Product Managers in Parks Having Pints
Join Garrett Galow, Director of Product at Cloudflare, in casual conversations with product managers on what happens behind the scenes of building the products we all use everyday
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Product Managers in Parks Having Pints.
I'm your host, Garrett Galow, Director of Product here at Cloudflare.
Today, I'm joined by a good friend of mine, Clarke Rahrig, who I'll introduce in just a moment.
As per every episode, we're always drinking something in a pint, enjoying.
Today, I have one of my favorite beers, actually, Live Oak Hefeweizen from Austin, Texas.
I managed to smuggle some back on the plane when I came back after a trip there recently.
Clarke, thanks so much for joining me today.
I really appreciate it. Why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself for everyone watching?
Sure, yeah. Thanks, Garrett. So, everyone, Clarke Rahrig. I am a PM, actually, at Microsoft, working on a product called the Windows AI Platform, which is a developer-focused platform for all of you, all those developers out there doing machine learning, inferencing, and we've actually made some super cool new investments on the training side.
But, yeah, PM at Microsoft. As Garrett kind of mentioned, we went to school together, went to UT, majored in electrical and computer engineering, and just been having fun doing the whole PM thing since graduation.
What are you drinking today, Clarke? Oh, yeah, yeah. What am I? I didn't do the good thing and save the can, but you'll have to take my word for it.
I have a love in Seattle, and so I'm drinking a local brew from Rubens Brews, just a classic summer pilsner, you know, keeping it light while it's hot in this apartment with no AC.
Summertime in Seattle, the nicest part of the year, except the few days where it gets a little too warm.
Exactly, exactly. Cool, yeah. So, in order to sort of introduce the topic today, I'll give a little backstory about how Clarke and myself know each other.
As he said, we both went to UT, and we actually participated in a program there called the Longhorn Startup Program, which was sort of an entrepreneurship -based program for students to really understand entrepreneurship firsthand.
So, we were able to work on a company together, build a product, launch it.
Obviously, it, you know, didn't pan out the way maybe we had hoped it did, but it got us to where we are today with the jobs we have, so it was super worth it.
In that light, since then, Clarke's been involved in a lot of outside of work programs, especially around startup programs.
So, we thought it would be a good idea today to talk about sort of, you know, as a product manager, sort of what are other things you can do outside of your job that, you know, can both help other people, also kind of help upskill you, keep you fresh, and kind of mix things up a little bit.
So, to get off, to start off, Clarke, why don't you tell us more about the Genesis Program, kind of what it is, and how you got involved with it?
For sure, yeah. So, yeah, like Garrett said, kind of as the brief intro, Genesis Program is focused on, you know, helping enable entrepreneurship for students that are, you know, on campus across all the grade levels, disciplines, you know, whether you're undergraduate, master's, PhD, to, you know, help enable them to, you know, take an idea to an actual product.
And so, what the Genesis Program actually is, you can sort of think of it as a sort of pre-C type capital fund.
Basically, you know, we have an application process for current students at UT to go and apply and say, hey, I have this idea, I'm, you know, trying to develop some app to solve XYZ problem, or, you know, I have this interesting research I'm doing, which I think could be productized in some other way.
And, you know, we help not only eventually provide, you know, funding if we end up accepting them into the program, but, you know, also provide, you know, mentorship, skill development, and just kind of, you know, teaching people potentially working on taking an idea to a product for the first time, actually, like how to go do that and how to be successful.
And so, I actually got involved with the Genesis Program at UT because of the, actually, the involvement Garrett mentioned that we both had in the Longhorn Startup Program.
So, kind of the way it ended up happening was another alumni who I've come to get to know pretty well reached out to me and, you know, kind of said, hey, you know, Clark, I know you stay involved as an alumni at UT, and I know you're, you know, interested and passionate about this entrepreneurship stuff.
You know, would you have any interest in sort of helping, you know, bring this idea of Genesis to life?
And so, I actually was fortunate enough to be a part of the founding team to get that off the ground and, you know, work closely with the university and actually build a really cool organization that straddles both, you know, current students being involved and helping run the program as well as, you know, myself and other alumni that kind of help make it a super cool sort of hybrid organization on campus.
And so, yeah, that's kind of the general gist of what Genesis is.
I like how it's basically was a startup built to help other people start startups.
You know, I was sort of just thinking about, as you were describing, some of the things you went through and, like, you know, there's a lot of, like, direct sort of PM skills you sort of mentioned through all of that.
Like, you know, there's the direct involvement that you have with students when they come to you with ideas and sort of, like, helping them vet and understand ideas, which is, like, very core to product management is, you know, understanding customers' needs, finding problems, understanding those problems, and then, you know, trying to help them think of how they might better solve those problems.
There's a lot of ways to dig into this.
I think maybe one of the interesting things is, like, what have you learned from, you know, helping students in those ways of trying to vet their ideas that has sort of, you know, helped you in your, like, day-to-day job?
Sure. Yeah, I think probably the one of the biggest takeaways I've had is, like, truly gaining a better understanding of, like, if you, you know, you go and understand the customer or the given scenario you're really trying to go address, like, you can actually really have an impact with just a small amount of investment because, you know, some of these students, they're only, you know, they only really need a couple hundred bucks or, you know, a little bit of money to actually, like, get some of their ideas off the ground or into a state where they can actually, you know, pilot it with one or two customers, and so I think it really wasn't necessarily fundamentally new to me, but it really reinforced the idea that, like, hey, you know, when I'm solving this problem at work, like, what's the quick and potentially straightforward way I can go kind of implement this, you know, in a deck or, you know, in some sort of, you know, lower cost way to actually get this idea across to more people to keep making progress towards the eventual, you know, MVP or initial target you're trying to hit with a given idea.
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, that's, like, a constant thing we always think about here is, you know, this seems interesting, it seems like a good idea, like, what's the, you know, people use the term minimal viable product, right, what's the MVP or the pre -MVP is not even a thing that you could actually use to validate, like, is this actually going to help, you know, customers in a significant way, so I think that totally makes a lot of sense.
I'm curious, you know, in the same light, when you're helping these students, what are some of the common pitfalls that they often fall into that you sort of try and, you know, coach them around, right, since, you know, this is obviously very new to them.
I think one of the recurring trends that I observed early on was, you know, a lot of the students kind of, they would come in and present an idea and sort of say, hey, here's where I think it makes the most sense to go allocate the funds, like, I'm asking for this much money because I think I want to go use it on ad dollars or I want to go use it on AWS, you know, clusters or something, you know, they would have these preconceived notions of what they thought was going to be most useful or most fruitful for them to keep making progress and, you know, in some cases, like, it ultimately, those were the right things for them to be thinking about or the right things for them to be investing in, but it was cool to see and have conversations with, you know, some of these groups, some of these individual students and kind of say, like, okay, well, you know, have you thought about, you know, this thing or this other thing or, you know, maybe doing it this way or taking an approach of just going and doing customer interview, you know, kind of presenting some different options or ideas and then realizing, like, oh, yeah, you're right, like, that's a good idea, like, I should go do that and that, you know, that doesn't cost me anything or it cost me a tenth of what I thought I needed to go spend at this point in time.
And so I think it was really, it was really, like, being able to open up those doors for them to kind of see different perspectives beyond what they had already been able to experience or kind of gather through their own experience.
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, one of the things I think is really interesting is, like, especially if you're in more of a technical, you know, program in school, like we were doing engineering, right?
Like, the entire degree is about, like, solution building, right? It's like, here's a problem, solve the problem as it's presented.
But in that context, you know, problem definition, right, is so much more critical than the solution necessarily, right?
And so, you know, it's, it's a common thing of, like, students and it's common things I see, you know, other people that transition to PM sometimes, you know, they're too focused on the solution when you can spend way more time talking about the problems at hand.
I think another thing when you were kind of introducing all of it was, you know, the fact that this was sort of a, you know, a startup, you know, to help startups, right?
What were, what were some of the things y'all had to do, you know, early on to try and get this off the ground?
Because, you know, you know, getting approval from school, I imagine is not trivial, or, you know, funding if that's what you need, right?
Because you need to have money to give to students. What were some of the, like, interesting things you had to work around to get the program off the ground?
Yeah, one of the, one of the, well, at least I guess I found it interesting as this was part of my, my fundamental responsibility.
But like, yeah, to your point of just kind of like understanding the rules and regulations in place in terms of to like interface with the university.
And so just kind of from my time in school, I, you know, had a number of experiences and things that kind of led me to have a better understanding of the right ways to go navigate and the right conversations to go have.
But yeah, so to your point, you know, it was like having the right conversations with the right administrators.
And, you know, again, to your point of like, it was almost a startup to go help more startups.
You know, we started with just a small amount of, you know, money and donations that we had gathered kind of we were sort of spun out of or spun out of but under an umbrella of a larger org that already had some funding.
So we kind of got a little bit of initial capital and just started to try to make traction with a couple of different students that came into the pipeline and, you know, had interesting ideas that we thought were worth going and investing in.
And so it was a combination of, you know, having the right conversations, getting the right infrastructure set up to sort of have this unique alumni student in one group that really didn't hadn't existed at UT.
And then also, you know, using that little bit of funds that we had to go actually demonstrate like, hey, look at these three to four different students that we, you know, helped go drive this particular outcome and, you know, reach this particular amount of success.
And then, you know, obviously that started to tell the story for itself with administration to kind of say like, OK, yeah, I can see clear outcomes here.
You know, I can see engineering students being impacted positively.
I can see business students being impacted positively and then just kind of like continuing to grow from there.
So, yeah, that was kind of the probably the most interesting part of getting things up and going.
Yeah, you actually just hit on something that I was really curious about.
I was thinking before we started chatting of, you know, how do you actually think about what successes for the Genesis program?
Right. Because, you know, I mean, obviously you want students to start successful companies, but like there's more intrinsic value to just the experience.
You and I both know, like our, you know, our startup didn't succeed.
But I would say that was possibly the most valuable, like eight to 12 months I spent in university was that program.
If I learned the most doing that versus almost nothing, especially skills that I probably use today still, you know, in a very real sense.
So how do you think about, you know, success and whether it's proving it to the organization or just, you know, thinking about, you know, internally as into the group?
Yeah, yeah, for sure.
Yeah, I think you're, I think I can definitely echo your sentiment. You know, those experiences that I got to have while I was on campus really impacted the way I ultimately problem solved, definitely still leveraging skills that I have today.
And I think that really is, you know, the role that Genesis kind of plays in the entrepreneurship ecosystem that has, you know, since developed at UT is really to, yeah, continue to help promote and play that role to enable students to, you know, some are definitely going to go and, you know, spin out into actual companies that are going to go raise series rounds or different things like that.
But many are going to most likely just walk away with the experience of, you know, actually trying to solve some problem or, you know, develop something that was, you know, meaningful or useful to a particular audience that they had tried to understand.
And so I think that one of the overarching success metrics we think about within Genesis is really how can we go and empower the like the greatest number of students.
And I think another big thing is also really trying to promote the cross-discipline nature that is entrepreneurship as well.
And so, you know, tapping into, you know, UT is a huge school, has a lot of different disciplines and areas of study.
And so, you know, being able to leverage that network and that community that's already there to, you know, a student comes in, has some idea and they're like, yeah, you know, I really think I need help and support in the business planning or, you know, the financial side of things or something along those lines.
And so because it's like this joint alumni student organization, you know, there's tons of connections on campus and maybe there is some other entrepreneurially minded student who's not currently working on something that could be connected.
And so it's really focusing on enabling those experiences for, you know, students to keep furthering their learning and then in plenty of, in some cases actually, you know, going out and running with some successful business idea.
Yeah, I think one thing that just, you know, occurred to me as you were talking was like, you know, even if someone, you know, goes through this and starts, you know, something and it's not successful, right?
Like just that experience for them of like having gone through sort of like an incubator slash fund, you know, VC type thing, right, on a small scale is like really good experience for if the next thing they do is that, or, you know, maybe it's not another five to 10 years until they do it, right.
But like that like active experience and a little bit safer environment is like a really, really positive way to influence them.
I'm sort of curious if you can, as a personal curiosity, if you can, you can talk about is like, what are, what have been some ideas that you've seen come through that you've just thought are, you know, particularly really interesting or really engaging?
For sure. Yeah, there's, there's been, there's definitely been a number of ideas that have come through.
I think one of the ones that I found more interesting and has actually, you know, found success beyond Genesis, beyond UT is this ride sharing app called Hitch.
And so the take that's slightly different that they have versus, you know, the dominant players in the space, like an Uber or a Lyft is the idea of city to city.
So, you know, Garrett and I both grew up in Texas. So, you know, everyone watching may not have familiarity, but like, you know, it's kind of sort of like a two and a half to three hour triangle between like Dallas-Fort Worth area down to Austin over to Houston and then Houston to Dallas.
And so there's, there's a lot of like commuting between cities.
And so they had this idea like, okay, let's take some of these things that, you know, are kind of students were doing and like Facebook groups saying like, hey, I'm going back to Dallas this weekend from Austin.
Like, does anyone want to ride like 20 bucks or whatever?
Right. And so they started, you know, fleshing out the idea of doing the sort of city to city transit and then, you know, going through all the problems of, okay, how do we do the, you know, making sure that the driver is safe and the students can all meet in a particular location to go picked up.
And so, yeah, it's been, it was super interesting idea coming in and then it's been interesting to watch them continue to grow and, you know, have success beyond, beyond the initial idea.
Yeah, that's, that's, that's really awesome. I remember like having, I think the first couple years of school, I didn't have a car at school.
So I, you know, I was begging friends who had cars that lived in Houston for rides home and like, you know, getting part of the way and then like getting picked up in somewhere in Houston by my parents or stuff like that.
So it totally makes a sense.
I remember once my friend almost ran out of gas when we were driving on the highway because he refused to go to any gas station except one specific type.
And there was just like 10 miles.
Anyways. So I'm curious, you know, what else have you, like, what else have, we talked about how, you know, the, the idea of like the MVP was, was very translated.
Have there been other things that, you know, you've done in the program that you think really translate well back to product management in a broader sense?
Yeah, I think another big thing as we were kind of going through the growing stage and like kind of where things are at today, I've kind of lessened my overall involvement with where we're at today, but the organization has grown tremendously.
We're at like, you know, 40, 50 active, like student alumni folks, you know, involved in everything.
A big thing going through that.
And, you know, anyone who's gone through the growth of a company can, can certainly can attest to this, but it's like kind of the, you know, the operations, the sort of management side of like onboarding people and, you know, helping them understand like, okay, we use, you know, Slack for this, we do email in this, or, you know, when we write due diligence reports on applicants, you know, these are the seven areas we need to make sure are addressed.
This is what we want to have in our, you know, one page summary.
And so it's, it's definitely, it's a little bit more operations focused, but definitely in my mind, the way I thought about a lot of the stuff as we were bringing it up was like, okay, ultimately our customer is, you know, new members or members joining, joining the effort with us.
And so how can we most effectively, you know, get them up to speed, get them the right, you know, information and knowledge to go be successful as a part of the team as we, we continue to grow.
And so, yeah, that was, that's kind of like a thing that definitely, you know, making sure you have good processes and procedures in place to, to help enable others is like, definitely, I think a very transferable thing, pretty much in any, any, any facet of, of BM.
I mean, I think, you know, here at Klubfler, like we've, you know, we've been growing in like, in, in the product work specifically, like we've seen a pretty substantial amount of growth this year.
And we really realized that like, oh, the processes in which we bring someone on are, you know, super critical to their success.
Cause obviously if they don't understand all the things that the ones that have been here, we know because we've just learned it over time, right?
Like how can we expect them to do that stuff?
So really, you know, it's, it's not often talked about and it's not the most glamorous work always, but like that organization around processes and understanding and how you, you know, bring knowledge to new folks on the team is, you know, as valuable, if not more valuable that, you know, other specific parts of, of the product development process.
Cause if you're, you know, you know, if your engineers can't use the tools to write good code, right?
Like what are they going to do? Right. It's the same thing with PMs.
They don't have the tools and the processes to, to understand problems and solve things for customers.
Like what are advice you might have to other product managers?
Maybe that, you know, you're doing their jobs and enjoying that they sort of want, you know, not even if necessarily it may be because they want to get back some, it may be because they want to sort of just like operate in a slightly different environment.
Like what advice would you give to someone that was looking for opportunities to do these kinds of things, kind of stretch those muscles in a different environment for themselves?
Yeah, I think that's a, that's a great question.
I think the biggest thing, at least the way I approach it and go about it is looking for opportunities in places that I already, you know, have some tangential interest in.
And so for me, it's like I was pretty involved on campus during my time at UT.
And so I knew I wanted to stay involved in UT and just give, you know, give some of my, you know, time back in various different ways.
And so, you know, kind of just being around and, you know, the, the idea that I was interested in entrepreneurship, you know, it kind of just came together super nicely.
And so I think kind of generalizing that for anyone else looking to go and use their PM skills is really like, you know, that thing that you may be in your mind is like a hobby or, you know, just some, you know, tangential interest of like, oh, I still like to keep in touch with people at my university, or, you know, I'm in some, you know, group within my city where I'm, you know, going and talking about, you know, Python or some programming language or some different, you know, it's just sort of like, look for those, those things that you have that personal invested interest in outside of work.
And there's, there's likely to be opportunities, I would speculate, to go get involved in some group or some sort of community where you could really continue to like flex and build, build those muscles of like, growing, growing an idea, growing a group, or growing product.
Yeah, I think that that seems like really good advice.
You know, it's something that I've thought a lot about myself, even as a question, not just generically, I asked it myself as well.
I'm just like, you know, I feel like I've reached a point where it's like, oh, I could, you know, be helping other people in some capacity, whether it's about product management or not.
But I think that makes a really good point.
I think the other thing related to that, I thought about was, if you're, you know, if, you know, you want to get into product management, but like, that's not what you're doing currently, right?
Like there are opportunities in other organizations to flex some of those skills and learn them in a more tangible way.
I mean, you know, it, it won't automatically open every door for you, but it will at least give you some leg up and give you some way to talk about, you know, direct experience, right?
Because you can talk about what you would do, but when you can talk about what you did do, right, that's a much bigger piece of the puzzle, I think.
Yeah, exactly. And I think like, really, like in that capacity, you know, to, you know, there's tons of different, you know, volunteer organizations working on many different causes, different things who, you know, just from my own experience, going to be more than willing to have someone else join who wants to kind of help flex those muscles to, you know, whether it's to the point we were talking about, you know, improving the onboarding of new members who want to go volunteer or, you know, helping define some more structure to the overall group and all those different sort of things.
And so, yeah, to your point, like those, those experiences can ultimately be super valuable when you're, you're actually trying to go for more of that full-time PM type role, because you can talk about those things that you contributed to and did directly with, with those groups.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, yeah, I mean, I think, you know, I think it's really great that, you know, you and others built that program.
I think, you know, I was, you know, we were super fortunate that that program, the Longhorn Startup program we did was very, very new, right, when we did it.
It's, it's grown much more. I'm really glad that, you know, that kind of thing has grown, grown a lot, you know, whether people become entrepreneurs or not, you know, there's a lot to learn from those kinds of experiences.
Shifting gears a little bit, in the remaining time we have, as we do every time we have the show, I like to ask my guests, what is your hill as a product manager?
What's the, what's the hill you're willing to die on? Or what's the thing that you believe so strongly in that, you know, no one can change your mind about?
Yeah. It's a good question.
I think for me, well, definitely, I probably have many, but I think the one that sticks, I have, I have my opinions.
I'm an opinionated guy, generally.
But I think the one that sticks probably out most for me is making sure that you have the right, like, product fit before you go and ship an initial release.
So kind of, you know, we were touching on like, the MVP or pre MVP, or all of that, like, I've been in plenty of conversations where I think sometimes people, there either starts to be scope creep, or like, you know, you know, people trying to maybe rush something out, or they want to wait too long to actually get, you know, it's in sort of like, really trying to keep coming back to like, what is, what was the things we set out to do at the start of the product definition?
And like, have we met those goals, then like, let's go ahead with it.
Or let's hold back and, you know, give ourselves, you know, X amount more time, so that we can really land.
A good first impression is kind of like, always my, my take.
Yeah, I like how you mentioned, you know, the scope creep thing, which is a more common idea people know about, there's even that sort of like, oh, we're not ready, we're not ready, we're not ready.
And you just kind of elongate a project into infinity versus like, no, we've accomplished the thing we've said, let's go and learn.
Yes, because we won't learn until we release the thing.
Exactly, exactly. Yeah, so I hear you on that one.
I think, you know, I'm willing to die on that hill with you, in this case.
As we wrap up, also, per normal, now we sort of talked about what, where are we, what parks are in?
So why don't you tell us quickly what park you're in?
Yeah, so I'm at Joffrey Lakes National Preserve, I think is the full name, up in, right outside of Whistler, in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.
Nice. Whistler is still a place I haven't made it to.
Maybe after all this COVID stuff dies down, I can finally make it home.
And with that, I want to thank everyone for watching.
Have a good one.