Naval Ravikant’s Wisdom

I have been listening intently to Naval Ravikant’s podcast. It is titled Naval.

I will be listening to it again and will be listening to it with my kids who are 13 and 15 this weekend.

I strongly recommend it for these reasons:

  1. It is pithy
  2. The clarity of thought is amazing
  3. The presentation is clean
  4. It comes from the heart and is honest

Take a listen. Let me know what you liked the most about it.


Product Management 101 at IIM A

I presented the following lecture to the Product Management and technology club at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad in September 2018. Hope you enjoy it. 

Product Management 101 – Understand what product managers do and how they do their work.

In this talk you will learn 

  1. How to get hired as a product manager
  2. How not to get fired
  3. What are the skills needed to succeed as a PM
  4. How the job of a PM is different from company to company
  5. Which PM job is right for you

The audio is a bit distant so listen to this over headphones or in a quiet room.


Essential Tools for Product Managers

Tools don’t guarantee your success as a PM but you should know what tools to use to be productive as a PM.

Paper and a Pen
First things first – write and draw out for idea and product flow. Super helpful to do this on paper before you get fancy in a design tool.

Work tracking
Just use outlook or Gmail if you do not want to get fancy. Work often comes to you via email and is delegated via email so master your email tools. Learn how to set reminders and schedule your work. 
Track your own work using Google keep or Trello

Both Outlook and Gmail have plugins for Trello.

You can also use Airtable. It is a modern version of excel with useful widget and better collaboration

Collaborating on documents
Use Google docs. Their collaboration capabilities are great.

Product roadmap planning
Use Trello and Excel.

A key part of your work is telling stories. Use Keynote to make your presentation look good. You can also use powerpoint. If you are collaborating on a presentation with someone – drop all other presentation tools and use google slides

Design skills
Its important that you have a basic understanding of graphic design and UX design. This will help you build better presentations and have better conversations with Designers if you work on products that need design. That’s a trick question. All products need design. Play around with Adobe XD. Its free for individuals and great tool for Product Managers. 

Tracking team’s work
Software teams use JIRA or some other tool like that to track feature work. Use it. Trello is fine for small teams <10 in size 

Email me. I’d love to know what you are struggling with and how I can help. 

Warm regards,


Must have free resources for Product Managers

Product managers need to read a lot. Reading gives you better context for your decisions. It also helps you argue for your idea and sell it. 

If you read only one book on product management, read four steps to an epiphany. If you don’t the money to buy this book read this free PDF:

Click to access Four_Steps.pdf

Four steps to an epiphany PDF hosted by Stanford university.

Steve Blank has posted many videos on youtube to help you learn skills like:

  1. How to interview customers
  2. How not to interview customers
  3. How to find customers BEFORE building a product
  4. etc
Steve blank’s playlist on Youtube

Here are the next set of free resources for Product Managers

  1. Good product Manager / Bad Product Manager
  2. What does google look for in a Product Manager
  3. Good product strategy :
  4. Sachin Rekhi on art of Product Management:

If you read only one book on negotiation, read Getting More by Dr. Stuart Diamond

Here are the free blogs to follow on product mangement

  2. Google Ventures YouTube channel
  3. Foundation with Kevin Rose including interviews with Ben Horowitz, Elon Musk, Om Malik, etc 

There are so many skills a PM needs to master including digital marketing, especially if you work in a small company where you do both product and customer acquisition. I love:

  1. Neil Patel and Eric Siu’s daily podcast at
  2. podcast by Patt Flynn

How to become a Product Manager

First of all, you are aiming too low. If you do everything I ask you to do below, I’ll be surprised if you still want to be a product manager.

Secondly, I get asked this question a lot so I’ve decided to come up a course for this over a long term but here is an actionable outline in the interim. If you want to transition to a PM role in your company or otherwise, you need to excel in these skills to get noticed.

  1. Customer empathy or Domain skills
  2. Business skills
  3. Strategic thinking skills
  4. Communication skills
  5. Educational qualifications
  6. It is always better to be great in one of these skills than being mediocre in all of them.

So, how do you build these skills?

Domain skills

Immerse yourself in the world of your customer. Seek time from your manager to spend a day or two with each segment of your users so that you can represent them in meetings in the office. Empathetic customer representation will get you noticed at the office.

Start building your network of users that are open to taking your calls respond to your emails to discuss your product. Get to 10 such users within 30 days. Make sure these 10 folks are not all from the same segment.

What’s the sign of success

You have a healthy network of users and you can list a day in their life as a user of your product. You can list their problems. You can quote their response to, why they like your product. You can draw a flow chart describing their workflow. You can list the folks they work with day to day and their titles. You can list other product that users tried before using your product.

Homework 1: Use powerpoint to document your activities in this area.

Business skills

Start your own business online.
Get an audience of 2000 people interested in your opinion before you build anything.

If not, learn about software businesses by listening to podcasts or reading blogs. Pay attention to numbers being shared on these blogs. For example: In June 2016 ConvertKit had a monthly recurring revenue of USD 100,000 and a margin of 50%.

How are software product sold?
What is the role of marketing? How do they do it?
What is the role of sales? How do they do it?

Learn how to validate ideas in the shortest amount of time.
• Create a kickstarter campaign for your idea
• Build a landing page for your idea and drive customers to it.
• Build a video for your idea
• Learn how to create wireframes to explain your idea
What’s the difference between a B2B business or a B2C software business? Why does the GTM difference drive different behaviors for the product team? How do the normal business metrics differ?

Homework 2: Create a presentation on what you learnt. What surprised you. Present to your friends and let them critique it.

What’s the sign of success

You can quote specific numbers and metrics in meetings. Instead of saying, “A lot of users want this feature” you say, “Between 10-20% of our users in segment “A” will find this feature useful based on conversations I’ve had with users”

  • Try to sell something. Start with smaller commitments:
  • Get people to buy your idea
  • Get people to give them your email address
  • Get people to give you < $5 for something you sell on gumroad or amazon or ebay.

You will get noticed at the office.

Strategic skills

Get reading.

Learn about the business world and how software businesses compete. Its much better to read about small businesses than large businesses. Buy and read HBR case studies in your domain.

Know that all business have to worry about Customer acquisition, engagement and retention. So, what are the most common tools that help business owners in these areas?

Understand normal what numbers for:
1. Click through rates on emails
2. Click through rates on web CTAs
3. Typical retention and conversion numbers of different software businesses
4. Software business models that work and why
a. Freemium
b. SaaS
What pricing strategies have been tried and work in your industry?

Homework 3: Create a presentation on what you’ve learnt. 10 slides only.

What’s the sign of success?

You have a point of view on product strategy and roadmap that you can defend. Since this is the highest value add activity in a business, its hard for a new person to claim mastery here, however, having a point of view on the world and is based on more than opinion helps get you noticed.

Communication skills

Do lack of writing and language skills coming in your way?
Most people are not going to call you out for bad grammar, wrong choice of words, and for rambling on and on unless you are really bad. So, if you are being called out already, you have a lot of word to do.

Few other questions to answer:

  • Do you look forward to communicating your point of view?
  • What would be your preferred communication channel – writing, drawing, speaking?
  • Do you have people around you that are great at writing, speaking? Why is that? What do they do that you don’t? Can they evaluate your skills in writing and speaking?

Most normal Indian folks like to speak fast in English. For a long time, speed of delivery was the only measure of language competence in our country. This has led to bad behavior. Slow down and be careful about the words you choose. Ensure people understand what you are saying before you rattle off another sentence.

Tips on writing

  1. First things first. Write! Write every day. Start a blog, even if its private. Stick to a schedule.
  2. Write everything twice. The first draft is never the final draft
  3. Write in short sentences
  4. Use spellcheck and grammar check
  5. Don’t use words that can be misconstrued misunderstood
  6. Remove every extraneous extra word and sentence
  7. Read other people’s work.

Tips on speaking

  1. Record yourself presenting on a topic for 5 minutes and play it back.
  2. Watch ted talks and youtube videos on presentation.
  3. Learn Graphic Design
    1. This deserves a long post. Let me know if you want it.
    2. Start with or for free

Homework 4: Go back and fix the design for each of the presentations you made in the past three homework assignments.

What’s the sign of success?

How often are you misunderstood? Are you able to influence the outcome of a meeting? Do you feel good about what you write?How consistent were you on your blog. Did you publish at least 80% of the dates you said you would?

Educational qualifications

This is a big blocker in India. I’ve always said that educational qualifications are the new caste system in India. It’s a bit harsh to say this but in a country with a large workforce, people are trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Educational qualifications are a good, quantifiable, defensible in a large company.

So, get an education that matters. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree from a Tier 1 college, get a Masters from a tier 1 college. If you can’t get a master’s from a tier 1 college, get a part time masters, if you can’t get a master’s degree even then, then get a degree in the US. Its easier to get in US universities and it can really broaden your horizons.

If you can’t solve for education, get a mentor that believes in you and move groups, companies with her so that you can get the opportunities you want.

Sign of success

In career conversations, people do not quote your educational qualifications as a blocking issue. Or, doors that were closed yesterday are open today.

If you do all the above then chances are that you would get more interested in starting your business than becoming a product manager. That is a good thing. If you still want to be a product manager, then know this. It’s a lot of communication and selling your vision internally and monitoring metrics.

Working on new product ideas

Most product managers dream of working on a 1.0 project. They are unencumbered, new and yours. I am working on two 1.0 projects and the going has been slow and frustrating. If you do a good job as a product manager, you should constantly question your assumption before you put any resources

I was sharing my frustration with an influencer over a long walk in Hamburg when an interesting thing happened. I told him how I was confused about the path forward. I told him that I was getting conflicting messages from different stakeholders and customers. I told him that I wish I can really see these projects through and that I was worried.

People are normally happy commiserating. He did not. He heard me and then at the end of my rant, he reminded me what a luxury it is to be able to think big about your industry without any personal risk. He reminded me that I should enjoy the process of product discovery and not link it to an outcome. He reminded me that there is joy in doing what I was doing regardless of whether it was successful or not.

This was so refreshing and so needed. I had forgotten what it meant to be in the present.

Thank you Christian Glanzmann


People I’m grateful for

There are so many folks at Adobe who’ve contributed to my growth.

Naresh Gupta – who started the company but asked me to move back to India before he would even interview me for a job at Adobe. I did not get selected after the interviews, which is another story. In 2003, lots of non resident Indian’s were shopping for offers and wasting his time. Naresh also encouraged me to invest in property, which turned out really well for me.

Lekhraj Sharma – He’s been my manager for about 10 of my 13 years at Adobe and was the only reason I got selected at Adobe after I could not get selected as a software developer. Lekhraj has had the biggest impact on my career and l have a lot to thank him for. His kindness, his sense of fairness and commitment to the work is uncompromising. He also supported me leaving his org to move to Product Management.

Barry Hills – Its 2005 and I’m trying to figure out how to really make program management work at Adobe India. Barry led program management at Adobe for the creative products. He is perhaps the most encouraging and positive manager I’ve met. He told amazing stories over expensive bottles of wine about the counting crows and Julia Roberts. I still remember them 12 years later. Strange.

Erica Schisler: The one person who really believed in making Adobe India work from the get go. I actively sought her mentorship and she was generous. She put with accents, cows mooing, stomach infections and bad connections over Indian landlines to make the Adobe Media Encoder and the Premiere and AE extension teams work at Adobe India. She also took interest in developing people. She brought enormous energy and follow through to everything she did. Cut through the bullshit and politics and just got shit done. Taught me everything I know about program management and working with people.

Raman Nagpal: Was my first manager at Adobe. Helped me understand how to navigate Adobe and integrate and add value. Very astute observer of people and their motivations. Taught me how to read people. Encouraged me to invest in property in Gurgaon. Both these things worked out really well for me.

Ashish Agarwal: My sounding board on everything we were doing to build a program management organisation at Adobe in 2003-05. He worked with challenging people at Adobe and was able to keep his head straight through everything. He was very clear about his goals and he taught me how to look out for yourself and how to manage things when the going gets tough.

Amit Kumar Singh: My second sounding board at Adobe on program management. Unfortunately he worked with some of the worst people at the company, who got personal, seemed difficult and unnecessarily demanding. He worked through this mess and left Adobe on a high. He taught me how there can be a great life out of Adobe. He also taught me the value of being an honest, dependable ally.

Pankaj Mathur: Taught me about people. He demonstrated how differently motivated people are. He taught me how easy it is to misunderstand people and how lack of vocabulary to express your true intent can hurt you. He also taught me how not be afraid of asking hard questions, uncomfortable questions.

Rajesh Budhiraja: A fantastic leader. No one at Adobe is more dedicated to the success of Illustrator and more passionate about making a difference and building world class products out of India. He’s been doing that for the last 15 years. He also understands “ownership” better than most people. He knows how to drive engineering organisations and get shit done. As my partner in engineering, he’s always pushed me to be a better product manager and a better people manager.

Anurag Wahi: A leader with polished and considered opinion. Anurag taught me what to say and when to say it is much more important than just talking because you have the floor.

Rahul Vishwaroop: I’ve worked with Rahul for a long time. I’ve not seen a better people manager. He genuinely looks after his team and encourages the team members to grow and find their calling. He knows how to set goals, monitor them and get things done. He taught me how to manage bad performers. He taught me how to read people and have the conversations that needed to be had.

Shamit Kumar Mehta: Stoic and Calm. Shamit taught me how to keep calm and work through the madness to get things done. He also impressed me by the way he sought mentorship and friendship in the company. He is the only person who moved from a program manager at Adobe to an engineering manager to a Sr. EM. Fantastic accomplishment. I haven’t met anyone who has a low opinion of him. He knew how little his product managers knew, he knew the politics but it never let him stop contributing beyond what was expected of him.

Neeraj Nandkeolyar: Taught me about Art. Taught me about life. Taught me about passion. Taught me everything I know about Illustrator, InDesign, Print and introduced me to many interesting people and experiences.

Yogesh Sharma: Taught me how to communicate clearly and use design to your advantage. He taught me empathy.

Michael Ninness: Taught me how to value my own self and my needs. He taught me how to tell stories and how to have many difficult conversations everyday without blowing a fuse. He taught me the value of a great presentation. He probably made more of a different to my quality of life than any manager I’ve had at Adobe. He’s also asked me better questions than any manager I’ve had.

Paul Gubbay – Storytelling, Alignment and strategy. Paul’s amazing at all these things. Lots I can learn from him. I don’t think I learnt as much as I could have from him, which is mostly my fault.

Vineet Batra – Engineer par excellence. He taught me how single handedly a strong engineer or two can completely change the game for your product. He also taught me how no nonsense execution works. He reminds me of principal researchers and scientists like Mark Davis and Ken Gundry at Dolby Labs. They knew their stuff just like Vineet and stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Bert Bischoff, Joe Bibbo and folks at Nemesys: My first part time job in Austin was at Nemesys music technologies. Bert gave me the chance to work for Nemesys. I would not have been able to pay my tuition at University of Texas at Austin without Bert. Bert, Joe Bibbo and the Van Buskirks taught me what it meant to work in a start up. It learnt a lot at Nemesys and I’m forever grateful to them.

There are so many others that I’ve failed to mention. My team members that I’d managed out of Adobe and folks that left my team taught me a lot and in a short amount of time. Its better they remain unnamed.


Building alignment in organisations

Building Alignment in organisations

I recently pitched our 2017 plans to executives. I was told that the ideas are sound but what is our overall organizational point of view of these ideas? If one product team leads with an idea, will other teams follow along later. Are they bought in?

This remark seems well thought out but it seems way above by pay grade to drive alignment across the entire company on what I think is right for my product. I’m not the only PM who has felt this way. I think every PM, who is trying to do something big runs into this in a large organization.

So what do you do?

When I heard that comment, all I could think of was how many more meetings just got added to my calendar and how I will have to help others to see my POV and buy into it. My mind immediately went to the power centers in the company and who will be the most important influencers to speak with. And, who do they listen to. How can I get into the ear of those guys and gals.

I was thinking about all the folks who are not ready to change their mind. I thought why do I have to do this at all, its not my company. Why do I care so much about this initiative, fuck it. Let me move on to other things I can do for my customers that don’t require organizational alignment. Sell the easier stories while the company makes up its mind on issues of broader importance.

I thought of other PMs who have it easy. Who can push through their initiatives because they are closer to the throne or have more organization support. I thought of all the roles in the organization where I need to plant my ideas and build an army of allies that come to my aid like Foster Tully at the battle of the bastards.

Who will be my Gandalf the white when I need him?

Perhaps I was thinking too much.

Thinking was not going to help. Action will. Or so I thought.

Three weeks and many a meeting later and no closer to organizational alignment I am writing this post to show what you must do and wrestle with to pursue big ideas. Hope this helps others. It certainly helps me get it out there and solicit advice.

Good product managers get into high stakes meeting after getting organizational alignment. That is the craft of product management. I still need to master this.