May 25, 2022

Experimental Frameworks and Storytelling in Product Management With Geoffrey Byers of ParkHub


With over 10 years of experience delivering enterprise SaaS products with organizations including Siemens, IBM, Intuit, Capital One, and now at ParkHub, Geoffrey Byers knows what it takes to get products built. In this episode of Product Chats, Geoffrey explores how he employs storytelling in product management to get organizational buy-in and create emotional responses with all stakeholders.


 

Time Stamped Show Notes

Differences in managing products at Fortune 100 companies and startups [02:33]

Encouraging product teams to fail quickly [03:58]

Experimental frameworks [05:56]

Opportunity overload [10:14]

Honing in on opportunity value [11:37]

Creating magical user experiences [14:03]

Storytelling in product [15:25]

Tailoring stories for different audiences [17:42]

The emotional vector or product [18:19]

Getting buy-in from different teams [20:37]

Advice for aspiring product managers [22:03]

 

 

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Transcript

Kayla: Thanks for tuning into Product Chats. On today's episode, I talk with Geoffrey Byers who is the Chief Product Officer at Parkhub and we talk about experimental frameworks and storytelling. So hope you enjoy the show and don't forget to leave us a review.

Kayla: Hey Geoffrey, thanks so much for coming on today.

Geoffrey: Absolutely Kayla. Thank you for having me, super excited to be here.

Kayla: Yeah. So in a minute or less, can you tell us about yourself?

Geoffrey: Yeah, absolutely. So hi guys. I'm Geoffrey Byers. My background is design, specifically product design. My bread and butter is really translating hypotheses into experiments, validating those in-market for product fit and then scaling those in the form of startups or startup product ecosystems, scaling those to successfully sized products.

Kayla: So let's take a step back and talk about how you actually got into product and what that journey has looked like.

Geoffrey: Absolutely. So my background started in engineering. I didn't really enjoy that side of problem solving. I needed a bit more creativity, openness to just exploring ideas and maybe the why and the what versus the how at least initially. So dropped out of engineering school, went to design school, focused in product design at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Geoffrey: So heavy, heavy focus on industrial design, but the principles translated to software. I was drawn to because of how much, faster and cheaper it was to produce software, to pursue ideas, to experiment with things, a rapid iteration when you're dealing with injection molding can be extremely expensive. At least it definitely was at the time.

Geoffrey: So nonetheless, I jumped head first into software in Fortune 100 space, things were more waterfall. It was still a bit too slow. So, I got into the world of working with startups, working with super aggressive, fast paced teams. Sometimes those are Fortune 100 or within Fortune 100.

Geoffrey: Sometimes those are startups, which I'm involved in now. And, you know, I really translated some of those design methodologies into solving big, hairy problems across products. So not just you know what, traditionally we considered aesthetics or look and feel or UX or usability or things like that, but really the behavior.

Geoffrey: How does that product make people feel? Can we provide these amazing solutions and solve, you know, horrific problems for people? And usually if we can, those are extremely valuable products and it's valuable to businesses.

Kayla: I want to hop into something because you have experience working at like that Fortune 100 company and startups. What are some of like the differences and what are some of the things you love about working at a startup?

Geoffrey: Okay. So, you know, similarities, I think there, there definitely is a hunger. I think startups sometimes are looked at as just like, crazy, which in times it is, but it's hopefully controlled chaos and you know, more of a Fortune 100 company you're kind of balancing products that maybe are, or an ecosystem of products that are very mature.

Geoffrey: And at times there's less. They're more risk adverse to experimenting within those products at a reasonable scale. So like AB testing or something is fine, but you're not making these wild changes to these, you know, very mature products. These flagship cash cow products. In a startup in many times, your success is dependent on that.

Geoffrey: So there is no, oh, we failed, you can continue on. In many cases, your source of revenue is reliant on that. And the entire business gets behind that idea of, we must rapidly iterate and experiment rather than it's a luxury or a nice to have. So I would say that mentality is probably the biggest difference, the cushion for failure.

Geoffrey: And that's why you'll hear a lot of startups, you know, we talk about fast failure or failing fast in the market to find the right fit so on and so forth. But before you invest millions of dollars in something, hopefully. Risk averse difference in mentality and approaching, kind of product iteration I'd say are the top two.

Kayla: And with that product iteration, what are some ways that you allow your team to fail quickly and make them feel safe to fail quickly?

Geoffrey: Absolutely. So as we're balancing again, you know, we have a flagship product that's pretty advanced in the market and we're reliant on that for our enterprise value, our ARR growth. And so we're experimenting in product there, but we're also experimenting in a safer feeling environment. And what I mean by that is I may tell someone it doesn't matter what it looks like.

Geoffrey: It doesn't matter what it feels like. I'd rather get something wrong. Let's just try stuff, rapid-fire right. Let's take those hypotheses. Maybe the riskiest ones, maybe the most exciting things. Let's get those out and see what happens. Could be a CRUD interface, could be a mock up, whatever. But so we have two pieces, right?

Geoffrey: So I have a labs environment. And then I have in product, you know, scaled product that we're making, I would say smaller changes. That would feel more like what I was talking about with those Fortune 100 companies with that flagship product. So we're making maybe smaller, more controlled, more controlled changes, things that have feedback, things that are being asked for, but maybe the customers aren't really asking for a feature they're asking for us to solve a problem.

Geoffrey: So we're making tweaks and kind of navigating that ship. But on the other side, we're still taking, with less resources and less time, we're still taking some leaps of faith with highly experimental products that likely would fail. And that's okay, as long as you know, those are balanced and we can kind of check off what works, what doesn't work with some efficiency.

Geoffrey: And then on the lab side, it's basically relentless pursuit of experimenting and validating along a certain thread. Right. For us in the parking and ticketing world, largely that is a belief that in the near future, humans will be removed from the touch points that a fan or a consumer experiences. That's drastically different from today.

Geoffrey: We have to experiment around that to get it right. So we're going to fail a lot.

Kayla: So on that subject of experimentation and failing a lot, let's talk a little bit about experimental frameworks.

Geoffrey: Yeah. Okay. So in this crowd may be familiar with, you know, scientific method or a super popular one in the design world is came from kind of a mixture of ideas of Stanford's D school design thinking process.

Geoffrey: Right. Which if you're a designer it's super heavy on the emotional side of things. Right. So it's focused on. You know, you empathize, you define you ideate, you prototype, test. And in many cases, when you're doing that, that prototype is extremely important because the artifact that designers may put together may not seem real.

Geoffrey: It might be a Figma mock up, a clickable prototype. If you're fortunate and you have rapid prototypers or devs on your team, that might be something functional. But in many cases, just in pure design, it's not functional. And so if you take that a step further, though, really the formula is hypothesis, experiment, actual decision at the highest level.

Geoffrey: Right. So, you know, if you notice in that one, it's a bit more extracted in that we're not talking necessarily about empathize. It's maybe looking at a formulaic approach to increasing revenue for a customer through artificial intelligence, yield optimization, things that maybe are kind of unsexy from a product perspective.

Geoffrey: But if we look at ratcheting the bar up in terms of a key differentiator for a product or a business it's astronomical, right? It is, it is a differentiator in the market. So a hypothesis, experiment, actual decisions. So the interesting thing with that is it doesn't denote timeframe. It doesn't denote how detailed the solution has to be because in many cases it's rapid fire.

Geoffrey: I'll explain why. When you get a bunch of intelligent people in a room, they almost always gravitate to hypothesis decision. Without fail over and over. They're a domain expert. They've been in the industry. Maybe they have a technical background. If there's a technical problem, maybe they don't, but it's, hey, we think this, okay, let's go build this.

Geoffrey: The biggest issue there is in terms of waste, right? If I'm focused on optimizing enterprise value, customer value, I could also say delight for a customer. I can do that, but it's very wasteful. And so in a startup environment, when time is so fleeting, you have competitors that are beating you up, people chasing you, maybe your window, your time horizon for the solution is quite short.

Geoffrey: It's imperative that we have less of those hypothesis decision and more actuals to rely on. That way it levels the playing field. The loudest voice in the room isn't the one that wins. Obviously, you know, your head of X, your CEO, whomever can still challenge and gut check stuff, but largely it's reliant on pulling as much value in terms of feedback, in terms of fit, in terms of, is this the right thing to build? Not just how would we build this thing?

Geoffrey: If I can answer that question with those simple steps, you know, in reality, they're very hard steps over and over and over again. But if I can answer that with those four steps, largely I can arrive at the correct solution.

Geoffrey: Go, no-go. Faster with less waste than if I just took a shotgun approach to guessing what might work, which could be detrimental and business ending for a startup if you wasted too much capital.

Kayla: And I think you bring up a great point about the waste, right? Like at a bigger company. I mean, there's a lot more certainty, right?

Kayla: You're like, okay, we have like Amazon, right. We have millions of customers with this percent certainty we can know. So I think a big piece of that is always just getting down to that. What is the challenge that our customer is dealing with? And then figuring out how do we solve this? And like the way that uses the least amount of resource so that we don't actually build out this big product. And then we fail because resources are so constrained.

Geoffrey: That, and the other tricky part to it is if you have opportunity overload, how do you assess what is the most valuable thing that you could be pursuing? And it doesn't have to be linear, right? You could have multiple teams still pursuing these things.

Geoffrey: That can be a bit chaotic, but you can do it, but essentially making sense of the opportunity overload. What's the most valuable, what's the hairiest problem to solve? What's the most revenue created? You have some kind of matrix that you help, you know, make sense and assess these opportunities. And then that relentless pursuit, and this can work and does work in corporations who embrace it.

Geoffrey: Google does this. If you go to X and look at what they're doing, they did this with project Loon. They did this with a handful of other products that they brought to market. We don't hear about all of those failures, but I will guarantee it's a monumental amount of failure to get at answering the right thing, the right way, at the right time.

Kayla: I think when I talk to a lot of product leaders, it's just about being open, right? Like, Hey, here's our failures. Here's where we missed the ball. But in a startup it's so important because if you miss the ball too much, you're failing. That could put a company out of business. So I think, and then I kind of want to hop back into, you talked about that, like opportunity value.

Kayla: So what are actual ways that you really focus on like honing in on that opportunity value?

Geoffrey: Yeah. So there's a few ways, depending on kind of how mature your business is and kind of where you are centered in this. And I'll give an example why, if this is super early on, you may not have a clear understanding of the revenue value.

Geoffrey: If we talk just value in terms of raw dollars. What that means to your company. If you bring this in and you're in a SaaS, you know, 20x multiple valuation, right? So every dollar is worth 20, every million's worth 20 million to your value. That's substantive early on, that can be really hard to get at.

Geoffrey: So the easiest one for me to look at, if I'm assessing it is how much of an impact does this have to my current stack of customers if I rank them in terms of revenue? One, it's looking at stickiness to say, you know, these customers who contribute this much to our value need this type of solution that I'm building. The other way is to look at unlocking a new TAM.

Geoffrey: Right again, in a somewhat mature SaaS startup. I'm looking at that same thing and saying, hey, how do we have to change this product? Whether through build, partner, or buy to unlock this other massive, you know, addressable market over here that we haven't touched yet. So largely it's a function.

Geoffrey: The other equation though, that I typically don't necessarily touch that may seem reasonable is development cost. And the reason why I leave that out is at least initially is we're talking about experimenting around the solution.

Geoffrey: We didn't talk about how we achieve it, right? So again partner, build, buy. There's a chance that is a better deal to acquire someone who has this or partner with someone who has it to unlock that TAM and share in that revenue rather than build it from scratch. Especially if it's something where, hey, no one's thought about leveraging this piece of technology for this market over here.

Geoffrey: In parking that's extremely abundant right?

Geoffrey: New payment methods when it used to be a cash heavy business up until recently is a perfect example. Right? QR code payment, SMS payment, direct carrier billing. So largely the biggest I'm balancing is customer value, and what it unlocks. If I were to balance another high component, if I'm thinking again, kind of general, another large component I'm looking for is delight.

Geoffrey: That's hard to put your finger on, but what it means is magic. Can I make someone think and feel that this is magical? Because if I can, they have to have it. They can't say no. So thinking back to it, it's really like almost a ying and a yang in that I have dollars on one side and I have a heart on the other. That is the magical blend high level.

Geoffrey: It's a little bit more complex than that. If I looked at it in terms of a matrix and rated it and made people feel comfortable, but in a presentation and a keynote, that's what it is. It's those two things.

Kayla: And I think you bring up a great point with that, right? It's like humans have this logical and this emotional brain and as product you have to say, okay, how do we marry the two?

Kayla: So obviously people make decisions off of like their heart, but they also make decisions off of logic. Hey, do I actually need this product? And then that heart pieces, does this make me happy? Does this improve my life? Does this make my life better? And so I think it's really that fine line of figuring out.

Kayla: Okay. Where does like, what's that cross between those two?

Geoffrey: You nailed it. Can I make it a no-brainer financially for, you know, if it's a customer I'm servicing, if it's B2B and then can I solve a huge pain? So I'm removing the negative emotion or I'm increasing the positive emotion even further. If I can do those two things, it's almost always a slam dunk.

Kayla: Yep. And so I want to talk, right. We just talked about like, kind of the heart and let's talk about storytelling and what that looks like.

Geoffrey: Right on. So, you know, as I'm approaching, like looking at all of these concepts, that's heavily reliant on convincing people that, you know, we should be pursuing this, or we should be working on this, or, you know, this is the right order.

Geoffrey: This is the right operation, whatever. So part of it, isn't just, you know, hey, can I put that in an email or put that in some kind of brief or put that on something.

Geoffrey: It's you know, I'm convincing the business to believe in this. Help me pitch it, help me reach out to customers, help me share it, help me refine it because that isn't just the chief product officer's show or the product team's show or whatever.

Geoffrey: It's a joint effort and we have to attack it from all angles. So can we bring that mentality to the entire team? And that's one of the ways I like to gain consensus. It makes people feel like they can leave their fingerprints on it and it's theirs. And so one of the ways doing that is through storytelling.

Geoffrey: Especially heavy use of analogies. And so as I'm kind of dissecting that the first piece of it is, is this conversational and synchronous, or is this a message? Is this asynchronous? Right? So think of conversation like a presentation, but it's live Q&A, right. Don't save Q&A for the end. Let's talk about it.

Geoffrey: Usually that's more intimate than maybe company-wide if our company's, you know, 50, 60 people, I don't think we could have an in-depth conversation as we go, but in a certain environment, if I'm just pitching this to the growth team or something like that, we can have that conversational, synchronous, intimate storytelling, largely if it's a, if it's a message and it's going to be an email or a recorded video. But I'm looking at a few key things, right.

Geoffrey: So, who's the audience, what's my intent? And what are those communication channels? And this is true, probably for any type of storytelling. Somebody listening might say, well, yeah, I mean, I think of that when I write emails. Which is true, If you're actually creating interesting emails or useful emails or sending like awesome GIFs in your emails that make people respond. Great job.

Kayla: Not speaking from experience or anything.

Geoffrey: So going back to kind of the experimental part, I have to translate that. Right? Largely part of what I do is I'm playing translator. So, you know, if I'm smack in the middle, if I'm talking to a group of engineers, I'm talking to them differently than I'm talking to the growth team, than I'm talking to the customer success team than I'm talking to the CEO.

Geoffrey: Right. So that will kind of shift some of the audience. The intent in some cases, or at least in this case, as I'm pitching them, whether they know it or not. I'm trying to use the same trick that I'm using on customers. Maybe it's not a trick, that seems dubious but that tugging at the heartstrings, right.

Geoffrey: That emotional vector that I'm going after with products and market. I'm doing the same thing when I try and talk to someone. So largely that's usually a story, right? And so when I put these presentations together, what's my communication channel. My favorite is face-to-face with a deck with heavy use of imagery, rapid fire.

Geoffrey: Right. It's emotionally overwhelming. People listen and engage and they get the concept and it can be a bit off-putting when you see pictures of someone drinking coffee, waking up, getting in their car to drive, to meet someone for lunch in a product presentation about parking. Right?

Geoffrey: But instead of launching into just, hey, here's this concept we have. I needed to make someone feel like this was their life because we've all experienced certain pain points or if we're in this company, we understand our customers' pain points enough through personas and other things, shadowing, working with them, so on and so forth.

Geoffrey: That it can resonate with us beyond just, oh, here's this kooky idea that this guy has for us to pursue. Oh, here's another one. So largely that storytelling is a means of convincing buy-in and then democratizing genius to get their brain power, thinking about these concepts to weigh in on it and then leave their fingerprints.

Geoffrey: If I can do that, then they believe that this is the company's, that this is theirs and they're far less frequent to dismiss it. They're far more frequent to ask about it, support it, come up with ideas on their own, shop it around with customers. Talk about things high level, and then come back to me with feedback, which is absolutely gold for a product person.

Kayla: And I think you bring up some great points here, right? About, I think that's something that's so important for people in product is the ability to talk to those different audiences. Right? Like you're not going to talk to the CEO the same way as you'll talk to an engineer, but you have to make them feel like they're part of it.

Kayla: Right? Like they're invested because that's that heartstring again, right? Like they're like, I'm emotionally invested in this thing and you have my buy-in. So I think you bring up such a great point around alignment around kind of making people feel like they're part of the process, whether you created the idea you're getting to the problem and creating some solution and kind of getting this buy-in and making sure everyone's working together to meet those company goals.

Geoffrey: Absolutely. And it's not a drastically different conversation. If I'm talking with growth, I may be stressing revenue and upsell potentials or TAM unlocking. If it's more of a growth leader. If it's customer service, I'm talking directly about the pain points, this helps resolve with our customers, how we'll reduce frustration and increase you know, stickiness or NPS scores or whatever, you know, is important that time. With engineers, it's maybe an exciting opportunity and exciting problem for them to flex their muscles with a new stack or something of that nature.

Geoffrey: So it just depends. What's their motivator? What do they think most about? And it's usually just like a radar chart, it's augmented a little bit differently. It's not night and day difference. So that story shifts, but it's largely the same threads to to weave that canvas together.

Kayla: And I think that gets back to the point of like understanding your customer, right?

Kayla: Whether it's an internal customer or your customer that's buying or using your product, it's just understand who they are, what they care about. And then like the rest will follow.

Geoffrey: Yeah. 100%. They don't always know exactly what they want. But if you listen, they will tell you what to build. You just have to translate it.

Geoffrey: Ultimately, that's the key to getting feedback. That's why we experiment. That's why we engage with these customers. They have the answers in a way. We just have to translate it into the right solution at the right time, orchestrate all of it together and put it together in a package that makes sense to them.

Kayla: So you mentioned something that I think is really important, the ability to translate. And I think that's something that's especially important as a leader, as the ability to translate. So I'm wondering what's one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring product leader?

Geoffrey: Yeah. So this is a, this is a really hard one.

Geoffrey: If someone listening is like me and probably many of you are, and you're extremely passionate about what you build and what you put together and what you solve, and it's not just an experiment like this is an extension of you as a creator and what you're birthing into the world, to put it bluntly. Bring 100% every single day, but know when it's time to focus on you and not the things that you're building.

Geoffrey: You can't bring 100% if you aren't also focused on you, when you need to be. I've struggled with this. Most of my colleagues have struggled with this where sometimes you have to let off that gas pedal. Sometimes your team needs to let off the gas pedal a little bit.

Geoffrey: It has to ebb and flow, no matter how hungry you are, the business is, how exciting something is. You have to take care of your wellness too, so that you can bring 100%

Kayla: Great. And what roles are you hiring for?

Geoffrey: Yeah. So we're currently hiring across our entire R&D organization. Full-stack developers, dev ops, QA, product managers.

Geoffrey: So things are constantly changing. We're constantly looking for awesome talent. So please reach out. We always have roles open.

Kayla: And on the subject of reaching out, where can people connect with you?

Geoffrey: Sure. Easiest place is LinkedIn, Geoffrey Byers, G E O F F R E Y B Y E R S or geoffreybyers.com. New website's on its way.

Geoffrey: And I have a pretty awesome newsletter you should sign up for too.

Kayla: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on.

Geoffrey: Thank you so much for having me, Kayla. Appreciate it.

Kayla: Thanks again to Geoffrey for joining us on today's episode of Product Chats. For more product management resources, head to canny.io/blog, and we'll see you next time. .