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The Path to Chief Product Officer

by Shelley Perry

On Friday September 7th , I attended the Women in Product conference for the first time. 

As with most overbooked executives, I am selective about the conferences that I attend, and don’t have the opportunity to engage as much while I attend the conference. I’m usually squeezing in sales calls and meetings in between my talks.

This conference was different. I made a choice to be present and engaged because it was a conference that really spoke to my passion – helping women become better executives and product leaders.  My goal for the conference was to listen for clues. I wanted to learn how I could help more women become Chief Product Officers in Insight’s portfolio companies. I believe that teams made up of diverse leaders drive better performance and growth.    

My role at Insight Venture Partners is to advise portfolio CEO’s and leaders on growth strategies. I have a particular passion for those strategies that deal with product-led growth – achieving business success through product engagement.  With many of our portfolio companies, I am also front and center on the hiring and interviewing of C-suite roles, trying to find the perfect fit for that particular company.  I often hear from our leaders “it would be great to find a rock star female for open C-Level roles”.

Filling C-levels roles is a difficult task at best. Hiring any executive is not a one-size fits all process. Every growth stage company has its own set of unique characteristics and the evolution of a leadership team over the company’s life requires matching company capability needs with team dynamics and company culture. I have to deeply understand how a prospective candidate will play into the dynamics of that particular company, and what skills they bring to helping the company scale. It’s like solving a puzzle and looking for the exact piece – this could be an entire blog post on its own, but suffice to say, this situation doesn’t yield a very large pool of candidates for every company.

The backdrop to recruiting for any Chief Product Officer position is that it’s a new role for executive teams while being central to company growth. Product Management is an emerging field and this dynamic further reduces the set of available talent.  Given this, the CPO position represents an excellent opportunity for women product leaders to step into the gap.

Today, the CPO role for growth stage companies is an even playing field, a limited number of  male and female candidate. It’s a strong opportunity to add diversity to the C-suite. There are many talented women in product positions; increasing demand for CPOs makes this an ideal C-level position for emerging female leaders. The position is strategic, data driven, people oriented and central to driving growth, unlocking the potential of dev teams, enabling sales & marketing teams, and is a key aspect of the overall customer experience.

Insight has been working with Melissa Perri, CEO of Produx Labs and Product Institute, to create an innovative new program to help develop Chief Product Officers for growth stage companies. This program is for Senior Product Leaders who are experienced, but perhaps have a  few developmental areas  needed to be a C-level executive. Product leaders who join the program will “learn while doing” under Produx Labs and Insight’s guidance and leadership, working on real life challenges, complemented by targeted training to get them to the C-suite level of capability.

While the program is open to any gender, I’m personally excited by the prospect of new opportunities to mentor female leaders in this emergent field.

Circling back: the Women in Product event was a fantastic conference. I hope to help participate in the event going forward, to shape the content and contribute to its future success. There are times in the investment world, that Operators who specialize in Product Growth are on an island on their own.  At the event, not only did I leave with ideas about how to improve the assessment and development plans that will help more women become the next generation of CPOs for growth stage companies; I found a new community of investment partners that specialize in Product. It’s great to be part of a new tribe.

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Shelley Perry

Venture Partner

Shelley Perry is a Venture Partner at Insight and joined the firm in 2016.  Shelley is a technology evangelist, innovator, product strategist, and C-level advisor with over 20 years of experience growing IaaS and SaaS organizations, across both start-up and public companies. Shelley has a…

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