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How Effective Product Management Helps Startups Scale

Raj Pattni

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How Effective Product Management Helps Startups Scale

Raj Pattni


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Raj Pattni
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About Raj Pattni

In LAB #9, The BAE HQ Welcomes Raj Pattni, Product Management Expert

Today, we're going to dive deep into product management and how to help startups to scale effectively. So we're looking at what exactly is product management and helping us to do that is our expert Raj Pattni.

He is currently the founder of Stealth Startup, which is in all the product experience to create an exceptional product which will not allowed to say just yet. Raj formerly the US head of products us at PrimaryBird, which is a huge company has grown massively in the last few years.

Raj Pattni

Show Notes

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Raj Pattni Full Transcript

Raj Pattni: [00:00:00] And I think the, the value of the product manager is he brings the story of the user into the company.

Amardeep Parmar: Today we're gonna dive deep into product management and how it helps startups to scale effectively. So we're looking at what exactly is product management helping us to do? That is our expert today, Raji Patni, who's currently the founder of Steal Startup. Which is in all of this product experience to create an exceptional product, which we'll not have to talk about, but it was formerly the head of product US at primary bid, which says huge companies growing massively in the last few years.

Amardeep Parmar: It was also before that the head of growth. So it brings a wealth of experience with an exceptional product, a company that was worth hundreds of millions before going on to do his own thing. So I hope you learned a lot today. So Raj, can you tell us what is product management? Because I think that term confuses a lot of people.

Amardeep Parmar: What it means different things to different people.

Raj Pattni: Yeah, it's a good question. So there are a lot of like definitions out there. Um, the one I think I prefer the most is [00:01:00] it's the art and science of making successful products. And so there it's about if you're already potentially trying to find early stage product market fit all the way through to scaling, there's a second part of it, which is actually creating products successfully.

Raj Pattni: And that's more of the process of how do you build product? And so there you're already past scaling and now you want to really grow it, exponentially. I think the other way I think about it is there's a really good kind of quote from Ted Levitt, who's a HBS professor, uh, who said people don't want a quarter inch drill.

Raj Pattni: They want a quarter inch hole. And I think product management is trying to figure out that last bit, which is what are they looking for? What is that hole they're looking for? And then the first bit of the drill is more of what are we building? How do we build it? What's the solution? Product managers kind of fill the gap between both of those.

Raj Pattni: They figure out the latter part of that. So what are they looking for? And then the form part of it, they figure out in conjunction with engineers of what they should be, what they should be building. 

Amardeep Parmar: So obviously now you're working at a company, which is right at the very early stages, but you previously had experienced that primary bid, which [00:02:00] was

Amardeep Parmar: scaled significantly. So it's obviously a very different role in product leadership at those two organizations. How do you find the role changes depending on what stage a company is at?

Raj Pattni: Yeah, that's a really good question. So I joined quite early on, um, just before series B were closed. There are about 34 people in the company.

Raj Pattni: By the time I left, it was about 200, maybe 250 people. So went through a massive growth spurt in a couple of years. Um, I think one of the areas where it most significantly changes is the complexity of the organization. And so, you know, you might be having to deal with a much broader organization. I certainly had to do that as, as I, as I scaled up in my product role and my product leadership role.

Raj Pattni: I think the second area is the most challenging, which is in, in the midst of all of that growth and scale. How do you as a product manager or product reader continue to still represent the voice of the customer? Uh, so what naturally happens is companies get bigger, um, [00:03:00] people get often more distant from the customer or the end user.

Raj Pattni: And so there's that natural tendency to happen, which I think is the most important thing for product managers to do is fight against that tendency. And really work hard to continue to be speaking to the end users and continue to embody them. And so, for example, like one of the ways, I was doing that was continuous discovery, which is generally best practice in product teams is speaking to users for your, for your particular product that you manage, um, you know, continue to go on, you know, discovery sprints as you're building out new features.

Raj Pattni: And I think the benefit of that is you, you bring that external knowledge back into the company, and that becomes more and more important as new people come into the company. You know, particularly say post Series C, um, who don't understand the sort of the, the story, right, of the user. And I think the value of the product manager is he brings the story of the user into the company.

Amardeep Parmar: So for founders who are listening right now, what should they be thinking about differently when they're hiring somebody in [00:04:00] product at the early stages? Versus the late stage, like how do they know if they should have a product person in the first place? 

Raj Pattni: So it's a good question. There's actually one of my favorite product thinkers is a blogger, early employee at Stripe, at Twitter, a guy called Shreyash Doshi.

Raj Pattni: And, you know, he writes, he wrote a really good blog post about this, of how there's kind of three types of product people. There are operators who are more inclined in the scale up phase, and they're better at like ensuring a synergy and harmony across the organization as it builds up. Then there's a second type, which are the sort of crafts people.

Raj Pattni: They'd really like spending time with their team and their customers. They like doing product deep dives and, and actually the process of building product. And then you finally have the third type, which is kind of visionaries. And then their whole thing is they're able to see where the market is going and they may not totally understand how to translate that into a product, but they can kind of see the direction and need some help translating it.

Raj Pattni: And so you kind of usually see the founders, [00:05:00] uh, play the role of, of the last, which is kind of the visionary that, um, what you want is early stages. Generally, operators are quite do face challenges in, in, in, in joining the startup. And there's many reasons for it, which is operators tend to operate. And so that's about how do you ensure there's this, this, uh, communication going around to the organization and each other's good processes.

Raj Pattni: Uh, how do you show everyone stays aligned. When you're kind of below 50 people that that's not a role that often needs a lot of filling. And if it does, then, uh, you know, it's not a great sign. I think, um, you, you do want more of that as the company grows beyond 50, maybe 100, 150 people. And so in general, what you want is people who can take on some of the complexity and ambiguity without building too much process into the, into the team and into product building at the earlier stages.

Raj Pattni: And those tend to be kind of crafts people who really want to get deep into the weeds of things. They like the early stage scrappiness. [00:06:00] Um, you know, they like the ability of having the autonomy to move things around and figure stuff out. You kind of actually do see this in, in later stage skills. So even, even for us, we had some products which are much more mature in, in the company and we have products which are much, much earlier or discovery.

Raj Pattni: Uh, and, you know, nobody had really figured out kind of what they were trying to do there, what the users were, but they had an idea that there's something to be done there, or at least the founder did, um, and so you can see PMS kind of naturally gravitate to these different types of products. Uh, they're based on what kind of hat they naturally wear.

Raj Pattni: Um, so for example, personally, I was, I was much closer to spinning stuff up and getting off the ground and moving on and spinning up something else. Um, you had other kind of product managers or product leaders who are much closer to the operator phase, which is, you know, making sure there's clear communication, reiterating what you're trying to do.

Raj Pattni: Uh, you're clarifying priorities. Um, so there's no right answer of, of, of [00:07:00] necessarily what's best in any specific situation. At least my experience is, yeah, you, you, you sort of want craft people a bit more earlier in the process. And then, as, as you gradually grow, you want probably people who are better at instigating and following processes and ensuring that actually there is, there is a streamlined process in how you develop products.

Amardeep Parmar: What do you think are some of the fundamental principles that make somebody good at product leadership, wherever stage of startup they're at? 

Raj Pattni: Yeah, so it's a really good question. I think the number one job of the PM is like, they should be staying close to the user. And that's the main job is the voice of the customer in, in, in the, in the org, um, that involves like spending time with users.

Raj Pattni: It means like reading the feedback, reading the tickets, reading complaints, you know, speaking to your CS staff, seeing what kind of emails they've been getting overnight. Um, you should be able to feel the pain, you know, use empathy is really, really important. So that's that's and I think that remains true, regardless of [00:08:00] what level in the hierarchy you are, I think, as as a product leader.

Raj Pattni: I've seen this personally, the CPO I reported into previously was really good at this. Um, I think the second thing is the job of PM is you're trying to absorb, you're trying to build products that absorb complexity. And so for the user, they don't really care about how hard the thing is to do. They just want it done.

Raj Pattni: And your job as a PM is to work with the engineers and your team to figure out what's a product. That makes their lives easier. You almost want to make it look effortless. Um, but you want to give these a little bit of a glimpse of the complexity involved, but not too much of a glimpse. And so what does that translate into into a PM or a product principle?

Raj Pattni: It's, you know, you're, you're comfortable taking in a lot of complexity and you're able to distill and synthesize that into how does that translate into what the user should be experiencing in this product? Um, and I think the third piece is. You can only really do that, what I just said, if you understand the job that the user is trying to [00:09:00] solve.

Raj Pattni: And so that's a reference job there, because that's a really crucial framework in product management. It's called jobs to be done. And it's, um, the basis of that is basically people don't really know what they want. They know that they have something they want to get done, but they're only aware of the existing solutions that they have for that job.

Raj Pattni: Um, there's a really great quote from Henry Ford about this, which is if I ask people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse, which is to say that people are aware of their existing solutions, right? They don't know what the new solutions could possibly be. Um, the PM's role here is trying to figure out what is that job that the user is trying to complete.

Raj Pattni: And I think with those three kind of principles that usually lends most people really well to, to building stuff that people care about. 

Amardeep Parmar: I think that last one, especially it comes from the idea that the user or the customer is always right, which isn't necessarily true because the whole point is you said it's empathy.

Amardeep Parmar: You've got to listen to the user, find out what their problems are and how you make [00:10:00] their lives better, not necessarily giving them exactly what they want. Because like I said, they might not have the tools or the knowledge that you have to think of the solutions that you build. And if you just do what they say, you're actually probably doing them a disservice because you've got this.

Amardeep Parmar: Like, at Primer, for example, we had a huge team of engineers who could do things way more complicated than maybe you could imagine. And I think that's a really important point for anyone listening is to really think about that. It's not just about doing the things that people are requesting, but solving the pain point that they have.

Amardeep Parmar: And there is a difference between the two, which I think sometimes gets conflated together. And you talked there about the product leadership side and how to do that effectively. What about as a team, like what makes a team highly functioning in product? Like, especially as something builds out. And you mentioned earlier on about the option of the founder is a visionary of the product, right?

Amardeep Parmar: And I'm guessing as earlier, it's very difficult to work with the founder sometimes because they've got their way of doing [00:11:00] things. And as that grows in scale, it's going to be different and probably a challenge you have right now as you grow your own product team is that you have got a very specific way that you think maybe things need to be done.

Amardeep Parmar: So, what have you seen and what tips you've picked up over time to make teams run effectively? 

Raj Pattni: Yeah, it's, it's a really good question. I've seen this kind of throughout my, my career in startups. Um, even, even prior to primary bid, which was, you know, how do founders interact with product teams? Because, you know, one, one take on that is

Raj Pattni: if the product team is representing the user and they are kind of envisioning what the product should be, well, what's the founder meant to do, right? And I think that's a bit of a fallacy because, um, you know, the founder's job is steering the ship, right? Uh, I think the product manager's role is figuring out what the oars should look like, where they should be, how they need to be angled, um, you know, what they should be made of, who needs to be, you know, rowing those oars.

Raj Pattni: Right. And so I think it's a [00:12:00] different in, it's a difference in the level of vision that should be involved in. Now, I say that at the same time, you know, like there are really great founders who remain super close to the product throughout the life of the company, even when it becomes a public company and, and, and far beyond that.

Raj Pattni: And I think that's, it's an interesting difference. I mean, I I'm, I'm reading a book at a moment called creative selection, which is, um, early, early design employee at, at Apple, uh, when Steve Jobs was around. You know, kind of gives a perspective of what was life like at that time in the company, you know, there's already past 10, 000 people and you still have kind of product engineers going into the room, pitching the specific new feature to jobs in the executive team.

Raj Pattni: And they would nitpick every single thing in that product right now. That's, I think that's quite rare and I think it's super powerful and it kind of explains why, why, why Apple is such a product kind of perfection driven company. But I think if [00:13:00] you're, if you're building software, you do have to start kind of, uh, understanding what parts of the product or the platform, you know, kind of found a giveaway.

Raj Pattni: Right. And I think that's just true for the founder. It's true for like Executives is true for leaders, which is, you know, how do you give your Legos away because you kind of do have to give your Legos away to go and get new ones. And that's important as you, as you scale the company up. Um, I think the best way to do that is, you know, one school of thought there is, is, you know, which, which I heard or saw from, from my peers is.

Raj Pattni: You know, HIPAA, which is the highest paid opinion often wins in the room of what should be built. Um, the other way you contract that is the customer wins, right? And then you have customer insight to weigh up against that. Now, I think that's a better place to be. You don't want to be building exactly what your users want, but you want to have a sense of what they're trying to do.

Raj Pattni: And that's where these frameworks like jobs, we don't know really come in value. 

Amardeep Parmar: Hey everyone. [00:14:00] I hope you're enjoying this episode so far. The BAE HQ has a podcast, but we're so much more than that. So if you want to find out about all the events we've got going on, all the different ways you can meet each other, as well as resources to help you build the business of your dreams.

Amardeep Parmar: Then check out the link in the show notes, sign up to our newsletter, where you get a weekly round up, which we like to call the BAE Letter, that will keep you in the loop. If you want to help us out, the best thing you can possibly do is sign up to our newsletter and share it with your friends. So that's enough from me.

Amardeep Parmar: Now let's get back to the show. 

Amardeep Parmar: I remember from, so before I did any of this stuff I'm doing now, I was a tech consultant, right? So I was on the lower end of that spectrum of going into the room. Well, when I was, even when I was leading projects and you're talking with product managers generally, right, they make a bunch of decisions and then you get the person who's the head of product or somebody you see more senior to them come through and then they can completely change everything based on one meeting.

Amardeep Parmar: And sometimes that does happen. I could say where somebody [00:15:00] else in the room has had like lots of context, has talked to the users where somebody else had come is higher paid, got more seniority who then maybe steamroll and then just say, actually, we're going to do it this way instead. And whether or not you've dealt with that situation yourself in the past, like how can you balance it?

Amardeep Parmar: How do you go about that situation to try and make sure that you're championing the customer's needs?

Raj Pattni: Yeah, it's a really good question. So I think um, You know, i've definitely encountered that and seen that happen. I think that's quite a common trade in a lot of companies. Um, I think the first thing is like people need to be empowered to talk to customers number one before you do anything else you know pms but also engineers designers should have ready access to talk to users.

Raj Pattni: Um, and they shouldn't be blocked from doing so. And I think that's number one, right? Like if there is a particular part of the company that kind of owns the user, that's generally not great. Right. And everyone should be able to understand and talk to users. [00:16:00] Um, and, and the reason I say that is, you know, there's this one angle, which is you just debate, but there's a better angle, which is you, everyone should have the deep user empathy.

Raj Pattni: Right. And rather than debating in the room, everyone should have user empathy as much as possible. So they generally agree on what people care about. I think the other way you can put a bit more structure around this is, is being clear about what metrics you're trying to solve for. And that takes a bit of the opinion formation out of the process where you can, you can understand what, what you're trying to solve for this quarter with your chaos next quarter.

Raj Pattni: You understand the KPIs attached to your particular product. You can then drive forward a recommendation on what you think will help with that KPI. And I think the final piece is, is I think often what happens is people do tend to rely heavily on on data for this. And I think actually the human story can make a pretty meaningful difference in [00:17:00] whether your recommendation or feature recommendation is adopted or not.

Raj Pattni: Um, you know, funny thing is, like, what I saw quite consistently is… Having a single like quotes from a user was often far more powerful than having really rigorous data from a thousand users and your dashboard drawn up of here's what they're saying and here's why they're doing this. Um, and that kind of explains why user empathy works, right?

Raj Pattni: Because it's, it's much easier to draw your own inferences from that. 

Amardeep Parmar: Yeah. And you mentioned before, like one of the frameworks you've used in the past. It's a big part of being a product in product, right? Is using different frameworks to try to get from that user demand and the user problem into the end product and making sure we're delivering.

Amardeep Parmar: What are some of the other frameworks that you use that you think have been really helpful for you and you recommend for other people in product to be using too?

Raj Pattni: So I think I mean, I'm currently in my role as a founder. I do try and use as many of these frameworks as possible because I think they do help with [00:18:00] distilling the process and reducing complexity and how you figure out what to build.

Raj Pattni: I think needs first thinking is crucial. I think that's number 1 before before kind of anything else. Um, you know, really understanding what the user's goal is. I think when it comes to understanding the needs and now you're building something out and you want to figure out what are you solving for, you know, it's important to have a North Star of what that looks like and, and being clear about what that North Star metric might be.

Raj Pattni: So it might be, you know, we want to, as an example, like we were launching in the US and a North Star metric might have been, we wanted to complete a certain number of deals in a year in the U. S.. Now to do that involves multiple different products, different teams, different countries, legislation, legal, but there's a time box kind of metric there of what you're trying to achieve.

Raj Pattni: I think the other 1 that often helps quite a bit is, um, having a bit of structure around the assumptions you have or have made, you know, you might have structures around, uh, assumptions around like feasibility of [00:19:00] viability. Of, you know, what your product is delivering, and I think being clear about what those assumptions are, and really boxing them into those categories.

Raj Pattni: Um, it's really valuable when you're going through the discovery process and you can kind of rule stuff out. You can disprove your, your own hypotheses. 

Amardeep Parmar: Okay. And I know you're working in stealth at the moment but with the product you're building right now. What have some of the principles been or what are some of the actions you're taking in product that you think, uh, enabling you to be out competing for other people, maybe who are trying to build products or in their first startup, because you've got such a wealth of experience, you're doing things in a certain way.

Amardeep Parmar: So you mentioned there about some of the frameworks around assumptions and everything else. Is there anything there that maybe you can, like for the founder who's listening today, who's trying to work at their product, what other advice do you have? 

Raj Pattni: Yeah. So, um, it's a good question. I think I definitely am not like, uh, anywhere, anywhere close to nail this down completely, but I have [00:20:00] seen what kind of good tends to look like.

Raj Pattni: I think the benefit of having done product is you see the holistic process of building stuff that people want. And so that's a, that's a process I've tried to release a framework. I've tried to adopt in, in, in, as we've been building out the company ourselves of understanding the market and saying the customer really deeply.

Raj Pattni: Understanding the possible solutions that are out there and also being very, very comfortable with emergent thinking, which is you may have an, you may be building something now and you have to be very, very comfortable is going to move around. And so, um, you know, being comfortable in ambiguity is, is, is, is kind of a bit of a tenet, I think, in, in, in product thinking.

Raj Pattni: And I think that's really, uh, relevant in, in, in, as a founder, I think the other pieces that matter the most are like I said, yeah, being the voice of the customer is the job. Number one of preeminence job, number one of a founder. And, and that means, you know, understanding what they're saying, not always taking what they say is at, at face value.[00:21:00] 

Raj Pattni: Um, you know, looking out for what do people mean rather than what the people say is a really important one. And, um, you know, the benefit of of of being quite deep into sort of applying user research principles is you sort of are able to figure out how to, how to run that process. A bit more rigorously.

Raj Pattni: Um, I think at the same time, the challenges that a founder faces are, you know, um, we, we naturally want to sell, right? And we naturally want to pitch and sell and convince and, you know, as a, as a, you know, um, an objective product manager, you're, you're meant to be totally opposite, right? If we totally, uh, objective and avoid, um, biasing the user or the interview in any way whatsoever.

Raj Pattni: Uh, And so I think that's quite a tough balancing act. And I think that's a really important one for a founder to nail down, which is how do you, how do you delay that part of the sales process as, as much as possible? Um, until you really understand what this person wants. 

Amardeep Parmar: Just before we get [00:22:00] into the quick fire questions, you mentioned there about one of the books you're reading by the employee from Apple.

Amardeep Parmar: Are there any books you recommend the audience read? If they want to learn more about product and product leadership. 

Raj Pattni: Yeah. So, yeah, I love creative selection. Like I mentioned, I think, uh, required product reading often is, is, is books like hooked traction is really good. Um, I, I really enjoyed learning about and actually using a lot of Amazon's leadership principles, which I read about in, in working backwards.

Raj Pattni: Um, bit of a Bible hard thing about how things is, is a great one. Um, I think the other one that I really enjoyed is, um, by Mark Randolph, who's a co founder of Netflix. Um, he wrote a thing, uh, but I forgot the book called 

Amardeep Parmar: That will never work. Something like that. 

Raj Pattni: That will never work. Yeah, that's right. So that will never work.

Raj Pattni: There's a really good book by Mark Randolph. I think beyond that, uh, quite a lot of really, really good news of those now there's a lot of content about product out there. You know, the ones I really enjoy are, [00:23:00] you know, Lenny's newsletter is really good. Uh, like I mentioned, Shreyas Joshi is really good. Um, Ragi Mehta, um, and, you know, great, great newsletters from, from Minder Products and Exponent as well.

Amardeep Parmar:Perfect. So we're going to move to a quick five questions now. So the first one is who are three British Asians that you’d love to spotlight that you think that people listening right now should be paying attention to. 

Raj Pattni: I think number one, James Mitra at JBM. I mean, he got me in my last role. I think he's genuinely an amazing guy.

Raj Pattni: I love his podcast. Uh, very genuine. Um, number two, uh, Jannat Rajan, um, who, uh, you know, had a range of roles, was a VC, worked in, in, in FinTech for a while. Um, again, very approachable, uh, really active on Twitter, um, very helpful, uh, in, in, in, I found her really helpful in, in helping me out in my career as well.

Raj Pattni: Um. Recently, I met Baz Iyer. He's a founder in, in, in clean energy. Um, really [00:24:00] interesting guy. I want to give him a shout out, uh, equally  Ranjeet Bhalerao, who's running a retrofit startup at the moment, which I think is a really cool, uh, interesting idea in, in how do we save emissions from DropTech. 

Amardeep Parmar: For the  people listening.

Amardeep Parmar: If they want to find out more about you, what you're up to, I know you're in stealth at the moment, but could you give them some kind of a hint of what they should be following you about if they're going to find out more about your future company? 

Raj Pattni: Yeah, so we're building the climate fintech space. Uh, we're still early stages, but primarily what we're trying to do is help capital flow into flow into decarbonization and help transition planning.

Raj Pattni: Um, you can follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Um, I can send my email out as well. I'm very happy to chat with anyone who's kind of interested in the space, um, or wants to get into it or wants to get this product as well. 

Amardeep Parmar: And then on the other side, is there anything you need help with right now? And maybe somebody listening to this episode might be able to reach out and help  you with.

Raj Pattni: You know, very keen to speak to folks who are dealing with sustainable finance, sitting with a link to financing [00:25:00] in any shape or form, um, green deck, green bonds.

Raj Pattni: Um, you know, we would love to speak to you. 

Amardeep Parmar: Awesome.  So thanks so much for coming on today. Have you got any final words to the audience?

Raj Pattni: No, uh, keep following our mark. Keep following the BAE HQ. Love what you guys are doing.

Amardeep Parmar: Hello. Hello everyone. Thank you so much for listening. It makes a huge amount to us and we don't think you realize how important you are because if you subscribe to our YouTube channel, if you leave us a five star review, it makes a world of difference. And if you believe in what we're trying to do here,

Amardeep Parmar: to inspire, connect and guide the next generation British Asians. If you do those things, you can help us achieve that mission and you can help us make a bigger impact. And by doing that, it means we can get bigger guests. We can host more events. We can do more for the community. So you can play a huge part.

Amardeep Parmar: So thank you so much for supporting us.

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