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The Product or the Experience?


This morning I was chatting with one of my friends who during the conversation mentioned that she is learning to drive a car or rather she knew driving and it’s more like a brush up crash-course on driving. I asked her, “How many hours are you driving daily?” She responded, “20 minutes to 30 minutes. But Mahuya, I feel so tired after that! My husband keeps wondering and asking why I am getting so tired in 30 minutes.”

Then I asked her as to why does she have to drive when her husband can drive her around? Of course, I made that comment in jest (lest you call me a sexist) but I was just trying to make her think! After 5 minutes of chatting, I got to the root of it. She recently got a big break in her career and everyone in her family and friends circle expected ‘Managers’ like her should drive big cars. So, she is doing her best to meet everyone’s expectations. Plus, she likes the thought of self-driving!

Then I just looked at her like a doctor or rather a surgeon and immediately took her to the operation theater i.e., for a walk round the building. I hope the operation was successful!

So yes – my story is also something similar. I still remember, about 8 years back – my then boss asked me, “Why do you need a salary increment? What would you do with money? You have no liabilities; you live with your parents.” I honestly responded without any kind of hesitation that I wanted to buy an i20, diesel car without loan in next 6 months. So the pay increase would surely help towards the cause. And soon enough, within next six months, I had my 1st car. I was really happy. We took the car home, my parents were thrilled. Then it was time to take the car to office – the actual purpose. By the way, prior to that I spent three months learning driving, getting a driving license and of course dreaming myself driving the i20. Then finally it was the moment of truth: drive the car to office – I got dressed and sat inside the car. Of course the car moved, but I now I had second thoughts: it’s brand new, I shouldn’t take the risk of driving 40 km to office. Maybe I should wait and hire a temporary driver. So yes, that’s what I did next – we put an advertisement for a driver, lot of drivers appeared for interview. Finally I select one person. His only job was to sit beside me while I drove, and ensure there was no accident! First day, I drove for about 10 km out of the 40 km drive to office. Then I became so tired that I felt if I had to drive even one minute more, I would have to take a sick leave, go home and sleep. So I asked my kind driver to take me to office. Gradually in next few days, I moved from the front seat to back seat and allowed him to drive. Life became simple for me, again!

Then I moved to Hyderabad – next one year I contemplated if I should bring the car here or sell it off. I surely loved it very much, so it was a very difficult decision. Finally a friend of mine told in a matter-of-fact way that such a beautiful car was stuck because of my indecisiveness and that I should set it ‘free’. I did just that! I sold it off within no time once I had made up my mind. So this time, I decided to spend half the money and buy a car. But the goal was to get used to driving. I bought the car, knowing I will hit many cars. Tried my best not to get mentally attached to it; unlike my first car, I didn’t care much about this one. So this time, just like my friend with whom I was chatting, I did a brush up course on driving. I didn’t learn anything new.  Then came the moment of truth (again)! Time to drive! Just like last time, I ended up appointing a driver to sit beside me. This time, I decided to take baby steps. The plan was, I wouldn’t drive to office but he would. But I would drive back home, while he sat beside me. I followed the plan for about 10-12 days. Oh My God – it was so mentally tiring. I actually wondered a lot, how or why I was getting so tired in 30 minutes. My mom as usual concluded that it was because I did not eat much. But no!

The real reasons were these:

  • Operating the vehicle was fine. But the fact that in those 30 minutes, I had to drop all other thoughts was driving me crazy!
  • Before and after driving, thinking that I didn’t/could have killed someone created more mental baggage
  • I couldn’t listen to my favorite songs; plus I kept noticing how nicely the driver was enjoying
  • I missed out on the sights; the greenery that came with monsoon or the fog that came with winter

So yes, you guessed it right – just like last time, my driver ended up driving my car instead of me. He was an educated man and the best driver ever.  It was temporary job for him till he found a job in a software services company. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I was able to convince him to be his own boss. Thanks to Uber and Ola and easy car loan policies, he now owns two cars and is very happy with himself and being his own boss.

Three months back, after lot of contemplation and against everyone’s will, I decided to sell off the car. Friends and neighbors thought that I was planning to buy a bigger car. But most of them are still disappointed to see my parking spot empty.

So how was this journey; living without a car, in the peak of summer in Hyderabad, India?

  • Very good. I enjoy the same amount of freedom as before
  • I get ~6000 (~4 km) more steps in a day vs. before
  • I meet more people on the street and smile more. If I am lucky, I get to see and experience interesting moments (all sorts of human emotions)
  • I also save close to INR. 30,000/month, which is not a huge amount but good amount to help humanitarian activities like children’s education and going for vacations.

My earnest request to all: don’t let job titles or any forms of social pressure dictate your life. After all, it’s just a car; a means to get you from point A to point B. That’s it! Be in charge of your life and drive it in a direction that works for you, your happiness and mental peace matter most! Get a bicycle instead :).

So the most common question I get asked next is: “Are you not going to buy a car, at all?”

Of course, I will. But yes, it will not be a bigger car. It will be something that meets my need (being a product manager how can I get stuck with the wrong product!), which is a fully automated self-driving car. I am closely watching where the automobile industry is going in this. Till then, I will use the bicycle!

I will end the article with this parting thought:

“Identify your true needs; don’t get stuck with the wrong product(s)!”


Our Book: Mystery to Mastery – Ideation to Productization Playbook






Product Manager’s Dream Inbox


Dear Readers,

When I opened my office Outlook this morning, the 3rd email from top grabbed my attention. It came from a fellow Product Manager who requested the IT Admin to remove him from a certain Distribution List (DL). The last line really made me think. It went like this (names have been masked for obvious reasons):

 Note: – I am receiving 6K+ mails in a day from different environments since my email is in this DL. This is causing distraction and I am not able to concentrate!”

I laughed my heart out but yes, more often than not – this is how our life is!

We get trained (over time on the job) and paid to process tons of information and most often it feels like searching for clues in a labyrinth and making the most educated guesses. The life of a Product Manager is all about distilling the ‘right’ information from myriad sources. It’s all about saying “Yes” and “No” emphatically (mostly the latter). Sometimes we hit jackpot while at other times we get a raw deal. Over time, I have learned that ‘no-decision’ or ‘slow-decision’ is like poison; it will surely kill the product’s longevity. So it’s better to make a decision today, fail fast and move on. As long as I figure out why the decision was a wrong one, I need not announce it to the world. But yes, I would have my confidence intact and that should be good enough to help me make a better decision for my product in future. Making my product live long with glory is my purpose!

So how do I stay on top of my Inbox?

The Goal I set for myself everyday: “The clutter free inbox – Less is more.”

(yes, I know no two days are the same!)

How do I get to my dream Inbox?

Everyone has their own ways of doing things. This is what I have been doing for last 3 years which has helped me by a great extent to become more productive:

Rule 1Inbox (quick scan of ~ 5-10 seconds/email, max of 10-15 minutes per day to go through Inbox) > Delete (delete irrelevant emails) > Archive (archive the entire Inbox at the end of day).

Rule 2: Don’t spend more than 10-15 minutes/day to bring the unread email count in your Inbox to 0, regardless of whether it’s 5k+ or 500 at 8 am or whenever you start your day.

Yes, I know this might shock many, but this is the best way I found to stay focused. It doesn’t mean I am careless. I have been doing this for the past 3 years, and trust me, neither am I inefficient, nor have I missed any deadlines. In fact, I managed to get few awards instead [no not for deleting emails ;)].

I realized over the years that we often waste our time going after the wrong information; added to that we further waste time questing the source. And all this while, the truth hides somewhere else. In the process we fail to take a decision today and as a result, our most beloved product suffers.

I am sure that soon technology will solve the problem of stopping/eliminating unwanted information/emails reaching us every morning when we open our business email. In fact, one of my colleagues is working on a patentable idea that would solve this problem!

If you have an unique recipe for attaining Zero Inbox in < 10 minutes, please don’t forget to comment below with your tips and tricks.

I will end my thoughts today with these quotes:


Yours Truly,

A Product Manager

~ Build the best version of your product ~


Our Book: Mystery to Mastery – Ideation to Productization Playbook





10 Tips to be an Inspiring Product Manager

10 tips

If someone were to ask us what makes one a great Product Manager, we would be at loss of words. And it’s not because we don’t know the answer but for the simple reason that there is no single mastery technique that a one can acquire to become a great Product Manager. Great or not, one needs to be a happy and a soulful Product Manager. Here are what we think are the top 10 tips to become that elusive Happy & Soulful Product Manager:

People also ask if there are any certifications that say “I can do all of that?” Again, the simple answer is, “None that we know of”. The most important argument that we put forth is that teaching and certification of old and failed techniques simply work to institutionalize the bad practices. So enjoy what you are doing and it will reflect in the solutions that you deliver.

Always remember, its one thing to get certified and another to be successful and happy.


Our Book: Mystery to Mastery – Ideation to Productization Playbook





Is Your ‘Elevator Pitch’​ Elevating You?


The opportunity to pitch an idea to investors is a momentous milestone for any entrepreneur. It serves as the first step towards getting validation that your ‘out of this world’ idea has some value. It also serves as a much-needed opportunity take a break from the tiring routine (of bringing your idea to life) and reminding yourself of the bigger, world-changing vision that motivated you to start your business in the first place.

Great startups and product companies don’t fund themselves. Bootstrapping during the initial phase is perfectly fine. But after your product and business gets some inertia, it’s time to scale up. Raising money from investors for your startup is challenging at any stage and requires a great pitch, even for experienced founders with a well-connected network.

Here are 4 key components that make an impactful Pitch:


What’s your idea of an investor pitch? Conservative or AggressiveWe would love to hear your story so please comment below and lets all learn.


botAnd while you are here, you might want to try out this new virtual Pitch Bot that grills and prepares you before you get into the investor’s office.

Have Fun!



Our Book: Mystery to Mastery – Ideation to Productization Playbook





The Entrepreneurial Enigma


According to Statistics Brain global data, 44% of startups wind up by year 3 worldwide.

What’s more, the pace of failure is picking up and with it comes erosion of investor funds. In India specifically, last year 15 startups shuttered and that number has almost doubled to 29 in the first six months of 2016 (source: Inc42, a tech-focused news and events startup). 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs admit that the top 2 challenges they faced when they started their dream ventures were: 1) Figuring out Product – Market fitment and 2) Execution & launching the product in the market with limited resources and the challenges associated with doing things for the 1st time.  

Startups of today missed the brief of “innovate fast, fail fast”; instead they went for “scale fast, fail fast” culture. Scale has nothing to do with innovation. Discounts may bring in customers but it cannot make them stay. This is a conundrum that any new or established entrepreneurs or Product Managers face. All they do is invariably start off on the wrong foot; solve a problem with technology. No amount of research goes into understanding the root cause of the problem. The customer problem might manifest itself in multiple, unknown and non-linear ways. In the same way, the understanding of the solution would always fall in the realm of ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ and that should be the starting point of innovation. They put all their eggs in one basket and are unwilling to explore multiple options.

Competitive advantage doesn’t come overnight as it is a continuous process of adhering to principles ranging from mindset to process which can be aligned and applied to solve complex problems of customers. Competitive advantage through innovation most often occurs within a set of constraints, such as viability, profitability and desirability and that a traditional business-minded rational/analytic approach should be complemented with design thinking. 

Did you have the same problem of pinpointing the actual problem before you embarked on solving it? Do you have trouble laying out the solution in a framework that has effect on the entire value chain of a customer’s journey? Have you been grilled on differentiating the “value” and valuation” of your startup or even an idea? Then join us to explore the answer together. All the said and unsaid problems, frameworks to make it simple, pitches to socialize your idea, marketing strategy to position your solution to the right audience and more have been painstakingly put together in our new book “Mystery to Mastery- Ideation to Productization Playbook”.

Ready to cross the chasm between finding the right problem and creating the best solution? The book is launching! Let’s undertake this journey together!

The Devil is in the (Design) Details


“Everything is designed.  Few things are designed well.” – Brian Reed

Design is in everything and everything is in design. Think how quickly and powerfully a design experience shapes our opinion of that product, service, brand, organization or outlet, for good or bad. For instance, we know quickly when the logo of a company is bad or plain lousy. And we associate that feeling of disgust with that brand. That’s the power of design. And we are not just talking about logos. It traverses beyond logos to graphics, products, brand, process, interaction and user experience, packaging and services to name a few. One thing is certain that with our exposure to beautifully designed experiences, the design bar has been raised and design-oriented organizations are winning.

Here is an instance of how a small change in the design elements of a mobile app UI can help in creating positive memories.

© Mahuya Ghosh & Pijush Gupta, 2016

This is a clarion call to all individuals and organizations to recognize this new design-driven era and make conscious effort to metamorphose even a humdrum product or service into something more gratifying and more memorable. In the process of bettering your products or service, try to analyze and assess its constituent element; see the elements of their design elements not as a marketing gimmick but as an unpretentious source of competitive advantage. 

We leave you with an example of how seemingly subtle changes like scale or slant can have a profound effect; forcing us to look at things differently. This is the New York City’s new wheelchair symbol.






May the {design} Force be with you!



Our Book: Mystery to Mastery – Ideation to Productization Playbook





Design Thinking Reincarnated (but better)


What if Design Thinking was a human and it dies tomorrow? We presume the obituary would look something like this:

Design Thinking, the concept/mindset that has organisations and individuals hyper-ventilating and built on observation, empathy and prototyping is not without flaws.Skeptics are now assessing the viability of the model with the same level of scrutiny and spirit that it recommends us to aim at all customer problems. And we can’t agree more.

Are you listening?

Customer Feedback

When you hear a service provider request you for your feedback, they actually mean the following:

  “Your feedback is important to us. By the time it is aggregated with hundreds of others into our management report for any actionable insight, we would have forgotten who you are and what you asked for or suggested.”

Any business that is looking to make informed product/service decisions needs to efficiently gather and share customer feedback. But the dilemma lies in deciding if the feedback is actionable or not.

Customer Feedback helps an organization figure out what their customers think in the following ways:

  • You are doing things right – you would want to continue doing these in future
  • Your areas of opportunities – for these you need to figure out a plan of action to get better at
  • Things that you are doing but your customers don’t care about– you need to re-evaluate if you want to continue to offer these to all customers or maybe a specific segment

Data suggests that one customer taken well care of could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising. As per a study conducted by Dimensional Research in 2013:

  • 62% of B2B and 42% of B2C customers purchased more after a good customer service experience
  • 66% of B2B and 52% of B2C customers stopped buying after a bad customer service interaction

The writing on the wall is clear: Customer feedback is the first step towards finding out how your customers feel about your products & services. If they are happy then the financial numbers reflect the same.

Top 5 Rules of Collecting Customer Feedback:

1. Make the customer feel important and make it clear that you want to receive their feedback

Don’t assume they don’t have time to give feedback. If you don’t ask, they won’t tell (well, mostly)

An Interesting Example from Starbucks:

2. Make the process easy

Don’t complicate or lengthen the feedback collection mechanism. No one needs 5 pages of questions to find out the customer’s opinion.

3. Encourage your customers to be honest in their feedback

  • Make it anonymous
  • If your budget permits, hire a 3rd party agency to collect the feedback
  • Engage mystery shoppers to do the evaluation once in a while

4. Get innovative and think of ways to incentivizing customers to providing feedback.

  • Gift vouchers
  • Free delivery
  • Their picture on your website, on the ‘Wall of Fame’ page for 1 month

 Here’s again another example from Starbucks:

An example from Beechworth Bakery:

5. Create a feedback loop

  • Thank them for the good/bad/ugly feedback
  • Keep them updated with what you plan to do with the feedback
  • Whenever you implement their feedback (partially/fully) – inform them
  • Invite them next time to see if their pain-point or suggestion has been addressed/implemented

How to collect customer feedback – the easy and fast way 

Though there are different ways of collecting customer feedback, the business objective should drive the feedback mechanism selection. It is important to understand that not all feedback mechanisms have the same impact – it depends on lot of factors.

At a high level, the feedback generation mechanism ranges from Passive (on the left) to Active, as shown below:

  • Individual Feedback is the least costly & user targeted feedback. These are more often generic in nature and based on individual experience.
  • Targeted Feedback generally targets a specific set of audience and is often tactical in nature. For instance, a quick survey on the ‘inflight experience’ for the passengers who travelled on Malaysian Airlines for the month of April 2016.
  • Group Feedback is based on random sampling. It is used for long term decision making.

Customer feedback can always be collected using traditional methods like Online Surveys and Customer Community Forums but given the fact that immediacy is the key, organizations can engage in just-in-time feedback collection strategy, as described below:

  • If you are a B2B software company or a B2B on-line company, you may want to consider using Usabilla to collect feedback
  • If you are an offline company (brick and mortal retail store for instance you may want to just put an iPad on the entrance/exit with a simple feedback form

A common friend recently saw this Interactive Feedback System the wash-room of Singapore airport.

(good that they mention the touch screen is sanitized hourly!)

Wrap Up

“Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” – Damon Richards

The way a company designs the feedback collection process, speaks a lot about their attitude towards customers, their products and services. In today’s competitive world – no business can succeed if your customers think you are indifferent towards them. It’s always prudent to choose the right feedback collection strategy as it is critical to understanding what your customers think about your products and services. This helps organization to not only improve quality, but can also insights into what new products and services your customers want.


Our Book: Mystery to Mastery – Ideation to Productization Playbook





Maximum Validated Learning

“Evolutionary quest for perfection, but with a feedback loop” – Pijush & Mahuya

There is no better time to fail and learn than now! We are living in a world where experimentation, trial and error and really understanding the pain points of the human beings involved in the process are critical dimensions. When it comes to problems involving human beings, data from the past is not necessarily predictive of the future and collaboration between people with varied perception of the problem is of utmost importance.  This where the need to test and fail comes to the fore. The most effective approach to test a hypothesis in small measures is Design Thinking and this “small measure” is Minimum Viable Product (MVP). 

Some of the earliest examples of MVP took ages to get to their final (or current) form. Time telling instruments for instance took thousands of years to get to the form that we are familiar with. But during the course of its journey, all the previous forms were true MVPs in themselves. They all had just those features that allowed them to be used by early adopters (and start giving feedback on).

Have a look at the following video that we created on evolution of time telling instruments. Some may say that its evolution but we say it’s Maximum Validated Learning.

It’s so easy to get the concept of MVP wrong; right from defining it to the actual execution. The most common misconception is that MVP is a product with minimum set of features. It could be minimum, but is it viableIs it potentially shippable? Does it resonate with early adopters? Is the product basic enough to test a hypothesis but functional enough to focus on user activities and conforms to the overall vision of the product? It’s never easy to get it right. The idea is to replace the traditional method of having a one dimensional feature list (based on business value) with a two dimensional map based on Customer Journey. 

Recall our last post on User Personas? The Persona is represented by his/her goals, needs, aspirations and pain-points. Each Persona has its own journey and interaction/touch points with the system. This is what we commonly refer to as the User Journey. This is where we capture the primary goal of the product or solution. 

The User Journey represents the end to end interaction between the user and the application (product or service) through its life-cycle. Each of the stages of this User Journey can further be exploded into a task flow that represents the interaction or process flow. This is where we define the main process or flow of the product or solution. 

Drill a level deeper and you have the features that a product or a service needs to have. This is where we create a list of feature for each of the stages. These can then be broken down into user stories and stack ranked based on priority.

Now comes the real (and hardest) trick. If we take the very first row of the prioritized feature of each stage, we can come up with a working skeleton. This represents the smallest possible representation of a usable product. The idea is to take the take the top prioritized items from each of the stages of the user journey and what you would have is the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

One might argue that the idea of MVPs could be a waste of time. Detractors may say, why spend time and effort on building a prototype that might never get completed or might be too simple to appeal to the target segment.

Well, the idea is to get an opportunity to see firsthand how your target customers use and perceive a product, which focus groups or boring surveys don’t. Proponents of MVP can find solace in what William Edward Hickson said:

 ‘Tis a lesson you should heed:

Try, try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try, try again.’


Our Book: Mystery to Mastery – Ideation to Productization Playbook




Up Close and Persona(l)!


Nothing can work better in creating a solution than understanding the entity it is created for or targeted at. The traditional way of finding “someone” that needs a solution is pivoted on categorizing customer segments based on demographics is passé.  All we do is end up solving the problem for some generic flora and flora. The discovery exercise should be undertaken with a purpose of achieving that higher level of knowledge about customer’s daily life. And that is what Persona is all about.

Persona goes a few levels deeper to the point wherein, the human behind the ‘user’ comes forth.  The idea of creating a persona is to create a credible and realistic representation of a customer segment – the segment formed by common characteristics of what they expect to accomplish through the product/service.  Personas are fictional representation of real life characters but they are created based on real data, real problem and real target segment.  These personas are based on intense research, both qualitative and quantitative.  And that’s why they are believable and relatable.  Persona creation is part of human-centric approach for creation of innovative solutions and draws deeply from Design Thinking.  It is imperative that a product or a service should have a minimum number of personas for breadth of focus on what the user needs, wants and the limitations.

The benefits of creating personas are immense. They are invaluable for design and user experience creation. They help the creator of a product or a service to have a human face in front of them while creating memorable experiences. 

We have come across innumerable ways in which personas can be depicted. Their layouts may be different, but the core elements bring out a common set of elements that give a human face to a persona. Here is an example of a persona for e-commerce portal user (as a buyer):


(Click to Enlarge)

  1.  Profile: It represents the demographic, psychographic and geographic details of the user.
  2. Personality: Characterization of personality based on certain indicators (e.g.MBTI types).
  3. Aspirations: What are the users’ expectations and priorities when they interact with the product/service or about the goal pursued.
  4. Frustrations: This represents what a product or service should not do. This actionable area is what the user doesn’t expect or what frustrates him/her.
  5. Short Bio: This is a short description of the persona which sometimes refers to personality traits.
  6. Motivations: What turns on the user and what doesn’t is something that is captured and represented here. This is what a product or a service should strive to achieve.
  7. Brand Preferences: This represents brands and product that influence his/her relation with the ecosystem.
  8. Referents & Influences: This represents the persona’s relationship with a specific brand and the product and how he/she is influenced.

Once we have built the depth and breadth of knowledge around the persona, we are ready to embark on a journey of discovering (through iterations) what works and what wows.  This is the starting point of putting together an innovation story based on a real-life persona.