How to Building Habit-Forming Products - AMA with Aswin

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 Aswin Sambamurthy, VP Product & Growth, Netcore Solutions as our guest. He shared his Learnings from Building habit forming Products, Leading Product and Growth teams, and Life at Netcore Solutions.

Here are some key takeaways:

What is your top choice of a habit forming app / product, and why?

As a category, I love social networks / communities, and among them, one where you connect with strangers vs with people you already know. Twitter has remained a favourite over time - it is probably the only online product apart from Gmail I’ve been on for more than a decade (regularly). It's a great habit forming app, and you see so many kinds of hooks (content from people you know, celebs, idols, followers, likes, retweets...) to bring users back, while each user's experience is different from another's.

Do you have a framework you use to build out habit forming features in a product?

Thanks for the question. Yes, I used to mix & match any available frameworks out there to fit into a problem / solution at one point in time. I've since gone on to understand the principles, and throw frameworks out. These days, I don't have any particular frameworks in mind while approaching problems, but use some of them as & when a pattern emerges. A variant of the Hooked Model (which incidentally was also inspired a bit by Zynga) is what I started with at Z, and is easy to start with / build on.

How do you find out the Habit Forming feature of a existing product . Any particular metrics or framework you follow?

Talked about the Hooked framework above. Good place to start for most of us & is generic enough. (Can't force it if it is not relevant for your product though).

In Habit Formimg product why Mobile product are much preferred than web one?

The simple reason is we are always on our phones :)

What are top behaviors you see are common for habit forming apps? What are the things that all of them do right compared to others?

On habit forming products: They know who their users are, what their usage patterns will be, and build habits for them. A lot of apps use habit frameworks (think: the thousand products in the last decade which tried 'gamification') without understanding user motivations, and they don't catch up.

Do you think habit equates addiction? Also do you think that habit is more about affecting the person's physical and spiritual dynamics( Free will is a myth?)?

Depends on how we define these things. Habits are how we function in the real world, and without patterns / habits, it's hard to think how we can live. Habits could have downsides, yes, & could be as disastrous as addictions, if not more (because they sneak up on us over longer time periods) .

How much do you rely on psychology for building habit forming questions? Would you say being aware of psychology will add to the skillset of a PM?

Heading into controversial territory here, but in my opinion psychology is the primary skillset for a PM. Both for getting things done, and for understanding end users. This is a topic on its own to be honest :)

How to make HealthCare apps like Practo or Pharmeasy habit forming for customers ? (Since they we'll always use these app in case of emergency which might not come for more than a year.)

The first question I've is if it's necessary to make them habit forming in the first place. People have limited time in their day, and my first priority would be to make that occasional usage as stress-free as possible.

But if I need to, then sure, for Practo: I'd look at ideas like HealthifyMe to see what can appeal to the audience, + things that are useful to build my own EHR. (based on my outdated idea on what Practo does).

Pharmeasy can do tons of things in this regard. Health based communities (and community driven commerce) is something many firms are already doing. And doing really well!

This is something I have been curious about and would love to know your thoughts on it. Let’s take the example of Airtel. Essentially, a user goes on to the Airtel app to recharge their packs or maybe just check their balance or something. But we also know that Airtel offers a lot of other features in addition to that. So how can a brand sort of break that barrier or you know encourage users to use services which are not really a part of the brands domain. Like Airtel is a telecom app so why should I use Airtel for any other service like Online streaming when I have so many other options. Interesting question / coincidence. This is a problem statement I’ve started working with the Airtel team on, using the no-code nudges offering we have. It's interesting because each product within Airtel’s (for the lack of a better word) super app has its own lifecycle (you can find everything from a payments bank to bill pay to a digital store to an entertainment section with Wynk and Xstream).

Each of these product lines appeal to different users in different contexts. My (not very well thought out) opinion here would be to consider the main telco screen a market that people visit once in a while. Identifying where the user’s interests lie (based on past data + new experiments) among all their products is a step 1 for me from thereon out, followed by getting their attention + keeping their attention using any of the models out there. I'm sure someone from the Airtel team here can add on with the many things they've already done in this regard.

Before releasing a product, is it advisable to spend enough time (perhaps, a couple of quarters) to plan about the product positioning and do enough market research or just quickly go about releasing your product and the figuring out to be done with the flow (failing quickly)? Heard various perspectives on this, what's your take on it?

The various perspectives are all right. It would depend on the product you're building, the people building it (expertise/understanding of users), and the people you are building it for.

A handful of solutions require finesse or they die a quick death (so take your time there), while (MOST) others solve a burning problem that can be / should be validated asap by taking the product to the market, to course-correct as early as possible, and to avoid building things you don't need.

What has been the Best product stint so far for you?

Actually an easy answer - Zynga! Got into a product role at Zynga almost accidentally back in 2012, and started my Product Management journey working with really good people (and systems / processes). At the time, it was one of a handful of firms in India practising Product Management as we know it today (bringing in a lot of learnings, structure, and people from Facebook then). Working in other B2C (and now B2B) products have helped build on the foundation I got there, but looking back at it, couldn’t have asked for a better foundation.

What’s your most valuable learning in context of leading teams?

Managing people has been a super rewarding activity & is one area where I've felt I will never run out of surprises / things to learn. Whether you manage in Product, or in other functions, most principles would remain the same.

I wouldn't know what to call 'most valuable learning' but over the years, I've gone from "this is an outcome I need to achieve using this team + hiring new people" to "these are the kinds of people who will find this problem statement exciting / rewarding". I've been learning that this is an easier way to achieve said outcomes.

What are some of your favourite products ? What do you love about them?

Talked about Twitter / Reddit in a previous answer - I love community products. I also love the idea of products that get us to do things regularly that we would otherwise not bother doing without the said product (learning a language with Duolingo comes to mind, even if effectiveness is questionable.)

Would love to know your thoughts on how to set personal goals for the first 30-60-90 days of joining a new organization as a Product Manager / Growth role.

The primary things in my opinion would remain the same regardless of function:

  • What are you expected to do? understanding expectations, aligning people, and setting targets.

  • Keeping relevant stakeholders updated on your progress regularly, and resetting expectations as you achieve previous ones.

It's shocking how many of us don't do this.

Specifically, my opinion on Product Management is that it is a function that brings clarity to the rest of the firm on what we are building now / what we are building towards. To bring this to others, we must have this clarity to begin with + validate things as we move from a theoretical view of the firm to the day to day stuff.

During the course of your Journey being a product manager, is there something which you think would work and you executed but then ended up didn't working. Any learnings around that?

If a significant % of my experiments do not fail, that's an indicator to me that I'm not pushing myself enough / I am playing it safe with my goals. (Cue: Bezos interviews)

Every failed experiment on a strong hypothesis teaches me more than a successful one, because it tells me something about my users that I did not already know / fills a gap in my understanding.

What are the things you've learned in your PM journey that you wish you knew when you started?

That no one really knows what they are doing, experts or otherwise. Expertise on B2C mobile has been built over a mere ten years, Product management as it stands today for 1.5 more decades. These are all very new in the larger scheme of things, and all of us are defining these for the world, mostly without realising it.

How do you build product intuition?

Like we build any other intuition, I guess. Exposure to as many patterns, and actively identifying these patterns and learning from their existence.

What are major KPI/metrics someone should chase while working as a PM, mainly career wise?

In the long run, any particular KPI / metric / individual feature doesn't matter. Career wise, at a high level, I'd focus on having the ability to validate and arrive at the right problem statements, and a reliability to execute well on them consistently. Working on as many routines of the same + learning from them would be a good way to improve there (if the learning stops, find a new one) .

For someone having 3.4 years of experience in Entrepreneurship. Now, looking for a career transition to Product Management. Can you please suggest the best approach to opt in and what things needed to be learnt to get into it ASAP.

The 3.4 years in entrepreneurship should have taught you more than any book or course possibly can. I'm sure most Product leaders would prefer this in a candidate to any degree. All the best!

Should a Product Manager accept a Product Owner role if that’s what the next organisation has to offer? Is it a demotion?

Some organisations / people might consider it an upgrade, some others might consider it a downgrade.

I'm leaving organizations out for the moment, and looking at people. I'd consider it an upgrade if that's the better direction I see for my career, based on my interests & what I'm good at. No one function is objectively better or worse than another in my opinion.


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