With over 5,000 restaurants, seating 30 million diners across 7 regions and a food delivery service, Chope is changing the way people experience dining. We caught up with Nick Kenn, CPO of one of Singapore’s fastest-growing and most innovative tech businesses to discuss career progression, product-led growth, and product pivots in response to COVID-19...
Hi Nick! Can you tell us a bit about your background? How has your career evolved from account management to marketing to product leadership?
I’ve worked exclusively in tech companies for 20 years, on four different marketplaces across Europe, US, Australia, and now Asia growing their businesses. Also at a range of company sizes, from 15 people to 2,000, private and public, and in many different roles within those organizations. That gives me perspective on how different types of organisations work and what problems they face at different stages of growth. Now I have that gamut of experience, I can draw on my accumulated knowledge to solve many types of product scaling problems, organizational problems, develop systems and processes to accelerate growth, and so on.
I’ve always been growth-focused, trying to improve the products or services I’ve worked on which typically means through product management or marketing. In just about every role I’ve had, I’ve been working on the product and marketing in some way. In my first role, I was shaping analytics, CRM, and ad-serving software. Then marketing in several tech companies, where I was marketing the product and therefore, got to influence many parts of its development through the data I collected. As well as building specific marketing products like affiliate systems, SEO sites and tools, and data products to power real-time content ads. In the last 10 years I’ve typically been running both marketing and product functions, as the two major levers of growth in tech.
In more recent years my roles have extended to being part of the executive leadership team for several organizations shaping the direction for the entire organization, which is usually in no small part determined by the product itself. In summary, I’ve been driven to shape products as a means to create an impact, becoming a leader in product companies increases my impact radius.
Now I’m CPO at Chope, creating Asia’s next-generation dining platform creating products for customers to reserve a table, purchase a deal, order a delivery as well as providing software to restaurants to manage their operations.
What does being Product-Led mean to you?
Putting the user experience at the center of every decision. A product-led company is creating something for users, mostly solving a problem they have or creating a new opportunity for them. Building something for users as the primary goal of the organization defines a product-led org to me. That’s different when the organization is designed as a sales or marketing machine primarily, which ultimately puts revenue ahead of the users, paying people to grow through sales or paying for user acquisition (marketing) as the primary means of usage and growth. In a product-led organization the product itself should do most of the talking.
And following on from that… what role does product play in your organization? Would you describe Chope as product-led?
I think we at Chope are becoming a product-led organization as we mature. I think we have gone through phases where we have been product-led in the past and then sales led and then marketing-led and now we’re shifting back towards being product-led again. The catalyst for the change is the realisation that what we’ve built isn’t necessarily solving the biggest pain points for users, instead, it’s to solve a specific sales challenge, e.g. winning a new client and no matter how hard you push sales if the product isn’t what the users need or desire you won’t succeed. Now that we have a clear and compelling product vision at Chope that is validated by user research, unlocks value for our users, and creates value for Chope, it creates a company-wide shift towards being product-led.
In your view, what should be the relationship between Product teams, Marketing teams, Sales teams, and Customer Success in a Product-Led company?
Product teams, and Product Managers specifically, are ultimately the facilitators of decision making around the direction of the product. That’s an important distinction from how most product teams work or think about product as primary decision-makers. In fact, the operating model I set out ensures PMs are bringing the different functions together e.g. sales, marketing, ops, to elicit information about the users and their problems, the business needs, and other contexts that are required to get the collective group of functions to the optimal decision. Product Managers rely on the insights derived elsewhere to be successful, so only when there is a strong relationship where those insights are forthcoming will the product evolve optimally for the users.
The relationship, therefore, needs to be one where all functions are equally respected and understand the value of the others. It requires a lot if education upfront to get there, pro-active communications, and ultimately the growth mindset from the PMs in particular.
How has COVID-19 impacted Chope, and more specifically your product team(s)?
Chope’s major revenue stream is through restaurant reservations so we have been impacted as most restaurants in most of our countries are closed for dining in. We decided to pivot our product teams towards building a food delivery product at the very beginning of circuit breaker and we actually had an MVP up and running taking real customer orders within 48 hours. The main complexity was around logistics as that was not an area Chope had ever had to operate in before. We solved that by partnering with local taxi firms to deliver the food, co-ordinating orders through spreadsheets at first then through software later.
It was one of those rare experiences in one’s career where you get to build something from scratch with a great team around you acting like a true startup trying to find product-market fit. We found a unique position for Chope’s delivery product that has resonated exceptionally well and after 6 weeks we have hundreds of restaurants on the platform doing thousands of orders.
If you could go back to the start of your career, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself?
Great question, it really got me thinking. That the combination of the big picture thinking and the execution is the winning formula. Therefore, to ensure I’m developing skills consistently on both parts as that’s how great businesses are made through a compelling vision and strategy coupled with the real grit of executional excellence and drive.
If, hypothetically, your work hours were chopped in half, where would you spend your time?
Essentially there are three parts to my role; strategy, execution, and people leadership. I spend more or less time on each depending on the needs of the organization at any time. As CPO, if I had less time to invest I’d have to forgo the executional side of my role, trusting the team to work autonomously and I’ll provide them with the strategy and mentorship.
What is your favorite aspect of product leadership?
As a product leader, the sphere of influence is at its highest, therefore I get to see the impact of my influence across multiple product lines. Similarly, as a problem solver, which all product people ultimately are, that’s rewarding as it means I am able to touch more users with products that help them in some way solve a problem.
And, finally, what would you rate as your biggest success to date in your current role?
In my first few months, setting a product vision that inspires the team and the organization and leads Chope into a new phase of growth.
But it’s hard to look past pivoting to building a food delivery business in 48 hours when the circuit breaker in Singapore was announced. That was fun and something I’ll remember and draw inspiration from for the rest of my career.