What does a “peapod” have to do with building an effective product team? Read the full transcript of our chat with Jeetu Patel, CPO of Box, to find out.
Eric Boduch: Welcome, lovers of product. Today, I have Jeetu Patel from Box. Jeetu, why don’t you start by giving us a little overview of your background?
Jeetu Patel: Thank you for having me, Eric. So it’s great to be here. Background wise, I grew up in India, started my professional career in Chicago in strategy consulting and market research, and then moved to Silicon Valley. I started out at EMC in their software division and then, was brought on as CTO, and then from there, I’ve been through a few roles over there. I was running marketing for a while, also having kind of an M&A. And one of the areas that I had recommended to the board that we should do an M&A and is this whole area of kind of cloud collaboration and file sharing. And it seemed like it was a very disruptive area at the time, and it still is. And we made an acquisition.
Jeetu Patel: I became CEO of that company, I ran that business for about a little under four years and we, in about three and a half years, we grew it zero to a hundred million. And then, Dell was buying EMC, so we decided to sell that asset and we sold it to private equity. And then, I joined Box shortly thereafter.
Jeetu Patel: And Box was in a very interesting phase at the time, where we had just gone public, we were about 200 million in revenues and we needed to get a second act. I mean, usually, they say it’s pretty hard to get one product to product-market fit. It’s infinitely harder to get multiple products to product-market fit and actually get them to scale in revenue. And so that was the challenge that Box had in front of them. And so, we had to figure out how we were going to have a second act, which had multiple different products that were growing and that could actually all be fed through the same kind of selling motion and all of that.
Jeetu Patel: And so we were lucky enough where we started with 200 million, all the revenue coming from a core product. Now when you think about it, about half of our kind of customers … And if you think about it, about 25% of our revenue is now through those, add-on products, that we call, so anything that might be added to the core business. And so that was kind of the ride that we went through and we’ve been lucky enough to more than triple our revenues during the time period. So it’s been a fantastic ride. And we still think our best days are ahead of us. So, that’s where we are, that’s the story in a nutshell.
Eric Boduch: Sounds really interesting. So one thing I wanted to dig into a little bit is, you talked about running marketing and now product too, obviously. Talk to me about those two different roles, how one helped you with the other, and what you liked about each.
Jeetu Patel: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been fortunate enough that in my career, I’ve actually run every function in the business. Product marketing, engineering, sales, and so, what that did was benefited me from having a really broad aperture. But in most of those areas, the way that I thought about it is the origination of the value in a company always starts from the core product of the problem that you’re solving. And that has the greatest ripple effect across the board.
Jeetu Patel: And so, what running marketing and what running sales has done for me is a deep appreciation of the fact that if you just build it, they’re not going to come. You have to build it and make sure that you’re very, very conscious of the mechanism for distribution so that you can get to a scaled impact. And if you just focus on building the product and then don’t really think about the go-to-market implications and how it’s going to scale to hundreds of thousands of customers and millions and millions of users, then you actually leave a lot of money on the table and you leave a lot of, you know… The impact you have is always kind of limited and curtailed in that state.
Eric Boduch: So talk to me about what drew you to Box?
Jeetu Patel: You know, I’ve always been driven by doing something in my career which has a very broad scale impact. The reason I moved to Silicon Valley from running my own business in Chicago was I wanted to… The thing that fascinated me most about business was scale. Like the fact that you can actually have something … Like I would always get fascinated when I would travel a lot in the early years of my career. And I’d always be fascinated with … There’s this company in the US and all of a sudden you go into some part of Europe or some part of Asia and you see billboards with that company over there. And I’m like, “Wow, the reach and the global nature of business is so fascinating.” And so I always wanted to learn scale.
Jeetu Patel: And so when I moved to the US, I actually went to a very large company, but they still didn’t have scale the way that I used to think about scale, which was millions and millions of users in the enterprise that you could actually go out and impact. And eventually, the addressable market being hundreds of millions, if not billions of users. So I had always said, “Well, what I want to do is make sure that I can learn deeply about how to have impact at scale.” And in order to have impact at scale in areas that I knew, which was, I deeply understood the enterprise domain much more so than the consumer and advertising domain. But I wanted to build products that were much more focused on the consumer sensibilities.
Jeetu Patel: But for the enterprise, there’s not that many plays that were there in the world at the time, where you could have products built for with a mindset of building it for hundreds of millions of users, already have tens of millions of users using the product, and be able to go out and distribute it to tens of thousands of customers, if not hundreds of thousands of customers over time.
Jeetu Patel: So that seemed like a very intriguing problem. And the thing that really got me excited about Box was we had literally the same product, which actually served a company with three employees that also served a company with 400,000 employees and 14 million customers. So like, if you started saying, “Wow, that kind of ability to have a product span,” that spectrum was something that would be a super interesting challenge from a product management standpoint because you’d have to… Each one of the segments of the customers would have different requirements and how do you go out and adjust those? Just seemed like a pretty great intellectual challenge to solve and in fact, it’s been something that has been the most rewarding in this job, is the reach, impact, and scale that you have.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, I like one thing you said there, you talked a little bit about bringing consumer sensibilities to the enterprise. Or, I like to think of it as the consumerization of the enterprise that’s happening in a lot of applications, especially in the SaaS world today. Box was kind of like one of the leading forces of that trend, right?
Jeetu Patel: We were and actually if you think about it, it’s pretty illogical not to think that way. So there is no such thing as an enterprise. Enterprise is just comprised of a bunch of people and people are not different human beings when they come into work versus when they’re at home. They have the same kind of emotions and instincts and preferences and the ability to focus as they do at home. So somehow, it seemed pretty odd that things were always built, not keeping the user in mind in the enterprise, even though in the consumer world, they were built keeping the user in mind. So it just seemed very counterintuitive.
Jeetu Patel: And why would you build a product that’s ever not designed for a user? Because eventually, regardless of who you sell it to in the enterprise, eventually it’s an individual, a person that uses the product, hence, so you should always design it for that person. And so that seemed like a pretty interesting thing that the world had not caught on, to that trend, that scale. And so this seemed like, “Wow, this is a very, very obvious thing that the world doesn’t seem to completely agree upon and we should just go out and make that make that commonplace.”
Eric Boduch: Yeah, it’s still a huge trend today.
Jeetu Patel: Yeah, it’s still a huge trend, but now, I think what’s happened is you’re seeing many, many more companies that are paying attention to user experience and design and simplicity and all of those pieces. There are still enough companies that do a terrible job at it, but there are many, many more companies that are starting to think about it. When we were starting to think about it five, seven, eight, nine years ago, even when we started Simplicity, that trend was just starting and there was as much skepticism around that as there was support for it.
Eric Boduch: Yeah. Yeah. I can understand that, and I see those companies that are doing a terrible job today as being opportunities for the entrepreneurs out there, right? You know, in a SAS world where people can just cancel.
Jeetu Patel: The best kind of indicator for an entrepreneur for an opportunity is when you see very high-profit pools and companies with very bad user experiences. That’s when you know the market’s ready to be disrupted.
Eric Boduch: I would completely agree. So you know, part of the growth and you touched on it when you mentioned the second act is, as that initial product line grows to the point where there’s significant revenue, you really need to have that second act or multiple product lines. Tell me a little bit about those challenges with Box because I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t think about as they’re starting a company, but becomes important as they move to becoming those unicorns or generational companies.
Jeetu Patel: Yeah, I mean the typical stage when that starts becoming an issue is I think … By the way, if it becomes an issue too early in the cycle, that means your core product was not good enough to get to any kind of scale. What you want to do in the earlier kind of stages… Like if you’re in a series A company that’s sub 5 million in revenue, sub 10 million in revenue, you want to make sure that you have as focused an effort for getting a single product to as many hands as possible, so people start using it. The more you start scaling the business, and now you’ve gone from 10 to 25 million as a milestone, and 25 to 50 million as a milestone, 50 to 100 million as a milestone …
Jeetu Patel: As you start approaching the 75 to 100 million range, you should be thinking about, what do we need to do to make sure that we don’t just service the existing addressable market, but we make sure that in the existing addressable market where we’ve sold our product and our existing install base, we’re now finding more reasons for those customers to actually pay us more money because we want to add more value because we’ve already got context in that account.
Jeetu Patel: And so that inflection point typically starts happening at about the 100 million dollar mark, especially if you’re a company that’s at 100 million, you’ve gotten to a very good product-market fit and you’ve gotten this scaled motion on one product. Now, when you start thinking about getting a second product in the market and add it to the portfolio, and you can use that same momentum that you’ve actually got from the first product, 100 million dollars, that the second, third, fourth, fifth products have the potential of scaling at a much faster pace than the first product did.
Jeetu Patel: But there’s also a potential that a lot of those can tend to be failed efforts if you don’t think about it the right way. And so I’ll give you some examples. One is deeply thinking about what is your distribution channel and route to market, and then who is your economic buyer and making sure that you’re not building a product that doesn’t leverage your existing strengths on distribution and your existing customers. If you build a product that’s completely orthogonal to that, then you’re not getting any leverage from being as being part of the company. You might as well have actually built that product in a startup. So those kinds of things, I think product managers have to be pretty careful and cognizant of is, what do we need to do to get the second product to product-market fit? What do we need to do to get the second product to have a repeatable selling motion? And what do we need to do to get the second product and beyond to have a scaled operation?
Jeetu Patel: Cause those are the three phases I think of when you build a product is get the product to product-market fit, identify repeatable selling motion where you can sell the thing over and over and over again in a very kind of systematic way, and then the third thing is make sure that you can identify a way to go out and scale it once you’ve gotten the first two steps done.
Jeetu Patel: Don’t try to do step three before you’ve done steps one and two. And I think we were exactly at that point when we started adding a lot of add-on products to our portfolio. And it’s actually been a tremendous mechanism for increasing our ASP, increasing our stickiness [inaudible 00:16:02] account, increasing the value that we can deliver to the customers, make sure that the customer is actually think about us in a much more strategic lens than a tactical lens.
Jeetu Patel: And so all of those things start to come together when you get the right products built out. So you have to be very maniacal and focusing on, are we achieving product-market fit and getting your … Don’t confuse the product-market fit of your core product with the product-market fit of the add-on product because just a bunch of customers buy it. You have to make sure that the customers are using the second and third and fourth products just as actively. Otherwise, you’re not quite where you need to be.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, I mean, that’s an interesting point because when you add additional products, just getting them to buy might be a drag on effect. But actually seeing the engagement, the usage, the retention in those secondary products is … It’s probably a better indicator, right?
Jeetu Patel: Yeah, and if you’re smart about it, you can do a lot of bundling strategies and packaging strategies that can allow
Jeetu Patel: … you to show revenue, but revenue is only interesting in SaaS when it’s sticky revenue and sticky revenue only happens when there’s value created and one of the initial proxies for value being created is there’s usage in the product. Usage is not the only indicator that there’s value, but without usage, there’s a guarantee that there’s no value.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, it’s interesting. I’ve been telling product leaders when I’ve been meeting with them lately that retention should be one of the metrics they look at because you really don’t know that you have a product that people value until you get that renewal or you get an expansion or you get something that’s that second step in your product.
Jeetu Patel: Yeah. We actually think of retention as the most important aspect of the product. And so one of the things that we think about in retention is… if you don’t have retention in the product, trying to go out and get growth of usage and adoption is almost a fool’s errand because you need to deeply understand … one of the things that I think is a very wise piece of advice that one of my friends at Facebook has given me early on is, deeply try to understand why retention occurs.
Jeetu Patel: Don’t just focus on the metric of retention, but understand why retention happens. Why do customers come back to you? What is it that compelled them to come back? And if you can deeply understand that and then replicate it, then you can start focusing on growth on top of funnel acquisition. But if you don’t deeply understand retention and the behaviors of retention and what’s the causality of the retention, then the growth is… you’re just rolling the dice and that’s actually not a systematic way to go out and scale the business.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, I like that. I mean, I think that’s taking it even two steps beyond where a lot of product teams are today. I hear a lot of product managers and managers of product management being incentivized on getting features out the door but that’s not necessarily always helpful in getting to what you were just talking about.
Jeetu Patel: Yeah. The way I think about features is every feature you add to your product only creates a level of depth and there’s a tax to every feature. So the game you’re playing in product is, how can I add the least amount of features that create the most amount of value? Because what that does is preserves simplicity and simplicity is what drives usage and usage is what is an initial necessary proxy for construction of value. So building out more isn’t necessarily something that actually creates more value. And what it also does is it defocuses you as an organization.
Jeetu Patel: Sam Altman has this great line that he talks about which is, “I’d rather build a product that few people love than a lot of people like.”
Jeetu Patel: And if you ask him why he says that, his thinking on that is… It’s a very interesting kind of train of thought of logic which is, “In order to go out and get a product to millions and millions of people, tens of millions of people, the only way you can do that scalably is by word of mouth. Word of mouth is the most powerful mechanism for viral growth of a product. And word of mouth only happens when people start talking to each other about, have you heard about this thing? Oh my God, it’s amazing. It’s when people fall in love with your product and in order to fall in love with your product, you have to be extremely focused on going out and solving a pain that is meaningful for a very focused group of people. And then from there, expanding on out and taking on a larger kind of a broader aperture and mission. But if you don’t start with those few people and get them to fall in love with your product, you’ll never get that viral coefficient high enough.”
Eric Boduch: Yeah, I 100% agree. So let’s step back and talk a little bit about getting into product management. How did you first start with product management? How do you first break into that?
Jeetu Patel: The part of the business that I always found most fascinating was, how do you actually deeply think about solving problems that people don’t even realize that they have that in fact tend to be pretty meaningful problems. And that just is such an important skill in life to have, which is, understand the problem that people have, deeply think about it, come up with a solution for it and figure out a way that you can have that solution be designed in an elegant way that puts a smile on someone’s face when you’ve solved the problem. There’s a lot of satisfaction and gratitude to that that you can experience. And so that’s what I want to do eventually, always have a lot of my cycles, my brain cycles. I wanted to kind of spend it on that.
Jeetu Patel: And I think the other thing I found was, product is probably one of the most leveraged roles in an organization where when you make a decision on the product side, literally every function gets impacted by it. So based on the decision you make in product, engineers are impacted, designers are impacted product marketing people are impacted in the way that they message and market the product, sales teams are impacted, the SEs are impacted, customer success teams are impacted.
Jeetu Patel: So there’s a ripple effect of every decision you make on what it means to the organization. And that actually requires a level of thoughtfulness that you have to develop. And then the other thing that’s really interesting is, it is largely a skill that you have to run through influence, not ownership. Most people in the organization don’t work for the product manager, but the product manager has to influence all of them to do things that they need them to do so that we can actually get the product built out and send… Kind of marketed, distributed, and serviced effectively.
Jeetu Patel: So from that perspective it seemed like a massively interesting challenge that would have a lot of surface area. And I also believe that my … I’ve spent most of my time in my career running companies and being a CEO running a company. And I think that product-centric CEOs tend to make pretty good CEOs, especially if they have a good go-to-market muscle. So that’s one where it just seems like it would just continue to keep honing my skill and knowing businesses and running businesses by doing that.
Eric Boduch: Yeah. So let’s talk about what advice you would give to someone who wants to get into the field of product management. In particular, is it different if you’re talking to people who want to get and become … Get their first PM job if they have a technical or nontechnical background. Does your advice change?
Jeetu Patel: My advice doesn’t change in that dimension in the sense that, what product management is, is a combination of art and some science around deeply being able to spot problems, build very thoughtful solutions for those problems by bringing along with you a bunch of people whose ideas need to be respected and considered as you’re thinking about building a solution, and having scarcity become a key trade. So like, prioritization and doing a few things really well rather than just trying to jam everything in, is the difference between a good product manager and a bad product manager.
Jeetu Patel: And I feel like learning the art of prioritization… Like all of the skills that you learned in product management are actually really important to learn in life. So I personally don’t feel like it’s only a domain that technical people can get into or it’s only a domain that … Like I’ve seen great English majors be amazing product leaders and I’ve seen great engineers be great product leaders and there are great marketers that decided to then become product leaders.
Jeetu Patel: I just feel like there’s a pretty broad kind of skill set of people that go there. The only thing you have to have is an extreme curiosity for how the world works and how you want to change it. Be to some degree bothered by badly designed things and badly built products and so that you want to actually feel the need to change and compelled to change them and then have a lot of humility to say, “I’m going to actually learn the skill of working through influence rather than working through ownership.” If those things actually excite you, then product’s a great field for you to be in.
Eric Boduch: So when you hire product managers, what do you look for? What skills, what qualities, what soft skills?
Jeetu Patel: Yeah, that’s a great question. So we talk about this a lot. I mean, if you get extremely reductive the things that I think are the most important for a product manager in my mind, where I’ve seen a lot of product managers fail is when they don’t have these three or four few skills. But the two most important ones in my mind are, you have to be intrinsically hungry and have a fire in your belly.
Jeetu Patel: And the second one is, you have to be insanely curious so that you can just constantly be questioning why. And I think curiosity is also important to have over another trait, which is judgment, which is like when someone tells you something, you have to be curious in why that is the case rather than judging on why that’s right or wrong or kind of whether that’s right or wrong.
Jeetu Patel: So those are the two that I keep in mind upfront. The third skill that’s super important is clarity of thought and communication. And I feel like the absence of someone being able to think clearly and being able to prioritize scarcity is kind of a … if you don’t feel like you’re scarce on resources, you’re short on vision in my mind. And so you have to be extremely kind of comfortable in working in a deeply prioritized order where you can stack, rank and draw a line and say this is all we’re going to do because this is what’s actually completely essential and everything else after that is a luxury and almost kind of punitive to the overall value.
Jeetu Patel: And then the other piece that’s really important as well is, how can you make sure that you… Not only you’re communicating clearly, but you’re doing it in a way that’s completely inspiring people to go out and follow your lead.
Jeetu Patel: But I think the most important, if you were to say what are the two most important things, it’s hunger and curiosity. And I would say clarity of communication and ability to motivate a group of people, whether they be engineers or sales reps or marketing people are the other traits that are pretty important.
Eric Boduch: And how do you test for those soft skills, those qualities?
Jeetu Patel: On the hunger side of the house, it’s pretty … I don’t think about hunger as something that is equal across all problem areas. So I think there might be some people that are hungry to solve a certain problem but not at all hungry to solve another. So I do feel like trying to deeply understand what makes someone tick and what makes them hungry is, in my mind, a pretty important thing. And so what domain areas would the product manager feel a level of personal vesting to say, “If this problem weren’t solved by me, the world would actually have a different outcome than compared to the way that I would be able to solve it.”
Jeetu Patel: I think that’s pretty important for a product manager to feel, like if I didn’t solve this problem then no one would solve it quite the way that I would solve it. You should feel that level of ability to contribute in that area. So that’s one that I … I feel like across the board you won’t find a product manager that’s going to be equally hungry to solve a problem across a list of 15 problems. Like for example, I am not as hungry to solve a certain set of problems in product compared to others. And so I veer much more to the kind of problems that I get excited about solving. And I think that’s also the case that I encourage everyone to do. On the curiosity side, it’s really important on the caliber of questions that the product manager asks in an interview rather than just asking them questions and see how they respond.
Jeetu Patel: So if they’re curious, they’re going to actually be observing the world differently. They’re going to have some very interesting kinds of perspectives in the world. They’ll ask you questions about your business, they’ll make you think about your business differently. Those are just things that they’ll spend a lot of time on and being deeply reflective and asking the right questions. So that’s a pretty easy one to tell whether someone is curious or not.
Jeetu Patel: And once again, curiosity also varies by domain. There are certain areas where someone might not be as curious as others in other areas. And so just because you might not be curious enough in one area, don’t assume that you’re not a curious human being. You just haven’t found your area where you’re naturally very curious about going out and solving a problem.
Jeetu Patel: And then clarity of communication is just pretty self-evident. And then on the inspiration side, you can typically tell when there’s energy that’s gets created as a result of an individual interacting with you or an energy that gets depleted. It’s just very, very kind of apparent within the first 15, 20 minutes of a conversation. So I don’t know if that answers your question, Eric.
Eric Boduch: I think that was a great answer. And then my next question to add to that is, thinking about now, not just the individual but teams and how you build strong high performing teams and how you continue to build that as you go through rapid scale of the product and the company.
Jeetu Patel: We think a lot about teams and how we build them and I don’t think it’s a perfect science, but we’ve got some strong opinions on them. And let me kind of share with you the way that we think about teams. And we’ve taken Amazon’s kind of two-pizza team mantra pretty seriously. And for those of the listeners who don’t know what that is, it’s basically don’t construct teams that are too large, have the teams small enough that they could be fed with two pizzas. Which is basically like an 8 to 12 person team that you want to try to keep it within.
Jeetu Patel: The thinking around that is when you keep the teams at that size, there’s a fair amount of throughput of communication back and forth between the people. People generally stay aligned and they’re actually executing most of the time whereas when you have teams that are 40, 50, 60, 80, 100 people, now what you’re starting to find is, most of the time is spent in coordinating and aligning rather than actually doing.
Jeetu Patel: So keep small teams and then as your business grows, have many, many more small teams so that they grow rather than having few very large teams. Now, every once in a while you might have to have a large team, but try to avoid having too many large teams because there’s a productivity tax that you have to pay on when you have very large teams.
Jeetu Patel: And so what we do is, have small teams then the small teams are encouraged to own the problem area and then have a local mission. And that local mission should tie to the company mission, but they should have their
Jeetu Patel: On metrics, which makes it very clear whether they’re succeeding or failing. And I think that typically provides a level of empowerment and people feel, “Wow, this is, I can make a difference.”
Jeetu Patel: And I tell someone when they join Box, there’s going to be few places that you can go to where your work regardless of the team that you’re on, because we’ve constructed the teams very carefully, will actually really have a direct impact on the stock price. Over the long run, the work that you’re doing in your team will actually move the needle for us one way or the other.
Jeetu Patel: The last thing I’d say about teams is, the overall perspective that you need to have with the small teams is the challenge that you have with the small teams is dependency management gets to be a pretty difficult thing because as you have a lot of small teams that need to work with each other, but in order to get your work done, you need something from someone else.
Jeetu Patel: And if they don’t get the work done, then you miss your commits. I think that actually gets to be the largest challenge when you have a lot of small teams like we have. For example at Box, about 75 small teams or so, which are about eight to 12 people in size, and there’s a lot of dependency between them. That tends to be the tax that you pay with small teams, and so you have to then have the right processes in place to make sure that the dependencies get minimized.
Jeetu Patel: One way to do minimize dependencies, try to have more full-stack teams rather than having, non-full-stack teams. But in general that’s the thing that you have to be careful of so that you don’t create…
Jeetu Patel: And we struggled with that all the time. There are times when we get the balance right. Then there are times when we don’t, and we have to constantly keep adjusting. But I do believe that it is much better to have that tax than to have the tax of having very, very large teams that got bureaucratic and slow. And get at some point in time, but the size, it gets very inefficient.
Eric Boduch: Yeah. There are a few things I’d love to dig in there. What’s the makeup look like of those teams? You talked about eight to 12 people, product teams. What’s the skill set overall quality makeup of those teams typically?
Jeetu Patel: Yeah, we have this concept that I tend to guide it by which is, which we came up with a few years ago called Peapod, which is every letter in that word is mapped to a function in a team, that a team might have.
Jeetu Patel: The first P is for product management, E is for engineering, A is for analytics. The second P is for program management. And the reason we break out product management and program management is typically it’s very hard to find the same human being that’s very creative and also knows how to run the trains on time, they tend to be different people.
Jeetu Patel: And you want to make sure that those, both of those people are there so you’re not burdening someone who needs the creative think time to also have a project management and rigor as much as you can.
Jeetu Patel: There’s some kind of a program manager in place and then O is for online growth if you have a growth-based team on the front end, and then D is for design.
Jeetu Patel: And so those are the six roles, and you might have a multiple, you might have a multiple number of actors in each one of those roles. Sometimes those roles do get combined, but for example, in engineering, you’ll typically have an engineering team with half a dozen engineers on a problem.
Jeetu Patel: If you’re working on something, sometimes you might have two engineers, sometimes you might have eight engineers, but that’s the general makeup that you see of a team. That’s at least how we’ve tried to do it.
Jeetu Patel: It’s worked pretty well. And then there’s, of course, there are other roles and functions that might be more centralized functions. You might have an architecture council, and you might have an API council, and so on and so forth so that you can make sure that people are able to get some level of standardization as your portfolio of products gets bigger and bigger.
Eric Boduch: Thanks. I think that that clarification was super helpful. The other thing I was interested, you mentioned you know local missions. Missions from the, at the team level, that they’re measuring against and them and tying to the overall company mission. Can you give us an example of one and how it ties in?
Jeetu Patel: Yeah. I personally feel not having clarity on whether you’re succeeding or failing is one of the most frustrating things that human beings can go through. It’s okay to know that you’re failing because then you know you can do something about it, but not knowing if you’re succeeding or failing. And if it just becomes a matter of opinion, it gets very hard.
Jeetu Patel: What we try to do is define what success looks like, and it gets pretty easy in business… sometimes success is a combination of a few things in product. One is you want to have a product that a lot of people use. You want to have a product that people pay money for, and you want to have a product that has low churn, and they keep coming back for it.
Jeetu Patel: But understanding your number one metric, understanding how are you going to go out and optimize for that at and at different years in the life cycle, in different stages of a product, you might actually tweak the metrics a little bit and have different emphasis placed on it, but having the right metrics so that you know whether you’re winning or losing is pretty important.
Jeetu Patel: And then what ends up happening is that translates into a scorecard, and your plans can be done because you’ll know exactly if you’re winning or losing. And if you’re losing, then what do you need to do to go out and adjust rapidly?
Jeetu Patel: And so we’ve tried to apply that kind of framework to it. Everyone has a set of OKR. Every team has a set of OKRs, every team has a set of metrics that they measure. And we would, they don’t need someone to tell them subjectively whether or not something is going well or not. They agree on the metrics and the local mission saying that the mission might be to go out and do a certain, you have a certain set of impacts that you want to have and what is the way that we know whether we are achieving the mission is by going out and seeing if the needle and the metrics are getting moved.
Eric Boduch: Okay, thanks.
Jeetu Patel: I think analytics person is pretty important there as well because they can then give you the right level of instrumentation and tell you how you’re doing against your metrics as you’re going through that.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, I can see that being essential. Right, and then now part of all this team compensation, a part of all the team composition is also this balance between vision, maintaining roadmap, tactically getting things done. How do you balance and delegate making decisions within multiple product teams within your organization? That I assume at a large organization are rolling up through, potentially multiple levels of management.
Jeetu Patel: Yeah. We tend to have this structure that we’ve created. That the way that we do it is we have these meetings called be P strat. meetings or product strategy meetings where Aaron, who’s our CEO, me, and then one of our other co-founders, the three of us sit down and the product teams, which is typically a combination of product management, engineering come in and pitch their pitch division and they give their strategy.
Jeetu Patel: And we have to make sure that we are looking at the strategy across because we’ve got the purview of having a bird’s eye view and having a broad aperture and then each one of the teams has the benefit of having a level of depth of understanding.
Jeetu Patel: And so you want to make sure that the areas that they’re going deep and aren’t getting replicated in too many different places, or that you’re not starting to build janky experiences over time because people are too focused on the local missions.
Jeetu Patel: You’re trying to tie those together, but making sure that there is a level of a debate that happens in those meetings so that you can determine what’s right, what’s wrong and have enough healthy tension in the system so that by the time it gets to the user, most things are thought through and debated well enough ahead of time, and then listen a lot to the customers early on and saying, “Okay, this is working, this is not working. If it’s not working, how do we go out and make sure we make a pivot or a shift?” I think it’s super important.
Jeetu Patel: Sometimes what ends up happening is even a pricing or a packaging decision can have a meaningful impact on how your product is going to evolve. And so thinking about it holistically is pretty important as well, which is how are we going to build this product?
Jeetu Patel: How are we going to manifest it in different parts of the UI? How is it going to be packaged? How is it going to be priced? Is it going to be explicitly monetized? Is it not going to be explicitly monetized? If we explicitly monetize it, it’s going to have some level of friction that might not get you to the adoption rate you’re looking for.
Jeetu Patel: If you don’t monetize it, there might not be a logical place to put some of these capabilities in whether you manifest the cap. All of those things you have to kind of keep thinking through as you’re going through it. But the way that we do that is in those forums on the strategy meetings, and then there’s also, of course, the forums for operational reviews and all of that, but you see how the execution cadence is going.
Jeetu Patel: I think strategy is a set of meetings for us and the execution cadence has a separate set of meetings that we do.
Eric Boduch: Okay, cool. Then I’ll let it keep going up. Next question. Talk to me a little bit about … the roadmap behind these things you were just talking about, about this product strategy.
Eric Boduch: What do you, what’s your thought on transparency? How much transparency should there be between the product team and the rest of the company, and then how much of the roadmap do you share with customers?
Jeetu Patel: We tend to err on the side of excessive transparency because I don’t fundamentally believe that it’s worth in some ways, and especially in the enterprise, giving customers an early look at what’s actually being built and getting their input is far more important than trying to have something that’s super secretive and then coming out with it in a big bang. That in my mind is it makes for good theatrics, but I don’t think that’s how enterprises prefer to have it. They will, they want to see the visibility.
Jeetu Patel: I think what you have to be extremely clear is when is something pretty certain that it’s going to be getting built versus what are things that are in the exploration phase? And then the other thing that we have historically struggled with, and we’ve gone back and forth on and is pretty important that I think companies get right is when you go into a beta cycle, there might be products that never make it from beta to GA because you found that the results in the beta weren’t quite hitting the market, what your assumptions were.
Jeetu Patel: And that’s one of the reasons for the beta cycle. I think you have to think, keep all of those pieces in mind.
Jeetu Patel: We have a rolling 12-month roadmap that we do, where the first 90 days of the roadmap are very set in stone, and we give dates to our customers and to the external community saying, “This is when it’s going to be coming out.”
Jeetu Patel: The following 90 days, which is the second quarter that you might have in the rolling four-quarter cycle, we give them a little bit more of a, that this is kind of estimated but not planned to be delivered on these explicit dates. But it’s going to be somewhere in the quarter. And so your probability of on-time delivery goes down the further out you go, but at least gives the customer new … then you keep going on with the third quarter and fourth quarter and every quarter you roll 12 months of road map so that people always know what is coming. And more how we are thinking about this. And then there are things that move around between quarters, but as you get closer to the timeframe that it’s going to be delivered, we got a little bit more precise on it so that customers can plan around the capabilities that we’re going to deliver, and how they’re going to be able to adjust it.
Jeetu Patel: And this is, by the way, a big difference between an enterprise company and a consumer-grade company. Where a consumer companies don’t need to ever have a roadmap. And if you go to an enterprise company and enterprise can’t plan on their end, they wouldn’t know how to plan their road map if they didn’t have your road map. You have to be … I think of it as basic courtesy to make sure that we’re providing customers with line of sight on what we’re building so that they can then go ahead and plan what they’re going to be doing on their end to implement it and deploy it and get it to scale and train and have the resources to support and all of that.
Eric Boduch: I had changed the direction a little bit. Talk to me about building products customers love. What does that mean to you? I know it’s something that I’m very passionate about, but what does that mean to you?
Jeetu Patel: The way we think about it is build something that has an emotional appeal and puts a smile on someone’s face. And really think deeply about the experience, the friction that you create. Every product has friction. You want to try to minimize the amount of friction that you have, and as you build that, also make sure that you’re building something which is important enough as a problem to be solved by someone.
Jeetu Patel: Build a painkiller, not a vitamin. Because when you build painkillers, and you build them in a delightful way, I think people … they tend to love it. They talk about it, they actually, their lives get better. There are outcomes that can be associated with that. It’s more fulfilling for the people that are building the product because they see the impact on it, and it just creates this kind of virtuous cycle.
Jeetu Patel: And I truly believe paying attention to the details, details matter, defaults matter in the product and building it with that kind of mindset is extremely important rather than not thinking about the simplicity because the buyer wanted it … You build something for the buyer and didn’t really think about how it would manifest for the user.
Jeetu Patel: By the way, one of the most important things in building things people love is making sure that you identify what not to build. Because in order for people to love something, you have to keep it simple enough and streamlined enough. Or you can’t get too ambitious about building too many things or it gets to have sensory overload. Humans can only process a few things at a time, and you have to choose what the most important things are that you want them to go out and have value derived from your product rather than having a thousand different knobs and dials that they need to turn.
Jeetu Patel: And as the product matures and as you get more and more into larger territories of revenue, this is a huge risk that you have to be maniacally focused on and making sure that you don’t creep into that zone.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, it seems like the longer a product is around, inevitably there seems to be too much complexity in most products out there.
Jeetu Patel: Yes.
Eric Boduch: And that’s definitely a challenge right?
Jeetu Patel: Yeah and then you probably need to de feature products as well from time to time. What are things that are not being used, and why do we have it there? Or let’s make sure that we hide it away. Or if something is hidden and is not surfaced out to make sure that we resurface it up because that’s actually, would be used much more frequently. But you can surface up everything because then it looks very cluttered. I think it’s a pretty important sign of a good product leader to be able to take things out as much as to put things in.
Eric Boduch: Yeah. And I think that’s a challenge though. People look at it and say, “Oh, we invested this money into a prod, a feature set.” And maybe that feature set now is not often used. And not that, usage is low, sentiment is low, but there’s still this impetus… “We’ve put this money, we spent dollars, should we really just remove this?”
Jeetu Patel: Yeah, we struggled with this one. We have a joke internally, which is “what’s worse than having no customers is having one customer.” Because now you can’t de-feature something because enterprises will be like, “Oh my goodness, how can you take that away?” but there’s always one customer. I’ll tell you, there’s companies that have literally gone out of business because with every feature they’re serving 5% of the user base, but there’s no feature that serves 95% of the user base and that actually causes a huge amount of inefficiency and it creates a crappy product by the end of it.
Jeetu Patel: So, you have to at some point in time make some hard calls and not always will customers be happy at the moment, but they’ll be happy in the long run because you’ll have actually built a stable company that creates value for them on a sustained basis. So knowing when to have that level of conviction and knowing when to…like you can listen to all of your customers equally, that’s a bad strategy on what to do. You have to listen to all of their problems but then have your own diagnosis on what the solution needs to be and the name of the game is not popularity, the name of the game is actually a demonstration of value.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I tell people, “If you think of two-axis like sentiment and usage and you build a quadrant there of high and lows, you can then group things and take action plans. Maybe there are things that people love but aren’t used very often that you can promote, like you were talking about and bring to the front and then there’s that group that people don’t like and don’t use very much so you’ve got to figure out how to retire so you can free up those technical resources that are maintaining that.
Jeetu Patel: I tell you that the hardest thing that we go through on that dimension is when we feel like there’s a better way to do something and we have to dial it down. Oftentimes you’ll have the sales team or the go-to-market teams come and say, “Well, if you de-feature this thing this customer will churn. And it’s like, I can guarantee you for even the most absurd, unwanted feature in Box if I de-feature it there’s going to be some customer that’s going to threaten to churn. But the reality is, is what we have to do is keep in mind that what is good for the line share of customers rather than an individual customer, while still keeping in mind that those individual customers, you have a responsibility to that you don’t do anything that’s completely rash. So, it just requires a lot of thoughtfulness.
Jeetu Patel: And by the way, I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this. This is something that just requires thinking and iterating and engaging with customers and also explaining the rationale to customers, and the trade-offs. One of the things we found extremely valuable is we do these advisory boards and advisory councils with customers and we’ll sometimes explain our rationale and why we decided to do things a certain way. That explanation of the rationale, actually gets them to appreciate how we have to be thinking about a product that is going to be used by 65 million users and a company with three employees and 400,000 employees alike, that you need to make sure that you can’t just take everyone’s requirements and jam it in.
Jeetu Patel: One of the reasons that you have a natural governor in place is because you just have a limited amount of resources. But let’s assume in a world of abundance, you have all the resources to build every feature request that you had. We would be guaranteed to build the worst product in the market if you listened to every customer feature request and built it because it would just be too cluttered and too kind of overwhelming. So, trade-offs are not just because you’ve got limited resources, trade-offs are because trade-offs are what make a great product. Absence of trade-off just makes a crappy product.
Eric Boduch: I like that quote. So, if we look to the future, what do you see as trends in product management?
Jeetu Patel: So big trends I see right now is, I think it’s, one of the ones that you’re starting to see happen more and more now is just having instrumentation and data that tells you how the product’s performing. Aaron had a really good tweet today online, which is worth actually mentioning and he was citing Apple on it. It’s specifically around this notion that in the past it used to be around how much data do I collect so that I can get all the information I want to build a great product. In fact, now the times that we live in, the question is how little data can I collect to get away with building the best product because that actually protects privacy and that protects from a security and compliance and governance perspective, it’s a really important thing.
Jeetu Patel: So, I think there’s also a trend in product to really, really make sure that you…and we’ve been actually walking the walk and talking the talk for over a decade now on this one because we are not at all confused that our customers own their data. We are meer custodians of the data. They actually have full rights on the data that they put into our system. I think like that’s an area which is super important, especially in serving the enterprise and you’re actually starting to see just as important, even on the consumer side, is people just don’t like their privacy and security kind of violated. So, being very serious about that, making sure that you’re going the extra mile on that is super important.
Jeetu Patel: One of the trends that we see as you get products to scale is sometimes the customer might not even do something…your product might have not even done something that was wrong, but the customer did it in an unintended way and you still bear the responsibility of that. You need to make sure that you’re thinking through those scenarios. You can’t just say, “Well, the customer, it was a user error,” because if the user error still causes business damage you still have a responsibility to be deeply thinking about it and make sure that you create an experience that minimizes that user error on their side.
Jeetu Patel: So, I think it’s just a very interesting kind of world that we are in where I think, I’m glad to see privacy getting more and more prioritized, but I don’t think that conversations about privacy are, they have to be deeply thought through because you might be thinking you are actually doing something for the sake of privacy and in fact what you might have is unintended consequences in different areas. You just have to make sure that you’re deeply thinking through these things and consulting customers and making sure that you’re keeping the security professionals in mind, while also keeping usability in mind and making sure that all of those things that kind of looked at in harmony with one another.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, I liked that point you made in particular about you’re responsible for what your customers might do in error, that that causes consequences and thinking through what they could possibly do that would lead to those bad scenarios.
Jeetu Patel: Exactly. Yeah.
Eric Boduch: I know we’ve talked about a lot, I could talk to you for at least another hour, but let’s focus on maybe a final few questions, G2 in particular. First, I’d love to know, how do you choose to spend or where do you choose to spend maybe a better way, how do you choose where to spend your time outside of Box?
Jeetu Patel: So, it’s easy for me because I have an eight-year-old daughter, so most of the time is spoken for. I have an 81-year-old mother and I have a better half. So between the three of them, most of my time gets spoken for. The time other than that, besides taking care of your health and trying to do as much as you can work. Although, I’m as out of shape as I could possibly have imagined that would be at this point in time. So, I’m not working out and exercising enough. But you tend to carve out some time for exercise and all of that. But the one area that I think would be a good tip that might be worth it for the listeners is I try to have at least one dinner, if not every week, then every other week with someone outside of Box.
Jeetu Patel: The reason for that is you can very quickly become very insular and then be in an echo chamber if you just meet with people within the same group. And having someone come in with an entirely different perspective and asking them questions is actually super, super insightful. So I try to have dinner with someone and we’re so lucky in Silicon Valley because this is such a close-knit community and people are so willing to give back and you know, give their time. So I’ll usually try to do that with people in my peer group and in different companies and all of that so that we can just exchange ideas and learn from each other.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, I love that. I know I try to do as many product leader dinners when I’m traveling as possible. I think those things are invaluable. Now I need to figure out how to combine the exercise component because I’m like you, kind of neglecting that with some of the leader dinner concepts. That maybe is my next project.
Jeetu Patel: You know, it’s actually, the sad part is it’s the most important thing in life is your health. It’s actually, I would argue, more important than your kids and family in some way. Because if you don’t have your health, then you won’t be able to enjoy your kids and family. So, you got to have the oxygen mask on you first. Right? So at some point in time, easier said than done, but I’m trying as much as I can to make it to the gym and all that whenever you can.
Eric Boduch: I’m right there with you. So what’s your favorite product and why is it your favorite?
Jeetu Patel: My favorite product is actually other than Box you mean, I’m assuming.
Eric Boduch: Yes, yes.
Jeetu Patel: One of the best products that I have purchased with money is Peloton and talking about exercise, I think they have built such a remarkable product. I think they just filed to go public and I would just buy a ton of shares with Peloton and hold it for life because it’s just such an amazing company and what they’ve done in the product and the way that they’ve pulled it all together.
Jeetu Patel: I love Tesla as well until this week, but right now I’m having some challenges because I’m having some service issues with them but Tesla is a pretty amazing product, but I think Peloton is just remarkable in the way that they’ve been able to just get the streamlining. They’ve solved the problem in such a unique way and it’s so thoughtful. It’s one of the most silent bicycles, they’ve got a great kind of program, you’ve got these amazing classes. So I’d say that I actually created a slide one time that’s a top 10 reasons I love the Peloton and I posted it on Twitter. It’s one of those products which I think is one of the best, best products ever built.
Eric Boduch: So, one final question for you today. Three words to describe yourself.
Jeetu Patel: Three words to describe myself, that that’s a hard one, man. You leave the hardest question until the end. I think, curious. Yes, I think I’d call myself curious in one, and insanely humbled about how much I don’t know. That’s not one word, but it’s kind of the concept, and you can try to put it in one word, but the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. And then the third one would be, at my daughter’s service.
Want to hear more from Jeetu? He’ll be presenting at the ProductCraft Virtual Conference on May 7 — register here.