Paul Ortchanian – Founder/CEO Bain Public, Product Leader + Mentor + Investor: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulortchanian/
Ciprian Borodescu: I’m here with Paul Ortchanian, founder and CEO of Bain Public, product leader, mentor, and investor. I’m super excited and it’s an honor to have you on this podcast. Thank you so much for being here.
Paul Ortchanian: Thank you for having me.
Ciprian Borodescu: You are a frequent contributor on popular product management blogs and you’re the creator of a number of product management methodologies, including SOAP – planning and prioritization framework – which we’ll get into more details later. But for now, I just want to ask you, how are you these days? What’s new? And how are you navigating these crazy times?
Paul Ortchanian: We’re good, actually. As you know, my company is Bain Public and we work with a lot of companies establishing product management within a startup or middle-tier organizations. And when COVID hit us, we realized that we could basically just go virtual so we transferred a lot of our workflows and our meetings into a virtual format. And, you know, it’s not as obvious. Product management is a very empathetic type of business, especially when you’re dealing with executives. So, getting a bunch of executives around the room in a Zoom meeting and then having them provide you their point of view, people talk over one another, you can’t have side conversations, you kind of miss the visual effects. So we had to really change the way we approached just having these meetings, being able to have side meetings, being able to have collaborative tools. But overall, the business has thrived. We onboarded many startups, as well as mature organizations. Biron Groupe Santé is one of the biggest companies in Quebec in health, and we onboarded them on one of their products Metromedia, which is part of the Metro International Newspaper Group, as well on their digital transition. So a lot more organizations have decided to go full-on into digital products, and they require our help, which has really helped.
Ciprian Borodescu: Excellent, excellent. And we met last year during Techstars Montreal AI, where you are a mentor. Tell us a bit about your experience running product management for Bay Area startups and now mentoring startups, especially in Montreal.
Paul Ortchanian: Yeah, well, I started 10 or 15 years ago, in the Bay Area. I actually was an engineer – more of a creative engineer – and I jumped into product management, mainly because I had a lot of big passion for user experience as well as the business side. And it was a tough transition, I felt that product management was very hard to grasp. Even though I had mentors at the time, it was hard to put a foot in, hard to understand, hard to master.
Ciprian Borodescu: What was the biggest challenge for you, by the way?
Paul Ortchanian: I think when you read articles about product management, you pretty much understand that you need to own the product – some people say you need to be the CEO of the product – you need to own the conversation with engineering, you need to own the conversation with customers, you need to own the conversation with executives. So, the impression you get is that you need to be that smart guy who knows all the data and analytics, who’s done all the interviews, and gets inside a meeting room telling people exactly what the facts are. And I think that myth is wrong because it ends up giving you this lure of this know-it-all that everybody just despises in a company because you get into a room and all you do is talk, enumerating facts, and challenging others. And that usually brings you down this rabbit hole of, I would say, conflicts with executives, conflicts with people who have strong opinions, conflicts with the engineering team who basically sees things the other way – and your inability to manage those conflicts really puts you in trouble. So I was surprised that while I was in San Francisco that the lifespan of a product manager in a company was about one year. And I questioned myself why and within a year I was fired. So I reflected backwards, and I said, “What did I do wrong?” Because I remember doing all the interviews, I had all the data, all the analytics, I had discussions with everyone internally. And the missing piece was that I just was this smart alec, you know, the guy who shows up in a room and basically ends up sucking the air out. And nobody likes that type of product managers.
Paul Ortchanian: So one guy I had interviewed once for a product management role within our company struck me as being different. He basically came into the interview unprepared and gave me these soft answers. Nothing about data or analytics, or customers, or product roadmap, but all about having conversations and being genuine, listening to people, asking the right questions. And I remember at the time, after the interview, telling my boss, “I don’t think this guy is even close to being a product manager.” And I was wrong. That’s an actually good product manager. So it turns out that, as a product manager, you’re never given any authority. You’ve got the CEO, you’ve got the CTO, you’ve got the CMO, you’ve got the VP of sales and customer support, and everybody else, and you’re there in between the engineering team and all of these people, and you have no authority over them, so it’s very hard for you to influence using facts. It’s not as if like you’re… I always say you’re not a lawyer, you’re not going in front of courts, and there is no judge to whom you have to basically prove the facts. There is no third party, you’re dealing with a lot of people’s egos, and the best way you can approach it is by basically being a soft, empathetic product manager who listens to other people’s opinions and is able to basically interview the collective team, like internal stakeholders, ask questions, have them learn together, and start drip-feeding some of the facts that you have learned into those conversations in order to influence the conversation to go into the direction you want. So, that’s a very hard thing to do. A lot of people learn on the go. And I think with maturity, you end up realizing that a lot of it has to do with how you manage yourself, how you manage your integrity, how you manage your conversations, how you manage your own communications. It’s a bit like tennis. You know, it’s not the better player who wins, it’s the one who really knows how not to lose.
Ciprian Borodescu: That’s interesting. That’s interesting. And we can now unpack, basically, this answer because there are so many things there. Is there a difference in approaches when building products between the two – Bay Area versus Montreal? Because I can tell you for sure that between Romania or should I say, Eastern Europe and Western Europe, there is a difference in building products, I think the main one being that here, there’s a lot of technical talent. And so, the approach is mostly technical-oriented, versus business-oriented as you’d mostly see in countries like UK, or France. What’s your experience from that point of view? Us versus Canada, let’s say? I also know that you have customers in Europe as well.
Paul Ortchanian: Yeah. Well, I basically had the privilege to see how companies operate in San Francisco and in Silicon Valley. So for me, that’s the right way of doing it. You know, and I can’t say that that is really the right way of doing it, but just by looking at the amount of companies that are coming out of it, who are successful in product management, you could basically use that as being, “Well, they’re obviously doing something right.” One of the reasons I moved back to Montreal was, you know, let alone the cost of living and a growing family, but one of the reasons I moved to Montreal is because I realized that that culture wasn’t here. Montreal is a French culture in the middle of North America, so a lot of people don’t speak English or they don’t have as much exposure to best practices as much as people in Toronto and other cities do. Despite the fact that they think they do because they do read some articles here and there, I think that the knowledge sharing hasn’t really gotten to Montreal in the same way. So, you find out that there are a lot of companies that are top-down where the CEO is basically conducting everything, making every decision – and unfortunately, that doesn’t scale and they hire a lot of product managers with this ‘roll up your sleeves’ attitude where we’ll tell you what to do, all you need to do is just go and work with the engineering team to do it. Which, you know, for me, it’s project management.
Paul Ortchanian: So I think that’s what I’m seeing in Montreal, I’m seeing a lot less decision-making in terms of what do we build next, which is going to have a positive impact on the growth of this company and help us achieve the next financial milestone. And I’m seeing a lot more of, you know, just to keep people busy, our engineers have to do something, and we just need to keep pumping out features as fast as possible. So, a lot of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, but not a lot of why are we doing these things. In Europe – I mean, I’ve had the pleasure of going to Europe and giving a lot of interviews and keynotes to conferences there – I feel there’s a more of a rational approach as well in Europe. And in some ways, I do admire how Poland, Latvia, the countries of Northern Europe are really approaching it. They’re very rational in most approaches on anything they do from any scale and I think that’s the really right approach.
Ciprian Borodescu: Very pragmatic.
Paul Ortchanian: Yeah, I mean, even if you include Sweden in there, they’re really doing great in terms of their approach. I think it might be a cultural element where it’s about collaborative decision making, rather than top-down – Americans tend to be top-down and product managers are kind of in this middle where they prevent the top-down from being too top-down and just stopping the executives from going crazy, and allowing for good decisions to be made collectively.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah. And while you were talking, I was thinking, like, okay, you can expand this product management role from a company or startup level to how this pandemic and the entire crisis was actually managed. And like you said, northern countries here in Europe seem to have a better grasp on the situation. You know, it comes and goes, because these are interesting times and weird times.
Paul Ortchanian: Yeah. I think you’re right. It’s interesting to see how certain countries in Europe, the government, and the politicians took a step aside and allowed the health officials to come in and manage things. Whereas in the States, you have a president who basically fired the health officials, and basically decided to do things on their own. And I think if you try to make a parallel to product management, and ask yourself why do they last a year, I mean, just because oftentimes you’ve got very influential people in authoritarian positions who basically decide sometimes that they’re just going to move things along, whether that’s good or wrong for the country. And in the States, we definitely see that that’s heading in the wrong direction.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah, yeah. I remember that back at Techstars Montreal AI last year, you introduced us to the service blueprint, which we used to better understand the context each of our AI products operates within. It was a great way to think of our product strategy as we grow and evolve. And I know this is highly visual, but can you please describe it for us? I’m sure those listening would get a lot of value from it. And I will include the necessary links and notes for this episode.
Paul Ortchanian: Absolutely. I mean, it’s funny because, internally, I call it ‘executive candy’ because executives like explaining everything in one slide. So, if you’re able to put everything in one image that describes how your company does business, as well as all the technology that really allows that customer to be supported, breaking it down into all of its elements, then it makes an executive happy. And every time we do the blueprint exercise with any startup or bigger organizations, they love it because it’s a map of how things are being done. And so, the way we approach it is that we don’t believe a product exists on its own. A product is actually an ecosystem of features that supports a particular journey you want customers to take. And so, even though we all believe that software is not a linear thing, we basically encourage companies to start thinking in terms of linearity. What are we trying to get the customer to achieve from acquisition all the way to usage and maybe disposal of the product or reuse of the product?
Paul Ortchanian: So, the best example I like to give is the iPhone because the iPhone is a piece of hardware, but it also has an operating system. But even before you decide to purchase an iPhone, to purchase it you need the Apple Store – either the physical location or the online version – you need a fulfillment center to basically be able to ship that to your house, you need to be able to set it up, so there is a setup function within it. You need to be able to create an account in the Cloud, so there’s a Cloud component to it. You need to start downloading apps, so there’s a third-party app platform component to it. And then, you need to start downloading music and listening to music. So, all of these things together create the experience you have on the iPhone.
Ciprian Borodescu: There you go, you have the ecosystem.
Paul Ortchanian: Yeah, it’s the ecosystem. So we try to basically break it down into those little microelements and ultimately ask the executive team of an organization, you know, Have you completed the first step? Which is the purchase. Have you completed the second step? Which is the fulfillment. The third step, which is the setup. And the fourth step, which is the hardware. And then the operating system. What about the Cloud component? What about the App Store component? So these are all elements that if you put them in front of an executive in one image and then you ask them, “Can you tell me what you have completed so far and what you haven’t really begun working on?” you quickly see where the gaps are in your organization and your product. Sometimes you think in your head that the product is complete, but just a quick blueprint and you quickly realize that maybe 50% of your product is incomplete. At which point, you have to ask yourself, which one do I start with? Which one do I need to do in the next six weeks? Which one do I need to do in the next six months? Which one do I need to do in the next six years? I think in one image, if you’re able to put this much power, this much visibility, transparency, and ability to make a decision, it ends up being the type of things that most executives like to see and if you use that, as a product manager, to lead your conversations with executives, it really helps the decision making.
Ciprian Borodescu: And I think this is useful both for startups and for scale-ups, or even for companies that are looking to introduce a new product in the market, right?
Paul Ortchanian: Absolutely. We recently worked with Metromedia, which is the newspaper you get in the subways all around the world. And, you know, the subways are dying due to COVID-19, the newspaper industry is dying. You know, they had a big questioning to do: how do they go digital? And we introduced the blueprint. And it was great to map out their existing ecosystem, and then try to describe from that, how we’d basically turn this into a digital one. So sometimes it ends up becoming like the actual blueprint for their existing 20 years into the making ecosystem where you can see the old CMSs and the old ERPs and everything, and you’re able to ask questions, Does this need to be replaced? Do we need to upgrade that? So it’s always a great tool, whether you’re a small, medium, or large company.
Ciprian Borodescu: Excellent. And if you take this next question out of context, it might sound really funny. What is SOAP? Why should we know about it? And where can we get more of it? And yes, SOAP is not the thing you use to wash your hands with. It’s actually a framework that Paul created. Tell us more about it, Paul.
Paul Ortchanian: I mean, it’s a tongue-in-cheek joke. Our company is called Bain Public, which in French translates for public bath. And we always feel that, you know, companies need to use hygiene on their roadmaps. So, you know, we often joke that it’s time to clean your product roadmap. So we were playing with the idea of cleaning and we said, “Well, if you want to give your product the care it deserves, then you need to use SOAP.” And so, we created this methodology, which is a 12-step methodology. It’s nothing clever. It’s basically an aggregation of a number of things that we do as product managers all into one, that basically allows companies to go from ‘we have no product’ roadmap to ‘we have a product’ roadmap. And this framework, basically we called it SOAP because it’s all about roadmap prioritization, product strategy. So the S stands for strategy, right? We used to have the ability to tell you what SOAP stands for but I completely forgot, though, at this point, because I think that we just started using it as what it is, really. It’s a way to start fresh, a way to basically use SOAP to remove the dirt and building the right product.
Ciprian Borodescu: Awesome. And I recently read an article you published on LinkedIn about coachable product leaders. I want to ask you, are founders coachable product leaders? Or is it easier to coach non-founders into a product leadership role?
Paul Ortchanian: It depends. I think being coachable means that you need to have gotten to the point where you realize that you will benefit from the help of others. We speak with a lot of startups, we give a lot of our time pro bono in the Montreal ecosystem, as well as the Canadian ecosystem, and basically, giving a lot of workshops and introducing some of our frameworks to young startups in accelerators and incubators. Basically, there’s always one or two founders who come and they’re ready to absorb the notions that we’re bringing forward, and they see the benefit of how it helps their organization. And usually, they end up leveraging the tools and the methodology, and it helps them. But we also often find that there’s what I call ‘founders with Moses syndrome’. It’s a tongue-in-cheek joke that we do internally, which is the situation where a founder somehow goes to the mountain and comes back down with funding. And because of that funding, they feel like they have the ability to set the rules. They basically know the 10 commandments of running a startup. And it’s very hard at that point to challenge. A lot of what we do at Bain Public is really challenge the company’s roadmap. We start from the top, What are the big, hairy, ambitious goals you’re trying to achieve? What’s the mission of this product? What are the strategies and tactics? And how are you defending yourself against the competition? And really dissect all of it before we jump into the roadmap exercise. And oftentimes, if people don’t want to be challenged, they’re not coachable. They just feel like they have the answers.
Paul Ortchanian: And we’ve seen companies that have done very well because oftentimes, it takes a very, very obsessed founder sometimes just to forget reality and just drive. And those are very rare. But you often get in situations where you get founders who achieve a lot fast, and usually, that happens when they’re very sales-oriented. So instead of driving their product, both from… There’s basically three key strategies you can take when you’re starting a company. You can expand your footprint fast, like we’ve done geographically, or cross-industry, via sales, mainly. You could basically innovate in your product. Or you could basically create efficiencies in order to make more margin out of every dollar you’re getting from the customer. In theory, we encourage our founders to drive their roadmap through all three. So, in any given quarter, if you’re going to release features, try to identify one feature that’s going to be margin enhancing, allowing you as an organization to cut down costs. On the other hand, try to introduce a feature that’s very innovative, that’s gonna allow you to either create IP or contribute to your network effects or log customers in. And then, on the other hand, we also ask them to expand their footprint, and footprint expansion means if you’re going geographic, then there’s internationalization and a bunch of other things that you need to do with your product before your sales team can go out and sell internationally.
Paul Ortchanian: So, founders who only privilege the footprint expansion and just get started with a very, very solid sales team, the company’s MRR will grow very rapidly and they will be able to secure a seed round in a Series A maybe, but they hit a wall as soon as they get into scale up because you often have this situation where the CTO is burnt out because they basically tried to support every single feature request that came in from the sales team. And, you know, these are the scenarios in companies where the sales team has already said yes to a feature with the client before they go back to the team. So, if the conversation with the engineering team saying, “Well, we already promised it and they already signed the contract so there’s nothing you can do other than deliver it.” So you end up with this spaghetti type of technical debt products with a lot of complexity that don’t add a lot of value. And then the first thing the CEO tells me is that they want to fire their CTO. And we’ve got into these situations many, many times. And if I were to look back and ask myself, Why did they get here? That’s because the CEO was not a coachable CEO from the get-go. He just basically wanted to grow his company as fast as possible for sales. So if I were to say, you know, what’s the best type of founder, it’s the ones who adopt the growth mindset from the get-go, they accept criticism, they have this appetite to learn, they’re a team player, and they basically reflect on, Am I doing the right thing by putting all my eggs into the footprint expansion basket? Because ultimately, is that going to have a negative impact on my engineering team? And are they going to be out of breath in six months or a year? And, you know, some people don’t think that far.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah, that’s right. And while you were talking, I was actually thinking about this Moses syndrome. And I don’t know why, but I also thought about FOMO playing a role in entrepreneurs’ and founders’ lives. And I think it can also play a role in the life of a product manager, like fear of missing the deadline for this next feature that the competition has already launched.
Paul Ortchanian: It’s funny because I often talk about SOS, which is the shiny object syndrome. It usually comes from the founder or the CEO of the company, who tells the product manager, “We need this shiny new thing” like AI or blockchain, or something like that. And they’re coming from this fear of missing out angle, and the product manager has to learn how to say no. No, not now. But not just no because it’s an SOS but mainly no because how or why would blockchain really help our company? How would the blockchain allow us to contribute to the growth of the product? And if that conversation has been had, and it’s top-down, the CEO will say, “Look, I have FOMO. Here’s an SOS for you. Please, can you execute it?” and the product manager is unable to have that conversation with the CEO, then the engineering team will ask the same question, “Why are we building this? Why are we building this instead of building that?” And as soon as, as a product manager, you’re stuck in this situation where the engineering team is questioning the decisions made at the top level, I mean, as a product manager, you’re stuck in the middle, in between two rocks, and that’s usually the toughest place you can be, which usually results in someone, either the engineering team deciding to get rid of you and pivot, trying to lobby for that, or the CEO, basically, realizing that you’ve taken sides with the engineering team, and you decided not to build that feature, which basically ends you at the door. So it’s tough for all to be in.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah, absolutely. And I have here a note while you were talking – Chief No manager. Is that the product manager’s role to say no within a company, to stand up to the CTO or the CEO, depending on the strategy?
Paul Ortchanian: I wouldn’t say it’s no. I usually call them Chief Repeating Officer, the CRO because they’re not saying no. They’re actually repeating the strategies, they’re repeating the tactics, they’re repeating the metrics that the company is trying to accomplish. So if someone comes to you with an SOS, as a product manager, you have to ask, “Okay, well, how does this align to some of our strategies and tactics? Which needle is this going to help us move?” And by repeating some of those foundational elements that you established early on in the product, which is why I always ask product managers, you need to ask your CEO, what is the product mission? What are the product strategies and tactics? And regularly keep coming back to them in order to make sure that they haven’t changed. But if you’re able to basically use that as a foundation and repeat it constantly, then what happens is your no answer is not going to come from you. It’s actually going to come from the CEO or whoever’s making the request because if, for example, someone’s asking for blockchain, my question is, how does this align with the strategies? And the answer is, “Well, it doesn’t.” Well, in that case, you have two options. You either say no or you change the strategy. Either way, we’re going to have to address it. So, you don’t become the guy who is always saying no. You simply become the guy who is always bringing back the fundamentals of why the company needs to grow and how it needs to grow.
Ciprian Borodescu: By the way for everybody listening, you can find a lot of good inspiring articles around product management on bainpublic.com. And in preparation for this episode, I also browsed a few of these articles you wrote on your blog, and I found them very insightful. And I think each one really speaks to very specific topics that are part of the product manager’s role. And there was a piece there that you wrote, I think back in April, in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic, where you talked about why product managers should be playing dumb. And that’s kind of controversial. Can you explain?
Paul Ortchanian: Yeah, it basically came about when I was watching big celebrity interviews with Larry King on CNN, or Barbara Walters. And I always asked myself, like, what makes them such great interviewers? And, you know, there was a quote by Larry King, who said, “The reason I’m such a good interviewer is because I try to play dumb. I come unprepared to the interview and just try to have a conversation.” So I started looking more into that and realized that ultimately, as a product manager, when you get inside a room, you have the CEO, let’s say, and the CTO and the Chief Revenue Officer in the room, and you’re trying to deal with a request for a new feature, you are, theoretically interviewing that audience. You are asking each one of them what their point of view is and you’re trying to extract from them key information that is very specific in their own worlds. A sales guy will always have different objectives than the CEO, which will be different from the CTO’s objectives. But if you’re able to extract each one’s driving interests and put them up on the table so they collectively learn together, then ultimately you’re doing your job because you’re helping them make sense of what’s happening, and really, collaboratively take a decision. So ultimately, as a product manager, you are in this position where you can’t be the person who controls the room.
Paul Ortchanian: You know, imagine the way Larry King used to have this big microphone in front of him and he’s just looking at someone across the table and just asking questions. Now, at some point, I remember he had asked an airplane pilot how does he know when he’s landing an airplane that the plane has landed? You know, it’s like, it’s such a stupid question. But how did that question came to be? You don’t even prepare for that question. It’s just one of those things where you just use different interview skills to be able to just drive people deeper and deeper and deeper into a conversation. So just by studying that, I realized that there’s a lot a product manager can learn and become that Barbara Walters, that Larry King who just gets in a room unprepared, and just asks questions to the CEO. And usually, these people in higher positions, they usually have a lot to say, so it’s very important for you to just be that guy who listens, allows the team to learn together and, you know, they will thank you in spades and credit you for just being their psychologist almost who basically allowed them to express themselves openly in the safe space. And ultimately, a lot of value, I believe, is given to product managers as they’re capable of doing that repeatedly over and over again, across many crises a company will face. And then if you find a product manager like that, then you have to keep him. I mean, that person is going to help your company because, first of all, they’re going to be the Chief Repeating Officer, always pointing the company back to the strategies and tactics. But on the other hand, will allow these big egos not to really clash as much – and he’s not going to be another ego into that equation. He’s simply going to be the dumb guy who’s asking pretty dumb questions, just allowing everyone to open these and freely speak.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah. Being Socratic about it. And this is something that we also learned during Techstars, meeting with mentors and stuff. You know, a lot of mentors have this habit of asking questions, and I found that these are the best mentors. And similarly, it applies to product managers and for CTOs, or CEOs, and whatnot, asking these questions. And I like how in that article you wrote about these ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions; start with the question ‘what’ and then you follow up with ‘how’. It’s pretty interesting.
Paul Ortchanian: Well, it’s important to create a framework for product managers because there’s extroverted people in this world, and there’s introverted people in this world. And it turns out that introverts don’t like to speak. They like to listen and that’s great. Being an introvert as a product manager is a great thing because you are not going to be the loudmouth in the room. By this predisposition, you are going to be listening and asking the ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions. But, you know, it turns out that – I haven’t seen the numbers, but I believe that 70% of the world population is an extrovert and there’s less introverts than extroverts. So if you’re an extrovert and you just like to talk because your energy and your internal batteries are being constantly refueled by debating questions openly, how do you become a good product manager if you’re being asked to listen? And so, giving the framework of the ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions is just a way to say, you know, try to use your energy in a meeting to ask the right questions, rather than babble along because what you perceive as being an energy lifting, ‘let’s debate both sides of the story’ conversation, actually isn’t helping you be a product manager; it’s actually hurting you more. So how does an extrovert become an introvert and a good product manager? You know, that’s a very, very difficult challenge but, you know, they say the best leaders are introverts. I believe in that because they basically listen.
Ciprian Borodescu: And basically, it’s a spectrum, right? I mean, you’re not 100% introvert or 100% extrovert? It’s a spectrum.
Paul Ortchanian: Yeah, it depends. Yeah, yeah. And I think as a product manager, if you realize you’re an extroverted product manager, you need to give yourself the tools to push you closer to the introvert spectrum, without exhausting you to the point where you leave the office, and you’re like, “I’m exhausted. I spent my whole day listening and not talking.” So what are the tools you can use in order to become a better leader, ultimately? Because leadership always comes down to listening. The hierarchy in an organization, the more you get to listen, the less you have to talk.
Ciprian Borodescu: Very interesting. Sometimes, when startups get acquired, one of the founders – and I’ve seen this a lot – whether that’s the CTO or the CEO, becomes a product manager. Have you seen what worked best? Is the CTO or the CEO better prepared to assume the product leadership role in the new company?
Paul Ortchanian: It depends. It’s really about the dynamic of the CEO, CTO. From the onset, I’ve seen organizations where the CEO and CTO have changed roles over a phone call. And the example is with Haystack. The CEO was in San Francisco and the CTO was somewhere in China. They were part of an accelerator. And the CTO said, “Look, I’m in a meeting with investors, and they want to talk to the CEO, but you can’t leave San Francisco and come to China. So what do we do?” And the CEO said, “Well, now you’re the CEO.” And they just transferred his role over a phone call and those roles stuck. And I feel that is a beautiful gesture to show that, you know, we’re partners in this, and it’s not about our roles, and we can both do this. So if they really want to talk to the CEO, then you are the CEO. I think if that dynamic is the case, then it doesn’t matter who becomes the product manager because there is a lot of respect to this collaborative decision-making, right? But I see a lot of organizations where it’s two co-founders, but the CEO pretty much has, you know, 95% of the decision-making power, is really the driving force, and the CTO is just executing. If that’s the case, and you’re expecting the CTO to suddenly become a Chief Product Officer, you know, because of their inability to influence the CEO from the get-go, they’re not going to be able to do anything more than just doing exactly what he says. So those are situations that I wouldn’t recommend the CTO to becoming the Chief Product Officer. But I do recommend CTOs to get coached in order to become better leaders and figure out how to influence this high-powered, opinionated CEO, with whom they could eventually… You know, it’s a marriage, it’s a company that goes on for years, so how do you basically go back to that equal footprint? So that’s how you manage your integrity, how you manage your experience, how you manage your communications, how you manage yourself, how you manage your trust, your rest. These are all part of being a leader and I think if the CTO is ready to do that, then he’s definitely a coachable person who needs coaching and it’s not something to do by yourself. So yeah, to answer your question, I would say it really depends on the dynamics and this is why product management is hard in organizations because it really comes down to the culture in that organization. You could be the best product manager and if you were to leave Company A and go into Company B, who has a very poor culture, then if you’re not nimble and soft and capable of influencing others, and you’re being put in a position where the culture is basically dictating you to behave a certain way, you might actually be the worst Product Manager. So it’s very culture-dependent.
Ciprian Borodescu: Well, honestly, Paul, there are so many questions that I have in my mind, but I want to be mindful of your time as well. Let’s jump to the final special section on the podcast – lightning questions and answers, a series of fun short questions that you have to answer really, really fast. Are you ready?
Paul Ortchanian: Yeah. I’m ready to go.
Ciprian Borodescu: So here’s a tough one for you. Montreal or Silicon Valley?
Paul Ortchanian: I prefer Silicon Valley for the sun and the lifestyle. I love Montreal a lot, a great cultural city. This is a tough one. But I made my choice – Montreal – and this is where I live today. And definitely, I would say Montreal with a footprint in Silicon Valley is the best.
Ciprian Borodescu: Excellent, excellent. Your favorite movie?
Paul Ortchanian: Well, I have many. I think that I like Gladiator with Russell Crowe.
Ciprian Borodescu: Okay. Oldies but goldies.
Paul Ortchanian: Yeah, it gets me every time I watch it mainly because it’s kind of aligned to product management. It’s like, here you are, you’re basically this general in the army, you’ve been given the role of being the next emperor of the Romans, and suddenly, you know, you find yourself as a slave and you have to work your way back up. And it’s kind of very interesting how he uses his influence in order to get the troops and the other slaves to basically follow him and basically orchestrate his takeover of the Roman Empire. I find it’s a beautiful story of redemption but on the other hand, it’s a beautiful story of how somebody with no authority can basically rise to becoming influential.
Ciprian Borodescu: A leadership story, indeed. It’s a leadership story in there. Yeah, yeah. Cats or dogs?
Paul Ortchanian: It’s funny. My daughters – I have two daughters – one likes cats, the other one likes dogs. I personally like cats more, but to be fair to both of them, I would say both.
Ciprian Borodescu: Okay. Cats are introverts and dogs are extroverts. Right?
Paul Ortchanian: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. The best of both worlds. There is a dog called Inu. Is that it? It’s a Japanese dog. They usually look like a fox and they are actually often referred to as the cat of the dog world. And, yeah, if I were to choose anything, I’d choose one of those because I’d feel like I’d have a little bit of both.
Ciprian Borodescu: Awesome. The last book you read? And by the way, any good books on product management that you would recommend?
Paul Ortchanian: Yeah, actually, Todd Olson just released a book called The Product-Led Organization. It’s a beautiful book. I actually haven’t finished it yet. I’m maybe three quarters through but it’s basically published by pendo.io, who basically leads the product craft website. Product craft is, I’d say, one of the premier product management publishers out there. They have tons of articles to which we contribute on a regular basis. And I think The Product-Led Organization book is one of the first books I’ve seen that really puts product management, defines it well, and really deals with the challenges of product managers.
Ciprian Borodescu: Awesome. Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos?
Paul Ortchanian: Jeff Bezos. Actually…
Ciprian Borodescu: Why?
Paul Ortchanian: I like Jeff’s vision of being, like… He basically has his big hairy ambitious goal for Amazon and he’s constantly been driving his company with this constant re-evaluation of the strategies and tactics of the organization and reinventing it on a regular basis. I think that he exemplifies the person who is capable of thinking large and big and long term but really shifting and pivoting his company on a regular basis – which is the reason why you see where it is today. But in terms of Elon Musk, I basically deep dive into Tesla’s strategies and tactics, and I can tell you that they’re actually very similar to Amazon in terms of the width at which he’s really defined it. I think it’s beautiful. Like, if you look at just some of the stuff that they’re doing, it’s eye candy, and I have a lot of respect for both.
Ciprian Borodescu: Yeah, yeah. Bonus question. It’s the year 2050, and one of the product leaders you coached decided to dedicate the book they’re writing to you. How would that paragraph sound? I know it’s a philosophical question, but give it a try.
Paul Ortchanian: I would say, “Paul taught me that I have to give credit to others when things become successful. And knowing him, he would not take credit for the achievements that I’ve had.”
Ciprian Borodescu: Oh, wow. That’s amazing. That’s a really nice way to end this episode. Paul, it was a pleasure to have you, and thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with me and with us. How can people reach out to you for ideas and comments?
Paul Ortchanian: Thank you, by the way, for everything, and full credit for the work you guys are doing both from a company as well as this podcast. If you want to reach out to us, you can go to bainpublic.com. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, which basically is a direct email to me so you can just reach out there. And I invite you all to read over 60 articles on bainpublic.com on product management; we have two ebooks. Just go to the website and you can grab all that stuff to learn.
Ciprian Borodescu: Fantastic, thank you so much, Paul.
Paul Ortchanian: Thank you.