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Bhaskar Krishnan

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Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI, Meta
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Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, YahooJanuary 16

This is a very interesting question and one that I keep touching upon on almost all career conversations with my teams & mentees. There is no one typical career path for PMs, which can be both liberating and challenging at the same time!

It's liberating since PMs have the chance to shape their careers to what they would like it to be, playing to their strengths and having a fulfilling life & career. It's challenging since every industry and many firms in the same industry have different definitions & requirements for what a PM is! For instance, even within FAANG firms, the definition of a PM is different - Google requires PMs to market the work of their Engineers, Apple PMs are usually good at their domain of expertise but execute on Sr Management decisions, Amazon PMs are Business/ Program Managers with heightened focus on a few metrics, Netflix PMs are very Technical (most of their PMs were former Engineers or Architects) and Meta offers almost the full buffet but also the most agency & empowerment to PMs. I touched upon some of the PM archetypes in another answer and its great to see that PMs can succeed in any shape or form tht adds value to their firm!

PMs who are early in their careers will do well to join established firms to understand the PM tracks and how senior PMs have shaped their careers. Working in a start-up or a 0-1 environment usually turbo-charges a PM's career but only if the PM is aware of their strengths & know-how to leverage them. I have found that alternating between large firms & startups or between established products/ projects and 0-1 initiatives is the best way one can gain the most perspective and shape their careers as PMs.

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Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, YahooJanuary 16

Empathy and the ability to connect with people across the board is the most under-rated skill for high-performing PMs. Empathy enables PMs to connect dots, build relationships, solve problems and dive-deep, to increase their expertise

PMs need to exhibit people skills that span three broad categories and empathy for each of these different categories helps in its own way.

1. Managing XFN - PMs typically work with large cross-functional (XFN) teams and need to adapt their working styles for each of the XFN teams, their involvement in the product/ problem, the individual team members' seniority & their time at the company. Initiatives that are amongst the top priorities for the company might have a fully staffed XFN team and others would have varying degrees of staffing. Likewise, new initiatives, esp 0-1 initiatives would have gaps in resourcing and would sometimes be staffed with new hires or interns.

The ability to connect with people will ensure the PM is able to partner with all XFN appropriately to get things done. For instance, at Flipkart & Rakuten, we were resource constrained and I hired interns for our Tiger (Innovation) teams. It was one of the most fun experiences I had since we could think big, not fear failure and also time-box our work (to match with internship cycles) to launch a prototype or pilot. Products such as Flipkart Merchant Ads, Flipkart Funnel Attribution & R-Pay Merchant Rewards developed from these pilots

2. Team leadership - PMs, esp later in their careers, would be managing teams of Product Managers, across their career spectrum. Every PM is different in their approach, some lean on context, others lean on passion, yet others on structured problem solving process and being able to identify what makes the team tick and make them the best version of themselves in key! My team had Rakuten had PMs that spanned multiple archetypes from the Captain (who likes to lead large initiatives themselves), the Generalist (who can shape-shift to any project), the Specialist (who likes to specialize in a domain), the Architect (Technical PMs who like to build) and the Integrator (PMs who are good at managing large, complex initiatives).  Meta has an equally impressive range of archetypes for PMs and more for TPMs & Project Managers.

3. Executive Presence -  The last & most critical category of people interactions for senior PMs is working with executives & Sr leadership in any firm. Here again, empathy for the leaders, for the scale & scope of problems they are solving, for what keeps them up at night, will go a long way in helping the company, the org & the product team. Sr PMs need to think of themselves as Chief Enabling Officers and the more they enable Executives, the more they enable their own teams

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Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, YahooJanuary 16

The best Product managers combine curiosity with structured problem solving skills. Being curious helps them look at problems as opportunities to learn & grow. Ability to frame & structure a problem helps them take others along in the process. Both these skills can be learnt & cultivated over time.

Curiosity - Being curious is an under-rated skill. PMs who are curious keep learning, adding new tools (ideas, PM techniques, s/w tools) to their expanding toolkit and more importantly keep expanding their perspective.

Structured Problem Solving - Being able to frame a problem in a simple manner, helps all cross-functional stakeholders & partners align on the problem definition (yes, this is key), the solution and then the execution

I try to imbue these two values on a daily basis and this has helped me seamlessly transition across AdTech, Consumer Tech, E-Commerce & Fintech. And, it's a lot of fun!

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Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, YahooJune 7

Vision statements are critical for products, product portfolios and companies. Firms with clear vision statements are able to adapt, evolve and focus on solving problems that their customers face, better than competitors and in a manner that brings forward all their strengths. Firms without clear vision statements and products without one become stale, one-hit wonders or worse, seasonal crazes like beanie babies

Here are vision statements from two financial services firms 

1) “aspire to be the best, execute superbly, build a great team & winning culture” 

2) “serve as a trusted partner to our clients by responsibly providing financial services that enable growth & economic progress”. 

The first statement does a good job of conveying the firm’s values and its culture but does not offer any color on the business, the problem it is solving or the value to its customers. The second firm does a better job of touching upon the business and the type of impact it wants to create but it is still too vague to be a vision statement

Here is a good vision statement - ‘Make financial progress possible for everyone’. Credit Karma does this  by offering information & tools to each of its customers to understand where they are in the credit & financial products journey.

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Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, YahooJune 7

Product teams and firms should think about the relatioship between the Product, features & goals, the products' & companies' roadmap and finally the company strategy & mission! All these are related and are critical to build disruptve firms at scale

  • Company Mission is how the world sees your company and the change it wants to bring
  • Company Strategy is the logical plan to bring your company’s mission into being
  • Product Strategy is logical plan for how the product will drive its part of the company strategy
  • Product Roadmap is the sequence of features that implement the Product Strategy
  • Product Goals are the quarterly and day-to-day outcomes of the Product Roadmap that measure progress against the Product Strategy

Ravi Mehta has written a brilliant note that outlines this and how the Product-Strategh stack looks and all these steps matter as do their relationship with each other

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Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, YahooJune 7

Product vision distills why a product does what it does and how it envisions the future. As we saw above, it's critical to spend time crafting the product vision and the strategic narrative that follows from it. Two firms that had brilliant product visions and have built world-class & global platforms changed their product visions a few years ago. The new product visions have spurred these firms to greater heights!

  • Facebook changed its vision statement from “Making the world more open and connected” to “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”. Facebook’s original mission was one of the best during its time and helped Facebook connect the world through the FB App, Instagram & WhatsApp. It also helped in making the world more open by the products they built such as Groups, Marketplace, Newsfeed, etc.
    • This mission helped Facebook grow into the largest social media firm in the world and in having the most number of users. But, the world has also changed in the 10-years since Facebook wrote the original mission and the same openness they lived by led to fake news, online trolling & hatred and people feeling miserable on social media.
    • Facebook did a pivot to their new vision statement, where they realized that the goal is to help the users build community. The second part of the vision statement is about bringing the world closer, not further. This new statement has worked very well as the firm has refocused on users, reduced fake news and offered tools for users, small merchants, insta influencers, etc to build communities and monetise better
  • Likewise, Google changed its vision statement from ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ to ‘provide access to the world’s information in one click’.
    • The first vision statement worked for Google when they were a search engine and the internet was accessed from desktops (& laptops) using browsers. This vision statement helped Google index the world’s information and become the default search engine for the world. Becoming the default search engine also meant offering multiple languages and expanding beyond text into images, videos, etc and they did a stellar job there also
    • The iPhone changed it all and over the past 10-years, people access the internet through apps, smartphone widgets and mobile web, rather than the desktop. People’s attention spans are decreasing and every firm & app is focusing on getting information within fewer clicks. The new vision statement acknowledges and has enabled Google to focus on building the best Mobile Apps across Maps, Search, Photos, etc and the best operating systems & browsers.
  • Both examples above highlight great companies that executed brilliantly on their original vision statements but realized that their user’s needs and the world around them was changing. They then changed their vision statements to acknowledge the changes and enable them to expand & grow with the new world.
    • Apple’s name change from Apple Computer to Apple Inc is another change along the same lines
    • Apple also changed their vision statement from ‘make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind’ to ‘bringing the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software and services’
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Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, YahooJune 7
  • Every product is built to solve a user/ people problem or help solve a pain-point. This should be the main focus when building a product vision and the most important questions are ‘Who is this product for’ and ‘What problem is it solving’?
  • These two questions should lead into ‘Why does this product solve it’ question. The third question is particularly important for category defining products. The iPhone, when launched, focused on the typical consumer who wanted a personal device to store pictures of loved ones and access the internet rather than the business user whose needs were well served by the Blackberry
  • There are several simple frameworks that can be used to go deeper into this and Intuit’s Design for Delight is a simple but effective framework (
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Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, YahooJune 7
  • Vision statements should be simple, describe the value and stand the test of time (atleast one or two market cycles)
  • Every product is built to solve a user/ people problem or help solve a pain-point. This should be the main focus when building a product vision and the most important questions are ‘Who is this product for’ and ‘What problem is it solving’?
  • Teams that answer the two questions above typically get their vision statement right and teams that focus on teh urgent, immediate or playing catch-up to competition (btoh real & perceived) usually do not
  • One of the best examples is is that of the iPhone vs Blackberry - the iPhone focused on solving real-consumer problems in accessing the internet & online content from your phone while the Blackberry foucssed on adding features for their Corporate customers 
  • The interesting sub-plot here is that Sony Ericsson & Nokia had smartphones that were much more capable than the iPhone when it launched and Sony Ericsson was a leader world-wide. But, they almost didn't have a Vision (or didn't seem to have one) and threw away their marketshare & lead by throwing features & specs at consumers that didn't help them in any manner 
  • This brings us to another critical point in Product Vision - Timing! Great products could be ideated years or decades before the Technology allows them to be! General Magic almost launched the first smartphone in early 90s, almost 20-years before the iPhone! Apple itself launched the first tablet in the early 90s (but killed it). This mix of market awareness, technology limitations or capablities, consumer willingness to pay, etc all matter when defining a Prodcut Vision

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Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, YahooJune 8

This is a question that is close to my heart and I love to see folks transition from Product Owners to Stellar PMs. Taking a step back, I truly love to see people become the best versions of themselves and it doesn't matter if they are Product Owners, Product Managers, Program Managers or any & every role they like to see themselves in! 

The key to excel in any of these roles is to understand that every role has a few basic requirements but once they are met, there is the opportunity to bring a lot of creativity, one's unique interests and leverage the strengths that you bring to the table.

For a Product Manager, there are about four key skill or competency buckets that matter:

1) Product Strategy 

2) Product Execution

3) Influencing People

4) Customer/ Market Insights 

The best product managers (the so-called mythical unicorns or the 1% PMs or the PM influencers) are supposedly the best at all of these competencies. The secret here is that no one needs to be best at any of these competencies all the time. Its enough to meet the basic requirements for each of these competencies and excel at those that you are good at. Then, chose the PM role that helps you excel.

Lets map these competencies to broad PM types:

1) Platform PM - needs great execution, very good people skills & good insights 

2) Growth PM - needs excellent market insights & very good strategy 

3) UX PM - needs great insights, very good exectution & good strategy

4) New Products PM - needs great insights & startegy and good execution 

So, PMs need to excel at atleast one competenc and be good at one or two others.

The above attributes can also be mapped to the stage of a PMs career and their seniority & ability to infleunce a firm's strategy & vision

1) Early career PMs need to focus on Exeuction. The nuts & bolts of any operation and product are important for future success. Refer to the other Qs about Steve Jobs, Tony Fadell, etc to understand the role of context in building killer products 

2) Mid-career PMs need to start thinking more about customers and developing people skills. At this stage, the ability to influence people, shape decisions and understand what customers want becomes more improtant. At the same time, there are folks who join Tech firms as mid-career PMs and its critical thay they spend a lot of time on understanding the nuts & bolts of the operation. This ability to do deep will help bring their other skills to the front

3) PM Leaders need to understand the Product strategy, the market landscape, the trends and then the customer needs & problems. If they have come up the traditional PM ladder in Tech firms, they would have developed the other skills that will help them success at this level. For folks that have'nt, the inability to dive deep, be speciifc or understand the details ususally derails careers! The average tenure of external Product VPs (& above) in start-ups & other late stage firms is less than 18-months for this reason!

This ended up being one of the longest answers and I feel that I am barely scratching the surface here! In addition to the above, Patience (esp with Oneself), the unwillingness to accept medoctity (which is ironically, opposite of being patient), the ability to take people along and the ability to synthesize complex problems into simple bite-size solutions is what sets stellar PMs apart! The more I spend time as a PM, the more I realise its an art but a Socratic method & scientific approach can help one get there!

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Bhaskar Krishnan
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta | Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, YahooJune 7
  • For any Product, the hierarcy, in terms of immediate to long-term is Execute -> Features -> Roadmap -> Strategy -> Vision
  • The focus for any product team should be to execute & launch and then working on the features & building on the roadmap from a bottoms-up perspective. They should also embark on a top-down appraoch of understanding the market landscape, the user problems they can solve profitably and setting the vision. The intersection of these approaches can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to a few years and depends on the stage of the firm, the product, the type of company and the lifestage 
  • For start-ups, Vision trumpes everything else and would be required before they raise capital, attract talent or are able to build. Tesla is an excellent example here. 
  • For large firms, product in market thats generating revenue trumps everything else and they have the chance to stumble upon a good strategy or vision if they keep iterating. But, this isn't a given, most firms stumble & fall rather than pick themselves up & iterate. Chevy has the vision laid out for them by Tesla but they haven't been able to take the Bolt to where Tesla is. 
  • For other firms, the answer lies in the middle of the specturm. PoleStar & Riviian are able to ride on Tesla's coat-tails, Toyota continue to follow their incremental approach with the Prius but it feels like an opporunity lost, BMW & Merc have launched incredible electic cars that feel like the future, etc
Credentials & Highlights
Product Leadership - Ads, Personalization & ML/ AI at Meta
Formerly Stripe, Flipkart, Yahoo
Top Product Management Mentor List
Product Management AMA Contributor
Lives In San Francisco, CA
Knows About Product Vision