Shop Talk With Eric and Kostas: Transitioning From Consumer to Builder

October 3, 2022

In this special bonus episode, Eric and Kostas talk shop regarding transitioning from consumer to builder.


The Data Stack Show is a weekly podcast powered by RudderStack, the CDP for developers. Each week we’ll talk to data engineers, analysts, and data scientists about their experience around building and maintaining data infrastructure, delivering data and data products, and driving better outcomes across their businesses with data.

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Eric Dodds 00:05
Welcome to The Data Stack Show Shop Talk. This is a format that we love. Actually, this is our second time doing this. But it’s where Costas, and I pick a topic, and we just talk about it. So very informal. We already have some guests plan for this informal format. And we’re excited today. Costas has a question. For me, that will start off the conversation, and I don’t know what it is. So it’s going to be very exciting. Costas would spell I feel like I have

Kostas Pardalis 00:36
two questions. The first one is, why do we call this a Smalltalk? I think, like, I’m missing some semantics, because I’m an immigrant or something like, what is it?

Eric Dodds 00:48
Okay, so there’s, this, there’s a terminology, or a term that we use a lot in the US, and it’s called Talking Shop. Right? So if you have a shared interest with someone, or, you know, you work in a similar line of work, right, so let’s say like, you know, I’m a marketer, and I go, you know, get drinks with my other friend who’s like, you know, a marketer and another company, I would say, you know, like, whatever I get home, and my wife would say, how was it? What do you guys talk about, I would say, we just kind of talked shop, right? Which means, like, we just kind of talked about marketing stuff, you know, nerded out on that, whatever, like, we just talked about it in. This is you and I talking shop about data. Thank you. Thank you. You made me wiser like I love that.

Kostas Pardalis 01:45
All right. So now let’s go back to the serious question. On job. Let’s look sharp. Yep. All right. So my question to you, Eric, is about your experience. And actually your transition from being primarily like a consumer of data infrastructure to work as part of a company that builds data infrastructure, and how your perception or like the way that you think about using the products, and the infrastructure has changed. If it has changed, I don’t know what you will tell me. And I don’t know how to make you become like a better human being at the end, because I’m sure that like, was a transformative experience, or Yes,

Eric Dodds 02:34
yes, I was extracted out of a consumer role transformed and then loaded into, you know, the role of someone.

Kostas Pardalis 02:44
Oh, yeah. That’s qualifiers at that job. Maybe it says, Sorry, I

Eric Dodds 02:52
had to. That was so bad. That’s a great question. I think that the you know, I would say one, one thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is that it can be really easy. When you are working on a product, to tell yourself a lot of stories about the user, that may or may not be true. And I think this is pretty natural, right? Because you, I would say the maybe a good way to put this as it’s, it’s hard when you’re building a product, not to view things through the lens of your product, right. And I think part of that is simply just because you’re, you’re focused on that product every day, right? It’s in many ways, it is all consuming as part of your job, right. And I think that’s true, like, whether you’re on the product team actually building products, and an engineer building the product, or a marketer who’s trying to figure out how to communicate about the product, right. And something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, for me, personally, is how to break out of that pattern because and I’ll actually give you an interesting example of like, how I’ve how I’ve done that in a minute, but when I think about being a consumer of a lot of products, you know, similar to RudderStack, you know, throughout however the past many years, you just think mainly about your, like the problem you’re trying to solve, right? And in facts like you think about a lot of in many, many cases, you’re thinking about a lot of specific problems that you need to solve right and trying to like, as a consumer, I’m trying to, like solve a specific problem inside my company, right? And so I may not. Like, I’m not thinking about the grand vision of like, whatever this product products mission is, right? I’m thinking about how to, like, make my job easier or deliver this project or whatever. Right? And yeah, so I don’t know, I would say that’s, that’s been a really big difference, right is like, actually, you know, you’d like to think, Okay, well, I’m a consumer of these products. And so I can go into this product company and have a really objective view. And when it’s all consuming, it’s really hard to have an objective view. And so one thing I’ve tried to do lately is listen to a lot of calls, either with sales prospects or with with actual customers. Because, you know, we, we record a lot of like sales and customer success calls. And I’ve tried to ask, I’ve tried to, like, put myself in their shoes and like, go through the decision making process and see what I make the same decision as them, right? To buy RudderStack, or not to buy RudderStack, or, you know, to do this or to do that. So, I don’t know if that was what came to mind first, but probably because I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Yeah,

Kostas Pardalis 06:25
always, to do that, though, like to stop being so consumed by this, I’ll tell you that, like, first perspective, kind of view that you get, because you are part of the product, you are part of the organization, you are part of the vision, mission, whatever. Like, it’s not that easy to detach yourself and just observe, right? Yeah. Similar to like, how you’re trying like to do, you know, like, observe yourself and your behavior towards the end, right. So how, how easy is the end like to do that and get like, in the shoes of like, the customer?

Eric Dodds 07:02
is really hard. I mean, it’s really hard, I think also because you you’re incentivized to believe this, like the, you’re incentivized to believe, whatever version of the story, you are telling yourself, right, like, we all have narratives running through our mind, right. But you’re incentivized on multiple levels to believe whatever narrative you’re telling yourself. Right. And that, I think, is a very, it’s a process that happens subconsciously, right? And so, and the multiple levels of that, I think it spans a huge spectrum, right? But if you think about sort of, like, the most personal level is like, well, if these things are true about this product, and all of the implications of that, right, like people buy in, and blah, blah, blah, right? Like, I will have more happiness in my life, because whatever, right, like work will be easier, or the company will be successful, or, you know, whatever, you know, and it’s like, parts of my job will be easier. For me, there’s, there’s all these sort of, there’s long term positive outcomes, you know, if the company is really successful, like, subconsciously, you have these narratives, running that I think you are motivated, for good reason to, like want to have positive outcomes. And it is really hard to you have to make a conscious decision to tell yourself or like expose yourself to different narratives, right? That actually may be closer to the truth, if that makes sense. But that’s really hard. Like, you have to make a cut, at least for me, like, I think I have to make a conscious decision to like,

Kostas Pardalis 09:01
Yeah, I think there are like two levels of difficulty there. One is okay, cause you switch your perspective, from your own life to wherever you come from. Let’s say you can’t get like to constrain yourself to do that, right. It’s probably not easy maybe to limit these your life of salespeople, probably because it’s part of their job description in that way. But then you have another level of difficulty there, which is identifying like, from all these narratives, which one is the right one, right? Or like the closer to reality, right, or how they contribute to forming reality because probably reality is not like just one narrative. It’s like all these narratives like, mixed together, right or something like box. So how do you do that? Like how the year I mean, customers can be wrong, right? Like doesn’t get us. There are some kind of like Oracle that always writes whatever they say, or they know what They need order they know what’s like they’re trying to do, right. So how in a special like from, from the perspective of someone who’s like in product marketing right now, where you try like to conceptual was you show like a product and the company to a market? Right? Yeah. How do you choose? Like, how do you I mean, the law review all the secrets course. But how you can learn to at least shorts, let’s see all these different narratives of the end and like, focus to the more important ones.

Eric Dodds 10:42
Yeah, well, I can tell you how I am trying to do that. There’s a concept that I have a mentor who’s has so many, like really helpful mental models. But one time, he explained to me this concept of ground truth. And it’s this military analogy, where it’s like, okay, well, you have a general that’s like really far from the battlefield. And they’re getting reports. And so they have a lot of intelligence. But they’re like, actually troops on the ground on the front lines. And there’s always a delta between, like, the summary that the general gets, and like, what’s really happening on the ground, right. And if even if the, like, coordinates on the map are technically the same, like the ground truth can really change the practical reality of something needs to get done, right. And like, one example he used it was great was like, well, it should only take you this long to get from point A to point B, right? That it’s raining or whatever, right? And so like, it’s muddy, or, you know, moving equipments more difficult or, you know, stuffs breaking, right. And so it’s like, well, yeah, I mean, the ground truth is just very different from like, you know, from what’s just on the map. And so one thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about is like how to go collect ground truth. And that is, talking with customers, or listening to customers is a really good way to do that, even if they’re wrong. But that I would say, is actually like, I don’t know, that’s tricky. This is gonna be like, I might disagree with the statement in the future. But since we’re talking shop, I’m gonna make it. I think the, like, from a product marketing perspective, even if the customer is wrong, hearing, the way that they communicate about things can help reveal, like, the way that they view a problem. And I think from a product marketing perspective, that is really, really important, right? I think, even if the customers rot, like wrong about something, you can still like, get a lot of insight into what the way that they view a problem. Now, there are a ton of product implications for that, then that’s like, that is a very difficult challenge. That’s one, I think. The other thing is, and this is an interesting, like, from the standpoint of the like, the, like the scale of a company. And this is actually going to come full circle, this is so great. And it sounds so simple, but testing your assumptions with actual data if you have it. Right. And, you know, from a white one example is a product has a lot of features, right? So like RudderStack has multiple different features. And as a consumer of data technology, there’s a certain way that, like, I would probably consume those features, or like a particular use case I have or whatever.


Eric Dodds 13:55
you know, so that influences my assumptions about how those features are consumed, like in what order, what’s the timeline and all those sorts of things, right? Which has a profound impact on product marketing, right? Because you can’t sell every you can’t promote every feature all at the same time. Right? There’s, you know, there has to be like hierarchy, and, you know, all that sort of stuff. And so one of the narratives we tell ourselves can be something like, oh, well, this is sort of the general like, product journey that someone takes, right. And I think it can actually, that’s actually been a struggle for me. Because I was and even still am such a heavy user of this stuff. Like I take my own narrative and make a lot of assumptions about those sorts of things. Those can be got checked really quickly, though, with actual data, right, like well, is this you know, and so anyways, one thing I’ve been trying to do is identifying a assumptions that I’m making where it’s like, well, I don’t actually know if that’s true for all of our users, right? Or even true about like our product. And once you get enough data to help gut check those, it can give you a much better sense of ground truth, right? Because it’s like, well, my anecdote is not even if I am a heavy user, and I like actually value my own opinion about our product a lot. That anecdote is not ground truth about our customers. And so trying to get that from data can be helpful. Sorry, I feel like I’m like giving you long, opining answers.

Kostas Pardalis 15:36
Oh, I mean, it’s, it’s also the nature of the equation, sort of like a hard question to answer in general, to be honest. And I think it’s like well, wishing that it’s never completely answered anyway. And I think it’s like equation that’s everyone can relate with, like, Okay, I mean, especially like in startups, because no matter like what you’re doing like it when it’s just like writing back end calls, like you, you somehow you will get exposed to the customer, the user, and it’s out there. So yeah, it’s, it’s important on the charts, it sounds like many different angles, I think, at the end, I mean, there’s no recipe for love, I think it’s one of like building the right type of like intuition to navigate. Because I’m pretty sure like, let’s say, and I’m sure that the you will succeed in what you’re trying to do. Right? If, after your success like with RudderStack, we take like a can put him like in another company that’s like slightly different, right? Like, was slightly different persona in front of you. And all these things like, you will have to go through the same process on the end is so long by you will be able to navigate the process much more efficiently, and end up to the results that you need much faster and with less stress, and less, how to that’s less, you will not worry that much about the outcome, you will be more than one writes about like whatever happens. And I think that’s like what experiences at the end of life, what it means, like, what seniority is at the end. So there are things out there that you just have to go through and you won’t keep going through. The rest of your life itself looks like you can navigate the process late in a much better way. Because you’ve done

Eric Dodds 17:34
it. Yeah. Well, that was very flattering and encouraging. And I agree, I think, yeah, there are certain things that I wish I started doing earlier. But I, I’m going to turn the question on you actually, because you were like you. I mean, you’ve experienced this dynamic before. But you know, and you know, in an early stage startup, like you did everything, right, like you probably like wrote code, you did marketing, and you are also a founder. And so what I’m interested in is did, like, what was that experience? Like of trying to not view everything through the lens of, you know, the product and sort of whatever related narratives were going on in your subconscious? And was that exacerbated by being a founder?

Kostas Pardalis 18:33
Yeah, I think when you’re a founder is a little bit different. Because you have to assume, and balance will save the narratives of like many different types of stakeholders. Right? Like, you have the customer, obviously, that you care a lot like, because that’s about their like, are very daunting for someone to buy like, yep. If they don’t buy your sales, zoom. Of course, you have that. But you have your investors yet again. Okay, let’s say the wrestlers deeply care about the problem that you’re solving, but I’m pretty sure they care more about other things. And you’re part of like, the portfolio in Yeah, that whatever buttons, you have that right, then you have your boards, then you have something like super, super important, which is your employees, right? Yes. All these stakeholders, like you need to get into their issues if you want like because you need to keep all of these people happy at the end, like you have to deliver to all of them. Like when you’re a founder, you don’t have all delivered back to your customer. We keep saying that, like the customer is like well do like stop blah, blah, blah, blah, whatever. Yeah, sure, but there are more than that. And anyone who has thrived ever in life to tire, they understand like what it means to be able to combine in even if you have Lead for customer problems solves, right? So it’s when you’re a founder, I think it’s like a little bit more complicated early on area, until you can start getting like delegate and making like, because when you start getting, let’s say executives and the team, like the executives will focus like on one aspect, right, like when you get like, your video friends, yeah, like the video friends is doing like to care primarily about hiring good engineers and maintaining like a good cultural engineering show they can produce the work that you need, right? Yeah, they will keep saying that all they care about is the customer. But that it’s like, it’s a byproduct of making sure that they taking care of like the engineering culture and all those things. But at the beginning, at least, like as a founder, you have like these, let’s say, extra difficulty of having, especially if you’re like a first time founder. To get into the Super Bowl, these different stakeholders have like a very, very different, like understanding of the war different, like risk profiles, different problems, different everything. Right. So I think that’s what like makes the founder low or only. So, so interesting. Yeah, it’s exactly because like, you’re not selling to let you’re selling to everyone, including yourself, because you’d have to convince yourself to keep going.

Eric Dodds 21:21
Totally, totally. No, I mean, yeah, I can totally see that. And I think, yeah, the number of like subplots, if we extend the narrative analogy, the number of subplots that you have to manage, is significant. And the consequences are really high. On almost all,

Kostas Pardalis 21:46
yeah. Okay. I didn’t answer your question, though. I just like change, like a little bit like the scope of the question. But let me give you an answer. Also, like, I don’t think that, again, you ever answered this question? Like, it’s no, like, you never come up with a playbook, that you can just hand it to someone. And that someone person will just follow the handbook. And that’s it. Yeah. Like, it doesn’t work like that. That’s why it is important to that. That’s what that’s what when you really understand how important like relationship sharp. And when you manage people like how, how important your role as a manager is, because a big part of like, being a manager is like to help people to create the intuition that you already have. And you can navigate these problems by understanding at the same time look like they have to go through it. It’s not like there’s no shortcuts, right? There’s like they have to do they have to go out there and still happen for the Blake’s, because they don’t understand why the customer is doing what he’s doing. Right. Yep. Cyril? Yeah, it’s like, some of these things that like at the end, it’s all about experience. Yep. Like, doing it again. And again, and again, and again, until it changes you in like, some fundamental way that you just do things differently in the moment. Yeah.

Eric Dodds 23:18
Yeah, I agree. One thing actually, I’ll return to, I just thought of a maybe a better way to explain something I mentioned earlier. But one other thing that’s interesting, you know, he talked about, like, the customer is thinking about a specific problem that they need to solve. Right. And I mean, I think that would apply both to a customer with like a small, say, like, a small scope problem with a shorter timeline or something, but also to a company that has a vision of like, okay, well, by the end of the next, you know, three quarters, I need to build and deliver some sort of internal use case of this data infrastructure, right. That’s like a nine to 12 month timeline. And so the product, you know, that I’m working on as part of that, right, so small scope for timeline, large scope, longer timeline. One thing that is so interesting and fun, but also very challenging, that I’ve thought a lot about, you know, sort of transitioning from a, you know, data infrastructure, consumer to producer. I don’t know,

Kostas Pardalis 24:29
I mean, you’ve been loaded operators, you don’t have to boil. Loaded recipe yields

Eric Dodds 24:35
here transformed, isn’t reverse ETL. Even if you think about a larger scope, long, long timeline project, like generally those still are kind of self contained with some sort of deliverable, right. But when you think about building a product company, and then specifically For me thinking about the way to communicate about that product, you are, you have to balance the near term need to drive clarity on problem solving, that is of immediate concern to the customer with building towards, like, where the market is going, which inherently like requires a lot of requires you look forward, right? I mean, and there’s like that, in and of itself is a very complex thing, right? Like, how do you build towards the future, there’s part like, you know, market trends and some sort of data, like anecdotes from what you’re seeing from your own customers intuition, you know, a lot of times of the founder or, you know, the sort of like visionary people on the team who are making, you know, decisions based on intuition about where things are going, right, because the future is unknown. And that, I would say, is a very, it’s that is like, such an interesting dynamic, right to sort of switch over from like, a sort of self contained, you know, or, like, scoped confined usage of a product to trying to think about like, Okay, well, we’re solving problems now. But the company will have to continue to solve problems in the future, and the market is changing. The technology is changing, you know, all that sort of stuff. That’s another thing. That’s been really interesting.

Kostas Pardalis 26:35
Yeah, I think we have to stop doing the SOAP stalking, like, right, is this the right way to? Because Brooks has signal loss, the ads that I thought were affiliate, we’ll be discussing more about that. Yeah. What a good question. I had, you know, me I’m always good with questions. And that’s, I guess, part of the Inquisition or something. I think like, yeah,

Eric Dodds 27:03
an interrogator. Yeah.

Kostas Pardalis 27:09
I think that’s what I meant to do after I retire like I’ll be Yeah.

Eric Dodds 27:12
Yeah. Be an interrogator.

Kostas Pardalis 27:15
Yeah, that would be nice. It would be interesting. Thank you very, thank you. Right.

Eric Dodds 27:21
Yes. You’re welcome. Retirement Plan delivered to you on The Data Stack Show. Shop Talk cost this great question. Thank you for joining us. We will do many, many more of these and we will catch you on the next one.