How to get into Product Management - AMA with Abhirup Bhabani

Alright! Continuing with our series of blogs where we cover the AMAs we hold over our Slack channel. In case you missed it we regularly host Product Managers and talk about everything #product.

Abhirup Bhabani is an ISB alumnus and is currently building Razorpay Capital. So here is your chance to have a masterclass from "How to get started in the field of Product Management" to "Life of a PM" and many more topics.

Here are some key takeaways:

How did your MBA prepare you to become a PM and how has it from helped you in your journey as a PM apart from landing you that first job?

One of the key takeaways for me from my MBA has been the structured thought process. You solve a lot of case questions - product cases, consulting cases and you get into the habit of breaking the problem statements into multiple parts which then helps you with the solutioning. Problems can vary from "design an elevator" to "oil production in middle east has reduced, how would you find the root cause" to "Razorpay wants to launch Sim Cards in New Zealand. Does it make sense?". Even for very vague problems, you will find a structure to solve these questions. And once you get into the habit of it, it helps you everywhere. Apart from that, a close-knit network. You know you will have people to fall back on, to seek for assistance across different industries whenever you need one.

Do you think an MBA is the best way to break into product management after a few years of experience in the industry in non product roles?

Definitely, not. It's one of the ways.  Mr. Harman, one of my colleague in Razorpay and one of the best PMs I have met in my life and he doesn't have an MBA. You either learn at the job or learn via education. So if you are in product-based company and if you have a very good product mentor, you will definitely learn the tricks of the trade and grow into a very good product manager.

What's the best way to approach companies and startup for product internships for MBA folks? Tried cold emailing but unlike SDE, I realize this hardly ever works for PM roles.

Maybe try to find some common connects in your target firms. Talk to them about your desired team. Usually I have seen them connecting to right people in the company who would at least be willing to have a short discussion with you.

Also on another note, while writing cold emails or If you're reaching out to someone new to seek help, this template shared by Aditya Mohanty works well:

1. Who am I?

2. What help I need?

3. What progress I've made so far?

4. Why you're the right person to help?

Be sincere in your message and keep it super short.

What are some of the hardest things you faced when a) you were starting out as a PM and b) in mid career?

When I started off, definitely stakeholder management. Often when you're starting, you don't have an idea about how many stakeholders are there for a product (Sales, Marketing, Engineering, Design, Ops, Risk, Legal, PR, Finance, etc). And from my personal experience, I missed out getting a sign off from all of them for my first couple of projects. Learnt from the mistake and keep everyone in the loop.

In Mid Career, this is something I am still learning on the job. How do you manage to have the big-picture thinking? Where will your product lie 5 years down the line and how will it tie up to the company OKRs? This is something you learn at the job and you eventually figure out as you talk to more and more senior folks (how they figured out).

Apart from general PM stuffs, is there anything specific that you learned the hard way as a PM, when you started working in the Fintech space, given that it is highly regulated? Something that you wish you had known before, etc?

To be honest, I didn't have much idea about Fintech before I joined Razorpay. Still don't have much idea about most of payment gateway. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I have been part of the lending vertical. This is something that was new to me. Spoke to a lot of people in the lending industry to get acquainted with the terms. Spoke to a lot of potential customers to understand the problems they are facing in terms of getting credit from traditional lenders. That helped me in understanding the whitespace in the market. This is key because it's not just about building the product, it's also understanding what problems you're solving. Once the "what" and "why" are clear, then you should be able to figure out "how" to build the product. So TL;DR - do both primary and secondary research when you're new to an industry.

How did you decide to switch to PMing? How/why Razorpay? How was your 'breaking into PM' experience given you were a founder earlier?

My GPA in ISB was low, hence figured that consulting couldn't have been an option.

On a serious note, have always been fascinated by tech and product. I was a backend developer with Samsung. Was heading product & tech at Qrius. Felt that my mojo was here. Always got excited about the impact a product can carry in human lives and that fascinated me. Hence, PM was the natural next step for me. I wanted to be groomed by a good product mentor from whom I could learn and grow and that's why post-MBA, I thought of joining a product-based company. I had a couple of offers during my MBA, and my priority has been to learn more. If I could learn, that will have long-term benefit. I had a long chat with the Product Head of Razorpay and was heavily impressed by the clarity of thoughts he carried. That helped me with the decision that I want to Razorpay.

What's the most boring task while PMing?

That's the best part of the PM job - you'll enjoy the ride. It's an emotional roller coaster ride where you'll have moments when you feel things ain't working out and the next moment, you will feel satisfied that you have found a solution to a problem. Probably, the only boring task would be to choose the colours of the box diagrams while making PPTs.

What are some not so lucrative things of being a PM? What are things you wish you didn’t have to do, but you end up doing because it needs attention?

Your product is like your kid. You can't tell that you will handle one part of the kid but not others. You have to take care of it, nurture it, and help it grow. For that, you might have to do everything - sales, marketing, ops work, resolve support ticket, sometimes even maybe code (with the product, not with the kid).

What are the Top 3 hard-skill suggestions for beginners who are starting their career in Product?

a) Empathy (this goes for any role: empathy + expertise)

b) "Getting things done" attitude (try not to say this isn't my job)

c) Always listen to data and customers

What's the best way for a non-tech guy, say from a finance background, to transition into a PM?

The most important thing for a Product Management role is Design Thinking (and may not be tech understand). I think the CIRCLES framework seals the deal over here. Whether you understand the problem, whether you the understand the users for whom you're solving it for, whether you understand their use-cases. If you see, these (in most cases) won't require tech understanding but just an understanding of what problems you're solving for and your users. If you have this understanding, you should be able to transition well into a PM role.

Any Tips in general to stay up to date with the Product Management profession?

I usually follow The Ken, Medium Blogs, Finshots to stay up-to-date about the market, upcoming technologies, and product designs. Read quite a bit of design blogs as well to understand a designer's thought process before designing the UI/UX of a product.

What are some of the frameworks which can be used while answering PM related questions especially on the Case Study one?

Cracking the PM interview and Decode & Conquer have all the frameworks you'll mostly use in your job and for cracking the interviews.

How should a undergrad get real PM experience? How to apply for startups/APM programs?

Startups are the best way for undergrads. Look for folks on and similar forums. They usually have a lot of PM roles open. Ping the founders and show your interest. Again, the "what" and "why" part should be clear through your interest.

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

One of the things that I learnt and kind of accepted is that things break, things might move in as per the expectation. So, given those constraints, how do you iteratively prioritize and optimize for rewards rather than risk is something I learnt at my job.

What are some of the books/podcasts/blogs (online resources) you would recommend ?

Cracking the PM Interview helped me a lot :) especially during my MBA days. It helped me get the structure in my thought process. On podcasts, I follow The Pitch, Freakonomics.

What advice do you have for someone new to Product Management like Associate PMs ?

Talk to as many customers as possible. Your most critical problem statements and sometimes even the solutions will lie in the conversations you have been with them. And, this I feel should be done at all levels.
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