This week on Product Love, I sit down with Sachin Rekhi, CEO and founder of collaboratives notes app Notejoy. 

When Sachin was starting his product management career at Microsoft, he got the unique opportunity to work on a completely new product. Most product managers are tasked with tuning existing products, but he got the chance to really innovate. 

This opportunity impacted his entire career — Sachin has spent the last 20 years creating net-new products. It also probably comes as no surprise that he’s written over 125 articles on product management and entrepreneurship.

On this week’s episode, Sachin shares his learnings as a tech veteran who is still honing his craft.

The Three Roles of Product Management

Sachin believes product management can be broken down into three roles: innovators, builders, and tuners. Which role is most prevalent at a particular organization depends on product maturity. For example, Oculus VR is a new product that obviously needs lots of innovators to direct its strategy. It’s also a role that is near and dear to Sachin. 

The second role, the tuner, tries to optimize existing experiences such as monetization or growth flows. Tuners can be likened to growth hackers who focus on metrics and want to move the needle. Think of the Facebook Newsfeed, a product that has existed for years. Tuners would probably focus on enhancing that product experience and coming up with different ways to deliver delight within that product.

The last type, the builder, is probably the most classic product manager type. They’re focused on driving the roadmap and building features to serve user needs. They understand how to prioritize feedback, solve real user problems, and deliver delight. 

Sachin believes that product managers need to be more thoughtful when it comes to differentiating these roles when they hire. Does your product need more innovators? More builders? 

He also recommends that product managers try each of these roles to learn where their passion and skill align. Each is challenging but offers a new perspective on how to handle product management.

The “Case Question” for PM Interviews

When the time comes to expand your product team, Sachin recommends using case-style interviews. Product managers looking to hire should come up with a case question related to their product.

An example premise for LinkedIn would be building a mobile app for career fairs at universities, where students meet potential employers and discuss future roles. 

Pose that as a high-level question, and let candidates walk you through their thought process. Candidates should be dissecting the key challenges and considering how a mobile app could optimize the career fair process. While they whiteboard or wireframe that experience, you can get a taste of their design sense. 

Afterward, let them walk through what metrics they’d track to evaluate success. Overall, it’s a great 20-25 minute activity that helps you assess the candidate’s ability to understand customer pain points and solve problems creatively. 

It’s a great technique to keep potential hires on their toes and uncover their core capabilities. Sachin also mentions that it’s important to determine what skills you’re hiring for, as well as what skills can be learned on the job. You should also keep the “three roles” in mind. 

Check out the rest of this episode to learn how to ace product management interviews and hear more of Sachin’s thoughts on entrepreneurship. 

About the Author

Eric Boduch is the Chief Evangelist for Pendo. Previously, he served as the CEO of Brainstorm SMS Technologies LLC (dba SMaSh, Inc.) and was the co-founder and CEO of several other companies. Eric holds a Bachelor of Science from The School of Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Electrical and Computer Engineering and is a graduate of its Executive Management Program.