Before getting into teaching full-time, Gibson Biddle was VP of Product at Netflix and CPO at Chegg (a textbook rental and homework help company). He now spends his days speaking, writing, and hosting workshops on product leadership, strategy, and culture. There are very few people in the world who’ve worked with, and had an impact on, more product managers.
Thank you to our sponsors for making this episode possible:
• Flatfile: flatfile.com/lenny
• Coda: coda.io/lenny
• PostHog: posthog.com/lenny
In this episode, we cover:
1) Gibson’s career path to VP of Product at Netflix, CPO at Chegg, and eventually teaching full-time.
2) The DHM model: The 3 factors of a product strategy for consumer companies, how you can apply it to your product strategy, and how Gibson used this model for decisions made at Netflix.
3) Five mini case studies of the DHM model that could be applied to Netflix’s strategy.
4) The GEM prioritization model: What are the 3 areas a company can optimize on? What is the fundamental misalignment that destroys startups?
5) How could you start building your product strategy muscle, even when you’re only two weeks into your new role?
6) Building your personal board of directors.
7) What does it take to become a CPO someday?
8) What specifics in a daily routine separate a good product manager from a great product manager?
9) What’s the one piece of advice Gibson has for product managers in their early career?
Where to find Gibson:
• Ask Gib Product Newsletter: https://askgibs.substack.com/
• Gibson’s baby website: www.gibsonbiddle.com
• Intro to product strategy: https://gibsonbiddle.medium.com/intro-to-product-strategy-60bdf72b17e3
Gibson Biddle, whose name is really fun to say, by the way, has directly taught and worked with more PMs than only a handful of other people in the world. Before going full time on teaching, he was VP of product at Netflix and at Chegg, and has written what is almost surely the most popular Medium post on product strategy.
In our chat, we learned about Gibson's very popular product strategy and prioritization framework, and we go through a bunch of real life case studies from his time in Netflix to see how they apply in the real world. I love how Gibson comes up with such clear and memorable frameworks, which help demystify the vagueness that surround strategy and prioritization. We're really lucky to have Gibson share these with us, and I hope you enjoy it.
This episode is brought to you by Flat File. Think the last time imported a spreadsheet. Did it work the first time? Chances are it did not. You probably got some weird error, had to try a bunch of things like removing the blank title rows above your column headers, or Googling how to save with UTF-8 encoding. What even is UTF? Who cares? You're just trying to get your file where it needs to go so you can do your actual job.
Your customers run into the same issues when it matters most, right after signing up for your product. Enter Flat File. Flat File is the data onboarding platform built to take the acute pain out of importing customer data into your product so they can see the magic that you promised them. Flat File is SOC type one and two certified, GDPR compliant, and even HIPAA compliant, ensuring your customers, no matter where in the world they're located, are sharing their data securely and in compliance every step of the way. No more emailing files back and forth. No more help articles that just don't land. Just clean data on day one, when it matters most. Get started importing millions of rows of customer data in minutes at FlatFile.com/Lenny.
This episode is brought to you by Coda. Coda is an all in one doc that combines the best of documents, spreadsheets, and apps in one place. I actually use Coda every single day. It's my home base for organizing my newsletter writing. It's where I plan my content calendar, capture my research, and write the first drafts of each and every post. It's also where I curate my private knowledge repository for paid newsletter subscribers, and it's also how I manage the workflow for this very podcast.
Over the years I've seen Coda evolve from being a tool that makes teams more productive to one that also helps bring the best practices across the tech industry to life, with an incredibly rich collection of templates and guides in the Coda doc gallery, including resources for many guests on this podcast, including Shreyas, Gokul, and Shishir, the CEO of Coda. Some of the best teams out there, like Pinterest, Spotify, Square and Uber, use Koda to run effectively and have published their templates for anyone to use.
If you're ping ponging between lots of documents and spreadsheets, make your life better and start using Coda. You can take advantage of a special limited time offer just for startups. Head over to Coda.io/Lenny to sign up and get a thousand dollar credit on your first statement. That's C-O-D-A.io/Lenny to sign up and get a thousand dollars in credit on your account.
Gibson, I am so excited to be doing this. We've collaborated on some writing. We've done a couple of fireside chats together, but we've never really dug deep into anything, and so I'm really excited for this opportunity to chat. So, welcome.
Gibson Biddle (03:27):
Great, Lenny. Thanks for having me. It's fun to virtually be in the same place at the same time. Someday we'll do that in person.
Oh man, I can't wait. For folks that aren't that familiar with you, could you just share a very brief overview of your journey through product?
Gibson Biddle (03:43):
It's hard, because I'm older than dirt, to be very brief, but I'll give my best shot. The intro was, I discovered I loved teaching early. I ran a sailing school, took a year off from college. That was my first startup. And then, the three chapters of my life. The first one was in marketing, so I actually started in the mail room at an ad agency, and then went into account services and created a service that helped name new companies and products, like if you're in the Bay Area, the Versatel, or the Versateller, it's a Bank of America name.
I've always been so curious about that industry, but that's a discussion for another time.
Gibson Biddle (04:14):
Oh yeah, well, we can come around to that. But at the end of the day, it's all about packaging and positioning and branding. And so, I was curious about that. I got good at it. And then, I lived in Silicon Valley, and I wanted to go into tech, and so I decided to go back to business school, and I went back to Tuck, which is at Dartmouth. It's the only ski... it's the only business school that has its own ski area, which is why I went there. It's in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Okay, that feels like a product market fit for Gibson.
Gibson Biddle (04:37):
Exactly. And then, after the school, this is the tech journey, I joined Electronic Arts. Punk kid in the right place at the right time. I joined in marketing, and then I switched over to product. It was a great place to learn product. They called it Producer College. I learned a ton, and my first startup was actually a joint venture between Electronic Arts and Disney. We created what's called EA Kits at the beginning, and that became Creative Wonders, and we sold that company to Mr. Wonderful from Shark Tank. He was the CEO of the Learning Company that made Reader Rabbit software and Oregon Trails. That dates me, because most of the listeners have probably played Oregon Trails as a kid.
Dying of dysentery. That's what I remember.
Gibson Biddle (05:15):
Yeah, yeah. And so, the product roles I grew up into, I call it a muckety muck, but a VP of product or a chief product officer. Joined Netflix in 2005. I left out some failed startups. That's important. It's important to let folks know I had some failed startups, but you can gloss over in the brief version. Netflix 2005, and then 2010 I went back to my heart, which is teaching. Chegg was a textbook rental and homework help company. It continues to exist. We took that public sort of 2014.
And then, last five years I stopped direct deposit, and I'm really back to the coda in my career. I'm back to teaching, which I really love to do. So I do talks, workshops all over the world. I do more writing, which really saves my voice, and then experiment with different ways to really try to be helpful to product leaders around the world.
Awesome. We're going to be spending time digging into some of that stuff. Did you describe this point in your career as stopping direct deposit?
Gibson Biddle (06:08):
That's amazing. Wow. I've never heard it that way.
Gibson Biddle (06:14):
At least you understood that.
I totally get that. Amazing. So, a question I ask folks in your line of work especially is, how many PMs would you say you've helped train, free workshops and advising and online courses, and anything else you've done?
Gibson Biddle (06:28):
I thought it was going to be a, how many PMs does it take to screw in a light bulb? I thought it was going to be a joke. Yeah, yeah. Okay, my SWAG. SWAG is a stupid wild-ass guess, important idea. So, my guess is, in real life I've worked with product leaders where I was in the building with them. It would be like 500 to 1000. When I would manage an organization, there might be 200 or 300 people in it. So, that's in real life.
The next one would be via talks, workshops, newsletter. That's probably, I kind of can SWAG my way into that. Probably 50 to 100,000 a year. The reason I sort of know, I'm a feedback freak, so there's a Survey Monkey at the end of everything I do. So for instance, every morning I wake up, it's always feedback for the same talk. I did a Branding for Builders talk for Product School and there'll be like 10 surveys. I've got like 6,000 surveys for that. They're all watching and recording. My guess is, that means like 60,000 people have watched that one video, for instance.
Anyways, and then lifetime, it's probably getting into 500,000 to a million. So, that's my SWAG. I could be 2X wrong on either side.
Okay, a million, potentially.
Gibson Biddle (07:36):
Well, your number's bigger. You could just go off of, what, 115,000 subscribers your newsletter?
Gibson Biddle (07:44):
You're getting to a billion, Lenny. You're going to get to the next level. 500 million to a billion.
I feel like the level that you've helped PMs is at a deeper level for most of the folks, especially the courses you've done and things like that. So, it's a little hard to compare. But anyway, that's really impressive, and I feel like when I ask people this question, I feel like this is going to be a high bar to meet.
So, I'm excited to dig into a lot of the stuff that you've learned along this journey. Maybe the area you spend most of your time on is helping PMs build their product strategy, muscle through your workshops, and you have these legendary Medium posts about product strategy. So, I'd love to spend the majority of our time talking through just helping people build this muscle. And maybe just start, you have this really simple model for describing what product strategy should be for companies: to delight customers in hard to copy margin enhancing ways. So, there's kind of these three parts, customers, hard to copy, margin enhancing. I'd love to just kind of hear your take on each of these three parts, how you came up with this, and then maybe a story or two of how you relied on this and used this at Netflix.
Gibson Biddle (08:42):
Sure. You got the model right. And I mean, the short answer is, I definitely learned it from Reed Hastings when I started at Netflix. Actually, he did a reference check to a friend of mine, checking up on me, and the only question he asked my pal, whose name is John Daz, was, "Hey, John, is Gib ready? Can Gib delight customers?" That was the only question he asked in the reference check.
Luckily, I built really delightful kids software. Back then, people were talking about satisfying customers, listening carefully, understanding them, et cetera. And the delight, it just said, no, no, no. The job is to delight customers. Like Peter Thiel, his book, From Zero to One. The job of an entrepreneur at the beginning is just to find out something that's 10X better. Delight is trying to work in that magnitude.
The hard to copy part, definitely I learned that. I had a product leader who worked for me, his name was HB Mock. He was focused on the non-member page. That's where people sign up for. They put in their email, their credit card, they would get a free trial. He'd looked like crap, like everything at startups sucks at the beginning, but he put a happy family on the couch on this screen, and that's where you put in your email. And that got a lot more people engaged. And so, it delighted customers, but it was helping to build the business, because more folks were setting up for a free trial.
I'm like, that's great HB, but I'll bet my paycheck that within a week, Blockbuster's going to put a happy family on their couch, too. And this is the problem of doing things that are easy to copy. So in the long term, if you can delight customers and create hard to copy advantage, things are just a lot better.
And so the last phrase, margin enhancement, that's just a fancy phrase for making money. Margin technically would mean profit. I just gave you example with that non-member page, with the happy family on the couch. It delights folks, it helps build a better business, but in that case, Blockbuster was able to copy it.
So, that's the model. The hardest part in that model is, how do you balance delight versus margin? So if Netflix said, hey, everybody, you're paying $20 bucks a day, but you're going to get exactly the same service tomorrow for $5 bucks a month, you'd be just like, this is fricking awesome. You'd be really delighted. But Netflix would not, the business wouldn't work.
So, one of the first places we sort of experiment on how to evaluate trade offs between delight and margin, in the old days, Netflix was a DVD by mail company, and if you ask customers what they wanted, then they all said the same thing. I want my new release DVDs faster, right? Back then, most customers would have to wait a week or two or four weeks. Back then, a movie came out in the theater, two months later it came out on DVD. We just couldn't afford to buy for that initial demand. So, the way it worked was, some people got it the next day in the mail, and some people had to wait two months.
And so, the A/B test we set up, we said, okay, everybody says they want this, in focus groups and qualitative and surveys. Well, let's A/B test and see what we really learn. So, the AB test was called the Perfect New Release Test. Imagine we're at about a million customers circa 2005. 10,000 peeps are in a test cell. They get their new release DVD the next day in the mail. Awesome, right? And the control gets it whenever. Let's say, average maybe two weeks later.
And so, the way we measure delight in this A/B test is, will you improve retention for the folks that are getting their DVD the next day in the mail? That's how we measured, it was retention. When Netflix started, it was like 10% canceled every month. 2005, it was about four and a half percent canceled every month. Today it's about 2% cancel every month. So, I'll just put it back to you. Do you think, when we looked at the AB test results... By the way, you can't get this wrong, Lenny, so just relax.
Gibson Biddle (12:35):
Do you think the Perfect New Release Experience improved retention?
My guess is, because you're telling this story, it's going to be a surprise, and I would guess that it did not.
Gibson Biddle (12:45):
Okay, so your guess is we won't see an improvement in retention. And I'm guessing people listening to us right now, there's going to be some folks that, oh, shit, yes, that's what everybody's asking for. Of course we should deliver it to them, right? Well, in this case, both right, right? We saw a very small change in retention. That was the surprise. And so, it went from something like 4.5% canceled in the control. It was 4.45. Very small change. We can measure it.
And so, now you get in the math of delight versus margin. If you push this out to all million customers, you would essentially save 5,000 customers. And so, what's the value in saving 5,000 customers? The way we valued it, we said, well we've got 5,000 customers. The lifetime value of a customer then was a hundred bucks. And then we multiplied it by two, which is our word of mouth factor. So our theory was, if you loved it, Lenny, you'd tell your friends about it, you'd rave about it, and you'd bring in one other customer for free into Netflix. And so, we used this 2X word of mouth factor. And so if you do that math, it was worth about a million bucks to us as a company.
So now you get into, okay, what's the cost of that additional inventory? And the answer was $5 million bucks. So on one hand, you're bringing in a million bucks of value by retaining more customers, but you're spending $5 million more, so it doesn't seem to make sense.
Okay, so easy question. I don't overthink this one, Lenny. Would you roll this out to all customers?
I would not.
Gibson Biddle (14:11):
You would not. Okay. Can you help build an argument for somebody who would choose to roll it out?
Oh, no. Give me the hint. I'll take it.
Gibson Biddle (14:18):
The hint was, there was an assumption in my formula. I said 5,000 customers times $100 bucks lifetime value, times a 2X word of mouth. So the argument for why somebody might do it, they disagree with the 2X word of mouth, and what the algorithm is.
Yeah, I see where this is going. Basically, the experience is so much better that word of mouth increases. It's so delightful.
Gibson Biddle (14:38):
Yeah. Amazon would use a 10X, right? And so, sort of a wash there. You'd probably lean forward and do it. We actually worked hard to try to isolate what that word of mouth factor was. It was really frustrating. And then, the reality was, Barry McCarthy was the CFO. He was apoplectic about the idea of using a 2X, because it means you'll invest more in building a better product. If you let the product team use 10x, Barry's like, "We don't have the money. We don't have the money to spend $5 million on DVDs."
Anyways, this is where we sort of refined our thinking about the model of delighting customers in hard to copy, margin enhancing ways. Pop quiz, I know the answer, Lenny, but want everybody else thinking about it. What makes Netflix hard to copy?
The licensing deals and content that they're creating.
Gibson Biddle (15:22):
Original content, yeah. Keep going.
Their brand that they've built over time.
Gibson Biddle (15:26):
You trust them with their credit card every month for $20 bucks, right?
Oh, absolutely. I think I've been a customer for five years.
Gibson Biddle (15:31):
Yeah, yeah. What else makes them hard to copy?
I imagine, their tech that used to be the ranking algorithm recommendation engine.
Gibson Biddle (15:37):
Yeah, so there's unique technology. Personalization is a great example. You just brought that up. There's only one other idea that I think is... Well, there's probably be two others for Netflix. So keep going, dig deep.
Maybe, I don't know if this is an answer you're thinking, but just the talent they've built up over time is probably something.
Gibson Biddle (15:53):
That's really interesting. People go to culture, and then I sort of specify, what makes the Netflix product hard to copy? So, I won't allow that one.
Gibson Biddle (16:02):
Okay, keep going.
What makes Netflix hard to copy?
Gibson Biddle (16:05):
I'll give you one clue.
Gibson Biddle (16:06):
What made Facebook wicked hard to copy?
Their network effects and growth loops.
Gibson Biddle (16:12):
Yeah, yeah. We actually tried to experiment with friends and social, getting movie ideas from your friends. The idea is, your friends were on the network, you wouldn't want to leave. And you'd also get great movie ideas. By the way, that was a failed hypothesis.
Right, I was just going to say, I remember that did not work out. I don't see it anywhere.
Gibson Biddle (16:28):
Yeah. It did not work out. Yeah, I guess we could make an argument today, every screen in the world is magically prewired so you can watch Netflix anytime, anywhere. There's sort of a kind of flywheel or network effect at work. But anyways, that's great. So, that's just a model. But I have found that model to be helpful in my thinking a bunch of times.
There's a couple things I wanted to follow up on there, because there's a lot there. One is this idea of testing the ideal almost, and kind of working backwards from that. That's something I always find found really helpful. Is that something that you espouse and find to be really powerful?
Gibson Biddle (16:58):
Honestly, I think of these product strategies as these high level theories, these hypotheses about how you will delight customers in hard to copy, margin enhancing ways. I just gave a failed hypothesis, the social one. You actually brought up a winning hypothesis. Personalization delights customers, because it makes it easier to find movies you'll love. It's hard to copy. Netflix sort of knows the movie tastes of a billion people worldwide. That's 222 members times about five profiles per. And then the margin, this is an interesting one.
When Netflix is making an investment in a TV show or movie, they kind of can guess how many people will watch it. So, they guessed that 100 million people would watch Stranger Things, so they were willing to invest $500 million. They guessed that 20 million people would watch BoJack Horseman, I'm a freak, so they're willing to make $100 million. I call that right sizing the investment, but that's how personalization helps Netflix to build margin, or to build a better business.
Anyways, back to your original question. I mainly was just trying to find these high level theories and hypotheses that I hoped would delight in hard to copy, margin enhancing ways. The reality was, we'd have 10 ideas and probably six of them would fail, but a lot of value in the three or the four that worked.
When we went to TV based systems, we actually couldn't A/B test at first, so we were going back to qual and they were looking over people's shoulders, and focus groups, et cetera. But eventually, Netflix could A/B test what's a good experience on a TV based system. They have server based systems now where they can create different experiences for different folks. So I guess my short answer was, so hard to find these product strategies that worked. There was no notion of building a perfect experience of all these things together, so we just took it one theory at a time.
Got it. And then, on that concept of delight, I always wanted to ask you this question. I've never had a chance. For B2B, do you find this is also something companies should really prioritize and do? Because not a lot of B2B products are delightful, and a lot of them are still really successful. How do you think about that kind of framework in B2B?
Gibson Biddle (18:55):
Okay, first, I think that most all of the frameworks I use work for both consumer and B2B. Personally, I've spent my whole career on consumer. The thing about consumer is, you're sort of trying to catch lightning in a bottle, right? Where enterprise, you can actually walk into it a little bit more thoughtfully. You can always find your first customers, et cetera.
Anyways, I was thinking about what's different. For instance, one of the hard to copy advantages of B2B is switching costs, right? I didn't bring that up in the context of Netflix. It's wicked hard to cancel. It's wicked easy to cancel Netflix and restart Disney+, whatever you want to do.
I was thinking about, I used to complain that the user interface for B2B software was horrible, and it's like, you've got to do better than this. And of course, at Netflix we proved that a simple, easy experience actually improves retention. So I would advocate, this is important, and they would explain to me all the basics. Hey, Gib. Actually, one of the basics surprised me. The people that are using our software are using it 10, 12, 14 hours a day. That's very different from a Netflix experience. And in fact, they want and need to engage in the complexity. There's stuff that they're trying to do that is really complex.
You can just think about our use of spreadsheets to build a cash flow statement. I'm highlighting some differences, but the model I think is still there. If you're starting a punk B2B SaaS company, I think at the end of the day, you're trying to find something that's 10X better than what's currently out there today, and then over time, your hard to copy advantage. It will be different from Netflix. It'll be different for every startup. But if you can delight your customers in these hard to copy ways, that also builds a business.
I mean, the reason you do that, you want to feel like you don't have to compete with peeps, really. You don't like it when you're always on guard about what your competitors should do. You sort of want to get to this place where you don't really care, and your sort of true North is okay, how can we best serve our customer? And that's what I really love about that particular model.
Lenny, I would be very careful about anything I say about enterprise and B2B, because I've spent zero hours in this, okay? Now, you said half of my audience is in B2B and enterprise, and you hear a lot about the consumerization of enterprise software, and I think that's good. I think that's helpful and important.
Awesome. That's a really helpful caveat for folks listening, that if you're building a B2B business, maybe don't follow all this advice to the letter. But I imagine there's still a lot you can pull out.
Gibson Biddle (21:21):
Well, honestly, it's so idiosyncratic. It's going to be different for each company, or each startup, or different stage. And that's why the tools, the models, the frameworks I use, they have to work generally, but then people have to apply their own good judgment.
Sweet. Okay. What I'd love to do is get a little more concrete using this model, and go through a few examples of how you may have thought through problems you were tackling at Netflix through this lens, to kind of see how it actually works in practice. Does that sound good?
Gibson Biddle (21:48):
That sounds like we're going to do some rapid fire mini cases.
That's exactly right.
Gibson Biddle (21:51):
And I'm going to put you in the hot seat, Lenny. You're the proxy for the listeners today.
All right. Just make sure they're easy questions.
Gibson Biddle (21:58):
No matter what you say, I'll make you look smart.
I like this. I just want that applied to all of life. Okay, so the first mini case study is something that I've seen a lot of people build, kind of hack together, is this idea of watching Netflix together with friends. I think one app is called Netflix Party. So the question there is, should Netflix launch a Netflix Party feature? Basically letting people watch Netflix together but in different places?
Gibson Biddle (22:22):
Yeah, yeah. It's kind of a real case. A bunch of engineers at Patreon, six or seven of them, they actually enabled, if you're using Netflix, they let you connect with your friends on Netflix, watch the same TV show or movie at the same time, and chat with each other while you're watching it, trash talk each other or use emojis, what have you. They called it Netflix party. The Netflix lawyers noticed it, and so they renamed it Teleparty. It exists. You can use it across multiple games, across Disney and Netflix, whatever you want.
Okay, so the hypothesis is, Netflix should launch this idea for real, not just download the silver light, download the...
Gibson Biddle (23:02):
Chrome extension. There you go.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think I've tried it, actually. It's pretty cool.
Gibson Biddle (23:06):
Yeah. It's complicated, right? I mean, you and I are both freaks, so we can figure it out. So the idea is that we'll delight customers, because this sounds like fun, especially during COVID. We can have this connected experience when we're also disconnected. Hard to copy advantage. We're kind of building a network effect. You and I will be connected and watching on Netflix. We don't want to quit because we don't want to leave each other behind. And then, the margin. For Netflix, it's largely about will it improve retention? Netflix today, 2% are canceling. Netflix has just ticked away at it point by point. It's just, it's these kinds of things that create a little bit more value, that improve retention.
The way I think about this is, the way that addition of this feature would actually improve retention is if some reasonable number of customers actually used it. And so, what I look out for is, I don't like two percenters. So if you find an idea that only works for 2% of your customers, now you're creating complexity, one more thing to choose. What happens when I hit this button?
And frankly, some complexity that everybody else building the product forgets, right? This happened to me a lot. We'd have, in the old days, there was a profiles feature. When we launched streaming, we forgot about the profiles feature for DVD. Like, oh, crap. So, as a rule, I never used rules as thumbs, but these two percenters, I would kill them. If I launched something and it was only 2% we'd, we called it scraping the barnacles, just get rid of it.
So, I think the key question here is, what percent of Netflix members would use Netflix Party if you launched to all? You want to guess at that, Lenny?
Let's say 5%.
Gibson Biddle (24:46):
5%. Okay. I think that's good guess. I'm going to give you some historical context. We actually did Xbox Party back in 2008, 2009. My guess with the Xbox team was it would be a two percenter. I think it barely squeaked to 5%. And then, because it was only at 5%, we killed it. So I think that's a great guess. If you had said 10 or 15%, then I would've been scratching my head. Could that actually have a shot at improving retention?
Anyways, Netflix hasn't launched this. They could, of course, test it, but I think the history, the failed hypothesis of social, kind of leans against it, and I just gave you two examples. The friends network getting, giving ideas of friends and Netflix, and the second, the Xbox Party. Those are two failed instances of social. Netflix will keep experimenting with this, but in this case they chose not to. So, not enough delight despite the fact that it could build hard to copy advantage. And if you don't have enough delight, enough usage, there's no shot at improving margin.
Okay. You were awesome, Lenny. I told you, you sounded exceedingly smart. Okay, what do you got? What's the next one?
Nailed it. Just real quick, I really like the reminder of just focusing on reach and making... As good as the idea might be, just always coming back to what is the reach of this thing? Even if conversion increases like 50%, if like 10 people see it, it doesn't really matter.
Gibson Biddle (26:05):
That's such a good reminder.
Gibson Biddle (26:06):
Okay, next one is, something that you've shared is that during COVID, Netflix auto-canceled, apparently, something like half a percent of its members because they were inactive. And so, the question there would be, why do they do that, and how would Netflix have thought about that?
Gibson Biddle (26:20):
Yeah. Probably seen Netflix's stock history. But the beginning of COVID, they thought they were going to have 8 million new members, Q1 2020. They picked up 16 million. So, that was awesome. It was about that time that my perception as the product manager at Netflix was looking at the data focused on non-member experience, I think his name is Eddie Woo. And he was looking at the data, and he noticed half percent of the members weren't actually enjoying the service, like for a year. They clearly had entered their credit card, their email a year ago, and then just forgot that they had the service.
And so, when he thought about it, he said, you know, I feel like it's the right thing to actually auto cancel people who aren't using the service they're paying. Of course, he was doing it a time where there was great growth, okay? So, let's use the delight and hard to copy margin enhancing model. Is this a delightful thing to do?
Absolutely. I feel really good.
Gibson Biddle (27:10):
That's my question. Okay.
Yeah, if a company's like, hey, okay, here, take your money back. You're not using this thing.
Gibson Biddle (27:15):
Exactly. And what's the hard to copy advantage that you'd be building by engaging in this best practice?
I imagine there's kind of a brand halo, just you feel good about Netflix being really good to you.
Gibson Biddle (27:27):
Totally. So if I told you, and this is the case, Netflix chose to auto cancel these folks like, huh, that's a really cool thing to do. And then the margin, the bad news, you're going to lose a hundred million bucks. So, there is delight, there is hard to copy advantage, and you're going to lose a hundred million bucks. Does that delight and hard to copy advantage outweigh the negative of losing a hundred million?
I'm just going to ask you two more questions. Is this a high stakes decision or a low stakes decision? Eddie's decision to auto cancel these folks and lose a hundred million bucks. High stakes or low stakes? You're the product manager, Lenny.
It all depends on how much a hundred million is worth to the business. I imagine Netflix is such a large scale where it's not a huge deal, and it's a one off that's not recurring, and so you could give it a shot.
Gibson Biddle (28:13):
Okay, so you've skipped ahead. You're looking too smart. On magnitude, it's a hundred million against a company that's doing 30 billion in revenue. And then, the second thing you brought up is, it's reversible, which is, he could do it now, but he doesn't have to continue this practice forever. And so, my joke there, I got married 30 years ago. I was anxious about getting married. My friend said, "Gib, if it doesn't work out you can always get divorced." So they're saying it's reversible. Now I've been married 30 years, so it's worked out.
But my point here is, as product managers, we feel like every decision we make is high stakes. It's good occasionally to think about, hey, what's the magnitude? And then, is it reversible? Amazon calls those, this was a two-way door decision. It's reversible. The one way door, those are the bigger deal. And I think frankly, most people would argue that getting married is a one way door, but hey, half of folks don't.
Yeah, very hard to reverse. Reversible but expensive.
Gibson Biddle (29:04):
Okay, what else you got?
Okay, so you touched on Netflix's recent troubles with growth. And so, something that's always come up is this idea of why don't they offer a really cheap plan, or a free plan that's advertise supported. And so, I imagine you've thought about that a lot, and Netflix has thought about that a lot. How does that work with your framework?
Gibson Biddle (29:21):
Well, let's fast forward two years. Netflix earnings Q1 2022 were bad. For the first time in 10 years, they actually lost customers, and they'd like to get the growth going again. Okay, that's a different context, right? Today.
This episode is brought to you by PostHog. PostHog offers a suite of product analysis tools, including funnels, heat maps, session recording and experimentation, all in one easy to use platform. PostHog is open source, so you can host it on your own infrastructure, which means that you have control over who has access to your data and makes regulatory compliance a breeze, because you don't need to send user info to third parties.
Post Hog's app system works seamlessly with your data warehouse, both for importing and exporting data, which enables you to bring your data into one place and easily understand user behavior across a range of touchpoints. If you'd like to learn more, check them out at PostHog.com/Lenny.
Gibson Biddle (30:18):
So your question is, should Netflix have a lower-priced, advertising-supported plan?
Gibson Biddle (30:25):
Okay, let's do it. We'll DHM it. Would an ad-supported plan that's lower price be delightful for customers, Lenny?
I don't know if delightful is the right word, but if I didn't have a lot of cash, it would feel really nice to be able to use Netflix.
Gibson Biddle (30:39):
Okay, so the possible delight is, it might only cost you five bucks, or who knows, it might be free, I don't know. But for a set of customers who are ad tolerant, that might be a reasonable trade off, right? You don't have to pay $10 or $15 or $20 bucks. You could pay maybe five, or two? I don't really know what the right price is.
Okay, so the next one is, would Netflix be building hard to copy advantage if they did this?
I guess the hards of copy pieces, if there's a network effect, they just accelerate that further, and that gives them some advantage. I don't know.
Gibson Biddle (31:06):
Maybe. So if they pick up a new set of people, a new set of profiles, it's a technical term, as you get big, is you build economies of scale. So if they are able to grow, Netflix, they'll spend about $18 billion on content this year, whereas poor Amazon will only spend $8 billion. I just love saying poor Amazon. Because Netflix can amortize it across 220 million members. So, more growth, more customers, and hopefully a different segment of customers that they haven't gotten yet, so it's not just cannibalistic, could build more hard copy advantage.
My argument, I'm just going to skip ahead, if you cross fingers, I mean, you are picking up a new customer profile, new customer type, so you're going to have incremental revenues, which is really what Netflix is looking for. For me, I just want to tell you why Netflix hasn't done advertising yet. We actually did do it, 5, 6, 7, 8... 2005 through 2008. We put big-ass ad banners on every page on the site, even for the members. We did a retention test, and it actually did not hurt retention. A big surprise. And that was the first year that we generated an operating income of $20 million bucks. It was like the first profitable year.
We also did this at our business. We were selling used discs, previously viewed discs. That's how we first made money, and Reed Hastings, the CEO, came to me in 2008 and said, "Gib, I need you to kill advertising and previously viewed, because I think we can deliver a profit in our core business." And he wanted to keep things simple, create this simple experience that's part of a subscription.
You have had this. We had a lot of pride and ownership. He didn't involve me in the decision, all of these things, right? He's just sort of sticking a gun to my head. He only asked me two questions. He said, "Gib, who's going to be the best in the world at advertising?" And I said, "Google." And then his second question is, "Who needs to be the best in the world of personalization?" I said, "We do." And his argument was to kill previously viewed and advertising to create a simple experience for the customers, and so that we could stay manically focused on personalization.
Now fast forward, so on the earnings call, for him, the debate is really between simplicity, which he's a huge fan of. But during the earnings call he said, "Actually, there's something I believe in even more, and that's customer choice." And he was saying, you know what? I think for this new set of customers, giving them the choice to have a $5 a month plan with advertising... He did not say the $5 bucks. I'm just plugging that in. In this case, customer choice may be more important than delight. And in this case, rather, customer choice may be more important than the complexity of advertising, or maybe the stinky experience.
Whew. There's something important. What he said is, today it's relatively straightforward to execute an advertising-based business doing this. There's a zillion partners who could do it, so we could continue to focus on the core of what we do, which is personalization. Which I thought was a really thoughtful response. So my guess is, they will do advertising, but he was very contrite. Stock had half of its value. He felt he had disappointed shareholders. So I think he was looking for ways to earn back that trust.
Yeah. The market sometimes forces you to do something you didn't expect. I really like the Socratic Method that Reed uses in the story you shared, where he kind of asks you these questions that help you get to the same conclusion he got to.
Gibson Biddle (34:16):
Honestly, I reflected on that for five years. Why didn't he engage me in the decision? And then I just realized... I mean, by the way, this being a CEO is a really hard job. But I realized I had so much pride and ownership, he just knew that I wouldn't want to kill it, that it would be hard for me to be objective. And he felt strongly that he believed he knew the right answer and said, hey, I just need you to do this. And he was right. So, it took me five years to process that, but there's a lot of things you do to support the CEO, because that job is really hard.
We're going to talk a bit about the role of a CPO and what you learned on that journey, but one final mini case study. Should Netflix charge for customers to share their accounts with other people, outside of their home, especially?
Gibson Biddle (34:59):
Yeah, this one's got a lot of history. Okay, so I sort of told you a bit of the story, which is Netflix's growth has been excellent until now, and the reason they had that challenging earnings call is, it was just really hard to forecast. They had the influx of customers at the beginning of COVID, I call them fence sitters, that just happened to join en masse. And then, are they going to leave when COVID lifts? Are they going to leave when the theaters open up again? They shut down, for 700,000 Russian members, they shut off the service. You can imagine that in Eastern and central Europe, churn was a little higher than expected. Just nasty.
One of the things that this cloud of COVID forecasting did, obscured how the large extent to which sharing happens. And so, what they said was, in the US and Canada, there's a hundred million customers total. They think there's about 30 million folks that are sharing their email password outside the home.
So, how did Netflix get here? Netflix generally, they've got three prices, $10, $15 and $20 bucks, and they're always trying to give people reason for choosing the $20 one. And so, if you looked at their, I call it the price and plan page, it looks like a gas pump. Do you want to the left one, the middle one, or the right hand one? One of the incentives that they provided for folks to choose the $20 a month was the number of multiple streams. They had gone all the way to four streams at the same time. So in my household, four people could be watching the same time.
And of course people shared outside the house, right? And by the way, I don't think Netflix was clear that you couldn't. So now, if you look at the price and plan page today, they're not sort of pitching for multiple streams as the reason you should go to $20 bucks. They're pitching other things. There's better resolution. That's the key one. Better sound quality. You're going to have HDR sound and video. And then, they did clarify in the fine print that you can use one, two, or four streams for members in your household.
And that was a new clarification, because it used to be kind of with a family. Kelsey and Brit are my daughters. They're in the house, of course they can use it. They go off to college, they're still my daughters, they're part of the family. Of course they can use it. Kelsey gets married. Okay, so this is the first time they clarified it.
So now, I come all the way back to your question. As a potential growth opportunity, they'd obviously like to clarify how this should work, and they started testing in three different countries. Peru is one, and I think in the Caribbean. These smaller countries, I'm sure they're focused with new members to figure this out first. And so, they have two different things. You could let a person outside your household, you could actually pay a little extra for them as the primary, as the sponsor, if you will. And the other is a function where a person who's sharing your account in a different household can bump up to their own membership.
So, this is just complicated. Can I make the DHM model work with this? Well it explains why they did it. They were giving multiple streams because it was a really delightful experience. And Netflix says it in the rules. They were very permissive. I don't really think they worried about this. Was it building hard to copy advantage? Absolutely. More taste profiles, right? And you wouldn't leave because you didn't want to cancel the service to your daughter's and using out on the east coast. And was it building margin? Actually, it was driving people up to the $20 price point, and it was improving churn. You're getting more value out of service, okay?
So now, what do they do? For me, this is just testing and math. Like, honestly, let's try it, Lenny. Well, think about those 30 million folks. If you get an email saying, hey, we've noticed you're enjoying the service on somebody else's nickel, would you like to upgrade to your own plan? What percent of those folks are going to say yes, right? I mean, do you have a guess on that? I don't have a guess and I don't have an answer. But this is the game, right?
I find with emails, open rates and all these things, it ends up always being really tiny. So I guess, again, probably 5%, maybe 3%.
Gibson Biddle (38:54):
Okay. I think that's a fine guess. I'll just give you a different perspective. This is kind of like a free trial, right? they've been using a free trial. And the free trial conversion at the end of a month was 90% at Netflix, right? 90% enjoyed their first month so much that they continued with the service.
So, I mean, I agree with you, it might be five or 10%. I was just giving you that 90% to get you to imagine, huh, maybe it could be 10%, right? Maybe it could be 20%. This is just speculation. I think they're experimenting in these smaller countries. As we do this, if it were 10%, they'd pick up an additional 3 million in a quarter. I think that's going to help them when their growth is at a standstill.
The other question would be, would the primary account quit when you tell them their daughters on the east coast can no longer use the service, right?
Gibson Biddle (39:46):
I think where I'm going on this is, I don't know if we can give any real insight. The team at Netflix, this is what they live for, and the team at Netflix is testing and experimenting. They've probably put in an assumption like yours, 5% will convert, and now they're seeing if they're right or wrong, and they're figuring it in on these smaller countries, and a year or two from now, they will have worked it all out and we'll see the answer in North America. But I think it's going to take them a year or two to figure this out, because it's really hard. But they're keenly motivated, because they're trying to get the growth going again.
I was trying to watch Super Pumped on Showtime recently, and Showtime wasn't working, and I have to call my dad, because I'm leaching off their cable login account. And turned out that they moved and they changed their cable plan, and I'm probably the reason they're keeping a lot of it.
Gibson Biddle (40:32):
Well, so, Lenny, I was thinking about it. I'm open. I don't know the answer on this one, but just you and me comparing notes, what do you think? This is the kind of behavior that I love all product leaders to engage in. I call it building your personal board of directors. You're on mine, because I've been learning a lot about newsletters from you, right? Super helpful.
But when I would have questions like these, I would reach out to my pals, like, okay, what's the right level of investment on a mobile app versus desktop? That was a moving target for years. And I would just text my pals, and they would just give me the data. That's amazing insight, just by having peers in the business that you talk to, which this is the behavior that I want everybody out there engaged in. I call it building your personal board of directors.
I'd love to hear a little bit more on that, actually. How do people do that? Is it pick a few people on a topic and have them as your standing board?
Gibson Biddle (41:21):
I didn't even know I was doing this. This concept began for me, I was probably 30-ish. 30, yep. I got promoted to VP and I asked my CEO, "How do I learn how to do the job well?" And he said, "I don't know. Reach out and build your community of peers." Like, oh, that was good advice. It really was.
So, at any moment in time... You actually had one of my board members on a podcast, Melissa Perri. She's on my board, right?
Gibson Biddle (41:46):
Yeah, you voted for her. So, short answer is, it's really easy to build your community of peers. Just keep up your former colleagues. Keep up on LinkedIn. The harder part is building the mentors. And the first rule of thumb is, don't ask a person to be your mentor. That's really awkward. First, identify them. Say, this is a person I think that could be helpful to me. And then, find ways to be helpful. Everybody needs help. Everybody, everybody, everybody.
So, to help you understand the kind of help I need, my greatest fear is aging ungracefully, right? So I'm trying to understand what's going on. Okay, I asked you earlier, should I be on Discord, right? Like, oh, crap, do I have to be on Discord? But in many cases, somebody can help me to understand Discord. That's super helpful to me. And that's how those sort of mentor relationships eventually end up, and between the peers and the mentors, the mentors can help you to see around corners.
Actually, my favorite story of somebody who did approach me, they were in data, they wanted to be in product. They kept asking me, "Hey, do you have any startups I can work with on the weekends?" That's a good idea. I didn't have any answers. I got sort of frustrated with them. I said, "Just build me a website, a baby website." He said, "I can't build a website." So I gave him my credit card and said, "Get on Squarespace." If you go to GibsonBiddle.com, that's my baby website that John Lou built for me. That was incredibly helpful to me. Someday I should get a real one, but I've decided it's not that important.
I also have a baby website on Squarespace.
Gibson Biddle (43:13):
We're in good company.
Gibson Biddle (43:17):
Anyways, that's the concept of a personal board of directors. It's really important and helpful career advice in the long term.
Awesome. I'm glad we chatted about that. That wasn't something we planned to chat About. Something else I wanted to dive into, beyond strategy, is prioritization. You have a really great model for our prioritization called the JAM model, that I share often with folks. I'd love to just kind of hear your overview of this model, and when it makes sense, and just roughly how to use it.
Gibson Biddle (43:39):
Yeah, well, it's a lot easier because it spells something, right? As opposed to saying... I'll just give you a good case. I joined Chegg 2010. We were inventing a concept of renting textbooks to students instead of buying them, saving them a lot of money. And my first week was challenging, because on one end of the hall, the CEO, Dan, was saying, "Grow, baby. Grow. The most important thing we can do as a startup is grow." And at the other end of the hall, I had my CFO partner, Greg, saying, "Slow, slow, slow. We actually don't know if we have a business model that works." And I could tell he was sort of, the company's got like 40 people, sort of driving folks crazy.
So, as the product leader, what the heck should I do? And the answer was, I got them in a room and I said, "Listen, I just need you to force rank these three factors for me: growth, engagement, and monetization. And I need the two of you to agree." So, you could say growth is most important. When we say growth, it's basically year over year customer growth. Do you want it to be 50% or 10%?
Whatever the answer is, engagement is how I think about product quality. A more engaging product is a better product. So if you think investing in building a better product is super important, then you go with engagement, and the proxy metric that I use for that at Netflix was retention. And then, the third is monetization. You have these customers, you have this product, and how much effort do you put into turning that into a business?
So, Dan said, "Well, that's easy. Growth, engagement, and monetization." And Greg said, "Yeah, that's easy. Monetization, engagement and growth." He did the flip, right? I'm like, "I'm going to come back in two hours. You guys got to fight this out." Which is sort of what happened.
So, they agreed on growth first, engagement second, monetization third. And then, a couple months later, it started to happen again. Greg started to say, "No, no, no." And so, it was that point that Greg actually left the company. Which was, these are the kinds of fundamental misalignments that can wreck startups. I'm not saying that one or the other was right or wrong, but as leaders in the organization, we've got to get some of the basic stories straight, including how do we fundamentally prioritize growth versus engagement versus monetization?
This is really the number one source of misalignment that I discover among startups. And startups, you're always flipping back and forth between growth and engagement. Grow faster, build a better product. Grow fact forth, and then later, you get a little later to monetization. But this model, I find it super helpful to get leaders across an organization fundamentally more aligned.
So, if you're a PM, or maybe a founder, thinking about using this model, would the first step be get your leaders above you to kind of align with you on, of these three things, here's how we stack rank it?
Gibson Biddle (46:27):
Personally, I'd start with a SWAG. I would take a shot, a stupid, wild-ass guess of what I think is right, so at least I started with a point of view before I shared it with my team. And frankly, the next most important thing that happens is, if you're trying to create a metric focused organization that appreciates data and learning through numbers, deciding, I mean, the hardest one is, what is your engagement metric? How do you measure product quality?
At Netflix, it's monthly retention, but that's a hard conversation. The growth story's pretty, like, it's usually some percentage year over year of customer growth. I mean, but it's always different, but the only variation on what you said was, have a point of view yourself, and then get everybody's feedback.
That's frankly, when I would join a new company, I would give myself two weeks to develop the product strategy for that company, which is a little outrageous, but I would just do it fast. I would develop the SWAG, but then I'd go to one person. "Hey, this is my best thinking, what do you think?" And of course, they had been there for four years. They were much smarter than I, and they would refine my thinking.
I'd do that one by one, and then maybe six weeks later, I could share a product strategy across the company. But this is the value of a SWAG, which is a stupid, wild-ass guess. And don't be afraid to start at that level.
I really like that strategy, versus going in a little hole, spending months just thinking about the perfect answer, and only then presenting. I find this works better.
Gibson Biddle (47:44):
We're hiring a consulting company to do it. Go shoot me, okay?
I like that you're hiding your mouth as you say that.
Gibson Biddle (47:50):
Yeah. Only Lenny can see. Yeah, but this is a podcast, Gib. Nobody can see you.
Yeah. I will reveal. Okay, so on that topic actually, I'd love to transition and talk about our last topic, which is around career, or product manager. So, you're the CPO at two very successful companies, or maybe you're called the VP of product, but roughly a head of product. You have these two muckety mucks, right? Chief Muckety Muck. And in theory, this is kind of the end state of a PM career if you stay along the path. A lot of PMs go on different paths, but in theory, this is kind of where your career is heading. What would you say it takes to become a CPO someday? What kind of skills do you think you need to build that are maybe not obvious to someone that's not in that role yet?
Gibson Biddle (48:28):
Yeah, let's take a little step by step. Individual contributor, and then to manager. When you're just starting, you're just trying to learn the job. And I'd say, at a high level, you're just trying to optimize for learning in your entire career. But for individuals, building products is hard, and there's a number of technical skills that are required. So yes, some technical, but a lot of creative skills. There's some consumer science, that's the A/B testing. There's the management. How do you get people working together to actually build stuff? These are technical design skills, right? These are the technical skills.
So, early in your career, you're just trying to learn the job. And by the way, the job is hard. And second, it's different from every company to company in different stage. So you, Lenny and I, we're just trying to be helpful in a leveraged way. But the key thing is, the job's a little different in everything. So, just try to become expert in your area, expert in whatever your one thing is that you're building.
And then, the next step to become a manager is, there's a lot of, communication is sort of the heart, and that's why I try to... Product strategy is a great way to communicate what's important and what's not, try to demystify it. If you're early in your career, ask if you could be on interview teams, even if you're not hiring, because then you're starting to practice something that's really important as you want to grow your career later, which is it's really hiring and recruiting people.
When I was in the thick of that, I spent one to two days a week hiring and recruiting. It's really the most important thing. And then, some amazing opportunity would come along at the company and they'd say, you know what? Maybe somebody on Gib's team should do it, right? Because they knew I could replace people. There's always somebody new to pop in. So, I really was expert in hiring and recruiting later in your career.
If you want to be a muckety muck, my theory is the skills of a leader are the same, whether you're head of product, or the chief financial officer, or head of data. When I'm interviewing any of those kinds of candidates, I am looking for leadership skills. Can they do inspired communication of a vision? I do look for product strategy skills. That helps you to frame what that vision is. I do look for management skills. Have they built and managed teams?
I look for people who are proactive, results oriented. For me, leaders lead. You can't be a follower. So, I look for really proactive, results oriented folks. And this is pretty nuanced, but later in career, I look for folks who understand how important culture is, because culture helps people to understand the skills and behaviors that are wanted of everyone within the building, and they let you provide leadership in a highly leveraged way, instead of using evil processes and meetings and rules. I look for people who appreciate culture as a tool to help lead organizations.
And then, of course, they had to grow up as a builder. They had to learn all those damn technical skills for product manager. If I abstract outside of all that, honestly, the thing that I probably did best, I think maybe I did three things best. To know me, I was an English major. I'm non-technical, and I didn't care. First I was in marketing, and then I went into product, which I just loved.
I think I did a good job with sort of optimizing for learning. Actually, one of my hacks was, I started doing talks. I used to call it Topic This and That, on Friday mornings, about something I had just learned. That was the easiest way for me to learn something. So, optimized for learning.
We talked about building a personal board of directors, and that has been incredibly helpful for me, and that probably gets to the third thing. I was a pretty good picker, and the reason I was a good picker of companies is, I would lean on my personal board of directors. Some of them were CFOs. I'm like, "Hey, Barry, I'm thinking about joining this startup, Chegg." Hey, as a CFO, as a VC, would you invest in it, right? It's the same question I have to ask, should I invest my time?
So, I had people like that who helped me to isolate, was Electronic Arts a good company to join in 1991? Yes. Was Netflix a good company join in 2005? Yes. Was Chegg a good company to join in 2010? Yes. So, I was fundamentally a good picker, and I would really give a lot of credit to that personal board of directors that I had for that.
What about just day to day as a PM, what have you found to be really good habits, and kind of like a routine that PMs follow, that you've seen to kind of contribute to the success of an ICPM, especially?
Gibson Biddle (52:49):
My short answer is, begin your day with intent, okay? What are the three to five things I'm hoping to do today? Second, minimize meetings, okay? Minimize meetings. That sucks the life out of everybody, including you.
Spend a lot of time with your customers. It could be focus groups, it could be usability, it could be looking at survey data, it could be digging the dirt to understand their behavior to the data, and it could be designing and executing A/B test results. Those are all ways of becoming the voice of your customer, and that's a big part of your job as a product leader.
Find a balance between doing and thinking. Most of us do, do, do. Occasionally stop and ask yourself, okay, what's important here? What should I really be doing right now, as opposed to the things that I enjoy doing? Self-managing yourself. The only reason people need managers is that we need someone to force us to do the things that are important that we don't enjoy doing. So, I'm always self-managing myself. Gib, you have to do an invoice. Crap, I've got to bill people. That's no fun, right?
That inside voice, inside Gib.
Gibson Biddle (53:57):
Yeah, that invoice voice. Yeah, our in-voice. Gib, you should write a damn book.
Gibson Biddle (54:02):
We're ignoring that inside voice. Yeah, you and me both. And then, I don't know, for me, exercise is awesome for me. It keeps me happy. And don't watch too much TV, and I watch too much TV. So, there you go. And don't do what I do. Do what I say.
Right. Yeah. I also probably watch too much TV. Funny coming from someone that helped build Netflix, but I totally get it. So, too good. It's too good.
Gibson Biddle (54:25):
Well, my wife's trying to cure cancer. She's like, "Oh, congratulations, Gib. You helped invent binge watching, you idiot. What good are you doing for humanity?"
Oh, man. Brings us delight, and that's valuable.
Gibson Biddle (54:37):
Yeah, yeah. Thank you very much.
Final question. You've had this illustrious career. What's one piece of advice that you'd give a PM in the beginning stages of their career, and then maybe as a bonus, I want maybe mid stage. What comes to mind?
Gibson Biddle (54:50):
Yeah, I think I did the early stuff. Pick the right company. At some point, understand that you are responsible for your career, not your workplace. And that's one of the reasons I encourage people to start building that personal board of directors, so you can compare notes. The other thing I say is, don't listen to your parents, because they're a generation ahead. They really don't know what the future looks like. I mean, I know I would give bad advice to my daughter, and so don't listen to your parents.
And then later, ever since I stopped direct deposit, I think of myself as just purely career hacking. So in your career, it's just a lot like building a product. You have theories and hypotheses, you find ways to experiment with them, and then you were successful or you failed. So one of my hypothesis, whenever it was, six years ago, was I would enjoy teaching. I actually tried it. I taught at Stanford, entrepreneurship for graduate level engineers, and I really liked it, but I didn't love it, largely because I was required to be in Palo Alto every fall. I couldn't travel as much as I like to, right?
Okay, so on one hand, okay, don't teach in the classroom, and my next vector was, what if I teach outside the classroom? That's what I really love to do. I do talks, workshops, all around the world in the last two years, virtually. I just love doing that, and I have a ton of flexibility. So, that's just a little example of me treating my career like, what's my hypothesis? Finding where to experiment with, and then, based on the results, do the next thing. And I've really been doing that my entire career,
So, if you embrace this idea of experimentation, you're like a product, you need to have hypothesis, you need to try see what works. The next thing you need to do in building a product or building your career is be bold. So, don't wimp out. At some point, when I'm working with different companies, they all kind of get attracted to the small, incremental wins, and they sort of forgot what made them a successful startup in the beginning, which is taking on fundamental risk. And so, I just nicely encourage people to be bold, to go a little bit out of your comfort zone, because that's where you learn more, and that comes back to this idea of optimizing for learning.
Anyways, and how do you encourage people to be bold? How do you encourage them to try new things? And the simple thing is, just start. Try it tomorrow. For me, the baby step was when I, on talks, I would just ask my friends if I could drop by and do a talk. I just did it. I didn't overthink it. I didn't spend 97 years setting up my display and getting the right clicker. I just gave a really bad talk. But that's how I started, and then I sort of optimized from there.
What a perfect way to end our chat. Really inspiring and helpful advice that I'm going to try to re-listen to and use myself. Just to close, where can folks find you, reach out to you, and then also just, how can listeners be useful to you?
Gibson Biddle (57:33):
That's a great question. Thank you. The first, I would say that Lenny has been a mentor for me in "Ask Gib" Product Newsletter. So, I reached out to him via a Twitter and asked him lots of stupid early questions, so he was incredibly helpful. So, probably the most important thing is to know that I write a newsletter every two weeks. That's the cadence I'm on now. Lenny knew me at the beginning when I was doing dailies. He's like, "Dude, don't burn out." It's called Ask Gib. I've answered like 63 questions so far. I really have enjoyed it.
Second thing would be my baby website GibsonBiddle.com. I have the advantage of being the only Gibson Biddle on the internet. I'm sure you're the only Lenny, but nobody can spell your last name, right?
Yeah, and then the third, how can people be useful? I'm a feedback freak, so you'll notice at the end of every talk I do, every essay, whether you find me on Medium, or Ask Gib, wherever, there's a link to give me feedback. And it's always the same question: On a scale of zero to 10, where zero sucks, 10 is excellent, how likely would you be to recommend this to a friend?
That has been incredibly helpful to me, and that's how I've learned to slowly get better at everything I do. The insight I get each day from folks is amazing. And I'll ask one follow up: but what'd you like, and what could be better? And it's just been incredibly helpful. So, don't ignore that link at the end. Don't treat it like United Airlines asking how is your flight? This is important, damn it! And your feedback is incredibly helpful to me, so thank you.
I'm going to go answer some of your surveys now. Thank you so much for doing this. I learned a ton, and I really appreciate your time.
Gibson Biddle (59:10):
That was great fun, Lenny, and thanks a ton for your help with my Ask Gib newsletter, as well.
Forever and Ever.
Gibson Biddle (59:16):
Okay, cool. I'll hold you to that.
That was awesome. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed the chat, don't forget to subscribe to the podcast. You could also learn more at LennysPodcast.com. I'll see you in the next episode.