Product management is empirical, verifiable by observation, experience, and practice. I’m amazed at how calculated and theoretical some make it be. Put yourself into the right critical thinking mindset, do some customer research, think through your market and validate if there is a product opportunity. In a great market, your product doesn’t need to be the best; it just has to basically work. In a terrible market, you can have the best product in the world and it won’t matter . If there’s no customer need, everything else falls apart . Move on! Find another market.
Just another day in Vietnam. No big deal.
I’ll draw a comparison to photo-journalism. Eddie Adams’s 1969 prize-winning photo
shows a chief of the South Vietnamese police, executing a Vietcong prisoner, in Saigon. Some might say he was in the right place at the right time with a camera. In reality, his deep knowledge of the craft, the mindset of continual preparation, experience, and practice lead him to the photo. When opportunity struck he nailed the subject, composition, and light. It was what’s known as a "reflex" picture; taken when there isn’t time to think, when some movement or sound screams to the brain, "Push the shutter now!"
The craft of photo-journalism can be summed up to always being in the lookout for opportunities. A strongly developed drive and passion for the work that makes you take risks while not knowing your own fate. You need to know your tools well and how to use them to a high level of expertise making sure your skills are ready for those times when the opportunity does come.
Just another product opportunity
When you come across potential product opportunities, hedge your bets by picking the right one. You can change everything in your startup except the market. So spend a lot of time up front to make sure you’ve thought through your market. You have to do customer research. Identify the struggling moments your customers are experiencing and build around that. Get to know the "why" more than the "what". Be skeptical. Don’t take input at face value. Ask critical questions. Be clear on the purpose of your product. Customers take life as it comes. And when faced with a task that needs doing, they will come to your product.
Fundamentally it’s easier to make things people want than it is to make people want things. So always be on the lookout for new opportunities. Harness a drive and passion for understanding the market, it’ll make you take risks. Most importantly master your approach, know customer research tools and how to use them to a high level of expertise. Nothing else will substitute for that.
Product work is intense and very rewarding but sometimes very dangerous (career-wise). Be well informed about your customers and the market, and you cannot miss being a good product manager.
I dedicate this post to former AP photographer and uncle Harry Koundakjian. He photographed news events throughout the Middle East and Europe, including war in Lebanon. He believed that one of the most exciting and rewarding careers in the world is that of a photo-journalist. He told me that to get anywhere in my career I needed talent, to develop a high level of expertise, and of course, luck and lots of it. It helps if you know a few languages too. A force of nature, always in a good spirit…we loved Harry!