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The Surprising Secret to Getting Un-Stuck
Focusing on what matters - and cutting out the noise
I started my first business, BackTracker, back in 2012 whilst travelling down the Brazilian amazon by myself.
2 years later, we had raised investment, had an all-star team of advisors & were following a genuinely agile, lean product process.
However, on that journey, we had made every mistake possible: Decisions driven by ego, focusing on the wrong metrics, not testing out our business model, and more.
Ultimately, BackTracker failed.
In the aftermath, despite the sadness & frustration at failing, I had a realisation:
Understanding what makes some products succeed, & others fail, would be my mission for the next few years.
So I started applying to product roles.
And despite no formal product education (I studied Politics & Spanish at university!), I was surprised that I was getting interviews & - even more surprising - was getting job offers in product.
It came down to that one experience building my own startup - building a real product - and being able to talk about that experience in a compelling way during those interviews.
Fast-forward to 2020, as I started running the first cohort of Prod MBA & I wanted to test a similar hypothesis:
If we get Product Managers to build something close to a full startup - a real product from zero to revenue - will it help them not just become better product leaders, but also increase their chances of getting a great product job?
Very quickly, that hypothesis was proven right.
Because, by getting students to build a real product during our bootcamp, they were building real experience.
And interviewers were super curious about that real, very unique experience — curious enough to interview them.
Then, once in the interview, our students were demonstrating a very mature, strategic approach to whatever case study or product questions were put to them.
In a previous article, we talked about how PMs make they mistake of reading books, watching YouTube videos & networking in the hope that they get a great role, building real experience - cut through all the noise.
Of those looking for new roles, we were seeing 80% find a new role within just 1-2 months of graduating Prod MBA.
Now, I tell this story not to sell Prod MBA & show how amazing it is (although our alumni would say so 😉).
I tell this story to prove a point:
Experience is everything.
Why Almost Everything Is Noise
Experience is what will help you sell yourself (with a compelling profile).
Experience is what will help you also do a good job in the product interview, as well as — most importantly — the job itself.
Everything else is noise.
Those articles you read, YouTube videos you watch, calls with people in your network, the sitting out an awful job for a few more years: All of it is noise. A distraction.
Yesterday, we talked about the need for building experience in order to un-stuck your product career.
But my own example, as well as the story from our Prod MBA graduates, proves that that experience doesn’t necessarily need to come from on-the-job experience at a high-growth startup.
It can come from advising a startup you know, or helping out in other areas of your company.
The most valuable experience, however, can come from building your own product.
Ideally, that product is wildly successful, with impressive metrics for acquisition, for activation, retention and even revenue.
But, interestingly, from our experience speaking to Prod MBA graduates, most interviewers aren’t that bothered by the results!
What do they care about?
The “soft skills”: Resilience, resourcefulness, leadership, boldness, an experimental mindset.
The “hard” skills: Experience with a real product playbook you present clearly & in a compelling way, from how to identify the right problem to solve, through to how to iterate in a truly agile way.
All these things demonstrate the skills they are looking for - & they only come from real experience, developed by doing something difficult like building your own product.
How to Master The 3 Pillars of Product Success
Now gaining that all-important real-world product experience is amplified by following the right frameworks, concepts & principles.
That’s true of working on a new product.
But also true of working on an existing product in an organisation.
Considering that 80% of products never achieve Product-Market Fit (i.e. good enough to see increased user & revenue growth), your role as a Product Manager is generally to audit the foundations these products are built on.
Whether you are building something new, or working on an existing product, that means focusing on the 3 Pillars of Product Success:
Understanding how to differentiate surface-level v root problems
Identifying the right product vision to guide your org
Defining & validating a truly unique, valuable product offering
Sure, things like stakeholder management or how you communicate with your team are super important. But none of them matter if we are building a product our target users won’t use, let alone pay for.
Over the next few days, we’ll delve into each pillar, outlining what it is, why it is essential to product success, and how to actually build each pillar for new & existing products.
We’ll then wrap up this series by teaching you how to re-launch yourself as a true product leader, accelerating your path to product leadership.
It’s gonna be very actionable, so keep an eye out on your inbox — and get ready to put theory into practice,