A Conversation with Oji Udezue Ex VP Product at Calendly, Head of Product for Communications at Atlassian.
Oji is the former VP of Product at Calendly — a favorite of our team — and former Head of Product for Communications products at Atlassian — a favorite of mine as a proud Aussie. He is the founder of the Kernel Fund, investing in African startups, and worked at Microsoft on many teams, including Windows products, for ten years.
As we evolve our mission at Respondent to make research inclusive, speaking with Oji was an obvious choice. Not only is he a customer-focused product led growth whisperer, with nearly 20 years of experience working at the top of some of the most prominent tech companies in the world, he has a unique perspective on diversity.
Immigrating to America as a 21-year-old Nigerian was a culture shock to say the least.
“In Nigeria everyone is Black. I didn’t understand anything about race. So coming to the U.S. was incredibly disorienting. I had to do a lot of learning. It’s been quite a journey and it continues to be a journey.”
On his journey, and through his career, Oji has sought to help people in scalable ways. At Microsoft, he co-founded employee resource groups that helped people like him cope with their entry into Corporate America. Through the Kernel Fund, he invests in startups that try to make a difference for consumers in Africa.
In Africa, the tech industry is solving very different problems than the companies here in the U.S. and Australia. They are much more focused on social solutions than the convenience solutions we are. At Respondent, we aim to achieve both.
“You help companies gain insight about their customers. And the world is really diverse and becoming increasingly moreso,” Oji affirmed.
This is a big reason why we’ve evolved our mission. At Respondent, we want to enable companies around the world to build inclusive products by conducting inclusive research. In order to do that, we have to build an inclusive team at Respondent — with multiple perspectives and backgrounds. And only by doing that can we build a truly inclusive research product.
Oji explained that in the evolution of technology products, we’re currently in the “era of convenience” where customization is king. For businesses who want to grow in the next decade, he emphasized the importance of inclusion and customer focus in product led growth.
“We are tailoring technology for people. That means you have to understand what they want. You have to understand their workflows, their hopes and dreams,” Oji explained to our captivated Zoom audience.
That’s why we get excited by the idea of connecting our customers directly to their end user. If you don’t find that specific segment of your consumer-base, you can’t gain that deep understanding. By offering this access to research participants, we believe we can make a big difference in the world.
Oji admitted Microsoft had user research pretty early on, but the definition of “inclusive” has changed and evolved there too.
“Over time, we started caring about blind people, but other disabilities were still not represented,” he confessed.
The companies who can learn about these minority groups will build products that serve larger populations, which I’m assuming is the goal of most companies: broader adoption and deeper penetration into markets.
“Inclusive research is accurate research,” — that may have been my favorite quote of all.
So how do inclusive research and product led growth go together?
“Let’s call product led growth ‘product power,’” explained Oji. “It is the ascendency of great product, attracting people who want to use it, thereby reducing the cost of sales and marketing, freeing up more money to invest in product led growth.”
Oji believes that product power comes from two main sources: customer focus and strategic insight. That’s what we’re prioritizing at Respondent.
“Customer focus is huge, especially in the beginning. And accelerating accurate customer insight is becoming more necessary and useful. You know, I dreamt of a company like Respondent, as a product operator. Customer discovery should be a service available to all kinds of product companies.”
Funny, I had the same dream. As we attempt to let our product lead our growth, I wanted to talk about culture. What’s the mindset inside a high-performing PLG company? I asked Oji and he brought it back to customer focus — and not just from product people or designers, but even from developers.
“If more of you can inhabit the mindspace of customers, become instinctive about their choices, what irks them, what superpower they want next, you’re going to be very successful.”
He talked about two essential pieces: using the product and customer conversations.
“You must use products in the same way customers do. Find a way to use the product in your everyday life, even if artificial. At Microsoft we called it dogfooding and it was practically a religion. When I failed as a product person it was because I wasn’t dogfooding enough.”
He also suggests spending 20% of your time with customers. You can’t become instinctive without getting to know them. But on a tactical level, how are teams set up to execute on product led growth?
Oji has a few key principles:
- Build a product that empowers people (“Look at user intensity.”)
- Make it easy for people to set it up (“It takes a lot of automation.”)
- Be generous with the free tier (“You’ll get the benefit of that generosity back.”)
For teams, he suggests creating customer-focused metrics — think acquisition, user intensity, user retention, churn reduction — and structure that allows responsibility and ownership.
Lastly, as the world becomes more remote, Oji says to write. Tell stories. Use briefs. “Good writing gets you on the same page so you can improve ideas together.”
Speaking of writing, we have our eyes peeled for Oji’s upcoming book on PLG.