Managing Product at a Fast-growing Series A SaaS – Donal Quinn
Peter speaks with Donal Quinn about his experience managing product at a fast-growing Series A SaaS company. Donal is Head of Product at Cledara. Cledara is a platform to help buy, discover and manage all your software subscriptions.
[00:00:00] – Peter
I’m here today live, speaking with Donal Quinn, head of Product at Cledara. Donald, thanks so much for joining me. Could you spend a moment to just introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you do?
[00:00:13] – Donal
Cool hope. Peter, thank you for having me on. Yes. So I’m head of product at Cledara. We’re a staff management platform. And my role ahead of product, basically, is to ensure that we understand the markets, that we understand what we need to build, we understand what our customers are using, and then we put all that together and then prioritise, ensure that we’re building. What I always say is the right bit of the right thing at the right time.
[00:00:39] – Peter
Yeah. Great. So I wanted to just ask you a bit about Cledara first. Could you tell us what it is? I know it’s very useful for managing SaaS. So who is this product targeted to? What does it do? How can we benefit from using it?
[00:01:01] – Donal
Sure. So, obviously, over the last ten years, really, there’s been this software revolution. So software used to be bought on the golf course, purchased in big deals that were done. And what we see is this, like, productivity revolution where anybody in the company really realised that, oh, one of these tools that are listed here behind me, you can actually be really useful if we had intercom to communicate better with our customers, so they just go and get implemented on the website. What happens, though, with that, of course, is with that productivity comes great complexity.
And from a finance point of view, and from an It point of view, instead of managing that one massive bit of software, you’re now managing tonnes of tools. And the interesting thing that we find is, as the company grows, and really our target market is scaling companies, as a company grows, we actually find that there’s more or less consistently a onetoone ratio between tools and employees. So if you’re 20, you might have up to 20 tools, and if you’re 50, you have 50, and if you’re 100, you have 100. And everybody might only use three or four, maybe ten in their own area, but actually, across the company, you have that complexity replicated all the way.
[00:02:12] – Donal
So what we see is that customers have an Excel Sheet and they have a company credit card, and they’re desperately trying to organise all that spend, track all that spend on one card. One Excel sheet has the best and they come to us for help.
[00:02:27] – Peter
Right, yeah. Of course, you can see how it happens, but now there’s so many, it’s kind of Microsoft for different use cases. Everyone in the team has a software that’s tailored very much to what they’re doing in their role. So you do get this kind of growing suite of products that you’re using. So it sounds like Cledara did a really great job of helping you manage that and also to spend.
And I think I was also speaking with someone, the team that mentioned that you’re also tracking and managing settings and user management for different tools as well. So you have this kind of dashboard that enables you to do a lot of functionality there. I’m really excited to talk with you about how you manage product because that’s our area of expertise too. So just wanted to ask you what that looks like in general, the role of managing all the product work that you do at a series, a SaaS like Cledara.
[00:03:26] – Donal
Yeah, so basically our approach, first of all, with any startup we found Product Market Fit, and the Product Market Fit we have is basically we issue virtual cards for people to manage their spend. So it’s one for each one of these boxes behind me, you’ve got one card so we can track the spend. It’s very, very clear you can cancel the card if you want to stop the payments going out. And that’s the basic Product Market Fit that Cledara has had for about two years.
I joined the company last year with the idea of now that we have this Product Market Fit, where do we go from there? What are the things that our customers expect but need value as the customers we have and also the prospects that we’re looking to talk to in terms of the companies that we’re growing. And really from product point of view, it’s working through that, it’s understanding, well, what are the next thing that we need to build in this area? What will customers value? So, for example, we have it on our platform that we’re using InVision over here. You want to get access to InVision.
[00:04:23] – Donal
So we have a tool on the platform where it’s like, I want to get access to that and the person who owns InVision within the company, then they can give me a seat on that platform.
[00:04:31] – Peter
Fantastic. Yes. So that helps with the user management kind of side of things. What does the typical cycle of design looks like for you? So you mention you’re thinking about creating the right thing and implementing it in the right way at the right time for clador and for the marketplace. What does that cycle look like from coming up with a feature or an idea or functionality and then actually getting right through to releasing that into the platform?
[00:05:00] – Donal
Yeah, so it’s probably two different versions that we have. So we have quite a lot of customers and we’re very close with our customers. Our customers are very enthusiastic, which is really nice as a product manager when you’re enthusiastic and engaged customers. So we have a huge suite of ideas that come from our customers there. And then we also have the kind of vision stuff from our founders and from our own kind of experience of using it as well. So that pool of ideas is where we start from and then we have really what we try and do is MVP.
So we’re building a set of MVPs across the product. The first one was virtual cards for your SaaS spend. But for example, we also do a lot of work on invoice capture because with all that software spent, you need to be able to match the invoices to it. So we kind of building these hypotheses. If we build an integration with our customers Gmail, will they use it to allow us to go through their Gmail and take out the invoices for the transactions that they have on set arrow and match those invoices directly, saving them all the hassle turns out, yes, they will.
[00:06:04] – Donal
That was the hypothesis kind of proven there. And then to the next phase, we need to expand and improve that feature, do it faster, do it for more types of spend and reduce kind of internal work on it as well. So that’s basically the plan is that we try and work out first how can we know if our customers will actually use this feature? So we build like the MVP, the smallest thing that actually works, and then once we get that validation, then we kind of expand it and improve on it based on feedback from the customers and everything like that.
[00:06:34] – Peter
Yeah, that’s fascinating. I guess you’ve got this challenge of prioritising what you think is the most impactful feature to release. I suppose you have a lot of competing ideas here. How do you manage that? Assessing what’s the right thing to release?
[00:06:54] – Donal
If there’s good, I want it that there’s any kind of magic solution to it. We try and cover different areas over time. So for example, about a year ago, we built a compliance feature because compliance, especially as companies grow, we need to make sure where the data is stored and store all the information around those conversations that you need to answer from a compliance point of view. So we built an MVP there. We put it out into the market so we didn’t kind of go near it again for a while.
What we learned from our users, what they value on and what they would like to change and then we’re coming back to it now, for example, we’re going to improve that feature. So we’re into this kind of six week old thing where we kind of build different kind of workflows and different pieces on top of our basic product market fit. And then we’re kind of going back and saying, okay, we built a zero integration. For example. Actually all our QuickBooks customers are like, hey, we want our integration too. So we’re launching the QuickBooks integration now as well.
[00:07:49] – Peter
Okay, fantastic. And then the other thing that I wanted to ask you was about I noticed there are some may be competing products launching in the marketplace. I think Cledara Has is one of the first I was aware of. So I think it was quite innovative for the time that it was launched. How do you maintain a unique value proposition and innovate within the product?
[00:08:21] – Donal
Sure, so as I said from the start, because our founders but didn’t say it actually, but because our founders come from a fintech background, that’s how we were able to kind of go straight to the virtual cards and launch with that. And that really is kind of our core thing. And a lot of our competitors really focus on kind of integrations, but that obviously puts a limitation on them, because if they haven’t built the integration and you’re using that piece of SaaS, then that’s a problem for you in the platform. Because we’re kind of integrated financially, we’ll say, rather than through the APIs of the SaaS.
That means you can use all the SaaS onto ther so basically having that fit, then what we do to ensure our competitiveness, obviously, is build integrations, but also really understand and use the fact that we have a lot of customers to really understand what the challenges are facing around invoice capture administration, around access management, around this concept of what we’re calling, like, a SaaS lifecycle. From when somebody joins the company, they get access to the staff, their usage of it. Using our engaged tool, we can see the usage of the staff across the time and then when somebody leaves the company, how do you remove the access?
[00:09:28] – Donal
And that’s a big problem that our customers face as well. So we’re looking to try and see if we can use that insight to keep pushing and keep improving the product across. So we’re solving more and more of our customers problems and then keeping those competitors nicely distance behind us.
[00:09:42] – Peter
Oh, that’s fantastic. Really interesting to hear that kind of fintech background. And obviously that gives Cledara this unique positioning and coming at it from an angle that really makes sense. So, yeah, with the virtual cards, I haven’t quite realised that it came from a fintech background. So I can see how the kind of the founding experience and insight that kind of shapes a lot of the direction of the product gives it so much of that unique edge. Great. Well, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. Thanks so much for talking with us a bit about how you think about product, how you identify core features and prioritise how and when to release them. It’s a real eye opener. How can anybody cheque out Kodara or also a little more if they’re interested in following you or learning a bit more about product operations at Assassins?
[00:10:41] – Donal
Yeah, cool. So, yeah, if there’s a reason to learn more about today, obviously they can head over to the side and book a demo. That’s pretty straightforward. We operate across UK, Europe and in the US. We launched in the US back in January. We’re just opening our offices in Denver, Colorado, right now. The first video of the new office is shared, so we’re really excited about our growth on the US side. Yeah, I mean, in terms of product and understanding, obviously there’s lots of resources out there, mate Kagan, people like that to really kind of understand the challenges around products.
So that’s just about kind of finding those people and just engaging with it. And also I always look at and think about products that I use. So, for example, when we’re using zoom and you see the evolution of zoom through the pandemic and how it kind of probably got a little too complicated now. Really trying to always be thinking about the products that you’re using and the decisions that people have made, everything you see on every product is a result of product decisions. Thinking about what’s the motivation behind that and are they really adding to the user experience and are they really actually improving their product by adding lots of features?
[00:11:54] – Donal
And I think that’s the best way to learn is by using and judging yourself.
[00:11:57] – Peter
Yeah, that’s a really great point because we are often designing a lot of stuff, so I spend quite a bit of time observing other products and seeing trends, patterns and how they approach things and what they’re doing with their products. So it’s quite good for inspiration, but also to see trends and how other people are working on it too. Well, thanks again, Daniel. Been great to see you and appreciate your time. Thanks for the chat.
[00:12:30] – Donal
Brilliant. Thanks, Peter.
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