From Product School to Chief Product Officer — Alumni Stories

Lance Douglas is an Innovation Strategist, Full-Stack Success Scientist, and just so happens to be a Product School alumnus.

A man of many hats, he’s currently working as Chief Product Officer for Spearstone Partners and Director for the Douglas Foundation.

Based in Alberta, Canada, he graduated from one of our online Product Leadership cohorts earlier this year, and kindly shared his experience with us.

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You’re currently a Chief Product Officer, can you tell us a bit more about what that title means?

“Spearstone is a business-consulting and B2B enterprise software organization that focuses on the re-imagination of business from founder-through-to-sustainable-success as fundamentally being driven by ‘value-centric success operations’, or in less fancy words ‘business = product management’.

My role as CPO is to continue to define, refine, and implement our own product expertise value into our execution strategy so that our entire investor landscape is best served (e.g. investors are customers, staff, management, vendors, partners, leadership, financiers). This effort includes ensuring defensibility, marketability, and constant feedback loop, as well as evangelizing, marketing, and expanding our knowledge of business, product, neuromarketing, and economics industries and how they interrelate.

I’m also the founder.”

What was it that first drew you to Product? What was your first role within it?

“I was drawn to product as a young child.  I learned from my father’s own business how he manipulated his operations to better compete in the market and how his own blindspots/biases cause some failures.  For example, he paid skilled labor staff above the market; hired unskilled labor from ex-convict programs, and over-tested his product.  This resulted in a labor pool that was significantly motivated to provide their best work as a team (skilled mentoring unskilled; the latter facing upward on Maslow’s triangle, and the former understanding of the hard work effort of the latter and how it benefits the whole system). 

That was my first introduction to multi-bottom-line.  This focus of my dad’s was not internal facing, it was excellence-focused needed and appreciated by their customer.  In less than 10 years my dad went from a 1-man contractor to the largest manufacturer of petrochemical infrastructure in Western Canada.

My first role was when, at 17, I created a fake company to get business quality dialup internet at home.  I figured out how my service provider got their service and then created an ISP at 22 years old to compete against AOL in Canada.

Every role that I’ve ever been in has been in a product management role.  And I’ve only recently understood this.  It turns out that I naturally understood product processes and my team and leadership either didn’t or simply entrusted me to implement the product practice.”

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The stereotype is that all things Product come out of Silicon Valley, which is obviously not true. What’s the Product scene like in Canada?

“In Canada, I think there is a massive gap in the product practice.  This, in my humble opinion, is caused by the intense Survivorship Bias of university alumni.  I’ve witnessed this throughout my life where incompetent degree-holders are put to lead organizations to the detriment of the organization where more those who are experienced and without degrees are brought in to fix/solve the issues.  This is not a rant against post-secondary degrees, but it is a rant against the lack of humility in Canada which manifests as very slow, technology, and solution-focused molasses that we call innovation up here.

I believe SV is capable of such great innovation because there is a level of humility there that allows people to feel safe ‘trying’ something new.”

Usually, when pursuing a particular role or discipline we already have some of the skills and others we have to learn from scratch. Which of your skills were already suited to Product Management, and which did you have to acquire?

“I believe that my experience had already introduced me to all of the aspects of Product Management that Product School presented to me.  What I needed to acquire was the understanding of the Product Management practice of ‘itself’.  In other words, I wanted to know what Product Management wasn’t, as much as what it was; and the expected points of hand-off as both inputs and outputs.”

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How did you find the online learning experience compared to other, more traditional learning methods?

“I really enjoyed it.  The teachers were able to answer all questions across the full gambit of the cultural and geographical cohort.

I’ve taken quite a few formal MIT and Harvard online courses, as well as received and given very technical in-person courses.

The online aspect, using Zoom, was mostly good.  2 of 3 classes I took were very engaging.  1 of 3 was oddly disengaged (i.e. people always kept their camera off and nearly never spoke up resorting to one/two-word comments in chat).

The leadership track was too high-level for me, only because I’d done that at many companies in my career; it was a great class though.  It would have been great to be both an accelerated class and doubled to include working with the other classes to practice leadership.”

As someone who already has a wealth of professional experience, what motivated you to get certified as a Product Manager?

“I really wanted to know what the boundaries of product management is so that I could disrupt it.”

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What does it take to be a great leader rather than just a good one?

“A great leader is a servant of the customer value, and is self-aware to protect the team from their blindspots and biases.

A leader that knows not themselves is useless to both their followers and their quest.”

What has been a career highlight for you so far?

“Getting paid for what I’m both good at and love doing.

Failures more than successes.”

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Do you have any advice for people just starting out in their careers?

“Good companies = Everyone is in Sales

Great companies = Everyone is in Product”

Finally, what are you looking forward to in the future?

“I’m looking forward to advancing the concept of business into all investors achieving the rewards of capitalism but by scientifically focusing on extreme value.”

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