Spotlight this week is on the importance of product strategy in startups. Many startups, at least in their pre-seed days, don't have a dedicated product person.
I met with Moriya Kassis, Product Management Consultant for startups in the 3D printing, Wearables, and IoT domains and Venture Associate at UpWest Labs to talk about common mistakes she sees in her work with startups, and tips to create a valuable product.
After Doing Something for 2 Years, I Realized it Has a Title: Product Manager
I'm probably the only person that has a 2-meter high Stormtrooper, a gun and over 40 pairs of shoes at home.
I was born in a small city by Haifa, just in the middle between the Technion (Israel's MIT) and Rafael, Advanced Defense System Corporation, which pretty much summarizes my family's expectations for my future. However, my expectations from my life were different and so were my interests. I sang for most of my childhood, practiced debate, was a math geek and loved to create pretty things. I even had a poetry and short stories magazine at the age of 10.
Thinking about my college degree, I debated between two very different options - Jewelry Design or Math. Yep, indeed.
I decided to pursue Jewelry Design and so came to end my career as a numbers lady.
It did not take much for me to understand that I care more about products than about jewelry and so I changed my major.
In the second semester of my first year, one of the teachers said something that literally changed my life. It was during our CAD class, after a student complained about the process of creation using computers. Even now, 8 years later, I can vividly remember the moment, of the teacher looking at the student and saying “If one of you think that there will be any relevance for you in 2011 (my graduation year) without having tech knowledge on your side, you are delusional”.
That was all I needed. It was the moment I understood that the weird combination I had of strong passion for products, appreciation for fine details, love for technology and desire to crack markets before they even exist, made sense.
I spent the 4 years in college specializing in 3D printing and implementation of sensors (fancy words for “building robots and pushing the limits for 3D printers”).
After graduation, I worked as a designer and 3D printing evangelist at leading companies, co-founded a platform for re-creating jewelry based on pictures, got my MBA, left the company I built and was approached to help other companies create products people actually wanted to buy.
Only after doing it for 2 years I found out it my role had a title: Product Manager.
The Perk of Sitting on Both Sides of the Table
Today, I mostly work as a PM consultant to startups in Israel and abroad and every summer when Gil Ben-Artzy, founder partner of UpWest Labs is coming to Israel to search for its next investments, I join him as a Venture Associate.
This very unusual arrangement gives me the opportunity to sit on both sides of the table and grow to be even an even better PM, keeping in mind all the product stakeholders and not only the user.
8 months ago, after a long time of frustration over not having a valuable knowledge sharing platform for product managers in Israel, I took the challenge of creating a real product community in Israel and led the organization of ProductTank Tel Aviv and am the proud founder of Products of Things.
These are two product management communities (with different angles toward software and hardware) holding meetups once a month with two speakers, about 140 attendees in each meetup and a lot of knowledge sharing.
ProductTank Tel Aviv provides an opportunity for Product Managers working for (or wishing to work for) digital/web/mobile companies in Tel Aviv to exchange ideas and experiences about Product Management, Business Modelling, Metrics, User Experience and all the other things that get us excited.
Products of Things is a unique guild for HW and SW product management enthusiasts dealing with the challenges of creating products in the IoT domain and its enablers: robotics, AR/VR, 3D printing, drones and many more. While there are meetups for product managers who work with digital products, no one deals with the unique process of creating the magic behind a product you can grab, feel and hopefully, enjoy.
It's Challenging to Think "Product" When You Have a Close Deadline
I don’t know if this is a project I am most proud of but it is definitely something from the last year that was amazingly challenging and rewarding. A few months ago I had a unique client, a 3D printed drones company in Barcelona (stealth mode) co-founded by 5 engineers (PHD ones, no less) who did not spend a day outside the academic world and funded by the Spanish education system. The result? They did not hone even the basic understanding of value creation and had too much of no-need-for tech.
It was one of the most challenging projects I was involved in. I was not just the consultant - I was the outsider.
After a few days of trying to work together with not much success, I decided on a different approach, explaining my method in the most scientific way possible.
I proved each part of my methodology using analysis of other products and similar markets. I was more quantitative than ever before. And it worked.
I challenged my Product Communication skills to new heights and had to remind myself the reason for best practices and concepts I had as a second nature.
The outcome both on the product and personal levels were amazing. We really got to the beautiful point when everything made sense. This was perhaps my most satisfying feeling as a Product Manager to date.
To all entrepreneurs out there: please, do not confuse Innovation with Value.
Working with startups both as a product manager and as part of UpWest Labs, I see many mistakes startups make that can be differentiated to pre-funding and post-funding.
Top startup mistakes pre-funding:
- Thinking that the cure to all problems is raising money. It is not, it’s just 0.05% of your entrepreneurial challenge
- Confusing inspiring features with “Nice-to-Have” features
- Not having a very clear and specific user in mind
- Having the wrong funnel with the wrong players in mind
Top startup mistakes post-funding:
- Having a celebratory hangover after raising money that lasts more than a day
- Allocating resources for marketing and sales instead of focusing on a product that will sell itself
- Confusing Customer Requirements with Product Requirements
- Confusing Good Product with Good Business Model
Tools I Recommend Startups to Work with for Their Product Work
Sprint Management tools
- My clear winner is your office large whiteboard, not kidding.
It gets your attention better than any app, as it is right in front of you.
- Evernote is great as it lets everyone take notes, track tasks, and save things they find online during sprint time
Task Tracking tools
- The Notepad app, a small sketchbook, a pen and a highlighter
- CodeTree: Adds extra functionality on top of GitHub issues to help with project management.
- Lucidchart- Not fancy yet a very valuable tool for creating flow diagrams
- Invision - Create interactions by adding customizable "hotspots" to your design and share it with your team and clients
Blogs & People I Follow
- Mind the Product: What began as a meetup in 2010 has grown into a global community. This is the organization behind ProductTank. It has a massive video library, for any day you have a product-related dilemma
- Adam Nash, especially his article “Be a great product leader”
- The Silicon Valley Product Group: when the UX of your nightmares meets your dreamy content
Check out Mark Suster's latest thoughts on outsourcing product management in startups:
Connect with Moriya:
LinkedIn, FB, Twitter