Even though I’ve become a bit of an expert on fundraising and launching successful ventures, I’ll be the first to admit: Startups are a risky business. So anything that helps de-risk new products or features even a little bit can feel like an exponential advantage.

That’s the value proposition behind product management platform Productboard, which helps product designers create what customers want — faster. The platform integrates with Salesforce, Zendesk and Intercom to collect and categorize qualitative data (like customer feedback, support tickets and user research) and quantitative data (like NPS scores). Productboard puts it all in a central, searchable depository so product teams can draw actionable insights and make better decisions about which updates or new features to prioritize.

“As a result, your prioritization process can reflect the voice of the customer,” says Hubert.

Valued at $1.725 billion and backed by some of Silicon Valley’s most distinguished VCs, Productboard is poised to become as integral to product management as Slack is to remote work. Co-founders Hubert Palan and Daniel Hejl raised over $260 million total, with their last round (a Series D) raking in $125 million. 

On an episode of How I Raised It, Hubert shares his fundraising journey (you can read highlights here) as well as the vision and game-changing benefits of Productboard: how it works, why it’s important and how to make the most of customer insights to prioritize the features your users want.

Pain points from lived experience

Czech Republic native Hubert came to the U.S. for business school at University of California, Berkeley, where he learned product management from Steve Blank, the godfather of the lean startup.

“He really forced me to get to my DNA,” says Hubert, who says Steve taught him the mantra “get out of the building, talk to the customers and test everything.”

Hubert served as the VP of Product at an Andreessen Horowitz-funded company in the business intelligence space. He recalls being “bombarded” daily by asks from Sales, Customer Success and the CEO, who would change direction frequently and make unrealistic promises to board members. 

“I was trying to put it all together, because different stakeholders in the business have different perspectives,” Hubert explains. “The salespeople talk to the new customers; customer success and customer support talk to existing customers; marketing is monitoring broader market competition. And the job of the product manager is to make sense of it.” 

With that much noise, it’s no wonder he saw the urgent need to break through it all.

The platform, the signal and the noise

Hubert and Daniel spent nearly two years “iterating and doing extensive user research, talking to hundreds of product managers across small and large companies to validate that the problem exists — and that we have the right solution — before we actually started building out the product and scaling the business.”

That’s exactly what Productboard empowers product managers to do: ensure that they’re making the right moves at the right time (or at least lowering the risk that they’re missing the mark).

As a jack-of-all-trades founder who makes plenty of product decisions myself, I can see the appeal. At Foundersuite, we get daily feedback from thousands of customers who tell us what they wish for, what they dislike and what we absolutely must add to the platform now… Right now. We have a small engineering team and we can't build everything, but it’s difficult to surface the most important bits of feedback and temper the loudest voices. I've made this mistake, as I'm sure many founders have. We listen to someone who loves our product, but insists on a certain feature. And they’re loud — really loud. Sometimes we get distracted by those loud people and build something that isn't universal. 

With Productboard, users can organize their data in the ways they see fit, creating collections based on different customer segments to get a good understanding of who needs what and which groups have which pain points. 

“You can link all of these to the specific parts of your product,” Hubert explains. “You [can] create a product hierarchy that has multiple components. It can be as deep as you want. It allows you to justify or create a link between the customer insight (who needs what) and what you’re building. As a result, your prioritization process can reflect the voice of the customer — [their voice] is one of the inputs.”

Big data and big jobs

Productboard’s features include data visualizations like “roadmaps” that function as shared sources of truth for teams across disciplines, offering a clear, real-time snapshot of priorities and progress, as well as plans for what’s on deck. Roadmaps are also a way to ensure that what’s currently in development s relevant to key customer segments, pain points, use cases and “jobs to be done.” 

In other words, your efforts align with go-to-market strategies and big-picture business goals. 

Knowing exactly where to start and what to build next is crucial for product teams to “execute their strategy towards their vision, consistently,” Hubert notes. “Build the right thing; don't build the wrong thing nobody needs.”

And as it turns out, in product management, B2B needs aren’t the same as the needs of a B2C company. Digital-first companies have different needs than companies undergoing digital transformation. 

Brick by brick, build products with both vision and strategy 

Whether your business has complex product operations and material functions or you're a novice in the product management space, segmentation is key. You probably already tailor your offerings to basic demographics of some kind, like young professionals or retirees. 

“But there's so much more to understand,” says Hubert. “What are the patterns? If people are asking for something, what is it about them that makes them different from people who are asking for something else?”

You’ll also need to determine which of those customer segments is more valuable — in the sense that building new features in response to their needs should take priority.  That priority “isn’t just based on frequency of ask,” Hubert says. Reacting to the squeakiest wheels is like building a city brick by brick and stacking each one on a separate structure, with the goal of erecting a city as big as New York, complete with hundreds of skyscrapers. 

“The reality is you'll run out of money,” he adds. “You're not gonna finish a single building.”

Products are built almost as slowly, and they usually appeal to a narrow set of needs initially. 

The best ones find success with a limited audience and expand from that base, even if you want to build everything for everybody. But a big vision for five or 10 years from now “is not what you should be building today,” Hubert argues. He thinks a focused launch takes “discipline and strategic execution.”

Think of the most successful companies in the world: their global domination began with a limited set of use cases. Tesla started with the Roadster; based on its positive reception, the company added another car and then another. Now it’s a mass-market brand. Even a company like Salesforce, Hubert notes, began with a remarkably narrow set of sales use cases. Now, it’s a sprawling business that offers software for marketing, customer support and cloud storage. 

“But it's a sequencing thing,” says Hubert. “Amazon started with books and then added and added and now it's an ‘Everything Store.’ A similar mindset needs to be applied to building digital products.” 

Single-feature products do exist. At first, he cites Instagram as an example of one, but almost immediately backpedals, realizing it’s nowhere near a one-note app. Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has evolved from a photo-sharing app to a multimedia communications platform, rolling out new features every year.

“You keep adding new use cases later, as you uncover new opportunities in the market,” Hubert says. “You just need to be thoughtful about it.”

Nathan Beckord is the CEO of Foundersuite.com, which makes software for startups raising capital.

Nathan is also the CEO of Fundingstack.com which is a new platform for VCs and investment bankers to both raise capital and assist clients and portfolio companies.

Users of these platforms have raised over $9.7 billion since 2016.

This article is based on an episode of Foundersuite’s How I Raised It podcast, a behind-the-scenes look at how startup founders raise money.