Where Product Meets Design - Brian Peterson on Meeting Customer Demand in Product

June 9, 2023


Alex Smith: Where Product Meets Design is brought to you by Fuego UX, a UX research, strategy and design consultancy. Hey Brian, thanks so much for coming on the show today.

Brian Peterson: Yeah. Hey, Alex, happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Alex Smith: It's the first episode. So I'm excited. Tell me a little bit about your journey into product management.

Brian Peterson: So, actually, my journey started as a kid. So I grew up with a family that we're all small business owners and entrepreneurs. I actually think that entrepreneurs, product folks, and designers kind of have the same mentality, this idea of like, figuring out what things should be or what they could be, and going after it. And so those first two years, I was working at a company, a global music company called the EMI and it was all about, you know, how do we innovate? How do we, you know, thrive in a world where our business is kind of being disrupted? I went over to Sony Music, did the same thing. But more on the mobile side. So now, mobile phones are becoming ubiquitous, it was all about if you remember things like ringtones. And, you know, this is 2004, 2006. It was during my time at Sony that I had my first startup.So again, my background, all family are entrepreneurs. So this is very, this is kind of the common way to go about your career. So yeah, me and three other co-founders, we launched what was, I describe it like a Shopify E-commerce widget meets Google AdWords for artists. So this is 2006, 2007. Artists wanted to sell directly to their fans. And so that was an amazing journey, just as a product person building something from the very start, innovating. I wound up working for another large music company called BMI after that, which was about, you know, we represented 700,000 music publishers, songwriters, composers, and it was building out a lot of cool apps and web apps and mobile apps. And then and, you know, we moved to Colorado, here outside of Boulder, just I guess it was a little over seven years ago. And I spent the majority of that time with a company, a local company called Campminder, which is a vertical Software as a Service, really cool company that primarily was building products for summer camps, has been getting into more of the retreat and conferences business as well. So that's, that's really my background, kind of that software as a service, big music, tech, product.

Alex Smith: Let's hop into our lightning round, this is new. So you have 15 seconds or a couple of sentences to answer these five questions about product management. Are you ready?

Brian Peterson: Whoa, 15 seconds. Okay. I think so.

Alex Smith: Yeah. All right. What's the common myth about product management?

Brian Peterson: One of the biggest myths is that product managers have all the power and authority. And that's simply not true. Product managers lead through influence, not authority. You've probably heard that before. But that's, that's a big myth. It's still out there.

Alex Smith: What's the most important lesson you've learned?

Brian Peterson: The most important lesson I keep I'd say relearning is to never, ever stop talking to your customers. So, you know, I'd say the moment you do that, there's the moment things start to go wrong.

Alex Smith: All right. What is the one thing about product that nobody agrees with you about?

Brian Peterson: I'd say the one thing that's most misunderstood or misinterpreted, is this concept of the product manager being the CEO of the product. So this was like Ben Horowitz and David Waxman, and I think is how you pronounce his name, wrote this famous article years ago, about good product managers versus bad product managers. And the key point they were making is that like CEOs, product managers should take full responsibility and full ownership for the success and failure of the products. So this idea of like, no excuses, like, I don't have enough engineers or sales made me do this, blah, blah, blah, you know, you own it. I think that's something that I still strongly believe in that get misinterpreted these days. But, yeah.

Alex Smith: What's an indispensable tool for product managers?

Brian Peterson: There's a ton of tools out there today, right? Roadmapping tools, wireframing tools, you know, design tools, but to stay on this theme of, you know, never stop talking to your customers. I'd actually say Calendly has been a tool that personally has helped streamline that process of booking customer calls. I mean, there's other tools like that. I think they're underrated and incredibly valuable. And now there's all these AI note taking tools that in conjunction Calendly that can capture the conversation, transcribe it, synthesize it. Again, I think these are tools that help you stay connected to your customer,

Alex Smith: For sure. And last but not least, what is the one piece of advice you'd give to someone starting out in product?

Brian Peterson: You need to figure out how to talk to more customers like more than anyone else, more than your CEO, more than your customer success managers, more than your sales reps. Like if you can do that one thing, you'll be indispensable and more valuable.

Alex Smith: Let's switch gears here to the main theme of our chat, which is, which is product and design and where they meet. So tell me a little bit about that. Like how, you know, throughout your career, What have you seen work between product and design? Or what do you think should improve there?

Brian Peterson: I think there's, there's no product without design, like design is so crucial. And I see product managers and product designers, like that partnership is paramount. And it's because both should get good product designers, good product managers, should be focused on solving the customer's problem. You know, and same with engineers, right? It is a team sport and a team effort. I would even go as far as to say like, the whole org right, is focused on solving those customer problems. Everyone just plays a different part on the team, but specifically design and the product managers. Again, I think the future is going to demand even more from product managers and designers, meaning that it's going to be even more important for both of those roles to go out, talk to customers to better understand what the need is, the nuance of it to work together. There's a big trend right now towards product lead growth. PLG, you've probably heard that term, right? Like that, that requires that these b2b software as a service platforms, not only just design a great product, but design the best experience, it's intuitive, that any kind of user can go self service, sign up, start using it, start to extract value from it. I think that again, that partnership between the product manager and the designer is all about that nuanced, like what is kind of getting in the way of this customer achieving this value and like partnering together to deliver that result.

Alex Smith: Yeah, I love that partnership there. You touched on an interesting concept which I think everyone's striving for, and I don't think everyone's nailed, which is product led growth. What do you think like, if I look at the companies that are doing that right, and maybe the teams that are like, I want to be there. How do you unlock that? Do you have any perspective on how to actually convert to product lead growth? 

Brian Peterson: Yeah, I think the short way to approach this is that in the past software, like the old school way, right was you, you would go on premise, and you would install it. Like now everything is a software as a service. And the B2C, right, is different than B2B. And so now, these B2B software as a service companies, they have to act and they have to solve their customers' problems in a different way. And one of those ways is they need to provide a really intuitive self serve experience. It's not only beneficial for the company, right? It's not just a marketing strategy or sales strategy. But it really is a way to meet the customer's demand. Design is I think, you know, Paramount again, and that's because you have to think through the entire kind of beginning to end journey and user experience and figure out all the places where they're getting hung up. And all the places where, you know, it's preventing that user from again, realizing that value.

Alex Smith: How should product and design teams think about product market fit, which is obviously kind of like the buzzword for starting a new product.

Brian Peterson: I think one of the things that I've seen in the 20 years of doing product and being in working with designers, is sometimes we get so focused on building what we think is a cool product, or what we think is like designing what we think is a good design. And it could be, it could be the best practice, right? It could be the latest trend. It doesn't always equate to product market fit. I see that all the time in software, or anything related with product and design is in a vacuum or in our offices or in front of our computers. Like it's the best product, but you gotta go understand how your customers are using it.

Alex Smith: Brian, where can people go to find you to learn more and connect?

Brian Peterson: I think the best way right now is my LinkedIn. So I'm pretty active there. And really interested in connecting with folks, especially here in the local kind of Colorado, Front Range Community. Anything about product, design, you know, I love the startup kind of scale up space as well. So yeah, please find me and we'll find some time to do a walk and talk or get a coffee or something.

Alex Smith: Thanks so much for coming on the show today.

Brian Peterson: Hey, it's my pleasure. I'm happy to be your first guest and look forward to chatting some more.