How do you plan a product roadmap? #FWDRadio

How do you plan a product roadmap? Is there a better way? Listen to this perspective from Praful Poddar on his experience workign with different teams – right from product management to engineering, marketing and leadership.

By the way, Praful Poddar is also a contributor on FWD app, that enables to learn product management skills (and more) without burning a hole in your pocket.

The ‘Moving FWD with Ashish Sinha‘ show brings you actionable wisdom from global leaders – all delivered in a bite-sized format.

Catch Moving FWD with Ashish Sinha show on your fav podcast app: Spotify | Google | Anchor ..and everywhere.

What is the difference between a Product Manager and a Product Marketing Manager?

Product marketers are responsible for positioning a company’s products and services to meet customer needs. They need to establish a market presence and sustain a competitive edge over other similar products in the market. Product marketers need to develop a strong understanding of customers, their needs, and how these can be satisfied through using the product or service.

Product Marketing Managers work with the product managers to figure out the direction and focus for the marketing of a product. They often have a background in marketing, PR, or advertising. Product Marketing Managers are more involved with the development of campaigns and specific promotional strategies than those of Product Managers who are more involved with the day-to-day operations on a product.

Product managers on the other hand are more focused on ensuring that products can be delivered successfully to meet customer expectations. The primary role of a Product Manager is to understand customer problems and determine how these can be solved with new or existing solutions from their company’s portfolio.

Product Vs. Distribution: What’s Important?

And for many of these products, what will make companies successful is the customer acquisition process. Customer acquisition >> product. An example of this is Salesforce. As much as ppl complain about Salesforce ALL THE TIME, that company is still on a tear.

Elizabeth Yin, Hustlefund VC
Which is more important for a startup? Product or distribution? I think everyone would argue both 🤣 but if you had to pick one, what would you pick and why? A thread >>
3) I think his original tweet still largely holds. The problem that most first time founders have (myself incl) with starting software companies is in focusing too much on product and not enough on customer acquisition.
4) It’s actually *very rare* in my experience for first time founders to have the issue that Atrium had — where there are just *too many customers*! That just doesn’t happen to most ppl!
5) And if you are amongst the few that are faced with this problem, you will KNOW you have this issue. -Your waitlist will be too long that you can’t onboard all your customers -People will be emailing you all the time asking for access to your product
6) If you have this issue, this is a great problem to have! And you SHOULD spend all your time on the solution to make sure you have what ppl are signing up for. And solving for that solution usually means you SHOULD spend more time on *product* than on distribution.
7) But again, probably only 5% of my portfolio has this problem. Everyone else — which is most ppl — probably needs to focus on experimenting with: -building an audience -collecting a waitlist -pre-selling -running ad experiments -figuring out partnerships Etc.
8) And even doing this earlier than when your product is ready so you have an audience ready to launch with. And in many cases, a manual-esque product and working w/ customer in a pseudo-consulting esque manner is helpful to shape product direction and get sales faster.
9) And for many of these products, what will make companies successful is the customer acquisition process. Customer acquisition >> product. An example of this is Salesforce. As much as ppl complain about Salesforce ALL THE TIME, that company is still on a tear.
10) Now there are exceptions. Those exceptions are dependent upon who you are selling your product to. E.g. if you are building a product for designers, then the product had better be *well designed*. And in many cases, for designer products, your product IS your distribution.
11) If you’re building for an audience that has high expectations for product, then a strong product >> customer acquisition. So understanding what type of product and customer you have is key to know what to focus on.
12) And some founders are better at serving some audiences vs others. Knowing thyself is equally impt. I backed 2 founders at my prior firm who are excellent at product, but the product they were building then relied on strong customer acquisition. The company shut down.
13) I backed them again @HustleFundVC for a totally different business. This new business serves an audience that appreciates and even expects strong UX. Their customers pick them over the clunky / complex older competitors. And they are on a tear with this new business.
14) If I were building a new startup today, for me, I would pick an oppt where I felt I could win on customer acq. I’m horrible at product. To some extent, picking to start a VC is an example of this. there’s little to no product. It’s almost all marketing.
15) For some ideas, product is more impt. For most ideas cust acq is more impt. Play to your strengths. If you are great at product, pick an opp where product is most impt & REALLY VALUED by customers. If you are great at cust acq, pick an oppt where prod doesn’t matter as much

How to Interview a Product Manager

There’s a lot of confusion on evaluating a candidate’s Product Sense in interviews. So let’s analyze bad, good, great answers to an interview question: “Why do threads on Twitter typically get more engagement than a tweet that links to a blog post with the same content?” 👇🏾
First: I don’t actually use this specific question when I interview candidates, but you do need a question like this *as a part of* your overall Product Sense interview. This question mainly assesses a candidate’s cognitive empathy & ability to analyze product-user interactions.
Second: Don’t take this stuff literally. The idea here is to share guidance via an example. Do not misconstrue this stuff as hard rules. Your context matters more than anything else. Also, it’s a good idea to augment your interviews with a practical product exercise or two.
With that let’s review Bad, Good, Great answers to our question. Again, your initial prompt is: Why do threads on Twitter typically get more engagement than a tweet that links to a blog post with the same content?
Bad answer: “The Twitter algo prioritizes threads more than tweets with external links”
Remember that good PM interviews should mirror the types of discussions that you are likely to actually have in the job. In that sense, this is not a bad start. Most candidates will take 2-3 minutes to basically say some version of this answer. Your job is now to prompt further.
Example prompts: Why might the Twitter algo do that? Let’s assume a strictly chronological timeline in which the algo doesn’t play any favorites & the same holds true there. What might explain that?
You’re looking for a number of things when you prompt: Is the candidate able to look at this issue from multiple perspectives, especially in response to your prompts? Is the candidate asking you reasonable questions to explore the topic? Candidate’s communication skills Etc.
But after a number of prompts, if the candidate’s core message doesn’t move beyond the observation that threads get greater engagement because that’s what the Twitter algo is set up to do, it is almost certainly a bad answer to this question. Let’s now move on to a good answer.
Good answer: “In aggregate, for a given topic written by a given creator on Twitter, users don’t click on external links as much as they do threads”
This is a decent starting point for a discussion. You might prompt the candidate on why this might be the case.
Note: this discussion will usually require meaningful support from you, but the main ideas should be discovered by the candidate. Here’s what a really good discussion on this “why” might reveal:
1) “Users know from prior experience that a blog post or an article will take a few seconds to load, so the bar for clicking it is higher for an article than a thread.”
2) “The reading experience is unpredictable with an article (ads / paywalls / badly formatted site), but very predictable with a thread, without any of these downsides. There’s also the disparity in the experience between a webview vs. native.”
3) “Related to the above two points, with a thread you can decide very quickly if it’s worth more of your time (e.g. by reading the first 2-3 tweets) than you can with an article. So the *exit cost* for a thread is much lower, and therefore the willingness to explore is higher.”
This is good stuff, because it demonstrates strong cognitive empathy and a decent analysis of user-product interactions. Your job is now to continue prompting on whether the candidate can make this good answer great. Here’s what a great follow up observation might look like:
“Both of these are related to the observation that deep-down, people don’t want to feel foolish. That’s why for a given topic, investing up to 10 seconds in opening an article requires a much higher degree of excitement & motivation than investing 2-3 seconds to tap on a thread.”
Very few candidates (1 in 5, if you have a decent candidate pipeline) will reach the great level. The point isn’t to disqualify anyone who doesn’t reach the great level. Rather it’s to intentionally identify via your conversation those candidates who *can* reach this level.
To state the obvious here, we aren’t looking for just this specific answer. I like to tell candidates that there is no right answer & that I am not looking for them to share what I already have in mind. So if it helps you, here’s another good answer that’s different from above:
“Threads have 2 interesting properties:
1) In many threads, each tweet is a self-contained fragment within the overall content. This greatly assists users with comprehension of the overall message (and retention too). The visual separation between tweets provides implicit satisfaction as you finish reading each tweet.
2) In web articles, it is difficult for a user to bookmark (for oneself) & amplify (for others) a specific fragment that particularly resonated with him/her. With threads, these actions are natively built into the tweet itself. So this leads to greater amplification of threads.”
Now, this is a very good answer already. How might this answer become great in the ensuing discussion? Here’s an example of what a great follow up discussion might look like:
“Now, stepping back from all of this, there’s some selection bias at play here. The very fact that you are on Twitter, implies that you are already more predisposed to consuming tweets (and therefore also a collection of tweets i.e. a thread) than the average web user.”
“So even if articles are a superior, higher engagement content format on the web overall (let’s just make this assumption for now), it is still possible that users on Twitter are more likely to consume & amplify a relevant thread than that same content as an article.”
Note: The hypothesis generation above is more important than facts that you may know about threads vs. articles. In other words, the answer above can actually be “wrong”, but that doesn’t make it “bad”. Because in real life you can do analysis to confirm/deny your hypotheses.
What’s important is that a product manager has the user insight, open mindedness, and communication skills to explore a wide range of hypotheses with you, and his/her insights are backed by a solid understanding of user psychology & behavior (i.e. the insights are not random).
Before I end this thread, let’s look at another great answer, to drive home the point that the quality of the discussion matters more than any specific answer. Perhaps a candidate mentions one or more of the reasons we already covered above, and then follows it up with this:
“Okay, besides all this, there’s also the factor of relative usefulness of content on Twitter. Let’s take a user who’s using Twitter mainly for professional learning. Such a user likely sees a ton of tweets that are somewhere between Slightly Relevant to Completely Useless.”
“Now, in the midst of a bunch of such tweets, the user comes across a thread on how Zapier acquired customers by getting very creative with content/SEO. This thread is going *appear* higher quality because of its relative usefulness vs. the adjacent tweets in the user’s timeline”
“So, while this point doesn’t directly get to engagement on threads vs. articles, creators who don’t care very much about directing traffic to their website should prolly consider writing threads to take advantage of this disparity in relative usefulness of tweets in a timeline.”
Again, the hypothesis presented in this answer can be evaluated via qualitative & quantitative research, so the point isn’t about how accurate it is. The point is that this person made a cogent and non-obvious observation about how users might perceive content in their timeline.
There’s a lot more I can say about good interview practices, questions for other aspects of Product Sense (creativity, design taste, domain knowledge), evaluation criteria, etc. but I’ll stop this experimental thread here. Let me know if this type of content & style is useful.

This Celebrity Couple Got Married In Just INR 150; Saved Remaining For COVID-19 Relief Funds!

We belong to a society where big fat weddings matter more than do waqt ki roti!

Now one thing that COVID-19 has forced the Indian janta to do is to limit their guests at weddings with limited expenditure. While some might like this idea of a small close-knitted celebration, others are not much.

Now, often, celebrities are expected to throw big parties and hefty functions before their weddings as a part of the glamour world, but recently, a celebrity couple decided to go south with it.

Celebrity couple Saloni and Viraf Patel got married recently after dating each other for almost two years. But what drew everyone’s attention to it is that they did everything at just INR 150!!

As per the actress, the couple has been planning for their wedding since last year, but the pandemic hit the world right before that. As a result, they delayed their wedding hoping that things would be fine by 2021, but this year it hit even worse. Although the dates were finalized, there was no sign of when it would get back to normal.

Both Saloni and Viraf had been tested positive in April, and the virus later caught their parents as well. Eventually, the couple decided to cancel all the functions. Their court date was May 6; after a lot of dilemma and discussion, they decided to go ahead with it.

The couple arrived at Bandra court in Mumbai to officiate everything. The entire wedding cost INR 150, which included their marriage registration fee and some photocopies of documents.

Both of their families were not around. The couple couldn’t even arrange wedding rings. Saloni borrowed a saree from her friend while Viraf managed to get something from his closet to match it. 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Viraf Patell (@virafpp)

“I thought it won’t be as exciting and memorable as it would have been if there were functions, but the day was as memorable and special as it could have been. It was simple, and at the end of the day, we were discussing how tired we were with all the video calls. Now, I think how do people manage with all the functions because we were exhausted with our court marriage,” Saloni shares in an interview.

The couple has decided to donate a part of their wedding money to COVID-19 relief funds. They are still figuring out the NGOs and communities they want to support. “We are looking forward donating the money we did not spend,” Saloni says.

Wonder how helpful it would be if every couple decides to do the same, if every individual donates for a social cause and not just some temple and if every CSR activity is about making an impact and not just numbers!

ALSO READ: Chennai Welfare Group Converts Autos Into Ambulances, Saves 160+ Lives!

How Naukri Builds Products: Interview with VP of Product, Puneet Verma

InfoEdge has been running successful products at scale and importantly, given the churn in the audience, the product teams really need to stay agile and keep building for the new audience and their evolving taste.

Here is an AMA we did with Puneet Verma, VP of Product at Naukri on the product management process they follow.

How can anyone make sure that they are diversifying the products along with making sure that it is aligned to the common vision of a company. ?

Organizations usually have core pillars around which they weave their vision and hence product offerings. Once you have solved the core problems which you started with then you tend to jump on the second set of problems. Usually, these problems are not entirely orthogonal to your core product Eg. LinkedIn started with professional networking and then moved towards job opportunities. Similarly, Glassdoor has primary offering as Ratings and Reviews about the organization, and secondary (which perhaps would soon or already has become primary) are job openings.

Puneet Verma AMA
Puneet Verma AMA

Whenever you go for diversification you usually try to leverage the existing offering this helps you in getting a strong runway beforehand. Hence, if one would like to diversify then one should primarily look into extending the core pillars of the vision. Having said that, companies with deep pockets tend to diversify in orthogonal directions as well like Snapdeal and Paytm had done.

How do you prioritize your product features / roadmap?

Usually the journey starts with settings the directions for next entire fiscal. Multiple factors viz. Areas we want to attack basis current economic condition (like COVID or IT boom or Make in India), Areas where business is willing to invest to achieved next set of growth, Data from existing set of features and consumer journeys on the platform to identify leakages in the funnel, Sales Team input basis what clients are asking for, Interview/Feedback session with users, etc. aid in deciding the directions. We believe that idea can come from anywhere within or outside the organization hence we keep doing brainstorming meetings with internal stakeholders as well. Once all these have been explored then we design our Annual Product Roadmap which then further split into Quarterly ones. Thereafter Tech team come into picture for T-shirt sizing. Once these high level estimates are available then we take the final call on the basis of RoI.

Do you guys follow the Scrum process? What are some of the modifications you have done to the process?

Yes, we do religiously follow SCRUM. While we try and stick to the traditional process however this doesn’t keep us away from experimenting basis observations and team’s input. Most of the modifications are project and circumstances driven viz. during the start of COVID since it was unexpected for everyone hence to pull off a useful product for all impacted jobseekers that too in a quick time we went into a start-up mode and thus a bunker sort of was created to complete the entire project from conceptualization to Go LIVE state in less than a month.

How do you hire product managers? What are the core qualities you look at?

We hire both from campuses and market. From campus perspective we go to Tier 1 B-Schools only while from lateral the condition of Tier-1 B-School gets an extension of relevant work experience as well. Usually we go for people who are engineer turned management professionals and have worked as or at least with developers during their job post engineering. This helps PMs to communicate with developers and even data scientists more effectively. These are just proxies and of course doesn’t guarantee one’s success in a PM role. After this screening, a few most valuable traits that we check are empathy, comfort with data, understanding the right problem from entire gamut of issues, etc.

Do you guys follow the north star metric principles? I mean, Naukri is a big company with many businesses – so each biz unit has its own metric? How does that work?

Indeed, since Infoedge has multiple companies under its umbrella like Naukri, 99acres, Jeevansathi, Shiksha, Naukrigulf, etc. and each of the brand is focusing on a different Domain x TG hence metrics are bound to be different. However, similar to most of the other organizations in the market a few metrics are holy grail and thus being followed well by almost all brands.

Usually, each business track metric which is directly or indirectly related to the revenue. Let’s say for Naukri an important metric is active user base which factors in 3 major set
a) Acquired Users/New registration
b) Engaging existing users
c) Reviving dormant users

Since Naukri has nearly 5% of Indian population registered on it’s platform hence revival of users become equally important as acquiring new ones.

Coming to other metrics which are more around funnel level and essentially explains the health of different levers which eventually help grow active user base hence revenue.

Are the new companies focusing more on Me too features more than implementing new?
For example – the most common features in every product we use are stories, likes, shares, or anything on such. If product A is implementing a feature, Product B will surely be implementing it. Are we trying to create generic products in search of generic features? How can we focus on creating new features and making our customers adapt to them instead of switching to the other platforms which have the me-too features?

Broadly features are originated from one of a few sources including
a) Internal data basis the opportunities or leakages you observe
b) Customer feedback
c) Competitors
d) Innovation

In above, 4 sources D is one of the riskiest yet rewarding, and usually, companies which are in early-stage or mid-stage tend to play conservatively unless they have strong financial and advisory backing.

Usually, the founders I have spoken with or start-ups I have been advising are more inclined to follow a success recipe which is to put some traditionally accepted and supposedly trending features on their platform, at times even without thinking twice that if it would really add value to their platform or if it’s contextual to their audience and solution. The driving factor is FOMO here.

Coming to the last sub-question of your set of questions these days retention is quite difficult especially when you try and retain each and every cohort of users on your platform therefore you need to decide your battles first and then work towards fighting them. Usually, companies become uneasy when they start losing some market share of the set of audience that they don’t want to primarily focus on and then they start building features to retain them. This results in a placebo effect for the companies and thus doesn’t help much in long terms growth and vision.

How do you look at acquiring the new generation audience, given that products like Naukri has been around for many years – and there is an age bias to it.

You rightly said since Naukri has users from various segments and each segment has its own expectations. While few are still comfortable or I’d say habitual of usual job search platform which they have been interacting with for ages and they don’t want to get into learning curve again. On the other hand, we have a new-gen audience that has slightly different expectations.

Being a market leader it is expected from Naukri to have a solution that can serve the needs of both worlds. That’s exactly what we have working on and thus you may have seen and would see some exciting features in near future.

Building a ‘Cockroach’ Startup : An AMA for and by Founders.

Cockroaches are ugly, but they have survival skills no one can match.

Ditto with startups who are tenacious and know the art and science of survival, no matter how bad the times are.

NextBigWhat Huddle has been created to ensure that working remote does not get boring and you continue to get insights + real-world lessons from founders and product leaders on building and scaling product-led businesses.

Every weekday, 5 PM with a founder / product leader.
Online (Live video AMA).

On Friday, April 3rd, we have Lalit Bhise – Founder and CEO of Mobisy & Sameer Shisodia – Founder of Linger joining Ashish Sinha for a deep dive and meaningful discussion on building a ‘cockroachy’ startup i.e a startup that is resourceful and can hustle through any circumstances.

A topic that is all the more relevant in today’s troubled times.

Lalit Bhise is a veteran of mobile technologies who has seen it all. Seven years into Mobisy, Lalit decided to launch B2B SaaS solutions that have helped the company lead digital transformation and sales automation in India – so much so, that the company was listed on Deloitte Technology Fast 50 India 2019, a ranking of the 50 fastest growing technology companies in India.

Sameer Shisodia is a serial entrepreneur and an engineer who went from coding algorithms and working on UNIX to establishing an alternative vacations platform called Linger as well as a project to revive sustainable agricultural practices called The Farming Collective.

Ashish Sinha, NextBigWhat founder – a 100% bootstrapped business which continues to stay away from the noise and stays focused on doing what’s important and meaningful.

In the upcoming Huddle with Ashish Sinha (Founder & CEO, NextBigWhat),
Lalit & Sameer will be talking about their perspectives on building products, teams and businesses designed to survive and geared to flourish under even the most trying of circumstances i.e a ‘cockroachy’ startup!

5 PM. April 3rd.

Friday (April 3rd) | 5 PM | At a screen near you (i.e. online/live video).

You can also catch the AMA live on Youtube & Facebook!

The NextBigWhat Huddle is brought to you in partnership with MoEngage, an Intelligent Customer Engagement Platform trusted by enterprises in 35 countries.

How To Make It Through The Startup Phase

Startups have become mainstream in India. Yet, as an ecosystem, we are still learning how to deal with the common struggles that first-time entrepreneurs face to go from the startup phase to becoming an established company.

Statistically, the first five years of a startup are the hardest. Research suggests that you need to survive those first five years just to have a valid business model. But startups must not just survive, they need to thrive. Merely surviving is worse than failing and starting again.

Startup CEOs must make the call of when to keep fighting and when to call it quits. Only some startups have the fortitude and strategy to struggle through the early stage and become a flourishing company.

Surviving the abyss

A recent event made me reflect on the journey our company has taken to reach where we are today. We still keep track of how candidates hear about us, so I asked a recent candidate how she came to know about our company. She responded very matter-of-factly, “Kissflow is a big company; how would I not know it?”

Our product has been out for seven years now and we’ve grown from a team of less than 20 to nearly 200. Our customer count and revenue have also grown steadily every year but this was the first time I’d ever got that response.

For most of our journey, we’ve seen ourselves as a startup, swimming against the current to try to survive. Not the kind of startup backed by millions of dollars of venture capital money that can make a huge splash in the market, but the kind that grows slowly and organically one customer at a time. As such, we’ve never been such a big name that friends and family of employees immediately recognize our impact or find it a matter of pride to say they know someone who works there.

This comment from a candidate was a huge shift for me. It made me realize that we are no longer a fledgling startup, but an established technology company. We aren’t a baby anymore, and have finally reached the stage where even our hiring is starting to become more inbound.

When talented individuals start coming to you, and when past employees that you lost during a downturn re-apply, that’s a good sign that your company is on the upswing.

Here are three key lessons that helped us get to where we are and what helped us weather the storm.

Nothing happens without a team that trusts each other

Our product officially released in 2012, but our core team has been together since long before that. We had seen a lot of ups and very low downs. We launched with a lot of fanfare, but the product wasn’t taking off and it struggled initially. Our board began talking about other options and we all heard the advice from others that we should drop out and do something else. Yet, we stuck together.

We believed that this core team could build something great and all of the struggles we experienced were actually making us more capable of surviving and thriving in an anti-fragile manner. Our 12 years of domain expertise also convinced us that we knew the market and knew the problem we were solving was real.

Because we had that core team together with an inbuilt trust when we launched, we were ready for anything. We knew not to expect clear sailing every time and we know how each other responded to stress. We had already seen the worst and were no longer afraid of failure.

Even today, this team forms the core around which the company is built. Because this trust is spread out over many departments, we haven’t lost that ability to keep our focus and not lose our heads when things get tough. At the heart of every company that has crossed the startup phase is a core team that is baked together with trust. If this doesn’t exist, no matter what amazing product you are building for which ripe market, success will be fickle.

Build a product people will pay for

This may sound simple, but it is the most fundamental part of our growth. From the beginning, we’ve trusted one metric above every other: sales conversions. If we can convince someone not only that our product will help them solve their problem, but also that it is worth the price we associate with it, we know we are in the right place.

Startups that are more focused on building market share delay some hard decisions for a long time. They have fancy looking products and a large user base, but when it comes time to actually see if the product is self-sustainable and profitable, it is a huge challenge for them with much more on the line. We are continually tweaking our strategy, but we always have our eyes focused on those sales numbers.

By having so many paying customers behind us, we can make much more intelligent decisions. We know what the market can handle and what we can expect. We know when we add a feature if it is just a bonus, or if customers are happy to pay more for it. Having a solid base of happily paying customers also gives us the freedom to take risks and make bold moves, knowing that we can always go back to where we were before.

I find a lot of startup founders need to be reminded that revenue and profitability make a business. Don’t be scared to turn the switch on.

Homegrown wisdom is better than industry standards

Time and time again as our team visits industry events, we realize that we have far better insights on our core disciples like inbound marketing. More than 85 percent of our sales pipeline comes from inbound sources and we’ve found that our experiences have taught us more than any advice we can find outside.

Industry best practices are averages of the best and the worst; they tend to be generalized to appeal to a wide range of audiences. If they are truly best practices, then everyone, including your competition, follows the same thing. As a startup, you have to dig into your unique insights and understanding of the market to build differentiation.

We’ve never had a clearcut playbook. We’ve always been a scrappy team based out of Chennai, and had few examples and best practices to follow. We’ve had to invent the rules as we go along and come up with new strategies in marketing, sales, product management, engineering, customer success, etc.

When we hire new people, we have to teach them how we approach these topics. That doesn’t mean we only hire fresh graduates. We’ve also found success with experienced people who are willing to come in and learn a brand new system that stretches them from their comfort zone. These people also give valuable feedback and ideas on how to improve.

However, many people in our top key positions are younger than the industry median. They’ve been with us for several years and have learned with us and helped refine our position. It’s taken many years of investing time, and might have potentially slowed our growth, but in the long run, it’s been much better to build our own systems.

Pressing through the startup phase

You go through phases as a startup–from ideating the product-market fit, to the happy-but-stuck, to the growth phase. In each of these shifts, you have to re-look at the way your processes are built and fine-tune them to operate at scale.

Today, we are a “well-known company” and that makes me look back to see the ground we’ve covered and the lessons we’ve learned. We’ve made our share of mistakes, and taken our time in building capability and processes, but overall, we are very proud of the path we have taken. There are many ways to become established as a technology company, but I love our story the best.

Suresh Sambandam is the CEO of Kissflow, the first unified digital workplace for organizations to manage all of their work on a single platform. Kissflow is used by over 10,000 customers across 160 countries, including more than fifty Fortune 500 companies. Suresh is an expert and renowned entrepreneur on a mission to democratize cutting-edge technologies and help enterprises leverage automation.

India’s Innovation Rewards System : Thoughts in the time of Covid-19


It’s corona time and every IITian / accomplished entrepreneur is busy launching a visual graph portal – the one that looks sexy and beautiful.

Bare bones, all these portals just showcases the number of cases in region/state/country.

Better graph. Better UX. Colorful. Interactive. Goes viral.

But nothing actionable.

Offers no solution.

No real tech to solve Covid19.

Just beautiful graphs – with multiple ways to visualize data.

But no solution to fix Corona virus issue.

The solution, i.e. testing kit (which is the most important tech right now, even before ventilators) comes from Mylab – a startup started by founders from state colleges.

Who (I am guessing) can never get funded by tier-1 investors.

Who (I am guessing) will never be considered sexy.

Who (I am guessing) will never receive X under X awards.

Who (I am guessing) will never be able to raise loads of money.

And that’s because they were creating things while others were merely aggregating and ‘making better visualizations’ (i.e story-telling).

Post-Covid world, I am guessing will reward creators more than entitled entrepreneurs who are just good at story telling, but they are just that..story-tellers.

I am guessing I will be right.

Or maybe not.

Understanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi as..PM (Product Manager)

There is one slide in my product management course which every participant smiles at:


Great product managers are never ignored – they are often at the center of all conversations, driving decisions and taking things forward. On the other hand, average products managers are often seen as ‘mere PRD (requirement document) writers‘ – and are easily ignored by engineering / marketing teams.

It is the same phenomena with Mr. Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister.

Mitron: You can hate him or love him, but you cannot ignore Narendra Modi. After all, no other political figure has been meme-ified so many times, and nobody else has done rock shows like him either.

PM Modi in US
PM Modi in US

As somebody who is curious about why some things work and why some things don’t, here is my understanding of Mr. Modi as a PM – not as a Prime Minister, but a Product Manager.

[Updated March 19th]

It’s a lot about mobilizing people and putting your reputation at stake.

PM Modi just announced #JuntaCurfew, i.e. urging people to stay at home and stop spreading of #CoronaVirus in the country (Sunday, March 22nd / 7 AM – 9PM – stay at home).

There are 2 important things at play here:

Modiji knows how to mobilize people. And junta in general, will listen to him with the same intensity as they would to SRK or Big B.

Why would people even listen to him? That’s because he has maintained a very consistent communication channel (for e.g. mann ki baat) and talks in a relatable tone.

Doesn’t matter whether you hate him or like him, you definitely looked forward to listening to what he had to say today.

He is willing to put his reputation at stake. Think about it – what if nobody heeds into his advice/request for #JuntaCurfew?

What if they say: Sorry boss. To hell with you. We have a life to live. We don’t care.

As a business/product / team leader, we all have/will face this situation. That is, whether you should put your reputation at stake vs. play it safe.

Like any other PM (Prime minister), he could have just ran newspaper/radio ads asking people to stay at home – but by leading from the front, he is also mobilizing the ground-team and in the process, creating more champions of the cause.

Which increases the probability of success.

And mind you, BJP lost a few key elections – so his opposition might get a bit more ammunition to take him on if #juntacurfew initiative fails.

This is a dilemma many product leaders face. Stay safe vs. risk-it-all. Most, unfortunately go for safer bets – but great leaders stand for a cause. And go all-in.

It’s all about the audience

Great product managers know the color of audience’s hair, their choices, their deep fear ! They understand their audience very very well, they have a strong grip on the pulse of their audience.

PM Modi understood his audience like no one else. Which explains BJP’s massive win in the last election and his ability to create narratives. He has different styles and stories for different audience – in short, he is ‘relatable’.

D for Discipline and D for Distribution

Great products don’t necessarily win (really!). But the product with max distribution definitely stands a better chance.

PM Modi’s ability to wear multiple hats is immensely inspiring – his speech (MITRON!) is a great hit among the audience. But then, he focuses on distribution a LOT.

Right from NAMO app to weekly mann ki baat (fyi: All India Radio generated Rs 10 crores ($1.5mn) in revenue just because of Mann ki baat programme), newsletter, social media handles – they are all a function of Modi & team’s focus on distribution.

He is where the audience is.

And that’s quite a focused way of engagemement

A lot in life is about predictability. Tell me 1 podcast you know of whose broadcast timing is fixed.

Mann ki baat: every Sunday, 11:00 AM.

PM Modi’s Mann ki baat is a game of pure discipline and dedication.

I don’t know of many professionals who would match up to him when it comes to discipline and the sheer energy.

Short. Marketable Content

Great product managers carry sticky notes (or notion notes, these days). They have to keep iterating the product benefits, keep marketing / evangelizing the product internally as well as externally – and most do by creating short/marketable content (MBAs love abbreviations anyways).

PM Modi & his team have done a phenomenal job creating short and easy-to-understand bite-sized marketable content for the audience. This helps in spreading the message, without any major confusion or loss of context in most cases.

Khelo India
Khelo India

Right from Swachh Bharat, Khelo India to Beti Bachao, Beta Padhao and many other initiatives (including BJP’s Chowkidar campaign during elections) – the biggest common element is relatability.

The fact that all these marketing taglines are done in a lingo which the common Indian can understand and propagate – and the result shows up in how such lingos are often used by the common man (how many times have you used ‘chalo chai pe charcha karte hain’).

I do agree that some of these schemes could be repackaged from the earlier governments – but they have been renamed to create a more marketable product – which highlights clarity of thinking and the power of articulation (for the scope of discussion, I am not going into how effective these schemes are).

Influence the Influencer

Who was the brand ambassador of Beti bachao, Beti padhao campaign when it launched? Sakshi Malik (Olympics 2016 Bronze medalist). She had a strong appeal among aspiring Olympians, the youth.

Similarly, Mr Modi has roped in all the Bollywood biggies for his campaigns and has maximized on celebrity’s reach.

Narendra Modi with Bollywood Fellas (PTI IndianExpress)
Narendra Modi with Bollywood Fellas (PTI IndianExpress)

The biggest thing a PM (Product manager, in this case) needs to do in any large organization is to align the influencers to the common cause. This is half the battle won!

Mr Modi has this figured out quite well. Damn well, actually!

Right from Bollywood celebrities taking selfies with the PM Modi to Virat Kohli / Anushka Sharma meeting him after their wedding to several big names endorsing his campaigns, Mr Modi has it all sorted out.

You can say – hey! These are all paid campaigns by the party / these celebrities get special favor etc etc. The truth is that whatever is the case, the common man who *worships* these celebrities is being influenced. And that’s half the battle won.

This is influencer marketing at scale and if you are a PM (product manager), you gotta learn how to do all of this (with a limited budget).

Some of the smartest product managers I know build relationships with the power-centers in the company and align them to the cause before they start the show.

This is part of the game and the earlier you get it, the better it is.

Stakeholder Management is…chaotic

A product manager’s biggest nightmare is when his team (rather colleagues as she/he never manages a team) has a totally different communication stance and this just adds to the confusion.

In case of Modiji, clearly Amit Shah is that engineering manager who has a very different view of the product. Take NRC – Both Modiji and Shahji have made contradicting statements which has left the audience super confused.

These confusions eventually show up and hurt the core product (maybe this explains Jharkhand defeat).

There have been many such instances where his ministers have made conflicting statements, did the opposite of what Mr. Modi said – leading to a lot more chaos and confusion.

Ditto for product managers who have a certain ‘view’ of the product, while marketing take a totally different stance – and engineering? they create the third frontier!

Relate to this?

Stakeholder management is an ongoing process for any PM (= Product Manager and Prime Minister) and one can improve only if one acknowledges that there is a problem.

That legacy product mindset…

*This is how it is done*.

*This is how it is*

Every PM (product manager in this case) who has worked for multiple companies/industries ends up building biases based on one’s experience, organizational style, historical data etc. Biases typically are about the market / users / behavior etc. and are mostly harmful for a new-age product.

PM (prime minister in this case) Modiji is no different – he has shown a bit (?) of bias on religion et al and is still being influenced by a certain organizations that he was part of.

It is very difficult to come out of this and needs a complete reboot.

Carrying Technical Debt

Technical debt (also known as tech debt or code debt) describes what results when development teams take actions to expedite the delivery of a piece of functionality or a project which later needs to be refactored. In other words, it’s the result of prioritizing speedy delivery over perfect code (via).

They say, every shortcut engineering decision has a long-term consequence. Ask any Engineering or product manager and they will not even agree to this, but will also hug you tightly (as you look like the person who feels their pain).

Think of what happened with Demonetization / GST etc. – these could be long-term decisions, but they were executed in a jiffy resulting in chaos. Some of these were decisions which had great intent (GST for sure is), but the lack of deep thinking, stakeholder agreement has impacted the common man badly.

PM: I want ‘shiny new object’

Some product managers / teams I know love to move from one product to another. They are always in a launch mode and never in growth mode.

The moment a feature launch is done, they move to another one and the loop goes on and on..

There is a lot of fascination for that shiny new object. All the time !

Have observed a similar pattern with the government. In the last few years, India has seen new *launches* (that is, issues) ranging from Demonetization to GST to Kashmir to Babri Masjid to NRC/CAA et al.

But the core, i.e. economy is still not being addressed!

Without going into the merits/demerits of this, I believe it is time to execute on few important areas for a longer amount of time, bring them to a logical conclusion and then start another feature planning.

Last, but not the least – a great PM (product manager) has to have great vision – which is sometimes laughable and seem impossible by peers.

A great product leader brings innovators together and inspires them to work towards a common cause.

PM Narendra Modi happens to be one such product manager with great tech vision. His biggest contribution, in my opinion is bringing together some of the best fintech mind to launch UPI.

UPI couldn’t have happened without his vision – and mind you, UPI is the single biggest product from India which speaks of scale, product thinking and has even inspired Google to recommend a similar system to US govt.

Modi, The Product Manager [Conclusion]

To conclude, every product manager struggles with understanding users and like it or not, users / audience often is way ahead in the journey and the product team has to strive hard to match their needs, keep a tab on the market pulse.

We hope Mr Modi and his team is equally enthusiastic about the audience and solving for their needs in the long-run!

Here is wishing all the product leaders, a great 2020 !


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Design Thinking for Non-designer Product Managers #Meetup

This valentine’s day, we are doubling down on our love for products and productgeeks.

By bringing back the Product meetups and most importantly, with very focused actionable topics.

The meetups will happen every Friday at NextBigWhat office (HSR layout, Bangalore).

We are starting off with a topic which every founder/product leader grapples with.

Design Thinking.

Design thinking is hard, especially when you are a non-designer.

Worry not. We have you covered.

Introducing the first ProductGeeks meetup of 2020.

Meetup Topic

Design thinking for non-designer product managers

  • Date: Feb 21st (5:30 – 7:00 PM)
  • Where: NextBigWhat Office (HSR Layout, 27th main)
  • For: Aspiring and Current Product Managers, ProductGeeks and Founders.
  • Speaker: Kshitij Bharadwaj, Head of Product Consumer Platform @Gojek

Notes from Kshitij:

I am a designer turned Product Manager who has been fortunate to have worked with various successful and not so successful companies of varying sizes. I have been working for over 7.5 years and creating value for organizations like Gojek, Flipkart, Housing and many more. Being a designer by education, I got to apply design thinking to solve diverse user, engineering and business problems from day one of my career. In addition, I am a self learnt full-stack developer, and I love to tinker with open source libraries.
Currently, I am heading a platform group at Gojek which builds communication & identity management tools.

Registration Details

  • Rs. 300 (+tax) for early adopters
  • Rs. 500 (+tax) otherwise.

Piyush Goyal: Doesn’t smell right when an ecommerce co makes a loss of Rs. 6K crore on Rs 5K turnover

“Promises of a certain number of people benefitting from e-commerce are very attractive, but it cannot be at the cost of a ’10X’ number of people suffering the consequences of practices which are not allowed and certainly a trillion dollar company, competing with small retailers whose total capital may be a lakh of two lakhs of rupees is a very, very unfair competition,” [Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal]

He also said that it “certainly does not look and feel and smell right” when a company makes a loss of Rs 6,000 crore on a turnover of Rs 5,000 crore.

Time to scale AAP? Some notes from product perspective.

I look at everything from product perspective and these 2 images say a lot:

AAP Delhi Election Results: 2015
AAP Delhi Election Results: 2015

AAP Delhi Election Results: 2020
AAP Delhi Election Results: 2020

(image courtesy: Hindustantimes).

What do I see?

A perfect execution. Results pretty much remain the same as last time.

What happened with AAP in the national elections?

A perfect disaster.

What really happened?

It was a case of premature scaling – when the core idea wasn’t even tested well enough to take it to a larger audience.

With AAP winning Delhi massively (that too against a ma$$ively funded party with a very active social following) – the product (i.e. ideology) is now well tested. Very well tested.


AAP has RETENTION (look at results)


And now is the time for Aam Aadmi Party to think scale. Maybe Arvind Kejriwal can give the CM post to somebody else and focus on scaling up at national level.

If you run a product org – time to pay attention to this election result. And the story after that (hint: national level in the next election).

People voted for what mattered to them in day to day life (i.e. education/electricity) as opposed to what other parties were selling (religion) – which is the same reason why they chose certain products vs. other bells-and-whistles solutions.

What are your thoughts?

Aside, what happened to Congress? They have become irrelevant (just like Orkut/MySpace once did). Will need to discover what it has to offer to the country.

PS: This isn’t a political piece. Rather, derived from what I observe.

Also read:

Understanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi as..PM (Product Manager)

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Why Google Did Android

Vic Gundara, the then-VP at Google on being asked why is Google doing Android:

“The iPhone is really good.  The way things are going,Apple’s going to have a monopoly on Internet-capable mobile devices. That means they’ll be the gatekeepers for everything, including advertising, saying who can and can’t, setting prices, taking a cut. That’s an existential threat to Google. Android doesn’t have to win, to win. It just has to get enough market so there’s a diverse and competitive mobile-advertising market.”

Debt is Coming

Ten years from now, what seismic change will we reflect back on and think, “well that was pretty obvious, in retrospect”?   Debt is going to finally come to the tech industry.

There is nothing inherent to tech companies that requires that so many of them fail to live up to their aspirational valuations, aside from the way they’re funded.

Plenty of people these days preach “startups need to rely less on fundraising”; it’s harder to find anyone who’ll challenge the equity mechanics themselves. But continuously selling equity, even at high valuations, is more expensive than the narrative suggests. As a founder, the most valuable optionality you have is the equity you haven’t sold, and the dilution you haven’t taken. But the second most valuable optionality you can have is a valuation that’s not too high.

*:Financial Capital (FK) and Production Capital (PK) in the image.

How Glossier turned itself into a billion-dollar beauty brand

When Glossier founder and CEO Emily Weiss first had the idea of launching a beauty startup, she began with a simple question: how could you make a beauty brand whose sweatshirt people would want to wear?

As founder of beauty blog Into the Gloss, which she started in 2010, Weiss had worked with household name beauty conglomerates on advertising and sponsorship deals, and found that many were struggling to engage with the new generation of millennial consumers. “I went through that exercise of looking across 20 or 10 beauty brands, thinking about whether or not I would buy that sweatshirt, wear that sweatshirt… I just kept coming up with the answer ‘no’,” she says.