As many Product Managers have said, it’s not absolutely necessary for PM’s to have a technical background but it sure helps them in many ways if they know at least a little bit of coding. Our community asked the Senior PM at Gliffy the same question and more in a recent “Ask me anything” live chat. Find out what product management lessons he has learned over the years and what advice he would give to aspiring Product Managers.
Senior Product Manager at Gliffy for 2 months, previously Head of Product/UX at Chou Force, and Torre Technologies Co. Throughout his career, he’s raised $1M in angel funding, sold 3 companies, and failed with 2. He doesn’t have a technical background but started his career in technology in online marketing. Has a very data-driven approach to marketing, that has evolved into growth.
What do you like most about your work?
That I get to build products that hundreds of thousands of people use. It feels good to make a tangible impact on the way people work.
Do you need technical skills as a Product Manager?
However, a technical background is not absolutely required for many PM roles. I know that Facebook doesn’t require their PM’s to be technical. I have focused a lot of my learnings on managing a team, UX, and Gamification to be able to add solid value to product teams and company objectives.
What difference do you see when you were a CEO, and as a Senior Product Manager at Gliffy?
HUGE differences. First and foremost, my level of responsibility as a founder of a company was tremendous. I had to hire people, fire people, define the vision, motivate people, get clients, everything.
As a PM, I am focused on one particular product at Gliffy with one main objective. It allows me to stay very focused on leading a team while executing, without having to worry about the operations and high-level vision of a CEO.
When moving from a startup to a growth focus, what strategies do you use to tamp down the noise?
I feel it’s important to have solid, defined operations before you begin to grow. On the Product side, you should have a defined workflow for the way Product teams do the following:
- Define requirements
- Run Sprints
- Measure success of sprints and products launched
General rule: Aim for product growth, not paid growth (try to achieve a K-factor greater than 1 before you begin paid acquisition.)
How do you measure success at Gliffy?
We need to get better at this. I have certain KPIs that I track:
- Revenue from X Product
- Churn from X Product
- New revenue from X Product
I have moved from User Stories to Job Stories. Every job story has an Epic with a defined objective. I have a regular cadence after a Job Story is completed to measure if we achieved our objective. I normally do this 2 weeks after an Epic is completed.
As both PM and founder what are most applicable learnings to being a founder?
The biggest and most important learnings are people management and expectation management. I feel that I’ve learned the most in People management by working with people that I highly respect and that I can learn from. For expectations, it’s about learning how to prioritize. I use ICE to prioritize.
Name one thing (from your experience) that one should simply never ever do as a product manager?
Never make assumptions. If you’re at a company that has millions of users, then use data to define the challenges and questions you must answer. If you’re at a small company with few users, then use customer interviews to define the challenges and questions you must answer.
Have you found that not having a technical background has been challenging in any way?
Yes, absolutely. This is why I have to work extra hard on my strengths: people management, leadership, UX, and Gamification. You can apply Gamification immediately. I define it as human-focused design. By applying Gamification intelligently, you can immediately begin influencing your users.
What has been the most compelling argument when competing for funding?
Gliffy is a bootstrapped company (no outside investment). Raising funding is about people management and expectations management. You have to show 3 things:
- You are in a big, exciting market
- You have proven traction in that market
- If the investor gives you $X amount, then you can put that money directly into growing the company in the following, proven ways: X, Y, Z
How would you address failure?
Not every product is a success. The most important thing is to learn from your failures. We have a defined process to measure all of our efforts (retrospective). We then document our learning on Confluence and share them with the team so that everyone can learn from it.
What was the last book you read? and what’s the next one you’re thinking about reading?
I recommend Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards by Yu-kai Chou, I last read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and I will read next Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
What is an aspect of PM you found challenging that you did not expect to be so and vice versa?
More difficult than expected: it’s really hard to build a product that gets hockey stick growth. That’s the dream, but really, it’s so hard: many things have to go right. It’s not just about building a good product, but you have to have the right market and the right timing. Easier than expected: managing different teams. My experience as a startup founder helped a lot with this.
How far into the future does your roadmap go?
This always varies. A 12-month roadmap will always change. I think the best practice here is to be transparent with your team at all times and let your customers know the vision of the company. We currently manage a 3-month defined roadmap at Gliffy.
Do you have anyone you look up to professionally?
Any advice for aspiring product managers?
Build your own products. Because of the tools available to us (such as Sketch + Invision), it’s quite easy to build high-fidelity prototypes. Start your own blog where you write about your ideas about product and design. This will help you tremendously with breaking into this challenging and very rewarding career path.
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