Fabrice des Mazery is Chief Product Officer at Thiga and a speaker for Product Management Festival 2018. With a background in entrepreneurship, Fabrice shares his lessons learned from time founding startups, what makes for a good mentor, and how crashing a startup early on eventually led him to be CPO today.
Could you tell us a bit about your professional journey? How did you come to be CPO at Thiga?
To be honest, when people ask me how I got where I am now, I usually answer “by chance!” I started my career by founding a first startup in 2002, a legaltech company. I built the product, but I wasn’t aware I was a Product Manager at all.
We crashed the startup, because I didn’t understand the difference between the customer persona – the CFO of a law firm – and the end user – the lawyer. That was the very first Product lesson: I learnt it the hard way.
Since then, I switched between the startup world and the corporate world, between being an entrepreneur and employee. In 2004, I created a second company: a web-agency specialized in digital launches for high-end luxury products. Our key differentiator was that, contrary to mainstream communication agencies, we didn’t sell beautiful concepts: we tested and iterated with real customers. Retrospectively, I would have called the agency “Lean UX” instead of DigitalLaunch! We sold DigitalLaunch to Havas in 2007.
Then, I became a Product Marketing Manager at IBM Europe. I liked it, but after 3 years, I wanted to go back to what I loved: creating products. So, I founded a neurotech, hardware and software company, which was sold to NASA in 2014. And in 2017, I became the Head of Product & Growth at Deezer, the French music streaming unicorn.
In parallel, with a bunch of friends, we co-created in 2015 «La Product Conference», the annual event for the French product community. Amongst us was the founder of Thiga, a product-centered consulting company. In 2018, he proposed I join him and his 60 product lovers.
That was the right moment for me: I had learnt a lot in my product life, through successes and failures. I wanted to teach, prevent product managers from doing the same mistakes that I had done, and spread the Product Culture and mindset. That’s precisely my role as Chief Product Officer: being the Chief Product Evangelist, inside and outside the company.
You’re a mentor for Startup Banlieue and product and startup advisor to several organizations. How have mentors helped you along your career? For those PMs who are seeking mentors, any tips on what makes for a good mentor (like characteristics or should they be from the same company/industry/vertical etc)?
One of my mentors was Sébastien Levaillant, now the CPO of Weekendesk. He hired me at Sidetrade when I got back from London. I was an entrepreneur, so he was taking a risk with me. Would I be able to integrate within a company? Would I get bored too fast? But he trusted me and let me spend time doing what I loved: testing and learning.
To me, trust is the most important quality of a good mentor. The second one, in my opinion, is that the ability as a mentor, not to bring answers, but questions.
That’s what I do with every startup I help: trust them and challenge their products & business models.
A lot of these entrepreneurs are not from the same world as me. For example, the ones that participate in Startup Banlieue all come from difficult neighbourhoods from the suburbs of Paris. They create products in areas I sometimes haven’t worked in. So I don’t think being from the same industry is critical, apart from very specific cases. What is key is to be able to take a step back and identify the metamodels at work.
You’ve founded 3 companies. How have these experiences helped shape the product leader that you are today?
Being an entrepreneur taught me three things : responsibility, frugality and the importance of continuous learning.
Responsibility, because in a newborn startup, you cannot say it’s not your fault if it fails, and you cannot wait for anyone else to do a part of the job that you don’t like. You must trust each other and develop a strong sense of common responsibility and solidarity.
Frugality, because when it’s your money, you cannot spoil it. It forces you to be realistically creative and to understand that MVP is not a V1 but a process: you look for the slip point where the value of the experience you offer is engaging enough to move the users towards you. Only then, can you generate traction.
And finally, you mustn’t forget to learn. There’s a belief that, once you’ve reached your fit, your roadmap must be full of features because you’ve got to deliver what you promised in the BP.
Scaling without learning is the right way to fail: you start focusing only on the functional value, on the local optimum, and you forget to discover the real opportunities, the emotional and motivational value.
Want to hear more from Fabrice? He will be speaking at PMF on leveraging user motivations to generate sustainable growth. See our event schedule for more information on what’s happening at PMF2018.