THE FUTURE AND WORKINGS OF THE PRODUCT MANAGEMENT INDUSTRY
IN CONVERSATION WITH MR. APAR SINHA
Starting his career as a software developer & analyst, Mr. Apar Sinha has gained vast experience in the field of product management. A B.Tech graduate, he has worked with companies like Nykaa and Cars24 in the past, and gained immense knowledge regarding the nuances of product development and management. He is currently a Product Manager at Vymo.
He can be reached and contacted through LinkedIn.
Q1)During the development of a product or even its management, what are the key points that are kept in mind to avoid its failure. I believe it must vary from one product to another, but are there any specific key points that you keep in mind as a product manager?
"One of the most basic functions of any product manager would be to view the product through the lens of the customer, taking into consideration the consumer perspective, and understanding how useful and helpful the consumer might find the product."
Once you are into the phase where you are looking into the product and making choices, you have to take into consideration numerous stakeholders and decision makers, which determine if you should go ahead with this or not. But once you choose to go ahead there is usually no backing out. However, there are a very few corner cases. I personally have been part of various product management projects and launched them. Usually, when a product is launched the stakeholders look at it from the sales point of view, and the business administration looks at it from the profit's point of view, but the product managers look at it from the user's point of view. One of the most basic functions of any product manager would be to view the product through the lens of the customer, taking into consideration the consumer perspective, and understanding how useful and helpful the consumer might find the product. So once you start on a product, it is essential to undertake an ideation process, make pointers, put down logistics number and once you are ready with all this, have faith and go ahead.
Q2) We all know about the harsh competition in today's market. So, has it ever happened that a product manager had to shut down a product? What process does shutting down a product or service entail? What are the key challenges in an end-of-life (EOL) process?
"In my opinion, one should look for alternatives, new innovations, and solutions to enhance the existing product's quality and usability, because shutting down the operations of a product completely is usually not a good solution."
Shutting down a product in itself is a big thing, and is usually done when that particular product turns out to be futile. In one of the companies I previously worked in, there was a phase when we considered closing down our third party product. But the question that stands here is should we even shut down the product? Because even if the sales are less, the product does add some value to our brand. In my opinion, one should look for alternatives, new innovations, and solutions to enhance the existing product's quality and usability, because shutting down the operations of a product completely is usually not a good solution.
Q3) You have worked at Nykaa, Cars24 and Vymo. What do you believe are the most exciting technology trends that you have witnessed in the industry and how did they impact your decisions as a manager?
"I believe that if you ask a product manager in any market, may it be B2B, B2C, D2D, or any other market, my answer would remain the same: enhancement and upcoming products in both the dimensions."
I believe anyone can venture into the field of product management. There is a lot of online material and articles available on the internet, and irrespective of whether you are from a technical background or not, one essential thing to keep in mind is that ‘Data’ is definitely the key. A great example for this would be that there were two product managers at one of the companies I was previously working with, who believed that the gift card page should not have been the way it was, and instead it should have been designed in a different manner. Manager 1 said that the gift card page should have more of an emotional touch to it, since gifts aren't just about the materialistic expectations, but also define the bond between people. On the other hand Manager 2 said that the gift-card page should be correlated to the festivals in India, since they play a huge role in the people’s lives. It is important to understand that these two are just early-stage hypotheses. You certainly require data to back your hypothesis, because huge decisions cannot be premised on the basis of a gut feeling. So, in-depth analysis is something which has now become an eminent part of decision making and this has been possible only because of the management, collection and use of data with the help of technology and databases. The answer, therefore, lies in enhancement and new developments through upcoming products.
Q4) Was it challenging for you to transition from a company in one sector to another? I understand that your role was as a product manager in the companies that you have worked in, but there must have been some challenges you would have faced, transitioning from one industry to another.
"Transitioning is something which is very challenging. When you talk about a company to company transition it is still different, but an industry transition can be very challenging."
Yes, transitioning is challenging , and especially industry transition. So, product management has various spheres; there is a business part of it, a technical part of it, and there is an administration part of it, and between all these spheres is where a product manager lies. Hence, you need to be well versed with the company and the domain you work in, understanding what is the tech architecture of the company and most importantly what is the user base of a product of a specific company. Taking an example from the companies I have worked in, Cars24 and Nykaa have a completely different user base. Nykaa majorly has female users, and on the other hand Cars24 has a male dominant user base having a ratio of 4:1 between men and women. The user persona is definitely very different in these two companies, and it always varies from one company to another, making it very important to understand from a context switching aspect. Eventually the success of a product majorly depends on whether you reach out to the specific user persona, which is going to be different. Also, the metric which a company uses to measure the success of a product differs in the industries, which makes it challenging as well as crucial to understand the business thoroughly while transitioning.
Q5) As a product manager, how do you juggle and manage products between B2B and B2C markets? May it be the female beauty industry or the automobile industry, how did you manage it all?
"While context switching in B2B and B2C markets, one can surely manage it if they understand who the end user is and what their requirements are. However if a manager does not understand the user persona and blindly moves ahead with the client’s word, it is not considered to be ideal for the success of a product."
Understanding B2C is considerably easier, since you have to understand the product and the market from a customer's perspective. However, understanding B2B is requires understanding all the stakeholders who are not using the products themselves. Now, in B2B the businesses view the product keeping in mind what they feel would be ideal for their customer base, like in one of the companies I’m associated with, I understand what is actually expected from the product by the business before I start developing it. But despite this, there are a lot of details that need to be looked into since my perspective of the product’s use by the customer varies from the business' perspective of its customer satisfaction. Like I mentioned earlier, understanding the user persona is essential even when transitioning between different markets, since the end goal is always to ensure that the product eventually satisfies the customer. Lastly, while context switching in B2B and B2C markets, one can surely manage it if they understand who the end user is and what their requirements are. However, if a manager does not understand the user persona and blindly moves ahead with the client’s word, it is not considered to be ideal for the success of a product.
Q6) Now, we have all heard that product management is a really time demanding career; you need to constantly research, have meetings with product marketing managers, product design managers, as well as brainstorm on how to remove certain blockers or solve issues that are arising with that specific product in that specific industry. So how can a person just starting with this career have a good work life balance?
"A myth buster about the field of product management is that it is time demanding; the sole reason for that is because everyone requires your assistance at the same time of the day."
Something very common in a product manager’s calendar is that they have multiple meetings at the same time of the day. A myth buster about the field of product management is that it is time demanding; the sole reason for that is because everyone requires your assistance at the same time of the day. My experience would be that various departments require my assistance throughout the day. I have to inform the sales department what the new feature is and how can they pitch it to the customers, and at the same time I have to update the business team how that feature will affect our customer base, and eventually, I have to explain to the technical team what is the feature that needs to be developed. One cannot manage all the departments at the same time, so it is important to manage your time well and divide it in an optimum manner which would eventually help you overlook each department. You might have meetings for 8 to 9 hours in a day but it lies in your hands how you manage your time. One important piece of advice I have for those who wish to pursue a career in the field of product management is that it is of utmost importance to manage your calendars and the timeline of your products very well if you wish to excel in this field.
Q7) Do you think your engineering background has helped you and is helping you in the field of product management?
"I did my bachelors in computer science, so I had a strong background in application development and understanding the backend work in a technology product, which eventually helped me understand the technical architecture of the company and further work and build upon it."
Talking about my experience, I did my bachelors in computer science, so I had a strong background in application development and understanding the backend work in a technology product, which eventually helped me understand the technical architecture of the company and further work and build upon it. I know people who have done chemical or even civil engineering and they are in the field of product management. Another advantage that I had was a strong set of analytical skills which helped me along my journey in various companies. As I mentioned earlier, having analytic skills to understand data is very important in this field. From my personal experience, I realised that after the launch of a product, I would have my seniors asking the success ratio of a product after a week of its launch, understanding how it was performing and what could be the potential changes. This makes me believe that having technical and analytical knowledge acts as a fast-forward button, helping you advance your career at a much faster rate. However, you can pursue a career in product management even if you do not have a Bachelors in Technology degree. I know people who have pursued bachelors in economics and are excelling in the field of product management. This is a field in which you are required to upskill yourself constantly and instill within yourself a zeal to learn new concepts everyday.
Q8) Since a product manager is responsible for product planning and marketing both, do you think the companies in general customize the product for different genders to meet their unique needs?
“No, they don’t customize the product according to the specific needs of the different gender groups instead they define the team structure in such a way that there isn’t a lot of burden on an individual product manager.”
No, there is no such customization which is done separately in order to make the product according to the specific needs of any gender. What they do is that they make the team structure in such a manner that there is not a lot of burden on any product manager. Say you’re talking about the product and the marketing part, it is often handled by product marketing managers which is a separate area of expertise and people are actually going and hiring these product marketing managers, but if you talk about the product team structure, it is defined in such a manner that the entire funnel of the user is divided, each important matrix is divided and handled by different product managers. I was in the payment side at one of the companies I have previously worked with while they had someone else for say the design part so this is how the division is done solely on the basis of the functionality of the product which the ultimate consumer is interacting with.
Q9) Since you have previously worked as an associate product manager at Nykaa, what was the male shopper vs female shopper ratio?
"The male shopper’s ratio was very less, since it is more of a feminine brand. The male shoppers were there but the problem was that the drop out ratio for them was really high as they came with a very specific agenda in mind."
Since it is more of a feminine brand, the male shopper ratio was very less. The name of the company also essentially translates to actress in Hindi. The male shoppers were there but the problem was that the drop out ratio for them was really high as they came with a very specific agenda in mind. Talking about any company or brand in the Cosmetic Industry, the male shopper’s ratio may seem to be decent on the surface but the drop out ratio is really high as men get pretty confused seeing so many options to choose from. Whenever male users come, they come with a very specific agenda, for example say they come with a desire to buy a Parachute product, so they will search for it and then simply buy it, this is how the male audience is functioning in e-commerce space, especially in the cosmetic industry. However, if a female user will go to buy the same product, she will organically add the product to the cart, then check out the entire home page. A whopping 30% of users explore the entire home page and all are females which explains the entire scenario.
Q10) According to you, do you think that the general public is aware of gender price inequality? Nowadays, from perfumes to simple T-shirts, there is a difference of price for both men & women. So as a product manager, how familiar do you think the public is with this system of pricing?
"Frankly speaking, everyone is aware. I have talked to thousands of users in my previous company, and everyone is aware of what price they are selling at, what price others are selling, what is the ratio percentage of women, what is the ratio percentage of men and things like that."
Everyone is aware about the price difference in the same product for men and women, but the problem is that there are a lot of female users out there while the inventory is limited. Therefore, discount is not the game here; it is about how fast you can sell your product. It is like the demand for One Plus on the launch day, wherein it’ll sell like anything and people will be willing to buy it even at an inflated price, without any discounts. Hence, there is a demand supply mismatch for the luxury items and for that reason, discounts are not given on them, but if you look at essential brands which are mostly the brands men shop from, they need to offer discounts and cut on their costs in order to survive the competition.
The Panel Discussion, therefore, revolved around the various aspects of Product Management such as the daily ins and outs, challenges faced, upcoming innovations as well as learning about Mr. Sinha’s personal experience in the field so far. The discussion included:
1)Understanding a day in the life of a Product Manager, and getting into their user-focused, and proactive mindset
2) Aspects to be kept in mind to ensure high success rate for the product, such as detailed decision making & understanding the stakeholders in the conceptualization stage itself
3)Need for getting into the user’s mindset and creating an accurate user persona
4)Brainstorming alternative ideas for improving a product instead of shutting it down
5)Upcoming & important innovation in the field of product management, and its technological development
We also gained insights from Mr. Sinha’s personal experiences as a Product Manager, such as:
1)Challenges faced in transitioning from a company in one sector to another
2)Context Switching involved in managing products in both B2B and B2C areas, the answer to which usually lies in understanding the end-user well
3)Hardships in maintaining a work-life balance as a Product Manager
4)Advantages of coming from a technical background
5)Tips for building a career as a Product Manager
6)Understanding Nykaa’s customer retention and pricing strategies
Mr. Sinha also engaged with the audience and satisfied a number of queries with immense detail, always providing valuable insights based on his own experiences. We extend our heartfelt gratitude for such an extremely informative discussion that helped us achieve more clarity about the work of a Product Manager. We look forward to conducting more such valuable sessions with him in the future!
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