Client Success · Decentriq
Turning deep technology innovation into a real product
Decentriq is a leading deep tech start-up in the confidential computing space. They are among the few who turned strong innovation into a monetizable product. Their tech allows them to share some of the world’s most sensitive data in a safe way.
Decentriq has worked with Product Matters since 2020. Today, leading organizations around the world are using Decentriq to collaborate on data. The company has won numerous prestigious product awards s.a. Microsoft’s Swiss Startup of the year award. Most importantly, Decentriq is beginning to see real traction of their product in the market.
“Product Matters has crucially influenced how we live product at Decentriq. They support our team with leadership coaching and role-specific mentoring.”
Born in Zurich, David is a mechanical engineer by training and obtained in 2015 a PhD degree from ETH Zurich in electrical engineering. From his time at the big-data company Teralytics, he has several years of experience in working with highly sensitive data and leading teams of senior data scientists and software engineers. Since 2019, David has been with Decentriq where he is Chief Product Officer, helping organizations collaborate on their most sensitive data by leveraging privacy technologies.
David, tell us about your personal journey as CPO in Decentriq!
When I joined the founders Max and Stefan, Decentriq in its current form was only a few weeks old. As a deep tech startup, they were looking for a person with technical background but also some business experience to bridge the gap between the two areas. With time, this evolved into my current product role. Having a somewhat vague problem statement – data collaboration doesn’t happen because of lack of trust between organisations – as well as a potential solution to it – confidential computing technology – was a very exciting challenge.
Before I started, I had been leading data science and engineering teams as well as working with customers, but had very little proper product experience. I had to pick this up step-by-step by doing, applying first-principles thinking and of course speaking with experienced product people like Product Matters. It was and is an exciting journey!
What was the hardest part of it?
In our case, the hardest part was to transition from the vague problem we wanted to solve to a very specific and clear value proposition for a clear customer profile. At first glance, there are endless possibilities how organisations could create value from data collaboration and it’s hard to evaluate for industry outsiders if these are valuable enough to warrant the associated effort/costs. It required a lot of talking to potential customers, a lot of trial-and-error and a lot of sweat and tears.
A second worthwhile contender was what I call “bootstrapping the trust”. Since we ask enterprises to put their most sensitive data into our platform, we had to build a reputation first. As a newly founded startup you can’t go to an international bank and ask them to input their customer identifying data into your platform. We had to start with (many) proof of concept projects on test data, then continue with not-so-sensitive data until we finally had the brand and the product to go after the most sensitive datasets. Startup-enterprise matchmaking programs like the Swiss Kickstart were instrumental in setting up the very first projects. However, beware that in many cases you will work with innovation departments and not the business lines which really understand the business problem.
What would you recommend to other emerging product leaders and CEOs in deep tech environments?
Always focus on the precise value you provide to your customer, everything else is secondary. We sometimes thought “give them this great tool for data collaboration, and they surely will find the right use-case”. This never worked out. We had to be able to explain very clearly how they get a positive return on investment. As a corollary to this point, always focus your market-facing communication on the value and never on the technology. In deep tech, you’re always excited about the fancy technology you use, but besides the innovation department nobody cares.
As a product leader, your team is your biggest leverage, so invest in it. Look for people who share the product vision. Build a setup where you can get out of the critical path of the daily operations so that you can pick up the most important topics and support where needed. Always apply and trust your first-principles thinking. People easily get excited and make wild claims or “experts” are incentivized to make radical statements. Verify your understanding, but after that, when something doesn’t make sense on a high level, it usually isn’t legit.
If you are in a new market, care little about competition, but obsess about your customers and users. Your competitors won’t know either. They will build surprisingly many features which the market doesn’t ask for. Instead, listen to your users and solve the pain points they have when using your product. Also listen to what happens on the sales front, but only consider this input strongly if the customer is willing to put money/effort behind their wishes: For example if you lose a deal to a competitor because of a specific feature, or if the customer agrees to buying your product under the condition of a feature being present. It really paid off to have the
customer success people within the product team to get the most direct feedback possible.
What was it like to work with Product Matters?
While one can (and should) read about product management basics, the practical implementation always needs adaptation to the situation at hand. Being able to discuss these challenges with experienced product people was immensely helpful, both to me and my team. Of course one can’t expect solutions for market-specific product challenges but there are many cases where leveraging the coaches’ many years of experience is very useful. Examples include questions around product strategy, hiring, product team processes and more. Also simply explaining an issue to your coach who asks the difficult but important questions really helps zooming out to the big picture. There are no one-size-fits-all answers but a joint development of what to do next. The good news is that this collaboration was always very enjoyable!