Skip to Content

12 / Treating Your Product Community Like a Product

Hosted by Sean Flaherty



Headshot of Mike Belsito

Mike Belsito

Product Collective

Mike Belsito is a startup product and business developer who loves creating something from nothing. Mike is the co-founder of Product Collective, which organizes INDUSTRY, one of the largest product management summits anywhere in the world. For his leadership at Product Collective, Mike was named one of the Top 40 influencers in the field of Product Management.

Mike also serves as a faculty member at Case Western Reserve University in the department of Design and Innovation, and he is co-host of one of the top startup podcasts online, Rocketship.FM.

Prior to Product Collective, Mike spent 12 years in startup companies as an early employee, co-founder, and executive. Mike’s businesses and products have been featured in national media outlets such as the The New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, NPR, and elsewhere. Mike is also the Author of Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of Us, one of the top startup books on Amazon.

When you’re building software products, do you think only about adding features? Or do you think in terms of hiring your software products to solve a problem you have? Context is critical. Product managers should consider new products – and their features – in the same way they would new employees, Mike Belsito says. What problems am I hiring them to solve? What will be my return on investment?

In this episode, Sean and Joe chat with Mike Belsito, a startup product and business developer with a rich background in creating big, important things out of nothing. In 2014, Mike co-founded Product Collective, now a 20,000-member community of like-minded product people. He conceived the idea to help folks like himself navigate this untamed wilderness called product management. Out of this product community, Mike spawned INDUSTRY a conference in just its fifth year and it’s already one of the largest product management summits anywhere in the world. Mike describes how him and his team, as product people, have grown and improved Product Collective and INDUSTRY. Listen to hear how they apply product management processes like the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework, qualitative feedback, and metrics to their community and conference.

Read our blog post here

Joe [00:00:00] All right Sean. Well today, we have a bit of a unique guest and someone I’m excited to talk to. We’ve got Mike Belsito from The Product Collective. Hey Mike.

Mike [00:00:10] Hello. How’s it going?

Joe [00:00:12] It’s going well. So some of our audience might be familiar with probably what Product Collective is best known for at the moment, which is the INDUSTRY conference, which we are huge advocates of. We were there in the fall and absolutely loved it and thought it was really one of the, if not, the best conference we’ve ever been to for product management and innovation and that’s not just because you’re on the interview today but we really truly felt that way and we’ve been talking about it ever since. So if you wouldn’t mind, could you just give a little background/overview into Product Collective and yourself and why you started this whole thing?

Mike [00:00:47] For sure. Well first of all, thank you for saying that. That actually means a lot, for sure. But yeah, so at Product Collective we really look at ourselves as a community for product people, you know. So if you’re a software product manager or any kind of product title, you know, we want you to feel like you have a home at Product Collective and we do many things. You know, we have a newsletter, we have a live video Q&A chat series, and we have really popular Slack channel where we have a few thousand product managers and other types of product people that communicate every day. But yes, what we’re probably known best for is INDUSTRY: The Product Conference which is something that we bootstrapped and started since 2015. So this will be actually our fifth year coming up this year. And it’s something that every fall, you know, we put together specifically for the product community. It’s a two-day conference for product people and it’s grown, you know, ever since we put it together that first time I think maybe we had a couple hundred people and now we probably have over twelve hundred people this year. Last year we had folks from 37 states and 13 countries. And this year it’s everybody from Jason Fried of Basecamp, Nikita Miller of Trello, but even, you know, we have some folks that are speakers that you might not expect. Like Common who’s a Grammy and Academy Award-winning artist both in film and in the hip-hop world as well. So this is something that was really born out of passion and it’s something…we love that we’re doing this.

Mike [00:02:17] As far as me personally, I’ve been involved really my whole career in early stage technology startups one way or the other either as an early employee or a founder. And really what happened for me is I had a startup company in the past that was acquired. And it wasn’t one of these acquisitions where I was going to go live on a beach for a while; I had to find a job, find what was going to be next for me. And I remember getting recruited by a company where they wanted me to be their director of product strategy. And first of all, by the way, I remember Googling, “what does a director product strategy do?” because I really had no idea. And as I had the conversations with them and they were trying to talk me into this role I remember saying, “this sounds awesome but I don’t know if I’d be the best at it. I didn’t go to school for product management and…” And they’re like, “no Mike, nobody went to school for product management, you’ll be just fine.” And that kind of is the impetus for Product Collective and INDUSTRY because what happened is I was just trying to figure out what it meant to be a product person. I took that job, but I was just trying to kind of figure out, “well hey what happens once they figure out that I don’t know what I’m doing?” And so, you know, I was reading books, listening to podcasts, you know, just trying to really understand what it meant to be a product person. And I had a friend that had organized conferences in the past and he was talking about organizing a conference, actually he did organize a local tech conference. And I was sharing with him how there is really not too much out there specifically for me as a new product person. And he said, “well hey, you know, what if we were to build something together?” And so that was back in 2015. That was sort of the first edition. We both had full time jobs at the time, but now, you know, several years later, this is what it’s become. You know, for INDUSTRY we’re pretty proud that it’s one of the top rated product conferences out there and we hope that the product people that come get a lot out of it, and yeah, we’re loving what we’re doing.

Sean [00:03:59] We’re fans and certainly if you’re in the product space it’s the place to be.

Mike [00:04:03] Well thank you.

Sean [00:04:03] I got to say I didn’t know what to expect last year when B.J. Novak got on stage from The Office and I was like, “how do you relate this to a product conference?” But it was spectacular. I mean I got a lot out of that.

Mike [00:04:16] So it was funny, somebody did ask him, “hey, can you talk about the product of Jim and Pam?” You know, with B.J. being one of the lead writers for The Office. And again, we like having at least one guest where it’s kind of, you know, not what people might expect but even though might be unexpected people usually get at least something out of it.

Sean [00:04:35] Awesome. So you’ve grown the Product Collective to, I just looked today, last time I looked it was like fifteen thousand, today when I looked it was like twenty thousand product professionals.

Mike [00:04:43] Yeah it keeps growing for sure.

Sean [00:04:45] That’s amazing. It’s an incredible accomplishment. I guess there’s that many professionals out there, right.

Mike [00:04:51] Well and the thing is I would say most product people still don’t even know we exist probably. So there’s actually way more than one might expect. The thing is that keeps growing, for sure..the whole product world.

Sean [00:05:01] Well in trying to discover your secrets; “How did he amass such a database and such a following so quickly?” I stumbled across a piece that you wrote back in 2015 on customer development referencing Steve Blank’s customer development manifesto. So I’d love to hear from you, like how do you do customer development in terms of the Product Collective? Like it’s sort of your product, right?

Mike [00:05:22] Yeah.

Sean [00:05:22] This Product Collective, this group of people, and this conference… And this is what I want to learn about from you. I think you’re a mastermind in this context and you’ve done something incredible. I’d love to learn some of your secrets.

Mike [00:05:34] Well, thank you for that. And yeah, I mean I think that’s one of the reasons why INDUSTRY and Product Collective have grown is that, you know, yes this is something for product people, but we consider ourselves product people. We treat the conference, we treat the community, like a product. And especially the conference in particular because really when you think of like, “well what goes in to a product?” Well really it starts with some sort of unmet need that’s out there and then you’re bringing something forward, a solution that has features to it and benefits that can be iterated upon. And so we look at the conferences as exactly that.

Mike [00:06:06] So, you know, there’s a lot of different ways that we treat it as a product. I mean some of the things that come to mind for me… we do attendee interviews and attendee surveys quite a bit. So if you were to come into industry, or I should say, when you all came to INDUSTRY, you probably remember before you even got back to the office probably there was an email from us asking you to take a survey. And so, you know, we asked some NPS-style questions there and we’re trying to keep a gauge of things. But part of that survey is, “Hey, would you be open to a one-on-one interview at some point?” And for anybody that responds to the survey and responds yes, I then follow up and try to get them to take part in an interview. So we do these attend the interviews really year round. I mean especially right after a conference. But even mid-year, not even talking about our conference, trying to ask about their other conference experiences and such. And it’s less about, “Hey, what did you like and what did you not like?” and more about, “Hey, well walk me every single step you took,” and you know, I’m trying to look for those struggling moments.

Mike [00:07:05] And that’s a term that actually I learned firsthand from Bob Moesta. Bob is one of the co-architects of the jobs-to-be-done framework and he’s a past speaker multiple times at INDUSTRY, but really he’s become a friend. And he’s helped us quite a bit to try to work with our attendees and, you know, try to get things from them that we can use to make the conference better. You know, he has the whole jobs-to-be-done process and there’s a formula for jobs-to-be-done interviews and Bob’s walked us through that and actually he’s done some attendee calls with us so that we could learn from him. And one example of how we’ve been able to launch a brand new feature because of those attendee interviews: I remember in one of the interviews we did specifically with Bob and another one of our attendees, Bob kept digging in and digging in trying to look for those struggling moments, as he calls it. And this attendee told us, “Well, yeah, you know, I loved it and I thought was great.” Bob was like, “Okay, but tell us what you mean by that.” And so the more he was talking, the more we realized yes he enjoyed it but he also was feeling some level of stress. We dug in on that. “Okay, well what level of stress were you feeling? Why were you feeling that stress?” Well it turns out his company sent him to our conference. You know, they paid money to put him up in a hotel, to fly him, to.. You know, a conference registration is not free. It’s all an investment when you add it all up. He’s like, “I feel a responsibility to show my boss and my colleagues that this wasn’t just some bender in Cleveland that I’m going to, that this was actually a worthwhile trip and we’re actually getting value out of this.” And so we dug in further: “okay, how did you try to show that value?” And he talked about how he was really diligent with the notes that he took and it got us to thinking, “well gosh if he’s feeling this level of stress and he feels compelled to take these notes, is there any way we can alleviate that stress?”.

Mike [00:08:50] And so one of the things that we did, we tested it in the first European edition of INDUSTRY last year in Dublin, Ireland. We hired a journalist. And without telling attendees that this was gonna be a feature we kind of introduced it as like a delighter. Onstage at the very beginning the conference, I said, “Hey look, I know that this is an investment for you all and I know that some of you might feel compelled to share what you learned. Just so you know you’re welcome to do that. But we’ve hired this journalist. He’s taking notes for you so you don’t have to. Before you actually get home you’re going to receive a nicely put together e-book with all the notes from everyone and the talks.” And first of all, that journalist probably got a bigger ovation than any of the speakers there. And it just, you saw people start to lighten up, like you saw shoulders relax, you saw laptops starting to close and smiles on their face. That’s an example, just one example, that’s an example of how we used those attendee interviews which is really just qualitative feedback to actually introduce a feature. And I can tell you, that attendee never told us on the call, “Hey, you should take notes for all attendees like me.” It’s not like this was something that they explicitly asked for but that was a way that we tried to use what we learn to introduce something that we thought would be a great feature.

Joe [00:10:00] I remember when you mentioned that at the fall conference about the notes being taken and the audience cheered and then a lot of woos and then they threw their notebooks at the floor. Mike you got to slow down a little bit you’re answering all my questions with these great answers.

Mike [00:10:17] Sorry about that. I could go on all day so don’t you worry about that.

Joe [00:10:21] So I’ll focus this one a little bit more to the early years of Product Collective, how about that?

Mike [00:10:26] Sure.

Joe [00:10:27] So you’ve been doing this a while, you’ve been perfecting the craft and the conference and everything and you wrote an article about your time at Movable about going to the mall one day, and so long story short for the audience, Movable had a wearable wristband and it was for fitness tracking and basically you went to the mall and you got a lot of feedback very quickly from people in the mall about the wristband and what was great about it, what was not great about it. But kind of the theme I took from the article was you got feedback cheaply, if that’s a word, cheaply and quickly. And for a lot of the folks we talk to, they have to do research on a budget and/or they’re early on in a product like it’s maybe a startup or it’s just a new initiative. So can you maybe speak to a little bit more about different ways people can do that or how you did that early on at the Product Collective before you did a survey or some of the other things that you’ve done?

Mike [00:11:13] Yeah for sure, and that, you know, it’s another example of qualitative feedback. I love all forms of customer feedback but qualitative feedback definitely answers the why, right. Like we could run surveys and we could see, “oh wow, we got higher scores this year” and maybe some people would share in the comments why, but with qualitative feedback, I love how it is simple to get, in a way, right. It’s literally if you can access somebody and have a conversation with them know that you’re starting to get some qualitative feedback and that was the case for kind of what happened in that article. Like just as you described, it was a fitness tracker, a wrist-worn one fitness activity tracker, and it was literally the week where we had to make the decision of a color, right. I mean most of the decisions were made for this fitness tracker but this was sort of one of the last things that we had to decide, you know, was it going to be this sort of nickel finish or was it gonna be this black matte finish? And we’re like, “well we don’t really know.” We asked people at the office and it was like 50-50, everybody was split. And I’m like we could just make a decision but how do we know it’s the right decision? Is there any way that we could make a decision where at least it’s informed somehow? And you have to understand, for our target market, our target market was really employees at small- to mid-sized companies where their H.R. manager was running some sort of fitness activity challenge, right. We had software that allowed them to do that. So kind of corporate employees, right. And not necessarily the big mammoth organizations, but more like the SMBs.

Mike [00:12:42] And so I’m like, “Okay, well how can we quickly get feedback from them? I could call some customers…” But then we made that decision to go to the mall. And this mall is in downtown Cleveland. Really, at this point, for anybody that knows Cleveland, it’s the Galleria. Nobody really goes to this mall very much anymore except at lunchtime. At lunchtime, it’s pretty busy from the people that are working at all of the nearby companies. And so what we thought was, “well, you know, if we could go there at lunchtime maybe we can get some people to at least just give us a few minutes of their time. And I remember mentioning it at the office. Some of my colleagues were like, “Mike, I don’t know if you’re gonna get arrested, but you’re going to get kicked out of the mall.” I’m like, “All right well if I get kicked out of the mall, I get kicked out of the mall. I’ll have another story to tell.” We were there for an hour and we were able to talk to like, I don’t remember exactly how many people it was, I’d probably say it was 15-20 people. We had 15-20 conversations. I did not get kicked out of the mall but I was able to leave with, you know, relatively quickly, relatively inexpensive feedback. And, you know, sometimes you get what you pay for. It’s not like we hired some sort of firm to do some sort of market research for us. But I was able to make that decision with at least some data, which is better than no data, quickly. I mean it was like we had the idea in the morning and by the end of the day we had this feedback with us. So I don’t know, I always, being right now, currently, you know, a bootstrap entrepreneur/founder, I always look for ways that I could quickly and in an inexpensive way get feedback or get some sort of insight, some sort of data that I could use. And yeah, I don’t know, it was fun to do it and I kind of have a story with it now.

Joe [00:14:21] That’s very cool. I think the best way I’ve ever heard it summed up is quantitative tells you the what and qualitative tells you the why.

Mike [00:14:27] Yeah I think that’s right.

Joe [00:14:29] Piggybacking back and forth off of each other.

Mike [00:14:31] Yeah. I mean both forms of data are great, but it’s like, it’s better if you do them together.

Joe [00:14:35] Right. Exactly. So you started to get into jobs-to-be-done a bit and how you use that to your advantage. Would you mind just, because we have audience members at all different levels, would you mind defining what jobs-to-be-done is and what you think people hire the Product Collective to do for them through the jobs-to-be-done kind of lens.

Mike [00:14:54] Sure. And I definitely don’t want to position myself as a jobs-to-be-done expert. I’m learning just like everybody else. I am very lucky to be able to learn directly from Bob Moesta which I’m very grateful for. But really you could think of jobs-to-be-done as, products aren’t something that just do something. They’re not just things that have features and do this thing for us. We’re actually hiring them to do something for us, you know, we’re hiring them to solve a problem that we have. And so the idea is, how can we think about our products in that context? You know, what problems are we hiring them to solve for? What jobs are we hiring them to do for us? And so for INDUSTRY in particular, you know, the conference that we have, there are actually quite a few reasons why somebody might hire INDUSTRY and, you know, it’d be easy to say, “well they’re hiring INDUSTRY to get smarter with what it is they do, to connect with other people, to find inspiration,” and at first that’s kind of what we thought. And it’s true. But you can say that about any conference, if you really think about it. Just swap out INDUSTRY with the name of any other conference and say, “Well yeah, they’re coming to learn, to network, and to find inspiration.” But it’s like, “okay well with INDUSTRY in particular, what are they really hiring them to do?” And in these attendee interviews we started hearing the same phrases thrown around. One of them was, “I just want to figure out, am I doing this right?” So it’s less about even like connecting with people just to build my network or have more LinkedIn connections. It’s, “I want to know other product people so that I can figure out like is the way that I’m approaching this at work in my day-to-day, is this even the right thing?”.

Mike [00:16:31] And I think a lot of people have that kind of need or that thing that needs to be fulfilled because product management, as I mentioned before, this isn’t something we went to school for. Like there’s no undergraduate major for product management. There’s, I mean, very few classes in the country that offer it. Only now we’re starting to see some graduate programs specialize in product management. So that’s definitely one thing that people are hiring us for is just, more or less, to do like a gut check on themselves. Like, “Am I actually doing this the right way?” So as it turns out there’s a lot of other jobs that people hire us for. I mean sometimes it’s like, “hey the whole only reason I came is to meet people to try to recruit them to come work at my company,” and, you know, there’s a lot of different things. But, you know, as we start to learn more from our attendees it is interesting to sort of see how specific you can get with people on why INDUSTRY is fulfilling the need for them.

Sean [00:17:23] Awesome. So to pull on that a little bit, I always like to say that product development is really an art form. There’s a lot of science to it but it’s also an art form.

Mike [00:17:30] Yeah I could definitely see that.

Sean [00:17:32] Like any art you have to practice. You had one interview that you did with Seth Godin a while back on your podcast. Little plug for you,, great podcast for all product people, it’s one that we all have to follow. But you interviewed him and you talked about the ten thousand hour role and the dip. And thinking about that 10,000 hour rule, even though in your interview I think he kind of discounted it a little bit; it’s not necessarily 10,000 hours as this hard set rule. There is a lot to this concept of practice and it is a relatively young industry especially in the software space and we have to practice as product leaders certain things and get better and better at them, right. So just curious what kinds of practices you guys deploy and what things that you feel like you’re still working on, still mastering, or want to master, in terms of product development skills and product management skills.

Mike [00:18:23] Man, I mean really, I feel like, I’ll speak for myself personally, right. I’m still mastering all of them, right. Like there’s not one thing where I feel like, you know, “I am at the top of the world on this particular skill.” You know when it comes to those attendee interviews I was talking about, I mean, I shared with Bob, I’m like, “I don’t know if I’m doing this right,” and he’s like, “you know, you are, but you’re not digging in enough.” Like in my mind, I was looking at attendee interviews, or you could just think of them as customer interviews, as, “all right, these are people that are valuing their time, they don’t have a whole lot of time, so I’m just gonna try to schedule 20 minutes, 30 minutes.” And Bob really pushed me; “no you got to schedule at least an hour to really go deep with people, you know, you don’t want to just stop when they answer a question of yours.” It goes back to the five why’s, you know, keep asking them, “well why? What do you mean by that?” over and over so we could really distill that down. I feel like I’m getting better at those types of interviews but that’s still something that we’re really working on.

Mike [00:19:21] When I think of other ways that we managed, or that I managed, product when I was more managing a SaaS product. Things like being able to distill analytics. I mean, it’s hard for us, you know, running a conference, there’s only so many things that you can look at. But I’m trying to get way better at that now, like, not to look at the 20 thousand people that are part of Product Collective as one whole, but, “okay, how can we really segment this down? How do we get smarter about the way that we break them into personas? Are there personas that we actually don’t even know about?” I mean, I’ll tell you this, only within the past year we started digging into who it is that INDUSTRY serves. We uncovered this whole persona that we knew existed, but we didn’t know how strong it was at INDUSTRY, which is product people that are at very large organizations that people wouldn’t think of as software companies but they’re just realizing they are software companies.

Sean [00:20:16] Right.

Mike [00:20:16] Places like McDonald’s, Chick-fil-a, Home Depot. I’ve heard it so many times now where people come up to me and are like, “Yeah, I’m here because my company just figured out that we’ve been a software company the entire time.” So I feel like we’re always learning and we’re going to continue to learn, and, I don’t know. There’s not any one area of product management where I feel like I’m an expert now, I don’t have to do any more learning, I’m good there. No, I definitely need to learn a whole lot more.

Sean [00:20:41] So we all have to be on that path to mastery, right.

Mike [00:20:45] For sure.

Joe [00:20:46] We have a client who, he just bought a business, and we’ll say it’s a lifestyle business, but he’s like, “I didn’t understand I was buying a software company.”

Mike [00:20:53] It’s funny how that works. Well, I mean, McDonald’s just recently acquired a company for something like 200 million dollars. You know, it was a technology company, and so many people online were like, “What’s McDonald’s getting into tech for?” And it’s like, they’ve been in tech, whether we all realize it or not, whether they realize it or not too, you know, they’ve probably been in tech for the last 10, 15, 20 years.

Sean [00:21:18] Cool. So, great answers by the way. So going back to Seth Godin…I’m a little jealous. He’s been one of my business heroes since I really started years and years and years ago. I read all of his books, big fan. How the heck did you score an interview with him?

Mike [00:21:31] Well I can’t take credit for that. So my co-founder, Michael Sacca was one of three people that started rocketship way back when. I think we’ve done over 350 episodes now and I’ve probably been around for the last, I don’t know, 100 or so maybe, but Michael, and there’s actually two others, Matt and Joel. They started it and I think with Seth, you know, we had a story that we were working on where some of his work was just right in line with it and I think we just kind of reached out and caught him at a good time. I will say in my life though, I mean this is outside of Seth, but you’d be surprised how you can catch the attention of people like that sometimes with a very short and to the point, well-crafted, even cold email, you know. And I’ve gotten in front of a lot of people that are sort of at that same level just by reaching out and just by asking. So yeah, you never know.

Sean [00:22:21] Cool. Well in that interview, you guys talked about the dip. So you’ve also been through several startups and they’ve all had a dip. And I’m sure the product collective had a dip as well. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Mike [00:22:32] So I have, like you said, been a part of startups where it’s just so hard to know, like, “hey are we at the right…are we doing the things that we need to be doing, is it going in the right direction?” You know, the very first startup that I joined right out of business school, it was a company that was actually a pretty high-growth startup throughout the time that I was there but it started to plateau at the end and maybe even take that dip. And I left not for that reason, I left to start another company on my own actually and I’m so grateful for having that first experience that I had because it was almost like I went to business school but this was like startup business school. I was employee number one; when I left six years later there was one hundred and twenty employees and tens of millions of dollars in revenue and it was starting to plateau or even take that dip.

Mike [00:23:15] I just went back a couple of weeks ago just to see friends of mine that are still there and it’s so weird for me because I was there for six years. As the first employee, I was sort of always looked at as like, “Oh well you don’t know about project X, Y, Z, ask Mike, he’s been around.” You know, just sort of, even if it had nothing to do with me that people just assumed I’d know about it and I usually did. Well now I’ve met so many people that are at that company that have worked at that company longer than I have but we never crossed paths, right. Like they started after I had left. What I’ve also learned is that company has probably grown three times since I’ve been there. So really it wasn’t plateauing, it was experiencing that dip but then hit the upward march too.

Mike [00:23:54] So, you know, for the company that I had right before Product Collective, we could never get out of that dip, right. Like I wouldn’t even say it was a dip. We just sort of never were able to get out of any sort of valley. We were never able to hit that upward mark. And that part’s especially hard because you could be so confident about the fact that there is a problem. I think for that company in particular, it was a company called eFuneral, like we were able to validate that the problem existed we were just never able to validate that we had the right solution. And so after pivot after pivot it’s just if we don’t see any sort of movement at all upwards, well, and our runway just didn’t allow us to go much further. With Product Collective, you know, I’ll say the thing for us is we feel like we kind of found that product market fit very early and were able to grow very early. What isn’t as clear though, is like well gosh, if even though we’re growing might we be in the dip right now? Like what are the things that we could do to actually like 10x you know where Product Collective could be at right now or where INDUSTRY could be out right now? I love twelve hundred people, but what length might it take for in three years for there to be 5,000 people at a conference like INDUSTRY and that, I mean for me, I feel like, you know, going back to your question of, “well how do you know if you’re in the dip and what do you do to to get out of it?” We try to surround ourselves with a lot of smart people. And so there’s mentors in my life and my partners at Product Collective, like their lives too, where we try to get in front of them as often as we can even in informal ways to try to get their perspective on things.

Mike [00:25:24] That’s an example of one specific thing that we’re trying to do, those customer interviews, but there’s others. One of our mentors he has grown and sold a major conference but they had thousands of people. You know, it’s an annual business conference. Other mentors of ours have started and grown businesses and they’ve become really successful and they’ve exited from them. So we like to keep those people in our lives. And sometimes, you know, when we’re with them they’re not giving us these magic answers they’re asking us questions and then we’re coming up with the answers with them. Like we’ll walk out of a meeting, and I’m like, “We said that, like we said we should do this, how come we haven’t been saying that the whole time?” Really it’s just that they were asking us the right questions. So that’s kind of how I’ve approached it and how we’re kind of approaching things now.

Sean [00:26:11] Awesome. So what are your key metrics? So how do you know you’re being successful? And you know metrics are a big buzzword, a big thing, in product space.

Mike [00:26:20] Yeah.

Sean [00:26:20] What are you guys measuring, what are your core metrics?

Mike [00:26:22] So looking at the conference I mean there’s certain things that we have in our dashboard that we are measuring all the time because we have to, things like tickets sold, ticket revenue, sponsorship revenue. These are things that as a business we have to be measuring these things. And not just looking at this year but we’re trying to look at, “okay, well what was that compared to last year and 2017 and 2016, is our growth the same or different than what it was?” But I’ll say for us one of our North Stars, or the North Star I should say, is we want INDUSTRY to be considered a world class product conference. Our ultimate goal is that if you were to ask any product manager throughout the country no matter where they’re at, “hey what’s the one conference you would go to this year to get something of value for you professionally?” We want their quick answer to be INDUSTRY. But how do you measure if you’re world class, right? So one of the ways is NPS. We don’t view NPS as an end-all-be-all, but it is one way of gauging if the things that we’re doing resulting in how we want it to result, like are positive things happening? NPS doesn’t tell you exactly, “well you did this specifically and that led to that,” right. So that’s why we do the qualitative interviews too. I don’t think NPS just standing on its own is going to tell you a whole lot. But because we do those other forms of feedback gathering, NPS is really useful to us because every year we’re able to ask people about their experiences and, you know, now INDUSTRY as a conference is getting really close to what’s considered a world class score. Once you get to the same level of what Apple is scoring, right, like that’s considered world class. So for us that is the kind of thing that we’re looking at. And, you know, that’s one of those things we’re measuring not on a monthly basis but we’re measuring right after the conference. And so it’s the things that we’re doing year-round that we are trying to, you know, hope that that ends up being a positive score. So for us it’s all about like three experiences: the attendee experience, the sponsor experience, and the speaker experience. And so our rule internally is just about, “what are the things that we can do to lift one of those without denigrating any of the others?” And if we can keep doing things each year and sort of add to the conference we feel like we can continue the upward trajectory that we have right now when it comes to things like NPS.

Joe [00:28:42] Love it. So you talk to a lot of product managers. So let’s say over the next two, three years what do you think is going to separate the best product managers from the pack and then do you think about that when you’re booking guests or you’re picking what topics are going to be discussed at the conference or through the webinars? How are you thinking about the evolution of the space and how you’re using that for topic distinction?

Mike [00:29:08] I mean, on your first question: what might separate the top product managers from the rest? I think there is a couple of things at play in my opinion. I mean one of them is I just feel like product people have to be able to hang their hat on something. You know there’s this age old discussion of, “does a product manager need to be technical, do they not need to be technical, what’s the right answer?” I don’t think it’s so much that they absolutely have to be technical but I do feel like every product manager should have some sort of, I don’t use the word like secret sauce or super power or anything like that, but I do think, it’s like, “is there one thing that you feel like you can do that might be better than 99 percent of other product managers?” If not it’s hard to sort of separate yourself from the rest of the pack. But even if it’s just one thing. Even if you were to say like, “hey look when it comes to being able to speak the language of designers, like, I do that better than anybody else,” or, “when it comes to conducting qualitative interviews I know it like nobody else,” like whatever it might be. I just think product people should try to find that one thing that they love doing and that they’re really really good at and sort of leverage that. So I do think that’s one thing. I also think, you know, we see how things are changing. We talked before about how you have these big major organizations that people aren’t thinking of as tech companies or software companies or product companies but they really are. Now I mentioned Home Depots or McDonald’s. I think there is a huge opportunity for product people to stand out by embracing those types of organizations. I think there’s this, you know, within the product world, everybody sort of seems to be aspiring to work for a lot of these cool companies. Whether it’s, I don’t know, whatever the flavor of the week is, right. But it’s like, “oh man, if I could be that product manager at…” You know, back in the day we would have been like Google or Apple or what have you, but these major organizations, I mean they are massive. They are at scale. You can make a huge impact working at these organizations. I just think there’s a huge opportunity for product people to separate themselves who are open to trying to get their way into one of these major organizations and making a big big difference. They might even have an opportunity to make a bigger difference in a place like that than one of these cool companies, and by the way, these organizations might be a whole lot bigger than some of those other companies so it might even end up being more of an opportunity from a career standpoint too. So anyway those are just a few things that kind of come to mind.

Joe [00:31:30] That was great, thank you. So how many wins are the Cleveland Browns gonna get this year?

Mike [00:31:35] Oh I think Vegas has the over under at nine right now, which is crazy. I mean two years ago we had zero.

Sean [00:31:43] That was just mean Joe, that was just downright mean.

Mike [00:31:45] It’s crazy to me. But no I mean gosh Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Junior. This is a good good year to be a Cleveland Browns fan. But, you know, I do worry that we’re gonna start the season and now there’s all these expectations but whatever. I’m very happy with where things are at right now.

Joe [00:32:04] A lot of pressure.

Mike [00:32:05] Yeah it could be way worse though. I mean not even two years, it was like 14 months ago we were a team that just previously came off a 0 and 16 season. It’s just crazy.

Sean [00:32:13] They need some product management skills on the coaching side.

Joe [00:32:18] I was gonna say.

Mike [00:32:19] Well they were big on analytics and, you know, they had Paul de Podesta who was sort of the Moneyball guy and I think Dodgers and Oakland A’s. But yeah, he’s still staffed at the Browns which is kind of interesting.

Sean [00:32:33] You can say 0 wins to 9 wins this one heck of an improvement.

Mike [00:32:37] Yeah that’s a good kind of analytics. That’s exactly right.

Sean [00:32:40] We’ll go with that. All right, last question here for you, one that we ask all of our guests. What book are you currently reading and recommending to product managers, friends, and family?

Mike [00:32:50] Well the current one I’m reading right now is called It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work and that’s by Jason Fried. And Jason’s co-founder and CEO at basecamp, he wrote the book Rework and we’ve had him in the past at INDUSTRY and I remember we had him recently for a video chat and before the video chat he’s like, “yeah so if you be open to it it would kind of be cool if I could come back to INDUSTRY,” and I’m like, yeah, yeah we’re open to it. And so we have Jason coming back with us this fall. And actually that book will be one of two books that, I’m kind of letting this leak here because it’s not something we advertise it’s usually some sort of a delighter, but it’s one of two books that we’ll be giving away to attendees. But that’s the one I’m reading at the moment and, yeah, we’re heading to Dublin for INDUSTRY Europe soon and so I’m hoping to be able to finish it on the plane.

Joe [00:33:39] It’s our first exclusive.

Mike [00:33:41] There you go.

Sean [00:33:42] Fantastic. Well thanks for sharing that.

Mike [00:33:44] Absolutely.

Sean [00:33:45] So is there anything that you want to plug, do you want to talk about the conference that’s coming up in September?

Mike [00:33:51] Yeah, I mean hey, for product people that are looking for a conference where they can find their community, we’d love if you’d check out INDUSTRY. You can go to to learn more about it. You’ll see we do do a European edition in Dublin, Ireland every spring. And then what we consider our global conference is every fall. And if you just want to join Product Collective, you know, it’s free to do that. And then all that really means is you’ll get a newsletter that we put together every week that we spend a good amount of time on. We do live video Q and A chats twice a month usually, and then we have the Slack channel which is really helpful to people too. So you can just check out for with that. But yeah, if you’re a product person I think you’ll enjoy both of those things.

Joe [00:34:30] You heard of this Jonathan Courtney guy.

Mike [00:34:33] Yes.

Joe [00:34:34] Yeah we know him.

Mike [00:34:35] Yeah.

Joe [00:34:36] He’s our latest guest. He just made fun of us the whole time. Just kidding. He was amazing, he was hilarious.

Mike [00:34:42] If Jonathan is funny. But yeah, yeah, he’ll be with us in Dublin for sure.

Joe [00:34:46] All right. Tell him we said hi, I guess. Just kidding.

Mike [00:34:50] Will do that.

Joe [00:34:51] All right, well Mike, thank you so much for joining us today. Good luck in Ireland and we’ll hopefully see you in the fall.

Mike [00:34:59] Well thanks so much. I really appreciate you having me on.

Joe [00:35:01] All right take care.

Mike [00:35:02] All right. Bye now.

Like what you see? Let’s talk now.

Reach Out