IT Arena kicks off in less than 2 months! To fuel up your interest before the event, we continue our tradition of introducing you to our speakers. Today, we talked to Sachin Rekhi, Founder & CEO at Notejoy, serial tech entrepreneur and product executive, as well as former Head of Product at LinkedIn, and former Product Manager at Microsoft. Sachin tells us about most valuable experiences in his career, how products are approached at corporations like LinkedIn and Microsoft, and what makes product managers different from entrepreneurs.
How are new products being born at large companies like LinkedIn and Microsoft? What’s the timeline and how is funding allocated?
There are a variety of ways that large organizations like LinkedIn and Microsoft make decisions on product innovation. To summarize it on a high level, often the very first step is to identify an internal champion for the idea and create a business case around the idea. Often it may seem that large companies have access to boundless resources, but in fact, they are always trading off the opportunity cost of chasing one idea rather than another. While many business ideas are good enough to be multi-million dollar business lines, the larger companies are chasing the bigger opportunities that have the potential to be billion-dollar business lines. That is why the companies often create business cases that analyze the addressable market, current competition, and revenue potential of the product. They also will put together a preliminary product scope to determine the potential cost of putting the product together.
To use LinkedIn's sales solution business as an example, the idea took place over the time of a couple years. We were thinking about launching a new value proposition, so the majority of the time was building conviction around the market and the idea. Then when we started development it was very rapid in under a year to launch to market.
How is entrepreneurship different from product management?
The traits it takes to be successful in product management and entrepreneurship are the same to me. I've summarized them below. The biggest difference, however, is how you are spending your day. As an entrepreneur, I carry a wide range of responsibilities and tasks for the business which can range from dealing with the finances to customer support to technical architecture. However, as a product manager within a larger company, I am more focused on articulating the product vision, developing the strategy, designing the product, and executing with the technology and design teams.
When it comes to success however here are the traits which I think both roles share:
Infinite learner - Those who possess this quality are constantly expanding their expertise to new domains, regularly overcoming their own shortcomings, and their capacity for taking on new challenges seems limitless. Being an entrepreneur requires you to learn so much about every aspect of running a business, so being an infinite learner is really required to do it well.
Grit - Grit is a distinct combination of passion, resilience, determination, and focus that allows a person to maintain the discipline and optimism to persevere in their goals even in the face of discomfort, rejection, and a lack of visible progress for years, or even decades. Startups are incredibly hard. And there will be periods of time where it's not working. Successful entrepreneurs have grit and just keep going.
Ability to deal with uncertainty - There is no clear playbook on what will make your startup successful. Dealing with uncertainty is a key part of being an entrepreneur as every day will have elements of uncertainty. The best entrepreneurs have learned to deal effectively with this uncertainty.
Could you tell us more about your newest venture - Notejoy?
I'm happy to! I'm the Founder & CEO of Notejoy, a collaborative notes app for teams. Notejoy helps you get your most important work out of the noise of email & Slack and into a fast and focused workspace. We launched at the beginning of the year and have been excited about the traction we've gotten across individuals, freelancers & agencies, and corporate teams.
Before starting Notejoy, I was the Head of Product for LinkedIn Sales Navigator. We grew the business to over $200M in revenue and over 500 people across the organization before I left. I transitioned from being a product manager to product leader to ultimately a GM of the organization.
Over time I realized that "my product" had become the team instead of the actual product we were shipping and started spending all my time thinking about how do I make this 500 person organization most effective. I spent a ton of time on things like quality All Hands meetings, our cross-functional OKR process (a goal-setting framework), and even optimizing our daily standup meetings. Despite all my efforts around communication and collaboration, it still felt like everyone in the organization didn't have all the information they needed to be effective in their role. They always knew there was something going on elsewhere in the org that could help them, but they didn't know about it. And this is despite our efforts to over-communicate.
I ultimately realized that the communication & collaboration tools we were using every day weren't doing much for us to solve the real collaboration workflows and challenges we faced on a daily basis. And believed there was an opportunity to fix this! And that's where the inspiration came for the problem we were trying to solve with Notejoy.
As a successful serial tech entrepreneur and product manager, what would you consider the most valuable experience in your career?
At my first job out of college at Microsoft, I was lucky enough to get a chance to work on a brand new product at Microsoft instead of the usual of simply iterating on top of an existing product. What was amazing about it is I got to see the entire lifecycle of a new product from customer research to vision & strategy planning to shipping the product and ultimately incorporating customer feedback in future iterations. I was able to see this whole cycle in a year and a half, which was quite fast for the team that I was on. It was an absolutely incredible learning curve during that experience. Ever since I've sought experiences where I could see the full release of products end-to-end and focused on products that could be shipped faster and faster to customers. Increasingly velocity of seeing the entire ship cycle helps you build your product intuition as you have far more cycles of seeing how your product ideas resonated with customers. So seek out those experiences as much as you can.
What are your personal tricks one should follow in product management?
One of the personality traits I value most in successful product managers is they are inherently truth seekers. Truth seekers are those that are focused on discovering the truth to drive the decision-making process. It takes incredible humility and curiosity to embody this trait, because a truth-seeker can't have an ego to be effective, they can't always be right, and they can't worry over-much about how they look to others. It's pretty tough.
As a product leader, I try to become a truth seeker by focusing on discovering the proof points and data points behind opposing viewpoints. I listen carefully and try to ask questions to elicit a discussion on the various merits around a decision. When the decision is unclear, I look for data and research rather than relying on my gut or intuition. This has the benefit of making everyone on the team feel heard and understood. It also sets the tone for how an ideal decision-making discussion should happen, with opposing viewpoints being defended through data points that individuals bring to bear.
I also try to ensure that we celebrate not only the classic product wins, but when new truths are discovered. Sometimes these truths can be unpleasant, but elevating them to a team learning is critical to improving the capabilities of the team. Failures are often the biggest source of learnings, and I make a point to celebrate those.
At IT Arena 2018 you will talk about Continuous feedback loops. Can you give us a little preview?We all seek customer feedback as product managers but too often teams treat customer feedback as a one-time effort at the beginning of embarking on a new project. But the very best product teams develop a continuous feedback loop: an automated system by which they are continuously receiving and incorporating customer feedback into their product roadmap. I'm excited to share how you can develop a robust feedback loop for your own product by leveraging three tools I've developed over the years: feedback rivers, feedback system of records, and deep synthesis.
Which blogs do you recommend to follow for people interested in product management?
I recently put together a guide of the top 75 resources on product management that I've come across over the years. I've been cataloging them in Notejoy and just published them a little while ago. If you read all of these essays and spend time thoughtfully thinking through them, you'll have a deep deep understanding of product management and be well on your way to learning the role. You can find the curated list here: http://www.sachinrekhi.com/top-resources-for-product-managers
More information about Sachin Rekhi: https://itarena.ua/speaker/sachin-rekhi/