Goodbye Babbel. And Thank you, Babbelonians!

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” – Michael Altshuler.

My 4 ½ year journey comes to an end, but it felt like both Babbel & I experienced a decade-worth of change, advancement and growth. I wanted to take a moment to thank every Babbelonian that made it so enriching. And to my family for the leap of faith to change countries again. ✈️

People 🤘🏼

When asked about the one thing I’ll miss: like countless Babbelonians, I pointed to this. You onboarded me to a new culture. You live & breathe our purpose to create mutual understanding – for us and our learners. You are what makes Babbel unique. There’s so many of you to name and I fear missing one out. But you know who you are! Seeing your goodbye messages come far and wide was heart-warming. Sorry for being speechless on the farewell call. Thanks and you rock! 

Babbelonians helped me blend in a new culture; to learn and reflect on my values and identity.

Product & Leadership 🎯

When I took over leadership of the PM team early 2018 and was asked to double it, I was still learning to lead at scale. Not every strategy, organisation and process change was straight-forward – especially restructuring into tribes. I want to thank all the PMs for their trust, commitment patience while I figured it. Looking back at how far we’ve come makes me proud: from how & how many decisions we make using data, to how consistent we’ve become at driving outcomes; from lateral transitions to well-deserved promotions. Leading designers and product marketeers was a step change; thanks for the smooth transition. You’ve all been tremendous partners! 

Scale-up to IPO-ready 🚀

Hacking. Failing. Winning.

I want to thank all Impressionists (members of our revenue & growth tribe) for your drive to hack, clean-up and scale. You should be proud of launching free-trial, a platform for new subscriptions like multi-user & lifetime plans, a platform for promotions and iterating on content. Your contribution and strong collaboration with Marketing, CS, etc, chipped strongly into our user & revenue growth.

I owe a great deal to the inspiring leaders that challenged, inspired, and guided me through it – Martin Keuter (ex-COO), Geoff Stead (CPO) and Julie Hansen (CRO & CEO, US). I learned a lot, but most of all, you helped sharpen my strategic thinking, organisation development and change management skills. 

Continue reading Goodbye Babbel. And Thank you, Babbelonians!

Figjam, the Red ocean of Whiteboards & a Jobs-to-be-done-based Strategy for Growth 🚀

A couple of weeks back, I was mentoring a startup around their product’s value metric and went on to check subscriptions for a few products. On Figma’s price page, their brand new white board solution – Figjam – was a click away!

What I liked ❤️

  • Simplicity for focus: Limited tools on an infinite canvas, distraction-free (on-demand) editing and quick load times are great to capture ideas quickly & organise visually. This was a pleasant break from Miro & Figma itself that do so much more and inadvertently draw your attention to presentation. I could also do some very basic mobile wireframes.
  • Drawing made easy: In office, I was a heavy pen & board user. To continue quick drawing in my remote setup, I bought the cheapest Wacom tablet and used it with Sketchbook and Jamboard. Miro’s palm rejection is a bit messy. Figjam was smooth like butter – both for writing and drawing shapes. You can’t draw auto-shapes like Miro, Figma’s vector network features are not available yet. But  you also can’t fill them up with color like in MS Paint 🙂
  • Emojis have the place they deserve: Figjam has a cool emoji palette making it easy to drop quick reactions all over the board. Social rewards mean even more in remote work and I love these as they drive recognition, confirmation and healthy competition between the participants. Though some Emojis don’t show up. Miro launched a less in-the-face version early May. 

What I missed 💔

  • Stronger mind mapping: I adopted Mindmaps before onscreen sticky notes and LucidChart. While Figjam makes it easy to fork linear nodes, it doesn’t support one-to-many out-of-the-box.
  • Alternate Funky font: No, I don’t use ComicSans in business, but from time-to-time I love to create visual relief using an alt font — especially for comments and cues. Two fonts, like Miro offers, is enough.
  • Hyperlinking: Sure, I can live without that font. But in a world where everything from a lesson to a payment request is a URL, not being able to CMD+K a node sucks.
  • No export options yet: Honestly, not a deal breaker since you can copy all objects to Figma and export from there.

Why Figma launched FigJam

  • Support a new use case: Most designers I know capture everything from early sketches (even if photos) to mocks to prototypes and eventually design assets in Figma. But for anyone else to collaborate, it requires an editor license, which disincentives use and slows down its bottom-up sales strategy.
  • Expand audience: Figma’s vector objects, layout and preview features are too hard for thinkers beyond trained designers. Its value is driven by sharing & editors and more users can’t be added without new PMF. The world has over a billion knowledge workers suddenly deprived of whiteboards. This tool is perfect to capture adjacent users, sell more licenses and collect the SSO tax (the key differentiating feature in that plan).
  • Performance & costs to serve: This is just my hypotheses. Given current loads, all whiteboards suffer performance issues. Repackaging the feature set to serve that expanded audience with a simpler interface, better performance, and potentially lower infrastructure costs is smart.
Just see how similar the landing pages for all these products look! Thank God chose a different background color.

What this means for Miro, Mural, Invision & Lucidchart’s strategy

Given the exponential growth driven by remote, it’s no surprise that all 5 ended up in the red ocean of whiteboard collaboration and started looking same the same.

With that said, they all come from a different core use-case and history, and survival depends on picking and sustaining with a mix of the below strategies:

Logos are the properties of the respective companies and only used for illustration. Inspired by Tony Ulwick’s matrix.

  1. Differentiated strategy: stay highly differentiated in that core use. The veterans — Invision, Figma and LucidChart are very strong at Product design and diagramming.
  2. Dominant strategy: build something that works for everyone and try to become the new “workspace”. Miro with its product-led growth strategy and solid integrations via cards aims to win here. The biggest advantage here is you can expand the market – you can create more visual thinkers, but you can’t create more designers.
  3. Disruptive strategy: disrupt dominant players (or yourself) by simplifying the product and and add adjacent use cases for non-consumers. Figjam does that and will hopefully charge less for adjacent users, but uses current customer base to expand.
  4. Discrete strategy: Leverage defensible constraints like security features, lock-in, bundled sales – the Microsoft strategy to keep customers. I’m sure Pharma’s won’t be happy to see their scientists use one of these tools to brainstorm the COVID vaccine. remains focussed on teachers (Kahoot! acquired them).

What would you do differently?

🎧 Hear how mentoring can make you a stronger leader

In this podcast, Daniel Bartholomae & I discuss how mentoring talent has strengthened our core leadership skills. Hear it on Spotify or SoundCloud and let me know what you think. Cheers to a first! 🍻

I also wrote a post on the Mentoring Club Insights blog talking about the mentoring loop, that you might like.

4 Simple routines I adopted in 2020 to reduce anxiety and increase positivity 🧘💪🏼😇

Before diving in 2021, I wanted to reflect on the past year. Like I said, 2020 was crazy, but we thrived. Crisis presented a bunch of new opportunities. I want to share how being thoughtful about 4 habits I became contributors to my sanity and satisfaction of life.

1. I won back my time, mind & body.

gray pedestrian lane

With everything around overwhelming us, time and headspace became more constrained than ever. I gradually made 5 simple changes to my day, starting with a digital detox. These include writing weekly priorities, replacing breakfast, checking messages less often, (less Netflix) more podcasts, and ending the day with an activity. All of which reduced anxiety and gave something to look forward to everyday. The headspace allowed leading and caring better — both at work and home. And without the time, none of the below would’ve been possible.

2. I gave back through mentoring.

Having done some informal mentoring in 2019, the Mentoring Club, and later, the Vodafone Institute’s female social entrepreneurship accelerator F-Lane, provided the platform and structure to mentor as a routine. The overall experience from 30 sessions was highly enriching and immensely contributed to sharpening my core leadership skills. For that, and the joy of giving back to community, I will certainly continue to mentor in 2021

I’m really happy I could give back

3. I learned & practiced a lot.

2020 started off with the most awesome personal trip with work colleaguesyes, read that again. — to ski for the first time ever. What you see below is the result of 2 hours of training, 2 days of (almost non-stop) practice and endless encouragement from fantastic companions.

That’s me on the 3rd day of skiing in my entire life. Thanks Geoff for capturing this.

That was of course before spending rest of the year indoors. I decided on strengthening my discovery & innovation skills, and completed 2 enlightening & collaborative courses from Ideo: Insights for Innovation and Human-centered service design, over 10 weeks. It enabled a big mindset shift and to see user feedback in a new light, allowing better experimentation to maximize learning. I also self-studied the Monetisation & Pricing and Product Strategy courses from Reforge, greatly useful for 2021 strategy & planning.

Continue reading 4 Simple routines I adopted in 2020 to reduce anxiety and increase positivity 🧘💪🏼😇

Thanks for adapting to 2020 & Happy new year!

🎉🍭🎊 I’d like to wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy & successful 2021, and a great start to the decade! 💪🏼❤️ Before diving into it, I wanted to reflect on 2020. And let’s start with brief appreciation for surviving it.

Thanks for adapting!

Firstly, I want to thank health care workers risked their lives to put community first. The year has ended for us, but they continue fighting the crisis. I also want to thank my family, friends and colleagues for the understanding, love and core without which surviving 2020 would’ve been harder. Let’s look back more closely.

Off to a crazy start

2020 was surely like no other! The bad rap it got isn’t undeserved for all the gloomy news it brought right at the start. I lost family members to COVID. We had friends who lost jobs. It exhausted healthcare workers, and all of us in a way.

woman covering her face with white tissue paper
And some were troubled by toilet paper. 😓
Continue reading Thanks for adapting to 2020 & Happy new year!

I learned Ideo’s secret to innovate & design for human emotions 🔮

Part of the reason I love being in product is how success is directly tied to identifying and solving the right problems. Of course this requires sifting through data, but numbers are useless if you can’t contextualize them. And that requires empathy — for customers, for people that work with you, and our eco-system. My colleague John is great at this, and my first port of call to confirm if this course was a meaningful investment to get better at my craft. Thanks for your nod, John.

The Insights for Innovation course from Ideo is spaced over 5 weeks. Primarily online learning, it has continuous collaboration with other learners, and weekly mentor calls. Don’t expect tons of theory as its designed to be application-first. Isn’t learning by doing is the best? Here’s what I learned:

#1 Don’t let your design marginalise minorities.

An idealistic statement that’s weightier now then ever. As builders, we fail to realise that equity can be built into good design. If we did, it wouldn’t take a revolution for product packaging to drop racial references. Pause for a bit and imagine thinking about eating habits when designing a product for a healthy lifestyle. Who did you think of?

Did you those consider humans that work in hazardous work environments like mining, or those that don’t have enough access to daily nutrition? To contextualise the latter, the addressable market for that problem is close to a billion people.

#2 Study extremes even if you only build for core users.

PMs shouldn’t come across like this when advocating for their extremes users.

Customer advocacy is expected of product people. But too often personas limit our thinking with an averaged description of our majority users. Extremes are humans whose needs and environment varies drastically from the typical user or use case. Addressing edge case scenarios expands the range of your solution – not the job to be done. Extremes amplify every other user’s needs, stretching our thinking to come up with breakthrough ideas that expand the range your product serves.

In hindsight, this is how we innovated procure-to-pay at Zycus in 2010. We bet that insights from early (SMB) adopters would help us build for the majority and cross the chasm where most products fall through. PS: If you haven’t read Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore, please do. One exercise in the course prompted thinking about extreme experiences one could have in a vehicle. What comes to mind? Some extreme ideas at the end ⬇️.

Continue reading I learned Ideo’s secret to innovate & design for human emotions 🔮

Will your career growth survive COVID-19? 5 prompts to set personal goals today!

I hope you are safe and doing well through the ongoing health and humanitarian crises. The Coronavirus pandemic caught us by surprise, and has left us between repealed norms and an uncertain future. The end isn’t imminent but we’re optimistic.

If you work on the front lines or in an essential category serving this pandemic, my sincere appreciation. Thanks & God bless you. 🙏🏻

If not, you probably have a story for your career-from-home in 2020. And that’s going to be my favorite conversation starter for learning, coaching, networking, interviewing and small-talk in 2021. How did you prevent your personal development from stalling? If you don’t an answer ready, this post might give you some ideas.

In May, Janus offered me to host a session at his Product Management peer group. I took the opportunity to dive into this question with fellow Product leaders and get inspired by their stories from these troubled times. I want to share the leading questions I used (#5 added later) to help frame that story.

Prompts to set personal development goals 🤔

  1. What is the 1 thing you had/knew pre-COVID, but didn’t use it much, and are now using/applying it more than before.
  2. What Skill(s) or Technique(s) you learned pre-COVID are you applying right now?
  3. What book kept you inspired during COVID?
  4. What’s a Skill or Technique you want to sharpen in 2020?
  5. How did you give back to the community during these times?
Continue reading Will your career growth survive COVID-19? 5 prompts to set personal goals today!