All posts by Prasad

Prasad is a builder-at-heart, and writes about product management, leadership and coaching talent. He's equally passionate about family, food & travel.

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 Whiteboard.fi 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. Whiteboard.fi remains focussed on teachers (Kahoot! acquired them).

What would you do differently?

How to accelerate Customer Impact thru Discovery 🤩 without the framework hype 😅

Too many teams miss out on unlocking product value (plus fun & learning as bonus) either by not focusing on discovery, or obsessing about the process. Worst is when leaders track efficiency metrics to manage it. Having learned discovery the hard way myself (credits at the end), I think I understand why. But more importantly, I want to share 3 areas leaders can manage instead, so teams are empowered to do their job.

I’d like to start by reflecting on two quotes that explain discovery best.

“Discovery, by definition, means you don’t know the answer when you start.”

Ed Catmull’s (Co-founder, Pixar) spirit1 in Marty Cagan’s words2. Either way, two great influencers on building lovable products.

The most magnificent thing takes a while to build.

Moral of Ashley Spires’ story, The Most Magnificent Thing, for pre-schoolers captures the ups & downs of the creative process perfectly.

There are two unknowns in there: scope (resources) & time — presuming everyone likes high quality. And Management 101 teaches leaders to fear & control both. Rightly so, because they have opportunity costs associated, making leaders and teams anxious about discovery. Instead of trying to observe what works and what to fix, they resort to a shinier process for a false sense of control. 🤦🏽

Don’t get me wrong about process; I love process as a guard-rail but not as the only rail.

Instead if leaders just observed these 3 areas from a distance, they would know exactly where to coach, while empowering teams to have a fulfilling time doing discovery.

1. Origin of discovery work

Understand 🔍

  • How do teams explain ‘discovery’ and their current process? Particularly useful when starting in a new role, and helps understand the mindset, frameworks and approach of the team.
  • What triggers discovery and where does it begin? Answers would most likely range between ticket, feature, idea, problem and mission. Great teams (with a well-defined purpose) are at the right-end of that scale — both literally and metaphorically.

Improve 💡

  • Democratise access to data – both quantitative and qualitative. Data Analysts should be reserved for higher-order analysis that modern-day product analytics and data visualisation tools are still not ready for. User research findings should also be in an easy to search system4. Same goes for customer service tickets and feature requests.

Data accessibility ensures product teams know just as much as anyone else in the company about what their customers need and don’t need to be thrown ideas at.

  • Educate the team on core discovery concepts: dual-track Agile, design thinking, customer journeys, jobs-to-be-done, design sprints. Instead of adopting one as-is, retrospect and restore the missing pieces in your process. Don’t be shy to repeat.
  • Guide teams to clear missions which help them understand which problems to own, and which ones to solve with other mission teams. Assuming good team topology exists. Connect to company mission.
  • Challenge teams on their opportunity(-solution) trees and discuss how those bets fit within the portfolio of bets you manage in your product area. Connect to north star metric through KPIs these opportunities impact.
  • Reflect on discovery content you discover — frameworks, blogs, podcasts, etc — to draw parallels to your process and control the FOMO. Trust me, they all rinse-and-repackage the same core principles.
Continue reading How to accelerate Customer Impact thru Discovery 🤩 without the framework hype 😅

🎧 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 🔮

5 tips: how to find a job in Germany, Europe, or anywhere else 🇺🇸🇦🇺🇸🇬

A couple of recent mentoring sessions ended with mentees asking how to find a job in Berlin, particularly asking about English-speaking opportunities. While I could share my own experience of moving here from Dubai, I asked fellow mentors from the Mentoring Club: Büşra Coşkuner (Product Consultant), Fani Bahar (Product @ VMWare Pivotal Labs), Pavlo Voznenko (CTO, Instamotion) & Rahul Jain (Principal EM, Omio). for some tips. And like great mentors, they were kind to share their expertise. 

1. Reflect on why you want to move 🪞

No one leaves home without a reason, but it’s important to articulate your own. While it’s mostly one of career advancement, quality of life, or cultural curiosity, your individual priorities might differ. Not only does reflection help decide, it also helps trade off – as most moves require.

💡 Tip #1 Evaluate objectively: Identify and rank your criteria from what matter most to what you can let go. Don’t let gut decide.

Rahul suggests probing into reasons, evaluating the decision objectively and noting fundamental differences between locations. EU is less capitalist (more socialist) than the US, implying lower disposable income, but great public health care. The US is ahead in tech, offers more opportunities, lesser bureaucracy and doesn’t need a new language.

My journey: I moved for quality of life and to experience a new culture, which I traded off with tax-free income, luxury and proximity from home. No regrets. I evaluated my priorities using this decision framework (spreadsheet linked).

2. Short list countries & cities to live in 🌍

Selecting cities needs way more than looking at a map. You have to understand the supply-demand for roles you’re seeking, immigration barriers (language, visa, residency) and cost of living.

As Pavlo pointed, moving with a partner broadens your options. That way, the one whose role has higher demand can pioneer, while the other can bridge barriers and eventually land a job. He also notes the option of studying in Germany, which promotes internship as a means of entry.

💡 Tip #2 Reach out: to your network — friends, family, professional contacts or a mentor — with clear context and questions. Don’t confuse them with asking help finding you a job.

Continue reading 5 tips: how to find a job in Germany, Europe, or anywhere else 🇺🇸🇦🇺🇸🇬

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!