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Q&A with Our Vice President of Product, Naveed Makhani

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CaptivateIQ grew over 3x in revenue, customers, and employees in the past year. With this growth, we've been able to hire some of the best talent in the field.

Meet Naveed Makhani, Vice President of Product at CaptivateIQ. Before joining our team, Naveed spent five years at Okta, where he led Core Identity Products. In his new role, Naveed will focus on planning and executing our North Star product vision while maximizing business impact with every milestone leading up to 2022 and into the future.

As a former sales engineer, Naveed feels a "personal connection" to the real problems that payees encounter: switching territories, learning about new rewards, and understanding when they will get paid out. He’s also no stranger to the challenges around data volume and processing and the general lack of core functionality required to manage end-to-end commissions. Naveed sees CaptivateIQ as the solution that displaces antiquated legacy commission software and error-prone, unscalable spreadsheets — which are still used by over 70% of the market.

We recently caught up with Naveed about the value of strong product leadership, the core characteristics of a product team, early lessons and advice he holds near and dear, and his product vision heading into the future.

Can you share a bit of background on yourself?

I started my enterprise software career at BigFix, initially as a sales engineer (SE) and later as a product manager. In hindsight, the SE role was a great pathway into Product. I got a front-row seat into the sales process, insight into the psychology of a deal, and learned that building an excellent product isn’t enough: you also need a strong go-to-market team that is empowered to articulate and demonstrate your product’s business value in a way that is relevant to the prospect. 

Most recently, I spent five years at Okta. I led Core Identity Products and contributed to 13x revenue growth ($50m → $650m), 8x employee growth (300 → 2,400), and an IPO. I learned a lot during this period of rapid growth, and I’m excited to apply these learnings to CaptivateIQ.

When I'm not working, I'm hanging out in the Bay Area with my wife and three-and-a-half-year-old son. One of our favorite activities is going to Jack London Square to see the trains, boats, and forklifts — everything a toddler could want! 

Fun facts?

I started trading stocks in high school and have had the same ETRADE account since 1997. 

My first job was a “sandwich artist” at Subway. 

Product leaders play a critical role in an organization. Can you tell me what the importance of product leadership is to you?

One of the most critical responsibilities of a Product leader is defining and communicating a product strategy that drives clarity and focus for the rest of the company. Without a clear strategy, it's easy to invest in many siloed initiatives that don't align with bigger company goals or to let the loudest voice in the room drive your roadmap.

What are the characteristics or attributes of a great product team? 

Curious, diverse, empathetic, collaborative, and strategic come to mind as core characteristics of a great product team. I'll elaborate on a couple.

  • Curiosity: The best product professionals are like detectives — they’re observant and inquisitive, always seeking to understand the “why." They ask questions like: Why did we build our product this way? Why are customers asking for certain features? Why did we make this assumption? Getting to the why helps ensure you build the right things.
  • Diversity: Diversity in thought, skill sets, and backgrounds leads to better software by mitigating groupthink and enabling companies to better address the needs of multiple personas. For example, at CaptivateIQ, the Product Manager who manages our sales rep-focused product was formerly a Director of Business Operations overseeing commissions management. He has a personal connection to commissioned employee challenges, enabling him to build better product experiences for sales reps. 

What advice would you give to someone seeking to become a leader?

A big lesson I’ve learned is to confront difficult problems and not be afraid to make tough decisions. It's easy to put off a big decision or rationalize taking a more incremental approach, but making those tough calls frees the organization to deliver step-change impact.  

My advice to a new manager: Your role as a manager is to make your team successful. Uncover the unique needs of each team member and tailor your value proposition to make them successful.

Any resources that you recommend product professionals consume to help them grow their careers?

I recommend adopting a mindset of continuous learning that exposes you to diverse topics ranging from leadership to business to cognitive science and psychology. A couple of sources I find particularly useful:

  • Blinkist: Blinkist distills a book into 10-15 minute written and audio summaries. A book I recently “read” this way is Annie Duke’s How to Decide. Next in my queue is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, though it’s such a seminal book that I feel like a bad person for reading only the summary.  
  • First Round Review's “In Depth” podcast: The host encourages guests to get into the how, rather than just saying what they should do. That level of tactical insight makes it easier to apply the learnings.

What do you think of the opportunity presented by CaptivateIQ?

One of the things I’m already coming to appreciate is just how complicated the world of incentive compensation is and how a certain “learned helplessness” has become the norm in the industry. So I see this as a massive opportunity for CaptivateIQ to challenge the status quo and to simplify this incredibly complex problem space. 

Doing this won’t be easy, though, so we need to continue to hire the best — particularly when it comes to product designers. To that end, I’m hiring for several design roles, including Head of Design, Product Designer, Senior Product Designer, and Lead Product Designer. If any of these roles sounds exciting to you, I invite you to apply!

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