Written by Lana Weal on the 18th of March, 2018
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Mina has studied both computer science and cognitive science, she has over 15 years of experience in product management, and she’s worked for giant companies like Goldman Sachs, Google and Uber.
When Mina Radhakrishnan decided to leave Uber as their Global Head of Product, the options of what to do next were plentiful. Having started out as employee number 20 in the company, Mina experienced first hand what it takes to create a tech product with a massive impact for hundreds of thousands of people.
In deciding her next step, Mina knew she wanted to use her skills and experience to create a product for everyday people. When a family member went through a terrible property management process, she decided to dig a little bit deeper into the problem and soon enough, her startup Different was born. Mina came in for a fireside chat with the founders to share her learnings about all things startups, tech, and product.
A tech business is not only about technology, it’s about people & processes too.
For non-technical founders building a tech business, Mina emphasises that building a tech startup is not only about technology, it’s just as much about people and processes: “People can either think about problems in a purely tech fashion, or a purely process/operational fashion. Really great companies figure out how to harness both of those things. If you look at Uber, it is 100% a tech company, and 100% an operations company. It’s about identifying an inefficient process or a problem and then building technology and processes around it so they work together seamlessly to create a particular solution. Once you fix it, you want people to say:
“Why hasn’t it always been this way?”
But a startup really starts with people – find out who your customers are and create a platform that provides them with a great experience. And that means doing lots of customer research and interviews: “You’ll have to interview many stakeholders and find how what the current process is like, how it makes them feel, and how much time they spend on each step.” She continues, “the reality is you can’t automate this completely. Eighty percent of it you can, twenty percent is about people. And that’s how we build our products — it’s not like ‘how do we take people completely out of the equation?’. In the end, it’s not about technology, it’s not about operations, it’s about what people want, and how you keep them happy.”
When pitching, be authentic & tell a story.
The ability to communicate your vision is crucial for any startup founder – whoever you’re pitching to, whether it’s customers or partners. Having been involved as a mentor and advisor in some of the leading accelerators and venture capital firms, Mina has seen thousands of pitches: “The pitches that stand out the most are the ones that tell a story. The industry is almost irrelevant — although some industries are easier than others. However, great stories can be told in any industry. She continues:
“You have to be authentic, you have to be true. Authenticity is powerful. You can feel it, you know when somebody doesn’t believe in what they’re saying, it just comes through.”
One point Mina would like every founder to understand is about competition: “Just because somebody else is doing something, doesn’t mean you can’t too, but make sure you know your competitors, understand what they’re offering and why you’re different.
As the founder you need to have a vision, a direction where you’re ultimately headed.
For a startup to be successful, it is key to establish a good working relationship between the product team and the founder: “A startup doesn’t move forward if it’s constantly moving around and changing. As the CEO you need to have a vision, a direction where you’re ultimately headed. And the most important thing you can do is explain your story to the product manager, and then have a conversation around the roadmap and the metrics to get there. Personally, I like to set a roadmap for the quarter, and try not to make massive changes to it.”
Shift from “Can it be done?” to “How can it be done?”
Startups are all about breaking moulds and creating new possibilities. The startup world is trying to solve problems with the best possible solutions (that will often evolve), rather than trying to push our solutions onto problems. Mina suggests that we never ask, ‘can it be done?’ but rather ask ‘how can it be done?’ to focus on functional solutions. Mina encourages us to approach problems from the point of view that it is possible. Explore ideas, be creative and remove the boxes around your thinking.