Navigating Product Management: An Interview with Senior PM Varshil Patel

 
Source:   Propad

Source: Propad

#ThoughtImports has so far elucidated the functions of product design and of product marketing through interviews with experts in those respective fields. There’s a key element missing that links these two functions: product management.

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To learn more about the function and importance of product management, we spoke with Varshil Patel, a senior product manager at Flatiron Health, a healthcare startup based in NYC. Varshil also has an extensive entrepreneurial background, having worked at a Series B fintech startup and founded his own edtech startup in 2016. In this interview, Varshil clearly explains the difference between product management and product marketing, the secret to strong product management, and how startups should approach this crucial function.


Tell us a little bit about your background

I love helping build and grow something. I worked at Fundera in a PM role for two years and really enjoyed it. I didn’t really know what product management was before I did it. It’s the intersection between solving challenging technical problems as well as customer and business problems. You learn so much from this role. You learn how to be resourceful and to learn through application. After Fundera, I decided to try something new and launched my own company, Strive. I messed a lot of things up but in retrospect it was a lot of fun and the learning experience was invaluable. I’ve been at Flatiron for almost a year now, as a Senior Product Manager and I’m really enjoying my role.

What inspires you?

Whenever I start something new, I always think about two things:

  1. Mission - What impact can I make?

  2. Team - Am I surrounded by people who will help me grow both personally and professionally? Can I build a team that is like a family?

The people I am surrounded by inspire me. I love being excited and energized by them. That vision of family is something that motivates me, that I aspire to build in every team I work with.

The people I am surrounded by inspire me. I love being excited and energized by them. That vision of family is something that motivates me, that I aspire to build in every team I work with.

What is product management? How does it differ from product marketing?

In essence, product management is understanding user needs and collaborating cross-functionally with engineering teams, design teams, etc. with engineers to build & deliver solutions to these needs.

In essence, product management is understanding user needs and collaborating cross-functionally with engineering teams, design teams, etc. with engineers to build & deliver solutions to these needs.

I think of product marketing as bookending product management. On one end, product marketing helps you understand customer insights. On the other, it helps thoughtfully market products &  features that are being shipped.

What is the secret to strong product management?

Strong product management comes down to three things:

  1. Having a lot of empathy. This translates to you understanding the needs of many different stakeholders, especially customers, really well.

  2. Really great communication. Different people have different languages. If you can speak those languages you will be a great PM.

  3. Being an effective problem solver. Critically understanding problems and being a thought partner in developing solutions is key to shipping great products.

How should an early-stage startup approach product management, if at all?

I personally think you shouldn’t be too quick to grow a product team. A PM at an early stage company should be focused entirely on product market fit. That matters most. Once you’ve achieved this, then you can grow the product team and focus on other areas of product management.

What did you learn from starting your own company?

  1. How to be an effective salesman. That is something I think about all the time now.

  2. Starting a company means being very comfortable with ambiguity. This is something that has proved useful not only in the startup world but also in life.

  3. You have to be patient and willing to learn from your mistakes.

What makes a great, effective pitch deck?

The most important part to emphasize is the market. Why is this market important? Within this market what problem are you solving? What product are you building to solve that problem? Why are you uniquely situated to solve that problem?

Answer these questions in around 10 super simple slides. Anything else is extraneous.

What are some pieces of advice you have for entrepreneurs around the world?   

My biggest takeaway from founding a company is that I’m now much less concerned about making mistakes. I used to be really worried about doing things wrong. My velocity of making mistakes has increased, and so has my velocity of learning. People say this all the time but it’s actually really hard to allow yourself to make mistakes. So build that muscle.


The Key Takeaways on Product Management & Starting Up

  1. It’s all about the product-market fit. This seems obvious, and it’s true for every company in the world, no matter the size. Thus it simply makes sense to focus on the product-market fit before anything else. And it only makes sense to emphasize the product-market fit in the pitch deck.

  2. Make mistakes. Everybody says this, but implementation is difficult. We love how Varshil described mistake-making as a muscle that you should build. Only by working at this skill can you take risks, learn, and grow.

The Resources & Services You Need to Get Investor Ready

Need help with understanding your product-market fit or help with creating your pitch deck? Whether you are getting investor-ready or scaling your businesses, The Port is here to provide all the resources and services required for your fundraising, marketing, and scaling needs. To learn how The Port can support your startup marketing efforts, get in touch with our team.

Comments or questions on starting up, Greek tech, or anything else? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a note in the comments below, or shoot us an email: sail@totheport.com.