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Interview with Navindra Kewal – Let’s Talk About Product Management – Episode #31

Navindra Kewal is an explorer of all things digital and physical. We both are from the same graduating class at CUNY – City College and he’s a former entrepreneur, co-founding a hardware startup called Ekick Technologies which aimed to keep skateboarders safer at night. Currently, he’s a Product Management Fellow at the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. His current project under the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity is When he’s not doing that, he’s either hiking or working as a Product Manager at Lens: Snap & Share a photo-taking app for which he is a co-founder.

Full Episode Transcript:

Kenny Soto 0:00

We are now recording in five, four. Hello everyone and welcome to Kenny Soto is Digital Marketing podcast. And today we have another great guest. But before I introduce him, I always want to start these episodes off by saying thank you to you, the listener for taking the time out of your day to learn more about digital marketing and some tactics that you can use in your day to day operations. 


So today’s guest is an old friend of mine from City College in New York. We’re both alumni from the amazing university and his name is no vendre cable. The vendre is an explorer of all things digital and physical. He used to be a co founder and former entrepreneur of a hardware startup called E kick technology, which aim to keep skateboarders safer at night. Currently, he’s a product management fellow at the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. 


His current project under the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity is When he’s not doing that he’s either hiking or working as a product manager at lens, snap and share photo taking app for which he is a co founder. Welcome Navindra.


Navindra Kewal  1:12  

Thanks for that warm welcome, Kenny. Happy to be here, man. 


Kenny Soto  1:16  

So you have an impressive background. And correct me if I’m wrong. But I want to start off by just giving context to e kick technologies first. And you’re starting product marketing. When did you start e kick technologies?


Navindra Kewal  1:34  

Yeah, that actually happened in around 2017 2016. I started that with fellow classmate of mine all yo, he was a mechanical engineer, wizard. And it was probably the best best time I’ve ever had in my life is being a being entrepreneur.


Kenny Soto  1:54  

So just to give more context for the audience, you were still going to university while creating your first startup, correct?


Navindra Kewal  2:04  

Yeah, so the great thing about City College is that they had an incubator on campus called the Zhan center. And what that really did just had a group of people that were had the entrepreneurial mindset, had their own startup, and really took them under that, under their wing created an environment where we can create the things that we want to solve the important problems that we’re trying to solve. Ours was trying to make skateboarders safer at night by putting these retrofitted lights at the bottom of them. So that way, they’re just seen by cars while while skateboarding at night.


Kenny Soto  2:38  

Now, with all that being said, I want to know what got you into product management and product marketing?


Navindra Kewal  2:46  

Great, great question, the short story of that can be summed up as curiosity that turned into like, a healthy obsession. But you know, obviously, for this, this purposes, we’ll expand on that a little bit. So like you said, when I graduated city college, I worked as an operations associate for a company called ritual. They’re an app that allows you to order food ahead of time, and you can pick it up when it’s ready. So like, think of it as like order ahead, skip the line. 


But it wasn’t really particularly sold on the idea of like operations as a long term career path. For me. I was actually telling my my best friend this. He’s an engineer, and he suggested that I take a look into product, product management, product, product, marketing, and stuff like that. 


And the reason was, because of exactly what you said earlier, my experience as an entrepreneur, absolutely, like loved it, and hope to revisit it in some capacity down the road. But I do I do want to obviously be clear that being an entrepreneur is completely different from being a product manager or product marketing manager, you aren’t the manager or boss of anybody. Whereas that can happen in entrepreneurship, you’re more of a facilitator than anything else, you’re really there to just make sure that the products is the best that it can be from a marketing standpoint, from a tech standpoint, and aligns with our customers as well as the company goals. 


So I guess, where the obsession part took over is that I love working with different stakeholders. I even asked you for advice and marketing at some point when we were in school. So really useful stuff there. And you really get to ask the tough questions. And sometimes you’re trying to answer the tough ones at the same time to ultimately benefit your users, your customers. And product management just enables you to do that. So funny enough, I was actually recently asked, What kind of kid were you in class in grade school? And the short answer was, I really just loved working with groups, group projects, and that kind of just trend Translated into into my career, I guess. 


As for the product marketing standpoint, it comes with the territory. I’ve been part of five product launches so far with two to come, and you learn something new with every one of them. And learning is pretty much the most exciting part for me when it comes to the product marketing part.


Kenny Soto  5:21  

What is the hardest part about launching a product?


Navindra Kewal  5:24  

Oh, man. Okay, so I guess I’ll use it from my standpoint of working in civic tech right now. I’ve been there for like close to close to a year. And the main challenge, or the main thing that we have, that we’re always trying to solve is that we’re not really competing with anyone, right? We’re not selling a product. We’re not trying to improve a margin or increase profits. But what we’ve tried to focus on, I think the main challenge here is, when we do introduce something new, it’s how does it fit within the suite of products that we already have, without competing against each other, it’s more of complementing and not conflicting. 


And I guess the main part that’s also challenging when launching a new product is really finding your Northstar metric. And that’s really just the main metric that you’re looking at. Again, we’re not selling anything. So there’s no profit that we need to look at it like X dollars that we brought in, we mainly focus on heavily researched assumptions around engagement and retention metrics. Also, like, I think the main thing with launching a product too is, especially if you’re probably in a big organization, maybe like a fang kind of organization. It’s the stakeholders, so many stakeholders, you got to align with everyone has their own agenda, their own goals. 


And it’s really our job as product managers to make sure everybody’s satisfied or at least compromises on a common goal. I think the main three things for product, product management, Product Marketing, is people process and product. And the hard part is always going to be the people concept. I’m sure. Project management, that’s always the same thing, too. And that’s not I’m not here to say that it’s exclusive to just the public sector. I’m sure private sector also has the same challenges. But I would say that those are some of the main challenges.


Kenny Soto  7:35  

Now, with those challenges being mentioned, I want to go over product market fit because a lot of people have different definitions of what that means. So could you elaborate on what product market fit is? And if there are substantial differences between the private and the public sector when it comes to product market fit specifically?


Navindra Kewal  7:59  

Okay, another great question. And I think it’s great because I have an answer to it. Product Market Fit, was originally coined by this guy named Marc Andreessen. He’s like a, he was like the co founder of mosaic, Netscape. And he’s kind of technically like the quote, unquote, godfather of product market fit, how he defines it, and I’m okay with his definition is Product Market Fit means being in a good market. And we can define that later, with a product that satisfies that market. So that’s, that’s the vague terminology behind it. What is that similar to like what what you had in mind in terms of how you define it as well? 


Kenny Soto  8:45  

Yeah. But then the issue is, if you have like a client you’re marketing for or if your team is trying to measure satisfaction? How do you measure satisfaction? What is satisfaction?


Navindra Kewal  8:58  

Yeah. So Peter Drucker, famous business, business entrepreneur, he says, what gets measured gets managed, right? So best way to actually, in my opinion, to really figure out that you’ve achieved that product market fit is a couple of ways, talk to your customers, Always talk to your customers, keep them engaged as much as possible. And a good example of that is doing user testing, usability testing. And then also, there’s something called NPS surveys, net promoter scores. It’s just really a fancy way of saying like from a scale from one to 10 How likely will you recommend our product? If you can get people to sell your product? You know, you’re already in a good place because people are already marketing for you. 


Good examples like probably Instagram, right? They’re always kind of like a good example because they originally started off as a bourbon bourbon app right place for people to To, to search for liquor. And after after doing some research, they quickly realized that the part of the app, which was the photo taking part, the social aspect of the part was really where the most value was. Because customers were kind of gravitating towards that, they tore out everything else, and just made it a straight photo app. And that’s, I think that’s the big key takeaway here is like, don’t get attached to the solution, continuously focus on the problem and try to focus on that. And then on the other side, just taking a step back on how to make sure that you are achieving it and making sure that it’s being measured properly is measuring your market, right, every market is completely different. 


You can’t slice them up the same, the market for skateboards is completely different for the market for phonebooks, which is probably dead by now. But even in a pandemic, for example, everybody’s home, people are bored, and apps that can give you like a social media platform with ways to create short form videos, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Its tic tock, everybody’s everybody loves it. And here’s another interesting fact about that, is that in 2016 2016, Microsoft did this research to see what the average attention span for young adults and teens were. And here’s the scary number, it’s six seconds. In 2000, they did the same thing 16 years earlier, and it was 12 seconds. So it’s actually going down. And for for like, an example that’s lower than a goldfish is attention span. That’s scary.


So going back to the market stuff, the best way to really figure out your market is really to size it up and not size it up once because markets change over time. As you know, we’re in a pandemic, every market got hit. The best way I would say, to really go about sizing up your market is really looking at the number of potential users you can have the number of potential users that you can grab from the market. 


And also an easy way to also calculate this is your your CAC, your cost to acquire customers. It’s this this formula where basically, it’s your your cost of sales, plus your cost of marketing. So whatever funds like, for example, I was in sales, tech sales for three years. So putting me in that seat is a cost, making sure that software is a cost, all that gets factored in. And then your marketing, like, like you’ve talked about in your previous podcast, SEO, putting an ad works, all those things cost money. So you add that up. And then you put that at the numerator, and then you put that all over the amount of new customers that you’ve gotten. I see. So you want to get that close to a really good ratio to really understand that. 


One, you’re not bleeding through funds to get customers because that’s a bad sign. I think, I think a good also a way to measure your market or make sure that you achieve product market fit is by understanding some of the negative things to identify in what way customers are. Good question. Customers aren’t seeing the value in your product. It’s really hard. You’re like, oh, oh, this is so cool. What does it do? It’s not a flag. Yeah, it’s not catching on word of mouth wise, right, there needs to be some type of virality organic pneus. to it. And it the usage isn’t growing, which is another metric, right? Your users over time retention metrics, that’s something that we use in the public sector, a lot, like I mentioned in the beginning is those retention, we want to bring people in, but we also want to keep them here as well. And then the sales cycle, it breaks, no one’s buying your product, it takes too long to actually acquire a customer. All those things can help you size up your market, and really understand and give you a good understanding of where you’re at in that market.


Kenny Soto  14:18  

Now, my next question doesn’t necessarily have to do with what we just talked about, which is product market fit, how to measure it and how to use it effectively. But it’s more so geared towards yourself specifically, and the skills that you currently have. So my question is, what would you say are your strengths in terms of product product marketing and product management? And of those strengths? What do you believe are like the most important skills that someone who’s interested in in your career having like a similar career career that they should like focus on as well?


Navindra Kewal  14:57  

That’s a good question. Let me let me think about that for a second. Yeah. So little strings to choose from. I’m joking. Um, so in terms of strings, I think I’ll reference a point when I was starting out learning about product management. This this other, there was a product manager at shopkeep, the place I used to work for, and I set a meeting with him, it was just gonna go grab lunch, and the main thing he had told me was, focus on the problem, focus on Discovery, don’t get too attached on the solution part. 


And Albert Einstein has this really good quote, right for solving a problem. If I have an hour to solve a problem, give me 55 minutes, I’d rather spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem, and five minutes actually solving the problem. I think a lot of people, especially in our culture, with like failing fast and moving fast and executing fast, you don’t need to if you need to move properly, and smart. Speed is definitely obviously an important factor. But you really got to fall in love with the problem, because all the solutions you’re gonna have are gonna get shot down, it’s a drop in the bucket. For me, I would say for my strength is mainly focused on the Discovery, I’m really good at research. I’m a human SEO as I would like to put it, I can, I can dig up stuff. 


I really might my three years in tech sales really have helped me become a great communicator, and really understanding pain points for people. So I would say that’s probably my main strong point is being able to understand problem and focusing on the problem first, and really at the bottom, and I’m just here to focus on driving value to a customer, I’d want to help people, I want to fix problems. And that’s just who I am as a person. And now the second part was,


Kenny Soto  16:55  

the second part is like, for example, I’m someone who can’t go to college to learn this, or I want to purposefully take the self education route to becoming a better problem researcher, if you will, where would someone be able to learn that skill and hone it?


Navindra Kewal  17:18  

I think, okay, so I think we both give advice to this, because our degree doesn’t define us, right? Your degree, your way more than your degree, anyone’s way more than their degree degree. We live in an internet age, if you want something and you are willing to put in the effort, Google it, do the research do the work. I’m a big firm believer in learning by doing, you’re a prime example of that, you execute really well. I would say if someone’s trying to branch into product management, or even Product Marketing Management. There’s three books that I was given to read. And I have them here at one sec. Let me grab them. Okay, so I don’t know if you could see this. But this one, so it’s called inspired. A really good book on people process and product. This was given to me by my mentor from day one. A good one is how to kill a unicorn. This is also another good


Kenny Soto  18:17  

one great title.


Navindra Kewal  18:19  

Yeah, yeah, it’s a it’s this innovation center that really helps it they walk through all their problem solving techniques with their different clients, it really helps the creativity as a product manager, because I think that’s another tenant as an entrepreneur, and a product manager. Where it aligns a little bit is that that resourcefulness, because as you know, resources are scarce, you’re making the best with what you got, at the current time. 


And then the Holy Grail, cracking the pm interview. This is like the Holy Bible, for when you’re trying to get a job as a product manager. But I would say, Make friends with as many engineers as you can get together, get your hands dirty, just do be the thing that you want to be already. No one’s gonna give it to you. You just got to do it yourself. And eventually, if you do it long enough, someone will pay you to do it.


Kenny Soto  19:11  

Now this is a question. I’m asking for myself personally. And by asking it I’m sure there’s at least one other person who has the same question. Do you need to know how to make the product ie an app or a physical product? To be a product manager?


Navindra Kewal  19:32  

Not at all. There are people that are great at playing at their strengths. So I have a two mentors in product Product Management. One, he’s super tech savvy. He knows how to code. He understands data structures. He knows how to implement them. That’s great when you’re talking to engineers, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. I have another mentor he’s he’s a psychology major. He majored in history. 


Nothing to do Any product at all. But he’s an excellent communicator. And he he just the way he talks, it really uncovers the problems for people, and you can see the empathy that he has. And I think that’s the most valuable thing that that I’ve learned is like having empathy for the people that you talk to and understanding their pain points and truly wanting to actually help them solve that. You don’t need technical experience. 


And if you want to, again, there’s there’s Udemy, there’s Code Academy, there’s Khan Academy, there’s a whole bunch of resources. If you think that you want to start off and learn a little bit more technical stuff, go for it, it’s really wherever you want to invest your energy into.


Kenny Soto  20:39  

So if you had to define the role of a product manager, how would you describe that role in like one sentence?


Navindra Kewal  20:51  

Hmm, I think product managers are the enablers, and blockers to help people do the best thing that they can do. So will will block marketing from talking to engineer making sure that they invest their time in doing what they do best to ultimately help us align and come to this equal thing to actually help end users in aligning our company needs and market fit. So that’s what we do we just facilitate and make sure that we are all moving at the same same goal are moving towards the same goal, which is ultimately to benefit our end users, because without them, there would be no product.


Kenny Soto  21:38  

Perfect. And my last question would be not necessarily focused on product marketing and product management. But more so just 2021. In general, I want to start asking more guests this question, just so that I’m also keeping in mind what to be aware of this year. What do you think, is something in the business slash tech slash marketing world that is going to be big this year, either next month, or by the end of the year that no one cares about?


Navindra Kewal  22:16  

There’s a lot I think one thing to focus and it’s more on a ethics standpoint is is the attention economy. We focus on so much on and I talked about it throughout this whole entire, this the whole entire conversation is is user retention, right keeping eyeballs on these devices. It’s not healthy to be connected for so long. I mean, you go on hikes, I go on hikes, we like to disconnect. 


And I think that’s so important. And it’s becoming a problem, I think for especially the younger generation, these unrealistic standards that are set on Instagram, by by these models that are curated because it’s their job, and they can’t meet that that leads to depression leads to suicide. So I think that’s one thing that we really do need to focus in the tech sector is just because we can doesn’t mean we should. And that means especially with like keeping sure that we are using our users time, technology is just a tool. It’s not everything. It enables us to do stuff it shouldn’t take over our life.


Kenny Soto  23:28  

I think that’s a great way to summarize everything that we’ve talked about today. And I guess my my next question would be if anyone wants to connect with you, where can they find you?


Navindra Kewal  23:39  

at LinkedIn, LinkedIn, just type in  Navindra Kewal. I also have my own website of, Kenny, will probably put it in the description or something, but it’s in the and E. Shoot me an email there. Im pretty responsive.


Kenny Soto  23:58  

And do you have any other questions or things that you want to mention?


Navindra Kewal  24:03  

Yes, actually, I actually have a question for you, Kenny, if you don’t mind. 


Kenny Soto  24:07  



Navindra Kewal  24:08  

 Okay. So what’s the most we talked about product? You’re such a multifaceted guy, too. So what’s the most important advice you’d give to folks that are trying to either break out into digital market marketing or project management you can choose either one to talk about, but which one do would you say? And that’s free advice, guys, I’m giving you free advice. He normally charges for this kind of thing.


Kenny Soto  24:31  

I would say. I would say and this is applicable to not only project management or digital marketing, but almost anything that you can do remotely. I would say as soon as possible and as fast as you can work for free. volunteer time. It opens up options if you are obviously looking for opportunities that will pay you but if you can do something part time, whether that’s three to four hours a week to a nonprofit to your local politician that you want to support. I’ve, I’ve also talked to guests that done this if you go to my episode with Stacey, and I’ll link that in the show notes as well, she talks about volunteering her time to get better at Adobe After Effects. 


So it’s, it’s something where it can be focused on a specific job role you want, or it can be a specific minute skill that you want to hone in on. Like, if you want to be a PPC specialist, why don’t you go to your local bodega your local grocery store and say, Hey, can I run some Google ads for you to see if we can get more local traffic that way, or if it’s someone in your family who has something that they want to sell, but they don’t know how to start? Make their website for them?


 Because those are things that you can show a future employer that you’ve done. And it’s not just oh, I went to school for this, I’ve actually done something about it. And it’s usually the the free spec work, if you will, that is not leveraged in most cases. And for me, personally, I learned Facebook advertising, by trading my hours, if you will, for a bar, managing their Facebook ads. And in return, they gave me free drinks. So there are ways to work around it. Use what what are you willing to do timewise.


 And if you’re really serious about learning something, obviously you can start with a course or YouTube video. But once you consumed enough content, you got to get out there and start doing something. So I would say, No, don’t only look for a paid gig. Look for something that you can do for free, especially if you want to see if you like it, because if you’re not getting paid, you will immediately will know by doing the work whether or not you liked the work or not. So it’s a good qualifier for yourself, if that’s a career path you really want to do.


Navindra Kewal  26:51  

Yeah, that’s excellent. We focus so much on getting paid that they don’t realize that experiences is just as much as weight and gold.


Kenny Soto  27:00  

Yes. And at a certain point, everyone over time, if they are being objective about their skills, and how they’re doing overtime, will get better at what they do and will get paid more for their skills. So at a certain threshold, it’s not about the money. It’s about do you actually like what you do and learning over time how to be better at what you do. So with that being said, thank you so much Navindra for being on this podcast. And thank you to you the listener for listening to another episode of Kenny Soto Souter Marketing podcast. And as always, I hope you have a great week. Bye!

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