Video Thumbnail

Picking sharp problems, increasing virality, and unique product frameworks | Oji Udezue (Typeform)

Products who try to be viral just for what i call synthetic virality that fail. Because in the end, if you're synthetically viral and people get to the product and it sucks, that's it. Slack wasn't even viral, there was no synthetic virality. Slack couldn't even connect to organizations for the longest time. You could be working on the third floor, and someone using slack on the fourth floor and you would have no clue, there's no way to share it with them. But what happens when you went to lunch? People are like, "we got slack and this is amazing.". And people on the third floor are like, "holy shit, when can we get it?".

Boom. This is the bedrock of virality. Build a great product that solves a sharp problem. Welcome to lenny's podcast, where i interview world-class product leaders and growth experts to learn from their hard-won experiences building and growing today's most successful products. Today my guest is oji udezue. Oji has helped build and grow products at microsoft. He worked on windows, outlook, hotmail and inner explorer, at atlassian where he was head of product for all their communication tools, at calendly, where he was chief product officer, at twitter where he was head of product for creation and conversation. He's currently chief product officer at typeform, which i am a happy customer of. Oji has one of the broadest and most interesting careers in product, and he's also one of the most thoughtful humans i've met. In our conversation, oji shares some of his favorite product frameworks and also why you should be really careful applying frameworks at your company. We dig into what he's learned from calendly and atlassian and a typeform on how to do product led growth successfully, and also how to get really sharp with your icp or ideal customer profile. Also, how to increase your products virality and a concept called forest time, which i love. And even his favorite nigerian food, which i am currently on the hunt for.

With that, i bring you oji udezue after a short word from our sponsors. You fell in love with building products for a reason, but sometimes the day-to-day reality is a little different than you imagined. Instead of dreaming up big ideas, talking to customers and crafting a strategy, you're drowning in spreadsheets and roadmap updates, and you're spending your days basically putting out fires. A better way is possible. Introducing jira product discovery, the new prioritization and road mapping tool built for product teams by atlassian. With jira product discovery, you can gather all your product ideas and insights in one place and prioritize confidently, finally replacing those endless spreadsheets. Create and share custom product roadmaps with any stakeholder in seconds. And it's all built on jira where your engineering teams already working, so true collaboration is finally possible. Great products are built by great teams, not just engineers, sales, support, leadership, even greg from finance. Anyone that you want can contribute ideas, feedback, and insights in jira product discovery for free, no catch. And it's only $10 a month for you. Say goodbye to your spreadsheets and the never ending alignment efforts. The old way of doing product management is over.

Rediscover what's possible with jira product discovery. Try for free at, that's Oji, thank you so much for being here and welcome to the podcast. Thank you, lenny. It's a pleasure to be here. It's my pleasure. You've been a pm and a product leader in so many amazing and also just very different companies, all with very different approaches to product and growth. And i think you have this very rare broad perspective on what works in product and growth across a lot of different ways of doing it. And so i have a bunch of questions for you. I hope you came ready for that. I am ready. Okay. Yes, sir. I love it. Okay, so i want to start with frameworks. You've written and shared a bunch of really interesting frameworks for how to think about product and growth, and so i just want to dig into a couple of them. And one of them is around how to find big b2b saas ideas and it's around finding the right workflow. Could you just share this framework and also just how founders and also investors can use this idea to find big ideas? Thank you. So i think you're referring to where do you fish to find a unicorn. That's it. And the thing behind that is people can find that on substack and the medium, my writings.

But the premise is that there's a lot of risk in building startups, and the last decade of product management and startups has really focused on the method of building software and companies. We talk about the lean approach, we talk about fail fast, and so on and so forth. And i think that was a necessary phase for us because a lot of innovation was just the ideas of founders unvalidated by customers, and we needed this inflection point in our discipline. People need to understand though that customer science is not the solution to everything otherwise openai will never have done anything. It's also innovation.

And so the problem space and the solutions to the problems space is still a big driver of success in building software companies. What problem are you really solving? And if you believe that the problem space is key, so what problems will predict success? In b2b saas especially, which is much easier to circumscribe is where i start to think about, look, how do you tell from the beginning? Because an investor as well as an operator. Now to segment this space, i think of two dimensions. One is how many departments in the company does the workflow you're trying to solve apply to? Is it just a few or is it all of them? And the second is how intense or how frequent is the workflow executed? Is it daily? Is it weekly? Is it three times a week? And so on and so forth. Now if you draw a nice quadrant of these two things, then you can start to have some predictive power. Things that are useful in every department i call every one workflows, like things like collaboration, like slack, email, calendaring, workflows, social knowledge and notion and so on and so forth. And then things that apply to single departments, i call niche and that's what i call niche. And then the intensity is about frequency. A month is not infrequent, daily is super frequent. If you divide the market or the enterprise into frequency and into how broad the workflow is, you can actually have predictive power. And what i found by looking at the biggest company is public and private in each quadrant was that every one frequent workflows intuitively are the most profitable to work on, but also the hardest to get into because they're dominated by microsoft and google and very large companies. For example, one of my friends is the ceo of coda. And so this is interesting, because he's in that space, for him to think about. And then the place where b2b saas really thrives is niche workflows that are highly frequent. High ni is what i call it, high frequency niche. And then there are the other two quadrants that are a bit more challenging. And then you have to figure out how to navigate your way into one of the other two. If you are in one of the top two quadrants, high ni and high everyone and you solve a really important problem, workflow problem, you can probably turn into a billion-dollar company. If you do the other two, there's some challenges that you have to go through. And the framework talks about how you should navigate those places into success.

And i think it's very important because if this is true, and by the way, like i said, i did some validation on it, founders can start to, before they invest years, start to think about what probability of success is. And if you're an investor like me or vc, you can start to think about how you deploy your money. What are examples of companies in each of those quadrants? If you can frame this and i don't know if you have this in your head already. High frequency everyone workflows tend to be things that are done by the doorman to the ceo. So it's email, it's collaboration, it is writing, it is math, all the basic things. At atlassian, we spend a lot of time thinking about this. So word, we've had word processing forever in the workspace. Things like notion and confluence are huge as sort of evolution of that, slack, email. Companies in that space, google, microsoft, atlassian, et cetera. And the high ni, which is high frequency niche, you have things like jira, you have things like tools for recruiters, you have martech, you have sales tech. And we know the companies behind them, atlassian, salesforce, so on and so forth. And then in the low frequency everyone, you have things like maybe form tools.

And actually, they're not that many of them, low frequency everyone or even expense. Actually, the best expensing. Not everyone does it all the time, but everyone essentially has to do some of it, mostly, at least a lot of people. And then there's a low frequency niche, which is particular department. So planning, which is done by fpna, but done infrequently, things like that. How frequent is frequent in your experience? Does it have to be once a week at least? What do you think is that minimum bar? Frequent is every day really or multiple times a week. Infrequent starts to be like two times a week, once a month.

And of course there's a big interregnum in the middle of that. It's interesting that there are examples of companies that succeeded in those lower quadrants of infrequent, say the expensing use case. Do you have a sense of what it takes to win there? Because i imagine most startups are in that area, and i imagine founders are like, what can we do to win still? Well, this isn't a static framework in the sense that companies are not destined to be one of these things. The essence of strategy is to navigate from the curve of travel is essentially go from the lower to the higher. Atlassian is trying to go from high niche to high everyone with confluence and with all the tools that they have. People below are trying to get into the high frequency niche by focusing on their core customer. So what it looks like in say low frequency everyone workflows, something like that is, well, if some people are using it infrequently, but they must use it, well that's a good thing. But then maybe you provide a module that is used by the finance department every day, and so suddenly you're moving into the high frequency everyone workflow. So it's about finding a part of the organization that considers this mission-critical and then solving their problems beyond the problems for everyone for example, in that quadrant.

Is there an example that comes to mind of either at calendly or typeform or atlassian where you pushed it further up the frequency direction or the everyone direction? For example, at typeform, now this is real for me, typeform technically is low frequency niche or low frequency everyone, depending on how easy it is to use and how it surrounds the customer. And one of the things that i'm trying to do as part of product strategy is to move it into high frequency niche, high ni, which is a very productive place to be. So for marketers, for salespeople, i want to make sure that they think of us first. And because we are particularly good at customer facing interactions, if they think that we are the way to win new business and to make money, then a portion of our audience, not every single one of them will consider us high ni. And i think expanding that foothold is the way to navigate a business like that. You can see that with qualtrics, you can see that with surveymonkey. Lots of companies are thinking about how to further unbundle that market for a very specific kind of customer. And that is what they're trying to do. They're trying to hit the high ni, even for that more generic workflow. That's an awesome example. You also have this framework that i think you call the zone of benefit, which is around how much better does your solution have to be than the status quo? A lot of people are like, "hey, look at this product, it's better than what you have now.". And usually people are like, "ah, whatever. It's good enough.". And you've had some insights on just how much better it needs to be for people to care. Can you share that? Honestly, the reason i like being a product manager is on any given day, i'm drawing from anthropology, sociology, behavioral economics, leadership, communication skills. I'm trained, i have a master's in engineering, so i'm an engineer as well. I've done marketing and sales, so really pulling from so many things. And the reason i talk about the zone of benefit is ultimately what we're trying to do is impedance match technology to humans.

That's it. If you really think about it, that's one essence of what we're trying to do. So the zone of benefit works as a framework because people will not pay for things that don't either really shrink the workflow that they're doing or doesn't give them superpower. So the same amount of time, but twice as much output. But the most important thing is that it has to be noticeable. If you do something 20% better, often people just around you, just as a human, people don't notice. And so for a product to make a difference, it has to be at least two, three more x for people to say, "you know what? This is offering enough value for me to maybe make a switch in cost," and so on and so forth. And it really comes down to look, economic theory tells us that people work for leisure, they work enough to afford their leisure. It's sort of broad, and i know some people don't necessarily do that.

Especially in the tech industry, people just love to work. But that is really it, when you think about eight billion people on the planet. And there's a lot of benefit really hones in on the fact that if you're going to help me work less, make about the same amount of money, then for me to notice you have to accelerate me by three times for me to care. Okay, awesome. So three times. So the idea there is you should feel like this is three times more productive in the thing that i'm trying to do or saves me three times, i don't know, i do it three times faster. Yeah, that's when people actually feel it. And they feel it enough where they part with money. Awesome. And i think what's cool about this is it helps you identify the icp for your product if you're working a startup or even a new product within an existing product to figure out who exactly is going to most benefit from this. Is that part of this? Yes. Your best customers aren't price sensitive for what you're shooting for because they get it. They fundamentally understand it. So yes, when you're shooting for icps, now every startup has marketing problems getting an audience problem. But once you start getting a decent audience, over 100 people or more, you should start to notice the people who are like, "you know what? This, i really care about this.". And that starts to tell you a little bit about who's your target audience. Would you be up for sharing the icp of some of the companies you worked at? Just to give people a sense of what would be a good icp. I think for atlassian, it's really kind of obvious. It's developers mostly. But it's tech teams writ large because the fundamental of an r and d team is building stuff. And jira helps the engineers who actually build stuff to track what they do and to give visibility to it so that they can be valuable to the organization.

So that is incontroversial. So the icp is really clear and have been clear for atlassian for a very long time. Calendly is this weird company where people don't see all the value. People think it's just casual scheduling. But really the people who care about scheduling the most, and i don't mean calendaring is very different from scheduling. The people who care about scheduling the most are salespeople because it's the lifeblood of them earning money and marketers, because it's the lifeblood of them maybe learning about their customer. Recruiters, because it's the lifeblood of them attracting and scheduling the people that they need to do their job. So calendly's icps were people who were scheduling with people who were not in the organization for some business reason.

Typeform is marketers mostly because typeform exists to make the web talkative, to make it more human. And with typeform, you can brand that conversation and actually make it conversational because one question at a time, the beautiful design. And so marketers feel like we help their websites talk to each other. Product people think we help their web apps talk to people they care about, ux people feel the same way. So those are some, i think the interesting thing is twitter. I was going to ask what the icp for twitter might be, still. So twitter is actually more fun in terms of icp because first of all, i'l talk about the things that's not obvious about twitter. 30% of twitter's customer base were unseen, they were media organizations, people like the nfl, the nba, hbo, who wanted their content to reach more people, to be in conversational spaces. And they were essentially business customers and not seen in the conversation pool, it's not obvious. But we interacted with them all the time and we rev shared ads for their videos, because we're making content all the time.

And so twitter was a way to extend the monetization of that content, that inventory that already had. But when you go to the consumer side of twitter, who was the icp? Well, actually twitter understood, and this is sort of reflected in what elon musk is doing these days, that he doesn't seem to understand. And if you ask anyone who was at twitter, you'l see the understanding in their eyes and the fact that he doesn't understand, because twitter's icp is bifurcated. On one side, it is the most accomplished people in the world, the people who have something to say. This is why there's neuro twitter, there's weather twitter, there is cancer twitter, and so on and so forth. In fact, if something breaks, some new innovation happens in the world, it probably breaks on twitter before it breaks anywhere else, because these are people in informal communities following each other and sharing their results. So basically there's this big circle of experts. We break down into celebrities, we break down into luminaries, leaders and so on and so forth. That's the icp. Now how does twitter work? These people attract the other 90% who listen to these people, but also they need to create their own informal communities around the things they're passionate about and have this mimetic relationship with the luminaries and the experts. And that is sort of the planet twitter, experts on one side, humans who need to connect with the things they're passionate about, the people who are like them, that is the icp of twitter, the people who have something to say in those two categories. Are you happy you're not working on twitter anymore? I am ecstatic, i'm ecstatic. It seems like such a shitshow, no shade on anything or anyone purposely.

But look, what's happening is evident. So i don't think i have much to say about that. Yeah, what a wild ride over there. Zooming out on the frameworks question, when i asked you ahead of our chat about what frameworks you love and anything you think would be interesting to share, you had a really interesting response and so i'd love for you to just share your perspective on frameworks broadly. Yeah. Look, i'm two things simultaneously. One is actually, i like frameworks. The way that i try to express them is mental models because the essence of a framework and a mental model is that it is a shortcut. It packages some dense thinking into a way for you to approach a problem or to approach an opinion and so on and so forth. So i do collect them. But i think that what's important, i feel in product management, is to have the ability to understand the fundamentals or the empirical relationship that constructs a framework in the first place. In math, you would call it being able to derive the equation. And the reason that's important is because there's so much uncertainty in what we do. Product management isn't a science. In fact, programming isn't even a science really, because if it was, we'd treat it differently. So the art of building, say a software company that is profitable is not scientific.

There's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of unknowns, there's timing issues. So i guess while i love mental models, while i love frameworks, what i want people who listen to me and maybe listen to you to understand is you have to go deeper. Because as situations change, as an investor and advisor to startups, i advise differently if you are just starting, if you're in the middle, and if you're scaling. In the book that i'm writing on product, i actually make that distinction a lot in the book, which stage are you? Because then the thing that applies to you is different. If you understand the fundamentals, you'l be able to use frameworks in a much more productive way because you'l adapt it to your stage, you'l adapt it to the problem. And i think that's really important. I see lots of people using frameworks very blindly, and i think that's harmful to them and harmful to their businesses. What a great segue to where i wanted to take us next, which is around the book that you're writing, which is my understanding is it's product management for product led growth. And i'm on your wait list to find out when it's out, and i saw that the other day you asked people for their advice on what to call the book. Do you have any favorites at this point of what you might title it?

Well first of all, there are two things happening with the book. One is i believe plg is, i have maybe a different definition of plg, but i think the way that we are basically adapting products to the consumer or to the business professional and using the product itself to sell the value proposition is really key to transitioning from what we used to do 20 years ago to today. Basically, i think even enterprise companies will tend towards a consumer type product management over the next decade than the other way around, that's my bet. And so let's call that plg, just writ large. And also i think product management is set for growth. So obviously that's good for you, lenny, because everyone needs to know how to do this. It's an integrative art within building software and software is seeding the world, the book, i want to get very practical. What matters about doing those two things well, and the best titles coming up are, my original title was building rocket ships. So it's like how do you think through all the different things you need to build a really successful software company? Think about the practice, think about the business, meld those two things together. So a lot of people love that title. Well, there's a huge variation in submissions. So i think we're going to do that one more time and offer more options before we nail down the title of the book, so still tbd.

Cool, all right. I'm excited to see where you land. So let's just spend some time on plg. I feel like this is your bread and butter as a product leader. You've worked at some of the most successful plg companies and i think you have some of the most unique perspectives on what works and doesn't work. And i saw you shared a preview of what you're going to be sharing the book, and so there's a few things there that i thought were really interesting that i haven't seen other places when it comes to plg. So i was just going to dig into it-. Yay. Absolutely. The first is this framing that you had for where to start and how to focus with your plg problem. And you described it as starting with a sharp problem. Can you talk about what that means? Yeah, so i'm trying to connect dots. The sharp problem is a little bit of that whole quadrant framework, which is what problem are you going to work on? I think that problems have predictive power of success if you actually solve the problem. And this is different from, i have an idea, yeah. I think that a lot of innovation can come from inspiration, but the best inspiration comes from understanding customers and their problems. So my advice to founders is pick a problem that is materially felt by your customers, pain points that steal their time, their energy, their money, their focus, the inability to afford their leisure. If you can solve those kinds of problems, and look, i know that it's broad, because it requires insight. The best founders often are people who felt a problem, understand it, understand that it's really difficult, and understand that there may be like five, 10, 20 billion people who feel it and they don't want to solve that problem versus i feel a problem, but only 100,000 people care. In which case, maybe it's not that intense anyway, unless you can charge them thousands and thousands of dollars. So pick those kinds of problems. If you have the narrative in your head that if you really solve this, people will pony up. That's what i ask people to find. Too many of us just have a sharp idea. Look, i've built a startup on a non-sharp problem, and i knew how it felt. Well, i also know working in companies that are solving sharp problems how it feels, it's a huge tailwind to do that. In fact, when you work on sharp problems, it's hard to fail because you can make mistakes and the customer's obsession will carry you, but if you work on something that doesn't have a sharp problem, mistakes can kill you because essentially you're having to pay a lot for marketing, you're having to pay a lot for word of mouth. People, when they get poor, they don't care about it, like recessions. Coming back to something you mentioned earlier about just how much pain it needs to be for people to care or how much pain it needs to solve versus the status quo, i think is a really important element of this. I think most founders like, no, i need to solve a problem. But usually it's not painful enough or it's not solving it enough, given either an example of something that you've tried or you've seen of just like that was a sharpish problem but not sharp enough and people didn't care, either a company worked or a startup you advised of just like, okay, it wasn't sharp enough. I don't want to create enemies because i know a lot of founders. But here's one, here's one. I don't know if you remember during the pandemic, this venture studio by i think one of the ex founders of evernote created mmhmm camera, remember that?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, great video. It was fun, but i don't think it was a sharp problem. It was fun, but. Yeah, it didn't change the world of your zoom camera. It didn't change the world of your collaboration. And so i think that's one example of a non-sharp problem, for example, for most people. What are signs that it's sharp enough, just like in your experience? I know you talked about it steals your time, energy, money focused. What are flags that this is sharp enough in your experience? I think there are two ways to think about it. If you are in the trenches as a founder, the easiest way to map out a sharp problem is draw the current approximate average workflow for your target customer, at least what you think is a target, and then draw the workflow after they've used your software and see how much shorter it is, yes or no. And then try to measure those lines. If you draw them as horizontal lines, try to measure those lines and see if it's much shorter. If it's 2x shorter, 3x shorter, so let's say pre-customer, that is the best way to hone in on it.

Post customer, you should talk to the people who are most enthusiastic and derive their workflow and their workflow change and try to measure that. I think that's how you figure out if it's a sharp problem or not. The other thing that we talk about in startup super early stage world is, i call it the whites of their eyes. When you take a problem and you share it with someone who it's going to affect their workflow, and i use the word workflow a ton because i don't use specs anymore or use cases, i think workflows are the unit of productivity. When you see people's eyes get big and they expose more whites to you're probably onto something. It's not enough, that's not a workflow thing, that's an excitement thing. But people often react that way when you're solving a really sharp problem for them. And then people spontaneously bring up money, it's like when can i pay? When can i those kinds of things give you an indication. Two other versions of the showing more whites of your eyes, which i love. Two other versions of that i've heard is one is you see their pupils dilate.

And they're just like, "whoa, i need this now.". And then the other is someone described it as, you see this nod of as you're talking, they're just like, "oh, i get it. I get this.". And then they're like, "okay, we need this in our company.". I'm a little over those ones because sometimes it's just excitement and just noise. And so the things i said previously about workflow compression or capability inflation, i think those are more reliable, which is all about customer research and customer conversations. That's what i would focus on. Yeah, i'm saying all this from mistakes i've made, basically. So i feel like this is scar tissue, which is what i'm trying to pour into the book.

Speaking of talking to customers, another one of your big bullet points in the book is around continuous customer discovery, and i'm curious what you found to be successful in actually doing that. A lot of people talk about it when you keep talking to customers, get feedback constantly. What actually works in your experience? Yeah, i feel like all of park management is about discovery these days. Everyone talks about it, and i want to make a distinction. I think discovery is when you use customer conversations to understand a very specific thing that you want to optimize further workflow that you want to optimize further. And then you call the people who are most likely to be affected and you do use various research strategies to talk to them. There's a version of that also that is what i call continuous conversations, which is a calendly and a typeform, which we'l do more and more of. You should organize it so that your pms, your designers, your engineering managers and your pmms are constantly talking to customers by default. Meaning that customer conversations show up on their calendar every week automagically, without them getting involved. And then they're trained on how to have the conversation, because the death of customer discovery is friction. If you ask individuals to do customer discovery, they will not do customer discovery. This is the thing that dies in an innovative company because it's very difficult to actually talk to the right customer, not talk to any customer, talk list of the right customer continuously.

But there's a third thing that i like to talk about, which is customer listening. In fact, i'm going to talk about this at industry in october, the pm conference. Customer listening is different. It's not really discovery. It is the scarfing up of customer signals that are happening constantly anyway. So people are talking on social, people are talking on app stores and g2 crowd. If you have a instrumented churn survey, people are talking. If you have nps, people are not only giving you the scores where they're putting in the verbatims. If you have a bug report, which we had at atlassian, people are filing bugs, developers love to file bugs, so of course we have that for that audience.

And then if you go to zendesk and customer support, people are either talking about one thing all the time or a range of things, and you can see the frequency distribution. And of course in salesforce, you have closed one. These are all things happening no matter what you do. Whether you're listening or not, you're getting these signals. One of the big, hairy, audacious goals of product management is being able to process these signals efficiently. We did it in a certain way at calendly, which i drew a rig together through workflows and slack, and then having individuals triage those things. And if you can do that hard and at industry, i'l talk a little bit about how to do it's not exactly discovery. It is what matters. Our job is to meld customer delight with business ambition. And it feels essential beyond discovery that you are listening and you're understanding what matters from a customer delight perspective. And i don't think many of us do this really well.

I've tried to do it everywhere i've gone, twitter, atlassian, calendly, now at typeform. But it still feels like something that the industry can get better at. This touches on advice that teresa torres teaches around continuous customer discovery. And she actually had a really good tactic, that i'l share here that stuck with me, about how to actually do this. So the way she recommends companies do this is have a little popup on your site asking visitors like we'd love to talk to you and get your feedback on our product. And it just links them to a calendly to book a meeting, and that's how it shows up on the calendar. Yeah, that's what we did at calendly. But i will say, so a couple of caveats, we did that in the community. We had community at and we understood that was a self-selected group. But it was still important to talk to them because they were still representative.

And of course you should do it in a product. The challenge of that approach is always is it the right customer? And the pro/con of that is talking to one customer is useless, talking to 100 is super useful. And so the challenge is are you targeting the right person? So some intelligence upfront and who to show it to and why you're showing it to them, so that they can come is interesting. Very particularly effective by the way for growth, because if people don't activate or churn, they don't want to talk to you. But if you can present that thing in their activation or conversion journey, they might actually talk to you. And so that's really key. So i 100% agree with teresa, that's exactly what you should do for not even, i wouldn't even call it discoveries for listening, and some of it can be discovery. Yeah, i think that's exactly what you should do. As you're talking i'm realizing i'm using most of the products you help build. I'm on twitter a lot. I use calendly a lot. I use typeform as my default survey tool. I saw that, my team is really excited that you're using typeform. You've impacted my life in so many ways, oji. I think you owe me money, lenny-. What do you need? How much? Give me your venmo qr code, it's on . You fell in love with building products for a reason, but sometimes the day-to-day reality is a little different than you imagined.

Instead of dreaming up big ideas, talking to customers and crafting a strategy, you're drowning in spreadsheets and roadmap updates, and you're spending your days basically putting out fires. A better way is possible. Introducing jira product discovery, the new prioritization and road mapping tool built for product teams by atlassian. With jira product discovery, you can gather all your product ideas and insights in one place and prioritize confidently, finally replacing those endless spreadsheets. Create and share custom product roadmaps with any stakeholder in seconds. And it's all built on jira, where your engineering team is already working, so true collaboration is finally possible. Great products are built by great teams, not just engineers, sales, support, leadership, even greg from finance. Anyone that you want can contribute ideas, feedback, and insights in jira product discovery for free, no catch. And it's only $10 a month for you. Say goodbye to your spreadsheets and the never ending alignment efforts. The old way of doing product management is over.

Rediscover what's possible with jira product discovery. Try for free at That's Getting back on track. Another important part of the book that you're writing is around onboarding. And something that i talk a lot about on this podcast is just the power of onboarding and how impactful it's to retention and so much of the eventual success of your product and how customers use it. And so i'd love to hear just your advice on what you think is really important, i guess why onboarding is so important in success and plg. And also just what tactics have you found to be really effective? Let me talk about a few fundamentals. Onboarding is a substitute for sales and all these account management teams for millions of customers. The task is how do you make it approximate a human and how friendly a human is and how approachable a human is? Because if you can do that, then you can process thousands and thousands of customers very quickly. Onboarding is an exercise in understanding the mindset of a buyer, of an evaluator. It's nothing more than that. Meaning that the province of understanding is social psychology, it's not really product, it's biopsychology. And guess who knows a lot about this stuff, it's people in the offline industry.

The people who stock shelves, the people who provide inventory online and so on and so forth. They are extraordinarily good at this. So the reason i say this is to divert people who are to really find where to source their inspiration from for onboarding, first of all. If you think about this as intentful in that way, which is people come not knowing anything about you and in a progressively developed confidence that you are the tool of choice, you then have to break it down into how does that journey go through a mind, the average mind anyway, and how do you assist each part? One is value proposition, understanding, one is trying to see if it's simple enough and provides enough value. One is kicking tires and one is making the choice that this is something i'm going to go forward with. How does your onboarding support hit all of these things? Now i think there are two parts of onboarding. One is mandatory, the setup, it has to be spare. I try not to make it more than three screens, but it's about how do you say what this does and provide the essential setup that your customer needs to be successful? At calendly, for example, we asked them about connecting their calendar and setting some defaults. Is it 9:0 to 5:0 or whatever that is? Those two things set up all the future success.

And if we made it optional, more people would fail. So it's information and the essential setup, and it should be as short as possible. Then there's a whole other set of things that should be optional because they're not necessary for everyone to be successful, but they're beneficial if people are curious. And also, it can be what we call a random access, so people can get back to it any time they want, if they're feeling help. And so if you divide onboarding into those two things and then figure out what to put in one and what to put in the other, i think you can be quite successful. And this is just the tip of the iceberg that i get into in the book. Are there any examples of really big onboarding wins, things that really helped with conversion or activation that come to mind? Well, i think keep it short is one big win. The fewer things, the better, that are essential, that everyone has to go through. It's unclear if all those clickthroughs go here, go here, and all those things work-. The wizards, yeah. The wizards have had, in my experience, limited benefit. So much as just directing people to the one thing that they need to do post mandatory onboarding. Having examples, not 10, one or two of what good looks like is particularly powerful because it's mimetic. People see, oh, okay, this is exactly what i'm shooting for, is very powerful.

In terms of trial and conversion, letting people understand and being very clear about where they are in the trial cycle, whether you want them to pay for it now or they need to pay for it later, after seven days. Having them understand that really clearly so they know where they are versus they feel like they're completely at sea, i think is very important for conversion. I think there are a few things like that, but i also want to mention that it's different for every product. Depending on where you are in the quadrant and the amount of augmentation and problem solving and how sharp the problem is, you might want to adjust your approach. And this is the kind of thing that there's some fundamentals, but it's not necessarily this one size fits all. In fact, at typeform, we're trying to maybe invent a new twist on freemium just because of some of the things we're seeing for our particular customers. And so yeah, these are for me, some new learning as well as i go through each different product. Along these lines of onboarding activation and getting a user activated is really important. And i'm curious, do you have an example of what an activation milestone was at calendly or twitter or a typeform? Just to give people a sense of like here's a good example of an activated user milestone. I think this goes back to people, the pendos and the amplitudes of this world. You have to think through your aha journey. Like at calendly and also at typeform we have three thresholds of increasing activation. And we just try to make sure that people go through each one as many people as possible. And frankly, we try to figure the drop-off between the increasing definitions of activation.

So at calendly we want to make sure you've created your first meeting. But then if you've created five within a week, that's really much more powerful. At typeform, it's really about have you published the form and have you gotten responses? And have you gone to look at what the responses mean in the insights page, for example. At twitter it is are you following anyone or are you being followed? Because that verb, follow, is the way you start to construct your informal community. Remember what i said is twitter is for people who want informal community around a topic that is not facebook is about who do you know, twitter is about who do you want to know? Who's passionate about what you're passionate about? And so if you haven't set up your follow graph at all, you're not going to really activate. It's not going to be compelling for you. Awesome, those are great examples. It's funny hearing that twitter activation milestone out of context sounds, so creepy. Have you followed anyone or is anyone following you? Yeah, because a lot of people go in and then they tweet into the void or they don't feel like they have a voice. But that's not the most important thing. Most important thing is are you getting content that you are interested in that makes you want to come back and see more of it and follow is a huge part of doing that.

Yeah. Just on the point of twitter, i don't know if this goes anywhere, but it's crazy how it keeps going no matter how much destruction is happening all around, employees-. Oh, you want me to talk about that? Because i want to talk about this. Please, let's do it. So one of the things they, i don't want to say they, one of the things i learned early on is network effects. Yeah. Network effects, let me define it. Network effects is when you create value for passive members by other people joining the network. So i am by myself, i have done nothing. I'm at home, chilling, but one person joins the network and immediately i gain benefit, okay. So think about facebook. If there are eight billion people on facebook, it means that all of a sudden i can reach everyone on the planet. And so the more people on facebook, the more it's valuable to me regardless of my effort. That's network effect. If i'm into word processor, microsoft word, and the more people who use that file format, it means that the more word documents i can read. And so i did nothing, so by increasing the people adoption of word, i gain benefit. Network effect, that's what it is. So twitter and then this is the mental model of critical mass, network effect is about critical mass. You hit a critical mass and sometimes that's not mathematically defined, and then you've hit network effect because people want to come because people are already there. So twitter has hit critical mass and lots of your favorite social networks. Network effects is a feature by itself, and it's the most powerful feature. A good way to illustrate the power of network effects is twitter did not die because threads came about, that's the power of network effect. In fact, the last telegram was sent in 2016, over 100 years after it was invented because of network effects. It had to be manually closed down. I believe friendster is still alive, so we have to be really clear that it's really hard to kill a network effects business. Now how do you actually accomplish it if you were to accomplish it? Well, the revenue side of any social network is vulnerable to attack. So for example, if advertisers stop being on twitter, for example, they're not gone because again, network effects affects them. They want to go where the eyeballs are. But if for some reason they disappeared, while the people will continue to come, the ability to have money to improve the network will disappear.

And that is a negative spiral. What is very hard to kill business, it's hard to kill software that's reached network effect, although you can kill businesses that have reached network effect. That's a really important and interesting insight. I think what's even especially interesting about twitter is elon and the team have removed every other benefit of twitter, like the brand, gone, employees, 80% gone. Every part of it is being cut off, except for the network effects, and so it's a really cool case study. Dan hockenmaier tweeted this, was a previous guest, of just like it's a good case study of what is just the power of just network effects. That's right. I did a really interesting course at berkeley business school, asked about technology companies and so on, and this is a perfect case study on network effect. The best i've ever seen. It is incredible. Yeah, it's wild threads isn't able to get there quickly, unlike what it felt like initially. Threads will prosper, i believe.

And again, it'l just be another click for advertisers who understand the facebook marketplace versus twitter ad marketplace is much harder to access. And so i think the way threads wins is the revenue spiral versus the pure activity spiral. Interesting. Where essentially they find ways to, even with lower base, generate revenue, which drives advertisers, drives more investment. Correct. Awesome. All right. That'l be fun story to watch. Kind of along those same lines, i want to chat about virality a little bit. You worked on some of those viral products out there in b2c, i guess twitter is an example, but also in b2b, which is really rare and interesting. And i know there's no silver bullet for increasing virality, but everyone's always wondering, how do i increase the virality of my product? So i'm curious, anything you could share, any tactics that you've seen work to increase the virality, especially of a b2b product? Well, as is my style, i want people to understand what virality is in the first place because i think people have misconceptions about it. People think virality is some hotmails tag at the bottom that says, we'l get a free account. Virality is really when the word of mouth of a product is high quality. That's really the essence of it. Let me rephrase that. It's when customers market your product. And that is incredibly powerful, but also that's incredibly actionable, if that makes sense. There are products who try to be viral just for what i call synthetic virality that fail. Because in the end, if you're synthetically viral and people get to the product and it sucks, that's it. That's the end. Even hotmail, for example, people talk about the viral tag. I don't know, you know what i'm talking about? Because i-. Absolutely, at the bottom, yes. . Well remember, it wasn't just that. It was one of the first webmail things. And webmail was revolutionary because you didn't have to have a pop3 client and lose your email across multiple devices. It solved a lot of really good problems for customers at the time for email.

And so when they arrived from the free account, it was like, holy crap, this is amazing. And so let's do that. Uber doesn't have any weird viral traps, but it compresses the workflow of getting a cab so much that it's viral, if that makes sense. In fact, it was this time where austin kicked them out for and other apps came in and filled the void, and then it came back after the year and just crushed everybody. There was no campaign, it was just viral by itself. So that's what virality is. So then the question is how do you increase it? Well look, fundamentally build a great product that solves a sharp problem and build it really well. If you do this is the bedrock of virality. If you don't do this, there's no viral tactic that will work in a sustained way. It will fizzle. But if you do this, you can lay on synthetic virality strategies for referral, strategies for coming back into the app and creating an account. Remember before calendly, there was acuity scheduling, there was other things. The difference was calendly was so well-made, so simple for schedulers, so respectful of schedulers' time, not just the creator's time that the virality worked. It did not work for others who sucked. Xted ai and other places, they weren't that good. You have to be good to be viral. That is such an important insight, that everyone looks at calendly like of course you're sharing calendars with everyone, it's going to go viral. That's like what a cool trick. But your point is so interesting that there's previous versions of that, but the product itself wasn't great. The experience wasn't great.

It was too complicated, it didn't work, and that's what made it so viral. Yeah, there may be several things i think affect virality. But i think that this is the nugget that people need to take away, that is the foundation of bedrock of all of them. Customer support actually affects virality. If you have fanatical customer support, people will love it. Viral tactics like the page that says, oh, get an account, and so on. All these signing documents, calendly and so on and so forth. Network effects as in calendly, you have these green dots. If you and a person have, calendly tells you when you're free, all network effects, really high quality execution, synthetic virality all contribute to net virality. But the fundamental is exactly what we just discussed. Just got to get it all right. No big deal. Build the best product possible, honestly, if you want to be viral. Slack wasn't even viral, there was no synthetic virality. Slack couldn't even connect to organizations for the longest time. Why? You could be working on the third floor and so on, using slack on the fourth floor, and you would have no clue. There's no way to share it with them. But what happens when you went to lunch? People are like, "we got slack and this is amazing.". And people on the third floor are like, "holy shit, when can we get it?".

Boom. Great product first is virality. Seth godin has this phrase they always come back to, if you want to make your product remarkable, something people want to remark about, and that's basically the core of word of mouth. Yes. I was watching a talk you did on this kind of topic and you had this great phrase that you sort of touched on, but i think it's so good, and i just want to make sure we highlight it, which is that virality is customer augmented marketing. Yeah, i think it is the thing that i started with first. It's when your marketing is essentially done by your customers because what it does, it affords you the ability to spend less on marketing. And you can either uplevel your marketing execution or save money that you can put in the product. Atlassian spends maybe like 10, 20 percentage points less on marketing than the equivalent competitors because it's viral and also because it's network effects at this point as well, say jira. And so it's customer augmented marketing. Your customers are either forcing other people to adopt it or shaming them into adopting it or fomoing them into adopting it. So yes, virality is essentially customer oriented marketing, which gives you options. I love that phrase, i'm going to use it now. I have just a few more questions before we get to a very exciting lightning round, and these are kind of random two topics that i wanted to chat on.

One is this concept that you call forest time. It's a post you wrote about the importance of forest time. Can you just describe what that is and why it's so important, and then also just how to do this? I operate, i'm an operator right now, meaning that i'm building things, i work for a company. But i also advise and invest, which is different. When i'm advising, i'm looking from above, from outside, i have a bird's eye view and i'm able to say, "you know what? This will work. This won't work. What have you done? Can i look at the results?". And then cycle the advice based on what you're seeing and what i'm seeing.

When i'm operating, i'm building a team, i'm hiring, i'm managing all the things, alina, shout out that hates sometimes. And that's what i'm doing. When you are operating, you have the tug of war. It is so intense that you don't have the attention to have a bird's eye view constantly. And so forest time is the idea that you make time within your week, within your month to see the forest for the trees. Most of the time when you're operating, you're seeing the tree, which is the problem in front of you. But sometimes you need to see the forest, so you can figure out it as an alternate path, different from the one that you are currently on your campaign. And so it's time to elevate, to get some bird's eye view, to see the entire landscape and see the alternative paths through the current problems that you're escaping. And i think that it has to be very intentional. And intentionality there is, i have published a workflow, a document that helps you make that step to make that elevation. Like what are the issues? What are alternative ways to solve this potentially that i'm not seeing? Et cetera. And what i try to do is i try to create that forest time for my executive team as well because it's not just me that suffers from this, it's most everybody. In fact, it's most pms because pms are so influential that the spoke of the wheel of product creation and product development that we often, it's a sine wave.

You are discovering and shaping problems and then you are commanding and captaining execution. And it's endless and they're endless meetings. And so you need to create time for forest time, for elevation. If you don't, you'l become less effective over time. It's just attrition. And then just to make it even more concrete for people, what are examples of forest time? Is it taking time off? Is it advising on the side? Is it is taking a day off at the end of a month, a full day or two days. And instead of just playing golf, although that's fine, it is doing a workflow, worksheet to survey the forest specifically.

And sometimes managers are like, "wait, you're giving people a day off when they should be working harder and harder?". And i think it's completely worth it. It's not about working harder, it's working smarter. It's about seeing more options than you see. And so i'm very happy to give that time to product managers, to product executives or design executives or engineering executives. Because i think that if they do it properly, then we'l have better execution in the long run. Let's put it this way, in product development, we aim for maybe like 10% of the time and then we execute and build for the other side. It's not just, there's more stuff we do. If your aim is off, then you are spending one, $2 million incorrectly of people's time. And so forest time should improve your aim.

That's the entire point, because your aim is a precursor to a huge amount of investment. And so i think it's well worth it. I love this. So specifically what you do with your team is once a month, you give them a day to do this kind of worksheet that you put together? Yes. And then that worksheet is in this post that you wrote, that you point to. Is that right? Correct. Amazing. Okay, great. This is very practical advice. I love it. Okay, one last question before a very exciting lightning round. You worked at bridgewater associates, which i didn't know until i started digging into your past. That sounds creepy. And bridgewater associates famous for what? Ray dalio's hedge fund, author of principals and all these other incredible books, and it's a very unique working environment. So i just wanted to ask about your experience there, specifically one of the craziest things there is just this thing called dots. I think it's called, where people just call out mistakes that people make at the company and it's public. Is that how it actually was? Any memories of that? Yeah. I was a senior management, what's called an sma, which is the management layer right under ray's team. And we were the priests of the church of bridgewater did things like record, this is public knowledge, i'm not saying anything-. Yeah, he writes about- before every meeting.

Eventually we created a dot collector, which allows you to rate people in real time. So i'm just having a conversation with you and before the meeting closes, in front of each other, i pull up my laptop. And i rate you and rate the interaction. And in theory, the idea is that if you constantly rate people across hundreds of interactions, then you build a picture of them that is fairly accurate, statistically accurate, that will transcend maybe emotional relationship as wisdom of the crowd idea. So that's a theory. In practice, it is emotionally exhausting. And like you said, the little creepy, even the recording. So i think there were things about bridgewater that i understood intellectually in terms of the purpose that ray had designed, but didn't quite work. It's like the way i think about this is the theory of the principles are really good. The practice and the execution can be quite off and not very human or not very empathetic. But i will say this, bridgewater taught me things that i don't think any other organization in the world thought taught me. One example is bridgewater thinks of people in three dimensions, their skills, their attributes, and their values. Most organizations think about people in terms of just their skills. But it makes sense that people have attributes and values, that people are timid, people are bold, people like to jump in, people like to stand back. All these other things, we think about personality and proclivity. Bridgewater tries to establish and measure them and also tries to write job descriptions that say, this is the kind of attributes we're looking for, not just the skills we're looking for. And then of course values. Are you a thief or are you a principled? And so on and so forth. Now that idea of looking at talent or people in general, both in your professional life and in your personal life, is a huge addition to me as a professional from bridgewater. So i'm saying that there were things i didn't enjoy about bridgewater, but things that i learned that i've learned nowhere else as well. Did you take that to what you do today? Thinking of people in those three different ways and-. 100%. In my professional life, in my personal life, when i interview people, i am cognizant of those three things and i try to extract those three things, because i think it improves your success. Famously, all the weird skill-based interviewing at google was only 50 predictive. And the reason is google did not consider the other two things, i believe. Bridgewater was willing to endure 80% attrition to arrive at the best people. Now i don't think it works for them because some of their system was not empathetic of humans, like expecting humans to be computers.

But i thought that was a very important insight. Awesome. Oji, is there anything else that you want to share before we get to our very exciting lightning round? In the history of product development, we have basically started to create abstraction to guide our work versus the wild west. So the engineers came up with agile and peer programming and all these things. The designers have come up with design thinking, design sprints, and combined with research to talk about how to do discovery of various complexity. And the question is the product abstractions, because there's code, there's product in this business. So the product and business layer, what is our abstraction? What is our crucible for organizing our work? We don't even have one. We don't have a name for it. And so the idea of a part system is that there's an abstraction above agile and design thinking that we have to pay attention to build solid organizations and to execute well at the product and the business layer. This is a co-creative framework with me and ezinne. And the idea here is how do you construct a good product system? And literally, you could boil it down into a checklist of the systems you need to build a really good cohesive r and d organization. So i think that's the tee up. I'm going to have to leave you thirsty because someone else is probably going to go deep into it. Amazing. And that's your wife that you mentioned who you are co-creating this framework with and who we're going to have on the podcast in the future. That's right. What is it like being married to another product leader? Would you recommend? 100%, you can have really productive conversations and you can redesign other company's applications in one conversation in the evening. Amazing. Well, that was almost the lightning round question, but i moved it up earlier. And so with that we've reached our very exciting lightning round.

Are you ready? Yeah, i'm ready. Let's do it. Okay, great. Let's do it. What are two or three books that you've recommended most to other people? There's one business book that i recommend, i think it's called the halo effect. It's basically a book that lets you call on all these business books that tell you all kinds of stupid shit. It is how to deconstruct what is important in a business and self-help book and what is not important and what is just circumstantial storytelling with random facts and form-fitting evidence. It's called the halo effect. Read it. Why do you need to read it? Because garbage in, garbage out. People were amazed at the outlier effect, malcolm gladwell, and then people have been tearing it down for 15 years now. But everyone ingested it and thought it was the most important thing. But how do you know what's important to take away from them and what's not? The halo effect will help you.

And then the other thing is, i read for pleasure because i read a lot for work. And so science fiction is the thing. There's lots to recommend, but i would say that people should either read dune, frank herbert or foundation by asimov. If you haven't read those two things and you're a science fiction person, you really should. The world building is incredible. I understand tolkien and fantasy, but the science fiction side of it is those two books. There's also a tv series of foundation now, which i can say recommend absolutely. But it's a beautiful show. Yeah, no. I haven't watched foundation yet. I just felt super weird watching it after reading it. And i could only make it through three quarters of dune. Well one, but i will make it through them. I don't expect them the books are glorious. If you love prose, the books are, man, crazy. But i will get through them eventually. I've not actually read dune, but the movie was incredible.

I played the video game dune where you're just mining spice all day and it's just stuck in my brain forever. Okay, next question. What is a favorite interview question that you like to ask candidates that you're interviewing? I try to ask two. I feel like it's going to give people a cheat sheet when i interview them. But i try to ask two questions. So i'm not a person who does favorites, so it's hard for me to pick favorites. But i ask people to introduce themselves and i think it tells me a lot about them, how they tell about themselves, what they say about themselves and the content of it. I ask people about the things they think they're truly great at and then i ask people the things they think they need to learn. The latter too is about their professional skill, their craft. I think it tells me a lot about how they communicate, it tells me a lot about how thoughtful they are. It tells me a lot about what they're proud of and what they lead into.

And those kinds of things are very important to me. What is a favorite product you recently discovered that you love? I have been optimizing my workspace a lot. So i'm on a kick right now where i use windows. I was in the windows pm and i still have my windows box. But a lot of people, we use mac at work and i've used mac for the last few years. So even though i switched between them, i've spent a lot more time on mac and my windows experience is completely optimized. It is perfect. But mac, i'm like the windowing sucks, there's all these gaps i see. So i've been trying to figure out how to dial in my mac experience. I hate the activity monitor, sucks. What's a replacement? The sound. It doesn't support sound through hdmi or sound through i don't know, just some weird setup. So i've been optimizing that. One particular product that i like in the context of that is unlocks. It's one man product that allows me to just look at my phone and log into my mac when i walk up and then locks it when i walk away. And it'l actually detect my proximity. So it'l start the login process while i get close. I think that's incredible and i feel like it improves my productivity. Very cool. Sounds like a lot of haterade for macs over here. Well, for someone who uses it a lot, no, i think pros and cons. I'm no longer paid by microsoft, so there are things i don't like.

But there are also things that the mac isn't perfect either. Yeah, indeed. What is a favorite life motto that you repeat to yourself or share with other people, either in work or in life that you find valuable? I've taken to saying that there's more knowledge outside my head than inside it. And this is a plea for curiosity. I have three main things that are my north star personally. Obviously when i say personally, i mean everything professionally. Which is originality, curiosity, and wisdom. And so this thing about there's more knowledge outside my head than inside my head is a plea for curiosity, it's a plea for skepticism. It's a plea to be humble about what you know, no matter how old you are, about the world around you, and always be listening for more. Even when you know something, let other people speak because they might add 10% more to the 90% you know.

And so being an active listener is very important. Beautiful. Last question, you are from nigeria. What is a nigerian food that you think people need to find and get asap? I'l recommend two, depending on how familiar you are. So if you've never had fried plantain with beef stew-. Oh man, that sounds great. Then you should stop what you're doing, stop work, whatever you're doing, find your next nigerian friend and go get some, okay? This is the food that most nigerians will basically trade years of life to have access to, okay. So that's what i would say. And then the second thing is if you want to be in the in club in nija, as we call it, you got to try pepper soup. Pepper soup. Now, if you all are not into spicy stuff, i'm sorry, the door is close to you. But pepper soup is really. And it is amazing. It'l make you sweat, but it's delicious and you should give it a shot.

Oji, i think we've solved many people's sharp problems. I really appreciate you making time being here. Two final questions. Where can folks find you online if they want to reach out? And how can listeners be useful to you? I publish on substack when i have time, you should check it out. It's usually all about things that are beneath the surface. What's behind the thing. I believe that's how you'l find it. I'm on twitter as well, so you can follow me because i will talk about products. How you can be useful to me is go follow me on twitter, sign up for updates on the book. If you do, i will draw from that audience to help name the book, to help design the cover for the book. The book is intended to have a freemium because i want this book to be available to people in africa and india, across the world. So there'l be a free version of it and there'l be premium versions with more tools, more help, and maybe even interviews with luminaries that you care and love as well. And so hopefully that will fund the free side of it as well. So come in, become part of the party, maybe join a pre-read, an early draft read. That is the best way you can help. So this is a call to all pms and people of goodwill. Amazing. What a great answer to that question. I'm going to go get some pepper soup and some plantain beef meals. Thank you so much for being here, and i'm going to go get some food. All right. Thank you, lenny. It was super enjoyable and love hanging out and god speed. Bye, everyone. Thank you so much for listening. If you found this valuable, you can subscribe to the show on apple podcast, spotify, or your favorite podcast app. Also, please consider giving us a rating or leaving a review as that really helps other listeners find the podcast. You can find all past episodes or learn more about the show at

šŸ‘‡ Give it a try