After 10 years during which we simultaneously developed our own digital products and worked as a design and development agency, we are embracing a new business model called Venture Building — also known as Startup Studio or Startup Factory.
We decided it was time to sit down with our product leaders and talk about what they do here at Bornfight — say hi to Leonardo Dražić, the Product Lead for SWEN, and Andrej Doktor, the Product Lead for Estrid.
Estrid is a direct-to-consumer beauty subscription brand that needed a way to scale its subscription business in order to dramatically increase revenue, and they approached us to build a new, faster tech stack than the one currently used.
SWEN is a booking and property management app, tailor-made for camping businesses. Our goal with SWEN is to provide the best booking experience for guests, while also enabling streamlined back-office processes.
That was the introduction, and now — let’s go!
Let’s start with the basics — the Product Lead role. What do you like the most about this role, what do you think is the most important aspect of this position?
LEONARDO: My situation is a bit specific — I started working as a Project Manager, and then switched to the Product Lead role. The biggest change in this switch was taking the responsibility for team members and their development — this whole segment was something I haven’t done before. Other than that, I started to learn a lot about sales, finances, revenue planning and investments.
This Product Lead role is a mix of a lot of things, such as team leadership, project management, product ownership, product management and sales — but don’t get me wrong, none of this happens at the same time. It’s all about balancing and prioritizing — when to focus on people and when to focus on the product. For example, one day I’m traveling, talking to stakeholders and having workshops, and the other day I’m having structured meetings about the personal development of each team member, and that day I’m focused on people. The point is to plan when to do what and what is the priority at the moment.
ANDREJ: I agree, but it’s important to point out that each product is in a different phase and with every phase of the product, the responsibilities of a Product Lead role change.
Here at Bornfight, we have weekly product meetings where we go through the current phases for each product. For example, with Estrid we are in the growth phase and the responsibilities need to be adjusted accordingly because there are different responsibilities for each phase. Elevien, our other product, is in the MVP approval phase, and Leo is in the sales development phase with Maboo.
Because of these differences, each Product Lead has a specific set of responsibilities based on the phase of the product, and as the product grows, those responsibilities change.
Do you think that people will care more about the product itself or the current phase of the product when they consider applying for one of our Product Lead positions?
ANDREJ: Leo mentioned learning a lot about sales because that is the main focus of the current phase of his product. For the starting phase, you need to know about market research, idea validation, and team setup, and when you get to the development phase with your product, you’ll also need to add knowledge on how to build a product, a product roadmap, and product management.
As we mentioned already — different competencies are needed for different stages.
LEONARDO: It’s important to say that the ideal candidate who has done all of that does not exist. It is difficult to achieve such a utopia and to require all those competencies from a candidate, but in my opinion, this is a great opportunity for some candidates that worked as project managers, product owners or in any other role that puts a high level of emphasis on ownership. That person should be resourceful, adaptable, able to fit in any of the phases of the product, and know how to cope with new phases. Also, team leadership is a big part of this role so it would be great if the candidate already has some experience as a team lead.
ANDREJ: Let’s not try to scare people — this position may seem overwhelming and challenging for some people at the beginning, but it is not like that at all. A lot of things are logical and can be solved without problems in cooperation with the team. It’s all about teamwork, and here at Bornfight, we have a great team of experts that can do almost everything.
So you can say that responsibilities for this role are distributed over a few years?
LEONARDO: Yes, I agree, none of this is done at the same time, but the position is dynamic and your primary focus can switch to different aspects of building a business on a daily basis. It’s all a matter of distributing the focus on when to do what.
ANDREJ: We’re talking about years — because the process of building a business takes time, these responsibilities are distributed over, for example, 5 years. It just all depends on the phase of the product.
What would you say were some additional responsibilities that you weren’t aware of at first?
ANDREJ: For me, it was product ownership and management, as the Product Lead often focuses on the organization of the team and what the team does. Personally, I’m quite active in day-to-day operational activities, but that is not always the case. With Estrid and SWEN, both Leo and I still do those things as our products are in phases that need our operational involvement.
LEONARDO: I would like to point out the market research aspect and digging deep into what our competitors do. This is something I find very interesting to do — you wouldn’t believe me how exciting this can be.
So… why do we call this role a Product Lead and not a Product Manager?
LEONARDO: Product Managers have almost no contact with people and ownership, mentorship, or leadership over people. They deal exclusively with the product. On the other hand, this Product Lead role also includes people and team management. I’d say that in a few years, the next logical step for a person in this position would be to take over the position and responsibilities of a COO.
ANDREJ: I agree. I see the Product Lead role is a combination of Product Owner and Product Manager roles. Product Lead to COO to CEO would be some kind of a potential growth path for this role in a few years, and those are most definitely the next steps for our new Product Leads.
Can you tell me what your product teams look like?
ANDREJ: On Estrid, I have 2 dedicated teams for 2 e-comm platforms that are being built within the same company. There are dedicated members for each of the teams, and I have front-end and back-end tech leads that have an overview of everything.
You need to pay attention to how the team is scaled and make sure that is in line with the phase of the product itself. This also depends on the framework that is used — I try to lead my team through Scrum and have a Scrum team.
LEONARDO: The SWEN team currently consists of a Product Owner, Scrum Master, and 7 developers. We use the SCRUM framework for continuous improvement and delivery.
Last question — what do you see as the main benefits of working as a Product Lead here at Bornfight?
ANDREJ: Bornfight gives me the opportunity to arrange everything as I want, and in a way that would benefit the further growth and development of the product. I have an influence on the work of the team, the people we hire — Bornfight trusts me to figure out what I’m going to do next with the product and how I’m going to do it. I have a lot of autonomy and ownership that I didn’t have in my previous roles, and the best thing about it is having a direct influence on the product. The fact that I give feedback which is then implemented in the next few days and that I can directly influence decisions gives me more motivation than anything else.
LEONARDO: Since I joined Bornfight almost 3 years ago, I’ve been given quite a bit of autonomy on all levels and I’ve never run into a situation where someone blocked me for some reason. This way, you can develop fast and learn the most — most of the time from your own mistakes, but it’s still a faster way to grow than if you had someone to micromanage you.
In addition to that, I like the fact that if you have ambition and vision, you can evolve and advance at a tremendous speed, and this is highly encouraged throughout the whole company.
ANDREJ: I agree with that, I also have someone to learn from. Our COO, Ivor, mentors and coaches both me and Leo. He analyzes the things we’re good at, gives us feedback, recommends books, and courses, talks with us about our development, etc.
I like the combination of Tomislav (CEO) and Ivor, a visionary and a businessman — having both of them at the helm is a great benefit for the whole company because you can ask someone to guide you and someone to learn things from. I am glad that I have the opportunity to work with them and learn from them, and I think that this is a major benefit for every person who comes to Bornfight.