I met Jim Semick the first day I started ProductPlan. We took a walk outside the office to talk about the values that drive the company directly from the mind of one of the founders.
Outside of the ProductPlan team, Jim Semick’s energy and passion for learning have cemented him as one of the product community’s leading voices. This year alone, he sparked conversations in the product community from blogs like this one on imposter syndrome to this one on declaring backlog bankruptcy. Most recently, with his recent book on being an essentialist product manager.
The book itself is a must-read that you can download for free below.
Getting to Know Jim Semick
Jim Semick and I chatted over Zoom to discuss his interests and what the product community can expect from him.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Semick: I’d say my entrepreneurial journey is unique, spanning from product manager to founder. I’m okay with uncertainty. It’s who I am. I am okay with not knowing what the future holds. I haven’t always been that way, but that’s who I am today. I can take reasonable risks, which makes it possible to launch new products or a startup. I like to have fun too — Why bother if it’s not fun?
Throughout my career, it’s been imperative for me to pursue my curiosities and challenge myself. I want to learn—whether it’s entrepreneurship, life, or even studying Roman antiquities. With each piece I collect, I’m curious to know everything about it. Where did it come from? What are the stories that came with it?
What do you enjoy sharing with the product community?
I believe that great products don’t happen by accident—it’s exceptional leadership and customer engagement that genuinely makes a difference. As such, I’m passionate about sharing my experience with future product leaders to build successful products that solve real customer problems.
There are quite a few topics I’ve explored over the years. It started with my top passions of market validation and product-market fit. When I’m talking with customers, I’m driven to understand what problem we’re solving and figuring out all the levers that startups can experiment with to make a successful product. I’ve conducted hundreds of validation interviews with customers and prospects for different software products I’ve helped launch—I love sharing some of the techniques I’ve learned about conducting great customer interviews.
Validation of products, customers, and markets is a skill that not many product managers and entrepreneurs know much about. It’s frustrating to see new startups and products fail. I know that failure is sometimes necessary but often avoidable. The risks that teams take without doing the validation breaks my heart. You could pinpoint the start of the failure to not understanding the customer’s problem or misinterpreting the customer’s need. That frustration a few years ago inspired me to start writing and speaking on the topic at conferences and lecturing in various programs at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The Feature-Less Roadmap: Using Themes and North Stars to Ground Your Product Roadmap
If I can help in some way to improve a company’s success in some way—I want to. Lately, I’ve been writing and speaking a lot about essentialist product management, entrepreneurship, and building winning software products.
In the last few years, I’ve also written books on SaaS pricing, product roadmaps, and product leadership.
They’re available to read here:
In addition to speaking, I also mentor and invest in my community in Santa Barbara, California. I love to travel, paddleboard, and read as much as I can.
Tell us a bit more about your career.
Semick: For almost 20 years, I have taken new disruptive software products from concept to market launch. I’ve perfected a recipe for building and launching great products that have a greater chance of succeeding in the market.
My current company, ProductPlan, creates software used by thousands of product teams at the world’s leading companies to power their product roadmaps. I started ProductPlan as part of my entrepreneurial journey. With my co-founder Greg Goodman, we started the company with the end in mind and reverse-engineered the company to align with our objectives and values. I talk about this in the book Product-Market Fit.
I’ve previously helped validate and launch some of the earliest SaaS products, including GoToMyPC, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, and AppFolio.
What can a reader expect from Jim Semick?
Semick: Writing and sharing my message has flowed seamlessly from my passions. I write a lot about topics that mirror the stage and lifecycle that ProductPlan is in.
I would talk about start-ups, lean-market validation launching, product discovery, and uncovering problems in the early days. That was my mindset. Then my talks evolved to be about product roadmaps. They then transformed into conversations on how we communicate. I’m always learning new product management things (product ops, product growth, decisions through metrics).
You can definitely expect to hear more about how product managers can use the philosophy of essentialism to focus on what matters and get more meaning from their work. I’ve spoken about essentialism for various product management groups and am conducting workshops.
I owe it to the community to keep providing new ways to look at how we’ve been doing things.
Jim is open to speaking engagements and connecting with product leaders on LinkedIn. Sometimes, it’s easier to put a face to the name. Hear more about Jim in his Product Leader Spotlight: Jim Semick, below.
You can also read more about Jim’s speaking topics and writing at JimSemick.com.