Building for Next Billion Users - AMA with Shikhar Saxena
Hello folks: after a brief hiatus, we are back with the TPF weekly AMA series! This week, we were glad to welcome Shikhar Saxena, who currently works as a Group PM at Meesho.
Shikhar is a graduate from IIT Guwahati. He has worked at various startups in the past – he was the founder of Zaffingo, and he led product and growth at Printo.in. He finally jumped into social commerce at Meesho -starting as an APM in 2018, to growing a Group PM today. He knows all about building for Bharat i.e. for the 100 millions users in tier 2/tier 3 cities and towns in India.
So, without any further ado, let us jump right into it:
How to get into (and thrive) in Product Management
In every AMA we host, we typically get a good amount of questions about how one can enter Product Management. And so was the case this time as well – a good chunk of questions were geared around entering Product Management, what resources a PM aspirant should follow, and what the right time is to switch into the PM space.
Here is what Shikhar had to say for such questions:
The best path to enter the PM space, according to Shikhar, are side projects. The journey of building side-projects teaches a lot about the work that PMs do, and side-projects look good on the resume as well. If the project has users, even better! Shikhar personally hasn’t read a single PM book – all his learning has come from building products at his startup!
As for the right time to push towards a PM role – Shikhar believes that prioritising growth and learning at an early age is ideal (over salary/other perks). Hence, if you’re not growing at your job – it may be time to make that switch!
Other concerns while switching into PM – like startups vs enterprise, the industry, the product role – are all subjective according to Shikhar. There is no one generic answer – the best way to figure this out is to experiment!
Building for Bharat
It’s no secret that the people living in Tier 1 cities in India experience a quite different life than those in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities/towns. Startups have traditionally focused most of their energy on building products with the Tier 1 user in mind. However, of late, there has been a shift. More and more startups are beginning to build for the Tier 2/Tier 3 user. After all, a good chunk of the 130 crore population of India lives in these cities/towns. And Meesho is at the forefront of this ‘Building for Bharat’ movement.
There were a fair few question in the AMA around this – how do PMs keep their personal biases aside while building for these Tier 2/Tier 3 users? How do PMs go about immersing themselves in their situations to build empathy? And finally, what unique challenges does a PM who is building for such users face?
Here is what Shikhar had to say about this:
Side-stepping Personal Biases: The first step, according to Shikhar, is for the company to foster a culture that pushes employees to constantly interact with users. At Meesho, every employee is expected to call up and speak to users when they join. Core members speak to users all the time. In fact, Shikhar adds, CEO Vidit still gets Whatsapps from users when they face issues, and he responds every time!
Elaborating further on putting aside personal biases, Shikhar believes the best way to do that is to over-communicate with the user. At Meesho, PMs follow the practice of speaking to dozens of users about any new feature – either as user research or as a bare-bones MVP. This, he believes, gets rid of personal biases – it is hard to still hold on to them when 10 different users tell you that you are stupid!
Challenges in building for Tier 2/Tier 3: Shikhar believes that the list is so long that a separate article would be required to go through all of them! But a common thread, he adds, is simplicity. If you are building for Bharat, you must keep things dead simple.
Life as a PM at Meesho
The rest of the questions in the AMA were geared around Shikhar’s personal journey, and his life as PM at Meesho. Some folks were curious about his transition from Printo (his startup) to Meesho. Others were curious about experiments and projects he has led (in particular, experiments that he was convinced would succeed, but didn’t). Finally, there were questions about special AHA moments for users at Meesho that he still cherishes.
Here is what Shikhar had to say about his journey to becoming a PM:
Transition from Printo to Meesho: Shikhar starts off by saying that he loved working at Printo. The work environment was egalitarian and frugal, in fact, he had to wear a uniform to ensure no differentiation between retail employees and the central office at Printo! His role itself was quite broad and full of learning, which primed him well when he made the switch to PM at Meesho. Shikhar remembers not grasping the idea of social commerce while interviewing at Meesho. But he saw that a lot of smart people were working on the problem, and decided to join the rocket ship. A wise choice indeed!
Failed experiments at Meesho: Shikhar says there were a lot of them! A good chunk of these were design related – changes that looked pretty to him, but didn’t work for the Tier 2/Tier 3 user.
Building Trust: Shikhar believes it is key to take the initiative to the users. For instance, Meesho built experiences that allowed housewives to use the platform and gauge it trustworthiness without spending a single rupee! And at the end of the day, he adds, trust is all about keeping the customer happy. And Meesho tries it’s best to ensure that the customers only have good things to share about the product.
The favourite AHA moment for Shikhar is when the users feel they have built an identity and get a sense of financial independence. At lot of Meesho’s users are housewives, and a good chunk of them sell on Meesho to get an ‘identity’ and gain ‘independence’. Sharing an anecdote, he remembers a meeting with a reseller who was able to send her daughter to sports coaching, all thanks to her earnings via Meesho!