Innovation

A Day in the Life of a Product Manager

This post was inspired by the “Day in the Life” series of Tech in Asia where personalities in the Asian tech community recount what they do on a typical day.

CONTEXT: I am the senior product manager for financial services at Ayannah, one of the world’s top fintech companies specializing in payments and remittance in the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. Recently, the company has entered the lending, investments and insurance space. I am currently leading the development of the country’s first credit scoring engine for the unbanked using artificial intelligence.

As a product manager, I feel like the Avatar who needs to master all four elements to manage the chaos and complexity of developing a new product. By four elements, I mean the customer, the business model, the technology and the relationship of the team. Instead of linking the mortal and spiritual world, I link the commercial and technical aspects of the product.

Some people would agree with me if I say that it’s the most exciting job in tech. Think of the position as a mini CEO of the product.  It requires too many skills to learn that’s why it helps that I’m a geek who tries to learn as much as I can. Although the work is too diverse to be reduced to a simple set of daily activities, I tried to give it a shot in this post.

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7AM The alarm goes off (which gets snoozed for 30 mins). I shower then take my time eating breakfast while watching the news, reading articles or catching up with the latest family or neighbourhood chismis from our yaya. I have to kill time until 8:45AM when our driver takes me and my uncle to work at Ortigas. Because of the traffic, I usually read a book or listen to a podcast. I’m currently reading Ambeth Ocampo’s Rizal Without the Overcoat.

9:30AM I arrive at work, settle down and continue sending the emails that I started composing while traveling. Important meetings are scheduled in the morning whether it’s a face-to-face meeting with a lending company, a video conference from a partner investment house or a call from one of our data partners. I try to finish all external communications in the morning so it can be addressed by our partners immediately.

12:30 I usually take lunch with different people but the constants are with our data scientist and graphic designer. They’re at the extremities – logic and creativity so I get different perspectives on issues. Lately, we’ve been frequenting a place where we can play Jenga and Uno Cards during break.

1:45PM People are slower post-lunch so I tend to do non-technical work. I meet with our marketing team and give my some ideas and directions for our campaigns. I may also schedule a call with advertising agency to check the performance of the ads – looking at key metrics and customer feedback.

3:00PM We schedule our standup meeting with developers and QA at this time where each gives an update on what they did, what they plan to do and if there are any impediments that needs to be addressed. This usually lasts for 15 minutes, but there may be times when I need to spend an extra time with someone to resolve the issue.

4:00PM Meetings with external parties still happen at this time of the day. If none is scheduled, I start working on the requirements needed for the next Sprint – summarizing validations with partners, detailing product features, designing the user interface and workflows, creating the mockups, etc.

6:30PM Work hopefully winds down by this hour so I meet with another colleague to discuss the bigger picture – the roadmap of other financial service products, how to differentiate with existing competitors, market penetration strategies for Indonesia and Vietnam, other products we can develop.

8:00PM I should be out of the office by this time. If I don’t have to meet friends for dinner, attend a family gathering, go to tech events or spend some time in the gym, I go straight home. There may also be volunteer work or competitions that I join with some friends so I still manage to squeeze it during this time.

10:50PM I’m usually settled by this time. I take a warm bath, read through the articles I stored on the app Pocket, send more emails, share more articles with my team then fall asleep by 12MN. If I’m in the mood, I’ll even try to finish one article for this blog like what I’m doing now.

Picture from https://blog.count.ly

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Innovation

Maintaining Relevant in the 21st Century

I was the outlier in a program designed for STEAM graduates. I fought for my slot because I believe that this is where the world is going and I want to remain relevant in a world that will be shaped by AI, blockchain, CRISPR, etc.

AIM’s Master of Science in Innovation and Business transforms students from STEAM professionals into value-creating innovators by building on their technical knowledge. By the end of the program, students will have the business acumen they need to market their products, solve real-world problems, and make sound business decisions. Apply now and be part of MSIB Class of 2019.

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Finance, Innovation

KayaCredit – The First AI-Powered Credit Scoring Service for the Unbanked

“Raise a glass for (financial) freedom”

On Philippine Independence Day, we formally launch KayaCredit (http://kayacredit.com), the first AI-powered credit scoring service for the vast majority of Filipinos who remain unbanked but are economically active.

Together with Bayad Center and our other partners, we have access to the alternative data of 32 million Filipinos who perform regular transactions like paying their bills, loading their phones, sending and accepting remittance, and performing other financial transactions that can tell us about their credit worthiness. Using machine learning, we generate a credit score that is indicative of the borrower’s repayment behavior.

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With this, hard working Filipinos who do not have credit history can access cheaper credit and can choose the best offer from our trusted partner lenders through our loans marketplace.Our team is working with some of the biggest lenders locally and abroad to spur financial inclusion. We will reach 1 million users and lend out 15 billion pesos by the end of the year.

And we are just getting started. We have other projects in the pipeline which we’ll launch in “VIP” — Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines – home to 500 million people with median age below 30 and fast rising incomes. Through finance and technology, we aim to meet the needs and aspirations of the world’s emerging middle class.

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Innovation

Dr. Strange, Thanos and Disruptive Innovation

During a meeting with a partner earlier, I felt like Dr. Strange when he had no choice but to give up the time stone to Thanos. When the news was dropped, it felt like the air is being sucked out of me and chain smoking a pack of cigarettes was the only way to survive. Signed a non-disclosure agreement so I can’t speak any of it, but all I can say is that a critical “time stone” that gave us advantage over our behemoth of a competitor – Thanos – has been shared to them. It was originally exclusive to us.

On my way home, I was trying to think of a way to manoeuvre our product and outsmart our competitor. “Thanos” has more money, bigger team, has been ahead of us for 3 years, and has built enough traction to claim billions in their portfolio. A normal hero would easily back down, but not Dr. Strange. After eight seconds of meditation to foresee the million ways of how this battle will end, with only one scenario of us rising as the winner (kidding), I realized that we were exactly built for moments like this. This is where my MSc in Innovation and Business will come in handy. Had to put on another face of a superhero. Dr. Strange is out, and Captain Marvel is in.

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I remembered some lessons that we had from our Disruptive Innovation class by Prof Toby Canto. He gave us a reading from Harvard Business Review where Clayton Christensen, the original guy who coined disruptive innovation, explained why it is important to define what kind of innovation you are pursuing, where you are now and how to combat incumbent behemoths like “Thanos.”

“Disruption” describes a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses. Specifically, as incumbents focus on improving their products and services for their most demanding (and usually most profitable) customers, they exceed the needs of some segments and ignore the needs of others. Entrants that prove disruptive begin by successfully targeting those overlooked segments, gaining a foothold by delivering more-suitable functionality—frequently at a lower price. Incumbents, chasing higher profitability in more-demanding segments, tend not to respond vigorously. Entrants then move upmarket, delivering the performance that incumbents’ mainstream customers require, while preserving the advantages that drove their early success. When mainstream customers start adopting the entrants’ offerings in volume, disruption has occurred. [Click here for the full article at HBR]

When you hear disruptive innovation, you may think of Airbnb, Spotify or Netflix, but innovation does not always involve the technologies that we are familiar today. You can also include community colleges, retail medical clinics and discount retailers as entrants that disrupted the education, hospital and department store industries.

Right now, we are that small entrant to a market dominated by “Thanos”. Disruption is inevitable, like the rise of Captain Marvel in Avengers 4. I guess for the weekend, I need to get back to the drawing board and restrategize to find a way to knock the gloves out of Thanos. I only wish we had more superheroes in the team. That meeting lit the fire under my ass and work just got more exciting.

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Innovation

Easier to Apologize Than Ask For Permission

One of the first things that we learned in grad school was that it is easier to apologize than ask for permission. Before you raise your eyebrows, you have to understand the context.  This idea was shared to us during our design thinking class, sparked by a video from Ideo – a design and innovation company.

Are Ideo employees allowed to bring bicycles inside the office and hang it at the ceiling? There were no rules against it so someone just did it, and the rest started following. Were we allowed to drink alcohol inside class? Well, one professor didn’t mind cause it gets our creative juice flowing. Just do it.

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Our class has always been encourage to think of wild ideas, and that sometimes entails going outside of the usual conventions to create something novel. Having stringent rules will just stifle innovation.

I remembered this idea because during my talk for Shirtly, someone asked if we are allowed to make designs inspired by foreign series or movies like Infinity War. Half of the crowd were graphic designers, so this is a sensitive topic for them. I have my own store where the designs are inspired by Stranger Things, and I didn’t ask any permission from anyone. I gave the usual answer in business school – it depends.

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It depends on the risk that you are willing to take. And yes, it is easier to apologize than ask for permission. If Stranger Things asks us to shut our store down, then I would gladly do it. I remember one Shirtly store that was threatened with a law suit by a university because they violated copyright laws. The owner shut down his store, and no one was brought to court. At the end of the day, that guy earned because he took a risk.

Then someone asked if we’re allowed to use the lyrics of local bands in our shirts? Now I think that will be more risky since it is easier for them to sue you, but on the other hand, you might doing the band a favor by promoting their song. Maybe they can get a cut from every shirt sold? It depends.

Last week, I started wearing shorts in the office because it is summer and the weather can be unbearable. I asked permission from our CEO and he’s cool with it, but I’m not so sure if my outfit will pass the stringent building policy. Well, I am on the edge of getting a heat stroke so you just have to do it and apologize if needed.

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Innovation

Hard Lessons from Not Prototyping

Despite several exercises and reminders in grad school about the need to prototype, I somehow went ahead with a project and allowed our engineers to develop it without validating the workflow to our institutional clients.

The development team worked on the website for months. I was confident to go ahead with it because the concept was received warmly by our clients during initial meetings.  I thought to myself that prototyping might be a waste of type because they want our product. I was dead wrong. When we showed the full website, there were a lot of issues that they want to be rectified if they want to sign up as a partner.

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We could have saved a lot of time, effort and money if we first created a prototype that clearly shows how the website will flow. From that prototype, we receive feedbacks, iterate, show it again, iterate, until it fits the needs of the market. Then you develop.

I was blindsided because of the excitement that we got from the clients when we pitched the idea. They were lining up to use the website, until they saw how it flowed. Clearly, words are not enough to convey an idea.

So earlier, I worked from home to finish our prototype via the Marvel App. It’s very easy to use. My classmates used this often for our projects, so I was somehow familiar with it. You just need to layout the pages, for me I did ours in Photoshop, then through the app, you create the links.

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If you’re not good with rendering the layout on your computer, you can use the app Prototyping on Paper. Draw out how the pages will look like, take pictures of it, then create the links with the pictures you took.

Aside from validating the product with your customers, you can also use the prototype as a guide for the engineers and QA when they are developing the site. The communication process will certainly be faster because your team gets to experience the instructions.

I take full responsibility of delay. We have another upcoming project related to what we’re building, and a mobile app for both projects are also somewhere in the roadmap. I’m definitely making a Marvel version first before we go head with the development to save tremendous amount of time and effort. It’s a good learning experience though.

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Innovation, Personal

Of Camels and Space Travels

I’m excited for the next few days! We’ll be in Doha for about a week and I’m crossing my fingers, hoping that I can ride a camel in the desert. I might even watch Sex and the City 2 just to get myself in the mood. Cause it was shot in Dubai and they were riding camels and having picnics in the desert.

We’re going to Qatar because of their annual research conference. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the companies that are trailblazers in their respective industries – especially those who deal with space travel! One of which is Gilmour Space whose goal is to provide low-cost access to space, and to enable human spaceflight and exploration. Decades from now, your company outing might actually on the moon!

Infostellar is a company that also supports space travel by creating a deep space internet for a spacefaring humankind. Makes sense. How else will you Instagram back to Earth your selfies with Saturn’s rings if you don’t have internet, right?

Since we’re in the topic of space, it might be worth mentioning a quote that I really like from Stephen Hawking. “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

Westerlund 2 — Hubble’s 25th anniversary image

The Hubble telescope reveals that there are at least 100 billions of galaxies in the universe, maybe even double that as tech for telescopes progress.In a galaxy, there might be 100 thousand million stars. I can’t even fathom the number, much more the intricacies of each of those galaxies. One cannot help but think that there may be other lifeforms out there and I would want to live long enough to not just understand, but experience the universe itself.

Since I’m so pumped up for this trip, I even bought a new camera, also as an advanced birthday gift for myself. I’ve been shooting before using a DSLR so handling this entry level Fujifilm mirrorless camera won’t be a problem.

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So there, I’m quite excited to ride camels and pick the brains of the startups who deal with space travel. The next days might be gruelling, but will still try to update this blog as often as I can.

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