Slack AMA: Product Mentor, Jonathan

Mentor Spotlight

From time to time we run asynchronous Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) sessions on our community Slack. Community members are able to ask questions and receive candid responses and any questions that are top of mind, ranging from their experiences, their current role, or job search advice.

Here’s a sneak peek at a recent AMA session with Jonathan Sendsen, Product mentor at The Commons and Growth Product Manager at Noom:

*All questions submitted by community members

You're (relatively) new to Noom - any tips for a great (remote) onboarding?

Personally, I don’t think any company has really figured out what a great remote onboarding journey looks like for new employees regardless of the role. I’ve onboarded at early-stage and mature companies and, honestly, after the onboarding I had to go through my own personal onboarding. Companies have boot camps or various sessions to help kick-start the cultural expectations but after these I always find you have to go “figure-out” a lot of nuances. I always create a laundry list of questions and work through them with my manager. I usually will ask myself “what do I need to know in order to do my job successfully”. Depending on your role it may vary. For me as a PM I think the core things that help me onboard best (not prioritized in anyway):

  1. Build strong relationships with coworkers you will work closely with. The benefit of remote working is you can now book a full 30 minute chat with a coworker and really get to know them. Understanding the problems they are facing or how they envision a strong partnership between us are usually my go-to questions. However, I really like to make the meeting about them and learn about them.
  2. Learn about the customer journey and market. What is their experience like? How does it compare to competitor experiences? What are the market segments you are targeting?
  3. Data is key. Start building funnels or dashboard or even just playing with data based on the customer journey. Empathize with drop offs and start formulating hypotheses.
  4. The business model. Learn about the revenue and cost drivers because once you understand this and the customer journey you can really start to formulate some strong hypotheses to go validate.

How do you go about learning the ins and out of the product/space when you join a new company as a PM?

I added more details about this in the previous question, but I generally need to understand how the company defines various product behaviors (acquisition, activation, retention) as well as how these product behaviors drive business value (typically revenue, sometimes profit). Personally, I always conduct general qualitative research and speak to users. Quantitative data can only paint half the picture and never really tells you why users do the behaviors or actions you are seeing in the product. General qualitative research always helps me develop stronger hypotheses since I am going in blind and I have a lot of assumptions about the users. Qualitative research helps foolproof my assumptions and allows me to make bigger swings and bets.

You've worked for a lot of diff tech companies! Any advice for succeeding as a Product Manager?

This is a great question. About 2-3 years ago I was at a point in my career where what I was doing as a PM and what I was learning about PM were totally different. My motivation went downhill and I was not inspired at all. I began looking for a mentor who has “been there, done that” to help learn more about product and hone my craft. Working at early stage startups, I cannot emphasize this enough: find a mentor. Reach out to people on LinkedIn. There is someone out there who is willing to help you. I can truly say my mentor has taken me through a personal MBA and having a mentor has exponentially improved my craft.

Do you have any frameworks for building trust / solid relationships with your team (UX, Eng, etc) as a new PM?

So you may not like this answer lol. I personally don’t like frameworks. I find they limit my creativity and ways to solve problems. With regards to team trust and relationships. I find the most success is when I am authentic and letting various stakeholders know my strengths and weaknesses. I always find building a strong personal connection with someone is the way to go. It doesn’t always have to be work related which may feel very transactional at times.

With engineering specifically they care about the “why”, “why are we building this over that?” This is where you as a PM need to have strong conviction in your hypothesis that A vs B is better for the business AND customer because of X. The thing about product management is you want to build cool products that customers will use but at the end of the day you represent the business and you will always have to trade-off one of these.  I find with engineering also they really respect being looped in early in ideation. Bring them along in your customer interviews or brainstorming sessions.

With design, they are my partner in crime. Some of the best relationships I have built are with designers. They care about the customer experience and how they will interact with it. Some designers love heavy, long-term design projects while others thrive off of quick iterations and experiments. You will need to know which designer you are working with to contextualize your partnership. With design I find helping them understand the customer problem and helping them conduct the necessary qualitative research has always been super helpful. Setting up collaborative brainstorming sessions and setting the expectations of your portfolio will help. I find you need to allow design to run with their creativity and not be on top of them.

At the end of the day I always found that if I provided enough air-cover for my team to work without feeling heavy pressure from the business they always respected me and worked for the vision I set out.

What's your go-to advice for folks doing Product interviews / hiring processes for the first time?

Rocketblocks will help with typical fermi (estimation) questions, Exponent is also a great product that is super helpful for product interviews. Exponent helped me think about various product questions and how to approach them. (Get a discount when you sign up for Exponent through The Commons here!) They have a youtube channel with strong PMs answering typical questions that you can leverage. Reading reviews on Glassdoor of how interviews were conducted helps as well. Making sure you get the necessary requirements from the recruiter about the expectation going into the interview always helps as well.

This might be a cop-out answer but authenticity is important and it took me a really long time to figure this out. The more I tried to be like “other” PMs the more I found I failed. I would say lean into your strengths. If its customer empathy or business acumen lean into that. There is a reason why that recruiter chose you. Imposter syndrome is real and I battle with it everyday. But you need to make sure you have everything you need to feel successful going into that interview. That’s where your recruiter will really help.

Finally, with recruiter calls I find those are more feeler interviews and maintaining a solid dialogue and highlighting your experiences and empathizing with your failures always helps. Once you get in front of another PM or the hiring manager you need to work with the recruiter to understand the expectations so you can succeed.

As someone who's worked in Growth and more traditional Product Management roles, what would you say is the difference, and which one do you prefer?

For me, “Growth Product Manager” is really just over-indexing on experimentations and data. I find in growth there is a lot of focus on velocity, speed, learnings and optimizing a specific metric (usually acquisition, activation or retention). As a growth PM I find I am also heavily involved in data. I don’t think I can go 1 day without looking at how data is trending or working with data scientists to run regression analysis based on various hypotheses I have. With growth as well I find the appetite for long-term research is not really there especially when you work at a company with a culture that is heavy in experimentation. I also find a lot of growth PMs either don’t do longer-term research or believe they can get the signal they are looking for faster through quantitative data and hitting statistical significance. I find that’s not always the case.

Personally, I think I thrive in the middle. I truly believe experimentation is one of many tools a PM can leverage to learn and validate. Qualitative research or long-term research I find is where you can really make big impacts on the business because you are getting into the user psychology and trying to understand why they do certain things which is supported with your quantitative data. There is always opportunity cost with experimentation - time to clean up code, time to hit statistical significance, time to reach your sample size. I find, taking the extra time to really nail down the strategy through research will always foolproof your assumptions when trying to advocate for a project.

At the end of the day it also really depends on the business expectations. Are they looking for results short-term? Or long-term? If long-term you may have more runway to validate.

If you could remove one of your daily tasks as a PM, which one would it be and why?

I find communication and storytelling crucial for getting buy-in. It’s something I am continuously trying to improve on everyday. Im’ finding that grounding communication in something relatable with stakeholders when telling stories about problems and how we propose solving them helps.

Does Noom actually work? 👀

I will say the customers I have spoken to through qualitative research really value the psychology and behavioral change aspect of the product. My hypothesis is that if you are looking for a quick fix or a “magic” pill you might not be a good fit for Noom. However, if you are looking to get off “fad” or “yo-yo” diets and are looking for longer-term sustainability and want to change your eating habits which are rooted in psychology. Noom is for you. The curriculum I find is very informative and helps me make better educated decisions about the food I consume on a daily basis.

If you’d like to see the rest of the AMA with Jonathan, including his take on whether or not product focused courses and certificates are worth it, and the best and worst products he’s ever worked on, community members can view the original thread on Slack.

Interested in more?
Mentor Spotlight: Aritra Ghosh
Mentor Spotlight: Aritra Ghosh
Meet Aritra, Product Manager at Azure (Microsoft) and Product Mentor at The Commons!
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