Doing things that don’t scale – my Brian Chesky moment

Inability to chill out

The evening sun shone warmly upon us, as we sipped hot tea together in the slightly cold winds of November. I had been discussing a plethora of topics with my partners E and S. (They would like to stay private. Hence, the post will refer to them as E and S). We decided to challenge ourselves.

The challenge – Run an experiment where we had to sell a tangible physical product within 24 hours and generate revenues (and hopefully profits) respectively.

Hence began some of the most exhilarating hours of my life along with my partners in crime; E and S.

An Idea and Washrooms

The problem statement we narrowed down on was to help people surprise their respective partners / friends and give them the opportunity to make memories.

We entered a mall and used the washroom entrance to target people. Since we did not have the necessary permissions to openly sell within the mall. 😀

Insights –

  • While we received prospects, pushing them along the funnel and converting them into buying customers was ridiculously hard.
  • Attempting to use the mall without permissions as a growth hack was exciting. Luckily, we spent sufficient time trying to gain prospects, before being thrown out. 🙂
  • Lack of women on the team, which would have made our task of approaching female groups easier. Lack of children with us, which would at least have helped us approach and interview families. (Side note – Made me ponder on why companies keep fighting against diversity, since a small experiment like this made it very clear that collaboration between people from different backgrounds / genders / experiences, etc can help make things easier, and also add value.)
  • The true power of trying out something crazy showed up, as a couple walked over to us and talked about how they had tried something similar and would be happy to help us in our growth.
A Pivot and a Rocket ship

This time, instead of taking the typical product approach of building something and trying it out in the market, we decided to take a diametrically opposing top down approach. The decision was to target the areas which would have the biggest crowd, and figure out what could be sold respectively.

While S and me took to observing the people walking in and out of the temple, in hopes of spotting some clues; E begun exploring nearby shops. A good 20 minutes later, E walked up to us and mentioned that we should be selling ghee (traditional clarified butter) which could be used by people to light up diyas (oil lamps) and place them in the temple respectively.

Our eyes widened, as the two of us stared at him in silence. We had a deep feeling that E had truly lost his mind 🙂 With nothing to loose except precious time, we none the less decided to jump onto the bandwagon. And backed against the wall, the only worse thing that could have happened was a second failure and a third pivot to something crazier.

Someone comes knocking!

We ended up landing our first customer. While she was extremely reluctant at first, we did manage to convince her, and ended up making the first sale. It was more of a relief than a celebratory moment. However, nothing had prepared us for the moments that took place a few minutes later. Since it was our first sale, we had not even considered the potential customer success use cases.

The Brian Chesky moment

While we begun quickly turning around our business with a couple of more customers; our first consumer returned angrily. She begun pounding us with details on where we were screwing up. In this fit of irritation, she mentioned a festival that happened to be on that Saturday.

While my partner pacified the angry consumer, I made mental notes of the various points with a high degree of astonishment. Brian Chesky had talked about finding a singular user who helped them define the next set of features. I stared in complete disbelief as the words started coming true right in front of my eyes. We not only got a detailed road map for the next 2 hours. But thanks to her, we capitalized on this new found consumer insight; turning our next two hours into absolute craziness.

We immediately diversified our product categories to both ghee and diyas. Gradually, we realized that a complete ready to light diya was turning out to be more profitable. Hence, we quickly shut down our original product of direct raw materials and went full bang on a packaged diya.

As our consumer demand shot up, we soon ran out of supply. With S stuck fulfilling other supplies, I had to run barefoot to the nearest ATM to withdraw cash and replenish the ghee supply. Running wild eyed and barefoot for about a kilometer as people stared at me is a moment that’s going into my bucket list of crazy stuff I have done. 🙂

Customer centricity

As a product manager, I keep interviewing customers in hopes of figuring out insights that not only solve further problems for the customer, but in turn also impact product metrics (conversion / retention / churn / etc) and ultimately business metrics (profit margins / operating margins / cash flows / etc).

This customer centric mindset helped us nail superior profits in the closing hours or our experiment, as we discovered that customers wanted paper napkins to clean their hands after using ghee / lighting diyas. The insight was a value add as we utilized it into premium pricing for our product.

The power of persistence and a team

Having worked with diverse teams / stakeholders as a product manager, I have been a strong believer in teams, with whom I have shared both tough yet happy moments working towards outcomes. This experiment brought alive the power of diverse teams yet again. E came up with the idea, S ran the supply chain like a slick operations guy, and I as the product manager, did whatever was required to get stuff out. I participated in driving the end to end execution, provided a lending hand in the consumer facing messaging, and supported the supply side, when things got really fast.

Customer messaging and Sales

We not only went from zero to one, but ended up making a small yet neat profit from the measly amount we had invested.

I have been immensely lucky to have executed a crazy experiment like this in collaboration with two amazing people who keep me motivated through their own respective journeys. And yes, a mention for one of the best episodes of this wonderful podcast, which keeps my craziness alive, despite life constantly pushing me towards the negative quadrant on the Y axis.


Seven questions I would ask as the PM of BankBazaar

The below notes are my thoughts, based on a LinkedIn post by Mr Adhil Shetty respectively.

  1. 75M is a metric that is like the number of app downloads, which can be influenced by marketing spend. Similarly, Alexa site ranks and Comscore data can tend to fall within vanity metrics, which typically do not help in indicating the health of the product / business.
  2. 23M monthly visitors is commendable. However, the better question to ask will be how many visitors are unique vs repeat, & how many converted in each bucket & for which category offerings respectively. That would offer a better picture of the acquisition and conversion numbers, & subsequently the revenue generators.
  3. The free credit score report had recently been offered by CRISIL as well for a short duration. While CRISIL ran a scheduled and limited campaign, BankBazaar is offering the same on a continuous basis (most likely subsidized by Experian through the investments into the company). While this approach could be acting as a huge acquisition channel, but whether it is acting as an activation channel is something to ponder upon. My understanding would be that the ROI of the free credit report would be easier to justify in the case of this campaign driving acquisitions + activations respectively. 
  4. To add to the previous point, which category these users are currently activating and can be activated upon would be an interesting indicator of the company’s positioning and digital marketing impact.
  5. Internet penetration while on the increase, will require dedicated focus from product managers who can drive offerings for the next set of users coming online to make BankBazaar a true one stop place for financial products. However, a pure digital only approach may not be the best way to acquire these new users, since many are not even aware about such products or their potential respectively.
  6. Offline sales channels might have thin margins of 10% but can actually act as a strong awareness / acquisition channel. A delicate balance might need to be held  over the next 3-5 years in terms of investing in offline vs online channels. While a paperless model and digital business might be projected to significantly increase and bring more revenue (with 80% margins), 10X increase in consumer internet might not be the right benchmark to measure it against. Increase in people actually willing to buy financial products (admittedly a difficult number to estimate) might be a better number to target and move towards.
  7. Revenue growth numbers would probably be the most attractive number in this article. However, a more important question I did be grappling with is whether 102% increase in customer transactions was in one of the months in the period of Oct 2016 – 2017 or Month-on-Month. Additionally, what factors influenced the spike in growth of respective categories; like stock market downfalls, ad campaigns, industry sponsored campaigns like Mutual Funds Sahin Hain, etc.

The above data, coupled with collecting qualitative information through customer interviews, would help in prioritizing the road map tangentially towards the categories that are the revenue drivers. As a consequence, such vectors will help make users happy and the business healthy respectively.

A day in my life as a product manager

Stakeholder expectations for prioritization and roadmap planning. 😛

When I get too thoughtful about attempting to understand –

  • Irrationality
  • Randomness / chance / volatility
  • Human behavior
  • Probability
  • Various laws like Goodhart’s law, Banach–Tarski Paradox, etc.


This cat having an existential crisis is me(Video via:

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How I react when the project being driven finally has a qualified lead in B2B / onboarded consumer in B2C. 😛

When Definition of Done means deployed in Production environment, with no QA and no documentation 😛

How I refresh / recharge every single day. 😛

How to indicate and say ‘No’ to stakeholders for new requirements at the last minute 😛

Being self driven & entrepreneurial. 😛

When I get too deep into rolling weekly sprints. 😛

When I get desperate to move a metric like NPS and begin collecting customer feedback relentlessly!  😛

When I try accepting the story I had written by performing user acceptance testing and doubling up as a manual QA 😛

My toolkit. 😛

When I realized that I am the Jar Jar Binks of my teams 😛

PS – For Star Wars fans only!

When I try to keep a poker face but end up befuddled / bewildered 😛

When I parachute into a new initiative or stressed asset and am suddenly expected to have all answers 😛

How designers see me despite my best efforts 😛

When I try to align stakeholders to the roadmap 😛

My dreams as a B2C product manager – Metrics like acquisition, activation, conversion, retention, revenue shooting up 10X 😛

My dreams as a B2B product manager – Metrics like MRR, conversion, retention, operating margins, revenue shooting up and churn, CAC rolling down by atleast 6X 😛

How I motivate engineering teams 😛

Why this series of lightheartedness?

1) One never knows which sub system (internal organ) of the main system (human body) might suddenly decide to run a feature selection / parameter tuning algorithm, delete a couple of parameters and begin to throw out unexpected results in production (disease / disorder / disability).

Life. Is. Short.

And a little humor does not hurt anyone. 🙂

2) I enjoy self deprecating humor.

Why I defend this AMP project as a product manager?

The below thread fired up my imagination and subsequently this post.

While many others denounced the project, in the larger scheme of things (pun intended), I strongly believe this product makes a lot of sense.

  1. It could serve as a potential new revenue generation channel. With Google serving multiple programmatic ads; if users end up using the app in their email itself, Google gets to know more details on the products that have a claim on the users’ attention. Essentially, the project serves as an additional data layer on users’ behavior, thereby feeding back into their programmatic advertising and video advertising systems, and improving targeting scores.
  2. Facebook has recently been coming under a bit of a fire for not only acquiring, but also discreetly pushing Onavo, a VPN app as a feature on the Facebook app itself. While privacy gets thrown to the dogs here, the ulterior motive was to be able to figure out the latest trending apps / sites / products that could be picking up steam among different segments, countries, etc. In essence, spot the competition before anybody else does, and either buy them or kill them. The tbh acquisition was also a result of a similar sniff/spot/kill strategy. This Google product serves the purpose of a similar defensive weapon. Gather data on the competition and then take a call on how to defend the company.
  3. The project helps in evangelizing Google’s own AMP technology, thereby creating the perfect flywheel. As more people use the product, the technology improves, the data helps improve the advertisement serving system, and improves Google’s top line, which in turn brings in flexibility to invest in such projects.

If even a small percent of users end up utilizing the above, it could lead to a satisfaction of the projected metrics / revenues, marking the project as a successful endeavor.

Disclaimer –

  • This is a humble attempt to reverse engineer the thought process behind this product’s strategy.
  • The author is a supporter in the fight for privacy. The post does not in any way whatsoever, support the collection of every actionable data point on users.
  • The author currently does not have all the requisite numbers to back the above line of thought. However, the post will be updated once the requisite data is available.

The decision fallacy: From the eyes of a product manager

Dragonflies swarmed around, as I stood in the balcony, sipping my hot cup of tea. Zigzag they flew, as each made their way from a nearby muddy pool to the huge tree outside my balcony. My visual systems made notes, observing Mother Nature’s randomness being enacted by these little actors.

I wondered how they made a decision to make the next movement in their flight. Which in turn, made me curious about our own methods of decision making. Considering this sample of random dragonfly movements; either we are still the four legged primates who fail to understand how Mother Nature functions, or we are unwilling to accept that Mother Nature is simply full with randomness that cannot be measured.

In the latter case, this got me wondering about how humans make decisions in a continuously uncertain world (more popularly known as VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous). After all, if I could even get an inkling to the workings of this phenomena through statistics, then making users pay for a product might become easier; as I would be able to pinpoint the true factors and nudge them to make that decision (acquisition), and keep them coming back (retention), thereby impacting positive cash flow and the business.

With this inspiration, I set out to plot myself (a sample of the homo sapiens) as a data point. However, a data point like the above has multiple dimensions (eg – upbringing, current job situation, past jobs, current partner, food preferences, etc). Since measuring in multi dimensions is difficult (and something still under my exploration); for the sake of the argument, I shall stick with two dimensions.

Cognitive Dissonance – The independent variable

To put it in simple words, people make mistakes, think they are right, and honestly believe in it. If one had the chance to interview Hitler just before he popped the pill, it is very unlikely that he would have admitted that he had made any mistakes. Instead, he would have offered a remarkable perspective that not only had he done good but also acted in the best interests of the future of humanity.

A relatively simpler example would be of a human that faces a difficult time integrating two conflicting beliefs, such as “I’m in a decent situation” and “I messed up”. Therefore, the second step the person takes is producing responses to diminish the less desirable belief (“I messed up”) in favor of the highly desirable belief (“I’m in a decent situation”).

“The brain is designed with blind spots, optical and psychological, and one of its cleverest tricks is to confer on us the comforting delusion that we, personally, do not have any. In a sense, dissonance theory is a theory of blind spots—of how and why people unintentionally blind themselves so that they fail to notice vital events and information that might make them question their behavior or their convictions.”

Confirmation Bias – The dependent variable

To convince oneself that the higher desirable belief is the correct one, one narrowly focuses on the evidence supporting the higher desirable belief and ignores the lesser one.

As dissonance increases (eg – faulty data, beliefs, etc lead to a hypothesis), the person becomes biased to prove that it is true (drawing a wrong conclusion based on a wrong hypothesis). Additionally, it creates an erroneous bias in the person with whom one is communicating in the real world. (eg – negotiations leading to bad blood, making a decision to buy a product & regretting it, believing in the wrong team, making a wrong statement in an interview, etc).


Having varied experiences (personally and professionally), and interacting with users through multiple products; my neural network has evolved to a state of recognizing that confirmation bias was at play when those users made decisions (positive and negative). However, I am no guru and have been equally susceptible to falling prey to cognitive dissonance over and over again. Those decisions impacted my bias towards the negative on the Y-axis and lead to erroneous decisions.

If bad times / bad luck are the usual stated philosophy, this essay is an attempt to correlate the abstract with a statistical phenomenon. It is a mix of the social sciences, statistics and product management in an attempt to map the under the hood workings of the why of bad decisions.

“At all ages, people can learn to see mistakes not as terrible personal failings to be denied or justified, but as inevitable aspects of life that help us grow, and grow up.”


  • The observed sample of dragonflies might not be a true representative sample because my thoughts happened in that particular time period. A constant recording of this behavior across time would be nearly impossible. Additionally, there could be multiple other reasons causing variances in the behavior of the dragonflies (eg – temperature, humidity, wind direction, availability of prey, etc), which led to the perceived flight movement in that particular time period.
  • I am cognizant about the lack of appropriate data set to support these arguments. However, this concept might need to be measured with sufficient research and does not in any way indicate a lack of data driven abilities on my part.


The simple way to lead, once more – A product leader in the making

“Gullu, you shall be talking!”

It all began when I was tasked with talking about a product that I had been driving as a product manager (popularly known as Gullu within the company). The product, at that point of time, had been going through tough times. Yet, I was supposed to be delivering a talk about it to the entire company.

Dumping myself into a chair, I zoomed into the history of my transactions with the various stakeholders I had had over the last multiple months. As I grappled with the question of what to talk about, it struck me that on one hand, I was supposed to be introducing and talking about the what and why of the software. On the other hand, since the product was already live, most other employees were already biased with opinions about it (some of them fiercely negative). None the less, I went ahead and delivered the talk.

A day post my talk, I proceeded to understand what various other employees thought about the same. An insight that came out as the hidden surprise within the patterns was about a simple introductory line that I had utilized –

“I, Nitish Gulati, the product manager of xxx, on behalf of our company xxx

A weekly talk had been a regular affair at the company. In effect, the neurons in employees’ brains had been wired to get and plant their derriere on the chairs, simply to accommodate the session and speaker respectively. Yet, despite the unwelcome thoughts, I was able to take it a step ahead with the above introduction line.

All I did was to play around the above bias, making all feel that it was actually me who was obliged to have them listening to my voice. In addition, it drove home my credibility of standing in front of them. The new links in their brains created signals that the individual standing and communicating meant serious business, and was not presenting simply because he was supposed to.

A side effect of the talk was that people who were vocal about the flaws of the product went on a restructuring of their thoughts. Instead of further criticism, they began talking to me about the same faults, putting it forth as a suggestion, rather than a complaint. Those 20 minutes reinforced the fact that the product, despite its flaws, was meant to be heard out. That the team deserved to be respected for all the hard word put in. That the product will come back strong, no matter what.

In the Masters of Scale podcast, Sheryl Sandberg crisply mentioned the example of how valuable it can be, when a meeting is begun with the what and why. “What are we doing” and “why are we doing it”. A simple approach of repetition work to influence the thought process of the team in the direction of the product, rather than authoritatively pushing them towards a predefined expectation.

As I take inspiration from the wonderful podcast series, I look forward to increasing the number of rating stars on my influential index as a leader, while still being the nuts and bolts guy who can relentlessly execute.

Holding true in the decade of AI

It is very rare that one comes across a book that not just tells a story, but is also a case study of case studies. The authors have done full justice by sharing real incidents of metamorphosis across divergent company sizes. 

The book talks about multiple scenarios where companies, running under disparate market and competitive situations respectively, have engendered a major transformation. The evolution lead to both success and failure, which have been garnished by the authors with deeper points of view. An aspect elaborated is of culture playing a crucial role in the change that any company undergoes. An excellent example presented is of Capital Holding, where executives were clear early on, that communicating and reiterating the changes would be the second step. The first step would be to understand the existing logical behavior that people adhered to within their business environment. This contributed to pacifying and empowering employees, who were thrust under unfamiliar circumstances, brought about by the new processes in place.

Another example that shined brightly was of Taco Bell. In today’s age, a plethora of startups tend to fail because of a lack of product/market fit. There could be multiple reasons for the debacle. Yet, one of those reasons is not focussing on the user. Taco Bell’s story in the early 1980’s rings true even today. They had been under significantly losses, when the top management decided to undertake a restructuring, with a vision to focus on what the customers wanted. This enabled them to understand where there had been unnecessary money burn, and helped make a successful turnaround.

While the lessons brought out may make a lot of common sense in today’s world (that has been eaten up by software and faster product life cycles), the book serves as a good reminder to product managers and digital leaders. It provides a no holds barred indication about information technology being a key ingredient for overhauling the functioning of companies. With technologies like machine learning knocking at the doors of a new and rapid digital transformation, multiple companies are still reluctant to let go of a culture that could imbibe and integrate the knowledge worker. While it may serve in the short run, it could turn out to be disastrous in the long run, which the book succinctly brings out.

Reengineering the corporation is a book that can help build a mindset which can navigate the emerging complexities of new dimensions in business.

The Agile Awards Fallacy

A few days back, the Head of Products of a firm alluded to the plan of a new approach in their company. It would involve the employment of a credit point based objective assessment system. This methodology would be used to build a score board for agile product development teams; where each team could track their credit points earned during a sprint and compete for a Sprint Champion Award.

As a product manager, the questions to strike my mind were –

  • what would be achieved?
  • why even do this, in the first place?

Why do this?

The management had been thinking along the lines of building this concept to nourish overall healthy competition between teams.

What would be achieved?

Having driven products in parallel with completely divergent objectives, users, etc; the program got me thinking about the implications on the teams. I turned to the basics, referring to the Agile manifesto. One of the twelve principles says –

Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

While the intent of the program sounded good, the finer details spelled a recipe for disaster. The plan sounded unfair to the teams who worked hard day in and day out despite being bombarded with a constant barrage of changes. They might not be able to achieve the award simply because of an issue that they might not be directly responsible for. Hiring the right people and then trusting them to the job is of paramount importance. The program seemed to undermine this key tenet of a product company.

Another of the principles says –

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.

From a delivery perspective, my thoughts centered around a dissimilar concept. Instead of rewarding teams on the basis of points scored, the champion award could be proffered to the team that ended up delivering something worthy of use. The value stream of the feature/product could be mapped towards either the client/customer/consumer. Walking down this path could definitely take time, in terms of measuring and justifying the champion, but the approach could be worth it’s grain of salt.

In conclusion, ideas like the above can tend to negate the purpose of the methodology. While agile as a framework has its benefits of allowing inflection points, which enable pivots for teams/products/companies; it needs to be used to provide a meaningful nudge to the teams, that strive hard to deliver true value.

The True Sher’s – Part 5

Read Part 4


It is also important for the PM to filter out the sensible requests from the noise. There are various techniques to prioritize. They could be in the form of time, complexity or business cases. In products like Shareathon, both time and business case tend to play critical roles.

The easier way to perform the said task is by beginning with the question, “How might this help the user?”

Data, the key?

With all possible market feedback in tow, it can feel trivial to go all out on a product based on a hypothesis. But, with less data available, trying to build fast can be a key component to success. Provided, one has spent sufficient time understanding the problem.

Once a product gets to live, the amount of feedback that could pour in could be exhausting. Or the same can be extracted by a PM who is good in communicating with a wide variety of users.

With quick launches, and resolutions of bugs, the diamonds can start emerging from the dust. Filtering the diamonds  through basic analysis, a PM can provide a necklace around the diamonds, to start forming stories around user behavior.

Conclusive food for thought

As a PM, one of the delightful moments that one would await for, is the product going live, so that it can be utilized by the intended users. Though one can be at the receiving end of extremely critical comments, but on the other end of the spectrum, the possibility of appreciation far outweighs the negatives of any launch.

While all of the above traits hold significance, it is humility that is one of the key differentiating factors. What comes across from examples like above, is that product management can be a messy process. Dealing with multiple people / teams at the same time is not a job for the faint hearted. Having thought leaders like Rohan Krishna and Dr Marya Wani definitely helps. As they can foster an influential environment, cajoling people to bring out their best towards the product. 

Having stated this, went live at lightning speed. More importantly, the humbleness of the team in accepting feedback (positive and negative), prioritizing the same, and pushing the solution out to end users was commendable.

From the eyes of a product manager, the true Sher’s at the event were not the participants, but the team itself. And, I look forward to the team and platform soaring high in days to come.

The True Sher’s – Part 4

Read Part 3

The internet has intricately woven itself into the offline lives of people. This has been in part due to the democratization of technology. Which in effect, has absorbed a large audience on to the web. Additionally, it has spawned rival services in multiple industries and segments.

On one hand, design thinking, user experience, and such concepts are encouraged to be thought through beforehand. This ensures that the experience for the end user is commendable, if not jaw dropping.

But, on the other hand, such speed of technology has only raised the bar for products that are going live the first time. “Beta” is no longer a word that can be utilized to mask issues under the hood. A user today has a plethora of choices available for him/her. It is only a matter of seconds in which the choice is made.

With such precarious scenarios, it becomes all the more difficult for product managers to balance various people / teams at stake.
Business stakeholders are out for their necks if there are delays in the launch. Whereas, if the product is poor, the end users can tend to ditch the platform, or worse, publicly damage the reputation on social media.

Be agile

A team should always be ready to support and fix issues as quickly as possible. In a typical customer support scenario, fixes can be taken in due course of time. But, the velocity should be faster in a product scenario. And agile methods help in enabling the velocity.

Basic principles like the entire team being responsible to act fast, brings a sense of responsibility to all the members. This motivates them to give their best. Techniques like Scrum and Kanban ensure in bringing a method to the madness.

Read on to know more