Product Management Confessions: Satya Patel of Homebrew

Videos, Product Management, PM Confessions

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In case you missed it, San Francisco-based VC Homebrew last week announced their second venture fund. 50 million big ones. We recently stopped by their SOMA office to chat with Satya Patel who, together with Hunter Walk, leads Homebrew's investment strategy centering on what they call the "bottom-up economy."

In part one of this installment of "Confessions of a Product Manager," Matt and Satya talk about:

  • What it means to be a good product manager
  • How Satya cut his teeth at Google (~0:55)
  • Why trust is paramount to building successful products and scaling teams (~3:40)
  • And why LinkedIn is unlikely to capitalize on a huge market opportunity that's sitting right under its nose (~6:00)

Also, do yourself a favor and check out Satya's blog, Venture Generated Content.

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Interview transcript:

Satya Patel of Homebrew

Matt Pasienski: We're rolling?

Satya Patel: All right, awesome.

Matt Pasienski: So this is the two and this...

Satya Patel: You want me to look at him mostly.

Satya Patel: Okay. You have beautiful eyes.

Matt Pasienski: That's all going to go in man.

I'm here with Satya, like gotcha, Patel. I'm Matt Pasienski. We're here for another addition of confessions of a product manager. You were a product manager at, let's see, Google.

Satya Patel: Yeah.

Matt Pasienski: You were VP at Twitter. DoubleClick?

Satya Patel: Yeah.

Matt Pasienski: We're going to have a lot to cover here. I'm talking to you, you've obviously had tremendous experience across B to C, B to B, giant companies that have done very well. Who did you learn from? What was your introduction to this because you obviously can't take, it's not a major. How did you get into it and then how did you learn?

Satya Patel: It's bizarre I learned product management DoubleClick and I learned it in the traditional waterfall style where we did maybe one, if we were lucky two, releases a year and where product people were responsible for writing 150-page PRDs and outlining where every click and every link went in a product, and so it was actually wonderful to learn product management that way because you learned all the things you shouldn't do.

When I went to Google, I learned product management the agile way and Google was pretty early then, it was in 2003, so there was no structure or anything around it, but the wonderful thing I had was a mentor who gave me enough rope to hang myself and that was a guy named, Gokul Rajaram, who has been on this before.

Matt Pasienski: Friends of Google.

Satya Patel: Yes, and from him, I learned through osmosis and then I kind of crafted my own way of doing things after watching him and things that I thought better suited my personality, and things that better suited the types of projects I was working on. I took a lot from both of those experiences, kind of things I didn't want to from the DoubleClick experience and then things that I thought really well from the Google experience, and I was able to craft my own process when I went over to Twitter because I was the VP, so I got to figure out how things should run from my perspective. I would say from all that, I developed a point of view around product management and as you rightly pointed out, it's not a science, it's an art, right?

You can't learn it in a textbook. You can't learn it through lectures, you kind of have to learn it by doing it.

Matt Pasienski: As you point out, anything you would've learned in 2000, is already obsolete because you ... and you switched in agile, so it's more like school of hard knocks.

Satya Patel: For sure.

Matt Pasienski: Would you say that's like 70, 80% of it is just getting banged up.

Satya Patel: It's like 99% of it.

Matt Pasienski: Then that brings up a connection. If you're bringing someone new on, or you're advising one of your companies here at home, how do you let them get through those hard spots a little faster?

Satya Patel: The way we think about it is, we want to help them see around corners and avoid the mistakes that we made, but ultimately people only listen to so much advice and they just have to make the mistakes themselves. You just try to protect them, so they don't make them in a way that harms them, or harms the company.

Matt Pasienski: What's the right environment for someone to be in to make mistakes? I guess maybe that's what a startup should be?

Satya Patel: Its a great question.

Matt Pasienski: How do you get someone out of their ego and prepare to fail, but also prepare to learn very quickly?

Satya Patel: This was something that was really important at Google is, I think, ultimately it starts with the foundation of trust, right? You have to believe that everybody on the team is trying to do the right thing at every time, and at every step. If you have that foundation of trust then it's easy to forgive mistakes because you know people were doing things and making choices for the right reasons. If you don't have the foundation of trust, everything else falls apart, so I think that's the most important in startups and even in larger companies.

Matt Pasienski: That's something that we've talked about a lot is just that the valley, itself, is very trusting. You not as self-conscious that allows you to have this tremendously painful learning experience, go very quickly.

Changing topics. I really like your blog by the way.

Satya Patel: Well, thank you. That's nice of you.

Matt Pasienski: You had a post on trust as the foundation, but then you also have the enormous this, which I encouraged everyone to go look at because these are my favorite type of lists. I'm that kind of person who loves the like wild ideas. Like if someone comes to me and is like, "I got an idea." I'm all ears. I'm like I'm going to really listen to this because this is one of my favorite things.

You have, it's like, LinkedIn for social media. All these different idea types. Have you seen people come and actually pitch these to you?

Satya Patel: Yeah, we posted that earlier this year and it was really a list of things we just curious about. We don't necessarily have a strong point-of-view around them, but we kind of see them as interesting, potential opportunities. We went a little bit back and forth around whether we wanted to do it or not, but we have tried to operate Homebrew with complete transparency, which I also think is important from a product perspective, and so its been amazing the inbound that we gotten centered around those ideas. People who we know who didn't know we were interested those ideas, actually are reaching out.

Matt Pasienski: That's really good.

Satya Patel: Then people just giving us feedback on the idea of putting the list out there, so its been a really positive experience.

Matt Pasienski: Has there been anyone that's like, "You can't do this. You can't tell people what there's suppose to..."

Satya Patel: No, nobody's said that. I mean people have questioned some of the ideas on there, like, "No, this is not really interesting," but nobody has said, "Like you shouldn't have put this out there."

Matt Pasienski: Interesting. One of your ideas is like I am DB for business. Do you find it odd, I think, how little transparency there's around what businesses have which problems and what people providing. You start a startup and still you have to go out and build a marketing team. There's no real great channel and there's no good way to tell where people were or what they've done and in business you want to get as much information about what you need, and what you're doing, but there seems to be no platform for these type of things. Why do you think that is?

Satya Patel: That's why we put it out there. The default for everybody today is Linkedin and Linkedin is this static record of the places you've worked. It doesn't reflect the actual work that you did. What you delivered in terms of impact to the business, the other people you worked with, what they thought of you, all those different things and so we think there's a really powerful opportunity to create something that is more representative of you and the work that you've done, as oppose to the places that you've been. The reason that it hasn't happened, one big reason, is that consumers are lazy and LinkedIn is the default, so whoever is going to attack that opportunity really needs to create something that is orders of magnitude better and orders of magnitude better in an obvious way.

Adam Sewall Posted by Adam Sewall on Monday, February 23, 2015.


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