Growing Product and Engineering Orgs from Zero to IPO with Twitter and Redpoint Ventures

SaaStr favorite Tomasz Tunguz of Redpoint Ventures was gracious enough to sit down with Nick Caldwell, former CPO of Looker and current VP of Engineering at Twitter. Nick has vast experience when it comes to B2B and B2C, which is why we asked them to share their best tips for growing product and engineering orgs from 0 to IPO.

When founders are starting companies, it’s crucial to have product-market fit. If you don’t have something customers actually want, your business won’t get very far. Once you have this, it’s important to turn innovation into execution.

So how do Nick and Tomasz suggest leaders anticipate and exact changes when you make that transition?

#1 New phase, new everything

When you make the transition, the people, tools, and processes you needed in your first phase are going to be very different from those you’ll need in your execution and growth phase.

#2 How do you bring along engineering?

Your engineering team will go from having a lot of say in the day to day in the beginning, to perhaps sales or marketing taking over. It’s really just a matter of the gears of the business shifting a tad.

It’s extremely helpful to have an environment that’s collaborative from the start. You can help bring along engineering by reminding them what they will get in return for giving up day to day control.

An engineer’s worst nightmare is having a sales department tell them what to do. They like to do what they do best; innovate. Engineers must be brought into the strategy for your business to be most successful.

#3 Take into consideration technical debt & concern from engineering.

The balance between tech debt and feature work is always something companies find hard to get right. This is because you invest in different areas depending on where you’re at in the product life cycle. In fact, this is something many companies fail at.

It’s important to have an ongoing plan to address technical debt. Caldwell’s favorite way to do this is “killing two birds with one stone”. He suggests designing your new product work so that it pulls technical improvements along with it.

#4 Road-mapping is crucial

The ability to have road maps that are consistent will solve so many problems for your company. They are the fundamental unit to keep departments in sync but also help with communicating vision and what to expect to customers.

Deliver your roadmaps consistently to your stakeholders so they won’t be surprised at anything happening in the near future.

#5 The difference between a manager and a leader

It’s no secret managers can be leaders, and ideally you get a manager who is a leader. However, the expectations for leadership are quite different from that of management. For a manager, you want someone who can…

  1.  Take care of people on the team
  2. Execute against a strategy or roadmap with predictability and quality

Management is all about building and getting things done. It is done in a stable, predictable, low-risk fashion.

If a leader is stable, they’re probably not doing what they’re supposed to do. Leaders are brought in to create change. They use empathy, charm, and the heart to inspire people to take on new challenges. Leaders are opposite. They are supposed to inspire people to do something different, and don’t really need anyone to report back to them. Anyone can be a leader if they have followers who believe in the vision they’re trying to project.

#6 Growing middle management

As you grow, middle management becomes more and more crucial. So how do you grow this team to be successful?

First, think about how you want your team to be structured. Think about your product silos and who will lead them. Think about teams such as growth teams or data science. Everyone may have a different team shape, but regardless you will need to bring in a certain amount of managers to fill key roles.

Next, look at who’s working for you. Should you invest in your staff to grow into management roles? Try out this test Caldwell uses:

Sit across from someone, and ask them a series of questions. If they pass, they’re a great potential manager, if not they may be better down an IC or architect path. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a “test” and can be done through a one on one.

It’s crucial to have great managers and giving current employees with potential the opportunity to grow is a great place to start.

Key Points:

  1. Transitioning from Innovation to Execution means involving sales in product.
  2. Managers differ from leaders. You don’t need people to report to you to lead. Leaders anticipate and motivate change. Managers provide stability.
  3. People perform best when they align the passion of the individual and the desire of the company. This is the blue flame.
Published on October 12, 2020

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