The road to Product Management can be long or short, complicated or easy, intended or unintended or anything in between. Whichever it is, every Product Manager has their unique story to tell about it. How did the Senior Product Manager at TaskRabbit end up working as in product management and what are his challenges in the job?
Deryan is the Senior PM at TaskRabbit for the past 2 years, and previously, he worked at companies such as Target, Rosetta Stone, and American Express. He grew up in France, which is why he’s interested in languages and has a degree in Marketing and an MBA. Also, he’s held various marketing positions, volunteered in an Ecuadorian jungle, worked in business in Mexico City, and worked in branding in France. Interestingly, he talked his way into his first Product Management role at Rosetta Stone.
TaskRabbit is a brilliant two-sided marketplace company where people that need help with something can meet with the people that can help them with it. For example, if a person needs a hand in a move or to put together furniture they can connect with the TaskRabbit’s taskers and one will come and help them do it. The taskers set their hourly rate and do things for people for that price. “TaskRabbit is revolutionizing how work gets done.”
AMA session questions:
How do you personalize a big marketplace and segment your customers?
Certain types of businesses like Uber or Lyft are very complex companies, but the service is pretty standard. You get into somebody’s car, they take you safely to where you want to go, and that’s it. TaskRabbit is a more personal business. You can have someone to come and clean your place or a handyman to fix some stuff. It’s a challenge trying to standardize the offering because it’s hard for the client to know what to expect.
It’s quite common for the customer support to receive calls saying that the tasker cleaning at their place is deliberately taking a long time so that they can bill more. It’s obviously not a nice thing to hear, but if you think about it, all of us have had the perception that a certain thing is going to take a certain about of time. There are always unexpected things that take longer to deal with.
One thing that’s challenging for us is the perception of the task size and complexity vs. reality. Mixed into that are the tasker’s own skill levels. The taskers are all good at what they do, but one might be 5 mins slower than the other one. You can’t standardize that.
Last year we came up with a recurring option which is completely voluntary. If you are asked to go to somebody’s house, and they expect you to take a mop with you, then you do. Another thing is about price. There are now two ways of getting a tasker. One is looking at people’s profiles, comparing their qualities and prices and then choosing one. The other is a set price. The client sets a price that he would like the task to be done for, and any tasker can accept it.
How did you build up your technical background and earn the respect of your engineers?
In my opinion, you don’t need a technical background to succeed as a PM. But would a super data company hire me? No. I wouldn’t want to work there either. It’s not my thing. If you want to work there as a PM you’d better have a computer science degree or something like that.
For a lot of businesses, such as TaskRabbit, you don’t need a technical background, but that doesn’t mean that when an engineer talks to you, you would understand them completely. If you don’t have a technical background fear not but there are some things that you need to learn and understand to work well with engineers.
Firstly it’s a good skill to be able to eyeball any body of work even without a heavily technical knowledge and be able to understand the scope of work whether it’s big, medium or small. Secondly, you need to develop the ability to understand if there are going to be dependencies to something else.
A third thing is to never promise delivery dates. If there’s a partnership and a contract and that has a deadline then yes, of course, you work towards a date. One thing that the engineers hate is a PM that goes and talks to people externally and promises that the thing will be shipped next week.
Unless it’s already been estimated and you have a high confidence that the team can do it then don’t do it. Statistically, every sprint takes 40% longer than what you originally estimated it would. You need to prepare for uncertainty.
How does TaskRabbit compete and at the same time stay loyal to your vision?
This is about any basic corporate strategy across any industry. If you have x amount of resources spread out to different places and a competitor comes in that’s smaller than you and that puts their resources into one single thing, doing it really well what can you do. There’s no real answer. It’s a question about how to put our best thing forward in the marketplace with quality and to do a good job at it. We keep an eye on the competitive marketplace and where trends are going.
There’s a thing about Wayne Gretzky. Why was he such a good ice hockey player? It’s because he wouldn’t go where the puck is now, but he would go where the puck is going to be. That’s what we try to do. We have our competitors here now, but where are they going to be in a while?
Any tips for the PM interviewing process?
It’s very insightful because typically product managers will interview people with many different functions because as a PM you’re going to work with all of these people. It’s a very interesting experience learning from their lens. I got interviewed very efficiency type of questions, and it helped me understand their way of thinking in their position.
Another example is an engineer who asked me to tell him about a time when I had to bring somebody aside to give them news that I knew they wouldn’t like and how did I handle it. To me, that question said so much about the company culture and the things that they value.
If you get to know the lens that other people view their own challenges within the business that’s insightful and you can also get a really good idea of the company culture through the questions they ask.
What have been some weird requests on TaskRabbit?
Three come to my mind. The first one was a person who said that his keys were at the bottom of a lake. A tasker went to get them. I don’t know how but it was a success.
The second was a person saying that he’s a San Francisco resident currently in LAX taking an international flight later on that day and his passport is in his house in San Francisco. A tasker went to his home in SF and jumped on a flight to bring the passport to him in LAX. It was a success.
The third one was another local task that said that a bunch of people are on a boat in the San Francisco Bay and would like a case of beer. I don’t know how they expected to get it and I don’t know if it got done but that was funny.
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