Andrea Saez On Hackathons In Slovenia, Public Roadmaps & Being Ripped Off By Competitors

In this interview Andrea Saez of ProdPad talks about the right way to use customer feedback to create delightful products, why your roadmap should be public and why you shouldn't worry about being ripped off by competitors.

Andrea Saez Interview

Andrea Saez is head of customer success at ProdPad. You can follow her on Twitter @dreasaez.

In this interview Andrea talks about the right way to use customer feedback to create delightful products, why your roadmap should be public and why you shouldn’t worry about being ripped off by competitors.

Audio Version

Interview Transcript

Christie: Today I have the pleasure of talking to Andrea Saez of ProdPad, she is the head of customer success. She also does a whole lot of things like being on the advisory board for Appcues, and she’s a community moderator for Zendesk. She just wrapped up the Product Conference and is hailing here, talking to us from merry old England. Hello, Andrea.

Andrea: Hey, how are you?

Christie: I’m good.

Andrea: So your company ProdPad is a product management tool for highly effective product managers. Tell us a little bit about what ProdPad does and how you were involved as the head of customer success. Sure, as you said, ProdPad is a tool for product managers, and as product managers, we sort of sit in the middle of the entire business, so we need a place to be able to manage feedback, do product backlog and roadmaps, and that’s basically what we focus on. So we’re sort of a more complete tool Instead of having to manage 100 different tools for everything that your business might need, you can do it in one single place.

Christie: Excellent. So you kind of have your pulse on everything as the head of customer success, correct; as far as every facet of what ProdPad does?

Andrea: A little bit, yeah. I was actually employee number one. Yeah, I was employee number one, so I’ve done everything from sales, to QA, to figuring out our onboarding, and marketing, and writing blog posts and things like that. It’s been a fun ride so far.

Christie: Excellent. Well, and knowing that you have been there since being employee number one, what does customer-obsessed mean to you?

Andrea: That’s interesting. I think being customer-obsessed means taking the time to understand what your customers need and what they’re asking for, and also what it known as continuous onboarding. So once you get the customer, don’t just drop the ball and leave them there, but have a sense of getting them involved in your internal community, as I like to call it. Because as a company, every company will have sort of a vibe and a community. I think bringing your customers into that is healthy, because it also lets them know that they’re dealing with real people and they’re not just talking to machines somewhere, so the outsource support team that nobody knows where they’re at or what they do. So, like, fostering that relationship is very important.

Christie: Good. Okay. That makes a whole lot of sense. How do you as the head of customer success drive that obsession? What do you all do? How do you foster that culture with the other employees there at ProdPad?

Andrea: Just internally it’s a really fun place to work. And I know that’s really weird, but it is. It’s almost like we’re a little family. We say we like each other 90% of the time. We bicker, and we fight, as any family would, but that’s just how it is. But we really like each other. We’re all so different, and we make sure that our customers get to see that through things like our Slack community. We have a Slack community for our customers, and we’re all there. We’re always joking and talking. We get our customers really involved. When we go out and we meet our customers, we take pictures for them. We make sure that we posted. I sent a monthly roundup of just interesting things that happened in the community, just kind of surface all of those things over and over again, make sure that people don’t forget that we are there. It’s not a forum that nobody’s looking at. It’s not some chat that nobody’s looking at. We are there all day, every day, from our CEO to myself, to marketing, to even our developers are in there.

Christie: You said something that made me … I wanted to know, is everybody remote? Are you based out of the UK? Or is this a US-based company and you just happen to be hanging out over there?

Andrea: Well, I am hanging out over here. But no, most of us are in Brighton, which is just about an hour or so south of London. We have some of our developers here, myself, a new marketing person that’s starting, and the CEO, Janna. Our CPO lives in London. We have another person remote in the UK that’s starting soon as our director of sales, and then we have another marketing person in Berlin. Then, we have a couple of our other developers in Slovenia. But as I say that, I just remember that [nan-duh-nee 00:05:16], who lives in Berlin, is travelling to the US. So she kind of lives all over the place.

Christie: Oh, wow.

Andrea: But it’s great, because you can do your work from anywhere.

Christie: Exactly. So how often do you all get together as a team face-to-face?

Andrea: We try to actually have at least two off-sites a year. One will definitely be in Brighton. So, I know the … well the team was just here [inaudible 00:05:40]. They’re coming again in December. We have our big Christmas bash that everybody gets together, but then we will also go somewhere else for a week and just shut ourselves off from everything and work on something. We’ve done it twice already as a big team, once in Slovenia, and once in Barcelona this year.

Christie: Oh, wow. Do you think that that helps, because a lot of people who will be watching this video series are startups, are startup founders and small business owners. Do you find that, especially when you have such a remote team on a regular basis, that doing that helps them recharge and be better for your customers?

Andrea: Absolutely. And it’s funny that you ask that, because our hackathon going away pet project came out of customer feedback. We didn’t think … It was something that our customers kept asking from us, and they kept saying, “We need a portal. We need a portal. We need a portal. We need a way to gather customer feedback because ProdPad is so central, why would we use another tool?” And our CEO Janna was not really feeling it. She was like, “Yeah, but that would take us into customer feedback and this whole other monster of a thing.” But people just kept asking for it. So we decided that we were going to go away, but before we went away we thought, “Let’s actually review all of that customer feedback first and understand why people need this. Where are all of the other tools failing so that we can provide the correct solution?” So not just another forum, or not just another chat widget, but something that works with product managers, and works for heads of customer success, like myself.

So we reviewed all of that feedback, we went away, and we hacked away this little project in like three days in Slovenia. We came back, we kind of did some minor reviews, we put it out there, and we spent a year gathering feedback. Then, we went away again in Barcelona, and we took all of that feedback, and we improved on it again. It’s now one of our most popular tools, and it’s amazing. It’s this little … We call it the Little Hack Project that Could because we never thought in a million years that people would actually go for it, but it was based on feedback, so they did, they went for it, and it was amazing. So now we almost feel like every hackathon that we have away we can pick at all these little projects that maybe don’t fit within the larger scale of things that we’re doing, but it’s things that people are asking for, so we still need to set time aside to do these things. It’s been really great. It’s been a fun project overall, and now it’s one of our most popular features, so it’s really exciting.

Christie: I’m envisioning people sitting at their desks watching this writing down, “Note to self: schedule hackathon retreat.”

Andrea: Honestly, I highly recommend it. If you could picture it in your head for everybody watching it, think of this beautiful villa in Barcelona, there was a pool, but nobody was in the pool because we were all [inaudible 00:08:46] post-its all over the place. We had post-its on every wall, we had people hacking away outside on the terrace. I remember the day that we had to take everything down, it so just happens that the lady that owned the Airbnb came to check in on us and she just saw post-its all over her walls, and we were like, “It’s okay. It’ll come off.” [crosstalk 00:09:07].

Christie: It’s just like, “[foreign language 00:09:08].”

Andrea: Yeah, pretty much. She was like, “Oh, you guys were actually working?” And we’re like, “Yeah, of course we were working. That’s what we were here for.”

Christie: Right. Well, and I think that probably creates a more relaxed atmosphere, because think about it, like, when you’re in the throws of the day-to-day you’re so focused on whatever your job tasks are that actually being able to step away from the grind, the every day, even step away from your daily life in a sense and come together and focus on this one thing, I’m pretty sure that … I’m positive you guys had a great time as well. I mean, it wasn’t, like, all work and no play. But I think how I’m envisioning how it went it probably was just super energy, high-charge focus, because you all took everything else away and just took this one problem and said, “We’re not leaving until we come up with a solution.”

Andrea: Yeah, absolutely. That’s how it went. We went through a process of reviewing all of that feedback and categorising all of that feedback and making sure that even as an MVP we were able to provide our clients with something that was helpful for them.

Christie: Wow, you guys might have just won the customer-obsessed award with all that idea. I mean, really, you guys took being customer-obsessed to an interesting level to where you’re like, “We’re going to sequester ourselves to get this right.”

Andrea: Pretty much.

Christie: So now that you’ve come up with this process that you did in two iterations, two retreats to do it and then improve upon it, how often do you use that system to get feedback? Is this an ongoing thing? Or do you all reach out at certain points? Is there, I guess, a system that you follow to now continue to get feedback from your customers now that you have a very awesome system in place?

Andrea: Yeah. I mean, obviously we use ProdPad for ProdPad. If we didn’t, I think we’d fail at our own game.

Christie: Yeah, it would just be, “Yeah, why not?”

Andrea: Right. But we sort of have different ways of collecting feedback, so definitely a lot of feedback comes through from the community. A lot of feedback also comes through through user testing, so [Kav 00:11:24], our designer, will run a couple of user tests and kind of iterate from that as he’s designing new stuff.

We have, of course, our widget. So as feedback starts coming in, I make sure that in ProdPad it’s typed properly, it’s tracked properly. We have a really cool feature called the Customer Desire feature, so I can actually sort the product backlog based on the amount of feedback that a particular idea has. So we can see sort of the ideas are starting to surface, and that’s how this project came about; is from this one idea called Customer Feedback Portal, and it had like 100 pieces of feedback tagged to it. So at one point our CEO said, “Okay, we’re going to have to take a look at that.”

Christie: “We’re going to have to drill this down a little bit, or you guys-“

Andrea: [crosstalk 00:12:11] we didn’t just have, “Oh, this has 100 pieces of feedback tied to it.” But we were able to review every single piece of feedback and also get back to those users and say, “Hey, can you tell me a little bit more about what you actually meant?” So that’s how we iterate. It’s not just about gathering the feedback and having someone say, “I want a Salesforce integration.” “Awesome. What does that mean? [crosstalk 00:12:35] to do with this?” So we always ask why, and not just externally, but also internally.

When one of us submits a new idea, the first two questions that pop up is, “What problem are you trying to solve, and what value would it provide?” So if even we can’t answer those two questions, why would the team do it? Why would the team work on it?

Christie: Right. Wow. I like that. I like how you determine internally, “If we can’t answer that, then how is this going to be helpful to our customers?” That’s really cool. I’m in awe of this whole process. I’m just envisioning everybody going, “Yes, this is what we need to do.”

So on the Prod … My tongue tied, ProdPad blog, that’s what I’m trying to say, on Medium, where I see that you write a lot of those posts, you have an article there called How to Build a Product Roadmap that Everyone Understands. In that you wrote, “We are also discovering how powerful it is when a roadmap is so clearly designed that teams put it at the centre of product decisions and companies put it at the centre of their business decisions.”

Obviously product roadmaps are a big part of what product managers do, and I think also, if I’m correct, it is a big part of what ProdPad does to help these product managers. So elaborate on how product roadmaps help with customer success.

Andrea: That is an awesome question. I find that a lot of people that I talk to are actually afraid of showing their product roadmaps. ProdPad’s is available. You can just go to our website, find our roadmap there, and it’s really interesting, because … I guess I’m going to follow this up to … I’m going to take a step back and just say, “Just because something’s been done a certain way, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right way.” That’s where innovation comes from.

A lot of people think that sharing roadmaps is going to get them in trouble because they’re almost saying, “Oh, here’s all the stuff that we’re doing. But if we don’t do it, then we’re going to get into trouble.” And I’m like, “How is that any different than promising a date? If you promise them it’ll be a date and you say … ” I think customer success managers and support people are going, “Yeah, of course. If you promise somebody a date and then it’s not done by that date, you’re still screwed because you [crosstalk 00:15:01] something that you couldn’t deliver on.”

But if you actually show everything that’s in your sort of strategy, people become a little bit more forgiving. As an example, if somebody asks me for a request, for example, [inaudible 00:15:15] that is actually in a roadmap, I got, “Hey, yeah, it’s actually in the near-term, which means it’s going to be prioritised next, but look at all the other stuff that we’re working on before we get there.” And people go, “Oh, yeah, that makes complete sense. Please prioritise this other stuff because, obviously, if we don’t get that stuff first, how is this other stuff now going to work?”

So it loops them into understanding our product, into how we work, into why we prioritise certain things. It’s not so much about making promises, but about letting people know why your product is pivoting a certain way, or where your company is going, and that’s a lot more powerful than not sharing that stuff.

Christie: Yeah, wow. You guys have this perfect little package thing.

Andrea: I think we do things and people go, “What? It works?” [crosstalk 00:16:09].

Christie: Right. And you obviously invest a lot of time into testing it for yourselves. When you’re doing your customer … How do you use your own product roadmap for that? I mean, you kind of touched on that a little bit, but just for your own … This is what’s interesting about what you do. You are helping people with their customers, but you also have customers too, so how does your ProdPad particular roadmap, like, we just sort of talked about how everyone else’s roadmap will help them, how does your ProdPad roadmap help you all with your customer success, I mean, other than the intense testing that you all do? If I’m being redundant, let me know.

Andrea: No, no, no. It makes sense. I mean, definitely, like I said, when somebody asks me for something I go, “Oh, well, that is actually already on the roadmap.” Or, “That’s not on the roadmap yet, let me take this in as feedback and it may just be that it might make it on the roadmap eventually. You never know.” That’s just part of product. Right? You have to take in feedback, you need to re-prioritize, you need to pivot, you need to understand what your customers are saying.

What I always tell people is, “We’re not building ProdPad for ourselves. That would be great, but we’re actually building it for you. It’s for product managers, so if we didn’t take in your feedback, who are we building this for?” [crosstalk 00:17:36].

Christie: And as a bonus, you get to use it too.

Andrea: Exactly. It’s fantastic, honestly. The roadmap is just one component of the whole spectrum of things that ProdPad does, but having that roadmap public is definitely really helpful because it helps you have better conversations with people. It helps show that our company is transparent and we’re not hiding things from them, and they understand the direction in which we’re moving. We also have objectives that are linked to our roadmap, so we have objectives around engagement, and around enterprise, and around advanced usage. So people can understand where it is that we’re moving based on the things that we’re doing.

Christie: Do you recommend that companies be that transparent with their product roadmap, or is it industry or product specific? I mean, I guess because I’m not really sure what type of business would need to be that transparent, or is that across the board? Or maybe there’s certain examples of companies that would benefit from being that transparent with their roadmap.

Andrea: I think it would be beneficial to everyone. I mean, you want to have the transparency. It builds trust at the end of the day. It builds engagement. It makes you look like … Not makes you look, but you become just that more trust by the people that you’re working for or working with. I would definitely recommend, just put it out there. At the end of the day, unless you’re Apple, what do you have to hide? You know?

People always go, “Oh, but what if your competitors rip you off?” I’m like, “Well, our competitors can log in anyway, and they already rip us off. They already take our stuff. That’s just the nature of [inaudible 00:19:16]. Your stuff is available.” I can log into someone else’s system, they can log into our system, but at the end of the day, is that feature that you’re stealing, or that they may potentially steal from you, is it going to be implemented in the same way? Is it going to benefit their clients in the same way? Is it going to fit their product vision in the same way? Probably not. That’s what makes every single product unique, is you are building for your customers. If somebody else has access to your roadmap, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to steal it. It just means that maybe at the end of the day it might end up making you build better stuff because they’re able to compete with you.

It’s almost like saying the best ice cream has to be Rocky Road because it’s the only ice cream that’s available. That’s not true! [crosstalk 00:20:05] can make better ice creams, or similar ice creams, and then make you better in return by having competition. So competition is healthy, and that’s fine. But you don’t have to be afraid of being transparent. I think the problem with a lot of really, really large companies is they don’t have that transparency.

Christie: Okay, well, that’s a great segue into this question. Which companies do you think, that are out there right now, that are just killing it with customer-obsession?

Andrea: I mean, Zendesk is my favourite. They’ve had me since [crosstalk 00:20:43].

Christie: You’re not biassed at all. You’re not biassed.

Andrea: I mean, Slack and Intercom are killing it, absolutely. They’re amazing. Appcues, obviously, I’m not trying to be bias, but if there was one reason I got involved with Appcues it’s because they did things right, and I wouldn’t just give my endorsement to someone that hasn’t impressed me in some way. I think that’s important. I’m not just naming names. It’s people that I have worked with before. It’s people that I can see are doing a really, really great job.

Christie: If you could go back in time before all of this started and you could go back and talk to the person you were before you got onboard with ProdPad, what’s the one thing you could do differently? What’s one thin you could tell that person to do differently, if anything?

Andrea: Wow, I don’t know. I’m not sure I would. There’s a really fun story about how I even became involved with ProdPad.

Christie: Okay, let’s hear it.

Andrea: I used to use ProdPad at my previous company. It was amazing. I mean, it really just smoothed things out between myself and the product team, and just everybody on the team, and it was so great that I emailed Janna, the CEO, and I said, “You need to hire me. I need to work for you right now.” And [crosstalk 00:22:07]-

Christie: I like it. Note to self: just email CEO.

Andrea: I just emailed her and I was like, “This is me. I think I can help you.” Just really ballsy about it, “You need to hire me.” She wrote back and she actually said, “I’m really sorry. We’re actually not looking to hire anyone.” She was really great. We ended up meeting at the ProductTank a couple of weeks after. But it didn’t pan out. Then, two months later she emails me back and she goes, “So how do you feel about working for me now?” And I was like, “Sorry, I actually have another job.” So I turned her down. And she goes, “why don’t we just meet?” So we met over coffee, and I showed up, I just had gotten a haircut, I wasn’t wearing any makeup, I was in my sweatpants. I didn’t want things to work out at all. We had an amazing conversation and she goes, “Great, so you start Monday.” I was like, “You know what? I can’t. But let’s start the following week. Let me just wrap it up with this company.”

Christie: Yeah, “Let me give somebody some notice.”

Andrea: “I just started there, so let me just figure that out first.” I didn’t want to just [crosstalk 00:23:09].

Christie: Just bolt? Okay.

Andrea: So, no, I don’t think I would do anything differently. It was just one of those things that just worked out, and I’m glad it worked out.

Christie: Excellent. That’s a really good story, and very inspiring and encouraging for people. It’s like, “Hey, you have a dream job in mind? Just go email the CEO and see what happens. You just never know. It’s like, take the chance. Right?”

Andrea: Like they say, you never know what would have happened if you didn’t try it, or you did try it, so go for it. Take the chance. If it doesn’t work out, it wouldn’t have worked out anyway.

Christie: Is there anyone that you admire in this space, or a role model for you or someone that you look up to or kind of look to for advice or just admire? Whether it’s someone that you’ve met before that you just admire their work ethic or anything like that, or actually a person that you know pretty well that’s like a mentor to you?

Andrea: I mean, it’s going to sound really soppy, but Janna, our CEO, is definitely a mentor for me. She’s a great product manager. She’s only five days older than me, and she’s my CEO.

Christie: I like it.

Andrea: It’s almost like saying, “Why wouldn’t I be inspired by her? She’s amazing.” There’s definitely people in the product space that are fantastic. Teresa Torres, I just saw her speak. I sat through her entire talk [inaudible 00:24:34], so dedication right there. Melissa Perri, Martin Eriksson, way back from when I lived in Canada, [inaudible 00:24:47] is amazing. I almost want to say if it wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t be here today. She just, in terms of work ethic, and learning how to speak up for myself in tech as a woman, it was just … She’s amazing

Christie: Excellent. You just touched on Mind the Product Conference again. It that an event that you highly recommend for product managers to attend, or are there others that would really benefit them to get the information and knowledge that they need to be customer-obsessed?

Andrea: Mind the Product is really interesting, because while it is for product managers, the talks that they have are about UX, they’re about support, they’re about success, they’re about sales. So it touches on very different sort of aspects that still are important for product managers. But I think success is definitely one of them, and taking care of your clients. Because like I said, at the end of the day, we’re building product for other people, not for ourselves. So Mind the Product is an amazing experience, absolutely.

Christie: In closing, what advice would you give the folks watching this video series on how to get started or get better at listening to their customers?

Andrea: I would say when you take in feedback, don’t just brush it off and say no, or don’t just say, “Hey, thanks.” But actually ask why. A lot of the times people will give you feedback and some people might take it the wrong way and be like, “Oh, they don’t know what they’re talking about.” Or they’re just dismiss it, or they’ll just leave it at that. But most of the time it’s a great opportunity to foster a relationship and understand the why behind that piece of feedback that just came in. So ask why. Engage in a conversation. Pick at their brain. Even if it’s an idea that doesn’t fit within your vision, it’s good to understand why the client actually just came up with that in the first place. It may end up helping you solve another entire different problem. You never know where it’s going to go. But take the time to understand it and just, like I said, dig to the why.

Christie: Excellent. Well, this is great. This is really great. Lots of awesome information. If you’re watching this and you want to learn more about what ProdPad has to offer, you can go to ProdPad.com. And where else can folks find you online Andrea; if they want to connect with you?

Andrea: Yeah, well, you can tweet me @ProdPad. I’m on the account.

Christie: You’re doing everything. Are you sure you have a team? Because I don’t know. Everything that you’ve said … I think you’re by yourself.

Andrea: No. Some people think that. We answer to everything really quickly, but I have an awesome team that I work with. They’re amazing. But tweet me @ProdPad, I’m definitely there, or @dreasaez, you can also get me on there.

Christie: Okay, excellent. The ProdPad blog is on Medium, although you can get to it from ProdPad.com, and it’s really great. It’s really, lots of great articles there, lots of insight, and you do write most of those, so you can get a little bit more into how Andrea feels about all of this reading the articles on Medium, and it’s really great. Well, I appreciate you for taking the time all the way across the pond to talk to talk to us today. We really appreciate that. Thank you for sharing your insight. Thank you out there for watching. I hope you got a whole lot out of this. I know I did. We will see you next time. That was awesome.

Andrea: Sweet.