From Product Manager to Founder with PlateRate Founder & President

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Garrett Lang, Founder and President of PlateRate.com!

Meet Garrett Lang

Garrett Lang has over 17 years of IT experience as a Product, Program, and Project Manager/Senior Business Analyst in the financial services and marketing/ad tech industries.

He has managed scope, schedule, and resources for budgets of up to $30 million and has a proven ability to meet and exceed customer expectations, identify and solve complex problems, and communicate with all levels of the organization.

On top of this, he has created innovative, best-practice, solutions including projects that saved $23 million over three years and more than doubled operating margin to over 50%. He’s also worked globally with multi-functional, diverse teams in the US, Russia, India, Europe, Israel, China, and Mexico.

Founding PlateRate.com

What project are you most proud of in your career? What made it challenging or exciting and how did you handle it?

I think my current company (PlateRate.com) is my most impressive accomplishment. I’ve done things like automate $29B worth of accounting entries in my past, but PlateRate is far more innovative even than that solution…

The big upside is I can pursue my passion of helping people find better tasting food for them, often earning free food in the process (this comes in the next few months).

As far as challenges, it was very difficult recruiting a cost-effective development team… I learned through trial and error that equity developers didn’t tend to stick with their commitments, so I moved my development to low-cost offshore development firms, which have worked incredibly well for me.

I have done development differently at PlateRate than I have anywhere else in my career, and I am happy to talk about that if anyone is interested.

How many countries do you have represented on the PlateRate team and how do you manage the diversity of individuals and cultures?

We have developers in Vietnam and India, I’ve also had team members in the Philippines. I essentially try to attract the best talent I can that’s a culture fit for the company, and while I try hard to recruit women and unrepresented minorities, I only hire qualified people…

Doing anything else doesn’t do favors to anyone IMO. Luckily, this has resulted in a VERY diverse team, even our US team members span pretty much all races, ethnicities, and over a dozen countries.

How have you found your first 100 passionate users and when did you know you’ve achieved product market fit after the fact?

So I think this is good advice but we’re not at the point where I’d expect to have the 100 users that LOVE the app yet. In the next 6 months, I think we’ll have more than that, since we’ll be giving people up to a 60% credit in free food at restaurants throughout NYC, spreading as quickly as we can.

So far, 95% of people I’ve asked have said they’d LOVE a 60% credit in free food from a new restaurant.

How did you fund your startup and how were you able to scale?

I funded my startup from my own career savings. I invested in stocks and then real estate and have done well in my career and investments, so I still have quite a bit of funding I can tap into. That said, I plan to be profitable in the next 6 months, so I don’t think I’ll need to tap much deeper.

On how we were able to scale, the short answer is we haven’t started scaling, we’re a small free app right now. I do have plans upon plans for scaling, and people lined up to help us do it both technically and business wise, but those plans will come into action in the next 1-3 years.

How does a new food startup start working out unit economics? Even after 6 months to 1 year? This is what VCs care for, and viability.

Luckily, I’m not VC funded, so I don’t have to worry about what VC’s think. In fact, I don’t talk to VC’s even when they’ve reached out to me because they don’t sign NDA’s and my company’s best parts are not yet public and won’t be shared without an NDA.

I encourage you all to take with a grain of salt the advice that ideas are worthless. Ask yourself what you like about any big company and I’ll bet you can think of some idea they implemented better than other people that you like.

Ideas are valuable if you can execute, they’re only worthless if you can’t. As far as unit economics, that is important for sustainable business, so I’ve focused on it quite a bit. I actually have a very profitable and sustainable way to offer my credits for free food, but that’s currently covered by NDA. Keep an eye out in the coming months for how we do it (it’s a patent-pending technique).

Product Management Practices

When expanding your team, how do you transfer responsibilities without members feeling the resentment of you “taking their job away”?

Make them part of the process. Make their voice heard, and give them a seat at the table in the product decisions. Listen to their feedback. Don’t be an order taker, but consider their input when making decisions and make them feel part of the process… hope that helps!

Can you describe your process for building consensus around a product vision?

Yes, I have a process I call Modified Agile. I create annotated mockups, sometimes with “mini-specs” (always less than a few pages long), to describe what I’m going to build, then I circulate it with my stakeholders to show them what’s coming up and get their feedback.

Stakeholders often have great ideas to improve on what I’ve envisioned, which makes the final product even better, and helps give everyone in the company a voice into the product. And in my opinion, the product is the core of a company, everyone should have input into it that wants to.

What methods do you use to handle the psychological/emotional pressures that come with running/leading a startup?

I’m a practitioner of Stoicism. The thing that helps me work hard even with great pressure is remembering something called practical wisdom, which the Stoics came up with thousands of years ago but the Christians summarized even better in something called the Serenity Prayer.

Can you talk about building products for internal users, and what kind of customer discovery, testing, and communication strategies you have had success with?

Building products for internal users isn’t that different from external users. Interview your users, ask them their goals and pain points, and envision the most creative ways to solve their problems, and achieve their goals using software.

If you do this, you will have happy product customers whether they’re internal or external. Everyone wants to achieve their goals and solve their problems, if you help them they’ll appreciate it. The best advice I’ve seen from all the startup books I’ve read is: “You need to be solving a real problem” in order to have a valuable product.

How do you define MVPs and metrics on what matters to customers?

Defining an MVP is tricky… You really want to pare the functionality down to as minimal as possible while still ensuring its a compelling product. What this looks like differs for each product and customer set, but that’s the general idea.

Metrics also vary, but essentially, some common metrics that I think are almost always important is the number of unique visitors each month and the number of return visitors week after week. If you have a lot of people using your product and they keep coming back, that’s a good thing… But if you’re selling houses those metrics aren’t right, so that’s why I say the metrics depend on the industry.

The two metrics that always matter eventually are revenue and profitability. I’d stay focused on those, albeit not myopically.

Transition into Product Management

What is the shortest way to transition from Software Developer to Product Manager?

If you’re passionate about product you can make the transition. I have a guy on my team who was a developer and I’ve mentored him in product for about a year, he actually recently switched into sales and loves it, but he’s going to go back to product once we start making him a lot of money in sales.

If you want to talk about a mentorship feel free to DM me, PlateRate’s social mission is to teach people to do their dream job. Since we’re pre-revenue, I can only offer equity now, but I’m happy to take on passionate people who want to learn and teach what I can.

Have you ever worked with PMs from other countries and what is your opinion about the required language skills for being a successful PM in the US?

This may depend on what part of the country you work for. In NYC, as long as your English is good enough that people can understand you, you’ll be fine, it’s very multicultural here.

If you try going to a rural area you may not be treated the same. I recommend sticking to the cities if your English isn’t near-fluent, but there are lots of PM opportunities in the US, so if you want to come here, I encourage you to try. Visas are much harder to get now than they used to be, we don’t sponsor visas yet, but I hope in 2-3 years we will be.

Can you expand on “exceptional language skills” that are stated in many job descriptions. It’s very unusual in Europe to mention this in a job ad.

  1. Most people create job descriptions from copy/pasting other job descriptions, so take with a grain of salt what’s in them. Don’t ignore them, but don’t feel like because you don’t meet one qualification you shouldn’t apply.
  2. Studies have been done saying men apply to jobs if they meet 20% of the criteria for the job. Women usually don’t apply unless they meet 80% of the criteria. So women, please apply, even if you’re only at the 20% mark, because men are applying for those roles and even if you’re at 30%, you’re a better fit than them! (Not exact numbers)
  3. Exceptional language skills means you can articulate yourself well, in my opinion, not that you have a good American accent. So I wouldn’t sweat these criteria in big cities. In small towns, it may mean something different, but there are few PM roles in small towns.

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

I see the #1 goal of being a Product Manager as creating a competitive advantage. Think about how what you do does that, and you’ll help make your product more successful. Anyone interested in collaborating on PlateRate feel free to reach out to me at Garrett@platerate.com. Thanks everyone for your great questions!



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