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Satya Patel, along with fellow partner Hunter Walk, recently raised $50 million for their second venture fund Homebrew II. We were lucky enough to have Wizeline Head of Product Matt Pasienski get the inside scoop from Satya, a product guru formerly of Google and Twitter.


Satya drops some knowledge on:

  • How attitude can be more important than aptitude in hiring good product managers
  • Why failure is important
  • The difference in product development and experimentation in the B2B world versus B2C
  • Why good VPs shouldn’t be making product decisions 

Watch Part 1

Watch Part 3

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Satya Patel: Whoever is going to attack that opportunity really needs to create something that's orders of magnitude better, and orders of magnitude better in an obvious way.

Matt Pasienski: Okay, so that brings me to a really important point ... you're hiring-you're a product manager, if you're a product manager long enough, you're going to hire other product managers, you're going to be involved in that process of, "is this person good enough", and you talk a lot about don't trust title. You don't want to, if someone ... even though, obviously you're going to have a lot of respect for someone who is a product manager at Google or ...

Satya Patel: Sure.

Matt Pasienski: You don't want to trust that title ... how can you devise, you don't have that IMDB of what you actually did and what you actually contributed, were you a starring role or were you a ... how do you tease that out when you're interviewing and bringing new people into companies like, in your portfolio or when you were product manager VP or ... how do you suss it out?

Satya Patel: There's kind of four things that I look for when hiring product people, and all of it is kind of with this idea that attitude is many times more important that aptitude. You have to have the right person with the right mentality, and the right approach, much more than any particular domain experiences or even technical experience. With that as kind of the umbrella, I think there's four things to look for, one is does the person have insight for a strategy around the product, do they have an empathy for the user ... you can really suss that out by talking about the products that they've worked on the decisions they've made in relation to some of the features of the product ... you can also talk about other products out in the world, that they like, and why they might like them. I like kind of ... talking with people through products, rather than consulting-type questions of technical questions, or anything like that, to get to product [crosstalk 01:52] ...

Matt Pasienski: I would imagine that the right answer to those questions would kind of ... you kind of would get a nerd coming out, someone who is a little over-enthusiastic about things, is that your experience or is it ...?

Satya Patel: I think it's really the true part of it is, is that there's no right answer ... what you're really trying to understand is, what's the thinking process that this person goes to, through, when making product decisions, and are they user-driven. If they're user-driven, what kind of data are they looking at, and what kind of insights do they have about the user, that lead them to make particular decisions .... it's really understand their process, more than there's an exactly right way of doing something.

The second thing is the ability to just get shit done, to execute from a product standpoint. There it's just talking again about the past experience and how they managed a product development process, and I always like to ask them, what went wrong and what would you do differently ... I think honest answers are ones that actually say that something went wrong, because it always does in product development, and truly great product managers are reflective about that, right, and are doing postmortems after all their work, to try to figure out what they could do better next time, so that's what I look for there.

The third is really an ability to communicate, because as a product person you manage through influence, not authority, and your job is to make sure that everybody always has context for why certain product decisions are being made, and what the status of work is, and all those kinds of things, so if you're not a great communicator, people look at your work and your decisions and question all of it, because you haven't done a good enough job communicating and reinforcing the message around the goals and processes and all those kinds of things.

Matt Pasienski: I feel like one great way to think about it is if you don't tell people exactly what you're doing, it will always assume you're doing nothing. I think product manager is one of those jobs where it's terrible if you can't communicate, because really ... even if you're telling people what you're doing, it's pretty hard for them understand a lot of times.

Satya Patel: Then the last thing is leadership ... you have to, as a product manager, bring everyone else along, so you have to be able to sell a vision and get people to buy into that vision, and you have to make sure that people stay on the path towards whatever goal there is in relation to the product development process ... you really need to be somebody who kind of inspires people and can get everybody on board, and have them remain excited, even when things fail ... because inevitably you're going to have failures, but you need to make sure that you're able to educate people and keep them excited and help them understand that from failure comes learning.

Matt Pasienski: That's excellent. A couple technical questions. If you're hiring for a PM, how many ... what's the rough number of PMs you would go through, I mean candidates would you interview before you think you'd get to the right one?

Satya Patel: That's a tough one. It depends on the role, honestly, but I'd say you probably look at 100 resumes, to get to 10-15 interviews, to hire one PM.

Matt Pasienski: Yeah.

Satya Patel: That's rough order magnitude.

Matt Pasienski: There you go. One of the things that we were really interested to hear about, when we were discussing this, is that you worked at Double Click, which is very ... B2B centric, you transitioned to Google, where I imagine you were still pretty heavy on the B2B side, then you go to Twitter, which is ... obviously you're starting up the monetization and a lot of that stuff, but it's a very consumer-centric company and that was big part of your ambit. What's the key difference, and specially Double Click more waterfall, you have a static set of requirements, and Twitter where it's like ... I don't think anyone on earth totally knows what Twitter is, or why it works, or what it should do next, but it just happens to succeed year after year.

Satya Patel: So what are the differences [crosstalk 05:34] ...?

Matt Pasienski: Yeah, how do plan in those two contexts, I think B2B, a little more static, a little more rational, and then B2C where's it's more experimental, maybe.

Satya Patel: I think at the end of the day there's more similarities than differences, but where the differences lie are really around the approach you can take to experimentation ... in the case of enterprises, they're relying on your product to make significant improvements in their own business, and so the tolerance with failure is much less, so you have to spend much more time making sure that the quality of what you're building and the tests that you're likely to run are not going to negatively impact the business. On the consumer side, you have a little bit more freedom, but actually in both cases, many times you only get one chance to make that impression, and if you don't go a good job, then you lose that customer or that user forever ... that's why I said there's more similarities than difference.

The other thing I think differs a little bit between the enterprise side and the consumer side, is that on the enterprise side, I think talking to your customers can oftentimes be more helpful than on the consumer side, and the reason for that is ... if you talk to your customers on the enterprise side, they may ask for features and things, but you can actually at the end of the day get to the crux of what's driving the request, you can understand the problem they're trying to solve, even though they may be talking about it in the context of the feature ... from a consumer standpoint, oftentimes they can't even articulate the problem, they might be able to say, hey, I wish this button was here, or this was different, but getting them to actually express the problem, particularly when you're building something novel and innovative, is really really hard, so I think you tend to rely more on data and user-testing and those kinds of things on the consumer side, whereas you can start a little bit more on, in terms of kind of user-research and customer development on the enterprise side.

Matt Pasienski: When you're at Twitter and you have monetization teams, you have lots of little teams working on, I think, probably bits and pieces here and there [inaudible 07:36] ... how do you keep track of, just imagining as like, the VP of Twitter, what is it like to keep track of all of these different initiatives, and are you even driving product direction at that point or is it herding cats, what's the ... how do you do it, and what's it like?

Satya Patel: I mean the good and the bad of being a VP, I think a good VP is that ultimately good VPs aren't actually making any product decisions. They're putting the right people in place and empowering them to make great product decisions.

Posted by on Friday, February 27, 2015.


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