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Our last interview with Mina Radhakrishnan, startup advisor and former Head of Product at Uber, wraps up with her final thoughts on the high-velocity product development that defined her experience at Uber including:

  • The value of a top-down company strategy
  • Why it’s important to give product teams ownership and autonomy
  • The unique experience of building products at Uber during unparalleled growth
  • Believing in your product and what it really means to disrupt a space

Missed Parts 1 and 2? Watch them now.

Part 1: Former Head of Product at Uber Shares Product Management Best Practices
Part 2: Product Development Insights from Former Head of Product at Uber

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Mina Radhakrishnan, Startup Advisor and Mentor

Full transcript:

Matt Pasienski: How do you manage the tension between two things that have to happen but one needs to happen first? Is it something that happens within the organization, where the CEO manages all of these different factors, or a product manager? Or, is there some kind of formal way of everybody gets their turn? Or, are you weighting by the strategic opportunity? How do you make decisions about what needs to happen next when so many people want so many different things and you're not going to be able to build them all?

Mina R.: I think ruthless prioritization, right? You have to because you can't do everything.

In a world of limited resources, you have to pick some things before others. Not all things are equal. We had a couple of different approaches to it. There is quite a bit of top-down thinking. A lot of it relates to here's the strategy for the company and what we're trying to do, and then here's how we actually organize the teams. Because what you want to be able to make sure you do is, for product managers to be able to succeed and teams in general to be able to succeed, you need to give them ownership of areas.

Then the question is okay, how do we make this broad enough that we know that the areas in which we group people into and that the large teams are going to feel like they have enough autonomy to be able to say, these are the kinds of product that we want to work on. But we can go back to them and say, "Okay. Actually, can you do this instead? Can you tweak this? Because here's why." I think a lot of it is, again, just like when you're trying to explain to stakeholders, who aren't necessarily engineers or designers or product managers, why something needs to be done, you have to make sure you understand where they're coming from and be able to speak to them and explain the value of different things. It's the same thing when you're thinking about it from a management viewpoint working with product leads and team leads, to be able to assess how does a road map go, what is it that you need to do.

Matt Pasienski: Just personally, and maybe this isn't applicable to anybody who will ever watch this video because of the crazy journey you had to go through, has it sunk in how wild that got? I imagine a situation where you've done something once, like open a new city, and you do it once a month, and then within six, seven months, you're doing that once a day, five or six times a week ... How does stress come into that? Are you just hanging on? What is that experience like?

Mina R.: Yeah, there's a lot of stress. I just lived through it about four months ago, so I'm only just starting to get back into this mindset now of I'm going to wake up in the morning, go to yoga, and do some cooking. It's all going to be fine.

I think one of the things for me with Uber as I look back on it, it's a special experience. Not very many people get to be a part of something like that, and certainly not from so early on and being there all the way through it. But I think when you're in it, it's like being in the eye of the storm. You just know that there are tons and tons of things that need to be done. There's so much exciting work that needs to be done, and you see what you're doing every day. I walk around San Francisco, and I see nothing but Ubers all the time. My eye just immediately goes to the little "U" all over the place. That's not what the world was like three years ago.

Matt Pasienski: It's an absolutely world-shaking transition, I think, that you've started.

Mina R.: When you're there and you see every day what you're doing and how it's changing things, yes, there's definitely a lot of stress. I think it's important to find the right balance for it because you can't ... You're just going to get burnt out if you live off of that all the time.

Matt Pasienski: Maybe this can be the close to this. What are the types of things on the day-to-day that got you fired up and ready to go back out and fight? Because we haven't talked about all of the crazy negative from every quarter- from the press, from taxi drivers, from politicians that are coming against you- and all of the technical challenges you had to overcome. What were the things that were most uplifting and made it so that you guys could work so hard and keep pressing?

Mina R.: I think a lot of it is thinking about it. A lot of times people look at Uber, and they're like, oh, yeah, it's a mobile app. That's cool. For me, one of the things that was just really exciting and beautiful about it was the driver side. It's reading about driver stories and the way in which we actually genuinely made a difference in people's lives day to day. I remember D.C. did this video series. The community team did a video series on the Uber driver story. They just did these little videos of a whole bunch of different drivers. It's really uplifting to read that kind of thing and just know that what you're doing on a day-to-day basis is actually helping people.

Now, yes. There's definitely negative press and things like that. You can look at it. I think it's important to consider it and understand why that's happening and where it's coming from. Then also think about to what extent you should try to change yourself to be able to adapt and deal with that, but also I think it's just important to keep in mind that when you're doing something new, when you're doing something different, that really is- I hate to use the word- but very disruptive, change is hard. Change is hard for a lot of people in every way, shape, and form. It's important to just, I think, remember that it's okay. It's okay for people to be upset. I think what you have to be able to do is walk away from every day believing that you did your job well, that you're helping people on a day-to-day basis and that you're helping the company get better.

Matt Pasienski: Well, that's fantastic. Thank you so much, Mina.

Mina R.: Thank you.

Matt Pasienski: It's been wonderful to speak to you today.

Posted by on Saturday, May 23, 2015.


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