Monday, March 5, 2012

Product Management: fast wins in internet company

Yesterday I talked about how YouTube is becoming discovery engine for video content.  I thought I would share what I discovered on Product Management topic with you.

Keval Desai gave a talk to UC Berkeley business students last December.  Among other positions he has had product management position at Google and Digg for several years.  It was interesting to hear him talk about his lessons learned from product management experience at successful internet companies.

Here are major points from his talk:

1. Low up-front cost of product release

Internet startups have very low up-front cost to launch products compared to traditional product companies. He compares the Gillette razor product launch cost versus Google search engine, and the difference is startling (Gillette spent about $1 billion to launch three blade razor while Google launched out of Stanford graduate student lab).  I think that there are other factors making even easier to launch product these days, and they are off-the-shelve services and components.  Today's startup can start building on the core competency with free services (Google Docs, Skype, Facebook to collaborate and start working on ideas right away).  There are many open source components available for grab as well.

2. Release and iterate fast

The main reason why internet company product is so much cheaper to launch is because of faster speed to gather user data.  He cites speed at which Google can conduct A-B test to get user feedback online, while Gillette has to set up meetings with users to sit in front of them to collect all the data.  He also talks about how this fast iteration beats internal discussion without user's participation.  He recommends launch now and iterate fast instead of wasting energy talking about the right way.

3. Respect user's time; respond fast

He talks about respecting user's time and one way to do this is to make your product respond fast to user action.

4. Test constantly to fine tune

Because so much data is available from online, product management team should always take advantage of wealth of available data from user feedback.  Being able to release experimental features to 1% of users to do A-B testing, for example, can be used to reduce the product iteration cycle.

5. Hire the right team

In closing he stresses the importance of having the right team.  Each team member you bring on to your startup, you should treat the member as extension of you, someone who can wear multiple hats and do whatever is necessary to get the job done.  It's a tall order, especially when there are other startups competing for the top human resource talents.

Here's the video of his talk.  Start watching from 15 mins into the talk, if you want to jump right into product management discussion.

Let me know if you have other interesting YouTube content on Product Management topic.


  1. Treating each team member as an extension of yourself is an interesting way to set the objective lens for leadership, and it’s interesting to see top businesses in fast moving spaces adopting this role more and more. This swing towards social business empowers employees and in turn they’re responding with positivity and boosting the outputs of their organizations. Thanks for sharing the video (and for the 15 minute tip!).
    Luke W
    Community Manager

  2. Luke W, thank you for your comment.  I think every organization is in search of that positive feedback loop.  Challenge is to balance the short term tactical efforts with longer term strategic initiatives as startups hunt for initial set of customers.