Over the last 30 years, we’ve placed hundreds of very talented candidates at various software startups and well-known technology brands and it got us thinking… what happens next? What value and achievements do these rockstars provide to these businesses over the next few years?
Heidi Ram recently sat down with Jamie Murphy, Vice President, Product & Customer Success at Sortable, to discuss his career journey and the world of product management. Martyn Bassett Associates, placed Jamie at Sortable in 2018.
Tell us about your career before joining Sortable as their Head of Product?
For the last 15 years, I've worked in technology, primarily on the product management and marketing side, and have built and led teams in both of these areas. I’ve had the opportunity to experience a wide range of different sized companies and industries. I've worked in the smartphone industry, recruitment industry, health and safety industry, marketing technology and am now in ad technology; I've really run the gamut!
During this time, the most important skill I've learned is to be able to understand a business and industry quickly in order to ramp up fast and add value. I think it’s really important for every product person to understand the product, industry, and customers as deeply as possible.
What attracted you to the role and specifically to working at Sortable?
First, I love to build teams. I'm really passionate about that. It's awesome when you have a vision, this North Star, and then you put all the components together to be able to achieve that. At Sortable, I had the ability to re-establish it as a product-focused organization and rebuild the product team; I was eventually able to do this with the marketing team as well.
The second enticing thing was the mission. The mission of Sortable is to make digital publishers successful. We help digital publishers build sustainable and growing businesses through advertising. I believe that having strong independent publishers is the bedrock to a healthy and thriving society.
What was the state and stage of the company when you joined?
I joined Sortable almost two years ago and at that point, they had been in-market for four to five years. They had solid product-market fit as one of the early providers of header bidding but were looking to drive that next phase of growth.
We've worked hard over the past two years, figuring out where in the market we can continue to build on our success and how to further differentiate ourselves. Our focus is to increase our revenue streams and build out a business that's going to provide double-digit sustainable and profitable growth over the long-term.
What is your biggest accomplishment since joining?
I’m most proud of building both a high performing product management and marketing team. Having really strong teams in place allows us to execute more effectively in the short term. More importantly, however, it leads to even greater gains long term - ones that can deliver critical insights into the business and fundamentally shift strategy. I now have the opportunity to lead the customer success team and hope to achieve similar exciting results in the future. The process I follow when building a new team is fairly straightforward. I figure out and align the team to support the mandate (aka what does product mean to Sortable.) This will be different in each company, but it’s really important to be super clear on what the team is expected to achieve for the organization. Next, I figure out what people and skills are needed, what our strategy is, how success will be measured, implement the right processes, and ensure there is a clear path to scale when needed.
Over the past two years, together, we’ve built really strong product and marketing teams that are going to serve the company well.
What are you most proud of outside of building teams?
Marketers today are always looking at advertising in new and inventive ways. The product team has worked hard to build relationships with advertisers on the buy-side in order to support and integrate new ad formats. We're seeing a ton of growth in our video formats. We're also seeing significant revenue growth as we tap into search advertising dollars.
These are huge financial drivers and what we expect will make Sortable a lot more successful and continue to drive our growth. Most importantly these advancements are also helping our publishers today which is especially important as a lot of businesses are under pressure because of COVID-19.
What advice do you have for Vice Presidents of Product joining founder-led businesses?
It could be many, many different things, but let's start with the founder. You need to understand what the founder is looking for - you need to be on the same page and have a great relationship with the founder to be successful.
The Founder also needs to have an understanding of the scope of role and responsibility the VP of Product will have. This is where the line can get blurred as founders are often the first unofficial Head of Product. My recommendation is actually to put pen-to-paper and be clear in terms of what each of you is responsible for and how you are going to work together.
Continue to assess this; put check-ins on the calendar. Over time, you should see an evolution where the founder can take a step back from the business and provide more autonomy to the VP of Product. But that isn't something you want to happen overnight either. I think being conscious and deliberate about it is important.
What advice do you have for a founder who wants to hire their first VP of product?
My question would be why do you need a VP of Product? Because if the business isn't ready to scale then you probably don't need one yet. If the founder still wants to be the Head of Product and drive day-to-day then you can go pretty far with a Director who can help to drive the execution while they continue to drive the strategy.
But if you're at a point where you need to scale, then you need to be more focused on customer growth, organizational expansion, and future vision versus short term product development. As a founder in scaling mode, you need to be working above the business, not in the business; doing more of the forward-thinking strategic work, and letting a VP of product handle the product evolution.
The other thing that I would suggest is understanding what attributes you must have in your hire. Do you want them to know your industry inside and out? Do you want them to be super connected within your ecosystem? Have a ton of product management domain expertise? A great people leader with strong management skills? Etc. VP's of Product can come in many different shapes and sizes so really thinking through what you and the business need is critical.
How is product management evolving?
It’s always been a strategic role but it's becoming even more so. Not long ago, product managers came into the role from different areas (engineering, customer success, marketing, etc.), but now we're starting to see people who have only ever been product managers. It's been interesting to see how the industry is maturing and the focus on customers has become so much more important. Heads of product are focused more than ever on understanding customers and bringing those insights back into their organizations.