Bill Campbell says, It all starts with great products!

Here’s a bit more from the Bill Campbell interview. I posted the first excerpt in “Bill Campbell says hire Product Management first!“.

Michael Moe is the interviewer. This exchange takes place about 4:20 into the video.billcampbell

Click the image above to open a window and view the full interview.

Michael Moe

So, what are the key metrics that you track when you’re working with a company. How do those metrics change as the company goes from being a startup, to an emerging company and as it gets larger? How rigourous are you with early stage companies?

Bill responds:

The rigour that goes into the first product is the most important thing. Everybody talks about great companies. Great companies start with great products.  You can’t make chicken salad out of you know what.

This is a truism if there ever was one. How many great startups can you think of that had mediocre products?  People may not know the company well, if at all, but they hear about a product and the product (good or bad) defines the company.

Bill continues:

I’m a big believer that you really track the progress of the product. I go back and talk about Mike Homer and a Product Marketing* like person. What are we doing to make sure we have something that we can ship and release? Get it out into the market place.

Tracking that one single thing — what can we do? who is it for? how do we guide it? Getting great product into the market place would the single most important thing.

That would be the number one metric that I’d judge and boy you’d go a long time in your company before you stopped doing that.

* Bill Campbell equates Product Marketing and Product Management earlier in the interview. See Bill Campbell says hire Product Management first! for details.

While not technically a “metric”, Bill again focuses on making sure the thing that is being built is being built for the right people. Making sure an identified target audience (and set of valued usage scenarios) are front and center during this early phase.

This answer also support’s Bill’s earlier statement that Product Management skills are key at the very earliest stages and should be hired in right at the start IF those skills are not strong amongst the founders.

One final note

What’s most interesting about this answer from Campbell is that he doesn’t say great companies start with great people. That’s what a lot of people would say, but it’s not true. Great people can build great products which lead to great companies, but there are many well known examples of companies started by experience or knowledgeable people (e.g. Cuil and Cassat) that have failed to live up to expectations.  Once a company builds a great product (or service) that people use, that drives company growth, and ideally makes the company a leader in it’s market segment, can a great company emerge.



3 responses to “Bill Campbell says, It all starts with great products!

  1. Thanks for this post Saeed !

    Prospective clients who have said that “people are key” and have been suppressing saying that “products with the right people building and shipping them are key” have really stayed where they were when I started talking to them.
    Some others who risked putting the product first, have moved faster.
    I had been looking for something that would explain this. Bill’s interview does it.

  2. Dheeraj,

    Thanks for the comment. A good team is important – but it’s not a guarantee of anything. Take a look at the recent acquisition of by Intuit. Here’s a company that was started by a 20- something entrepreneur, gained a lot of users and was generating revenue, and a few short years later had a great exit.

    Good people, hard work, insight, execution, timing/luck are all factors. Sometimes, experienced teams get ahead of themselves, wanting to build the next great company, but lose sight of the details of execution, of market forces etc. I think Cassatt is an example of that.

    For early stage companies, focus has to be on product success in the market, while building a foundation for a scalable and efficient company.

  3. I worked for Bill for three years early in my career at Claris. There was a huge commitment to doing PM right there and it paid off. We built a $100M revenue stream in three years and were so successful that Apple wouldn’t let us go public and instead bought us back.

    Brian Lawley
    CEO & Founder,
    Author, Expert Product Management
    Author, The Phenomenal Product Manager