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Key Principles for Building the Best Products and Companies

Listen:

If you're a product person, you know it's not just about the features. It's about building something people actually want and love. But it's easy to get caught up in the weeds: endless feature lists, chasing shiny tech, and forgetting who you're really building for.

A Story From My Corporate Days

We were about to launch a brand-new sustainability product. We'd done the research, got customer feedback, even lined up beta users – everything by the book. Then, in the kickoff meeting, a manager pipes up, "We need at least 30 people to fast-track this."

I looked at him like he'd sprouted a second head. "Why?" I asked. His response? "Because with that many people, we'll be important."

Honestly, it was like my brain short-circuited. What the hell? I told him, "I could snag 100 people from the train station in an hour, but that doesn't mean we'd get anything done." 

Side note: the project died. Not because of a lack of quality team members who actually knew what they were doing, but because "big team equals success" was the mentality. From that point, it was clear that increasing headcount wouldn't work, even when they looped in Accenture, further bloating the team. And this wasn't an isolated event. I've experienced this "importance for my kingdom" thinking everywhere, from startups in their growth phase (Series C and beyond) to established corporations. It's a trap, a very human instinct to cover one's backside. But in a modern company structure, that shouldn't be necessary. If you feel you have to, think twice and maybe it's time to reconsider your future with the company.

I quit shortly after that meeting. Anyhow.

The Key Principles For Modern Product Teams

Here's the truth: Everything in your company is a product. 

From the marketing emails you send to the onboarding process for new hires, it all impacts your success. 

So, let's get back to basics with the principles that'll help you build kick-ass products and companies that thrive and grow. 

  • Cross-Functional Teams: Siloed departments are so last century. Get everyone in the room – designers, engineers, marketers, even the sales team – and build a team that's as diverse as your users. Diversity of thought breeds innovation.
  • End-to-End Ownership: Your product team isn't just there to build. They own the entire product lifecycle, from ideation to maintenance. This creates accountability, ensures everyone's focused on the bigger picture, and empowers them to make meaningful improvements.
  • The Methodology: Forget rigid rules. Design thinking, lean principles, agile practices – pick and choose the tools that work best for your team and your product. Don't be afraid to experiment and adapt as you go. Perfection is in the results, not the process.
  • Crystal Clear Vision: Everyone on your team, from the intern to the CEO, should understand your product vision inside and out. Without this alignment, you're just a bunch of individuals rowing in different directions. A shared vision creates a shared purpose.
  • Empowerment Over Micromanagement: Give your team the autonomy to explore problems and come up with creative solutions. Don't stifle innovation with bureaucracy – trust the people you've hired! Push yourselves, push others. Stretch the possible.
  • The Customer Feedback Loop: Don't guess what your customers want, ask them! Seek continuous feedback through surveys, user research, and direct conversations. Then, use that data to refine your product and deliver real value. Assume nothing.
  • Outcomes, Not Busywork: Forget vanity metrics. Focus on outcomes that truly matter to your users. Are they achieving their goals? Are it getting the value they expect from your product? Your job isn't done until THE job is done.
  • Prioritize Team Health: A burnt-out, unhappy team will never build a great product. Foster a positive culture where people feel supported, appreciated, and empowered to do their best work. Energy givers vs. energy takers.

The Product Principles from Nike

Nike's legendary 1977 memo laid out 10 principles that still resonate today, I save the time to write them all down here, but the most important ones. The philosophy is more on the right spot as ever, everything is technology. 

We're constantly experimenting and trying new things. We believe that's the only way to stay ahead of the curve - Gustav Söderström, R&D Spotify
Gustav's quote perfectly summarizes the spirit needed to build awesome products and companies, echoing the principles Nike established nearly five decades ago.
  1. Our business is change: Embrace it. Don't be afraid to disrupt yourselves.
  2. We're on offense, all the time: Play to win. Take risks, push boundaries, and never settle for "good enough."
  3. Break the rules. Fight the law: Challenge assumptions, question the status quo, and find new ways to do things.
  4. This is as much about battle as about business: Be passionate. Fight for your ideas, your team, and your customers.

These principles aren't just for product teams – they're a roadmap for any organization that wants to thrive. So, go out there and build products (and companies) that people love!

TL;DR:

Building a successful company is like building a great product – it requires a customer-centric mindset, agility,empowered teams, data-driven decisions, and a strong culture. Embrace these principles, ditch the corporate BS, and you'll build products (and companies) that actually matter.

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