Mentor Spotlight: Thiago Silva

Mentor Spotlight

Meet Thiago Silva, Product Lead at Planned and mentor at The Commons.

Thiago’s career path in one line: Investment Banking at Scotiabank -> Product Specialist at Unito -> Product Lead at Plusgrade -> Product Lead at LANDR Audio -> Product Lead at Planned

Read on to learn more about Thiago’s experience in product, how to be a contributor at an early stage company and his advice for those looking to break into a product role in tech.

Welcome, Thiago! Can you tell us a bit about who you are and how you’re involved with The Commons?

I'm Thiago and I'm the Product Lead at Planned, a corporate event planning software company, overseeing product and growth. I'm also a Product mentor at The Commons.

What is your Product Management origin story? How did you first break into Product?

I'm originally from Brazil and when I was younger I moved around a lot, living in India, Portugal, Venezuela, and then back to Brazil. Through these experiences I started to realize that technology brings the world together and there’s just so much you can do with tech. So I started teaching myself how to code and how to build very basic applications. I ended up building an app that sends alerts in real time, based on your location, to help avoid areas of danger in Rio. The goal here was just to make sure that if you were at the wrong place at the wrong time, you’d get notified so you could get away from there as fast as you could. We had over a million downloads for a product that could help keep people safe - that's when I realized that I loved product. I learned that I like building products and solving real user problems.

After that I went off to school and since my parents wanted me to get a “real job” I eventually landed a role at a bank. But, I'd always wanted to join a startup. It was what I cared about the most because that's where I was able to see the highest impact that I could have. My ultimate goal is to have the largest venture fund in South America. In order to achieve that, I need to be able to learn how to build teams and products at different stages. So after a year, when my parents moved to Asia, I decided to join an early stage startup in Montreal called Unito as a Product Specialist.

You’ve held product positions at companies of all stages - what has that experience been like and what are your favorite types of products to work on?

At Unito, the workflow management software company, I was one of the early employees at the time. It was really cool because I joined as a Product Specialist and I was talking to users all the time, understanding their pain points, and giving their feedback to engineering. Since we were an early stage company, our focus was on finding product-market fit, and addressing users’ pain points. Through this I learned about the importance of both qualitative and quantitative data, and how important it is to look at a problem from both angles in order to create great products. I was also always optimizing for revenue because at an early stage company, it was crucial to achieve our revenue goals in order to be able to raise our next round, and keep the business running.

Then I joined Plusgrade, who’s upgrade solutions drive ancillary revenue for the travel industry. The company had just raised a bit over $200 million at the time and was in a hyper growth stage, very different from Unito. At Plusgrade, it was all about scaling the business and gaining market share by applying our product to different industries.

After Plusgrade, I joined LANDR which is a company that offers a creative platform for musicians, including music mastering and distribution. Through all of these experiences I started realizing the types of products that I like to build. I had built a mobile app, then I had worked on a SaaS product and then eCommerce. It was at LANDR that I discovered I liked working on marketplaces. Now, at Planned, it's one hundred percent a marketplace. For me, it's something that's really, really exciting because you're always building for both sides of the marketplace: supply and demand.

From your experience, what are some of the things product people can do to add value at early stage companies?

One of the things you can do to add the most value to early stage companies is learning about your user and knowing them better than anyone else. 

Another important thing that people underestimate is to do things that don't scale - this allows you to learn quickly and iterate, rather than spending your time building what you think people want before you actually test it (see more below on go-to-market pitfalls!). 

Lastly, you need to be able to communicate very clearly and precisely. As a product manager, you have access to so much information, and you need to decide what is relevant and what isn’t, and how to communicate it. If you're talking to stakeholders across different departments, you want to make sure that people leave the meeting bought into your vision and knowing exactly what they need to do.

On the other hand, what are some common pitfalls to avoid?

Solving for “vitamins” rather than “painkillers”. “Vitamins” are nice-to-have features but what you really need to identify are the “painkillers”, the most important problems that will make a difference for your users. 

Another one is not killing ideas that don't work fast enough. Don’t get too attached to one idea if it isn’t getting the traction necessary.

A third pitfall: building something very, very well but not being able to bring it to market effectively resulting in people not knowing how to use it. I see this happen quite often when people don't think about the go-to-market execution and experiment properly. Go-to-market has become increasingly difficult, given that there are so many channels to acquire users and so many ways to let people know what you're building. Rather than striving for perfection, a good approach is to launch something scrappy, learn from your users, get feedback and iterate. 

And lastly, don’t fall into the trap of too many frameworks. This one applies to both interviewing in your day-to-day. There are so many frameworks out there, and people like to jump to conclusions really quickly based on one that they’ve seen, but they don't add their own authenticity or context to the situation. As I mentioned, product problems are ambiguous and there’s never just one right answer, so bring your unique viewpoint to the problem.

What is something everyone should highlight when trying to land a role in product?

Show what you’re passionate about. Product is a journey and every single day you're going to go through different challenges but you need to stay committed to your goal and the problem you are solving. The most successful people in product are really passionate about what they are working on. So figure out what problems you’re passionate about solving and work on products solving those problems. Think of your 2:00 AM project. What is something that you're so excited about that you're going to be researching until 2:00 AM and you don't want to sleep because you're just that excited about it? Once you find a company aligned with your passion, you already have a competitive advantage over anyone else, because you're interested in the industry, you're interested in the users, you’re embedded in the problem. Product roles can be tough, and if you work in an industry you don't care about, it can be hard to stay energized.

From a pure skills standpoint, it’s important to be a strong communicator, adaptable and committed to the goal you’re trying to achieve.

How did your experience in banking set you up for success in tech?

You learn so much in your early career roles, and I’ll add that much of this isn’t just exclusive to banking. You learn how to execute. You learn how to work under pressure. You learn how to estimate your work and commit to things you can actually accomplish. People often over-commit to things that they want to deliver, but that can be very difficult to manage when you are working with tight deadlines, like you do in banking. Timeboxing at work in order to be able to get things done is perhaps one of the most important work skills that you can develop from consulting, banking, or honestly, any other job. 

Another important skill to develop is how well you can listen, how well you understand what people are trying to tell you. Have you gathered clear enough action items so that you can deliver your best work? These are all important skills to succeed in tech.

How can someone leverage The Commons to land a role in product?

Product can be very vague, and there's never a concrete answer to problems you’re trying to solve. I think a lot of the time people have this tendency of thinking there is a right way of doing things and they need to learn the “right way”, but product is so abstract and there are always many “right ways'' of doing things. By joining The Commons, especially through the Product Sprint, you're going to be given real case scenarios of what the day-to-day could look like for a Product Manager and it’s going to help you develop the ability to tackle ambiguous problems and break them down into modular pieces. 

We - the Product mentors at The Commons - also help you understand what kind of products you want to build. For example, do you want to build a B2C product or a B2B product? Do you want to focus on enterprise or consumer? 

I think a lot of the time people don't even know what kind of product roles make the most sense for them based on their experience, whether it's a growth product manager, core product manager, technical product manager, or product operations manager. We give that guidance. So you're not starting from nowhere. You're starting from somewhere and this somewhere isn’t a bunch of different articles online. You're leveraging knowledge from people that are in the field, doing the job that you want to get to. And having direct access to all of these mentors and learning to problem solve beyond a framework is a gamechanger.

Do you have any advice for those looking to build their network in tech?

Really knowing your network is even more important than just having a big network. I think at the end of the day you're always going to know someone that knows someone that can probably try to get you an interview or help you out. But I think what's even more important, is to network intentionally. Choose people that you can relate to and people that get you excited. Surround yourself with people who are so smart that every time you're in a meeting with them, you're learning from them. It’s also great to be able to relate to them outside of work. People can have a huge network, but it has no value if the people in your network don’t really know who you are. When I think about networking, I think about choosing people that share the same values as me and share the same interests as me.

It’s also important to connect on a personal level. Say there’s someone in a completely different department at work, but you find out you love the same type of music, then you could actually go to a concert together and get to know them outside of the work environment. Connecting on a personal level like that is so important to form deeper connections and makes creating those connections so much more enjoyable.

From there, it's almost like a network effect because you’re intentionally connecting with people who you have common interests with and through that you’ll keep meeting more people, and you’ll be able to form genuine connections with them. In conclusion, I think it's important to be very intentional and form genuine connections. Soon, you’ll have a network of people that are supporting you throughout all the different challenges and achievements throughout your career.

Why are you personally excited about The Commons new Product Sprint?

I think the most exciting part about the Sprint is that in addition to getting to work with amazing mentors, from companies like Google, Uber and Tonal, you get to learn exactly how to see a product through end-to-end, from coming up with the right strategies to then executing them. Being able to tackle both product strategy and product operations and see the product from ideation to execution is super exciting to me - and a great skill to build if you want to dive into a career in product.

Want to learn practical skills, from mentors like Thiago, and develop your network for a career in Product? Apply to join The Commons Product Sprint today!

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