I’m a product person turned co-founder and CEO of a bootstrapped and fast growing SaaS startup, ProdPad. It’s used by thousands of product teams to manage their product strategy, publish lean product roadmaps, and keep track of all their ideas and customer feedback. I’m also one of the founders of Mind the Product, the world’s largest community of product managers.
I’m here to talk about:
building and managing products
how to deal with that tricky stakeholder
running a bootstrapped SaaS business
insight on how we’re coping with Covid-19
or whatever else comes to mind!
I’ll be here on April 23rd at 11:00am GMT. I look forward to chatting to you all soon!
Note: This AMA is closed for new questions, but you can check out the existing conversations below.
In this AMA, we had Janna Bastow — the co-founder and CTO of ProdPad and one of the founders of the much-loved product managers’ community, Mind The Product — share her thoughtful insights getting closer to PMF, managing your product roadmap like a pro, building an ardently loved community, survivorship bias that most founders face, and more. Dive in!
AMA Index (Janna’s brain-pickings)
(founding insights, opinions, and observations; deftly examined and articulated)
Further reading/listening/pondering from the interwebz /
(Other insightful excerpts drawn from blog posts, interviews, and conversations)
On PMF and why it is a moving target:
“Product/market fit is a moving target. It’s not a fixed goal, nor is it a singularity. It’s more of a window that moves, usually away from you, as the market matures. Your competitors up the ante, new technologies become available and change expectations, your target market matures and changes, and so what you thought was a goal some years ago will not be a fit by the time you get there.”
Source: Finding Product/Market Fit
On behind-the-scenes of building a product people love:
“More often than not, any SaaS tool could be replaced by a spreadsheet or a whiteboard. At least a basic version. When you realize that a pen and paper is your competitor it becomes very difficult. You have to be very conscious of how you differentiate yourself.”
“It was a conscious decision not to take funding. We realized that if we took funding, then it would put us down a particular path that may or may not be the right one for us, based on how we work, our company culture, and what it is that we’re looking to achieve.”
“When you’re very young and you’ve just got this MVP out there and a handful of customers giving you feedback there’s actually nothing wrong with having a small set of features that are being built next. But as you go it becomes overwhelming to look at a roadmap that’s a whole pile of features, and you’ll need to start grouping them into themes around the kinds of problems you’re solving… as you start building out a bigger roadmap you need to communicate a bigger story than just, ’We’re going to launch these features and see what happens.’”
Source: Mind the Product’s Janna Bastow on building product roadmaps
On what comprehensive experimentation looks like:
“Well, one of the things that occurred to us quite early on was that pricing was one of these things that a lot of people get nervous about changing, like as they get nervous about testing on and changing and iterating on. When in reality, pricing is just one aspect of your product. Just like you might be iterating on a checkout page in order to get conversion rates up, you should be iterating on your pricing and your packaging and your proposition to make sure that you’ve got the best combinations available there.”
Source: Value-based pricing for the win
Stay in touch:
You can follow Janna to stay updated with her discoveries and insights:
As a fellow proponent of value-based pricing, I absolutely agree with and admire this articulation of yours:
“…pricing is just one aspect of your product. Just like you might be iterating on a checkout page in order to get conversion rates up, you should be iterating on your pricing and your packaging and your proposition to make sure that you’ve got the best combinations available there.”
And would love for you to unpack it further.
— With your veteran-product-person lens, how would you recommend one should go about structuring pricing experiments? How do the dynamics of discovering and delivering play out with something like pricing?
— How do you ensure that these processes don’t just lead to better experiments but better decisions?
Thanks for doing this, Janna! So glad to have you on Relay.
ProdPad’s journey began with you and your co-founder scratching a particular itch. And that seems to be a passionate starting point for a lot of founders. With this vantage of having chased that initial, personal problem and having scaled it to its exceptionally well received, current shape, what are some of the questions you’d nudge your younger self to ponder before taking the plunge?
It is easy to have a 1 month roadmap for the product. How important is it for an early stage startup (<10 employees and <30 customers) to have a longer product roadmap.
How do you think that impacts other aspects of the business?
Thanks for doing the AMA and great to see a bootstrapped success story. As a company based in the UK what were the key scaling tactics both in terms of marketing and outbound sales process that you followed to expand to North America?
Thanks for doing this AMA, we have 3 areas where we would like to learn your experiences
In your experience, what is the tipping point that would trigger a change in product road-map? and the question of why now?
Talking of tricky stakeholder (we assume internal), what are your experiences rather challenges in aligning that tricky stakeholder to your product road-map change
With the dynamics of product road-map change in a bootstrapped organisation, what are your inputs to maintain runway in the lines of funds, team motivation and also fulfilling product development needs
Firstly, congratulations on building a boot-strapped SaaS company!
With that in mind, on the journey to a startup’s first $1m in ARR, one of the big challenges is raising money. Once that is achieved, the focus can turn to other big questions around product market fit, go to market and team etc, before inevitably coming back round to funding again!
My question is, what were the biggest challenges you faced as you started to gain traction and to what extent (if any) do you think the boot-strapping aspect has either slowed you down or taken up more of your time than you would have liked? With hindsight would you have done anything differently?
(sorry, that’s three questions!)
Thanks for taking time out for this AMA. I’ve been to a few Product Tanks and one Mind the Product conf, I would say that you and your team have one of the finest examples of a synergistic product + community.
We’re an early stage, bootstrapped b2b SaaS startup that help teams build, share and measure their progression frameworks and career pathways. Companies like Farfetch, Xero and Chargebee use us to help their team understand “what good looks like”" in every role at every position.
We currently run a tremendously popular resource https:// progression.fyi which generates many of our leads. We’re keen to turn this into a vibrant community and maybe even a conference at some point.
My question is this: what advice do you have for time-poor, cash-poor, early stage founders looking to build out a community alongside their product?
We’re also a bootstrapped business aimed at tech teams – but more focused on career pathing and skill development. Great to meet you!
We’re about to launch, and have been thinking hard about what to measure and how to measure it when looking at our first 30 days funnel. I really enjoyed your churn.fm interview around giving extra trial time, gamifying trials etc.
Our product (I suspect like yours) involves a certain amount of ‘work’ to get set up before you can start feeling the value. How would you recommend we encourage users to start creating content, spending meaningful time using our product based on the hope of future value?
Also any tips for how we might bring that demonstration of value before the point at which people need to pay? How did you give people really early ‘aha’ moments?
Thanks for doing this AMA. Our company operates in the document workflow space with specific focus on publishing. Our SaaS platform has about 40 customers right now and are working towards reaching the 1000 customer goal to truly hit PMF. One of the problems we have had so far is sticking to our product roadmap. Some of the reasons for this are
Bugs that need to be fixed quickly
Change requests from customers (in most cases unavoidable as we support custom workflows)
Our customer setups still require some configuration from the developers. This is something we are actively working to fix.
With just one development team of about 10 developers, we are currently struggling to keep our product progressing as fast as would like. Could you share some insights on how to tackle this problem?
Pricing experiments should be fundamentally structured just like any other experiments. Start with a hypothesis, outline what problem it’s expected to solve or impact it’s expected to have, and devise a way to test (as much as possible) discrete elements so you can observe whether changes made a difference or not. That said, the nature of pricing makes it unique to test, as a lot of companies worry about the optics of ‘playing’ with pricing in live environments and the potential impact on their brand, while not seeing anything wrong with running A/B tests that change other elements like the interface. Fortunately, not all experiments need to be run live! Pricing surveys, customer interviews, and other analysis jobs can get you a long way in understanding the impact of adjusting pricing.
The second part of your question might be a bit of a trick question, as better experimentation is a key part in enabling better decision making. Perhaps it’s worth qualifying what we mean by a good experiment. Any experiment should be started with a hypothesis and be given enough context that you and your team know what decisions are hanging off the experiment before you begin. There’s no point running experiments if it’s not clear what you’re expecting to see change or why.
It’s true that we build ProdPad to success by scratching our own itch. After all, we were both product managers at the time and needed tools to help us do our jobs better.
However, I think it’s remiss to assume that the best thing I could have done was to solve the problem closest to me. Had I taken a bigger step back, I could have explored a wider range of potential problems to solve, and likely found other opportunities that were just as, or even more lucrative than the path I went down. I think the common trait of ‘scratching your own itch’ as a successful starting point for entrepreneurs is muddied with survivorship bias and the inability to measure what could have been. I think that if more entrepreneurs spent more time in pure research and discovery mode, before picking a product/service to provide, we’d see a lot more value being created!
I think a roadmap is important at every stage. Now, keep in mind that I don’t think of a roadmap as a list of features to be built. In no way is it a commitment. Instead, think of it as a way to outline and check your assumptions about the obstacles your business will face, and how you might tackle them. In this way, your roadmap is more of a prototype for your strategy - not something that perfectly captures the final plan, but instead a device to help communicate where you are now, where you hope to get to, and what problems you will need to solve along the way.
If the rest of the team understands the problems on the horizon and there’s an agreed strategy on what order you’ll tackle them, it means everyone can pitch in to help take down each challenge as they come up. Having a roadmap hugely empowers your team, whether large or small.
Your question strikes at the heart of why having a feature-based roadmap isn’t a great idea (okay, there are many reasons, but this is just one!). When your roadmap is a list of features (or worse, features and deadlines, like on a timeline roadmap), it gives the impression that you’re promising a bunch of future improvements, and can cause some customers to hold off on purchasing until something comes to life. As you guessed, it can also affect your pricing experiments. This is why I always recommend to focus on selling what you have today, and using your roadmap as a place to identify the problems you might solve in the future. Your roadmap, then, becomes not a promise of things that will be delivered (which helps no one!), but instead a tool to help you check that you’re looking at the right problems. Test the assumptions on your roadmap just like you would test a prototype for a new feature. You’re not promising that it’ll look like the first prototype, but you’re simply using the prototype to check that you’re on the right track.
Back to your original point, don’t risk muddling up your messaging (and your experiments) by leaning on future features, so keep this level of detail off the roadmap.