How Great Products are Like Great Stories with Acquia’s Matt Kaplan

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This is a podcast episode titled, How Great Products are Like Great Stories with Acquia’s Matt Kaplan. The summary for this episode is: Today on Build, host Maggie Crowley chats live in the Seeking Wisdom studio with Acquia’s SVP Products, Matt Kaplan. Matt was previously CPO and GM, Emerging Products at LogMeIn. Now at Acquia, he heads up product strategy, management and design across their digital experience platform. And, fun fact, he was on MIT’s gymnastic team back in the day. Together Maggie and Matt chat through how great products are like great stories. Specifically, what makes a great story, untangling the relationship between stories and products and how to help your team get better at storytelling.
Warning: This transcript was created using AI and will contain several inaccuracies.

Silverback super excited stay on bills. We have a live studio audience of bases in the hold your product team and also Matt castlen the legendary a PCR product that is here to talk to us about how great products are late great stories. So Matt, you are currently aquiel you were previously the chi pot of coffee start logging in and you also on the gymnastics team by myself, which I discovered I want to take him to the story that I've heard from our VP product Craig on how great products are like read stories you have first. Just what makes a great story and how did you make that connection for five years ago. I read a book and he's the founder of Pixar. And so this is the book that I I saw I was interesting reading and kind of I connect the dots between the way Picsart was about making movies and

Play products are created as well. When you start he's kind of break it down that you know, every store have a great story. We learn to write stories right when we were really little story has a no on Shiro of the story right like the protagonist. So it's not like our Target user for products every great story starts with like attention existing in the world. I think about Pixar's, you know, Pixar's movies in Toy Story freeze apple when you know Buzz Lightyear comes in Rosewood e off in like that's my pension that exist in the story on podcast the same thing. They have like a tensioner problem that we're trying to turn us all there's always an end-state write a vision that happy ending that occurs my Pixar films and what we're trying to do with product is is solved that problem in Spring by user to that and stay that nvision. So that's similar and then one of the things that Pixar at does they have sort of these core beliefs that you have to come and go along with to enjoy

The movie Toy Story it was the core belief that all the toys are telling the story from their point of view and that they're kind of inanimate when when humans aren't around and they come to life, you know afterwards and that's the core beliefs that as product people we need to have but why are products different and special and the last thing is sort of like the sequence of events that occurs the chapters of the story and assertive what we as part of people need to do to kind of get our user customers from that tension all the way to that Vision. So the five things that I think that are similar or that Target user the attention that exists the end state division the core beliefs and that narrative that sequence of events where do our jobs because you know, when you when you think about it, I believe that product management really about two things. It's about solving problems and it's about telling stories and and it

Not getting people not only your user is but your organization to believe and where you want to go as as a company and what you're going to do to help them solve the problem. So whether it's your telling stories to sales people lying I'm on why you know, you're trying to convince them you doing the right thing with the roadmap. Are you telling stories to engineers in the beginning of a Sprint right about what we're going to build are you telling stories in the end of the band on stage to email to your customers? Like it's all about storytelling us a pot of person and some of the best product people, you know that I can think of actually can do both really. Well they can they can solve the problems. They can also tell these stories to all these different types of people fighting and doing all the things we do today. How do you get reinforcements of the practice? Right? So and practice makes perfect. So what?

What what I what I do is maybe time somebody either gets a presentation or whether it's on a small group or big group. You know, I I reinforce these points like okay, who are you talking to who's your audience for this? And are you adopting your story to you know, the executives are you dropping it to the engineer's like, how are you adapting your story? And then I also like reinforced like what is the problem solving a problem and does it so it's that's one aspect. I think getting them to to read read the books and read the framework and kind of connect the dots between the two is another one and then just would have liked some of the things of you if you look at like historically we think of Steve Jobs Fanboy with most product people are but like you think about like what jobs we think of jobs and start of the Beast Storyteller now like his great Storyteller, but actually his stories were told through his problem in your pocket. That was a story that kind of he he created told.

Hot actors actually delivered on that. So I told I tell people to watch those videos as well to learn how others have told stories about their products and Dropbox to Market in just like the active telling your pricing them in person is also an option if it's not just about to die rather than the actual telling of it and I don't think I'm a great Storyteller. I just hate Tell me story about something that happened in your childhood. I don't think I could do that but it's really about being able to articulate in that Jeff people to want to believe and want to put want to join you and your question and rally the troops and I think that's the that's the most fascinating part about this where I think we learn as part of people though the basics of nuts and bolts of of doing product design and development in scrum process in a gallon. We don't really learn about like, how do we convince people to?

Follow us right that Lita leadership that we need to do that. I think storytelling mission level easier to tell me to you're an associate pmo horoscope. How do you help them? Do it on those like micro products in our team likes what a associate p.m. Does and what I had a product product offers to do exactly the same thing except that the scope is completely different. So as an associate p.m. You know, you're working cross-functionally you're telling stories about how you know that you're solving a certain problem and you don't have a dream like a level and really your your job is to get that little team to do it's a deliver on that Vision, but as a chief product officer like you're doing the same thing, but at a macro-level you doing with board members doing executive team and the only difference really is like like the screw up.

Is much more worse than much worse than I and as an associate p.m. So that's why I like to say like what I do and what what everyone does in the company should be the same thing. And so I do I help them with, you know, specifically about how to craft that story that narrative and I had to unveil that through the work that they do on a day-to-day basis and like, you know, we talked about story writing as like, you know, if that's what that's what they're doing is telling the story of how we're going to solve a user's problem example of what I think of a future yasso example of of of this is us back at log me in is sort of the problem. We were having and this is another way of getting like you've mentioned I did a mission for the problem we're having was that we had a lot of failures in and recording session and

Session recording with Phil and so instead of sort of thinking of it as like what is the you know, what is the task? We're going to give to the developers to solve this problem. We said well, what is the mission the mission really that the team has no defects and so instead of sort of giving the team. Can I have a a story and saying you're going to do this just in this Nest we said your job is to solve distention of problem of a recording salyer and we want you to do whatever you can to solve that problem. And so the team actually why that was good is because the story that we gave them was an important but also allow them to use their free suited to come up with a number of different ways to solve that problem and they came back and said well what if we have to rewrite the software you said? Okay, then do it and sure enough. I'm recording Salyers like they dipped I would say they dropped over the course of the next three months. They dropped down to pretty much in Euro.

As a team when you're trying to get better at this time, how do you get people to Rally around this idea by doing it? And so like I've given I've been a talk we have for about 6 months now and every chance I got to stand in front of somebody I articulate of the story of like where it is that we're going and reinforce that every time and sometimes I would say people think that if you tell the same story more than once it's boring and you're being unoriginal and I think it's the exact opposite. So you have to tell the same story over and over and over again until it sinks in I am so I just started bye-bye, you know, I first will understanding kind of the stories that already existed in the company. And which ones we wanted to kind of turn up the volume on amplifier Right and started

My stories around like for someone is one example, like how do we how we solving the problem for developers marketers and nit operators? Like what are we doing to solve their problem? So that overtime the stories that they need to evolve just like when you think about Star Wars the story of Star Wars is like the same story versus evil vampire versus the forest and like it's the same story but they've added to it over and over and have different characters and and so that the heart of the story and I just wrote a book that you wrote a story on what you know conversation is all about and and I think that's the cementing so that that for story and then you'll add to that over time. I'm sure you know that when you're telling you stories is picking up on them in the way that you want to cuz again, I think a lot of questions from listeners are about okay. I heard what you said, but I'm trying

Waze problems, how do you how do you know if working the most is when you start hearing back the story that you told I am so when you hear it from a salesperson's mouth of your hear it from us now solution architect or somebody that actually is taking your story and making it better. I would say that you do you want to give the story to the team and it's a story comes back with something that you didn't think of that was more interesting than what you gave them. Then you know, it's working if it comes back with like like that's not the way I would have told the story or it's kind of it's flattering. It just doesn't have any depth to it. I add anything to the story and I think it's your is the messages and I telling stories what are the tools in the book signing?

I would definitely say practice it so so the different meet media that you mentioned before like are you writing is the is it in written form presentation form? I have some and some others do songs. Like we used to have a song for join me that I would like to hold music was part of the end. Like that was used as yeah, but like the story like like that's being told in different different forms different ways. I'm so I'll give an example of I put posters up around the office recently that reinforce the PreSonus a retargeting and the goals that were achieving their retired Chief and like what we're going to launch. I'm in in our spring releases and it's all over the office. So I like everyday somebody comes in and we're reinforcing, that that story and I thought that's another way to do it. Either way. It's so like definitely reading a lot on

To do this learning about storytelling sexy a funny, you know, the thing that this there's there's a lot of science Neuroscience research has been done about stories and I in fact these The Listener actually their brain pattern bring these are actually the same as the Storyteller during that process. So they're actually empathizing a lot with that males feel like they were there during that time. So I just think that the art of telling the story is getting people to empathize with it and really to own it as well, especially in an example of having me be featured this not as huge was not the reason tackles you might think it is just figuring out how to build that it's something I know people are probably about that one of the empathy I mean like customer meeting. So I and I just had an objective of you know, every product person on the team has to have 12 customer.

King's Corner and they've got a purchase paid that got a track in and so you know what the worst thing that disappointed that if they it's a muscle memory thing, right? You've got to practice it right and it's unnatural at the to some people others are really good at it. And if they want they need that they want that I know that that's going to make him a better product leader product person but others you can have to push him out the door and have those conversations just products in general. So I'm assuming so what are some pieces of advice that you have for people who are just getting to the stroll and then maybe we were hoping to make a Japanese product leadership. So the first thing on a person needs to on Natalie like on the phone the problem on the time but also establish a point of view about how they want to solve a problem.

Many times product leaders. They kind of defer that they are product manager to say. Well that's that's not my responsibility to see it and I say you got on it. And and so that's the first thing is like really not only but also then having a really strong point of view the how you resolved it but has to be weakly held after nothing about product person as we have to be humble and like let go of an idea and you know just isn't going to work and then the second thing is something I I meant a lot of people on his is socialized a lot early and often like even if the idea is very early and haven't worked it all out. She's going to have to tell somebody had a Time. Hey, this is just an idea like doesn't work that I haven't worked it out yet. But what do you think about it? Because what that does is as you tell the story they either said tell you that's great and they ought to it may help you develop it or they actually say that, you know, they convince you that the other thing is really about socializing.

Cancel that because sometimes you know everything in my career. I got like that. I was a guy that had like all these ideas in like, you know, like their people couldn't follow follow me. So you really have to be clear about like why you're doing that and upfront. Yes, we have heard from DG about writing headlines first for testing headlines on Twitter or something. That's a yes definitely. So so those are two two out to the things I'm having a point of view socializing and then like be a better Storyteller like a lot of people they really comfortable inside of you know, where are there a comfortable in a PowerPoint setting but I would say you like get outside your comfort zone get onstage. I think that's one area that like I think makes people really nervous in front of a live audience being front of a executive team too. And so I give I give people that opportunity to like speak at a you know, quarterly Business Review are you know product

You are getting front of the executive team to pitch an idea or concept just giving those opportunities to them really help them develop, you know, remove the fear and then develop your skills about people who make the drums from Individual contributor product manager of product leaders. We we have to be really confident in the unknown like on and not many people are comfortable doing that and you know, the more you grow into into a position or a company. I think that the less announce there are you know, like how people say well they always believed that like the executive know everything and then and that's not always the case. He's actually less than what the people in the trenches now and so it's really been comfortable in that Inlet living in that unknown space one area. I think of roast for four people.

The question was asked you which is I got to hear this all the time from people who are listening which is they're evaluating you companies are looking for new products teams to join and I want to know how to evaluate is everything so over the course of your career. How do you navigate to that decision at this point? What do you look for in a job that you're looking for today? Think about your kind of Ideal job in two jobs out and say, how can this next job? I'm going to next company. Give me the skills that I'll need to develop in order to get the next job. So unless you're at the end of your career and as matter, but like if you're thinking about like your career just think to two jobs out and then go and look at that company as like am I going to die company? Am I going to be able to exercise the scales on are the is the product leadership there people that have been successful before and I can learn from that.

LogMeIn was the founder, you know, it was a person and I really help me help me develop my skills having a product down here. So I just have one last question, which is what are you reading right now actually reading which is yeah. It's all it's like the summer book on open source and some dude open source. It was one of the books that that recommended. The last one was thinking I think I was wanting actually I got recommended for this episode and let me know what you think. Thanks.


Today on Build, host Maggie Crowley chats live in the Seeking Wisdom studio with Acquia’s SVP Products, Matt Kaplan. Matt was previously CPO and GM, Emerging Products at LogMeIn. Now at Acquia, he heads up product strategy, management and design across their digital experience platform. And, fun fact, he was on MIT’s gymnastic team back in the day. Together Maggie and Matt chat through how great products are like great stories. Specifically, what makes a great story, untangling the relationship between stories and products and how to help your team get better at storytelling.