In this episode of Unlearn Podcast, host Barry O’Reilly and two experienced tech executives, Melissa Perri and Gibson Biddle, meet for a Personal Board of Directors meeting. Melissa Perri is the founder and CEO of Produx Labs, a product management consultancy, and author of Escaping the Build Trap. She is also a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School. Gibson Biddle is a former Chief Product Officer at Netflix and renowned product leader and speaker. You can watch the Personal Board of Directors live stream here too.
Using the CAMPS Model (community, autonomy, mastery, purpose, scale), they share personal insights on the importance of building relationships, continuous learning, work-life balance, and feedback. Throughout the episode, they provide practical tips and advice for personal and professional growth, including valuable lessons and takeaways for listeners seeking to succeed in their own careers and personal lives.
Building a Community
People who surround themselves with a strong network of friends, colleagues, and mentors tend to be more successful in their personal and professional lives. Your community can also provide emotional support and accountability, which are important for achieving goals and personal growth. Gibson shares that he has been engaged with the community of product leaders all over the world but feels like he hasn’t done enough to mechanize it. He admits that his community score is his lowest. He acknowledges that Lenny Bruchitski is a great role model for building a community. Gibson likes to teach through talks and workshops; he is still very much a one-person company, which limits his leverage in creating a community. [Listen from 6:20]
Barry asks Gibson what flexibility would look like for him now that he is retiring. Gibson responds that he has optimized for flexibility by deciding what he chooses to do or not do every week. For him, autonomy and flexibility are almost the same. Talking to people who are presently or soon-to-be retired has also been helpful in providing insights, he tells Barry. His passion for speaking at events and workshops is what keeps him energized, and he plans to continue doing this even in retirement. “I get energy from my talks and workshops. It helps me age gracefully, stay current,” he remarks. “…You have to have a purpose,” Gibson stresses. “Even in retirement, you have to have goals. You have to be learning new stuff.” He explains how he learned to let go of his ego and focus on creating value instead of money. He rates himself on mastery, purpose and scale and shares his rationale for the scores. [Listen from 9:00]
Maintaining Work-Life Balance
Melissa asks Barry if he has any general updates to share. Barry describes his experience living in the Philippines with his family and managing work with colleagues all over the world, while adjusting to a different culture and time zone. He rates his sense of community at an 8, citing the support he receives from colleagues at Nobody Studios, his venture studio. It’s important to have hobbies and interests outside of work to maintain a healthy work-life balance, they all agree. Barry remarks that his team encourages each other to take time off to recharge. That’s special, he says. “Plus, just leading all these people all over the world in different locations and somehow coming together to build some crazy stuff together, that’s been pretty fun.” [Listen from 18:10]
(Listen to Product Thinking for Product Management with Melissa Perri)
Transitioning from Solopreneur to Leader
Part of being a leader is adapting to decisions made by others and accepting the consequences, which may not always be positive. “It actually took me a while to get used to that and it caused a lot of frustration at times,” Barry says of his transition from solopreneur to leader of Nobody Studios. “I had got into the habit of living with the consequences of my own choices… but getting used to decisions you disagree with and having negative consequences affect you [was difficult for me]. I also recognize I’m creating that experience for others.”
He emphasizes the importance of learning new skills, and adapting to support teams rather than being directly involved in product work, even though he personally misses the day-to-day interaction. Melissa acknowledges that this is a challenging transition for many people who move from an individual contributor to a leadership position. [Listen from 21:50]
(Listen to Delighting Customers in Hard-to-copy Margin-enhancing Ways)
Stay involved and up-to-date with the products you are working on, so you don’t forget how to do things right. This is particularly important for consultants, who risk losing touch with the product. Gibson says you can set a standard for the level of quality of the product through leading by example. “I do think it’s important to keep your hands dirty,” Gibson says. “It helps you to learn new tools, new tactics. … it’s easier to understand people who work for you, their jobs, if you’re doing the job.” They agree that a good way to stay involved is by continuing to work on hands-on projects and advising on them. Gibson shares a story of how Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, trained him on the standard of quality of their product by sending him a list of minor errors to correct. This helped him to learn the degree of detail required in the product, and he received fewer emails over time. [Listen from 25:15]
Gibson’s preferred method of learning is preparing and teaching weekly talks on different product topics. He believes that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Melissa’s approach is interviewing experts who can teach her about new topics, such as AI, and how it relates to product management. She does this through her Product Thinking podcast. [Listen from 29:25]
Building a Successful Company Takes Time and Patience
“Startups feel like you’re accelerating, and then you hit the brakes and you’re accelerating, then hit the brakes,” Barry comments. He adds that purpose is a key component in building an early-stage startup, as it helps entrepreneurs to define their goals and work towards achieving them. However, it takes a long time to scale. His score for scale is his lowest, he says, because it takes time and patience to build a startup. Melissa and Gibson remind him that while it may take a while to build momentum, once you have it, you’re set. [Listen from 32:00]
Plans for the Coming Year
“Give us the tiny top line on your year and what your focus is today,” Gibson asks Melissa and Barry. Melissa shares her plans for Product Institute after finishing her last semester teaching at Harvard. She is currently working on several independent projects with students, doing product management workshops, and focusing on her CPO Accelerator. She is also developing an advanced course on Product Institute and connecting people with good opportunities. She is exploring how to use ChatGPT to summarize podcast content and is working on completing a book on Product Ops. [Listen from 34:20]
Melissa discusses her personal scores on autonomy, community, and mastery. She expresses her desire to get out of her bubble and meet people in person again. She misses the hallway conversations and the connections that come with attending events. Gibson praises her ability to make connections and influence people. She is a great role model for him, he tells her. Melissa rates her autonomy as a 9. She has more freedom and flexibility, and she can go whichever direction she wants. She gives mastery a rating of 7, because she feels like she’s starting on the second phase of her career and is not sure where she’s headed. [Listen from 37:50]
You should continue to learn and grow, even after mastering your current work, Gibson and Melissa agree. Melissa finds purpose in helping others connect with job opportunities and setting up companies for success. However, she is frustrated with conferences that do not pay speakers and plans to be more selective about where she speaks. Gibson advises her to be patient and persistent in building momentum in her career and to speak at community events when she is in the area. [Listen from 41:00]
Barry emphasizes the importance of seeking feedback and being open to improving yourself. He shares a hack for receiving feedback via QR code. [Listen from 49:25]
Have you gathered your own Personal Board of Directors? Share this podcast with them for inspiration!