Furkan Akyurek - Co-Founder @theflatwork and Product Manager @mysterium network

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Furkan Akyurek - Co-Founder @theflatwork and Product Manager @mysterium network - Podcast Interview
I am Fukran and I have been Product Manager for 6 years now. I love building products. I have been launching products basically my whole career. I come from an Engineering background with electronics degree in both bachelors and masters.

I realise that building products is something I wanna do. Currently I am also working on a startup simplifying enterprise tools use.

What does your typical day look like?

I have a strict timeline for my day so I need to make sure I spend time on everything that I have plans for and also take out time for certain kinds of work that needs attention and I can work on it without getting disturbed. And then lots of daily small tasks like regularly checking and replying through slacks and emails. So I just created an apple reminder with a list of todos that I have to finish today and list things that are important but might take more than a day. Then I start tackling them one by one to see which are not completed and need to be pushed to the next day. And from a work perspective, the work I do is related to seeing what the customers want and what the user's feedbacks are taking on that feedback and improving the features we already have, seeing in the market, and thinking about how better can we improve the product.

Why did you choose to become a product manager? How do you see things differently than the rest?

The reason why I chose to switch to product management was that I was an engineer and I was working for an embedded software company, we were deep into codings like c and c++, and although I was good with that in the second company that I worked with TRT World where I got to try out product management and I realize that I was working with designers, developers, and other stakeholders and I was actually coordinating the whole effort and I was able to make changes to end product. I realize that I could have more impact and more say in the end product and that’s something interesting.

To answer your other question on how we see differently if we think of a product from an outside perspective when I was an engineer I used to fantasize about the things that I want but those things may not be requested by users. At the end of the day, it’s not important how it looks but it is more important how it works, your product may look ugly but as long as it gets the job done that’s what matters.

What's the one thing that you absolutely love about your job?

I think it’s the impact that I get to have on people’s lives. So whatever that product may be, it could be an internal tool or a website that’s gonna reach millions of people, again at the end of the day I realize that even if it's a tiny product for example I built a product and I went to talk to people who were journalists using my tool and they loved it, it saved them so much time. I can see it over their screen, they were using it all the time. I used to talk to them and see how excited they were that this product existed at all. And it was not something we would have done unless we would have talked to them.

I realize that in a product manager role you have the power to change the product but for that, you have to listen to users and that’s what I absolutely love about the job.

What are the cool things you are working on?

I have a couple of things that I am working on,

  • One of them is like a web3 application, It’s a decentralized VPN solution that I am building.
  • Another one is like we have multiple nodes around the world, people sharing the internet and we have a neuro main server where we are sitting in the middle making sure everything works smoothly.
  • Another thing that is quite exciting is building a startup stack because what I am noticing is that there are a lot of tools especially in the hiring business like an applicant tracking system, and a bunch of other things on the side, they are separate, they are expensive and they are very hard to use, so what I am trying to do is make it more affordable, the underlying logic is not super difficult. You have to talk to a sales representative. I am trying to make sure that the interface is simple, you get what you paid for like if you say I don't want this part of the product, disable it and you pay for your package with essential services.

Web3 is exciting, everyone’s talking about it but what I have seen from the product perspective given that I am also on that thing is that there are a lot of different things that are conflicting with each other for example there are decentralized financing, there are tokens where people actually make money, there are some applications that are using these tokens not just to make money or in the financial sense.

What I am saying is there is a decentralized product fit where in our case normally for VPN you actually have to connect to the main server controlled by the company whereas here it’s just other people, other nodes that you connect to, that’s making it more private and you get an ecosystem where other people get paid as opposed to the main corporation. Of Course, you have to sit there making sure that the token file increases, you actually profit from it but that’s one thing interesting, and also there’s the ownership part of it because now you get to own the part of the thing that is happening.

But on the other hand What I am also seeing is that because of the underlying technology, the UX is quite bad. Even with an application, if you lose your wallet ID, it’s very hard to recover. Most of the applications that I have seen is quite difficult because when you design something as an engineer what you care about is what you think is a good product not what your users think is a good product so you make sure it works but then users realize there are massive gas fees included, or they don’t realize when something’s not working because they don’t have the same knowledge space that you have, and that’s making it hard for casual users to use cryptocurrencies.

Another trend that I am seeing is a no-code application, there’s webflow, bubble. You can do a lot of things with it. I have seen my friends building cool things. Now anyone can build an MVP as long as they understand basic logic and it’s gonna come to a point where you have to hire developers to take the idea to the next level. Basically, this no-code trend enables a lot of people who were previously not able to do anything in the tech space.

Lastly, I think the AI trend has been there for a while. I am noticing more and more, it’s not just hyped anymore, there are a lot of applications based on it. It's a reality that we live in now.

Do you follow any product/prioritization frameworks when making decisions? If yes, what are some of the top frameworks that you recommend, and why?

Since I became a product manager jumping from engineering, and people I worked with didn’t know any frameworks so I didn’t directly jump in the frameworks but developed the process similar to frameworks out there. How I currently prioritize is that there are things that we can ignore, there’s a business aspect and business has its needs, sometimes a bit different than a user's need, because business needs to generate revenue, there will be some important things that need to happen for sales.

What I do is I usually have a number of core areas that we focus on and this is primarily for the product that is out there, for example, increasing revenue, increasing retention so these could be two things that we focus on. Again we take a look at all the features out there and we come up with estimations for each of them, say for specific features like personalization on the homepage, we look at the impact it’s gonna have on both revenue and retention and then we look at the effort. We understand it’s an important feature but it’s gonna take two months but it needs a change now. So basically you look at the value then look at the effort and come up with a list that’s gonna make sense for you to start off with. And there will be tiny things that are gonna make a massive impact. For example, changing the location of the checkout button can make a huge difference.

Coming back to granular product building, there I have a different way of looking at it because the product is not out there, I see the product that’s gonna just work for the users, coming out with a list of features that works for the user, making sure design is not gonna take much time, let’s just build and show what’s gonna happen. So it’s the core things you have to have and everything else comes after that.

What’s the one tool you couldn’t do your job without, and which people should know about?

So the good thing is that I can switch products if need be, one tool I really love is notion because I have multiple workspaces on Notion, different projects that I have and it’s been improving so much that I used to work on like three years ago. I absolutely love using it because I can manage project features descriptions, timelines, tables, and everything.
Then there is Jira, we all have to use it cause it gets the job done.

For some projects, I had to use Trello because it’s easier for non-technical people to get in and understand what’s going on.

And of course, one more tool or application if I have to mention it would be Spotify.

What's the one mistake you've done and will advise others not to repeat?

Because I started as an engineer and I also worked with great designers, I have always known the product building aspect of it. But one thing that was missing was the growth.

I have worked with people who are performance marketers with expertise in other areas, so I didn't get as much experience in marketing or growth and I think they are incredibly important for the success of any product or startup because even if you are launching an application, you need to know how you are gonna do performance marketing.

If your business is a b2b business then you need to know how to do sales. And marketing is more like engineering than art or designing because you have a budget, you have to allocate that then what the conversion rate is, what’s your LTV, what’s your CAC, you have to do all kinds of maths to make sure it’s working. Yes anyone can run an ad but then it doesn’t get you the results that you actually want. You need someone to guide you at the starting because while running ad also you need to spend some amount of money so that it optimizes on that.

There are also a lot of growth techniques that you need to do which requires a lot of creativity and I wish I could have learned some of this earlier.

Coming back to the mistakes, one is not listening to users, at the end of the day you are building for users and their use case can be different from yours so it’s important to listen.

Another one is regular and constant communication with stakeholders. One mistake that I made was we were just building products without talking to management as much and we would be developing things and used to think they must know what we are doing since we are releasing and developing constantly. But they wouldn’t know because they don't changelogs, they don't know where to look and they would think we weren't doing much of a job.

We realized there is a mistake there and come up with emails and regular meetings to tell them what’s actually happening, what the product is, what the problems are because sometimes you get stuck at issues that are not relevant to you, it could be budget issues, it could be some other teams that don’t wanna work. These kinds of communication are important to have with management to keep things flowing and not get stuck.

What are some of your biggest inspirations that help you get up and do your best work?

For example, I am working on a travel application, I would go to travel applications that are out there, trying to understand the why some of the choices they made for their product. I would go to different applications like kayak, Airbnb and see-through comments of users to understand what is the core thing that is important to them.

I would then study the flow from the user perspective as well as from the business perspective. One thing is that you can copy the design and inspiration but if you don’t understand why they made that decision, you would be making a mistake because say you copy something from Airbnb because it is cool but there are other things associated with it that you don’t know about. So inspiration wise this is how I tactically move around and see and analyze competitors.

Also, I would look out for evangelists on Twitter with great threads on products and good articles.

Any new companies that you are watching out for that might go big?

I think Webflow is one of them because it has a lot of room to grow and not many people know about it.

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Another company is Getir which is a delivery application in Turkey and now slowly expanding.

What would you recommend to people who want to start their careers in your space?

I think in product management, “is it really what you want?”  Is an important question because I know some engineers who like to build but don’t like to deal with people. Product management is essentially dealing with a lot of people. You got to have people’s skills, good communication skills, you need to be prepared to take 6-8 hrs of meeting every day.

But if that’s something you don’t mind doing, the product management space is great. The best way to get started is if you have a friend who is a designer or developer trying to launch a small project together but if you don’t you can go to one of those no-code tools and subscribe for a month or two and see where you can take the product to because with no-code tools if you have a good idea you can build a good solution that’s gonna display your idea.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

We are currently building an applicant tracking system at theflatwork.com, so if someone is planning to hire people we do have a free plan as well, then they can upgrade and have a few more features at hand. We are gonna have more products and features in the future where they can choose whatever plan they want.

Flatwork ATS - Hire Faster, Better
Flatwork ATS helps startups of all sizes to manage their hiring pipelines with an intuitive and blazing-fast interface.

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