iSPIRT Final Comments on India’s Personal Data Protection Bill

Below represents iSPIRT’s comments and recommendations on the draft Personal Data Protection Bill.  iSPIRT’s overall data privacy and data empowerment philosophy is covered here.  

Table of Contents

Major Comments
1. Include Consent Dashboards
2. Financial Understanding and Informed Consent for all Indians
3. Data Fiduciary Trust Scores Similar to App Store Ratings
4. Comments & Complaints on Data Fiduciaries are Public, Aggregatable Data
5. Warn of Potential Credit and Reputation Hazards
6. A Right to View and Edit Inferred Personal Data
7. Sharing and Processing of Health Data

Suggestions and Questions

  • Fund Data Rights Education
  • Limit Impact Assessment Requirement
  • Passwords should be treated differently than other Sensitive Personal Data.
  • Does the Bill intend to ban automatic person-tagging in photos and image search of people?
  • Notifications about updates to personal data should be handled by a Consent Dashboard, not every data fiduciary.
  • Need for an Authority appeal process when data principal rights conflict
  • Do not outlaw private fraud detection
  • Limit record keeping use and disclosure to the Authority and the company itself.
  • Fillings may be performed digitally
  • Request for Definition Clarifications
  • Author Comments
  • Links
  • Appendix – Sample User Interface Screens

Major Comments

1. Include Consent Dashboards

We support the idea of a Consent Dashboard as suggested in the Data Protection Committee Report (page 38) and recommend it to be incorporated in the Bill in Section 26 – Right to Data Portability and Section 30 (2) Transparency.  

We envision all of a user’s personal and inferred data that is known by data fiduciaries (i.e. companies) being exposed on a consent dashboard, provided by a third party consent collector or account aggregator (to use the RBI’s parlance). Below is an example user interface:

This mandate would enable users to have one place – their consent collector-provided dashboard – to discover, view and edit all data about them. It would also allow users to see any pending, approved and denied data requests.

Furthermore, in the event of data breaches, especially when a user’s password and identifier (mobile, email, etc) have been compromised, the breach and recommended action steps could be made clear on the consent dashboard.

Given the scope of this suggestion, we recommend an iterative or domain specific approach, wherein financial data is first listed in a dashboard limited to financial data and for its scope to grow with time.

2. Financial Understanding and Informed Consent for all Indians

We applaud the Bill’s Right to Confirmation and Access (Chapter IV, Section 24):

The data fiduciary shall provide the information as required under this section to the data principal in a clear and concise manner that is easily comprehensible to a reasonable person.

That said, we’ve found in practice that it’s difficult to appreciate the implications of digital policies on users until real user interfaces are presented to end users and then tested for their usability and understanding. Hence, we’ve put together a set of sample interfaces (see Appendix) that incorporate many of the proposed bill’s provisions and our recommendations. That said, much more work is needed before we can confidently assert that most Indians understand these interfaces and what they are truly consenting to share.

The concepts behind this bill are complicated and yet important. Most people do not understand concepts such as “revocable data access rights” and other rather jargon-filled phrases often present in the discussion of data privacy rights. Hence, we believe the best practices from interface design must be employed to help all Indians – even those who are illiterate and may only speak one of our many non-dominant languages – understand how to control their data.

For example, multi-language interfaces with audio assistance and help videos could be created to aid understanding and create informed consent.  Toll-free voice hotlines could be available for users to ask questions. Importantly, we recognize that the interfaces of informed consent and privacy control need rigorous study and will need to evolve in the years ahead.

In particular, we recommend user interface research in the following areas:

  • Interfaces for low-education and traditionally marginalized communities
  • Voice-only and augmented interfaces
  • Smart and “candy-bar” phone interfaces
  • Both self-serving and assisted interfaces (such that a user can consensually and legally delegate consent, as tax-payers do to accountants).

After user interface research has been completed and one can confidently assert that certain interface patterns can be understood by most Indian adults, we can imagine that templated designs representing best practices are recommended for the industry, much like the design guidelines for credit card products published by US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or nutritional labelling.

3. Data Fiduciary Trust Scores Similar to App Store Ratings

We support the government’s effort to improve the trust environment and believe users should have appropriate, easy and fast ways to give informed consent & ensure bad actors can’t do well. Conversely, we believe that the best actors should benefit from a seamless UI and rise to the top.

The courts and data auditors can’t be the only way to highlight good, mediocre and bad players. From experience, we know that there will be a continuum of good to bad experiences provided by data fiduciaries, with only the worst and often most egregious actions being illegal.

People should be able to see the experiences of other users – both good and bad – to make more meaningful and informed choices. For example, a lender that also cross-sells other products to loan recipients and shares their mobile numbers may not be engaging in an illegal activity but users may find it simply annoying.

Hence, we recommend that data fiduciary trust scores are informed with user-created negatives reviews (aka complaints) and positive reviews.

In addition to Data Auditors (as the Bill envisions), user created, public ratings will create additional data points and business incentives for data fiduciaries to remain in full compliance with this law, without a company’s data protection assessment being the sole domain of its paid data auditors.

We would note that crowd sourced rating systems are an ever-evolving tech problem in their own right (and subject to gaming, spam, etc) and hence, trust rating and score maintenance may be best provided by multiple market actors and tech platforms.

4. Comments & Complaints on Data Fiduciaries are Public, Aggregatable Data

…so 3rd party actors and civil society can act on behalf of users.

A privacy framework will not change the power dynamics of our society overnight. Desperate people in need of money will often sign over almost anything, especially abstract rights. Additionally, individual citizens will rarely to be able to see larger patterns in the behaviour of lenders or other data fiduciaries and are ill-equipped to fight for small rewards on behalf of their community.  Hence, we believe that user ratings and complaint data about data fiduciaries must be made available in machine-readable forms to not only to the State but to third-parties, civic society and researchers so that they may identify patterns of good and bad behaviour, acting as additional data rights watchdogs on behalf all of us.

5. Warn of Potential Credit and Reputation Hazards

We are concerned about the rise of digital and mobile loans in other countries in recent years. Kenya – a country with high mobile payment penetration and hence like India one that has become data rich before becoming economically rich – has seen more than 10% of the adult population on credit blacklists in 2017; three percent of all digital loans were reportedly used for gambling. These new loan products were largely made possible by digital money systems and the ability of lenders to create automated risk profiles based on personal data; they clearly have the potential to cause societal harm and must be considered carefully.

Potential remedies to widespread and multiple loans are being proposed (e.g. real-time credit reporting services), but the fact that a user’s reputation and credit score will be affected by an action (such as taking out a loan), most also be known and understood by users. E.g. Users need to know that an offered loan will be reported to other banks and if they don’t pay they will be reported and unable to get other loans.

Furthermore, shared usage-based patterns – such as whether a customer pays their bills on time or buys certain types of products – must be available for review by end users.

6. A Right to View and Edit Inferred Personal Data

The Machine Learning and AI community have made incredible strides in computers’ ability to predict or infer almost anything. For example, in 2017, a babajob.com researcher showed the company could predict whether a job seeker earned more or less than Rs 12000 / month with more than 80% accuracy, using just their photo.  She did this using 3000 job seeker photos, 10 lines of code and Google’s TensorFlow for Poets sample code.  Note the project was never deployed or made publicly available.

As these techniques become ever more commonplace in the years to come, it’s reasonable to assume that public facing camera and sensor systems will be able to accurately infer most of the personal data of their subjects – e.g. their gender, emotional state, health, caste, religion, income – and then connect this data to other personally identifiable data such as a photo of their credit card and purchase history. Doing so will improve training data so that systems become even more accurate. In time, these systems – especially ones with large databases of labelled photos – like the governments’, popular social networks’ or a mall’s point of sale + video surveillance system – truly will be able to precisely identify individuals and their most marketable traits from any video feed.

Europe’s GDPR has enshrined the right for people to view data inferred about them, but in conjunction with the idea of a third party consent dashboard or Account Aggregator (in the RBI’s case), we believe we can do better.

In particular, any entity that collects or infers data about an individual that’s associated with an identifier such as an email address, mobile, credit card, or Aadhaar number should make that data viewable and editable to end users via their consent dashboard.  For example, if a payment gateway provider analyses your purchase history and infers you are diabetic and sells this information as a categorization parameter to medical advertisers, that payment gateway must notify you that it believes you are diabetic and enable you to view and remove this data. Google, for example, lists these inferences as Interests and allows users to edit them:

Using the Consent Dashboard mentioned in Major Comment 1, we believe users should have one place where they can discover, view and correct all personal and inferred data relevant to them.

Finally, more clarity is needed regarding how data gathered or inferred from secondary sources should be regulated and what consent may be required. For example, many mobile apps ask for a user’s consent to read their SMS Inbox and then read their bank confirmation SMSs to create a credit score. From our view, the inferred credit score should be viewable by the end user before it’s shared, given its personal data that deeply affects the user’s ability to gain usage of a service (in this case, often a loan at a given interest rate).

7. Sharing and Processing of Health Data

The Bill requires capturing the purpose for data sharing:

Chapter II, point 5:

“Purpose limitation.— (1) Personal data shall be processed only for purposes that are clear, specific and lawful. (2) Personal data shall be processed only for purposes specified or for any other incidental purpose that the data principal would reasonably expect the personal data to be used for, having regard to the specified purposes, and the context and circumstances in which the personal data was collected.”

In the healthcare domain, collecting the purpose for which the data is being shared might itself be quite revealing. For example, if data is being shared for a potential cancer biopsy or HIV testing, the purpose might be enough to make inferences and private determinations about the patient and say deny insurance coverage. On the other hand, stating high-level, blanket purposes might not be enough for future audits. A regulation must be in place to ensure the confidentiality of the stated purpose.  

The Bill has a provision for processing sensitive personal data for prompt action:

Chapter IV, point 21:

“Processing of certain categories of sensitive personal data for prompt action. — Passwords, financial data, health data, official identifiers, genetic data, and biometric data may be processed where such processing is strictly necessary— (a) to respond to any medical emergency involving a threat to the life or a severe threat to the health of the data principal; (b) to undertake any measure to provide medical treatment or health services to any individual during an epidemic, outbreak of disease or any other threat to public health; or (c) to undertake any measure to ensure safety of, or provide assistance or services to, any individual during any disaster or any breakdown of public order.”

While this is indeed a necessity, we believe that a middle ground could be achieved by providing an option for users to appoint consent nominees, in a similar manner to granting power of attorney. In cases of emergency, consent nominees such as family members could grant consent on behalf of the user. Processing without consent could happen only in cases where a consent nominee is unavailable or has not been appointed. This creates an additional layer of protection against misuse of health data of the user.

Suggestions and Questions

Fund Data Rights Education

We believe a larger, public education program may be necessary to educate the public on their data rights.

Limit Impact Assessment Requirement

Section 33 – Data Protection Impact Assessment —

  • Where the data fiduciary intends to undertake any processing involving new technologies or large scale profiling or use of sensitive personal data such as genetic data or biometric data, or any other processing which carries a risk of significant harm to data principals, such processing shall not be commenced unless the data fiduciary has undertaken a data protection impact assessment in accordance with the provisions of this section. …
  • On receipt of the assessment, if the Authority has reason to believe that the processing is likely to cause harm to the data principals, the Authority may direct the data fiduciary to cease such processing or direct that such processing shall be subject to such conditions as may be issued by the Authority.

We believe that the public must be protected from egregious data profiling but this provision does not strike an appropriate balance with respect to innovation. It mandates that companies and other researchers must ask government permission to innovate around large scale data processing before any work, public deployments or evidence of harm takes place. We believe this provision will be a large hinderance to experimentation and cause significant AI research to simply leave India. A more appropriate balance might be to ask data fiduciaries to privately create such an impact assessment but only submit to the Authority for approval once small scale testing has been completed (with potential harms better understood) and large scale deployments are imminent.

Passwords should be treated differently than other sensitive personal data.

Chapter IV – Section 18. Sensitive Personal Data. Passwords are different than other types of Sensitive Personal Data, given that they are a data security artifact, rather than a piece of data that is pertinent to a person’s being. We believe that data protection should be over-ridden in extraordinary circumstances without forcing companies to provide a backdoor to reveal passwords. We fully acknowledge that it is useful and sometimes necessary to provide backdoors to personal data – e.g. one’s medical history in the event of a medical emergency – but to require such a backdoor for passwords would likely introduce large potential security breaches throughout the entire personal data ecosystem.  

Does the Bill intend to ban automatic person-tagging in photos and image search of people?

Chapter I.3.8 – Biometric Data – The Bill defines Biometric Data to be:

“facial images, fingerprints, iris scans, or any other similar personal data resulting from measurements or technical processing operations carried out on physical, physiological, or behavioural characteristics of a data principal, which allow or confirm the unique identification of that natural person;”

The Bill includes Biometric Data in its definition of Sensitive Personal Data (section 3.35) which may only be processed with explicit consent:

Section 18. Processing of sensitive personal data based on explicit consent. — (1) Sensitive personal data may be processed on the basis of explicit consent

From our reading, we can see a variety of features available today around image search and person tagging being disallowed based on these provisions. E.g. Google’s image search contains many facial images which have been processed to enable identification of natural persons. Facebook’s “friend auto-suggestion” feature on photos employs similar techniques. Does the Bill intend for these features and others like them to be banned in India? It can certainly be argued that non-public people have a right to explicitly consent before they are publicly identified in a photo but we feel the Bill’s authors should clarify this position. Furthermore, does the purpose of unique identification processing matter with respect to its legality?  For example, we can imagine mobile phone-based, machine learning algorithms automatically identifying a user’s friends to make a photo easier to share with those friends; would such an algorithm require explicit consent from those friends before it may suggest them to the user?

Notifications about updates to personal data should be handled by a Consent Dashboard, not every data fiduciary.

Chapter IV – Section 25.4 – Right to correction, etc

Where the data fiduciary corrects, completes, or updates personal data in accordance with sub-section (1), the data fiduciary shall also take reasonable steps to notify all relevant entities or individuals to whom such personal data may have been disclosed regarding the relevant correction, completion or updating, particularly where such action would have an impact on the rights and interests of the data principal or on decisions made regarding them.

We believe the mandate on a data fiduciary to notify all relevant entities of a personal data change is too great a burden and is better performed by a consent dashboard, who maintains which other entities have a valid, up-to-date consent request to a user’s data. Hence, upon a data change, the data fiduciary would update the consent dashboard of the change and then the consent dashboard would then notify all other relevant entities.

It may be useful to keep the user in this loop – so that this sharing is done with their knowledge and approval.

Need for an Authority appeal process when data principal rights conflict

Section 28.5 – General conditions for the exercise of rights in this Chapter. —  

The data fiduciary is not obliged to comply with any request made under this Chapter where such compliance would harm the rights of any other data principal under this Act.

This portion of the law enables a data fiduciary to deny a user’s data change request if it believes doing so would harm another data principal. We believe it should not be up to the sole discretion of the data fiduciary to determine which data principal rights are more important and hence would like to see an appeal process to the Data Protection Authority made available if a request is refused for this reason.

Do not outlaw private fraud detection

Section 43.1 Prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of contraventions of law

(1) Processing of personal data in the interests of prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of any offence or any other contravention of law shall not be permitted unless it is authorised by a law made by Parliament and State Legislature and is necessary for, and proportionate to, such interests being achieved.

We worry the above clause would effectively outlaw fraud detection research, development and services by private companies in India. For instance, if a payment processor wishes to implement a fraud detection mechanism, they should be able to do so, without leaving that task to the State.  These innovations have a long track record of protecting users and businesses and reducing transaction costs. We recommend a clarification of this section and/or its restrictions to be applied to the State.

Limit record keeping use and disclosure to the Authority and the company itself.

Section 34.1.a. Record – Keeping –

The data fiduciary shall maintain accurate and up-to-date records of the following

(a) important operations in the data life-cycle including collection, transfers, and erasure of personal data to demonstrate compliance as required under section 11;

We expect sensitive meta-data and identifiers will need to be maintained for the purposes of Record Keeping; we suggest that this Record Keeping information be allowed but its sharing limited only to this use and shared only with the company, its Record Keeping contractors (if any) and the Authority.

Fillings may be performed digitally

Section 27.4 – Right to be Forgotten

The right under sub-section (1) shall be exercised by filing an application in such form and manner as may be prescribed.

The Bill contains many references to filing an application;  we’d suggest a definition that is broad and includes digital filings.

This also applies to sections which include “in writing” – which must include digital communications which can be stored (for instance, email).

Request for Definition Clarifications

What is “publicly available personal data”?

  • Section 17.2.g – We believe greater clarity is needed around the term “publicly available personal data.“ There questionably obtained databases for sale that list the mobile numbers and addresses of millions of Indians – would there thus be included as a publicly available personal data?
  • We’d recommend that DPA defines rules around what is publicly available personal data so that it is taken out of the ambit of the bill.  
  • The same can be said for data where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy (with the exception that systematic data collection on one subject cannot be considered to be such a situation)

Clarity of “Privacy by Design”

Section 29 – Privacy by Design

Privacy by Design is an established set of principles (see here and in GDPR) and we would like to see the Bill reference those patterns explicitly or use a different name if it wishes to employ another definition.

Define “prevent continuing disclosure”

Section 27.1 – Right to be Forgotten

The data principal shall have the right to restrict or prevent continuing disclosure of personal data by a data fiduciary…

We request further clarification on the meaning of  “prevent continuing disclosure” and an example use case of harm.

Define “standard contractual clauses” for Cross-Border Transfers

Section 41.3.5 – Conditions for Cross-Border Transfer of Personal Data

(5) The Authority may only approve standard contractual clauses or intra-group schemes under clause (a) of sub-section (1) where such clauses or schemes effectively protect the rights of data principals under this Act, including in relation with further transfers from the transferees of personal data under this subsection to any other person or entity.

We would like to standard contractual clauses clearly defined.

Define “trade secret”

Section 26.2 C – Right to be Forgotten

compliance with the request in sub-section (1) would reveal a trade secret of any data fiduciary or would not be technically feasible.

We request further clarification on the meaning of  “trade secret” and an example of the same.

Author Comments

Compiled by iSPIRT Volunteers:

Links

Comments and feedback are appreciated. Please mail us at [email protected].

Appendix – Sample User Interface Screens

Link: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Eyszb3Xyy5deaaKf-jjnu0ahbNDxl7HOicImNVjSpFY/edit?usp=sharing

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Scaling Sales: A Deep Dive At SaaSx Fifth Edition

As a first time attendee of iSPIRT‘s annual SaaSx conference, I didn’t know what to expect as we drove along the western coast of India towards Mahabalipuram – the venue for SaaSx5. From all the chatter around the event on Twitter, it looked like the who’s who of SaaS leaders in India were attending. Upon arrival, I took my seat with my colleague and looked around. There were only about 100 people in the room, very different from most conferences I’d attended in the past – a lot more exclusive, and a melting pot of SaaS founders building a diverse set of products. It had all the markings of an inspiring day, and it did not disappoint.

Starting with a keynote from the estimable founder of Zoho, Sridhar Vembu, the day was packed with talks and discussions focused on growing one’s SaaS company in the current technology landscape, primarily led by founders of notable SaaS companies of the country. One such event was an unconference on “Setting up and Scaling Sales across Segments and Geographies”, led by Ashwin Ramasamy from PipeCandy.

Picture this: about 80 founders seated in a room, circled around Ashwin who was leading the conversation about setting up and scaling your sales team. Since the flat organizational hierarchy at SignEasy, and the culture of openness at the company provide me with a wonderful vantage point of all functions across our company, including sales, I was eager to listen to the different perspectives that the founders brought to the table. At the start of the discussion, Ashwin graciously asked the audience for talking points they’d like covered, and the discussion began. A plethora of topics were discussed, starting from the very definition of inside sales, leading up to when and why to deploy an inside-sales team. Hiring and putting together the right sales team, including whether it should be in-house or outsourced, was another hot topic of debate with many founders offering their own experiences and perceptions.

The conversation then steered towards outbound sales and the mechanics and economics of that, which contributed to some of the biggest takeaways for me – things that cannot be found in a book and are only learned through experience.

The success rate of outbound sales peaks at 2%, as opposed to the 40-50% success rate you come to expect with inbound sales. This was an interesting insight, as it’s easy to assume your outbound effort is underperforming when it could actually be doing quite well. Also, you should use the interest you’re receiving through the inbound channel to refine your outbound strategy – your inbound interests are a goldmine of information on the kind of industries, company sizes, and job functions your potential customers represent. At SignEasy, we are constantly honing our outbound target by capturing as much information as possible from our inbound requests.


Further, the efficacy of your outbound sales effort is a direct function of the maturity of the market you’re in – for a saturated market with tens of other competitors, outbound usually fails to make a mark because it’s difficult to grab a potential customer’s attention. This is a great rule of thumb to decide if outbound is for you, depending on the market your product serves.

Outbound sales also requires dedicated effort rather than a ‘spray and pray approach’ – a minimum 6-month commitment is crucial to the success of your outbound strategy. Founders should be deeply involved in this initial effort, sending out 500 emails a day for at least 3 months, and tweaking and iterating through them as they get to the most effective email. It’s also important to dedicate yourself to a channel when experimenting, but also experiment and exhaust numerous channels over time to zero in on the most effective ones.


The value of this discussion, and indeed the day, was best expressed by the ferocity with which my colleague and I took notes and wrote down every piece of advice that was being dropped around the room. Being product leads of the SMB business and mobile products respectively, Phalgun and I were amazed at how much we could relate to each point being discussed, having been through and living the journey first-hand ourselves at SignEasy.

SaaSx5 was nothing short of inspiring, and we emerged from it feeling uber-optimistic about SaaS in India, and what the future holds

This blog is authored by Apoorva Tyagi, Product at SignEasy

Product Roadmap considerations

Roadmap1

 

Roadmap is a key part of a software product company, especially Enterprise Software (B2B) software. When you sell your software to a customer, it is not just on the current capabilities but lot of emphasis is made on the Roadmap. Especially with cloud based software this is becoming super important, as the innovation and capabilities come out incrementally, in frequent cycles.

In my interaction with startup founders, one of the aspect they want to manage better is Reliable Product Roadmap – to ensure they do not over or under promise.

There are two steps to Product Roadmap –

  • Creating or documenting the product roadmap
  • Communicating the product roadmap to various internal and external stakeholders

In this post, I would like to share some key areas to focus for effectively create and communicate roadmaps that may have different flavors.

Vision vs. Execution

roadmap2

 

Logically split Roadmap into the above two areas in order to communicate to right stakeholders. One part should cover the Product vision – or even a higher vision of the product segment or umbrella. This would be the driving factor based on which the customers should perceive the product, of how problems are solved today and into the future.  As an example, Microsoft Office vision would be to improve productivity – and how they plan to leverage future technologies to improve productivity. The other part is around the Execution – more of delivery plan, more of product capabilities that are coming in, more of the details. A clear link should exists between the vision and execution – but it is important to have this as two parts.

Long term vs. Near term

Roadmap3

 

Another important distinction to cover in roadmap is what is going to be covered in the long term and what is planned in the near term (short and medium term). Depending on the product lifecycle – long term could be between 2-4 years while near term can range from 3 months to 2 years. The long term ones are still ideas that has been experimented through some proof of concepts or things that would take a longer term to realize or productize, but they are important innovations or things that are coming to get near to the vision. Near terms are the ones which are almost getting completed or is under development, with reasonable predictability of getting them out sooner.

Rigid vs Flexible

Roadmap4

We live in ever changing world, where priorities keep changing. It is important to balance the roadmap priorities between being too rigid or too flexible. The roadmap often changes due to customer needs not being met, competitive action driving some changes, internal priorities and investments, lack of market for certain investment. On the other hand, if you keep the roadmap too dynamic and flexible, you will lose focus and probably trust from your stakeholders. It is very important to keep the roadmap and investments spread between certain areas where you can be a bit rigid, whereas keeping some open-ended areas for ability to change the plans. For this reason, it is critical to keep the future roadmap not covered in any legal or contractual commitments.

Incremental vs Disruptive

roadmap5

 

Roadmap should consist of both incremental features as well as disruptive ones. Often we get into this innovators dilemma wherein the focus is on many minor incremental features that improves the product, satisfies the customer needs, solves the problem in a better way, bring better usability – so on and so forth. But in regular intervals – atleast once a year – its important to think about the next wave, the next big thing and start working in parallel to solve some new business problems, that could eventually eliminate a problem totally. Read my post on “what product are you making – pain killer, vitamin or vaccine” – once in a way you should experiment something disruptive, create and prove , and show what’s coming. Whatsapp is an amazing example of such a disruptive technology – in the past we have seen things like Google, ipad etc which are disruptive. Many smaller, less popular products have also been disruptive. In your roadmap, while it would be hard to communicate the disruptive ideas when they are in Labs, depending on its maturity, its best to prove some of the lab ideas with few handful of customers and validate them with real life use cases and scenarios. For such create /prove situations, a more restricted roadmap with NDAs are discussed with select customers. So use your roadmap to think and cover both incremental and disruptive solutions to problems.

Objectives (the what) vs Activities (the How)

roadmap6

 

 

Product Roadmap is not a Project Plan. Many a times we come across some of the roadmap that looks like a project plan, listing out different activities and milestones. Instead of being a list of activities with milestones, roadmap should lay out the objectives of the product – the vision, the capabilities and the tentative timelines those are going to be made available. This is important because the activities may vary based on the approach taken to a solution but the objectives of the product may still be same.

Solution bound vs Time bound

roadmap7

Another question that keeps coming back is whether a roadmap is solution bound or time bound. Roadmap is always time bound, as the user of the roadmap is looking to or planning based on the roadmap. The time need not be exactly accurate, but it needs to be indicative with an acceptable minor deviation. Usually indicating a period of short term, medium term and long term with a usual timeline fixed for each of them would be a good way to represent the roadmap. This helps customers plan better.

External vs Internal

roadmap8

Finally, while Roadmaps are drafted based on common vision and solution, Roadmaps have to be slightly different for external and internal stakeholders – especially with respect to the level of details presented, the timelines and the goals. For customers, Roadmap should address solution to the problem, with rough estimate of the time and the benefits that will bring by adopting them. For other external stakeholders such as investors or partners, it may go further into details of the market potential, and the ROI of investing in a certain set of roadmap items for the business. And for internal stakeholders it could go into more details on the strategy, more specific timelines, risks, competitive reasoning and few other internal only information may be laid out.  Communicating the roadmap to different stakeholders is one of the key. Roadmaps should be clearly planned at an appropriate level of details with each of the stakeholders.

Product Roadmaps are living document and most important one for any product company. Lot of engaged time should be dedicated on documenting and communicating the roadmap.

Wishing you all Happy New Year 2018 !

Product Manager as the Wicket Keeper

 

 

wk1

 

Wishing you all a very happy 2017, may you get the guts and courage to make the change this year.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one of the most successful cricketers is certainly an inspiration for all of us – cricket fans and Indians. While he is a famous and winning captain, probably being a wicket keeper has helped him to shape up his instincts, strategy and execution.

Being a product manager for few years now, I often relate to being a wicket keeper, who really wears multiple hats to help his team and win in the market. Often there is lack of clarity on the role of a Product Manager and why are they needed. In this post I would like to focus on drawing some parallels between Wicket keeper and Product Manager , especially differentiating the greats from good ones.

Pitch reader (Market)

wk2

Understanding the pitch is a key aspect to winning a cricket match – so is the understanding of the market to win with a product. Wicket keepers are great pitch readers, as they stay close to it always. So is the product manager, as understanding the market is a very significant success factor for products. If product managers can read the pitch (market) well, they can certainly guide the team very well to shape the right product that fits the market.

Supporting the bowler (Development)

wk3

One of the primary roles of product managers is to work very closely with development to shape and release the product. They are involved every ball, they need to be attentive to every detail, they need a great presence of mind, they need to keep motivating and appreciating every milestone. They also support the bowlers on field placements – read as key reviews of every aspect of the design of the product. They can give instant feedback and suggest changes, on the spot to ensure success. They also catch to take wickets – similar to some key contributions by product managers on prototyping and closing loop on the product.

Alert with fielders (Quality Assurance)

wk4

Wicket keepers stay alert with fielders and set an example in the field, as well as guide the field on what’s coming from the bowlers. Product managers similarly are one of the initial quality assurance /testers of the product, and guide the QA on how to ensure the quality of the product.

Close to opponent (Competitive insights)

wk5

Wicket keepers stay very close to the opponent batsman. They know whats their strength and weakness by closely following and watching them. This can certainly help share their insights to the bowlers. Similarly Product Managers have to stay very close to whats being done by competition, and how the products they build can surpass the competitor products, by understanding their strengths and weakness.

Handy batsman (Sales)

wk6

Finally wicket keepers can also support with the bat. While they are not the strike batsman, they may be useful handy batsman as they know the pitch and the opponents, and in some situations could single handed win with their extra batting abilities (like a Dhoni or Gilchrist). Product Manager similarly can support Sales to win in the market. Product managers know all the details of the product, the market and the competition – so they can certainly help win in sales. While they are not the strike sales man, they can be an effective supporting person for the striker. Some Product Managers have a very high success rate of closing business when they are involved.

 

There could be more parallels…but hope the above helped you understand the critical role of product manager, as critical as a wicket keeper in a cricket match, and some of the key ingredients and potential contribution they can make to your product.

When we all started playing (read startup), we may not need a full time wicket keeper as someone wears that hat in rotation, but to make it big (beyond early stage startup) you probably need one.

Great Product Managers move on to become Great Product Leaders and are winners….Adam Gilchrist or our MS Dhoni !

wk7

 

PS : Never thought MS Dhoni will resign captaincy when i wrote this blog post (he resigned on same day when this post was published). Anyway hoping he will continue to be a wicket keeper for a some more period, and great team player 🙂

 

 

Write up the Business Plan !

Most of us have read the famous story about Jeff Bezos’s cross country trip from New  York to Seattle. Bezos founded Amazon.com in 1994, writing up the  Amazon business plan on the way. Jeff’s important advise for startup company or any   company is to write up the business plan.

CrossCountryJeffBezosadvise

Now if Jeff Bezos has done it, and become one of the most successful entrepreneur in the internet era, why not just do it ? By writing it down, you will certainly get a lot of clarity and reference point for what you want to achieve….

Here are some thoughts of what and how should this business plan be written to become a continuous reference point for your startup and growth story. The examples and references of this is more on Software Products in B2B (Enterprise) based on my own experience of writing business plans and working with startups whom I have mentored, however many of this can be relevant for Software Product in B2C (consumer) as well. Also this business plan should be ideally written by founder or a product manager…

What it is and some guidelines?

  • It’s an internal and confidential write-up – Don’t confuse it with presentations and business plans to be shared with people who will fund this – that should just be a subset of this
  • Is reference plan, and should be revisited frequently to change
  • Prepare it in word /excel, bit free form with text (power points constraints you)
  • Prepare atleast 3 scenarios – aggressive, best estimate, conservative plans
  • Do it for 1 year (short term – in greater detail), 3 years (medium – bit higher level) and 5-10 years (long – very high level) – Remember Bill Gates quote “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
  • Write it free form, and then organize it later, go through several iterations, review, review and review

Start with a summary:

Like an executive summary, this is the place you start jotting down the highlights of your road ahead – covering Introduction of yourself and the team, your idea, product space, history and market definition (presuming you have researched it), clear USP & value, challenges & risks, and overall KPIs that will come out of the rest of the business plan. The summary is most likely to change once you have written the rest of the plan.

Customers & Personas:

Who are the users, what are their current problems and how does your solution solve this problems.

Who pays for the software, what are their challenges and what are their company /career goals that the software would help solve

What are the financial/non financial benefits for the customer based on using this product or the cost reduction using the software, measured by productivity etc. Can there be a customer ROI estimated

Market:

Define the market category and market size ie today, and in the future that you want to focus. Try to break down into 2 – 3 levels of hierarchy and in a multi dimensional way by Business type /Geography / Revenue potential of customer/Size of the customer or any other business context.

Define the share of the market you would like to achieve of the market size, on key market segments in 1/3/5 years. What’s the customer IT spends planned for solving such problems

Market is the most key aspect that is going to drive you to successful product, so understand the potential market, research and put it in there

Product:

Now on to the product – write up about the product, to cater to the above market opportunity, with lot of details and value propositions, differentiations and what problem it solves.

Whether the product you are planning is a pain killer, vitamin or vaccine

Product priorities and use cases – focus is the key, focus on the key market, focus on the design and so on and so forth…

Product Roadmap – at level 1 (vision), at level 2 (product category ) , at level 3 (feature /function level). Product roadmap is your product in the growth face

Competitors and other players in the market, and what they have today, in their roadmap or what they are trying to do. Your differentiation against each of them,plans to differentiate. If you don’t know it, some tips for this are here

When will your product be available , the minimum viable product and is there enough time to get the baby out ?

Monetization:

How do you plan to monetize your product, don’t build a plan that ignores monetization.

Revenue and Customer Goals – Quarterly, yearly and medium/long term goals, subscription revenue including projection of drop offs etc.

Pricing model description – different options to be considered, domestic vs international, subscription based vs fixed etc

Risks , probability and dependencies to achieve these goals

Technology:

Explain the technology used for the product, how it would scale, Ux differentiations, clear differentiations due to tech architecture, performance, simplicity, implementation effort. Important this is not technical architecture , so keep this high level.

Talent:

What the skills required to sustain the business – development, design, sales, customer support, channels marketing etc. Challenges & risks associated with this.

Identify gap in availability of talent.

Layout if its important for you to relocate to be successful, due to availability of talent. Place is super important for success – what are the options – what are the pros and cons.

Customer support & feedback:

What is the strategy around customer support & feedback, how product roadmaps are affected by feedback. Level of engagement required initially and as the product matures.

Past learning’s from customers, what went right and what went wrong. How was it addressed?

Challenges of remote support and how it was addressed /planned to be addressed

Draw your effort, cost and cash flows:

You don’t have be finance person – its like putting forth your personal finances, or just google for templates  – put together your estimate of people cost, server /cloud Operating costs, sales & marketing costs, other infrastructure cost – space/communication/support/software etc,  any other expenses required to do scale the product. Link this with your monetization plan, to ascertain your overall profit or loss over the years.

As you see above, there is a lot that can be written up – as you write up in detail, your thoughts on what you are setting forth gets clearer….

But don’t worry if what you plan is not exactly how it’s all turning out to be in reality…..but its important to have a plan, adjust it for reality…

NYCtoSeattle

So now pack up and start off on your cross country trip from Mumbai to Bangalore, to write your Business Plan in Bezos style  !!!

 

 

Kamal Rajini Analogy : Entrepreneur vs Intrapreneurs

RajiniKamal

 

There is heavy pressure in our industry for everyone to get on the train of entrepreneurship or startup, startup mode is on, Govt is supporting this, communities are on it, and now even banks are starting fund startup. This is all great news.

But should everyone having a entrepreneurial spirit, become an Entrepreneur?

Not necessarily. Many prefer to be, but different circumstances in career, money , family and culture make them not venture into that. So whats the option for them.

Here is where I would like to introduce my Kamal and Rajini analogy. I am sure most of you know about these cinema stalwarts from south india. They both had a completely different style and both were successful in their own way

Kamal , the startup guy – Entrepreneur :  Kamal Hassan always tried like a startup guy, tried new things, ventured into unexplored territories, ahead of times, reinvested most of earnings in his movies, and his movies (product) appealed to a certain set of audience (market). Lot of his movies were commercial failures when they were made , but when you go back and watch them after several years, they are gems. He is like Jeff Bezos, not caring about short term, about profits, but only the long term impact his movies creates.

Rajini, the commercial superstar – Intrepreneur : Rajinikanth on the other hand mostly went for the trusted entertainers, big banner , big investment movies, he built his unique differentiation with punch dialogues, style and tricks, and many movie themes were already successful themes elsewhere. He partnered with big cinema houses who would bank on him for delivering what the audience wants, a mass market. Most of his movies were commercial hits.

Having provided this analogy, I often can relate to each of us, with an entrepreneurial spirit, mostly falling into a bucket of Kamal Hassan or Rajinikanth – and we can learn from how these personalities carved their path to success for so many decades.

While most of us have lot of understanding on the Entrepreneur part, I thought of spending more time in Intreprenuer journey. How do you identify them.

In a Forbes article, its nicely highlighted as “those highly valuable executives and team members who will perhaps never become a company founder, but who have learned to apply the essential principles of entrepreneurship to the roles they fill within a company.”

 

Understand Money : Intrapreneurs -while do not put in their money into the business, they think like its their own business, and strive to make every rupee or dollar count. Often they are the pillars for success of the company. Also they expect to be rewarded well for this

Idea mongers – Greeehousing : Intraprenuers are often thinking like owners when trying to carry the ideas forward, the ideas never goes away from them, they make sure that they can deliver on them or bring in the plan /action to do it

Into the future : Intraprenuers are forward thinkers, thinking what’s next, not satisfied with what is today. They are someone the founders and leaders love to brainstorm and take guidance for investing.

Disruptive thinking : Intrapreneurs are out of box thinkers, often challenge the conventional wisdom, often carve out the next course of investment

Don’t miss these great articles on Intreprenuers in Forbes and HBR from where I picked some of the attributes.

So in conclusion, Stay happy as an Intrapreneur – you have lot of company – and if you are the owner, please take care of your Intraprenuers  – and think about success of Rajinikanth 🙂

rajiniKamal1

Design thinking Playbook Roundtable by Deepa Bachu

desk-931928_1280

The core idea of a startup is to tap into the previously unexplored markets, identifying unsolved problems and bringing to the market innovation that disrupt the existing eco-system. It’s about understanding complex problems and coming up with innovative, disruptive solutions…a process that requires understanding the consumers’ requirements and behavior patterns to create a well-thought out solution for the customers’ benefit.

While most entrepreneurs spend weeks brainstorming about the idea, they often ignore the key ingredient to innovation : design.

Design /dɪˈzʌɪn/ (noun) – do or plan (something) with a specific purpose in mind.

The Design thinking Playbook Roundtable organized by iSpirit and conducted by Deepa Bachu from Pensaar helped startup founders understand the importance of design thinking and integrate design into their workflow. Here are some key takeaways from the Playbook Roundtable held at the head office of Instamojo in Bangalore:

Design thinking is not just about the graphic elements, UI or tools. It is a creative approach to a problem. It is a problem solving methodology – whether it is blueprints for a building, a beautiful graphic design for a brochure, a sleek UI for a website or a comfortable piece of furniture, design helps to solve any problem, visual or physical.

While it is important to engage a professional, it is crucial that everybody on the team thinks DESIGN. Entrepreneurs should be able to step away from their immediate environment to look around and view their idea from the perception of the consumers, a process that requires creative thinking.

As a good product manager, a startup founder should be able to connect the dots in non-obvious ways to come up with a unique and innovate solution for the consumers. It is crucial for entrepreneurs develop a deep insight of the problem they are seeking to solve and be passionate about it before coming up with a solution. More startups focus more on the solution and forget the initial problem statement. You must never lose sight of your problem, constantly revisiting it while fine-tuning and tweaking the solution.

A product is valuable only as long as the consumer users it. It is thus important for entrepreneurs to understand customer behavior in order to make their product user friendly. Usability studies though interesting, aren’t always reliable. Startup founders thus have to seek out customers and work with them closely to understand what they need, what they think, how they use the product and how they feel about it.

Customer behavior v/s customer intent – it is important to understand the difference between the two. While a user may want to do something in the ideal world (intent), she may not be able to do it in the real world (behavior). As entrepreneurs it is important to differentiate intent from actual behavior. If this is geographically impossible, startup founders should not hesitate to use data analytics to tap into the users’ behavior patterns and modify the product.

Design thinking allows entrepreneurs to look at their idea holistically and come up with the best possible solution for their users. Design after all enables people to create and come up with the unimaginable and unexpected designs.

 

 

14 Ways to Emotionally Engage users with your Product

Most conversations with entrepreneurs and product managers who want drive engagement and bring viral features to their products are answered as ‘We will gamify our product through features’. This post is about clearing some nuisance around the topic of gamification in products.

Gamification has nothing to do with building features. In fact, even Product Management has nothing to do with building features. It is not a rocket science, product managers usually figure out the ‘building features’ part of it with time and experience.

“People don’t buy products. They buy better versions of Themselves.”

So how do you ‘connect’ users with your product? Not through features, not through gamification, but by triggering certain emotions with your users.

Gamification = Getting People Emotionally Engaged with Product.

Below are some of the most powerful emotions people have along with few examples that will help you figure out how get users to emotionally engaged with your product / startup.
PS: The number of emotions could be more, I have referred to only 14 here.

1. Expression

Expression – People love to express themselves. Enable it.

Products that allow users to express themselves:

  1. Tumblr
  2. Twitter
  3. Facebook
  4. Medium

Products that allow users to express themselves anonymously:

  1. Secret
  2. Whisper
  3. FML

Tip: ‘Expression’ is used as a core use-case in product.

2. Acknowledgment

Acknowledgment: People love getting acknowledged. With interactions & endorsements.

Help people getting acknowledged. They love it!

  1. LinkedIn – Recommendations & Endorsements are social acknowledgments which users love.
  2. Twitter – Retweets and Replies on tweets are great way to be acknowledged.
  3. Facebook – Likes & Comments are acknowledgments to status messages users shares
  4. Quora – Upvotes & Comments is acknowledgment to your answers.
  5. Tumblr – Love & Reposts are acknowledgments to you posts.

Tip: ‘Acknowledgments’ lead to ‘User Notifications’ which further lead to Engagement. Always build features that enable acknowledgments in products that use ‘expression’ as use-case in product.

3. Exclusivity

Exclusivity or Privilege: People love being privileged. Make it exclusive.

Make it exclusive. No one likes the feeling of being left out.

  1. Gmail – Gmail invites were exclusive to few users. People were ready to buy invites off Ebay.
  2. Quora – Only existing users can invite new users.
  3. Pinterest – Users need to apply for access. After few days they were granted it.
  4. Mailbox – Users were in queue to get access to the app.

Tip: ‘Exclusivity’ works best for initial referral program for driving sign-ups.

4. Being Cool

Being Cool: People want to be Cool. People want others to know they are Cool.

Make your users look cool when they share your product.

  1. Frontback – Share a snap along with a selfie. Lets users be cool.
  2. Vine – Short cool creative videos.

Tip: ‘Being Cool’ will help you drive sharing on Social Networks.

5. Nostalgia

Nostalgia: People have memories. Sweet Memories. Remind them about it.

Remind users about some of the best times they have experienced.

  1. Timehop – Complete product is built around Nostalgia. Reminds users of special moments from the past.
  2. Facebook – 2014: Year in Review videos
  3. Twitter – 8th Anniversary: Which was your first tweet.

Tip: ‘Nostalgia’ helps get back old users and revives their interest. Can be only used once in a year on special occasions.

6. Curiosity

Curiosity: People want to know. They fear on losing out. Keep them curious.

Keep users curious. Keep them looking for more.

  1. LinkedIn – The feature ‘who viewed my profile’ tries to keep its users curious, and engaged.
  2. Twitter – Catching up with Timeline, mostly is the fear of losing out.
  3. BuzzFeed / UpWorthy / ViralNova – All try to trigger curiosity of readers through their post titles.

Tip: ‘Curiosity’ in products helps you increase repeat usage.

7. Competitiveness

Competitiveness: People love to compete with others. Creates a sense of achievement. Make it happen.

Drive users to compete with friends / others.

  1. Foursquare – The leaderboards between Friends was a great way 4SQ ensured people kept checking in.
  2. Quora – The feeling of ‘I have a better answer’ or ‘I can answer this question in a better way’ keeps driving engagement.
  3. Fitbit – Leaderboard that tracks your fitness with friends.
  4. Hackrank – Programming challenges.

Tip: ‘Competitiveness’ leads to greater engagement. Though its novelty in private group is lost after some time.

8. Stay Organized

Stay Organized: People love to organize things. Organize everything. Make it happen

Give users stuff that they want to sort / organize. Keep them busy.

  1. Pinterest – Lets you organize pins / interests/ stuff you love.
  2. Evernote – Organize all your notes.
  3. Wanelo – Organize fashion stuff. Ask girls how much they love doing this.
  4. Calendar / Contacts – They are always in a mess. Its a never-ending struggle to organize this. Google Contacts & Google Calendar help you keep them in place.

Tip: ‘Staying Organized’ helps your users spend more time in your product. It soon becomes a habit.

9. Importance

Importance: People love to feel important. Its about them. Their identity. They want to show off.

Make your users feel important about themselves.

  1. LinkedIn – My professional achievements., that is how a user sees it.
  2. Twitter – My views. My opinions., that is how a user tweets.
  3. FourSquare – Checkin is telling the world – I am here.
  4. About.me – This is me. This is my identity.

Tip: ‘Importance’, everyone wants to be important. The product usually ends up being shared, talked about – and results in others wanting to do the same.

10. Authority

Authority: People love to display their authority on a topic. Give them opportunity to do that.

Help create authority for users. Users want to be acknowledged as influencers by others.

  1. Quora – Authority by Topics. Asked to Answer is being authoritative.
  2. StackExchange – For programmers.
  3. HackerOne – For hackers.
  4. Hacker News – For Geeks.

Tip: ‘Authority’ is the importance others in a community or forum assigns to select users. Users want to be acknowledged as being authoritative, it helps increasing engagement and spending time on the product.

11. Visual

Visual: People love stunning visuals. Its a powerful emotion.

Visuals create impact in product. Don’t miss on it.

  1. Instagram – Personal Emotions.
  2. Flickr – Professional Emotions (yes unfortunately for Flickr).
  3. 500px – Photography community.

Tip: ‘Visual’ is a substitute to all unsaid emotions. Use well when your product is build around pictures and photographs.

12. Freebies

Freebies: People love Freebies. Badges. Credits. It all works.

Freebies work. Make use of them correctly.

  1. Quora – Credits users get when other upvote their answers.
  2. FourSquare – Badges for Check-in.
  3. Uber – Credits to Refer Friends.
  4. Facebook / Twitter / Google – Regularly use Advertising Credits to on-board new advertisers.

Tip: ‘Freebies’ – use it only for one purpose. Can be used for activations, sharing or driving engagement. Use it for one use-case that can measured.

13. Money

Money: People want to make Money. People want to receive Money.

Money is one of the strongest emotions. Portray it positively.

  1. Google Adsense – Opportunity for bloggers, individuals, publishers to earn money online.
  2. PayPal – Receive money from anyone.
  3. Elance – Get paid for free-time work.
  4. Kickstarter – Raise money for your projects.
  5. Gumroad – Make money by selling digital goods.

Tip: ‘Money’ – Receiving Money / Making Money is a positive emotion. Giving away is negative.

14. Sex

Sex: People want Companions. People want Dates. People want Sex.

Keep it simple, keep it safe.

  1. Tinder – Helps you find date.
  2. Match.com – Helps you find date.
  3. OkCupid – Helps you find date.

Tip: ‘Sex’ – It is more about selling the Hope. Keep the product simple. Don’t over engineer.

Concluding Notes:

When you build any feature, try to trigger a emotional engagement with user. If you are in early stage of your product development or in process of making your product roadmap, spent some time with this methodology – 15 Steps Towards Building a Great Product.

When it comes to including emotions in your product, ensure the following:

  1. Use max 2-3 emotions per product.
  2. Gamification is not about building features. It is about emotionally engaging a user.
  3. Don’t exploit users. Be subtle. Be good.

15 Steps towards Building a Great Product!

This for all founders & product geeks (that includes me too) who want to build the next great product. Sharing all this for #StartupKarma (Heard this from Bowei – ‘Continue to give away and help other entrepreneurs with a hope that it comes back to you someday!’)

The Background:
As a startup founder, one gets bombarded with advice on pitching, raising investments, growth hacking, marketing and so on. It comes to us through one-on-one interactions, posts we read or multiple startup events and meetups. Unfortunately there is very little or no advice that actually helps you build your product.

Over months, I have studied product patterns in several successful products (like Facebook, Twitter, Quora and so on). This has made me believe that building great products is not just about picking random ideas and shooting in the dark, its a art and science both put together.

Here is a step by step guide for building a great product. I have taken Twitter in this case to demonstrate the examples, however you will be surprised to see the similarities with other products.

Note: Don’t proceed without understanding #0; and without finishing #1 & #2.


#0 | Think: Product does Marketing
The thumb rule for any great product is that you don’t need to market it; it requires zero marketing spends. Instead, it is the users who spread the word, acquire more users which leads to high growth. High virality and strong engagement are the two striking characteristics of a great product.

So here is the step by step guide towards building the next great product!

</end 0>

#1 | Think: What product are you building?
Have clarity about the product you are building. Make your product statement!

Here are the rules:

  1. Define your product in < 10 words. This is not your pitch statement, its your “product statement”.
  2. Be grammatically correct, include name of your product in these 10 words.
  3. No references with other startups / products. This cannot be “AirBnB for Cars” or “Facebook for Companies”.

Share this product statement with others. Does it communicate ‘everything’ your startup is going to build? If it does not, work on this again!

</end 1>

#2 | Think: Vision
Most startups have beginnings over a random idea (usually this sounds like a billion dollar idea then). Once those ideas get built in 3-6 months, the founders are lost and clueless on what next!

Have a vision around this product you are building. You can run out of ideas, but you can’t run out of vision. Build a product roadmap around this vision. (I mentioned it last year too – point 5 )

Make a note of the vision for your startup / company. Check if the product statement you wrote in Step 1 is the right to achieve the vision you just stated.

Now lets start with building!

</end 2>

#3 | Think: Atomic Unit of Product
I picked this up from Fred Wilson’s post which got me thinking for days on my our own product and even inspired me to rethink on our product / vision.

What is the atomic unit of your product? Example; Atomic unit of Twitter is a ‘Tweet’. For Facebook it is a status update. For Instagram it is a photo. For Gmail it is a email. For YouTube  it is a video.

Simple rules about Atomic Unit of your product:

  1. It has to be owned by you.
  2. It should be only one. More than one atomic unit? Signs of trouble!
  3. Your product statement and vision should be centered around this atomic unit.

</end 3>

#4 | Think: Features

Were always confused on figuring out which features to build and which to let go? Answer is simple – build features only around the atomic unit of your product.

Example., Twitter’s core features – reply, retweet, favorite & follow (a user who tweets) are build around its core atomic unit – “tweet”.

Rules to remember:

  1.  List down all features you can think / build around the atomic unit of your product!
  2. Strip down all the features you have on your product that are not centered around this atomic unit.
</end 4>


#5 | Think: Engagement
Want your users / customers to engage with your product – ensure that features you have selected to build around the atomic unit lead drive engagement.

Example., In case of Twitter, the engagement is Retweets, Favorites and Conversations that one can have around the atomic unit ‘tweet’. Similarly for Facebook it is – Likes, Comments, Shares and so on.

Don’t getting fascinated by engagement features around popular products and force-fit them on your product. Example., force-fitting the favorites like functionality from Twitter on your product.

Rules to remember:

  1. Drive engagement around the atomic unit of the product.
  2. Be innovate. Try multiple options to figure out the perfect fit around your product.
  3. Engagement should be measurable! (Example., 35 Retweets)
</end 5>
#6 | Think: Flexibility

Most startup founders I meet are not flexible. They don’t want to change their product and want users to follow a certain flow which they believe which is right. When asked why, most of the times the answer is “we don’t want to let user play around the product”.

Think twice. Your product should be flexible and your users ‘must play’ with your product. Your product should be flexible at its core – at its atomic unit! Example., Twitter lets you tweet text, a photo, video, post, location & in multiple languages. Others., Facebook lets your post a status that is a text, photo, video and so on. Same for Quora, Tumblr and the rest.

Rules to Remember:

  1. Give freedom to your user to play with your product.
  2. List down all formats in which a user can express the atomic unit of your product.

</end 6>

#7 | Think: Distribution

Key to success of any platform – distribution. Why does this come so late? – You need to build your product right before you even think distribution.

Most founders think distribution is ‘sharing on other platforms’. It is not! Before you even get to allow users to share & distribute to other platforms like Facebook or Twitter, get users to distribute on your own product.

Example., Retweet on Twitter, Share on Facebook, Upvote on Quora, etc are the best examples of on-site distribution.

Rules to Remember:

  1. Distribution should be centered around the ‘atomic unit’ of your product.
  2. If a user has not distributed anything on your product, very rarely would be distribute something outside of it.
  3. Don’t force-fit social in your product. Users will figure out way to share if they like something!
</end 7>

 

#8 | Think: Endorsements
Don’t we breath and live endorsements in our every day lives? Why do we forget to build that in the products we create. Great products use endorsements in every element – it brings out relevance & context to information.

Example., If you notice every element of Twitter has a endorsement if you are logged in. This includes – Retweeted by, Follow Suggestions, Profile Views and Search Results.

Rules to Remember:

  1. Endorsements work 100% of the time. Build them in your product.
  2. Anything that is not context is spam. (Said this earlier)
</end 8>

#9 | Think: User Psychology
Most entrepreneurs want users to love their product. Truth is, users don’t love your product. They love the content (or data) on it!

Example., We love to express ourselves on Twitter. Discover best answers on Quora. See moments shared by friends on Facebook.

So if you are building a product, remember to allow users to create their own content and discover relevant content. Don’t try to get users forcefully share something to Facebook or Twitter, it will not work.

Rules to Remember:

  1. Content should be expressed in the atomic unit of your product. Nothing else.
  2. Creation of content is much more valuable than sharing of content.
  3. If a user has created some content on your product, has something he owns – he is engaged.
</end 9>

 

#10 | Think: Content Dynamics
Once you let users create content on your site, ensure you understand the content dynamics – most importantly that user’s need for that content to be seen! This is step 2 of user psychology – he needs activity around it that will keep him engaged through the features you have built around the atomic unit.

Example., If I tweet something on Twitter, who consumes that content? Not all of my 1000+ followers on Twitter, many of them may never notice it. But there are few followers who will retweet that and amplify the tweet.

You need to have features (again around the atomic unit of the product) that amplifies / distributes the content. And users who do these are your content curators! That is all one needs to know about content dynamics!

Rules to Remember:

  1. Great content is created by just 1% of your users; That is amplified by 10% content curators – their actions make things go viral!
  2. When content from your product goes viral, in in true sense your product goes viral.
</end 10>
.
#11 | Think: One Point of Discovery

Building product with above elements is important, and now crucial is to package that all in to a exemplary product design. The thumb rule here is simple – user should be able to do everything that has been mentioned here (till now) on one screen.

Example., the logged in interface of Twitter, Facebook or Quora (though imo Quora still needs some improvements).

Rules to Remember:

  1. Don’t build a product around design. Build design around the product.
  2. Minimize page views, clicks. User should be able to complete 75% tasks / actions of your product from the screen he is displayed where he logs in.
</end 11>

 

#12 | Think: Privacy
This point is intentionally left blank. That is all I have to say about privacy!

</end 12>

#13 | Think: MVP
Stop building minimum viable products, users won’t adopt them. Instead build more valuable products, I wrote a full post on this topic – the minimum viable product trap!

Still not convinced, here are some examples –

  1. Bing is a good search engine (if you have not tried it lately, you should). Still we continue to user Google regularly and did not shift. Why? Because there is nothing more valuable it has compared to Google.
  2. Outlook, is now probably as fast as Gmail and with most (of the commonly used) features that users would expect. Yet Gmail continues to lead because Outlook provides nothing more valuable than Gmail.
  3. We did not move from Dropbox to Google Drive. Same., not more valuable.
  4. While in case of WhatsApp, we all moved not just from text messaging to WhatsApp, but also dumped Facebook Chat, GTalk and many other products. Why? – because it is more valuable!

Rules to Remember:

  1. Build something of value to users, that will drive adoption of your product.
  2. Build your product for real users, not for early adopters.
</end 13>

 

#14 | Think: Growth
If building the right product is the toughest thing to do for a startup, distributing it right is even more tougher. If your distribution plan includes advertising or spending $$$s – then you need to rethink your strategy.

As a startup, you need to completely rely on any existing network to bootstrap your initial growth. Even the existing successful products have, some examples –

  1. Twitter: Live tweets at SXSWi conference displayed on large TV screens.
  2. Facebook: Opened initially in Harward, and more schools later.
  3. YouTube: Nike Advt went viral. Plus many users embedded YouTube videos on then popular MySpace.
  4. Gmail: It was a mail service from Google. Invitation Only. Anyone searching for email services on Google.com was shown advts for Gmail.
  5. Quora: Initially opened to Facebook Alumni network
  6. Zynga: Facebook Feeds.
  7. Dropbox: Invites by Email + Connect Facebook & Twitter accounts.

Rules to Remember:

  1. Bootstrap your growth on other existing successful & large networks.
  2. The networks could be online or offline. Focus on only one!
</end 14>

#15 | Think: Shipping Fast
Many entrepreneurs / founders keep delaying their public beta as they wait endlessly to build a perfect product. This can be very frustrating since the perfect product is always 2 or 3 more features away. Some of the common reasons I hear is – “What if early adopters don’t like the current version of product? what if they rant about it on Twitter?”

Founders should also know that early adopters are very considerate – they know this is the first version of product that is being shipped. In my case, I rarely rant about early stage startups. To communicate something or to share feedback I shoot a email to the founders. In case I really like a product I spread the word for it. Yes, but I do rant if a startup has raised a Series A, in this case I assume you should have a product where silly mistakes are not acceptable :P

Rules to Remember:

  1. Ship a Imperfect Product. Its OK!
  2. Collect feedback and ship changes fast. Ensure your write to your users and update them when feedback is implemented.
</end 15>

 

Concluding Notes:
Building products is not easy! Most of the time its shooting in the dark with no clear modelling that lets the product manager believe if a feature you are building will work or not. As startups, we are pressed on time and a wrong feature can cost us time & money.

It took me quite some time to study and understand these unique patterns in several successful products which includes Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Quora and others; finally had a chance to put that on a deck and now on this post.

While this product management process has been personally very helpful for us at Wishberg; I plan to update this over time as I learn, understand and implement more. Would also want to hear your thoughts on this, please write to me on pj @ beingpractical.com on your learnings and inputs.

Thank You!

Reblogged from BeingPractical

Office Chat – The App for Messaging Securely” – Vipin Thomas, Product Manager – MangoApps #PNHangout

MangoAppsWith Office Chat, the goal was simple; we wanted to create a product like Whatsapp, but for enterprises. This app should seamlessly work between devices (mobile and desktop) and could also be sold alongside the other suite of apps offered by MangoApps (an enterprise social collaboration network). Although MangoApps has an IM client tool integrated in it, Office Chat differentiates itself by bringing out the social flavour from MangoApps, thus, offering a similar and robust IM Client.

Integration: The Key to Success

photoWhen we launched MangoApps, it was a Micro-blogging tool which had IM capabilities. As our customer base grew larger, we integrated modules that raised a lot of feature requests from our community of users. These feature requirements typically vary drastically from industry to industry. With over 8,500 customers from 28 countries, what has set MangoApps apart is its ability to integrate with almost 30+ applications such as SalesForce, SharePoint, Office 365, etc seamlessly. MangoApps architecture was built keeping in mind that any enterprise could plug and play with any existing solution that maybe used within the organization.

Office Chat gives companies a better way to communicate with colleagues and project members, by offering a solution that works across multiple devices. We have spent a lot of time in understanding the pain points of our customers and how our product could simplify their lives. The Office Chat team has also been dogfooding the app themselves by using the product internally, and providing relevant use cases to make the product simpler to use.

The motivation to use Office Chat is driven by the increased productivity from using a platform that allows the user to perform better because all the information is tightly integrated. As Product Managers we spend a lot of time demonstrating use cases to our customers. We have a public domain that allows any customer to sign up for free and kick off a Proof Of Concept (POC). It’s only after an entire team uses the platform do they see the value in using it, hence, we spend a lot of time evangelising the benefits of this social aspect inside organizations.

officechat

Deployment Models to cater to diverse organizations

Office Chat as a product fits into any industry. To cater to our diverse customers we segment our audience on the size of the organization and offer solutions based on the capacity of usage.

Public Cloud: This is a SaaS based model where a customer can purchase the app and can start using it immediately. We offer the App in three avatars, namely free, business and enterprise. The advantage of moving onto a more premium plan is that you will not have any limitations with integrations with 3rd party API’s or the number of users.

Private Cloud and On-Premise: This solution offers the customer the flexibility to choose his own hosting provider while deploying Office Chat. We also offer a range of on-premise solutions as well.

The Road Map

We spend a lot of time interacting with our customers. We try to understand the sort of challenges our customers face while adopting to the platform. When a customer requests for a feature, we usually take a step back to analyse if such a feature has been requested by other users to see if we can derive a pattern and based on this before we go about defining our product roadmap.

We are planning to integrate a slew of features (including real-time note pads) that increases the ability to collaborate between colleagues.

officehat2

#PNHANGOUT is an on-going series where we talk to Product Managers from various companies to understand what drives them, the products they work on and the role they play in defining the products success.

If you have any feedback or questions that you would like answered in this series feel free to tweet to me: @akashj

 

In Product Management, It’s All About Location, Location, Location!

Over the last few months, while talking to a range of Indian and Global tech companies, I noticed an interesting trend in the determination of location for key functions, specifically product management.

Global MNCs: During conversations over the last few months with some North America based technology MNCs, I observed that a lot of them plan to create product management functions for local markets and ensure better insights by placing the product managers in the local markets.  By this, they plan product functionality and global roadmaps accordingly.

Most people who have worked with global MNCs will, time and again, have observed that products are not created for Indian (or emerging) markets.  Most product managers continue to design products for their home markets (typically the more mature markets), with limited focus on local market insights.

India Based Product Companies: In a majority of these companies, more so the startups, senior management executives are either based out of, or are relocating to their largest markets (read North America, maybe South East Asia).  The logical reason is to be close to the key markets and customers.

The rest of the functions (operations, product management and engineering, service delivery, shared services), continue to be based in India.

And this is where I started thinking about the ideal location for product management.

Typically, Indian product startups focus on building a customer base (and credibility) in India, and once established, extend to more mature and higher revenue markets e.g. North America.  As they expand, they locate their sales teams there, but continue to have their product management teams based in India.

Extending the logic of creating products suited for the key markets, shouldn’t product management at Indian product companies be based in the potentially largest markets?  The refrain often is that they cannot afford to have product managers based out of the higher cost markets.I recognize that there is no easy solution, and companies choose different approaches to manage this.

Location Options
Typical Company
Advantage
Challenge
Located with Development
About 50-60% of companies, Indian and Global
Ensure that the product development matches product definition
Not enough market exposure for the product managers
Split between Development and   Market locations
Taken by SI firms, where the product manager travels specifically for large opportunities
Balance between development and market needs, being an effective bridge
Customer meetings are for closures, not for discovery – thus, not able to really get deep proactive insights into the market
Extended Product Management teams in the market
Taken by about 15% of companies, having an advanced roadmap
Get market feedback and also be able to effectively engage with the development teams
Presales / solution responsibilities are pushed onto local product managers, limiting market feedback and insights
Located in the Market
About 5-10% of companies (mainly Global)
Capture direct and deep market feedback to ensure product truly meets market needs
Limited engagement with the development teams
My belief is that while there may be no one answer, it is fundamentally linked to the stage the company is in, and the ability to effectively capture market feedback into the company’s product management teams.

The Location Matters

For product startups, however, it becomes extremely critical to get the right market insights (on an ongoing basis) so that they can actively differentiate and continue to retain their market edge as compared to some of their better entrenched competitors.  Having local market feedback could well be the key differentiator that could help them build and deliver significant value to their customers.  And could result in the long term growth and survival.  When one evaluates the employee costs of keeping the product management function in the key markets against the opportunity costs, it becomes apparent that the benefits derived can easily justify the investments.  However, the choice of the right product manager is also critical, otherwise you may end up getting pre-sales and reactive insights, which is not what the goal is.

Of course, an extreme option could be to follow Dogbert’s advice:

dogbert_consulting
Look forward to your insights on approaches that have worked for product companies across multiple markets.

What Makes a Good Product Manager: Lessons from Doers

For solo product entrepreneurs and product teams that are caught in a vicious cycle of build, release, build release, we bring some insights from “doers” that will help them differentiate through the demanding skills of product development. Deep Nishar, who leads product management at LinkedIn, had said sometime ago that a product manager needs brain of an engineer, heart of a designer and speech of a diplomat. Is product management an art or science is an extraneous question. It is both and more. If a product manager can understand where code sucks and how to place a nice button to entice the user, his job is well done. It’s a deft left brain right brain play.

Indian product ecosystem is evolving and many product managers are learning on the way to make their successes and don’t ask heartwrenching slips, which anyway is part of the game. These first-generation product managers are just sowing their seeds of a developing ecosystem. When we asked some accomplished product managers who are part of successful product ventures in India—Amit Somani of MakeMyTrip, Ravi Padaki of Pravi Solutions, Shivakumar Ganesan (Shivku) of Exotel, Krishna Mehra of Capillary Technologies, and Shrirang Bapat of Pubmatic—as to what makes a successful product manager, the answers were varied and thought-provoking.

Key aspects of becoming a product manager

Krishna Mehra and Shirang Bapat are unanimous in their view that a product manager should understand the pulse of the customer. Mehra adds another element to the product manager’s repertoire – execution. Ravi Padaki takes a holistic view in stating the a product manager should understand the how business works, be creative in solving problems for customers that may not translate as features in the product, and be a great communicator, not just in listening to customers but to the market as well. Amit Somani demands insane curiosity, building capability, and knowledge of how to work through influence. Shivakumar Ganesan (Shivku) of Exotel feels the product manager expects the product to sell itself and works backwards from market needs to build a suitable product. He feels product manager is a misnomer and the correct term is “market manager.” Shivku brings out the creative plus execution aspect of a product manager when he says, “he is willing to write a hack to keep the elegance.” Aesthetics are important for a product manager whereas the coder just concentrates on architecture and design.

Attributes demanded: ability to understand customer pulse, creativity, curiosity, influence without authority, capability to build what market needs

Top three priorities of a product manager

Ravi Padaki is emphatic that shipping is the first priority. Iterating and scheduling releases based on feedback and market response follows. Krishna Mehra cautions against building without validation and product discovery. In enterprise market, building for wrong requirements means loss of cost and time, while customer feedback should be gauged quickly for consumer products. Focusing on customer experience is the first priority of Shirang. Amit bets on a big vision to begin with. According to Shivku, customer support comes first.

The second priority for all the five revolves around execution. While for Amit, understanding customer requirement and translating it into a product is important, Mehra focuses on the ability to work with the engineering, design and QA team to deliver high-quality product. Shirang takes it a step ahead to focus on communication between customer, product manager, and engineering, which again emphasizes on aligning customer needs to building the product. Shivku emphasizes on product-market fit, while Ravi bets on validating the product through feedback through all stages of development.

The third priority for product managers is taking several parts of the organization together to build a successful product. For Shirang, the third priority is fitting the non-functional requirements into the product. Mehra wants the product manager to drive customer success by working with other parts of the organization. Ravi terms it triangulating and prioritizing, which means synthesizing inputs from various parts, which the product manager likes some part of it or not. Shivku calls for inventiveness in creating a product out of ideas from the junk. Amit takes shipping, iteration and metrics to the end.

Three priorities: 1. Enlisting customer requirements/support, 2. execution and continuous iteration based on feedback, and 3. taking the organization along during product development 

Creating a platform needs a broad vision and a long leash from investors– Ranjit Nair, CEO of Germin8. #PNHangout

Ranjit has a PhD in Computer Science from University of Southern California and is the CEO of Germin8. In this #PNHangout we had a chance to catch up with Ranjit on the challenges of building a platform and finding the initial market fit.

Ranjit-PRCIMSMarket research companies world over found conducting surveys about brands and products difficult. People were reluctant to take surveys and those who did take these surveys were not representative of the target audience, eg: housewives and retired folks instead of working professionals. We saw a trend where people would often go onto social media sites and/or company owned channels of communication such as emails to express themselves. Hence, as a solution to this market research problem we developed NLP algorithms which were capable of understanding opinions expressed in textual conversations. These algorithms were designed to perform functions such as topic segmentation, topic identification and sentiment analysis. Although these theoretical problems were interesting to solve, it was far from being a product that had much broad commercial appeal.

The push to create a market fit for Explic8

By March 2009, I had assembled a team to develop a commercial product that harnesses these NLP algorithms in order to draw actionable insights and leads from public and private communications channels such as social media and emails. To fill the missing features that could make this product commercially viable, I had challenged my team to build a working prototype in 23 calendar days — just in time for the General Elections in India. Our goal was simple, to analyse what people globally were talking about politicians and parties during the election and make this data available to the public.

This sprint drew us closer to creating the foundations of a minimum viable product which solved a market research pain point (i.e. reliability of surveys). But we knew that the technology we had developed could also solve pain points felt by customer service, sales and corporate communications. For example, this tool could be used for lead generation by a sales team by finding conversations where customers had expressed a stated or latent need for certain products.

An expanded vision could mean a larger product development cycle, but it was worth it

We knew that if we expanded the product vision to solve problems beyond just market research and in multiple verticals, we were setting ourselves up to be a little unfocused; instead of narrowing the focus on one specific problem, we chose to develop a platform that could be used in different applications. We chose this approach because there was no market player who had taken the platform route and attacking the larger market would make this product more feasible. We were lucky to have the support of our investors to back us up on this decision.

We, as a product company, were a little bit ahead of the curve where we sometimes ended up with features that the Indian market wasn’t even ready for. When we launched our product, we realized a lot of the features we built weren’t actually being used by our customers.  For example, we have a feature that allows our users to analyse sentiments not just at the brand level but also for each of the brand’s touch points. We realized that apart from a few brands, most were satisfied with just using the overall brand sentiment without concerning themselves about the sentiment for each of their touch points. We preserved this feature and as users evolved, this feature became one of the differentiators that is now used by most of our customers.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and as we went about from concept to production there were many ups and downs that I think are common with every start-up. We would battle between adding features that add functionality and features which made the product more useful, usable and scalable. I think if I had to do things a little differently today, I would have focussed a little more on marketing initially and a little lesser on building many features. However, we have reached a point where our product speaks for itself and customers from a variety of industries are interested in using Explic8.

Platform and Goals

We are now more than a product but a platform. Explic8 is one of the apps which reside on our platform and we’ve built it in such a way that it could be used in multiple use case scenarios such as analysing emails, chat conversations, etc. We also allow third party applications to use our API to develop their own tools. Analytics that comes from our app is very industry focused. For example, if you’re an automobile brand, then the insights you receive will be benchmarked against competitors using metrics and sources relevant to the automobile industry. Hence, the insights you get are highly actionable. The sentiment algorithm is tuned for each industry, for instance “unpredictable” in the context of a steering mechanism would be treated differently from “unpredictable” in the context of a movie plot. We are also in the midst of expanding our platform to encompass predictive analytics.

If you have any feedback or questions that you would like answered in this series feel free to tweet to me: @akashj

19th #PlaybookRT – Insights on the Indian Product Ecosystem

This #PlaybookRT was led by Shivku, techie and founder of Exotel. The theme ‘The Ship of Theseus’ was inspired by the movie released in 2012 and also by a team in TCS that used to call itself the Ship of TCS. The focus of this Round Table was to evaluate if product developers have enough insight about the Indian Consumer to make a product company. Most technology companies have an exposure to the Bay area product culture, but do they know enough to build products for our own local market needs. There were a lot of insights that were drawn on the product eco-system in India and the following is a summary of the discussion.

Exotel office

What is the ideal organization structure for a product company in India?

It’s the culture that defines an organization structure. It’s common to find the founder’s background driving the product decisions, for example, a founder with a sales background will ensure the product management strategy is more sales focused.

Shivku had led the discussion with Exotel’s organization structure explaining how his organization structure allowed him to scale his product. Exotel’s teams are divided into Operations, Marketing & Sales, Product Management and Core Technology. Interestingly the support team has been integrated into the Product team in Exotel. This unique structure was done so as to ensure that the product team is closer to the customer.  Customer complaints are usually an indication of bad code and the team that pushed this out this bad code is also responsible to fix it. Even though each team’s responsibilities and targets are clearly demarcated in Exotel, there is a technology person in each of these teams, making them self-sufficient.

Exotel started off with the intention of being a SaaS company, it almost fell into the trap of being a services company post launch. Some of the insights drawn from these discussions were:

1)     Democratically building a product feature set in the early stages is important. But once you cross a tipping point in terms of customers its best to pick and choose features that will drive the product’s engagement in your core audience. If you do not this, you may end up building a services company instead of a product company.

2)     Listening to your sales team is very important. It is upon meeting a lot of customers that the sales team can synthesize patterns (of customer needs). Identifying this common pain point between customers ensures that you are satisfying a broad market need and not a specific problem within a company.

3)     We can’t satisfy every customer with one product and your product will need to scale in the direction you see the best product-market fit. Ensure sales teams have a clear audience to market the product to. If the sales guy comes back saying that there is no product-market fit, then it is very likely that he is selling to the wrong audience.

KPI’s

In terms of KPI’s, B2C companies tend to focus more on the virality and retention  and B2B companies focus on monetization and sales. From the discussions it also became clear that you cannot improve on things that you cannot measure. The focus on which KPI’s to use to measure success keep changing depending on which stage your company is in, for example, in an e-commerce company, it is very likely that initially the focus would be on customer acquisition, it could later change to sales, then margins and probably retention.

Translating the top level metrics which the CEO/Board measures to smaller metrics which your sales/technology team can measure is very important. This helps you correlate any discrepancies and problems that may arise. It also gives you a fair understanding of the success/failure of a new initiative.

IMG_2557
Bharath, from Pugmarks.me, illustrated the above problems with an example. His product management philosophy currently is to create high engagement in a smaller audience. By identifying the customers pain points on why user’s drop-off very early, he was able to divert his team’s resources in fixing this problem, thus ensuring retention. He highlighted a problem with low latency which hindered the user experience leading to poor retention. The team has now spent a considerable amount of resources in fixing this problem, to ensure the product’s KPI’s were met. However, the focus could later change to improving engagement and/or CTR’s.

When do you know and how do you know if you have a product market fit?

Rinka Singh, highlighted his pain points while talking to his first set of potential customers. Although he had met many companies that he initially considered to have a problem-solution fit, these customers never converted into paying customers. It was through perseverance and exploring a little bit further down the value chain that it became apparent to him that he had been attacking the wrong market altogether. Upon increasing the awareness within this initially ignored consumer group, he had faced a tremendous increase in customer response.

Rashmi Ranjan, founder of Shoppers on, highlighted his experience when he launched his product. The product had served a very important need in the market that. It pulled customers in, without the need for a push. He had over 20-25 signups without even going out which indicated a great market fit.

In conclusion, when your customers start to get pulled by your product’s features then it is very likely that you have a successful product market fit.

What is the product manager’s responsibility?

A product manager’s job according to Marty Cagan is to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible. Very often the only person who has a complete view of the product (tech, business and sales) is the product manager. A product manager’s responsibility is to find solutions the market needs the most. He very often envisions the path of the product and depending on the company’s resources his responsibilities could also differ.

rt at exotelFrom the discussions, it became apparent that as an entrepreneur you very often end up constantly building and it becomes very difficult to focus on the micro details due to the backlog of features. A product is built in conjunction and not in isolation from the market. Hence, it is very easy to forget the customers who you are building this product for. In the build, measure and learn cycle, we very often forget to measure and learn. It is important to not let this happen, and the recommendation proposed was to change this role to be of a product market manager instead of a product manager as it is very easy to commit the mistake of constantly building without feedback.

Do I know if a product that was built abroad will be successful in India?

Products that are successful abroad and in India seem to have a strong cultural thread which makes it successful. For example, Facebook ties in common user behaviours of sharing and socializing. However, it’s the ecosystem that drives a products success. You need to constantly evaluate and iterate. In India, it is unlikely that a consumer product can succeed without venture funding. This is probably why we see more SaaS business models or a lot of B2B products in the Indian eco-system.

The conclusions drawn were that you need to have a network that allows a product to grow into the scale it needs to succeed. These networks maybe very well developed in markets like US, but India is catching up. It was also pointed out that there is no dearth of venture capital in India. The supply often exceeds the demand. We need to utilize these channels appropriately and grow the product efficiently. People also need to be more vocal about products they like as more often than not, it’s the early adopters who drive the product to success.

Are we bent towards making services in India?

The product round table concluded by evaluating the Indian product companies psyche. The question was whether companies like Infosys and Jugaad were the reasons why Indians leaned towards a services model. Services by nature start and end with a contract. The problem definition is usually laid out by another company and there is very little room for novel products to come out in this problem space. Product companies are driven by a vision, and it is often executed by combining fields such as design, humanities and engineering. It is important that Indian’s focus more on building our strengths in design and humanities. This disconnect was attributed to the poor education system.

IMG_2553

Conclusion

We have the knowledge and network to build great products in India. Although there maybe large inefficiencies in distribution, Indians have had a fair amount of success stories with regards to products. Flipkart and JustDial are great examples of this and we need to work towards improving the network for product entrepreneurs to succeed. From the Launchpad, promotion, content curation, funding, and giving back to the community, there is a lot that can be done to make the eco-system in India more robust to serve its customers.

“We think more like Product Designers, and less like Product Managers” – Bharath Mohan, Pugmarks.me #PNHangout

(This passage is a summary of the conversation with Bharath Mohan. The audio transcript can be found here.)

Adopters of any new innovation or idea can be categorized as innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%) and laggards (16%), based on a mathematical Bell curve put forth by Everett Rogers in his book titled “Diffusions of Innovations”. The book broadly suggests that if you have a product that is of value, you often times have to pave the path for the consumers to be the beneficiaries of this idea. It’s the product designer’s role to design how a product is used across the dispersion of users. This ultimately determines the principles of design and the features that your product consists of.

bharath-photoWhile I was doing my PhD in IISc, I worked on designing a myriad of algorithms for information retrieval. A typical internet user reads content that could range from currents events, such as the war in Syria, to topics as specific as Product Management. I’ve always dreamt of a system that can bring the most relevant information to a user – without the user searching for it. Pugmarks.me connects the context in which you are browsing through these articles by following the digital trails you leave behind. It then uses its context engine to recommend the next article it considers you should read packaged in a seamless experience.

Designing Pugmarks.me has been an exciting experience, which included research in algorithms, building a real time crawling and retrieval system, and constantly learning from users. We’ve followed some Mantras in our product development – especially because the product requires inputs from multi-disciplinary areas. Everything has to tie in, to each other. Nothing is known prior and has to be learnt along the way. A “product management” approach would not work. A “waterfall” model to design would not work. “Powerpoint presentations” would not work either. Our product management is less of “management”, and more of design and evolution.

The Pugmarks Mantra

Unlike Facebook or Twitter where the problem’s technology core is simple and scaling is complex, our problem’s technology core is complex akin to the likes of Google’s search engine and NEST. Hence, over the past 1.5 years our product has been opened to a smaller set of users which gives us data to refine the product further ultimately paving the path for a larger cross section of consumers to enjoy the benefits of the product.

pugmarks-character-evolutionSome of our Mantra’s are:

  • Be metrics driven: Once we analyse our features metrics we identify ones that are successful and bolster them to make these our ‘super class’ features. While we do this, we bin our users into “Fans”, “Tried but dropped off”, “First day drop-offs”. The ‘tried but dropped off’ is where we focus our energy on. We do data analysis, interviews and direct emails – to understand why they drop off. What we learnt is that they mostly drop off because of the “inconvenience” of a new product; either added latency, extra memory consumption, instability of the browser, etc. These reasons give us new things to work on and improve.
  • Usage versus Users: We are building our product with the goal that even if few users come to try out our product, they all stay back. Between usage and users, we prefer high usage between a small number of users over low usage in a high number of users. If our product cannot engage users for a long time, any amount of marketing will still not help.
  • Focus on real Virality: Virality is often confused with just having a Facebook share or a Tweet button, or slyly making a user talk (spam) about your product in his social channels. Virality for us is the inherent quality in our product which makes the user want to talk about it. We consciously ask ourselves, “What will our users want to talk about Pugmarks to someone else?” These viral loops must be strengthened and not social share buttons.
  • Constantly question your assumptions: In our initial iterations, we felt our users will be concerned over privacy. Soon, we realized that the paranoid would never use us anyway – even if we gave them a lot of control. The ones, who used us, felt we were not building good enough models for them. So, we moved away from user supervised learning to a completely automated learning system. We imagine our current user telling us, “I’ll tell you everything about me. Now help me in ways I’ve never seen before”.
  • Continuous Integration: We never take up features or tasks that take more than two weeks to launch especially one’s which require a lot of people and require extensive build times and planning. If you finish the code and if it’s lying unused, there’s an opportunity cost lost because that code could very well engage a user or maybe incite him to talk about the product to someone else. This is a loss for us, hence, we continuously integrate.
  • Own the full user experience, end to end – From messaging to user touch points to the backend algorithms: A user doesn’t appreciate information until it is delivered in a way that is useful to you and is needed by you. We obviously needed a team that was capable of building this experience end to end. Our team considers every aspect of the product, from the touch points to the user, how the product interfaces with the user and also how the product communicates with the user using the technology algorithm we created.

pugmarks-airplanes#PNHANGOUT is an on-going series where we talk to Product Managers from various companies to understand what drives them, the products they work on and the role they play in defining the products success.

If you have any feedback or questions that you would like answered in this series feel free to tweet to me: @akashj