User Experience at Spotify

This week, Product School hosted Daniel Su, Product Leader at Spotify, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Daniel answered questions regarding how Spotify responds to user needs to keep them engaged, as well as tips to be a top PM.

Meet Daniel

Daniel Su, Product Leader at Spotify

Daniel has over 10 years of top-notch experience in Product Management. He specializes in data and data platforms, advertisement, and marketing technology.

His innovation and success rate are outstanding as he continues to incorporate customer-centric empathy, a key to his triumphs.

While working at Spotify, Daniel is also an Instructor at UC Berkeley Extension, working with the Digital Marketing Boot Camp program, as well as product experience in several other companies.

What were the 3 product transitions/changes that helped Spotify get more users?

pink over-the-ear headphones on blue and pink background

Tough one :).

We have a lot of product features and changes that make our Spotify experience amazing. The three off the top of my head are:

  1. Discover Weekly (learning about new songs is amazing!)
  2. Spotify Connect (being able to stream on your different devices)
  3. Our end of year “Wrapped” campaign

Overall, I think the theme of personalization and recommendation is especially important when building a new app. It offers your users a tailored experience and recommendations which in turn can grow your user base.

You might also like: Customer Focused Product Management: A Winning Business Strategy

What advice you have for a new PM who is wanting to grow within product and work at top companies like Spotify?

I would recommend focusing on three areas:

  1. Your skill toolkit
  2. Interview practice
  3. Relevant experience

For your skill toolkit, there are many different types of PMs! Some have light coding experience (SQL, Python), some design (wireframe, sketching), etc. I would recommend taking some free classes just to grow your skill toolkit and maybe focusing on 1-2 skills to really hone. For example, I see basic SQL as a great plus to any candidate who comes in for a PM interview. 

On that note, interview practice is KEY! You can have all the skills and experience in the world but nothing will prepare you for that interview except for PRACTICE! Practice with your friends, find a like-minded community, do it in front of the mirror — whatever it takes to get your mindset ready for that interview.

Two men sitting at a table talking

You won’t be able to perfect every answer but you can train your mind to think quickly and on your feet for any Product Sense/Strategy interviews.

Read next: The Ultimate Interview Checklist for Product Managers

The third (and I’ll continue to mention this) is to build your portfolio! You can do case studies of companies you’re applying for and put them on your website, find relevant experience or projects at work to take on (even if it’s writing one doc — it’s a start!), or building a small app for fun. You want to show future employers you have the hustle and passion.

And lastly, I don’t think a Master’s degree is essential. There’s a discussion to be said about it being essential for later in your career to move into C-level roles or if you’re extremely further in your career and looking to industry switch. But I definitely don’t think (especially in this day and age where resources are available everywhere) you need a Master’s degree to become a PM. Good luck!

What’s the product shipping process like at Spotify?

We have a super collaborative culture at Spotify which is also seen in our product shipping process.

PMs are complete owners of their products and we encourage documentation (e.g. PRDs) in order to get RFC (request for comments) across the organization. 

The “Spotify Squad Framework” is something well known and it helps with aligning towards individual team outcomes and allows us more autonomy. We have a lot of trust and transparency (we encourage mistakes!). Like any company, we have clear goals and KPIs we establish in each quarter and year. But we always put our users first and make sure we ship products that help make Spotify great for our users.

Check out: A/B Testing in Product Management – To Learn or to Ship?

What are best practices to stay on top of customer feedback?

Stacks of papers in folders

I think there is a lot of value in making the community feel involved as a PM.

Great ways I’ve seen this be successful:

  1. A community forum where users can share ideas and thoughts and generally collaborate with each other
  2. User or focus groups where we can see in-person how our users feel about the products we’re building
  3. In-app feedback (e.g. is this add relevant to you?)

Could you tell us what the primary responsibilities of a digital product manager are? 

This may vary company-to-company but Digital Product Managers are PMs who are simply managing the digital product of your company, whether it’s a website, a digital product, the marketing strategy, etc.

You still need to do everything a PM does! This includes understanding the competitive landscape, your user needs, prioritization, etc.

Read next: The Product Manager’s Role in Digital Transformation

How do you know what users need?

That’s the million-dollar question every PM asks :). There are a lot of ways to do this but at the end of the day, it’s combining the data you’ve received with your intuition.

The data you receive can come by:

  1. Competitive research and understanding
  2. User or focus group interviews
  3. Direct feedback from existing customers
  4. Collaborating with internal stakeholders who may have a more direct line to your users.

The one thing I will say though is — your users don’t always know what they need! There’s a great comic out there (called “A Tree Swing Story”) that illustrates this point. As a PM, you should understand the goals and use cases of a user and translate those into product features that can (hopefully) scale and benefit everyone else!

You might also be interested in: Product Management Skills: User Research

I am transitioning from engineering into product. What activities/reading do you suggest to boost my skills?

woman sitting on couch reading

Congratulations on making the transition!

Great question – I would personally focus on doing 3 things well over a set period of time to maintain focus. For example — picking up one PM-related book to read, practicing case studies or interviews, and taking on 1-2 side projects at your current role.

Some books I love reading (and gift starting PMs) are:

  1. Hooked (Eyal)
  2. How to Measure Anything (Hubbard)
  3. Inspired (Cagan)
  4. Blue Ocean Strategy (Kim/Mauborgne)

For case studies or interviews, there are a lot of PM-related resources out there! Focus on either Product Sense or Product Strategy to keep your mindset in the game. Go through the existing practice questions and then make up your own!

I like to play a game where I ask my friends for an app and I go through the questions an interviewer would ask based on that app. For side projects at work, if these aren’t possible then a great alternative is to write your own PRDs just to get a feel of the context switch between Engineering to Product. You have a lot of relevant skills but practicing how a PM thinks when writing a PRD will help set a good foundation.

Another great article: Transitioning to Product Management From ANY Background

What would you recommend to PMs who are trying to switch industries?

I touched on this above but I encourage you to thoroughly research those other industries (the companies you want to apply for AND their competitors) and put some actual work down on paper.

This can include creating case studies or mockups of potential features or add-ons you would do as a PM, practicing interview questions for those specific industries, and keeping up with industry knowledge (e.g. audio streaming is very different vs. video streaming).

How do you increase user engagement on Spotify?

There are a lot of features we’ve implemented to increase user engagement!

But first and foremost, we want to build features in the app that empower our users to keep listening to the music they love, discover more music, and interact with relevant content (we have podcasts!) across Spotify. We know as long as we build features that allow our users to do this, they’ll continue to come back and use Spotify 🙂

How do you manage stakeholder demand vs data insights vs intuition?

Simple answer – I log and track everything in documentation or spreadsheets! “Opening the kimono” is a popular PM mantra and it’s worked with my internal stakeholders.

If you lay out all the data (demand, data insights, market research and competition, etc.) — you’re forthcoming with why and how you’ve prioritized things. You can get everyone aligned to the larger mission at hand knowing that what you build as a PM will benefit everyone.

Any final advice?

The last thing I’ll leave you with is this — Everyone has the ability to progress. Independent thinking, curiosity, and a can-do attitude can get you far! You are the master of your own success :100:

Product Podcast Season 7

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