, I really leaned on the book Good Strategy, Bad Strategy. I made a Trello board to organize the constructs of the book and then kind of make my own fill in the blanks. So, “OK, here’s the biggest problems, here’s the…” I don’t even remember the specifics right now, but there’s like different columns for what you’ll focus on, what you won’t, and strategy tactics, so forth.
Megan [00:17:10] And from there, it turned into just a lot of words. And it was like a 15-page document with 35 references. And I don’t have a particularly academic background after undergrad, but I do write as though I still have a professor who’s about to review my work and make sure it’s all cited properly. And so that artifact was more for me to get my stuff together and to feel that the degree of rigor was sufficient enough such that the strategy could hold up to really, really challenging questions, which is what I knew it needed in the first place. And from there, knowing that nobody would ever read that 15-page document with 30-something references, I hired a video production team to make a five-minute video to articulate the most essential parts of it, and we debuted that video at a company meetup in late 2020.
Megan [00:18:01] So it was a really exciting and engaging way to kind of create a teaser as well for the whole team because then they knew that if they wanted to dive into more detail about something specific or they wanted to check the data on certain things, they knew they could go look at the long-form content and find what they needed there. But in order to just even onboard new employees, I would say, “check out this five-minute video if you want to see where the product is going,” as a way to like, you know, get a primer, then.
Paul [00:18:16] You’re a master of metaphors.
Sean [00:18:18] Yeah, I think an important skill of a product leader is to be able to make the vision and the decision-making mantras, like, concise and memorable so people can act on them and make decisions. When, you know, when you’re all not in the room as the leader, you know. Here’s a question for you. So one in every five people is a differently-abled learner, we know that, whether it’s ADD or dyslexia or… Some people also have personal preferences for how they like their process information. Can you tell us the story of the Lowe’s and Home Depot paint sections and how a cartoonist could bring that problem to light?
Megan [00:19:04] Yeah. So this story is a short anecdote that I learned of some years ago, which is that there’s a store in the states called Lowe’s Home Improvement, and maybe your audience reaches beyond the states, so it’s like a hardware shop on steroids, huge hardware stores, and many of them across at least the US. They were trying to figure out how to change the layout of some of the products in their store. And they had done some experiments where they moved certain products here and there, but they’d never really given, like, the degree of change that they thought that they needed. And I think they found some challenges with stakeholder buy-in to completely change the layout of their store.
Megan [00:19:45] So they hired a cartoonist to illustrate the customer journey of going into the stores to find paint versus paintbrushes versus paint ladders versus painter’s tape, and so forth. And once it was captured in a comic book style through illustration, it became really easy for the store management teams to recognize just how confusing a user journey was being experienced until that point. And so that was ultimately the precipice to change the layout around and move their products around in a way such that customers could more easily find all the products they need at once for paint. I realize now with my previous metaphor about painting walls with my dad there’s just a lot of talk about paint here, which is very random, but I like to have anecdotes from non-tech things that come into my work and make me feel a little bit more close to the physical world anyways.
Megan [00:20:34] But I really value this example because it shows the power of visuals, the fact that some of us are more visual learners, the fact that data without context and just saying, like, “X percent of customers who look for Y can’t find Z.” It’s really different than looking at a comic book and seeing someone feel confused, and you can see the lines in their face get crinkled and disgruntled as their face contorts with confusion, right? That elicits something totally different than looking at a few charts. So this is something I also put into practice. I mentioned turning our product strategy into a five-minute video. I’ve also done the same thing with creating cartoons and illustrations and infographics, and just as many different visual and audio approaches as I can because I recognize that everybody in my team learns differently. I learn differently than some of the colleagues I’m most close with. Some of us learn best through analogies. So I try my best to communicate what I really want to land with my team and my partners in different parts of the company in as many formats as I can. First of all, I find it fun. Second of all, I find it works. And third of all, I find that people are excited to consume what I make, and that makes me feel like I’m really not only sending the message, but the message is landing in the way that I intend.
Sean [00:21:49] Love it. All right. Hotjar. So I want to give you an opportunity just to kind of give us a little description of what’s coming from the product and to tell the audience a little bit about it because I think it’s a pretty cool product and it’s in the product space. So it’s a product for product people.
Megan [00:22:04] So at Hotjar, we make product experience insights. And so that gets meta very quickly for us because we’re a product team who wants to make other product teams build better products more easily. But what’s really exciting is that historically, you know, when I mentioned earlier the brand ubiquity we’ve achieved, we’re a B2B SaaS company and there’s over a million websites using Hotjar. So to be in the B2B space and reach that degree of scale, even being able to run experimentation in the B2B space, is a very exciting type of product work, at least for me.
Megan [00:22:40] And so what we really want to do now is move beyond helping product teams find signals of user behavior on their sites. Whether that means through survey responses, or maybe you’ve seen on many, especially e-commerce sites, there’s a little widget that says, “would you recommend this to a friend?” Like much of the time, those are powered by Hotjar, signals of user behavior through heat maps, through session replay… We’ve always offered a lot of signals into what users are doing behind the charts and graphs that you might get in more quantitative products. But where we’re really going is helping our customers make sense of what they’re seeing, helping them achieve business outcomes from the insights that they find in Hotjar.
Megan [00:23:20] And so I would say what’s coming next is transforming user insights into business outcomes through a people-first lens. I don’t want to spoil too much because our product teams, our product marketers, the whole Hotjar team, generally, are the ones who get to announce these exciting things. But I can say that every decision that we’re making is in line with that product vision and going from reducing the signal to noise ratio and even further distilling those signals into insights, that’s where we’re headed.
Sean [00:23:50] Fantastic. So how do you think of innovation? How do you define innovation?
Megan [00:23:54] Ooh, that’s a broad one. I would say innovation is anticipating what needs will be, taking bets on how to solve for those needs. It doesn’t always work, like, you don’t always get the timing right. Timing is probably harder than anything. Telling a story around how your anticipated needs that maybe people couldn’t even articulate yet. That’s also really challenging. But I think innovation comes from the little things just as much as the big things. And as long as you think big and start small and actually start, I think you can bring a high degree of change. You just need to have the persistence to keep working and working and working when you don’t get the timing right or you don’t get the story right or you don’t get something right, but you have the persistence to create new value that doesn’t exist already.
Paul [00:24:44] Hmm. Great definition. As we’re wrapping up here, I would love to know what you’re reading or are inspired by. What’s a book that you might think could find its way to a product leader’s shelf that might help them think about things a little bit differently that you’ve been inspired by?
Megan [00:25:00] Right now, I’ve just finished reading Play Bigger, which is a book about category design. It is co-written by four authors, so I cannot recall for you exactly who wrote it, but I just finished that up. And I think what’s really interesting to me about this book is, working in product for nearly a decade now, a distinction from this book that really just built a new mental model for me was differentiating between category design and category harvesting. And if a product exists in an existing category where the problem is well understood, the customers who have the problem can articulate it, and they might even know different options for solving it, whether that’s different brands or different hacks or something like that, the idea of harvesting a category and extracting more value and iterating and optimizing is distinctly different than building a product in a brand new category where you actually have to market more of the problem itself than the solution that you’re offering.
Megan [00:25:58] And product experience insights, where we play, is a really nascent category. We’re eight years old. There’s other players in the field, of course. It’s a really dynamic market and it’s, you know, Contentsquare, for example, having such a great command of the enterprise side of the market and now teaming up with them. I mean, the category is maturing, but there aren’t, I hope I’m not wrong about this, but there aren’t or there are very few public companies who are in product experience insights. So with that being such a young category, I think expanding my point of view outside of the product side and what to build, but rather how to market the problem. Because the reality is that, you know, it’s not like you walk down the street and you see ads for product experience insights, right. This is not something you see much out-of-home ads for. So my interests have just really expanded beyond the product itself into like the go-to-market, the category creation, harvesting the value in the category. And I think it would serve a lot of product leaders to ask themselves, “Are we designing a product for a new category? Are we designing a product that harvests value in an existing category?” Because that can really help you figure out where your North Star should be.
Paul [00:27:09] Great recommendation.
Sean [00:27:10] Yeah, great recommendation. Well, thank you very much, Megan, for joining us on the Product Momentum Podcast. It was a fabulous conversation. We got tons of nuggets here and thank you for all the work you do.
Megan [00:27:20] Thank you. Happy to be here. Thanks very much.
Paul [00:27:23] All right, cheers.
Paul [00:27:27] 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.