Chasing the carrot, icebergs and Thermomix
Everyone is talking about the start-up mentality. But what is different when working in a start-up job?
I talked to Klaudia Hinkelmann, my colleague from Vorwerk Temial, because she ought to know: After completing her marketing studies and already working for Thermomix for four years, she was given the opportunity to become part of the new marketing team at the in-house start-up Vorwerk Temial. Temial is the newest product innovation by Vorwerk. The motto: Experience authentic tea culture a new way. In the modern tea maker, technical innovation meets a millennia-old culture. Participating in the development of a new business sector doesn’t only present her with completely new challenges, but also allows her learning curve to evolve consistently. Here are her five most important things that she learned during her first year at a start-up:
This sentence nicely sums up what I have learned on my way becoming a product manager for Thermomix. There are thousands of options for improving a product, so be nice in order to bring all stakeholders to a consent for a collaborative prioritization. Now that you have created consent, you still don’t know if what you want to do will work out, so try to progress as fast as possible and accept to fail while adapting along the way. There is no right or wrong in building a product, it is just finding the right order which creates the most customer value with least effort to implement. Go where it hurts and leave your comfort zone to seek discomfort. This is important to grow on a personal level. But also in a product management context you should question everything and never(!) accept the sentence “It was always like that”. That is where your work starts in order to move people and by that improve your product.
This seems to be obvious for everyone. It is not. I studied information systems / computer science and was working as a developer for some time. If you work e.g. in app development with a hardware / software stack that is super reliable and accessible over a mature software development kit you just can go wild and crazy. You are sitting on top of the iceberg in the sun, but if you build things from the ground including hardware you will learn about the complexity underneath the water and see creatures - obstacles - down there you never thought they exist. But it is worth going there since you can value the sun even more when you are back on top and value the hard work the colleagues are doing on this part of the product. Changes in hardware might not be as easily adaptable as in software and most of the time stay over the entire product lifecycle. So, you have to acquire a new planning skill: Staying agile at fulfilling customer demand at one end but building a capability driven hardware base first in order to be able to provide those features over the product lifetime.
As product manager I learned to be proactive in order to move things. Things just will not happen magically and this also means taking responsibility for your actions and owning the result. This is challenging in many ways but also the fun part of creating something new. I believe if you own something from the idea to start of development and over its entire lifecycle you can learn a lot more than just owning a part of it or being only present in a part of that process. Or as my boss told me: “Nothing seems afterwards easier than a realized idea”. The beauty is to know all the things that happened in between: All the risks you took, all the learnings you had, all the hours you put in, all the good and all the bad moments with the team.
If you are young, you want to change things fast. But you also need to learn to be patient and humble to what already exists. Of course, building quality products requires time but as a product manager you need to maintain a self-imposed sense of urgency. You never know when the next competitor is coming. Uncertainty is the only constant in the equation system of product development, so you need to adapt! You need to stay flexible by all means and at all times in order to not get frustrated with you or even the team.
Sometimes chasing the carrot is more rewarding than getting the actual carrot” is a kind of a lifetime advice for happiness. This might be true for life but trust me: Seeing the carrot, touching the carrot, feeling the carrot and at the end seeing real customers experiencing the carrot and even being happy with what you have built is the most rewarding part working in product management. You will forget about all the pain you had on the way, all the people that told you it won’t work, all the struggle and questioning if that or this is right is just blown away. But remember: The next day is another day to raise the bar again based on the feedback you got from your customers, following one of the most used quotes for product development: “Focus on the customer everything else will follow.” This is true for product management and this is true for Thermomix and Vorwerk.