Ideate and Solve Customer Pain Points

Product School hosted David Cho, Senior Product Manager at Zillow,  for a #AskMeAnything session. David answered questions about long-term product roadmaps, challenges in the real estate industry, and tools/ processes to solve pain points.

Meet David

David is a Senior Product Manager at Zillow. He is on the new rentals enterprise team where he is helping the company reimagine the way customers find and rent homes. Prior to Zillow, David was a Senior Product Manager at Ticketmaster responsible for its flagship product on Ticketmaster.comTicketmaster.ca, and Livenation.com. At Slalom, he was a Product Manager who built internal products for Disney, Westfield, and American Homes 4 Rent. David was also a Technology Product Management Consultant at Deloitte. 

What tools/processes do you use to find the biggest pain points that need addressing with your product, and how do you ideate on solving those pain points?

 I fundamentally believe that building a great product starts with understanding our customers and their pain points first.  My approach is to first talk to our customers.  Find out who your customers are and ask them their ways of doing things and challenges.  Once you talk to about 10 customers, you will get a good understanding of their major pain points.  For tips on interviewing your customers, I have an upcoming Product School webinar on 4/21.

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What’s your favorite product? 

I have a lot of favorite products (but if I had to choose one and only one), I’d go with “Libby”.  I love to read, and Libby is an app that stores all public library books online!  I can import books to my Kindle (for free) and listen to audiobooks (for free).  With COVID, I’ve been hesitant to go to the library…  and Libby is a fantastic alternative! 

What do you think about gamification elements and have you used them during your work as a PM?

I think gamification is a great way to differentiate your product, but more importantly, it can just be fun for your customers (especially if the tasks your customers are doing on your product can be repetitive).  That being said, you want to 1) ask yourself what the purpose of gamification for your product is and 2) would gamification actually solve my customer’s problems?  Personally, I have not used gamification on my work as a PM, but I’ve seen many great examples out there including Strava and Zwift.

What have you found as the biggest challenge as a PM in the real estate industry?

For me, I think these are my top 2 biggest challenges as a PM in the real estate industry:

  1. Fragmented industry and
  2. Constantly evolving real estate laws. 

For 1) The real estate industry has a long ways to go in its adoption of technology.  For example, before Zillow came to the market only 15 years ago, you still needed to call your real estate agent or walk to his/her office to look for houses.  You can now do that at the comfort of your home.  That being said, because the industry is still so young in adopting technology, there are 100s of small companies popping up to take their market share.  As a result, the industry is fragmented and I have a hard time keeping up with so many new companies and their offerings. 

For 2) The fair housing laws for federal, state, and local governments are constantly changing, so I need to make sure I work very closely with my legal team to keep my product legally compliant. 

How do you evaluate 3rd party integrations in your product?

This may sound basic, but I try to follow these steps:

  1. Identify the problem you’re trying to solve for your customer using the 3rd party integrations
  2. Research 3rd party integrations options in the market
  3. Understand technical feasibility with your team and
  4. Understand other important factors before deciding: pricing, timeline, user count, and dependencies with other products.

What advice would you give someone who wants to transition into product management?

I think this depends on where you are currently in your career.  You want to first understand what you could be doing as a PM and what interests you about being a PM, understand what you’re doing now, and try to find the gap between your current and future job.

You might be interesting in: Transitioning to Product Management from ANY Background

Do you track the success of each/ most of your newly released features in addition to high-level/ “north-star” metrics of the whole product or product areas? If yes, what tool/ process do you use for it?

If I’m being honest, it’s virtually impossible to track the success of each of your newly released features in the long run.  Just like prioritizing a feature (among many options), I try to prioritize the most important metrics to measure.  Different things can influence this prioritization including my north star metric and company OKR.

Check out: Metrics Great Product Managers Track

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In your experience, what are some of the common sensical mistakes PMs get trapped in, amidst overwhelming loads of information & multi-tasking?

I can’t speak for all PMs out there, but for me, here are my top two mistakes: 1) Jumping to a product solution before fully understanding the customer’s needs 2) Being too vested in my product idea and not easily letting go (I struggled with this earlier on in my career more often). 

Have you ever fallen prey to Imposter Syndrome in any of your current or past lives? If yes, what helped you overcome the same?

Re: Imposter Syndrome, I don’t think I’ve yet to feel like I was a fraudster, but I definitely doubt and question my abilities and thinking every day.  I realize that I’m not a perfect human being, and there are so many areas of my life I need to improve every day (life is a journey of self-discovery!).  And there are so many smarter people out there than me.  So I think what helps me are

  1. Accepting that I’m imperfect and
  2. There’s always room for growth.

What advice would you give a product team for an extremely new product that is struggling to pull together a long-term roadmap due to the many unknowns involved?

This is exactly the problem that I’m going through right now working on a new product at Zillow.  If I had to use an analogy, consider you and your product team are lost in a dark cave.  You and your team don’t know how to escape let alone which way.  As a PM, I think it’s on us to shine a light on the cave and show our team the path that we can take.  There are many spots in the cave you can shine the light on: customers and their needs (through interviews), metrics, industry, company goals, and team makeup.  When you flash at enough places and flush out what you need, you can start building your long-term roadmap (and start getting feedback from your team along the way).

Looking for a product roadmap template? Look no further!

The Product Book

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