Restraint is overrated

Restraint is over valued I was reading a travel mag on a flight to MSP and read something provocative. “Balance in life is overrated”. Passionate people pursue their passions singlemindedly, produce extra ordinary results and then burn out and need to recharge. Maybe that’s how innovation happens. Concentrated periods of singular focus and compete immersion in an area. 

–Anubhav

Accents in India

Strange that foreign men are liked by women all over the world. And, it’s mostly because of their accent. American women love the British accent. British women love the Irish accent, etc, etc. But I’m yet to find women who love the Indian accent. Even Indian women don’t like the Indian accent! Imagine that. 
The proof points are clear. Every ad on TV, every DJ, RJ in India today is speaking in a faux American or faux British accent. In fact english olympic commentators on Star Sports in India also seem to be getting selected for having an British or American accent. Weird how the audience laps it up. I don’t get it at all. 
The same folk that comment or DJ or RJ in a foreign accent, quickly drop the accent when they have to negotiate prices, deals or deal with the real India. The use of an accent is a strategic choice. Wielded carefully in parties, interviews, dates and social interactions to make the right impression. This is really easy to see in parties in upworldly mobile places like Bangalore, Hyderebad, Gurgaon and Noida today. Almost everyone has spent time abroad and has developed a point of view on life and travel and India. This includes me by the way. 
Like the others, I’m very strategic about my accent. I grew up hating any kind of accent in us folk. After working at an American company for the last thirteen years in India, I find myself slipping into an a faux American accent when I don’t want to. I think mine’s a Californian accent mixed in with a strong northern Indian accent. I know it sounds strange. Here’s me on stage trying to speak naturally: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCD_mw4crkk
Not sure how irritated I should get with this but accents popular media in India continue to irritate me! 

Improving an existing product

Much more has been written on validating product ideas and new product launches than on improving an existing product. A product is only new once. Most Product managers spend bulk of their time on existing products than on new products. A lot of these products are inherited from other PMs who’ve left the company or moved on to other things in the same company. So, how do you improve an existing product?

Obviously, you have to start by defining what “improve” means. New product managers generally think about adding features to an existing product because it’s an easier problem to solve than trying to figure out where the actual problem is in their product. This problem is compounded by the fact that many PMs do not own their end to end customer journeys. This is especially true in large companies where corporate marketing wants to tell the company’s story and not responsible for input metrics like customer acquisition directly. Product marketing runs it’s own ship and generally has to toe the company line on what to communicate. Sometimes your product is a part of a suite of products and only the top few things across the entire suite of products get the company’s attention.

If you inherited a product and are the lead PM on it, here are some of the questions you must ask:

What business objectives are we trying to meet?

  • Increase revenue Greater customer retention
  • Better free to paid conversion
  • Increased profits
  • Increased adoption

Which of these problems does the business want to solve in the product? For example, you can solve the retention problem by calling users that are churning, sending retention based offers outside of the product or really improve the product so that more uses come back.

Similarly, you can get free users to convert through offers or by experimenting with the trial duration or by offering free tutorials that don’t require any changes to the product at all. Or, you could build better user onboarding into the product so that new users perform tasks A, B, C, which you’ve defined as critical to the product. Ask these questions before you start working on the product.

Once the business decides the “what” only then should you move on to “how”. Generally, it is very difficult to quantify the value of a new feature. Not every product has the luxury to run an A/B test for every feature they want to put in the product. Especially when you have already paid the cost of the building the feature. So, it’s important to build as little as possible. Most teams underestimate the cost of maintaining a feature and updating it when platform changes require it. The true cost of a feature should include: Validation Onboarding, Discoverability, Analytics and  Maintenance.

Since feature estimates always go up, so do all the other costs of building a product. 

Read “Four steps to an epiphany” from Steve Blank. It helps you figure out what kind of market you are in and how you should plan your sustaining innovation work.

Sign up to get motr product management tips directly in your inbox.

–Anubhav

Transitioning to a group product manager

It’s been more than a year and here are the things I wish I had known or had been told as I made this transition:

  1. It’s a completely different role
  2. Focus on getting things done more than doing things
  3. Be clear on what you are driving and what your team is driving
  4. Communicate! I thought I was good at it but managing a team requires more written communication, more documentation that I thought
  5. Read “Good group product manager, Dead Group Product Manager” 
  6. Accountability – be explicit. Folks don’t just do the right thing. 

Is this obvious? Probably to many but honestly it was not to me and I’ve managed a team before. 

One of the difficult things for me is to make good habits stick. With the amount of travel I do, it’s been hard to hold the team accountable for their tasks. I have started to use Trello to track tasks assigned to the team. I love that you can email directly to a Trello board. This allows me to bcc task emails to the Trello board. A little bit of housekeeping later, I can remember to follow up on these tasks in 1 on 1s. Travel makes it harder to follow up on tasks. This is why a Group product manager role is very different from other management roles. 

Also, you spend a lot of time prepping decks for internal pitches and driving alignment between various other groups in the company and championing your causes. Your wins and losses are public and drive team morale more than you think. 

–Anubhav

Practical issues with money when you choose to work in India

If you work for a multi-national company in India, you probably have had the chance to work outside of India. Actually, most Indians working in software can probably go work outside of India. They’ve either fantasised about moving out of India or have actually done so. Some, a very few, like me have moved to the US, worked and then moved back to India.

This means that’s at one point, most of us have had the opportunity to earn in a currency other than the Indian Rupees. I knew that I was not going to make more money by going to India but I did not realise the penalty I pay on my savings my keeping them in INR. Here is a table that shows that just in the last 5 years, I’ve lost over 50% of my savings just by keeping them in INR against keeping them in USD assuming the same rate of return on the savings. 

The latter is not entirely true though. The rate of returns on good equity funds in the last 5 years offsets against this loss because large cap equity funds in India have returned between 13-22% in the last 5 years. 

So you make an absolute return of 100% on your money while losing 50% to currency losses. This means you have to take a lot of risk in India to make up for just the currency loss, but it is possible. Also, if you invested your US savings at a similar risk in the US, you would have made 8.5% annually in a DJIA ETF, giving you 50% on your dollar savings. 

Thus, if you are equally invested in equity funds in the US and in India over a 5 year period, you would net out even.  

Even if you don’t take the risk, guaranteed return on your money in India are between 7-9.5% thus giving you the 50% loss due to the currency. But, this is the worst case scenario. You net out better than UK, JPY and Euro if you were invested during the last 5 years.

Plus, salary rises in the other goes were not as high as they are in India. So, your net savings would have been less in the last 5 years if you were in the UK, US or any other geography. So, working in India in tech is better and your savings are better if you invest wisely. 

I’ll try to post a table with this info in the coming days.

Ofcourse, past performance may not be carried forward in the future. :)

–Anubhav

The viral fever

I’m clearly late to the party.

These guys are doing great work. The quality of their shows is great. Their scripts are fresh. Written for a younger audience. Written in a way that makes them work for us. The techies, the nerds, the young folk, the intelligent audience. 

I also love their embrace of tech. Maybe they did not have a choice..  

The best way to get content out today is via YouTube or Vimeo. They are Vimeo quality now. They just need a pay wall. Or.. The confidence to think about a paywall. Start with bonus footage, behind the scenes clips and outtakes that are only available to paid members. I also like that they are a lean operation. I hope that they can continue that way. 

I don’t know their story. I would love to contribute to their success somehow. The “Pitchers” show inspired me to write more. For the first time, I saw a drama that I could relate to. 

–Anubhav

The art of possibility and how it changed my mind

The art of possibility

I have not read a more inviting opening to a book in my last 39 years on this earth. The books opens with a fantastic exchange between the author and a waiter that’s overheard by a twelve year old girl. “I have a perfect life but I don’t have a knife”. I don’t want to give it away but it’s something I’ve thought about printing out and framing

I was listening to Tim Ferriss interview Seth Godin on his podcast when Seth recommended three books to listen to. I could not find an audio version of “The art of possibility” so I bought the paperback.

It’s a very inspiring book. I am not a fan of books on manifesting your destiny or using language to prime your to certain behaviors but I believe a lot of these books and ideas destroy lives.

This book is very different and it made me change my mind about a lot of things. Here are my takeaways:

  1. Your mind is screwed up
  2. Your senses look for cues that help you confirm your biases
  3. You don’t know that you are doing this so you end up seeing a world the way you want to see it. Broken and unfair or full of possibilities.
  4. Believing in a universe of possibility is a great way to live your life
  5. Giving your team and your family an A even before they’ve done anything good is fantastically uplifting. For everyone.
  6. Reject downward spiral thinking violently. List facts, talk about “where to next” than “how everything is doomed”
  7. “No” means you have failed to enroll someone into the possibility you see
  8. The vision for your team or company should not be about “competition” it should be about possibility and should include a view that fundamentally everyone can agree with.
  9. Vision is much more powerful than goals and objectives since it can guide daily action
  10. Talk about “what do we want to have happen for us” instead of “What I want to have happen”

I wish I could get an hour with Ben just to be coached. What a gift that would be.

I changed my mind about the power of language to frame your present. I thought that was all woo woo. Not anymore.

I changed my mind about “give and take”. Sometimes just giving is joyous too. All exchanges don’t have to be fair to bring joy to the participants.

Takeaways #1-#3 are also validated by many other books including “All marketers tell stories” by Seth Godin. We are only looking for what’s we want to see. Like the bald men only sees hair when he goes to a party. Or how a fat person only sees thin people at a party. Our senses play a game that we are unaware of. This can set up a disastrous cycle of mistrust in a business setting since you look for signs of deception or political orchestration in meetings instead of shared purpose and positive engagement.

Time to draft the vision for my dad’s business and my team and for the Delhi Shopping tour…

–Anubhav

Started selling my first two books

Finally, after months and months of work and about a year since the idea first came about, I’ve been able to finish and publish the two books I wanted to write about Delhi. These are in named under the experience Delhi brand.

See: http://www.experiencedelhi.com/

I’m using gumroad. They made it really easy to sell these books and also made it easy to make the selling experience look good. Looking forward to the first sale.

–Anubhav

Can you build great software products in India?

One of the hardest questions to answer as a product manager in a multinational software company is, “Can you build great products in India?”. Most of us will instinctively respond, “of course, yes”. The follow up question is, “Really? How can you build great products in India when you are surrounded by filth, your workspace is not fabulous, your country does not value design, your atmosphere is poisonous and you have years of training in putting up with unfinished shit?”.

Essentially, they are saying, “Unless you have good design around you, you will not notice bad design and thus build products that are not really ready for an affluent user base that values design”. Thus, all new products must be built where there is a better appreciation and presence of design.

All these arguments are true to a certain extent. As a well traveled Indian living in a metropolitan city I can see why foreigners think this way. India is not clean. Functionality trumps design and has for a long long time.  Government project remain unfinished forever or get done to a really low level of quality. Most people are not willing to pay the premium for good design. And, we really do put up with more shit than most.

This perception is an issue because often, important executives think this way and throttle career advancement opportunities for promising folks in India. And, I do think that this is a real problem.

What’s interesting is that these issues are kinda beyond the control of the individuals being penalized. We are trying our best to experience good design and learn and retrain ourselves and our teams.

What’s also interesting is that this intrinsic lack appreciation for design is going away in India. This is largely thanks to the startup boom due to VC investments in India. We are experiencing really good design via mobile apps and responsive web sites. Most software developers have easy access to what is considered good design. We are training a lot of experience designers who are building well designed websites like cleartrip.com. And today, other that good data scientists, XD is the hardest function to recruit for in software.

We are also beginning use data to improve experiences and drive users through funnels J All this is forcing us to develop world class sensibilities and software right from here. Example: zomato.com It’s a well design service that’s giving yelp a run for its money. Flipkart is competing head on with Amazon.com and Snapdeal.com is competing with Flipkart. Similar things can be said for Practo and Bookmyshow. These are well designed apps too.

Uber is forcing taxiforsure and ola and Meru to up their game. Some of these crappy apps have grown to become good copies of Uber even though they had really humble, functionality driven beginnings.

So yes, things are changing. Hope we change this perception by shipping lots of great shit out of India, fast and often!

–Anubhav