Product People in the News, spotlighting Myles Sutholt, CEO of Tahika.
Starting your own business is never an easy process.
In this post, we discuss how product management skills can easily translate into entrepreneurship. The practice of product management help resolves the challenges that come with starting your own business.
We spoke to Myles, a previous Head of Product for a media-tech company who started his own business after a lightbulb moment at a conference.
Myles spent three years in senior product management roles when he decided to start his own company in 2019. He and a partner decided to build an events app specifically for networking at B2B conferences.
In this article, we speak with Myles about his unique product, the challenges of starting a business, and how his previous product experience helped him on his entrepreneurship journey.
What made you decide to start your own company?
It's kind of a funny story. I was at a B2B marketing festival in Germany and it had a series of after-event parties. I was at one of the parties in the evening and there were hundreds of young people who wanted to enjoy the evening but no one knew each other.
I turned to a friend and said, “What this party needs is a Tinder for Events.” It was just a joke at the time but the idea stuck with me.
Later that year, I attended two other conferences and saw the same thing. At the events, young people don’t really talk to each other anymore. They are either playing with their phones or playing with their food, but they don't go up to other people and initiate conversations. And so I thought, why not help them get to know each other in a more fun way. That’s when my mind went back to the idea of Tinder but specifically for B2B conferences.
So I pitched this to a company in Munster, in Germany. They liked it and decided to start the company with me.
Tell me more about the problem that your product solves?
The product is called Tahika, which in Hawaiian translates to networking or connections.
Our goal is to help people at conferences and events get to know each other.
It removes a barrier so people can build valuable connections and meet on a one-to-one basis more easily.
Normally, when you're at a conference, you often visit the conference with a friend or colleague or even your boss. So for instance, if you’re interested in working at another company you wouldn’t go to the booth of that company and enquire about open positions in front of your boss. However, this is exactly what the sponsor of events would love you to be doing.
Tahika bridges this gap by giving companies the opportunity to mingle within the networking feature. For example, someone could see a job they find interesting and connect with the company through the app. To your boss or colleague, it appears that you are just meeting someone for a coffee or simply networking but you know the topic of discussion will be about getting a job.
That's the basic concept we first thought about, then in a later phase, we plan to use the data we have to match companies and people on job or sales offers that would suit them best.
How did being a product manager set you up for entrepreneurship?
I think the most important activity for new companies is to get the product right. And I think I have that covered through my experience in product management.
I also want people to use my product in the way it was intended and have it generate real value for their business. So, I will actually tell prospective customers if I believe we're not the right fit for them.
When I know that someone will not generate any value through our app, I don't recommend them to purchase it. My sales team follows the same principles.
If you have a product mindset and want people to succeed through your product, you speak to customers differently. A sales-focused person is only looking for business success whereas a product person considers the needs of the customer.
Is there anything you wished you learnt more of as a Product Manager before starting your own business?
Well, when I started the business, I was in product management for about three years and I think the product management journey never really ends. So, if you asked me that question in two years, I will still find things that I wish I had known before!
One that comes to mind is that I never had any experience with building a real pitch deck to pitch the company to investors or drafting a business plan based on a series of seed funding.
I think product management in companies that already have existing products is quite different from building a product from the ground up. So, I wish I had some experience building a product from the ground up, getting it to the market and selling it successfully.
But the main reason I founded this company is that it's a great way to learn. You will never learn so much as when you found your own company. And even if it's a terrible company, and it goes under, you will still learn quite a lot. It’s an experience that you don't get in your day to day product role.
And is there anything that didn't you anticipate as an entrepreneur?
This is either a sad or funny story depending on your mood! The idea came to me in 2019. We did extensive user testing and prepared prototypes. We tested it on five to six people before iterating again until we landed on a solid prototype in January 2020.
Afterward, I needed to validate if this business model would actually work so I went out into my network and started to sell people on the idea. And, it was progressing really well. We had customers lined up before we even wrote a line of code.
We ended up having to rush to the finish line because a major publisher in Germany wanted to use the app but needed it to be delivered by the end of February. This meant we had to build it in a month. Which we did. Then COVID hit… and let's just say lockdown is not so nice for an event app.
I was also shocked to learn that in a B2B organisation, most of the time, it doesn't really matter what users want. It matters what the CEO wants. It's quite interesting because many of those old white men who are in charge of the big companies are looking for the Ferrari and nothing else.
They want a full-service provider and will pay 20,000 Euros for it for one event. They aren't interested in which of their customers will be using the platform or what will be done on it. They just want the best and the best is for them is a product that can do it all.
This is something quite unexpected for me as a product manager. I think product managers always search for tools that suit their needs the best and not for the product that costs the most or can do the most.
But, that’s where a lot of our prospective customers complain. They are looking for a product that can do it all despite only requiring 20% of the features. I don't want my product to do it all. I want it to do one thing really well.
I thought every person would be quite rational about their decision-making process. But that is not the real world.
A big thank you to Myles from the team at the Association of Product Professionals.