Product Comms Series #15 | Malte - Airfocus

Jack Lancaster | Co-founder & CPO
March 12, 2024

We talk a lot about involving engineering earlier in the product development process, but we rarely do the same with Sales.

Malte Scholz, CEO & CPO at Airfocus has seen how valuable it is to involve Sales in the roadmapping process.

Key Learnings

✅ Integrate Sales: Incorporating sales into the product development process not as a requestor but as a collaborator ensures better alignment and avoids the "feature factory" trap.

✅ Transparency builds consensus: Making the roadmap and decision-making process transparent helps in aligning stakeholders and reducing confusion.

✅ Balance is key: Dedicate time to both significant initiatives and smaller, quick wins to maintain product quality and team morale.

✅ Listen to power users: Engaging with daily users can provide valuable insights that contribute to meaningful improvements.


Malte Scholz (00:00)

Sure. My name is Malte. I'm one of the founders of AirFogos. AirFogos is the world's most flexible product management platform. Yeah, we kind of help even more like, lately, even more large enterprises and larger customers with like the main product management problems such as road mapping, prioritization, OKRs, all that stuff.

And yeah, we have 50 people, have raised $50 million in venture capital and have 800 customers all around the world, but mostly in the US.

Jack (00:39)

Nice, thanks for the background. I think the problem definitely resonates with me a lot. I think, you know, having been at N26 and done all of that stuff around OKRs and roadmapping and stuff like this. And I think especially when the company gets a little bit bigger, then it's a big problem. Here, we're, of course, talking around communication and learnings from that related to product.

Tell us a little bit about your experience there and maybe why you founded AirFocus out of some bad experiences that you had.

Malte Scholz (01:12)

Yeah, absolutely. So I founded Airfocus because I was kind of on the other side where our customers are today or where you were maybe at N26, right? I was battling spreadsheets, PowerPoints and crazy workarounds all built around our messy Jira And I was looking for tooling because I hated the inefficiencies and the bad alignment between like sales product, support, marketing. It was crazy. There was literally a quarterly roadmap meeting with 30 people, including the intern who started yesterday. And everyone got three dots to vote on what features to build. It was kind of feature factory excellence. And, and I was like there and wondering whether this is really the best way to do this. And then, as I said, I was looking for tooling, tried literally every tool under the sun, and they all didn't work for me.

And then, I became a bit obsessed with this whole topic and started building air focus in the nights and on the weekends. And a lot of stuff happened then in the early days, as always with startups. But yeah, today we are, as I said, an end -to -end product management platform. And I try to avoid some of the mistakes that I've seen in that company, but also all the stuff that I've learned over the time talking to companies, product leaders around what to do, what not to do. And yeah, I would say specifically around sales, we introduced sales roughly three years ago.

Sales is obviously very important for B2B SaaS companies in many cases. And when we introduced sales, I tried to avoid the mistakes from that earlier company where it's not about like the requests. I already hate that term, like the request coming from sales, hey, I need this in order to close a deal or secure an upgrade. We involved in incorporated sales very closely into the product development process, but not in the sense that like we're building your features, but in the sense as hey, give us input that we can then quantify and qualify in order to build the right product and the right features and shape our roadmap. And yeah, and then kind of make this a very transparent process where people can essentially live, visit this living roadmap document that is very much like a sales pipeline, right? Like from like, hey, this is a new opportunity to, okay, it goes, stuff goes through stages. And at some point you decide to build it.

And it's very clear for people what's going to happen and also what's not going to happen. And it just avoids all that back and forth and all these like side door negotiations. Hey, I need this. Can you do this? And I think this is where I learned from bad behavior in the past and where I would say today do a much, much better job.

Also because we feel obligated to our customers to actually run a modern product management process and not fall into this feature factory trap. So that's kind of what went bad in the past. What is working now better, I would say where I'm still very guilty of bad behavior is the founder syndrome where I'm too often still stepping in with my little wishes that of course are very important.

So I'm not sure it's less worse than what I described in the beginning, but also very difficult to get out of me or get rid of.

Jack (05:16)

Yeah, absolutely. I think I'm definitely guilty of that as well. So we're all doing the bad behaviour and yeah, I think what's it called? The swoop and poop, I think, right? As you come in and then you drop something and you fly off. Now, I remember at N26, we would have these, like basically we would sort of facilitate the process of, as you said, requests, right?

And it would be like, you know, you would have some stakeholders. For me, my biggest stakeholder was the operations department. And we would facilitate those requests from them and we would say, you know, hey, please submit stuff in this format. Give us a stack ranked list. And then we would get, you know, the list would have five number one priorities. And it was like, no, no, no, they can't all be number one.

You know? Like that's the point of a stack rank list is one thing is more important than the other but it was always like no but they all have to be done you know and it's like guys like please otherwise it's really not going to work but it was that process of like facilitating these wishes and one of the biggest things that we had to do was try to get people to think in in problems let's say right it's like we need to solve this thing how might we do it together rather than you know we need this tool or we need exactly this piece of functionality.

What's your stance on getting that kind of, how you shift that mindset in people?

Malte Scholz (06:44)

Yeah, I mean, just be transparent about the options that are on the table, right? So that requires obviously that you take in all the feedback, all the ideas and have that all in one place. And then like make these logical connections. We at Airfocus we are like big believers in insights. So let's say you have like 500 feedback pieces, including requests from sales and all that stuff.

And you want to map that stuff to the opportunities that you have in your backlog. Yeah. So, so that, you know, okay, I have the, this opportunity or idea for mobile app. Like how many people actually want that and how, how, what's the context around that? Those insights for, for that mobile app. Right. And then I think that's the first step that you just have to do. And then it's about like, triaging these opportunities based on like what you think strategically you should do, but also literally the number and quality of the insights per opportunity.

And then usually the roadmap always almost writes itself automatically. And if you then show this to people, including maybe some lightweight priority score, which is just an indication, not like a decision maker.

It's usually quite obvious what to do and what not to do. If not, then you just need to go into deep conversations and explain this to people. From my experience, there's not much confusion then.

Jack (08:19)

Yeah. How do you think about this kind of sizing and bringing in or leaving enough space for smaller stuff to come in, right? There's this like idea of the kind of rock pebble sand, right? Where you can, you know, how you fill up the jar and making sure you have enough opportunity to take some of those smaller wins and it's not just big bets. How do you guys kind of square that? Or how do you think about, you know, having that right diversification in the roadmap?

Malte Scholz (08:52)

Yeah, I think the metal framework that we use here is spend one day per week on these quick wins and the easy stuff and maybe also the fun stuff that the engineers want to work on and the broader product team. So essentially just spend every Friday on these things. 20 % sounds like a good idea and the rest should be very focused on these larger chunks that you need to get out of the way. I mean, maybe sometimes more than 20%, right? Because...

I think the quality of the product needs to be just so solid these days. You can't just ship shitty code. And I think this is especially true for my product and your product because we have the audiences that don't accept bad products.

Jack (09:35)

Yeah, totally. I think it's interesting, we just shipped something yesterday and we didn't really realize how much of a quick win it was but like we were, you know, putting it off in the backlog and it was rolling over and rolling over and then we've done it and everyone in the team is like this is fucking amazing, you know, we love this tiny little thing but it never got in because it wasn't like materially sort of moving the needle but it's actually a super nice ad, it was pretty quick to add in, pretty quick to build and release. And it's like these things, they might not like appear on necessarily a strategic roadmap, but they are really adding to the smoothness of the product. I think that's super important.

Malte Scholz (10:17)

Yes, and absolutely. And very often it's called, people call this kind of stuff snagging, right? You want to do the easy quick stuff that is sometimes providing low value. But I actually think very often in these like snacks, you find something that is actually also very healthy. So I think you have to do it. You have to find these and yeah, just having visibility is into the power users that use your product on a daily basis. These are the people that you kind of get these true healthy snacks from.

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