Building the Future of Work as a PM @ Gigster
An interview with Product Manager Debarshi Chaudhuri
How long have you worked at Gigster and been a PM in general?
I’ve been on the product team at Gigster for about a year now, and I’ve been a product manager for about four and a half years.
What do you enjoy most about the job?
I like pretty much all of it, even when users complain because your product doesn’t work or when you have to deal with bugs and other issues. Those parts of the job are fun for me because I like to fix things.
If I were going to put it into one sentence, though, I’d say my favorite part of the job is working with a team to make a product that users really love. It means actually talking to our users, getting the product in their hands, and watching them use it. There’s nothing like watching someone laugh in a little moment of delight when they use something you’ve created. It’s awesome.
What did you do before becoming a product manager?
I graduated from MIT in 2010 and right after college I went into strategy consulting. I did that for two years, but it only took me one to realize it wasn’t for me. It’s not that I didn’t think consulting was important, but I wanted to be closer to what I see as providing direct economic value. For me, that meant building things.
Near the end of my time in consulting, I started coming out to San Francisco for some projects. I eventually got staffed on a tech project and was like, “This is really cool, this seems like a neat thing to work on.” All my friends were already moving to San Francisco anyway, so in May 2012 I decided with my roommates that we would just make the jump. We quit our jobs and moved within a week of each other.
Shortly after, I got a job as a product manager at this mobile gaming company called Pocket Gems. Some college friends who worked there said they hired a lot of ex-consultants and finance people for this role because it’s a combination of analytical skills, general strategy, and project management. Plus, I’d get to do some design stuff that I’d never done before. I took the job, and that was my first foray into product management.
I’ve heard of engineers and MBAs becoming product managers, but your path is different. What was it like transitioning from the consulting field?
I actually get that question a lot. For its time, my job at Pocket Gems was a pretty unique opportunity. I think now it’s been mirrored by other mobile gaming companies.
Back when I got started, what mobile gaming companies needed were people who could own a game from an analytics standpoint because optimization is so important to their business models. Product managers also needed to know about process management and team management, so my experience with helping clients implement strategies and running meetings was really helpful.
Design was something I came in knowing basically nothing about, though. I could look at a product and analyze it at a very basic level, but I spent the next couple years getting much, much better at game design and UX design.
How did you come to work at Gigster?
After working at Pocket Gems for two and a half years, leading a bunch of its female-focused fashion games and even launching a new title in that space, I was ready to go off and do my own thing. I wanted to launch a startup, and basically spent nine months just building out different ideas. I launched a couple products to my friends, to the atmosphere, but none of them really got any traction.
So around the beginning of 2016 I started looking for a job. I thought I wanted to work in consumer tech because there’s so much data in it, and I talked to a lot of friends about small start-ups in that space that were doing well. Altogether, I talked to about 30 companies, but then I realized that I cared more about joining a team I really liked than working in consumer tech. That led me to Gigster.
The first day I came to their office, I was put in this tiny conference room that had papers and laptops strewn everywhere. There were two people asleep on the couch outside the door because they had clearly pulled an all-nighter. My immediate reaction was, “Yup, this is a team that clearly cares about their work and is going to get shit done.”
You said at one point you were talking to 30 different companies. How did you discover the companies you were applying to at the time?
I found them through a few different ways, but number one was friends. I was very fortunate to have a lot of friends that work at different companies around the area, and lots of them had recommendations. Another place I looked was online at sites like Angel List and Breakout List. That was really it.
Were you focused more on the start-up side?
That’s right. I knew I wanted to work at a company with less than 50 people so that’s where I looked.
How did you get your in?
I would hit up a friend who I knew one of the founders of a company I liked and I’d get a referral.
I’ve worked in recruiting at basically every place I’ve been, and referrals are always the number one source of candidates. Cold applications don’t work as well, even if the candidates aren’t necessarily worse. As a recruiter, you just don’t have that much time to spend reviewing random resumes.
How did you prepare for your interview?
For Gigster, I actually submitted a client project before my interview because I wanted to know what it would be like to work with the company. Once you’ve actually used a product, you’ll have more thoughts about it, see why it’s designed the way it is, and have ideas for how it can be improved. I did that for every company I got serious about working for.
What ultimately made you stand out at Gigster?
If I had to guess, I’d say it was a fit thing. The team was looking for someone with a technical background and consumer experience. The CEO had actually worked in games beforehand too, so that also helped the match.
Now and when you were looking for a job, how do you think about personal brand for a product manager?
I don’t actually. My LinkedIn is purposefully pretty bare because my eventual goal is to try the entrepreneur thing and go off and start a company. If I do end up looking for another job at some point it will happen through referrals. So my personal brand is the brand I’ve built — working really hard and really well with people. If I can just form good relationships with my peers that’s all I need.
Now that have the job, what do you do on a day-to-day basis at Gigster?
Right now, I’m recruiting because we need to grow our team a lot. We’re sort of at the point where our company’s growth just depends on just getting more people onto the core team so that we can operate more efficiently. So, I basically spend my time posting on Facebook, messaging people, and going on LinkedIn and AngelList to find people that I think could be really good product managers at Gigster.
On top of that, I’m doing my actual work as a product manager. I focus on Gigster’s customer experience, so I have to spend a lot of time thinking about what it looks like to build software with us from end to end. On a daily basis, this means figuring out what a product really needs to do — which means talking to customers and looking at data. Then I design solutions, which means writing specs, creating wireframes, and working with teams to get something built.
Gigster isn’t getting any smaller, but how do you think your experience is different from a product manager at a larger company?
The word product manager means wildly different things at different companies, but at Gigster I’d say the fact that we only have 37 people means it involves doing more than you would at a larger company. For example, I do most of our UX design with someone whose background is in visual UI design. We might put together a first pass on something and iterate on it until we get it right, which isn’t something a product manager at a larger company would do.
What common traits do you see across good product managers?
Product managers are generally managers at software companies, and at the end of the day the job is to be responsible for building the best thing you can for your users. Good PMs are all able to empathize with their end user in a way makes sense for them, whether that’s by collecting data or actually going out and talking to customers.
Most good product managers are also really good at project and process management. In fact, I can’t think of a single product manager role that doesn’t have some aspect of that. You have to have some level of goal orientation too. Most people who do this job are responsible for some sort of goal, whether that’s “move this metric” or “shift this thing.”
Do you have any favorite books that you think people should read?
I have not read a lot of product management books or management books in general. For me, my product knowledge comes from using things, reading about them, looking at the market, and thinking about data. That being said, I’ll occasionally look at an article about product management if I come across a good one.
Do you have any recommendations for what people who want to become product managers should think about? What questions should they ask?
My advice would be different for every person based on their background because there are several types of people that try to enter product management. There are people with lots of experience as software engineers who want to switch over, there are people without a technical background who see it as a way into the tech industry, and there are people with experience in design who want to manage products. I’ll talk a bit about each one.
For software engineers, you want to start actually thinking about how the things you’re building work as products. You’ll already have a good understanding of technology and architecture, but you need to think about your users. Think about the psychology of their actions. Once you get good at that, you’ll be positioned to become a product manager anywhere.
For people without a technical background, you need to develop a technical background. You don’t need to be a software engineer, but it helps to understand how software works. Go do some tutorials. Go build some starter apps yourself.
For designers, I’d say you’re probably already good at making things look great and you’re probably used to delighting your users. That means you’ll want to get better at the technical side of things, and you’ll want to develop some understanding of process because you’re going to be responsible for a lot of process management stuff.