Maker vs Doer: How I Returned To Product Management

I, Taras Zherebetskyi, Product Owner at Tradalaxy international marketplace[1], talk about transferring from service business to
work with products and launching a new one.

Why I wanted to work with product

In October 2018, I received an offer to join the marketplace team.

Right away, I knew this was a good fit for me. I have considerable experience in launching various types of marketplaces and it’s something I’ve always found motivating and engaging. It was yet another chance to come back to working with product management, which I kind of missed a little. My latest casein that area was in 2014, when I worked on the implementation of an IoT car platform, including its web service, mobile applications and even hardware. This was my first experience working with a startup.

Before joining Tradalaxy, I held c-level positions in service companies and worked with teams of various specialists: executives, sales managers, designers, developers. My clients were from all over the world and I helped them make their businesses profitable — fintech projects, customer internet, marketplaces etc. Everything would’ve been fine if it wasn’t for one thought — I didn’t belong there.

I got a shot to help with product creation. It was an industry where I had expertise in consulting and developing client projects. I realized that I must had been thinking too loud.

I really wanted to go back to being a creator, a maker again, instead of a doer. Returning to product management seemed like a good option. When the world gives you lemons, find a way to make lemonade.

Beyond that, the transition to working with a product allowed me to move away from the constant need for compromise that’s present in service businesses — time shortage won’t let fully immerse in specifics. Each client’s project that has a point of beginning and end, is an equilateral triangle,as PMIs like to say. The three sides stand for the budget, time and scope of work.

And all of it is reinforced by deadlines. Deadlines are a necessary element in any type of work of course. Projects without deadlines are pointless, as they’ll never actually be accomplished without these necessary constraints. But deadlines also create situations where the, solutions that are offered (whether they relate to design, architecture, or technical issues), are essentially compromises.

Not as exhaustive as you’d like them to be. Being able to trace whether these solutions are helping the business or not is the exception rather than the rule. , Because the natural workflow is more about fulfilling your obligation to the customer to make X in Y time frame within the scope of Z.

Although, in service businesses there is a dedicated team model, which (albeit partly and not always) allows the team to work with a long-term perspective and monitor the effectiveness of the offered solutions. Working with products won me over with the permanent ability to monitor the effectiveness of solutions, which I really appreciate.

I was also attracted by the prospect of working with unit-economy indicators that clients do not disclose in the service business. I had an urge to dive deeper into the needs of end-users, work with their tasks, challenges and expectations, talk to them (literally) and empathize as much as I can to understand what bothers them and why.

I wanted to experiment with the tactics of launching a product, to calculate the point where it breaks even; design earnings models and hypothetical roadmap options.

Even more importantly, this job allowed me to work closely with the team with all its various roles . I honed that skill in my previous management positions and I intended to develop and apply it further. The lion’s share of the work on the product is communication.

It’s the number one priority. Communication demands building and adjusting optimal processes and procedures for different roles in the team. And this is exactly where my past experience as an agent comes in handy.

My role at Tradalaxy involves product development and management. My definition of product manager is similar to the one from Intercom: a combo of user experience (interaction experience in a broad sense), technological solutions, and business, naturally.

A product manager knows what problem the product is designed to solve, for whom, and why. The PM should also understand how to measure performance and where the product will be at in a while. I don’t really agree with the idea of a PM as a mini-CEO. PMs have been overly romanticized in the media and there’s a certain lack of understanding of the responsibility on a CEO’s shoulders, including its financial aspect.

To me a product manager is a key communicator in the internal ( with the team) and external (market and stakeholders) areas. PM is the advocate of what a user wants, he or she bridges these requirements to the team and offers effective yet elegant solutions in return. The PM is a great generalist that combines several competencies at once. His or her skills are united through communication and the ability to deliver the product’s message.

Brand and brand model

I’ve always held the opinion that a good product is one that has a great brand . People are more likely to buy products that they like and understand, or associate with. There is a somewhat controversial view that a product is not as important as a brand is. Therefore, one of my first tasks at Tradalaxy was to develop a brand model.

First comes the understanding of who we are, who our audience is and how we communicate. And only then we develop our visual identity and implement it through specific channels.

The development of the brand model included communication with local businesses to understand their needs and analysis of our competitors, albeit indirect ones. Through this process, we discovered that the Tradalaxy brand is best described as a guide in the waters of international trade, exports, and legislation. Therefore, the North Star that guides seafarers became the company’s main visual symbol and sign.

This brand model proved to be optimal given the business concerns we identified for our target audience. One of the dominant needs of export businesses is to receive complex, and perhaps not overly obvious information about trade, the economy, and related phenomena in simple and easily digestible terms . I like Jeffrey Kluger’s simplexity concept: explaining complex stuff through simple language. The platform’s mission is to make international trade more accessible .

Value of UX for product management

UX tools allow for effective management of the product’s value proposition (its core). In other words, you can use UX to help the end user see the product’s value, understand it, and “hire the product” to accomplish their jobs. And, of course, continue to use it and share it with the world. This ties in to researching your client audience.

Сustomer development, in-depth interviews, focus groups are just some of the methods we use here. A short Zoom call, a brief questionnaire, a friendly meeting over a cup of coffee can also work, though these methods might not look as elegant (or might not have a fancy acronym that others praise over on the internet). I actually really enjoyed doing all that as it gave us a deeper understanding of the needs of our clients. First comes ‘for whom’, and ‘how’ follows next.

The question of “how” relates to product convenience and clarity. A confusing product can never be convenient for regular use. I believe companies that skimp on UX lose to those who prioritize it.

UX is all about the user experience. It’s about dropping an emotional anchor in 0.02 seconds while the user considers your product. Winning the battle for attention, making a product intuitive and engaging is the ambition of UX as a tool. Of course, UX is all about user comfort , bringing in repeated purchases and, ultimately, retention or other AARRRs.

It’s about packing a set of components from the business perspective (drop-down lists, onboarding steps, product page information) into a clear and concise form.

UX must simplify things. Simplicity exists for the sake of the user’s sense of comfort when interacting with your product: its interface, mailing list, text content. In this case, working on the product interface is about providing a welcoming user experience.

Welcoming means safe, predictable, understandable, comforting. This is one of the first rules of service and sales that I taught to the teams I worked with.

In addition to our brand model, our consistent and distinctive identity, our customer development along with market research, we invested heavily in developing a communication strategy to shape our tone of voice. We created portraits of our clients which, in turn, formed the basis for designing the interface and checklists for testing. Then we identified those who already are our clients, but don’t know it just yet.

Also, we assembled a semantic keyword core to build a guide for content, PR and SMM. If not for such a holistic approach, the results would have been abstract rather than pragmatic. The more research you do, the more significant your results will be. Competent research requires dedicated efforts rather than colossal budgets. Chasing trends or spending huge amounts of resources isn’t a necessity.

My responsibilities as a PM are not limited to product, brand and UX. I’m also engaged in designing and implementing optimal workflows.

I believe that management experience is a huge asset in developing the product and building processes in its teams.Fortunately, I have that advantage. Past experience in service businesses has also been extremely useful. A product is about the service side too, about the added value it provides to the user.

Zero value means the product is clearly missing something.I feel comfortable with guiding the product towards a value-oriented state. I have the freedom of making decisions based on my vision that also reflects what users need… and it’s a responsibility I embrace.

Finally, I want to reiterate the importance of investing in research. Without it, you cannot build a product that the clients actually need (which is the main marker of success ). Rely on professionals in solving issues you have no expertise in. It’s okay to not know something. But every pro should know where his/her area of ​​competence ends.

Don’t overstep your zone of expertise with recommendations and decisions, but operate well inside it. That’s the fine line.

[1] Tradalaxy is a B2B marketplace that helps local businesses launch and grow in new markets through the use of Free Trade Agreements. An important point: we are talking specifically about expanding to foreign economies , as many promising and innovative local businesses are “hostages” to their home markets.

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