You may have a viable product but do you have a viable business?

(Also posted on LinkedIn here).

I’m a big fan of the “Lean startup” movement. Steve Blank, Ash Maurya and others have done amazing work around innovative, startup companies. Two of my most recommended books in this area are The 4 Steps to Epiphany and Running Lean. I strongly recommend every founder read these. Shockingly, most haven’t!

I’ve come across a new breed of founders who are well versed in the lean startup methodology. They understand the importance of customer discovery, a minimum viable product and the power of testing. These are all necessary to build new products.

I submit that they are not sufficient to create a company.

Here’s why.

A feature isn’t a product; a product isn’t a business; a business isn’t a company; a company isn’t an organisation.

Sanjay Anandaram.

Here are four additional questions you need to look into before you startup.

1) Are you talking to the right, representative prospects to validate your idea?

I’m a big believer of getting out in the field and talking to customers. Dozens even 100’s of them. It is an order of magnitude better than sitting in your office and pontificating. However, talking to 200 people does not make your idea into a viable business opportunity.

Are these 200 people truly representative of the prospective customer pool ?

Or, is there a selection bias? Perhaps, these are only tech-savvy customers in urban areas or the upwardly mobile. You need to estimate how big is that addressable market over the couple of years.

Secondly, how critical of a pain point is it for these users?

Is it an ongoing pain or a one an infrequent, perhaps even a one time, problem ? In general technology has made people be more open to saying “yes” more often to new ideas. This is the classic Aspirin vs. Multi-Vitamin question that VCs often talk about. While new ideas area interesting, it often takes years to change customer behaviour unless it a dire problem for a large number of prospective customers.

Don’t try to “invent” demand. Find basic human needs and solve them better, cheaper and faster.

Evan Williams, Co-founder of Twitter.

Market creation is hard for a variety of reasons; one of the primary reasons is that the cost of distribution is continually getting more expensive.

Lastly, would customers pay — ideally with money or at least with their time(e.g. Snapchat, Instagram, Google)?

2) Can you get effective distribution of your product or service ?

Human beings and businesses alike are being bombarded with a breathtaking innovations at a rapid pace. However, the amount of time, energy and money they have is limited.

How will you reach a large number of customers whether they be consumers or businesses? Are there existing channels that you can tap into ? Would they be cost effective?

Every innovator believes that their product will have strong word of mouth, virality and/or some kind of network effects? Well, most don’t. For most ideas, esp. in B2C, I would be very dubious if you don’t have strong, organic user acquisition channels to grow.

3) Are the unit economics viable?

So you have a problem worth solving, a solution that’s differentiated and a shot at distribution. Now comes the question about “Unit economics”. The simplest place to start is with your gross and net margin. How much money would you make per transaction (or unit of engagement)? This is not GMV or Transaction Value but the money that your business makes.

The first step for this is to calculate your Contribution Margin, or the money you make per transaction less your variable costs. For most businesses, variable costs are marketing, payment gateway charges, delivery/logistics charges, etc. This does not account for fixed charges for your employees, server costs, etc.

Is your margin or take rate (%) enough to cover your variable costs per unit?

If you are relying on scale to get your contribution margin positive, you are barking up the wrong tree! You may never get there.

4) Is there a large enough profit pool to tap into?

If you’ve gotten this far, you clearly have a problem, distribution channel and business that’s worthwhile.

Is there a large enough market size and profit pool in the area that you are in?

I don’t know about these new valuation metrics, but remember that the only way to value a business that will always be true is: present value of discounted future cash flows

Prof. Bill Sahlman, HBS, Circa 1999

If you don’t have a large enough profit pool, you may build a company with great unit economics on a large enough market but have little discounted future cash flow (e.g. IRCTC — Indian Railways). See Rajan Anandan’s prescient comments on the Indian B2C e-commerce marketplaces.

Now comes the source of capital to build your business. If you are aiming for something big and ready to scale fast, then I would recommend using venture capital (if you can affirmatively answer all 4 of these questions, give us a shout at Prime Venture Partners). However, VC money may not be appropriate or relevant for your business or your approach. Here’s one representative list of questions to ask yourself before raising VC money.

All of this won’t be empirically figured out on Day 0 of a startup. Of course, you will learn along the journey. However, you won’t be able to change the contours of the market or the availability of profit pools once you are 6–12 months into your startup.

It behooves you to spend a few weeks or even months to think through these questions before you commit yourself to a new company!

Guest Post by Amit Somani. He is a Managing Partner at Prime Venture Partners, an early stage VC firm based out of Bangalore, India. Prime invests in category creating, early stage companies founded by rock star teams. Prior, Amit has held leadership positions at Makemytrip, Google and IBM. He is also deeply engaged with the early stage startup ecosystem in India and actively volunteers with iSpirt, TiE and NASSCOM. He tweets occassionally @amitsomani and is trying to become an active, late blooming blogger.

Mobile Product & Growth Hacking RoundTable #playbookRT by @amitsomani & @VishalAnand

Having a completed a half century of RoundTables, the iSPIRT team was back with the 51st RoundTable on what’s currently the hot topic of discussion and debate in the startup community – mobile! A lot of startups are also trying to figure out their mobile strategy and this was evidenced in the great interest shown by startups in participating in this RoundTable. And why not? It’s not too often that you get a chance to deeply interact and learn from senior industry practitioners like Amit Somani, who was the facilitator and Vishal Anand, co-facilitator for the RoundTable.

The participating startups were from different domains (healthcare, HR, payments, consumer services etc.) and across stages (already have something up and running on mobile, tried something on mobile, but didn’t work, yet to figure out mobile strategy and so on). There was a round of introductions with each startup giving a context about their company and industry, the key challenges and their expected takeaways from the RoundTable. The iSPIRT RoundTables are highly collaborative in nature with a lot of peer learning and feedback as part of the discussions. As the introductions were happening, the facilitators were mapping the areas that startups were looking for help to the mobile journey. With the introductions complete, the group had a fair sense of the key areas that would be taken up for discussion during the RoundTable.

One of the first topics that came up for discussion was ‘Activation’ – how do you get the user to make the first action on your app. Many points came up for discussion – coupons, notifications, social/referral and so on. But two stood out, which Amit stressed upon – one was how do you get the users to have their aha moment and secondly, how do you ensure that you’re scaling this in a sustainable way? While the current sentiment seems to be around growth at any cost, Amit mentioned that it’s important to start looking at the unit economics sooner rather than later. Some of the key points mentioned around Activation where:

Mobile Playbook

  • Coupons:
    • This is perhaps the simplest and easiest way, but could you be smarter in doing this? Could you create different segments of users and offer targeted coupons instead of a blanket coupon? E.g. Say, an iPhone user is more valuable than other users. Could you then possibly offer her a higher value coupon?
    • You’d also need to be careful about the positioning and perception of your brand? If the focus is on coupons, will you come to be known as brand offering coupons rather than be known for your service? Also, with coupons, are you sure that you’re attracting the right kind of users or you’ll end up acquiring only ‘deal-hunters’?
    • While coupons are an effective channel, it’ll be helpful to create segments to as minute levels as possible and offer them to users appropriately.
  • Supply Side Users
    • Some of the companies participating in the RoundTable were marketplaces that had users on the ‘supply side’ as well. Key points mentioned were – a) show demand to the supply side user. b) Some kind of revenue calculator/estimator. These would help the supply side user get a sense of the demand and then take the necessary action (create listings, upload products etc.)

There were some companies that were still in the early stages of their mobile play or were evaluating how to go about their mobile strategies. Some of the points discussed were around:

  • Building in-house v/s Outsourcing
    • There is limited availability of high quality mobile developers and designers these days and startups have to compete with some heavily-funded companies for the same talent pool. Given this scenario, does it make sense to outsource mobile development and design? Participating companies had interesting experiences to share. For some of them, outsourcing hadn’t worked well. Some of them were able to find high quality freelancers and engaged them effectively.
    • However, one insight that Amit shared found resonance among the audience – one way to perhaps go about outsourced mobile development could be to breaking down the deliverables into design, frontend, backend etc. Perhaps engage a good designer for design and do the rest in-house? Also, in most cases, the backend is core to the company and that’s perhaps something that needs to be done in-house.
    • Similarly,
  • Does mobile lend itself to a one-time use use case?
    • For example, if there’s an app for employees in a company to check and update their records etc, does it really lend itself to a strong use case for mobile? Can one create enough hooks to engage the user to come back frequently to the app?

The next key discussion was around metrics and tools to use to measure the metrics.

  • Amit gave a simple, yet powerful formula to look at metrics – Record everything, Track 12 and focus on 3. This will help in identifying the really important metrics and drive the company’s energy to focus and improve on those.
  • An ideal comparison for Lifetime Value (LTV) to Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is LTV > 3*CAC. In a lighter vein, Amit mentioned that given the amount of marketing spends companies have these days, he’d be very eager to meet and invest in a company that even has LTC = CAC! That said, the importance of thinking through the right economics and working towards it with reasonable visibility is something Amit stressed throughout the session.
  • Rather than averages, Amit mentioned it might be useful to look at percentages, have cohorts to measure movement and perhaps look at percentiles as well depending on the metrics.
  • (Daily Active)/(Monthly Active) >= 15% is a good number for any app. Also, (Monthly Active Users)/(Install Base) >= 25% is good as well.
  • Some of the tools mentioned during the discussion were:
    • Google Analytics for simple and basic analytics
    • Flurry – gives comparative data and is free.
    • AppAnnie – for comparative data
    • Appfigures for Ranking / Review and Ratings – Daily reports
    • App bot (sentimental analysis on Reviews)
    • Crashmetrics –  Crash reports
    • – for tracking uninstalls
    • – post install deeplinking
    • – integrates different tools used


The participants left with a lot of food for thought and actionable takeaways that they hope to put into practice at their startups. There were also some very interesting books recommended by Amit to deeply understand user engagement and get some insights:

  • Hooked
  • Made to Stick
  • Influence

Effective Product Mgmt & Delivery: Benefits and Applications in Startup, #PlaybookRT in Pune

Product management is one of the most common sensical and yet least understood areas in the Indian technology industry. What is product management? When do you need it? Is it important only once you have reached product/market fit and are ready to scale? What are the metrics that every product manager should care about? How should you hire PMs?

Amit Somani & Rahul Kulkarni will host a highly interactive Product Management Roundtable for Startups to address these questions and more. While most of the examples will be from from B2C products but the discussion should be broadly applicable to other areas as well.  Apply for the PlaybookRT here.

Brief Profile of Amit Somani

Amit comes with over 19 years of experience in the technology and internet industry. Currently, Amit is an Entrepreneur in his residence and also actively investing in, and mentoring startups. Earlier, he was the Chief Products Officer for MakeMyTrip. Prior, Amit has headed various search, mobile and ads products at Google and was the Director for the Enterprise Search and Discovery business at IBM based out of San Jose, California.

Amit holds a Bachelor’s in Technology degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology – Banaras Hindu University, India (Gold Medalist) and an M.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has published several papers and holds seven US patents. More about Amit on TwitterLinkedIn.

Brief Profile of Rahul Kulkarni

Rahul Kulkarni is the Chief Product Officer at Sokrati, a digital marketing and analytics startup thats driving the convergence of big data analytics, consumer psychology and ad technology. Before jumping into the startup world, Rahul spent close to six years at Google – starting out as Google’s first product manager in India and managing various products such as Google Maps and Local, cloud computing, Orkut and Google Finance. Prior to Google, Rahul was the Product Manager for LabVIEW at National Instruments Corp in Austin, TX where for five years he led new product development of high speed control systems used in diverse applications – from offshore drilling to space exploration. Rahul holds 8 patents, Masters degree in Engineering from Georgia Tech Atlanta and Bachelors in Engineering from VJTI Mumbai.

Learning and growing together at the iSPIRT #Playbook Roundtable

iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable in Delhi Flickr Stream

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 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!
With inputs from Vikram Bahl of

Drinking from the firehose at iSPIRT PlayBook Roundtable (on Effective Product Management) at Delhi

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!!!]

iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable in Delhi (on Flickr)
iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable in Delhi (Click to see all on Flickr)

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.

Product Metrics

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. 

All attendees at the Playbook roundtable iSPIRT Playbook Roundtable in Delhi


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.

–       Equally important is to figure out Non-Goals – “What is not in Spec”? What are the features you need to remove! (Cue Reference: Joel Spolsky on Functional Specifications and an example Functional Spec.)

–       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).

All attendees at the Playbook roundtableConversations on #prodmgmt

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)

All attendees at the Playbook roundtable All attendees at the Playbook roundtable

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”. 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!

Please share your views!

Notes on Product Management – insights from Slideshare / MMT / ex-Google PM

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.

User specs should have – what all do you need, who will use it and why – need to be elaborate it before you give it – need a hypothesis that will it move an X metric. Read thetwo page spec document that Joel Spolsky wrote for a fictional website What time is it? It should also have non-goals – what the product does NOT try to do.

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).

Concluding notes
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].

Reblogged from the Akosha Blog by Ankur Singla