How a Former Netflix VP of Product Thinks About Product Leadership

In product leadership, how can an organization develop a long-term product strategy? And how does a robust company culture support smart decision-making about product development?

Gibson Biddle’s on a mission to challenge the product management status quo. 

The former VP of Product at Netflix is forging his path as a speaker, teacher and workshop host. His recent projects include: the Product Leader Summit and the Ask Gib Newsletter, which details a 12-part series on How to Define Your Product Strategy

Gibson discusses a number of his tools, models, and frameworks on an episode of the Dreams With Deadlines podcast. He shares his approach to product leadership: a three-part system that addresses product strategy, consumer science, and company culture. 

 

10-Second Summary

  • In product leadership, product strategy, consumer science and company culture are the three aspects of a successful approach, says Gibson Biddle who was Netflix’s VP of Product before launching the Product Leader Summit. 
  • Product strategy starts with developing a product vision because the approach encourages long-term thinking. As the last two years have shown, life is not predictable, and companies need to be thinking of long-term strategies. 
  • A clear company culture eases decision-making around people, products and the business, without the heavy-handed rules and regulations.

 

The 3 Facets of Product Leadership

To help organizations implement his approach to product leadership, Gibson developed a simple framework, made up of three areas. The structure works for both B2C and B2B companies. 

Gibson’s three facets of product leadership are: 

  1. Product strategy: what you want to accomplish with your product, and how.
  2. Consumer science: the scientific method, as applied to product strategy.
  3. Company culture: values, skills, and behaviors of your team.

 

✔️ 1. Product strategy

Starting with a product vision encourages long-term thinking. 

Many companies get stuck focusing on the next six to 12 months — but it’s hard to accomplish a lot in just a year or two. Gibson says, “if you think long term, you realize that in the long term anything's possible.” 

Gibson uses what he calls the GLEe model to demonstrate how to develop a long-term product strategy. Based on Netflix’s product vision, the mnemonic device represents three phases of Netflix’s product strategy. Initially, Netflix intended each phase to last three to five years: 

  • Get big on DVDs. Netflix began as a DVD-by-mail service. The company used this eight-year phase to establish its product/market fit.
  • Lead downloading. Next, Netflix added streaming services, which allowed them to expand internationally.
  • Expand worldwide. The third phase happened in tandem with Netflix’s rollout of streaming services. 

 

Gibson believes that any organization can adopt Netflix's approach for themselves. Companies can use the same strategy to develop their own product vision by identifying the following: 

  • First big win. What is the initial company product that will take off in the first three to five years? 
  • Next big win. In the following five to 10 years, what's the next big step that will drive growth?
  • Further expansion. Once a company’s product establishes a leadership position in the market, how can it continue to expand? This phase can exist indefinitely, with continued product growth and expansion efforts. 

Once the product vision is clarified, company leadership can create a product strategy using a strategy, metrics, tactics framework (Gibson’s preferred method).

 

The Strategy, Metrics, Tactics framework: An Alternative to OKRs

Before his role as VP of Product at Netflix, Gibson worked regularly with OKRs. While at Netflix, he began working with strategy, metrics, and tactics (SMTs). The framework can be applied to any product, no matter how small or large the product area.

The framework is used in the following way: 

  1. Strategy. Describe how the product delights customers today and what will make it even better in the future. Then, list all the ways the product might create a hard-to-copy advantage.
  2. Metrics. Decide which metrics to use to validate each strategy. 
  3. Tactics. Assign the corresponding tactics to move the product’s metrics forward. 


 

✔️ 2. Consumer science

Think of consumer science as the scientific method applied to product strategy. Consumer science is the process by which you form hypotheses for how your product will win over customers. Solutions must enhance your margin while also being difficult for competitors to emulate. 

The key thing to remember is that you don't actually know what's going to work — these are just hypotheses, which must then be tested. 

 

Gibson calls this the DHM model: 

  • Delight. How will your product satisfy consumers? 
  • Hard-to-copy. What will make your product hard to imitate by competitors? 
  • Margin-enhancing. How will your products make you more money? What are the business model experiments that you’ll use to increase revenue? 

 

For example, Gibson shares a hypothesis from his days at Netflix: his team believed that personalization would create a simpler, easier experience for users. Gibson identified a variety of ways to test the hypothesis. The process involved high-paced experimentation to understand what worked, what didn’t, and what methods would best move the metrics forward to achieve the team’s objectives. 

 

✔️ 3. Company culture

Culture can be defined as the values that describe the skills and behaviors that you expect of everybody on a team. Culture defines how an organization responds to employee behavior.

Why are common values important? Because very few employees will stay at a company for the 30+ years it takes to build a world-class organization. 

Most people leave after just three to five years, so where does the storehouse of accumulated knowledge lie? It lives in the company culture.

For example, one core value at Netflix is integrity. An employee with integrity is known for candor, authenticity, transparency, and being non-political.

Gibson encourages companies to think about culture by asking the following questions: 

  • What are the company values? 
  • What are the skills and behaviors that define each value?

 

Company culture helps organizations to make great decisions about people, products, and the business — without talking to each other. 

“This is the magic of culture,” says Gibson. If a company doesn’t have a clearly understood culture, it makes up for it by creating heavy-handed rules and processes. This can be stifling to highly creative people who generally don’t like to be told what to do and how to do it — creatives need autonomy to do their best work. 

“The cool thing is, if people embody all the values of a company, they tend to deliver really striking results,” says Gibson. 

 

Four types of decisions shape a company’s culture: 

  1. Who you hire
  2. Who you fire
  3. Who you reward 
  4. Who you reprimand 

 

Imagine sitting down with your boss for a six-month check-in. Your boss goes through a list of the company’s values and asks, “Are you known for candor, authenticity and transparency?”

By asking specifically about the skills and behaviors that are valued in the company, leadership encourages the behavior without relying on restrictive rules and processes. Employees can also better understand whether they’re a good fit for the organization — both before they join the company and during regular check-ins.  

Gibson says that if you evaluate the CEO of a company against the company’s values, they're often terrified of the results. But if you have a team rate their CEO on company values, the CEO rates surprisingly well. Why? Because typically, the CEO sets the culture.

“Companies have cultures, even if you haven't defined them,” says Gibson. That’s why it’s so important to clearly articulate company values — that way, you can build your company’s culture with intention. 

Gibson has proved, both at Netflix and in other organizations, that product leadership can be achieved with his three-pronged approach: a long-term strategy, the application of consumer science, and developing a clear company culture. Doing so “supercharges your efforts” — helping you achieve greater results — in less time.

 


 

This article is based on an episode of Dreams With Deadlines by Gtmhub — the strategy meets execution podcast, where you'll hear real stories of trials and victories in business. The show is hosted by Jenny Herald, VP of Product Evangelism at Gtmhub. Subscribe via Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts to hear their discussions with thought leaders and learn how to shrink the gap between strategy and its day-to-day implementation. 

 

Top quotes: 

Gibson Biddle:

[06:49] “All I'm really trying to do is get people to think long term because if you think long term, you realize that in the long term anything's possible.” 

[15:09] “Culture is the skills and behaviors that you expect of everybody on the team. It's the values that describe those skills and behaviors.” 

[16:41] “Most people leave a company after three to five years, so where's the storehouse of accumulated knowledge and accumulated learning? It lives in culture.” 

[18:45] “The way I encourage people to think about culture is: what are the values, and what are the skills and behaviors that define that value?” 

[44:14] “Having a strong sense of the company culture helps reinforce good skills and behaviors.”