7 Leadership Principles for Product Managers Lessons from Jen Taylor, Chief Product Officer at Cloudflare
I had the honor recently of co-hosting a Menlo Ventures Product Assembly virtual event with Jen Taylor, Cloudflare’s Chief Product Officer. Jen has deep expertise in product management and marketing, and previously held senior roles at Salesforce, Facebook, and Adobe. In our roundtable of product managers, Jen shared some of the lessons learned from her impressive career in product leadership. Here are the main takeaways, in her words.
1. Understand what your superpower is and the product culture you want to work in.
Part of being a great PM is understanding what your superpower is and what cultural orientation you want to work in. When somebody says, “Oh, I’m a product leader,” that can mean a variety of different things. Maybe you’re the product visionary. Maybe you are oriented towards customers. Maybe you’re focused on sales and driving sales.
You don’t have to get it right immediately. Part of the beauty of working at various organizations is you can experiment with your mental model and see what satisfies you. For me, Salesforce was a very sales-driven culture. Cloudflare is a very engineering-driven culture. I knew after years of experience that my superpower was helping organizations operationalize at scale. It was a perfect fit at Cloudflare because the ask when I joined was to partner with the engineering organization and help the company figure out how to harness the growth engine and drive it forward. I came into an organization that shipped what they built. A huge part of my job as CPO is taking that raw energy and building a roadmap and getting to a place where there is a longer line of sight and predictability. Just in the last year, Cloudflare has shipped something like 550 capabilities to market.
2. Don’t forget to innovate at your roots.
I joined Adobe as part of the Macromedia acquisition as part of their push into digital media and web publishing. Adobe is such a fascinating company that started with PDF and has continued to reinvent itself through acquisitions. That said, after the Omniture acquisition, they shifted focus to leaning heavily into marketing. A bunch of us old-timers shared the sentiment then that the company should be doing more in the creative space. And funny enough, my engineering partner at Macromedia went on to co-found Figma. What ends up happening with some organizations as they grow and think about TAM expansion, they take their eye off or don’t see growth opportunities with legacy businesses.
What Figma and newer folks have nailed is building purpose-built streamlined tooling and meeting creatives where they want to be vs. huge subscriptions. If I were able to sprinkle my fairy dust inside Adobe and encourage them to move back into the creative space, I would encourage them really to think less about the big offerings and more about how to build a purpose-driven portfolio of tools again.
3. Create value from the assets and experiences even if everything doesn’t go perfectly to plan
Salesforce is a data company. What creates the lock-in between customers and Salesforce is the data companies put into the platform. Fundamental to Salesforce’s continued success is therefore helping customers manage and work through that data. A huge focus of mine while I was SVP of Product there was this theme around data and building the proper ecosystem. And to be frank, not all the initiatives were successful. I had the opportunity in my last months to lead data.com, which was really the Jigsaw acquisition (crowd-sourced business contact data) that was struggling.
A big portion of what I did was to help them wind that down and fold that into another part of the organization. Having that experience was important to me in my growth and development as a product leader. It helped shift me to always think about how to create success from the assets when things don’t go perfectly. Secondly, it gave me an opportunity to work with a small team, which made me realize that I was ready for a smaller organization where I would have more cross-functional impact than I would at a place like Salesforce. That ultimately led me to Cloudflare.
4. Don’t build net-new products, architect old ones in different ways
Our network of data centers at Cloudflare which span more than 200 cities globally and the architecture of those centers have been so crucial to launching new products. When we decide to enter a new market, so many of the attributes and components are already built because we have successfully built a network that can support so many services on top.
As an example, take Cloudflare’s Zero-Trust offering, which is part of our corporate security business. Traditionally, you would send all your remote network traffic through a single choke point device (VPN). But with Cloudflare’s network of data centers, requests are distributed across different edge locations where access policies are applied before that remote traffic is sent over optimal secure paths to its destination. With Cloudflare’s original network, customers have built-in DDoS protection, traffic acceleration, network firewall, zero trust functionality, etc. all from a single management plane.
5. Enable your customers to grow their skillset set and sell more products by doing so
A big portion of what we are supposed to do in the product organization is to think from a customer-centered point of view and have innate anticipation of what they will need next to expand their skill sets. In thinking this way, we’ll foster a natural understanding of additional offerings that will not only be the most critical unlock for the customer’s growth but also the company’s.
At Adobe we saw the evolution of print to web to motion to mobile. At each step, we sought to help customers take the skills and the “feel” of the tools they used every day and seamlessly apply them to the new use cases. Similarly, at Cloudflare, as we’ve extended from Application Security to Network Services and Enterprise Security at Cloudflare, we try to borrow on similar concepts and workflows to allow customers to quickly adopt and deploy new solutions.
6. Bring your authentic self to work to step-function your professional career
I’ve been out as a lesbian since college, but when I first starting working in Silicon Valley 20 years ago, I was very secretive, very closeted. I was also a female in tech. I was also non-technical. It was difficult to get people to take me seriously. It was hard to gain full confidence in myself and I was trying to wrestle my imposter syndrome to the ground.
One of the most fundamental and transformational step-functions in my career was when I could finally take all that psychological energy I was holding in the foreground to guard myself and finally just let myself be. It unlocked something phenomenal in me and that openness and acceptance have made me more comfortable about being my full self at work.
A huge part of achieving the above is mentorship and advocacy. I would not be doing what I’m doing today if I didn’t have mentors who were wise stewards of my career and told me things that I needed to hear even when I didn’t want to hear them and advocate for me within the organization.
7. When hiring and building diverse teams, don’t just buy the wrapper
Hiring and building great teams that are also diverse means doing the hard work of going beyond the wrapper. Too often, companies claim they want diversity but really just want to hire the same person with the same credentials but now with a different outer appearance that will check the box. This is problematic because the commitment to diversity is only an inch-deep. You are buying the “wrapper” without taking the time to understand the obstacles individuals face as a result of their diversity and how that has impacted their life stories, strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments.
You can’t just do a quick scan of resumes to see which ones showcase the “right” university, experience, etc. You will actually have to sit down and read those resumes and look at them from a different lens and perspective. You’ll need to make the time to meet with more candidates than you think. You’ll have to be more patient in sussing out potential even if it’s a more unusual fit than you are used to.
And diversity doesn’t just stop at the hiring process. It’s our responsibility as leaders within these organizations when we bring on diverse candidates to 1) know the challenges that have traditionally plagued them as members of minority groups and 2) help them overcome those challenges so they can thrive.