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Building a Pre-IPO Company Over 10 Years: Centrify CEO Tom Kemp (Part 5)

Posted on Friday, Apr 11th 2014

Sramana: You have obviously been in business for a while and have built a company based on multiple products. What is the process to figure out product positioning?

Tom Kemp: You obviously have to listen to your customers. Often, customers have their heads down and while you may make them happier, they are not thinking strategically. You want to look at what competition is doing and figure out if there are reasons you are losing deals from a technology perspective. The other thing is that you have to know where the industry is going. Try to pass the puck where the player is going to be as opposed to where the player is at right now.

Finally, you need to be thinking about the big picture. I am very much involved in the road map, but I am not the person rolling up their sleeves reading customer notes and cases. I do believe that if we lose a deal due to a lack of features, the sales guys will tell us that. In the end, a product roadmap needs to be both tactical as well as strategic. It is an art how you balance it. You don’t want to get too far out there and ignore your customers. You also don’t want to do a bunch of niche features to please your customers and end up missing the big wave as a result. It is definitely an art and you need good product managers to sort that out.

Sramana: In your case with Centrify, what signals did you get from the market after you released your first product? Where were the other opportunities to build a new product?

Tom Kemp: It turned out that for the first three or four years, people were using us for audit and compliance reasons. We then started to look at other audit and compliance cases we could address and our next two products were released towards that market. In the end, we packaged it up in a suite to address multiple audit items. That involved us listening to our customers and understanding why they bought from us.

What is interesting is that our customers had their heads down and they were not talking to us about cloud and mobile. Three years ago, we decided to make a big bet on building out our cloud and mobile platform. That was really because we knew the industry was going there. It was not because our current customers were demanding that we do more in that area. We added another complimentary product line to focus on cloud and mobile. We made that decision based on observation, not on customer feedback. That is a great example of building a roadmap that meets customer demands as well as forecasting the industry direction. You have to listen to your customers as well as avoid getting blindsided by what your customers are saying.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Building a Pre-IPO Company Over 10 Years: Centrify CEO Tom Kemp
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