Silly Sit-Downs with Rohan (SSD-03): An interview with Sneh Pandya, Product Manager at Mantra Labs Global
Hi everyone, hope everyone is wonderful, I, Rohan Singh welcome you all to April month of Silly Sit-Downs(SSD) with Rohan — an interview series with industry professionals irrespective of their genre; the purpose of these interviews is to have insightful conversations, understand people better and get rich perspicuity into career and community.
This month we have Sneh Pandya with us currently working as a Product Manager at Mantra Labs Global. Sneh is a versatile personality, apart from being a Product Leader he has great experience in mentorship, has co-authored two books, speaking at events, conferences, and summits globally about product management, thought leadership, technology, innovation, diversity and inclusion, education, social causes for the last 7+ years, runs a podcast NinjaTalks and actively contributing in community and leading GDG Baroda for over 6 years. As a Product Leader, he assists enterprises in successfully launching and growing their products in the market. More about him and his job in this interview.
I would like to thank Sneh Pandya for taking out time from his schedule for this interview :)
Rohan: Hi Sneh, thanks for doing SSD with Rohan. How are you doing lately?
Sneh: Hi Rohan, thanks for this opportunity, glad to be here on the SSD with Rohan. I’m doing good, how about you?
Rohan: Thanks for your kind words. I’m also doing well. Let’s start this interview with your introduction.
Sneh: I’m Sneh Pandya, a Product Leader, book author, community leader and mentor. I lead Product Management at Mantra Labs Global. I have worked with both MNCs and startups, contributing towards organizational strategies and product management with specialization in startups from zero to one and one to ten. Now I lead products with multi-million monthly active users. Also, I’ve been a community leader at the Google Developers Group here in Baroda, my hometown. I have authored two technical books with Apress publications on Infrastructure-as-Code and Business IoT respectively. I mentor passionate individuals who want to learn and grow in the field of technology, product management and community building.
Rohan: Thanks for the great introduction. Would you like to explain more about product management and your role as a Senior resource?
Sneh: Yeah. Product management is a very interesting field. A lot of people talk about the tech side of things or the management side of things. I look at it from a psychological perspective as well. Products are very emotionally connected with humans, we use products in our everyday lives and how we drive innovation, how we build meaningful solutions, how we solve real-world problems; that is the foundation of products to be built and shipped in my holistic sense. Product Management is where people come together to bring their knowledge, perspectives, and solutions that would help solve problems. So in that sense, product management really is an art of bringing all the things together: technology, management, knowledge, design, psychology, content, marketing, financial growth, the business side of things and so many other elements into it. Shipping something meaningful and fruitful for the users as well as for the business and making the best out of it.
Particularly senior positions may differ since they are subject to specific organizational requirements and hierarchy, but in general, the core responsibility of being a product leader goes like this — everything that is shipped out for the users would be my responsibility — and it’s exciting!
Rohan: That’s a very wide responsibility, you guys have. I always had an impression that Solution Architects had wide responsibilities as they work with diverse departments but now Product Managers have been added to this list; involved in every department of the company, please correct me if I’m wrong.
Sneh: That’s absolutely correct.
Rohan: One confusion, please bear with me if it’s lame; when I was an intern back in India, the company had a designation as Product Owner. Is Product Owners a synonym for Product Managers?
Sneh: You can say all of them are in the same sphere, but the responsibilities might differ based on the kind of complexities or the vastness of the enterprise scale and much of that. So, associate product managers or product management interns on a foundational level, then they are technical as well as non-technical product managers, growth product managers and so on — they are more responsible towards managing and helping teams deliver solutions. Senior product managers associate their actions towards the organization as well as their products. They are the chaining links between the hierarchy of business and CXO levels, as well as the product and technical side of things. Product owners or VP of the Product, those are the decision-makers and the driving forces behind the product. In a holistic sense, people at this level hold not only more responsibility, but a diverse experience, and that’s something really beautiful that matters in the sense of product, not just technological knowledge. The experience that they bring in, ideally ranging from a couple of decades to anything beyond that makes a remarkable difference.
Rohan: Being a product manager, you’ve got a lot of responsibility and tasks and you actually design the product from scratch and everything. My question is while designing a product or a business solution; how do you proceed or make decisions? Is it like going with the flow or do you have some hardcore strategy?
Sneh: There are definitely a lot of things in place and that’s why we use product strategies and product vision. We identify the potential problems in the place, what kind of solutions need to be built and then how we bridge the gap b/w the problem and the solution with the procedural step — identifying what needs to be built, it is the product roadmap. We would also take user interviews, understand the audience’s needs, and how we can solve that through tech, data insights, and product sense. How important are they, what kind of user experience would we give, and what are the complexities? What is the scale? What revenue generation models are going to help? And so on… Then actually building the products, shipping them, and providing upgrades and maintenance. This cycle goes on. It is a rail of thoughts, and that’s what something is a prime responsibility as well, at least product managers and beyond that, which they heavily focus upon.
Rohan: So there is no go-with-the-flow. Everything that you do being a product manager or in a project management department is properly strategized and documented, right?
Sneh: Absolutely! And while there are a lot of known elements or figureout-able elements which we bring in from the experience, there are still human elements to what a user would eventually need, how we could improve a certain product or a feature because ultimately the products are gonna be useful and revenue-generating only if people are using it, right? So the essence of it is on a very human level. Well, the processes are in place for the organizations to succeed at shifting products consecutively on a successful rate, still, a lot of new venturing insights are constantly flowing. It’s not just limited to one area, but it’s a sphere is what I called with endless possibilities to it.
Rohan: How do you define whether the product is a success or a failure after shipping it? Are there any fixed KPIs or is it like how rapidly the product is being accepted and utilized by users?
Sneh: Particularly the products that I have worked for have been well beyond just the basic checks and just shipping them for the sake — it doesn’t work like that. When we ship a product or a feature, they’re extremely robust and they have KPIs to be met; we are sure that when it goes out it does not only include testing but also includes validation in the early stages like beta testing, user interviews, customer validation from specific user groups, internal teams thoughts and so many practices that we put into place. So, when a feature goes out in a product sense, it is very focused on catering value in product-led growth or community-led growth.
Rohan: There is a website by Google — Killed By Google where all the products that have been shut down by Google are listed. Recently they shut down Google IoT Core offered in GCP after 5 years. What could be the reason(s)? Is it because more nominal acceptance by enterprise customers correspondingly results in lesser revenue?
Sneh: Talking about enterprises like Google, I believe the focus is also on revenue but a good part of it also comes from the relevance for the users because when we ship a product we collect a lot of feedback — analytics, understanding, and usability. We constantly gather important information and insights on how relevant the product is, so there can be times when for certain period of time that specific product or a future could be very relevant to audiences and when the times evolve, there could be a situation where that product would really be irrelevant or something derivative of that could be more relevant. So it goes hand-in-hand, you have to stay alive[relevant] in the game. Products like these[wrt Google products] and even the graveyard of Google, there have been a lot of products which were relevant in the past at that specific time but if you have noticed, there are still a lot of products which are derived from the previous products and that knowledge is still there, they’ve learned the game, they’ve brought it inside and they’ve evolved or picked up the pieces which are important, plugged into the newer products and shipped it as a package, to the new age users. That’s how the product game evolves, and yet it is just one of the many factors at play.
Rohan: Yeah, I agree with your point about the derivative products or past relevant products which they have used to launch new products; more feature-packed by setting it as the base. Because in the end, it’s all about the evolution and enhancement of the product which is necessary. If you time travel in 2017, there were no products like ChatGPT or TikTok etc. Things have changed.
Sneh: It has been evolving rapidly. As we speak, the latest news today says that ChatGPT also has plugins introduced, which is fantastic!
Rohan: And Google has launched Bard in the USA and UK right now. Although it’s not as mature as ChatGPT.
Rohan: I’ve seen many products whose acceptance ratio on the initial days was amazing but later diminished. What would be your strategy as a product manager if something similar happened with one of your critical or high-hoped products?
Sneh: One of the many important things is understanding the user’s nerves. Let’s take an example of Pinterest, in the past, it was a grand success and somewhere still it is. But how has the relevance changed with its competitors’ social media platforms or other platforms? Pinterest seems to have been able to find more alternatives to stay in the game by providing Business Accounts to grow your presence and more ways to use the platform. As time evolves, as users grow, your focus needs to be realigned. You not only have to cater for the value that it was originally focused upon but also bring in the innovation to be able to stay relevant. For example, one of the most popular case studies can be Apple’s iPhone. Initially, when it was launched, it could do a few things. Now, when you compare the initial version and the latest iPhone, there has been a clear evolution in sight, also the removals of features or elements or hardware, as well as additions and that’s the way to stay in the game. You need to know when to pivot, when to go tangential, when to improve the existing features and what’s new to introduce because no one’s stopping you to do it you’ve to identify what the users would love.
There are two kinds of users , first is where the focus is on the essential features — “This is the feature I would love to have in a product or service or app.” Second, the unconscious bias — there are a lot of opportunities when you can innovate or bring in new features or products where the users are not aware that something like this could happen and when you bring it to them, that’s when they realize: “Okay, I needed this and now I love this.” For example ChatGPT, people didn’t realize it earlier, but now it’s helping them to do tasks with more ease.
Rohan: You mean that innovation in a product as time moves ahead, more like product innovation or feature discovery is quite important. You know, I had heard this word — product discovery at the summit back in India. Can you put some light on that? What exactly is this?
Sneh: Yeah, think of yourself who is going to take decisions on behalf of a user. So being in the shoes of users, you have to understand what your users would love to consume or the product that you’re building and bringing in that knowledge and developing the product; discovering not only what features or what kind of elements your product would require but also understanding — today you’re building a product, so how does the growth look like in the future, how would you evolve this product, how would you take this idea forward. Identifying those elements and also the discovery part of it, who are the competitors, where the markets are going, what transitions are happening and so on. The knowledge expands as the experience grows. There are more insights that come and then it also focuses on which ones you utilize to make decisions for the products. So it’s more focused on those things.
Rohan: I guess it is a complex and challenging step that’s what I intercepted, please correct me if I’m wrong.
Sneh: It may not sound as straightforward but let me simplify this. For example, identifying a feature or a product that the first 100 people want, maybe that’s what 100 people want, but maybe not 10,000 or a million — their demands and their reality may be completely different from the initial 100. That is something you have to stay ahead of. That’s where we also bring the product strategies in place. That’s what I am skilled at, for both organizations and products. Product strategies focus upon not only delivering what’s next, but what’s ahead of it. There are processes of identifying the current market, what your organization or what your product can cater to and how you align your talents or how you align your team to bridge the gap between the both and deliver the best value. So product discovery becomes a part of it where you identify these elements and then build up a strategy that this is the way to go or when you introduce a completely new product in a market, this is how we are gonna win, or if there’s already a competitor and we want to go ahead of them. This is what will bring the customers to our platform or that’s where the strategies come into the picture.
Rohan: How do you see your competitors? For example, there is a new startup not that new but it’s still considered a startup unsure about the correct terminology for such organizations and they are really doing good in the market. Do you research them, take them as a challenge, aspire to work smarter/harder to beat them and maintain your market capture?
Sneh: There are many different things that play a role — one is, the corporations, the giants where someone released a new product and so that their competitor is also releasing something similar. That happens more or less with the large enterprise establishments with the affordability of resources and execution; about the mid-level or startups, they are focussed more on — what would we want to do? So it’s not that, it’s not a competition only — it is definitely a competition but how I see ourselves positioned is most importantly, we not only research our competitors we also research and understand who are the key and good players in the other markets where we are not getting. That gives an understanding of the game and an idea of how they play very well, how they are positioning themselves ahead of others, what is there for us to learn, and what and how we can derive. All those factors go into your strategy, execution, preparing or priming for your product and whatever. So, yes a lot of very good sense is necessary I would say and once you understand what’s going on in the market, it’s not like I will beat you or I want to make more money out of it, you cannot make them bankrupt or throw them out of business in a day. It’s an evolving process, so you’re not actually competing with themselves, you’re competing with yourselves, that’s what I feel. Your users are gonna stay with you, for example, users are using Snapchat and Instagram both, and none of either is going out of business. But both are going to stay in the game through their unique USPs, right? That’s what is more important than being competitive.
Rohan: I think that’s important, rather than focussing primarily on how to beat your competition, evolve yourself, raise the bar or standard high.
Sneh: It’s awesome. Yeah, that’s the way to grow.
Rohan: Let’s talk about your book. I saw that you have co-authored two books. Do you want to talk about it?
Sneh: Oh sure, I’d love to! I always had a dream to pen down my knowledge and share it with the world, and with my co-author Riya Guha Thakurta, I decided to compile the knowledge in the form of books, a podcast, and more. It is indeed a dream come true!
I’ve co-authored the first book on Infrastructure-as-Code which focuses on the adoption and advancements of DevOps, as a lot of organizations are positively understanding that it is essential to invest in DevOps and automation as the organizations need to build more robust and reliable sources, products, services and solutions. There was an era where the teams had to manage the servers manually on physical infrastructure. Now it is even possible to entirely develop your own infrastructure in an automated manner! Now if, at least the technology team only focuses upon infrastructure, it would be too much for them to handle, they may not be able to build and deliver the solutions. So infrastructure-as-Code is going to help them automate and forget about those complex processes, problems, security, and much more.
The last few chapters focus on the technical implementation of how a large-scale organization or enterprise can prepare, migrate, manage and automate their infrastructure, from being a non-DevOps to a DevOps-first organization.
The other book I co-authored focuses on industrial IoT and IoT Business. We usually believe that we are just entering the era of connected digital devices in the world of IoT, but it’s not completely true. We are in a network of interconnected devices these days more than we realize so there are endless opportunities considering the evolution of digital devices. For organizations who want to venture into these domains and areas; the book focuses upon the technical insights as well as the proof of work from various domains including defence, aerospace, security and more. Each chapter of that gives insight into how industrial IoT or even consumer IoT can help build a business. What problems can be solved? How can IoT be helpful in solving problems in a specific domain? What kind of challenges can be overcome and how can you develop them? and so on.
Rohan: I’m really enjoying this conversation with you but since we have time constraints perhaps we will continue this insightful conversation next time.
Sneh: Sure, I am definitely interested to connect with you again to talk more about Product Management. It was a productive conversation and I loved talking with you Rohan!
Rohan: Thank you Sneh! Really appreciate your words. Thanks again for doing this interview. Have a nice day ahead.
Sneh: Thank you Rohan and nice day you too. Bye!