Aparna Pujar’s Posts
As a product leader, your job is to represent a product from its inception, launch and throughout its growth stages. Your job entails you to lead teams, create cohesive business strategies and understand the technical mechanics of building a digital product. It’s a career that requires its cross-functional leaders to hold a nuance of both soft and hard skills.
To make it in the demanding world of product development, what are the key traits you need to have to succeed? After years of working as a product developer and Lead Strategist at eBay, a Director of Media at Yahoo! and now as the founder and CEO of my own company, Enfavr, I believe these to be the essential skills that will help you develop a winning product, development team and company:
Designing a superior product requires understanding the people for whom you’re creating the product. Emotional intelligence or EQ is required for you to empathize with the consumer and solve problems with the assistance of the product. A product leader with a high EQ builds strong relationships with their team and an awareness of how to tackle both internal and external hurdles to create and launch a successful product.
According to the Harvard Business Review, a few aspects of emotional intelligence include:
Relationship Management: Form authentic and trusting relationships with stakeholders. Great product managers encourage, support and inspire their team members and customers, creating friendships and helping people reach their full potential. People skills are also beneficial for resolving conflicts, sharing ideas and working toward a shared goal.
Self-Management: A product manager needs to know how to multitask, manage deadlines, analyze revenue targets, meet market trends, manage conflicts and prioritize resources. They also know how to stay persistent throughout the project’s journey.
Self-Awareness: Remaining objective is key to managing others effectively and developing an effective product. A lack of self-awareness often derails more important priorities or damages the relationship product leaders have with engineers who, in turn, may lose confidence in the leader. For example, if a feature the product leader loved and heavily promoted doesn’t meet consumer needs, it could make engineers distrustful of the product leaders’ insights going forward.
Social Awareness: The characteristic is often associated with empathy, organizational awareness and service to others. Product leaders must understand the customers’ emotions and concerns about the product as well as the concerns of the sales team and how they sell or the engineering team and how they build the product. An in-depth understanding of how the company operates is important to create social capital which influences the overall success of the project and company. Ultimately, it also allows product leaders to address the needs of their customers.
Understand Data or “Street Statistics”
Another way to understand consumers is through data or “street statistics”. Data guides product managers to make accurate and necessary decisions. It allows product leaders to understand what users are doing within the product, which features customers enjoy and how successfully the product attracts new customers. It also shows the revenue flow. Understanding the data allows you to test quick experiments and harness the information to improve the project. For instance, we can identify a behavioral analysis via the creation of behavioral cohorts.
Smartly Sell Your Ideas
A knowledge of the sales process and how to sell your ideas is crucial to developing cohesive ideas and pitching them — especially to the engineers in your company. Part of the job is to understand how engineers think, so you need to be careful when talking about the technical aspects of the product and clearly communicate a vision which they can support.
Julie Zhou, the VP of Product Design at Facebook, says, “Engineers make every good proposal real, and this fact should never, ever be forgotten.” Zhou continues, “Even if your company has five, or five hundred, or five thousand engineers, engineers are not a ‘resource.’ They are the builders of the foundations, the keepers of everything that makes your product tick.”
Many people can’t admit when they don’t know something. It serves product leaders when they’re able to own up to the gap in their knowledge or skills.
Ben Horowitz and David Weiden believe that a good product manager doesn’t ruin their credibility by over-stating their knowledge. As a champion of products, take the opportunity to seek out new information so you can be more effective in your position. Talk to others on your team. It’s especially important to speak with consumers and conduct market research on your competitors.
Additionally, develop skills like a fundamental understanding of code will help you work with developers. Start by asking questions to iron out the functions or details that aren’t yet clear. As issues emerge, you’ll slowly be able to become more involved in the project. Learning code will allow you to offer more viable and proactive solutions for the team to explore. Remember: A clueless product developer can’t help teams if they don’t know what they’re talking about. Plus, product managers are there to better help teams confront challenges, so knowing the technical basics can go a long way. For example, it could help a team find better programming tools which may help during the launch of a product.
The more you understand about all aspects of the business, the industry and its people, the better you can make decisions regarding your product’s development. Always continue to learn and ask questions. Your team will respond positively. Remember, it’s always important to pay attention, stay humble, ask questions and admit when you don’t know understand a concept. Having an open mind and a willingness to learn is what helps leaders succeed.
Project leaders should take ownership of their products, making sure to help at all stages of its success. Some of these skills are easier to gain than others, but it’s important to make an effort and implement each skill over time. In doing so, product leaders can build a trusting team and a more effective and innovative company. Taking the time to learn can allow any project leader to develop mastery and success in their field.
Net neutrality is anything but neutral. In October 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), led by chairman Ajit Pai, voted to repeal the Open Internet Order that was reinstated in 2015. The legislation has spawned public debate and divided the opinions of everyone from Internet companies and cable conglomerates to innovators and freedom of speech activists.
The debate surrounding Net Neutrality — a term coined by Columbia University’s Media and Law professor, Tim Wu, in 2003 — centers around whether Broadband Internet should be classified under Title I Information Service or as its current Title II Communications Service classification. The main supporters of maintaining a Title II legislation are major Internet companies including Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and eBay. The opponents comprise the carriers and major ISP companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.
The debate has led to serious contention between both supporters and detractors of net neutrality, especially in regards to how innovation and competition may be impacted due to these regulations.
In recent weeks, a vote over the net neutrality bill entitled Save The Internet Act which would restore Obama-era FCC Internet regulations has been blocked in the Senate by Majority leader Mitch McConnell. However, lawmakers and the FTC are jumping in with the hopes of regulating the tech giants. The New York Times reports that antitrust oversights are being considered against companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon as they look into possible anti-competitive behavior from the tech giants which could lead to an overhaul of antitrust rules in decades. The lawmakers pushing this legislation believe that competition will expand as major companies won’t be able to enforce unfair rules or fees against their competition which remains a point of contention between Apple and Spotify, for example.
There are both positive and negative aspects to each ruling, but neither are entirely satisfactory to meet the needs of a free, open and a more innovative marketplace. Perhaps, an alternative to these two approaches should be considered.
The Pros and Cons of Title II
If classified remains as Title 2 Communications Services, carriers and ISPs are treated like utility services which are subject to heavy regulation and transparency requirements. Under this ruling, carriers/ISPs must adhere to these rules:
- The ruling ensures that all carriers/ISPs treat data on the internet equally, meaning there are no barriers to access content. Anything from Wikipedia pages and political manifestos to personal email and videos are all accessible for whomever searches these materials.
- They can’t block, throttle or pay for prioritization. For example, NBC or Google cannot pay more money to Comcast to have their content streamed faster.
- ISPs must report proof of their fair practices regularly to the FCC.
For over two decades, the Internet has been open. As we see today, it’s benefited humans across the world. It has spawned trillion dollar industries and revolutionized all aspects of our like from shopping to entertainment and education. I’m sure none of us can imagine a world without Netflix, Amazon, or Google and the devices like smartphones we use to access these sites.
What are the cons? Heavy regulatory requirements against carriers or ISPs mean innovation is stifled within carrier companies. With providers already monopolies, the motivation to innovate and provide improved connectivity has diminished. The barrier to entry for entrepreneurs is traditionally high while more than 75 million Americans still don’t have access to broadband and are on the slow side of the digital divide. These obstacles defeat the basic premise of the Internet’s value, but it has become an arsenal for politicians.
The Pros and Cons of Title I
What has happened since Net Neutrality was fully repealed? Classified as a Title 1 Information service, the regulatory requirements get lifted. This means:
- ISPs have more control over what you watch. For example, they have authority to block full access to sites like Netflix or Reddit.
- They could potentially block or throttle specific websites or start paid prioritization. They could also charge Netflix or Google users more for their content and better connectivity.
- Transparent reporting are eliminated under this act. As a result, carriers have free reign to block and slow website traffic as long as they report their practices if and when they are asked to justify.
Obviously, there’s a lot of freedom that’s lost with these rules. Repealing the Open Internet Order, subject to less or no regulation, continues to be blocked for vote in the Senate. On the positive side, there is hope of spurring more competition amongst the carriers and broadband providers, which in turn should bring better connectivity and Internet access to everyone; this is the true principles of upholding an Open Internet!
Seal the Deal or Keep the Repeal?
When the Open Internet Order was first instituted about 15 years ago, broadband had just started and monopolies didn’t exist in the Internet industry. Everything is different now. As we have seen, even the internet companies, if not already, are becoming monopolies and entry barriers for entrepreneurs are high.
If we want to foster innovation but also provide users with free and fair access to the Internet without pay barriers, we must consider an alternative option: one that encompasses the very best of each side. While I don’t have the full-blown solution to our needs; we must consider three central points of contention:
- Which monopolistic group would you rather favor? Is it the carriers/ISPs or the Internet Companies like Google?
- How will voting for or against this ruling impact the underlying issue of “Free Market” and “Free Speech”?
- Will this really bring internet to 75+ million Americans who are on the wrong side of the digital divide?
For a fully realized, Open Internet we must continuously consider these questions while asking how we can help companies and leaders innovate and while allowing people that use the Internet to thrive. If only Congress can protect an open internet, we must first ask for better alternative legislation from our politicians.
As noted by law professor David Kaye in his book “Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet”, politicians and leaders have to work together to reaffirm the need for free speech, but in a manner that protects basic human rights.
Ben Thompson reiterates in his Stratechery blog that Congress might want to consider passing a law that bans ISPs from blocking content, but it might be wise for us to continue a “wait-and-see” approach when it comes to paid prioritization so that growing startups may thrive while Americans enjoy the expansive delights of an even more competitive and open Internet.
Blockchain is an essential part of today’s digital world. During the 2008 recession, the sharing economy emerged with investors enthusiastically supporting companies like Uber and Airbnb. Today, these companies are considered unicorns, spearheading the way in their respective industries and revolutionizing the way people use and experience everyday services.
In 2009, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey called blockchain the wave of the future. Since then, critics have called the sharing economy dead. But that’s far from the truth. The sharing economy has faced limitations in the past. According to the Harvard Business Review, a major problem with the model is that the value produced by the crowd is not equally distributed among all those who have contributed to the value of production; all profits are given to large intermediaries who operate the platforms. However, the implementation of blockchain could help our economy thrive better than ever before, spreading the wealth beyond private companies and individuals.
Blockchain’s Smart Benefits
Blockchain helps stimulate and makes the sharing economy more accessible. By offering cheaper ways to create and operate online platforms, more people can participate in this type of economy. For instance, transactions may be coordinated through self-executing smart contracts or offered at lower costs by small, competing providers or freelancers. As the sharing economy becomes more streamlined in the future, we can emphasize the everyday inequalities that users experience and strive to solve them, depending on the technology.
Blockchain is a normal way to track a set of information, but instead of storing that data in one central place, the tool makes multiple copies and distributes across each node of its network. Nodes can be people or things like devices. In essence, it helps accelerate the sharing economy because it gives a property to identify the owner. Any device that has Internet connection can connect to blockchain, showing a clean record of who owns the currency or item. Using this online record, users can use blockchain to create value and empowerment for users. For example, you can use blockchain to rent out your house on Airbnb, you can use the technology to program the front door to open when a renter reserves it and lock the door behind them when they leave.
Many startups are harnessing blockchain’s power. MyBit uses it to power its platform which connects investors to viable projects.
The company’s goal is to democratize the ownership of machines and its revenue streams, redistributing value to those who own the operations rather than centralized financial institutions. Other companies like OpenBazaar offer a decentralized marketplace, like eBay, operating independently of intermediaries. Buyers and sellers use blockchain technology to interact directly with each other, without passing through a centralized operator. Users can register a product for free and it’s instantly visible to all other users in the network. When a buyer agrees to purchase the product, an escrow account is created a three-party system (buyer, seller and third-party arbitrator) allows for the funds to be released. If an issue occurs, the third party decides whether the object should be returned to the seller or if the buyer is owed a reimbursement.
Slock.it is another example of a startup that is shaking up the sharing economy, allowing companies and individual users to rent, sell or share their connected smart devices. Their goal is to create a universal sharing network (USN) which can give its users mobile and desktop applications to find, locate and rent any object via smart contracts.
Blockchain is important for the way we do business and live in the future. It has the power to take the sharing economy to the next stage, empowering us to live on our own terms at the press of a button. While these technologies are slowly being popularized, it has the ability to deliver on the promise of a more equitable, connected society.
I think with respect to the funder aspect of it, I feel that my challenges are really no different than say a male founder has. It’s the entire process of “Hey, is my idea right?” I mean, am I doing the right thing? Am I going in the right direction? Do I have the right team? Do I have the right marketing strategy? All these I tend to view as common for any founder that’s out there.
For women specifically, I think what my own personal experience has been so far is that there is a shortage of a support group. There are lesser role models of women entrepreneurs that one could go talk to and I’m making a conscious effort to build a network of women entrepreneurs so we could just get together, share our challenges, talk about our issues, and talk about our problems. I do network a lot with founders which comprises both men and women, but I often am the minority in that group.
Well you’re in Silicon Valley, so yeah.
Yeah, and I think that is the challenge. We sometimes need sounding boards of people who have gone through this experience, especially as women. Those are very few and far between and I’m hoping that with more and more women taking to entrepreneurship, that will change and I want that to change sooner rather than later.
Yeah, it’s awesome because actually I was talking to somebody about what she’s doing and how she’s building the community. What’s so amazing about what she’s doing is that she’s touched upon a very important point that women need community. Women have gathered around the fire for hundreds of thousands of years and we’ve been talking about what’s going on and we share knowledge that way and again, we’re missing that recently. I think that’s what you’re doing as well and I’m not saying that Enfavr is just for women, but I think it talks about our need for community so much.
I’m blown away about what you’re doing, but how do you run your company and do you think that’s different than how men would run the company, or how you’ve seen men run companies before?
I guess when you’re running a business, the demands of the business pretty much dictate how you run it. I am more of a team builder and I like to listen to many people before I make a decision. I think that’s the way I have evolved my work experience and how I tend to go about solving problems.
There are a lot of men who also believe in that approach, but I think as a woman, I try to focus on establishing good rapport with my team members. I lay into both their personal needs and their professional needs. I’m especially very supportive of working women who are on my team and I tend to honor their request for work-life balance even though this is a start-up and it’s hard to do. I think it’s important that we respect that for people and for both the men and the women who want to do what is right for their families.
Fantastic, what do we need to do to encourage more women to come into business and tech?
I think it’s important for us to show them the path for those who are already in this. It’s important for us to show them a path to that they can succeed, and then there are possibilities they can eventually be successful and have a fulfilling life for themselves, regardless if they’re in tech or not. Tech just happens a little more tougher than maybe some other non-tech based businesses. But to me if you’re determined, if you’re dedicated and if you have the willpower, you can do it.
I fully agree. So talking about women coming into the business world and corporate world and entrepreneurial world, do you think that this whole drive towards a sharing economy is a side effect of women coming into business more?
I don’t think so. I don’t think this is a women’s thing. The women certainly tend to create solutions and solve problems in a way that has a broader impact of communities. We always think about the larger impact on communities, but in reality, if you look at some of the popular sharing economy companies like Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft, they were all started by men. So I don’t think this is a woman thing. I think it’s just a changing mindset of the generations and it may have to do with the fact that we are seeing a shift in how people view the world. We’re more conscious about what we want to contribute to the world rather than what we’re taking from it and the sharing economy just plays into that sentiment.
I fully agree. What are you fighting for? What is your ultimate goal with Enfavr?
Somewhere deep down I feel like Enfavr is about genuinely making our societies more integrated with trust as an enduring fabric that ties us together. I recently came across this report from PR guru Richard Edelman, it’s called the trust barometer. The report says about two-thirds of the people in top-ten economies in developed economies of the world show a distinct lack of trust in institutions, whether is business, government, the media, or nonprofit I really liked one of the points he makes about us moving beyond the point of trust as being a key factor in product purchase or employment opportunities, which is where a large part of people-to-people trust is determined.
Banks give you loans if you’re credit scores are good; it’s measured with a very non-human aspect. Your bank balance is not an indicator of trust. And I feel like it’s time we change that. It’s time that we really thought of using trust for what it represents — a way of establishing a relationship between people. The point of Enfavr and its vision is to create trusted co-dependent communities and our vision is to use technology to quantify the meaning of that trust. I also feel as the world becomes more technologically driven, the need to reconstruct smart human connections is paramount. I also feel that technology can build trusted communities and I do really want people to feel less overwhelmed about life and live it up.
I think it goes back to being a working mother. Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world. For working parents, there’s this constant demand and challenge for time and resources of balancing work and family needs. The way I sort of handled it was I formed an ad-hoc network of fellow parents who agreed to help each other out, but mostly it was in the time of crisis and it was sort of ad-hoc and unstructured.
An example was I had to go pick up my kids from school, but my manager would call me for a meeting at 4 o’clock. My first gut instinct was call my husband, but he would be busy, so then call some of my other friends, but they would be busy and so I would drop everything and go to pick up my kids. At the time I just wished what if I had this trusted set of resources that I could depend on and make it known to them that when you’re in need, I’m willing to step in and help.
Parents are really good at actually helping each other out. I’ve never had someone turn me down when there was a state of crisis, all I was saying was I don’t want to wait for a crisis to happen, let’s try to bring it to “Hey, I’m busy this day, can you do it? Can you watch my kids on Thursday, I’ll watch your kids on Friday?” I wanted to create that environment where it sort of simplified the whole process for everyone.
And it also creates a sense of trust that comes with longtime family. Like basically, we grew up with “The family’s gonna take care of you, grandma’s gonna take care of you and your neighbors are gonna take care of you.” It used to be like that, but we’re not like that anymore so I think what you’re doing is recreating family in our day and age with technology.
Absolutely, I tend to think of Enfavr as this platform which helps you build an extended family around you.
And it’s so neat because we’ve become to detached emotionally from everything and it’s so quick, the transition is happening so quick and our attention span is getting smaller. We’re detaching emotionally from people around us because we don’t want to be judged, we don’t want all kinds of other things that used to be a normal way of life. Now we don’t want them anymore, we just want our likes but we’re losing that connection. I love what you’re doing with this it’s fantastic.
Since you started, what’s been the biggest thing that you’re proud of with Enfavr?
The biggest thing that I personally feel very good about is that I finally acted upon my dream and I formed a company. I designed this product, I built it from scratch, I created a team. I have a team that is sort of global; I have a few people in India, I have a few people in the U.S., a few people in the Philippines and we’re all working in this virtual company that we have.
Through this process, I’ve met hundreds of interesting people from all walks of life. I talk to parents, I talk to investors, and I talk to marketing people. It is a very different experience and to me, the best thing that has come out of this if that I’m learning so much. It’s keeping me excited and keeping me challenged and setting new goals for me. I am naturally the kind of person who likes to take on a challenge and see how far I can go, and so this had just worked out perfectly.
That’s awesome. You’re a female founder which is fantastic, how is it being a female founder? What struggles do you have to deal with as a woman and what joys have you had while starting a company?
Part 5 Coming Soon!
A lot of it came from my own personal experience as a career working mother. We were always a nuclear family here and one of the things that I often wondered was back in the olden days when you had an extensive network and there was no technology, you would take the time to meet people face to face and talk to them. Through that interaction, you come to rely on them to do certain things for you. And I felt like with modern technology, most of us today are stuck to our phones. Our primary means of communication or interaction with people now has some technical gadget or device.
I feel like that interpersonal connection is suffering because of that because when you’re talking to people, there’s no barrier. You tend to open up, you tend to discuss things very differently, but when you’re suddenly using a phone, it sort of restricts you. You have to watch what you are doing.
One of the things that I felt was a need to be connected with people, especially those who are trying to get through life. Every day is a challenge, we need a lot of things done, and there are a lot of demands on us. I felt like there was a need for a solution that went beyond just sharing photos and chatting to using this technology to help address these everyday demands that we have on ourselves. Anything from “hey I’m trying to plant some trees next week, can someone come out and help me?” rather than go out and hire a gardener to do this because you know in the olden days as two friends or two people who loved gardening would get together and do it and it would be a normal way of how we do things. I felt like there was a missing link where people do people collaboration on common day-to-day activities was missing and that led me to Enfavr.
And it’s a fantastic way of building community as well because as we are right now spread all over the world, there’s very few people who still live where they grew up. Most of everybody’s moved away for college and they kept moving on for the next job so sometimes if you’re in a new community, this could help bridge that gap. This definitely bridged the gap of “Hey, I’m in a new community so let’s make some new friends and let’s start helping people around here and let’s get some help for the new things that I need.”
You’re so right and I think for me, the fundamental thing was people are basically good, and they usually want to help others out. Those who want to help don’t know who needs help and those who are seeking for help don’t know who to ask. It’s just a matter of bringing these people together, but also creating the circle of trust among friends and communities.
The fundamental concept for me was people tend to do favors for people they trust and care about, and having this trust aspect as part of that community was important. Normally we hesitate to ask people for help for whatever reasons — we’re afraid of being judged and we refrain from doing what it is that we want to do because of these factors. My goal, therefore, was to create a platform which brought objectivity. “I will help you, you will help me, and let’s be good contributing members of society.” That was the fundamental principle behind Enfavr.
That is very cool. What was your aha! Moment? What was it that personally affected you that says “Okay, I have to do this, that’s needed, it needs to happen.”
Aparna has brought world-class products to technology companies focused in areas such as media, healthcare, and retail and in her current role as the CEO and founder of Enfavr.