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Cadman Chui

Cadman Chui

Cadman Chui

Serial Entrepreneur, Marketing Leader

Cadman is a serial entrepreneur always engaging the market with new ideas. He was part of the core team that drove the success of PlateSpin as just one of his career achievements. Cadman is best known for his product management and product marketing prowess as well as his ability to build strong teams that commit to the success of whatever project they undertake.

InsideSpin asked Cadman the following questions about his views on entrepreneurs seeking excellence:

What traits do you most value in a business leader? Do you find these traits often, or are they rarely found?

It is extremely difficult to find a complete set of leadership traits in the right combination in any one person, especially for the role of CEO. Most leaders have a set of characteristics unique to them and the match isn’t perfect between them and the organization. However in start-ups, the organization over time typically moulds itself to suit the leader’s strengths (and weaknesses) and a culture begins to form. There are a set of common traits that I do find work well in my experience:

You started at PlateSpin as VP of Product Management as well as Marketing, was there a transition from a technology-focused Product Management strategy (building the product) to a market-focused one?

I would say that there often needs to be an equal weighting at the start between product management and product marketing, at least from a philosophical perspective. This is mostly because the founders are more likely to be product management oriented (or at least technically oriented). In the case of PlateSpin, I was also the guy in charge of marketing at the time so that helped create the blend that was needed for our early success.

Can you talk generally about how you think growing technology companies should approach this issue?

Growing technology companies can usually achieve more efficient cost of sales by putting appropriate investments in marketing, rather than investing in cold-calling to bring in leads and prospects. In fact my philosophy is that if marketing is doing its job effectively, sales should never have to cold call at all to uncover opportunities. This, of course depends on the industry and the market, but I find that it is usually easier and cheaper to get prospects pounding at your door, than to have to go out and get them through brute-force methods like cold-calling. This was true of PlateSpin during its first three or four years as the market emerged, plenty of leads to work on as a result of successful demand generation campaigns.

From a product management perspective, I am an advocate of always asking: “If we build it, will they come?” – If product management consistently asks itself this simple question, it will lead to analysis and research that will lead to a higher probability of success when the product is launched. That, of course, requires input directly from the market, in the form of customer, prospect feedback in addition to ‘gut’ feel and intuition that most founders would say they have.

Organizationally, I believe Product Management should reside neither in Marketing, or Development. If a product manager falls under marketing, they end up being biased into doing a lot of communications style work. If a product manager falls under development, many times they end up project managing release schedules at too much of a tactical level.

Which operational function(s) do you think startup companies need to focus on in their first year of operation (and why)?

In that order, especially in the software industry. In a startup often the CEO or founders act as product managers, whether they’re called that or not. Have great product management and you’ll save a lot of money building the right thing with fewer iterations.

I put marketing next in line because it is better to have an ok product with strong marketing, than a wicked product with weak marketing (just look at aspects of Microsoft's success). Have enough of a marketing machine, position correctly, and it will make all the difference in the world. I would even put marketing ahead of sales because it’s just cheaper to get customers to come to you than cold-calling people one-by-one. However it does depend on the industry. A partner and I started a company called when blogs were all the rage. It was an ad serving network, no different from any other ad serving networks in existence. We didn’t differentiate through technology, we differentiated through marketing. All we did was position it as a “blog advertising network” and catered specifically towards the niche market of blogs. We built a good profitable business and sold it to a U.S. based firm a year later. So you can succeed with a mediocre product with strong marketing. But if you have BOTH a superior product *and* strong marketing... nothing can stop you.

What's the biggest reason why startup technology companies fail to achieve their goals?

I would say most startup technologies fail to achieve their goals because they wait too long to get a product out to market. I’ve seen too many companies try to “get it perfect” and burn through all their cash building the wrong product. Instead, I would employ an iterative product approach to developing product, investing just the right amount to get a usable product out there, but not so much that you paint yourself into a corner.

Who have been some of the mentors in your career that helped define your traits of excellence? What characteristics did you adopt of theirs? How important was it to have a proper mentor and would you recommend someone starting out formalize that relationship with someone?

I don’t believe that a formal mentor is necessary. I’ve learned a few things over the years just by observing the leaders around me. I worked for a guy named Bill at DataMirror and Cybermation. He had a good management approach of trusting my judgement early in my career. I used his hands-off leadership style and his “hire people that are better than you” approach and used that experience to build an all-star marketing team at PlateSpin.

I learned a few things observing at PlateSpin as well. The iterative product approach used by Stephen Pollack was something that I always believed in and I actually got to put that approach into practice. I’m still trying to emulate Stephen’s “Xen”-like approach to everything (o.k. pun intended this time).