Spotlight On: Matt Hinds, co-founder of Sauce
Sauce co-founder Matt Hinds was part of the Blackbird community well before he became a Blackbird founder. He worked as a Product Manager at SafetyCulture, mentored in our Giants program for idea-stage founders and even shared his advice on design thinking for our Giants Weekly program.
In fact, contributing to the ecosystem is something that brought Matt and his two co-founders at Sauce together - they’d all worked as PMs in high-growth Aussie startups, and dabbled on projects together after hours like ProductKit, an early iteration of Sauce that helped early stage founders validate their customers and products.
Now, they’re taking the lessons they learned as product managers and using it to help others in the ecosystem - and where better to start by building the operating system for product managers, a role that has an incredibly high impact on each technology company.
Read on to learn about Matt’s own journey into product management, lessons learned from SafetyCulture founder Luke Anear, and how to navigate the tension between asking customers for product solutions and making a bet on where you believe the market needs to evolve.
Blackbird: Tell us a bit about getting your start in Product Management. Was it always a field you were interested in, or did you fall into an early role and go from there?
Matt Hinds: I fell into Product Management after a series of entrepreneurial pursuits, beginning with co-founding an e-commerce business in my 2nd year of Uni and then a FinTech startup in my 3rd year of Uni. When we sold the FinTech startup a few years later I was looking for my next challenge and felt like I needed to experience larger business, so I joined Amazon Web Services in B2B Sales. I had an incredible experience and learned a lot about the principles and systems that Amazon used to scale one of the biggest tech companies globally, but something was pulling me back to building products. At the time my friend James Gabb (now co-founder of Sauce) told me that most of the things I did as a founder was part of the role of a Product Manager, where you’re basically growing a startup inside of a larger company. I then met with the Head of Product at SafetyCulture and was fortunate to join their team as a Product Manager.
Were there any key lessons you took from your experiences there that have shaped your own founder journey, or how you've built Sauce?
MH: Firstly, customer obsession. It always impressed me how customer-centric every team was at SafetyCulture, everyone spoke in customer anecdotes and Luke, our founder, really embodied this, always asking how many customers we’d spoken to and advocating for customer experience and lower prices. Secondly, how to build a high-performing ‘engine’ with our product team. After a year on our flagship product, Inspections, I moved to a new product that we were launching to market, Issues. I immediately bonded with my engineering and design lead who also wanted to build startups next, and this was the perfect opportunity to grow together. We experimented with how to empower our product team to make more decisions, brought them to customer calls so they could understand who they were building for, and gave them space to bring their own ideas to the table. We learned how to build the culture and environment where our team could do their best work, and have fun doing it.
Beyond this, I learned a ton from mistakes and failures in previous startups. Such as the importance of choosing the right co-founding team, setting smarter goals and focusing only on the things that matter to achieve them, building early relationships and validating with customers, the value of great people and culture, and investing in personal and mental health.
How did you meet your co-founders at Sauce? We heard the three of you have long had a passion for jamming on entrepreneurial pursuits....
MH: I met James Gabb (Co-CEO) whilst at school, but we reconnected in 2018 in Sydney Startup Hub. I was building a FinTech startup and he was building an EdTech startup. We grew our relationship over our love for startups and began to jam on new industry problems worth solving over the next few years. I met James Szklarz (CTO) as he was an engineer in James Gabb’s team at Atlassian. James Szklarz joined us on one of our earlier side projects ProductKit, we were helping early-stage founders validate their customers and products as part of Blackbird’s Giants program. This project evolved over time and led to the co-founding of Sauce.
Sauce reflected the pain points you and your co-founders had all experienced in your work as Product Managers. How did you settle on the key priorities to solve for in the product, and how do you balance the ever-expanding list of potential features/areas to support with the central vision for the product?
MH:We began investigating problems that we found most painful in our day-to-day lives as PMs. This includes ensuring that our product team's work is consistently solving customer problems and achieving business outcomes, and aligning stakeholder champions along the journey.
We learned the importance of innovating ahead of customers as critical to building a solution that’s 10x better than what currently exists today. Rather than asking customers to guide us to solutions, which rarely works as customers are only familiar with what exists today so it leads them to suggest marginally better improvements, we needed to make a bet on where we believe the product management role needs to evolve to in 5-10 years, and then validate and iterate that solution based on customer feedback.
At our early stage focus is critical given the limited resources and time we have available. So when we receive customer feedback or feature requests we need to dig deep into the customer's problem to see if there’s a smarter way for us to solve it, and then ensure it helps us progress towards our product vision and goals. Then it’s about building trust with customers to help them understand our product vision and the path to get there. We’re lucky that our customers are product managers so they get it!
We got to know you and one of your co-founders as mentors in our Giants program, where you helped dozens of idea and early stage founders get from 0 to 1 on their ideas. What did you learn from mentoring in this program and did any of these insights help shape the early product development for Sauce?
MH: I learned an incredible amount from mentoring with Giants. Rather than needing to have all the answers myself, I learned how to ask the right questions to guide the mentee to the answer themselves. This helped mentees to build the knowledge and problem solving capability themselves, so they didn’t need to come to their mentor with the same question again.
On top of this, many mentees had come from corporate roles in law, finance and consulting and were building products for the first time. This helped me to understand how early-stage product builders think and where the knowledge gaps exist, which informed some of the early best practice templates that we built for ProductKit, and later evolved into Sauce.
On that note - do you have any mentors yourself and has mentoring played a role in your career and particularly as you've been a founder?
MH: I’ve always believed strongly in having a brainstrust of mentors, this can be incredibly powerful in giving you superpowers in different areas that you may have less knowledge or experience. Your brainstrust might include a mentor who’s good at product, a mentor who’s good at sales, a mentor who’s scaled teams before, and even a mentor who can just be there to listen as you work through personal challenges. Don’t underestimate the wisdom of someone who’s been there before, made mistakes and learned from them. But this doesn’t replace learning first-hand from experience, it compliments it.
Finally, what excites you most about the future Sauce is building?
MH: We’re building the next evolution of Product Management which is a high impact role in every technology company. Product Managers are relied on by customers, design, engineering, sales, marketing, support, management, finance and legal to solve their customers problems and achieve business outcomes. They are responsible for enabling their teams to have a positive impact.
So this is very motivating to know that our work will play a small part in solving peoples problems and creating a better world. Beyond our customers, we’re building a culture and environment where people can do their best work and have fun doing it. I’m really excited about the team that we’re building, and to be able to look back at some point in the future having created something we’re all proud of.
Matt’s Spotlight On
A book that is worth reading or a film you loved:
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson - you get a front row seat into his crazy unpredictable personality but most importantly his love for building insanely great products - it’s amazing. I came away with a heightened appreciation for the art and passion that goes into creating something multi-generational from the ground up, and it forced me to reflect on the type of leader I want to become - which qualities to adopt and importantly which qualities not to emulate.
A podcast you never miss or your favourite music album:
I love the SaaStr podcast - really actionable learnings across product, GTM and scaling teams from the world's best founders and tech leaders.
The last great article you read:
A book summary by Michael Batko of coach Bill Campbell (see here), and the qualities and principles he’d bring to the founders he was coaching. Helpful in seeing into the mind of one of the greats who coached leaders like Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, Sundar Pichai, Larry Page and many more, helping them to build the highest-performing teams and some of the greatest innovations of all time.
Someone to follow on social media:
Harry Stebbings, founder of 20VC and one of the leading venture capital podcasts. Great guy, incredibly driven and tons of insights across product, sales, marketing and startups.
Learn more about Sauce and sign up for the Beta here.