Obsessive Product and Customer Focus: A Critical Element of Scale

October 4, 2022
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Product vision and customer obsession are the essence of building disruptive companies that change the world. Early-stage founders usually double-hat as the chief product (or technology) leader. As the company matures and a new head of product and chief revenue officer are hired, there is risk that that the original product obsession can be diluted or even lost. 

Early-stage growth relies on the network effect to build customer advocacy and get customers talking about your product. As companies grow, they start segmenting customers and become more sophisticated about ways to attract and retain high-value customers.

Yet problems arise when the focus on profitability is linked to metrics alone and the passion for pleasing key customers gets buried in the quest for profit. If the founder is the sole person who is truly obsessed with iterating the product and exciting customers, the company will not meet is full potential. 

Balancing Metrics and Data with Obsession

From our research with founders and venture capital deal partners, we know that a key tension point between founders and newly hired leaders happens when external hires don’t buy into customer and product obsession in the way that the founder does. 

The new leader brings an understanding of how to lead at scale but does not understand the obsessive focus required to build a company. The art of scale for the founder is finding ways to transfer their obsession to new hires without undermining some of the new metrics and focus on profit.

To achieve this, there are a few things the founder-CEO can do:

  • Overcommunicate. Continually teach and share knowledge about products and customers. Too often, too much of the knowledge about products and customers is held by the founder. The more you teach, the more others can take ownership of customer relationships and begin to build their own pride and obsession. 
  • Transfer ownership of success from you to others. Celebrate leaders and product launches that live up to the standards and qualities needed to ensure continued product evolution and customer success.
  • Hire leaders who have built a scaled business, not just those who ran them once they were at scale.
  • Transfer your obsession but know when to stop iterating and let others move new product launches forward. 
  • Be open to self-evolution. Each time the business grows, the leader will need to find new ways to transfer their obsession while also incorporating more discipline and objectivity about the products and customers they love.

Passion Versus Profitability 

Passion and profitability are not antithetical constructs. They build on one another. Companies with wildly successful exits have built product and customer obsession into the fabric of the culture while also learning greater discipline and objectivity. 

To ensure the company gets there, the founder will undergo a similar evolution in their own leadership and learn how to transfer their obsession and when to cede their passion to the more disciplined elements of scale.

That’s why an obsessive customer and product focus is one of The Seven Navigation Challenges of the Founder’s Journey, our tried-and-tested roadmap for coaching CEOs of hypergrowth companies. You can download more detail about the journey on our website.

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This is part of a series about the Seven Navigation Challenges of the Founder’s JourneySM. To start the series, read our blog The Founder’s Journey: A Challenge Like No Other. To learn more about the next navigation challenge for founders, read our blog Company Rigor: The Discipline of Growth.

Joanna Starek oversees RHR International’s products and services, marketing, and sales. Prior to her role as chief commercial officer, Joanna honed her skills as a top CEO, executive team, and board consultant to Fortune 100 companies and beyond.