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India’s Innovation Gap: Product Managers

Posted on Sunday, Feb 15th 2009

In discussing India’s innovation gap, one thing has been evident for a while: that India lacks product managers. Engineering managers and project managers who can execute on other people’s specs are available in plenty. But how do we bridge this gap of bringing up India’s product management expertise?

Please contribute with ideas, suggestions and constructive points. Not rants about why the gap exists. We know it exists. We also know reasonably well why it exists.

Let’s discuss how to fix the problem.

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Good one and a very needed one Sramana.

Rule – 1:

Never ever recruit a manager from a Services Company (CMM5/PCMM5).

They are mostly politicized and do not have any idea on how technology works. If you are desperate, put them in product services, not into products.

Rule – 2:

Bring a technical person and groom him into the role of a product manager. It can be from a product company. In services they are also available (and the most frustrated ones!), but take more round of interviews to weed out.

Rule – 3:

Does technology reallt excite him/her?

Anyone will tell, oh yeah! My manager (from a world renowned CMM5 and PCCM5 company) did not know how to code a "Hello, World!" application. But, he always talked bla bla bla on tech.

HOw will you judge them? Ask them to code on your board. Yes, ask them pure naked code writing capability

Rule – 4:

Always prefer people from product background. There are a number of small companies and you can take them. They have not scaled much through.

People from there are direct, very honest, upfront and their eyes sparkles when they talk of what they have done.

Rule – 5:

Check for adaptability and ability to innovate.

Rule – 6:

Check for the best in class practices like SCEA (Architect from Sun) and PMP/Prince2 on management. Yes, every product manager is also an architect.

Rule – 7:

Never recruit people on bias.

You speak one language or you eat the same food does not mean you will code well together. Here Services companies rampantly recruit based on regional bias (We are in India after all!!)

Some more …if time permits…

Spandan Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 7:06 PM PT

Hi,

More product development companies would be an ideal way to develop this talent pool. I am also of the opinion that the challenges of building a product are far greater than providing product/project services in a consulting firm.

Srinivas Vemula Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 9:18 PM PT

The education structure needs to be changed, a research-friendly environment needs to be developed over a span of time. Our present education system just picks the best of the best and says “You are the best and do whatever you like” and rejects others by saying “You are good for nothing”…these two statements leads to the situation India is facing now. The “so-called” best of the lot forget every bit of their knowledge to use their “IQ” for every lucrative offer they get…in the process they become good managers rather than innovators.
In a nutshell, education system in the “United states” is more research oriented leading to “Google”, “Microsoft”, “Apple”, “etc….”

Ashish Gourav Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 11:14 PM PT

Product mgmt is a never heard function/profile in India ecosystem to the extent we hear of delivery mgrs. As some one mentioned in the rules of recruiting, most of talent pool, sr mgmt and even VP talent pool is of the projects/delivery genre on the indian companies.

In MNCs, their counterparts in India are not given such roles as this function is retained in the parent location. In my view it seems part of their flawed globalization strategy to keep this important stuff to themselves and let their R&D groups only “deliver” on the product requirements set from abroad. Hence india folks mostly loose out on the customer view or prod mgmt view of why they are delivering the things. Few good exceptions to this do exist if one looks closer lest some one flame me.

Lastly product manager profile (hardware or software) requires experience on full product development beginning from a developer/designer and increasing ones roles to include architecting solutions for products and taking it to Mkts – before moving to the other side to represent the customer. Hence these folks normally may need to have 15+yrs product dev experience to do an effective job and report to VP product development or VP product mktg in some places.

Since india ecosystem has grown on services model we have to start some where to begin developing this expertise to fill the innovation gap. One of the best ways to increase this is to encourage lateral moves where necc but hire strictly from product background – be it in any domain AND give them the responsibility to run the product(s).

The fact that Sramana has raised this issue is a good start.

Partha
Prod Mgr.

Partrha Sarathy Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 7:17 AM PT

Spandan,

Having a technical background and being able to write code on a black or white board are entirely different things.

Indians have this tendency of bragging about "Oh, he can do differential equations still" being a high qualification for an IAS officer, when it may be completely irrelevant.

Knowing technology and architecting a product are entirely different ball games. Especially making all sorts of decisions including what platforms, etc., I would submit are not necessary for a product manager to know. Especially if the product being designed is an application layer product.

The other thing to look at is that there are 2 kinds of product managers that we use in startups (& and in large companies): a product marketing manager, and a product manager who does the detailed specs. In the first kind, most certainly, architecture definition is unnecessary. In the latter kind also, it may or may not be necessary, although, yes, more awareness and deeper technical skills are necessary. If the Product Manager was able to architect the product in its entirety, then the architect would not be necessary, right?

India has an absolute lack of the first kind, and a dearth of the second kind. I would say, even architects are hard to find in India.

As for the Indo-US model, before dismissing it, you should pay attention to what I said about EIRs at VCs. It is a different model than "startups" trying to hire people.

You can try to minimize my suggestions because I challenged yours, but that won't get us to a solution. With all due respect, you have built products, not companies. We're trying to figure out how to build companies.

In fact, even more challenging, we're trying to figure out how to build an industry, an eco-system.

I don't consider myself an expert. Rather, the most constructive discussion would emerge in the mode of brain-storming about suggestions and ideas, rather than giving or receiving lectures.

Sramana Mitra Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 8:30 AM PT

I actually think India needs to tap into the product management talent and experience that is quite widely available in the US.

Why don’t the VCs create Entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) positions and recruit 5-10 entrepreneurial product managers each to focus on specific market segments that are considered high potential?

Some of these are: Education & Edutainment for Global and Indian markets, Healthcare IT for the US market, and Commercial Opensource based SaaS solutions for the global and Indian market.

Siebel, Oracle, Cisco, HP, and many other companies have excellent trained talent in the business apps space.

In Edutainment, the gaming industry has good talent.

For Education, it would need to be a non domain-specific recruitment since not much has happened here yet. May be Apple, Learning Company, Leapfrog, and a few others have some talent.

But I do think that the ‘EIR’ position could be a key way to draw some of this talent to work in an US-India mode, under the umbrella of some Indian VCs.

Sramana Mitra Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 11:11 AM PT

Btw, Spandan, I disagree with many of your points.

Product Manager doesn’t need to be an architect necessarily. Product Manager also doesn’t need to be an engineering manager.

Those are often different skills. I think you are way out of depth here. Be careful about lecturing about something which you don’t have enough experience in.

Some of the best product managers have come out of the sales engineering function, because they have been in constant customer contact, learning intimately the details of customer pain, and of the mindset to solve customer problems.

Sramana Mitra Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 11:11 AM PT

I think you misjudged Sramana. First , I never questioned on the sales part. I have personally seen some of best product managers are some sales background! But then, many of them are also very good techies.

Regarding not being an architect – I disagree. You have to know the system prettly well.

Regarding the Indo-US model, it is not new! It has been proposed and some company (I know some in Bangalore) have done it as early as 2000/01 (they have come, stayed in India with their families, built the product/team and went back). It is a good one, but how sustainable on the long term …I am not sure yet. It is yet to get that “acceptance” from many.

Regarding building products, I have been part of 5 products, and have built one from scratch. All of them have been saleable. That speaks for itself!

Spandan Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 1:17 PM PT

When I was a developer, I used to think that what these leads/managers do nobody knows. They come to office ask status, delegate tasks and then enjoy. Whereas the developers are the real workers who write CODE which is the most important part of any development!
As I grew to a lead and then manager, started thinking what fun the developers have, they come and ask ‘tell me what I need to do’ and complete that task and go. No other responsibilities and no botheration as long as the ‘code’ is written well and it works the way it was asked to work. At the same time I started thinking what the program managers/Delivery Heads do? We as the project managers work so hard and take so much responsibility of the project to make sure that we deliver on time and with quality where as the program manager/delivery heads just have fun and do nothing other than asking status and talk big and present whatever is prepared by us to the senior management.
Then the time came for me to become delivery head and finally realized what a developer do and what a project manager do and what a program manager do and what everybody in the company do as a part of their job responsibility and why everything they do is important and how it plays in building a great organization.
The conception that drives the expectation that the product manager needs to know how to code in specific technology (and thus have limitations on realizing the potential thinking on addressing the problems of the target group for which the product is being developed) or need to have architectural knowledge (and thus get limited by his knowledge on architecture while providing solution to a problem) is the basis of all the problem currently in India.
IT in India grew with providing service where we provided coding services, we have provided testing services, we have provided architectural services, we have provided project management services and all other different kind of services. It is very important to recognise the group of people who provides solution providing services, who doesn’t code, who doesn’t provide process development services, who doesn’t provide architectural services. Who understand the problem and can see the problem in different perspectives and can provide solution which can address the problem to the tee and also can help people to develop more on the solution through a framework for solving future problems related to the problem at hand. Currently in India, because of lack of such work where one can be employable saying that I understand the problem and come up with IT solution which can be implemented and developed, is not a good resume.
The day we will be able to understand the values these guys can add, and can recognise them and encourage them and provide them a great livelihood for their quality, we will be having more and more of product managers and product companies.

Santanu Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 10:10 PM PT

Sramana / Spandan, I think this is more a matter of fitting the right person into the right role.

Typically, I have seen 2 kind of product managers in the industry -

1. MBA types (myself included), who are more interested in the market-oriented role and are usually better at tasks pertaining to such an orientation – where are my next million users coming from, how to increase PV / UU ratio, who to get the best content from etc.

2. Smart engineer types, who want to move beyond coding. These individuals can certainly serve up as back-up architects and can also go deeper into writing very specific requirements, which the MBA types typically lack. At the same time, their market-orientation remains suspect.

Therefore, net-net I agree with Spandan – if you are really looking at a person to do design / architecture, you’d better hire an architect for it. The reason is simple – you do not want a person who is worried about detailed design as well as what the customer wants cause it will create a jack-of-all-trades.

It is possible that in an enterprise setup, a PM could focus more on the design aspect of things, rather than the judgemental aspects of product building cause the feedback loop is to be closed with a smaller set of customers. Even then, however, innovation in feature / product terms remains a differentiator and it would make sense to get different individuals to look at design and features.

KM Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 10:25 PM PT

Two suggestions

1)Provide seed fund to more startups, even crazy ones, because once you send a person down the entrepreneurial road he can’t choose any other path. Even after failure he will end up opening another one, sooner or later.

2) Provide quality mentor ship. I feel, You should consider coming to india and setting up something on lines of Y-combinator. I believe young ones lack access to experience and talent of your caliber. Announce a b-plan contest, pick-up 10 most promising startups and become advisor to them.

Arpan Monday, February 16, 2009 at 2:02 AM PT

Sramana,

This is from my personal experience.:

Product Managers have no (or very limited) career/growth prospects in India.

I worked in various Engineering roles (for over 10 years) and then got into Sales Engineering in a Product company (since my sales VP thought as a person who built the product I was very passionate about selling the same and would be successful). Later I started wearing the Prod Mgr cap – used to meet a lot of customers/end users, attended industry events all over the world, maintained the PRD and roadmap for the product for 3 years and it was very fulfilling.

Then I wanted to explore for positions (PM or otherwise) elsewhere (within India). Very few people understood what I did. Some people thought I was just doing pre-sales. Others thought that I was an analyst who converted reqs into developer friendly use cases etc. Many folks didn’t understand what a PRD was, how we define the feature funnel etc.

With 13 years of exp and a BS from a very good university I was struggling to find another job in Indian IT Industry.

Frustrated with this job search effort in India I removed my PM exp from my resume and simply moved back into engineering role (fortunately my strong programming, design and architecting skills helped me land a job again).

I have a few questions:

1) Is there really demand for Prod Mgrs in India?
2) Where is this requirement? (MNC do advertise such positions but the cream of the work for them is done in the US/EMEA and local PMs end up being documentation support folks.)

Ram Monday, February 16, 2009 at 3:28 AM PT

In case of startups I feel Entrepreneurs themselves have to product managers.

I feel a PM is

1) Someone who looks at the market and figures an unfulfilled customer need. Based on her available skills she develops a vision of product roadmap. This is a market development skill and develops the target market.

2) She has to have enough depth of knowledge of what technical capabilities are needed to develop such a product and be able to detail it out. If one does not have these then capability to imagine how to solve a problem is reduced. This develops execution plan.

3) And finally be aware of various solutions which are available in the market. This is sort of a researcher who has done his literature review before jumping to try to solve a problem. This helps to develop ones own unique selling proposition and filter bad ideas.

The problem is in India we have successfully developed only the second skill.

The first and third are still managed by U.S. or European companies where relationships with customers have huge impact. Interacting with the customer to understand their problems and necessity becomes very important. Further as one pointed above awareness of ones industry also becomes important.

While service delivery model prevent “wasting” time on such activities, these are the things beyond technical which can help to develop a vision.

Other problems is that our outsourcing companies do work for outside customers. So the workers of such companies have no idea of where to begin for solving Indian customers problems.

I feel EIRs can possibly help. But I believe they can only act as mentors.

I am finding it difficult to imagine how startup entrepreneurs can lead such an effort if they have to look to someone anytime they have to make critical decision?

How will they persist when things will get tough if they have not completely internalized this framework?

Siddharth

Siddharth Chawla Monday, February 16, 2009 at 4:31 AM PT

Again an interesting discussion but looks like it is going in a wrong directions of EMs v/s PMs.

Here is my perspective from being on both sides of the fence for over a decade in software tech product companies.

It is futile to argue that PMs are good for this and EMs for that. There is no use bucketing them into silos and say that one is more important for building a business than another.

I also do not agree that PMs can build businesses and EMs can only build products. If you are building a platform product, you possibly do not need a PM at all. May be biz dev and a few tech evangelist. EMs here are in best position to define products as they have a better feel of developer community. On the other hand, PM can be more useful in enterprise and application product which are more driven by external needs. If at all, I feel, techies have a better chance of building a business than a PM.

PM problem

- India clearly has more EMs and relatively few PMs and there is a reason for that. Tech companies with offices in India do _not_ need PMs in India if they dont have big enough market/customer base in India. Logistics just don’t work out if you have PM in India and customers mostly in US or EU. Similarly, to have PMs in US for businesses targetted towards Indian market wont be effective.

- A lot of PMs I have met in India are b school grads with little or no tech experience. I dont feel that someone who has not written a line of code can really get an essence of product management. You need your thinking to be a little evolved before you can start managing products. A lot of times PMs (even those in US) are not even aware of the developments in technology or various possibilities with different technologies to drive the product vision. PM should be more like a guide or a coach, not a refree who has never played the game.

What does Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem need?

- Biz model innovation – I think there is quite a lot happening in tech innovation front but inside MNCs. There is however a dearth of business model innovation. Even the success stories of bazee.com (sold to Ebay) and naukri.com are cases of copy cat business models – which is fine for starters. But defnitely not enough. India is, socially, a very different place than west and there should be a place for new business models.

- Product Marketing and Biz Dev skills – there is a serious absence of this in India asn Sramana rightly pointed out. I don’t think anyone really gives a lot of attention to product positioning, customer segmentation, targeting, etc.

- Due to absence of professional safety net in India, there should be a way to mitigate this. EIR is a nice way of doing that but very few VCs I know of (IDG Ventures) have EIR programs. I’m not sure how effective they are.

- IT/tech have a huge mindshare in young grads. There are some very promising areas like cleantech, healthcare, microfinance which are particularly important given nature of Indian economy and population. These should be brought to the front.

… more later

Mav Monday, February 16, 2009 at 6:25 AM PT

- It takes a village to groom Product Managers
- The Villagers: Passionate Individual, Open-Ended Companies, Flexible Management, Consumers, R&D Guys, Mentors, Associations, Technology & Platform Providers, and the like
- Grooming a Product Manager is not single handed task. Its a collective action. The foremost is “Passionate Individual”

Peddi Kanumuri Monday, February 16, 2009 at 7:50 AM PT

- Real seed investment ecosystem from VCs and large corporates.

- Large corporates like Infy and Wipro should set up active seed stage corporate VC funds to foster this ecosystems and pave a way to move into the realm of technology development from being pure sweat shops.

- and last but not the least, more such forums for active discussions pertaining to issues around entrepreneurship. Hope such forums bring some like minded people to get excited about the possibilities.

Mav Monday, February 16, 2009 at 11:06 AM PT

Mav -

How would this solve the Product Management gap?

All,

Let’s try to focus on potential solutions, not on EM versus PM, why PM doesn’t exist.

Sramana Mitra Monday, February 16, 2009 at 11:34 AM PT

Unless you are coding for customers in the Indian market, why do you think, you need a Product manager? You are not selling what you code. Someone else is doing that, and they are the ones that must have a product manager.

I won’t buy from a outsourced development firm that has a product manager. Very bad deal for me. I’m not going to fund a competitor. I can probably enforce that even in a company that feels it must outsource.

A product owner, yes, as long as that means I don’t have to call him in the middle of the night. He would have to live on my timezone. But, a product manager, no. No thanks.

David Locke Monday, February 16, 2009 at 4:27 PM PT

If the company is focusing on US or European market a person from same region can facilitate entrepreneurship from India.

I am myself struggling to find such a person for power industry. So I can tell you what I am looking for from my experience.

Someone who has
1) Deep understanding of market and what competitors are doing.
2) Understand what direction the industry is taking.
3) Someone who knows unmet demand/requests from customers in the industry.
4) Someone who can facilitate initial interaction with potential customers to develop deeper understanding of problem to be solved.

Of these I feel no. 3 and 4 are most important because these actually get the product development moving.

Working with such a person can make it possible to crystallize a PRD and get initial traction.

I hope this helps discussion here.

Regards,
Siddharth

Siddharth Chawla Monday, February 16, 2009 at 9:30 PM PT

sramana,

I think the only way to solve the PM gap is to build products whose primary focus is Indian (or APAC region) market. That way PMs in India can be close to the customers and get a good sense of customer needs by working closely with them.

Identifying sectors or niches which present big enough opportunity locally will be a good start. Sectors such as telecom, banking, media and entertainment, mobile, etc.

Mav Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 12:11 AM PT

Based on my experience I think developing products for American/European markets is a better starting point because of following reasons:

1) Better revenues and profit margins
2) Customers in these regions are asking for products and services due to change in structures of the industry they exist in. So there is a very good possibility of creating dominating position for the product.
3) The industries in these regions are far ahead in terms of learning curve. So the product development if focused with these customers in mind leads to world class product and not a sub standard product.

Same product with some changes can be adopted for Asia Pacific region at lower cost later stage of product life cycle to increase market share.

The approach is to have the customers in richer countries carry the burden of cost of development. Subsequently customers worldwide can reap the benefits.

Siddharth

Siddharth Chawla Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 12:49 AM PT

There many not be people with ‘Product Manager’ role in their CVs in India. But there are plenty who have the required skills – techno-functional knowledge, biz-dev skills, user experience analysis, program mgmt and so on.

However, I am not sure if identifying a pool of product managers in India would solve the problem of innovation.

We all agree that the domestic market is huge in India; we also agree that if we build for India/US/EU, with some tweaks, we can possibly globalise the product.

The roadblock here is just the attitude that we need to import whatever works in the valley to India.

Startup entrepreneurs in India must become product managers for their products.If as an entrepreneur all I can do is come up with the idea, and then depend on a product manager to do the heavy lifting, I am not sure I will enjoy the ride at all (and the ride is the main reason for me or any one else wanting to become an entrepreneur).

As a commentor suggested above, we need to identify promising startups and mentor them properly in the ‘art of product management’, and trust their intelligence to use whatever they deem fit from that learning.

But on the whole, I feel that ‘lack of product managers’ is the least of the problems plaguing Indian startup ecosystem.Valley startups may not need much seed funding.Indian startups do.

Kumar Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 4:38 AM PT

@kumar
>Valley startups may not need much seed funding.Indian startups do.

Totally agree with Kumar. Bootstrapping is much tougher in India.

Mav Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 5:41 AM PT

This is a very interesting thread. As a Product Manager in a non-IT field, I may have a different point of view. In my mind, this boils down to one thing and that is the ability or willingness to take risks. This may be due to the culture/upbringing. A Product Manager needs to seek out the next opportunity and come up with the business plan to create the opportunity.

Easwar Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 7:58 AM PT

I do not feel that lack of funds is the only constraint.

Based on my experience so far in India I think it is the lack of vision to think big and innovate which I find is missing element.

As Easwar points out this is where product manager comes in. One who is able to seek new opportunity and come up with a plan to develop such opportunity.

And it is missing because of less exposure to product development. Most people know how to develop a services business because of their work experiences but do not learn how to develop product business.

Siddharth

Siddharth Chawla Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 9:57 AM PT

Sramana,
I believe limited opportunities to play such roles in MNC / Indian Product companies is a key reason for the dearth of good Product Managers. Lead Product Management opportunities are often located closer to the decision makers / customers and this is probably a reason for the lack of opportunities in India. As the number of such opportunities in India increases we should see a proportionate improvement in the Product Management talent pool.

In my experience, some key skills for a good product manager are:
1) Understanding of the Industry / Market / Customers / Competitors
2) Understanding of the product lifecycle
3) Good Interpersonal / communication skills

Apart from Sales Engineers (as you mentioned earlier), Product Development Engineers with 3) could be groomed to take on responsible Product Management positions. Most Product Development Engineers who have been through a few product releases have a good understanding of 2) and develop a basic understanding of 1).

In the Indian context, Products companies, especially especially consumer Internet and mobile startups, that are focussed on the Indian market would be a great training ground for future Product Managers.

Best,
Rohit

Rohit Sah Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 10:03 AM PT

Bootstrapping is tougher in India because the entrepreneurs want to have the cake and eat it too. That doesn’t work.

You want money early in the game? You will give up a large % of your company, and be under the whims of Angel investors who may or may not know what they’re doing. Then you will get fired.

This is a very slippery slope.

India must learn to bootstrap. It is a fundamental building block of the new eco-system.

Sramana Mitra Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 1:16 PM PT

I think the thread has gone in many directions with many views – some not relevant for the original question.

Product managers are by nature strategic thinkers who sit between Markets and Engg. teams. There is no need for uniquely qualified people with specific skill sets ie MBA, Engg Mgrs, Architects with PhD, to shine in that role – though they all can help. Anyone with suff passion and skill in introducing innovation can enter the field. At the extreme, head of Product Mgmt sets the strategy for the entire company’s range of products and vision (witness recent essay by Google’s head of PM Mr. Rosenburg)

But they are needed only if products are built out of india – be it for india or us/europe mkts.
(I am not of the view that in India we only can manage products built for india. If one turns the logic on the head, how are us/europe product mgrs building for products for rest of the world’s customers for so long.)

Since indigenous product companies are few, filling this PM gap alone will not solve the innovation gap. It should start the other way to first have start-ups or promoter based product companies begin to develop / release products targeting areas based on market understanding and their own core/niche competencies.

As Sramana and possibly mentioned dearth of investors/entrepreneurs in India (esp in products) is the basic issue to grapple with before we can fill the PM gap.

Partha

Partha Sarathy Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 8:42 PM PT

Sramana,

I think you are making a casual assumption about entrepreneurs in India wanting to have the cake and eat it too.I am not sure on what basis you have arrived at this theory.

Entrepreneurs in India are constrained by having to compete in the market for skilled resources against well-entrenched service companies.Stock options are not very attractive in India because there have been very few success stories w.r.t. startups.Infy doesn’t count as an example. Infy (and other service companies) came up through the bodyshopping model.

Not all aspiring entrepreneurs have the luxury of family and relatives providing the seed money.And even then, it can at best help survive till the prototyping phase.Before that money runs out, the entreprenur has to raise money for hiring more resources, participate in startup events, and pay monthly office bills.This is where the seed investors come in.It may help to have a skilled product manager on hand to interact with potential customers.More often than not, it is the founder-CEO who plays this role.

The money is needed, not for any luxuries, but simply to see the product dev through till it reaches the market.

Of course, we have discussed all this before on this blog, on Venturewoods and so on. I am still not sure how availability of product managers will ease this pain – unless we are talking about a pool of angel PMs (or EIRs) who can work for free and take stock options.

However, most people want to become entrepreneurs because they feel they have the vision, the market understanding, and at least one set of skills reqd for prod dev.Your typical entrepreneur may not enjoy working with a prod mgr from the valley or elsewhere who brings her own vision to the table.Her vision may or may not be better.But there can’t be competing visions.

India knows how to bootstrap.We have the evidence in the form of scores of startups that have bootstrapped without any seed capital.But bootstrapping can only take them forward for a few months at best.That IS the dilemma affecting many aspiring entrepreneurs.

Kumar Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 9:33 PM PT

Look, the whole equation of entrepreneurship is about equity-based wealth creation. Big salaries don’t gel with that concept.

I agree with you that it is one product vision that has to drive a company, and my proposal about EIRs is that the product manager being brought in as an EIR IS the entrepreneur with the product vision. An EIR is a founder-CEO role more often than not.

Why not bootstrapping with some service business on the side? Yes, we have discussed this before, and I still think that’s the best bet.

Sramana Mitra Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 11:23 PM PT

For the last few weeks I have been in Bangalore seeking partners to explore/implement product ideas, while my experience may have been an exception I thought it might make sense to share them here anyways.

A little bit about me: Based out of the US, I have been with product based companies for over 10+ years of my work life, starting off with Product development and then moving to Product management

All the companies that I have spoken to realize the importance of getting into product, but are reluctant to jump to committing any resource
They understand the project based approach very well and prefer to develop products along the way
They equate Product management functionality to sales
Couple of small companies do a very good job of Product & Project, with the CEO deciding the product roadmap but projects are always the priority

Overall I feel that most of the entrepreneurial companies here in Bangalore ( recent startups with less than 60-70 employees) are focused on services and have excess manpower, in spite of having the desire to build products, the need to finance the payroll keeps them focused on services. On the bright side, I am very close to sealing a partnership with a small service company to focus on building a product on equity basis, so I am sure it is just a matter of time before more such deals come to fruition and PM roles take some prominence.

Rajeev Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 1:32 AM PT

@sramana – “Bootstrapping is tougher in India because the entrepreneurs want to have the cake and eat it too. That doesn’t work.”

This is so not true. It is unfair to blame the entrepreneurs without any basis. Bootstrapping economics is hard in India, and Kumar is spot on in saying that it can carry you only for a few months, whereas in US this could be few years. And it is not difficult to see why this is so. If you are raising money from relatives and/or friends saved in INR there is no way you run with it for long. And if you try to complement it by bootstrapping on services side, you’ll have to dedicate considerable resources there.

In short, cost side of the equation is hard to manage with the cash in hand and revenue from services/consulting work.

Mav Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 4:41 AM PT

I’m sorry, I continue to disagree with this point of view. I think you are missing the product expertise, and also potentially the sales expertise.

I’d like some of you who’re trying to bootstrap in this mode to come to my roundtables and discuss your specific challenges.

I think, for India, the absolute best bet is services as cash generator + product on the side within the same domain. Not necessarily Angel financing, especially if we’re talking about dumb money that comes without any mentoring. That money will run out before you blink because it won’t be managed well.

Since the smart money is relatively difficult to find, the dumb money won’t get you what you need, which is the expertise of bringing products to market.

Sramana Mitra Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 10:50 AM PT

This is an interesting discussion. I am unsure I understand what Sramana has stated in the post. I don’t understand how lack of innovation is tied to lack of product management expertise/knowledge/experience.

There have been comments regarding the role of a Prod Mgr., which I disagree completely. A Prod Mgr’s role is very different from an Engagement/Delivery/Project/Program Mgr or an Architect. Each industry has its own definition and even companies within an industry have their own definition. But I digress.

One point, that is conflicting, is that services be used as a cash generator to develop a product on the side. Dave mentioned how a customer would react to that and I think that is a very slippery slope. If one wants to build a firm around services, then it will be difficult to build products in the same domain. Of course one can always create a product and build services around it – a pretty well established biz model.

Coming back to Sramana’s main point, building Prod Mgmt expertise. I believe the only way is to have firms develop more “products” and bring these to market – whether domestic or international is immaterial atm. I don’t believe that the culture encourages one to experiment, to fail. Success – huge success – does not come without taking risks and we as a culture are very risk averse. Hence not many people are comfortable taking a “low-paying” job and work at a start-up. It is much easier to have a stable job in a large firm. Sramana, I believe your view is based on you having seen this side of things.

Now, having said that, I am sure there are Prod Mgrs in different industries – I was referring to the IT industry earlier. Let’s take the case of TATA Automobiles. Someone is setting the direction for the product, a car, that will do well in the market, right? Similarly, with maybe some other firm in a different industry. Does it then make sense to gain knowledge from them? Are there some lessons that can be learned from Prod Mgrs in a different industry in India? Maybe that is what we need to explore

Ameet Kulkarni Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 12:36 PM PT

Ameet,

You have raised a valid point about cross-pollinating product mgmt expertise from other industries into technology sector.

However, the point here is whether such prod mgmt + sales expertise can be brought in for little or no money (there will be stock options), and if that expertise will result in building up of an eco system for startups in India.

Also, I am not sure how open people are (in India) to try out product mgrs from say, pharmaceuticals into handling say, a Web startup :-) But yea, we could always try.

Kumar Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 9:15 PM PT

I agree with Ameet.

Bootstrapping using revenue/cash from services side to do products has not taken off. Even big guys in service companies INFY, WIPRO, Mindtree have had only modest/no success with that model. I learn this from various social interactions with counterparts in such companies.

The sheer gestation period of 2-3yrs to get a product out in the mkt will give jitters to people in service companies who funded that product activity. It most likely will be put out before it has a chance to fruition. The mindset of service company finance/tech leaders does not lend to do this by design of metrics being asked of them.

Using service revenues is still possible to bootstrap IF the founders/persons have a clarity of separating these from the get go and keeping to that vision. In this case, returns from cash investment will be delayed for a longer time period as that cash cannot be employed in seeking/building bigger service engagements – which is what typically service companies do.

The vc/family method of funding seems the best option given these alternates. This then goes back to the point that most often in such cases the founder(s) are the product mgrs to begin with atleast upto the first rev of the release, after which separate PMs can be hired once the product is established in the mkt place.

Partha

Partha Sarathy Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 9:44 PM PT

Service companies would not like to be seen to pose a threat to their clients by having an ongoing parallel product development activity. Their clients would include successful product companies. As long as there’s an ‘easy way out’ – profiting from services – the motivation for investing in product innovation might be curtailed. But remember that India’s entry into Services itself was an innovation, and resulted in a hugely successful business model.
Perhaps with India losing it’s edge in the services arena, folks here would once again ‘innovate’ – and embark on different strategies, one or more of which will become the new wave. I don’t think we’re a static society, and the more we have debates like this, the faster we’ll change direction…

K Rajesh Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 11:18 PM PT

After 17 years of experience in IT products I started a company in 2003. We are profitable and grew at 115% last year. The company has 15 Enterprise class web/ SaaS ready products and is proven in customer sites. Yet not one angel or VC has taken discussions beyond discussion stage. Where is the ecosystem in India?
I bet if we were in the Silicon Valley things would have been different. The mentality in India seems either service companies or web kirana stores – no encouragement for true product companies..

George Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 12:12 AM PT

sramana

It will be good to get your synthesis on this entire subject from the discussions so far and from other other conversations you might be having outside this forum.

Mav Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 1:16 AM PT

More than Product Managers, generally India does not have any major technology product in the world in the world market and that may be the reason for dearth of Product Manager.

This might lead to a slightly different question, as why does India do not have Technology product s? well, following could be some of the reasons……

i) Society : As Kids(till we finished our college) we grew up in a protective environment with all our needs taken care by our parents /elders. We rarely experimented as kids and we were never allowed to be failed. Failure is a disgrace in our society. If you ask final year student, Entreprenuership will be his/her last option. Hence, it depends on the family influence as well

ii) Attitude : Generally, we are also not agressive or assertive in nature to market products. We are more than happy, if we get a well paid Job. When campared to 1980′s & 90′s , in the last 6 to 8 years salary increase has been phenomenal in MNC, so people are quite happy to get into MNC job.

iii)Environment : There is lot of bureaucracy invoved. For example, before the advent of MNC bank, opening a bank account with Public sector bank was a tedious process.

iv) Cost of capital : If you are a startup, if you are not able to get venture capital funding and if you are opting to fund you project through Debt financing then the rate of interest is killing, the interest rate are around 15 to 18% with Banks. Its diffucult to survive even for an established industry to survive on debt financing.

Guha Rajan Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 7:48 AM PT

There is no dearth of product/technology startups in India, but we seriously lack VCs who wish to invest in product companies.

Many world class product companies are getting their products developed from India by outsourcing it. Some of the best brains in silicon valley product companies are Indians.
So the problem is not product development expertise, but may be of marketing products!

I think the startup ecosystem needs to be strengthened for incubating and supporting product startups. Some VCs need to come forward and invest in product startups and support them to become a success. Institutions like IIMs and IITs need to do more for encouraging entrepreneurs and incubating such startups.

Sumeet Friday, February 20, 2009 at 5:32 AM PT

Sumeet, I do understand there are silicon valley product companies which are run by Indians and they outsource work to India for developing the product. But, the question is if we compare with world product market the indian innovation, their sustainance & product promotion are negligible.

For example, in world market, you have technological product innovation coming out from Sony, Nokia, Phillips, LG, Samsung, Hyundai, Suzuki, Honda, Oracle, Microsoft, Sun and so on…we are unable to name Indian promoted technological product venture(except probably Hotmail) similar to above…

So all these boil down to society, attitude, environment, cost of capital (offcourse which is due to non availablity of VC).

Guha Rajan Friday, February 20, 2009 at 6:43 PM PT

This is a long thread, I agree a synthesis would be useful. Going back to the original question – how to bridge the Product Manager gap: shouldn’t a company have its Sales/Biz Dev and Product Managers people close to customers? I mean PMs not in the technical/architect sense, but those that understand the market, can translate customer needs to an architect, prioritize features and develop roadmaps (i.e. own the business case).

So Indian product companies targeting overseas markets would need to think of how to staff a PM function overseas (or at least partly so) in addition to Sales / Biz Dev. You may want to look into finding people willing to contract in that role if you are a start up and don’t want to add full time employees (paying them a combination of equity and some cash). Convert them to a full time employee when you hit your targets.

Over time as the Product Management team expands, the company could add more staff in India (find Indians looking to move back if local talent is scarce) – but I would think you want to maintain a primary contact in your target market.

Satish

Satish Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 8:40 AM PT

There will be 2 synthesis pieces coming: one on seed capital and another on product managers.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 11:09 AM PT

Indian managers have been long looking at what the customers want. But what makes their customers want something is still a dark area. To make better product managers, Indian managers need to start looking at what the “Market wnats”. It may sound simple – but definitely not an easy excersis. Not during such economic scenario for sure. Certain simple things needs to be implemented real fast:

1. Try to find out what the domestic market really wants now. Revenue circulation in the domestic market is a sure fire way for combating recession.
2. Create an environment for innovation in each company. Solicit ideas from anyone who wants to talk. No idea is a bad idea if it has scope for revenue. Validate it with a strong and maybe even very small R&D team.
3. Stop looking at credentials in the form of certificates. Try to understand a persons crediability from changes he or she has already brought in her existing company
4. Try to look at what competitors are “not” doing rather than what they are doing and emulating that.
5. Every person who has a need is a potential customer. Do not neglect even the smallest margin or market.
6. Dont create products and then search for buyers using smart marketing. Apple is the best example for this.

In india for example, the biggest market is probably for agricultural research. Most of the agriculurist are not even educated. So, a good idea for a company could be to act as a bridge between the research and the farmer. This could be a crude example – but this is to only think about where IT can reach if we want it to.

lakshman Monday, February 23, 2009 at 2:56 AM PT

There is a growing new breed of entrepreneurs in India, who are leading from front to fuel outsourcing for innovation. I read some comments above where people have varied experiences of not having ‘effective product managers’ or having companies where bootstrapping using services revenue has not taken off.

From my own personal experience, I am an IIT Delhi graduate and started up my company (GirnarSoft) roughly 2 years back, with Amit Jain (also IIT Delhi graduate, and incidentally my elder brother). Initial thoughts were to build products and we had some innovative ideas on what we wanted to build. However some analysis showed that most of the startups run out of money (our source of money was what we had earned in our respective jobs) and pursuing the idea becomes challenging in lack of funds. VC funding without a (already) successful product was an option that we ruled out because of 1) lack of VC networking in India 2) dilution of stake is higher in when the idea is not already successful.

So we split the company into two verticals. One half of the company is generating revenues from outsourcing money. This revenue is fueling the products that we are running. We are running 5-6 innovative ideas in parallel and one of the ideas has gained a lot of traction.

From my experience, the most important thing to keep in mind (that we did and can perhaps help others in the community) is that 1) No resource overlap between services and product, else its easy to get caught in money making rut and forget the long term vision of the company 2) Keep the cost structure manageable and effective (specially in these recession times). For e.g. because of cost arbitrage (the reason India created a big name in outsourcing) we started up the venture in Jaipur, a tier II city in India. The company structure has been optimized to an extent that there is one super guy for every 3 average guys. The super guy’s salary is few notches higher with other 3 at average levels, but the productivity of the average guys is taken care of by having the super guy on top of them. Obviously one would want to make a company of only ‘super guys’ but the cost structure (or even startup branding) at times does not give one the flexibility to only recruit super guys in the amount of money that one wants to invest. But most important take away is ‘don’t save money where putting in a bit more can get double the work done’ and ‘don’t spend money where having a few average guys, is 80% as effective than having an expert’.

The startup needs to be dynamic in terms of all these policies that entrepreneurs or product managers take as ‘strategists’ of the company. In our case so far in these recession times we have grown from 2 people to 70 now (with a split of 30-40 between services and product guys) and it has been a enjoyable ride. Innovation is what we try to foster in the company culture day in and day out. The policies that worked in a 5 people company did not work when we were 20. The policies that we had in 20 people company did not work when we were 50 and likewise. And all of this happened in the last 15 months. The environment needs to be dynamic and the onus is on the ‘product managers/entrepreneurs’ to scale according to the need of the hour. No management gyan can teach this skill.

I wonder how many other companies are riding on shorter goals (outsourcing) to achieve the innovation in products and keep them running!

Anurag Jain Monday, February 23, 2009 at 5:03 AM PT

Have a multidisciplinary approach – product managers need to have orientation to product innovation, application, design and packaging not to forget quality assurance. Most important they should be link between the R&D and the Marketing department. I would like to share my own experience as a product manager in 1992.

I was chosen by a company way back in 1992 to launch a software product as a product manager for a high tech Object oriented Design & Development system (ODDESY) and was handpicked by the chairman, as I had an Engg Degree, service and application orientation, worked closely with R&D and had just switched to marketing (capturing 65% market share in my domain) in the previous company.

I created a team of very good product documentation, marketing, QC and application teams to support the product launch. So when we launched the product, we also won the best Design competition for our company insignia, won the best application award and had chapters written in the text books of OO with all major media covering one or the other application that we had done using ODDESY. A small 20+ member team from one small corner of Delhi created history by winning the most innovative product award as well as the most enterprising application for ALUMAX at OMG'92.

The way to go PRODUCT way, is to ENSURE everything breeds EXCELLENCE and meets international standards and fits the global demands.

Dolly Bhasin Friday, February 11, 2011 at 10:26 PM PT

One answer may be to marry the two facets more and more – Services and Product Management; and focus on the trend of Product Management 'as a Service'.
1. It will help the young start-ups in India (they will not have to put Product Managers on their payroll)
2. It will bring more awareness of the role
3. It will promote quality in the Product Management professionals in India. Putting specialized services on offer in a capital-crucnched market has a way of shunting out the fluff

Prabhat Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 5:58 AM PT

Valuable points.

balaji Monday, July 18, 2011 at 12:51 PM PT

Hire young software guys from college. Their mind in uncluttered and let them run with the product P&L. Oversight from a good Product Head also helps.

Chirayu Monday, July 18, 2011 at 1:59 PM PT

One of the suggestions I could give is for product companies to look outside the software industry. For example "Solutions Marketing, Techno-Marketing and Product Management Professionals" from other industries such as Electronic Products, Capital Equipment in Electronic Test Automation and SMT Manufacturing", "Process Control and Automation" etc. These professionals will have the right mixture of exposure to technology, software, marketing, products and solutions". And they also come at a reasonable cost (compared to people coming from the IT Hardware or Services sector)

Ram Kumar
Director Product Management
Asteor Software Inc

Ram Kumar Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 7:39 AM PT

I am interested in knowing how a product manager from a technical background would be able to understand and handle domain knowledge. How much grooming would be required before he can understand and empathise the domain requirements. Are we just talking about technical product manager who is given specification documents and converts them to product?

Naren Monday, July 23, 2012 at 11:29 PM PT

Product managers need to understand domain requirements in some depth to be able to come up with a product. This includes some of the business implications, not just the technical ones. People buy products when they make business sense.

Some organizations use ‘Product Marketing Managers’ and ‘Product Managers’ as two separate entities, the former tackling the business reqs. and the latter, the technical requirements.

It depends on the organization, and the person’s skills.

Sramana Mitra Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 11:13 AM PT
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