Advisor Case Study: Constantly Changing Priorities

Ben Foster November 20 2020

The following is adapted from Build What Matters.

When I joined Adchemy, a twenty-five-person startup, in 2006, the company had already built ingenious machine learning technology capable of generating and optimizing billions of ads and landing pages every day. The promise of that technology led to multiple funding rounds and a $400 million valuation in 2009.

The difficulty was in converting that technology into a viable product in the competitive ad tech space. Do you sell it to publishers? To advertisers? To agencies? Should it be applied to paid search or display ads or landing pages? Do you package the technology or use it yourself to outperform other affiliate partners delivering online leads? As I moved up the ranks to eventually lead product management and design at Adchemy, I needed clarity, or at least agreement, from the co-founder/CEO on which of these paths we should choose.

The CEO was exceptionally good at setting a single priority and aligning everyone to it. The only problem was that the singular priority changed like clockwork every quarter. Rather than committing to a path, he vented frustrations down the chain about the (unsurprising) lack of progress on the paths not taken. My team was forced to shift gears frequently, and with very little rationale offered for the hard pivots he demanded, rallying the troops proved an impossible task. Seeing the writing on the wall, I eventually left and the company ultimately sold to Walmart Labs with no return for investors.

Written by Ben Foster

Ben is a co-founder of Prodify and Principal Product Advisor / Coach. In his career, he has been the Chief Product Officer at WHOOP and GoCanvas, the VP of Product & Design at Opower (which went public in 2014) and previously worked for Marty Cagan at eBay.

Get New Content