Leader’s Talk : Priyanka Naik

Image Courtesy: LinkedIn

In today’s leaders talk, I had the opportunity to talk to Ms. Priyanka Naik, Fintech Product Manager, and a passionate entrepreneur.

Priyanka is a seasoned Product Manager who thrives on working closely with teams to solve problems, delivering values, and shipping great products that users love. She is a Startup Mentor, Speaker, and Influencer.

She has been chosen as a Women in Finance Top 100 for her contribution to the Fintech Startup space.

How would you describe yourself?

I would describe myself as a Fintech product specialist, public speaker and an influencer – who has a penchant for solving real world problems with technology solutions. You can learn more about me here

How did you transition to Product Management from Engineering?

My journey into product management started from educating myself on what product management was all about. To excel at anything, one needs some sort of education and my strive was to get as much education as I could.

I also shadowed some of the product managers in my previous companies which accelerated my growth and understanding of the role. Last but not least, I dressed for the job I wanted and not the one I had. I made my aspirations known to people around me who supported and guided me through.

What inspired you to pursue Product Management? What sort of challenges you had to face in the initial years?

I didn’t necessarily plan for a career in product management. I spent time understanding the nuances of varied roles like development, business analysis, marketing, strategy and alliances. These experiences prepared me in multivariate ways and led me to the role.

One of the biggest challenges that I faced as a first time product manager was – striking a balance between competing priorities. We live in a world that moves very fast and as a Product Manager, one has to be – a technologist, a business strategist, a leader and much more at the same time.

Achieving mastery or proficiency in any dimension under these three skill ladders takes time (it takes time to learn a new technology, it takes time to gain the trust of people, it takes time to create say, a 3 year business plan and so on). Couple that with the need to do everything now (especially in startups where you are literally in a race against time to find and prove market fit) and you end up with not enough time to do everything you want/need to do. Hence the biggest problem is time management or the lack of time. Another way to frame this is you have to ruthlessly prioritize to make sure you are moving the needle.

What do you put your success down to?

I attribute my success to always having gone above and beyond my comfort zone and deemed capabilities. Great things don’t come from comfort zones.

What are the skill sets required to excel in Product Management? How can one upskill on those skills (Technical + Soft Skills)?

Aspiring PMs should consider three primary factors when evaluating a role: core competencies, emotional intelligence (EQ), and company fit.

The best PMs I know have mastered the core competencies, have a high EQ, and work for the right company for them. Beyond shipping new features on a regular cadence and keeping peace between the engineering and the design team, the best PMs create products with strong user adoption that have exponential revenue growth and perhaps even disrupt an industry.

These skills are often learnt through experience and online courses might not substitute for them. Since product management is a generalist role, it helps to get experience across domains like engineering, marketing, business development and customer service.

Who and what inspires you?

I admire women executives who have managed to break into CXO levels at Fortune 500 companies, despite the proverbial glass ceilings that they might have had faced in their journeys to the top.

How do you keep yourself updated with the latest trends in the Product Management space? What activities or workshops are required on a regular basis?

I subscribe to some high quality blogs / newsletters. Alongside this I tend to listen to a few podcasts every week to learn from other, more experienced product managers.

Outside of podcasts and reading, I try to connect with other product managers at local meetups. I always find it fun to meet other folks who do what I do and geek out on challenges, tools, etc.

No matter which route or tactic you choose, there will always be a plethora of resources available, which is excellent. However, to your point, it can be overwhelming. My advice: try something and be willing to change course if it’s not working. Try out a podcast for a few weeks. Don’t like it or not finding value? Ditch it. Feel like you get more out of an audiobook than reading daily blog posts? Great, go that route.

So, find what works for you and put in as much learning as you need to stay engaged, curious, and pushing your knowledge.

What drives you to keep going when it’s really tough?

Whenever I am going through tough times, I remind myself that I am responsible for my own happiness and future. That the choices I make now will have rippling effects.

I think of my parents and of their words of wisdom, advice and love. I know they will always want the best for me and trust me to make the right decisions for myself.

I am motivated by the goals I have for myself and the things I want to achieve. I also trust that whatever I am going through is never anything that I can’t handle. So I roll along and figure out what my next move is, adjust myself to mold to current circumstances and make the best of any situation I’m in, tough times or otherwise. After all, I am the only person I can depend on and I know myself better than anyone else.

How are client meetings different from the usual Management meetings? What skills set are required to excel in the client engagement role?

One major difference between client meetings and management meetings is the focus of discussions. Client meetings warrant more focus on the value proposition or how we could meet their specific needs, whereas general management meetings are more focussed internally.

To excel in client communication, I believe it is important to not come across as desperate or overtly salesy. Focus on solving their major pain points, create a compelling solution to their problems and work backwards to incorporate those changes in the product.

Tell us about your brand building exercise and strategies – how did you create and build your product or services brand and penetrate to the already crowded segment in the market?

For us, brand identity is never about just a logo or a color scheme. It’s about what our customers think about when they hear about us.

Brand identity needs to be something they identify us with. Otherwise, we’d be just another name in the phone book, so to speak.

We simply focus on serving our customers right, who in turn end up being our staunch brand ambassadors. No quick wins there.

What are the lessons learnt in your entrepreneurship journey? What you had known earlier that would have made your journey smoother?

One of the most important lessons I have learnt through my experience is that being an entrepreneur isn’t a solo endeavor. It’s about fostering a sense of team and being surrounded by people you trust; who share a common goal and passion for what you’re building; and where you’ve all got each other’s backs in the rough times and not just the good times. All businesses are about the highs and lows.

Beyond that, I’d also say that it’s about getting the basics right. In any business, cash flow is the king. It’s better to build a business based on solid foundations and real revenue generation than just having a focus on valuations and exits.

What advice would you give to other professionals who want to transition to Product Management? What Mindset or Learning resources would you recommend?

There are 5 main knowledge bases that make up a good Product Manager: Product, Design, Business Development, Engineering, Marketing

My advice to aspiring product managers would be to start by gaining a breadth of knowledge across the above domains and then deep-dive or specialize in one of them.

One thing that’s helped me gain invaluable experience is working directly in and on problems where I need to develop skills I don’t currently have.

For instance, I started my career out as a programmer, and then learned the basics of design and marketing. I built a growth marketing agency on the side where I found myself needing to learn both product management and sales so we could grow the team, delegate work and continue to pay our bills. After that, I took a job working in partnerships for a startup, which eventually led to leading a product line.

All of these experiences pushed me to gain a breadth of knowledge I wouldn’t have had, had I stayed on one single skill path. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with going deep on a single skill, but that depth generally won’t make for an effective product manager.

How should people connect with you?

People can connect with me via social media – Linkedin or Twitter

Pankaj

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