Next NYC Spotlight: A PM’s Journey UpMarket

Feb 20, 2024
Next NYC Spotlight: A PM’s Journey UpMarket
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Vanta is an automated security and compliance platform that helps companies scale security and automate compliance for the most sought-after standards like SOC 2, ISO 27001, HIPAA, and GDPR. Born in 2018, Vanta now has $203 million in venture funding, earning $100M in ARR in five years, and 7,000+ customers, including Chili Piper, Splash, ZoomInfo, Quora.

We caught up with Sanjay Padval, Group Product Manager at Vanta, who has been a part of the team since 2021 to get his perspective on what this journey has been like building and scaling products from startups all the way to enterprise customers.

The Earliest Days: You Won’t Become Top Dog By Becoming a Feature Factory — Differentiate with Product Positioning and Messaging 

Vanta started out serving startup customers and then transitioned to scaled-out, enterprise-grade product.

“Vanta saw all of these companies coming out of YC and raising their Series A, yet relying on manual work and consultants to achieve their critical compliance goals to sell to bigger companies. Incredibly enough, this was a greenfield opportunity where we had incredible early success. But in time, new entrants started to enter, creating competition, downward pricing pressure, and turning conversations into feature battles.”

After playing the feature battle for a bit, the team was able to take a step back and realize the product's core features were good enough in serving their customers’ critical needs. In order to build a great product from a usability perspective, you also need to compliment that product with a proper, strategic narrative/messaging that differentiates it from the tail biters and provides real customer value. 

For Vanta, this meant building a narrative of how their product could solve customer’s long-term needs and be part of their long-term vision. Sanjay’s advice here was not to sell one feature, even if that’s all the customer is asking for. Instead, sell the narrative of how your product(s) can grow with the customer by answering, “How can we help them scale?” and the larger vision on how your product(s) will contribute to the customers’ bottom line success.

Moving Up-Market: Design a Product That Scales

A few years later, Vanta noticed their product wasn’t well-equipped to scale with customers beyond ~200 employees and these emerging mid-market customers started complaining that the product would break down as they tried to do more.

The team came to three realizations:

  1. They need to build a product that scales for larger, more complex organizations that have more sophisticated and bespoke workflows.
  2. In order to keep focus, they need to prioritize solving the needs of their fastest growing customers. If they could grow with their larger customers, then they would solve a lot of mid-market customer needs.
  3. This will allow them to scalably move upmarket to customers with bigger budgets.

In addition, the company spun up a small team to explore what additional products they could build beyond the mid-market segment and into the enterprise. This was important as it takes time to start to sell into these companies.

To drive this new mission to move upmarket and introduce Vanta into the enterprise, Vanta’s process looked something like this:

Once the core experiences were validated, they could ship and continuously iterate on feedback to ensure that the product is best in class. This process led to the incubation and introduction of new products such as - Trust Centers, Questionnaire Automation, and Vendor Risk Management - that have been instrumental in unlocking new wedges into the enterprise.

Just a reminder, this isn’t as easy as following a quick few-step process, but instead takes a lot of testing and iteration:

“We failed to build out our first enterprise product multiple times before we got it right. But we took those learnings and applied them to our next set of ideas.”

Sanjay shared four key tactics that has served him and his team best through this upmarket evolution:

  1. Prospecting: Shoot For the Heavy Hitters. Talk to prospects…even if they are still too large for you to serve at this moment. Vanta spun up cross functional teams, often including an Engineer, Designer, Product Manager and Account Executive, to ask prospects: “What is the biggest problem you have in the security/compliance space? What are the key outcomes you want to drive, what are the biggest drivers of success?” Their feedback was invaluable for the future product roadmap. And if these larger enterprises aren’t inbounding, tap your network to make warm intros to their enterprise network.
  2. Feedback: Always Ask the “Why?” When getting customer feedback, there are two buckets of questions to ask: 1) What are they key things they need to solve to make their lives more efficient (ie. customization, integrations, etc). 2) Why do they need those solutions? As an example, Vanta had been getting a lot of feature requests for export buttons (super easy to build), but when they asked customers why they needed this feature, they often learned that it was because the feature wasn’t addressing their needs. This led to a better understanding of how to build a better product.
  3. Prioritization: Determine What’s Core & Critical. Don’t let the Sales team be the sole drivers of the product roadmap. Once per quarter, Vanta gathers the Sales, Customer Success, and support teams to brainstorm the five biggest product needs ranked by what will unlock the most revenue and what will solve the biggest customer pain points. Culminating feedback across the organization will give you the clearest picture of what are the most common and critical (vs. nice to have) product updates to tackle and ensure you are working on the most impactful things. 
  4. Trials: Give a Little Free Product. Offer prospects a free trial so that they can understand the fundamental product differences between your product and competitors' product firsthand. For Vanta, this led to an increased win rate of 75-80% as prospects were able to play around with a premium product.

Advice For New Product Managers

While Sanjay has been a Product Manager for 10+ years, his career has taken him from big tech companies (Facebook and Box) to startups. During that time, he’s learned the most important qualities of PMs, no matter what their background (he expressed many of the best PMs he’s worked with are actually from non-technical backgrounds), include:  

  1. A hyperfocus on customer needs: If you have the opportunity, join as many customer calls as possible. This will be the fastest way to learn the industry, more about your own company and product, but most importantly, pattern match and identify new ideas and problems to solve.
  2. Ability to form an opinion: Always have a well-informed opinion on a set of options and tradeoffs and know which one you want to push for. Form an opinion/recommendation/input, then let your team respond to that - this will ensure that the input you received is focused and actionable
  3. Awareness of your organization’s aligned goals, strategy, and metrics: Always ensure that your team’s strategy and roadmap is aligned with those set by your company leaders. This will give you the space to execute and introduce new ideas.

If you’re an early-stage enterprise founder or operator — connect with us directly or check out our events page to get involved with our Work-Bench community.‍