Product Management in an Ever-Changing Startup World

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Product management can be a difficult task for any company, and it’s no different for UniKey. It is important that our developers and engineers are well informed on what exactly it is they need to be working on. When working with our partners, it’s our job to take their ideas and turn them into a reality; one that works for both parties as well as the end user. Luckily, we’re in good hands with our VP of Product, Will Holderness. We sat down with him for an informative interview that really dives into what it means to oversee product management.

How would you explain product management to a 5-year-old?
Will: A lot of what we do is taking what a customer needs and turning that into something engineering can build. We’re effectively deciding what we’re going to build as a company. A lot of that comes from understanding what our customers actually need, and beyond that, what their customers need. Since we’re a B2B company, we usually aren’t serving the end customer directly, but because of that we have to also look past what our customers are asking for to better ascertain what the end-user will want out of our partner’s product. So, overall my job is to figure out what our partners are really asking for and how we can best accomplish that with them.

 

What are some of the biggest challenges you face when working on a new product?
Will: The biggest challenge is that smart access control is still a relatively new concept for a lot of companies and people. So, when our partners meet with us, there are a lot of ideas floating around and a lot of features they would love to have for their products, but they aren’t entirely sure of what can be achieved. Luckily, the possibilities are endless with our platform, so the real challenge is defining what is actually needed.

 

What are some of the questions you ask our partners when trying to determine their product vision and goals?
Will: A big part of it is asking them, “What do you see UniKey doing for you?” Because our team is capable of a lot, but we need to see how this will fit into our roadmap. For that reason, and to better understand where UniKey fits into a partners’ potential product, I ask them, “How do you envision us being a part of this product? What do you see as the end goal of this product for your company? What do you want the customer experience to be? What do you want your customers to get out of it?” Once we understand that, we can better align our product offering with what the final product will be.

 

How do you go about creating a product roadmap? What is the process?
Will: This is a tough one. A big part of it is figuring out what our customers want. In order to do this, I sit in on most of the sales calls, so that even before we sign a contract I can begin thinking about what’s coming down the pipeline for the company. It gives me some great visibility and better understanding of what a lot of our partners and future partners are looking for. Even if we don’t end up signing a deal with certain companies, at the end of the day you still gain a lot of insight that paints a picture of what the industry is asking for from those calls. I get to see what the commercial, residential, and automotive industries are looking for in their physical access control which I can then take and map out where it can all fit into UniKey’s vision. I even get to hear some individual customers asks like, “We need this feature to be able to support Bluetooth key fobs” or “We want to be able to use the gateway to be able to do something different.” A lot of these are great ideas and asks that a majority of the time represent internal asks that we also want to be able to do with our platform. When this is the case, Product will often make sure the team begins to work on these asks as soon as possible in order for us to better provide for our partners and the industry as a whole.


What are some business goals you have for the near future for UniKey?

Will: A business goal for us is to be able to provide a full SDK approach for our partners. A lot of our customers will come in and say,“We love your platform, your firmware, your mobile apps…but we want something different for our web portal.” At that point, we’ll then have to work on building something entirely new for our partners instead of being able to work on our core platform offering. Therefore, my goal is to get us to be able to provide our partners with all the tools they may need to be able to go off and build whatever they’d like to sell. This way we can service more partners who want to work with us, while still being able to work on enhancing our platform offering for our current partners.


How does product management tie into the overall vision and mission of UniKey?

Will: I think it’s pretty essential to UniKey. Our engineering team can pretty much build anything we ask them to build, but it’s Product’s job to take what our customers are asking and map that into the UniKey vision. We’ve had a few customers ask us to do things that don’t align with our core vision, so it’s Product’s responsibility to take all of that and find a way to make it all map together. A lot of the time, this actually ends up benefitting our partners too, as they don’t always know exactly what they want out of their product. In that case we’re often able to provide a better solution than our partner was initially asking for, while still being able to keep our vision in line.

As you can see, building a product, especially one that is still in the very beginning of its life-cycle, can be difficult. However, that’s what UniKey is here to do. Working with our partners, we not only get the opportunity to bring their product visions to life but we’re also given the chance to provide the industry and end-users with smarter, more secure access control solutions. To learn more about collaborating with UniKey, visit www.unikey.com.

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