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Leaders in Product - Break New Ground Without Breaking

September 8, 2022

How do you scale up while maintaining the customers that you've built and set your team up for success? Product leaders from Beam Mobility, CREA and majoo indonesia share.

"The same processes that work for a large team may not work or may not be required for a smaller team. [You] don't want to force feed your experience of what you know." Bhavin Shah, Global Head of Product at Beam Mobility 

In a recent Middle Matters conversation, hypergrowth leaders shared how fast things can change when your startup scales up. Processes and team structures that used to work may not be as effective now and possibly even be irrelevant in the next quarter. Bhavin shares how crucial it is for product leaders to have their finger on the pulse for what their end users want and how their teams should react. 

In an age where we accomplish much of our work from behind a screen, leaders like Alex Chew, Head of Product - Technology at CREA, highlight the value of preserving the human connection: "Talking to real people, talking to merchants will give you real insights on what problems they face day to day. And that is something that I think not a lot of people advocate for."

As a company's offering grows in sophistication, leaders need to take a step back and rely on emerging talent instead. "Becoming a leader is not about becoming the smartest person in the room. It's about listening more, especially when you are lucky enough to have talent in your room," adds Rudi Sanjaya, VP of Products at majoo indonesia

How does a product leader balance the breakneck speed of hypergrowth? How do you scale up while maintaining the customers that you've built and set your team up for success? In this edition of Middle Matters, leaders from Beam Mobility, CREA and majoo indonesia share how they have navigated these waters and how you can too. 

Bridge the Human Gap 

"In a smaller team, you have the advantage of being [closer] to the users or the product itself," Bhavin notes. As the team grows, maintaining your values, vision, and culture gets harder and harder. 

There are no shortcuts when scaling up your product team. From onboarding individual contributors to talents with management experience, Bhavin shares: 

"I've always believed until you get hands-on experience, you're not going to be able to appreciate the nuances of the product that you need to build or the one that's already existing that you need to improve upon."

Even as you're scaling up, it's essential not to lose practices that keep you connected with your end-users and their challenges with your product. Previously, when Alex was Head of Product at Oddle, he shared: "I'll bring my product folks and designers to go and meet the merchants. When you're on the ground, you are no longer hiding behind your screen." 

Being on the ground gives you perspective. 

"You cannot just hide behind your complex Excel sheet, daily work and your computer - you really have to go interact with the room." 

Embrace Diversity 

"As leaders, we can see further - we can see why," shares Alex. "But as a team member, they can see deeper." 

Getting the most out of your team starts with having the right mindset about what they bring to the table. Their role isn't just a stepping stone but an opportunity to dive deep and gather valuable insights for leaders as they build for the future. 

Alex observes: "The way they look at problems is like [with] tunnel vision. There's a negative linkage to this word, but with this "tunnel vision", they can really see five steps into the hole." 

"Every person is unique," Rudi adds.

"Diversity is very, very important. I don't want to have a [single-minded] team where we all bring the same thinking and expertise." 

Nurture for Success  

Getting your team to a point where they can independently run their initiatives doesn't happen overnight. Alex picked up what he knows from observing his leaders through countless meetings and situations and has engineered similar situations that allow his team to observe and gradually practice. 

"Like in the army, if you don't know something, I'll show you exactly how to do it," he says. "When new things are coming out, I look at my team and ask who can do it [because] they've seen me do it before." 

Alex reassures our readers and direct reports: "I don't just lead them into the cave and then run away." 

"It's best if people can taste success quickly," Bhavin adds. "We started something very easy, like something that anyone can ship in 30 days. When they can taste success, they get a better understanding of the systems and architecture of flows." 

Reflection Questions

"As a leader, you should make things simple - simple in communication, direction and how you monitor. You don't need to complicate things that are already complex." - Rudi Sanjaya 

While it's easy to overengineer systems, the real challenge for every leader lies in creating simple structures for your team to understand how their work contributes to their shared purpose. Bhavin, Alex and Rudi have shown that the human element is vital in establishing frameworks built for the future. 

"I'm trying to level up on my compassion, and I hope that in hypergrowth startups, we can have a little bit more compassion." - Alex Chew

  • When was the last time you checked in on your direct report's personal goals and motivations? Are they on the right track? 
  • Are there any areas of the work where your team members are having a challenging time? What questions can you ask them in your next meeting to help them develop their own solutions?
  • The next time you delegate something to your direct report, how might the challenge of this delegation help them overcome any fears or weaknesses?

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