Building Products and Features with Sengo VP of Product & Strategy

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Vimal Dwivedi, VP of Product & Strategy at Sengo!!

Meet Vimal Dwivedi

Vimal Dwivedi has worked with tech startups in both technology and product roles and brings in a complete product perspective of technology, design, business, and growth. He is credited with the launch of the first ever dynamic pricing travel solution (OneTravel), India’s first ever online movie rental service (Seventymm) and the first automated smart AdTech campaign management system (Clickable). Vimal holds a Bachelor of Technology degree from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT Kanpur) and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business.

He specializes in Start-up Product Leadership for Mobile, Fintech, E-commerce, Mobile Payments, Digital Wallet, Payments (Remittance), Entertainment (Movie Rental) and Ad-tech technologies. He is also an expert in Go-to-Market Strategy, Consumer Experience, Strategic Planning, Product KPIs, Retail (Brick and mortar stores), SaaS (Software as a Service), and Global teams.

The Product Management Career

What would you like to be doing if you weren’t a Product Manager?

That is a tough one. I studied to become a Materials Engineer, did my internship in AI in materials, wrote code for a few years, and then moved to product. If I wasn’t a Product Manager, I may have been helping startups in a different way.

What product blogs do you read on a daily basis?

The product blogs which I read are:

  1. TechCrunch
  2. Recode
  3. Crunchbase
  4. Pymnts.com

These tell me who is doing well in terms of innovating and raising capital, and then I read about those companies on what they did well to differentiate. So my approach to blogs is a bit different.

What tools do you guys use to profile user interaction with products?

Startups are lean so we are limited on tools. Most of the data is captured while the user is already using the product. We do use a lot of third-party tools such as MixPanel, GA, Crashlytics, verification tools that are industry-specific, messaging tools (SMS/Email), push notifications, and campaign based UIs.

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Building Products and Features

What advise could you give to those who want to build a tech startup without experience or even a tech background?

I am assuming that you have a great idea/strategy in place. What matters here is that you are providing a delta (difference) in value to something which already exists. So the bigger piece has been taken care of. Now what you need is a smart techie/CTO who can take your ideas and build quick Proof of Concepts (POCs) and Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) to validate your ideas.

So you would need a tech partner for sure, and I would distribute responsibilities. You take care of business, capital, operations while the tech partner builds the product for you. And yes – you will have to do some reading and discussions to be comfortable with the basic landscape and jargon to make you comfortable in the tech related to your idea.

How do you price products for internal stakeholders? For example, an in-house built product (for the Sales or Accounting department) that you have to price to cover costs.

It all depends on the cost-benefit analysis. At the end of the day, you need to have more customers, revenue, growth, lower cost of acquisition and higher Lifetime Value (LTV) of a customer. If I see that building a tool is costing X, and helping them do more to get Y customers and R revenue, then it becomes an equation.¬†It’s just like a new business case. The fundamentals don’t change.

How do you balance using data to drive product decisions versus following what upper management or senior stakeholders want?

I am a strong believer of data-driven Product Management. Nothing is done without data and nothing is done that doesn’t automatically spit¬†data. For example, if I’m building a feature, I would build tools that give me data on the usage, behavior, patterns, faults so that I can take quick decisions to optimize, fix or even kill a particular feature.

The granularity of data matters at each level. For C-levels, it’s all cumulative in terms of growth, margins, CAC, LTV, ARPU. For a feature (product and technical levels), I would look at conversions, drop-offs, engagement, faults, exceptions, crashes, etc.

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How would you, in a product leadership position, approach the problem of finding out features that would make an existing product more valuable to the stakeholders? 

I need to know what my long-term goal is. For example, I want to be building an omnichannel payment system for customer segment X. I would then break this 3-5 year plan into smaller goals. Now, it becomes a trajectory (curve). If a particular feature fits in my trajectory for a long-term goal, I would do it, if not, I would ignore it.

Exceptions: You can expect at least 20% deviation based on the market, competition, and regulatory changes which might force a certain feature on the roadmap. For everything else, I will use my long-term plan as a guidance and help of data mentioned in one of the questions above.

Can provide some guidance on how you brainstorm for and enhance future product roadmaps? Do you have any suggestions on how to bring design thinking principles into the picture?

It would take an hour describing it, but I will explain it in short. You need to build a roadmap which:

  1. Makes your customers pay as they see an extra value
  2. Is competitive – provides everything and something extra
  3. Is price efficient- so either people are ready to pay extra based on the value or they are getting something extra for the same price
  4. Caters to changes in the market, technology, and regulations
  5. Helps you grow from your regular customer base to other segments when growth plateaus

Being a believer in data-driven Product Management, how would you deal with a situation in which you do not have insight into how your product is performing? 

I would never build a product which does not give me insights on how it is performing. However, for theoretical reasons, let’s assume I got something which has no insights. I can still go and look at a lot of backend logs to get some insights. These are tech logs. I would run a feature iteration just to add more data points and insights or I am bound to fail.

Can you suggest some methods to validate assumptions BEFORE building the features in the case that you don’t have access to any customer feedback?

  1. I can look at secondary data available on the net in terms of reports and blogs
  2. I can look for similar users among friends and family
  3. Call my network and have a 1:1 discussion
  4. Talk to designers from a design point of view
  5. Show it someone who has no idea about your product and see whether he or she is lost  (This provides value in how simple your workflow is)
  6. Test competitor apps as an end user and check how much time it took you to understand the product, the use case, and also signing up (Test that against your product)
  7. Some third-party tools which crowdsource user testing and feedback

Have you ever heard the old saying “pick one?” If so, how do you respond?

I would pick a balance of something which I like to do, something where I can add value, and something which gives me a better ROI.

Product Management Transition

I’ve been in the software industry for 9+ years as a developer. How can I be competitive and get a real Product Management job that matches my experience?

Don’t underestimate yourself. Your 9 years of software experience is also your Product Management experience. Product has a wide spectrum from strategy, business, growth to tech, development,¬†and execution. You have handled the entire spectrum from tech to strategy.

Sell yourself as one who can take strategic decisions to someone who can get his/her hands dirty. While applying for the role, look for the job descriptions. Most of the time they will tell you what kind of experience they are looking for.

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After 15 years as an IT Business Analyst, I recently got a position as “Technical Product Manager” in a B2B-C domain. Can you suggest a¬†few key areas that I should focus on?

B2B2C (I believe that is what you meant) is a totally different game where you have to focus on the customers (demand) and your partners (supply). Building a supply network is more important because, if you don’t have that, your launch could fail.

Example: You are building an app for parking spots in downtown and you don’t have many locations to serve, or, your integrations with the parking spots are not making it smooth for the parking operators or customers.

From your experience, are there some books/courses/learning tracks that support in developing real experience as PM?  

I would focus on:

  1. Good design
  2. Usage of data in driving decisions
  3. Basic analytic tools
  4. Comfort with the metrics used for growth (LTV, CAC, etc)
  5. Tech understanding of how basic things work (Example: The difference between native and hybrid apps, how things such as web and smtp work, what is https).

For tech, just focus on what is relevant to your business as of now.

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

For all product managers – I would say think revenue – If you think revenue, you’ll think about who wants to pay what, which is thinking about your customer. If you want to think about your customer, you will have to think data, as data is what tells you about your customer.

Two other things:

  1. Have a basic understanding of data, design, and tech
  2. Learn how to influence people who you would need for a success of a product or business.

 

 

 

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