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The Art of Product Management: Lifelong Learning, Failure, and Constant Communication with Benoît Terpereau, CPO at OCUS

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The role of a Chief Product Officer can seem overwhelming. Taking ownership of the future direction of a product requires a deep understanding of the product, but more importantly, the needs of the people using the product.

Conventional wisdom often relies on the adage, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door,” but the key is to understand what “better” means genuinely. The best CPOs find the answer to this question by responding to their customers’ needs and how they want to use their products.

Benoît Terpereau, Chief Product Officer at OCUS, talks to us about his approach to product management and strategies to building products users genuinely want.

What’s inside?

  1. The ups and downs of entrepreneurship
  2. The key to becoming a great Chief Product Officer
  3. What skills do you need to master to become a CPO
  4. 3 main pillars for creating products customers will love
  5. Lessons Learned
  6. Who is Benoît Terpereau?

The ups and downs of entrepreneurship

I’ve always been pretty entrepreneurial. At the beginning of my career, I tried my hardest to become an entrepreneur for a few years. I created several companies, but they all ended up failing. It was really frustrating. 

As an engineer who knew how to design and code, I thought I could build products, and that would be that. However, I quickly found that it’s another story to create a product, market it successfully, and get people to buy it. Creation is just the first step, and it counts for nothing if you can’t sell whatever you’ve built.

I then decided to join a little startup called My Little Paris because I still loved the idea of working in entrepreneurship (not necessarily my startup). They’d gone from 5 people to 100 people in no time at all, so I figured it’d be a perfect place to learn about building a business from scratch. 

When I met Fanny, the founder of My Little Paris, she took me under her wing and taught me that if you want to succeed, you need to put users at the center of everything you do. This message hit home instantaneously. 

Around this time, I joined the first Startup Weekend hosted in Paris, where all the attendees had to pitch their idea. I thought I’d hit on a goldmine: an app with a custom travel guide that takes your personal context (number of travelers, age, time of visiting, etc.) into account. 

Once I gave my pitch, all the panel members told me that they’d rather have a book for a travel guide because there was something about leafing through pages and seeing large images on a print that couldn’t be replicated on an app.

Now, whenever I have an idea, I make sure to do an initial prototype before immediately validating the concept. I never begin coding before I know if my idea will actually address a need. 

I’m always thinking about the users, which is why I love being a Chief Product Officer. These days, CPOs aren’t necessarily industry experts -they’re digital experts who understand how to communicate with their customers and build the best solutions to match their pain points.

The key to becoming a great Chief Product Officer

A high-level strategic approach is a key to becoming a great CPO to a certain extent, but the precise answer: don’t do anything just because you want to do it, but do what the users wish you to do. The right approach should always be dictated by how your users behave and what they think.

If you want to become a great CPO, you need to combine this user-centric focus with a genuine love of learning. If you decide to stop learning, in 2 years, you’ll be out of a job. It takes ongoing effort to be a truly great CPO. Our society is shifting rapidly, so what your users think and do today will be starkly different from what they will think and do in a few years. 

You need to have an extensive database of previous challenges and failures you can refer back to. If you’ve never faced any challenges or setbacks, you’ll be ill-equipped to deal with issues on the go, and you will run into problems sooner or later.

What skills do you need to master to become a CPO?

1. Robust leadership

People will look to you for direction and guidance, so get used to leading teams because you will consistently do it. 

2. Good management  

Since you will work with many people every day, from managing project managers to mentoring employees, you’ll need a firm grasp of organizational behavior and how teams function.

3. Data-driven mindset

Data analytics will guide many of the decisions regarding your company’s product portfolio. The more data-driven you are, the more informed decisions you will make.

A fully optimized product manager can increase company profits by 34.2%

4. Think out-of-the-box

The capacity to identify market and positioning opportunities and think out-of-the-box is integral to developing a successful product and helping your organization sail into more profitable waters.

5. Marketing fundamentals

Ensure you are prepared with solid marketing fundamentals because you will probably need to provide input to the marketing department on campaigns.

3 main pillars for creating products customers will love

Three main areas should guide everything you do. If you neglect any one of these, your product may be a fiasco.

1. User feedback

Understanding the user experience is crucial, and it goes beyond simply knowing what they think and feel about your products. You need to know them as people instead of viewing them simply through the lens of your products. 

If you don’t talk to a user a day, then you’re not a CPO. This is remarkably easy to do nowadays. Go on Twitter, find one person who’s complaining about your product, and talk to them. 

I’ve started sending every member of my product management team over to work with the support team for a few days at a time. They answer tickets like the rest of the support staff. This helps them understand the users’ experiences with our product and hear what they need from us and what we need to improve going forward. 

Have in mind that your users aren’t one massive homogenous group. They’re different people, spread across the world, with various languages, cultures, beliefs, preferences, ages, genders, income brackets, and biases. This is why I strongly believe in building diverse teams. To represent all our users accurately, we need to embody this stark variation in personal backgrounds and beliefs. 

2. Data

CPOs need to be data-informed, but never forget that data is only one side of the story. For example, you could look at data-led reports and see users going through a process successfully, but if you talk to them, you may find out that they all hate the process. This is something that data on its own can’t tell you. 

So how do you ensure data works for you and not the other way around? First, you need to understand what you want to measure. For me, it’s mostly around product performance. Identify what key metric (or metrics) you need to measure to know if you’re succeeding or failing.

Don’t start by diving into your business intelligence (BI) and analytics tools and seeing what they say. If you do, you’ll get distracted by this metric or lose the overall focus of what you need to care about. You might even have two KPIs telling a completely different story, so carefully select a single precise measure for success. 

3. Your expertise

CPOs need to develop strong product expertise. In B2C industries, most of this expertise should be around digital, data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. If you work in B2B sectors, build specific expertise in your chosen field. 

Dos and Dont’s of great CPO’s

Lessons Learned

  • CPOs need to be data-informed, but never forget that data is only one side of the story. Talk with the users to find out what the actual situation is like. This is something that data on its own can’t tell you.
  • Your approach as a CPO should always be dictated by how your users behave and think and not what your guts tell you to do.
  • Building unique products is just the first step, and it counts for nothing if you can’t sell whatever you’ve created.

If you can’t accurately measure what success or failure looks like, you shouldn’t build anything. It’s as simple as that.
Benoît Terpereau, Chief Product Officer at OCUS

Who is Benoît Terpereau?

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