The happiness and pain of product management | Noam Lovinsky (Grammarly, FB, Thumbtack, YT)

The happiness and pain of product management | Noam Lovinsky (Grammarly, FB, Thumbtack, YT)

Noam’s background (00:00:00)

  • Noam Lovinsky has held various product management roles at YouTube, Thumbtack, Facebook, and Grammarly.
  • At YouTube, he led the Creator product experience and later the broader YouTube consumer product experience.
  • At Thumbtack, he helped reignite growth after a downturn caused by Google's changes in SEO.
  • At Facebook, he created the new product experimentation team to incubate big new ideas.
  • Currently, he is the Chief Product Officer at Grammarly.
  • When to kill a project: If a project is not showing progress or is not aligned with the company's goals, it may be time to let it go.
  • When to ask to be layered at a company: If you are not finding enough challenges or opportunities for growth in your current role, it may be time to ask for more responsibilities or to move to a different team.
  • Identifying which products matter most: Pay attention to which products are generating the most revenue or engagement, and focus your efforts on those products.
  • Diversifying growth channels: Don't rely on a single growth channel for your business. Explore different channels to reach a wider audience.
  • Finding work that stretches you: Seek out challenging work that will help you grow and advance in your career.
  • Creating space for innovation: Encourage a culture of innovation within your company by providing employees with the resources and freedom to experiment.

Noam’s lack of online presence (00:04:18)

  • Noam Lovinsky rarely uses social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, or writes newsletters.
  • He prefers to focus deeply on the work he is doing and finds it challenging to multitask outside of that.
  • Noam prefers to get to know people by working with them and helping them, rather than through networking.
  • He believes that the best people in tech are not spending time posting online but are focused on doing the work.
  • Noam suggests that people should chart their own path and do what they like and are good at.
  • He believes that people should focus on what is authentic to them and what makes them happy, rather than trying to follow trends or do what they think they should do.
  • Noam emphasizes that life is short and there are many interesting things to do, so people should not waste their time doing things they don't enjoy.
  • He encourages people to lean on their strengths and do what fills them up and excites them, as this will lead to greater success and fulfillment.

Lessons from YouTube: advocating for what’s best for yourself and the team (00:08:06)

  • Noam Lovinsky held various positions at companies like Facebook, YouTube, Thumbtack, and Grammarly.
  • While at YouTube, he focused on rebuilding a product on Google infrastructure after joining through an acquisition.
  • Lovinsky stressed the importance of prioritizing and advocating for the team's and organization's best interests, even if it meant risking one's own project.
  • He faced challenges in a leadership role and realized that sometimes a particular role may not be the best fit.
  • Lovinsky emphasized the value of being in a healthy team environment that encourages advocating for the greater good.
  • Initially, he struggled to understand his manager's strategic thinking due to differing perspectives and levels of thinking.
  • With the support of colleagues Hunter and Shashir, Lovinsky proposed a reorganization to report directly to Hunter, resulting in improved work, support, happiness, productivity, and overall team benefits.
  • Under Hunter's excellent management and support, Lovinsky experienced significant learning and growth.
  • After Hunter's departure, Shashir took over the organization, and Lovinsky led and supported the viewer product management team at YouTube.

Prioritizing what’s best for the business (00:14:31)

  • A broader view of the company strategy, an instinct for priorities, and aligning actions towards the overall goal can lead to better results and confidence in career decisions.
  • Recognizing and joining high-functioning teams with talented individuals can provide valuable insights and confidence in decision-making.
  • Prioritization and decision-making as a product manager should focus on what is best for the business, not necessarily what is best for the user or the team.
  • Principles can guide decision-making in cases of conflict between customer, team, and business interests.
  • Product managers should focus on global optimization rather than local optimization.
  • Establishing guiding principles can help navigate ambiguous or thorny questions in product management.

Knowing when it’s time to kill a project (00:19:37)

  • Stamina is what kills most projects and early companies.
  • Losing stamina means you're not bringing your best self to the situation.
  • Projects that require a high level of faith and stamina need an ungodly level of motivation and excitement.
  • When a team is down and out, they may need a change of scene or pace to get to a better situation.
  • The question to ask is when do you run out of steam, usually before you run out of money.

Lessons from Thumbtack: diversifying growth channels and overcoming challenges (00:21:47)

  • Thumbtack's rapid growth through SEO was hindered by Google's algorithm updates, leading to negative growth.
  • During this period, the company attempted to rebuild the product, change the monetization model, and address supply-side liquidity issues.
  • Noam Lovinsky, who experienced this situation at Thumbtack, emphasizes that growth can mask underlying problems, and negative growth can be an opportunity for businesses to identify and address true issues.
  • Product managers who have only experienced growth may lack the skills to navigate challenging situations and miss out on valuable learning opportunities.
  • Lovinsky's experience taught him to approach growth with urgency and prioritize tasks differently during negative growth.
  • Product management involves both the joy of seeing products come to life and make a positive impact, as well as challenges such as dealing with difficult stakeholders, making tough decisions, and handling failures.

How Thumbtack turned growth around (00:26:24)

  • To improve Thumbtack's growth, paid and organic channels were activated, and key members like Whitney Steelers and David Shine were brought in to lead marketing and product efforts.
  • Thumbtack was restructured from a single marketplace to thousands of individual marketplaces, allowing for broader targeting and optimization of growth efforts.
  • The core issue with the Thumbtack product was a high-friction customer experience, where customers had to wait 24 hours for a response and pros had to pay to quote for jobs.
  • To address this, the monetization model was changed, and a system was built where pros could provide instant quotes, similar to the move from "request to book" in Airbnb.
  • Noam Lovinsky, the speaker, discusses the challenges of product management, particularly in the context of monetization and finding the right friction point for charging users.
  • Lovinsky commends the founders of Thumbtack for their willingness to take risks and make difficult decisions to achieve success.

Building Airbnb’s instant booking feature (00:31:44)

  • Led the effort at Airbnb to shift from a request-based booking system to an instant booking system.
  • This transformation was crucial for Airbnb's success and involved significant challenges, especially in transitioning an existing business while maintaining growth.
  • Changing people's expectations and behaviors in marketplaces into an instant experience is a complex process.
  • Thumbtack's reliance on SEO as the primary growth channel made them vulnerable when traffic stopped coming.
  • It's important to diversify growth channels before one channel dries up, especially for SEO-driven companies.
  • Exploring paid referrals and other channels can help mitigate the risk of relying on a single growth channel.

Lessons from Thumbtack: team collaboration and product strategy (00:35:28)

  • No one can be a bystander on product strategy.
  • Everyone in the leadership team needs to have a seat at the table when it comes to product strategy.
  • Build relationships with the leadership team before things start to go wrong.
  • Bring strategy to the discussion in a way that everyone can engage and understand.
  • Everyone in the leadership team should feel like they have a fingerprint on the company strategy.

Lessons from Facebook: building the New Product Experimentation team (00:38:38)

  • The New Product Experimentation team at Facebook aimed to incubate startups within Facebook, rather than acquiring them.
  • The team's goal was not solely to create the next Instagram or WhatsApp, but also to generate beneficial outcomes for the organization.
  • The team acknowledged that achieving outcomes like discovering a product as successful as Instagram is rare and akin to winning the lottery.
  • They recognized that outcomes could range from "champagne level" (highly successful) to "nice dinner" level (beneficial but not groundbreaking).

The importance of starting small and building community density (00:40:43)

  • Creating an environment for experimentation and direct customer engagement is essential for building successful products, especially in large organizations.
  • New product (NP) teams can serve as a recruiting tool for talented individuals interested in innovative projects and act as a "trash fence" within an organization, capturing ideas with potential for growth and innovation that don't fit the regular business model.
  • Small, dedicated teams focused on specific tasks can lead to faster discoveries and innovations, as the absence of constraints from a mainline product development organization facilitates easier and faster validation and building of new features.

Advice for building a startup within a startup (00:46:07)

  • Think carefully about the incentive system to avoid adverse selection and gaming.
  • The incentive system should align with the goals and time horizons of a startup rather than the larger organization's performance management processes.
  • Provide the necessary infrastructure and autonomy to allow the startup team to operate effectively and adapt quickly.
  • Nike's incubation lab model, with a distinct operating model, recruitment strategy, and incentive system, is an example of an effective approach.

Having an incentive system (00:48:52)

  • The incentive system should compete with the potential upside of starting one's own business.
  • The time horizon of the incentive system should align with the long-term impact and outsized incentives of a startup rather than short-term performance evaluations.

Lessons from Grammarly: adapting to changing user needs and building for the masses (00:49:34)

  • Grammarly is one of the few successful consumer subscription businesses.
  • Grammarly has been profitable since its inception 15 years ago.
  • Grammarly's success is due to its ease of use and prevalence.
  • Users don't have to change their workflow to use Grammarly.
  • Grammarly meets users where they are and provides value without requiring significant effort.
  • Grammarly's user experience brings AI to the masses.

The scrappiness and profitability of Grammarly (00:54:20)

  • Grammarly has been profitable since its inception.
  • The company's culture emphasizes focusing on projects that directly translate into revenue.
  • This culture helped Grammarly reach its current success.
  • However, this approach can become detrimental as the company grows and needs to diversify its growth channels.
  • Grammarly is now investing ahead in various areas while maintaining profitability.

The resilience and motivation of the Grammarly team in Ukraine (00:56:56)

  • Despite the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the Grammarly team based there continues to operate and deliver significant impact to the company.
  • The team in Ukraine finds the work to be a useful distraction from the difficult circumstances they are facing.
  • They take pride in the business they have built and are motivated by the desire to make Grammarly a generational company, especially in the current moment.
  • The founders' strong ties to Ukraine and their personal motivations further contribute to the team's resilience and success.

General career advice (00:59:08)

  • Prioritize putting yourself in positions that will cause a lot of growth and learning, even if it means embracing pain and discomfort.
  • Developing a good sense of the people you can be successful with is important when choosing career opportunities.
  • Seek out situations that will stretch you and force you to do things you haven't done before, as this leads to significant growth and learning over time.

When to pull back (01:01:02)

  • Be wary of situations that are too new.
  • Ensure there are one or two important things you are strong at in the job.
  • You should have a handle on the necessary skills for the product area.
  • Balance the pain with areas you already know and manage in a more balanced and healthy way.

Closing thoughts (01:02:58)

  • Work on things that make you happy and fill you up.
  • Life is short, so don't spend time on things that don't give you energy.
  • Try to find as much of what gives you energy as you can.
  • Pay attention to what gives you energy and what doesn't, and try to do more of what gives you energy.

Lightning round (01:03:56)

  • Noam Lovinsky, a product management expert with experience at Grammarly, Facebook, Thumbtack, and YouTube, shares his insights on product management.
  • Lovinsky recommends the book "Build" by Tony Fidel and his wife, which emphasizes persistence and learning from failures.
  • He enjoys the TV shows "For All Mankind" and "Fargo" for their consistent quality.
  • In job interviews, Lovinsky prefers collaborative exercises to assess candidates' problem-solving skills.
  • Lovinsky admires the user experience of the Arc browser and suggests improvements for Grammarly's integration with it.
  • He encourages users to provide feedback on Grammarly and is open to connecting with people on Twitter.

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