#FirstPrinciples with Gokul 'Godfather' Rajaram - The Show Notes
Insights from an AMA session with the product veteran.
By Ayush Sharma
It’s not every day you come across ‘Godfather’ as someone’s middle name. Gokul Rajaram gets this name for the key role he played in launching and growing Google Adsense, one of Google’s most successful products. Currently serving on the executive team at DoorDash, Gokul has also led teams at Square and Facebook. And if all of this wasn’t enough, Gokul has also been an entrepreneur, founding Chai Labs, which was acquired by Facebook in 2010.
Lucky for us, we caught hold of Gokul for a #FirstPrinciples AMA session. He spoke about a bunch of topics ranging from product management, culture, hiring, scale, experimentation, and productivity. We captured the key learnings from the session below.
💪 On being a superhuman — Managing multiple teams, products, and switching context
Gokul says, to effectively manage time, one needs to formulate their own method around managing emails as they eat the bulk of time. His method:
If it takes less than five minutes to respond, do it right away.
For anything that takes more than five minutes, add it to your list of action items. It helps in keeping your mind space free and fosters creativity.
Gokul also suggests limiting the number of times you open your inbox and not using it as a to-do list. Another tactic which helps him kick start his day is called “Eat the frog”. Doing the hardest thing on your list first thing in the morning makes other tasks look easier.
🚩 On the biggest challenges he has faced
According to Gokul, the biggest challenges are about people and hiring. He suggests to not ignore any red flags and to make sure they aren’t fatal for the role you are looking for and your company. Culture fit is of utmost importance.
✊ On motivation
Gokul says people are motivated by three things:
- A sense of purpose: Believing what you’re doing matters
- Potential: The work you do gives you skills and helps you grow continuously
- Play: You’re allowed to be creative and aren’t micromanaged
Align yourself to these three to have a more fulfilling career.
📊 On putting customer vs. data & intuition
Every good product development team needs to be talking to two customers each week. Not just PMs, but engineers and designers as well.
Before building a feature make sure you create a tangible hypothesis backed by data and customer insights.
Go ahead with building the feature only after you’ve experimented, tested, and iterated your hypothesis.
Use no-code tools to work with the hypothesis, talk to your operators and marketers to ideate with. Think as if you have zero engineers while trying to validate your hypothesis and experiment yourself first.
🧪 On experimentation
Every product feature needs to have a hypothesis backed by consumer behaviour. Regardless of data & insights, there’s no way to predict consumer behaviour but you can hypothesise it. Think of every feature as an experiment first which validates that hypothesis. The hypothesis needs to be tangible. For example: We expect a second-order change by x%. Test it on a small set of customers. Study the results and iterate accordingly. This forces discipline around:
- Understanding the impact around every feature
- Iteration till you can prove the hypothesis
- Not giving up not the feature too early
👥 On org structure
You want your whole company divided around three or four cross-functional pillars — with goals owned by product lead, engineering lead, marketing lead, sales lead, operations lead. Everyone needs to ultimately work towards those common goals. Ultimately, everybody is in it together.
⭐️ On north star metric
Define a metric that provides value to the customer + value to the company (DAUs, GMVs, etc.)
Never use a single north star metric.
Have a corresponding check metric to ensure the quality of the north star metric is high. For example: DAUs need to have engagement, GMV has to be with a sustainable fee.
📣 On dependency on Facebook or Google for advertising
Getting celebrities or influencers to use the product is in vogue. Clubhouse is doing it, Twitter did it in their early days. The bigger challenge is retention over acquisition. Hold your acquisition team accountable for what % of customers placing first order are placing second order too.
⚙️ What does product management mean to him?
Gokul says PM at its core is about problem solving. Solving customer problems in a unique way that adds value to the company. Early in your career, you solve very focused problems and as you get seasoned the problems become very open-ended.
When confronted with a problem a great PM is able to decompose it into a structured manner, thinking from First principles. You also need to be able to collaborate well.
PM is not the CEO of the product. Your focus should be on solving the problem and putting a structure in place which helps the team brainstorm and identify the best solution. You should be able to iterate to find the best solution and keep the team focused on the problem you are trying to solve.
Don’t become a feature junkie. Forget the feature, talk about the problem and impact.
🤝 On understanding the culture of a company
Talk to the leaders of the company and observe their behaviour. How do they answer questions like:
- How do you set goals?
- How do you make decisions?
- How did you launch your last product?
If you can somehow spend some time with the company and see how they work, how they conduct meetings, how they treat each other, how they take decisions, then you can learn a lot about their culture.
You don’t get successful at a company without being a good culture fit.
Observe the behaviour of people who are successful in their functions and you’ll understand the culture of the company.
The session with Gokul was an hour-long treasure trove of information and invaluable insights. You can find the full recording of the session here.
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