Agustin Soler, Co-founder and Head of Product at MURAL, joined us for a special #AskMeAnything session this week. Agustin shared some advice on working in a PM role, learning about data and metrics in product, and finally, how to navigate working remotely.
Meet Agustin Soler
Agustin has led the development of the platform since day one and launched the web, iOS, and Windows apps. He is based in Buenos Aires. Previously, he worked in finance at Three Melons with MURAL Co-founders Mariano Suarez-Battan and Patricio Jutard, a video game studio that designed and published online games. A Facebook soccer game called Bola was its biggest success with more than 20 million players globally.
The company was acquired in 2010 by Playdom/Disney, where Agustin served as an associate product manager following the acquisition. Agustin holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Universidad Catolica Argentina and a master’s degree in Product Design from Northwestern University.
Do you feel like your degree from Northwestern was worth the investment?
It’s hard to not be biased when answering this question. I do feel it was worth the investment. I learned a ton, and it was a 1-year experience that I truly enjoyed. The program I did was focused on Product Management, and my teammates during the Master had a ton of experience and worked in really important companies, such as Google, IBM, and Tata. It was the perfect blend of design and management. I recommend it.
What is it like to work with a fully remote team? I’ve heard that remote positions might not be ideal for people in Product roles. What do you think?
At MURAL, we embraced “remote” since day 1, even when some of us could work at the same location. I believe there are multiple benefits to this. The first one that comes to mind is that you are ready to work with anyone in the world. In my experience, I haven’t had any issues working with remote teams as a PM.
Today, everyone is forced to be remote and that original investment is really paying off. I personally enjoy the quiet time to deeply think about tough problems that working remotely provides me. The office tends to be quite noisy.
They say the majority of your customers are in front of you not behind you. Should a startup (especially consumer-based) focus a lot on reviving churned customers?
Rather than focusing on reviving churned customers, I like to think that we need to understand what’s causing them to disengage and churn in the first place. We focus on retention and engagement first and keep improving the product in order to eventually be able to “resurrect” a churned customer.
How did you make the jump from Finance to Product Management?
It wasn’t planned, let me tell you that. I knew I loved technology and video games, and I had studied business administration. It was at Three Melons. After the company got acquired, the finance department disappeared.
I was “forced” to get into another role, and I found Product a natural place for me. I started working on product analytics, leveraging my numerical skills, and I loved it. Then I just kept going with it, working with product teams, helping write specs, and delivering features for a soccer game we had developed.
What do you think is the most important product metric for a SaaS business looking for product/market fit?
Retention and conversion from free users to paying users. I like to stick to the basics. It’s really important to define what’s the natural cadence of usage for your product to understand whether the retention is good or not.
You may also be interested in: Optimize Your PM Analytics and Metrics by Dan Olsen
How can I get a remote product role if I do not have PM experience but have remote experience?
I believe you need to make an impact during the application process. Right away show why you believe you would be a good PM candidate. For example, you could try sending a deep analysis of a particular product, to showcase how you think.
What are 3 things you did consistently well in your journey to becoming Head of Product? What are 3 things you avoided doing to become better? And what are three things you got wrong and learned quickly from?
- I read every book and article I could find about Product Management and designing product experiences.
- I embraced that every person is different, and that to be able to empower teams, I had to adapt myself to get each team member to full potential.
- I set aside a ton of time each week just to think and reflect on how I’m working, and how my teams are working.
Any good book recommendations or blogs that are handy to stay on top of the latest trends?
Books aren’t that good to stay on top of the latest trends, they are good to understand what really works. I do enjoy reading: Stratechery and I use Twitter to stay on top of the latest trends.
Do you have any tips on how to manage situations where a CEO is heavily involved in the feature and idea requests and wants it to go straight to development?
Yes, this is a clear symptom that there’s no clear accountability in an organization. The CEO should be an amazing source of features, strategic direction, and ideas, and you should let him/her know this. When the CEO speaks, everyone listens, and sometimes he/she doesn’t realize the impact of his/her words, and how disruptive this can be.
I suggest having a recurring session with him/her to go through ideas and features. Also, provide appropriate channels for feedback. We have a #product-ideas channel that anyone can use in Slack. Ultimately as a PM you will be evaluated by the success of the product, and they should have clear goals.
What will be your top 5 tasks you regularly do once you get into work?
- I review my tasks, here’s my system
- Check the Product KPIs dashboard
- Review Customer feedback
- Check Slack for any important message
- Work on something that needs deep thinking
What is the best way to learn about data and metrics that are important to your business?
Having a basic understanding of stats is a great start. There’s a book called Naked Statistics that can provide the basics you need. I found The AARRR metrics framework really useful to start thinking about metrics. There’s also a great book that I found useful called Understanding Variation, to understand what’s noise and what’s a signal. Ultimately, to learn about metrics you need to understand your product, see people using it, to then figure out what metrics are relevant.
Do you have any instance where you have to deal with product and engineering not being in sync with priorities? How do you handle such situations?
Many times. Product managers many times need to facilitate the discussion of priorities. Sometimes you might get to an agreement, but sometimes engineering or other areas push back on priorities. This is probably a symptom that there isn’t clarity on the why behind the priorities. Try taking a step back and talk about how this feature/enhancement affects the user in a positive way. If there’s still no agreement, ultimately, there needs to be a decision-maker to get things unstuck.
How are you organized to run the tests in MURAL? Who is in charge of running the tests? Do you have separate QA teams or it is included in each squad?
Functionally, we have a QA team with a Head of QA. Each QA analyst is part of a product team, just like designers, Product Managers, and engineers are. QA is in charge of running tests. QA in MURAL is part of the Product team.
What is your advice for a Product Management Intern? What should the intern focus on as this is the formative stage?
I would focus on shadowing multiple product teams. Go to their meetings, see how they work, what they do, who does what, how they write, how they communicate, etc.This is the fastest way to learn. Then, after you start to understand the product development dynamics, you’ll be able to decide where you need to focus first in order to have the most impact.
Can you please give specific details on how to derive KPIs or make data-driven decisions? What specific tools can be used for this task and where can one learn about how to do it?
I’m a fan of issue and logic trees. Start from the top, what’s success? Define the success metric, to do this, see what metric from the product ties directly to revenue, or whatever business KPI you have. Then think: In order to increase x, I need to increase/decrease y. See if that statement makes sense, think it through. See if there are other underlying assumptions, and expose them, then repeat. I find TOC (Theory of Constraints) a good framework for this. Then you can start to think about metrics. Tools, there are many.
How did you best prepare for the technical aspect of the PM role in your early days? Do you have any sources you recommend on maximizing the technical understanding for PMs?
I don’t come from a technical background, but I forced myself to learn. Each time I heard a term I didn’t understand, I googled it, and probably in what I found, there were other terms that I didn’t understand, and I kept digging. Also, I learned SQL, and very basic Python and JS, just to understand better.
Which are the best tips to create & optimize onboarding experiences for complex tools?
There’s still a lot that we need to improve onboarding wise. Usability testing, and measuring the onboarding funnel are good places to start. Also, mapping the New user flow to understand where we have gaps.
What skills would you look for in a person if you want to hire a Junior PM or an APM?
Soft skills: I would look for someone who can learn fast, and who can collaborate with different people to get to a shared goal. Other “hard” skills can be developed in time.
From your experience, how much baseline industry knowledge should developers know, if at all?
The more relevant information the development team can have, the best decisions they will make. Ultimately, it’s about the customer experience, and I feel that having Industry and customer knowledge would benefit any team member.
With limited resources, how do you determine whether you should build table stakes features( as per KANO model) vs new features?
You need to define in which area of the customer experience you will make bigger bets, and in which areas you will just deliver. If you just deliver table stakes features, you won’t differentiate and get beaten by competitors. But, if you don’t deliver them, you won’t even compete. So you need to do both. We strategically decided (at an Executive level) that we are going to excel in certain aspects, but comply with others.
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