SaaStr Podcast 454 (and Video): Shiven Ramji, Auth0 Chief Product Officer on What To Expect From a (Great) VP+ of Product

In the early startup stages, intuition, grit, and iteration often dictate your strategy. But after Series A, it’s time to contemplate your product game plan more seriously. You’ll need to hire a VP of Product who can guide your company to grow at scale. What qualities should you look for when choosing such an important position?

Shiven Ramji, the Chief Product Officer at Auth0, knows what makes a great VP+ of Product. In this session, he shares advice on hiring a great leader that can help take your company to the next level.

 

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So Why and When Should You Hire a VP+ of Product?

When should a SaaS founder begin thinking about hiring a product leader? It largely depends on your specific company, but ultimately, the earlier, the better. Many startups bring a product leader in around Series A. Still, there are some cases when a product VP is hired later, between Series B and C. If you do choose to wait, understand that the longer you delay, the bigger of an organizational toll your company will take down the road. 

In the early stages, startups tend to focus on the hustle and grind. Before Series A, it must be founder and instinct-driven, with a big emphasis on value discovery. Yet, as time passes, the cost of failure grows, and therefore experience, research, and enterprise readiness are essential.

A product expert carries you through your beginning stages to scaled, organized growth. You need experienced product strategists to lead because the product strategy often becomes the entire company strategy.

The Ideal Traits for an A+ Product Leader

  • Customer-Centric: Your VP should understand the customer completely. They will be the most prominent customer advocate in your business.
  • Communicator: Your product leader must possess impressive communication skills for their teams, executive leaders and external parties (like customers and analysts).
  • Coaching & Mentorship: As Ramji says, “I think coaching is an important skill. A lot of times, product leaders are usually in an influencer role…and so they’re playing a big coaching and education role, and this evolves based on the [company] stages.”
  • Strategic and Execution Capabilities: Your VP must have the experience and skillset to steer your product in the right strategic direction for both the short-term and the distant future. This is critical for scaling as your company moves from startup mode to organized growth.
  • Org Design Experience: Once again, this attention to the internal structure will play a vital role in the long-term scalability of your business. Org design should go beyond functions and processes into the large-scale shape of the entire organization.
  • Trust: Your Product VP must earn the trust of their peers, founders, and customers alike.

Key Considerations For Hiring and Keeping Your Great VP of Product

Ramji shares what he considers his top tips when looking for a product partner to align with your company interests.

  1. The Right VP+ of Product Depends on the Stage of the Company.
    Before Series A, it is possible to survive without a VP of Product if the founders have a strong product culture. You may be able to continue to Series B or C stages, but the longer you wait, the bigger the organizational tax will be later. It’s wise to invest in your product leader sooner rather than later.
    All the ideal traits listed above are important throughout the entire company journey. However, as you grow, bear in mind that strategy, execution and comprehensive org design will be the key differentiators between a good product leader and a great one.
  2. Expect the Journey from Post-Series A to B-D to be Painful.
    Scaling a startup is no walk in the park, and the struggle is painfully real, even for the most experienced product managers. Have patience: give your VP the time and room to show progress. Lots of things will need attention, but your product team is balancing strategy with non-stop execution.
  3. Find Out Quickly if Your VP Cares Enough.
    Is your product leader delivering a consistent streak of wins? Are they building business momentum? You’ll want someone who drives results and also deeply understands the market and the customer. The best VPs will surpass you in expertise, and that is a beautiful thing.
  4. Bonus: Hire a Leader With Taste.
    Your chosen VP of Product must possess a mastery of process, hiring, prioritization, mentorship and communication. But they should also offer opinions and grounded perspectives on each.

 

Top Takeaways

  • When it comes to timing, the earlier you bring a product leader on board, the better.
  • Lean on your VP of Product to help scale your company based on strategy and execution.
  • Prepare for a bumpy growth journey from startup to enterprise readiness. Give your product team the room to demonstrate progress.
  • Keep a pulse on the track record: Make sure your VP of Product delivers consistent results.
Published on June 17, 2021

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