This week we continue our series of interviews with product managers, trying to get at what draws people to the profession and how to excel in it.
Next up is Idan Vakrat, another one of our product managers at Outbrain who’s working on the content amplification platform for marketers.
If you have questions you’d like me to ask in an upcoming interview, please leave them in the comments.
Q: What did you do before becoming a Product Manager?
A: I started my career in the Israeli Defense Forces’ elite intelligence unit 8200 as a problem solver. My main goal was to solve complex puzzles and be able to see a complete picture despite the missing parts. It was challenging, interesting and when looking back, highly relevant to being a product manager.
Later, during my physics BA at the Technion (Israel institute of technology), I joined a small software firm as a developer. Then, after graduation I worked as an engineer in a larger corporation.
Being an R&D engineer gave me a sense of ownership and responsibility with attention to details. But most of all, I understood the business impact of every decision I made.
Q: How did you become a product manager?
A: Since I was young, I always felt that I was “business oriented.” I was always the one who needed to understand the business ecosystem thoroughly, as well as the implications of what I was doing as an engineer and how it was impacting business results. I was always eager to receive clients’ feedback.
After acquiring significant engineering experience, I felt it was time for a change. However, I wasn’t willing to fully abandon the technical world (and move to sales, for example).
Then I thought of product management. I was reading a lot about it, and my older brother was a product manager, while my wife was a product/UX expert.
Then I got an amazing opportunity to become a product manager at a FinTech startup, building a product from scratch. The rest is history. I’ve been in product management for seven years working in three different industries.
Q: What are the most important things to do as a Product Manager?
A: Think! A product manager should look at the big picture and come up with big, strategic, sustainable ideas.
Be a good listener and interviewer. Ask the right questions. Simplify!
Don’t jump to conclusions and solutions. Talk to all the stakeholders, understand the pain points, and make sure that all aspects of your solution are relevant to them. And keep it simple; minimalism is good.
If your solution becomes complicated, then you’re probably going about it the wrong way.
And remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good. In the internet industry, there’s no such thing as a perfect product.
Finally, over-communicate! Make sure that everybody understands what the team needs to deliver and why. I don’t know of any bigger motivator than explaining the “why” to your development team.
Q: What are you most passionate about in Product Management?
A: I am passionate about creativity and finding solutions that serve many users and have a huge impact.
However, the most challenging thing about product management (which I am passionate about) is being a leader. Although I’ve managed people in the past, I can say that it is much more challenging to influence people without having formal authority.
But since a product manager initiates work for many groups in the company, you have to be a natural leader to make things happen.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I feel that at Outbrain we have incited the revolution of content marketing, and working in that fast-growing industry, I have the opportunity to have significant influence.
Online advertising is now transforming from just making money and a “squeezing the lemon” state of mind, to being aware of user experience and treating readers with respect.
I love the idea that Outbrain enables advertisers to meet their audiences after they finish reading an article and while they’re still interested in reading the next interesting thing. The days of bothering readers with irrelevant offers while they are doing something else are over.
Q: What resources do you recommend for learning how to get better as a PM?
A: I suggest browsing the web and learning from other product managers’ blogs. There are some great courses as well. Personally, the MBA master’s program with expertise in Marketing and Strategy from Tel Aviv University gave me an important set of tools with which to understand the business world. It’s been highly relevant to me as a product manager and has benefited my overall career trajectory.
You can reach out to Idan on LinkedIn here.