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Scaling up: Insights from a Product Expert, with Laura Rueda

Editorial Team
March 5, 2024

Written by the Samaipata Editorial Team

This is the second episode of "No-Filter Talks," an interview-based video series that invites our Operating Partners to speak openly about their experiences, offering valuable lessons and sometimes hard-to-swallow truths for our founders’ success.

In the competitive landscape of entrepreneurship, Laura's expertise in product-led growth provides essential guidance to scale.

Laura Rueda
, Principal PM Manager at Microsoft and an Operating Partner at Samaipata, has shaped product strategies at Typeform, Guidewire Software, Solera Global, and Datacite. In Madrid, she stands as a North Star for startups, guiding them through the complexities of product-led growth. 

In this episode, her insights cover crucial decisions like when to hire a CPO, integrating sales with product development, and effectively communicating vision to stakeholders. This interview is much more than a conversation about product, it's essential guidance from a seasoned expert, offering a strategic lens. If you’re an early-stage founder or professional focused on product management, you won’t want to miss it.

Samaipata: When is the right time for a startup to consider hiring a Chief Product Officer?

Laura: The thing is, for most startups, especially at the early stages, the founder acts as a CPO. They have a very strong vision and a clear goal of what they want to build. Hiring a CPO is a moment where they need to decide to hand over this type of leadership to someone else, who must be fully aligned with their vision. That’s why, for me, in most cases, it’s worth waiting until your company scales a bit, like to 50 or 100 people, and you’re running a business that has already found a good product-market fit before reassigning the product space to a CPO. 

Otherwise, what you see, what I’ve seen in very early stages, is that you have two heads with two different opinions, creating a bit of a disconnection between them. So, my general recommendation is to wait a bit more, especially if you have a very clear vision of what your product should be as a founder, until you're big enough to hand over all this space before hiring a CPO. But honestly, the results are probably worse if you hire too early.

Samaipata: How crucial is it to match the talent you hire with the current growth stage of your startup?

Laura: You need to make sure that those who are decision-makers understand the importance of the stage of the product you are building. If you connect this idea to early startups, many times you try to hire the person who has been there, done that, and scaled it up. But the moment they scale it up, they live in a completely different world. They get used to other ways of doing things, and when they bring these learnings back to your very early startup, it just doesn’t match because they are so used to the ways that a company has when it has a thousand employees. 

This is why one of the key learnings for me, from having a startup within a scale-up, is to bring the right people to do innovation within your company. If they come from something that grew too much and they spent too long in a bigger organisation, they’re going to struggle to innovate in your small company.

Samaipata: What’s the best way a founder should communicate their product vision or value proposition to stakeholders?

Laura: When you want to communicate either your product vision or your value proposition to any stakeholder, the first thing you need to do is to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they care about. One of the classic pitfalls for very early-stage startups is that they are so in love with their idea, so in love with their product, that what they explain to their potential customers is their own idea of what the value is. Investors care about growth, great ideas, and teams that are incredibly committed. You have to make sure you tap into these topics when you share with them your ideas, your vision, and the value proposition of the product; otherwise, it will never resonate with them.

Samaipata: How should a founder balance developing new features with addressing existing pain points?

Laura: Most companies go directly into new features, and whatever they’ve built stays there, kind of like a debt that you haven’t paid until there’s no other option to address it. This is very dangerous, especially because if you keep abandoning what you built before and you are only running towards the future, what you’re building is a leaky bucket of customers. 

Those who you recruited as your customers very early will not be satisfied, and you will slowly keep losing them as you bring more people in. Especially for the very early stages of your company, having a good level of retention and keeping your current customers happy gives you the space to later invest in those coming in the future. 

Spend 60-75% building new things, but save around 25% of your time maintaining what you have already built. Otherwise, you will be losing those who are building your customer base, and without retention, there is no growth.

Samaipata: How important is it to involve the sales team in product development, especially for technical products?

Laura: I have seen products that are very technical and target very big companies. What’s going to happen if you go product-led only is that those making the decision to purchase the product and those who will actually use it in a very big company are different people. If you don’t have a proper sales team to handle the process for you, the product-led ideas won’t bring you anywhere because a technical person will be using it, testing it, loving it, but there will be no way for them to convince the actual buyer persona, the person who decides if the organisation is going to purchase this product, because there is no connection between them; there are no bridges.

Samaipata: How can sales teams be effectively integrated into the product-led growth model to ensure a smooth transition for potential customers?

Laura: In the product-led growth model, sales teams are integrated by closely connecting them with the cycle of creating a great product experience. This ensures a smooth transition for potential customers by guiding them from enjoying the product to choosing the right plan or version tailored to their needs. The sales team steps in after customers have tried and liked the product, providing personalised assistance to help them understand which product options are best for them.

Samaipata: Can you share your top pieces of advice for startups looking to innovate and grow?


1st advice: It is incredibly valuable to get everyone in your small organisation to talk to customers, to get ideas, to get a feeling of what's important for them. Because in the end, this is what creates this space where everyone brings that spark of innovation that is going to make the difference for the future and the growth of your company. 

2nd advice: Another piece of advice I would give is that now we live in a world where we can work remotely, and you have access to fantastic talent from all around the world. That said, keeping your team connected and well-engaged is as important as finding good talent. I have team members in the US, Europe, North Africa, and China, and we really struggle to keep everyone connected across time zones. This kind of loop, where every day you need to hand over something to someone who will be working through the night. So, even if you’re building a remote-first organisation, try to make sure that everyone is around a similar time zone so they can actually connect and collaborate together. It will be much more efficient and will make everyone feel much more connected to their teams. 

The other thing you need to do is to build on your budget ways to bring everyone together and have face-to-face time. This needs to happen regularly, two, three, four times a year… depends on what you want and the size of your company. Do make sure that this is part of how you operate. People need to spend time together, they need to build their relationships, and that’s the type of thing you do face-to-face. Only-remote doesn’t work. Do spend budget on bringing everyone together. 

3rd advice: Lastly, please don't get yourself lost in your bookshelf. There is a collection of product methodologies; they are all very interesting but are all extremely theoretical. So, what happens is when you copy and paste a framework or a methodology into your team, it’s more likely going to fail. When I was getting started in product, I was taking Scrum training, and our Scrum training told us, “what happens in most companies is that everyone does 'Scrum-but.'” “Scrum, but we don’t do stand-ups, or Scrum, but we don’t do reviews.” He had a good point, right? Methodologies are great; they give you structure, and it’s great to get started. But do adapt them to what works in your company. Be flexible and try and change things for the sake of your team and make them more efficient. For a very small company, a simple Kanban: “we have a list of tasks, we make sure we all contribute, and we go task by task, and we progress fast,” is much more likely to yield good results than setting up something more complicated like Scrum or Shape Up or whichever methodology. Focus on what you’re building, not the process.

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