Do you fancy a career change and think product management could be for you?
Are you looking for advice on how to make that move and what makes an awesome Product Manager in general?
Are you intrigued by the start-up world but anxious to leave behind the comforts of an established business?
If so, read on! I caught up with Carlos Silva, VP of Product at Jinn - a London based, on-demand delivery platform founded in 2013. With several years at the likes of Accenture, Deloitte and EY under his belt, in 2014, Carlos decided to make a career move out of consulting and into product management. Here, he tells us about his journey.
Hi Carlos! So what made you want to leave consulting and start a career in Product Management?
My interest in products comes from before I even had a career. I started designing web pages and apps during University, and did some freelancing work back then before graduating and creating my own start-up company. Having my own company straight out of Uni was an excellent (if brutal) way to realise that I had much to learn: how to get clients, manage projects, negotiate contracts and prices, identify and hire talent, manage people… amongst many others. I chose to move into consulting to be exposed to a variety of companies, industries and projects that would turn me into a well-rounded professional. It was a good choice in retrospect, I ended up working in businesses ranging from large American and European corporations through small Media companies in London, in a multitude of projects covering everything from software development to digital strategy. This range of experiences taught me a lot - enough to make me confident that at this stage of my career I can have an impact in the real world, and so I decided to return to what I love to do: bringing products to life.
How did you make the move and what advice would you give to somebody considering a change of direction in their career into product management?
Here is some advice based on my own experience:
1. Do your research. My first steps into product management involved a lot of research about what was happening in the community at the time. I signed up for newsletters and events, read blog posts, got in touch with a few friends who in the meantime had moved into product management themselves. These steps were very important to validate my decision and teach me about the trade. By the time I started to look for a PM position, I already knew what aspects of my previous experience were transferrable and what common mistakes I needed to look out for. This knowledge was invaluable to help me through interviews at first, and even more important to make me successful on my first job as a product manager.
2. Use your network. If you are planning to change careers, it is very difficult for an employer to justify getting someone with no previous experience in the role. Except if you have someone you know vouching for you. This is exactly how I managed to get my first product management job: a friend who in the meantime had become a product manager introduced me to his manager, who was hiring. I was able to demonstrate knowledge and passion for product management in my interviews, and was offered a job. So in this case: network + doing your research = results.
3. Have a side project. Still when I was a consultant, I started working on a side project with the intention of bringing a product to life (the Connector App - try it here). It started as a very small idea, and grew into an app being developed and maintained by 5 people across London and Kiev. Through Connector, I ended up learning a lot about product design, analytics, agile practices, the wonders of Slack + Trello + Git, etc etc. No matter how small the project, don’t underestimate what you can learn from it. Many of the principles that I’m putting to practice at Jinn come from what I learned with Connector.
4. Don’t be too ambitious. Really want a consumer-oriented PM role but only have experience with enterprise software? Consider becoming an enterprise-oriented PM first, and move from enterprise to consumer later. Trying to change careers into product management and at the same time change function or industry will make it harder for a hiring manager to find a reason to hire you, and for you to succeed if you do get the job.
What do you think is key to being a successful Product Manager?
These have served me well so far:
1. Own the problem, not the solution. A “product” is, in reality, a solution to a problem. As a PM, you will inevitably be responsible for one or multiple products, which may or may not solve the problem they were designed to solve. Your job as a PM is actually to understand the problem itself, so that you can evolve the solution (the product) such that it solves every aspect of that problem for the majority of your customers. Solutions are temporary, problems last forever.
2. Compromise. You will always have too many features to build, and too little time and / or resources. A good PM is able to find a compromise in scope, quality and effort that produces the most valuable result at that time. Part of the secret is to accept iterations: launch minimal features that allow you to get customer feedback fast, and then iterate / improve based on that feedback.
3. Listen. Really, listen. On the one hand, listening is fundamental for you, as a PM, to get all the information you need to make the right decision. But I believe that listening is even more valuable when the time comes to say “no” to a feature request. As a PM, you will have to do that plenty of times. Whilst people don’t like to hear that features they want will not / cannot be done, most will accept reality if they feel that their opinion and their reasons were heard and understood. So - do take the time to hear people and really understand why they want that feature. And if you end up having to say “no”… at least they will feel respected.
Are you active in the meet-up community, do you recommend any?
Fortunately London has very active Product Management meet-ups. My favourite is ProductTank, organised by the same people who are responsible for the yearly Mind The Product conference (which I highly recommend). Very easy to find in MeetUp.
After a successful few years at Workshare, you’ve recently joined the start-up Jinn as VP of Product. Tell me a little bit about your role and how the business how grown since its inception in 2013?
That’s right. Jinn is a product / service that delivers anything to you in less than 1 hour. It’s quite simple as a concept - you choose what you want delivered via one of our apps, a driver picks up the items you ordered, and delivers it to you. It’s like having a fleet of couriers available from your phone at all times. Most people order food through Jinn, but we are starting to see more purchases of other categories such as groceries, clothing or beauty products. We’ve had a few engagement rings ordered through Jinn as well (for when you get those last-minute wishes to get married). Jinn’s origin is actually very interesting, especially for product managers who stand by lean principles. The concept was born as an idea discussed by our three co-founders. They agreed on the idea on a Thursday, and by that Sunday they had their first order, proving that there was interest in the product. They were able to test the idea that fast because they did not build any technology behind it - they simply created a Facebook page with our promise (“Get anything you want, delivered in minutes”), one person found it and ordered food. Mario (our CEO) drove to the store, purchased the food and delivered it to the customer. From there, through securing investment, building the technology and apps, and focusing on driver operations, Jinn grew to process over 50,000 orders per month.
As the VP of Product, my goal is to ensure the product and all its supporting apps evolve in order to meet our customer’s needs and the business expansion plans. This requires me to understand our customers in detail (the consumers who purchase through us, merchants who sell through us, and drivers who deliver orders from merchants to consumers), what their current experience is, and how it can be improved. It also means evolving the technology used to power our delivery operations such that they becomes more and more efficient, both to improve the service and reduce delivery costs.
What do you enjoy most about your role and working for a start-up and what have been the biggest challenges so far?
Working for Jinn is fantastic. What I like the most is the team; it’s a great group of people to work with. Everyone is passionate about the business and wants to make a difference. The company is quite relaxed as you would expect in a start-up (frequent team events, ping pong table, free breakfast, etc.), but at the same time there is a culture of being results-driven and achieving a lot in a short period of time. The founders of the company themselves make an extraordinarily balanced team: Mario (CEO) with his high level, market-focused thinking yet deep attention to detail (especially when it comes to user experience in any of our apps, or the level of customer service we provide); Leon (COO) with his relentless focus on improving our operations; and Joseba (CTO) with his ability to evolve our technology (and the team that powers it) at an astounding speed. I could go on and on talking about everything I enjoy at Jinn.
The biggest challenge I’m faced with is the need to coordinate several objectives in multiple fronts: hire and shape a high-performing Product team (which is in it’s infancy at the moment), evolve our product and service as fast as possible, and do these while we are experiencing a tremendous rate of growth: our team has pretty much doubled in the last three months, and our number of orders keep growing at about 20-30% per month. It’s a big challenge, but a very exciting one - it makes me eager to come to work every day.
Where do you see Jinn in the next 3-5 years?
I see a great future for Jinn. Our product is unique in that, unlike comparable companies such as Deliveroo or Uber eats, we deliver anything. Even though our approach poses logistical challenges, I believe that it is a more complete service for our customers. In the near future, as we continue to increase the efficiency and quality of our service, we will see Jinn be used more and more to purchase items other than food (it’s a trend that has already started). Our apps will evolve in that direction as well. We will continue to expand internationally; in June we launched in Madrid, and we have aggressive expansion plans for 2016 and 2017 across Europe. In 5 years’ time, we will be able to look back and be proud of the impact we had in the world: all the customers we fed or dressed or found that last-minute engagement ring for; all the merchants we helped increase their sales by giving them a chance to reach customers they previously could not reach; and all the drivers that we helped find a job delivering products purchased through Jinn.
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