Building Without Ego is Product Management

Anuraag Verma
Apr 6, 2020

Elizabeth Zalman, co-founder and CEO of strongDM, shares key leadership, fundraising, and go-to-market strategies for entrepreneurs, including how to navigate the challenge of starting over in the search for product-market fit.

Five years ago, Elizabeth co-founded strongDM, a product that heads of IT, infrastructure and dev ops teams use to manage, audit, and secure database access.

The current strongDM product, which Elizabeth refers to as ‘strongDM 2.0,’ looks a lot different now than it did in 2015.

“Our initial hypothesis was that companies were ingesting greater and greater amounts of data. Data that analysts tend to use is stored in databases with rows and columns. There’s a data definition language. So we thought, why can't you write a bunch of assertions on top of the data? And so we built that product and we got maybe 10 POCs up, and then nobody would pay money for it, not a single dollar,” Elizabeth says. “And the reason for that was there was no owner of data quality in an organization. There was no buyer. And without a buyer, you don't have a budget.”

After a year of building and pitching a data quality product, the strongDM threw out the initial product in favor of its current iteration. “We went back to the drawing board. And we realized there was a massive opportunity with respect to access,” she says, citing the opportunities that cloud computing and the growing popularity of remote work provided.

Finding product-market fit is a company’s only job in the early stages, and while starting over is challenging and incredibly daunting, the rewards outweigh the risks. “I think you shouldn't be afraid to throw everything out, and that's incredibly scary. Your job as a founder is to figure out something that you can sell in order to win and to win big,” says Elizabeth.

Now, much of Elizabeth’s time is dedicated to managing strongDM’s current growth cycle, which demands a lot of hiring for an entirely remote workforce, as well as constant product discovery and adapting to customer feedback.

“I think everybody will say to you they put customers first. We really do it strong,” she says. “You have to meet your customer where they are, which means you have to honor and respect where they are and you need to be patient. Use the language that they use. You move at the pace that they want to move. How do you build a product that seamlessly addresses the functionality of somebody who's crazy cutting-edge in terms of how they want to deploy, with somebody who hasn’t upgraded their Windows servers since 2008? The product has to work the same for both of those people.”

In this episode, you’ll learn a lot about product-market fit, fundraising, and managing remote teams.

Here are the highlights: 

  • How to hire and manage entirely distributed teams (8:40)
  • StrongDM’s approach to finding product-market fit (10:44)
  • Elizabeth’s advice for companies or entrepreneurs who need to pivot their product offering (13:44)
  • Strategies for approaching the fundraising process (14:55)
  • Why good product discovery and development starts with listening to your customers (17:30)

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