How to become a Product Manager

First of all, you are aiming too low. If you do everything I ask you to do below, I’ll be surprised if you still want to be a product manager.

Secondly, I get asked this question a lot so I’ve decided to come up a course for this over a long term but here is an actionable outline in the interim. If you want to transition to a PM role in your company or otherwise, you need to excel in these skills to get noticed.

  1. Customer empathy or Domain skills
  2. Business skills
  3. Strategic thinking skills
  4. Communication skills
  5. Educational qualifications
  6. It is always better to be great in one of these skills than being mediocre in all of them.

So, how do you build these skills?

Domain skills

Immerse yourself in the world of your customer. Seek time from your manager to spend a day or two with each segment of your users so that you can represent them in meetings in the office. Empathetic customer representation will get you noticed at the office.

Start building your network of users that are open to taking your calls respond to your emails to discuss your product. Get to 10 such users within 30 days. Make sure these 10 folks are not all from the same segment.

What’s the sign of success

You have a healthy network of users and you can list a day in their life as a user of your product. You can list their problems. You can quote their response to, why they like your product. You can draw a flow chart describing their workflow. You can list the folks they work with day to day and their titles. You can list other product that users tried before using your product.

Homework 1: Use powerpoint to document your activities in this area.

Business skills

Start your own business online.
Get an audience of 2000 people interested in your opinion before you build anything.

If not, learn about software businesses by listening to podcasts or reading blogs. Pay attention to numbers being shared on these blogs. For example: In June 2016 ConvertKit had a monthly recurring revenue of USD 100,000 and a margin of 50%.

How are software product sold?
What is the role of marketing? How do they do it?
What is the role of sales? How do they do it?

Learn how to validate ideas in the shortest amount of time.
• Create a kickstarter campaign for your idea
• Build a landing page for your idea and drive customers to it.
• Build a video for your idea
• Learn how to create wireframes to explain your idea
What’s the difference between a B2B business or a B2C software business? Why does the GTM difference drive different behaviors for the product team? How do the normal business metrics differ?

Homework 2: Create a presentation on what you learnt. What surprised you. Present to your friends and let them critique it.

What’s the sign of success

You can quote specific numbers and metrics in meetings. Instead of saying, “A lot of users want this feature” you say, “Between 10-20% of our users in segment “A” will find this feature useful based on conversations I’ve had with users”

  • Try to sell something. Start with smaller commitments:
  • Get people to buy your idea
  • Get people to give them your email address
  • Get people to give you < $5 for something you sell on gumroad or amazon or ebay.

You will get noticed at the office.

Strategic skills

Get reading.

Learn about the business world and how software businesses compete. Its much better to read about small businesses than large businesses. Buy and read HBR case studies in your domain.

Know that all business have to worry about Customer acquisition, engagement and retention. So, what are the most common tools that help business owners in these areas?

Understand normal what numbers for:
1. Click through rates on emails
2. Click through rates on web CTAs
3. Typical retention and conversion numbers of different software businesses
4. Software business models that work and why
a. Freemium
b. SaaS
What pricing strategies have been tried and work in your industry?

Homework 3: Create a presentation on what you’ve learnt. 10 slides only.

What’s the sign of success?

You have a point of view on product strategy and roadmap that you can defend. Since this is the highest value add activity in a business, its hard for a new person to claim mastery here, however, having a point of view on the world and is based on more than opinion helps get you noticed.

Communication skills

Do lack of writing and language skills coming in your way?
Most people are not going to call you out for bad grammar, wrong choice of words, and for rambling on and on unless you are really bad. So, if you are being called out already, you have a lot of word to do.

Few other questions to answer:

  • Do you look forward to communicating your point of view?
  • What would be your preferred communication channel – writing, drawing, speaking?
  • Do you have people around you that are great at writing, speaking? Why is that? What do they do that you don’t? Can they evaluate your skills in writing and speaking?

Most normal Indian folks like to speak fast in English. For a long time, speed of delivery was the only measure of language competence in our country. This has led to bad behavior. Slow down and be careful about the words you choose. Ensure people understand what you are saying before you rattle off another sentence.

Tips on writing

  1. First things first. Write! Write every day. Start a blog, even if its private. Stick to a schedule.
  2. Write everything twice. The first draft is never the final draft
  3. Write in short sentences
  4. Use spellcheck and grammar check
  5. Don’t use words that can be misconstrued misunderstood
  6. Remove every extraneous extra word and sentence
  7. Read other people’s work.

Tips on speaking

  1. Record yourself presenting on a topic for 5 minutes and play it back.
  2. Watch ted talks and youtube videos on presentation.
  3. Learn Graphic Design
    1. This deserves a long post. Let me know if you want it.
    2. Start with or for free

Homework 4: Go back and fix the design for each of the presentations you made in the past three homework assignments.

What’s the sign of success?

How often are you misunderstood? Are you able to influence the outcome of a meeting? Do you feel good about what you write?How consistent were you on your blog. Did you publish at least 80% of the dates you said you would?

Educational qualifications

This is a big blocker in India. I’ve always said that educational qualifications are the new caste system in India. It’s a bit harsh to say this but in a country with a large workforce, people are trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Educational qualifications are a good, quantifiable, defensible in a large company.

So, get an education that matters. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree from a Tier 1 college, get a Masters from a tier 1 college. If you can’t get a master’s from a tier 1 college, get a part time masters, if you can’t get a master’s degree even then, then get a degree in the US. Its easier to get in US universities and it can really broaden your horizons.

If you can’t solve for education, get a mentor that believes in you and move groups, companies with her so that you can get the opportunities you want.

Sign of success

In career conversations, people do not quote your educational qualifications as a blocking issue. Or, doors that were closed yesterday are open today.

If you do all the above then chances are that you would get more interested in starting your business than becoming a product manager. That is a good thing. If you still want to be a product manager, then know this. It’s a lot of communication and selling your vision internally and monitoring metrics.

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