How To Kick Ass At Your First Product Management Job - AMA with Amol Walvekar

Alright folks, another week, another great AMA here at The Product Folks! For those who missed it, and those who wish to have a quick recap, we have compiled the learnings from the AMA into this blog post.

(PS: We hold AMAs with some top Product people every week on our Slack channels, do check it out!)

This week, we were very excited to welcome Amol Walvekar, who works as a PM WePay in the Bay Area. Along with that, he has been actively investing and advising a lot of start-ups in Bengaluru.

Amol is very familiar with both the Indian and the US PM ecosystem, and here are some of the key insights he shared in the AMA:

How to get into Product

Most of the questions posed to Amol were geared towards the same, age-old question – how does one actually move into a product role?

Amol was asked this question by people on very different ends of the spectrum –  a senior professional with 9 years of SaaS experience, and a college fresher. For both groups, Amol had the same pointers:

  • Side Projects: According to Amol, there is no better way to show off your product sense than side projects. It also acts a sharp signal of your intent to become a PM. Side projects help even more when you come from a non-PM background.
  • Product Meetups/Conferences: While Covid has put a dampener on actual gatherings, there are still plenty of Product groups and initiatives to attend and learn from. Amol also gives a shoutout to TPF’s teardown, which is a great way to not just learn the ropes of a PM role, but to land an actual PM interview (TPF teardown link here?)
  • Write: Whatever the medium – tweets, blogs, or newsletters, Amol believes that writing is a great (free!) investment in your future career.
  • Showing impact on your resume: A PM role is a very high impact role. Hence, Amol firmly believes any candidate who can show actual, measurable impact on their resumes immediately have an upper hand on those who don’t.

How to make the most out of a new PM role

Some of the other questions that Amol tackled were from people who had just started out in a Product role. They were curious as to how they could maximize their learning and growth in the starting few months.

Here is what Amol had to say for this:

  • Product Management = T-Shaped learning: Amol was keen to stress on the fact that a PM role requires a T-shaped learning curve. What this means is that PMs are expected to have the same broad PM skills: thinking (product sense), execution, analytics, stakeholder management, and excellent (oral and written) communication skills. Beyond these broad skills comes the domain specific, in-depth knowledge. But if you have just the basic broad PM skills nailed down, you have a solid foundation for success as a PM.
  • Learn to work with Engineers, take feedback: Execution is a skill that most new PMs rarely have experience in. Amol believes it is very beneficial to learn how to collaborate and ship product releases with the engineering teams. And throughout this process, it is crucial to take constant feedback as well.
  • Evaluate yourself: After a few months into your first PM stint, Amol recommends taking some time out to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as a PM, and working on improving them!

Tips for existing PMs:

Amol has been working as a PM for a couple of years in San Francisco. Amol has a great exposure to what cutting-edge PM roles entail.

And sure enough, he shared his experiences and learnings as a few existing PMs asked him some great questions:

  • Prioritization: Prioritization, i.e. choosing what to develop/build next, is a very important aspect of a PM job. Prioritization is obviously highly subjective, however there are a few frameworks to help guide PMs. Amol, however, is not a believer of frameworks and believes the way forward is to understand the context, the user, the KPIs, the goals, and let them guide your decision making.
  • How to: Market Research?: Amol believes the answer lies in collaboration. There are a lot of senior PMs who regularly share their learnings through various mediums such as Medium (heh), Substack, Twitter, etc. Getting in touch and engaging with them is what Amol recommends.
  • Early-stage PM vs Late-Stage PM: Amol was asked how the role of an early-stage PM differs from that of a late stage PM. The key differentiator between the two, according to Amol, is PMF (or, Product Market Fit). Since early PMs work on pre-PMF products, their jobs are more experimental, there is more tolerance for failure, and the job itself is less structured.

Late-stage PMs on the other hands, have already achieved PMF. Their roles and duties are much more structured, much more monotonous, and sometimes, the process spoils the product itself! On the other side, there is PMF, so the risk in a late-stage PM role is quite low, Amol adds.

Amol also addressed the implosion in demand for PM roles in India. He believes that this is the direct result of incredible rise in number of Product companies in India. And all these companies require logical thinkers and problem solvers to ship and shape their product!

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