Strengthening Strategic Thinking with PayPal Senior PM

This week, Product School hosted Kaustubh Vibhute, Senior Product Manager at PayPal for a special #AskMeAnything session. Kaustubh shares how to strengthen strategic thinking, and why focusing on the long-term vision will help you create better products.

Meet Kaustubh

Kaustubh Vibhute, Senior Product Manager at PayPal

Kaustubh “KV” Vibhute is a digital product expert who has worked on a wide range of products from location-based marketing to voice-based platforms. Currently, he is a Senior PM at PayPal. Before this role, he spent time as a Senior Technical PM at Amazon working on their Alexa product. Specifically, he worked on the Alexa Smart Home ML team and the Alexa Hunches feature along with Amazon Business B2B for Associated Accounts.

What recommendations you would make to folks trying to strengthen their strategic skills?

person seated at table in front of laptop, thinking

This is a great question. Strategic thinking is required to progress in your career, my past managers early on in my PM career helped me with their own tips. Definitely start with them. When you are thinking strategically, you are thinking about the long-term vision and not just short-term success. Evaluate every product decision you make through this lens. At work, many of us often get tempted to do quick-wins, or do them in our own silos. This approach often leads to the company’s org chart getting shipped to the customer :sonrisa: 

When thinking strategically,  a PM will stay cognizant about the 30,000 ft level view, work in alignment with other orgs / PMs and deliver long-lasting features for customers’ success. The metrics used will show the difference between strategic vs tactical approaches. e.g. a temporary price reduction may often be a tactical move to boost subscriptions, but it may not pay off long term if the retention aspect was ignored.

One easy way to think about this is: if you were to leave your team or employer today, what would you leave behind for them… Tactical user stories to last the next few months, or a longer-term visionary plan? Obviously, focus on the latter but also as a PM be good at delivering quick incremental wins for the customer.  Hope that helps.

I’ve recently joined a startup as a Product Manager. How would you recommend I approach the role and prioritize the most important tasks?

Congrats on the opportunity! Startups are a ton of fun. My key tips would be:

  1. Always keep the product mindset as your priority. Startups definitely try to deliver fast and sometimes obsess more with the solution that the product perspective (e.g. what is the actual pain point, and what is the quickest way to solve it)
  2. To keep things on track, you need a bunch of great tools to help you scale. E.g. we used basecamp, jira, trello in the past to help ensure everyone always knows what they are working on today, notified if changes happen to the priorities (which happen a lot at startups) and make sure they all know how to use these tools well than depending on a meeting for everything.
  3. Lastly, create your own principles to operate and help your team adopt them e.g. always be scrappy, high ownership, don’t wait for permission. Good luck!

Check out: How to Get a Product Management Job at a Startup

Do you recommend creating a PM portfolio to showcase your experience? Do you have a side hustle?

Switching into PM is often difficult at first. I faced this despite being an engineer familiar with software too. The good news is, a lot of product orgs care about your domain expertise. They also care about analytical skills which are transferrable. You often may not have past relevant portfolios, but that is ok IMO. Several interview cultures rely on live testing during interviews and this is where you can show off your fundamental domain and analytical skills. Most importantly, show your obsession about the customer, customer personas and their pain points.

over the shoulder shot of someone on a video call. you can see the screen, the person in the video call it clear, with round black glasses and a brown and white striped shirt

About side hustle, I had a few where I took on product development and product consulting. It definitely helps you when you don’t get to work on a variety of things, or topics that you are passionate about in your day-to-day job alone. It taught me business skills, empathy for SMBs and helped me strengthen my hustle-muscle.

I am an aspiring PM from a manufacturing background. Which domains would you suggest I start with as a PM?

That is a great question. Many major companies that were originally software-focused, are now diversifying into manufacturing. They do this a lot for greater self-sustainability, improving profit margins, and providing a better customer experience. You may want to look at companies where the customer segments and customer personas involved come from manufacturing backgrounds. They may be using software to solve their manufacturing-related problems.

E.g. They might still use a project management tool, email or Slack! But they may need adaptation to their own world of manufacturing to better serve their specific needs. Think on those lines, and hopefully, it helps you find relevant domains like automotive, robotics, supply chain, etc.

I have an upcoming Amazon interview for Sr PM Technical role, what technical aspects should I focus on?

Your recruiter is your best friend. Amazon has various orgs with diverse needs. As an example SQL and System Design may be absolutely necessary skills that get tested in one, while another one may care about technical expertise with managing app stores, certificates, and scripting to do basic testing. Depending on the role you are targeted for, ask your recruiter to be super clear and prepare accordingly. The recruiter can ask the Hiring manager and confirm. They want you to succeed and don’t want to surprise you :cara_ligeramente_sonriente:

Any final tips?

Thanks to PS for this opportunity.

  1. My most important advice for aspiring PMs is – don’t be shy and talk to every single PM, or someone who understands the PM role well regularly. Talk to them about your weaknesses, improvement areas and find good mentors.
  2. Besides this, keep a list of podcasts, blogs and books that you follow and go back to them all the time. Develop the PM vocabularly and do a lot of mock interviews (don’t miss Product School’s upcoming mock interview event on March 23rd!).
  3. Lastly, there are a million products around you in every day life. A connected shoe, a smart microwave, a smart car, a simple electrical switch – observe and think about what makes it a good or bad product, imagine you were the PM responsible for it, and work up the metrics you would use to measure and then improve them. Its easy to practice this and fun too! Good luck y’all, I am available on DM if you ever need to chat.

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