Why Founders Make Great PMs with Rapidus Delivery Founder & CEO

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Alex Prokhorenko, Founder and CEO of Rapidus Delivery, to talk about Why Founders Make Great PMs!

Meet Alex Prokhorenko

Alex Prokhorenko has 15 years of experience in the technology field, a strong engineering and IT background, and 8 years in product-related roles. He’s held roles in project management and user experience and design. He is entrepreneurial in nature, having founded and run several startups, including one named in the Top 50 Web Tools of 2008.

Previously at Splunk, Alex created a strategic product plan and built Splunkbase, Splunk App Marketplace, the team that launched it and oversaw its touch points with the development ecosystem. Most recently, as the Director of Product Management at Zuora, Alex focuses on the platform, including pricing, rating, and new initiatives to drive the product to platform transition.

Product Management Background

How does the Product Manager role change from company to company and what were your biggest challenges?

At Splunk, I’ve been with the company from 300’ish to 2,000’ish. We had 3 or 4 re-organizations that directly impacted the structure of the Product Management organization, as well as the whole matrix.

I would say, the PM structures are very similar until you hit a 500 headcount (given the business is heavy on tech).

At Zuora, did everyone already have specialist knowledge or did they acquire it?

That’s a great question. In fact, when I joined Zuora, I actually did not have the domain knowledge, so I relied a lot on the few subject domain experts within the company.

I’m not 100% sure if this would work for a smaller or much larger company.

In which market did you launch your startup first?

My first startup was in telecommunications, while I was an engineer. My second one was in social, when I transitioned to Product Management. My current one is in B2B.

Tranisition Into Product Management

What’s the most important skill hiring managers look for in a Product Manager candidate?

Depends, but if I try to generalize, that would be:

  • Clarity
  • Conviction
  • Passion

Does a product manager NEED to have a Software Engineering background to succeed in the role?

I’m biased, as I do have tech background (I’m an engineer by trade), but I don’t think so.

It is helpful though, especially if you don’t have an engineering manager to rely on.

If you have a strong and bonded team, it’s not a requirement.

If one doesn’t know about the product or domain, how do they get hired for such PM roles? What would you look for in a candidate who doesn’t have domain knowledge?

Every good PM has a framework(s) that will help them approach unknown problems. Yes, it is your job to work on unknowns by leveraging any resources (SDEs, architects, field reps, long time employees, etc.), however, that should not stop you from delivering a good product.

Certainly there are some areas/industries that highly prefer domain knowledge, however, I do not believe the SaaS space is one of them.

What’s the best way to go from finance trader to Product Manager on the equity side?

In general, I see 3 ways:

Starting at your own company is the easiest and hardest way. 🙂 Taking a course is the shortest. As in my experience, internal transfers are notoriously rare.

What would be your advice about transitioning from working in sales (B2C with a big focus on customer success) to Product Manager?

Actually, I think (given you’re a high performing sales rep) you have a great chance of becoming a good PM. You already know how to listen and present. Now you need to learn how to conceptualize, prioritize, implement, deliver, and launch.

If this sounds right up your alley, go for it.

What should I do to tailor my education more towards Product Management?

MBA is a good segway into Product Management. I would say one of the most common examples. You will lack some hands-on experience, but this is can be easily gained through any internship/associate program.

How should an aspiring PM conduct the opportunity hypothesis on a product when he’s an outsider without access to quantitative or qualitative data about that product?

It’s the job of the PM to guesstimate what you don’t know. There are market research firms, public source of data, usage data, potential markets, etc.

I think questions like these are actually part of every PM interview now.

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

If you feel like it, go for it. If there are only a couple of things you can focus on, it should be clarity, conviction, and passion. Good luck!

Product Management Skills

How would you know when you have become a good Product Manager?

Lots of people would disagree with me here, but I would say: “it’s being right more often than wrong.” Adding predictability to your hypothesis is a great way to achieve this.

What Product Management skills are needed to be a Platform Product Manager?

If you’re talking about a platform in the enterprise space, you really need to understand:

  • Who is using your product
  • How is it being used
  • Where is that fine line that defines you as a platform

Godfrey, Splunk’s CEO back in the day, told me once: no matter how many times we market ourselves as a platform, until our customers consider us as a platform and start using us as a platform, we are merely a product.

How much of your time each week or month do you spend directly talking to end users one on one and doing interviews?

In IC role (individual contributor), I tend to invest “sprints” of my time for that, and than keep up with customers/prospects at least 1-2 days a week.

In the people management role, I physically book my calendar off for 2 days (actually 4 chunks of half days), and book time with the customers + field reps.

How do you become good at coming up with product strategy?

I consider strategy to be built off clear but ambitious vision, and very specific tactical solution(s) to address a painful problem.

For me, in no specefic order, it’s:

  • Does what I am doing have a potential to be a really huge problem?
  • How can I minimize time to market to validate?
  • What is the competitive advantage and barriers for competition?
  • How is this aligned with a company-wide strategy?

What service would you suggest to form and track a set of product indicators?

Never used a tool for this other than Excel or Google Sheets that are typically hooked with backend and analytics software. At Splunk, everything was easier, as we ate our own dogfood and we’re splunking everything.

What do you think is the best way to understand the real status of engineers and coding every day? Some engineers push less frequently to Git, and it’s hard to catch how it’s really going…

Well, first make sure you can trust your lead/engineering manager. As a PM, you should not be religiously following Git commits – you have better things to invest your time into.

Second, is the process. Given you follow a proper Agile process, and if you are really urging to see daily progress, work with your engineering partner to develop a status check that will answer your questions without creating too much overhead on the team.

Do you have any advice on creating product feature KPIs?

High level (and quick) strategy is to divide those in a few categories:

  • Do no harm
  • Do improve
  • Move the needle

Do no harm – make sure that new changes are neither jeopardizing revenue from other features nor harming lifetime metrics, like churn or LTV.

Do improve – make sure that introducing new feature actually makes somebody happier. If there is no adoption, even with no bad impact, it’s just better to kill it.

And move the needle – you need the metric that would be a moon-shot – something that allows you to improve not incrementally, but actually a significant leap forward.


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