Building Customer Experiences With Airbnb Global Product Lead

This week, Product School hosted Pratik Shah, Global Product Lead at Airbnbfor a special #AskMeAnything session. Pratik answered questions regarding behavioral science, customer experiences, and how to balance innovation vs. growth goals.

Meet Pratik

Global Product Lead at Airbnb

As a Product Leader for the past decade, Pratik has led Product Teams globally for B2C and B2B businesses, designing and delivering a world-class digital experience that reaches millions of customers while enhancing customer engagement and loyalty.

Currently, he is working at Airbnb as Global Product Leader. Before this, he was a Director of Product Management at Overstock and created a human-centric and intuitive omni-channel product for millions of customers to bring their dream home to life. 

What’s your take on behavioral science in product creation?

In my experience in product, behavioral science is very critical in understanding what the user really wants to do.

Think of it as anything you build: feature, functionality, or product, you are basically trying to change the behavior of your customer. When doing that—questioning how they behave, why they do it, what their motivation is, is crucial.

Someone looking to buy something online vs someone walking into a physical store for a test-drive of a car are very different behaviors you are trying to influence. So user research, understanding their needs and their psyche makes the biggest difference.

visualization of a neuron in the brain

What methods have you found most effective in defining user personas/target segments for new products before launch?

This aligns with what the user is trying to achieve with your company’s product or service.

The part which I have found the most effective is detailed deep-dive in user psyche and picking the right focus group to understand their perspective. This can be both moderated and non-moderated but the idea really is to ensure you are not influencing/guiding the witness and not leading the user.

You might also be interested in: 4 Steps to Create a User Persona [Templates Included]

What is the purpose of the question “how would you build or test X feature” in an interview?

The interviewer really is trying to understand your problem-solving skills, not your feature-building skills, even if it may come off that way.

The idea is to give you a vague problem statement or situation and understand how you will respond to it—how you identify what the core user problem is, how you prioritize the problem, how you evaluate a few different solutions, and then how you will eventually test it out.

An MVT (minimum viable test) is usually the way to go when you can get a stat-sig audience to test your solution with (could even be internal employees of the company.

Do you use timelines for product roadmaps? And how do you adjust the length of time for an epic on roadmap to be completed?

Timelines are always very important, but what you really do is look at the overall shipping goal and work backward from there. That will also help with deprioritizing items which may not be needed in the first iteration of the launch. That’s a good way to time your epics/sprints and figure out your percentage completion of the goal.

Check out: What is a Product Roadmap?

intricate clock faces

How do you balance meeting yearly growth goals vs. innovation?

Love this question. This is absolutely critical when you are in a growth mode or trying something new.

Honestly, when it comes to innovating there is always going to be a risk factor, but you need to ensure you have the right OKRs for that innovation. Think of it as: my brand new innovation has a hypothesis of X user growth or Y revenue growth, or Z CX metric uptick over a period of, let’s say, 3 years. Then you break it down into measurable chunks which you add to your roadmap.

The common mistake I have seen is that teams tend to focus on one over the other. When you break it down, then you add a measurable metric with a small chunk (almost like what is the minimum viable you can build to understand the user behavior, and then how you can possibly scale that out).

That will generally give you a well-balanced view of continuing to achieve your standard growth but will also allow you to innovate without drowning one over the other.

Read next: How Innovation in Other Industries Drives Innovation in Product Management

What were some challenges in the transition from Ford/GM to Overstock/Airbnb?

In the world of product, customers and their expectations are not really very different across industries. Someone driving a car is also going to need to buy or travel.

The main challenge was the approach of the model. Automotive is a B2B2C model primarily (with a dealership layer as the primary customers). Ecommerce was B2C. So, it took a bit to understand that customer shift.

 How do we know when we have reached deep customer empathy? My best answer is: When you can confidently say what they are thinking…and you have verbatim to back it up.

young woman reflected in a mirror someone else is holding. the woman is standing in a lavender field holding a bouquet of lavender

That’s a great way to put it. I would also add that if you can figure out that your product will change the user behavior and you can predict it without an ML model—then you’ve nailed it.

How can I best prepare and position myself for PM roles if I’m from a CX leadership background?

I think that’s the perfect area to enter from. At the end of the day, product is building experiences for customers. I would position myself as that I know CX, I know what customers want and need and how to measure it—now I want to build products to do exactly that.

Related to this: Transitioning to Product Management From ANY Background

When interviewing for a PM position, should I give more general or specific answers?

General answers won’t quite work in an interview setting. You are being evaluated for a certain role and how you’d bring value. You need to think of the 5-whys approach in an interview and ensure you can answer to that level.

What are the chances a foreigner without a visa can get a Product Manager job at Airbnb?

At Airbnb, we focus on the ability to belong anywhere. With the right skillset, foreign or not doesn’t matter at all. Please go ahead and apply or reach out to our recruiters without hesitation.

How does a PM role in a tech consulting firm compare to a PM role in a product firm?

Very solid question. The biggest difference is that in tech consulting you may or may not have full ownership of the end-to-end customer journey. You may be brought it to solve a problem where you excel.

In a product firm, you’re responsible for understanding and building that experience, which makes the difference. In my opinion, you will generally feel more empowered, more aligned, and will feel more customer empathy.

Read next: Product Managers and Technical Skills…What’s The Deal?

What is the best piece of advice for an aspiring PM who wants to break into the field?

My best piece of advice is to understand Product Management from the user perspective. You are not here to build products only—your job is to solve problems. Getting into that mindset is key to breaking into the role.

Attend mentoring sessions, learn different functions (like UX, Research, Eng, and design) and how it all comes together for a PM.

Any final advice?

Sure—my final advice is these 2 things:

  1. Think of how you can solve user problems and change their behavior. That is the most important thing for a PM—not a few features, not JIRA tickets, not projects, but the ultimate outcome you drive for the user.
  2. Participate in different open discussions, get a product mentor, watch webinars, and learn how you can identify metrics that really matter. I would suggest you read Measure What Matters by John Doerr.
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