It’s been a few months since I joined TeamApt after my five year stint on the Quickteller team at Interswitch. I have the opportunity or responsibility to build a product team at TeamApt where as PMs our major responsibility is to ensure that “THE RIGHT THING” is built. Building the right thing in itself is not impossible but it is no mean feat. Since TeamApt is a lean team with a high demand on performance it is expected that each member of the team be a top performer.
TeamApt as a startup based in Nigeria having run for two years without any investor funds has been quite successful. As a result we have about five products, some of which have been completely built with others at various stages of development, which now require laser sharp focus. There is a product at the moment that requires about four PMs alone. And it is reasonable that they be junior to intermediate PMs. As a result, we have been scouting. Our HR person has been looking for the right fit and there seems to be none. Having interviewed several potential PMs, I was tempted that we convert a few of our engineers into PMs largely because it looks as though the potential hires don’t get it. In my opinion, here are few things I look out for in a potential hire in no particular order
- Strategic Thinking: I believe product management is a strategic function. Decisions made as well as actions taken by a product manager could make or mar an entire business line. This is even more important for a startup where survival depends on it. In a bid to probe this quality, I tend to ask questions like “We have a Two Billion Naira target for the year for product X. We currently have 80% market share with the product in the insurance industry. How do we achieve our goal?”. Sadly, most PMs don’t make it to this point. Of course a smart guy could say try market expansion or market penetration strategies. However, my concern is how these theories in a strategy textbook applies to our reality.
- Domain knowledge: You cannot manage what you do not know. Can one really be a manager for product you have no knowledge of? In a way yes. I mean yes on paper or title but in reality an intern. Knowledge is key in making the right decisions. This domain knowledge is gotten largely through interactions with players in the industry and sometimes through study. I guess this explains why employers typically ask for some years of experience. However, experience doesn’t always guarantee relevant domain knowledge. Also, what is learned in the process of interaction is largely not documented on books, especially in this part of the world, or cannot be taught in a classroom. In addition, prior technical knowledge can be a plus and should be emphasized based on context. For example, hiring a PM for an Artificial Intelligence driven module in an app should require relevant technical experience.
- A Sense of Ownership: This is non-negotiable. Ownership is what makes the PM roll up his sleeves and go the extra mile. He typically would transit from playing the role of a janitor to that of the CEO. It would make him prepare slides that he typically should not prepare, read or draft legal contracts, sit on an interview with engineers, headhunt a sales guy if need be. This is all to ensure that the product he manages is a success. The difference between a Product Manager and Project Manager that one is a parent the other is a nanny… I guess you already know the nanny.
- Ability to Execute: Execution is foundational. I typically lookout for scenarios where a potential hire gets things done against all odds. Academic track record is a starting point for me but it can also be a false start. So, I ask real life questions like “why did you study this course?” or “why did you take the last job?”. True execution is driven by a purpose no matter how insignificant the purpose is. If the potential hire let me see reasons why his path through life and career seem like a straight line even I know it never is, then I am convinced. I then ask someone that knows someone that knows him about his ability to execute.
- Attention to Detail: Much is at stake in the fintech industry. Excellence is kin to diligence. I see diligence as being thorough enough to do all that is required and more. Attention to detail is why some products fail or succeed. Being detailed on the UX design, the spreadsheets, product roadmap, reading documents as well as approach to work is really important to me. Leading a PM team would not permit me to dive in as much as I would love to on a particular product line or subset so I need someone to make up for me there.
In reality, there’s a lot more to look out for in hiring a product manager than I can possibly exhaust at this time. It would be nice to know what you are looking out for in a product manager…