How I Buy – John Stetic, Chief Product Officer, Zinc

By Steve Woods in #HowIBuy

An interesting theme that we’ve explored a bit lately in the #HowIBuy series is the way in which buyers discover areas that they don’t know what they don’t know.  In this week’s conversation with John Stetic, Chief Product Officer at Zinc, we had a great conversation around that theme.

This time we explored the exact mechanics whereby a buyer like John sees an article shared in social media and goes from there to a discovery of new ideas and new capabilities.  John was able to articulate his thinking and his approach in this discovery period in a way that I hope you will find extremely valuable and clarifying.

Here are John’s insights on how he buys:

 

First, tell us a little bit about Zinc – what do you do, and roughly what stage are you at as a company?

Zinc is an all-mode communication platform.  As organizations have moved to more and more real-time communication, there is a huge volume of knowledge flowing around.  However, that information can be shared in many different ways; text message, email, voice, etc.  We provide one common platform across all modes to support both team communication and corporate communication.  Zinc also uniquely provides Conversation Analytics providing business with a new level of insight in how information moves around their organization allowing it to be measured and ultimately improved.    

We serve verticals where there is a high percentage of workers not at their desks.  Hospitality, service industries that are in the field, etc.  All of these industries need quick access to information.

We’re a VC-backed company.

 

For your role as Chief Product Officer, can you give us a bit of insight into what you spend money on throughout a year?

I spend on 4 key categories, roughly in order:

  • Headcount: which includes both the people and recruiting costs to find
  • Infrastructure: since we’re a product company we have a lot of infrastructure for the product on AWS
  • Embedded Tech: to enable certain communication capabilities or features, we will sometimes embethird-partyty technology in our platform
  • Business Software: it’s not my decision, but I’m often an influencer in this area

 

How do you discover what’s out there? How do you find new solutions or ideas of what’s possible?

Mostly that’s passive discovery.  I read and listen and will often file it away as a latent need for much later or I’ll come to the realization that I didn’t know that I had a particular need, but now I know that I do.

I get a surprising amount of my new information from Facebook.  I will see news from various tech sources like TechCrunch, Product Hunt, etc.  If it’s an interesting article, I’ll dig in.

Most of the sources are sites that I have deliberately Liked in the past in order to follow them.  The Facebook algorithm clearly seems to prioritize on top of that, as an example I read an MIT technology review article over the break, and now I see many more of them in my feed.

Some of the sources will be from my friends and social connections; for example, I saw a Venture Beat article, found it interesting, saw that a few more of their “next recommended articles” appeared interesting, and so I chose to Like Venture Beat and have their articles as part of my feed.

 

Can you add a bit of insight into what makes an article “interesting” based on a quick glance at it in your feed?

I do the vast majority of my reading on my mobile phone, often on the train.  Given that, the image and the headline are key to catching my attention.  There are a set of things that I’m predisposed to finding interesting; like rockets and SpaceX, but they don’t necessarily have anything directly to do with the business that I’m in.  

As one example that might be instructive, I saw an article mentioning that Facebook had released their Docusaurus product for managing open source documentation websites.  Within our product, there are aspects of a bigger story around content, so I have an interest in state-of-the-art content systems.  Seeing how best in class systems, in a somewhat related space, approach problems can give me some good insights into infrastructure ideas for our own product.

 

So when something catches your eye, what’s next?  Do you just keep it in the back of your mind, or does your investigation go further?

In many ways, that’s based on the environment I’m in.  For example, this last weekend, I was on a 2.5hr drive (not me driving), so I had a lot of time on my mobile phone.  My style is to keep drilling until I feel like I’ve discovered all there is to discover, or I run out of time.

For the Docusaurus example if we take that a bit further:

  • First, I saw them mentioned in an announcement article, and it seemed interesting so I went to their website.
  • From their website, I saw a list of some examples of who was using the product, so I browsed a number of sites that were built with their technology.
  • From browsing those sites, I began to see commonalities and good ideas in the approach.
  • This got me thinking about our roadmap, whether we supported similar things, or what we’d need to do if we wanted to support those concepts.
  • This thinking led me to some deeper questions about how the product is build and a thread of investigation there.
  • As I was thinking about Docusaurus, I wanted to understand what the other options are, so I searched, quite literally, for “alternatives to Docusaurus”.
  • This part of the investigation brought me to a number of analyst, ranking, and comparison sites, a few more vendors, and an ability to go deeper into the process with any of them that caught my interest.

 

Thanks, that was a really deep view into how you learn, and super-helpful.  I’d love to understand how you prioritize what you are going to work on out of the various initiatives that you could spend time and/or money on?

The core driver is what we’re working on in the product.  What are the core initiatives, problems, and goals, and what solutions can contribute to that.

 

Where do those core initiatives come from?  How are they educated by what is possible and what solutions are out there?

For that, we follow a fairly typical process, where we have a strategy map with key initiatives.  Out of that comes a high-level strategic goal like a new market or industry vertical.  When that is explored a bit further, we might start to find some interesting gaps in the product.

As an example, in hospitality, 2-way radios are a major aspect of the communication infrastructure.  They are very simple, but quite limiting, and yet they drive a lot of the business process in that industry.  Looking into this, and trying to solve for what all-mode communication would mean in hospitality, it was clear that we needed support for including 2-way radio.  This drove investigations around embeddable tech and options for real-time voice streaming.

 

How does an evaluation process go?  How do you assess the various options to see what will work for your needs?

It varies, but for anything that is core technology, we go deep.  We will prototype, create some builds, try out their APIs, even run beta builds that end users have access to.  It all depends on the exact scenario, but in general, the theme is that we go very deep to validate the technology.

In parallel, while we’re going deep in tech, we’ll start the business discussions.  Because this is embedded, those are often complex as we’re looking at various structures for licensing.  Vendor flexibility is a big asset here to find a model that makes sense for everyone involved.  In general, we prefer a low cost of entry that mitigates our risk for new concepts.

 

What do the best salespeople do?  How are they able to help you with your buying process?

For us, pricing structure and flexibility are very interesting and challenging problems.  Sales people who can assist with this are very valuable.  Coming with Excel sheets and models and really working to understand our business is very valuable.

Equally, those who can bring tech resources to the conversation are very valuable.  Obviously, a rich set of documentation is a starting point, but many times we’ll need to open up the black box a bit and understand things a bit more deeply than the APIs might allow.  Being able to get into a consultative conversation with a technologist who understands the vendor product very well is extremely valuable.

 

What advice do you have for sales people wanting to engage with you?

For salespeople trying to catch my attention up front, I get a TON of cold email.  On average the majority do a terrible job of showing me why I should pay attention.  Once in a while if I notice someone really trying, I’ll email back a critique to help them do better.  It’s a tough situation for the industry that most of the people in those roles are quite junior and are trying to connect with senior leaders.  Sales management and marketing should be much more involved in the messaging for outbound sales teams helping to build more persona and value-based targeted outreach.

 

Thanks for the great insights, John, they were very valuable!

Steve Woods
CTO and Co-Founder