Awesome People - Ep 110
Product, problems before solutions, the joy of missing out
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Please meet Antoine Sakho, Your Product Leader
Antonie was referred to us by NiMA Asghari, a founder of Seed Club Ventures. Most recently, Antoine was the Head of Product at Busuu, a language learning product based in London. He helped turn Busuu around from a near-death experience to $400M+ exit and 100M+ users.
Antoine works with CPOs and VPs of Product. He advises companies like Strapi (Series B Saas company backed by Index), Multis (crypto corporate finance company backed by Sequoia), and Ki Insurance (500M raised in a joint venture with Google).
For fun, he’s building Europe’s first product-led angel syndicate and invests alongside VCs like Kleiner Perkins, Index, and Gradient.
One little-known fact about Antoine is that he’s learned eight languages in his lifetime and is now learning to read Sanskrit.
You can hire Antoine as a product advisor or senior product leader. He works best with companies that have early PMF and are post-product, think Series A+.
Want an intro to Antoine? Respond to this email, and I’ll connect you!
He was gracious enough to share tips with us ✨
Work backward: start with challenges, then brainstorm solutions
Throughout my career as a founder, operator, and investor, I've consistently watched teams debate features. Instead of debating features, start by defining the company-wide metric you want to impact and the problems you want to solve.
Ironically, most startups tackle this process in reverse.
To prioritize features, do the following:
Start by defining the desired outcome and navigating competing KPIs. Should you prioritize user growth over monetization at this stage? Is reducing churn more crucial than boosting paid conversion? Many startups fail to negotiate trade-offs and pursue multiple objectives simultaneously, resulting in a lack of focus. Some of the most successful companies I've seen only have one objective and three key results. Now, that is focus.
Once the outcomes are clear (e.g., increase year-one retention by 40%), analyze the business and user challenges. Quantitative and qualitative product research is crucial here.
Armed with target metrics and a comprehensive understanding of the challenges, brainstorm solutions. Prioritize solutions using frameworks like RICE (Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort) to mitigate biases.
Important note: RICE is effective when comparing solutions within the same problem area impacting the same metric. Otherwise, you’ll end up comparing apples and oranges.
Bonus points: don't stop there. The best teams strategically rank experiments to validate their assumptions and mitigate risks before building the entire solution.
Prioritizing outcomes, challenges, and solutions will significantly increase your odds of success. It has been a game-changer for the teams I coach and advise. At Busuu, this process helped us scale from $2M to $30M ARR.
Embrace JOMO: the joy of missing out
Founders frequently struggle with maintaining focus and implementing a definitive strategy. By "strategy," I mean the explicit choices and tradeoffs necessary for success.
Too often, founders want to create a broad product out of fear of missing potential customers or markets. Ironically, this fear leads to the opposite outcome: a scattered product that fails to serve any market effectively.
I've seen many teams test and expand their scope without discipline, thinking it's a "strategic" move. However, adding more products often dilutes your value prop. I once observed a well-funded industry leader continuously expand its scope. Unbeknownst to them, this incremental expansion resulted in a massive product footprint and confusion. When I interviewed employees, most couldn't explain what each product did or how it fit into the bigger picture. Gradually, they lost their competitive edge and were overtaken by bootstrapped startups.
In contrast, a good strategy requires diving deep into a narrow market and building the best solution for their needs. Counterintuitively, my experience shows that the narrower the market, the better the results. Once you achieve product-market fit with your early adopters, you can gradually extend to neighboring customer segments.
One of my clients, a leader in open-source headless CMS (a fancy way of saying a backend-only CMS), exemplifies strategic ingenuity. They created a self-hosted product, rejecting the popular cloud-hosted approach. They focused on developing a product for their core customers—SMBs and agencies. Self-hosting allowed for the customizations their customers needed. Their focus paid off. They quickly became the world's top open-source headless CMS.
However, as they achieved product-market fit, they realized that self-hosting was too complex to expand beyond their initial adopters. With increasing demand for a cloud solution, they faced a daunting challenge. Instead of imitating their competitors with a complete SaaS product, they displayed strategic brilliance.
Their game-changing decision? A Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) solution leveraging existing hosting providers. This addressed their customers' need for easy setup (5 minutes from development to production) without sacrificing the customization benefits of self-hosting. Moreover, it significantly reduced their time-to-market by eliminating the need for extensive infrastructure.
The outcome? Just a few months after the launch, their PaaS offering is exceeding revenue targets and is projected to contribute to half of the company's annual revenue. Based on a deep understanding of their customers’ needs, they’re redefining the game with a superior slimmer product.
Want an intro to Antoine? Respond to this email, and I’ll connect you!
As always, please let me know if you have any questions or want an intro to Antoine!
Founder of Awesome People Ventures & Talent
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Awesome People Continued 🤩
Seth, Your Full-Stack Marketing Expert — has led the marketing launches of more than a dozen DTC and Digital Health brands. He’s helped companies across health and wellness, financial services, e-commerce, and real estate grow from launch to over $100mm in revenue. You can hire him to build a strong strategic marketing foundation and execute a complete DTC or B2B growth plan.
Lauren, our Fractional GTM Leader — recently founded Indigo, a go-to-market agency. She builds marketing, community, and sales functions from the ground up. You can hire her to work on brand development and positioning, full-funnel, marketing, sales & partnerships and community strategy.
Brooke, Your Creative Brand Genius — creative directed and wrote award-winning campaigns at companies like Google, Amazon, R/GA, and Digitas. Today, she runs her own creative studio, Baubo, that helps brands find their souls and launch them. You can hire her to help you with brand strategy, naming, verbal identity and copywriting, visual identity and design, packaging, website creation, and campaigns.
Want an intro to Antoine, Seth, Lauren or Brooke? Respond to this email, and I’ll connect you!
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