Going from Entrepreneurship to Product with Zalando Head of Product

Last week, Product School hosted Ravi Shankar Mishra, Head of Product at Zalando for a special #AskMeAnything session. Ravi spoke about switching from entrepreneurship to Product, his experience at Amazon, and what he looks for in great PMs.

Meet Ravi

Ravi Shankar Mishra, Head of Product at Zalando

Ravi Shankar Mishra is currently working as the Head of Product at Zalando. There he leads the PM team for payments and risk management. Before this, he worked as Director of PM at Tata CLiQ where he led the MarTech team as they worked on a variety of features and the customer experience.

He has also worked as Head of Product for Amazon’s trust PM team in India. He also has experience as an entrepreneur, having founded his own company, Medinfi Healthcare, which was rated the most engaged healthcare content site in 2016 and 2017.

Could you elaborate on what it was like switching gears between entrepreneurship to product? What key skills transferred, and what didn’t? What did you learn from the experience?

different sized metal gears on a black background

I would say the entire Product Development process of validating the customer problems, defining solutions which are differentiated, and measuring impact was something very valuable. This was very useful to me as I started my health-tech venture after learning these skills at Amazon. Also the process of aligning stakeholders using Press Releases / Frequently Asked Questions (PR/FAQs) was equally valuable as a Founder. Only difference being the stakeholders changed from engineering, marketing, and operations to co-founders and investors.

I learned that most of the stakeholders love to learn about real customer problems, want to get convinced with data, and are willing to commit to the product / startup vision if you present the complete story which is customer backwards and validated with relevant data points.

Read next: The Difference Between Startup PMs & Big Corporation PMs

What is the solution if the usage of the launched product is below the expectation?

I would recommend to analyse the data in the customer journey and understand where the gap exists. It would be even better to talk to real customers and understand their pain points.

two people stand by a wall covered with paper and colorful post-its with writing on them. They are both looking at the wall and reaching out an arm to grab a post-it

What qualities are you looking for in your team of PMs? What would you say differentiates a great PM from a good one?

I typically look for clear validation of the customer problem before building the solution, apart from clear definition of success metrics for the product. These two attributes stand out for me in a good PM and I would suggest to practise this by writing Press Releases / Frequently Asked Questions (PR/FAQs) for your current product and features that you might be working on.

For more on this, read: Characteristics of Exceptional Product Managers

What do you suggest for merging companies/products with similar products but different approaches to UX/features? How can we retain features that clients have come to love across all systems without creating a monster of an application that tries to cater to all users?

different color paint mixing together

This is a tough situation to be in. During my Amazon days, we had acquired a few fin-tech startups and faced similar challenges while integrating the products. This is typically a time taking process before the teams and visions align to the end customer. What might make it faster is to go to the drawing board and answer basic questions like:

  1. Who is the target customer?
  2. What is the customer problem we are trying to solve?
  3. How do we know the customer has this problem?
  4. What is the potential solution (user experience) for this problem?
  5. How do we measure the success of this solution?

It would be good to keep this short in the beginning (1-2 page max) and use it to drive brainstorming discussions and gradually align everyone to the same understanding of the problem, solution, and impact.

What is the difference between being a Product Manager vs a Program Manager vs Project Manager?

Thanks for the question. This is a tough one and may vary a lot across organizations.

Based on my experience, I would say Product Managers are typically in tech-product organizations responsible for the entire Product Development process which also includes continuous Product Development, including future iterations on the product basis success metrics. Project Managers are typically in service-based organizations, responsible for one-time delivery of the project and may not be involved in defining customer requirements or future iterations. Program Managers may however focus on the end to end delivery of programs which may not involve as much engineering effort.

Check out: The Difference: Project Manager vs Product Manager

How do you think is a journey from a Machine learning engineer to the Product Manager without attending a B-school?

I would agree that it is possible to transition into Product Management from a software development or Machine Learning development role. It is not necessary to learn this only at a business school. I can say this as I studied HR in my business school :).

I would say learning by doing can help, along with coaching from a mentor on Product Management methods and tools. The key things to learn are the steps before and after software development which is to define customer requirements using research and measure the impact for future course correction in the product. This is where platforms like Product School can surely help.

Is it important to do Masters for PM role?

The short answer is No, it is not necessary to do Masters for being a Product Manager. However, we need to be aware of Product Management methods and tools like PR/FAQs and practise them like any other skills to be good at it over a period of time.

Any final advice?

My final advice would be to think of Product Management as any other skill you want to be good at. Mastery will come with practice and by defining the customer problems, solutions, and impact very clearly for stakeholders, over and over again. 

Gainsight PLG micro-cert top banner

Enjoyed the article? You may like this too: