Mayank Mittal, product expert and consultant at BCG X, discusses his new book, The art of building great products: Combine your intuition with the best proven methodologies to build digital products everyone will love.




Transcript generated by AI

Peter Ho Today, we have Mayank Mittal, product expert and author of The art of building great products: Combine your intuition with the best proven methodologies to build digital products everyone will love.  Mayank is also a consultant at BCG X which is the tech build & design unit of Boston Consulting Group.
Mayank Mittal  Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Peter Ho  Tell me a bit about why you write this book?
Mayank Mittal  I have been within the product management space for about 13 to 14 years.  I have worked with large corporates, the biggest names in the world, such as GE, Accenture, Kraft/Heinz. I’ve also founded 2 startups, and have advised many other startups as well.  There were 2 main problems that I was just seeing with the world around me.  Product management, as a field in itself, has become more into limelight in the recent decades.  As it has come into limelight more, there have been more associated complexities with it, too.  In the past decade, I think the number of certification courses, the number of master classes and things of that nature have just quadrupled exponentially. I mean, there’s just so many of them which in a sense, is fine. But the problem it leads to is that there are these 100 processes, hundreds and thousands of them which have become so adhesive to doing anything. My problem was that building a product is actually not that difficult. You do not need so many jargons, or you do not need so many, so many of these processes.  I wanted to write about a very simple methodology, where you know, if you follow them in a very structured logical approach, it will actually lead to great products.  The other thing that I was thinking about, and this baffles me to this day, even after writing in the book is that nobody really talks about personal intuition.  Personal intuition is such an important component in our everyday lives. If you talk about professional lives: e.g. who do we want to work for? Who do we want to hire? What specific product feature to build? All of these have some sort of logic and a structure around it, but also it definitely has a component of personal intuition.  I wanted to explore this area a little bit further, and I wanted to answer and basically challenge myself as well. Is there a way we can in a scientific and a measurable manner, start capturing our personal intuition within the decision framework that we take on a daily basis. And if yes, can we do that for ourselves and for the entire team? And can we do that for a specific amount of time, and actually see how much our personal intuition increasing?  That was the other reason for me to be exploring this option through a book that I wanted to introduce certain frameworks which are very practical, and you can actually start using your personal intuition in a manner which is super simple to understand, no jargons, and super simple steps to achieve greatness.
Peter Ho  Well, I love jargon. I’m a finance guy, and I was trained in engineering. Engineers and finance guys both love jargons. I’m glad you removed most of them for the readers. And is this written for current product managers or is this for folks who want to get into product management?
Mayank Mittal That definitely is one of the target people that I had in mind. But first and foremost, the people that I wanted to write this for is someone who has an idea and do not know what next steps are. They can have an idea but to structure it in a manner which is a little scientific, a little structure, but also giving more creative options into building a product.  Those are my number one target audience. The other people, set of audiences, that I wanted to target was people who already have taken that step who have built some sort of a product, like it’s a young startup, but they are looking to scale and to what you initially mentioned, within the corporate. People who are either product managers within corporates, or people looking to get into this field.  There’s definitely advice for them as well.
Peter Ho You brought up an interesting point about intuition.  How does that construct relate to building great products? I think I understand following metrics, getting customer feedback. How does intuition feed into the whole framework of building great products? Can you expand a bit more on that?
Mayank Mittal Let me start with a couple of examples. I think this is year 2005/ 6, I’m not too sure about the exact timelines. But Mark Zuckerberg has launched Facebook. It is not profitable yet. I think it’s in the first 2 years  and they get an offer by Yahoo for a 1 billion dollars. And this is like 20 years back. That’s the first time we started to hear the B word. It takes Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel, all of them are in a room, about 10 to 15 min to reject that offer.  They do not go through any financial planning. They did not hire any of the M&A consultants out there to look into this decision framework. They just had a voice to reject a 1 billion dollars. Everyone knows where Facebook is today. So clearly we can, in retrospect, a retrospect vision training, we can say that that was the right decision.  The other example is Apple.  I think this is early 2010, around 2011/12.  This is the time when they were about to launch the first flagship Apple store.  Now, at this point in time, they were kind of dying of different products, like the products were not being considered innovative. The stock was falling, and they wanted to come out with the store, and everyone, literally, every analyst in the world said that you only have 4 product lines, why do you need an entire established store? There was all the scrutiny going on, as there was a lot of pressure.  A month before they are about to open the store, I forget the gentleman’s name, who wanted to start the store. They said that this is just not feeling right.  They do not have any specific reasons. Clearly they do not have any customer reviews, nothing of that sort.  It just did not feel right for them amongst all that pressure, stock valuation and stakeholders.  They decided to literally rebuild the entire apple store.  Again in retrospect, clearly, that was the right decision. You know what apple stores are now. It’s the most profitable venture in the world, the most profitable space. The reason I give you these 2 examples was that in both these examples, they turned out to be the right decision definitely. Personal intuition had a very predominant role to play in both these decision making.  How does personal intuition relate to product management? I think this is a muscle that already plays a part in everyday decision, hiring the right team, building the right product, identifying the right customer. But nobody captures or talks about it. For example, if you’re hiring a member. You would rate them based on their technical competency and their previous experiences and whatnot. But if we can add an element of personal intuition, you know, amongst 5 different candidates, weighted.  This is just an example of how you can use personal intuition. Implementing or introducing personal intuition into your daily frameworks is critical, and that should be explored.
Peter Ho Intuition. That’s interesting. Switching back to product management, what type of skills are required  to become a good, a great product manager.  How do someone go about getting those skill? Reading and talking to other people? What are the ways to acquire those skills, and what are they? What kind of skills are required to be a great product manager.
Mayank Mittal I actually like to call it the 4 pillars of great product management. I’ll get to the skills in a bit. But basically, the way to acquire them is, of course, by reading books. There’s just plethora of online options, speaking to people. But I think the number one thing that I would rate is experience, especially in a field like product management where there’s so much fluidity in terms of people and processes. In terms of the skills and the 4 pillars of great product managers, number one skill, I believe, is under business category.  For most product managers, he or she should have relatable skills within the bracket of business. Now, what do I mean by that?  Very simply, is the product gonna be making money? What are the costs? What’s the revenue? What are the revenue sources, the distribution model?  What is the business about? And a way to estimate and capture it, and control it.  So that’s number one. The second skill, I would say, is the bracket I would categorize under technology.  It’s very important to know that for a product manager, it is not necessary at all to be a hardcore techie. One of the best product managers in the world are not techies at all, which means they cannot write a code to save their lives.  But there should be a basic understanding about what is happening within the tech world.  Given this decade especially, with the rise of personal computing and the Internet, and especially we entering this phase into deep tech, it is very important to understand how do these different pieces work together?  Can I get connected?  What is ChatGPT? Having that understanding about what is happening within the tech world, and how can you actually integrate or leverage? That, I think, is very important.  Third category for me, which is very important, is design.  User design. This is the entire look and feel. What is the customer experience? How does the customer actually interact with that product. And the fourth category is, and I go back to is, and I generally believe it to be as important as one of these 3 categories, personal intuition.  Just one last time about personal intuition is that I think it’s like a muscle for the product manager. It is very important for that person to be right alone.  The only way they can improve the chances of getting right more often than not, is by practicing it and developing this muscle of intuition. This would be my high level, 4 categories/pillars about what constitutes a great product manager.
Peter Ho Interesting. Building the product management muscle is like going to the gym. Practice it and hopefully get it more right over time. Now, in your travel, Myank, what companies, organizations you’ve seen, train or produce some of the best product managers? Apple is an obvious one. Have you seen any companies you admire? They have certain structured approach that put out really good product management folks.
Mayank Mittal I think product management, with the advent of product management getting more steam in the past decade, has become more loosely termed as well. It’s being used very frivolously. First and foremost, the company should be a product company, they should be building products.  And in my book at least, there is a very easy way to identify whether that company is a product company. And that indicator is wheather the company has a CPU or a chief product officer.  If a company today does not have a chief product officer or a guy who is representing product having a seat right at the table, then I would not constitute that as a proper product company. It has to be a product company. Coming to the question about who, I think, are doing great at getting into these skills? It really depends on what is it that you’re trying to get out of these companies.  I always think that there are 2 kind of people. Number one are more enterprise oriented, they need a career path. They need people to be around them and have career progression and challenges within that.  If you are looking for other jobs, or if you’re looking for great product management related jobs, I have to say as cliche as it might be, FANG companies (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) are the most skilled and equipped companies to hone product managers.  Apart from the knowledge that they are able to provide, I think it’s a great sign of recognition. If you have one of these stamps, it just opens up so many doors. If you’re looking for a job, I think FANG companies are gonna be one of the greatest values.  However, the second kind of people are, I think, more entrepreneurial in nature. They’re not necessarily looking for a career progression, and things of that nature. But they generally are just driven by building something.  That’s a different story altogether. If people are trying to learn product management as a skill, or the 4 pillar pillars that I had mentioned earlier, I believe the best way to do that is either by joining a young startup or by starting something on your own.  It can be as simple as having a drop shipping engagement. Creating a complex SaaS based service offering. Starting something on your own or joining a super young startup, the kind of education that that will provide you is unparalleled.
Peter Ho Interesting. Mayank, you have a chapter on consolidate the problems you want to solve. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Mayank Mittal I think that’s one of the most important chapters. A product is only successful when it actually solves a problem.  Peter, a product is successful when it solves the problem.  It doesn’t matter how much marketing costs that it has, or it doesn’t matter how sexy it sounds. It has to solve a problem. And a prime example of that is Alexa. The Amazon Alexa. I’m pretty sure there are very few individuals on earth who have not heard of Alexa. But do you think that’s a successful product?  But actually, I wanted to ask you, do you think it’s a successful product? Amazon, Alexa?
Peter Ho  I think it is.  I think it’s going beyond everyone’s dream in terms of adoption.  I have not used it that much honestly. I’m a little bit, probably, a rare commodity. I have heard a lot of good things about it. So, I think it is a great success.
Mayank Mittal That’s a perception. Amazon does a great job at perception. However, if you look into the books, it’s one of the highest cash burning products which has never made money.  The reason why I bring Alex up is because  I generally don’t think that it solves any problem. Everyone perceives it to be successful and this is exactly right. You know what I was trying to say, but because it doesn’t solve any problem. It has not been able to sustain itself. Actually, it’s been running for over 10 years. Products need to solve a problem.  And hence this chapter consolidating the problems you really want to solve is about identifying the right problems for the right people.  There’s an art of asking the right questions to come to the right problems as well. So, for example, both of us are talking right now. But I cannot just ask you that. Hey, Peter, you know what’s wrong, and it can be such a long answer. This chapter homes into the structure of asking the right questions, and in determining the right problem to solve for the right customer.
Peter Ho That’s interesting.  Figure out what problems a customer has. Sometimes it’s explicit. They probably know the problems they have. Sometimes they might not even know they have a problem of it until they are being interrogated. I think the Alexa example is a good one. I was under the impression they are doing extremely well.  I don’t know enough about it. I have used Amazon products over the years, but Alex is not one of them. I have an Amazon kindle which I love, something that I really think, one of the most underrated product. People do not talk about it. I have heard a lot of Alexa, but I have not used it much at all.  But I think what you have just articulated is an interesting point because it does not solve a problem.  Yeah. That’s a way, for a good product manager to look at it. Figure out if there’s a problem and trying to solve it and make sure you’re really solving a problem that exists.
Mayank Mittal  100%. I do agree to that. It’s very interesting that you mentioned Kindle. Kindle does solve a problem, and hence it is sustaining, and hence it’s profitable. And there you go, even though we don’t think that it’s successful. That’s exactly what I was trying to say.
Peter Ho Yeah, no interesting and maybe switching gear just a bit on the financial aspect of it. We’ve been talking about product management, what make a quick product manager, etc.  Trying to put on my hat as a finance guy. We always are very metrics oriented or financial oriented. What kind of challenges have you seen  product managers in startup or enterprise world in justifying or funding a product?  What problems/challenges/hurdles have you seen? How do you, or what advice do you have for product management to overcome them?
Mayank Mittal Specifically for product managers and startups right? Is your question about funding in general for enterprise?
Peter Ho It’s more general. I mean it doesn’t have to be startups. I’m speaking more probably whether it’s an enterprise or startup. Finance guys always, particularly those in the bigger companies, always look at ROI.  There are times you can’t really see that in in the very beginning, in the conceptual stage. Obviously, it’s a challenge. It is a hurdle that product manager has to overcome. Have you seen a lot of that? And then how do you typically advise people to overcome that kind of hurdle and challenge?
Mayank Mittal Yeah, 100%. About the challenges, let me tackle the first part about funding in general and how can you overcome that? In my view, I think the biggest problem that exists in the world today when it comes to funding either an enterprise or in a startup, is having the right ecosystem around.  So hence in the entire world, there are just a few cities in the US, things like SF, San Francisco is the Holy Grail, Pittsburgh or Boston, or something like that, where the ecosystem is so strong, which is that you go to a coffee shop and you invariably end up meeting people from the tech industry or from the investing world.  It’s just much simpler to engage into that discussion. In these places, the ecosystem has matured where it is okay for you to experiment. It’s okay for you to fail and still you will be recognized and supported.  However, the challenge becomes [harder] when the ecosystem is not as mature, e.g. places outside the US. I’ve tried to raise funds earlier in Dubai. I’ve done that in the US. I can speak about both outside the US or outside one of these super mature ecosystems. People are very risk averse. They cannot think about losing that money.  It is very important for you to be profitable. Apart from the ecosystem, when it comes to the enterprises as well startups, any product manager has to realize the fact that if you want to raise funds, it is a full time job.  It is a full time 9-to-5 job, which is at best about 6 months. Many details you have to get into, for example, the marketing and the messaging right, based on the people that you actually meeting.  You have to meet at least 40 to 50 people to get into the rhythm of connecting with that one person who might actually fund you, to attend seminars and meetups and to explore this entire world of funding altogether. Point being that it is a full time job.  If you are busy raising funds which means that if you’re in a startup especially, you are not working so much on the startup. That’s a big challenge that I’ve typically seen founders from young startups get more pushed into. Consequently, I have seen that the best startups are the ones who are cash strapped.  Just to take some names where you know it was relatable, like Netflix, Airbnb, or Zappos, all bootstraped or do not have any money for the first couple of years. When you don’t have a lot of money, I think that makes you get into this really hustling, creative mode where you are trying to make things work. In that process, you end up learning a lot. And that is what has happened with me as well.  This one startup that I was working with. They wanted to create their own EMS suits. They wanted to get into health care, and the founder spent about 2 million dollars, spent about a year and a half to first get the FDA Approval, then get the suits made. After about a 3-year journey, he just realized that nobody actually wants to buy this product.  When this company had a lot of money, that did not give them that sense of hustling, that did not give them the sense of urgency to get the product right in the market and solving that problem that I’m interested.  Basically the advice that I would summarize all of this into is that get your basics right.  So first be super real and ask yourself this question before venturing into a new thing: What am I doing this for? If it’s for revenue, is it actually gonna be profitable if you know A, B, C and things happen. If you just get these basics right, it doesn’t matter if you have funds or not. I think you should be in a good decent path to build something sustainable.
Peter Ho Yeah, it’s great advice. Mayank, capital is always scarce and I think it’s particularly so this year with interest rate spiking. I think, finance guy like me, we always ask a lot of questions. Okay, show me the ROI but I think your advice is a good one. Make sure you’re solving a real problem for the customer. When you realize that the problem is real and you can articulate a problem, the ROI will follow.  You don’t have to be a super well funded startup to turn into a great product company. Even if you’re bootstrapped and your back is a little bit against the wall, you can still be successful if you can be strategic about it.
Mayank Mittal  Yes.  History has shown that time and time again.
Peter Ho Yep. Switching gear a bit, Mayank, you are also a consultant at BCG X, which is a unit within BCG. Can you tell us about it? I have not heard too much about the unit. What does it do? And what do you do there?
Mayank Mittal Sure, in simplest terms, BCG X is the implementation arm for BCG,  or as we like to call it, the core BCG. Typically a client would come to core BCG, and they would ask them for advice and help about various things, such as increase in revenue, decreasing cost, or strategically where should the company be in the next 10 to 15 years and things of that nature. If within that strategy that BCG builds for them, if there is a build component within the strategy, for example, and I give this example [for BCG X]. One of the largest telecom providers in the world, they wanted to switch gear and they wanted to strategically become a product company.  This was driven by BCG and then at that point in time they had come to BCG X, the team that I am a part of. They had basically then asked BCG X: how do we become a product company.  Then BCG X helps them identify the right opportunities, identifies the right revenue possibilities, and then actually build that venture for them.  My specific role is from a product perspective and I help clients of BCG X develop their product strategy and then actually implement that strategy that we have set as well.  This entails a little bit of competitive analysis, customer research, ethnographic research. Then, having certain sprints about identifying the right opportunities, building them, testing them, and then eventually growing that specific idea for the client.
Peter Ho That’s interesting. I’m familiar with BCG’s work, a well known consulting firm. They along with Bain and Mckinsey, are kind of staples larger companies, particular around the boardrooms, helping them to form strategies. I’m less familiar with the implementation component. It sounded like you, and the folks at BCG X are basically  working alongside with your clients, helping them build out some of the products, not just  showing them a nice 2-by-2, offering them a nice market analysis. You basically work alongside your clients to help them to actually do the work?
Mayank Mittal  Yeah, a 100% do the work, hit the market and actually scale it.
Peter Ho That’s great. This is just about as much time as we have today. But before we go, can you give the listeners some additional books, or resources that you would suggest if they want to be a great product manager?
Mayank Mittal The number one book that I would 100% recommend is this: a book called the Art of Building Great Products by this guy called Mayank Mittal. Sorry that was a joke.  I think if you go back to the basics, the Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I think that catapulted this entire movement behind product management. A definite must read. It’s a good read as well.  Something that I found really interesting was Hooked by Nir EyalSprint is a book by people at Google Ventures. One of the guys who used to work there has a very interesting concept about testing a new idea within a week. I might go to these guys called Strategyn.  They have this framework called as Jobs-to-be done.  They focus a lot on identifying the right pain points, actually more than pain points, the exact jobs that a customer is trying to get done, and they have, like tons and tons of free resources on the websites, too, so definitely have a look into that. Lastly, I would say, is the Blue Ocean Strategy. It’s a classic. It’s been there since about 20 years.  It’s so relevant on how to differentiate yourself in the market.  These are 4 to 5 resources, which are a must, irrespective of product management or not. It makes so much sense if you’re a product manager.
Peter Ho Great thanks.  The book’s name we talked about today is The art of building great products: Combine your intuition with the best proven methodologies to build digital products everyone will love Mayank, where can we find the book?
Mayank Mittal It’s on Amazon. It’s on my website. If somebody would reach out to me, I would be more than happy to give them a free copy as well.
Peter Ho  Great. Thank you so much. It has been a pleasure to talk to you
Mayank Mittal Same here and thank you so much for your time, Peter.







Comments are closed