The Minimum Viable Product Manager & Beginnings
Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Machine Learning, AI, and Data Science learning session on behalf of our CEO. I came in expecting to just sit through the talks, so I was caught off guard when other Product Managers and CEOs were being introduced to me left and right.
During introductions, I can’t avoid the topic of where I worked before STORM. I’ve only been with them for less than a year so this is no surprise. I’m not surprised either when, usually, no one reacts when I answer MedGrocer. It’s a two-year old e-pharmacy startup and it’s quite difficult to make a break in the Philippine market to ideas like it, so really, I hardly expect anyone to bat an eyelash at the mention of it.
Last Tuesday’s crowd, however, was different. How can these startup execs not know about Ayala Health’s latest investment in health tech? Not just because of the business itself, but because of its notorious founder who I got to work with closely during my time there (at most, there were six other people working on it with me). We talked about him and his mentorship style for a while and the conversation reminded me of my odd start in product.
I didn’t know it at the time because what was printed on my calling card was ‘Associate Marketing Manager’, but I was apparently doing product work. The tech, the design, and the business: all of them were my daily concerns with the e-pharmacy. On one afternoon, I’d be sketching how individual product pages would look like and then tinkering with the site to figure out how to implement it. On a different day, I’d be mapping out the Facebook advertisements or newsletter campaigns we’d be running to promote the site. At night, I’d be reading up on how to make the site run faster or drafting a press release or blog post. It was an exciting year of doing all this and more, not just because I was allowed to dabble in so many things that interested me, but because there was always something new to learn.
80% of my experience with MedGrocer was thanks to Google. I was an amateur. I had to look up this concept and that tool and what the best practices were. I couldn’t assert myself as an expert yet so I was a sponge, absorbing and attempting to apply any knowledge thrown my way. Being a beginner pushed me to learn, learn, and learn.
I personally had to keep iterating, just like my product. The better I understood what I was doing, the better the website became. When I installed an analytics tool, I still dove into the individual browsing patterns of our customers. I looked up what it meant. From there, I updated site links and moved buttons around so the site users would find what they’re looking for faster. The site kept evolving. It literally grew with me: the Minimum Viable Product Manager and her Minimum Viable Product. MedGrocer was built from the ground up, and so was I.
When I moved to STORM, I wasn’t hired as an expert product manager. I was still at my MVPM state (still am). In hindsight, I think that’s what got me the job. I didn’t graduate with a business degree, I didn’t code, and I wasn’t management material. I was, however, a novice more than willing to learn all that. And learn I did. And learn I keep doing.
Even though people go to me for help now and I’m not treated like a complete amateur anymore, I feel like I have to keep reminding myself that I’m only just beginning. I still have to look up this term and that tool and what the new best practices are. I have to run to the other room to ask someone what something means. I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking I know the product or a process or how something works like the back of my hand because that’s when I can get complacent; that’s how some people start becoming dinosaurs and that’s the last thing a product manager should be.
Having that beginner mindset as a MVPM is a huge advantage because you learn things faster: there are less things your brain has to overwrite. Keeping that mindset as you go deeper into product helps you make better decisions because it trains you as a person to default to listening, understanding, and researching first before anything else.
One of the talks in the learning session last week ended with a call for leaders to be more biased towards getting data to substantiate decisions and I think that ties in nicely with the beginner mindset. Learn. Learn from your data. Allow them to teach you more about your product, your customer’s behavior, your business. Whether you have eight months of experience or eight years, you’re only just beginning.