James Gray: Products That Count Crew Member Spotlight with Graymatter Strategy Founder
Every month, Products That Count will bring you stories from each of our crew members across the country. This month, the spotlight is on James Gray, our Austin chapter head.
James Gray loves building tech products with a whole product approach to solve unique customer problems using data. Over the course of his career, he’s been lucky to practice a broad set of disciplines. These include product management, data science, engineering, IT operations, and consulting. This has shaped his approach to building, operating, and selling software products. James is the founder of Graymatter Strategy. There he helps people monetize their career offerings, both as a full-time employee and those that also run a sideline business.
Since 2006, James has connected with thousands of people to share his worldview on a holistic approach to career management. His coaching expertise has helped professionals and executives refine their career paths, guide transitions, and weave work into a broader life strategy. He has taught executive leaders how to create a culture of mutual benefit that optimizes talent and impact, while enabling professionals to pursue their unique aspirations.
When he’s not working in product he is an avid reader, plays guitar, and trains across various athletic activities.
What is your favorite product and why?
“For over 10 years, I have been an active LinkedIn user and rely on it almost every day. The site saves me valuable time connecting with new people. It accelerates my understanding of who they are from a broad perspective. Using the product improves productivity, collaboration and enables me to connect and help people across my network. The ability to position our capabilities, accomplishments and references as a product for sale in the largest professional community is incredibly valuable.”
What does product management mean to you?
For James Gray, the keeping all the plates spinning nature of product managers excites him.
“Product management is a unique discipline that enables you to function as the CEO of your product given that it cuts across the entire organization. I am energized by the fusion of many skills that product managers must have to build, market, operate, and service products. I love the gamesmanship of competing in the market.”
What makes a great product?
“A great product solves a specific problem that is valuable in your life, is easy to use, is supported by amazing customer service. Ideally, it delivers a higher emotional state beyond just the core value.”
What makes a great product manager?
“Great product managers have a CEO-mindset for the product they own. They’re exceptional working collaboratively with people inside and outside an organization. As avid listeners, they are obsessed with insight into customer pain points and product feedback. They blend customer needs with their vision of the product and how it will evolve into the future. Great product managers must also embrace a data-centric approach to measuring product use, experimentation, and analyzing product feedback. Most of all, they must love their product. And have the energy to propel it forward in the face of adversity.”
What are the blogs, newsletters, books, and resources you find most helpful?
James put together a comprehensive list of resources that he enjoys. You can see the full list here.
- Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore – a classic that stands the test of time.
- The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene – learning how to understand and work with people is the most important skill of all.
- This is Marketing by Seth Godin – I love the core idea of seeking the smallest viable market and growing from there.
- Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman – best practices for scaling a new product business.
- Understanding Michael Porter by Joan Magretta – a classic model for shaping a strategic mindset to markets and products.
- Entrepreneurial You by Dorie Clark – essential guide on how to monetize your expertise.
- A16Z articles and podcasts at a16z.com