Phalgun Guduthur- Head of Product @Phyllo, ex- @Setu, @Signeasy
I'm a Bangalore-based indie hacker & product manager. I started building products in college mostly to scratch my own itch - mobile apps, browser extensions, web apps, and anything that found my fancy. Since then, I have mostly been working with startups in the 0 to 1 stage initially as an engineer and now as a product manager. I currently head product at Phyllo, an API infrastructure company for the creator economy, and also founded Simplehuman, a productivity app for email. Outside of tech & product - I travel regularly where I'm either backpacking in cities or in mountains. I don't seem to read books as much as what PMs are supposed to but I make do with lengthy newsletters instead.
What does your typical day look like?
My day starts with catching up with email. Post which, I look at data on how my products performed the previous day. The rest of my morning is spent catching up with my team of PMs and designers and the projects that are running. Since I work on early-stage products, customer discovery becomes a big part of my job and speaking to at least 2 customers a day across the world. On the nights outside of calls with the folks from the other end of the world, I catch up on my reading and work on my side projects.
Why did you choose to become a product manager? How do you see things differently than the rest?
Ever since I realised I could build things by myself through code, I was obsessed with building products that were used by real people. Getting people to use something you built was far more gratifying than the art of building or programming itself. I started building apps to scratch my own itch initially and then open sourced them for others to use (I believed open source to be a marketing tactic 😅). I picked up anything that I could use myself - mobile apps, browser extensions, web apps and launched them. I understood virality when one of my mobile apps that took roughly 2 hours to build, hit 150k downloads within a month. I was fortunate to be in the right place when the product startup scene exploded in the country in the early 2010s. The ecosystem along with the early tech crowd on Twitter helped me understand the space and take a leap into working with startups. I started working at a startup where I closely watched what product managers do and how they function. Though I enjoyed programming and building things quickly, I realised talking to customers and understanding their real needs & problems is far more intellectually stimulating and engaging. This may have also been influenced by my interest in psychology at the same time and product management also seemed to help me channel my learnings into human behaviour. I eventually realised technology is merely meant to solve a problem, and I wanted to spend more time in the problem space. This pushed me to ask for moving into product management within the same startup, and I'm thankful that I did.
What's the one thing that you absolutely love about your job?
Talking to people. Whether internal or external, I love talking to potential customers and partners, and team members. Ironically, I'm an introverted person outside of work conversations but that has not stopped me from putting myself out there either in sales conversations to help prospects find the right solution or to convince my own team to buy into my ideas.
What are some of the cool things that you are working on currently?
My day job is heading the product function at Phyllo, an API company for the creator economy where we build data pipes to creator economy platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Patreon, Shopify, etc. I'm also building Simplehuman, a productivity app that makes you faster at email - by adding shortcuts and Cmd+K to Gmail. This is personally very exciting as it mixes my strengths in product solving and also allows me to go back to my vim editor to code, which I sorely miss.
What are some of the emerging trends in your industry that excite you? And why?
The concept of creators and people becoming a business in themselves. This is amazing and exciting at the same time as it not only promotes innovation from the grass-root level but also points to unbundling of businesses. Individual creators with different skill sets come together and produce content or a service, while also allowing the room to collaborate with others on their own terms. Jim Barksdale famously said that the only way to make money is through bundling and unbundling. Hence this unbundling of businesses leading to the creation of creators is truly exciting from a personal and professional point of view.
Do you follow any product/prioritization frameworks when making decisions? If yes, what are some of the top frameworks that you recommend, and why?
I believe that every framework out there can only be successfully applied, only after the context and the event in question are thoroughly understood. But frameworks are an easy tool to explain to the rest of the team on how you arrived at a decision and get their buy-in, so I often sprinkle frameworks and mental models in my product execution pitches. One of my favourites is from Intercom which popularised RICE for prioritising problems. Over time, I have been able to fine tune the application of this framework to good effect. Especially for teams with multiple product managers, RICE gives a voice to everyone and democratises the process to a fair extent - which helps with avoiding conflicts or solve them objectively.
What’s the one tool you couldn’t do your job without, and which very few people know about?
A truly cannot-do-my-job-without tool is Flycut, which is my clipboard manager. I use Fantastical as my calendar app. Preview on MacOS is well known, and I religiously use it for wireframes and annotations.
What's something that you learned/realized recently in your work journey that you wish you knew earlier?
What iteration really means. Like many others, I always tried to get things right on the first try or gave up if something did not turn out as well as I hoped. After a few years in tech, I understood the power of iterations but failed to employ it on other aspects of my life - writing for example. I have countless drafts in my blog that are unpublished because I was not happy with the end result. After taking this writing course by one of my favourite podcasters - Amit Varma, I fully understood the power of iterations and how it transcends to life as well. Imbibing the philosophy of iterating meant that I'm far more accepting of myself and my work, giving room to improvements over time rather than not doing it at all.
If you don't mind sharing, what's the one mistake you've done and will advise others not to repeat?
Not saying no. As a product manager, you are often driving projects and initiatives that are the brain child of someone else. And sometimes you may not buy into the idea or believe in it. When faced with such situations, I often caved in and worked on the projects. But the final work quality would actually show my true feelings on the project leaving everyone unhappy. Years later, I realised one can tactfully say no and make your case. Alternatively, you could trust the decision-making of the stakeholder and give it your best being fully aware that you stated your apprehensions clearly. This helped me execute projects while not allowing my true feelings to take over.
What are some of your biggest inspirations that help you get up and do your best work?
People from modest means or backgrounds make a real difference to the world. They are living proof that you don't need pedigree or traditional means of support to build something out for yourself and also win. This helps me get out of bed every day (even if it is a Monday!) and work towards my own ambitions.
What would you recommend to people who want to start their careers in your space?
Know what you are getting into before you take the plunge into product management. The art and profession seem to vary vastly depending on the product, team, company, and even geography. Like any other big decision in life, weigh the downsides and your tolerance for them before making the switch. Once you do, enjoy the ride because product management is one of the few roles which teaches you lessons that can be applied outside of work as well.
Any new companies you know of that you think are going to make a big difference, which we should keep an eye on?
Kaha Mind: democratising mental health and making it accessible to more people. I personally love their content and their business strategy of taking the corporate-sponsored route.
Focusmate: One of those apps that I wish I built myself. Works like a charm especially for times when you are easily distracted or disturbed.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
Simplehuman (https://simplehuman.email) and Phyllo (https://getphyllo.com) - and I'm hiring :)