Shaping a Global Product Career - AMA with Chitrak
Alright! Continuing with our series of blogs where we cover the AMAs we hold over on our Slack channel. In case you missed it we regularly host Product Managers and talk about everything #product.
We are excited to have hosted Chitrak Gangrade, Senior Product Manager, Booking.com as our guest. He shared his Learnings from building global products and finding opportunities outside of India. He has been working as a PM for 6+ years and having built his own startup, to working with large products like Flipkart Lite and Booking.com. Apart from building products, he loves to travel and backpack. From scuba diving with sharks, to hiking Everest base camp to camping underneath the stars in Siberia, he loves to share travel stories. His other passions also include personal finance and investing.
Here are some key takeaways:
How to break into Product in EU from India?
There's no playbook. For me it was pure hustle. Identify the companies you want to go for, identify the type of roles you would be a fit for and then go crazy. In my experience, the difficult part is getting an interview. After that cracking the interview is as hard as cracking an interview in India. I did everything I could to reach out to the right guy.
- Identify who the hiring manager is and surpass HR. HRs generally get bogged down in the visa process but if the hiring manager likes you, he'll get you in.
- Ping people on LinkedIn and Twitter. People respond and you'd be surprised how many opportunities come this way.
- I even cold emailed people and got a lot of positive responses (email@example.com works all the time)
In the end, it needs to work out once. If the probability is 0.1%, just try 1000 times.
Wouldn't this be different in the current circumstance? At the moment I am in Switzerland and looking forward to internships in EU. Toughest part is getting work visa sponsorship. Could you share your insights on this if possible?
Yeah visa issues can be difficult. I had my share of rejections in the end because of this. But that's a constraint that you can't do much about.
Your only bet is finding opportunities where you can go. One thing I used to do was send blogs which outlines how it is legal for me to get a sponsorship and share it with the Hiring manager. Sometimes HRs can be lazy and outright reject you because they don't want to put in the work. By giving the Hiring manager some ammunition, you can increase your chances.
What are some of the resources for people looking to break into Product Management?
Tips for people looking to get into PM:
Broad level reading
- Books - Top level reading to get you excited about this industry (eg. Zero to One, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, Chaos Monkeys).
- Books to build skills - Hooked, Design of Everyday Things, Traction, Shape Up (My absolute favorite) sprint.
- Newsletter - Lenny Rachitsky, Ben Thompson, Benedict Evans, First round review, PMHQ, (Follow these and read whatever they share)
- Blogs to read - Paul Graham, How to start a startup - by YC (YouTube), Ben Horowitz, Andrew Chen, growthhackers.com etc. (Just keep reading whatever you can), Eugene Wei and Keith Rabois.
- Follow these guys on Twitter and slowly you will get introduced to more folks like them.
Tools to master
- SQL, Excel, Sketch, Figma
- If you can some data science project
- If you are good at it, build some projects that can help you with coding
Topics to read about
- PM Fit, Agile methodology, Lean startup, MVP, Experimentation, etc.
A question on Side projects: How do you manage? What are you currently working on? What motivates you? How do you go about getting started?
Side projects are a part and parcel of anyone working in Tech. If you want to be a Product manager, you should like building products.
Most PMs are not building products. They are improving parts of an existing product. While working in a company, it's really hard to get your hands on a complete product.
Working on a product end to end exposes you to areas outside of Product - Marketing, Sales, M&A, Business, Data, Analytics, Hiring etc. Understanding how all these work will make you 10x better at your day job.
My motivation for doing Side projects: Trying to build something that a few people like and use. I don't care if it makes money or scales or grows. Just the pure joy of knowing what you created is used by other people.
And mind you, it is incredibly hard. Building something that even 10 people love is much harder than 'improving conversion by 20%' for an existing product.
What are some of the ways you have published your case studies/ side projects?
There are multiple ways to do this. Whatever connects with your audience. Here are some ways I have seen people do it :
- Publish product breakdowns on Medium
- Strategy/product analysis as tweetstorms
- Posting tidbits on Instagram
- Recreating concepts/futuristic projects and publishing them online
- Participating in hackathons and then publishing those products on Product Hunt etc.
Whatever you think is the best way to showcase as well as publish your analysis/skills.
How did you get ideas for your side projects? Did you code them yourself?
Ideas are all around you. Also, not all ideas need to involve coding.
Create an excel sheet. Create a WhatsApp group. There are infinite no code tools available. Create a course that helps people.
Create something that people find useful. Slowly you will pick up skills that will help you create even complex products.
How different the audience is in Europe compared to India for Booking.com?
Different in many ways and similar in many ways.
While Booking.com is a global product, so we build not just for Europe but the entire world. Micro indicators can vary a lot. For eg.
- EU is more desktop first vs India is mobile first
- Most Indian apps work in English where as translations are very important for EU.
However, at the core of it user psychology, pricing, convenience, status signaling etc. which are at the core of Product management stay similar across geographies (which is what allows similar products like fb, google, booking to scale across the world)
Is MBA mandatory to switch from technical(coding) profile to product management profile. If not for the initial stages, would MBA be helpful at some later time?Compulsory? - No
Helpful? - Maybe
You definitely don't need to have an MBA. What you need to have are:
- Skills a PM needs
- Way to show your recruiter that you have those skills.
Both these things you can achieve without an MBA. Internet is your friend. And being on this group already shows your intent to learn.
Would highly recommend doing case studies, publishing them, building side projects, working with startups for free, taking up extra initiatives at work to signal to your potential recruiter that you have the skills needed to be a PM.
What are your thoughts on doing an MBA?
Don't do one just for the sake of it. You don't need an MBA to be a good PM. However, the network, leanings and skills you might learn in an MBA can definitely be useful in your career.
So think deeply about what value an MBA can add to your career and if its worth the time, money and energy for you to get one.
Personally for me, I believed that I already had access to the network and opportunities using the leverage of internet. I also felt that I learning on the job is much more useful and valued than anything I can learn in a class. And hence I didn't do an MBA. and till date, I haven't felt, even for a single instance, that if I had an MBA my performance would have been better.
So In summary: There's nothing wrong with doing an MBA. But be very clear as to what you are looking to gain from it and what value it adds for you. If you are clear about that, you will be able to make the most of your 2 years at B school :)
How to switch from being a mobile app developer to a role of Product Manager? Is there any bridge course that one needs to do?
To be able to switch, you need two things:
- Skills that a PM needs to have
- Signals that tell the recruiter that you have those skills
Skills can be learnt by:
- Doing an MBA
- Doing online courses
- Reading books, blogs and participating in online forums
- Building a product
In my opinion, go and build a product, however small. And when you get stuck ask for help, google for answers. Slowly you will build your intuition as well as knowledge.
You can also signal to the recruiters that you have the necessary skillsets by:
- Building a product
- Doing case studies
- Volunteering with startups
- Participating in competitions
We see that you rose from an engineer to product manager pretty early. What according to you are the key skills you learnt along the way - keeping aside the PM jargons?
In the end I believe it all boils down to curiosity and willingness to learn.
Are you someone who is always tinkering with things? and always picking new things to learn? Then you will be fine as a PM.
The job of a PM requires you to be put in testing and new territories with little to no knowledge of the industry. You need to have the skill to go figure it out and deliver impact. Curiosity will help you stay afloat and is the most important skill in my opinion.
Is it mandatory to have Tech skill for PM?
A PM should be able to converse, brainstorm and communicate with the team freely. You don't need to know how to code, but you should be comfortable holding a conversation with your team and in fact be able to unblock them as well as give ideas from an outside perspective to be a good PM.
How much SQL and Analytics or coding knowledge does a PM/APM needs to know according to industry standards? I would like to know till what extent is good enough before breaking into Product management.
To answer this question, you need to understand what the role of a PM is and what is the expectations from them.
In my opinion, a PM (Especially early stage) should be able to do their own analysis. Hence, its important that they can run queries, play with analytics and validate their own hypothesis. The amount of SQL which allows you to validate your own hypothesis most of the time is the right amount of SQL to learn.
Same goes for tech. A PM should be able to converse, brainstorm and communicate with the team freely. You don't need to know how to code, but you should be comfortable holding a conversation with your team and in fact be able to unblock them as well as give ideas from an outside perspective to be a good PM.
How do you handle inconclusive A/B test results ? Suppose you rolled out a new feature and A= 500 conversions and B= 520 conversions. (Test was done on 10k users) Would you decide to roll out the feature or roll back ? Or should we conduct another test or completely give up on this new feature. Till when should we keep conducting tests and when should we stop and give up on implementing the new feature?
Ideally an inconclusive A/B test means well inconclusive. You can't act on it. It has not created the desired impact.
The ideal approach is to either sharpen my solution or change the staging/measurement in a way that I can achieve significance. Getting a significant, conclusive result is the most accurate way of knowing what you thought was working or not.
However, in situations where you don't have enough traffic or can't run your experiments long enough due to business constraints, you should look for other signals that might point you towards what the impact is.
Look at user feedback, qualitative research and also see if it aligns with the impact your leadership wants to achieve. You can take a calculated call at the time, however you should be very careful making such decisions.
Any tips for someone just entering into a PM role - what are the first few things to do as you start your role? Do PMs usually get stereotyped into an industry as they progress - FinTech/E-commerce etc.?
If you are very new to PM:
- Ship ship ship. Launch things. Move into a very fast moving team and launch. The high of PM is launching. If you don't enjoy that you are in the wrong job
- Get hands on and bring something to the table. Design- UX, data, analytics, tech. Tinker and code things. Try to become go to person for things.
- In my time I knew everything about my team (from the API payloads to our marketing plan) and my manager was involved only for conflicts or strategy.
- Get your hands dirty with analytics. You should know so much about your product metrics that your manager should be able to take you to a room and you can answer any question a senior leader might have, without opening your laptop. All numbers should be on your tips.
If you have some experience:
- Launch end to end products, even if small
- Learn strategy, marketing , sales, CS, Analytics, team building etc. These are leadership qualities that will be way more helpful to you.
Could you share your Product Management journey?
I got into PM by accident. While in college, my ambition was to get a Harvard MBA and hence my dream job was - a consultant in McKinsey and then go work for Sequoia. But while in college, I did a startup and unknowingly acted as the PM of my startup. While the startup didn't work out, Housing.com saw my work as a PM and hired me as an APM. And I couldn't believe that I am being paid to do something I love so much.
While Housing was building products using pure hustle and smart work, I wanted to get more structure learning around what really Product management is. Which led me to Flipkart where I had great mentors and worked on amazing products like heading the mobile website with millions of users or growth hacking the Play Store ranking from 3.9 to 4.9.
But after an incredible stint at Flipkart, It was time for me to move on. I took a break of 4 months to travel across Russia, India and SEA and then eventually ended up in Amsterdam with Booking.com
At Booking.com I worked on relaunching their entire app in react native to leading completely new business verticals. This exposed me to areas outside of Product and helped me understand what goes into building a company. Product is just a tiny part of the whole equation. It still feels like Day 1 and the more I grow, the more I realize how little I know.
Why did you move to Europe?
I love to travel and have as many experiences as possible. While I loved absolutely everything about my job at Flipkart, I was at a point where I had to decide if I wanted to build my career in India or outside. Is being stuck near Marathalli flyover for 2 hours daily something I wanted to put up for life? Do I want to only build products for the Indian market or expand to building products that someone in Madagascar can also use?
I wanted to experience this for myself and started applying at companies exclusively outside of India. I received offers from companies like Microsoft, Grab, Carousell etc. and eventually picked up Booking.com as my place of work.
While you had mentioned the different companies you had applied to before choosing Booking.com - how did you research/ identify these companies given you were working from India? How did you get to know the skills expectation of the companies/culture of the companies?
There are many ways to identify companies. First look at the products you use and would like to work at! That's always important.
Reading about the startup ecosystem. Follow what companies are coming up, raising funds etc. on TechCrunch. Look around in your network. There are always people willing to refer you in.
How was your application process - did you send out resumes or go beyond and approached any team members from these companies while you applied?
Just sending resumes doesn't generally work out. You need to get their attention. For me, it worked out best when I reached out personally to the hiring managers and provided value (in terms of product critique or analysis) in advance. Everyone likes to see enthusiasm and hunger. If you can showcase that, you are already half way there.
When applying to firms in Europe, what resume format did you follow and did you limit it to one page?
Yes. Also in my emails, I had a 4 point summary of my entire career. In most cases that summary was more than enough.
You should be able to sell your most unique skills with just 4 points. The resume is for details.
You mentioned you cold mailed a lot of people, how did you structure those mails? And did you mention that you were an Indian National who wanted to work in that place?
Well it depends on the company, the role and who I was reaching out to.
But in summary, keep it short. First give value to the person, then pitch yourself and then suggest next steps.
Don't waste their time and make sure the emails are always actionable.
And yes, I would always mention my nationality. No point wasting anyone's time if they are not willing to go ahead with your application because of visa and stuff.
Could you please expand a bit on the "suggest the next steps" part? Do you mean to inform them about your visa need and willingness to relocate?
Typically, these senior leader or hiring mangers are busy people. Even if they like you, there might be too much inertia for them. Or they might just forward the email to an HR which then would get lost in plethora of emails.
The first step to getting a job is finding where do you have a shot. Ask a question. Sound curious about their product. Send them a few suggestions about what they can do with their product. Ask them for access to their blog. Ask for mentorship or connect to someone in their team for a question.
Further the conversation. Once a conversation starts, you know that there is potential and can follow up later to further your application.
This is Sales 101. Only here you are selling yourself.
How did you understand/work/ research on the Work Visa process for these companies? Especially in the Europe given different countries have different regulations? How often do you have to apply for extension of Visa and how easy/difficult is the process?
This is something that's generally taken care of by the HR and not something I had to worry about.
What are some companies - countries you feel have good work/immigration policies that you suggest people to look out for?
US was a clear no when I was applying (Trump :D) EU and SEA are hot areas right now. You can in fact even try remote now, if that aligns with your goals.
How do you look at PM Career for yourself in next couple of years?
PMing is becoming super popular. Everyone wants to be a PM now. Just basic PM skills are not going to cut it for now. You need to go beyond it. Today, Great designers have a solid understanding of product and business. How are you going to stand out?
I would focus on building hard skills that bring immediate value to the team. What is that one thing that you can do the best in the world? What is that one skill which you can get into a room and say 'Yeah, I will get this done, don't worry about it'
My advice would be to build skills that allow you to commit on output metrics and not input.
- 'I will improve retention by 20% at least'
- 'I will increase Play Store rating to 4.6 in 2 months'
Companies now care about value delivered, not effort put. Focus on value not on effort.
Being a start-up enthusiast, I've always worked in startups and hence worked on nascent stage products that are about to enter the market or which just entered market. With this experience, is it suggestable to approach companies looking analytical skills' experience? I really want to move up the curve in the product's lifecycle actually. I have a little above 2 years of experience working for fintech startups.
Yes, definitely. At this stage in your career, most people are looking for energy, willingness to learn, IQ and problem solving skills. If you can showcase that in your interviews, you would definitely be considered as a good candidate.
What were the platforms/job portals you've used while applying for companies outside India?
Again, you need to go where your users are (in this case potential recruiters). Try LinkedIn, AngelList, Twitter, Conferences etc. As I said, you need to make it work once. So hustle and find that opportunity.
How to find mentors to help you navigate in our career or in general? Also how one should approach folks who have same experience as you or are in domain where you want to break in?
People are always willing to pay it forward. They are always looking to be in touch with young guys who are hungry to get it done. Few things that come to mind which helped me find mentors:
- First and foremost: Reach out and ask. Most people don't do the first step. You'd be surprised how many people are willing to help out if asked properly.
- Be prepared: Just don't show up asking for a favor. Do your homework and showcase that by getting into a work relationship with you, eventually they will also derive value.
- Respect their time: Don't ever make them feel that you are taking them for granted. Follow up on what you commit and always be hungry to learn more.
- Show energy and hunger: Eagerness to learn and grow is probably the most important things people look for in their mentees. Make sure that you showcase this quality.
Any book suggestions on Finance and investing for beginners?
I really like the beginner series by Freefincal if you are really just getting started.
I am presently reading 'One up on Wall street' to get started on value investing. Rich dad poor dad was one book when I was in 10th grade which changed my life and outlook towards investing so would recommend that for absolute beginners as well.
Any approach/framework you have in mind to use Twitter to your advantage as mentioned above?
Twitter definitely works. Even more so now than before.
It's all about your subject line and content. Find what they want and show them that you can deliver it.
In the end, it's all about starting a conversation. Once they see potential in you, things will flow automatically.
Any parting thoughts?
Thanks everyone for having me! I hope you guys got some value out of this.
If there's any topic you'd like me to elaborate on or need further clarifications on, feel free to reach out to me. Also, if you can provide me with any feedback/thoughts on this AMA on Twitter / LinkedIn / Instagram it will really give me the confidence to do AMAs like this again in future. Happy to help!