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Q&A: Marty Cagan's view on trust, technology, and growth

Friday, June 15, 2018

Hewlett-Packard, Netscape, and eBay to name a few - Marty Cagan has defined and built some of the biggest products for these names and more over the past 30 years.

Today, Marty is one of the most trusted voices in Product Marketing and Management.

The founder of the Silicon Valley Product Group, Marty met with us in Copenhagen to talk about the challenges businesses face in 2016, how to deal with business growth, and the impact of the power shift from businesses to consumers.

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What is the biggest challenge facing businesses today?

“Technology. There are two kinds of big business: those who embrace technology, and those who do not.

“You’ve got Google, Apple and Amazon who are really at the forefront of technology and big business, but the bigger problems come to those businesses who do not embrace technology, or perhaps even realise they are essentially a technology business now, and are hoping to become ‘big’.

“Smaller, and typically older brick-and-mortar companies, have a lot of work in front of them to really succeed.

“We need to change how we operate, and how we serve our customers.

"Otherwise there are other companies, big or small, who are good with technology and will take business away from you.”

Peter and Cagan

Trustpilot CEO Peter Mühlmann (left) speaking with Marty Cagan (right)

How can a business handle growth and remain innovative?

“One challenge is dealing with scale. It’s hard to innovate across all areas while ensuring a holistic customer experience as you grow.

“Communication should be at the top of everyone’s list. When you’re in one room, it’s easy to talk because you have the same space each day. When you grow, it’s tough to see how it all fits together.

“I’ve been in many companies who have seen explosive growth. The cracks start to show usually around 100 people – you just cannot know everything at that point.

“Everyone needs to have the power to make decisions and feel valued, so trust and communication is a crucial in this. I need to trust my colleagues to come up with good ideas. You need to trust me to do my work.

There are plenty of other companies out there, big or small, who are good with technology and will take business away from you.
Marty Cagan

“You need to loosen up a little. Give people room to come up with their own solutions and give them space to think.

“Another piece of advice is to hire people for what you want out of them. It’s great that you are hiring people who understand your business and want people from known companies to come to you, but don’t fall into the trap of hiring people to replicate their past with companies who are much bigger. You want to hire people for their brains.”

Why are business lifespans shortening?

“The lifespan of companies is shortening - a brand is not as powerful as it once was.

“You can link this to the voice of the customer. If you’re not taking care of your customers, they feel it right away, and they can say something about it too.

“With companies like Trustpilot, you’re able to see what companies really care and those companies which do care can focus their business on the good things they do. Businesses need to listen to their customers.

“Feedback helps companies that are good help grow faster than ever, and it also means companies that are bad help them feel the pain much quicker. With this, the market is becoming a ‘perfect market’.”

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Marty in the Trustpilot office

You’ve said before that roadmaps are not effective. Why is this?

"The key is that roadmaps are generally putting a solution or feature at the head – it might work, but it probably won’t. They are somebody’s guess at what to do.

“What we need to do is solve business problems or their pains right from the off. We need to be problem solvers so we are focused on outcome, not output. Roadmaps are a guess at what should be best.”

What are the biggest Product Management and Marketing trends in 2016?

“One of the biggest areas to focus on in 2016 is the consumerization of enterprise software, which is simply making business products user-friendly and accessible.

“So if, for example, you buy a product at home from your tablet or computer, you use some software which is attractive and simple. In comparison, the options a business has to purchase something or use a service are typically difficult to use and ugly.

“Consumerization of enterprise software is the process of taking the easy things we do at home - whether through an app or otherwise - and integrating those simple actions into a business context, so people can use them without training and understand the value immediately.

What we need to do is solve business problems or their pains right from the off
Marty Cagan

“Big data is another big trend. The more data you have, the more insights you can draw from the data about customers, and the better your service can and should be for the customer. There’s plenty for everyone to be working on.”

Click here for more on Marty Cagan or follow him on Twitter @cagan


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