Interview with Craig Zingerline – Mastering Growth – Episode #29

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Craig Zingerline is a 6-time founder with 4 successful exits and he has helped dozens of companies scale their growth. He is currently the Chief Product Officer of Sandboxx—past roles include Head of Growth at Upside Travel, CEO of Votion, Head of Growth at Red Tricycle, and VP at New Signature. Craig built Growth University to help other professionals learn the growth strategies and tactics needed to scale their companies and to create a structured and organized way for people to get started with growth.

In this episode, I got to speak to him about what growth actually is and how it differs from digital marketing, how marketing in military tech provides its own unique challenges, the skills needed to be great at product management, and more!

Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto  0:01  

We’re now recording and 54321 Hey, everyone, um, I have. I’ve heard the feedback. I have told a lot of people that I wasn’t going to be doing this marketing podcast until April 2021, just so that I can make some more time for my YouTube channel. And family friends and my LinkedIn connections have all told me, Kenny, you’re being stupid. So I’ve heard and I am now back. We are now back with Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. 

 

This is episode 29. And today I have a very special guest. His name is Craig Zinger line. Craig is a sixth time founder of four successful exits, and he has helped dozens of companies scale their growth. He is currently the Chief Product Officer of sandbox. And past roles include head of growth at upside travel CEO avulsion, head of growth at Red tricycle, and VP at new signature, Greg built growth University to help other professionals learn the growth strategies and tactics needed to scale their companies and to create a structured and organized way for people to get started with growth. Welcome, Craig.

 

Craig Zingerline  1:15  

Hey, thanks, Kenny. And I really appreciate you having me on the show today. And your fans are right, you got to keep doing this stuff, right? You got to keep getting your name out there and in getting people on your show, because everybody wants to learn. So I really appreciate the fact that you kept it going and didn’t wait until April. And here we are.

 

Kenny Soto  1:35  

Yeah, I thought there would be some kind of strategic play in taking a break and like strategizing more guests. But I’m glad that the audience just said, keep going, you’re doing good. Don’t overthink it. And with that being said, I want to quickly change the format of how I do these podcast interviews. Usually what I’ll do is ask you about your background, but because of all of the research I’ve done about your background, I don’t think that’s a great place to start. Specifically with your area of expertise, I wanted to first start off with discussing an idea. And that idea is what what is growth?

 

Craig Zingerline  2:18  

What is growth? Yeah, so I think the way that I think about growth, is that growth basically encapsulates connecting people to brand value or product value that you provide. So when you think about kind of traditional roles in running a business or startup, you might have a marketing team that’s responsible for driving people to the site or to your app, you might have a product team that built the product. 

 

And they are trying to move people through the product and get them to use it. Maybe you’ve got a revenue focus team that’s focused on upsells, and cross sells, or you’ve got a customer happiness team that’s focused on keeping people kind of happy, delighted and engaged. When I think about growth, I think about this multifaceted role, where you are kind of looking at all of those aspects of the business, and trying to connect that value that those users get out of the product and get out of the company at every point in time. So it’s a pretty wide kind of all encompassing type of role.

 

Kenny Soto  3:19  

And does growth in any way differ from digital marketing? Or are there more similarities between the two?

 

Craig Zingerline  3:27  

Yeah, I think that’s I get that question a lot. So I actually put digital marketing kind of within the realm of growth, you can look at it from a bunch of different ways. But the way that I would traditionally look at it is that you’ve got growth people or a growth team, kind of owning, getting people to and moving people through your funnel and building growth loops to kind of get them to experience more value over time. 

 

But the the digital marketing team, you may have some overlap with growth, there might be a separate team. I mean, I don’t, there’s really no kind of hard and fast rule with it. But I in general, would say that growth is maybe a little bit more broad, focused in terms of you might have a growth person that also owns customer acquisition. But you also might have a growth person that’s a product manager, that’s just, you know, analyzing data and talking to customers all day long to figure out what things should be built for that customer to add more value over time.

 

Kenny Soto  4:18  

I see. And this is a good segue into talking about why did you decide to start teaching other professionals growth?

 

Craig Zingerline 4:29  

Yeah, so as you had mentioned in your intro, I’ve been a serial entrepreneur founder many, many times I’ve hired a lot of people to come into growth teams, I’ve run growth myself. And really, what I have found is that once you get past the building phase of a startup, meaning like you’ve got something out there, you’ve got something in the market. The next thing you need to do is figure out how the heck am I gonna grow this thing, right? How do I connect value to the thing that I built? How do I get people to care about it? It turns out that’s true. really hard to do. 

 

And so like when you look at my career, I started as a software engineer, and then I ended up almost all the way over into marketing. Well, why did that happen? It’s because through building many, many different things, I learned the hard way, in a lot of cases, that building stuff kind of doesn’t matter if you don’t have the usage. And so why focus on growth, I started doing just tons of research on my own kind of for fun nights and weekends. And, and I’d been doing some consulting work and advising startups.

 

 And I’d been in this in the driver’s seat in terms of both running companies, as well as running growth teams and programs. And it dawned on me that there was really no common set of nomenclature, there wasn’t really a great definition of growth. And people didn’t really know where to get started, and how to what to actually focus on to, quote unquote, do growth. And so what I put together was basically just a set of lessons started out as just having, I mean, dozens and dozens and dozens of conversations with people to understand what are their pain points were. 

 

And slowly I morphed those conversations into a curriculum that I built over a couple of years, that really tries to distill a lot of those conversations into actionable strategies and frameworks that people can use, regardless of what stage they’re at with, with their startup growth, they can kind of come in, get some of that knowledge, and then go and practice that knowledge like out in their startup. And so it really was built kind of out a need and a necessity, where I saw so many startups struggling with a lot of the same types of challenges. And I’d been there myself, so I said, Why, why not try to like productize this to some degree, and provide it back to this community as as hopefully a lot of value.

 

Kenny Soto  6:47  

Now, with your many successful exits, would you say that the growth strategies were similar in any way? Or were there more differences between how you managed the growth of each and every individual company that you were a part of in the past?

 

Craig Zingerline  7:09  

Yeah, that’s a that’s a really good question. I think when it comes to exits, and you know, I’ll use exits and air quotes, because some exits that you see on somebody’s bio, mine included are tiny, some are big, some are huge. And so I think that take all of that with a grain of salt. It totally depends. But the so that’s a whole different conversation, right? But, but yeah, it has been an interesting ride. 

 

And I have seen a lot of these kind of scenarios play out, they’re all different. Sometimes you have founders who get to a point where they’re just kind of tired. And so they’ll kind of opportunistically sell their company. In other cases, though, they’ll, they’ll sell because they’re on a rocket ship. And they want to monetize that. And maybe they’re sick of being in the weeds for 10 years, just kind of hustling and not paying yourself enough. And so you kind of you flip it, but every scenario is completely different. I would say the common thread that most companies either that I’ve been involved in, or that I’ve either invested in or have advised that have had exit scenarios is they’ve all figured out their own special sauce in terms of how to grow the business. 

 

And and they’ve all probably done that through a constant set of learning and, and probably a constant set of failures where they’re trying, for example, to get new products into new markets and new segments in front of new personas. And they fail. So they try something else. And they just, they kind of don’t give up doing that. Or they strike gold and they find a persona that absolutely loves their product. And they just extract as much value as they can out of that audience and provide as much value back to that audience. 

 

And so the companies that ended up having these kind of liquidity events, in a lot of cases have gone through a lot of trial and error. And they in over a series of years, it’s almost never instantaneous, right? Over a series of years, they finally figured out okay, well, what are the things that actually matter to the business from a core growth standpoint? And let’s just double down on those things that we know, work and maybe take some chances along the way. But if there’s no like, roadmap for it, it just, it’s totally different at every place that I’ve been

 

Kenny Soto  9:29  

when you are joining or starting a company what is the decision making criteria that you use to know if it’s the right play?

 

Craig Zingerline  9:40  

Hmm, I would say as fast as humanly possible getting real customer feedback well before there’s even a product so before Well, sandbox is probably not an amazing example this because sandbox had they knew that there was a need in the market and they built around that needed wasn’t perfect early on. But like in the early days of sandbox, the founders had found a real set of challenges, specifically in the military tech space. And there are some big, big, big holes. 

 

And now we fill all of those gaps. And we do it amazingly well, for other stuff that I’ve been involved in where I’ve been a founder are talking about, like, you know, like my current growth university program, for example, it, there was no product for a long time, it was just conversations and trying to figure out, Is there a pain point that I can help solve? And so really, I think that’s, and that’s where I kind of tend to point the lens is that is that that is that that inception, where you think you’ve got a hypothesis that there might be people out there who care about what you’re talking about, or have, you know, a need for a solution that you can provide, in getting in front of them as early as possible to start to validate that well, before you even build anything, in most cases. 

 

This is why I kind of love like the no code movement right now, which is really, I think, helping entrepreneurship, because it’s gotten easier and easier over time to build stuff. Now, these marketers are these product developers who are using no code, they’re still gonna need marketing. So they’re gonna need to go through this process. But never before has it been easier to actually have an idea, have a hypothesis, getting in front of a small set of customers, potentially, with a real product and get feedback and iterate. It’s such a fun way to build. I just love that that’s happening.

 

Kenny Soto  11:31  

Now, I’m glad you mentioned no code, because it’s a good way to diverge into a new topic that my audience hasn’t heard of or learned of yet. Correct me if I’m wrong, but platforms and tools that fall in the no code space would be something like Squarespace or WordPress, or website design development substack for creating a newsletter, things along those lines, correct?

 

Craig Zingerline  12:00  

Yeah, correct. And it goes, it goes deeper to you. I mean, there’s platforms out there like, like web flow, where you can build just rich interfaces and applications that you can get in front of people. And you can do that in a matter of, you know, hours or days. And so the no code movement really, is a combination of a lot of different tools in place. So whether it’s WordPress, which is I’d say, one of the originals, right, WordPress, Squarespace, even products like MailChimp that are really easy to use. 

 

What these enable you to do is leverage third party tools that really don’t take you a ton of time to, to get started with. And you can kind of piece it all together to build a product, right? So and by product, I’ll use product loosely, it doesn’t necessarily mean you built some crazy technical solution to something right. 

 

It’s not like, you know, clubhouse is all the rage right now, it’s not like you have to go build clubhouse, like all the technical components, like, you can validate the idea or the need for that idea really, really early on to decide, okay, well, what actually do I need to build? Right? So that’s what the no code movement is kind of. It’s kind of democratizing the development process in a lot of ways.

 

Kenny Soto  13:12  

Yeah, correct me if I’m wrong, just to bounce back on what you just said, now, we really don’t necessarily need to have a team of 100 engineers, obviously, having an engineer on your founding team would help tremendously. But if your team overall has a collective knowledge on how to execute on an idea, they’ve proven market product market fit either by really scaling the growth immediately, or by testing through conversations, like you mentioned previously, then it’s really just figuring out what tools work best with the idea that hand whether that’s a service based or product based business, correct?

 

Craig Zingerline  13:49  

Yeah, I would say like market Trump’s product 100 times out of 100, while you’re getting going, right, so like, you can have the best product in a bad market, and your product is useless. You could have a horrible product in an amazing and emerging market. And your your product is highly leveraged, and it probably is going to cause you a lot of problems because you have so much demand. So you have to start with the market. 

 

I think a lot of technical co founders or founders will will often start with the tool or the product, and then find the market. And there’s some there’s some great success stories there too. But I think the the movement that I’m seeing is that is that people are really starting with the problem first, they’re not tending to over build as much and they’re they’re effectively forced to go through those early customer discovery iterations, which are really key, because they don’t have the technical resources and the no code tools aren’t.

 

 They’re not so amazing that you could build anything, right? Yeah. But then at some point, you kind of cross the chasm to some degree in terms of like, wanting to own the IP II and build truly elegant products. I think that’s where the where the shift comes in where now you might have a team of 100 engineers building really amazing technology that you just simply can’t build with the no code tools. Right. So I think I would position it as like the no code tools are amazing for super early stage, maybe getting to some level of product market fit pretty quickly thereafter, you’re going to outgrow a lot of that tooling. 

And that’s when you’re going to bring it in house. And so, you know, I think that there’s, there’s still just as much value in having the the engineering and the product teams, I mean that I’m a product manager by by trade, right. So by no means is, is this meant to sound like that’s not important, I just think the staging changes a little bit. 

 

And companies can go a lot farther now with less capital, more on an idea, before they need to bring in a highly technical team. And then once they get that product market fit, then they then they can go crazy hiring and build something truly amazing. Speaking of

 

Kenny Soto  16:01  

hiring, if you weren’t able, for whatever reason, whether it’s physical, mental, you just don’t want to do it. If you weren’t able to manage the growth of a company, what skills would you be looking for in terms of hiring a teammate to manage the growth of a company?

 

Craig Zingerline  16:21  

Oh, yeah, probably somebody that’s fairly flexible, and kind of curious. So like, when you grow a company, you go through all of these chapters, when it’s just you and you make all of the decisions. It’s pretty easy, it’s stressful, but it’s easy. Your first hire, all of a sudden, you need to figure out how to delegate. 

 

And now you’re probably paying somebody, right, your fifth, hire your 10th. As you kind of move through this development of an organization, as your company grows, the skill sets that you have to have, as well as the skill sets of the team changed dramatically. And basically, like, every time you double in size, I found that when you go from, say 10, to 20, maybe 20 to 40, or 50, and then 50 to 100 people and, and on like the culture and the and the skill sets really do need to change like all of a sudden, you need to start to hire more experts in certain areas, right. 

 

So like sandbox, right now, we’re kind of at that inflection point where like, we have some generalists, but then we’ve got some people that are just really, really deep into a certain technology or a certain vertical, whether it’s a channel and acquisition channel, or like a product channel, something like that, where they can go a lot deeper than like your generalist is gonna go, you kind of need both. But that does change quite a bit over time. 

 

And I think if I were going to find like a replacement for myself, in any of these scenarios that I’ve been in, it would have to be somebody that acknowledges that and is excited about that change and is flexible enough to like, accept that change over time and really embrace it, and motivate others to to get the work done.

 

Kenny Soto  18:05  

When it comes to generalizing versus specializing? Would you say? Because what I what I’ve gathered from what you just said, is that over time, the mix within the team changes between the generalist and a specialist, would you say that sometimes a generalist would have to by just osmosis, and by the change within the team start to specialize in something? Or would it be okay, if they stay a generalist? So long as the team grows with more specialists?

 

Craig Zingerline  18:40  

Yeah. There’s that I’ve personally been in this situation where I’m much more of a generalist, right, this is why I teach. Yeah, like, you know, this is actually why I’m a product manager kind of by, you know, by, like as profession. And I teach growth, because I know a little bit about a lot of different things in the lifecycle of running a business. 

 

You know, in my growth, personally, the first thing we do is we build a financial model, and like a set of inputs, that that form a bunch of outputs to a model. Why do we do that? It’s the it’s the building blocks. So in, you know, like, at sandbox, it’s very much focused on kind of high level, product value, how do we create more value for our customers and do that all day long. 

 

So I think that when a company gets to a point where you’re in rapid growth mode, especially when it comes into things like marketing and engineering, there’s some really hard skills that you need to have. So if you’re going to find all of your total addressable market, and you’re going to find that audience, then you’re going to need people who are amazing at each of the channels that you’re going to market in or advertising it to go really, really, really, really deep to just extract the last 10 or 20% of that audience, right. 

 

Versus like in the early days, maybe I put together a growth program. And we get like 50 or 60% of the way there. And that’s pretty good. But now we need to just keep growing. So you have to go deeper. Same with engineering, right, you might have some really, really thorny, you know, just really deep technology that needs to get built. And you need people that can go really, really deep in the technology. 

 

So I do think you’ll always need that combination of both. But as you get bigger, and as the problems get more complicated, and as you’re extending yourself into more markets, you do need people that can specialize and go a lot deeper. When does that start, it kind of depends on where you’re at as a company.

 

Kenny Soto  20:35  

That makes sense. What the sandbox do.

 

Craig Zingerline  20:41  

So sandbox is the number one way for supporters of the military, by supporter, I mean, anybody that has a child or a brother or sister or friend, who is going to basic training or boot camp, we’re the number one way for them to communicate with that person who’s going to boot camp, and we call them a recruit. 

 

So we basically connect the supporter to the recruit lot, not a lot of people know, when you’re a recruit, and you go to basic training, you lose your phone, if you have no access to your phone for anywhere from six to 12 weeks, what Sandbox has developed is a mobile app primarily plus we’ve got a web app that enables the supporters to digitally compose a letter that gets printed and fulfilled in overnight shipped to the basis and the recruit gets the letter the next day. 

 

It’s amazing, this process is absolutely amazing. It cost you over 20 bucks to do that, if you’re going to use FedEx or UPS. And we’ve got relationships with the bases. And we’ve got kind of teams on the ground operations. And we just we’ve figured out this whole ecosystem of how to deliver this physical good, really, really, really quickly. It’s almost like the Amazon of like fulfillment, but we do that for letters with, with the military specifically for recruits at basic training. And that’s our bread and butter.

 

Kenny Soto  22:02  

Now, you mentioned earlier within this interview that the founders already saw that there was a need for this particular service for this particular product. When When was the decision point made to actually start building out the product. For example, yeah,

 

Craig Zingerline  22:21  

and I may get some of this wrong. But the actually the initial iteration was more a concept around like a social network for the military community. And that failed, so that they just, it’s hard to compete against Facebook, there were some, you know, good hypotheses that were proven false. Somewhere along the way there though, one of the founders had realized that there was a major pain point with this lack of communication. 

 

So they set out to build a communications platform. So that was 100%. Accurate. But what what they realized was that the real pain point was when the recruit is cut off from the world. And this is a real, I mean, this is a huge change, you’re 17 or 18 years old, you’re going to basic training, you’re used to being on Tik Tok, or whatever you’re on all day long. And all of a sudden, boom, your phone’s gone. 

 

Right, you’re totally cut off, you don’t even know what’s happening in the world. And that’s the, you know, unless the staff like at the at training tells you what’s going on, and they really kind of don’t like you’re just there to go through the program. And so it was at some point, you know, in the, in the first couple of years that they realized that there was something there, and they ran some experiments early, getting, trying to see if they could do the fulfillment side. 

 

And again, this grew really, really, really slowly for the first couple of years, like most products do. But then but then they figured it out. And you know, Shane, the CMO, came in and extended the the marketing offerings and Sam and Swami and Major General Ray Smith, who was kind of on the on the founding team, they just figured out how to work the relationships and the deals with bases to handle the fulfillment side. 

 

So it just is this really fascinating story of like, kind of pivoting early on, you know, not really finding Product Market Fit kind of going through all the same struggles, but then then they struck gold when they figured out what that real pain point that value solution was, which is what we built the business on now.

 

Kenny Soto  24:24  

That’s amazing. And why did you come in specifically within this whole ecosystem?

 

Craig Zingerline  24:32  

Yeah, well, I had no background or anything with with the military. I didn’t even know that military Tech was like a was like a thing. You know, interestingly enough, I approached this opportunity. Pretty much how I approached every other opportunity like the the job I had before that was I ran growth and upside business travel. I didn’t really have experience in travel with sandbox. 

 

They didn’t really have experience in the military. To me it was a Um, a massive opportunity that still had and has a lot of growth left in it, but already kind of a company that’s emerged and has a sense of product market fit. So you know, again, being more of a generalist, I can come in and, and, and still find areas of massive growth opportunity, because I’m looking at the big picture. 

 

And I think that was really kind of what got me interested in, you know, in this role, where I kind of serve as a cross functional liaison between product and growth and marketing. And I kind of sit in a lot of different camps within the organization. It’s not that dissimilar to actually like, what I was doing it upside, or even some of the earlier stage startups like red tricycle, where I have to kind of look at the whole, the whole operation, and figure out where there’s areas to grow, right. 

 

And I saw that as an opportunity. I was curious about this space, I wanted to learn about it, and met the team. And it was just a really great, it was just a really great scenario to kind of climb aboard a rocket ship. And it’s been amazing.

 

Kenny Soto  26:10  

Now that I have more context about what’s going on presently, in your career, I wanted to step back just a little and get more lessons from notable failures that you’ve had in the past. That was milder. The reason why I’m asking this is because I recently read that failure, in most cases, if you take the time to reflect can be part of future growth personally. So my question here is, are there any notable failure, excuse me failures from your career that have helped you with your current and other successes that you’ve had?

 

Craig Zingerline  26:53  

Oh, absolutely. I loved about failure. Because I agree, it is such a key way to learn how to not you know, hopefully don’t repeat that failure. So one of the things that I talk a lot about, probably the one of the best conferences that I spoke at, in the last year was, was the was the growth marketing conference, and my talk, I forget what the exact title was. But it was it was titled something like, why you should stop building stuff, why you should stop building features. 

 

And the whole point of the talk, and I do this talk pretty regularly, the whole point of this talk is to try to get the audience to understand the order in which you should approach operating an early stage startup, whereas again, most founders approach some kind of problem with like this massive solution that they just build, and they over engineer, I find that over and over again, well, I tell folks to kind of take a step back and to have more customer conversations to build less, but get more feedback along the way, so that you can understand run more experiments, so that you can build a product backlog that is both a mix of all the things that you know, you need to build, right.

 

 So like, I use the analogy, if you’re a travel company, and you can’t let somebody book travel, then you don’t really have a business. So build all the stuff that you know, you have to critically build to have a business, but then have another stream of ideas coming in that are are coming from experiments that you validated in the wild against customers. 

 

And so you basically have a product roadmap that’s based on two things, right? experiment data, and then stuff that you know, you have to build. Well, why did I get to that point? How did I get to that point, I had effectively done the opposite of that. So with one of my startups with motion, actually, we had this we, we have actually, because I’m still among the board, like still co founder of the company, it’s still live. We, we built this March Madness style bracket platform, in a very niche vertical that marketers would come in, buy our software to run March Madness, like campaigns. 

 

And so we have the best product in the industry. It’s been around for a while, it generates pretty good revenue. It’s known as a great product. Well, we wanted to grow the business, we want to grow faster, we took out some investment money, and we built a whole bunch of products that customers had told us. Yeah, if you build that, like, we’ll definitely use it. So we went we spent about a year building this suite of products that was meant to be a platform. 

 

So we wanted to take that original bracket product and then add a polling product and an interactive list product. And we had all sorts of awesome kind of innovative like UX UI front ends that we could build all around this like what we call the engagement marketing. So we spent a bunch of time building a bunch of products, people are still using the bracket product really heavily when we rolled these products out. 

 

Not only could we not sell them, but our customers weren’t even using them. So we just had completely failed, I completely failed at validating the need both and validating the need to a deep enough level where I truly understood as like the owner of the product, what was going to be used and how much value it was going to add to the daily lives of the people using it. 

 

And it turns out, we just didn’t create enough value, we went way too wide, we didn’t go deep enough, we didn’t create enough hooks. And, you know, there wasn’t enough deep technology built to kind of like, provide enough value to take on the big survey companies, which is kind of the direction we’re heading. So it was just a colossal failure. 

 

And we ended up we ended up basically trying to dramatically increase our pricing to get customers to pay for the suite of products, they didn’t want to do that they still wanted the original thing. But we wanted them to spend more money less to get larger share, wallet, use all these things. But the product didn’t go deep enough. 

 

And we totally missed the market. And we almost went out of business blew through capital. I mean, it was just we did all of the things wrong, that that you can get wrong in terms of building product. And that was a huge failure, that on the positive side, the business survived because we turned all of that stuff off. 

 

We double down our efforts on the original core product to make it continuously better. And the company survives. But I mean, it was a painful couple of years where we were just, we just got it wrong. And you know, I take almost all the blame for that.

 

Kenny Soto  31:34  

So there definitely is. And please let me know if I’m incorrect here. But there’s definitely a set of criteria, like a checklist, if you will, that someone should consider before adding any new features to a product, even if the current customers say they would like this feature, correct? Would you say that’s correct?

 

Craig Zingerline  32:01  

So that the question actually cut out? Oh, sorry. So I’m so sorry. There was like a network lag.

 

Kenny Soto  32:07  

That’s fine. So would you say there’s a checklist necessary for a new feature to be added? Even if the user say, hey, we would like to have this product? Yeah, sure, make this feature?

 

Craig Zingerline  32:22  

I think if it’s a feature, it’s less than a deal. If it’s a product, then you really do need to go down a deeper path of customer discovery to figure out what you should be building. But let’s take the feature example. Yeah. So why do you build features? Do you don’t just build features just for fun? Like you build features, so that some metric gets positively impacted? From the roll out of that feature? 

 

A lot of what I talked about with, like retention, and when we look at like product roadmapping and go through exercises, it’s what value is that feature providing to whom? And is that feature going to be used by the vast majority of people? Right? So if you can answer yes to both of those things, or you’ve got a clear and concise way, and you’ve got data, kind of backing the build, then you’re in pretty good shape. 

 

But what often happens is a bunch of people come in with a lot of different ideas, and you build a bunch of features that just get under utilized and underutilized features actually become detractors in a product, right, like simplicity. And a product is really, really instrumental in terms of activation and retention of customers. 

 

If a customer is confused, or there’s too many dead endpoints, where they click into and they’re not getting like that core value out of the feature, then then those things become detractor. So it’s not necessarily like a checklist, but it’s more like, do you have data? Have you validated the need for real objectively of that feature. And if you haven’t, then unless it supports one of those core things I talked about before, like you can’t operate your business without it, then you probably should focus on something that’s going to provide more value back to the audience. 

 

This is really hard. Like, you need to be a really good product manager with enough discipline, and great communication skills with an engineering team to be able to, like, constantly say No, right? This is why product management is such an interesting role like that. Just saying no, it’s like, what do we need to build? What’s the reason why we’re building it? What’s the minimum we can build to get feedback? What data do we have that supports what we’re working on? And what we should be building and you don’t want to over analyze it to death. 

 

But you do want to like if if engineering is your scarcest resource, which it generally is, then yeah, you want to build the right stuff at the right time.

 

Kenny Soto  34:47  

How does the marketing team help in this process?

 

Craig Zingerline  34:51  

I mean, the marketing team should be out front, talking to customers, getting a sense of where the market is heading and under Standing the gaps in what the current product has versus what either what competitor products have or, or areas where those potential customers are going instead of yours. So there’s a product marketing component to this, there’s kind of a customer discovery component to this. 

 

And then there’s obviously like a product component as well. But again, if you’re a product manager, or you’re a digital marketer, I hope you’re talking. Right. I mean, that’s, that’s one of the things that we you know, at sandbox, we work really hard on at other high growth startups that I’ve been at, the best companies grow the fastest when the people out in front, whether it’s the customer happiness team of the marketing team, are in constant communication with the product and engineering team to distill what they’re hearing out in the marketplace, down into actionable, you know, feature requests and things like that. So it’s kind of part art and science.

 

Kenny Soto 35:53  

Now, I like to keep this as my last question, just so that everyone who’s listening can take away something, because there’s definitely a lot of value in this particular interview, but I want to make sure they have at least one nugget of wisdom that they can walk away with. If you can go back 10 years from today, knowing everything you know, right now, how would you get to where you are today? But faster?

 

Craig Zingerline  36:24  

That’s a, that’s a great question, I probably would have talked to more people kind of one on one, I probably would have done more of my own, like personal customer discovery, whether it’s for the growth programs or for the product side of things, and had more conversations to get more viewpoints on the things that I should be working on and and focusing on. 

 

Personally, I think I probably would have taken a little pressure off of myself, like I’m fairly impatient with like, I guess I’m kind of like, patiently impatient, like, in terms of, I never feel like enough is getting done or like things are moving fast enough. But that’s actually like a normal state of being. And before that you said kind of stressed me out a lot more than it does now. So I would probably also say like, like, chill out a little bit. 

 

Nothing ever goes as fast as you want it to go, or you think it’s gonna go. But yeah, I think I would have just had more conversations with people that were experts in the areas where I was starting to emerge to, that probably would have saved me a lot of time that I ended up having to learn kind of on my own, whether it’s like through failure, or, or whatever, or success just having more of a network of peers, to bounce ideas off of having. Taking more mentorship. Like spending more time as a mentee, instead of a mentor. It’s something I can do better at spending more time as a mentee, and just really learning from the success and failure of others. I think that’s probably where I would focus.

 

Kenny Soto  38:09  

I’m glad that that was your answer, because that helped me realize that. That’s another reason why I should continue doing this Marketing Podcast is not only for the audience, but for myself as well. With that being said, I definitely want to thank you for your time. And I wanted to also ask if anyone wants to connect with you online. Where could they find you on social media or through a website?

 

Craig Zingerline  38:30  

Yeah, social media. I’m on Twitter at Craig Zingerline. On LinkedIn, you can just search for Craig Zingerline. And then you have people want my email, you can just use my personal email. It’s just crag@growthminded.com

 

Kenny Soto  38:43  

Perfect. Really, really great. Thanks, Kenny. Thank you. Okay, so everyone, you just listen to another episode and the first interview of 2021. I really appreciate your time and I hope everyone has a great week. Bye.

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