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In Conversation with Mostafa Elhefnawy, a Senior Director of Product at Snapcommerce, he explains how you can maintain a data-driven practice as a Product Manager, and why.
Having spent the last few years working as a Product Manager in different types companies from a start-up to a Saas company before ending up at Snapcommerce, a company that helps low income, low credit score individuals save money and get the best out of a system that’s rigged against them, Mostafa can confidently declare that the work of a Product Manager varies according to the industry.
Snapcommerce started off as a travel product and as they realized that the main value that they were adding to their customers was in helping the customers save money and figure out how they can add more value, they expanded into e-commerce, helping them tackle some of their financial problems by building products that cater specifically to them. As the company morphed from one thing to another, so did the expectations of the Product Manager.
Of course, at the core of it always remains identifying customer needs, addressing their issues and continuously iterating to make your product better but the industry you work in shall also manifest in the exact role you’ll have as a Product Manager.
Currently Mostafa identifies as a data-driven Product Manager. What’s that? Well in his words, a data-driven Product Manager uses principles, experimentation, user research and personal insight to ideate and think big. “Ultimately”, he says, “you allow the customers and data to decide what sticks.”
The end goal of a data-driven Product Manager is to use data to pursue the truth instead of trying to make a product look better through vanity metrics. He finds, as have many other Product Managers that vanity metrics are just that, vanity. As such, they might provide misleading information that creates the impression that a product is making giant strides whereas these strides are not directly tied to your goals.
In executing his role, he no longer looks at just the Product-Market fit but the Product-Market-Channel-Model fit. Translation – building a great product is not enough. It is necessary to be able to marry the product with the right channel of acquisition to be able to grow and in his experience, the faster you get to the truth, the easier you’re going to get the Product-Market-Channel-Model fit.
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Broadly speaking, Mostafa posits that there are three sources of insight – data insight, user insight and strategic insight. In building their fintech product at Snapcommerce, they started off with data insight. Data insight was discovering that 60-70% of their customers made payments using debit cards. That was interesting because it was higher than the average.
Digging in, they sought to get user insight as to why that is. User insight involves things like surveys and questionnaires to figure out why you got a certain result. They chose to conduct a quick survey to understand why people were using debit cards as opposed to credit cards. They received numerous responses.
For example, many people said they had applied for credit cards but were not approved. These responses set more hypotheses for the team: “why can’t they get credit cards? What are their credit scores? What is their income?” and these in turn, validated their hypothesis that a lot of their customers are low income earners and that’s why they could not get credit cards.
Strategic insight relates more to them looking at the business climate before they release their product. In this case, that meant looking at the Fintech trend especially as it related to embedded financial services. Ten years ago, it would have been much more difficult to run a fintech product but because of what exists now, they were able to build that aspect of their company in a shorter time than it might’ve taken.
Mostafa finds data to be infinitely helpful in making quick decisions on how your product can move forward. In their company, one of the co-founders had a hypothesis that customers would like to leave tips at the end of their service. In this case, there were two options.
User research can help you know what people are going to do but usage data gives you way more conviction. (P.S. the fake door feature worked, loads of people did want to tip and now tips account for a good chunk of the company’s revenue)
Key Points for Aspiring Product Managers
In addition to teaching us how data guides you to the truth, Mostafa also shared a few tips that will be helpful to any new or aspiring Product Managers.
To start with, he shared his metrics for measuring how right a company is for him and whether he’ll remain there. He says that first, he thinks about growth and he does this in three different dimensions: a) Skillset growth, b) Career growth and c) Monetary growth. If a company provides room for him to grow in these three areas, then it’s a company that he would be happy working in.
His next metric is Values. He tries to work only at companies whose values are aligned with his. Obviously, it won’t always be a perfect fit but ultimately, if your values aren’t in sync with those of your peers at the company, it will be a tough time there.
For those looking to break into Product Management he suggests a few paths. One is finding an Associate Product Management role. This path has the most intense competition because many people want to get into product management and there just aren’t enough of these roles.
Another option is to join Co.Lab and get experience that improves your chances of getting the role. This is similar to his own trajectory as he actually started his own company before going into Product Management. This was a major talking point during job interviews and he used it as a springboard to be able to land a role in product.
Some have also found it helpful to build domain expertise in a certain area and then transition to be a Product Manager in that specific area. Although thi might be a more long term plan as you want to first gain expertise in that area and then take that experience to begin as a Product Manager.
The most successful method of pivoting to Product Management is, in his opinion, moving from another department into a Product Management role within the same company because you already understand the product, the customers and the company’s initiative.
For his parting words, he recommended Ravi Mehta’s ‘Product Manager Competencies’ for all who need clarification as to the distinguishing factors of Product Managers from Associate Product Managers all the way to Executive Level. Mostafa believes that understanding what is expected of you allows you to produce your best work as a Product Manager.
With Product Management, there’s no limit to what you can be. As you execute the role, simply remember Mostafa’s advice to always err on the side of data and you’ll hardly be disappointed.