We hear about these mysterious creatures called product managers every now and then. We know they exist, and we aspire to be one of them. But we have no idea who they are and what they do? And forget reading about them in the b-school. In this interview, we were able to catch hold of one such evolved being. His name is Gautam Chaudhari. He started his journey in IIM Ahmedabad (Batch of 2011-13). His first job was with Reliance Jio, where he was the Product Manager of Jio Chat. After the launch of the product, he moved to a growing startup called CarWale. Within his second project, he got promoted to Associate Vice President (Product). He is now a team-lead of 7+ product managers and guides them to a successful future. Read about his full story here.
This article is a part of an ongoing with SCMHRD and brought to you by InsideIIM.
Question: What were your inclinations before joining your b school?
Answer: When I was doing my engineering my interests were in robotics and microelectronics, and microprocessors. I took part in a lot of robotics events apart from the normal academic course like Techfest of IIT B and BITS Pilani. I also took part in various circuits and a couple of projects, one of the successful ones was the speech-enabled wheelchair. I took some electives in computer networks and mobile telecom. I was really interested in that field.
Question: Did you decide any specialization before joining your MBA?
Answer: Before MBA, I had 2 years of work ex in DSP (a chip-making company), as a Software Engineer for Embedded Systems. During those two years I realised that I don’t want to do coding for a long time. I was looking at my 8- 10-year seniors who were doing almost the same work, although they had experience and they were better at it, but fundamentally it was the same work. So to grow I have to get to the business side of things. Coding is very individualistic. You might work with a team but your interaction with the outside world is very limited. That was my main motivation behind doing an MBA. I wanted to know how the business works, and how the economy works. Engineering teaches you technical things. What it does not teach you is how the actual world works in terms of people, processes, organization, economics, finance etc. So, the idea was that since I am from the technical domain I should not leave it. There is no point in taking up a completely new field for example advertisement, but I wanted to stay in the technical domain. I wanted to go to the techno-managerial side.
B-school related questions
Answer: I interned with Feedback Ventures. Internship processes are sometimes not in your control. Sometimes, whatever you get, you get. I ended up getting a consulting role which I was not very comfortable with, but was open to learning. The internship taught me that I didn't want to do consulting. That’s what internship is all about. You may like it or not, either way, it teaches you something.
Feedback Ventures was more into infrastructure consulting. I did two projects there. One was with Hindustan Construction Company and another for Aditya Birla's aluminium smelting plant. One was a due diligence project, more on the financial side. The other was about what their books say, and what the on-ground reality is. Since it was a consulting firm, the relationship between the service providers, and clients is very important. Decision making is a must, but the personal touch always counts. For example, someone is offering you Rs. 10, and other is offering you Rs. 9 and is your friend, you're going to go with Rs. 9 person.
The reason behind me not liking the consulting domain were:
- Consulting requires a lot of travel and takes a lot out of you. I didn’t want to live like that.
- As a consultant, you're advising a company what to do, which is in the business for decades. This takes a lot of guts and a lot of work. Maybe I wasn’t up for it.
Question: By the end of your MBA, were you able to figure roles-organisations you wanted to work for?
Answer: Google, Amazon, Microsoft etc were some of my dream companies because they are very large in the technical space. I was interested in the product manager role, which was a very new role, during that time. The role requires a very good mix of a technical and a business acumen. Everything which we might overlook is thought about very deeply. Every pixel, and every flow, are implemented by product managers. On-campus I got a similar role. Although it was not my dream company. I joined Reliance Jio.
Jio as you know has a lot of apps, Jio Tv , and Jio music. I joined Jio Chat. I worked there for almost 3 years. Excellent experience. I got to do the things I wanted to do. Few years ago I would have done anything to go to Google, Amazon, etc. But Reliance Jio was also a good enough experience I think.
Question: Take us through a typical day , which are the things you oversee on a day to day basis.
Answer: Right now I have stopped working directly with the developer. But, earlier as a product manager I would work day-in and day-out with developers to make changes in the product. 40% of the day Ideate, for the next 15-30 days. 25% of the day Analysis, for the last 15-20 days, another 20-25% is speaking to Management, reviews etc
Now, 40% of my time in office goes in talking to 4 or 5 product managers daily. It's more about guiding them, their plans, agree, disagree, correct, discussion, giving the direction to them, etc. My work horizon has increased. Soon I will be managing multiple platforms like - apps - iOS, Android, etc.
Question: Please describe your career trajectory(Designations and responsibilities).
Answer: I joined as a Management Trainee at Reliance. For the first few months, I learned how Reliance works.
As a product manager in Jio Chat, we were just a 2 member team. Hence, building a product from scratch was a huge expectation as we had to build everything screen by screen, along with its functionality. You cannot work like a startup there, you cannot release a random app, then improve it. The day we launched the product, Jio's name was associated with it. So, we couldn’t screw up.
Question. Does research fall under the purview of Product function?
Answer: It depends a lot on the organisation. A good product manager should be able to do Market Research. We did in-depth surveys, analysis. Which app is popular in which segment? For example, when we were coming up with JioChat, our competitors were Whatsapp, WeChat, IMO, skype. I had to do in-depth research on those apps, their features, which country uses them, its users, etc. You need to know the market very well before you even embark on the journey of building something. What's the point if it already has been done.
Question: How did you decide to move into CarWale and the major takeaways?
Answer: I shifted to Carwale largely because JioChat was launched. Things slowed down and the focus shifted on the Jio launch. So it was a good time to change domain. I moved to a smaller company, completely different domain and culture, primarily because of the size. In a startup everything is fluid and amorphous, nothing is written in stone, you can do things accordingly.
There I started with a product called CarWale Advantage. It was a way for dealers to dispose of their old inventory. We were trying to get into the transaction space by offering some discounts. For example, a 3-month-old model in a particular colour. Now there is an information asymmetry. There will be dealers across the city who might be willing to sell at a 50000 discount, but the larger public might be unaware. You don't know it unless you walk in and inquire. So the idea was to list all the stock and take that transaction online. We ran it for about a year, before realising some things are not working and shutting that down. From that experience, I learned one thing that even after doing everything your product might fail. You never know how the market is going to react. After that, I moved into the core monetisation business i.e. how to monetise the traffic coming to CarWale. We generate leads, take the details and connect with the dealer. How do you grow that? Largely it was the revenue growth of the company via the product. It is the creation of products which can potentially generate revenue. Within 2 years of joining, I got promoted. Scope increased, more people started to report under me.
Question: Something else you want to tell someone who is adopting to do an MBA.
Answer. Product management is something that is not taught on campuses. It is very difficult to teach also. Awareness is low, as compared to sales, brand, supply chain etc. Since no one knows what a product manager does, forget aspiring for it. And the irony is, 80% of people joining MBA colleges are from IT or related fields. To those who are aspiring to be a product manager (PM) read this book called - "Cracking the PM interview" 2013 book.. Even if you read just the first 50 pages, you will get a good idea of the PM's role.