My Ideal Career

I have been blessed with exposure by shipping lots of smaller products in a few years. As I have gotten exposed to product growth strategies and analyzed companies that have created an impact, I have realized that average teams often leave a lot of ammunition back in the idea junkyard. In 2020, I decided to step into the world of overall product strategy. Not just product management, not just product design but overall strategy. I also believe best practices need to be ingrained from day one, or bad habits die hard. That is precisely the reason I love working with early-stage companies. This article outlines a summary of what I believe I am built for.

What do I exactly mean by leaving a lot of ammunition back in the junkyard? It's important I clarify this. These could be many things. I'm not saying I want to do everything. But I want to be in a position where I can impact these levers if I want to. A few examples are thinking through self-reinforcing loops and not just funnels, thinking infrastructure and not specific use cases (zillions of use cases automatically become possible that way), thinking through micro user journeys in addition to macro-level journeys, thinking through user segments and not the entire user base, obsessing about activation as much as dropout, rollback of features as often as we push them, thorough post-launch strategy along with launch strategy, localized experiments (for example, a geographical expansion strategy), building with conviction and not just somebody's intuition, work on willingness to pay and then narrowing down on feature bucketing, fiddling with non-product prompts like emails and push notifications that work on user behavior and jobs to be done, etc. You get the idea.

What does an ideal role look like to me?

  1. Going beyond development to the overall product strategy. In the past, I've regretted not getting to fiddle with all tweaks that come on a product level. Organizations naturally scale to support separate functions in the company. While I understand that, I prefer being in an overarching role where I've access to all sorts of product levers, with design and product experience being only parts of the equation.

  2. Facilitation of Experiments. Any org is only as strong as the weakest link. In a true sense, I create the maximum value by facilitating others to achieve the proper outcomes. I thrive on floating ideas, diving along on them, and following a weird mix of data decisions, stakeholder feedback, and gut instincts. The intent is to throw enough ideas on the wall, find the ones that stick the most and deduce a pattern to enable everyone to achieve the same at scale.

  3. Autonomy. I actively dedicate time outside of work hours and a fraction of work hours to grow myself on the above two pointers. Most progressive organizations today value that. Also, I enjoy going to war for people who have trust, and patience and operate from their hearts.

  4. A seat at the table. My ideal role enables me to co-own the vision, decode abstract industry signals, and craft the product roadmap. I like people with strong opinions as long as there is a transparent rationale and not hope or hypothesis. That doesn't mean I don't make bets. Colleagues often call me instinctive.

  5. Skin in the game. It's only fair if I own shared responsibility for the RoI/P&L. Own the implementation, release calibration, and backlog refinement. That would also mean flexibility to prioritize features through a 'one-list' and a unanimously agreed framework. Often, the absence of responsibility towards P&L creates an illusionary sense of impact creation.

  6. A team for the octopus strategy. I've naturally been good with leading and have grown my teams 8x-10x in the past across geographies. I function best with a team around me, and I always envision a team of product managers, product growth professionals, product designers, and a few business analysts reporting to PMs. I prefer dividing the team into two groups. Core team to keep the body functioning and an Incubation team to shoot for the moon. In both these groups, have folks focused on heads-down execution and folks focused on ruthless evergreen product-growth experimentations. Here is a real-world reference to why I use the phrase Octopus Strategy.

  7. Always on the interface with customers and users. I prefer if the team I work for inherits a culture of continuous feedback. Simply ask the user, "how happy are people on a scale of 1-10, and what we can do? Ask directly (in-person interview, in-product or outbound surveys) and indirectly (through field team). I believe in in-person feedback as much as I believe in what the data says.

  8. Interface with cross-functional leads. Simply put, if we sell X or portray X as a company, the product should do X. What we sell should majorly be driven by what people need and, once in a blue moon, by what the business strategy is. This would also mean a focus on Tone and Voice. The same is true for the Engineering division too. We are only as good as the goals we achieve. We only achieve what we implement. Crafting experiments that do not get implemented kills innovation.

  9. Scale the Team. I prefer to be constantly hiring. Smart people have exponential RoI, but the number of smart people is extremely low. I make bets on merit as much as I bet on experience. I have also realized that I prefer smart, hardworking, and, more importantly, aggressive folks.

  10. Scale the culture. People build companies. Ideas don't. I invest a lot of my time into nurturing the right mindset, enabling the team to achieve non-direct outcomes and at times even learning tangential things. The idea anyway is to expand the subconscious so that our conscious brain can have occasional creative bursts. I will always devote almost 25% of my time to things like aligning north-star metrics to personal motivations to creating a work environment where happiness is not an afterthought.

My Role as a Leader

As I've matured as a leader, my role has become more and more indirect. Rarely, do I do things that directly create value; however, everything I do is aimed at generating substantially high output as compared to the input indirectly. There are multiple ways in which I try to achieve this.

  1. Extrapolate and Interpret Vision: When you have a brilliant team, a sense of purpose and clarity is the fuel, you need. I've been exposed to the senior level of leadership from very early on in my career. I've realized, often, the most strategic projects, are open for interpretation. I see my role as the connecting link, where I help deduce the goal in a manner that's not only easy to interpret but also in a way that makes where everyone fits in the broader context evident.

  2. Facilitate Outcomes: With the right set of brains behind a problem and the correct interpretation, the job is only half done. I spend the majority of my time optimizing the setup. The optimizations include balancing brains across projects, asking the right questions, and giving and seeking feedback. It also means creating psychological safety, ensuring harmony, shielding undue outside influence, nurturing the right mindset, envisioning the right incentives, helping interpret risks, brainstorming, and at times raising the red flag timely.

  3. Mitigate Crisis, Manage Risk: I attribute a lot of my early success to the flexible approach I had when there was a fire in the house. As a leader, interpreting a crisis beforehand is ideal. However, occasionally, you can still end up with competing priorities, scarce resources, or at times, situations out of your direct control. During these times, I find my decisions carry a lot more weight and often act as a guiding light for the team. In crisis-like situations, my role can take many forms and mostly, I always work towards making the best possible interpretation in a given context and unblocking people.

  4. Crafting a Culture: I thrive on a good team and a good culture. That also means shaky cultures are a big turn-off for me. I don't particularly appreciate regimes that treat people like resources. I depend on my team a lot, and as such trust and transparency become the most important fabric of the culture, I try to create. I put a lot of weight on the opinions of people with a closer context to the issue at hand. I actively promote a founder's mentality and a north-start-driven approach in my team. I celebrate a lot, successes or failures (read learnings). I encourage frank suggestions and bold decisions as diverse ideas that have on many counts become pivotal in the projects I have led. Last but not least, I work towards ensuring that my team always keeps an eye on the broader horizon as they keep their heads down in the day-to-day.

  5. Push for the extra mile: Going the extra mile is the key to the door of opportunities. While the team is working on a problem at hand, I consciously nudge and push people to go the extra mile. Almost always, the consequences make them thank me for the same.

  6. Communicate and Evangelize: Often, this becomes the most comfortable role because the results always do the job themselves but if there were a job description, communicating the efforts and outcomes internally and externally would be one of the essential points in there. When it comes to failures, accepting the same and owning the responsibility also is my primary job.

I'm incredibly fortunate to have worked with the people in my life so far who have all contributed to bringing me where I am today.

Additional pointers, you should know

  1. I see Product Growth as a never-ending journey: Product Growth Experiments deal with things like ingraining loops (micro and macro) at the core of the product focusing on numerous small experiments. These experiments, at best, are driven by hypothesis, and there is no playbook to do them right. You conduct enough experiments and keep building on the hypothesis. Mature growth-driven org use terminologies like Growth Models, Growth Constraints, Growth Horizons, etc. and in its true sense, growth never ends.

  2. I'm always fiddling with side projects. I'll always have a few ongoing just out of curiosity and in a quest to satisfy my hunger for expanding intellectual real estate. These projects will never affect what I am responsible for daily, but transparency is what I believe in. Also, these projects keep me driven :)

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©2023 Dheeraj C

©2023 Dheeraj C

©2023 Dheeraj C