On today’s episode of Scaleup Marketing, I’m joined by Rick Klau, a long-time startup entrepreneur, former operating partner at GV, and a Product Manager at Google where he worked on Blogger, Profiles, and the YouTube homepage. I wanted to talk to Rick about his work on the OKR framework used at Google, but we ended up talking about his journey from being a lawyer to blogger to product manager on some of the most widely used products in the world.
Rick Klau: [00:00:00] Hey, Rick. Welcome.
So good to be here.
Tom Wentworth: [00:00:07] as a part of my podcast process, I do deep, deep research on my guests.
And the first thing that blew me away in doing my deep, deep, deep research was that you and I kind of sorta worked for the same company way back in the day, a company called iManage.
Rick Klau: [00:00:23] You know, it doesn’t come up all that much these days, given where my career went afterwards. But that is an amazing small world
Tom Wentworth: [00:00:31] connection.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, iManage was really the dominant platform for law firm, content management. It turns out lawyers produce a lot of documents.
Rick Klau: [00:00:40] Yeah. And time is money.
Tom Wentworth: [00:00:41] You and you were a lawyer, right. You graduated with a law degree, right?
Rick Klau: [00:00:44] I sure did.
Tom Wentworth: [00:00:46] So I manage was maybe it was not SAS. Obviously it was classic desktop software, but a really great example of a vertical application.
Like that product was so instrumental to lawyers day to day [00:01:00] operations. and it’s such a, it’s a pretty niche product, but was incredibly successful. So I assume that, you know, being a lawyer, you might have played a little bit of role in the marketing of I managed
Rick Klau: [00:01:10] is that a.
I did. I mean, I, when I first joined, I actually joined in the marketing org.
and the expectation was that I brought whatever credibility, having the J D letters after my name might bring, but also a fair bit of technical understanding. I mean, what, what was so. Unusual really unheard of at the time for what was desktop software was that it was this three tier solution that meant that if the server went down, which in those days the server always went down.
before I manage it would take the desktop with it. Oh, that’s right. And so you had lawyers who’d be drafting contracts or reviewing edits. And if a PC docs was the sort of the heavyweight at the time, when that [00:02:00] server went down, they, they were dead in the water. They couldn’t work. And if you can’t work, you’re not billing time.
If you’re not billing time, you’re not making any money. And the, the, the opportunity for an elegant bit of technology to come in and say, look, if. If the server does go down because of course it will, you can still work. And then when it comes back up, we can sync the whatever changes have happened on your end and we’ll resolve any discrepancies.
I mean, it was like we were selling magic to some of the large law firms who were certain that this was just, a fact of life at the time.
Tom Wentworth: [00:02:38] Yeah, and it complete tangent. We will not go down, but sinking was huge. It’s Lotus notes was so good. Like people underappreciate how good Lotus notes was way before in the early, early days of network computing.
the fact that Lotus notes could figure out how to sync and replicate databases in 1997 or six or whatever was spectacular. And I managed sort of did that for lawyers,
[00:03:00] Rick Klau: [00:02:59] right?
Absolutely. I joined in the summer, I think of 99. And it’s hard to understand now, 20 plus years later, but the internet still felt like a bit of a distraction, right?
The majority of the time spent on computers. I had come from an environment where as a law student, I clerked at a law firm in the, would have been the summer of 95. I was the only non secretary at the law firm that had a computer.
Tom Wentworth: [00:03:30] Wow.
Rick Klau: [00:03:31] And that was not unusual at the time. Of course today everyone’s got an iPad and a phone and a laptop.
so when you think about in the late nineties, This work that was being done on computers that were relatively new to the lawyer’s desk, because in the past they’d be dictating to their secretary who would then be transcribing and then they’d edit those. it was [00:04:00] such a need to reconcile those differences.
And these were institutions that didn’t always have the best in class. Network infrastructure. it was not unusual for somebody in a coat closet to unplug something. They didn’t know what it was and suddenly the entire network had gone down. So, that ability to be resilient when things were, unexpected was pretty critical.
Tom Wentworth: [00:04:23] Yeah. So I worked at a company called interwoven. We acquired, I managed, I think, after you left. And I ended up working for the co-founder of iManage Rafiq, who I learned a tremendous amount about, and also. For feet bought me my first iPhone. I did something I guess. Good. And he bought me an iPhone, so I will never, ever, ever.
Forget you repeat. Thank you for, for that. The most interesting part of it I’ve managed, I think is so, I mean, so interwoven inquired, I manage autonomy, notorious autonomy, acquired interwoven, HP acquires autonomy, and I managed sort of survived through all of that. OpenText acquired some of the assets from [00:05:00] HP.
So it goes, I managed to interwoven autonomy to HP, to OpenText the founders, bought the product back. So they bought the product from HP and I manage is doing better than ever. So it’s kind of a weird Testament to this, this product now here, whatever it is, 20 years later is still dominating the law firm market.
Rick Klau: [00:05:21] That’s extraordinary. And also it reflects within that industry legal specifically. I mean, it’s, it’s an industry built around mitigating risk. Yeah. So once you have something, you know, that it works and it solves the problem and it solves it. Well, it’s not broken, so don’t fix it. Don’t try and give me the next widget.
That’s a little bit incrementally better. It is exactly what the market needed 20 years ago. And apparently is what it continues to need today is just amazing.
Tom Wentworth: [00:05:52] And you started off that. They’re probably still using some of your positioning now, 20, 20 plus years later. So, Oh,
Rick Klau: [00:05:59] aye. I, I, [00:06:00] I hope for their case, that’s not the case.
Okay, fair enough.
Tom Wentworth: [00:06:04] So after I manage, you went to social. So you and I had like a lot of pet, not, not exact in the same space, but super close to each other, social taxes, one that’s interesting. So social tax, for those who don’t know, and then feed burner to like classic web two a, I hate the word web too. Oh, by the way.
But I’m going to put them under this bucket just because it’s, I think it’s, it is what those tools were called back in the day. Social, Texas, when I find super interesting. I’d love to get your take on it. I’ve always thought wikis as a paradigm, we’re super underrated and like are still relevant today, but they never took off.
Like I feel writing is such an underappreciated form of communication and wikis are a perfect platform for that. Like what was that experience like and what happened?
Rick Klau: [00:06:48] Well, I, my first interaction, I went to work for Ross Mayfield at social text. and I met each other through blogging. And, and I had started blogging. [00:07:00]
shortly after I left I’m image, I had joined a company called interface software was providing CRM software and the legal market. And I was a kid illness for the American bar associations law practice management magazine. I was past deadline. Needed something to write about. And on an unrelated project, four separate times had run into John Rob and his blog.
Yeah. I kept Googling for something and I kept ending up at John rubs blog. I had no idea who John was. I had no idea what a blog was. This was, you know, middle of 2001. So I got interested and made that the focus of my column and started a blog so that I could say that I had done it for purposes of this article and then figured out I loved it.
I loved writing. I loved joining this, this community that was nascent [00:08:00] at the time. And one of the people who was saying some pretty interesting things about knowledge management about this emerging crop of tools that as you pointed out, became known as web 2.0. Was a guy named Ross in Palo Alto. I, by this point was living outside of Chicago and on occasion when I would travel through San Francisco, speaking at a conference or meeting with a customer, I would meet and have a beer with Ross, or when I was in New York, I would meet and have a beer with some of the people I met who were blogging from New York.
when I left interface, it was one of the first people I called. Cause I, I had finally decided. I think I might be done with legal technology. I, I think I want to move into something a little bit more horizontal and quickly figured out that Ross had a need. And this was an opportunity to be part of the company I’m answering your question.
Why didn’t wikis really take off? I don’t know. I kind of share your [00:09:00] sense that as a, as a medium for. Enabling the co-creation of information, a Wiki there’s no better
Tom Wentworth: [00:09:10] tool, no better.
Rick Klau: [00:09:12] but I do think that much, like I would see later when I ended up at Google running blogger, there is an absolute distinction between people who see themselves as content creators, and people who see themselves as content, consumers, and.
That, that distinction. I think there’s probably something to why, at least in a, in a corporate setting, there are people who feel like committing to content on a page as opposed to consuming it is potentially a step too far.
Tom Wentworth: [00:09:44] It’s, you know, there’s a few companies, HubSpot is maybe the best example of a company that even today, like their entire world is based on wikis.
They’ve been creating. And updating corporate wikis since they were founded in what, 2007 or so. And it becomes [00:10:00] like this. The great thing about it is if you adopt it, it becomes this great living record of things. And, you know, today Slack didn’t, you know, entirely solved the problem email. Clearly hasn’t entirely solved the problem, but do wikis, right, and hyperlink things and make them editable in real time.
It’s a really elegant solution to the problem of keeping people on the same page. I just. I’m like you, I wish more people would blend that would blur that line. I think more people should be content creators, not just consumers and wikis are so perfect for that. Yeah.
Rick Klau: [00:10:31] It, it, it does require, a level of abstraction for people who grew up with computers, thinking in terms of files and folders, the Wiki requires, a whole different way of thinking about where the information lives, how.
One page relates to another, I, it, it spoke to me once I started using it. I couldn’t imagine not using it. I think for the same reasons that today I live in air table [00:11:00] as a, as a, as a new document type that is independent from documents and spreadsheets. It is its own thing. but I think it requires an investment of.
Time and understanding that there are folks who are like, look, I just, I have work to do. I just want to get the work done.
Tom Wentworth: [00:11:20] Yeah. Except getting the work done and then communicating the work is where the challenge happens. And that’s where we use our grade. And then, so from social texts, you went to feed burner, right?
Another like, and feed burner. Describe what feed burner did. Cause that feed burger is one that I, I spend a lot of time in actually back in the day.
Rick Klau: [00:11:36] Well, it it’s, it’s another, employment opportunity that arose out of blogging. so I was a couple of years into maintaining my own blog. I had started a, political blog as well as I got excited about the Dean campaign, you know, two Oh three and realized that there was an increasing amount of consumption readership of my [00:12:00] blog that was happening.
In feed readers, right? RSS as a, as a file format, as a syndication format was one way for the blog to get delivered. If people came to the blogs, webpage URL on the web, I could, I could see that I could see how many people were reading pages on my site, but if they were reading an RSS that was completely opaque, there was no way to know.
How large, if at all the audience was on the other side of that file. And out of curiosity, I started trying to figure out if that was an answerable question. Well, it turns out not only was it answered, but the team building the answer or the tool that would answer that question was in my backyard in Chicago.
Wow. And feed burner as a product existed to tell you how large your audience was. With an RSS feed, how many people were reading it, how many people were subscribed to that [00:13:00] file, and for a podcast, which is just a RSS file that includes pointers to MP3 files. how many people were actually listening to the podcast, which in the very earliest days, hard to believe this was 15 years ago, but in the earliest days of podcasting, we had no way of quantifying that audience and.
Any, any medium that seeks to be commercial, you need to know those numbers. So feed burner became the platform for knowing what that audience, how big it was, and how they were engaging with that content. See,
Tom Wentworth: [00:13:39] I’m an open source, open standards kind of guy. And I feel like the world needs RSS again. Like I, I’m sort of tired of people telling me how to consume my content.
I think about RSS, I loved was I made that choice.
Rick Klau: [00:13:53] You know, I
Tom Wentworth: [00:13:53] could determine how I wanted that content given to me, not somebody, not a publisher quote unquote,
Rick Klau: [00:13:58] but [00:14:00] you know, I don’t
Tom Wentworth: [00:14:00] know if ours is ever coming back again, but those were glorious days.
Rick Klau: [00:14:04] It really was. I think if you look back at, there were standalone applications, like news Gator was one of the ones on windows.
but Google reader of course famously became this adored product for a small, but very passionate user base that even to this day, he started. Mentioning Google reader, the first words that somebody will reply reply to you with, or too soon, like it still hurts that that product, it doesn’t exist. I just got the
Tom Wentworth: [00:14:33] chills.
When you said, I literally just got the chills. When you said Google reader, of course you went to Google, any truth to the rumor that you killed Google reader.
Rick Klau: [00:14:43] I had nothing to do, with, with that unfortunate, time, it was kill FTP on bloggers. That one, I will own
Tom Wentworth: [00:14:53] that about that. We’ll get to that.
We’ll get to that a little bit, but no, Google reader is a perfect example. A product that looked the writing was [00:15:00] on the wall and it was a very niche, but engage audience. But the funny thing is usually when that happens, somebody, it gives somebody else a chance to step in and take that audience. But no one did no one made a better Google reader, whatever it is, 12 years now later.
Rick Klau: [00:15:14] Yeah. And you look at none of the building blocks have gone away. Right. RSS still exists. It’s still possible to pull an RSS feed and check for the diff and bring in whatever the new items are. feed burner hasn’t really changed from the day it got acquired, but the product still exists. Still works.
Yeah. still a bunch of podcasters who use it because it’s one of the few ways. Now I imagine for those who are using, either tools like anchor or other tools to distribute their podcasts, there are other ways of capturing audience data, but, it does feel like there remains an enormous opportunity, to lean into this as we’re.
Starting to recognize that some of the social platforms, may [00:16:00] not have our best interests at heart, and are not necessarily the best consumption experiences for, for really identifying the sources of news you want. Yeah.
Tom Wentworth: [00:16:10] So a couple of things there, my favorite, by the way, Speaking of sort of technology history, friend feed was my favorite way ever of consuming content.
And obviously Brett Taylor and the whole team went on to build Facebook and then over to Salesforce and amazing stuff. But friend feed would let you like the way that friends who had, let me build my stream and people could then subscribe my sheet. My stream was amazing. Like I love friend feed. That was the only thing that fought Google reader from my heart.
Rick Klau: [00:16:37] boy, I, I can imagine the fan club. I could introduce you into of some of my close friends who were huge friend feed, acolytes, and, and passionate users before the Facebook acquisition. yeah, you look back at that period of time. Really 2004 or five till about 2008 [00:17:00] was just this unbelievably fertile.
Time where if you were invested in curating your audience and curating the audiences, you wanted to be a part of? I, I, Twitter is a little bit of that for me today, but I think only because I’ve been on Twitter from nearly day one, That there are relationships I’ve formed with people who are the people I engage with.
I think for a lot of people, Twitter is much more unidirectional. It’s very much a, I use it as the equivalent of a feed reader. but which it is absolutely not anything like what the friend feed experience was or, or, or what the Google reader experience was go reader itself was pretty social. If you had a community of people whose shared items you were following, I have friends to this day who they, their [00:18:00] only point in common is me.
Through Google reader. They’ve never met. Wow. But still know of each other because the, the activity feed and the shared items on Google reader was where they met.
Tom Wentworth: [00:18:13] That’s really crazy. I, you know, I think the lesson in this for me is a lot of there’s so much opportunity you got back, like the history. We talked about Lotus notes, you know, earlier today, like there’s so much technology that’s happened over the years that.
That we could learn from, and that we think is innovative. And you really look at like what Lotus notes did back in 87 was crazy when you really take a step back. And I think we’ll look at some of what, what came and went in this sort of Dawn of web two. Oh. And say, these are things we could learn from, and somebody, somebody could take on the current state of social platforms with a little bit of, you know, a little bit, a good product management, I guess.
Rick Klau: [00:18:56] Yeah, so much of this comes down to timing. Yeah. [00:19:00] And, and if there was, naiveté built into some of these products early on, certainly that got exploited in years to come. It was never worrying about the positive possible negative impact. Yeah. Or ways in which these tools could get weaponized, that allowed us to just lean into the serendipity without putting any guardrails in to prevent what could have come.
I think it would have been extraordinarily difficult. Agreed in 2005, 2006, 2007, to argue that the right product decision for YouTube was to limit. User engagement because at some point nation States might try and weaponize that information that would have been laughed out of that
Tom Wentworth: [00:19:52] room. Laughed out of it.
The same with Twitter, you would have been Twitter is where you shared what you had for breakfast.
Rick Klau: [00:19:58] No doubt.
[00:20:00] Tom Wentworth: [00:19:59] Fascinating. So you ended up joining Google through FeedBurner right. So Google buys, buys feed burner. And I want to talk a little bit about that. So you worked on a bunch of products at Google that I think, you know, most people hadn’t experienced with you worked on.
Google plus a bit, this thing called YouTube, you worked on blogger. what did you start off at and which will be coming through? Feed burger. Wait, where did you go first?
Rick Klau: [00:20:22] Well, it’s it’s it’s funny. I started in business development. Yep. Google, at least at the time was pretty unusual. Among tech acquirers for interviewing every employee.
Yeah. At the acquired company before the acquisition closed. Wow. Because this was still at a time company was about 10, 12,000 people. Larry and Sergei were still reviewing every employee offer that went out the door. Wow. And they saw acquisitions as a potential vector for people who would not otherwise meet the hiring bar.
[00:21:00] Kind of sneaking in through the side door and then being in the company that much with, with the risk of them sort of polluting the talent pool that existed inside the company. So, so Google interviews, everyone in the company. Wow. At which, you know, we were maybe 25, 30 people at the time. And after the first round of interviews, They, and I both agreed well, that did not go well.
Like I, I liked the people I talked to the, what they talked about doing in their day-to-day job didn’t sound like anything that was interesting to me and their feedback to the Corp dev team was boy seems like a good guy, but he’s not right for this team. Hmm. So I ended up having an interview with a whole different set of folks and the, the terms of the deal were quite clear.
[00:22:00] Four founders to Costello, Steve Ella Koski, Eric , we’re all Chicago guys. And they had me very clear to Google that we are, we are okay. I’ve been to the possibility of an acquisition as long as everyone stays in Chicago. Wow. So Google said, all right, we got that works. We’re about to open a large engineering office.
We’ll just put you there. And a week before the deal closed is when I’m having my second round of interviews panicking. Perhaps I’m not going to get a job that this will be a great outcome. I was one of the first non founder employees at feed burner, and I’m still going to find that I somehow didn’t meet the Google, Google hiring bar.
And in the middle of one of those interviews, my future boss tells me, well, you’re, you’re coming to mountain view. And I said, Oh, I imagine I’ll be in mountain view a lot. He says, no, you’re, you’re coming to mountain view. This is where our team [00:23:00] is and we need you here. So I’m like, did, did he just tell me I have a job?
I think, I think he told me I just have a job, which is great. so sure. Okay. And the postscript there is that my grandfather had just passed away the day before this. So I had to change my schedule to fly to Florida, to his Memorial service. And my wife had flown with our three very young children to Florida, the day I was interviewing.
And, and then I’m spending the entire day, Friday flying to Florida from San Francisco. I don’t see my wife. Or have a chance to talk to her until we’re at the Memorial service where I have to eulogize my grandfather and then she has to drive one of the family to the airport. So we don’t actually get to talk until 72 hours after I’ve had my interview where I have to break the news [00:24:00] to her in front of my entire family at this celebratory dinner.
As we remember my grandfather’s life. That we’re about to move the family to California.
Tom Wentworth: [00:24:08] Wow.
Rick Klau: [00:24:10] So I end up in business development, ended up on a, a team called strategic partner development management, which is just a lot of words. That mean you, our job in, in that org was to acquire the content that Google couldn’t index on its own.
Tom Wentworth: [00:24:26] Hmm. Is there a lot of content, I guess there probably was. Well,
Rick Klau: [00:24:32] yeah. You think about everything right? From map tiles. Yeah. Satellite imagery. Yeah. To books, to feeds of products for sale and on and on and on. If it was proprietary content for which there needed to be at least a. Contract in place, if not some compensation for access to that content, it was, it was our team’s job to negotiate access to that [00:25:00] content, determine what, if any compensation there would be.
And then there was a whole other part of that team whose responsibility was to manage all of those partners around the world who are, who are providing feeding this content into one or more of the Google products. Nice that we’re in ingesting it. Yeah. And
Tom Wentworth: [00:25:21] that was, and how did you transition to becoming a product manager?
Cause I have this like, first of all, you’re you’re, you’re not a tech, like you were not, although you’re clearly a nerd. Like I am, you know, you have a JD, your undergrad was. Liberal arts something. Right. How do you, I’ve always figured product managers are at Google, are PhD, CS. Like how did that happen?
Rick Klau: [00:25:44] I’ve I’ve always, he’s referred to this as the immaculate promotion.
we’ll start there. you’re not far off, right? The, the bias, certainly back when I joined Google in 2007, by this point, you know, I’ve been at Google about a [00:26:00] year in 2008, the bias was all but written in stone. If you don’t have a computer science degree, you cannot be a product manager. There was, there was a little known separate category called a business product manager, ah, which allowed for non CS majors.
Who were seen more as almost an outward facing kind of like a GM yep. To the market. but weren’t expected to be a PM in, in the traditional sense, at least how Google thought of it. I knew from within a week of joining Google that. The absolute ideal job at Google was to be a product manager. Nice. And about a week later, I knew, and I would never be a product manager at Google because no matter how you add up international affairs and French plus a law degree, they do not.
You don’t [00:27:00] rearrange those letters to spell computer science. No.
Tom Wentworth: [00:27:03] And you were going to go back the school and, and spend four years learning how to write, you know, Java,
Rick Klau: [00:27:09] right. I, so I, I sorta took both of those things. As, as gospel. I just knew I would be on the fringe. I would get to work with some product managers I admired and I would be close to the center of gravity on campus, but that was never going to be a path that would be open to me.
So Google famously has this concept of 20% time, which, you know, now, 20 plus years into its existence, some people raise an eyebrow and suggest it’s, it’s not as real these days, but back then, I took liberal advantage of 20% time. And one of my first projects was. When I discovered that Google was sponsoring both the democratic convention in Denver in 2008 and the [00:28:00] Republican convention in st.
Paul, I raised a hand and was like, well, I, I worked on the Obama Senate campaign back in Oh four. I know a lot of his tech team as he’s now the nominee for the democratic party. I don’t know if y’all need help, but I’m here and. And, and that’s how I backed into being responsible for managing Google’s partnership in Denver for the democratic convention.
Wow. So it was a blast. It was extraordinary. I got to spend a week in Denver, attending a number of convention events, but also being responsible for a lot of Google’s product presence in Denver. And one of the women who was part of the Google. Team in Denver was a woman named Katie Stanton and Katie and I hit it off.
She’s, you know, we’re the same age. We each have three kids, all of whom are roughly the same age. [00:29:00] We shared a lot of political interest. And so as we’re in Denver with a bunch of, you know, early 20 somethings, finding ourselves sort of the, the folks with experience on the ground and just. Swapping notes.
She was a PM at Google. I was super interested in how she did that. She had previously been at Yahoo and so she becomes one of my very close friends at Google. Somebody I looked up to admired and about three months later, I got 9:00 AM on a weekday night. And she says, I think you need to be the PM on blogger.
I said, well, you know, from your lips to God’s ears, but I don’t think that’s how that works. There
Tom Wentworth: [00:29:44] probably wasn’t a better job for you given, you know, given, you know, you were a
Rick Klau: [00:29:49] blogger prior to blogger. Exactly. Right. So I said, well, what, why are you. Why are you suggesting that I would love to do that, but I don’t think that’s in the [00:30:00] cards.
He goes, well, I was just talking to Joe Kraus. Joe is the director in the apps, Google apps world. One of his products is blogger and he was just telling me he needs somebody with business sense who understands the blogging world. and I told him, you’re the guy that he should talk to. So. Okay, right.
Like, yeah, sign me up. she introduced me to Joe Joe and I meet, Joe and I hit it off. Joe has to go to Sergei Brin to get an exception made, to allow me to be a product manager. Wow. And I would love to tell you it’s because Sergei was so blown away by my product acumen. But I think the reality is that blogger was not a strategically vital product to Google at the time.
And the expectation was, yeah, what’s the worst that could happen. We find another product manager to work.
Tom Wentworth: [00:30:57] You actually blogged. Like I would [00:31:00] assume that your resume was look I’m one of the few people that actually has done this for some period of time.
Rick Klau: [00:31:06] I, I came at it from two sides, right on the one hand it’s like, I know this world I’ve been blogging at this point for eight years, I ran a campaign blog for a presidential campaign.
I, I worked in the industry on feed burner where I, I worked with all of the different players in the blogging ecosystem. So I know that world Colt, on the other hand, I went to every product manager I had crossed paths with at Google. The more non-traditional the background, the better. Yep. Right. But started with Katie.
And then there’s a guy named Adam Smith, who I’ve worked closely with who, who at the time was working on Google books and a couple of others and said, listen, I don’t know if there’s a process here, but if you could put down a few words on what you think I could or couldn’t bring to the job. [00:32:00] And then send that to Sergei, like that’ll help fill in the gaps.
So I think it de-risked, it enough that, and Joe is a pretty compelling individual. I don’t know if you ever crossed paths with Joe,
Tom Wentworth: [00:32:13] but now I know of him.
Rick Klau: [00:32:14] Yeah. It kind of a legend in Silicon Valley in his own. Right. He was the founder of excite when he was still an undergrad at Stanford had sold jot spot to Google, the year before feed burner sold to Google.
Jot spot itself, a social text competitor. So we were all of these paths that seemed to lead to this moment and Joe gets Sergei to, to make the exception and, and, and that’s how I, I moved into the product org, out of what had been more of a BD or sales role, and where I would be at Google for the next three, almost four years.
Tom Wentworth: [00:32:56] And. What were you just curious? What were you [00:33:00] blogging on prior to using blogger for, you know, back at the Obama campaign? What were you actually blogging on?
Rick Klau: [00:33:05] So my very first blog, I started on blogger. Yep. I got excited by, John Rob was one of the people I ended up talking to for that magazine column.
He was at the time running a radio user land. You remember Dave Weiner’s, company products from back in the day. And
Tom Wentworth: [00:33:25] inventor of RSS Dave Weiner, right?
Rick Klau: [00:33:27] That’s one in the same. There you go. I, I, I love learning new tools and this was an excuse to poke at, at a, a new product idea, a new product category that the whole notion of outlining as an organizing tool was interesting to me.
So I used radio user land for awhile. Then movable type came along. Of course I played with that ran my personal blog and moveable type for awhile. we had, I had moved one of the blogs I was responsible for. I think it might’ve been a campaign [00:34:00] blog, onto WordPress. And, and then moved my own blog to word press.
and ahead of taking the blogger job. I remember going through the effort of migrating back to where I started taking what had at that point was eight, almost nine years of content and exporting out of WordPress into blogger, which was not a popular direction to go. It was almost always the other way.
and having a bunch of friends reach out and effectively asking some version of everything. All right. Like why, why would you do that? And then a month later got to announce like, well, because I’m, I’m now responsible for some portion of the product, at, at blogger. And now this is as good an excuse as any to, to eat my own dog food.
Tom Wentworth: [00:34:46] Yeah, I was. So in that same time, I was in the enterprise web content management business, you know, managing big corporate websites.
Rick Klau: [00:34:53] Sure.
Tom Wentworth: [00:34:54] And I remember the first time I saw WordPress. I’m like, we’re in trouble. [00:35:00] Like WordPress didn’t into any of the things that we did as an enterprise. They didn’t do security and permissions and complex sites and navigation, but I’m like the user experience is so simple.
This is going to be a problem. And actually I went later to work with the founder of Drupal, a dress at Aquia. And it’s that era again, back to, you know, that was. WordPress and Drupal, just all of a sudden dominated how people publish content, especially WordPress. I mean, WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, you know, his vision is to have a hundred percent of the world’s sites run on WordPress.
And he’s not going to get entirely there because of things like Drupal, but, but that’s a pretty ambitious vision.
Rick Klau: [00:35:38] And it to Matt’s credit. It was the vision 15 years ago. And they’ve just been chipping away ever since it’s it’s an extraordinary run. What you just described. I mean, it’s textbook innovator’s dilemma.
Tom Wentworth: [00:35:53] Innovator’s dilemma clearly.
Rick Klau: [00:35:54] Exactly. It’s it’s it’s as if it’s a chapter out of Clayton Christiansen’s book, this is exactly [00:36:00] how it happens. You, you solve for the top of the market. And then suddenly watches the bottom of the market just keeps working its way up the stack and, and hollows out the value proposition of what the six and seven and eight figure, alternatives present.
Tom Wentworth: [00:36:15] See? Yes. And I think that’s going to happen right now. If you follow along with Wix and Squarespace and they’re going to do. To the enterprise side of that business,
Rick Klau: [00:36:24] you know, like there,
Tom Wentworth: [00:36:25] what you can do is Squarespace and Wix these days is for 1999 a month or whatever it is is absolutely stunning.
Rick Klau: [00:36:31] So
Tom Wentworth: [00:36:32] I feel like that’s, that’s happening now in the corporate side of it too.
All right. So being a product manager at Google, so I’m a marketer I run marketing at at recorded future. You were once a marketer back in the day. How did product managers at Google work with marketing?
Rick Klau: [00:36:49] Sometimes they didn’t. Okay. Right. I think one of the interesting things is product at Google is not monolithic.
There’s, there’s a pretty wide [00:37:00] spectrum and I should also disclaim for the last nine years. I was at Google ventures. I left the product org and man it’s evolved quite a bit since I left. But in my experience, you have some product managers whose real skill is thinking about. Being a partner with the engineering team on everything from architecture and scale and making hard choices about product design, product execution, et cetera.
I came at it from a very different point of view. I particularly, it was helped by the fact that I was working on blogger, which by its nature was a public product. Yeah. I, I looked at my job as being one of, I needed to be the most visible person at Google with respect to blocker. I needed to be find-able.
Huh? Right. So that meant my blog needed to be [00:38:00] easy to find and understand who I was and what my responsibility was. It is why I was so active on Twitter early days, because. People who use any blogging platform, forget about blogger for a minute are used to speaking their opinion out to the world and having it be heard and if necessary responded to.
And if I was going to sit behind this veil of, you know, my job is to, is to work inside the company on the product itself. I was doing the product and the user base a disservice. And look it also bears mentioning bloggers. Founder is F Williams. Yeah. If ever there was the canonical example of an individual who lived the values of the products that he created.
It’s F yeah. And I felt responsibility stepping into that [00:39:00] chair. To, to, to not try and be F, but to honor that notion of users need to know who the people are that are building their products. my first meeting a week after becoming product manager, I went and sat down with EV at the Twitter offices to say like, let me, let me catch you up on what bloggers up to these days.
But tell me if there’s anything I should know, from, from the guy that was there on day one, I, you know, I’m, I’m all ears. So, in, in regards to your question, the way I worked with marketing was to try and think about, there is a story that blogger is a part of, and it’s the story that every one of the users is writing every day.
Are there product decisions we need to be making in service of that story or worse, but equally important. Are there product decisions we’re making that are absolutely an opposition to that story? Yeah. [00:40:00] Right. So I’ll give you a, a great example. this was less a product decision, but it was absolutely a conversation I had with marketing.
We are a platform for communication. I say we I’m immediately going back to the days when I was the product manager on blogger and we had a user who happened to be the president of the Republic of Georgia. And when the Russians cut the trunk line into Georgia and there were actual boots on the ground invading Georgia, the president of George’s only.
Communication line out to the outside world was a satellite phone that allowed him to blog on blogger. Wow.
I remember taking that pretty seriously as an obligation that we had to make sure that [00:41:00] our product owed to its users to be available. But then when I got an opportunity to write an op-ed for CNN, I’ve a friend of mine worked in, in, at CNN actually was a, a feed burner user from back in the day. And he reached out and said, Hey, if there’s ever anything you want to talk about, like, I can connect you to the folks that run that part of cnn.com.
I made it about the importance of the UN declaration on human rights and that freedom of speech was itself. A human right. Of which online communications were an absolutely critical component. So if you had governments that were trying to stifle speech, wherever they might be, that was itself in opposition to the UN declaration of human rights.
And [00:42:00] that was not a me going rogue. That was me working with marketing. To say, what is the, what’s the story we’re trying to tell blog her. And of course, the challenge at a company as large as Google is it’s a lot of work to ensure that those stories are themselves in concert with each other. Yeah. Cause you can imagine I give, if I’m all, but pointing a finger at a nation state, it’s one thing to do that as a guy running a tiny little.
Product. It’s another thing, if it’s Google saying that, but feeling that it was an important part of bloggers identity, that we had a point of view and that we communicated it. I think there’s two,
Tom Wentworth: [00:42:45] two things. I mean, first of all, you’re doing this as a, again, a product manager, right? So your taking the approach that typically a CEO would take, right.
A CEO is, is thinking about. You’re not thinking about managing [00:43:00] backlog and what’s going to be in what sprint and how many engineers are on your project. You’re thinking about how we position, you know, you’re thinking about the strategic outcomes your product needs to deliver for users. It’s just such a different way of thinking about it.
Do you think that that’s how most product managers should operate? Like should product managers be worried about marketing in that way?
Rick Klau: [00:43:24] I mean, I have a bias. I’d like to think that, that my approach was certainly not the only way to go, but I think for that product or that time, it was absolutely the right way to go.
Yeah. And you know, you’ll often hear people talk about product managers that as the CEO of their product, and I’ve always found that to be a bit of a misnomer because. A lot of product organizations are not set up that way. Yeah. They are set up to be more internally focused or more, more outcome oriented where, you know, the job is to ship the next product.
The [00:44:00] job is to hit some set of metrics. I just didn’t know how to do the job if I wasn’t operating horizontally across those components. And, you know, I made a joking reference to killing FTP. earlier, that was an example of me thinking about it. Not from the what’s the next sprint going to be. What’s the bug burndown rate.
What’s the, you know, what technical debt have we incurred that we need to be down? It was me hearing the engineers. Tell me this is a drag on everything we do. Yeah. If we don’t stop supporting this feature that almost no one uses. We cannot deliver on the things that the company expects of us that we think we’re capable of doing.
And so I had to make the decision, okay, we’re going to kill this thing. I will be the bad guy. [00:45:00] I will communicate not a decision has been made, not use the passive voice, make it unclear exactly where it’s coming from or who’s responsible for it. I will go on Twitter. I will answer emails. I will be the one in the forums owning the decision, making it clear that I made it, and then working to at least earn back some of the trust or, or try and lean into the opportunity to earn back that trust, to show the users why we were doing it and why it was critical for the future of the product to do it.
Ultimately candidly and somewhat selfishly the, the reason for doing that is so the engineers would trust me. Cause if, if, if I’m supposed to be the product manager and the engineers don’t trust me, he never listens. We tell them about why these things are terrible or why we shouldn’t do them. No, he, he actually heard us [00:46:00] and went to bat and took the arrows in the back.
Never pointed a finger, never complained, Oh, this is something that so-and-so is making me do. that earned a tremendous amount of credibility with an engineering team that needed to believe that I could and would go to bat for them when needed
Tom Wentworth: [00:46:22] and how much negative feedback, how many, how many tweets and emails where you’re applying to.
Oh, hundreds, thousands,
Rick Klau: [00:46:31] definitely thousands. By the time it was all said and done. we had a Hitler video made of us, so, you know, popular downfall, parody videos was actually extraordinarily well done. very funny. We played it at a team meeting, and gave us all a good laugh. it. It was an interesting lesson early in my product time that stuck with me, which is you don’t ever choose to do something because [00:47:00] it will piss off your users.
That’s like, you’re, you’re a sadist. If you do that. But if you know enough about your users, you know enough about your product, you can anticipate the things that may in fact provoke. Sure. That strong reaction. Yeah. And those are some of the best opportunities to earn those users for life. This is
Tom Wentworth: [00:47:25] what Apple, Apple is masters at this, you know, they released a whole bunch of new hardware today and people are angry because the new Mac book pro only has four, you know, two Thunderbolt, ports, not four, like the old one had, but Apple sees that as an opportunity to explain the decision and now, you know, like, but there is a benefit to doing this and.
Apple makes those sort of tough decisions. Mercilessly every time they release something
Rick Klau: [00:47:53] it, and it’s, it shows both a confidence in the value of what you are presenting, [00:48:00] and, and a, a conviction that what you are doing, you were doing for the right reasons, even if. The broader audience may not either appreciate all of those factors.
Now I have, I have been a sometimes grudging admirer of Apple. I am an Android phone user. I am waiting for my new , laptop to show up. So I’m pretty excited. It seems like it’s going to be a great step up. And I, I think one of the challenges I’ve always had with them is they don’t seem to talk to their users much.
Right. And this is the other side of the equation that I always took very seriously.
Tom Wentworth: [00:48:40] So that is an excellent point. And so they, they product marketers at Apple will go out with YouTube journalists and they’ll do highly controlled. Like you can go watch it on YouTube and all the famous tech reviewers, Apple sends out product marketers with very, you know, scripted.
And even the execs do this. [00:49:00] But it’s all it’s controlled by the messages, tightly controlled. They control who they deliver the message to in the form of these journalists. There are no Apple execs out there doing what you did on social media. And I think you’re right, like that is a, it’s something I admire about people who’ve done what you did now.
Apple maybe has earned the right to be the one company that can get away with doing it that way. But it is annoying because, you know, they’re, you know, they know the answers to those tough questions and they just. Want to pretend like the problem doesn’t exist.
Rick Klau: [00:49:31] and, and look, things worked out really well for Apple.
So yeah, as far be it for me to suggest that the, the approach is either wrong or, or, or inappropriate. I just know from my point of view, the way I wanted the, the PMI wanted to be the product I wanted to represent was one where the users felt a sense of ownership. To the end result, [00:50:00] one of them to feel as if they were part of what we were building, not waiting on the sidelines to be handed something.
Yeah. And of course, when we decided to kill bloggers first feature, you had a, a tiny minority of users, but still a very passionate vocal group for whom it felt like we were just taking something away. Whether it was because we were being vindictive or we were lazy, or we just didn’t know how the technology worked, that, you know, they could, they could fill the emptiness if we didn’t engage with all the worst possible explanations.
Instead, our answer was to say, no, no, we’re, I’m going to explain to you why we’re doing this. We actually, FTP is such a terrible, terrible protocol. That if an FTP socket opens and the [00:51:00] connection doesn’t successfully complete, that socket will stay open and it’ll try again. And the number of ESPs that Google data centers brought to their knees,
Tom Wentworth: [00:51:10] it doesn’t say it’s a, it’s a nice, fancy, it’s a nice way to DDoSs.
Rick Klau: [00:51:14] Absolutely. Right. And so we had ISP that would add Google data centers to it’s block list. Because they had one user who didn’t know what was going on and were just FTP in their blog, up to the ISP and, and bringing their servers to its knees. So, long story short, I just, I felt that transparent communication with listening was, was the only way I knew how to manage through what was a really hard message for this user based here.
Now it was 50,000 users. But 50,000 out of millions. Yeah. So I needed the 50,000 to know that we weren’t just trying to kick them to the curb, but that we [00:52:00] were, we were emphatic. This was in fact the commitment we were making. This was not an invitation to tell us whether they wanted us to kill FTP or not.
Tom Wentworth: [00:52:09] Well, I think time is proven you’re right. To kill FTP or lots of reasons. So you should have, you should be very proud of that decision. Look, I’ll let you go. But my takeaway, and this has been fantastic. And I, I do these podcasts. One to get inspired. I figure if I’m inspired, hopefully others will be inspired as well and to learn things.
And what I’ve learned, and I think is, is a takeaway for all of us is marketer or product manager, whatever, being the face of your product and not the CEO per se, because you’re not managing the P and L necessarily, or maybe you are. But treating your product with the same level of ownership and pride in the case of you building a community like these are things we all product, man, product marketers, product managers, shouldn’t be inward facing.
I think we should be more, much more outward facing because that’s where the magic happens in too much. I [00:53:00] think we, we obsess over the pitch deck, the marketing materials, the things that don’t necessarily
Rick Klau: [00:53:08] Dillard
Tom Wentworth: [00:53:08] directly get in front of customers. I think that’s a mistake.
Rick Klau: [00:53:11] Yeah, I, the number of ways in which, it matters the degree to which you project out into the world, what your values are, what’s important to you.
I’ll tell you about one of my favorite, stories back to my time on blogger. One of the very first decisions I made, I met F. And I, I had the, the engineering team pull a list of the most active blogs, most read blogs by geography, by subject, and then every night for a number of weeks, I would send a handful of emails to each of the people who were, who were on that list.
[00:54:00] Just introducing myself on the product manager, responsible for blogger. Here’s how to reach me. Here’s my cell phone. Here’s my email address. I would love to know what your experience on the product has been. If you’ve got a problem you want fixed, tell me what it is. There’s something you love. Tell me that about three years ago, this is now 10 years after I’d been the product manager on blogger.
I got a LinkedIn request from a guy whose name I didn’t recognize. And he was a product manager at Expedia. He had been a high school student in Richmond, Virginia running a tech blog that had ridiculous engagement. And he got an email from me, introducing myself as the product manager and blogger. And as he would later explain, he’s like, I’d never heard the words, product manager.
But after five minutes of Googling realized, that’s the job I [00:55:00] wanted. Yeah. So I went to college to become a product manager because I got an email from you when I was a sophomore in high school. And I, I think back on that, and the number of times, little gestures can have enormous ripple effects, years and years later, we’ll never know what all those ripples are.
This just for me, that was a wonderful, full circle moment. Yeah. Where, yeah, if I’d been like him, I didn’t know what a product manager was pretty much until I got to Google and then it was like, yeah, I definitely want that. And I’ll never get it. I, if I had been entirely internally focused, like he may have found his way to that eventual outcome regardless.
but it just felt like that was the right way to be true to both the product and to who we wanted to be as a product team.
Tom Wentworth: [00:55:57] Yeah. I [00:56:00] mean, I think opportunities, I’m trying to think in my own life, how could I do that? And I guess, you know, maybe this podcast will help somebody someday want to be a marketer, but.
Man you’ve had quite the career and I sorta just feel I’m ending this feeling a little bit bummed out and also inspired at the same time. I’m like I made some, I could, I might’ve thought a couple of different choices. Maybe I could’ve been a little bit more where you are, but, thank you so much for doing this with me today.
It’s been great. You know, I think our,
Rick Klau: [00:56:26] you know,
Tom Wentworth: [00:56:26] it’s the commonalities that we’ve had a little bit, it’s our obvious love for technology, but you know, you’ve, Obviously accomplished friends, man, I didn’t even ask you, but OKR is which I’m not going to. I’ll, I’ll put a link in my, in my you’re, obviously you’ve done a lot of work there too, but this has been tremendous.
I could spend literally hours slash days doing this with you, but Rick, thank you so much for your time.
Rick Klau: [00:56:47] Tom, what a pleasure. It’s a amazing how, how parallel our paths have been for as long as they’ve been. I’m thrilled. They finally intersect
Tom Wentworth: [00:56:55] except for the part where I was able to reach millions of users and work [00:57:00] at Google are in that.
They’ve been exactly the same.
Rick Klau: [00:57:03] Thanks Rick. Thank you, Tom.
One response to “Rick Klau on the Immaculate Promotion + being a Product Manager at Google”
Excellent interview Tom. I first met Rick at IDG when he was evangelizing FeedBurner. Brilliant guy