Skip to ContentReforge logo

Top Product and Growth Insights From Reforge's EIRs and OIR's

World class operators tend to move from one role to the next. Unless you are one of the lucky few to work directly with them, the knowledge and insights remains trapped in their heads. We view it as part of the Reforge mission to unlock these earned insights, and pass them to the next generation.

This was part of the reason we created our EIR (Executive In Residence) and OIR (Operator In Residence) program, a rotational part-time program for experienced operators transitioning companies, over a year ago. EIRs and OIR's lead Reforge Programs, sharing their earned insights and giving mid-career professionals an opportunity to learn from the best.

EIRs get the time and space to choose their next endeavor, synthesize their insights, build their personal brand, develop relationships with peers, and a lot more.

We are sad but excited to have to say goodbye and thank you to a set of EIRs - Elena Verna, Bangaly Kaba, Crystal Widjaja, Dor Levi, and OIR's - Anne Lewandowski, Britt Jamison, and Zainab Ghadiyali. Sad, because we've enjoyed spending so much time with them. Excited, because they've found their next big endeavor and can't wait to see it come to life.

The impact of their contributions on Reforge members, the functions of product and growth, and the broader ecosystem will be felt for a long time.

Become A Reforge EIR (Executive In Residence)

What this also means is that we are accepting applications for our next set of EIRs. The EIR program is a 6 or 12 month, 2 to 3 days per week role for experienced Product, Growth and Engineering leaders who are at a transition point in their career.

During your time as a EIR, you will lead 1-2 Reforge programs and will have the opportunity to help define and influence the future of your discipline. EIRs receive a salary, health insurance, and other benefits.

More importantly, as a Reforge EIR you will get:

  1. Time To Explore - Have the mental space and hours necessary to explore and fully research the companies, people, and opportunities for your next role.
  2. A Platform To Build Your Professional Brand - Leverage our platform and audience to build your personal brand.
  3. A Network To Leverage - Gain a network of top-tier leaders and practitioners to leverage and amplify your next endeavor.
  4. Frontier Knowledge - Become an expert on multiple high-demand frontiers and important topics in Product Growth.
  5. An Inside View - Get an inside view of many different companies, products, and services.

Top Insights From Our EIR's

For now, we wanted to take a moment to say thank you and recognize Elena Verna, Bangaly Kaba, Crystal Widjaja, and Dor Levi. We've put together some our favorite insights from this group below.

If you are a Reforge Member or just a reader of our blog and have been helped by one of their insights, take a moment with us to thank them on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Elena Verna

Previously: Prior to becoming a Reforge EIR, Elena spent 7.5 years at SurveyMonkey growing into the SVP Growth role and helping the company scale. She has also spent time at helping companies like Malwarebytes, GoFundMe, Bonusly, BrowserStack, Miro, MongoDB, and Netlify grow as an advisor.

What's Next: Elena is starting a to-be-announced new company that we are very excited about.

Contributions: Elena was part of the original cohort of Reforge EIRs. She not only helped contribute an incredible wealth of knowledge to the community but helped us define and set an example of what it means to be an amazing EIR. During her time as an EIR, Elena:

  • Created and led cohorts of the Experimentation and Testing program.
  • Co-created and led cohorts of the Monetization and Pricing program.
  • Was the Lead Advisor to Maze as part of the Growth for Founders program.
  • Developed in-depth cases around the topics of retention, experimentation, pricing, monetization, and so much more.

Here are some of our favorite public highlights from Elena.

The Freemium Formula That Has Misled Many

In The Hidden Freemium Advantage, Elena discusses how:

"Most companies falsely assume the value of freemium only comes from direct monetization value - the cost of acquiring a user to the paid model, the cost of serving a free user, the cost of acquiring a free user, and converting users from free to paid. But the market has shifted and this completely misses the six indirect growth effects of freemium:

  1. Higher Willingness To Pay
  2. Increased Network Effects
  3. Stronger User Habits
  4. Growth Loop Acceleration
  5. Lower CAC By Getting Your Foot In The Door First
  6. Better Product Insights"

More from Elena on freemium here...

On Making Big Career Decisions

In The Reverse Interview, Elena gives her insight on what she has learned from making good and bad career decisions along the way. This point hit home on how to value selecting your next company:

"Early in my career I didn't trust my gut. I thought it would be fine, the company will figure things out, but they never got figured out. I would have never given the company $10k, but I was willing to give them my career. That is insane."

Choosing a new company and role is a big choice with bad odds. Your eggs are in one basket at a time, you are at an information disadvantage evaluating the company, and most common advice about how to get information isn't helpful. Read more from Elena and Crystal on how to change all of this...

Monetization Fuels Growth, It's Not A Tradeoff

In Monetization vs Growth - It's A False Choice, Elena discusses her experience in how most companies view these two things as a tradeoff vs. one complete growth model. This leads to multiple core issues:

"Monetization isn't put on equal footing for a few core reasons. The first is that it is seen as a sacred cow.

For most products, monetization decisions are set early. The specifics are typically the result of mostly guess work. Then, if the product is successful, a false positive feedback loop occurs. Because the product grows, we believe that our monetization decisions were accurate. As a result, the organization builds a belief that monetization should not be changed.

Another reason is the fear of customer revolt. When someone suggests a change to monetization, the common veto card of "customers will revolt" is often used. But the fear of the customer revolt actually increases your chances of a customer revolt. The longer you go without changing your monetization, the bigger the hole you dig yourself, then the bigger the eventual change you need to make."

Bangaly Kaba

Previously: Prior to joining Reforge as an EIR, Bangaly was the Head of Growth at Instagram, helping them scale to > 1B monthly active users. He also spent some time as the VP Product Growth at Instacart.

What's Next: Bangaly has joined Popshop Live, one of the most exciting new consumer social apps.

Contributions: Bangaly was also part of the original cohort of EIRs, setting an example that will be hard to beat. In his pre-tech career, Bangaly spent a number of years in education. That knowledge has helped inform some of the teaching styles we use today. During his time as an EIR, Bangaly:

Here are some of our favorite public highlights from Bangaly.

The Framework That Helped Scale Instagram To 1B+ Active Users

One of the core frameworks that have shaped Bangaly's career is The Adjacent User Theory:

"Adjacent Users are aware of a product and possibly tried using it, but are not able to successfully become an engaged user. This is typically because the current product positioning or experience has too many barriers to adoption for them. Our insight was that it is critical for growth teams to be continually defining who the adjacent user is, to understand why they are struggling, to build empathy for the adjacent user, and ultimately to solve their problems."

Most teams miss Adjacent Users because they are using the wrong tool: Personas.

"When trying to answer the question of who they are trying to solve for, product teams often use their stated personas as the answer. But personas, as they are typically defined, have one or more of the following issues:

  1. They are focused on the current user vs the next user.
  2. They are too static and companies anchor on them for years.
  3. They are too broad to be actionable.
  4. They aren't based on usage."

It's not enough to know who the adjacent user is; you need to build empathy for them to understand why they are struggling:

"Building empathy for the adjacent user is hard because by definition your team is not living the experience of the adjacent user. Your team are power users of the product. They know the product in and out. To build empathy with the adjacent user and create hypotheses of why they are struggling, I recommend four techniques:

  1. Be The Adjacent User
  2. Watch The Adjacent User
  3. Talk To The Adjacent User
  4. Visit The Adjacent User"

Bangaly breaks down more here...

Impact = Environment X Skills

Bangaly has helped advise on many career decisions. Over time, he put together a comprehensive framework to help make these decisions, detailed in Impact = Environment X Skills.

"Most often, people think about career advancement as increases in compensation. Compensation and career advancement are correlated, but not the same. Your compensation increases because you are creating a lot of impact. Compensation is the output; impact is the input.

I like to think about Impact as the thing that powers your career progression. It is what you are solving for when you are trying to make career progression decisions.

A trap in evaluating impact is that you just need to work on yourself in order to grow your career. For example, "To progress, I just need to get better at [insert skill.] But you are only one part of the equation. The variables of your environment are just as important as the variables of you."

Bangaly walks through the six variables of Environment (Manager, Resources, Scope, Team, Compensation and Company Culture) and the 4 variables of Skills (Communication, Influence, Strategic Thinking, Execution) in this step by step approach.

Crystal Widjaja

Previously: Prior to becoming a Reforge EIR and Partner, Crystal was the former SVP Growth and Business Intelligence at Gojek, one of the largest super apps in Southeast Asia. Crystal helped Gojek scale from 20K to 5M orders per day, the business intelligence team from 0 to 100, and the the growth team from 8 to 85.

What’s Next: Crystal will be heading back to Southeast Asia to help scale Kumu into another international unicorn as the Chief Product Officer.

Contributions: During her time as an EIR, Crystal:

  • Led cohorts of Advanced Growth Strategy.
  • Was a top rated featured guest on topics of Experimentation and Data.
  • Advised Clora as part of the Reforge Advisors program.
  • Began creating a soon-to-be-announced Data Deep Dive program.

Here are some of our favorite insights from Crystal.

"Our Data Is A Mess!"

One of the most common problems Crystal has helped companies with is making analytics a successful effort. In Why Analytics Fail, Crystal breaks down the root causes of analytics failure:

"Most teams only recognize the symptoms and try to address them with new tooling, better team training, or requiring a higher technical bar for hiring. But commonly these things can be a waste of time and money because you aren't addressing the root cause and real problems. Instead, the root cause typically stems from one or more of the following:

  1. Tracking metrics as the goal vs. analyzing them.
  2. Developer/Data mindset vs. a Business User mindset.
  3. Wrong level of abstraction.
  4. Written only vs visual communication.
  5. Data as a project vs. ongoing Initiative.

Understanding the root cause is what separates successful and unsuccessful teams."

On the difference of tracking vs. analyzing metrics:

"Many teams view the goal of data initiatives as to track metrics. The real goal, though, is to analyze those metrics. Those two things are very different. The latter is how we make information actionable. Making information actionable isn't about reporting on the number of people that do something, it is about how we separate what successful people do vs. what failed people do in our products so that we can take steps towards improvements. This nuance is commonly lost, but as you will see fundamentally changes how we approach what we track and how we track it."

On the step-by-step process to solve for the root causes:

"To solve for the root causes there are 5 steps:

  1. Mindset of the Business User - Your customer is the business user. Understanding their needs determines the tools to use, the events to track, the names of the events, and the properties on each event.
  2. Journeys Instead of Metrics - The right level of event abstraction comes down to tracking journeys, not metrics, through success, intent, and failure events.
  3. Defining Properties - Properties are once again a key to achieving two of our main goals, providing the right level of abstraction and making the data actionable.
  4. Pressure Test Understanding - Once you have your set of events and properties defined, you should pressure test understanding and actionability.
  5. Track Decisions Made Without Data - No matter how thorough you are with the above process, there will always be changes you need to make. The business, goals, and product are constantly changing, creating new needs."

Crystal goes into more detail here.

Data Is Not A Team To Hire Or Set Of Tools To Implement

In Scaling Data: Data-Informed to Data Driven to Data Led, Crystal breaks down a comprehensive framework for the stages of scaling data inside a company. She says:

"The most common questions I get are - When should I hire my first data person? What kind of analysis should the data team be doing? Should I be using [Insert Analytics Tool]?" At the core of these questions is the common mistake of viewing data as a team to hire or set of tools to implement rather than as a strategic lever for growth. This creates three issues:

  1. Data Capabilities Don't Match The Product Strategy
  2. Your Stage of Data Mismatches The Stage of Business
  3. Incorrect Incentives Between Data and Other Teams"

Crystal lays out the approach to looking at data as a strategic lever for growth:

"Instead, data needs to be seen as a strategic lever for growth. Viewing data from this perspective leads to different answers on the questions we started with around team and tools. What does it look like when data is treated as a strategic lever for growth? I recommend walking through four areas:

  1. Strategy - What are your points of leverage? How does data improve those points of leverage?
  2. Stage - What stage of maturity is our product in? What stage of maturity is our Data in?
  3. Team - What people do we need to achieve the data strategy? Are they set up for success internally?
  4. Tools - What tools do we need to adopt to facilitate the team's impact?"

Crystal breaks this down into her framework of Data Informed to Data Led:

"To help guide teams through the Strategy → Stage → Team → Tools, I have laid out a friendly framework to designing a scalable data organization. In this framework there are two parts:

  • 3 Stages of Data Maturity: What the business needs to grow and how data plays a role informs the data strategy at each stage.
  • 4 Capabilities Within Each Stage: The necessary building blocks and capabilities of each stage across 4 key work streams (infrastructure, analytics, operations, and team).

Most companies can fit themselves into one of three stages:

  • Stage 1: Data Informed. These companies are focused on building the business and getting to product-market-fit (stable user retention rates). The key business need is for data to provide operational visibility.
  • Stage 2: Data Driven. These companies have reached product-market-fit and are actively optimizing for specific users, behaviors, and experiences in the product at the feature-level. The key business need is for data to support the organization’s growth with scalable tooling, data products, and deep-dive insights.
  • Stage 3: Data Led. These companies are operationally run by data products, infrastructure, and services. The key business need is the “productization” of data services that unlock Product and Data Science teams, allowing them to automate operational decision-making and user product experiences.

The successful advancement from one stage to the next requires two things:

  • Needs: The company’s activities and desired business objectives have evolved due to new levels of growth, scale, or product-market-fit
  • Capabilities: The dependencies and foundations required for the next stage have been built and unlock new leverage and capabilities"

More here from Crystal...

Dor Levi

Previously: Prior to becoming a Reforge EIR, Dor was an Executive VP at Lyft leading the bikes, scooters, and transit business vertical. Dor is a library full of marketplace insights from his experience at Lyft, Uber, and Groupon.

What's Next: Dor is founding Comity Labs, a soon-to-be-announced startup in the Crypto space.

Contributions: During his time as an EIR, Dor:

  • Co-Led the Product Strategy program
  • Co-Led the Product Leadership program
  • Contributed cases from his Lyft experience around monetization strategies and developing a product team.

Here are some of our favorite public highlights from Dor:

On Managing Up

In Managing Up - Lessons From Scaling Teams at Credit Karma and Lyft, Dor and a few other EIR's tackled one of the most common but difficult topics of how to manage up. One of the keys:

"Many people use the phrase "managing up" to mean influencing your boss or other leadership to support you and your projects. Instead, "managing up" is about driving and maintaining alignment among your goals, your manager's goals, and the organization's goals. Support for you and your projects is what follows."

Dor and team talked about the three most common failures around managing up:

  • Right Idea, Wrong Situation
  • Right Idea, Wrong Time
  • Right Idea, Wrong Delivery

Here is Dor on his personal experience around right idea, wrong time:

"I had been quite hard-charging, and eventually my manager told me 'Even if you're right, you're making my life harder because you push all these things in my face. What's the difference between doing it now versus doing it after our other priority?' I realized that there were a lot of things going on that I didn't see and I realized I had to be patient."—Dor Levi, Reforge EIR, ex-EVP Lyft

On right idea, wrong delivery Dor notes that you have to go the extra mile to understand your audience. An example:

"At Lyft, whenever I was presenting to the CFO, I would always try to schedule a prep meeting with his second-in-command. Pregaming the content with someone close to the key decision maker helped me predict any blind spots I might have by helping me look at it from the other person's perspective. This helped me learn what would be a surprise or what wouldn't fit their mental model in advance. I would do this with almost every big presentation."

More from Dor and team on Managing Up here...

On Scaling Supply In A Marketplace

In Marketplace Supply Strategy, Casey Winters tackles the three ways to scale supply - Comprehensive, Exclusive, or Curated. The first strategy, comprehensiveness, is about building an extensive and diverse supply base, giving customers many different options for any single transaction. For many winning marketplaces, comprehensiveness is the core value proposition that allows them to own demand and provide a sticky product. Dor talks about some of the challenges of this strategy from his time at Groupon:

"We had a massive sales team that reached out to basically every merchant in North America. We then created pages for these merchants so we could tell them: 'You had this volume of people interacting with your page on Groupon, you should do a deal with us.' This strategy worked to an extent, but the task of creating merchant pages that were useful was way more complex than anticipated. For example, de-duping merchant pages and consolidating the right information from different data sources was an incredibly complex task."

This and other challenges eventually leads to what they call the comprehensive asymptote - As supply coverage increases, each additional unit of supply requires more effort to add. More from Dor, Casey, Anne and others on marketplace supply strategy here...

Top Insights From Our OIR's

Anne Lewandowski

Previously: Prior to becoming an Operator In Residence at Reforge, Anne was a Product Lead, Growth at Apartment List and Senior Product Manager at Course Hero.

What's Next: Anne will be joining Grey Point to consult on monetization strategy for a marketplace product.

Contributions: During her time as an OIR

Here are some of our favorite insights from Anne:

The Power User Trap

In The Power User Trap, Anne, Bangaly Kaba, and Fareed Mosavat cover one of the hardest things to get right in product strategy - when to build for your power users, and when to ignore them:

"Product leaders walk a tightrope when deciding how to prioritize their Power Users' needs against a broader audience's.

  • Falling off one side of the tightrope results in Failure Mode 1: over-catering to your Power Users at the expense of your product ecosystem as a whole.
  • Alternately, you can fall off the other side of the tightrope into Failure Mode 2: neglecting your Power Users and alienating the people who generate significant value for your product.

This is The Power User Trap. While the failure modes look different, falling off either side of the tightrope takes you to the same place: a dying product with a declining user base."

One of the keys that Anne and team talks about is needing a new definition for what a power user is:

"A Power User is an outlier in terms of their behavior and influence within your product ecosystem.

A Power User is also an outlier whether they intend to be or not. The conventional L28 Power User still fits this definition (they're an outlier in terms of frequency of engagement), but the important thing to remember is that a power user can be an outlier on many types of behavior and influence - monetization, creation, feature engagement, audience growth, or costs."

Knowing when to build and when to ignore requires you to understand what behavior they are an outlier on and how it impacts your overall growth model.

Read more about the different types of Power Users from Anne here...

Managing Up…

In Managing Up - Lessons From Scaling Teams at Credit Karma and Lyft, Anne collaborated with Dor Levi, Valerie Wagoner, and Matt Greenberg to discuss the fundamental mindset shift professionals need to make to manage up successfully as they progress in their careers. Some of the key insights Anne and the team surfaced include:

  • Many people think they are managing up effectively but are not, falling into two common failure modes: the politician or the problem-finder.
  • "Managing up" actually requires many of the same tactics as "managing down".
  • The most successful upward managers cultivate empathy toward their leaders. Specifically, this looks like: 1) aligning personal and organizational goals; 2) taking an empathetic approach to working together; and 3) packaging problems in a way that makes helping easy.

Britt Jamison

Previously: Prior to joining Reforge as an OIR, Britt spent 5.5 years at Slack as a Senior Product Manager working on a variety of growth and core product initiatives.

What's Next: Britt has joined Webflow as a Product Lead on the enterprise product.

Contributions: During his time as an OIR, Britt helped kickstart some new community efforts within Reforge bringing knowledge from his days at Slack.

Good Experiment, Bad Experiment

In Good Experiment, Bad Experiment Britt collaborated with Fareed Mosavat on some of their lessons learned about Experimentation at Slack. Some of the key insights:

"Good experiments advance product strategy. Bad experiments only advance metrics.

Good experiments drive impact by solving real user problems. They have strong, well-reasoned hypotheses grounded in data analysis, customer insights, and market research. Good experiments are about understanding true customer behavior around the things that matter. Bad experiments move metrics by confusing or tricking your users. They make things harder for your users, rather than solving underlying problems.

Good experiments are conceived as bets. You know they have a chance to fail, but based on the info you have available, it is a good investment to make. They help you learn about the things that matter, enabling you to take bigger bets over time. Bad experiments are endless optimizations. They adjust things around the edges in an attempt to improve performance in a marginal way. They steal time, energy, and resources from validating more meaningful bets. Businesses aren’t built on optimizations."

Zainab Ghadiyali

Previously: Prior to joining Reforge as an OIR, Zainab was a Product Lead at Airbnb working on internationalization, developer platform, and more.

What's Next: Zainab is spending some time advising early stage startups.

Contributions: During her time as an OIR Zainab collaborated with our EIR's on a few critical insights.

Difficulty Prioritizing Is A Strategy Issue, Not An Execution Issue...

In The Product Strategy Stack, Zainab collaborated with Reforge EIR Ravi Mehta to define a tool to help understand what Product Strategy is and how it is different/related to other key organizational assets such as mission, company strategy, roadmap, and goals.

"We can't think about "strategy" as some amorphous, all-encompassing concept. Instead, companies should think about the relationship between mission, strategy, roadmap, and goals as a stack of distinct concepts."

Product Strategy is the connective tissue between company level assets and how your product team executes:

"We cannot have a company strategy without knowing our company's mission. We cannot have product goals without knowing our product strategy. Given this relationship between the layers, Product Strategy serves a critical role—it is the connective tissue between the objectives of the company and the product delivery work of the product team."

Read more about how to get your product strategy right along with examples here...

Become A Reforge EIR

We are now accepting applications for EIR's around Product, Growth, and Engineering. The EIR program is a 6 or 12 month, 2 to 3 days per week role for experienced product, growth and engineering leaders who are at a transition point in their career.

During your time as a EIR, you will lead 1-2 Reforge programs and will have the opportunity to help us define and spread the future of your discipline. EIR's receive a salary, health insurance, and other benefits.

More importantly, as a Reforge EIR you will get:

  1. Time To Explore - Have the mental space and hours necessary to explore and fully research the companies, people, and opportunities for your next role.
  2. Platform To Build Your Professional Brand - Leverage our platform and audience to build your personal brand.
  3. A Network To Leverage - Gain a network of top tier leaders and practitioners to leverage and amplify your next endeavor.
  4. Deepen Your Knowledge - Become an expert on multiple high-demand frontiers and important topics in Product Growth.
  5. An Inside View - Get an inside view of many different companies, products, and services.

If you are interested in more details on the program or would like to apply, check it out here. You can also email questions to EIR -at- Reforge -dot- com.