Rule #1 - PM roles vary by team, product and season
My role here at AWS is vastly different here than in my earlier roles as a PM for Global Strategy at Alibaba Group, as a PM for Partner Integrations at Quixey, or at several startups where I basically coded and designed! Continents apart. In all of the 5 products I manage, it differs there as well. Yet, all of these are flavors of product management and I love it. Own it, learn it, operate in it, succeed in it. In essence, "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
Rule #2 - Have a 'yes day' and a 'yes' career
I say yes to a lot of non-PM requests. PMs are often torn about their role. I try to remember to do everything it takes to push the product through the finish line. It's personal and it's a proud moment for me to see all features - big, small, gargantuan to the finish line with my team. Yes, without the amazing people I work with, this would not be as much fun.
I have been asked to say "no" to things by many mentors in my professional lifetime; and while I have gotten better at saying no more, I still tend to say a resounding "Yes, it will be done!" a whole lot and it works. More opportunities, new projects, more trust, more career growth. When you're mid-career, you are expected to have complete ownership, so learn to say "no" 5-7 years into your PM career.
Rule #3 - Enjoy the deep end
I get thrown into the deep end and the go-figure-it-out-equation a lot. Funnily, I get entrusted with ambiguous initiatives to bring structure into not just my product work, but also for design, engineering and the business. To get organized quickly, and in a manner that makes sense to all your collaborators is an art more than a science. I learnt this while I was at Alibaba and I had fantastic mentors to help me stumble through the building blocks. Two practical things that work well for me at AWS: 1/ product, engineering and design need to speak the same language and I can't stress on this enough. Seems trivial, needs to be deliberate. 2/ master the art of building trackers to get organized really fast and exude confidence in the plan.
Rule #4 - Drive certainty across the board
I lean on showing certainty in roadmaps, timelines (approx.), team progress, milestones to achieve the end goal, about the capabilities of the team. It’s super hard. Most PMs know deep down what is going on and feel torn. Saying "I don't know" is a tough skill to master, one which I am still learning. AWS is the right place to learn this; hearing this in conjunction with a proposal to solve for it is as common as coffee.
Rule #5 - Be the canary in the coalmine
I love informal 5-min hallway updates when my team talks to me about their work. And, I do the same. This helps Product Managers be the canary in the coalmine. I cross-collaborate with ~15-20 stakeholders on a weekly basis and a ton of others with lesser frequency; these updates help me keep up with the pace of decision making at AWS. When things are going well, product feels it. When things aren’t going well (in any org like sales, design, engineering, business), product feels it. Catch them early, plan for them. Say "yes" to fixing the situation for them without being tempted into the he-said, she-said world.
Rule #6 - Skin in the game doesn't come easy
My decisions impact my team (design, engineering, business) directly. My developers are going to invest the next 6–12 months marching in a certain direction with their heart and soul. My designers are going to spend countless hours perfecting their UX along the same direction. And, because we are building this, we are NOT building something else. The source of that decision? The product manager. PM's, in the every few minutes they spend to "do some actual work" in the day are re-evaluating, re-thinking, reading, researching, getting coffee with neutral feedback providers, with other PMs, to make sure that their direction is solid. Because, "skin in the game" doesn't come easy.
Rule #7 - Play ball, Product Manager!
A PM's role is a vague role, one that cherishes ambiguity, where you go 80 mph, above the speed limit, thrown at the deep end to be an expert, SME, ship products, lead, and make tough calls. You make decisions for other humans, and they’re liable to start doubting you when things inevitably don’t pan out (because it is hard). You rely on your team, and they rely on you. And when things go wrong….
What does your day look like as a Product Manager? :-)
Stumbled upon this gem of a 100 question-answer powwow by James Altucher that is totally worth reading and re-reading. Every question is a question he has been asked by a startup CEO.
In his own words – “I’ve started about 20 businesses. Some major successes. Some major failures. I'm also invested in about 30 startups. I've seen some blow up. I've seen some return 10,000%. So take this for what it's worth but I wish someone had told me these things when I did my first startup or two.“
Here it goes --
1) C Corp or S Corp or LLC?
C-Corp if you ever want to take on investors or sell to another company. You can start LLC but you'll need to switch to C Corp if you raise investors.
2) What state should you incorporate in?
3) Should founders vest?
Yes, over a period of four years. On any change of control the vesting speeds up.
4) Should you go for venture capital money?
First build a product, then get a customer, then get friends-and-family money (or money from revenues which is cheapest of all) and then think about raising money. But only then. Don’t be an amateur.
5) Should you patent your idea?
Get customers first. Patent later. Don’t talk to lawyers until the last possible moment.
6) Should you require venture capitalists to sign NDAs?
No. Nobody is going to steal your idea. VC's view NDAs as amateur hour.
7) How much equity should you give a partner?
Divide things up into these categories: manage the company; raise the money; had the idea; brings in the revenues; built the product (or performs the services). Divide up in equal portions.
8) Should you have a technical co-founder if you are not technical?
No. If you don’t already have a technical co-founder you can always outsource technology and not give up equity.
9) Should you barter equity for services?
No. You get what you pay for.
10) How do you market your app?
Friends and then word of mouth. And then blog on multiple platforms. And then add new features.
11) Should you build a product?
Maybe. But first see if, manually, your product works. Then think about providing it as a service. Then productize the commonly used services. Too many people do this in reverse and then fail.
Oracle is a great example of a company that did this. They had a "database" but really they had an army of consultants that would go in and "install" the database. After about five years of this they finally had a database.
12) How much dilution is too much dilution?
If someone wants to give you money, then take it. The old saying, 100 percent of nothing is worth less than 1 percent of something.
13) Do you listen to venture capitalist?
Yes, of course. They gave you money. But then don’t do anything they ask you to do.
14) What if nobody seems to be buying your product?
Then change to a service and do whatever anyone is willing to pay for using the skills you developed while making your product.
“You’re gonna rattle the stars, you are.”
15) If a client wants you to hire their friend or they won’t give you the business (e.g. like a bribe) what should you do?
Always do the ethical thing: Hire the friend and get the client’s business.
16) What do you do when a customer rejects you in a B2B business?
Stay in touch once a month. Never be angry.
17) In a B2C business?
Release fast. Add new features every week. Very important. Constantly unwrap a suprise.
18) How do you get new clients?
The best new clients are old clients. Always offer new services. Think every day of new services to offer old clients.
19) What’s the best thing to do for a new client?
Over-deliver for the first 100 days. Then you will never lose them.
20) What if your client asks you to do something not in your business plan?
Do it, or find someone who can do it, even if it’s a competitor.
21) Should I ever focus on SEO?
22) Should I do social media marketing?
23) Should I ever talk badly about a partner of an employee even though they are awful?
Never gossip. Always be straight with the culprit. NONE of your employees should ever say bad things about the client.
I just saw this rule violated in a $100 million revenues company. Now they are losing the client and can't figure out why.
24) I have lots of ideas. How do I pick the right one?
Do as many ideas as possible. The right idea will pick you.
25) What is the sign of an amateur?
26) What is the sign of a professional?
27) When should I hire people full time?
When you have revenues
28) How long does it take to raise money?
In a GREAT business, six months. In a mediocre business, infinity.
29) Should I get an office?
No, not unless you have revenues.
30) Should I do market research?
Yes, find one customer who DEFINITELY, without a doubt, will buy a service from you. Note that I don’t say buy your product, because your initial product is always not what the customer wanted.
31) Should I pay taxes?
No. You should always reinvest your money and operate at a loss.
32) Should I pay dividends?
33) What should the CEO salary be?
No more than 2x your lowest employee if you are not profitable. This even assumes you are funded. If you are not funded your salary should be zero until your revenues can pay your salary last. Important RULE: the CEO salary is the last expense paid in every business.
34) When should I fire employees?
When you have fewer than six months’ burn in the bank and you aren’t getting revenues growing fast enough.
35) When should you have sex with an employee?
When you love her/him and the feeling is mutual.
36) What other reasons should one fire an employee?
37) When should you give a raise?
38) How big should the employee option pool be?
15 to 20 percent.
39) How much do advisers get?
One-fourth of 1 percent. Advisers are useless. Don’t even have an advisory board.
40) How much do board members get?
Nothing. They should all be investors. If they aren’t an investor, then one-half of 1 percent.
41) What if one client is almost all of my revenues?
Treat them very nicely. Don’t forget the Christmas gift basket.
People say: don't have one customer be more than X% of your revenues. That's great in a textbook but it doesn't work that way in reality.
42) What’s the best way to sell anything?
Show arbitrage: If they pay X now they are buying something worth X * Y. That is the ONLY way to sell.
43) What is the best way to sell anything?
Part II: fear and agitation. Get them afraid (the world is falling apart). Get them agitated (this is the only way to stop it).
44) What’s the best way to talk about your competition in a meeting?
Use “choice ambiguity” (Google it). Say, “all of my competition is great. I wouldn’t even know how to choose among them.”
45) What’s the best way to value a company?
Ask yourself (no BS): How much would it cost to recreate the technology, services, brand and customers you have already built. Then quadruple it and see what people would pay.
46) Should I ever worry about the news or the economy?
Absolutely not. The best businesses are started in horrible economies.
47) What happened to all of my friends?
You don’t have anymore friends.
48) How do I charge more for my services?
Itemize as finely as possible and charge for each item.
49) Do I charge per hour or per project or per month?
First per project, then per-month maintenance.
50) How do I prepare for a meeting?
Know everything about the clients: competition, employees, industry. Over-read everything.
51) What is the only effective email marketing?
Highly targeted email marketing written by professional copywriters, and the email list is made up of people who have bought similar services in the past six months.
51a) Corollary: If you have zero skills as a copywriter then everything you write will be boring.
52) Should I give stuff for free?
Maybe. But don’t expect free customers to turn into paying customers. Your free customers actually hate you and want everything from you for nothing, so you better have a different business model.
53) Should I have schwag?
54) Should I go to SXSW?
55) Should I go to industry parties and meetups?
56) Should I blog?
Yes. You must. Blog about everything going wrong in your industry. Blog personal stories that you think will scare away customers. They won’t. Customers will be attracted to honesty.
57) Should I care about margins?
No. Care about revenues.
58) Should I spin-off this unrelated idea into a separate business?
No. Make one business great. Throw everything in it. Do DBAs to identify different ideas.
59) Should I hire people because I can travel on a seven-hour plane ride with them?
Don’t be an idiot. If anything, hire people the opposite of you. Or else who will you delegate to?
60) When should I say “no” to a client?
When they approach you.
61) When should I say “yes” to a client?
Every other conversation you ever have with them after that initial “no.”
62) Should I have sex with an employee?
Stop asking that.
63) Should I negotiate the best terms with a VC?
No. Pick the VC you like. Times are going to get tough at some point, and you need to be able to have a heart-to-heart with them.
64) Should I even start a business?
No. Make money. Build shit. Then start a business.
65) Should I give employees bonuses for a job well done?
No. Give them gifts but not bonuses.
66) What should I do at Christmas?
Send everyone you know a gift basket.
67) If my customer just got divorced, what should I say to him?
“I can introduce you to lots of women/men.”
68) When should I give up on my idea?
When you can’t generate revenues, customers, interest, for two months.
69) Why didn’t the VC or customer call back after we met yesterday and it was great?
They hate you.
70) Why didn’t the above call back after we met yesterday and it was great?
“Yesterday” was like a split second ago for them and a lifetime for you. There’s the law of entrepreneurial relativity. Figure out what that means and live by it.
71) Should I hire a professional CEO?
72) Should I hire a head of sales?
No. The founder is the head of sales until at least 10 million in sales.
73) My client called at 3 a.m. Should I tell him to respect boundaries?
No. You no longer have any boundaries.
74) I made a mistake. Should I tell the client?
Yes. Tell him everything that happened. You’re his partner. Not the guy that hides things and then lies about them.
75) My investors want me to focus.
Should I listen to them? No. Diversify in every way you can.
76) I personally need money. Should I borrow from the business?
Only if the business can survive for another six months no matter what.
77) I just bought two companies. Should I put them under the same roof and start consolidating?
No. Not for at least two years.
78) Should I quit my job?
No. Only if you have salary that can pay you for six months at your startup. Aim to quit your job but don’t quit your job.
79) What do I do when I have doubts?
Ask your customers if your doubts are trustworthy.
80) I have too much competition. What should I do?
Competition is good. It shows you have a decent business model. Now simply outperform them.
81) My wife/husband thinks I spend too much time on my startup?
Divorce them or close your business.
82) I’m starting my business, but I have relationship problems. What should I do?
Get rid of your relationship.
83) Should I expand geographically as quickly as possible?
No. Get all the business you can in your local area. Travel is too expensive time-wise.
84) How do I keep clients from yelling at me?
Document every meeting line-by-line, and send your document to the client right after the meeting.
85) I undercharged. What should I do about it?
Nothing. Charge the next client more.
86) I have an idea for an app but don’t know how to execute. What should I do?
Draw every screen and function. Then outsource someone to make the drawings look like they come from a real app. Then outsource the development of the app. Get a specific schedule. Micromanage the schedule.
87) I want to buy a franchise in X. Is that a good idea?
Only buy a franchise if it’s underperforming and you can see how to improve it. Don’t buy on future hopes; only buy on past mistakes.
88) I want to buy a franchise in X. Is that a good idea?
Rely on the three Ds: Death, Debt, Divorce.
When someone dies, the heirs will sell a business cheap.
When someone is in debt, they will sell a business cheap.
When someone divorces, the couple usually has to sell a business cheap.
IMPORTANT: even if the trends in the industry are in your favor, you CANNOT predict the future. But you can use the past to help you get a deal. Always get a deal.
89) I have a lot of traffic but no revenues. What should I do?
Sell your business. There’s only one Google. (Well, there are two or three Googles: Facebook, Twitter … )
90) I have no traffic. How do I get traffic?
Shut down your business.
91) Should I hire a PR firm?
No. Do guerilla marketing. Read “Newsjacking” and “Trust me I’m Lying.” PR firms screw up from beginning to end. The first time I hired a PR firm, instead of sending me my contract they accidentally sent me their contract for “Terry Bradshaw.” He was paying $12,000 a month. Was it worth it for him?
92) My competition is doing better than me across every metric. What should I do?
Don’t be afraid to instantly shut down your business and start over if you can’t sell it. Time is a horrible thing to waste.
93) I’ve been in business now for six years, and my business doesn’t seem to be growing. It’s even slowing down. What should I do?
Come up with 10 ideas a day about new services your business can offer. Try to get a customer for each new service. I know one business in this situation that refuses to do this because their VCs are telling them to focus more. You’re going to go out of business otherwise.
94) Is it unethical to run my business from the side while still at my job?
I don’t know. Did God tell you that in a dream?
95) My customer called me at 5 p.m. on a Friday and said, “We have to talk.” And now I can’t talk to him until Monday. What does it mean?
It means you’re fired.
96) XYZ just sold for $100 million. Should I be valued at that? I’m better!
No, you should shut up.
97) Investors want to meet me and customers want to meet me. Who do I meet if I need money?
You should know the answer to that by now.
98) If an acquirer asks me why I want to sell, what should I say?
That you feel it would be easier for you to grow in the context of a bigger company that has experienced the growing pains you are just starting to go through. That 1+1 = 45.
99) I just started my business. What should I do?
Sell it as fast as possible (applies in 99 percent of situations). Sell for cash.
100) I can change the world with my technology.
No you can’t.
100a) Corollary: Don’t smoke crack.
101) If you’re so smart why aren’t you a billionaire?
Because I sold my businesses early, lost everything, started new businesses, sold them, and got lucky every now and then.
101a) Corollary: These rules don’t always apply. But like Kurt Vonnegut said, “if you want to break the rules of grammar, first learn the rules of grammar.”
You create your luck by being healthy and not regretting the past or being anxious about the future.
Do you agree? leave your thoughts and comments below.
Congratulations, you found your dream job as a product manager at an exciting startup. In addition to quickly learning the cadence and processes of writing user personas, user stories, maintaining the product backlog, prioritization and all the other good stuff product managers do to build the future of the product, it is important to learn about the legacy aka the startup and product's journey so far.
Very frankly, in the first 30-60 days, you as a product manager must do a lot of “homework". To form a solid foundation as a new product manager, spend the first 30-60 days acquiring a deep understanding of the three pillars of your startup - the business, the market and the user. The best way to get the most out of your first 60 days is to have lots of one-on-one meetings, list questions on current assumptions and hypothesis, get in front of the users in usability sessions, and scour the web for industry / vertical specific news, trends, forecast reports, and the sorts to familiarize yourself with the space. Contrary to the popular saying, 'more is less’ here - absorb all and any perspectives you can gather.
Here is a quick starter framework that comes in handy for you to get started:
Know your startup story - long term vision and near term goals
I. Founders and their story
Know what is out there - build your SWOT
I. Companies/products in a similar space
Know your users - features that they love, features that need some loving
I. Users, users, users
Missing something in this list? I would also love to hear your experience in the first 30-60 days as a new product manager at a startup - what worked and what didn’t. Please do share your story in the comments below.
There are 2 types of people in the world: people who use WeChat, and people who don’t use WeChat. WeChat has truly become a phenomenon that no one can live without in China. It is every vital app you have in your mobile phone blended into one mega-app.
WeChat users can do just about anything, including play games, send money to people, make video calls, order food, read the news, book a doctor appointment, and more. “WeChat’s reach and influence is unrivaled in China’s online space,” said research firm China Skinny. “It touches everything from consumers communicating with their nearest and dearest, to sharing their most special moments, to buying everything from cinema tickets to taxi rides.”
Designed and built to scale, messaging platforms such as WeChat and Weibo in China need to perform at their peak on Chinese New Year when millions of people send Red Envelopes to their loved ones to wish them luck and success.
According to WeChat, owned by digital media business Tencent, 420 million people sent each other lucky money via the app’s payment service on the eve of Chinese New Year. WeChat has seen a total of 8.08 billion red envelopes sent so far for Chinese New Year, eight times more than last year. To put this into context, WeChat showed 4x the number of mobile transactions in a week long celebration of Chinese New Year in 2016 than Paypal recorded in all of 2015.
According to PayPal it made 4.9 billion transactions in 2015 (half of the number of transactions made on WeChat just for Chinese New Year) and only 28 per cent were made on a mobile device. Another notable comparison is that a total of 2 billion products were purchased from Amazon’s marketplace sellers in all of 2014 (a quarter of the number of Red Envelopes sent in a week this Chinese New Year).
Similarly, Chinese social network Weibo released figures showing that 134 million active users logged on during the eve of Chinese New Year, with 100 million receiving lucky money digital envelopes via the platform.
A significant differentiating factor lies in the transaction amount on these platforms. Chinese Yuan (RNB) 8.88 (USD1.35) is the most commonly gifted amount on digital platforms on such occasions given that 8 is a lucky number in the Chinese tradition. This is a lot lower than would be gifted in envelopes in person and is likely to be a lot lower than the average transaction amount on a platform like PayPal or Amazon.
As product managers and product designers, to build products that users love and use, it is imperative to first learn about their habits, culture and traditions. I was lucky to spend my first Chinese New Year in 2015 in the heart of Beijing as we set out to build several mobile products for Alibaba’s mobile operating system -YunOS to experience it first hand. Despair not if you cannot experience it in Beijing. There are tons of great articles out there on the web covering this amazing celebration; my favorites being:
Chinese New Year Celebrations (2016) — What Chinese Do
Lantern Festival 2016 Dates, Facts, Traditions And Food: How To Mark End Of Chinese New Year
Lucky Numbers and Colors in Chinese Culture
Customs and Activities of Chinese New Year
恭喜发财, Gōngxǐ fācái, Happiness and prosperity everyone!
Contextual Inquiry is core to building a holistic business and product strategy around your product hypothesis. Feedback for your product idea comes primarily from potential partners, investors, advisors, etc — so long as you ask the right questions.
Ask about the past:
“Have you seen this before?”, “Has this worked before?”
Go-to-market partners will tell you what has worked for them before and more importantly, what has NOT worked for them in comparable or other products they have worked with. Learning from their experience is extremely valuable for you. Probe for these insights without sounding nosy and intrusive.
Then, about the present:
“What do you think?”, “What do you see in the market?”
This question gives the partner an opportunity to think about all the factors that impact his business and elaborate on them. It is important to switch from “impress” mode to “feedback” mode when speaking with your go-to-market partners.
Conclude with future possibilities:
“How do you go about this?”, “What is the best way to take this forward?”
Understand the decision making process for your partner well. This question gives you a wealth of information on technical integration, team structure, company processes, revenue structures, etc. There is a high possibility of each partner having unique answers for this question. Draw out common industry-wide patterns along with unique business processes.
Ultimately, as Terry Pratchett rightly said - It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.
Products that are distributed at scale via go-to-market partnerships are influenced heavily by how partners operate in the market. As a product manager, investing time in building a market-facing view with the help of your external partners is essential for a product-market fit.
Keep in mind that this step does not guarantee product-market fit (products typically live in complex ecosystems and many, many factors influence product-market fit) but simply increases your chances of achieving product-market fit.
Who should you ask for a market-facing view?
Market-facing view is sourced heavily from your go-to-market partners and they have given me the most impactful market insights. The partners can be classified in two broad categories based on the how your product generates revenue for the partner:
How do you draw out market insights?
Now that you have identified who can help you build the market-facing view, a product manager must be able to draw out market insights from these partners which is different from getting product feedback from an end-user. These conversations are best had in person on a regular basis. If you are unable to have an in-person meeting, Skype, Hangouts or even a phone call works as a second option.
For all questions, ask and let the partners speak — give a long pause after the question (even though 10 seconds may seem like an eternity, pause) till the partner has formulated an answer and is ready to share his/her thoughts.
I am listing a few unbiased, open-ended questions that have always worked for me.
The time for product managers to create radical products and build new ecosystems has never been so ripe. Whether you work in a big company or a fledgling start-up, the right understanding of your role as a product manager can be the difference between massive scale or slow death of products.
To demystify, here are three things I have learnt in my journey as an engineer, a designer, an entrepreneur and now a product manager that will help aspiring product managers to do justice to their role:
Product managers understand customers — the “why”:
Most products live in elaborate ecosystems. Flipkart and Amazon live in the ecosystem of buyers, sellers, e-payments, order fulfillment, return orders and customer service. Yelp and Zomato live in the ecosystem of restaurants, foodies, deal-seekers, food delivery, online ordering and table reservations.
Product managers give voice to the ecosystem that the product lives in and validate “need” for the product with a clear perspective on behalf of all players that live in that ecosystem.
Product managers primarily facilitate — the “what”:
Product managers provide business context and use cases for the product. A serendipitous lunch-conversation with my Test Lead on how, unlike in China, a majority of users in India speak and read English more than any other language, with the sole exception of Hindi (the national language of India) helped her team understand the end-users and hence, measure search relevance better.
Product management is not about telling people what to do. It’s a supportiverole, empowering teams with relevant context, collectively prioritizing features, presenting a process to resolve blockers and work towards business goals.
Product managers handle ambiguity — the “unknown”:
Flux is an inevitable part of building a product. A product manager drives the entire product life-cycle and must constantly navigate complex hierarchies within the organization, managing changing business needs and market trends.
I find myself referring to this list on How To Be More Charismatic to navigate stakeholders within the organizations and keep the team-morale up.
This is, by no means an exhaustive list but rather, a handful of observations of things that have worked well for me in my day-to-day life as a product manager.
Surbhi is a product enthusiast with an obsessive dedication to UX, to build products that delight users, drive performance metrics and drive overall business strategy.