Things that no one tells you about being a Product Manager
Be a broken record!
The most common question folks ask me is some variation of “How do I become a Product Manager” & “How did I land up a Product gig”. I usually tell folks I am an Accidental Product Manager and there are times I wish when I was not as clueless as I was. There is a whole dynamic of leading products & influencing different teams to build right things at the right time that gets missed out most of the times. Here are the (in hindsight obvious) things I have picked up along the way, some the hard way and some the easy way out about being a Product Manager.
Product Managers are lowest common denominators: While it’s not easy to accept it, there is no other way around this. When Products, Features and Outcomes don’t happen it’s easy to blame someone or the other. The PM is usually responsible to keep the slate clean and make sure that most of these things don’t usually happen.
Do whatever it takes to make it work: I have hired & fired folks, done Sales, some Product Marketing, some design here and there. When no one is ready to do something that moves the ball, you go out there and either get them to do it or you make it happen. Either solve problems with Persuasion, Passion & Persistence or go bust!
Be Comfortable with Jack of all trades: While you are expected to interface with Biz, Design, Engineering, Marketing and Operations teams. You will soon realize that you don’t know a lot of things that they do. I used to be intimidated by all this till my boss told me that PM is at the epicenter of everything. Also if you know more than your peers in some domains you are setting a low bar for hiring. If all the peers you deal with know more than you in their domain, keep going!
Your job is not to come up with ideas: The biggest misconception I had was that I had to be that guy to come up with all the solutions/ideas for the problems. TL:DR? I tried to do it and developed half-assed solutions. When you start thinking about the Problem and why do they need to be dealt with. You realize that ideas can come from any corner of the room. Be a curator of ideas and make sure you choose the best idea/solution in the room.
Experiment with anything and everything: Use data to drive assumptions and dig deeper. They will help drive the experiments and influence your Product Roadmaps and PRDs. It’s easy to do a lot of things but usually hard problems become easy when you use Data and Intuition to solve them.
Don’t operate and build things in vacuum: Get out of your office building and get as close as you (legally) can to your users. Understand everything: What, Why and How of their usage. Do a mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis to understand your customers. You can’t build anything that makes sense unless you know who you are building it for. Also don’t take up Products aimed at people you don’t like building stuff for period.
Go own whatever you are doing and be proud about it! :)
Obvious lessons I have learned over the years
As I am writing this, I am hit with a realisation that in less than 2 months I will turn 23. I remember the 19 year old naive (well naiver) version of me had self nominated for 25 under 25 by Forbes and then I opened my closet of ideas (aka Dropbox) and among everything else lied a letter to my 21 year old self with a set of things to do and hopefully not to do. I wanted to write down the obvious lessons I have (re)learned ; sometimes the hard way and some times the easy way over and over again.
1: Fooling yourself is easy! With all of the obvious things that one can learn, the most harshest and hardest to come to terms was: You are easy to fool well by yourself. I used to pride myself in my ability to bullshit away from anything, but I paid the price for it more than I can count. All of the decisions that were plain wrong were because I was fooling myself and it helped me make a fool of myself.
2: Trusting no-one is the same as trusting everyone! Here is a little nod to the good ’ol 1337 days of good old hacks and dork days with it came the idealism of questioning everyone and everything. When we were building Contactz, i had to accept the fact that trust was at the epicentre making everything work from my Customers to our Co Founders. To this day when building products I still think in terms of bets and trust the users have vs where I want the trust to be at.
3: People, Products and Profits: Take care of them in that order To me people were numbers, bets and things to get rid of once they helped me/their work was done. Boy, was I wrong in so many ways! I became a better entrepreneur once I started becoming better at people management(which is still a work in progress to this day). People stick around when Products and Profits are having bad days, so keep this in mind. Also if you choose the right people to work with, you never have to work a single day in your life and fighting off anything becomes easier.
4: Ideologies are fireflies that die after meeting the fire: Ideologies are echo chambers that start to feel restrictive once you reach the walls of the same. You do senseless things for no rhyme or reason, just to be in line with something that some set of folks believed in. Break away from the moulds and build your tribe/biz/ideas on fundamental truths.
5: Habits are important and pay off: Growing up, I used to read a lot of books so whenever I am struck I still consult books. Good habits add a positive gain and bad habits add a negative gain, your life can be normalised to the delta between the two with very little false positive. Learn to replace habits and then get rid of the ones that don’t make sense anymore.
6: Change is always hard: Its not easy to write this down but I wasted several years squandering time to do something I was not ready to do over and over again. At first I lost the enthusiasm, then the drive and then finally the patience and only then did I look back and change my ways. Wasting good portion of 6 years which could might have well been 6 hours of someone telling me what I was not doing rightly. Those 6 years are the scars that prove that change is always hard but you gotta do it.
7: Be open to feedback: When something did not convert I used to ask what is not working over and over again. I failed to do that with my life and my habits. Set up feedback loops over and over again till you know what you are missing, this also ends up as a superpower since you realise your potential is truly improving at worst and limitless at best.
8: Learn to put a smile on your face: No one likes an angry or anxious face in an environment when everyone is trying to do their best. Lean to put up a smile on your face on your worst days, you will learn to take life the way it is. Co Founders leaving, investors not following through on their commitments, loosing friends, people leaving, trust fading and more have not been easy but they would be hard if I did not remember to put on a smile.
9: Privilege and Luck are real: A lot of people I meet tell me that they just got lucky and it’s seldom the truth. Having seen enough instances of what I call Serpendity for lack of a better word. Learn to understand the importance of the same and acknowledge them wherever due. It’s much easier to live through everything once you start doing the same.
10: Networking works: I am what I am because of network and network effects. Deals are easier, Doing things becomes easier and network is a very powerful enabler if you do it right. It was easy for me as a naive 19 year old to get in touch with movers and shakers of the startup world and it has paid off many times off to this day.
11: Fuck you money is real and powerful: When I came across the idea of money making things easier as a young kid I had a sense of discomfort around accepting it not because it did not make sense but because what future would have for me since my family did not come from money. Every person I admire has had some sense of fuck you money and it has the ability to delay or stop a lot of bad things all together learn to use it. H/T to Nicholas Nassim Taleb for the idea of Fuck You Money (From Black Swan).
12: Have fun, while you are at it: Nothing worth having is worth it if the happiness disappears right after you have got it. You can put in effort like no one has and yet it will lead to disappointment even when you achieve your goals if you are not having fun. Also life somehow gets more easier if you are having fun, no matter what it decides to throw on your way!
As I write this down I wish in hindsight I had knew about them much earlier but then again not everything happens just how you want it :)
Going beyond step one!
Its hard to admit a couple of things for me but one of the things I have come to terms with is acknowledging the flaw of me taking the first step and then not looking back. Anything I want to do, I take the first step after a lot of hesitation and thought and once I go through motions of starting the first step its gone.. woosh!
Un-Wooshing it! I wanted to become fit, something I have never given priority about since childhood. So after some thought I finally gave in, and like every privileged asshole I went and enrolled at a Gym. Good thing right ? Well yeah, I turned up one day and found an excuse to not show up anymore which was their requirement of wearing Sports Shoes. So screw the money, let me not go back. required vaccination/intoxication so I explained my rationale to anyone who asked and forgot about it. Again my initial reaction to this was to take the first step viz acknowledging this and then again forgetting about this.
The new mantra is simple: “Take the first step damn it, once you do go beyond it”
2 Months with my iPhone XR:
I recently picked up an iPhone XR and I just realised that I have been using it for nearly 2 month now as my Primary Device. Moving away from OnePlus 6 has been bittersweet, so here are the list of hits and misses for me of using XR as my primary driver and t(rusty) OP6 as my secondary driver.
The Platform: I love the apps and the platform since I already work on a MacBook Pro and also have an iPad has been lying around somewhere. Working on Mac and iPhone feels snappy and productive, my Messages and Phone calls showing up might say otherwise but I prefer it that way.
Apps & Optimisation: Its been no secret that working on iOS apps is much easier and simpler than its other counterparts but I am now used to a much better and snappier OS and Apps for the most part. All of my most used apps now load quickly and crash on me less often than they used to on my OP6. Some of them are still the same, I am looking at you Banking Apps :/
The Default Camera: OnePlus was/is not known for Camera’s for a reason, the XR is on the other direction. My OP6 will get it’s ass kicked anyday with good sunlight and or lighting conditions. Side note: I was using GCam to get good pictures and I do miss Bokeh that I have been used to for a whole. I wish Night Sight for iOS should be next, iOS 13 can you please do that ?
Fast Charging: Seriously Apple? You are one of the biggest companies out there but you still put in a 5W wall adapter? Coming from OnePlus 6, I miss Dash Charge the most. It has made me charge my Phones when I go to shower and voila I have enough juice for most of my day. Need more? Just give it 30-45 minutes and go back at it again. I use my iPad’s 12W charger and it still feels old and slow. For god’s sake put in faster charger Apple!
Google Ecosystem: I have backed up my entire photos on Google Photos, my work is lying somewhere on Drive and my emails run on G Suite and Gmail. I miss the versatile Android + Google magic on my daily driver. It’s frustrating and also is a good showcase of the walled gardens evil spells.
Notifications: God do I miss my notifications, I used to get stuff done from my home screen without the need for launching apps. Also the way Android bundles notifications and the actionable parts are the cherry on the cake. iOS still has a long way to go in this department. Again an item more for iOS 13 wish-list?
Siri: Hey Sir, how dumb are you and how dumb can you get? I honestly miss my Google Assistant, while I thought it was not smart enough Siri clearly is a distant second. Apple’s stance on Privacy makes it hard for Siri to get better rapidly and I almost had tears when I saw Live Captioning and other Cool stuff at I/O this year.
Share Sheets: God does iOS feel ancient, cross communication between apps outside of the Apple apps are laughably pathetic to outright tear inducing monsters. The amount of clicks, and hoops you have to jump on before you get stuff done is frankly boring and ancient. I wish they do make it better.
iCloud: My device backups take up space, my app backup take up space, my photos take up space on the little and tiny 5 GB of free storage. The .99$/75 INR storage option makes up for it but I still cannot stand iCloud when compared to Google Drive & Dropbox.
While i did have a lot of whining more than talking about shining parts of using an iPhone, I still think I am gonna stick with my iPhone for the better part of next 2-3 years at least before taking the plunge to decide on what’s next. Also, I still use a OnePlus 6 because I think its a solid phone that will keep me in touch with Android world for a year or so to come!
Xbox Game Pass - Game Requests
It’s almost a year since I have been using Xbox Games Pass and lord knows how much I have saved over the course by paying 10$ over buying 25-50$ worth individual games and I think the present selection is really good. If you want to get an incredibly cheap way to play games, just get an Xbox One S and Xbox Game Pass. There are shit tons of titles for you to play and here are a few of the ones I think Microsoft should add to make it better for their subscribers.
Firewatch: Anyone who knows me could see this one coming without any guesswork whatsoever. Firewatch is one of my favourite games and I still prefer getting lost in the beautiful wilderness out there. A psychotic and twisting game ? A walking simulator ? Aesthetically pleasing forest tour game ? Yes for all of them but much more. Hope the title comes soon to Game Pass someday!
Inside: Published by Playdead Games their previous title Limbo is worthy of your time no matter which sort of games you like. Their second attempt at making a scary title doesn’t disappoint either. Inside is a brilliantly designed game that will puzzle your philosophic mind while satisfying your logical side of brain with the puzzles that they have mastered to throw on the player. It amuses my minimal aesthetic seeking mind a lot and one look at the trailer will tell you why ;)
Prince Of Persia: While the sad, slow and painful death of this franchise has left me in a very sad state of mind but on the bright side there are a few really great titles on the franchise that are still worth playing (+ for MS to show their Backwords Compatibility capabilities). What might sweeten the pot is Ubisoft is not even really looking to make more money off the franchise at the moment. I won’t mind getting to play Sands Of Time, Two Thrones and Prince of Persia 2008 once again and relive my childhood memories once again.
Tellatale’s Batman Games: I enjoyed playing through Batman Arkham series once again recently and that has left me longing to get some more gameplay on Batman titles. The only other that Game Pass currently offers is Lego Batman which I neither find amusing nor worth spending my time over. Tellatale sadly in a troubled state as a Developer/Publisher has made a few fantastic episodes on Batman. I can only wish someone makes this happen, someday!
Cuphead: It’s one of the best exclusives out there that Play Station gamers can’t play but you know what’s worse? Not having to play it via Game Pass. It’s an incredibly hard to play but addictive game that I finished twice on PC before I got my hands on my Xbox. Boy do I miss not having it on Game Pass yet. If you haven’t heard or took a look at this beautifully made title you are in for one hell of a treat sprinkled with the 90’s cartoonish vibes paired with really hard to beat bosses the game means serious business.
There are tons of other titles that I can add to this list but for the sake of simplicity and keeping my expectations low these are the titles that made it to the top of my Wishlist. Feel free to tweet out at me with your suggestions or if you feel a sense of touché to this list!
A brief hiatus with someone I barely knew..
It was drizzling in an evening sometime this June or July where i found myself in a rather peculiar situation of sorts. I had been down to HSR Layout to meet up with my friends , once i was done with meeting them up it was time to go back to the hotel. I had a lot of time at my disposal but the same couldn’t be said about my wallet tough. After 2-3 cancellations when i tried to book a cab i decided to just take a Shared Cab on Ola. I got into the car and i was sharing it with two others one of them was a Gentleman and another a Lady. They were busy talking about assignments and stuff i kept overhearing about this and that for around 10 minutes. Once she got off the other passenger started to chat with the driver and that is when things took an interesting turn , i was anxious to hold my streak of beating the usual traffic that locals of Bangalore are so proud of. After a bit of getting over my own Introverted thoughts i decided to chime in.
The other guy knew how to strike up a conversation , we spoke about my Hometown the places around there what i do and the likes and then he was taken aback my rather odd choice of not following the usual Engineering or Medical path. I got a few calls in the mix and it piqued his interests a bit. I started telling him about my (mis)adventures of trying to start stuff and the likes. Somewhere in there i threw in something i deeply loved Reading Books : The whole atmosphere changed after this and to put it that was an understatement of sorts. I began talking about the books i was reading back then i think it was either Originals or Predictably Irrational and titles started coming out of both of us like we were some sort of recommendation engines. From Alchemist to Zero To One ; Daniel H Pink to Nassim Nicholas Taleb the more he talked about the titles i would get more and more deeper into my interests and before i knew it i had run out of nearly 75+ books i read in the last 2-3 years. We talked about titles from Economics to Persuasion to Positive Thinking and then some.
It was as if two book salesmen were bragging about their inventory throwing out Title after Title and Niches after Niches. I made a couple of mental notes about the ones he was talking about and i told about a few titles that he had not heard about. Bangalore Traffic was the least of my problems hell i wished it would make the cab stop somewhere and we could talk for hours. The taxi driver was clearly not impressed with the way this was going , a teenager and a gentlemen in probably his mid 30’s talking about stuff that seemed to him like we were talking about movies. I told no bragged to him about my hack as if i had trademarked it which got us into E Books vs Physical Books and Audio Books as a means debate. I showed him my small collection on Audible and Google Play Books and told him about how i listen to the audio version while reading these books to speed up the process of reading. It was the most delightful moment i had that day actually in a long long time i think.
We then talked about what he did and i got to know that he was a Lawyer by Education and worked with Wipro , we then religiously talked about how bad the Market was and the road ahead for these companies and our country as a whole. Then the topic changed to stuff like Contrarian Thinking and other virtues that you discover when you learn about anything related to logic and how we can use them (I mean who is a better example than a Lawyer :P ). A sudden vibe told me that all of this was not gonna last for long as soon as the cabbie started asking for the land mark. Since he had to put up with our banter he started to annoy us about the Land Mark which happened to be a cemetery , he used to ask the guy beside me about Muslim’s cemetery. This guy was clearly not amused and he decided to take the cabbie on a tour by showing my a Christian cemetery , a Hindu one and finally the Muslim One.
We laughed hysterically , at least i know i did the cabbie had to suck it all up. And then i knew the whole thing had come to an end , i cursed myself for not talking soon enough and i thought running away from Bangalore Traffic was sometimes a bad thing. We reached his destination and we shook hands , wished luck would meet both of us ahead. With that we parted our ways , and the moments after i felt something missing. I smirked a bit and considered myself lucky to have met such a guy and hoped i would meet him up soon and the more of people like him. The next 15 minutes were filled with a lot of thoughts and i felt sad about not taking his Contact Info but then i know the next time i meet i will be eager to tell him about the latest books i finished since we last met and hope the same from him!
P.S: This is not a new entry but rather an old one still hosted on my Tumblr blog over here which I migrated over completely to just a single place!