An Interview with Daniel Wolchonok, Senior Product Manager at Hubspot

What "Let's Talk Growth" Is All About? On our first episode we have an interview with Daniel Wolchonok, a senior product manager at Hubspot.

What “Let’s Talk Growth” Is All About?

After deciding to establish our weekly learnings’ publication, we thought that we should also try to provide extra value to you. We could do it, by just producing more articles (which is definitely something that’s on schedule), but I though that people enjoy to watch or hear the things that led great people to be who they are.

That’s when the “Let’s talk Growth” series, came to life. So from now on, we’ll try to interview the most influential people that come in our heads and present them in the form of podcasts (hopefully, we’ll switch to video soon).

As the headline indicates, for our very first episode we had an awesome opportunity to talk with Daniel Wolchonok, who’s a Senior Product Manager at Hubspot. I guess you’re already aware of Hubspot (If you were born yesterday, make sure to check it out), so I’ll cut right to the chase and allow you to hear, what this great guy had to say!

You can find the full transcript of the interview below the podcast!

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The Interview’s Transcript

Evie: Hello Danie Wolchnok, My name is Evie Samouris and I am a Senior Growth Hacker at GrowthRocks. I would like to say how appreciative we are for your time and your effort to make this call interview.

Basically, to start off, it would be really nice to know more about you and your experience in the startup space and how you became one of the most influential entrepreneurs that exist right now. Could you please give me a little more of your background?

Daniel: First off, thanks for having me. I don’t know if I deserve that intro but I’ll take it! So, in college, I was a CS (Computer Science) major and I would constantly be building apps and tools with my friends in college.

After I graduated, I went and worked for a consulting firm and I needed an outlet for that, so I started looking at startups and sites so I can build. It’s something always I have been interested in, and I think it’s no surprise that ultimately i’m in.

I’ve found my way into a role where I get to do these types of tasks on a day-to-day basis rather than the roles that I’ve had when I graduated from college.

Evie: I can imagine! I actually wanted to ask you to describe to us what a typical day is like at Hubspot and what makes your team so great.

It would be nice to know more of a first-hand experience what it’s like working at one of the greatest companies.

Daniel: Sure! So, I love working at Hubspot. I think one of the special things about Hubspot is there are incredibly driven, motivated and positive people here, and so it’s a pleasure to come into work to such passionate people.

There’s no typical day; I think, that the things that we do on a daily basis go in cycles, it depends whether we’re envisioning a new feature, if we’re building it, if we’re going through some prototypes or if we roll something out and we’re measuring impact.

At any given point we are probably working on many different features, different products and so the day is a function of where we are with all those features. It could be obsessively looking at metrics as to roll out, or an experiment or maybe looking at the strategic landscape for our products and thinking through where we want to go with our product roadmap.
Evie: So basically, you start from the creative process all the way to maximizing the product’s potential, through all the basic steps of building your product, correct?

Daniel: Absolutely! There’s never a shortage of things to work on and ideas to make things better.

Evie: You mentioned earlier that you love building products. Can you give me an example of one that you feel so close and dear to you and take me through the steps that you took from the beginning, the creative process to maximising the product growth?

Daniel: Sure! So, I started a company that Hubspot acquired and the story of that company is I was heading to an event many years ago and I thought to myself: “I wish I knew who was going to be here, I wish I knew what their backgrounds were and I wish I had the opportunity to do a little background research on these people so I could proactively know what was important to people”.

I actually, didn’t know who was going to the event; there was an email distribution list, so I could see people’s email address, but I was on my phone, heading to public transportation on my way to this event and I thought it would be great if I just had an executive summary of who these people were so I could do my homework before I got to the event.

That spawned a product called PrepWork and the idea initially was that I would take an email, I would forward it to my service – a simple email address, and the service would reply back with everything it could be found on the internet for people who were on that list.

I was so passionate about it, I went home and I built it over nights and weekends and I showed it to people and they said: “this is really great, this is fantastic, I really like this thing”, and they want to keep using it.

The sad thing was that, because they had to remember to forward an email thread to another email address, it was something that was very hard for them because:
a) remember it
b) have it be sticky and become part of the workflow

My next thought was: “How do I make something that isn’t something that you have to remember but it’s something that automatically happens for people”. I looked at, how frequently people use it, and then I spoke with them and said, how come you forget it?

A big part was: “It would be great if it automatically happened for me because I just can’t remember to do it”.

The next step from there was to build out a proof of consent that you’ll attend, into your calendar and would send you the summaries automatically based on people that you’re going to be meeting with, under your calendar.

So, that was a natural progression. I got great feedback from people, they really liked it when they remember to use it, but they needed something to make the product stickier

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Evie: I can imagine; having countless tasks to do, I’m sure a product like that was offloading their to-do tasks and taking off a huge weight off their shoulders.

Daniel: I know that Ryan Hoover from Product Hunt talks a lot about how Product Hunt originated as an email product and I think there’s a lot of value in integrating with workflows people are used to, and so, I wanted to do that same thing.

I’m a big fan of prototyping these types of products as an email product because you could rapidly iterate and you can bring the content to someone else. It was just another great example how it benefited me over time, once it was automated because any improvements someone was able to experience as soon as I added the feature.

They didn’t have to log into the website to experience it, it was pushed to them automatically via email.

Evie: Even, using it from their mobile as well when they are jumping from meetings to meetings or even at events it’s something they benefit from.

Daniel: Exactly! I immediately had something that worked on iOS, Android, Gmail, Outlook 365,

Evie: Everything!

Daniel: It had clarity on every platform just because it’s an email-based product.

Evie: Great. It is a great product and thank you for sharing. I recently watched your infamous talk at SaasFest about retention. If you could sum up everything about retention in a few words, what would it be?

Daniel: “If you don’t have good retention, nothing else matters”.

Evie: Nothing else matters! That’s a simple way of putting it. I completely agree with you. So, basically, dealing with startups, what are the challenges that rapidly growing companies face, apart from reaching their goals, from a first-hand experience, what would you say?

Daniel: My thought on this is that people don’t stop to ask, “what is different about my product?” What is different about my users, what is different about the landscape of products out there that makes my product, my users in this time in history different from the past.

And, based on all those things, and what success is, given these circumstances, what is truly the most important thing I could work on right now? I don’t think that people stop and ask themselves those tough questions, I think they dive too quickly into tactics, and I think you need to get back to this concept of first principles to serve as the north star to the direction you want to head.

Evie: The key is basically, to reflect on what you value most in your company and starting there, eventually reaching your goal is more of a standard.

More of the slow process and baby steps that you make to get there. We usually, fast forward, instead of taking a step back and seeing what’s really important.

Daniel: Yeah, yeah! I think that it’s not just for the company. It’s who you hire, what the roles and their goals are. I think also about, how you want your users to be successful and how do you define success for them, how do you deliver value and how that is differentiated from other companies.

I don’t think that people think about how they are truly different. Initially, they get caught up in what the latest distribution channels they should try or what they should do on their landing pages, email drip campaign strategy.

I think, you can easily get lost in the weeds with all those things and you should look at it from a different perspective of, what are you trying to solve, and what is the best way to go about solving it for people or figuring out how you can solve it for people.

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Evie: Basically, trying to step into the consumer’s shoes, and see how it would help me as a user, use this product. Is that one of the ways as well that someone can step back?

Daniel: Yes, I think it’s thinking about how you are delivering value to this user, but then also why is it valuable and what are the mechanisms that are going to reinforce that value most effectively over time.

Evie: OK that’s really good. What, in your opinion, is the most important factor when growing a startup? Is it the culture? What is something that you value more when growing a startup?

Daniel: One of the things that I value is a team with good voracious learners. Brian Balfour has a quote that I think is great, which is: “The people on our team and our team’s motto were dedicated to being the best at getting better”.

Our thought was that if the team that learned the most, and had the tightest feedback loop, was going to learn the most, was going to run the most experiments and was going to be the most successful at running effective experiments;

if they dedicated themselves to learning as much as possible, by dedicated yourself to being the best at getting better, all good things will come from that.

Evie: It all comes down to the team, how much they believe in the product, how much effort passion they have for the product that they’re building.

Daniel: You don’t have to explicitly tie it to the product you are building, I think you want to look for people that are obsessive about improving themselves as well, and by improving themselves they are going to do a better job of solving for your company and for your users.

If they are just focused on cutting corners and delivering value to their users and not leveling up their own skills, I think they won’t be as successful as someone who is truly dedicated to working on themselves.

Evie: And pushing their limits and trying harder and harder is basically the recipe..

Daniel: Exactly! I think people will be receptive to feedback. And, you’re going to have a level of candor in your organisation where no one takes things personally or you’re constantly focused on doing things in a better way; and everyone’s open and receptive to constructive feedback and doing things in different ways.

Evie: That’s great, thank you for that! One question that I wanted to ask you. So, when and where did you first get involved in startups? And, what do you consider the main difference between the Dan you were a few years ago when you first started out and the Dan you are now? What differences do you see about yourself and what could you have done differently?

Daniel: I first started in being involved and interested in startups in college and immediately after college. My thought was, that it was all about just executing really well, but now, I think there’s more to it than that than just pure execution.

I think the main difference between myself now and then is, that now I’m much more focused on the process, rather than the execution. More Thinking about “how is my current process the most effective one that I could envision right now?”, and “how I make the process of getting user feedback build in product”,

Rather than solely focusing on the exact experiments, the exact features I’m building right now, I focus more on the process.
Evie: So, going back in time when your career kicked off, what would you have done differently then? Maybe network more? What would you have done as a young college graduate do differently?

Daniel: I think I would have focused on delivering and demonstrating value. I was very focused on building things that I thought were cool and that people could use and I think that I didn’t showcase that enough.

I think it’s all about building things, showing them to people and getting feedback. I think that I was too likely to go off in a corner and build something, and less likely to show it to people.

I think I should have been just as passionate about building things but showing them to people and getting their feedback and building my reputation and sharing the things that I was learning and what I was passionate about with others.
Evie: That’s a good reflection. Share more; “Sharing is caring”, that’s the saying right? This is all great, Thank you so, so much!

We’ve covered everything, you’ve shed a lot of light that’s going to help us; It’s increased my knowledge, that’s for sure.

I’m looking forward to keeping in contact with you. Thank you for your time and Good luck in your future ventures. Continue building amazing products!

Daniel: Thanks so much for having me.

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Get Early Access To Our New Online Growth Hacking Course!



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