Anchor List: Tatyana Mamut, Former Head of Product at Nextdoor

The Anchor List recognizes extraordinary operators in the startup ecosystem. Learn more at anchorlist.com.

We’re excited to launch our highlight series of Anchor List honorees! The first operator we’d love to shine a light on is Dr. Tatyana Mamut, currently the SVP of New Products at Pendo.io. Tatyana was selected for Anchor List 2020 in the product management category for her work as Head of Product at Nextdoor.

“The best product leaders are customer-obsessed.” -Dr. Tatyana Mamut

Tatyana has taken a fascinating path to become the product leader she is today. She originally started her professional journey by earning a PhD in anthropology, which still greatly informs her approach to building products. After her time in academia, Tatyana took on a role as a product leader at Salesforce, where she led the Lightning Experience redesign. She became Nextdoor’s global lead on all products, design, and insights in April 2019. For those unfamiliar with the company, Nextdoor is the neighborhood hub, bringing together neighbors and local businesses to form local exchange economies based on kindness and trust in over 250,000 neighborhoods worldwide.

Tatyana’s experience in product has highlighted the importance of customer obsession: to create a great product, one should employ social science skills and data to prioritize the customer above all else. 

The Fundamentals of Product 

At its core, product leadership, design, and management match customer needs with engineering activity to understand what customers will want and then build it correctly. 

As technology has become increasingly commoditized, technical questions are no longer the hard questions. According to Tatyana, Silicon Valley’s hardest questions revolve around people, such as:

  1. What do customers want, especially the things they want but don’t know about yet? 

  2. How do we develop a thriving internal company culture to deliver what customers want as quickly as possible?

Tatyana’s success in product leadership stems from her ability to see the world through customers’ mental models and perspectives. From the customers’ perspective, you can build a deep intuition that spots new product opportunities and assesses them objectively. 

Jeff Bezos put this perspective best when he said, “The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer” and “Obsess about customers, not competitors.” 

When working in product, this latter tradeoff is key. To make an exceptional product, Tatyana highlights the importance of being customer-obsessed instead of product-obsessed or politics-obsessed: “Instead of focusing on your next promotion or pleasing your CEO, you should focus on building the right product for the customer.” 

If this style of customer-obsession slows your career in the short term, Tatyana recommends you think bigger, noting how its value compounds exponentially over time. Over 10 months, being customer-obsessed may cost you a promotion, but over 10 years, it will accelerate your skills in building satisfying products. 

The Value of On-the-Ground Social Science

Tatyana highly recommends anyone considering product work to study the social sciences. Product work requires an understanding of society, culture, and human nature, fields which the social sciences understand best. Tatyana has found that her PhD in anthropology to be a driving force behind her success.

Working in product requires getting your hands dirty. Even as the global Head of Product, Tatyana personally conducted research interviews in tandem with Nextdoor’s insights team. These are not sales meetings, nor are they executive meet-and-greets; instead, they were opportunities for her to temporarily join the research team to grasp a deeper understanding of Nextdoor’s customer mindsets and needs.

Procter & Gamble flourished in part by sending brand managers (who are effectively PMs) to interact with their front-line customers. Following this lineage, before COVID lockdowns, Tatyana spent 2 days of every month in the homes and neighborhoods of Nextdoor’s members and local business owners. Product departments at tech companies should send their PMs into the field, because it’s only by understanding our customers that we can build products to satisfy their needs. 

The Power of Being Customer-Obsessed

Tatyana’s single biggest success in her time as a product leader is a testament to the power of being customer-obsessed. 

In early 2020, in response to early COVID lockdowns, she saw engagement spikes on Nextdoor as people posted to ask if elderly neighbors needed help. Her team formed two product hypotheses: 

  • One group wanted a “Help Map” to connect helpers with those in need.

  • Others thought Nextdoor should publicly launch our then-beta “Groups” project.

Customer-derived data was the key. Tatyana’s insights team gathered input from Nextdoor members and ran UserTesting tests. They learned that the Map engages people who want to help while those who need help prefer Groups. 

Based on this understanding, she decided to launch both features simultaneously, on March 19th, 2020. Within days, hundreds of thousands of neighbors were offering help on the map and thousands of groups emerged to assist their local seniors with everything from grocery runs to setting up Zoom so they could talk with their grandkids. 

The thriving engagement continues to this day, and even inspired Walmart to create special shopping help groups, which launched on Nextdoor in April 2020.

Different customer segments wanted different features, so Tatyana’s customer-obsession led Nextdoor to build both.