Jon is a former founder and multi-time product leader at hyper-growth startups. After co-founding Subspace, acquired by Box in 2015, he went on to become the VP of Product at Box, where he led the expansion of Box’s product line from a single product to multiple products across enterprise collaboration, workflow, and security and compliance. Later, as VP of Product at Benchling, he oversaw the entire Product Organization, including Product Management, Product Design, Product Operations, and Data Analytics teams. There, he helped companies adopt new scientific technologies, gain insights into data, and quickly bring their products to market, while successfully scaling the product organization from 7 to ~50 employees.
As the Chief Product Officer at Envoy, Jon is now responsible for driving product strategy, design, and research & development efforts across Envoy’s product suite.
Jon earned a BS in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and holds several certifications, including Pragmatic Marketing, Negotiations and Influence from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and Product Management from the Haas School of Business.
Q&A with Jon
“There's nothing as a product leader, executive, or founder that replaces a deep understanding of the customer and the market. While this knowledge can be gained through personal experience or past work, it’s critical to continue seeking out and engaging with prospective customers to stay up-to-date and informed on their needs.”
- Engage deeply with your first ten customers and initially focus on non-scalable methods. As you grow, you can develop product pods or specialized teams to help you develop add-on products and scale.
- When developing a product that’s improving on an existing or legacy system, a key factor is making sure that the value you offer is at least 10 times better than what they currently have. You need to ensure that switching to your product is a no-brainer for them.
- When building a B2B product, consider finding product solutions that deliver value to both the admin or buyer and end user.
Q: Tell me about your career journey. What brought you to your current role as Chief Product Officer at Envoy?
I'm a hardware engineer by schooling, but I transitioned into software engineering early in my career at BigFix, and I've worked for both small and large organizations, ranging from my own company to spending time at IBM.
I enjoy working at smaller companies because I can build products from the ground up, and I find that’s best where I can lend my expertise to make a real impact. My decision to join Envoy was driven by the fact that the company was at a stage and size where I could make a meaningful contribution to its 1 to n growth, but also take on interesting 0-1 projects, exploring what it means to return to the office and workplace.
One underlying thread in my career journey is that I've never prioritized titles or salaries. It's easy to say now, but at growth stage companies, I've always optimized for what unique problems they're facing, and what I can learn and contribute to solving those problems. I think that’s the reason many of us start companies, it’s about learning and solving problems first.
Q: What were some lessons learned working at Box? What are some takeaways from that experience that you’re incorporating into your work at Envoy?
Box was one of my most formative experiences for the leader I’ve become because it helped me understand the intersection between product and GTM. At a foundational level, this involves asking critical questions about what you're building and which market you're trying to pursue. From there, you develop a strategy that takes into account the interplay between those two disciplines. In larger companies, a dedicated team takes care of the GTM process, and you're less involved. However, in smaller organizations like Envoy, you need to consider a more holistic product and GTM process and how consumers will perceive it.
By chance, I’ve also developed expertise in growing a company from a single-product SaaS organization to a multi-product SaaS enterprise. During my time at Box, I developed a system to launch additional add-on products to the core storage offering. For this process, you consider, how do you launch a new product into something where you have a large, existing customer base? How do you drive upsell? How do you ensure the product strategy is aligned with sales teams’ goals? And finally, how to bundle the products together to ensure it makes sense as a package.
My time at Box also allowed me to hone my skills in managing and running teams at scale. I learned the importance of creating a culture of transparency and effective communication as a leader. These skills have proven invaluable as I've advanced in my career.
Building A Team
Q: How do you hire strong product professionals?
When building a team, I look for individuals with a versatile set of skills and traits that allow me to easily shift people around and plug them into different roles as needed. To use a baseball analogy, I’m looking to create a team of “utility infielders” who can adapt to various tasks and projects.
Once they’re on a team, I want them to dive deep into those specific areas of focus and develop expertise. This could mean diving into technical issues around scaling, or working with product marketing and sales to refine messaging and improve traction in the market. But the goal is to have a team with diverse skills and strategic perspectives that can bring their expertise to bear on any problem as needed.
Q: How do you manage cross-functional relationships? How does that evolve?
For early-stage founders, it is the unpredictable process of getting the first 5-10 customers with everybody in the company operating around that. However, as you grow, it's more a question of how to create that specialization or smaller grouping that runs unfettered in that area and continues to add on to the existing product.
When managing a multi-product portfolio, for example, I organize cross-functional teams around a specific area of that portfolio. At Box, we called them product pods. For each product, I’ll have a product manager, designer, engineering manager, and a product marketing specialist. Additionally, we’ll have an overlay sales team to sell that product. We formed a steering committee that would meet every two to four weeks, and would diagnose where the teams were in the adoption cycle and what they would need to focus on. While at Box we implemented six pods and they were all at different stages of the product life cycle. The goal was to constantly question ourselves to figure out how to get from initial adoption to scaling.
However, to successfully navigate this process, it's crucial to engage deeply with the first ten customers and to initially focus on non-scalable methods. This approach enables all teams to obtain rapid, iterative feedback and ultimately, helps scale the product effectively.
Developing Product Processes
Q: What questions or frameworks help you prioritize and get your projects from 0-1?
In my experience, I've found that the things I've built often involve improving on existing or legacy systems, or finding ways to modernize analog processes. The key consideration is always about delivering value to the customer and making sure that the value you offer is at least 10 times better than what they currently have. You need to make sure that switching to your product is a no-brainer for them.
Another important factor to consider is the intersection between delivering value to the admin or buyer and delivering value to the end user.
At Subspace, we wanted to provide a more secure experience accessing company resources via web apps. There are many ways to do this that make IT admins happy, among them are technologies like virtual desktops that are secure, but deliver a very poor end-user experience. There are far fewer technology approaches that make the admin happy and also provide a great experience and add value to the end-user. We settled on an approach of creating a “work browser,” built on Chrome, that could deliver both a secure experience for the admin and a familiar experience for the end-user.
We took that philosophy into Box, where we found a way to create better security and awareness for employees by enacting features that help make employees context-aware, such as by toggling a "sensitive" marker, so that audit policies are automatically taken care of and it signals to employees that you’re not going to be able to share that information.
Similarly, at Envoy, we are creating value for employees by making workplace check-ins more automated and user-friendly. This helps us gather better data, which can be used by admins or managers to understand occupancy in their environment. And by finding ways to automate the check-in process, we can provide a better experience for end users, who may not be excited about manually clocking in.
As Product, our goal is to make the process as seamless and efficient as possible, while still providing value to both the user and the admin/manager.
Q: What's something counterintuitive to the product process that you've found valuable?
While PMs nowadays are being trained to be more quantitatively data-driven, my career has been mostly focused on qualitative approaches to build products. This is likely due to my work at BigFix, but I think it speaks to the need for Product to be heavily involved in customer needs.
In my leadership roles at Box, Benchling, and Envoy, I've adapted some of my habits to fit the data-driven experimentation approach of smaller, scrappier teams. Nevertheless, my natural inclination is still towards qualitative methods and striving to strike a balance between qualitative and quantitative approaches.
Q: What are some key takeaways for early stage companies?
There's nothing as a product leader, executive, or founder that replaces just a deep understanding of the customer and the market. While this knowledge can be gained through personal experience or past work, it’s critical to continue seeking out and engaging with prospective customers to stay up-to-date and informed on their needs.