Each month we spend five minutes extracting five interesting pieces of information from a founder, thought leader or member of the wider Movac team. This month, we caught up with Movac Operating Partner Tokes.


1. Tokes, give us a quick background and explain how you work with Movac.

I’m a Mathematics and Statistics graduate who fell in love with software development, but quickly discovered I loved the people I worked with and the customers I built software for as much as the code itself. As fate would have it, this was the perfect preparation for the next 10 years of my career as a product manager, coach and advisor. Starting in 2009, as Xero’s first Product Manager and later at start-up darling 8i, for a wild ride as Global Head of Product. Since 2017 I founded a business dedicated to raising the practice and understanding of product leadership and have worked with over 40 businesses across New Zealand from early-stage startups to large corporations. Which quite nicely brings me to today where I’m now also working as an Operating Partner for Movac’s Fund 5. This role gives me the opportunity to share my experience, insights and advice with the portfolio companies as they grow their products and leaders. I can’t wait to see how they impact the future of New Zealand and be part of their journey.


2. What is the biggest piece of counterintuitive advice you would give product leaders?

Your role is not to decide what to build next.

Ultimately your role is to maximise the return on the investment made in the teams building the product(s) you’re accountable for. It’s extremely unlikely that the optimal return will be for the teams to build exactly what you tell them to. Your job is to deeply understand the available opportunities available to you, balancing the many constraints that will conspire against you and leverage the collective knowledge and skills of your team, stakeholders and customers, to come up with the best possible solutions to realise these opportunities.


3. Are there any big tips you can give for a start-up that is moving from a single product delivery team to multiple product teams?

Teams need to own more than a feature.

I often hear founders lament that there is a lack of ownership in their development teams. “All they care about is the code!”. This is a direct consequence of teams that are asked to deliver features, never measure the impact of features and whose success is measured by the speed at which they deliver features.

You need to create a culture where teams are motivated and evaluated, on their ability to impact the desired outcomes of the business (and yes, this also means they understand the importance of getting products to market in time). This typically means they need to own something that has value for the business over a sustained period – for example, a product, product skew, customer segment or market. This transition needs strong leadership and is where product managers play a key role. It’s also one of the reasons you should consider hiring an experienced product manager before undergoing any team reorganisation (see next question!).

My second piece of advice is to not create a “platform” team (get in touch if you want to know why!)


4. And how about even earlier on, when the founder is leading but is looking to build the product function?

Hire high!

In this situation, it’s tempting for the founder to hire a relatively junior product hire, perhaps a Product Owner, to help “make the ship go faster”. Through no fault of the founder, they are likely to treat this person as a Project Manager, asking for status reports, delivery roadmaps, Gant charts even. The most likely outcome will be absolutely no change in cadence and no increase in the return on investment discussed above.

Hiring a more experienced product leader will introduce someone who is more likely to have commercial experience, understand what’s at stake running a company at this stage, be able to make good trade-offs, influence across the business, while still ensuring the delivery processes are streamlined. They will create more value than a pure founder-led company will because they’ll be influenced by the founder but increasingly bring their own insights and observations.


5. Any favourite product resources that we should be across?

Inspired (Marty Cagan) – The Product Bible. A must-read for anyone in, or wanting to get into, product management.
Good Strategy, Bad Strategy (Richard Rumelt) – this book changed the way I think about strategy, whether it be at the business or product level. If your strategy is a list of things to achieve a list of goals, you definitely need to read this!
Product Leadership Spectrum (Andrew Tokeley) – I’ve bandied the terms product leadership and product management about here, so read this to get a better idea about the spectrum of involvement product people of all types to have.