Hiten Shah is the Co-Founder and CEO of FYI, a search and organization platform for documents. He talks us through his wealth of knowledge in entrepreneurship, technology, problem building and solving, helpful skills, and Product as a career field.
Question [00:03:57] Can you tell us a little bit about your story?
Hiten [04:00] I started out on the internet in 2003, doing internet marketing. We were mostly focused on social media and SEO in the early days and driving traffic for other people. Then we quickly realized that we were able to make money doing that and being consultants, but what we really wanted to do was build our own products.
My co-founder and I are not engineers. So we basically just started building things, started hiring people in about 2004 and 2005. We built about a dozen products in less than a year. We got what I call lucky with a product called Crazy Egg. This product was launched in 2005 and it’s still around till today.
It is mostly a self-service business where people just sign up and pay online, which 15 years ago, wasn’t really a well-known model. So we basically just started growing the thing and it worked!
Question [00:05:53] What are you up to these days?
Hiten [5.55] I have a new company that I started with a new Co-Founder called FYI. The idea of the company is to basically solve the biggest problem that we found when it comes to information and documents, especially at work, which is basically finding documents across all the different services that you use, including your phone and your desktop.
Today the concept of a file or a document is questionable, considering that you have all these cloud services and there are so many different tools. The way we think about it is even if you’re using and centralized on, let’s say Google Drive and someone sends you a link from some other tool, whether it’s like air table, notion, Coda, or even a Dropbox link, all of a sudden you’re using multiple tools, even if it’s just one document or one file from the other tools.
Our whole goal is to help you find this information in a way that isn’t just through a search box because that’s how a lot of other folks have tried to solve the problem. We’ve provided an experience that opens in every new tab in Chrome and helps you essentially click around the interface to find what you need instead of just searching, although we also have a search box of course.
Question [00:07:30] You’ve built a lot of different products. How do you go about falling in love with certain problems?
Hiten [0:7:39] I think you actually need to fall in love with the problems that people have. So the part that’s not really described a lot is this idea that people have this problem. So there are actually a lot of problems in the world that people just don’t have that you can like, like at a meaningful scale or a meaningful pain.
So there are many people as there are on the planet meaning there is almost an unlimited amount of problems. The reason that I think people say this is because, over time as people change, behaviors change, technology changes meaning that the way to solve problems evolves.
I think the mobile phone is probably one of the biggest examples that we have in recent times, but really probably the biggest that we’ve ever had, which is really a computer in our pocket. That completely was a paradigm shift.
So the key to problems is that if you’re married to the problem and the people that have the problem in that way, then you’re focused on the right thing. Regardless of how the world changes you don’t get caught up in like, this is the solution and there’s only one way to solve this problem. You’re more caught up in, this is the problem.
A good example of this is two years ago, we built a search box in five days that searched five or six different services in real-time when you typed it in and it went and searched and showed you a bunch of results. We did that in order to understand why the folks and the tools and the products that came before us failed at building a search box. We learned a lot about a search box.
Now it’s two years later, we’re actually revisiting that search box because we think that a lot of things have evolved in the last two years related to the type of solutions that would work, that we might build more into our search box. Now we might actually make the search box smarter. We think that there’s a paradigm shift that has happened in the last couple of years, that makes it so that in order to solve the problem of finding documents, we need to evolve our own service.
It goes beyond just the interface that we have today. We need to make our search better because there are smarter ways to make that search something very effective for people and expand our offering in that way, and also make sure that we’re always solving the problem better than anyone else. So the companies that win, solve problems better than any alternative that exists, that’s why you need to get fall in love with the problem and the people that have the problem.
Question [00:11:02] Why are there so many people who want to break into Product?
Hiten [11:07] I think some of that has to do with the myth that it’s a really exciting job. I think it’s a very challenging job. It’s a job where if you’re doing it well, you’re learning new things about yourself, your customers, your business, your potential customers, the market, a number of competitors, alternatives, all these things all at once, and you have to fit it all in your brain.
Even if you write things down and have lots of documentation, you still have to fit it and make these fantastic connections on how to define problems, find problems, and solve them. So there’s an exciting aspect of it for sure, on the surface. But sometimes you might wake up and be like “Oh, like, it sucks. I don’t like I didn’t make progress yesterday or the amount of stuff I did, I have no idea if it’s gonna work”.
Then you have these constant learnings because on top of everything, I said, the world is changing constantly to the point where like, what solution you have today, customers might become dissatisfied with tomorrow and that is a very challenging type of job.
If you want to get into Product, you’re going to learn more than probably any other type of role that you have in a company besides Founder or CEO. I say specifically, Founder and CEO, not just CEO. The reason for that is that you are thrown so many different inputs and have to filter, synthesize, analyze, and then help the team with influence, not control, go do their jobs for not you, but the customer. A CEO, founder has the same responsibilities, on a deep level, and like a product person.
You see this problem that occurs where it’s like exciting because if you don’t know about it, you’re like, “Oh, I get to build this thing. I get to build this type of thing, the software or this physical good”, but the amount of effort that goes into it and multidisciplinary sort of thinking and coordination with other people with influence, not control, is remarkable.
That’s why I’m so happy that Product School exists. You have a great name and branding and are really moving this forward with everything you folks do because I think it’s much needed. It used to be easier when we launched Crazy Egg, in 2005, we could pop up anything and people just use it because they never have seen a heat map that helps you see where people clicked.
It becomes harder than ever to create products now because a lot of the opportunities are either taken up or we’ve just evolved beyond having like basic, simple, like crud type of products. Crud is just like an interface with a database. We’re beyond that. These things have to do so many other things now.
Question [00:16:43] Why do you think that there are so many founders and CEOs that have a Product background, what are some of those overlaps in terms of skills that you think are helpful?
Hiten [16.54] I think the number one skill is learning how to work with other people. The bar was lower for creating products, now the bar is much higher. So the skill of being able to coordinate and have people actually do meaningful work towards a specific outcome is just about coordinating with people. You don’t have the same control that you do in marketing. You have a lot of influence, but you don’t have very much control over like so many different aspects of the puzzle.
You know, we think of a lot of what we do as like a factory and an assembly line on product so that we can just make the actual like step by step process, very clear to everybody on the team and then the innovation and brainstorming and all that is how we create things that are either unique or right for the market or right for the customer, whatever we care about as a business, but really it’s a factory and it’s assembly line somewhat complex.
When you think about research and all the different methodologies, analysis of that research, turning it into mockups and wireframes and designs. Even then the hardest part, which is newer in my, in my mind today in a different way, is this idea of coordination between core product folks and engineering, and when you really think about the amount of influence a product person has and needs is the key.
If you can’t influence people, you won’t get stuff done. That’s one of the challenges of Product as a category, even if you’re a user experience designer or product designer or anything like that, not just a PM or Head of Product. That’s the same type of influence that you learn as a CEO, as a founder, compared to control cause even a CEO, Founder doesn’t control much and influences the game. So it’s like, how do I influence everyone to make the best decisions for the customer that we possibly can that align with our business outcomes.
Question [00: 23:56] What are some of the things that you are now learning in order to continue growing your company as well as personal growth?
Hiten [24:05] I think a lot of the ways to do customer-centric and value-centric sales has changed quite a bit because of a lot of the tools that exist and that are out there. So one of the things that I’m focused on right now is learning to sell whatever I have, regardless of what’s coming next or what we don’t have as a business. It’s just something that I find helps me a lot with Product.
So the thing I’m trying to learn is how do you make sales as a big input? Probably one of the most important inputs. So what will people buy? How do you learn what they’ll buy? Not just what they’ll use or what they need or want. It’s what are they going to buy? And that’s been sort of the thing that I’m very much focused on right now, personally.
Thank you, Hiten, for talking with us today!
We’ll be back next week with Andrey Khusid with even more of the latest insights from the Product Management world.