AMA: Christine Sou, Program Partner at On Deck

 min read
May 31, 2022
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Note: If you’re an early-stage founder anywhere from pre-idea through pre-seed, consider applying to On Deck Founders

Note: This article is adapted from a live discussion for the On Deck community featuring On Deck alums Ming Lu and Vik Duggal. If you’re an early-stage founder, angel investor, or exec interested in joining our community, consider applying to one of our programs - you’ll be in great company.

Note: If you’re an early-stage founder anywhere from pre-idea through pre-seed, consider applying to On Deck Founders.

Note: This article is adapted from a live discussion for the On Deck community featuring Josefin Graebe. If you’re an early-stage founder, scaling founder, or senior exec interested in joining our community, consider applying to one of our programs.

This article is the first in our annual series Year in Preview.  In the 4 years since we launched the On Deck Founders program, we’ve seen +1000 companies get started and raise over $2B in funding.

This is an AMA recap from On Deck Product Management.

Christine Sou is a product leader with experience building global products across the games, marketplace and fintech industries. She was most recently a product leader at Wise (formerly TransferWise) where she was responsible for APAC expansion and growth. She is also a part time EIR at Hustle Fund (a pre-seed VC) and an angel investor focused on web3/crypto.

What differences did you observe working on products for APAC versus the USA? Were there any surprises?

From a software product perspective:

  • Experiences tend to be truly mobile-first and as a result there's usually no white space :-) and less minimalism.
  • Lots of 'gamification' elements are built into the experience as means of engaging users through rewards//referral programs. This seems to matter a lot especially in crowded spaces like marketplace, ecommerce. Check out local app brand Lazada as an example.
  • Localisation doesn't just mean translation, but also incorporating cultural/religious requirements, eg. ensuring that there's a wide selection of clothing for a local version of Stitch fix called Styletheory.

From a working environment perspective:

  • I thought that it was harder to convince teams initially that it was OK to make mistakes/experiment more liberally. Definitely felt that teams preferred to be 90-100% sure of things before launching (albeit this may be important for some non-reversible integrations/features) for the large part launching sooner vs later helped us gain valuable insights and time.
  • My teams were generally less confrontational in person, and more willing to give feedback in a 1:1 setting.

Can you share your go-to frameworks or models you use to prioritize your product backlog?

First, ensure you have the first few steps well understood, especially your strategy - Mission> Vision > Strategy > Roadmap > Execution (see more details in our Prod Strategy module).

Once we get to the roadmap step, then it's quite simple because you already know what your strategic approach is going to be.

So I stick with RICE (reach impact confidence effort). I like this to determine the individual projects the team will end up working on because it allows us to take into consideration risk/learnings from how difficult a dependency (especially external ones) can be.

How do you balance strategy (and optimising for long term outcomes) with execution (and optimising for short term outcomes)?

Your prod strategy in theory is longer term, and depending on the state of product and challenges maybe that ranges from 6 months to 2+ years. I would try to think more long term otherwise you suffer from redoing things later, tech debt, doing just BAU requirements etc. 

That being said, it's important to still ensure you're solving the most important problems and also keeping the team motivated, so if there are smaller effort high impact features, you could consider devise a simple cadence/routine of 'we are working towards long term x y z features and once a month or 2x a month we ship low hanging fruit that are in the priority 1 bucket of customer requests or helps to scale our platform, for example.

How do you judge whether a Product team is doing a good job? Are there markers of success that are useful signals across industries?

Qualitative - teams are happy, cross-functional team members are happy, team used as references/playbooks, external signals (press, customer testimonials, twitter feedback), honestly impossible to not sense the team is doing a good job as their energy around launching/talking about what they've launched is high.

Quantitative - % of KPIs hit, learning from failures, moving without too much friction, customers are retained and growing, team is retaining.

From my understanding, strategy is about the path we will choose to achieve our vision. Do you think that that path needs some sort of validation before committing to that strategy for a certain period of time? I'm referring to multiple quarters or > year and not referring to individual solutions but rather larger initiatives.

It depends. I would ask some questions to determine whether we need a specific validation period or go into execution mode with the understanding that insights/learnings will help to refine strategy. It feels like the type of work could be the same, just different nuances on whether we commit to calling it 'our strategy' or not yet :-)

If you already have a strategy then there should be some substance/data that is informing the rationale behind this chosen strategy - is that enough for the team to make this bet?

If it's not enough, why? What is the impact of proceeding with this strategy and changing it later? 

Do you have a process for incorporating learnings to refine strategy later? 

What additional validation is needed and what is the opportunity cost of doing this vs shipping features that move towards the strategy?

You've worked in a variety of industries and markets. Have you developed a process for quickly getting up to speed in a new space?

I used to think doing a bunch of 1:1s would be most important in the first 30 days, and while it's still important to learn context/build relationships, I would be super selective about who I do 1:1s with. Ultimately as a PM you have to prove you can execute not just build fancy plans, so it's critical to roll up your sleeves and learn through doing. 

The quicker you can ship something, the more you learn about how the org works and who the customers are/what their pain points are. The rest will follow. 

Bonus: you build confidence in the org right away because you shipped something within the first 1-3 months! 

PM leaders sometimes have to handle situations where they get top-down directives that can clash with work that’s already in progress. How can I navigate such cases so that my team doesn’t lose confidence or trust in me?

Great question! To me, it's always important to be transparent and honest about it. So if an initiative came top down and teams are unable to challenge it, I would share context about why, what's happened, how will this unique initiative be handled and how this impacts their day to day (if any).

In most cases, teams are super understanding and supportive if they are made aware of context and feel that leadership has shared openly.

What is your thought process when evaluating a new company to join? What are you looking for and how do you get that information?

I suppose my thought process is the same as how I would evaluate a product and the product is the company/team :-)

Desirability, feasibility, viability - quickly looked to see if there is an article that can somewhat represent my thought process and this one is close: 

Three Lenses of Innovation — Isaac Jeffries

When you're interviewing a PM, what traits are you looking for, and what questions do you ask to assess those traits?

One of the most important qualities I look for is whether this person is a tactical problem solver. This can be achieved through asking behavioral questions like 'tell me about a time in which you solved a problem that no one else could solve' or going through a scenario together at the company, eg.. 'we've run into a dead end and here's what's happening..' To me, the best PMs are amazing problem solvers, no matter the situation.  

Other traits that I look for are pretty standard - communication/people skills, ability to execute/get things done, strategy chops, influencing/leadership skills.

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