6 min read

Unicorn Product Manager: 8 pointers for your first 30 days

I write this just after my first month at Grab, a fast growing unicorn in the South East Asian markets as I get an understanding of payments (GrabPay) in the region.
Unicorn Product Manager: 8 pointers for your first 30 days

Context: I write this just after my first month at Grab, a fast growing unicorn in the South East Asian markets as I get an understanding of payments (GrabPay) in the region.

  • These are pointers to make your first 30 days effective at a fast growing scale up as a Product Manager(PM). Though this could apply to any role, be it in engineering or marketing.
  • It’s my jump from being at mostly young startups to a fast growing big scale up; from a 20 member team to a 1000+ organization. Some of these may seem obvious to you; but joining a big organization and seeing how things work with fresh eyes, these notes have guided me and you may find some relevant.
  • The target audience is folks transitioning from a smaller to bigger company or folks new to the tech industry.

1. Continue your homework even after accepting the offer.

Throughout the interview process your understanding of the role, manager’s expectations and the company would’ve been bolstered by research. However, after accepting your offer, continue to be get abreast with recent articles about the company, what new product initiatives are expected and an idea of where the company is heading.

What helped me here was to read more about why Grab is focussing on their financial suites of products as the third pillar to their existing and growing transport and food businesses.

2. Prepare for the information firehose.

  • Go in with an open mind. As cliche as it may sound, the notions of how things worked at your previous company may not apply at your current company and the more adaptable you are, the better the ramp up gets.
  • If you find yourself being lost, saying Sorry, I don’t understand subtly brings folks to come up to you and help you out in what ever way they can. Grab’s core value of your problem also being my problem really shows here.
  • I found myself at times frustrated or overwhelmed with information and mentally fatigued coming home, though I realized that I was not alone; channeling this frustration towards the understanding my place within the team’s goals and how this impacts the end users is what helped me find clarity in the chaos.

3. Put your social hat on.

  • Ask folks, “What advice would you give me to ramp up as quickly as possible?” Interestingly one of the PM leads said, ‘act stupid’ and it’s surprisingly effective; assume you know nothing, be curious and slowly build up your understanding of the business step by step.
  • This will help map your stake holders. For me, this was the Technical Program Manager (TPM), Business Owner (BO), Engineering Leads and their relevant team members. Further, what helped and I wish I did more of is getting to know your stakeholders face to face agendaless. This starts your relationship on a non transactional note as opposed to knocking on their doors only when you need to get things done.
  • If there are things to configure on your laptop and Wikis to read up, do this away from office time. I found myself effective reading Wikis in a cafe nearby work in my alone time. I wish I had done this sooner because I spent hours in my first week installing and configuring apps on my computer and also feeling directionless reading up long Wikis.
  • Its counter intuitive but coming from an engineering background, I got a quicker understanding of key components of the product architecture talking to engineering leads and system engineers. Being close to engineers gives you insights of how the nuts and bolts work behind the hood and where there is technical debt. Specifically, ask the engineers that you are expected to work with to pull you into their meetings (this worked well for me)

4. Show yourself.

  • In your Zoom/Google Meetup calls, turn on your video on. Smile, introduce yourself and your role so you become visible to the organization.
  • Schedule coffees or lunches. I found this tricky as folks are busy and have their own projects going on. However bringing back lunch into the common pantry area and asking folks who looked free if you could join them worked well and felt frictionless; I managed to meet everyone I wanted to. In hindsight, I wish I had not spent as much time scheduling 1–1s.
  • What’s amazing about being a PM for a consumer app like Grab is that the rides or food orders have become great user feedback sessions as our driver/delivery partners, merchants on GrabPay have a lot of things to tell you and this gives you the energy to go back and fix their problems.

5. Make it easy for the next person joining in.

If you find yourself asking the same question twice and especially if there is no onboarding guide for your team, create one. Make it easy for the next person joining in, so they can onboard smoother. Pay it forward by

  • Pulling newcomers into your relevant meetings and let them shadow you.
  • Take them out for lunch 😃
  • Go out of way and introduce them to folks.

6. Schedule multiple 1–1’s weekly with your manager as you ramp up.

  • What your priorities should be for the up coming days? As excited as you maybe to start contributing, it’s important that you take a more concerted approach to your first quarter. A common mistake made is to take on too much responsibility too soon, overpromise and underdeliver (especially in your first 30 days); What helped me is ask whether I’d be spread too thin which I continue to do so and check in. In short, do a few things and do them well.
  • Who should I meet and what should I learn from them?
  • You’d rather ask the stupid 101 questions in your first month than your third.
  • What helped me is to leap into a project and learn/read up with a bottom up approach instead of spending time just reading up (top down)

7. You don’t need to understand everything.

  • Coming from a startup background, one of my biggest lessons at Grab is that not one person knows everything; and why the organization’s sum is greater than the individuals that make it up. There is no way you’ll probably understand everything you need to (in the first quarter anyways), believe that things will clear up and worrying is not going to get you anywhere. What helped me here is to imbibe the just in time and just enough to start contributing when getting involved in projects in the early phases.
  • Make a list of points which you’ve not understood in meetings. You’ll look back at this and surprise yourself on how much this stuff naturally makes sense over time and if it doesn’t, it helps bring these things up in the 1–1s with your manager.
  • Often you’d be at a point where you wonder why a decision was made on a product a certain way, perhaps even in a way that could affect the user negatively! Note it down and go and figure out why that decision was made and this will take time and answers don’t come immediately. These are the questions that often, not always lead to new product initiatives/features though the why questions are hard to answer and take you down a rabbit hole through history.

8. Don’t expect things to get easier.

  • The users at this scale are often giving you valuable feedback and its impossible to solve all their problems, hence be clear on what you can/should be solving (for yourself) and why.
  • One of the key takeaways for me has been that in a startup, you move at a fast pace especially because you have a lot more control over the product, but as the organization scales, there are more stake holders like Fraud/Risk, Privacy, Legal/Compliance, etc who you will have to bring on the same page; you tend to move slower and have to consider feedback from multiple directions.
  • On a similar line, what works in Singapore may not work in Philippines or Vietnam and hence working closely with each country’s stakeholders is paramount. Ensuring the product satisfies the needs of each user in each market is hard but this is at the core of Grab — creating hyperlocal solutions yet building the platforms to be country/market agnostic.

Things don’t actually get easier after the first 30 days but you get to move faster. 😃

This post does not reflect Grab’s views and is my intention to share pointers that helped me. If you find this useful, I’d love to hear from you. What helped you onboard well in your first 30 days?

Thanks to  Daniel Chen, Jinyen YapSrikanth Thunga, Tom Waechter, Ritesh AroraKarishma Galani, Aakriti Agrawal and Milhad Mohammed for helping me proof read this.