For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series I interviewed Duessa Holscher, Chief Product Officer at Granbury Solutions.
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I met Duessa Holscher at ProductCamp Portland, an ‘unconference’ where over 300 Product Managers from the area gathered. If you’ve never been to a product camp, consider attending one in a major city near you. Duessa is the Chief Product Officer at Granbury Solutions, which acquired FireFly Technologies, a company she co-founded.
How did you get into Product Management?
I started my career in Marketing with an MBA focus on marketing communications. One of my early positions was at a startup company in the restaurant technology space. That was my introduction to this industry and I’ve stayed in itx ever since. That startup company grew quickly and got acquired, so after that a colleague and I founded a new venture.
Our company provided the next generation of technology in the restaurant niche that we were experts in, which is pizza and delivery restaurants. We were confident that we would succeed because we had contacts in the industry who weren’t happy with their outdated products, or the acquisition and the support they were receiving. So, building a replacement product from scratch on new technology was my introduction to Product Management.
I had been doing a lot of marketing, but I hadn’t managed product development before or Product Management in a formal way. I got a lot of hands-on lessons just learning by doing. We worked with an offshore development company. I managed everything that you would consider the product, as well as the development and operations. We built that company over almost ten years and then ended up selling to Granbury Solutions in 2010 (which was subsequently acquired by Jonas Software in 2018). In my current role as Chief Product Officer, I’ve had the opportunity to expand into working with multiple products and multiple industries.
One of the interesting challenges in my current role is to migrate several similar older products into one common upgraded platform, making sure to address the needs of the diverse customers who are using these different solutions.
When you went from marketing and started your own company, how did you up-level yourself to know that Product Management function?
I was fortunate from the beginning in my marketing role. When you’re in a small company you wear a lot of hats, especially when you’re in a growth environment. We had a very dynamic entrepreneur in the first company I was in. We worked together a lot on strategy. There weren’t many silos, so I got to be involved in a lot of the strategic decisions that he was making and contributed to those.
I’ve always just been the kind of person who wants to get involved and learn whatever I can. I don’t say, “Oh that’s not my job”, but “Sure, I’ll take that on.” So even though my formal role was marketing, I was involved in everything from choosing a CRM system to to how we could make support work better. Then, going through an acquisition as one of the senior managers taught me a lot.
Any missteps along the way?
Of course, lots of missteps. I think the biggest lesson is learning the best way to iterate on the product and to not go too far down the path of thinking that you need to have everything in place. We were trying to be a replacement to a product that was already out in the marketplace that had tons of features. We felt like we needed to put all of that functionality into our product. You may have clients who say they need all those features, but the cost of a feature is not just the cost to develop it in the first place. It’s also the cost to maintain it and the complexity of how that makes the product more difficult to implement and support down the road. I’ve had to learn to be more judicious about keeping things simple and not developing one-off features for clients when it’s not going to appeal to the majority of your users. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just trying to make everybody happy versus trying to prioritize. We definitely made some mistakes there. It’s more important to say no sometimes than to say yes.
What do you find to be the most interesting thing about Product Management?
I love it because it’s really at the heart of the strategy of the business. To define who your customers are going to be and what your product offering is going to be for that customer is the core of what the company is all about. I think that’s really fun. There’s a great combination of listening to customers, getting input from them, seeing where the market’s going, following trends, trying to think big picture and long term. Starting from a creative impulse, incorporating all this input from customers and then designing something that really gets your customers results — It’s just really fun.
What do you find to be the most challenging part about Product Management?
The most challenging aspect is prioritizing and accepting that you’re not going to do ninety percent of what you might want to do or what customers might want. Picking the right stuff to focus on with limited resources that every team has, whether they’re a big team or a small team. It’s really critical to focus on the right things and at the right time.
When you’re looking for a Product Manager to join your team, what is the most important thing that you look for?
A really good communicator, listener, and collaborator. The Product Manager is the hub and the liaison between all the different parts of the organization as well the customer and the market. They need to be able to reach out and take input from those places and then process and prioritize that information, then of course communicate it to the people who need to know about it and reach consensus. They need to know how to say, “No,” nicely. They need to be passionate about their product and be motivated and excited about helping customers succeed. They need to be able to get other people excited about it, whether it be customers, sales people, implementation or support. A lot of soft skills. Obviously, they need to be good at process and be detailed oriented to make sure that all the moving parts are in place.
Any advice for people entering the Product Management field?
Be curious and be useful. Product Managers can come from anywhere in the organization. I see that a lot of people are moving from either a technical, support or an implementation role. If you’re interested in moving into product, take opportunities to be willing to learn more about the product and about the market. Be curious about why decisions are being made. Stick your head out a little bit further to learn more about it.
Any guiding principal or motto?
Be committed to your purpose. Understand what the purpose of your product is, who it’s supposed to serve, and who it’s not supposed to serve. Keeping that clear in your mind is one of the most important principles I’ve learned.
It’s super easy to get distracted by great deals. As a Product Manager it’s your job to help define who the product is best suited for and help the organization resist chasing after everything that it’s not suited for. Try to be the best that you can for those customers that you really choose to serve. I’ve always been involved in a pretty narrow niche, so that’s probably why I have that philosophy. The more that you can understand and get to the heart of what those customers need, the more successful you will be.
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