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All the ways I was weak at building product


Last year I made the decision to hire a product manager, who I soon had fully take the reigns as VP Product. I wrote last year about the decision. The decision was primarily driven by the need for me to operate at the CEO level and the priorities that a scaling company required. But it was also clear to me and others that I was not the type of product person (at that time) that could tak the product to the next level. That’s a diplomatic way of saying I was starting to suck.

As I’ve watched the product continue to improve and mature (and in some cases, not), it’s given me time to take a critical look at what I did right and wrong in the early years. While we’re building Contactually to be a forever company, and I hope to remain part of it for many years to come, I do have the desire to one day again be in the nascent days of a product. As a technical founder, having strong product chops is a craft I must master.
What I did right
  • Iterated quickly – When we were in rapid learning mode, we were able to respond very quickly to what we were learning. We built a lot of product, quickly.
  • Communication – I was able to ensure that what I had conceived was executed as closely to my vision as possible – through wireframes, Pivotal stories, and tight feedback loops.
  • User input – More than at any time in the company since, we were regularly engaged with our users and potential users – and able to translate that into actionable product changes.
  • Product market fit – Many products never get to the point where the set of features they have match the customer pain. We were able to.
  • Overall strategy and structure – Especially looking at what our dead or dying competitors had done – we made the right overall strategic decisions. This has allowed us to scale in revenue.
What I could have been better at
  • Move fast, break things – This mantra was really my biggest area of improvement. We moved fast, yes. But we broke too many things. Or rather, I allowed too many bugs, defects, scaling issues, gaps, etc. to develop in the growing product. Had these been addressed right at inception, it would have just been a minor annoyance. But I allowed them to fester, and never demanded we fix them – instead requiring massive amount of effort later on.
  • Attention to detail – One of my bigger weaknesses is attention to detail. As I’ve learned, in product, it’s the details that count. How does this page work when we go from five buckets to twelve buckets?
  • Design as a resource, not a driver – We’ve always had a focus on good design from early on. I had worked with many great designers previously, and had a stable of them to call on as we were getting the company up and running. However, design wasn’t making the decisions regarding layout and functionality – more style than anything else. My attempts at bringing UX onto the team weren’t successful – but that was more of a personnel issue.
  • Not saying no – when co-founders, advisors, partners, and users demanded new features and functionality – I did not provide enough resistance. At the end of the day, a CRM requires a relatively wide footprint, but I was too quick to please.
I’m incredibly proud of the product that we built in the early years – it allowed us to gain funding, scale to paying customers, and provided a solid base for the following years. But had we done it better – and with myself as the product-focused founder, I have to take full responsibility – we likely would have been in a somewhat better position.
20/20 hindsight 🙂

About the author


Coder & Founder. Co-Founder & CEO of Contactually. Organizer of DC Tech Meetup & ProudlyMadeInDC. Always in search of the best breakfast burrito.

1 comment

  • Great article. Saying “no” has always been hard for me too.
    For the first 5 years at SimpleTix I’ve been saying yes to every feature request in hopes that that new specific feature would open up new doors. Instead is just started making our app bloated with hundreds with features that core users were not using.

By Zvi
Zvi Band Relationships are our most important asset.

Zvi Band

Founder of Contactually.
I'm also passionate about growing the DC startup community, and I've founded Proudly Made in DC and the DC Tech Meetup.