Product Leadership in India: The Ultimate Guide
Context & techniques for PM's next evolution
Hey 👋: Are you ready for 11K+ words of pure gold? I’m so excited to present today’s issue.
As far as tech in India goes, India has a long past.
Since the establishment of behemoths like Tata Consultancy Services (616K+ employees) in 1967, the industry has grown like wildfire.
But Product Management, especially in the context of home grown tech product companies in India, is still a nascent field.
So for today’s piece, I’ve teamed up with Deepak Krishnan, one of my favorite PM voices.
As a former Senior Director of Product at Myntra, Deepak has seen the highest levels of Indian Product management firsthand.
Today, we’re going to present a magnum opus on how product leaders can step up their game (in India).
The History of Product Management in India
The Top Challenges in India’s PM Culture Now
How to Architect a First-Class Product Culture
How to Build Strategy To Address Challenges
How to Set Goals That Work
Ideal Product Org Design
This is the value of a $1500 cohort course, or 8 newsletters - in one issue.
Combined with my 8K+ word deep dive on how to scale product teams from 0 to 15 with Denny Klisch, this is your complete guide to building and scaling teams.
1. The History of Product Management in India
Chapter 1 - The US Brings Along Its Tech Practices
For decades now, investors and technologists alike have been bullish on the Indian market.
But that doesn’t mean Product Management has always been a part of that picture.
While Tata Consultancy Services was founded in 1967, Product Management only really started to seep into the Indian market in a major way in the 1990s.
That was when US tech giants like Microsoft (1990), IBM (1992), Oracle (1994), Cisco (1995), and Intel (1998) set up shop in India - mostly Bangalore (with Microsoft also in Hyderabad).
These companies brought radical ideologies of empowered product teams, and, in the process, created the PM role in India.
Chapter 2 - Indian Companies Establish PM Themselves
As a result, when tech/internet product companies that were built in India for India came about in the mid-late 90s - Naukri, Sify, Rediff, Zoho, JustDial & MakeMyTrip - these came with a notion of the PM role.
Today, a few of them still remain with MakeMyTrip clocking Revenue of $600M, Zoho ~ $1Bn, & Naukri ~ $300M.
The next wave started somewhere in the mid to late 2000s with the likes of FlipKart, InMobi, Zomato, ClearTrip, PayTM, FreeCharge, OLA, FreshDesk, Zerodha...
Unlike the earlier round of startups, luck played out much more favorably for these companies.
India’s GDP growth started to take-off.
Internet penetration, specifically mobile internet penetration, was rapidly increasing.
Digital payments took off - exponentially accelerated by UPI.
And companies could see this in the form of product adoption, engagement, and, for some, even in the form of transactions.
Investors were pumped. To grow faster, they pumped in a ton of money to fuel growth.
Chapter 3 - Tapping Into The Local Talent Pool
But with rapid growth comes the need for rapid talent acquisition.
The only folks who had product building awareness were the tech companies of the 90s, and the US tech companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Cisco that had set up shop in India.
But bear in mind that these were the super early days of India’s tech startup scene exploding. So not all talent moved to startups.
The few that did, brought an interesting dimension. The product styles followed by PMs, Designers & Engineers in these larger US based companies were in the context of a more mature organization, already having achieved reasonably large revenues and profitability.
Startups however require a very different approach towards building and scaling products.
Startups were still short staffed & needed talent to grow. By force of requirement, they tapped into the local talent pool.
So there were a bunch of ambitious and smart folks from a wide variety of backgrounds and mental models that started joining startups - consultants, investment bankers, failed entrepreneurs, sales & marketing, operations folks etc across levels and roles who wanted to take risks with startups.
Each of these people brought their own previous biases and mental models to building and/or understanding what it takes to build products at different stages of a company. This influenced how we delivered value and even more so to capture value, cost effectively, consistently!
This brings us to today…
Chapter 4 - The PM Market in India Today
Today, Product Management is a super hot space.
If you search for people in product management in India on Linkedin, there are 1.2M:
So India employs 10% of the world’s PMs!
These 1.2M Product Managers work at approximately 27,000 startups (of which about 108 are unicorns) in e-commerce, fintech, logistics, gaming, saas, travel, HR, restaurants, healthcare, media, and more.
Such rapid growth in such a short interval of time for a practice such as product management is bound to have teething issues - understanding of the nuances of product discovery, definition & delivery as well as the ability to contextually switch approaches & practices.
This is a good segway to understand the challenges faced by product teams in India.
2. Product Challenges in India
Whilst some of these teething issues have been seen historically in the evolution of product management in the US tech market, it is new in the context of the Indian tech products market.
And there are some challenges that are very specific and totally new to India.
Let’s go through each - and then spend 8.5K words on how to systematically address them.
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