In this Reasonable Product Interview, I had the pleasure of having Cliff des Ligneris talk about 2 sided marketplace.
Cliff is Product Lead at GetYourGuide and has been running product at several marketplaces in the past including at Doodle, Car4You, and now at Get your Guide.
We spoke about two-sided Marketplaces and why they are hard to build, (the “cold start problem) – but also why they’re a great business once you’re in.
As Cliff said, there is not really you can do to make it easier, besides the fact that “sometimes you have to cheat. You have to find the chat code to create one so that the other side. Because you can’t do both at the same time, it’s just impossible”. Cliff also shared some concrete tips and experience doing this kind of “cheating” to bootstrap a marketplace against an established incumbent.
We went on discussing how to create the right team setup for a marketplace business, and why this will have to change over time anyway.
Finally, we spoke about being a PM in Europe vs in the US. In Europe, there are just fewer people to look at in terms of best practices, which requires PMs and aspiring PMs to be even more proactive in grabbing the skills and way of thinking that you need to be a great PM.
Cliff shared with us what he gives as “PM tools” to his new hires, and what he expects from them to get “up to speed”.
The most important piece of advice from Cliff to become a PM? “think twice before you you actually decide you want to be a PM, it’s hard!”
You can also read the full transcript here:
Like you need to cheat somehow, like you need to find the cheat code to, to, to create one side that the other side will want to come to you because you can’t do both at the same time. Like it’s just impossible.
Hello, good morning to this reasonable interview today. I’m very happy because I’ve got Cliff with me. Cliff, good morning. Good morning, .
How are you? Very good, thank you.
There is one particular reason why I ask you to be here today, and I hope we really can go through that because I’m having a lot of discussions lately about marketplaces.
So when I think about marketplaces somehow your name comes to my mind and I thought it would be great to, to have you here today. But thank you for having me. Could you, could you tell everybody in a few sentences who are.
Wow. Yes. So currently I’m a lead product manager at Get Your Guide Ticketing which is a small team, basically like a startup in a scale up.
So we’re building a whole new business line in the reservation tech space. We can talk about that later. Previously I was c CPO of Car 4 You and Automotive Marketplace in Switzerland. Before that I was a group product manager at Doodle. Do. And before that I was at Tuti ch as a product manager.
And even before that, had some time in startups. So had a lot of fun then, but not so much money. That’s happily changed over my career. But yeah, I think I’ve been doing the same thing for the last 20 plus years, like, which is building websites and applications mostly for other people. So, and enjoying myself along the way,
so I was not too wrong.
Thinking about you for marketplaces and, this kind of things. Of online services and as more disclaimer perhaps cliff and I have been very shortly working together and the story is pretty fun. Do you, do you want to tell a little bit how we, how we met each other and how we’ve been working or competing?
Yeah, I think it’s an interesting one. So I think we met during the merger of TX Marketplace in Scout 24 Group in Switzerland. In there was Q4 of 2021, if I’m not mistaken. Before that actually, so. Obviously this marketplace is being merged. Auto Scout on your end, and car for you on my end, these two automotive marketplaces that were competing heavily before suddenly had to become one happy family.
Right? So that’s where we were thrown into. And,
and actually thinking in more about the competing products, because you and I, we’ve been competing like from a product, from a, from a business perspective for some time, right? So you and running. The car for you, product organization at that time, and for the ones who are not familiar with that, so Car for U was kind of the new on the block and the Challenger, and we, I was working at Autoscout back then.
So, which was like the established business. How was it from your perspective to build the Challenger to an establish product? What was difficult? What was.
It was very hard, let’s say that. But obviously for good reasons, right? Like I think Auto Scout has is and has been the leading automotive online marketplace in Switzerland since like the nineties.
And has a very, very strong brand. So I think there, it really kudos to the Scout 24 group and the branding that goes across all. All the marketplaces that they own that has always been very hard to compete against, right? Like so, and then especially that part, just even building our own brand on the side, right?
For a, for a new automotive marketplace. Right. Just that people even think about you in the first place. That is really already hard, right? Like beside then. The whole product and technical part of actually building a marketplace, getting connections to all the dealerships in Switzerland you know, actually also maybe doing some marketing and attracting people in a cost efficient way.
That is, is a huge challenge. So like we found ourselves more in like this David against goad kind of situation. As you basically had all the eyeballs in Switzerland, everybody knew Auto Scout and still everybody knows Auto Scout. And all the dealers were of course on the platform because that’s where they would sell their cars.
So yeah, that was also part of the reason why I accepted the challenge because I guess I like hard problems. . And also Car 4 You still being broad or small and nimble and kind of a startup setting, which is exactly what I like. I joined startups. I joined Tuti, like in a similar size. I, I joined Car 4 You, like in that size.
Helped grow Doodle as well from, I dunno what we were like 40 people to hundred 20 people. So like, it’s kind of my, the space like I like to play in. And that’s also what Drew drew me there. Incidentally, that of course also meant that we were competing, but,
And what would you say, so when, when you’ve got these kind of different sizes of different phases, how much, so you were mentioning it’s a problem, or it’s a matter of branding, it’s a matter of course of, of go-to market and so on.
What is the role that the products playing there? How, how can you compete on the product? How can you leverage.
Yes. I think the market usually with incumbent like auto Scout or just any marketplace or any product actually that has been there for a long time, right? Like there’s always things that are missing and have never been fulfilled, right?
Like, so latching onto these unfulfilled wishes is, is like the, the door into the market and on winning, like your first supply, like first dealerships that we were able to win was also through that we could commit to things that they had never got, right? And on the other hand, Car 4 You went into the market.
With the idea of a new business model or not just to take a part of the transaction or actually sell parking spots like auto Scott, if you want, right? Like you buy slots that you can advertise cars on, and CARF went in with more transaction model, right? Like you only actually make money when the dealership sells the car.
So that also, at least for some, the more cost conscious side of the dealerships, they were interested in such an alternative. Because they’re of course always interested in paying less for selling cars and making more money themselves, right? So that also gave us a bit of an edge in some cases.
In other cases, people literally didn’t care. . So unfortunately, so I,
I can confirm from my side when you, when you see somebody else doing all the features you’ve been dreaming about doing, you know that the, the market ones, because it’s not only the feature itself, but the market is telling, oh, this, you should really do.
And then somebody does them, it really feels, oh wow, they did it. So yeah, I, I, I completely see that from, from the other perspective. But what you’re saying, like feels that, you know, the product is one part, but. For, especially for this very unbalanced situations, is also mainly a matter of the go-to market itself.
Yes, indeed. Right. Like I didn’t expand too much on that, but like, I think as product people we over-index on the product, right? Like, so usually it’s not necessarily the product that will win, it’ll more likely be that the distribution will win. The better distribution channels or the better distribution system, whatever it is will probably have a larger effect on a successful business than the product.
Product if it’s shitty, you know, might not work, but it might also work. Like if you look at first iterations of some of the big, big companies that we have out there, right? There’s the famous examples of Facebook and Amazon and so on. Like, I mean, the website was what website looks like in the nineties, right?
Like that’s what it is. But that didn’t hinder them, right? Like the value proposition at the core of it, that was still strong enough that people would want to use it. But they also had good ideas of how to get. The distribution, right? Like how to, how to find or how to solve hard problems that we can talk about afterwards with the marketplace, right?
Because you need to get both sides working and you need to get liquidity and you need to kind of get transactions happening. So that is. Very similar to social media where you also have these network effects.
Yeah, totally. and this completely gets to your point. I’m very curious about, and I, and I share your analysis.
I was thinking about this yesterday. Marketplaces do have many things in common with social with social pla social media in terms of having this like cold start, start cold effect. You have to, where do you start from one side or the. And I was astonished lately because I see, I, I thought that it was kind of understood a certain point and people were stopping coming out with whoa, we let make a new a new social media for dogs and dogs owners.
And I was surprised because I’m part of different JS or mentoring program for startups and I say this year, This trend starting. So people say, oh, but we’re gonna make, as you were saying before, product is not everything, but oh, we’re gonna make this great product. So what would be your overall take on this?
Let’s make a new marketplace. .
Well I guess you can do it, and I know your answer. It’s probably gonna be don’t do it. , but, and mine is also rather you really have a good reason to do it and also probably need already a solution for the classical chicken and egg problem that marketplaces have.
Right? Like you. , unlike e-commerce where basically you need to drive demand for a product that you’re selling, you know that you have the product, you can sell it, and you, you have like the supply side on the marketplace, you have to generate both sides, right? Like you need to generate interest from sellers or content creators or, or whatever they are, right?
Like on, on the supply side. And you need to. Generate demand or people buying that, whatever these other guys are producing that makes it two problems to solve at once, right? And then it actually comes with a third problem, which is like connecting these guys, right? Like, so then also just because people come, they don’t necessarily find what they’re looking for and so on.
So like that comes with another problem. I think we both had our fair share of working with that problem in, in, in the market. . But on the other hand, like marketplaces are a great business and as soon as you get them going, they go really well . And with marketplace you actually get some of the highest evaluations in the market, even higher than for sas.
But that’s also because they are very hard to prove traction with and like you will only get those. Big investments at a very later stage, right? Like, so you’re definitely gonna have to find a way to bridge the very long gap from the, from the start to to until you get that investment and, yeah. So how to, yeah, how would you go in about doing this, right?
Like, I mean, it’s a not an easy question to answer, but I think the main thing is you need to do it your way. You need to find what works for the specific market that you’re tackling, like, , what is special about that? And like also, why are you specially situated to actually tackle that market? Like what do you know that makes you well situated to to create this marketplace, right?
Like you need to have some sort of insight like as with every business basically. But with marketplace there’s also no like, generic me recipe. I think as with many businesses. You do have some playbooks that have worked over the past, right? Like I definitely know the ships that playbook because that was ships, that is a Scandinavian media company that also owned Block it and a bunch of other marketplaces.
And they actually copy pasted basically the, the model from Scandinavia. Into many, many European countries, and then just started out with a local team and gave them, basically, here’s the handbook, how to do it. And here are the goals that you need to reach. And many successful marketplaces, market winners actually in European countries, like in France, Le Banque is, is one of the offshoots of this in Italy.
Subito in Australia’s Phil, har in Switzerland, Tuti managed to go along this playbook and establish themselves as the market. In many other countries it also failed. But that’s fine, right? Like, I guess that was the investment thesis behind it anyway, right? Like, we’ll just if we get 20% success rate, we’ll be fine.
And the other interesting playbook, I think that has also gathered a lot of attention and has been very successful is the Amazon or in Switzerland, more like the Digitech Luxus kind of way of doing it. By just, just, which is not also easy on itself, but like starting out on the e-commerce side, right?
Like first creating a business on, in e-commerce. Then later tacking on the, the marketplace component, once you actually have this demand side built up and you’re very solid on the demand side, right? Like so, and you already can fulfill some of the supplier yourself, but like to. increase the volumes you open up to other sellers, basically, right?
Like so, and that has, yeah. Both of those companies have done this very, very successfully.
I, I think it’s very interesting to, to look at this, this way you’re proposing, which is, there are really different ways you can play. And I’m thinking especially about smaller players starting now. And again, I. I really have got the startups coming to my mind because we, they, they’re asking me the question literally every day.
And you’re right, my answer usually is, is just don’t do that. And perhaps it’s a little bit too short. But I really like your way of phrasing, which is did you have a certain number of options? I understand the second one you’re mentioning, which is like, basically you, you forget a part of the issue at the beginning and you.
Make for it. So the, the Galaxy or the, or the Amazon one. It’s basically you first become dominant as an e-commerce platform yourself. And then you say, you know what? We are so open that we open also to the others. And if you’re a competitor, ours, you are welcome to sell on our platform. And because we are video have got a demand, we can actually then work on the offer.
So that’s, I guess the, the model you’re referring to. Basically are, are cutting in two parts. Can you tell us a little bit more about the first model you were mentioning, the one let’s say, coming from Scandinavia, and what would be the overall script?
Yeah. I mean there it is mostly about how to tackle the cause these are all generally maybe first stepping back two steps, right?
Like these are, these are all generalist marketplaces, right? Like they’re not niches, they’re not like Auto Scout is obviously very is automotive, right? Like it’s a vertical. All these marketplaces are generalists, right? Like they’re horizontals, like lato . They’re all have all categories. Basical.
So that’s the classical classified business that actually the former media companies lost in their newspapers when this all went online in the nineties, right? Like, so they actually lost a lot of money there. And then later all these media companies actually went into the online marketplaces by investing or buying competitors.
And that playbook then Has its detail actually in like, how do you win a, a generalist marketplace, right? And that is by first tackling the high velocity categories, right? Like there’s categories that. Are high volume, but like low price. That is usually like if you have children, right? Children’s clothes, right?
Like those kind of things. Electronics is very good. You have other like old, you know, bicycles, these kind of things like just household goods, things. People trade a lot, right? Like that also move a lot around and you they’re usually very cheap if you. . But that’s also the problem for the marketplace because like you can’t really make a lot of money with that.
Cause you can’t take a high cut of it. Like you can’t in introduce a high fee because if the article only costs three, three Frans, then like, what are you going to charge the, the seller? Right? Like it doesn’t help. So that is how the ships at the playbook goes. Like you start with these categories and then you start expanding into the more niche ones and.
By winning the, basically the demand side like that, you get more and more eyeballs, like everybody will start knowing you in the country. And everybody will go to the platform naturally to buy, sell, all kinds of things. You expand into the more value categories, which then obviously real estate, cars, jobs and then that’s how you basically take the market.
And also usually they have also introduced an m and a steps later in the process, right. To basically push out the, the, the remaining competitors. And that has also happened, like at my time at Dutti, we bought Oil X, you might remember O x. And yeah, then also now with the merger actually of TX and Scout group, right?
Like also Anies and Dutti are now part of the same. And also Ricardo, they’re all on the same roof now. So,
so my, my take on this cliff is that there are different ways of doing this, but basically the main suggestion for somebody starting in. Think strategy, there should be a strategy. You cannot just start and say, I’m gonna take product X.
It’s gonna work, but doesn’t matter which playbook you’re gonna work. Be familiar with this playbook and actually try to understand what you’re doing. Right?
Yes, exactly. Like, or create your own playbook. Right? Like that’s fine too, but like you need to have a plan for. Chicken and egg problem, right? Like, this is why marketplaces are hard, because it takes considerable effort to get this network effect going, right?
Like the both sides demand and supply, they influence each other, right? Like sellers want to sell where there’s most demand and people want to go there where there’s most offerings of whatever the products are, right? Like, so this has as a, as an effect, so like this network effect to get this kind of cycle going.
Like, you need to cheat somehow. Like you need to find the cheat code to. To create one side that the other side will want to come to you because you can’t do both at the same time. Like, it’s just impossible. So there has been like, I can give the example for Car 4 You actually, like when we were starting out competing with you.
Like what we did is, is also scrape inventory off of, of Auto Scout. Simply right, like we this was actually also our migration for many of the dealerships that we closed, right? Like we said, like you don’t have to do anything. We will just scrape your inventory off of Autos Scout and it’ll be automatically on our platform and you can sell here as well.
And that was of course, an easy deal for the. For the dealership. Cause like first of all, they had no upfront cost, right? Cause they would only pay us when they would have a transaction, when they would actually sell a car and they didn’t have to do anything except sign the paper and magically they would have more reach and sell more cars.
So that was a really good deal. Obviously that led to the whole scraping wars between the two companies. But that was also fun. And I know also other. Marketplaces starting out, or also these aggregators that exist, right? Like they do the same thing, right? Especially also in real estate. There’s some companies that exist that do aggregation.
They actually scrape many of the marketplaces and then bring it all in one place. You can’t actually contact anybody on those aggregators. You always get pushed out back to the marketplaces, right? Like, but that’s also a business.
And I, and I like what you’re saying because I mean there, there is a part of the saying of just killing this chicken and egg, killing this network.
But it’s also what is very powerful in what you’re mentioning about scraping or aggregating, is reality. That you’re looking this from the eyes of the user and you’re just making their life easier on the end user because they find everything together, especially when the market is very fragmented, I guess of course if there is one dominant player, a little less so, but also on the seller side and the offering side, you’re making their life.
because they just have to, yeah, you just do the, the heavy lifting for them. They just have to sign here and it’s done. Right. So there is this UX part, which is also very important, I guess.
Yes, I agree. Right? Like for for the users, be it your supply or demand side, right? I think making their lives easier is a, is a large goal in the end.
Marketplaces are intermediaries, right? Like they bring people together, they aggregate, consolidate fragmented markets. As you said, they bring buyers and sellers together that otherwise would basically not know each other, right? Like, so I would not know that there’s some guy in San Garland selling the news Nike shoes that I want, right?
Which I probably don’t want, but anyway, like, you know, these kind of niche things that just, just exist and you, you don’t know about these other people who are, have the same interest or, or like, are also experts in, in, in photo equipment from Nicon. Like, you know, like how do I actually buy a used lens from somebody?
Like, I don’t know, I don’t even know who’s selling it. Right? So, and that’s the value of a marketplace and that’s also why we can charge money for, for the transaction that happens. And of course the more transactions we can enable, the more value we are bringing to both sides actually of the marketplace.
And. The more we can make this this wheel spin the more we can also extract out of that,
obviously, right. The more it becomes kind of a cage or a place where it’s very, very difficult to escape because it’s this network effect is also protecting you after a while is a barrier to enter, but it’s also barrier to enter for, for the competitors system.
guess I think, I think you’re right, right? Like the. Why It’s also it’s, it’s, it’s so hard, right? Like, because it also gives you a lot of protection. It’s like the biggest mode you can have when the network effect is, is going right. This is also why I think some of these social media players and also marketplaces that are there, like they’ve just been there for a long, long time.
Cause it’s very hard to compete against this. Like there’s also the. challenge we had obviously with Car 4 You coming against Auto Scout, right? Like, cause if, just like if you wanna sell a car online, everybody goes auto scout, right? Like it was like synonymous with selling cars online in Switzerland it still is.
So that’s why I’m saying like, that’s, it’s a, it’s a very strong position.
and , and the second most common question I get asked, and I’d really like to know, what’s your take on this when somebody’s talking about marketplace? Again, one is shall we do it and how we do it and where do we start? And the second is probably for companies, we’re a little bit ahead.
We’re already have done this First part is. , how do you organize the product team? Mm-hmm. and I heard different ways and you know, there is, there are companies colonizing one for supplying one for demand. There are very different setups. What is your, usually your favorite one or how do you, what is your playbook?
Taking playbook about that?
I guess the very not wanted answer is, it depends, right? ? No, it’s, it’s really, it changes all the time. Like I think people have the notion that teams and composition and so on is a very static thing. It’s not depending on the size of the company does changes dramatically, depending on also the focus that you’re putting.
It changes dramatically. Right. Also I think understanding how your marketplace works in the first place is, is important. Like, are you more like demand constrained or are you supply constrained? Or like which side do you need to focus? Which side of the chicken and egg is, is, is where you going to e extract the value actually?
Right? Like where do you need to put in or show more value as well? Right? Does all this influences. How you would want to structure your teams. Also, of course, as I was saying, the size of the company. So like if you , if you can only create two teams, like yeah, maybe it’s gonna be supply demand, maybe not.
Maybe it’s gonna be marketplace and growth. I don’t know. Like, so there’s different approaches to that and it matters like what your strategy is that determines the teams. At least for me, that was always. The main point, like what is our strategy based on that I can make teams for, for us. And also the other constraint that comes in is obviously the resources that you have, like how many people do you actually have or how much money to get more people.
And then you very fast get reduced down to a lot less teams that you would like. But that’s reality, right?
So I like it very much. You say I wouldn’t like it, but actually like very, very much this, it depends because I think it, that’s really the reality. In my, also, in my experience, you don’t really care about the setup.
Sure. I mean, it does make a difference, but you know that there is none, which is perfect in any way. You’re, you’re evolving. So probably the only thing you really want to integrate is this evolution and don’t be stuck or particular setup and believe that easier either is perfect or it’s just not working.
So if you integrate this evolution, you’re probably already much better.
Yes, and I mean, I think there’s also something that is actually an opportunity for the product managers in the company because like you get to see more things, like if you stay five years on the same team, same team doing the same thing like.
your learning curve is very flat, right? So, but if you get every 18 months, the company changes things up a bit. Like, because the strategy is being adapted to the market reality and things changing, right? I mean, we saw dramatic changes in the last years with Corona and all kinds of stuff. So strategy adapts to the reality, and that means also, Through that the teams need to adapt because they’re independent on what the strategy looks like.
So as a PM it’s actually great because you get to see and work on new problems, right? Like, and that is obviously, at least for me, the main thing why I like my job. Cause I get to solve interesting problems and also hard
problems. I, I believe there is a very thin line between changing to earth and not changing enough.
Where, where do you draw this line? Usually when you, when you say there should be this evolution what is the minimum steady time you’re looking to, and what is the, the longest stable time you’re looking at?
I’m not sure if there’s like a, a longest, I mean, I think some teams can exist for a long time.
They will be more the challenge of like, they will have too much on their plate and then over time they will need to break up into. Into sub-teams. Like there comes the question of like capacity and like also effectiveness of a team, right? Because engineering obviously, like, or software building, like you build, build, build, build.
And your CAPA capacity is just a hundred, right? Like of, of the a hundred, the more things you add, the more. Space, the maintenance and rework of, of the old stuff will actually take, right. So you have less and less capacity to create new stuff. Right. So that then automatically for me is, is one of the main triggers to why you split teams so they have more capacity to create new again.
Right. So that’s why I’m saying like some teams can exist very long time, but like they were probably. Have had more responsibility or, or a, a broader set of things, and then over time they will have a, a more narrow focus, but the team might still exist for many years. But then what is the minimum? I think that’s more interesting because that gets us into the realm of is it a product team or is it a product team?
Because like if it’s only for three weeks, then it’s probably a project team, or not really a product team because like what is the product you’re building in three weeks? So I think a solid year or so is, is, is a good thing. As a, as a minimum, I think that you can think about a product, you can also build a product in a year that is, is decent.
Obviously this can vary. So I,
I hear between the lines, when you see project, you say kind of a. Say it’s not the right things to be done feeling right. So we say it’s a little bit too short, becomes project as means it’s not really what you want to do in product. Am I hearing it? That’s right.
Yeah. I mean, I guess we had a bit of a conversation about that already, but project and product is obviously a whole different world. I always say that like in product management we run a lot of projects, to basically. Improve our product or get to to where we want to go. So. Projects being like fixed scope, fixed time fixed resources kind of thing.
And product is, is not that, right? Like we have a basically these as variables as well, of course. But like, you can, usually, there’s not a time when you, when attached to it, like obviously if you’re in a startup or so, there’s always time attached to everything . But that’s why you also try to iterate fast and always produce something that is working.
But there we can go into the agile discussion and. Yes, there is a large difference between product and project work. I obviously at some point clearly chose the path of the product manager believing strongly that with a product you are actually building a, a business or at least a part of a business.
You have more. I don’t like the notion of the mini ceo. I, I prefer to like the notion of like the mini founder actually, because like you have responsibility for a part of the business. And that is like, for me, always goes like, end to end, like as the main, one of the main traits of a product manager for me is ownership.
Like, you need to take ownership of the, of everything that’s going on with your product, everything. And. No, like, it includes marketing, it includes engineering, it includes like every part of it, like if it doesn’t work, and customers, users, whoever is, is not satisfied with what it is. It, it’s your fault.
basically, you have to fix it, right? So it’s, that’s, that’s where the whole ownership part goes in. And I think for project that is very different because like projects are very often as a project manager, you are given what you need to do, right? Like you’re there to execute on it. And you need to make this work in this time with these people.
and that’s, that’s your job, right? Like, so I, I feel it’s a very different job sometimes as a project manager. You do have this project manager, her hat on. Comes with with with the job and it’s fine, but especially in software teams, I actually even prefer engineers to do the project. Leading. Usually they, they just know it better because they’re making software basically.
I, I like very much this owning part, but I also feel that this is one of the reasons why there is a lot of misunderstanding. Oh, you said owning, so this is a product owner you’re talking about? Right.
Yes. The whole product owner, product manager discussion. I mean, the easiest way is to just refer to some of the people who are much smarter than me.
Like, I dunno, somebody like Marty Kagan also has written nicely about it others as well. But in the end, for me, product owner is more akin to a project manager actually, right? Like, and. More process focused and making sure that we have a backlog lined up and prioritized for the next sprint and , and these kind of things.
And for the product manager, it is more thinking about holistically what is, how to build this business, how to create this value exchange between the business and the market, right? Like, so this yin and yang of product manager, as I sometimes say, it is like this user for the value for the user and value for the.
So bringing those together and the product is the vehicle with which we facilitate this exchange of value, right? Like so that is what we need to think about. And that’s why also to our previous points that we were talking about was like distribution matters. And if you as a pm if you’re not involved in the distribution channel, you’re doing it wrong.
Like you need to be to, if, I dunno what kind of business you’re running, but like if you’re in e-commerce, you definitely need to talk to your marketing people a lot. If you’re in a B2B business, you definitely need to talk to your sales people a lot. Cause like they are in touch with bringing. The demand, right?
Like, and they might bring the right people or the wrong people, or like you might be building the product for the wrong people, which might be bit a better way to put it because like the ownership side again, right? You need to make sure that it actually works for the people. So thinking of it as more holistically and then also going into this idea of.
Thinking about your product end to end. Also can involve, of course, like customer support and customer success in a B2B side, right? Like, so how do we work on retention, for example, in a, in a SAS setting, right? Like, that’s a super important part. You can’t just say like, well, that’s the job of the success people, right?
Like, . Yeah. Okay. . That won’t work.
I, I, I think this owning part is really key. It’s so on mindset. I gave up a long time ago already making this difference between P O P M. I mean, we call them whatever you want. Yeah. Within really trying to focus on is do you actually understand this ownership part?
And I really like what you’re saying when you’re talking about ownership. It doesn’t matter what is, we call it product ownership or whatever, but we’re talking about ownership. You’re really talking about, and honing. Holistically. You cannot say, oh no, but that’s marketing and it’s distribution is part of it.
And you were saying before, sometimes distribution, branding got to market is the key differentiator in some products, so you cannot say, it’s not my, it is not my sheet. Right.
Yes, exactly. Like I think the product owner title actually speaks much better to that part of, of, of the role. Right. Which is sometimes a bit confusing with the product manager title cause you’re not actually a manager of people in that sense, which sometimes gets misunderstood.
Like you don’t manage the engineers in your team, like you’re usually on the same level. And it’s working in that team as a, as a contributor, right? Like individual contributor usually. And. I think the ownership part is super important. I think about, you know, like if you want to become a PM or if you are a pm, like how, how to think about like what is a good PM or like what does a PM need in that sense, like I think there’s fourish dimensions.
Probably there’s more, but like, like I think about it is with aptitude, which means like you need to be tenacious, you need to be curious. You also need to be somewhat disciplined, and you definitely need a large tolerance for uncertainty. , because it will always. , then you need like the S which is skills.
You need mainly also empathy. Cause you need to understand your users. You need to understand your stakeholders. You need to understand your team, and then also bring all that together that it works efficiently. But obviously it helps to be proficient in ux, in tech, meaning programming and code. It, it helps to be proficient in growth.
It helps to be proficient in sales. If you’re in a B2B side, like a lot of these skill sets from. other people around you if you, if you’re proficient in some of those, definitely helps in your job a lot. And then of course, attitude, right? Like obviously we talked about it just now. The ownership side is, is like a big, big topic.
But then also openness kind of Also growth mindset, learning kind of mindset. Like you need to learn and evolve every day because like you will always basically work on problems that you never have seen before. Like I’ve worked in, in, in product for many, many years now, and I, I think there are some recurring teams, right?
Like, ooh, going from a monolith to a microservices system and like, you know, all these kind of things. They do rec, they are recurring. But like then in the detail, the problem is always unique. Like you, you need to understand your market and your customer and figure out like also how they want the problem solved in the best way that they will want to pay for it
And then also of course, the thing that is. Most covered in on the internets is then process, right? Like you definitely need some process, some framework. You need to be able to work with data. You need to have a strategy, even on your own product level. You need to have some sort of a plan. If you want.
You don’t need to call it a strategy, you can just call it a plan. But you need that. And then like with all these four things, it’s asap. So like obviously you need to get all of those asap. So .
Okay. I didn’t get it before. So the AAP P actually is the acronym for the four traits you are describing. Okay.
Makes a lot of sense. And it’s easier to remember now. Exactly. And I’m putting myself in the shoes of this junior PM or somebody who like to embrace or just reconvert their career a certain point. , I’d like to become a pm. So I understand I have to get those four traits you are describing the A S A P.
How do I get them? So the, the, the most common answer I usually hear in the industry, I’m not saying I agree with it. To the, to the contrary, it’s like, oh, I’m gonna get a scrum certified or getting a scrumpy curse and it’s is done. What would you suggest to people like to start a career in PM in Europe?
Yeah, I, I mean, I won’t advocate against getting that certificate, but I also won’t advocate for it. Like, I don’t think it’s necessary. I think it is unfortunately on a lot of the job descriptions as like an AR gate, HR gate, where it’s just used for screening purposes, which I completely believe it’s wrong.
So I. Start with actually trying to understand if you want to do the job, which means talking to some of, some people you might know that actually are product managers. Or just in. In software engineering or in software development, like talk to people who are working on software development teams.
Like how is this in a day-to-day, like what is happening actually, like that you understand if this is something that you’re interested in, right? Because like the first a aptitude basically is you really need to also want to do this because it is definitely one of the hardest jobs that you can do in tech.
You are constantly, Being scrutinized from all the sides. And you are also gonna take a lot of the, the blame and you’re gonna have to pass on literally all of the fame to, to the people you work with, which is great. Also, it’s also great learning to actually then becoming a leader at some point.
Maybe if you want to go down the manager track, like it’s a, it’s a great school for that, but you need to learn or understand if you, if you really want to do this. And in the end, I believe, Good to understand how software is made. So because you are very heavily involved in this software creation process, so it’s, it’s good to get exposure in that way.
And that can be in many ways, right? Like, so people who are PMs have, be, become, have come from many backgrounds. So there’s no one way to go there. There’s just a bunch of skill sets like that and dimensions that I explained before. That really help you become good at your job as well, right?
Actually, you don’t have to have all of that when you start, obviously . What I would look for if I would start is a place where I can learn this, right? A company that knows how to do this, which means looking at the people who are there, the C p o obviously on the top will have the most influence on, on like how things happen.
Getting chance to talk to that person is, is pretty slim as a junior. But if you can, obviously reach out. Otherwise, listen to good podcasts like this one from Salva and otherwise talk to other product managers, right? Like, so they will definitely easily tell you what is, what is good, what is not where you can maybe learn things.
Yeah. And then in the company, ideally you get a mentor you, you, you, you hook in with, with one of the more senior PMs. Watch them how they act, watch ’em, how they do. and learn, right? Like the more people you can watch that really know what they’re doing, the faster you will learn. Like it can really be within very short years that you learn a lot.
I probably cannot emphasize this, what you’re seeing enough. I mean, finding and choosing the right company or even the right boss, the right manager, the right peers is probably the single most important element to develop your career as a pm And you’re also saying this before and finally, sometimes the selection process are working the other way around.
So there is kind of a gate keeping some. But the reality is that you do want to scrutinize yourself, the company you’re gonna work for and your new colleagues, because that’s. Biggest chance to, to get what you need to become a good pm. Right?
Yeah. Also, if I would need to kind of rank those four dimensions of sa ap, like of aptitude, skills, attitude, and process, like definitely aptitude and attitude are much more important than skills and process.
Cause the attitude, things you can learn, aptitude and attitude is something that you bring, right? Like you also. Can learn like obviously, and you can also decide to be, I want to be more open from tomorrow. Great. Okay, good. Or I want to be more disciplined. Like great, it will take practice, but you can do it like you can change, right?
But it’s definitely. Much easier as a senior product person to teach you skills in ux, in, in tech, in growth whatever, or also help you with some frameworks. Rather, if I’m a good C P O or some more senior leader in a, in a product company than I already have, set up some frameworks that will help my more junior people to actually go through the flow, right?
We will have product reviews on our, on our review cycles. We will have kickoff meetings. We will have like strategy meetings. , I will give you the framework, I will give you the context that you can operate in, and then I will probably also give you a mentor or like a senior person that sits next to you and tells you when When you do things wrong or like how you can do things better and so on.
So like, I will give you that if I can. But I will need you as, as the junior pm to come in with, with the right attitude and right aptitude to, to actually also take in all this knowledge and use the tools that we can can give you.
But that’s a very precious advice Cliff. I think also for people who are starting this career year, is you, you want to know what you have to ask for, right?
You, this is something you have to ask your manager. You, you do want to get this mentor? Is not nice to have, is really should be part of your negotiation together with the salary potentially when you’re applying to a new position. Yes.
I don’t remember who said that, but like , there is this notion of are you learning or are you earning mm-hmm.
basically. So, and in the beginning of your career as a junior, like you’re definitely in the learning seat. So I would just emphasize the learning part. Find people who can teach you and don’t think too much about the salad, obviously, like, earn enough that you can buy yourself food and maybe a cool new toy and like, you know, whatever you need, but like, just.
don’t over-index on the salary because the salary will come with, with, with skillset and with, with being a good pm. Like this is one of the best paid jobs in, in tech. So over time, the salary will follow. That’s, I have no doubt in the beginning, you definitely need to emphasize on the learning part, and that’s where you just need to learn from, from good practice, right?
So you need to really find a good, a good, a good.
And this is leading to, to the last question I really wanted to cover with you. And I, I know you do have opinions about that. So you’re mentioning like having good schools or going to good companies. I know that when we talk about product management, there are a few companies one of the big tech companies, they always come up to my mind or to our minds.
I’m not sure whether this is right or wrong, but that’s probably what, what is in the air in the industry. , what is your take on that? So are we, and when I say we, I mean here in Europe mainly followers to the school. Shall we create our own school? We don’t care. What’s you, what’s your, what’s your point of view on this?
Yeah. I think there are ob obvious differences between the US and , and Europe. Not only, or last, or not, not least, I would say is. the difference in the maturity of the ecosystem, right? Like obviously Europe is, is way behind in terms of maturity compared to Silicon Valley, right? Like there’s been investments going on, startups and whatnot for many, many years.
Decades in, in Silicon Valley, right? The ecosystem in Switzerland. Or broader Europe is, is is less mature in that sense. Like you have less people to look up to basically as a, as a, as a person or as a startup founder as well. And also less people to lean on, right? Like, so if you have a lot of founders around you, a lot of money that wants to go into startups and so on, it’s much.
Easier. Like, not that it’s super easy, but like it’s, it’s, it’s a much nicer place to be as a founder and also as a product person then when it’s not the case, right? Like then there’s also the risk taking factor that is like more a cultural factor or difference between the US and the Europe. It’s I’d say, would say we’re a bit more prudent in Switzerland.
A bit more conservative, especially also in the investment front, right? Like, so I’ll give you money once you’re already profitable. Like, but then like, why do I need your money then? Like it’s, you know that question. . So there are definitely differences there, but it’s also not everything. Like we don’t have to invent the, the wheel again in Europe because like there is some underlying software development practice that is just established now across the globe.
I would say. I think we all need to use that as a, as a, as a jumping point. And here it’s more the notion of standing on the shoulders of giants, right? Like they’ve already. Done more in this, in, in this regards and then like what is then the European flavor or the Swiss flavor of, of doing product, right?
Like, so like we need to figure that out for ourselves. And I think this is something we can do and also should do over the next few years. Also in these kind of discussions and other events. Product management festival I hope will actually mature into a bit more also Swiss and not only always looking across the.
So I think there’s definitely more potential for us to define what is, what, how do we do actually do product in, in, in our spaces.
And my take with Cliff about this part, about the difference between the US and eu for example, is that you, if you’re in eu then you, you have to be a little bit more proactive because you’re not automatically being in this big path of people or in this ecosystem.
So it’s not impossible. It’s not that we have to copycat everything. But probably this means that we have to, as product managers and especially younger product managers, they will have to, we are gonna ask them to be a little bit more proactive and go look for this, rather than just absorb what is around.
Right? Yep. I think it goes back also to the ownership, right? I mean, take ownership of your career, right? Like, if, if this is what you want to do, find a way to make it happen. It’s, it’s also, it was also for me, right? Like, it’s not like that product was shouting at me and saying like, here, come here, and like, this is what you, I had to find this out.
Right? I can also found out that I like doing this. I actually, and I didn’t explain this in the intro, but I, I actually studied law and I did a, a stint in being a tax consultant at some point, but I clearly found out that it’s not my passion. Like, I mean, obviously everybody will tell me like, well, tax obviously, but, you know went back to tech because I, that’s what I naturally gravitated to.
And I also always have been doing basically since 14 or so and started coding and building websites and stuff. So it’s, it’s what comes naturally to me. So like, you also need a bit of a I don’t, talent is the wrong word, but like at least you need an interest in that direction. And then, You can make it happen, right?
Like find the people that can teach you, as we were saying before, find the communities that they exist. Like there’s definitely a bunch of meetups in every city in Switzerland by now. Find the people online. Like if you can’t find people locally, if you’re living somewhere on the mountain, go online, right?
Like there’s people online all the time and everybody likes to. share their opinion like what I’m doing now. So you will definitely find people to
talk to. So I’m gonna remember about this, our discussion in this sentence of yours. This the way I hear it, which is, if you feel depressed doing product management, remember it could be doing tax.
So that’s, that’s my takeaway of today. But it was extremely helpful and thanks again. So we, we went through very different topics and it was extremely interesting to, to listen to your takes on how to do or not to do a market. How to cover the network effect, how to start from zero there, how to structure your teams for, for a marketplace.
And a very interesting, also your advice about how to become a PM and the, and the first. Question that you ask, which is, do you want to be in PM in the first place? And do you understand this is gonna be hard? So so many takeaway points for myself. Thank you much. I got a, a final personal question.
So we’ve been talking a lot about work. What do you do? Where do we find you, where you’re not working?
Usually outdoors and usually with my family. So I’m married and I have a five year old daughter, so we definitely spend a lot of time and I like going hiking in the mountains. We like to travel to Scandinavia, so find me outdoors.
And you’re working the right place now, right? To find the right activities at at Get your Guide. It’s
not working in travel company, so I guess I can find places to go.
Excellent, cliff, thanks again for being with us.
Thank you so much Salva
My name is Salva, I am a Product executive, helping tech companies discover, shape, and sell better Products. My work and writing are mainly about subscription models, product pricing, e-commerce/marketplaces, and creating top product organizations.
My superpower is to move between ambiguity (as in creativity, innovation, opportunity, and ‘thinking out of the box’) and structure (as in ‘getting things done’ and getting real impact).
I am firmly convinced that you can help others only if you have lived the same challenges: I have been lucky enough to practice product leadership in companies of different sizes and with different product maturity. Doing product right is hard: I felt the pain myself and developed my own methods to get to efficient product teams that produce meaningful work.