We give every new product hire a pair of headphones on their first day at HubSpot. Other departments welcome their employees with thoughtful swag, too, but we’re the only team that backorders noise-cancelling headphones. I think this paints a good picture of how we think about building products. We do our best work and ship our best software when we’re heads down, focused on the problem at hand. That’s why we’ve tried to create a product environment with as few distractions as possible. Beyond headphones, there are some big, organizational plays that help us focus on solving for the customer. Like Science Fair.
Science Fair is a monthly roundup of demos from product managers to share what their teams have been working on. We only present real working software and PMs have to identify whether it’s in beta, alpha, gated-to-X, or live to the public. They can present a new product or feature, improvements in UX, reliability, or stability; the only ‘guideline’ is that whatever they’re presenting has to show customer impact. Whether that’s through customer quotes or early quantitative feedback, there has to be some tangible insight into how it’s making our customers’ lives better.
Every Science Fair has a host (usually a PM, but it can also be a designer or engineer) and it’s their job to run point on the agenda, scheduling, A/V, and ordering something that's not pizza. One of our engineers, Greg, made hundreds of his famous Dump Truck dumplings once so the bar has been set pretty high. The same rings true for costumes. Hosts aren’t required to dress up, but Lars (PM for our social tools) raised the stakes at April’s Science Fair so we’ll see what happens.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: bunny suits and dumplings are categorically distracting. But Science Fair actually helps us stay fixated on our goals and here’s why. We don’t have a product roadmap at HubSpot. (David Cancel published a good post on the thinking around this decision.) Trying to predict the future just didn’t jibe with how we think about development so we reeled in our communication and planning. We don’t have app or product specific deadlines. Instead, we strive for continuous progress.
Not surprisingly, staying hush-hush about what you’re building, especially at a company as transparent as HubSpot, can cause some distrust between product and the rest of the organization. People want to know what they’re going to be marketing, selling, or training customers on and when it will be ready.
Because the whole company is invited to Science Fair, it’s become a valuable platform for us to pull back the curtain on a regular basis and show that continuous progress. You can always find marketers, salespeople, support reps, and our executives in the crowd; our CEO, Brian Halligan, sits front and center every month. (No pressure.) This high-stakes engineering "show and tell” is a great way to unveil all the magic our developers are silently making.
That’s why PMs don’t just give a demo at Science Fair, they tell a story. By talking the audience through a problem, the solution, and how it will make our customers’ lives better, they give the company a monthly glimpse into how product is moving the needle on our overall mission. Last month, we had a jampacked schedule with demos on how we ramped up processing speeds in our Contacts tool for faster list updates, redesigned HubSpot’s email performance dashboard to display more actionable insights, and simplified our CRM sign-up process so prospect tracking happens even sooner, (just to name a few). While PMs touched on how we built these solutions, they started and finished strong with why we built them. It’s those soundbites that give the company a glimpse into how our heads down team is helping them market, sell, and better support and service customers.
Just like it was when we were in grade school, Science Fair is an education; both for the organization and for our product team. We get to teach other departments what’s coming down the pike and how we’re driving customer success, and they’re constantly teaching us how to be storytellers and show impact.
We’re laser-focused on solving for the customer. That’s why striking a balance between staying transparent with the company and sheltering the team from external pressure to build X or hurry up on Y is key. Science Fair is just one vehicle that helps us do that; we’re always iterating on what our product ecosystem looks like internally, but the customer is always at the core. That doesn’t change. That way, we can continue to build all the marketing and sales software they need to be heads down on growing their own businesses. Headphones and all.