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!
About 6 months back, I saw a print advertisement from a well-known job portal (I will call it SiteZ): “Free webinar and live chat with well-known Mr. X”. When I visited their site, they helpfully informed me that I need to be a registered user of their site (which meant I had to be someone looking for a job, which I was not), but it would take only 30 seconds to register. I didn’t mind giving 30 sec and a few bits of personal information to attend this webinar so I proceeded with registration. It took me about 2-3 minutes before I realized that this is going to take quite some time – they wanted all kinds of details about my profile, what kind of job I was looking for, what I had been doing so far in my career, etc.; simply uploading my resume didn’t SiteZ. So I abandoned my effort and tried to find a way of deleting this account I had just created. I couldn’t find it, so I just navigated away from the site and made a mental note not to use SiteZ again since they misled me with their advertisement and were not helpful when I changed my mind about creating an account.
Little did I know that it was not the end of my experience with SiteZ. A few weeks later, I started receiving email ads/spams about properties and other stuff. Spams are nothing new, so I kept ignoring them, till a few months back when I cursorily went down the mail and saw that it (helpfully!) mentioned that I was getting this mail because I registered on SiteZ. It also offered an unsubscribe link, so I was happy. I clicked on it and was informed that I have been unsubscribed. However, that didn’t change anything; mails kept coming. I tried unsubscribing couple more times, with no result. I tried to write to the email address mentioned on their site, the mail bounced. I again searched their website for any link to delete the account, but couldn’t find any. Finally I found that even though the mail sender text says some developer’s name, it actually is sent from a @sitez.com account. So I could block this address, and have some peace of mind.
To be clear, this is not some no-name company, this is one of the top 4-5 job portals in the country. So you would expect them to think more holistically about their product offering and put more efforts in avoiding frustrations for their users, not to talk of delighting them.
In case of SiteZ, incremental tasks/thoughts like below might have gone behind the experience they finally offered to me:
Product Management – We want to be like #1 job portal site, so we will build all the usual features.
Engineering – Let’s not give a delete account button, it is too hard and can be depriortized since these users are anyway leaving the site.
Marketing – Great idea about not giving delete button, this way our metric of # of accounts keeps going up and we can keep using their data (or get them to call us and we can upsell them)
Sales/Marketing – Let’s make sure we enroll all our users into our promotions email list, and also make sure they don’t notice it when they are registering.
Sales/Marketing – We need more users, so let’s run some promotions like free webinars. We will use it to get the user into registering for the site.
Engineering – It is too hard to build a 30-second registration page, so let’s drop the user into the regular registration flow which takes 10 minutes.
Sales – Let’s make some money with all this personal data that we collect by selling email campaigns to 3rd-party.
Engineering – It is too hard to implement unsubscribe, can be deprioritized since these users are anyway leaving the campaign.
Sales – Great idea engineers. This way, our mailing lists will always have lots of subscribers.
Why am I writing this?
First, it left a very bitter experience in my mouth and now I am very skeptical of any site that asks me to register; I have started reading terms and conditions of the sites that ask me to register, which is a painful process!
Second, and more importantly, I want to make the point about considering end to end experience (including support) as the product, rather than just the core feature set you want to offer to the customer. In this case, my experience with SiteZ was what made me to abandon them, not necessarily the core feature I was looking for (webinar, which I could never reach!). To be clear, SiteZ is not an isolated case, there are a large number of products out there which suffer from this problem of focusing just on the product and not on the experience (see ‘experience is the product‘). Product Managers need to exert more control (and influence) over the overall experience and not just focus on core product, otherwise they will be leaving a lot on the table. Maybe the way is to start from experience when building/changing the product, and embrace ‘experience is the product’.
What is your take on product vs. experience question?
Notes from the Product Management Roundtable In Bangalore. Having attended the first ever iSPIRT Roundtable on Product Positioning in Bangalore and closely followed the second one held in Delhi, I was eagerly looking forward to the Round table in Bangalore on Product Management by Sridhar Ranganathan. Sridhar is a senior Product Management professional having spent considerable time in product management roles in companies like Zoho, Yahoo! and InMobi.
The 12 startups that participated in the round table consisted of a healthy mix of companies across various stages wrt their Product organization – some already had a PM function set up, some were scaling fast and were looking for ways to make their first PM hire and some where the CEOs or the founders were themselves donning the hat of a Product Manager.
The session started with a round of introductions and an open discussion around various aspects of Product Management – need for Product Management, hiring of Product Managers and setting up the team, prioritization, building an MVP etc. which set the right tone for the rest of Roundtable.
Sridhar shared his experiences of being a Product Manager and a Product Management leader in his previous roles. His experiences at Zoho were particularly of a lot of interest to the participants, as Sridhar was at Zoho during the period it transitioned from a company making Network Management Systems to the Saas giant it is today. He mentioned how the founders had a strong faith in setting up a Product Management function and empowering the Product Managers to lead the product efforts. He said it was like changing gears from moving in 4 big ships to 11 speedboats – with a Product Manager navigating each speedboat (a product). One insight Sridhar shared stood out, that the founding team needs to strongly believe that there’s a need for Product Manager(s) in the company and remain fully invested in the idea. Otherwise, there are very few chances of a Product Manager making a meaningful contribution and succeeding in their role.
Here are some key insights from the discussions at the Round Table:
Product Management is a highly cerebral activity
The importance of setting a conducive environment for the Product Management setup was stressed upon heavily by Sridhar. It is imperative that between the Product Manager and the immediate Product team (engineers, designers, QA), there be a very high amount of trust. The decisions of the Product Manager will directly impact the work, and subsequently the performance of the engineering team. Similarly, the Product Managers needs to believe that his engineers are capable and are able to solve the challenges he poses to them. Laying the right foundation and building trust among the team is absolutely essential for the Product Management team to contribute significantly towards the company’s goals.
Framework to Solve Customers’ Pain Points
The discussion then moved towards prioritization of tasks, catering to customer requests for feature additions and customizations. Sridhar presented a very interesting framework which is quite handy to place customers’ pain points in the right context and solve them appropriately.
Depending on the target group size is and the complexity of the pain point, one can address the pain points in different ways
Education: Can you provide simple walkthroughs of the product through screencasts or tooltips, put down a set of FAQs that customers can refer to and get the help they’re looking for?
Process: Can you tell customers on how to do something? As an example, creating a 1-page document on how to apply for a passport and redirecting customers to that section would be a way of setting up the process.
Procedure: Taking the above example itself, if you actually build a feature to help customers apply for a passport, it would be creating a procedure to solve a pain point.
Solution: Any customizations/hacks over an existing feature/flow would fall under this.
Product: Enabling the customers to do something completely through the product itself. E.g. Employee payroll processing.
Building an MVP
How much time should one spend in building the MVP? One of the keenly debated questions was on the amount of time to spend to build an MVP. While there were multiple inputs based on the nature of the product and the market each of the companies was targeting. However, Sridhar mentioned that one should invest enough time so as to avoid having to pivot at a later stage.
Is your product a ‘painkiller’ or a ‘vitamin’? It is important to understand this very well beforehand and pitch the product in the right manner to your first set of customers. You may be overselling if you’re trying to pitch a vitamin disguised as a painkiller and grossly underselling if it is the other way round!
What features get built into the MVP? Don’t build the product or a feature just because someone says it’s a good idea or if your prototypes ‘look good’. You need to validate that the customer is indeed willing to pay for the product. It’s even better if they ask for something repeatedly, which indicates that they have a pain point and they are willing to use the product/feature.
Taking the MVP to the market. Choose customers who can challenge you and make you think harder. The first 5% of the customers give 85% of the important feedback and the interest tapers off as you get the next set of customers. It is important to keep validating your view of the market and be ahead of the curve. You may have built something that was relevant at a previous time or maybe talking to a customer set that’s no longer representative of the larger market out there.
When to get a PM and what should the PM spend time one?
Sridhar suggested that whether or not there’s a formal designation assigned, there should be a Product Owner from Day 1, which is invariably one of the founders. Over time, it will be good if one can identify a good Product person from among the early engineers and have a Product person for a group of 7-8 engineers. The Product Manager should ideally be able to do 70% of everything! For the effective use of a Product Manager’s time, a helpful rule of thumb is that he spends 50% of his time planning for the future, 30% of the time on current initiatives and 20% of the time on firefighting.
Data, Intuition & Processes
How much does one trust data and how much does one rely on intuition to make decisions?
One of the participants remarked – “If you torture data long enough, you’ll get what you want”. It was general view shared among the participants and endorsed by Sridhar that data is good for discussions and not decisions. There’s a strong element of intuition and market understanding that go into making decisions and there should be ample scope for that. Finally, it’s the Product Manager’s call on the direction of the product and he needs to be able to take views from multiple perspectives. Data alone being the decision criterion may not be the best way to go about it.
What about processes? Do they kill creativity or actually help in better productivity and accountability?
A quick poll on what the participants thought about process threw up some interesting responses. The hardcore engineers found process to be a bit of hindrance. However when they put on the founder/senior management hat, they found that there needs to be some way to maintain accountability and provide better visibility to a larger group as a company grows. As one of the participants rightly said, process is ‘doing what you say and saying what you do’.
Sridhar cautioned against having too many processes (don’t put policeman unless there’s a lot of traffic) ot of traffic), he also shared some interesting ways of bringing in process. Rather than enforcing process, can the employees themselves be stakeholders in implementing process and are ihe also shared some interesting ways of bringing in process. Rather than enforcing process, can the employees themselves be stakeholders in implementing process and are incentivized for taking an active part in the process and evangelizing it?
Each of the participants took away some key actionables which they’d go back and try out at their respective companies. They’d also stay in touch to share their learnings and experiences to help one another build a strong product management function. After all, we’re working towards transforming a nation with products!
Ashok was perturbed. In Jan 2006, an eastern European company had taken his source code, made minor changes and started selling it under an alternate brand name at a reduced price. Ashok’s company Chartengo was a pioneer in Adobe Flash based charting software that helped users create charts for data visualization. Its charts were perceptibly superior to any available on the market. The company had five employees and revenues of $500,000 in 2006. It used to offer source code with its USD 99 developer version of the product. A growing business like Chartengo was sandwiched between free libraries on the Internet and large data visualization vendors (revenues > $100 million) on the other. In between it also had to content with few hundreds of competitors. The possibility of a vendor infringing on Chartengo IP in some distant corner of the globe was high.
Chartengo did not have a legal team so they contacted a firm that specialised in copyright infringements. The firm quoted $250,000 to file a suit but there would be additional fees for court appearances. besides the unaffordable legal fees, Ashok was apprehensive about the stance an eastern European court would take in this matter. He decided to forego the legal route. He talked to development team and few experts outside. A surprise suggestion with overwhelming majority was – make your product code open source. They said open source code will make it difficult for infringers to compete. Why should customers pay for a code that is open source from the original vendor? Ashok’s team of developers was thrilled with the idea of open sourcing their code. It would accelerate innovation and save them time developing everything themselves. They felt perhaps the customers would also be happy. They could also see an opportunity for higher revenues. The open source would probably draw more customers, especially those who were sceptic of dealing with a small company like Chartengo.
Ashok had so far found it the best strategy to protect its intellectual property. He believed innovation would only happen if it could be exploited for exclusive financial benefits of the innovator. How could he even think of handing over his crown jewels to the infringers in the marketplace? The thought of handing over his IP to these hackers and letting them enter their random untested code into it thus contaminating its pure quality was appalling to Ashok. He clearly saw his competitive advantage evaporating with opening his source code. Yet, at that time, open source was rising like a tsunami? Apart from individuals hacking into your code, well-funded companies were also doing so. There was passion about open source. Even customers were enamoured by open source culture. It was turning into a religion.
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].
Let me start with a simple question. What is common among these, as of 2006 (and, for that matter, even as of today)?
– Visa – Sony Playstation – Orbitz – NASDAQ – Microsoft Windows
All of these are known examples of facilitation based multi-sided business models. These are not just products or businesses; these are platforms, in the true sense of the word. These platforms have, some even in industrial and so called traditional businesses, created value by “facilitating interactions & transactions” among various groups involved. They depend on network effect to kick in, and then thrive big time.
The concept of the two-sided markets is not new. In fact, the newspapers might have been among the first to exploit it, through low-priced subscription subsidized by the sponsors paying for advertisements.
Networking Events and conferences have been a great example of a non-tech two-sided platform, and they are sold on the same direct benefit as well. The sponsors subsidize the participants’ fees, and hence get presumably higher visibility. Participants get to network; sometimes get direct information or sales leads; and pay for it unless in some cases, fully subsidized by the sponsors.
However, these business models, as represented by the examples above, were still very few & far in between until few years back.
The business world, since, has changed. And, drastically so!
Google and Apple have become the most valuable brands in the world. Amazon, that revolutionized the Books & Publishing market through the e-Commerce strategy, has since transformed itself into a Platform company. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and recently Pinterest have become the household names, beyond the tech world. Travel, Hospitality & Commute have become well-integrated platforms driven businesses – driven through online technologies and ground-level operational integration.
HOW SONY FALTERED, AND HOW APPLE & GOOGLE PROPELLED
Let’s take an example of two companies that seem to be very similar on products stack otherwise. Apple and Sony. Sony actually brought upon the concept of music that you could carry, with its revolutionary Walkman. Apple came in very late, with iPod. Sony has had a premium quality tag in computing machines (with Vaio) for a long time, while Apple’s Mac slugged it out in its own creative/designer/geek space. Sony even had the earliest starts with its Reader as long back as in 2006! They even had a great idea of Reader being the platform, and got the leading publications in Japan to take note that time. Sony, a very relevant company even today in tech world with the quality and huge brand image to boot, (interestingly, it has had at least one product in platforms category in Playstation) has fallen to 31-Year lows. They continued selling products in silos on their own standalone benefits. They are a product company, still a great one, but that doesn’t seem to be enough!
On the other hand, Apple had an iPod – as a standalone “take your music with you device”, around 2001-02. With iTunes, it took the first steps into a platform around 2003. However, it has since transformed into a true platform company, with its formidable all-integrated business strategy that brings together computing, entertainment, and business. iTunes is a comprehensive AppStore, and not just a music store. Apple is a multi-dimensional company at its best – it brings multiple beneficiaries together in this multi-facets products business. iOS developers and Applications users. Musicians, music companies and Music lovers. Local or global businesses and their customers and fans. We’ve even started seeing the serious Enterprises making Apple devices the central to their CoIT (Consumerization of IT) and collaboration strategy. iPod, iPhone, iPad, Mac, iCloud – they sell products but they’re a platform! And, in Feb 2012 Apple became the most valuable company in the world!
Google is an obvious name in the multi-sided platforms strategy. They took forward the newspaper ads model and applied it to search beautifully. And now, with the Enterprise businesses as well as their ever-growing list of vehicles – in GMail, Google Apps, Android, Chrome, Maps, Drive, and so on – have established themselves as an formidable Multi-sided platform. At this time, there doesn’t seem to be a limit on what vehicles Google can choose to drive their platform strategy. Microsoft is now fighting it out on its own turf while Google and Apple make inroads into its huge Enterprise foothold. (This also points to another trend that I’m planning to write about – the blurring of lines between Business & Personal Technologies).
This era clearly belongs to the multi-sided Platforms based business. It’s important, however, to not confuse this with the traditional definition of platforms in technology space. The true business platform is the one that is driven by facilitation and network effect, and which actually has multi-sided business model in the sense of heterogeneous set of beneficiaries that are not directly connected to each other. It is also important to note that this disruption has been caused not only by technological evolution, but also the interlinked effect of the other disruptive patterns such as “Long Tail” and “Free”, both terms made popular by the very respectable Chris Anderson. I will touch upon these in the next couple of posts as noted in my cover post on Game-Changer trends.
If you’re in a business – whether technology or not, whether e-commerce or not, whether products or services – don’t ignore this trend. Think about how you can leverage on this model, or be part of this ever-growing multi-cog machine that benefits all its gears. But, if you really think details, it’s not just a marketing gimmick, and it’s not just a tweak in the product. It should become the foundation of how business of your product is conceived, strategized and operationalized.
I am a foodie. And a big Zomato fan, no pun intended anywhere. Here, I am going to talk about everything we foodies love about Zomato and all the things it could do better.
For the uninitiated, Zomato is a restaurant discovery platform with 74,800 restaurants listed across 19 cities and 4 countries, and claims to have served 62.5 million foodies till date. More simply, it is about food and where to find the best of it.
So this is how I met Zomato. I was in college till 2009, and whenever I needed to know of new places to eat or hang out at, I just asked a couple of friends and I had more recommendations than I could handle. But once I entered the world of technology, everything in life started to begin with a Google search. But that’s not how I discovered Zomato. That’s how I discovered that websites of restaurants, when they have one, are completely useless. They talk about everything except what I need to know.
I got to know of Zomato in a rather funny way. I was looking for some kickass About Us pages on the web, and a friend of mine pointed me towards Zomato’s team page on Facebook. It spoke the same language I spoke, had this young and fun feel about it, quirky bios of everyone on the team. I loved it. Then I gave their product a try. And I uttered — “My precious.”
And we have been together ever since. It’s been a rather smooth relationship, and now I will tell you of all the things I love about it.
When do you look for a new place to eat at? Most likely when you are in the mood for some good Italian food but have been to little Italy thrice in the last fortnight. Or you are at a friend’s place in your shorts and floaters, probably a little drunk, and want food delivered to your doorstep? Hyderabadi Biryani has not been very kind on your stomach lately, so you want to go for someplace lesser spicy. Zomato delivers on both counts by allowing you to search for restaurants by fine dining or delivery in your city. There’s also catching up and nightlife if you are in the let’s-go-hangout mood. And if you like searches the Google way, then you have a simple Search bar you can throw in all your keywords into.
But that is no rocket science, is it? No it isn’t. Actually most of the things that Zomato does isn’t rocket science. It’s just that they do it well, really well.
Then you get your search results in 0.035 seconds in a beautifully laid out page with everything you need. Ratings, timings, cost for two, bar or no bar, cash or card, reviews from people you follow (more on this later) and more. And then you can apply filters like wifi, outdoor seating, buffet and whatnot to find that perfect someplace for you. Again, all of it in what I can only call a lovely interface.
Then you choose a restaurant, and are presented with all the details you need on the restaurant. Up-to-date scanned copies of the complete menu (which they go door-to-door and collect manually), photos of the place and food (not the best, but manageable) and most importantly reviews. Comprehensive reviews from foodies, big foodies and connoisseurs. The reviews tell you everything about the ambiance of the place, the service, the dishes to try and then they give you more photos.
The reviews were not always these helpful. Then Zomato decided to create a food social network of sorts, and there has been no looking back ever since. You can follow foodies, so every time they add a new review, it comes up in your notification bar. Passionate foodies and wannabe food critics use this as an opportunity to educate their followers about food and the best of it.
As the number of reviews you post increase and more people find it helpful, you go from foodie to connoisseur, and you also become eligible for the leaderboard which is displayed in each city’s homepage. The catch is you have to enter a review having more than 50 words, and when you are doing that, you might as well write a good detailed review. And with the recent Instagram integration in the reviews, you can add pics for other foodies to drool over.
Sounds like the perfect love story, doesn’t it? Well, almost. There are some things that Zomato could have done better though.
The ads. They are some of the ugliest ads I have seen on the web. Every time I search for restaurants, a bunch of these ads come up in the right panel. And every time I see them, my eyes bleed and a little part of me dies. I understand Zomato has to make money and restaurants work with shitty digital agencies, but there has to be a better way. Featured listings, photo albums, more details, whatever it is that they can make money from as long as the ugly ads can go out the window.
iPhone app. While it has seen big improvements over time, it still isn’t as good as the website experience. And the consistency is missing across the two interfaces. You can just search by location or cuisine on the app, not by delivery, dine out, catching up and the like. But an interesting feature is the instant recommendation that tells of you of a random new place near you — if you don’t like it, just shake the phone and a new recommendation will come up. I think I could use a variant of this on the web interface as well.
The tags. A cafe is a cafe to me, so when it comes up in my search for Italian food, I start getting cranky. And this happens because under the cuisines tag, the cafe has American, European and Italian marked against it when it serves four dishes for each of those cuisines, and pretty bad one at that. Same with pubs having Indian, Mughlai, Chinese and Italian slapped against them. Of course, I have no qualms if the cafe or the pub serves really good food, but when I am looking out for good Indian food, neither a pub or a cafe or a restaurant having a total of three Indian dishes is what I am looking for.
Notifications. While I like to be notified when someone I am following posts a new review, why do I have to be notified when someone I follow follows someone else? I want to follow their food trail, but not every single thing they do.
All that said and done, I have to commend Zomato for everything it has done for us foodies, and for the industry as a whole. Only time will tell how it fares against the Yelps of the world as it expands into more mature markets, but it’s got an international product and the balls to take on the world.
Sanjay Jain, Entrepreneur in Residence, Khosla Labs spoke at the IPMA 2nd annual event. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is an agency responsible for implementing the AADHAAR scheme, a unique identification project. It was established in February 2009, with an aim to provide a unique identification number to all Indians, by eliminating duplicate and fake identities. Biometrics features are selected to be the primary mechanism for ensuring uniqueness.
The primary reason for the UID project was to establish the bona fide identity of a person. Lack of an identity proof often excludes people from many facilities and formal systems in society such as opening a bank account or access to public distribution system (PDS). In most cases the rural poor find it difficult to even produce birth records to prove their identity even to claim their (legitimate) privileges.
Sanjay Jain who spoke at the IPMA second annual event which was held on the 8th of December, was the chief product manager for this project. He spoke about 7 principles of Product Management and mapped it to Aadhaar, the ambitious Government Project.
Below is an excerpt from the presentation where Sanjay Jain took the 7 Principles of Product Management elucidated by Deep Nishar (at the NASSCOM Product Conclave earlier this year) and looked at Aadhaar through that lens:
The 7 Principles of Product bliss:
Know thy User
Simplicity is a feature
Data is your guide
Innovation is not instant
Know thy user: Aadhaar has a process called ‘Know Your Resident’ which is about proving the identity of a resident of India. So it has information like their name, finger print, gender, date of birth, where they live, who is their parents etc. which helps knowing the resident intimately through the data collected.
Simplicity is a Feature: What could be simpler than one person – one Aadhaar Id. The principle that Biometrics doesn’t change even with time and they are unique to a person is the basis for issuing Aadhaar.
The biometric of a person – impression of all the 10 fingers and the iris scan are the authentication or the proof of identity. There is no need for an
Aadhaar card, the 12 digit identification number and the biometric of the person are the authentication. Embrace Constraints: There were many constraints; public funds were used so the accountability was to public as the policies and principles were sacrosanct. So a bunch of architectural principles were defined to guide the project and they were not to be violated. Some of them are:
To use open source technologies where ever prudent
The decision not to lock-in any vendor
Performance matrices are made public
Strong end-to-end security was ensured
A committee was put in place to take decisions. First data definition standards and biometric data standards were created and a broad concurrence from across the government was obtained to implement the same.
Data is your Guide: A public portal was created which gives complete visibility and transparency to anybody at any time, satisfying RTI norms. A person who has applied for Aadhaar can check status on the UIDAI website by entering his/her 14 digit enrollment id.
The UIDAI being a part of the Central government agency works with the partners whom the state government outsources the work to; they are 3 levels away from central body, so everybody in the chain gets complete visibility to all information. So the processes are standard and details of contracts are available on the partner portal. The operators had to go through rigorous training and certification before they were activated.
Innovation is not instant: Innovation takes time. Central identity repository (CIDR) is the repository where all the identity data pertaining to Biometric subsystem, Demographic data, Business analytics, Infrastructure management, Application servers etc. resides.
The attempt is to build the world’s largest biometric database, India’s current population is 1.21 billion and the UID scheme aims to cover all the residents. No country has attempted an identification and verification system on this massive scale.
The method adopted is ‘the best fingerprint technology’, the resident provides all 10 fingerprints, 2 best finger prints are taken and the success rate is 95%.
Adapt: Competition brought in a drop in prices; for example when the project started the price of the fingerprint scanners, like the ones used in the US immigration, was 5000 USD; it came down to INR 25,000.
Manifest Destiny: To take up a project of this magnitude needed conviction – One needs to believe one can do it, believe in success and work backwards.
I can bet you are familiar with this one, but not its consequences, in product development: you’ve seen project managers in product development teams express frustration at not being able to keep the development on track, on time and on budget. I had earlier written about the kind of expectations people have of product development and its perils – but this problem of project management is worse. In response to delays, project managers begin to get even more hyper. They start asking for more detailed plans, better definitions of deliverables, tighter schedules, better time and resource utilization and more frequent reviews (ouch!). That’s natural. That’s what project managers are born to do. Except, in the product development context, this approach is just not applicable. It’s a great approach in manufacturing and service environments where assets are under performing and people need to tighten their process management. But in product development, this can all but kill the development.
Product development and shop floors are very different – to start with code being developed can be in several places at the same time, in the hands of different people, undergoing several changes (and becoming altogether new products!). This just can’t happen in a manufacturing scenario. A copper pipe being manufactured can only be at one place on the shop floor. A car being manufactured can only be at one point on the assembly belt.
The difference is crucial. And well worth appreciating. Product development managers can’t afford to have their teams ticking at 100% utilization. Not even at 90%. It can cause untold harm. In development, busy does not necessarily translate into productive. Reason? Nothing is predictable in product development (again, I hark back to my older post on the topic at https://pn.ispirt.in/the-weight-of-expectation/). Development thrives in chaos. No one is certain how long a task in development will require – or should take. Unlike in manufacturing and services, where there are well-set benchmarks for most processes, in development there are practically none. Teams should be given leeway to make unpredictable changes, and start from scratch. And starting from scratch does mean low people and process utilization.
Bringing order to development is futile. Okay, I’ll take that back and rephrase it a bit: Bringing order to development is not recommended. This is because the process of development has large variances and reducing those variances can take up considerable resources, adding to project costs. In a world of shrinking resources, that’s a trade-off few will opt for. Or am I in a minority in thinking this?
Seems only apt to summarize our 12 learning’s on 12-12-12
#1 – ‘Kitna detee hai’ ?
Maruti car runs a campaign in India around “keetna deti hai” (means in local language – how much mileage will i get in?). The first question on the applicant’s mind was – post program will I get a better pay or shift into a company of my dreams. Very few (23% of them to be precise) reported that learning is more important to them than placement assistance.
My take – People seem to forget that getting inside is easier than staying & growing inside. On the bright side its good that we have companies willingly wanting to hire the first batch immediately on graduation.
#2 – “Code Centric to Customer Centric”
The idea of transitioning from being technology centric to customer centric does seem to resonate the most with individual participants who cited “Project Management to Product Management” as the #1 desired transformation – to be able to understand the customer and the business context of what they are already doing.
My take – Business programs can only be valuable if they accelerate that transformation. Knowledge dissemination cant be the driver!
#3 – “Badge is important”
The idea of getting a diploma or a degree is rather important as a take away from the program. Brand is clearly important.. Interestingly enough compared to “Guaranteed Career Path” this was voted lower though.
My take – With liberal badge printing machines in the country most hiring managers see through it and at best use as a filtering criteria.It is even less valuable for senior R&D professionals
#4 – “Have you done this before?”
Surprisingly (at least to us) companies who wanted to nominate people to the program asked this question more often than the participant themselves. Companies (both senior HR/L&D & Engineering leaders) as well as participants appreciated the fact that the curriculum is relevant and faculty is world class but the risk appetite for companies seemed to be lower than participants who pledged nominations for the “next” batch!
My take – first movers almost always benefit. That’s why the early bird gets the worm. The program’s pilot batch will have the best foot forward to establish a brand and move the offering to higher price points for next batch.
#5 – “Better seat at the table”
Most R&D leaders showed frustration around why they were not able to add value with their global partners and wanted to equip themselves with the right knowledge and immersions to be able to have a better seat at the table and enjoy broader responsibilities.
My take – unless people make an effort to understand the productizing process all those frustrations will continue to rise. Intent and ability to help are two different things!
#6 – “I don’t want to become a Product Manager”
Interestingly enough not all senior R&D managers (64%) wanted to learn the “business” & “customer” context to become a Product Manager, instead they wanted to differentiate themselves and build a better career path on the Product Engineering Leadership track with the role models being cited as CTO and Head of R&D.
My take – Product Management as a process should be everybody’s business to understand, playing the role of a real Product Manager not so much as it’s a harder role to play than one thinks!
#7 – Its better if its hard to get in
The moment they heard that only 20% of applicants will be selected to the program the value of the program went up by a factor of 2 (Price to Value Analysis)
#8 – Relevance of MBA to their Product Leadership Growth
Majority of the Product Professionals who had done their MBA from Top B-schools cite around 21% of the subjects/topics being relevant to them in their current role. 35% of them believe that the degree gave them the necessary break/promotion/new role.
My take – General Purpose MBAs (even from top B schools) are great for people who don’t know what they want in life and hence want to get the exposure to HR, Finance, Operations, Marketing etc. Institute’s Board have actually factored this in and designed the curriculum to map to industry’s expectations.
#9 – Influence Building skills are missing
Across 5 categories of the curriculum, leadership skills were rated 3rd most desired after Customer Connect & Insights and User Experience & Product Innovation. Within leadership skills leading by influence was ranked higher than other soft skills like negotiation, presentation, cross culture communication and conflict resolution.
My take – One’s Influentiality Index (II) is actually the biggest propeller for career path acceleration, functional skills for an average R&D product professional is actually fairly high.
#10 – Relevance is good but I want my exec education to be personal
Relevance of the program resonated overwhelmingly with the target audience but most also desired personal mentoring 1:1 with industry execs and a personalized leadership development plan with necessary psychometric assessments. Interestingly 92% have never gone through such personalized assessment at their company.
My take – I wish I had done assessments like MBTI, DISC, Product Leadership Influentiality Index (PLII) etc to really know my gaps and build a plan to bridge them faster as opposed to rely on accidental growth.
#11 – Free money – take it or not take it?
Several industry reports suggest that 26% of educational tuition reimbursement budgets goes underutilized with global R&D centers in India. Most (97%) desired to get tuition reimbursement from their company to pay for the program, however it dropped to 52% the moment it was disclosed that only self sponsored candidates will be offered placement assistance.
My take – With retention being the driver for some companies to sponsor education this is bound to happen..
#12 – Scaling Startups vs Large Companies
Management teams from both groups desire better product leaders (91% – Agree + Strongly Agree) however their approach of solving is starkly different. Global R&D Centers want a longer program (underlying theme being retention) vs Scaling Startups want a menu of courses to select from.
Would love to hear your thoughts – especially if you are a product professional wanting to accelerate your career path with atleast 8 years of experience or part of the exec management team who wants to develop strong product leaders in the India R&D center! More info at www.productleadership.in
Pricing is a mix of art science. Most product startups have a hard time figuring out their revenue model (freemium or, paid only) and what they should charge. If you chose freemium, you have to be careful that cost of incremental customer is low and it will be great, if this customer also helps spread the word about you. On the other hand, if you choose paid, you run the risk of having minimal traction, especially if your sales cycle is long and complex.
In either of the business models, you need to have clarity on who your customer is, what they are really looking for, does it have a direct impact on creating additional revenue or, eliminate inefficiencies and what your competitors are charging and why. Is your sales cycle long or, short? In a product company, you expect to cover the cost from multiple customers and not just one. However, most businesses falter as they fail to take into account the cost related to acquiring paid customers and customer service.
All being said, do remember that for most companies, pricing is an evolution as your product is.
You will hear from our experts on how they went about pricing their products and what if any adjustments they made along the way based on their learning.
#PNMeetup is an initiative by ProductNation and is meant for Entrepreneurs, Product Startups, Product Managers in the NCR Region. Here you can share, learn and network with fellow Product Managers and also discuss new trends innovations, get feedback on prototypes and insights from experienced people in the industry.
These meetups will be done on Third Saturdays of the month and will include an opportunity for professional networking. If you would like to volunteer and make a difference to the Product Eco-system in NCR, do send us a mail at volunteerpn.ispirt.in
Limited seating and registrations is strictly for Product Startups and Product Managers. No onsite registrations will be allowed. Register Now to avoid disappointment. This is a closed event and If selected you will get the confirmation for the event.
Despite a lot of matter that is available and the ease with which people network, setting an Product Startup in the NCR region is fraught with challenges that few can perceive in other parts of the country. For one, it is the sheer size of the region, effectively sprawling across three states, dealing with three different governments which pose a challenge. Gurgaon houses some of the larger MNC Services companies and has a very different approach from Product companies functioning out of Noida.
For most entrepreneurs, running a product startup, challenges are aplenty. It is hard to find the right talent – just not skills but also employees, who understand product development and marketing. Once you develop a product, you will find that customers are unfamiliar with ‘Do it Yourself’ model. It’s altogether a different challenge to scale the sales and product.
If you can relate, you will be happy to know that we are launching a platform for NCR Product Startups. It will be a community driven initiative to help out fellow members in the products space. This will be by the Product guys for the Product passionates.
We have put together a short survey to understand where your main pain points are. This will help us lining up help from experts hidden in deep trenches to positively impact your business. Feel free to forward this to folks who can benefit from this initiative…also dont forget to write to us at [email protected] if you would like to volunteer. Thank you and looking forward to creating something which Product Folks will love 🙂
There has been a huge upstart in the number of product companies in India in the last 12 months. 700% is the estimate according to Zinnov Consulting. Most of them, as one keynote speaker at the recently held NASSCOM Product Conclave 2012 said ominously or more from experience being in the Silicon Valley, “will fail”. Why startups fail can be due to any number of reasons but the chances of succeeding is unarguably high if employees get product management right! So, what is Product Management? It is the art and science of creating the right product for the right user at the right time and in the process create a successful business! It is the functional domain which asks the questions what products do we build, who is it for, why do they need it, will they buy if we build it and how will the product work?
India Product Management Association (IPMA) is a voluntary, grassroots organization that is dedicated to helping product management as a function grow in maturity and capability all across the country. It is mostly focused on IT products for now. IPMA is organizing, in its second year after launch, the flagship annual event which brings together industry veterans to speak about various product management topics. This year’s theme, built on the confidence in the growth of product companies is, Journey to Product Nirvana! Journey to Product Nirvana takes the attendees from dissecting the nuances of product management across platforms and products to highlighting successes to sharing advice on specific challenges!
All this in a few hours with networking over lunch on Saturday December 8, at Microsoft office on Lavelle Road, Bangalore. The highlight of the event is the keynote by Ram Narayanan, a product management veteran on “Building customer centric product strategy”, a craft, very few get it right! The event also features Mukund Mohan, Pallav Nadhani, Pinkesh Shah, Saran Chatterjee, Sanjay Jain, Sarit Arora, Dhimant Parekh etc on panels.
Most successful products go through two distinct phases 1) product/market fit 2) growth/scale. There are a large number of startups that fails before achieving product/market fit and therefore, it is important to understand what is it and why it matters.
What is product/market fit?
Product/market fit is a phase where you try to establish that you are in a good market and have the right product to satisfy the market. Generally it involves developing a deep understanding of customers, running several experiments and iterating product several times to create the right fit between customer needs and your product.
It’s amazing how imporatnt the concept of product/market fit for startups is and how often it is ignored. Focusing on growth before achieving product/market fit can be counter productive for startups. Therefore, it is critical to know when you have achieved it and when to start focusing on scale.
How do you determine product/market fit?
So how do you know that you have achieved product/market fit? Which metric or target you focus on?
Sean Ellis’s definition is perhaps most objective definition for determining product/market fit. Sean devised below survey:
How would you feel if you could no longer use [product]?
1. Very disappointed
2. Somewhat disappointed
3. Not disappointed (it isn’t really that useful)
4. N/A – I no longer use [product]
As per Sean if more than 40% of your customers respond that they will be “Very disappointed” without your product then you have product/market fit. You can find more about Sean’s definition in this post.
Famous VC Mark Andreessen describes a more subtle method. As per Andreessen, you can always feel when product/market fit is happening. Your product usage would be great, customers would be happy, key metrics would grow consistently so on and so forth. More about it here.
Product/market fit is essentially having an engaging product that users find valuable. This can be measured by metrics that are critical for consumer engagement. Take social networking products for example. Key indicator of engagement is what percent of registered users use the product every day and every month. A good standard for engaging social networking product is that at least 30% of registered users are MAUs and at least 10% registered users are DAUs. So it is safe to assume product/market fit when you hit those metrics. Exact metric differs based on nature of product but the essence remains same that how engaging and valuable product is for consumers.
How to achieve product market fit?
1) Focus on engagement features
Typically features fall into one of the below quadrants:
Prioritize features that improve engagement and retention and de-prioritize every thing else till you achieve product/market fit.
2) Experiment and iterate fast
Iterate quickly through features using build-measure-learn model that Eric Ries describes in The Lean Startup.
The core idea behind build-measure-learn feedback loop is to consider product development as an iterative process of learning while minimizing the time through the loop. Many startups fail because they build product on assumption that they know what customer wants. Build-measure-learn model requires you to constantly test your assumptions by quickly building features while constantly measuring to determine how those features are resulting in real progress.
Finding product/market fit is an iterative process but bottom line is to establish key metrics that define product engagement and focus on those metrics relentlessly. Anything that doesn’t contribute to moving those metrics upward is not important before product/market fit.