Fundamental to the Collective Venture Model are our Operator LPs and advisors, who give us a frontline look at what they're experiencing and what's ahead. We asked three tech and VC titans for their thoughts on what's coming this year, and how you can best plan, measure, and innovate.
Here's what we heard:
Anneka Gupta, Chief Product Officer at Rubrik, OpCo Operator LP
The past 18 months has highlighted how vital and challenging the role of product leadership is today and going forward. As a product leader, you have to balance your activities based on the fundamental realities of your business today with a strong, malleable theory of how to create long-term differentiated value. If you don't do activities today to ensure a strong financial profile for the business - you won't have a business in the long term. Alternatively if you focus only on delivering profitable growth short-term with no vision or strategy for how that lays a foundation for winning longer-term, your growth will plateau or your competitors will edge you out of the market.
So how do you put this into practice? Go back to the fundamentals and ensure you can answer these questions:
- Define and understand your product strategy within the context of your company strategy: What is your strategy short and long term for your business on how you are going to win? How do the products you are building today support this strategy and add to your longer term differentiation? Are you working on products that do not add to and potentially detract from your long-term value creation? What has to go right for your company and product strategy to actually work? How many leaps of faith do you have to make to achieve success?
- Assess the reality of your product portfolio and product strategy: Which products are driving growth with expanding or steady gross margins? Are your products solving an important AND urgent problem for an economic buyer that has budget e.g. do you really have product market fit? Are your core products performing and if not, why not? Do you have enough bets placed on new products to sustain growth into the future? Do those bets have clear hypotheses you are testing in market and are they aligned to your company strategy for creating long-term differentiation? What's driving churn in your portfolio and what levers do you have to change that? Why are you losing to competition and how can you change that?
- Measure what matters on a specified recurring basis. If you have one product line, do you regularly look at how that product line is financially performing including new ACV growth, gross margins, churn, and upsell? If you have a multi-product portfolio, have you constructed an actual or pseudo product P&L to forecast, measure, and track success of each product? Are you reviewing your P&L(s) once a quarter? Do you have a defined timeline for when you are going to assess whether a strategic bet is working or not and have you setup the framework in advance of what success and failure look like?
- Keep your eye on new technology and trends that may change the entire shape of your business. How may AI disrupt customer workflows and therefore your customers' need for your products? What are new startups in your space doing and how are they leveraging new technologies or business models that may disrupt you? What new opportunities may open for your business because of changing consumption or technology advancements?
When the going gets hard, product leaders have to roll up their sleeves and dive into the business while also keeping an eye to the future. The job has never been harder, but the job has also never been more interesting with the opportunity to drive enormous impact.
Dan Scheinman, Angel Investor and Board Member (Zoom, Arista, Sentinel One), OpCo Investment Advisory Committee
There’s a lot of doom and gloom out there right now.
For those of you in the startup SaaS world, you’re likely surrounded by metrics that are flashing red. But as someone who’s played the long game for, well, a long time, I tend to focus on leading vs. lagging indicators. And these can give you a very different picture of the health of your business.
SaaS has a gazillion metrics, most of which don’t matter. The traditional ones are generally lagging indicators, numbers like last quarter’s growth rate, churn, or NRR (net recurring revenue). These tell you a lot about what broke in the past few months, but not much about what’s to come—which, you might find out, could be more positive than you think. Surprisingly, these metrics also don’t necessarily tell you much about how your product is doing in the market. For example, a customer may have cut down on licenses because of their own internal downsizing over the last year, but they might be just as excited about what your product can do for them.
Leading indicators, by contrast, force us to focus on the future. The most important one, in my view, is lead generation. Ask yourselves: Are the number of leads increasing? Is the quality of leads improving? (Yes, quality is hard to quantify but this is critical when assessing what’s to come.) Yet another leading indicator is whether or not your sales process and your close process is functioning more efficiently than before. In other words: Are deals starting to move through the funnel and is your close rate starting to improve? If so, these are indicators that changes you’ve made in the last year are starting to pay off.
There are other leading indicators, but the first step is to recognize that forward-looking metrics are important, especially right now. Founders are worn down, pressured to cut people and conserve cash. (Btw, if you don’t have product-market fit, cutting costs won’t solve your problems.) But my message is this: People have gotten so fixated on the bad news that they are not even searching for the good news. And if you look ahead—not just behind—you might find some nuggets of positivity.
As always, keep grinding.
Lakecia Gunter, Chief Technology Officer for the Global Partner Solutions Team at Microsoft, OpCo Operator LP
Across my life and career, I have found that intention precedes innovation. Here are four key ways that I keep my innovation wheels turning. I try to make them a weekly practice and find that when I create the right environments for myself, I catalyze my progress. You can, too!
Everyone's creative process is unique—it's essential to experiment with different approaches and find what works best for you. I think it's important, as leaders, that we create the spaces that allow for creativity and innovation to thrive—there's so much rigor every day in our work environment. Unless we're intentional about creating whitespace to allow creativity, wonder, and innovation, it often doesn’t happen at the pace we need to see it. There’s nothing better than a new year to inspire us to think in new ways!
- Mindfulness: I love taking long walks in the park as well as relaxing at the beach or walking by any body of water. I always come back feeling refreshed and renewed and with fresh thinking, because I have taken the time to quiet the mind and enjoy the view around me. Changing my environment to break up my routine always stimulates creativity for me.
- Wonder: Natalie Nixon, author of The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation, and Intuition at Work joined me on my Roar Podcast. She shared that “Creativity is our ability to toggle between wonder and rigor to solve problems”. To ensure that I can still find wonder in everything I do, I make sure I spend quality time with my nieces and nephews and explore the world through their eyes. They love to imagine and create new worlds. I enjoy entering their world so that I can experience joy and wonder, by being curious and open to exploring—going places I haven’t gone before and seeing the magic and wonder in everyday living.
- Brainstorming: I have always enjoyed grabbing 2-3 people and gathering in front of a whiteboard/digital whiteboard to ideate on a project or problem. Collaborating with a diverse group of leaders who can bring in different perspectives and ideas always accelerates creativity and innovation. We all have a bit of white space throughout the day: use these times of reflection to brainstorm and move into a space of creation.
- Learning: I love to learn! When working in tech, which is a constantly evolving landscape, it is so important to make sure to acquire new skills and knowledge. Being a student—always open to learning—keeps you humble and curious, which often leads to new thinking and breakthroughs.
While operating in 2024 will continue to be challenging for companies of all sizes, we are starting to see the beginning of green shoots. We can't wait for what the OpCo community will create this year.