How a passion for problem solving and a childhood love of Lego led to a career in Product Management
Philip Pantelides shares his experiences of working at Cookpad, the mission-led tech company on a quest to make everyday cooking fun and create happier and healthier lives for people, communities and the planet.
How did you get into product management?
Playing with a lot of Lego as a kid definitely helped but I’ve always been fascinated by solving big problems. After graduating university with a chemical engineering masters, I looked to the industries where chemical engineers typically find themselves: energy, healthcare / pharma and food manufacturing but couldn’t find what I was looking for. None of them seemed to be solving any real problems but the emerging technology companies were. For example Tesla and SolarCity in the energy space and Fitbit in healthcare. At that point I knew I had to get into technology.
Immediately after graduating, I helped out in the startup incubator at my university and worked on developing my own product in parallel. This was my first real taste of product management and I’ve never looked back.
What exactly does being a product manager at Cookpad entail?
A lot of problem solving! The most important thing we do is decide which problems to solve for our users to help us achieve our mission. There is a lot of uncertainty and complexity in the problems we are trying to solve at Cookpad. Our job is to help navigate this uncertainty and give the team the right direction to be able to design the best products and services.
“PMs have a lot of autonomy and responsibility. We work in small teams that move very quickly — it’s very much a startup culture.”
What’s unique about being a PM at Cookpad?
We have a very flat product organisation and we are product-led. As a result, PMs have a lot of autonomy and responsibility. We work in small teams that move very quickly — it’s very much a startup culture. There is also a lot of accountability. As a PM you are the one leading the product, with very little top down direction other than the company vision and overall strategy. This degree of responsibility isn’t for everyone, but if you are a self-starter who loves to be challenged, it’s a great environment.
The other thing that is unique is our level of access to users. There aren’t layers of research teams between us and the users. We engage with them first-hand which gives us deep insights into their problems and behaviours and enables us to build products that really help.
Can you describe a typical day as a PM at Cookpad?
Given the rapid pace at which we work, I start the day by setting my priority. I try to have only one thing each day. This sounds counterintuitive but it makes decision making much more productive and enables me to be more responsive to change.
I check our key metrics first thing in the morning and catch up on industry news. Then I spend the day working closely with designers and engineers on developing solutions. My favourite part of building products is rapid prototyping and testing. We have some really skilled designers and engineers who can build prototypes in a matter of hours so we can test ideas quickly.
A good day is one where we learn something new or get deeper insight into the problems we are trying to solve. A bad one is where we don’t learn anything.
“At Cookpad we’re trying to solve complex global problems so the challenge is even greater. You need crazy optimism to see a different world from the one we live in now.”
What challenges do you face in your role?
Product management is tough as there is lots of uncertainty. It takes strong conviction to make decisions when there is no point of reference. At Cookpad we’re trying to solve complex global problems so the challenge is even greater. You need crazy optimism to see a different world from the one we live in now.
What are the greatest opportunities for PMs at Cookpad?
Cookpad PMs have the opportunity to shape a product, sometimes from scratch and deliver it to users on a global scale. Not many companies can offer that.
What would you say are the key skills of a Cookpad PM?
Leadership, problem solving, optimism and resilience. Great communication and relationship building are also very important. But, above all else, you’ve got to have genuine belief in the mission.
“You get as much out as you put in — there is no limitation. At the same time you won’t be told what to do or how to do it — you need to own the decision and that’s tough for some people.”
What advice would you give someone thinking about joining Cookpad?
If you want to work a 9–5 job, tick the boxes, earn a salary and climb a ladder you won’t find that at Cookpad. What you will find is a company, mission and culture that challenges you everyday, and ensures that you are always developing. You get as much out as you put in — there is no limitation. At the same time you won’t be told what to do or how to do it — you need to own the decision and that’s tough for some people.
Finally, do you cook? If so, what’s your signature dish?
Yes. I grew up in South Africa so I really enjoy BBQs or braais as we call them. My favourite thing to cook is buttermilk beer can chicken. You marinade the chicken in buttermilk overnight, then roast it upright on an open beer can in the braai. The result is very moist chicken and crispy skin! Check out the recipe on Cookpad.
Find out more about Philip and his career to-date by listening to this podcast: ‘Rapid Prototyping — Philip Pantelides on The Product Experience.’