Shreyas Doshi on Minimum Lovable Product, Why Strategy is a Misunderstood Word & Benefits of Being Clueless

Shreyas Doshi (Stripe, Twitter, Google, Yahoo) chats with Amit Somani Managing Partner Prime Venture Partners.

Listen to the podcast to learn about:

04:00 - Address the problem not a problem: Customer Problem Stack Rank

11:30 - Incentives:”Products that prevent a decision maker from getting fired are going to get adopted very quickly.”

15:30 – Build Part of the Product-Market Fit journey

25:00 – How to Build a Product for a Large Enterprise Customer?

29:20 - Metrics are Proxies for Truth: Build Vs Ignore

39:25 -The Role of a Chief Repeating Officer

42:40 - How to Create Amazing Tweetstorms

Book recommendations:

The Courage To Be Disliked

Games People Play

Read the complete transcript below

Amit Somani - 0:50

Welcome to the Prime Venture Partners Podcast. Today, I am delighted to have with us Shreyas Doshi, @shreyas on Twitter, quite popular there who is joining us all the way from Silicon Valley. Welcome to the show Shreyas.

Shreyas Doshi - 01:17

Thanks, Amit. Great to be here.

Amit Somani - 02:05

So Shreyas, as many of you probably know, is an avid product aficionado, a great product manager and a product leader, having worked in several companies from the early stages to late stages, including, from the many moons ago, Yahoo, Google, Twitter, and most recently Stripe. Now he is sort of transitioning to a role where he’s also actively helping startups and mentoring startups beyond working on product and furthering the product management practice. So really excited to have you Shreyas and thank you for taking the time.

Alright, Shreyas. So let’s dig into this. So our audience Shreyas, as we were talking earlier, are really early stage entrepreneurs. One of the biggest dilemmas people have is in the early stages of a company, think of two guys and a gal and dog in the garage. Is that the holy grail of product market fit? How do we find product market fit and how do we do the discovery of the product market fit?

So love to talk to you a little bit about that, both as a mentor to startups, which you’re doing more of lately, as well as in the numerous products that you have come up with, even if it’s kind of on the shoulders of tall giants? So can you talk to us a little bit about some tips and tools and techniques that you have found valuable to seek PMF?

Shreyas Doshi - 02:45

Sure, and by background, I see myself very much as a zero to one and a one to 10 product person and so even having been in larger companies have just over time naturally gravitated towards new initiatives entirely, where we are defining a new problem, or a new product for an existing problem to be solved, or are looking to scale a product by 10x or 20x, of where it is currently. So bringing that experience and also having worked with founders in mostly advising conversations, I think the biggest conclusion, at least that is worth stating upfront, is that there is no one formula that at least I know of, of reaching product market fit or building a very successful product.

That said, I think some principles are worth, at least considering I’m a big fan Amit, of observing that context matters the most. So anything I say either here on Twitter, take it with a grain of salt as it may not work for your context always. But that said, there are some principles that I think people should at least consider as they are thinking about the product and how to reach product market fit.

So the first observation and associated principle is mainly around making sure that you’re not just addressing a problem and this is particularly relevant in the b2b context, that you’re not just addressing ‘a’ problem, that instead you are addressing ‘the’ problem for the customer. Because I find too many times and this is certainly true for small companies and for very large companies as well is that they talk to customers and customers tell them about a certain problem and they say, “Oh, this problem is not yet addressed by the incumbents.” and a) it is a problem that we can address. We are the solution.

So they go out and build the solution. They get commitments from customers ahead of time and the customer will say yes, if you build this product, I will use it or I will deploy it within my organisation. They take it as a sign of validation. They go out and build the product. They launch the product and they go back to the very same customer and the customer says, “oh yeah This is great, thank you for building this, I really love it. But right now I have some other priorities. So maybe we can chat in three months or six months.” Then they go back in three or six months. And it’s the same story that repeats over and over again.

When I see that, and again, I’ve seen this in many, many instances, within both smaller companies as well as larger companies. It is usually the case that Yes, you did solve a problem. But that problem was not in the stack rank of priorities and was not a very highly ranked problem. So, the reality of most businesses is that they can barely do one, two or three things in a given quarter or given half. So, you want to ensure that the problem you’re solving is going to fit into those one, two or three priorities for enough customers, and at the right price point can get you the revenue you seek.

And so the approach I’ve taken over the last couple of years, is the notion of customer problems stack rank. When I go and talk to customers, I even before I get into the problem that I want to understand, or the solution that I want to get their feedback on, I will ask them in one of many ways, what are the main problems you’re facing and where are your organization’s priorities and so on. And so there are many other ways to build the right product, or build the right product quickly. But I think, particularly again, for b2b contexts, and SAS contexts, this, I think, is a really important one.

Amit Somani - 07:15

Yeah, no, I completely agree with you. I think, in fact, one of the seven fallacies or biases that you have in one of your famous articles, you have this article around focusing on the user. So if you’re just seeking confirmation bias, it’s very easy to get that. If I come to Shreyas and say, Well, I want this thing and what do you think about this? Yeah, that seems like a good idea. But then, like you said, Shreyas may not buy that product three months or six months later. So can you double click a little bit about the set of questions to be able to get the customer problems because now imagine you’re an entrepreneur sitting several 1000 miles away, or you’re doing business in an area, like even in B2B, let’s say, an SMB, or mid market, where it’s not easy to get the kind of visual or audio visual conversation going. Are there some simple ways in which you can make sure that you’re not falling prey to the focusing illusion or at least asking and then being able to get the customer stack bank for the problems?

Shreyas Doshi - 08:10

Yeah, I’d like to start with just the basics around. Tell me how you do your work. Tell me what problems you’re encountering, as you do your work. What is the most annoying or frustrating part of whatever it is that I’m curious about with the customer and asking those kinds of open-ended questions I’ve found is very powerful. So previously, in my younger days, I would come in with a template of questions that I had to get through. I would rush from one question to the other only, sort of later on, I realised that I was merely optimising for quantity rather than quality. So, personally, my preference now in these types of situations is to have a general sense, and objective around what it is that I want to learn about. So do I want to learn about workflow issues? Do I want to learn about integration issues? Do I want to learn about data integrity issues, whatever it is, to have a general sense about that.

But other than that, basically, ask open ended questions and prompt the customer based on their response. I’ve also found that this can only be done well, if I become a better listener. So that’s something I’ve personally worked very much on. And I know it sounds silly to like, it’s so basic, that Oh, become a better listener. But I’ll tell you, that is something that has changed for the better my approach to management, my approach to product work, more than any product specific skill that I may have acquired over the last decade. So just focus and listen, and then probe further when you hear something unexpected and that’s what you want to probe further on.

So one way I did this recently at a project that I started at Stripe, not too long ago, where it was an extremely ambiguous domain and one way we evaluated the quality of the conversation after a couple of us would talk to a customer is what is the surprising thing we heard? What is the thing we heard that was unexpected in this conversation and what can we take away from that? So that becomes really important as a sort of set of tactics to pursue in customer conversations.

I’ll share another one Amit as well, which I often will try to get to the incentives of the user or have the customer or have the buyer, because it’s really important to understand what motivates this person and what is going to make the buying decision or the using decision easy for them? What is going to make it harder for them? One thing I like to observe is again, for b2b products, or many SaaS products or products that prevent somebody from getting fired, prevent the decision maker from getting fired, are going to get adopted very quickly.

You take another step, which is products that will get the buyer promoted, are also going to get adopted fairly quickly, but not as quickly as the first one. So I like to think about those things as well, in terms of these kinds of customer discovery conversations, and the last thing I’ll share as a technique, and again, this is very much applicable to B2B and enterprise products, is trying to understand if there are stages of a given organisation within a bigger company, and at what stage your product becomes a must buy.

So again, at Stripe, one of the things we did for a recent project is we wanted to understand if our product or our offering would become a lot more attractive when the finance department is just about to scale within a startup. So just when they’re going from, say, an outsourced accounting firm, to getting an in house accounting team, or just as they’re going from a controller basically managing finances to hiring the CFO, and what does the CFO need to prove? What does this new CFO need to prove, in order to show that value in the first year or two, at a startup company. Let’s figure out what that CFO needs to do and then let’s see how our product fits into the CFO’s goals. So that’s another kind of tactic that is often useful in customer conversations.

Amit Somani - 13:20

Very interesting, I love the second and the third point around incentive, determination, and hopefully incentive alignment with what you’re building. But that’s got to be an awkward conversation to try and figure out what is the incentive of a person and obviously, you wouldn’t go and ask them what that is. You’re observing things and so forth. But again, are there any kind of principles or tricks on how you figure out what would be incentivizing that person to adopt your potential product or service?

Shreyas Doshi - 13:50

You know, people will share a lot if you come across as a thoughtful person who’s just genuinely curious, and somewhat clueless about their profession. So it’s a fine balance that you don’t want to come across as clueless about your product or your domain, obviously, in these conversations, but it is perfectly fine. In fact, people love it when you come across clueless about their function. So, oftentimes, when I’ve been with the customer or the buyer who really is, in a function that I’m not used to, I’ll just share, “look, I’ve never been in this role. Can you help me understand what the priorities tend to be for somebody who’s leading up such a function and can you help me understand what the priorities were at different companies?”

So this is another underrated technique, which sometimes helps to figure out where a given individual has been in the recent past, and go back to those companies as well and ask them, “Oh, tell me about how your role differs right now versus at Acme where you worked recently. Tell me about how your priorities are different.” “Even though the role is the same. You’re still a CFO, how are your priorities different at this new company? What does the CEO care the most about? Can you just set a high level tell me you know what the agenda items look like of your one on ones with the CEO.” So just asking those kinds of questions, and done right, obviously with the right spirit and the right kind of body language and sense of curiosity reveals a lot.

Amit Somani - 15:45

Great. Very, very interesting. Moving along, let’s say, now you figured out that your problem is the problem, which is one of the top three or five problems that your prospective customers have. Now you’re going about building your MVP one, or MVP two, or whatever it is. Let’s talk about the build part of the journey and again, looking at early stage startups are there again, any kind of thoughts that you have on figuring out your iterating your way to the product market fit. So this is more on the build side? So now you’re working on that problem? Now you need to go figure it out is it really solving the customer’s problem? And you don’t want to wait six months? And you don’t want to do it after every sprint either? So how do we kind of go about seeking PMF in the build phase?

Shreyas Doshi - 16:40

Yeah, I love that question. And this can be something we go on for hours and hours on its own. Perhaps I can start with a couple of thoughts here and then we can see what’s most interesting. So, one approach I like and sometimes I just do it by myself and I don’t need to do it as part of a group exercise, although it can certainly be done as part of a group exercise, is, before we start building now, assume we’ve understood the problem. We have some vague idea of a solution.

Before we start building, I like to simulate a conversation between a customer of mine, this future customer of mine, or user of my product, and a friend. The setting, maybe the friend expresses some problem that they are facing in their life, whether it’s business or personal life. So the friend expresses a problem to which my product is a very viable solution, or should be a very viable solution. So now, how might this customer of my product respond to that prompt? So maybe the customer says you should totally use Shreyas’ product? So the friend will ask, “Well, I’ve never heard of it. What does it do?”

So that is the prompt, which is, what is the one sentence that this customer of my product says in response that is both factually accurate and compelling enough? The friend’s reaction is, Oh, I should totally check that out. So that’s the problem and it’s a very simple exercise. But it is so profoundly useful and I’ve often observed that, there will be entire teams that have been working on a product for years, that sometimes find it hard to sort of articulate a very clear and compelling value proposition as part of this exercise. So I like to work backwards and sort of figure out what that sentence is going to be. Then the product work that we do over the next six months, or three months or 12 months, whatever it is, is just about making that sentence actually true. So, that’s a good place to start. Of course, it doesn’t solve all your problems, you still have to build the product. But I think getting that clarity upfront is really vital.

Amit Somani - 19:20

Yeah, in fact, Amazon has this interesting notion of this one page press release, that you not only imagine, but you actually write down well before you write a single line of code, or any kind of thinking about the product or the features or the customer requirements or whatever. So this is, I love it. This is an even more terse and concise way to say what’s the tweet about the product when prompted with a similar kind of problem situation? So I love it. I think it’s a great, great insight of what one could do. Any other thoughts in terms of the build user, we have a lot more ideas along the journey of the build, till you declare and we’ll come to the Nirvana moment to say, we have PMF and we can now get to growth. Any other tips like this or suggestions?

Shreyas Doshi - 20:10

Yeah, maybe I’ll share a couple. One is, I really like this notion and not sure who came up with this, certainly not me. But I read about this notion of a minimum lovable product rather than a minimum viable product. I really like that as a way to think about what it is that you’re building. Because oftentimes, I think people translate minimum viable product to basically they end up building what is a minimum unlovable product, which is something you don’t want. So that is just a label. But I think there is something there.

Second, I think it’s important to figure out what it is that you are going to create significant value on. What it is that you’re intentionally going to underperform on as a product because in most competitive product domains, if you are starting out on a product, there’s a whole range of table stakes that you need to build, or that you think you need to build, before you can make your product actually compelling before you can create that differentiation. What I observe many teams do is that they take it as a given that they need to build out those table stakes. I often will debate that with myself and with teams, which is like look, let’s say, if a product domain that has been around for 10 years, 20 years, the list of table stakes requirements is going to be endless,

Amit Somani - 21:55

and it will be a very large table.

Shreyas Doshi - 22:00

Exactly. So what’s going to happen is you’ll hear from customers that like, ‘yes, this is an absolute requirement, access control is an absolute requirement, I cannot do without it.’ It just doesn’t work for me. Then you’ll hear that for like 10 other features and so what I like to do is to be extremely discerning about which of these table stakes is absolutely going to be required. And be okay as a team to come in below table stakes on many of these features that are viewed as table stakes and end in that early release. Make sure to take that time that we would otherwise spend on table stakes and allocate it towards more differentiators because just if you meet table stakes, then it becomes harder for people or customers to say no.

So I get that. But just by building table stakes, you’ve not made it any easier for a customer to say yes and certainly you’ve not made it easier for the customer to say hell yes. So, you want to make sure that you are being very selective about which table stakes you want to address and then building differentiators, building that core value proposition that’s very distinct, as early in the process as possible. Then, some people will respond well. All of this sounds great in theory, but in practice, how do I do this with a team of four or five people when I have very well funded incumbents who are competitors and have hundreds of engineers working on the same thing.

First of all, I’ve been in that situation. I’ve been in that situation for many products, even ostensibly within larger companies where we started with a very small team that was about to sort of take on a giant or multiple giants in some cases. I think the other technique that I think is really important in order to address this concern, which is a legitimate concern, like I said, is to be extremely selective about your target customer segment. So if you’re targeting everybody, or almost everybody, yeah, you’re going to be in table stakes land forever, or for a really long time. But by being extremely selective on who your target customer segment is up front end, it could be a very small target segment and so, pick it carefully. It needs to be strategically chosen. But the smaller the target segment, you pick the greater ability to create that differentiation and to create that value very much upfront, and not just lose in the game of table stakes.

Amit Somani - 25:10

Yeah, reminds me of the classic kind of Clayton Christensen innovator’s dilemma. You start with some product, solution or technology, which for some set of customers, others won’t care about, and that gets you your wedge and build from there, but let me push back on the slightly larger customers. By the way, I totally believe in this kind of Blue Ocean Strategy to find the one distinguishing thing to build on and then the kind of minimally viable on the other stuff, or minimally lovable as you said.

But when you eventually come to a large enterprise customer back to something you said earlier, the customer’s biggest incentive is I don’t want to get my ass fired. Now, if they’re like “You bought what!! You bought a product with no access control? What’s wrong with you?” So do you think that is more of a customer selection problem? To say, hey, you shouldn’t have even gone that far because for a large enterprise customer with a CYA kind of mentality? Yes, you need access control, you need this, you need that you need 20 other things or do you think that there is a way to have enough differentiation, but still be able to convert the sale, even though they’ve been used to getting the access control, let’s say for the last 10 years, from every other vendor that they’ve dealt with?

Shreyas Doshi - 26:25

Yeah, and again, this gets into the territory of this is a tough challenge, particularly targeting very large enterprises, is extremely hard. What I’m seeing a lot of companies do and a lot of startups do and it’s something that I saw at Stripe as well, where we did this for a number of our businesses, is starting with mid market, rather than very large enterprises, and just working your way up because yes, it is true that there are very certain enterprises that need every table stakes feature upfront and without that the default answer is going to be no. So as a general tactic, I think it is much, much easier to start with mid market. It’s quite proven as well, with many companies going to try that, or even companies starting with the small, medium sized business segment and then working their way up as well. That is different DNA, of course.

So, if you start at the SMB side, then you’re creating a different kind of product, a different kind of sales approach and go to market approach and yes, while in theory, you could work your way up to enterprise like, that is not a given. So, if enterprise is where eventually all the value is, then it’s not clear that starting with SMB makes sense, just because that’s what you can build for. So again, no one answer to this, a lot depends on the context, I will share one last thing about enterprises in particular, that, yes, while it is true, that many/most enterprises wanted an extremely full featured product, there are cases where you might be able to identify again, that kind of test of like, is this solution going to prevent the buyer from getting fired.

If you can identify a certain feature or a certain value proposition that is really compelling that you can build towards in a 6, 9, 12 month period, then you might still get a way in despite not having a lot of table stakes features. So again, it depends and I wouldn’t outright reject it, but I would at least, say it’s worth considering what that product may look like, that doesn’t have all the requirements, and in some cases there is a way out.

Amit Somani - 29:00

Great. One last quick question on PMF and then we’ll move on to more Product Management and product leader traits. What has your experience been with things like Net Promoter Score, or HXC? The high experience customer kind of metrics, which is the three item metric around if this product was stopped tomorrow, would you be completely dissatisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, and so on? Have you found those to be useful? A couple of questions that came in on Twitter, so I just wanted to ask that.

Shreyas Doshi - 29:35

Yeah, so for me, the metrics question comes back to the observation that, ultimately, metrics are proxies for some truth. You are trying to get to that truth, but the truth is just complicated and there isn’t an obvious way to get to the truth. So you now create proxies for that capital T truth. And so, while it is useful, to have a small set of metrics that indicate how well your product or your business is doing, how good is the customer experience and whatnot. I have found it useful to think about metrics in different categories and then make sure that for the product at hand, I am tracking the right metrics in the right categories.

So perhaps, if we have a minute more I can share what those categories are. So I think about products and metrics in the following categories: adoption metrics, health metrics, outcome metrics, usage metrics and satisfaction metrics. There could be other few other categories too. But it’s first important to think about what I am trying to understand about the product or the business, and then come back to these categories and say, okay, what kind of metrics do I need within each of these categories in order to get closer to the truth?

So concretely your question about NPS; NPS falls in the satisfaction metric category for me. So, in some cases, it may be extremely important for me to capture a metric around satisfaction. In other cases, it may not be. In other cases, maybe, a better proxy for satisfaction is simply how much people are using the feature. Maybe it’s awkward to ask them the satisfaction question outright and sometimes you will notice it like you get a random survey, NPS survey for a product where it doesn’t make sense to ask about, would you recommend it to a friend or a colleague, and yet they’re asking about it. So in those cases, they’re just following the script without really actually understanding what they’re really trying to do. So the usage metric category sometimes is much more indicative of user satisfaction, then an outright kind of NPS question as an example.

In some cases, say your product is going down all the time because it’s growing like crazy, it’s a good problem to have. But maybe the most important metric at that point that you need to be looking at, or category you need to be looking at, is the health metric category for your product. And so, again, it’s very context specific but I like using this framework. I’ve tweeted about it and written articles about this as well in the past that you can look up, because it kind of forces me to think through which categories are more important and then what metrics I should track within each of those.

Amit Somani - 33:10

How are our health metrics different than, say usage, or satisfaction metrics? Is it really just like, stay alive kind of metrics? I’ll just do it.

Shreyas Doshi - 33:25

Yeah, health metrics are largely about the basic health features of your product. So, what is the latency like, which we used to obsess over. So, that is a health metric. Now, again, latency may not be a vital health metric for certain products and it can be extremely vital. In other cases, what is the uptime and how many errors are users seeing and those kinds of things.

Amit Somani - 34:00

Got it. So switching gears, Shreyas, now talking about your role as a product leader, not just as a product manager, or an entrepreneur seeking PMF. We’ll talk a little bit about allocating capital as it were in a CEO sense meaning where do you double down on another question that came in from a good friend on Twitter? So what products or projects do you decide to double down on and which are the ones to prune? One of my favourite interview questions I used to always ask product managers or product leaders is, What are you going to eliminate as opposed to what are you going to add? This is of course, assuming that you’ve scaled and you’ve got PMF, and you’re growing and so forth. So how do you do capital allocation decisions in terms of how many engineers or PMS to stock up on things, how to cut bait or you will prune things later on, because their time has passed now and stuff like that.

Shreyas Doshi - 34:55

Yeah, and this problem comes up often in the really fast growth phase of a product where you prove the product market fit. Now there are so many different directions you can go in. You have a very healthy pipeline of customers or users and they have some more different needs. They’re all very legitimate needs. If you fast forward 10 or 20 years, then yes, most of these things that people need, should be in your product. But then the question is, what do you build now and in what order do you build it? What do you ignore or eliminate altogether in order to create the optimum value over the long term for the product and the business?

So it is a question that I get asked the most in my advising conversations with fast growing startups as an example. I think before we get into any kind of frameworks, or principles, or even tactics around how to prioritise how to know what to build, what to ignore, I like to point out that this is where your strategy is extremely vital. Strategy is unfortunately misunderstood and misused word in the valley and many other places that people will sometimes create a detailed project plan, and then call it a strategic plan. They’ll say, this is my strategy, whereas it’s not a strategy but a list of things to do. So, the word strategic prefixed to another noun is really problematic, which is whether it’s a strategic roadmap or a strategic priorities, or a strategic plan doesn’t automatically make something a strategy.

I think the strategy is really about having clarity on essentially who are you building this product for and making choices around how you are going to win, whatever win means for you and maybe define that as well. But I think a lot of these problems that manifest as execution problems in fast growth startups as well as larger companies, in my observation are actually problems around not either having a strategy or the strategy is perhaps in the head of products head, or is in the founders’ head and it has not been articulated. So the team doesn’t know what the strategy is and so every time they run into should we do X or Y, they reach this place of deadlock.

Then things get escalated to the head of product, or they get escalated to the CEO and now the head of product or CEO is frustrated, like Why can’t my teams be more self managing? Why do I have to really meditate on all these conversations, or opine on all these trade offs and priorities.

The observation is, it’s actually a problem that you as the head of product, or you as the CEO, need to address for your team. So, again, a lot goes back to having that clarity around strategy yourself and once you have that clarity, making sure that it’s clear to everybody else on the company. That requires work that requires work, both in terms of it’s not just you wrote the strategy, and you’re done and you send an email, you have to keep repeating it, this is something I learned the hard way, as a leader myself, where I would go to an all hands for my group and I would talk to the entire team and I would say, this is what we are trying to do, this is why we are trying to do it.

I would prepare well for that discussion and for that presentation and at the end of the presentation, I’d be like, yes, my job here is done. Well, it turns out that people are going to forget, and in a fast growing company or a team, you’re going to have new people join. So again, it’s really important for you to sometimes have the CEO job in a fast growth startup, or the head of products job is not the CEO role or the CPO role. It’s really the chief repeating officer role. You just keep repeating the strategy and then put it in context with the mission, and make sure that everybody is working on those things in alignment with your values like that is the core job.

But once you reach that stage, which very few teams do, frankly, but once you reach that stage where there is a very rigorous strategy, and people understand the strategy and people’s day to day, month to month actions are coherent with that strategy, then you will notice that the vast majority of your problems around prioritisation and what to do actually go away because people can kind of reference like, Oh, yes, this is a pillar of our strategy and this feature is going to help this pillar. So therefore, it’s more important than this other random ask we got from some customer that wants it next month, as an example. So, that helps and then after that you can start applying some basic prioritisation frameworks and I’m happy to share the few that have been useful for me. But the frameworks by themselves are not very useful without having a strategy in place.

Amit Somani - 40:50

Understood, I think Shreyas, we are going to need a series of podcasts with you because I think each of these topics is quite deep. But maybe we’ll come back to that later and, of course, I will share your Twitter handle @shreyas as well as the other links in the show notes. I want to switch to something totally different as we come close to sort of wrapping up here in the next 10 minutes or so. You have become prolific and I’ve asked you this offline at writing and writing tweet threads and often people say that one of the core competencies of a product manager is clear communication skills. So can you talk to us about your writing process? A lot of people including me are eagerly awaiting a book from you on all these various things that you’ve written? So let’s talk a little bit about how to become a better communicator and how to practice writing? Have you done anything or does it just come naturally to you? Love to hear few thoughts on that.

Shreyas Doshi - 41:55

Sure. So I think I was just fortunate to just have the skill of writing from a very young age. So I go back to my early school days and I would write something like an essay that we will be asked to write in school and my teachers would say, “Oh, can you write this essay for an inter school competition?’’ So that was just a thing, that was a key feature throughout my childhood and education. So, I cannot take any credit for that. I was just born with that DNA and I’ve been trying to use that as best as I can in my professional life. So that’s one part. But the other part is, beyond that, I have worked on sort of just thinking about how to be a better communicator in the written context. I would say a couple of lessons that I’ve learned around that which I can share with the group here is, one is, it goes back to just being very clear on the one thing you want to convey.

What is the most important message that you have? Oftentimes, what happens is, when we are talking about a complicated topic, a couple of which we discussed in our conversation today, say, product metrics, or say, strategy and the role of strategy, or something else. There are always going to be dozens of topics and subtopics that you could address as part of that.

What I found to be useful is that it’s important for you, as the writer, to identify what is the most important thing I want people to take away from this. Then I like to basically structure my entire piece around the most important topic. So yes, I can go into a few different directions and I can say, Oh, yeah, by the way, remember this other thing, which is not necessarily related to the most important thing, but it’s helpful to kind of tie it back to the important thing and bring it back. So again, it sounds like very obvious advice. But like, I actually, frankly, I don’t have anything profound beyond just some of this obvious stuff, which is to be clear on the most important thing, and then just be fixated on that.

Another thing I would say is, sometimes in order to be comprehensive, what ends up happening is that we try to just provide a lot of information. We want to make sure that people know everything we know as writers. I think what that does certainly for me as a reader is that sometimes I read a piece and it sounds very interesting. It’s very engaging. I have fun reading it because it’s well written. But at the end of it, I am kind of lost. So like what is it that I take away from this? If I were to describe this to a colleague that I really read this article, and they asked me what was it about.

Am I able to reproduce that for my friend or colleague? I’ve taken it as a sort of for my style, I’ve taken it as an important part of how I communicate in the written form and in order to make sure that people are able to repeat it to themselves and to others. So, in order to aid memorability, sometimes you have to sacrifice comprehensiveness of the piece. The plus side of that is, it just means that it will be more succinct and so more people will actually be able to read it and summarise it and whatnot. So that’s another thing.

The last thing I’ll share is, I don’t think I would have been able to write these things as clearly 10 years ago, and some of those things I don’t think I would have been able to write as clearly as I do now, even 5 years ago and this is not about writing maturity because I don’t think I’ve improved that much as a writer in the past 5years or 10 years. It’s more about just being able to see these things more clearly, now than I did five years ago, 10 years ago. So certainly for me, some of this takes time. So sometimes people will ask me, “oh, how can I get the ability to write like you, because I want to write about more stuff about product management?” or whatever else that the topic is and what I encourage people to think through is, what is it that you feel a great degree of clarity on that you often find yourself sharing with team members or with friends or family, and is often useful for them.

No matter what that topic is, or how trivial it sounds, start there because that’s the way you can distinguish yourself. Your clarity will come through in that piece much better than, say, another piece where you don’t yet have that clarity. So if you’re writing to influence, then it is important to start with pieces and topics that you tend to have a greater clarity on than the average person. Then of course, practice is a thing, and I’m not saying practice doesn’t matter. But then as you can get more and more clarity on more and more topics, the practice comes along as well and hopefully improves your writing.

Amit Somani - 48:15

Very interesting. So the last question from me is the inverse of writing, which is reading. What are you reading and we can make it broader than just about product management because I know you’re quite spiritually inclined, and in other ways that you’ve completed a lot of books and other things. So any interesting books that have influenced you, either on the product or business or even spiritual side or could be blogs, or whatever. I’d love to hear and get love to hear about those.

Shreyas Doshi - 48:45

Yeah, so one thing I’ll observe is that it’s amazing that lessons are everywhere around us. I’ll use an example of movies. In some of my writing, I have referenced movies, and I’ve referenced movie clips, and described how “Oh, if you look at this two minute movie clip, this is what’s going on. This is the lesson that’s there for us to take.” So I think I started really having that eye of looking for places where I can learn something I want to say again in the last four or five years, and it’s been amazing, because anywhere I look, I see something I can learn and get entertained by.

So, contrary to intuition, it actually does not deplete the entertainment value of the movie. If anything, it enhances it. It makes me feel like “oh, I’m able to see something and I see what they were trying to do here. I see the lesson, implicit or explicit, that they were trying to convey and how fascinating.” So that’s the overall observation I’ll make. So, that’s not limited to just books, or even nonfiction books.

So beyond that, I do think that, for me, one thing that has helped one general curiosity area that has helped is just around understanding myself, and why I tend to be the way I am and why I tend to think the things I do and by understanding myself better, I have been able to understand customers better, I’ve been able to understand colleagues better. I’ve even been able to understand markets better because in some sense, if you understand how humans tend to think and how humans tend to operate, then what is a market but a collection of humans operating quasi independently, or interdependently. So, reading around, understanding myself, understanding people, and understanding situations, is very interesting for me, just like I would do this, even if I weren’t in this profession. So again, I was just born with this curiosity and it’s been very useful for me in the work I do as well. That’s an amazing bonus.

A couple of things I will recommend and a couple of books I will recommend, that certainly kind of change my view of how I view myself and how I view the world around me. One is ‘The courage to be disliked’. It is one of those books that qualifies under the terrible title because the title has very little to do with the content of the book. But probably the book that changed my thinking the most in the past five years. So I very highly, highly recommend, at least considering some of the really counterintuitive lessons in the book. You may not agree with all of them and if they don’t resonate for you, that’s fine, don’t implement or take them, but at least consider them. So that’s one book.

Another book is ‘Games people play’. That book is about essentially transactional analysis, and how any interaction can be viewed as a game between two or more players, and what roles those players play. Then in the book, they provide a framework for what the roles are, and what the behaviours tend to be associated with those roles. And it was fascinating for me as it opened all sorts of interesting insights around experiences I’d had in interpersonal interactions. I was able to pinpoint “Oh, yes, in this situation I came across as unreasonable to this other person because I was playing this role and this other person was playing this other role. We thought we understood each other, but we did not quite understand each other.” So that’s another book that I think was written in the 60s and doesn’t get read enough. So I would love to recommend that book. But anyway, I’ve recommended many other books on Twitter as well. But those would be a couple that I think are fun.

Amit Somani - 53:45

Absolutely. Well, it’s been a pleasure Shreyas. Really, really appreciate having you on the show. I’m not kidding assuming you can make the time, maybe we’ll get you back to you in a few months or whenever your time permits again. So people can find you on @shreyas at Twitter, likewise on LinkedIn. We will link you to the show notes. Any parting thoughts that you want to share about how people can reach you or things that are exciting and interesting to you these days?

Shreyas Doshi - 54:10

Yeah, I would say a lot of what I’ve shared and more is available on Twitter. So twitter.com/shreyas is the place to start. Then other than that, my DMs are open. So if I can be helpful in any way, feel free to DM me. I’m terrible at responding but I do get through my backlog every once in a while and do respond, even if it’s six months after you first messaged me, so feel free to dm. Do not hesitate. Thanks so much for having me. This was a blast and happy to chat again some time.

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