Empathy and PMs


I have been thinking about this word for quite a bit of time these days. Whenever I am talking to folks and describing my definition of being a Product Manager – almost every trait distills down to this one word – Empathy.

Now, let me try and recollect and jot them down here –

  1. Stakeholder management – One of the key traits that I believe a PM should have. The cliche’ phrase of PM being the CEO of a product, imho loosely translates to this. Unless you are empathetic to the various parties (product, tech, marketing, operations, leadership, …), you will not be able to get them on to the same page. You need to empathetic to the tech team as to why they are resisting a decision ~ perhaps this would involve tossing out a lot of code that they just wrote; you need to understand how they feel. You need to be empathetic to the operations team ~ perhaps they are short staffed during a certain time and they cannot handle so many escalations. You need to feel this issue. And so on.
  2. Customer empathy – this is a given. A PM should be the biggest voice of the customer within the company. This might be a bit contrary to the first point, but customer empathy trumps empathy within the teams. You do not care if code needs to be rewritten, or more support staff needs to be hired, but if the customer experience is affected, it is unacceptable.
  3. Strategy Roadmapping  – this is empathy at a different plane. A product leader needs to sense the emotions of the founding/executive team and the investors (if any), to see what would deliver the best RoI for these stakeholders. Too aggressive a roadmap might seem awesome to the investors, but not to the leadership team, but too sluggish a roadmap might make the investors lose confidence. This is extremely important. This is in most cases unspoken and very subtle.
  4. Project Management – lets face it. This is a part of a Product Managers job ~ in varying degrees depending on the org. Good PMs exhibit a bias towards action(shipping) and make a dent here. While strategy/road-mapping is part of steering the ship, project management is choreographing the drum-beat of releases. You cannot do either of these without a deep sense of empathy to the executors.

And for those who are wondering if empathy is a key trait only for PMs, nope, check out Rand Fishkin’s blog where he says –

The best skill I’ve developed and the one that’s served me best as a founder, a CEO, and a marketer is empathy.

I offer coaching/training on PM empathy. If interested, please ping me on gcmouli at gmail.


Informational Call for Potential Leadership Hiring

(img src: pixabay)

After a recent (particularly depressing) informational call for a Leadership position, I thought, I would pen down my thoughts on how an ‘optimal’ first conversation should be.

Some disclaimers: They are in no particular order of importance. These are my opinions. Your mileage may vary – but I would love to hear them, if you have one.

  1. If you are the Head HR and if you are going to get one of your junior HR folk to call/schedule/email details, please have a template or review the language. Firstly, don’t call it a HR interview (*gasp* and please don’t let the subject line be “Call Letter for HR Interview”). Secondly, it is not an ‘explanatory’ round. It is ‘exploratory’. I am not blaming the poor junior kid. It is up to leadership to ensure the right template is available.
  2. If this is an informational, please go first and talk about yourself and your company first. Informational does not mean, me going over my bio (while I really don’t have anything against that). I would rather go over some pertinent points if you have any questions (such as – why I left a certain company, or how was the difference in working between company foo1 to foo2 etc).
  3. Please do not ask me, why I am so pumped up and want to work with your company. For starters, I am not, and hence my request for an informational. Truth be told, an acquaintance of mine thought I might fit your requirements and had forwarded my CV to your CEO. So I think, it is more on you to sell your role to me.
  4. Immediately after I have told you how much I made in my previous stint, please do not say – “Oh. We do not believe in paying too much upfront. You have to come in and prove yourself and then we will see.” * Ouch *. Really? For starters, this conversation should ideally be the last thing that I should be speaking. Not in the informational.
  5. If you are evaluation process is — “First we will give you a case study round. If you pass that, then we will get you to speak to our leaders” — sorry, you have already lost me. You do not hire leaders this way. I am all for a case study round. But that is much later (imho).
  6. Make me feel good. Make me want to learn more about the company. How did the founders start this up? Ask me if I know about all this. Share interesting anecdotes. Give me data about how you are doing. About the diversity of people in the company. And the energy. And I can go on.
  7. Tell me about the team. Tell me why you joined the team. How much you enjoy working with this team. (And no, please do not use yourself as an example of how you joined without much of a pay hike, and you had to work hard to prove yourself, and then got really good rewards).
  8. Please be exactly on time. 3-4 minutes late, to me, is not Ok.
  9. If this is a video Skype call, please do not walk around your home/office/home-office. Yes, your wifi will break. Skype will freeze. And no, I do not want to see your home/offi….
  10. Lastly, at least, ask me if I have any questions. I sure did have quite a few. But they remain unanswered, and I probably do not want them answered at this point in time.

Find below a template that I put together, that can be used by HR/Leaders to have a first round informational for a prospective leadership hire.

  1. Say hi, hello. Get to know how the candidate would like to be called. Enquire stability of the internet/phone connection.
  2. Set the agenda.
  3. Talk about the company first. History. Team. Anecdotes. People. Funding.
  4. Talk about the role. Talk about what exists. What you are looking for?
  5. Ask the candidate for what I have enjoyed in my career journey so far, and what excites the candidate. Ask if there is anything special that stands out in the candidates CV.
  6. If the candidate already knows about the role — ask how she thinks she fits in for the role. Else, poise a question to ponder over – to get the candidate to think if she might fit the bill.
  7. Brief the candidate about the interview process and who are the people whom the candidate might be meeting with. Maybe even a bit about the role/position that each of them play.
  8. Give time for asking questions about the company/about the role.
  9. Give an opportunity to the candidate to think about this, and ask if the candidate might want to think about all this/digest and then come back – if she wants one more informational round – perhaps with a senior leader, maybe.
  10. Clearly sign off with a good note. Express that you are looking forward to these series of conversations.


I offer coaching/training on Leadership hiring for Senior leaders and HR. If interested, please ping me on gcmouli at gmail.

Food delivery USP

(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)

We occasionally order through Swiggy and Freshmenu. I order more frequently when the wife and kid are not in town. So far, I have been pretty happy with the quality of food, and of course, I order only from restaurants that I know, through Swiggy.

However, there is one consistent issue with the delivery/logistics. For the majority of times, there has been some leakage or seepage of some gravy or stir-fry, making its way on to every other container. Some times, it is a minor issue, and there has been at least once, where I had returned the food, where the cardboard container of my dosa was soaked in sambar.

Let us dissect this.

Factors that influence this mishap (in no particular order):

  • Packaging. I think this is taken care of by most players well enough. Freshmenu (and bowl company by Swiggy, and other major cloud kitchen players) have apt sized plastic boxes for wet stuff and cardboard boxes for dry stuff. The lids are pretty tight too. Have not faced issues there either. The restaurants that I order from, in swiggy, take care of this, as well.
  • Form-factor of the packaging and stackability. I think this is taken care of, as well. Most of these packages are standard sizes and neatly stackable.
  • The big bags of the delivery folks. The bag is a large box-ish bag with fairly solid sides. The guys stack the packages nicely as well. (So, I think, the process is not flawed).
  • The carrying of the bags. I think, this is where the problem begins. The boys sling the bag over their shoulder, rest the bag on the seats of their bikes and hit the road. I think during this time, the nicely stacked packages tilt. And hence seep and leak.

Potential solution:

While I am not an expert in logistics, let me propose a solution – the Dominos Delivery Box. This solution is not an original solution. I think, the Dominos guys solved this to an extent. The boxes are screwed on to the bikes. The pizzas and the other items are placed/stacked inside the box. So, other than the tilt of the bikes, during the traffic, there is no real tilting. I think this can also be reduced significantly by good packaging techniques and/or auto-balancing bases on the boxes.

As for the container of the food, the cloud kitchen guys have an advantage. As for the rest of the food delivery folks, my disclaimer (if you recall) was that, I order only from restaurants that pack well. If the food delivery guys want to nail the experience in the larger scale, Swiggy/Runnr/UberEats need to take packaging into their control. While I agree that it is a hard problem to solve, it would be the best damn experience. If I can order bisi bele bath from the local darshini, and the food still comes in a nice plastic leak proof tray – that is bliss. (For comparison data sakes, currently the darshini just plonks the food into an aluminium cover and heat-seals it.

An added feature that can be slapped on to this box, is a thermostat, and a feedback controlled heater – to maintain the food hot. There can be other IoT stuff instrumented into this box too – weight/temperature/time logging and tracking etc.

Food-tech/delivery guys – you listening? Now that the food delivery war is heating up (Swiggy vs Runnr vs UberEats vs Cloud Kitchen guys), it is all about USP. I think this might just be the two things. Food packed in clean containers (with no leakage/seepage) at the right temperature. Hmm. Yumm.

What are we shipping today?

Ask any of the PMs who have worked with me, they will say that this is my favourite statement. I ask this statement at least once a day to them.

I was talking about this with one of the PMs who works with me, and I thought I would share some of the conversation highlights here.

  • Shipping is the most important outcome that any PM needs to aspire towards, at any given time. The more you ship, the better you are.
  • The primary reason for existence for a PM (in my humble opinion) is to ship. Sure, programmers code. Designers make the product beautiful and usable. Business folks give their requirements. Marketing folks get out the word. Customer support teams are on standby. But what is the use of all of this, if you do not ship. The PM is the glue that enables all of this to come together and ‘happen’.
  • Example of ‘shipping’ being considered a real (and an important) thing — the famous ship-it awards in Microsoft. Every stakeholder who was part of a release used to get a Ship-it award (a tiny trophy kind of thingie). MS folks proudly display these ship-it awards on their desks.
  • A lot of PMs that I know (including yours truly) come into this field from Engineering, Marketing, and various other fields. In most cases, we have boarded this ship, as a leap of faith. As a matter of fact, the best PMs are the ones who learnt on the go. It is incredibly hard to ‘explain’ to someone, or to ‘teach’ someone about ‘PM-ship’ (no puns intended). In these cases, the only way to ward off self-doubt (which is bound to happen) whether you did the right thing — is to ship. You keep shipping. And the spiral is always upward.
  • Shipping creates tangible outcomes. And it reinforces.
  • Ship incrementally. If this is not an option, get your devs to at least commit incrementally.
  • Lastly, you are known by what you ship.

The original conversation was a very free-wheeling conversation during our 1-1. And so, was this recollection of thoughts. The above is in no particular order.


(Cover image source)


Affiliate Programs in Travel

img src: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1133475

This idea just came fleetingly to me today morning. Large ecommerce companies like Amazon and Flipkart have affiliate programs. You become an affiliate, and the platform lets you create a special URL to advertise products on their platform. You make a sale, and based on the product, and current ‘schemes’, you earn a % of the revenue. This is almost like a micro-store-front.

Large OTAs such as goibibo and yatra have b2b platforms, which they open up to travel agents. They also have APIs which third party platforms can consume and create their own booking interfaces. But these are complicated interfaces. Only a serious large player can invest in these. For instance, in the case of goibibo b2b interface, the travel agent would need to create a “wallet” like interface within goibibo, deposit a certain large amount (depends on the client – but mostly a few lakhs to begin with). Transactions that happen through the travel agent interface (or API) would consume money from the wallet (after deducting the % commission due to the travel agent).

The other class of “agent consumers” are of course, the travel agents who pose as individuals (create regular goibibo accounts) and book through these accounts. These are smaller operators, and tend to do all kinds of circus tricks such as referring their own accounts, playing with the go-cash between the accounts etc. And the OTAs hate these guys. Incentives are given, assuming, these are individual accounts, but they are not.

My question is – why haven’t the OTAs yet brought in the affiliate model for selling flight tickets and hotel rooms yet? This would have two major advantages:

  1. Bring in the above latter set of small scale travel agents to formalize on their transactions. Since they are not a separate class of consumers (affiliate partners), incentives to these guys can be controlled and distinguished from the other individual consumers.
  2. Bring in a whole new set of consumers, multiple thousand micro-store-fronts, who are not really booking tickets, but proliferating links to your deals with their affiliate codes on them, so that they can earn their commission.

The OTAs keep talking about how the online travel agent market has just touched the tip of the iceberg, and how there is a significant majority of our populace who have not even been exposed. This might be one of the ways, by which the net can be widened.

The Supermarket experience

(pic courtesy: yourstory.com)
(pic courtesy: yourstory.com)

Ever since the online grocery guys came into the picture (read as bigbasket in our home), one recurrent topic at my place has been – “would we miss the supermarket experience?” Some common points that would typically come up were:

  • It was a nice once a month outing that we may probably miss out on.
  • We would miss the new product introductions
  • The supermarket experience was always a mind-hack, where you usually went to shop with a 5 item shopping list (which would have totalled to about Rs500), but invariable came out with a cart full of groceries (which would have totalled to Rs1500). This part would not be missed – especially by my wallet.

Yesterday, I went to Nilgiris and Reliance fresh (for two different items that could be got only in these two places), and I realized that, perhaps, I may not even miss the shopping experience. The experience was far from optimal. I noticed that there were more grofers (and other hyperlocal delivery guys) grabbing stuff from the shelves than regular shoppers.

Instead of seeing new products, I saw new hyperlocal delivery company names – I saw a company named Ninjacart. These guys were in a mad rush to get stuff, billed and run out, so that their SLAs with their demanding home delivery customers could be met.

My dad tells me that this is often the story in retail supermarket chains in Chennai too. I do not yet think, this has caught on with larger chains such as SPAR. But it will not be too long, I think. Are we becoming lazier? Are we going to lose out on that one enjoyable outing? I do not know. But time will tell – since we will only know the true picture after the VC funding dries out.

UX review of Instamojo website – part 2

Creating a payment link (continued)

After you have dragged and dropped the digital goods, it would be nice if you could say that, upload would happen later. Since I did not see any upload status scroll, I assumed, but in perfect design, nothing should be left for assumption.

When uploading a preview image, can you probably preview the image immediately – like you did for the PAN card upload? That would be nicer. Else, the same ambiguity/assumption as previous point happens here also.


I tried making it pay what you want and wanted to put a base price of Rs.5. I got the below. Firstly, I do not understand why the Rs.9 restriction. Secondly base_price seems to be the variable name. You should make it Base price.


I wanted to do the “Pay What you Want” model. And below is how it looks. It is not immediately apparent to my customer (who want to buy the book) as to what “minimum Rs.10 is”. Is there any way you can indicate what the publisher means by “Pay what you want”? Perhaps by putting a note below the “pay button” saying – “The seller has indicated this to be a ‘Pay what you want’. The seller can pay how much ever he/she wishes to pay over the base price indicated above”.


I tried finishing up my profile, and I added my photo to my profile. Again, I wish you could immediately preview the pic.


And oh, after a while, after I finished typing up my bio etc, I got the below. Looks like you were uploading the photo in the background – which is good – but it would be nice if I get some indication as a user.


Love love love the analytics page. Super awesome. One small pet peeve – please please give me a refresh button. I do not want to refresh my page each time I want to see. I usually have all my analytics page open. And want to be able to refresh on demand.

Hmm. Analytics and Advanced Analytics are the same?? They atleast seem to lead to the same page.


UX flow issue leading into the app store

Before I click on the app store


I now click on App store


Ideally by now, the Advanced Analytics should be ‘de-highlighted’ and App Store should be highlighted and some form of a landing page for app store should have come in the main body frame. However, you see above that two selections are highlighted and the previous (stale?) selection is still active on the right main body panel.

I went into the app store, and I see a bunch of apps there already. One big UI nitpick I have. The cards should all be same size and aligned. insta22

And in general, I feel that the apps concept seems to be a little more of an advanced concept. And perhaps you should have a separate tutorial/documentation for this. Could not find it on the site.

* All of these are on Firefox latest version on Windows.



UX review of Instamojo website – part 1

I recently tried signing up with Instamojo and gave it a spin. Instamojo is a pretty cool payment related startup. Their moto is to democratize payments. It should be dead easy for anyone to be able to sell (start a business) and be able to set up a payment mechanism for customers. Instamojo would do the heavy lifting of the payment gateway etc.

Following are my thoughts on the UX/UI of the website.


In the screen which asks for how I got to know about instamojo, why is social media conspicuously absent?


In the next screen, your KYC is collected (incidentally, there is no place which gives the full form of KYC – Know your customer – if someone from outside of India in the future tries signing on, they would be clueless). Also, what if I want to sell an ebook for Rs.49 (a fairly common denomination to sell an ebook in India), there is no option for this.


Then, in the next screen, I tried uploading a PDF (scanned pan card) and this is what I got. Also, there should be somewhere it says, only image files (GIF/JPG/TIFF etc).


The following also is confusing. Is the status bar saying .. half way through uploading my pan card picture or is it saying I am half way through uploading my documents? If it is the latter, should it not be 50% (1 out of 2 documents?)


While I understand that by the time he has finished uploading kyc, the user is expected to know about payment links etc, I would still recommend a (?) link here next to the payment link leading him to the support page.


When I click on share your referral link on twitter/facebook, the below appears when I click on twitter. I would prefer not just the link, but some template text such as : “I am using Instamojo. Are you? To sign up click here -> url”


Facebook is slightly better, but it could be better.



Create a Payment Link

I got to the file-picker page (which is awesome by the way! – the options are truly exhaustive).

I dragged and dropped by file. But after dropping the file, I realized that the file was named wrongly (similar scenario to I dropped the wrong file). Now how do I delete this file and put the correct file? No intuitive UX for the user for this action. I would have liked the file (Samkshepa Ramayana.pdf in the case below) to be in a table, with a trash can in a last column, giving me the option to delete the file.


The only way I could do it was to navigate away from this page (to Dashboard) and then click on Create Payment Link. I see two problems here.

  1. You should warn the user if he is going to navigate away from a page which he has filled in mid-way.
  2. I get this thought that – what happened to the file I dragged-and-dropped, was it uploaded, aborted, cached – where did that go? When I went back to creating a new payment link, it is not even reminding me that I was doing one half-way some time back.

Minor CSS nitpick – spacing between the i,? and the text


By this time, my account had already been verified – awesome speed. Love it. Is this manual ?

I got the following email:


While a lot of services do this, I have always liked to be addressed by name instead of my userid. And then I went to the Settings -> Accounts to see if you had been able to capture my name. And I saw that the names were blank.


I am wondering if you could have auto populated the name somehow – from my name on my PAN card that you collected during KYC.

Phone verification:

The below UI is very confusing. The 1234 is very confusing. That is not the norm. Either put * * * * or – – – – or just blank or put 4 squares.


Also, I was updating my settings (one by one), at the end of verification, why do I get the option to only go back to dashboard? I want to go back to the settings page.

Profile Settings:


Minor English suggestion. I would prefer Connect to your Social Networks and “Connect to Twitter”.

Also, why not Facebook and g+. I saw those two in other places along with twitter.

Also, the “We will not post …..” should probably be darker. It is a very reassuring message and should be prominent.

Well, that’s about it. Hope the Instamojo teams gets to these minor nitpics from an amateur UX reviewer. In my opinion, getting these small things right is one of the key drivers to showing your classiness in an already crowded market place (in the case of instajojo – the payments marketplace).



Food on Order Direct from Rooms

I was thinking quite a bit about whether to write this as a post or to add on to the previous post, but I guess ‘new post’ won.

The one problem that a lot of service apartments face is the lack of a full fledged kitchen. There might be breakfast, but that would still be fairly minimal. In the US, when I go for a business visit, a lot of the hotels would have a menu of a near-by restaurant which would deliver ~ within certain working hours of course. Most times this is a little expensive, but there are days, when you just come back to your room and plop on your room (or the ottoman) and do not want to get up. You just want someone to come and give you the food in your room.

This should be feasible in India too right? A tie up with a nearby chain? In fact, with most of these chains going the app-way or have an online site where you can order, there exists infrastructure to make this more streamlined.

  1. There could be a tablet in each room or with the reception (the first could be a premium room feature vs the latter is a normal room). ipad1
  2. Tie-ups with one restaurant for each of the four categories
  3. These would not redirect to their websites, but to potentially APIs exported by the infra from these restaurants (or an aggregator like zomato). Some restaurants and food service providers already have a good backend such as Mast Kalandar, freshmenu, spoonjoy, etc to which you should be able to link.
  4. Why not a web-site? And why API driven? I would want the tablet to be aware of my service apartment address and room number, and also, have the ability to add the bill amount to my hotel bill. So all, I would need to do is to browse, and click. End of story.
  5. Stringent SLA for delivery and quality of food can be established (failing which – you cease to be a preferred partner and will be swapped out to competition).

I sense a business opportunity here as well. This need not be something that hotel chains like oyorooms or stayzilla need to build. This could be very well be an independent platform. Well, somebody like zomato can potentially build it though.