What do product leaders and Olympians have in common? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Check out the transcript of our chat with Maggie Crowley, who is both an Olympic speed skater and the director of product management at Drift.

Eric Boduch: Okay. Well, welcome lovers of product. Today I am here with Maggie from Drift, in their wonderful studio in Boston. Why don’t we kick this off, Maggie, with us getting a little overview of your background?

Maggie Crowley: Sure. I started as an athlete for a long, long time. Didn’t actually think I would ever get a real job but life as a speed skater isn’t one that I think you can really make a living off of. So like many people, I went into consulting right after school, did that for a bunch of years, got an MBA, like many people who don’t know what they want to do, do. And then, that’s when I discovered product. So I’ve been in product ever since.

Eric Boduch: Talk to me first about your time as an Olympian and how you ended up on the product path.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah.

Eric Boduch: Beyond just the consulting route. What inspired you about getting into product?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah I think for me, when I was in business school, I was sort of trying to think about what rules were out there that were similar to consulting and that you got to do lots of different things and it would be always interesting and always sort of fresh and I was lucky enough to do an internship at Google and I wasn’t on the product team there, but that’s when I got exposed to the even the concept of what a product manager was. And I think at that point I looked at that job and I said, well, you get to think about users. You get to think about building solutions for them. You get to work with engineering and design and the whole business and that felt like the most interesting set of things I could be working on. And so I gave it a shot and I loved it.

Eric Boduch: Awesome. So talk to me about the time at the Olympics, the time as an athlete in general, what skills did you take from athletics to product management?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, that’s a good question. I, for me, being an athlete, just playing sports was something that I love doing, but being an Olympian is really mostly about luck and timing like many things in life. I started figure skating when I was three years old. I just love doing it. I played hockey for a long time and I kind of fell into speed skating and I got lucky with finding a good coach and having some good success. But for me, I think the big thing about being an athlete was that I just loved practicing and I loved the aspect of getting better sort of incrementally and just perfecting that every single day.

Maggie Crowley: And to me that experience is something that’s carried over through the rest of my life, which is for a small sport athlete, you’re only ever in the spotlight every four years, but there’s a lot that goes into that behind the scenes. In the same way that when you work in product, maybe you ship a big feature every once in a while, but there’s a lot that’s happening every single day, a lot of perfection and working in incremental steps and so I think those two things really go hand in hand and are sort of a nice combination of skills.

Eric Boduch: What about soft skills overlap? What do you think from being a world-class athlete to being a product manager? What overlap stood there?

Maggie Crowley: I wasn’t on a team sport, so there weren’t a lot of soft skills involved in the active speed skating, but I think just being able to manage failure is something that happens a lot to an athlete and I think, you don’t win all the races, you don’t always have success and there are lots of setbacks and so just the resilience and grit that you have to have to stick to something for that long and work that hard for that period of time, I think lends itself really well to the work that we do and really any job, but especially in product so that’s probably the best thing I learned from it. But again, I think it’s just being willing to show up and grind every single day.

Eric Boduch: I was wondering if grit was going to come up because that was the one I first thought of, and I hear that from a lot of product leaders, is that when they look to hire product people, they will look at a degree of grit because things just don’t flow smoothly. The product managers don’t always have and usually don’t have the authority to kind of push through things. So there’s a lot of negotiations that take place and there needs to be that perseverance and I could see the same thing as an athlete.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, absolutely. And I think just being able to sort of accept the reality of the situation and then figure out what to do. There’s not a lot, I was a distance athlete and so you have enough time to kind of think about what’s happening while you’re racing and there are many moments where you get into a race and it’s just really going terribly and you still have a significant amount of time to sort of live with that while you’re still racing. So I think just learning how to accept where you are and what’s happening and then move past it is super important, especially if you’re in the middle of a development cycle and something goes horribly wrong and you uncover some bug or whatever happens, just being able to roll with that is super important.

Eric Boduch: So tell me what got you to Drift. Can you tell that story?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, I actually was working at, I don’t know if I had left TripAdvisor yet, but I might have been working on another startup and I saw an article about this company in Boston that had raised this crazy series A without even a product yet and founded by this guy David Cancel and Elias Torres and I just sort of read the article and thought there’s something interesting going on there. There’s something that you’re seeing with these two people. I want to kind of learn a little bit more about that and it took maybe a year and a half from then to when I joined to kind of work my way in, but I just wanted to work with people who had such amazing product resumes and who I thought I could learn a lot from and that’s kind of how I made my way to Drift.

Eric Boduch: So you picked out Drift and said, “Hey, I’m going to work there.” And then worked your way in over the period of 18 months.

Maggie Crowley: I did. Yeah. I think I had coffee with our first PM Matt and they weren’t hiring other product people at that time and I was like, don’t worry just introduce me to your recruiter. Introduce me to Keith. So shout out Keith who followed up with me maybe a year after that.

Eric Boduch: So talk to me about your time here at Drift.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, I started here almost a year ago. I was working on some of our integrations and then I moved onto our bots and automation team and that’s the part of the product that I run now and it’s been incredible. It’s just really interesting to see a company grow as fast as we have and to see what product-market fit can really feel like and what happens once you get to that point and the kind of growth that you can have from that.

Eric Boduch: Yeah talk to me about that. How has the growth been here and how has that impacted your day to day job?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah. We had this woman, Molly Graham come in earlier this year and she gave this amazing talk about, she was at Facebook I think when it scaled at the beginning and she gave this really amazing talk about how when you’re in a hyper-growth moment. The company is almost a completely different company every month to three months and so it really has felt like over the course of the year that I’ve been here every month or two. It’s a new company with a new set of challenges and the processes that we put in place before have sort of broken and we need to create new ones, which is I think as a product person and someone who’s interested in just organizational design, it’s so interesting to be able to come in and just try it all again and try something new.

Eric Boduch: So talk to me about the successes. Can you share a success you’ve had with the product management team here?

Maggie Crowley: Sure. I think to me it’s easy to point to big, big things that we’ve shipped that have done well as successful and they are, and there’s a couple of examples. We launched this feature that’s conversational landing pages a month or two ago and that was a really amazing story of a couple of customers having a good idea. Us just being flexible and jumping on it and making a prototype, building it and having it do really well. So that was one sort of more traditional success.

Maggie Crowley: But I also really like to think about the little things that we do that are really successful, like going in and changing a feature that we know has been not as good as it could have been, but it’s sort of complicated and hard and not very sexy and fixing that. Those to me are also really, really successful. So a couple months ago we went in and we solved a thing that has just been bugging us for a really long time. And it was just a little tiny thing, but it felt so good to just like have that level of craftsmanship and be able to go back and fix some stuff.

Eric Boduch: I love solving the little things. They’re like this persistent little itch. It’s not like that you’re stitching up, but there’s this itch there that you just can’t quite reach. And when it’s finally gone you’re like “ha ha ha!”

Maggie Crowley: Yeah. And I think we have a shipyard where we post all the new things that we ship and we had this conversation about its not even worth putting in there and you’re like, no, no, no, let’s celebrate it and we put it in and everyone is super excited cause it’s been annoying all of us. and we finally just did something about it. So yeah, I love those little wins.

Eric Boduch: So what about other challenges coming up at Drift and product management?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, I think like I mentioned, scale is something that is challenging for a team, especially figuring out how to go from just a couple of product managers to a full product team and adding leadership levels and what does that look like? And we’re always trying to find ways to build upon models from other companies who’ve done things successfully. So I think one of the biggest challenges has been how do we scale our team without losing the sort of autonomy and speed and what made us Drift in the early days?

Eric Boduch: So talk to me about the size of the team now.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, I think we’re up to ten product people now. I think if I counted right yesterday. We probably have 40 or 50 engineers and maybe a little under ten people on our design team as well.

Eric Boduch: Design works in the product work?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, when we say product to work, we mean product management, design and engineering. We’re a strong believer in the three pieces all work together and all sort of three equal in that.

Eric Boduch: And how are the teams structured?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, we work in a pretty traditional, I think squad model.

Maggie Crowley: So we have teams of three engineers, the tech lead, and two others. And then two of those make up a squad. And on a squad, there will be one product manager, one product designer, and then we also have this role called a customer advocate, which is sort of a customer support rep who is aligned with a given squad. And so they specialize in that set of features. And they’re on support chat all day long. They know exactly what’s going on with customers and they really are part of how we get feedback really quick.

Eric Boduch: So six engineers in a squad, one designer, one PM, and a customer advocate.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah.

Eric Boduch: Awesome.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, it’s great. And we try really hard to make the divisions between the squads very clear so that we can be autonomous and we don’t have to have dependencies when we’re building things, which means that everyone can run really fast.

Eric Boduch: So now you talked about scaling products. What’s the plan in the next say, 12 months for the product team size?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, who knows. We’re just continuing to grow. But I think what we’re trying to do is focus more on what do we need to build for our business and our customers. And then the size of the product team and the scale comes from that. So rather than saying, “Oh, we want to grow the team to X,” we’re saying, “These are the things that we think we need to accomplish for our business and our customers. And so what kind of team do we need to get after that?”

Eric Boduch: Got it, got it. So I saw recently that you wrote a tweet about the worst feature you’ve ever. Can you talk to me more about that?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, I can’t. This was actually back in my days at TripAdvisor. I was on a … I think it was a customer engagement, I can’t remember exactly what we called it, but I was on one of the teams that was helping drive more reviews from the community.

Maggie Crowley: And we had this whole idea about how we were going to get more views and more engagement because we knew that if someone would do one review, they might do more. And we had done all this research, at least I thought, and all this work, and we shipped this feature, and we saw amazing results. I think reviews were up by a significant percent in this one little test that we ran. And we did a couple of customer interviews because we wanted to understand if the thing we had thought we were doing was right.

Maggie Crowley: And it turns out that the feedback we got was, “Oh yeah, you put in a big orange button, so I clicked on it.” And we had done all of this research about the motivations behind why someone would want to write another review. And they just did it because we made this shiny orange button. So I mean the feature worked but we were all like, “We just wasted so much of our time.” We could have just made the damn button orange in the beginning.

Eric Boduch: That’s funny.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah. But yeah, I think I learned … sorry, I was just going to say that I think I learned that you don’t know what a user is going to do and you can’t really predict it. And assuming that you truly know is just a recipe for failure.

Eric Boduch: Yeah, absolutely. It’s always interesting when you look at the data and see what actually happens. What do you think is going to happen and all the planning and analysis that you do.

Maggie Crowley: Even when the results are what you wanted. I think that was why that example has always stuck out to me is because it did what we wanted it to do. We set a numeric goal for percent increase in reviews and we hit it, but the reason why we hit it was not the right one. And so I would classify that as a fail just because we didn’t have the right … the reasoning behind it wasn’t correct.

Eric Boduch: I understand. So talk about other mistakes. What do you see product managers making on a common basis? What type of mistakes and how would you advise them to avoid those?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, like I mentioned, almost all of the mistakes that I’ve made in building have come down to short-circuiting a part of the process and I think specifically not doing the right amount of research to begin with. Or not getting really in front of a customer and really getting their opinion on something. I think if you ever find yourself saying, “Oh yeah, customers are definitely going to do this.” Or “They’re absolutely going to love this,” or “This is how they’re going to think,” to me, that’s always a warning sign if you don’t have an actual example in front of you because it’s so easy to start to confuse yourself with the user. And especially if you’ve worked on a product for a really long time, just assuming you know what’s going to happen, it almost always turns into a bit of trouble. So I think that’s one big pitfall people can fall into. And just not talking to customers enough. I mean I think we all know we’re supposed to do it, but actually doing the work to find them and talk to them is harder than it would seem.

Maggie Crowley: And then I think one thing I was talking about with our, with our team recently was trusting the rest of your team to solve problems and creating a space in which they can be part of the solution. I think especially in new PMs, I’ve seen fail because they try to get the team to build their solution rather than making a space where the team can make good decisions. And so I think trying so hard to almost manipulate the team into solving the problem the way that you want it to be solved is a really good way to build something that’s probably okay, but maybe not the best it could be.

Eric Boduch: Do you think that happens more with technical product managers, like product managers that say had written code in the past? Or do you think that happens across the board a lot?

Maggie Crowley: I think it happens across the board. I haven’t actually worked with many technical product managers or PM’s who have a background in engineering, I don’t think. But I’ve just seen it in many different PMs. I think a lot of PM’s have a more dominant personality or a really strong thesis on what they’re building. And usually, that’s a bit of a red flag or that’s the type of person that might run into this problem. I mean, absolutely myself included.

Eric Boduch: Yeah. I mean PMs usually have a strong personality. 

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we usually aren’t shy about our opinions.

Eric Boduch: Absolutely. So you mentioned talking to customers. Everyone knows we should do it as product managers. How often do you guys talk to customers? Or how often do you personally?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, we have a bit of a cheat because we have our software is a chat platform and so it’s easy for our customers when they’re using our product to talk to us. So it makes a lot easier for me to talk to a customer than I think maybe someone else. But I try to get on the phone with a customer, if not every day, at least every other day. But that means I’m joining calls with a customer success manager and their clients. I was on a sales demo yesterday, which was super fun. I love doing those. Oftentimes people, you mentioned Twitter, people will tweet at Drift and we will just … we’re all on there, we’ll respond and hop on the phone really quickly. I did one of those yesterday, as well.

Maggie Crowley: So I just try to make myself available so that when there are customer conversations happening I can jump on them. Because I think when you think about talking to customers as, “I need to go and schedule an interview,” I think that can be really challenging and just feel like a lot of work. But there are just customers around all the time. And if you think about it that way, it’s a little bit easier to kind of have those ad hoc conversations. And I try to always have one or two designs or concepts around that I can just pull up real quick and get some feedback on.

Eric Boduch: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a good point. I mean a lot of people spend a lot of time just trying to get the scheduling done and perfect and put a process around it. And why I don’t think that’s bad, in a lot of cases tends to be an eliminating process where you might have someone that, like you said, tweets at you, and it’s something interesting that you’d like to talk about. And you can just reach out, send them. 

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, you can just talk to them. Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing.

Eric Boduch: You can chat now. Or I’ve had conversations over Twitter DMs just going back and forth, which is really interesting.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah. I think obviously you run the risk of … sometimes it’s easier just to talk in person about some things that might not be super positive that come up on Twitter. But I think just being available to those chats that are happening is probably the best thing that you can do. And I think to me, there’s absolutely a place for formal user research. We’re running some formal user research right now. But those informal conversations with customers I find are ones where you really get a sense of who they are and what their problems are and what they’re thinking about. Which I think as a product person helps you build better things because if you really understand the person you’re building for, what motivates them, what problems they’re dealing with in their life, I think that makes for better products in general. So I love the informal stuff.

Eric Boduch: Yeah, I do too. And I think there’s a lot of opportunities. And obviously you guys have your conversational … you have Drift. So you can obviously use that as a mechanism. Do you chat with people a lot that way?

Maggie Crowley: I do, yeah. Usually what happens is the customer advocate that I mentioned earlier, if there’s a customer who’s currently chatting who’s asking about something that I work on, every once in a while they’ll pull me into that conversation. I’ll hop in and help out. We also do chat duty. So today after this is my chat duty for the month, so I’ll be on Drift support for an hour or so today helping people out. And our whole company does that. Every single role. Which is funny at times. But yeah, we use Drift to chat with our customers constantly, which is as a PM it’s just gold. It makes it so easy.

Eric Boduch: Yeah, no, I can imagine. I talked to PMs that are like … they see tickets, they get all the tickets falling through they’re like, “I’d like to talk to this person.” Use that as a mechanism. Because if someone’s willing to open up a ticket, especially if you have a less expensive product, they’re willing to give you feedback. It’s gold. You should reach out to it. Yeah, and obviously with the business you have, who Drift is, you have that mechanism that not as many companies have, at least not that’s ingrained as much as it is here at Drift.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, it’s definitely a little bit easier. And we have a culture that is all about being available and being human and being open and having conversations. And so it’s just, it’s really part of the team. And it’s not just product managers. Our engineers are on the phone constantly with customers. We push them to be involved in those conversations as well, especially if someone built something. There’s no reason for me to get on a support call with a customer. I’d rather have the engineer who worked on that feature help the customer out when they’re trying to use it. And same with design. So it’s the whole product team that’s involved.

Eric Boduch: So talk to me about features. What’s worth building, what’s not, what’s your processes of product team around features?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, I try really hard and it’s easier said than done, but I try really hard to think about not comparing features against each other, but instead comparing the problems that we can solve against each other, and trying to think about …

Eric Boduch: With competitors?

Maggie Crowley: No, I mean just when we sit down to think about what we should build next, rather than saying, “Oh, we could build feature A or feature B.” what I try to think about is what outcome are we trying to drive for the customer? And then which is the most valuable outcome? And then what are the problems we could solve that would get us there fastest?

Eric Boduch: Got it.

Maggie Crowley: So I think it makes it … When you’re comparing features, it’s really hard to make a value judgment because they’re often solving different problems. But if you focus on which problems should we solve first, then I think it’s a lot easier to figure out which features to build. And it becomes less of a “this is my favorite feature or your favorite feature” thing and we have to figure out whose to build first.

Eric Boduch: And now you just have, this is my favorite problem to solve and this is your favorite problem to solve?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah. Well, I’m sure that happens too, but I think it’s just an easier conversation to have when you’re talking about, I focus primarily on building for the marketer persona and when I think about what do marketers need to be successful in their jobs and how can we help drive their metrics? Then it’s a little easier to think, “Well, we have all these different things we could do. This one I think is going to have the most impact on that outcome with whatever data I have.” Then it’s a little bit easier as a team to rally around that.

Eric Boduch: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So talk to me about hiring here at Drift and hiring into the product group. Other than getting out ahead and applying 18 months before their position …

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, stalking, casually stocking the company until they hire you.

Eric Boduch: What skills and qualities do you look for in PMs?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, I care … I think if you had asked me this question when I was interviewing for my first product role, I think my answer would have been really analytical, really just all about the technical capabilities of a product manager and the knowledge that they have to have. But now with more years of experience, I care a lot less about that and much more about flexibility, having a curious mindset and wanting to learn a lot. I care a lot about no ego and being open to other people’s ideas because I think like we mentioned before, PM’s who can’t do that have a hard time building the right stuff. I also think more and more that your ability to communicate clearly and effectively and persuasively … Is that a word?

Eric Boduch: I think so.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah.

Eric Boduch: If not we’re going to make it one.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, it’s a new word. But yeah, I just think being able to tell a story and motivate a team around a problem that needs to be solved, is absolutely critical to being a good PM. And I think you can learn a lot of the other stuff, but if you can be articulate and you can communicate clearly and tell good stories, then I think a lot of the other stuff will fall into place.

Eric Boduch: Yeah, I would agree with you. I think being a storyteller is important as a product manager. And you mentioned something that I thought was interesting to bring up again. You talked about early that you have a lot of opinionated Pm’s and at the same time you said it’s very good not to have an ego. I don’t think those conflict, but they’re definitely a balance, right?

Maggie Crowley: Absolutely, yeah.

Eric Boduch: You have to have people that are willing to voice their opinion but at the same time aren’t going to be obstinate. Is that the right way to say it?

Maggie Crowley: Right. Yeah, absolutely. It’s that strong opinions loosely held thing, whoever said that. I think being able to have an opinion and make a decision and be decisive and lead a team is really important as a PM. But you have to be open to other people having better ideas than you and in fact, I think it’s actually your job as a product person to uncover those ideas in your teammates. Because one of our directors of engineering here, made a really good point that especially engineers are creative problem solvers. They’re not just in a corner coding, they’re solving problems all day long. And so they’re by nature really creative people. So involving them in your process and being open to their ideas is absolutely critical. So I think building a good product. So as a PM, if you have too much ego and you think that you’re right all the time, you’re not going to listen. And if you’re not listening then you’re not going to get those ideas.

Eric Boduch: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. So let’s talk about product principles. Do you guys have product principles here at Drift and what are they?

Maggie Crowley: We have company principles and I think those principles are probably also our product principles. I think I’m sure David and Elias probably have product principles that they think about, but when I think about principles at Drift, it’s our leadership principles, which are things like put the customer at the center of everything that you do. Bias for action, scrappy and frugal, of course, I can’t remember all of them off the top of my head. But those are the ones that I think about a lot when we’re building for a customer or we’re building something we’ll say things like, “We have to have a bias for action. We seek feedback, not consensus. I’m just going to make this decision. I heard you were going to disagree and commit.” Or when we’re trying to decide what we should do, we say things like, “All right, what’s the best option for the customer?” And that’s how we make our decisions.

Maggie Crowley: So our leadership principles as a company are really how we also build what we do. Then I think probably just taking a step back and thinking about product in general. I always try to think about being human in what we build and being simple and clear and not over overthinking things. It’s easy as a product manager to fall in love with your features and think that they’re really special. But just making sure that everything you do is easily understood by your customers, is simple, is human and maybe ideally has a little bit of magic to it, would be my favorite way to build.

Eric Boduch: And now, are those principles similar to core values? Is that how, or is it different at Drift?

Maggie Crowley: The leadership principles? Yeah, I would say that our core values are very similar to our leadership principles, if not the same thing. And what’s nice about the way or what’s effective about the way that we do that is that it’s truly the way our whole company operates. So it’s not… I think core values to me sound like one of those things that you join a company and they’re like, “We have core values of humility and being a good person.” They’re always really fluffy and not directly connected to the work that you do. Whereas our leadership principles are tangible things. We actually have, I should have brought them, we have cards on all of our desks that have all eight of them and you can reference them and use them and they’re living things that we use to make decisions. So to me I like that style of thinking more than a core value.

Eric Boduch: Got it. Yeah, I think it’s how it’s imposed, right?

Maggie Crowley: Yeah.

Eric Boduch: Our core values where I work at Pendo, outside of this lovely product cap, are very much how you treat your product principles, right? Customer-focused or things similar to a principal you have. A bias to act is actually one of ours. Transparency, and technically, be transparent, which is how we manage communications in general from the upmost levels, like sharing board decks, down to the lower levels. Freedom and responsibility, those types of core values.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, I’m sure … I think we stole half ours from Amazon. I’m sure we all did, kind of.

Eric Boduch: We actually spent a lot of time. It was early on, going through those, is very interesting. It was the final one that where I think I covered on the last one, being data-driven, so I skipped one. Which makes a lot of sense, given what Pendo does. You can call it data-inspired, informed. I’ve been joking, it’s data-based.

Maggie Crowley: Data-based? Yeah, I think that’s-

Eric Boduch: Do you get the joke? Data-based?

Maggie Crowley: Oh, good one. Took me a second.

Eric Boduch: Yeah, it’s a very subtle joke there.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, subtle, I wasn’t prepared for that. I think that’s… I love this model of working, I’d never done it before. But being able to have… I think really the value that they bring to me in my day-to-day tactically, is giving us a way, giving the team a way to make decisions and have a conversation and solve conflict, without it being personal. Because being able to point to a leadership principle or use a leadership principle in a discussion or a decision, means that you don’t have to say, “Hey Eric, I just disagree with you. I don’t want to do the thing that you told me to do.” Or, “I think your idea is dumb.” You can be like, “This is really good feedback, but I’m the DRI for this decision and I’m just going to make it, we don’t have to have consensus right now.”

Eric Boduch: Great. So let’s talk about what you see coming up in the future. Tell me about upcoming trends you see in product management.

Maggie Crowley: Yep. So this is exactly the question I’ve been asking everyone on our podcast, which is what are the new things that are coming and the new ways of thinking that people have? And I haven’t been getting a good answer on this question because I think it was Eric … Oh no, I can’t remember his name. Oh well. Someone who said that the biggest problem we have is still that we’re not talking to customers enough. Which is really interesting because you’d think that we were all doing enough of that to have moved past it. But I think you already

Maggie Crowley: You actually mentioned it. The one thing that I’ve heard a lot about is rather than being totally qualitative or super, super data-intensive, people using data are sort of in the middle, and being data-informed or data-based, as you said. But I think figuring out the right amount of information to use, and I have worked in teams that are exclusively using tests and data thresholds to build, and I’ve worked on teams that use almost no, don’t have any data and it’s all qualitative feedback, and figuring out where that middle ground is and what the right amount I think is something that I’m hearing more and more of. And then the other thing that’s on my mind a lot is the way that people are constructing their product process these days is a little different and people are letting go of, obviously there is the whole waterfall thing and then we moved hard to agile, but now people are sort of stepping back from that a little bit and thinking more about what’s the right process for their team.

Maggie Crowley: And I’m hearing less and less about strict processes, and more and more about being flexible in teams, creating their own process that works for them and it helps them ship fast. So I feel like those are themes that are sort of bubbling up within the product community.

Eric Boduch: Yeah, I can definitely see some of those and whether you’re informed or driven, I think the idea is like on the data side, it’s important to have data. There’s no excuse for not having data.

Maggie Crowley: Right.

Eric Boduch: It doesn’t mean you need to blindly follow the data. I mean data’s there to be interpreted, it’s there to make you think, it’s there to maybe lead to different experiments.

Maggie Crowley: Right.

Eric Boduch: Or prove or disprove some hypothesis you have. 

Maggie Crowley: Right. Yeah. And I think it’s easy once you have a lot of data, especially back when I worked at TripAdvisor, we had tons and tons of data, so it was so easy to make decisions based on it. And it was relatively speaking so much harder to go talk to a customer, that we ended up making a lot of our decisions based on data when I think we would have been better served by talking to more customers. And so I think having that good balance is just … it’s hard to do, but it’s super important.

Eric Boduch: And those customer conversations really are data, especially if they’re documented.

Maggie Crowley: Right. Yeah, true.

Eric Boduch: Yeah, sure. But I completely agree. It always amazes me when you say, hey we talked… I ask a product manager and they’re like, we talk to customers a lot and I was like, how do you define a lot. They’re usually at least once a week. And then other people are like three times a day.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah.

Eric Boduch: And there’s a big difference between usually once a week, which sounds like more every other week to like three times a day. So a lot is one of those terms that can be defined in many different ways.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah. And I also feel like you can… I see it in the quality of the work that I’m doing. If I hadn’t been talking to customers enough I can even feel myself start to make bad choices and bad decisions and that’s usually a warning sign for me that I need to go back and then talk to some customers and refresh my memory because just even a week… Even if you went two weeks without talking to someone based on the stuff that you’re working on, I think that’s probably a bad idea.

Eric Boduch: Yeah, I agree with you. Absolutely. So let’s talk a little bit more about you.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah. Great.

Eric Boduch: What’s your favorite product and why?

Maggie Crowley: I knew you’re going to ask me this question. So I thought about this morning I had two, that I’m bringing a software one and a non-software one.

Eric Boduch: This one always seems to be one of the hardest questions even when people know it’s coming.

Maggie Crowley: Oh no, I feel very strongly about these two products. One is this to-do app I guess called WorkFlowy. I’ve been using… It’s probably the one thing in the to-do productivity space I’ve used for the longest. I’ve probably been using it since it came out many years ago. And it’s a really simple bulleted list that you can kind of collapse and nest and check things off and it has lots of functions I don’t even use. It’s free, but I choose to pay for it because I love it so much and it’s the only to-do app that I’ve ever used. It just works simply. It does exactly what I want it to do. and it’s easy. I love it. Everyone should use it. It’s amazing.

Eric Boduch: I should check it out because I always, I’m always struggling to find a to-do app that’s workflowy and I guess by definition, by their name this one should be.

Maggie Crowley: It is. Yeah, it’s amazing. And I have sections for basically my entire life in it.

Eric Boduch: And you can put together workflow obviously.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah.

Eric Boduch: And you can say, oh, the first step, I can’t do my second step until this is done. And …

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, it’s amazing. I highly recommend it. And it’s just, it’s not flashy. It doesn’t have any special, clever, gestural things. It’s just simple. It’s a list and it works, which I love.

Eric Boduch: I’ll have to check it out.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah. And then my second one, which is a hardware product. My husband and I just bought a Vitamix which is the greatest blender of all time and it’s just absolutely phenomenal and we are obsessed with it.

Eric Boduch: That’s awesome. I know. I have a blender. It’s not a Vitamix.

Maggie Crowley: So yeah, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s absolutely incredible.

Eric Boduch: I have a wonderful little blender that I think is great. What makes the Vitamix so much better?

Maggie Crowley: Just, it blends things more aggressively than I knew was possible. Everyone at Drift is sick of me talking about my blender.

Eric Boduch: That makes sense. Now we’re going to talk about your Vitamix. What type of aggressive blending do you do?

Maggie Crowley: I mean, we …

Eric Boduch: Especially things you couldn’t do before.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah. I think I watched my husband make a smoothie this morning and he just took …

Eric Boduch: By the way, I’m now thinking of those knives commercials … 

Maggie Crowley: Definitely yeah where they just like blend the knives. Yeah. He chopped off a section of ginger, didn’t peel it and just dropped the whole thing in and he dropped the whole apple in, just core, seeds, the whole thing, and it just comes out like a smooth, super smooth smoothie. It’s amazing.

Eric Boduch: And still tasty.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah.

Eric Boduch: That’s good to know.

Maggie Crowley: It’s not affordable.

Eric Boduch: Super powerful. 

Maggie Crowley: Not affordable, but extremely powerful.

Eric Boduch: You don’t have to do any of the prep.

Maggie Crowley: It’s amazing. Yeah. Just like tossing vegetables and it’s great. Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Boduch: The apples are falling off the tree they go into the Vitamix and it’s good to go.

Maggie Crowley: Pretty much. Yeah.

Eric Boduch: Awesome.

Maggie Crowley: But I think just like all kidding aside, those two products to me are successful because they do exactly what they say they’re going to do really well.

Eric Boduch: Yeah. I mean, WorkFlowy is right in the name.

Maggie Crowley: Right. It’s just like it’s a to-do list that works. The Vitamix is a lender that does exactly what it says it’s going to do and there’s just something nice about buying a product that just does exactly what you think it’s going to do with no confusion.

Eric Boduch: Or we need to change the Vitamix name now to blend anything.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah, I know that should be their tagline.

Eric Boduch: Yeah then we’ll all be there. Well, I’m going to have to experiment with that when I run this blender down to nothing, go with the Vitamix for the next one.

Maggie Crowley: Highly recommend.

Eric Boduch: And everyone at Drift now has one?

Maggie Crowley: No. I think they’re just sick of me talking about mine and walking around with my smoothies.

Eric Boduch: Did you give them the fantastic smoothies to convince them?

Maggie Crowley: Absolutely not.

Eric Boduch: No.

Maggie Crowley: It’s mine.

Eric Boduch: So one final question for you today. Three words to describe yourself.

Maggie Crowley: I thought about this one a lot. I think the three words that I would describe myself as and that people would probably agree with are focused, intense, and irreverent.

Eric Boduch: Great.

Maggie Crowley: Yeah.

Eric Boduch: Thank you. This was wonderful.

Maggie Crowley: Thanks. I really appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

About the Author

Eric Boduch is the chief evangelist for Pendo. Previously, he served as the CEO of Brainstorm SMS Technologies LLC (dba SMaSh, Inc.) and was the co-founder and CEO of several other companies. Eric holds a Bachelor of Science from The School of Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Electrical and Computer Engineering and is a graduate of its Executive Management Program.