Hello to Canada’s SaaS Community,
Managing team members in different time zones is difficult, let alone when they live on different continents. Yet this is what Mike Gozzo, Chief Product Officer at Ada, does every day. Speaking with SAAS NORTH, Mike explained how he keeps everyone on the same page.
- Working remotely requires every team member to have clear, thorough writing skills.
- Seeing people face to face is critical for connection and engagement.
- Make your product feedback system transparent and respond to every request—even if you can’t take it on, explain why.
Co-Founder/Producer, SAAS NORTH Conference Editor, SAAS NORTH NOW
Building a complex, AI-driven technology product is difficult by itself. Add different time zones and cultures to the mix and you’ve got a huge potential risk—but also an opportunity. After working with global teams at Zendesk, managing across cities as the Chief Product Officer (CPO) at Ada is easy for Mike Gozzo. Speaking with SAAS NORTH, Mike explained how he ensures the Ada product team stays on the same page despite being continents apart.
In 2020, Mike was happily working at Zendesk, the company that acquired his messaging-based customer support startup Smooch.io in 2019. The exit was a dramatic win for him as an entrepreneur and for his investors—he said the company raised around $7 million in funding, nearly half of which was founder capital, and sold for just over $100 million. He joined Zendesk as a Senior Director of Product, eventually becoming Senior Vice President.
“It was a really, really good outcome for us,” said Mike.
He initially turned down the CPO role at Ada. He was already an angel investor in the company, having known founder Mike Murchison from his Smooch.io days, and didn’t think it was a good idea to join the team full-time.
But after initially declining, the Ada team asked him once more. This time, they caught him at the right time: around his 39th birthday. Joking that he was nearing 40 and unsure what was coming next in his life, he took the leap to Ada, saying it was an opportunity to get scrappy again.
“I joined a little bit on a whim because it felt like it would be fun to go back into scrappy-startup mode and get away from the big multinational—over 5,500 employees—that was Zendesk,” said Mike. “Getting to focus on one core mission that I deeply resonated with, with a bunch of people that were Canadian, that were building something that had a shared objective and vision of building a generational Canadian company was really important to me.”
Managing a global product team
Ada has product teams all across North America and recently opened an office in Israel to expand its AI and machine learning endeavours.
Mike jokes that it’s easy for him now, given the global pressures he once dealt with at Zendesk, but acknowledges that managing across time zones and continents is not a simple task. To ensure the team stays on the same page and builds toward Ada’s shared vision, Mike relies on three distinct techniques.
The first is “making sure that we really celebrate thorough written communication in how we make decisions,” said Mike. Too often, people write out of obligation—think of all the emails or Slack messages you write in a given day—but end up calling random meetings where big personalities influence decision making. This can’t happen if a team is to run efficiently across continents, said Mike. Instead, he prizes writing as a skill, particularly when someone is communicating why a task is important to the company’s overall vision and strategy.
“I can’t stress how much how important writing is as a skill for anybody in the new remote environment that we’re operating in,” said Mike. “Clarity of the written word and the ability to use language to make sure that the concepts are understood and are inspiring is a superpower.”
Second comes seeing people face-to-face as frequently as possible. Mike said the Ada executive team meets in person at least once per month, usually somewhere in North America. Then he looks to wherever his staff is concentrated and tries to visit as often as possible. He shared one example where he boarded a plane from his hometown in Montreal in the afternoon, grabbed evening drinks with his Toronto-based team members, then flew back home. He said the trip cost him a few hundred dollars but he was able to re-energize the team, helping them reconnect after feeling the pressure and isolation of remote work environments.
“We can’t underestimate how important it is sometimes to just get on a plane and not talk about work when you get off on the other side,” said Mike.
Third, Mike is conscious about making their work processes transparent so they can be “viewed and audited” across the business. This stems from what Mike says is a common criticism of product teams—other teams give feedback based on their own perspective or customer comments, but the product team never responds.
Now, every product request or customer feedback note is documented (the team uses ProductBoard) and the team responds to everything. That doesn’t mean they tackle everything—prioritization is critical—but even when the team doesn’t take on a task, they explain their rationale for doing so. And if someone wants to challenge the rationale, they can.
“If somebody wants to argue with the rationale, there’s a basis for them doing it,” said Mike. “And they do pick it up and argue sometimes. But making sure these things are just part of the drumbeat and part of how it operates and done in a consistent way is really key.”
Building an anchor
According to Bruce, Launchpad has completed phase two and is ready for phase three: scale. The company has proven out product-market fit and its revenue growth model, doing so profitably from day one. Now, Bruce wants to turn Launchpad into both an Anchor Company within the BC Tech Ecosystem—meaning hitting $50 million in revenue and having over 200 employees—and then onto becoming a Centaur—meaning over $100 million in ARR.
At this point, Bruce isn’t sure whether growth will require outside capital. He acknowledged that the challenges of bootstrapping to $10 million are vastly different than the challenge of growing to $50 million or $100 million. However, regardless of whether Bruce courts investors or not, he has optionality—the power he’s wanted, and had, all along.
“Scaling beyond $10 million, oftentimes takes more fuel,” said Bruce. “But now we’re in a position where we’re profitable, we have proven the revenue, we’ve proven the growth, and proven the market. And then that optionality really now comes into play on how we want to achieve that $100 million revenue.”
Striving for simplicity
Everything Mike asks of his team—thorough written communication, face time, and responding to every request—is time consuming. That has meant a shift in what Product Managers are asked to do at Ada.
In a word: simplicity.
Product Managers, said Mike, are responsible for the voice of the customer in product meetings. Their task is to ensure the company is building solutions that genuinely solve the problems faced by customers. Other people on the team worry about how the solution gets built while PMs ensure the right solution is being built in the first place.
“Product Managers in any of the [organizations] that I’ve run really obsess about whether or not they truly understand the problem that the customer is facing,” said Mike. “Does it change that customer’s life at the end of the day? Because if it doesn’t, we can sell as much product as we want [and] you’re going to ultimately hit a wall where the technology that we are delivering isn’t resonating and being loved by and sticky with our customers.”