iSPIRT works to transform India into a hub for new generation software products, by addressing crucial government policy, creating market catalysts and grow the maturity of product entrepreneurs. Welcome to the Official Insights!
It was a rainy Monsoon Delhi day with heavy downpour, traffic jams and water logging but these couldn’t keep a bunch of entrepreneurs from making it in time to the Product Nation Roundtable focused on Product Management and Growth Hacking.
Led by Round Table veteran who has done it all and scaled Slideshare to great heights, Amit Ranjan, the excite bunch got together in the lovely office of Posist.
The round table kicked off with discussion around Product Management with Amit discussing his learnings and unfolding carious aspects around it step by step.
He defined Product Management as the function that manages the product life cycle through activities like planning, forecasting, production, marketing and has flavours of engineering, design, sales, marketing, data etc.
No matter what the stage of the company is, Product management is relevant, it is carried out by Founders is small startups (say less than 10 in strength) and then there are multiple product managers in big companies.
Important takeaway: “A Product Manager should be the CEO of the product” – Amit Ranjan
“A great product manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat”
The group further analysed many examples of startups such as Uber, Twitter, Slideshare etc. around a model shared by Amit depicting 3 pillars of Product Management which are:
align org goals with market conditions & user needs
‘get’ the pulse of the product (think movie directors)
give shape to the product: feature mix, user experience
work with engineering, quality, marketing to deliver
However, a common issue cited by many founders was the issue of making the right hire for such role. The group identified and discussed the various aspects that must be considered while making a hire for the role :
Strong product sense/instinct
Carries multiple points of views
Simplifies & prioritizes
Measures & iterates
Understands good design
Writes effective copy
The second half of the Round Table was focused around Virality and the art of Growth Hacking with Amit sharing many interesting anecdotes and case studies.
Amit defined Virality as “Marketing built into the product…if the product is viral, it will market itself.
It is different from Word of Mouth, Marketing, Buzz etc and is simply the ability of the product to spread on its own. The role of a Marketer is to enable the product to do so and leverage different mediums to do so.
In Slideshare’s case, it was widgets that worked out very well for distribution. Amit emphasised to a great extent the importance of cracking and working on distribution right from the get go. The ideal scenario of working deeply on product (engagement) as well as channels (distribution) is hardly realised. It is a call that the entrepreneur has to take and has its own pros and cons. In Slideshare’s case, the heavy focus on distribution instead of deep diving into product development to a greater extent helped them erect barrier against new competitors/clones who tried to differentiate with added media support but could not pick up. As a negative, Slideshare faced issues in motivation as it never made users compulsively log in or create deeper engagement on the platform.
Amit emphasised the importance of tracking the product’s viral coefficient which is the number of additional members every new member brings. It should be greater than 1 for the product to become viral.
Founders share their own growth hack stories and channels’ learnings. For majority, in the B2B scenario, content marketing has worked well to boost the acquisition and few discussed the idea of generating leads from fake Linkedin profiles!
Amit cautioned that one should always be looking out for new channels as a channel that’s working for you today will saturate soon.
The group got some great insights and takeaways to implement from product management and growth’s perspective. Ashish’s hospitality at Posist with amazing Cholley Bhature was cherry on top of the cake
Building substandard products in 2015 is no longer an option. Design, which was once a competitive advantage, is today a commodity. Everyone has well designed, frictionless products that promise to solve some problem or the other.
To build the kind of products that users have come to expect of us today, it is important to get the small things right, to know what features to develop and which to push for later, to get as many users to use a feature that you have shipped, and to have a fool proof mechanism to collect actionable user feedback which can be funnelled back into the product roadmap.
Being able to do all of the above effectively requires the product management and growth hacking roles to converge and work across the product lifecycle.
This means understanding in simple terms what these roles are and what metrics to measure their success against. It means that your product manager need to have the diplomacy needed to work alongside engineers, marketing, and leadership at your company. Product Management needs to have a good taste for design and sensitivity for the small details that no one notices but in the end go a long way in delighting users. It also means that your growth team needs to know what tactics should be used to get new users in the door or get current users to use a new feature.
At the 51st iSPIRT #PlaybookRT, every question you’ve ever had about product management and growth hacking will be answered by someone who’s been there and done that. Amit Ranjan co-founded SlideShare and grew it into a the world’s largest community of people who create and consume slide decks.
Amit will be curating the list of 12 startups that will participate in the round table once applications have bee submitted.
If you would like to have a constructive dialogue around how product management and growth hacking can be integrated in to your startups, Apply for the PlaybookRT here
After SlideShare, I’ve taken up a role in the government sector. I recently joined the National eGovernance Division, Ministry of IT, Govt of India. My work involves architecting and building e-governance facing products and services under the Digital India program. So after doing a startup, getting acquired, shuttling between Delhi & Silicon Valley… now e-Governance?? What does this term even mean… and why should you care?
You should care because there’s a good chance that (like me) you are a first generation beneficiary of the internet and have seen the transformative role it has played in your life. The way you work, learn, read, buy, communicate, travel, make friends – everything has been turned upside down. Now imagine if the internet could have that same impact on how India is governed. Imagine if the simplicity and fluidity of platforms like Wikipedia, Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype could be replicated in the citizen services that you and I use everyday – be it applying for a passport or a driving license, filing your taxes or getting your govt scholarship. Imagine what citizen services can be built on top of the biometric identification system Aadhaar, which currently at 830 million is just a stone’s throw from the billion mark. Imagine if the internet could be the same change agent in the lives of our less connected co-citizens in far off towns & villages, in the tribal areas, in remote rural corners where roads dont reach – thats what e-governance is about.
The National eGovernance Division (NeGD) under the Ministry of IT is tasked with designing and running national e-governance programs. These take the form of 31 Mission Mode Projects (called MMPs) which are the administrative backbone of the Indian government. My team at DeitY/NeGD is looking for smart, motivated professionals to build e-governance products/services. For people from the private sector, this is a great opportunity for the following reasons-
– In a direct way, what you do in office everyday will contribute to the transformation of India into a digitally empowered society & knowledge economy
– There is a shift towards technology enabled open governance systems (open source, open APIs, open standards, open data) and you could drive this openness inside the government
– The Govt needs domain specialists… your domain expertise could shape key parts of government functioning
– Work like a fast paced startup while inside the government… these product teams will get a startup type environment to deliver quickly
– If you’ve only worked in the private sector previously (like me), this could be a refreshing change from its the profit driven culture
These are the positions – Web Developer, UX/Interaction designer, Backend Engineer, Big Data Engineer, Android Developer, DevOps/Sysadmin, Open Source Community Manager. The projects are all high impact, massively scaled citizen facing technology applications e.g. Building services on top of Aadhaar’s core identity capability, products aimed at paperless governance, open governance initiatives (Open APIs, Open Source, Open Standards, Open Data) etc.
The roles are full time contractual positions (1-2 yrs) based in New Delhi at the Dept of IT in Scope Complex, Lodhi Road. Its a very centrally located office area.
Or if you know of someone else who might be interested, please pass on the link.
If you have any questions about the roles, about DeitY/NeGD or how can you make the transition from your current course to working for the government (and what all that transition entails), feel free to drop me a mail – amitranjan25 AT gmail DOT com. Happy to help you think through this.
The 26th playbook roundtable was held last week (8th March 2014) at Delhi NCR and brought together over 15 startup and product practitioners to discuss and gain insights on some of the challenging aspects of growth and monetization in product companies. This roundtable was hosted at Eko India Financial Services office in Gurgaon, and was led by Amit Ranjan, Cofounder of Slideshare, and Amit Somani, CPO of MakeMyTrip. In a span of over 5 hours, a diverse set of topics were discussed. Prominent takeaways from the roundtable were insights on approaches to pricing, virality, growth decisions, pivoting, user experience etc. The following paragraphs detail the key learning from each of these above aspects.
Pivoting in a Business
Creating a successful company is essentially a search for the repeatable and scalable business model. To succeed in this search, companies should frequently make and test predictions about what will work in their business models. Businesses, no matter, which stage they are in are always pivoting. As a business, while you do focus on your revenues, but you also need to constantly keep thinking what will drive the revenue in 3 years from now and ensure that you slowly move in that direction. Of the so many internet companies, perhaps only a handful will survive 10 years. Amit Somani mentioned how MakeMyTrip is constantly looking at the next big thing. It started from a flight booking venture for NRIs to become the largest flight booking portal for the Indian market and is already evolving to cater to hotels and holiday packages. The next challenge for the company is mobile and ensuring that the company is successful in an increasingly mobile world.
Amit Ranjan talked about how often ventures have to 3-4 side projects or “distractions” that help you understand what will work in a fast changing industry and ensure you evolve to address these changes.
Moving from early adopters to 10x Growth
One of the best ways to achieve 10x growth after successfully validating your product and without spending too much or no money is virality. By definition, virality is designing and engineering your product such that it markets itself. A viral product derives much of its growth from its current users recruiting new users. A user could recruit another through a simple invitation (“Check out this product, it’s cool/useful/entertaining!”), or directly through using the product (“I want to send you money on PayPal!”). Virality is not an accident. It is engineered. Virality is more about width and depth. Amit Ranjan shared interesting insights on how the homepage of Slideshare during the initial days was designed for virality (with several banners and stickers to attract audience) during the initial days and when the portal was able to achieve significant growth, the homepage was redesigned for user experience.
Prioritizing Customer Inputs in a B2B Product
If you manage a product or service in the business-to-business (B2B) market, customer requests for features will be a regular part of your work. Requests come in through the sales team, service reps, and senior management, as well as directly from customers themselves. This makes it difficult for companies to decide which feature to include in the product or not. A good thumb of rule to decide whether to include the feature or not is that if 3 customers want it or a pushy a customer wants it and you can sell it to 2 more customers, then you should go ahead and include that feature. A key issue is to how do you know multiple customers have the same request? A common way is to utilize software which allows customers to post ideas, suggestions and requests. There are idea management providers that are good for this. Or you can user customer feedback sites. These asynchronous, always-on, open-to-all sites are well-suited for capturing suggestions.
In addition, you may need to check other areas. Your email often contains customer suggestions. Or you have a service ticket database you can check. Relevant knowledge will be in people’s heads, those who directly work with customers.
Also, it is very important to validate this feature. This can be done by rolling out first to your employees and then to few customers. This will help validate your thoughts.
Documentation and User Training
Generating user training manuals and videos can be a tedious job, especially for ERP kind of solutions, especially when the product is frequently undergoing changes. Also, the general trend seems to be that users have stopped reading trend. Even if people did decide to read the instructions, showing too many at once increases users cognitive load. Because users cannot read the hint overlay and use the app at the same time, they are forced to memorize the instructions and then apply them. Thus, it is more effective to focus on a single interaction rather than attempting to explain every possible area of the user interface.
Rather than generating documents and videos which will very soon become redundant, a better approach will be to have built in CTAs in the product to help/guide the users. This includes things such as built in FAQs (built using services such as Zendesk), using coachmarks etc. Presenting hints one-by-one, at the right moment, makes it a lot easier for users to understand and learn instructions. This interaction pattern has the added benefit of teaching the user at which point in the workflow these interactions or functions become applicable.
Making Sense of Data
As a product usage grows, enormous amount of data gets collected and sometimes making sense of the data becomes a challenge for Product Managers. It is no wonder that big players such as LinkedIn, Facebook etc. have large teams comprising of data scientists. Data crunching from this team of scientists even help the companies to validate the probability that a particular feature will be liked by their audience.
Product Managers are knee deep in the product and data can help take an unbiased look at the product, often yielding amazing insights and learnings. Data Analytics are important for one major reason: What you don’t measure, you can’t improve. Without knowing what the state of the system is, it is very hard, if not impossible, to do much to change or affect the system. You can, of course, make changes blind, but without analytics you will never know whether the system was changed or whether nothing happened. It allows you to see what is currently happening, make a change and see what effect the change has.
A good way to make sense of data is to have an hypothesis and then look for local maximas. Apart from that, product managers can apply operations such as segmentation, funnels and cohorts to make more sense of data. Over time, as the system changes and improves, the KPIs (and consequently the metrics) will change, which in turn leads changes in what needs to be measured. It is likely that new flows and metrics will be discovered that prove crucial to the system so whatever the analytics used, they will need to be continuously adapted to meet this change and keep you on top of what’s happening in your product.
Encouraging Users to Sign Up
For a consumer product, completely logged in experience versus a logout experience is a choice between distribution and engagement. Slideshare and Youtube offer a complete logout experience as users do not need to login to access the portal. Linkedin devised an interesting way to incentivize users to sign up. They show a glimpse of profile to users who then need to sign up to view the full profile. It is also imperative that the process to get users through the front door of an application and engaging with content needs to be as simple and seamless as possible if an organization wants to win and keep mindshare.
Increasingly a lot of companies are using gamification, but it is more geared towards engagement rather than acquisition.
The Product Management Playbook roundtable repeated last week with an intent to check progress. The mentors – Amit Ranjan & Amit Somani were keen to know the problems product managers faced while they executed on ideas discussed in the previous episode.
We could guess this would be one power packed session, especially from the conversations that ensued over lunch. There were active discussions, funny anecdotes and heartfelt laughter which filled the Eko cafeteria. New bonds were built and older ones renewed as we savored the delicious dishes.
The RoundTable was started with Vikram Bahl of Yavvy.com presenting his product management approach. Presenting a meticulously planned mind-map, his presentation discussed the challenges, the solutions and their outcomes. Elements from the previous round-table were clearly visible. “All of our metrics have now been divided into 1/1/1 (1 day/1 week/1 month)”, he told picking up on the 1/1/1 metric philosophy suggested by Amit Somani of MakeMyTrip in the previous round-table. He also mentioned that the “email-suggestion” and “leveraging-existing-paradigm” suggestions by Amit Ranjan (of Slideshare) had done them loads of good and the results were very encouraging. “This time, I got advice on stuff that goes beyond traditional product management, it was more around positioning and marketing”, said Vikram as he reflected upon the discussions.
Next, Bishal Lachhiramka of Drishti soft spoke about his own product management approach. Touching upon organisational structure, product manager roles and global benchmarks, this was another amazing discussion. Participants shared their own experiences and what has worked for them and what hasn’t.
Tarun Matta of IIMJobs also got some amazing feedback on some of the things they intent to do. Picking up on the experience in the room, he picked up on strategy and executive advice on what could propel IIMjobs onto the next orbit of growth.
We also had Shantanu Mathur introducing ‘Smartwards’ and Mayank Dhingra of Paytm bouncing off ideas on how to build product-management metrics for online products. Even though, this was their first round-table, they found themselves brought upto speed by the mentors.
The final few minutes of the day were spent discussing “how to divide and structure roles and responsibilities of different program managers”. Avinash Agarwal and Abhishek Sinha of Eko, presented a delightful case-study which helped sum up the discussion.
As Nakul Saxena of iSPIRT summed up, “I just see so many product managers negotiating the learning curve together. That is the surest way to move quicker and grow faster. In contrast to any other conference or discussions, the round-table presents every product-team with a close-knit group to discuss personal challenges and personal experiences. ”
Doesn’t that sum up what these round-tables are all about. Participate in the next one to find out!
When nearly two dozen product enthusiasts sit around a table passionately talking for 4-½ hours, expertly addressed by two product veterans – Amit Somani and Amit Ranjan, you can expect an information overload. And, it did seem like drinking from the firehose, trying to capture all the takeaways in the intense back and forth, where even a tea-break seemed imposed. A blast it was – this iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable Delhi edition on “Effective Product Mgmt & Delivery”, focused around learning for startups.
[This was the NCR session on Apr 13th. Initiated, as part of iSPIRT, by Avinash Raghava, and very ably facilitated & supported by Aneesh Reddy. Great facility and great Food by Eko Financials. Thanks guys, Awesome effort!!!]
Thankfully, there was a structure, laid out initially across specific dimensions – Product Planning, Delivering, Hiring, Culture, Metrics, Customer. These themes kept repeating through the session with questions coming from participants across the breadth & depth of product management, and many times touching upon all the aspects of running a product company.
Here’s an attempt to sum up the takeaways from this long & exhaustive (not exhausting, yet!) session.
Planning & Delivering the Product
– Product Planning in many start-ups is not an elaborate exercise. It is typically handled by one of the founders, and “build and adapt as you go” is the norm.
– Delivering a great product is always an intersection of Engineering, Design and Product Management, with Product team in the driver’s seat. This intersection and collaboration is one of the critical factors in getting a great product delivered.
– Getting the Engineers and Designers to collaborate is one of the key challenges. As per Amit R, what helped them at Slideshare was the fact that they always hired Engineers with a flair for Design. A great developer as part of the product team is 70% Engineer & 30% Designer, as per him.
Amit S emphasized that metrics are very important for product managers. When the team grows (when you can no longer rely on people to just talk to each other and get things done), the metrics-driven product management becomes critical. Touching upon the right hiring in this context, Amit S insists on covering the candidate’s thought process around metrics (with open questions such as – what would be your primary metric if you were designing the Delhi metro).
Metrics & the Rule of 1/1/1: This is one rule around metric that Amit S follows. What will be your metric for 1 Week, 1 Month, & 1 Year. Break it down, with crystal clarity and follow it up religiously. (A great resource for B2C space around metrics is a presentation by Dave McCleor – Startup Metrics for Pirates).
Some learning around Metrics:
– It is important to be clear of the vision, and how it connects to the primary metrics that you define. There’s a direct correspondence between identification of the key metric and the clarity of what the product is trying to achieve.
– Relevance of the metrics to the specific goals through the product journey is important. As one goes along in the product journey, the dimensions on which key metrics are identified may vary. Initially it may be customer acquisition; And then it may be engagement; then conversion; retention; life-time value; and so on.
One of the key questions around customer aspect of product management is – What is the right spec for the product? One of the biggest mistakes product managers tend to make, as per Amit S, is when they confuse the “Customer Requirements” with the “Product Requirements”! Sorting this out is the core to the responsibility of a Product Manager.
Some of the tips & tricks around Product Specs:
– When faced with a requirement, the first pass criterion (in B2B scenario) should be – if the requirement is relevant to at least 3 customers.
– There are various tools to interact with customers, and get feedback: Surveys, Net Promoter Scoring, Feedback through the product interfaces, and so on.
– Get the Information from Customers, Tone it down, Tune it further, and then arrive at the specs for “Engineering”.
– What should the spec typically look like? Default Rule of Thumb – 1 Page Spec. It should be very focused, very clear, in what the feature is trying to achieve, and at the same time not too long.
– A Good quality spec considers the “Least Granularity of time” with Clarity of thought. That’s from the Project Management perspective. From the functional perspective, Amazon has a good model that can be followed. Every Spec at Amazon is a 6-Pager Document – forcing people to establish clarity of thought and articulation.
– Another good alternative is the 1 Pager “Lean Canvas” by Al Ries.
– It’s also important to be clear on “What” requires a spec and What doesn’t. Both at Slideshare and MakeMyTrip, the team goes through multiple “Lights-on” stuff that they need to perform to keep the business running on routine basis. And these are fast-track enhancements and modifications driven by immediate business needs and marketing requirements. The Lights-on requirements are different from Core Functional Specs for the product roadmap.
– Another criteria that decides how detailed the spec should be is based on the number of users getting impacted.
– How do you handle customer requests with investment requirements that are not justifiable on the ROI? There are multiple considerations to this. The “Life-time Value” of the customer is important, and if such investments allow you to enhance it and calculate ROI in longer term benefits, it may still work well. There are alternative ways to look at this though. In the experience of Aneesh at Capillary, they had divergent requests that led to a very different direction for the Product and transformed it from “Mobile CRM” to “Intelligent CRM”. Another possibility could be to look at partner ecosystem and see if there’s a synergetic way to address these needs.
– How do you manage your customer requirements into “Not to have” features? How do you single out the noise? While it is nice to think of an ideal situation of getting the product requirements at the planning stage, when the customers use the product, they often come back with plenty of views that need to be funneled down. When you have to discard some requirements, it is important to “talk to a lot of people” to ensure weight. Also, some of the requirements die-down on their own, clearly indicating noise factor. It is a balancing exercise between reducing the hassles in customer feedback process and creating enough friction to dampen the noisy “Vocal Minority” (the term that Amit R uses to refer to the few customers that may be so noisy that their voice seems more important than is worthwhile for the product).
Hiring and Product Management Structure
As per Amit R, Product Managers should be (are!) Second-in-command in the sense that they decide the future of the company. Considering this, it is critical that one single product dimension doesn’t overweigh the hiring process. So, intake process for Product Managers needs to follow the 70% rule – The Product Managers need to be aware on all the broader and holistic dimensions of running the product business including sales, marketing, operations, design, and so on, with 30% depth on the critical Product Management areas.
Some of the specific tips on this from Amit S and Amit R, and some from participants:
– Determine if the candidate can think holistically and de-clutter the thought process in the crowded set of inputs. Ability to deal with ambiguity.
– Product management is typically a “common-sensical” thing. Look for common sense and intuitive angle.
– A great product manager would do well on what can be referred bluntly as “dhandha” (Money part of the busines). You cannot afford to have a Great product with “no” money.
– One of the participant companies built their structure around Customer Success. Majority of the Product roadmap is driven by the Customer Operations, Tickets, and resolutions – and driven by how customers used and viewed the product in B2B scenario. In such cases, they typically found it useful to move folks from Customer Success team into the Product Management areas.
– In case of another successful participant company, the CTO is playing the role of Product Manager and it is working very well for them.
On the relationship between the CEO/Founder and Product Managers. As per Amit S, Product Manager is the CEO of the Product, while the CEO is (of course) the CEO of the Business. One of the challenges for the Founders is how quickly they are able to let go he Product Management and start focusing on the business and Product metrics. Amit R also emphasized that it can work cleanly with the CEO focusing on the business aspects while Product Manager focused on the Product aspects while maintaining the alignment.
Where should the Product Manager Report? At high level one case say that it depends on where you are in the evolution of the product/company, and what the Product really means to the vision of the company. However, over time, Product Management needs to be separated from Marketing and Engineering. In essence, Product Manager shouldn’t report to the Engineering or Sales or Marketing. In corollary, there should not be a reporting into Product Manager as well. Product Manager is a “Glue” job, and is key to a healthy tension for the product direction.
Product Manager is WHAT of the Product – Defines what (functionally) should be built. Engineering is HOW and WHEN of the Product – Details out & manages “How” (technically) and “When” (schedule-wise) should the stuff be built.
One needs to also establish clarity on Product Management being different from typical Project Management. Also, there are strategic aspects of product that are owned by the executive management, however, you always need a “Champion” of the product that is independent of the other forces that drive the organization.
Importance of Data Guy! Another structural aspect that Amit R emphasized on (multiple times!) was the importance of a “Data” person in the Product Team. This role is almost as important as a Product Manager in the sense that Data & Analytics can play a key role in the product Roadmap definition. There are various flavors of the Data – Dashboards and reporting, Product Management level Metrics, Decision Science, for instance. Interesting to note is the fact that at LinkedIn, next set of products are heavily influenced by “Decision Scientists”. (Cue References: Hal R Varian, Chief Economist at Google and DJ Patil)
While there was a whole lot of structure to these discussions, we had some extremely valuable side discussions that link back to the Product Management, and very important to address. Here are some! 🙂
Positioning. For a clear direction for Product Management, the positioning of the product in the market is a key factor. How do you refer to the product? The answer to this question, in case of start-ups, seemed unanimous that the start-ups are too limited in resources/focus/energy to be able to create a new category. Aligning to an existing category with a differentiator is the key to early success. For instance, Slideshare referred to itself as “Youtube of presentations”, Vatika positioned itself as Parachute with Additional ingredients, “Busy” positioned itself as Tally with better inventory management and statutory reporting.
(Positioning is an important theme and comes with lot of related broader areas for considerations for Product Companies. We will have a round-table specifically around Positioning in near term)
What’s a Product? (A rudimentary question, I know! But worthwhile to hear the perspectives! J) How do you differentiate functional Product Management from the technical side of it? As per Amit R, “Product is the core experience or core touch-point for your end-consumers with your business.” It is worthwhile to note that the various types of customers may have different ways to access the product and there may be different ways to define the touch-points for every segment. For instance, Slideshare follows a Freemium model where 5% of the Paying customers may have a different set of touch-point experience from the rest of 95% free users. So various segments, such as Free B2C, Paying B2C, Paying B2B, and Partner B2B may all have different touch points with the same Product.
How do you get the Product Managers to champion the cause of usability and aesthetics? As per Amit R, in case of Slideshare, CEO happens to be from the usability background and that helped a great deal, since the thought process permeates across. It is important to engrain the usability in the way of the product management, since you cannot bolt it later, as per Amit S. There are various ways MakeMyTrip tries to do that. One of the eureka moments, for instance, for Engineers and developers was when they were shown a “live session” of a user through the Screen capture tool. It also helps to have the live user sessions in front of the product team. Some of these approaches can build that appreciation for the user actions in the minds of product team, over time with sustained effort.
Retention and Customer Lock-in: Slideshare has learned the harder way that ignoring Emails as a mechanism for customer engagement and retention is costly. LinkedIn relies on Email based “Customer retention” and “Returning Users”. Jeevansathi.com uses a strategy to map the customers in various life-stages and uses various Email and SMS templates to engage them even through the very short life-time of 3-4 months.
The Mobile Storm: As per Amit S, having a Mobile Strategy through this year and next year is critical for the product companies. Web is no more the only option, and for some products, it is becoming a mere secondary. Mobile First makes sense. The transactional figures for Mobile are increasing at such a rapid pace, that an afterthought based Mobile based functionality may not work so well.
If this is any indication of the things to come, the product ecosystem will benefit immensely from the initiative. Looking forward to the furutre editions, and share more!
Avinash Raghava, who is doing a wonderful job of getting product start-ups together all over India, organized a product management roundtable with the help of Aneesh Reddy(CEO, Capillary). They invited Amit Ranjan (Cofounder, Slideshare – acquired by LinkedIn) and Amit Somani (Chief Product Officer, Makemytrip, ex-Google) to share their insights with a small set of entrepreneurs.
Credit for all the good stuff goes to Amit Ranjan, Amit Somani and Aneesh Reddy. Notes are rough. If anything is unclear, feel free to comment.
Here are some quick notes/thoughts from the event:
Who would make a good product manager?
Someone who can do 70% of everything (coding, design, listening to users etc.)
Best way to find a product manager in India is to find someone who did a startup but failed – he/she is likely to know all the various aspects that go into managing a product.
Someone who can lead by influence and manage to juggle all the balls in the air. Should be someone who can say NO.
It’s a very tough position to hire for – you need to have patience – you might go wrong the first few times. Once hired, give them around 5-6 months to get the hang of the whole thing.
What does a product manager do? What is his role about?
A good product manager would understand the requirements from various constituents and write a detailed specification, plan for bugs, testing, urgent requests and then create a product roadmap/deadlines.
A product manager has to identify and write down what metrics will move once the product is launched (e.g launching the mobile app will increase our repeat orders by 9%) – in some cases it is just to ensure that people work on things that matter but overtime it also brings more accountability.
Engineers tend to underestimate the time it’ll take – product manager needs to be able to correctly estimate how long something should take. And you will get better at it with time.
Use the 1/1/1 rule – sit with the engineering team and plan what needs to be accomplished in 1 week, 1 month and 1 six-month period.
People want to see the product roadmap – it is important for the CEO / Product Manager to communicate this to their team mates since a lot of people feel uncomfortable if they don’t have a clear idea of where the product is headed. (Amit Ranjan mentioned that people may even leave if they feel that the founding team does not have a clear vision – but the nature of start-ups is such that it is bound to happen that the product roadmap keeps evolving)
You need to hire coders who have a design sense (that eliminates 70% of work later).
Role of special data or analytics person has become very important (Amit Ranjan said that he could see that products of the future will be decided and influenced by data scientists). It is very important to get such a person on board early. Someone who has crunched SQL and nosql logs etc and can find trends and look up aberrations. Read up on Hal Varian and DJ Patil to understand more about this.
Difference between customer requirements and product requirements – customer requirement only becomes product requirement when more than 3 people require it (it’s a rule of thumb) – (People shared various tricks they use to ensure that the customer requirement is serious – “just wait for a few days and see if they come back with the same request”, “ask them to email it and not take feedback over the phone” etc. – these are situations where there is too much feedback coming your way. In most cases, it is best to make it as easy as possible for people to give you feedback).
Keep product engineering teams small – Amit Somani mentioned Jeff Bezos Two Pizza rule i.e. if the team cannot be fed by two pizzas alone, it is too big. Read more here.
Try to do daily scrum – gives everyone a sense of what everyone else is doing and ensures that people are making progress
Everything is a 6 page document – another Jeff Bezos funda for getting clarity. So a specification or a product request could be a 6 page long form document which ensures that the person achieves clarity before building anything.
You need to benchmark your product against other products especially in enterprise. When starting a product from scratch this can be a really useful exercise.
Amit Somani suggested a mental trick – before building a product, write a one page press release for the product that comes out upon product launch – what will this press release have? What the key features? The target audience etc. This PR drafting exercise could help you decide what to build, what is critical, and for which audience.
Don’t ignore email as a channel for activation and returning visitors
Product activation – Use banners on your own website – do get them to take action – on landing page – on other parts of the website
Track at your mobile traffic – people at the roundtable reported some crazy growth numbers for mobile internet usage – huge sites are now getting 20% to 60% of their traffic on mobile. Mobile traffic is split 50%-50% on mobile browser (including WAP) and mobile apps. This was a big eye opener for many people.
Tools people recommended
Use Trello (a Joel Spolsky product) to manage your product
Use Zapier business tool to connect various sources of product input (e.g. taking Zendesk tickets and automatically creating Github issues)
Use Clicktale or Inspectlet to record user sessions
Use Morae for recording users’ reactions when they are using your product ((Amit Somani mentioned how they put a live usage recording on a LCD screen in the technology room so that engineers could understand how their products were being used – it lead to a lot “can’t he just click on the button! Why is he scrolling up and down!”). One way to get users for such recordings is to ask interview candidates who come to your office to use your product and see their reactions.
Use a call-outs software when introducing new product features (like Cleartrip / WordPress / Facebook do).
This was one of the most gyan-heavy sessions that I’ve attended. It was useful to hear things from people who had been there done that. Aneesh (even though he is based out of Bangalore) had taken the lead to do this with Avinash and our hope is that the group meets every 6 weeks to keep the conversation going. We’ll keep you posted.
Feel free to email me at ankur AT Akosha dot com if you’d like me to give more details to you.
On a related note, there was some basic debate about what a “product” is. We didn’t get into it at length because everyone in the room intuitively understood what a “product” was. However, we had internally debated about it – if you are interested, do read –Understanding Product v. Service [ThinkLabs Notes 1].
He took examples why sites like facebook are viral, the basics of virality being- the ease and ability to get referrals from existing users. Increasing the Viral co-efficient – for every additional user how many additional users do you get. If it is greater than 1 than we get unbounded virality and if it is less than 1 then it grows to a certain level and then stops. The different Channels of Viral Distribution being Newsfeed, Widgets, Notifications, Email and Inviting a friend – any one will get you more additional business. These Viral channels are not the same as features, features essentially keep existing users happy, Viral channels are vectors that grow your business. He stressed that Design, Convenience, Speed of the app or website matter, to create a good user experience which has a impact on the virality of the product.
Pathik from Hike then takes over and talks about how Hike touched 2 Million downloads in two weeks of launch, he goes on to outline some basics for a startup product to go viral. In his view the product needs to truly be a great product addressing a real need thus building a strong core value for the product. Once we have a good product the Desigining and the U&I needs to be of very good quality thereby getting eyeballs to the product. The next stage will be to have a large Distribution channel focusing on Growth and Retention of all new Customers. Smart Marketing will play an important role in being able to get the message across to the user base in a fast and simple manner. This may include offering free talk time, additional storage space on referring etc, anything to spread the message especially through one customer to another. An Innovative business model will ensure that the longevity of the product is maintained.
Pathik then goes about to explain the concept of Growth Hacking – a new process for acquiring and engaging users combining traditional marketing and analytical skills with product development skills. In the past, marketing and product development departments were often at odds where marketing groups would be spending significant amounts of money to acquire users but couldn’t get any development resources to build something as simple as new custom landing pages. And on the other side, product development teams would often build what they think users want and will attract users without deeply measuring and understanding the impact of their changes. This concept of “growth hacking” is a recognition that when you focus on understanding your users and how they discover and adopt your products, you can build features that help you acquire and retain more users, rather than just spending marketing dollars.
Growth Hacking is one very fast way to get Virality of Sales vis-a-vie the traditional Marketing Channels.
By being able understand the needs of the customers you reach the A-HA point with the customers which is essiantialy the main reason of the product going Viral.
Bipin from Mobikwik then takes over and talks about Virality. He emphasis on the 3 basic things, First Product Innovation is the key for any product. The Product needs to be disruptive to create new positive impacts for the users for them to get hooked to it. Secondly, Cheap Acquistion for a startup is essential. The Aim needs to be able to target a large audience for the product at a low cost. Thirdly, their needs to be high rates of Retention on the client base which has been acquired enabling you to ensure the client base continues to grow.
We then moved onto the session where we featured a new company, this time it was Zest.md. The company offers saas based platform, providing eclinics for medical practioners. The participants shared their product and got feedback from the audience in relation to scaling their businesses.
After a very interactive 3 hr session the time was just right for everybody to interact with the speakers and network with the audience. It was a session which helped people share some interesting conversations and am sure all the people who came gained a good insight .
The first Indian BarCamp was help in 2006. At this unconference, it was the fortuitous breakdown in managing the distribution of speaker presentations that led to the Idea we all know as SlideShare. Today, we hear their story in an interview with the SlideShare Co-Founder – Mr. Amit Ranjan.
ProductNation: Hi Amit, Welcome to ProductNation. We are really looking forward to hear your story. So please share all the excitement and emotion that you have gone through in your journey as a product entrepreneur.
Amit Ranjan: The team got together in 2004. We were three founders including me of which two were based in the US. We built another product before SlideShare.
We were building an online research application called MindCanvas that had a narrow focus on design, user experience and usability. We started building in 2004 and launched it after eighteen months. We were a team of 7 – 8 people then.
Once launched, it started doing very well. But, what we realized that this product was suited to the B2B consulting space and thus would scale with people and not technology. So that was a disconnect. And we asked ourselves if this is what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives? The Answer – No. So we started looking for other options.
ProductNation: SlideShare, you mean
Amit Ranjan: SlideShare as an idea happened at this juncture. The SlideShare idea was born in Delhi itself. Avinash is aware of this. The story goes something like this. We were instrumental in organizing the first BarCamp in India. This was in March 2006 at the Adobe office in Noida.
A BarCamp is like an antithesis of a conference where attendees interested in a particular topic come together and put up a show. The SlideShare idea was born at that Bar Camp.
As the organizers we found ourselves sandwiched between two groups – presenters and attendees. The presenters wanted to share the presentations and the attendees wanted to have them. So, pen drives were being exchanged and emails with attachments were flying across the BarCamp. At the same time, there were a bunch of guys who had taken photos and videos of the presentations to put it up on YouTube and Flickr.
So, presentations that formed the Centre stage of the conference, their sharing process itself was broken. So, we started looking around if there was an online tool available to share presentations. And we found that nothing existed. So that was the starting point for SlideShare.
ProductNation: Wow. Amit, would you like to talk about your pre-2004 days? How were you thinking about entrepreneurship? Was it something that you had it in yourself? Would you like to describe that journey?
Amit Ranjan: Entrepreneurship has been accidental. It is not something that I had planned. I am an MBA and a mechanical engineer. Post MBA, I worked in the consumer products sales and marketing space. I worked with Asian Paints for four years in the Sales and Distribution function and then with Pepsi. So, I did not come from a technology background. My six year experience in the Corporate Sector was good, just that I could not see myself doing that for the rest of my life. And there was a lot of exciting stuff happening around. It was not planned that way, but when an opportunity came to try something new, we went for it.
ProductNation: Superb. Please tell us about SlideShare journey, the acquisition by LinkedIn and the future plans.
Amit Ranjan: SlideShare was started in 2006. Thankfully, since then we have seen continuous growth. This meant scaling up in technology, hiring a team, which meant funding. The sheer frenetic pace at which the application was growing taught us all about building a startup.
We had an office in Delhi and in the US Bay area. At the time of the LinkedIn acquisition we had 35 people in Delhi and 13 in the US. Delhi team was always dominant.
In terms of the acquisition, we had a relationship with LinkedIn since 2008. LinkedIn has an application platform in which they had invited a bunch of companies. SlideShare was one of them. LinkedIn knew the company and the people. So, a relationship already existed and acquisition was a logical next step. LinkedIn is the World’s largest professional network and SlideShare, a large professional sharing community. We all agreed that there was a strong product level fit. So we began acquisition talks in the beginning of 2012.
ProductNation: Would you put the LinkedIn acquisition as your moment of glory?
Amit Ranjan: The acquisition, the way I see it was a logical step in the evolution of the company. For me, the greatest thing is SlideShare itself that we could build something large and useful. The evolution of SlideShare has always been centre stage. After five years of starting up, in 2012 when the LinkedIn opportunity came by, we saw the possibility of having more resources through a large company to grow SlideShare. And we went with it.
ProductNation: What are the future plans for SlideShare at this moment, Amit?
Amit Ranjan: SlideShare will continue as a LinkedIn subsidiary. Going forward, you will see more integrations being offered to users.
ProductNation: What has been your key learning’s while building SlideShare?
Amit Ranjan: Sharp focus on Design, Engineering and Product Management. The web is changing furiously. Applications are being launched at the drop of a hat. Most die in days. So, if you are in the products space, you have to get on top with Design, Engineering and Product Management. No doubt about that.
ProductNation: Do you have a Top 3 for a budding product entrepreneur? Top 3 things you would like product entrepreneurs to register when approaching a products business.
Amit Ranjan: An engineering culture. In the long run, you need to have a strong engineering oriented culture in the company. Because culture would define a lot of things. It defines the organization itself, the people who join, the way you work, the way you tackle competition and the way you tackle markets.
The product and technology should be built for speed and not initially for scalability. This way you can focus on acquiring users, initially. There are cases where products optimize for scalability but struggle with the initial traction.
Thirdly, access to strong mentors. At SlideShare, we had some great advisors and mentors who really helped us think clearly. Having a bunch of good advisors really helps.
ProductNation: Amit, can you please explain this tradeoff between speed and scalability with an example, if possible?
Amit Ranjan: Technical example – Databases. Relational databases hit a wall when hitting a certain number of users. But, it is easy to find talent for relational databases. So, when starting off why bother optimizing with some other database. Scalability is a Rich Man’s problem.
ProductNation: Superbly put and aptly summarized. Amit, you have been in the products space for a while. Do you see entrepreneurs committing mistakes and it’s too late before they even realize it?
Amit Ranjan: Difficult to generalize. If you ask me personally, if I start again, would I do things differently. The answer is YES. And it would be Time Management. When building a startup, there is a lot riding on the entrepreneur. Looking back, I reckon if I had hired senior / specialized people for a few functions, I could have focused time on the product. That is one area, where I could have really done better.
ProductNation: Amit, how much did the US presence, being in the valley help SlideShare?
Amit Ranjan: I wish I could make a claim that SlideShare is completely an Indian company. Unfortunately that’s not correct. Our origin has a mix on India and US. The product was born in India, two of the three founders are Indian, the majority of the team is in India, but the company was headquartered in the US as the business was more US centric. Having a presence in the Bay Area and being connected to the early adopter crowd there is a great advantage. But unlike our times, now in 2012, an environment is now available in India.
We had Dave McClure as a mentor and there was no way we could have accessed him in India in 2006. But now Dave McClure’s fund is extremely active in India. They are looking at opportunities. So entrepreneurs in India now have the opportunity.
ProductNation: Before we let you go, you have to take this one. Name Top five hot products from India.
Amit Ranjan: Oh gosh. While a lot depends on how you define a product, but I would like to mention Zoho, InMobi, SlideShare. There are some smaller startups that are creating a global impact like Fusion Charts, Visual Website Optimizer.
ProductNation: Last question. What is next for Amit Ranjan on the professional front?
Amit Ranjan: I am part of LinkedIn. I continue to head the Delhi office of SlideShare. With the LinkedIn angle, we want to take SlideShare to the Next Level. That goal stays and I work as hard as before. Being part of LinkedIn, we have a better chance with access to resources and talent. So I am busy.
Amit, thank you for talking to ProductNation. Good luck to you and your team