Maker Hunt’s AMA with Rafael Balbi from GA and Maker’s Row

Today we have Rafael Balbi. Rafael is a NYC bred design driven product manager. The once aspiring investment banker turned to startups after a summer on a JP Morgan trading floor.

Since then he’s worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and companies in delivering product. Prior talks at the Wharton School of Business and at startup ecosystems across the world in London, Chile, Brazil, and Germany have given him a unique pulse on how the global scene has been forming.

He is currently at PM in Residence at General Assembly where he helps facilitate the 10 week product course. Prior to GA, he was the sole PM at Maker’s Row where he helped triple SaaS revenue and build out a market place for 60,000 users.

Sup’ everyone. As Eric mentioned I’m a PM. Little bit that I didn’t mention was going through tech stars summer 13 with javelin/lean start up machine

A product to help team track their product experiments. (A/b tests, landing page tests etc)

Q. How do you go from aspiring investment banker to startup product manager? — Jonathan Archer

Great question Jonathan. In short, I realized I had banking, went abroad, came back finished up school, start up a start up consultancy and since then I’ve been involved with product ☺. Dramatic jump but not as band being that I was fresh out of undergrad

Q. Is it planning to open up the marketplace to non-US suppliers as well? — Tomas Ruta

I don’t for see MR expanding outside the U.S. ( disclaimer — I’m currently not with the company) I more so see them focusing in on the U.S. users and optimizing that for traction and usage.

I think market places all start with creating supply and harvesting demand. (E.g. Uber just got 1 cab to start and then spread the service amongst a small group. Seamless started by simply listing restaurants in the area and then having users place orders. Makers Row started as a repository of manufacturers before becoming a more full fledged market place).

For the most part, market places are simply replacing behavior that already exist. That’s why you can’t really create demand as much as you can harvest it. Create the supply and try to give users w predisposed behavior access to that

From there it’s really all about lessening the friction for either party to participate (e.g. Messaging, payment processing, seeing how many cars are in the area, seeing the proximity of each restaurant)

Q. How are you finding TechStars? — Michael Buckbee

Tech stars was amazing. Definitely one of the more rewarding not experiences of my life that exposed me to the inner workings of start up world. I feel like there’s a general playing field that everyone has access to but then there’s another playing field that’s more so accessed via connections, programs, and building great stuff.

Q. After seeing so many students go through GA, what do you think is the defining characteristic of people who are able to “learn” how to be great product managers? (sidenote: I recently finished the 12 week web development bootcamp at GA and it was amazing) —Jeff

Hmmm students that are able to make the jump are ones who are able to embrace holistic product thinking. I’ve typically seen students try to cap antiquated business approaches to product management and it’s just not as straight forward as optimizing for growth.

Holistic product thinking involves design, strategy, and an understand of the technical side of things. The lowest hanging fruit for anyone to learn is wire framing and UX. from there it’s important to learn a bit more about the history of internet products and how to borrow some concepts of traditional business thinking and how they apply to product. For example, a more antiquated perspective of Twitter might’ve wanted to optimize for growth as opposed to density of engagement.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your role as the PM at Maker’s Row? What was your typical day like? — Eric Willis

Sure my role at MR was as the sole PM working w a team of 3 engineers, 2 designed and a data person. I managed a SaaS — market place hybrid product which was interesting and unique. All of our users were US based as well.

Q. What are some products that you really like right now and why? — Eric Willis

Hmm Jukely was a part of my tech stars class and their product execution has been killer. https://www.jukely.com …they focused in on the right things (matching friends to music they like) and ignored pre optimizing for revenue. It’s a beautiful product and now seeing their trajectory in raising what they have isn’t surprising at all.

They’ve put product first and the revenue they’re generating now is by product of them focusing in on engagement and matching first. It’s super easy to simply bake in revenue with out realizing how it can hurt core in the long term. Tech stars was 2 years ago and to see the continued execution has been deeply gratifying Bc those guys were just about theirs.

Second product I’m excited about is framer.js (prototyping tool for designers). Invision is great for prototyping but it’s still a bit of a snapshot approach to product. Framer adds in time and it feels more ‘real’. It’s kindve like the difference between a comic strip and a film. The magic is in movement of time and framer.js gets you a bit closer to that than Invision.

Q. What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of product management? —Eric Willis

Most misunderstood part is that as a PM you only have influence because of other people. You’re a not a builder(UX/UI designer or engineer) and you don’t make decisions in a very head strong dominant fashion which for some can be frustrating. Ultimately as a PM the organization can go on without you (not for long) but they can. Bc you are building through and with others it’s important that you are empathetic and relatable. Influencing through relationships and not power.

Q. Where did you find inspiration for the Maker’s Row product? Alibaba? — Tomas Ruta

I’m not a founder of Makers Row but the inspiration came from the founders trying to source goods internationally for a watch line. The founders were already building their own line and found it hard to reasonably and cheaply source locally.


Thanks so much for doing this.

For sure thanks!


Next AMA is with:

Timothy Kearns President @ClipCard3pm EST 12th May


If you liked this AMA please Recommend ☺. Keep an eye out on our Twitter — @MakerHunt for details/updates.

Special thanks to Rafael and everyone who participated. If you’re a maker with a product on ProductHunt, be sure to sign up to participate in the AMAs and connect with others.

Already a member? Get your questions ready for the next AMAs! For any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to: Eric, Jonas, Remco, Cat or Ben.

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