Happy birthday PMF: 10 years and counting

Written by Published in News and truths

by Nadine Anderson

This year marked the 10-year anniversary of Product Management Festival (PMF). Since 2013, PMF has been bringing together Product Managers (PMs) from across the globe to connect, grow and inspire one another. The first event in 2013 had 180 attendees from 6 countries and 44 companies. This year, there were 800 attendees from 44 countries and 282 companies.

Watch and hear us grow!

The community is what makes this event special, and it has grown significantly over the years – both in numbers and in diversity. Today, more than half of attendees come from outside Switzerland, from other 43 countries. We are a mix of individual contributors (junior PMs, PMs and senior PMs) and PMs who lead product talent (Head of Product, directors, CPOs and even CEOs). To open this year’s conference, Conference Board members and Day 1 Liam Darmody and Christin Schink invited audience members to stand up and clap based on how long they had been coming to the conference. As Liam and Christin counted down, “10, 9, 8, 7…. all the way down to those attending for the first time in 2022”, the number of people standing, and the noise level in the room grew.


A wild moment in time

PMF co-founder Raphael Leiteritz explained that the world, and we the product community are currently facing many polarities. Now is a time filled with tensions, such as scaling vs de-globalization; push-back vs empowerment of product managers; remote vs presence; platforms vs web3 and the role of product vis-à-vis business. We have come a long way, but the PM world is an entangled web, where we must constantly re-establish our credibility. This year’s programme, depicted as a word cloud, supports this view, with product at the centre, but also uncertainty, grow, culture, navigate, culture, conscious, differentiation and re-thinking. PMF’s goal is to build a platform, a company, a community that helps us come to good answers in those polarities.

The Importance of Culture

Ebi Atawodi, director of product at YouTube believes culture is so powerful that it overrules strategy. She claims, “A lot of people don’t know what strategy is. And that’s fine. Fix the culture and the strategy will follow”. In her keynote, Ebi shared her cultural experiences from working in three companies most of us use in a typical workday: uber, Netflix and YouTube. She highlighted three key elements of culture: it must evolve, it must be cared for, and it can scale.

“A lot of people don’t know what strategy
is. And that’s fine. Fix the culture and the
strategy will follow”.

Uber: If you don’t evolve a culture, it will evolve itself

While uber’s “Always be hustlin’” monolithic start-up culture led to its explosive growth and enabled the fast launch of uber cash in 2016, it also led to the company’s near demise a year later. As Ebi states, “Culture is the good behaviours you reward and the bad behaviours you tolerate. You always have both”. The failure to review and evolve the culture ultimately led to the firing of the CEO in 2017. Following a very difficult year, a new culture evolved in 2018, with “Do the right thing. Period” as its key tenet.

Netflix: No rules rules

At the other end of the spectrum is Netflix. The streaming giant takes a very deliberate and intentional approach to culture. At Netflix, culture is constantly living and evolving. It is not just a presentation with some fancy words, but an integral part of the company and it has changed Ebi’s leardership philosophy. The no rules rules ideology that prevails at Netflix is only possible because of the deep attention and care that Netflix gives its culture.

Google: A culture of cultures

Google is an example of culture at scale. About the size of Amsterdam, Google is like a big city with lots of micro cultures. Some cultures are very engineering-driven, others are more UX or data science and research-driven. Some are about getting products out quickly, others are more deliberate in pace. Google has scaled its culture by allowing multiple sub-cultures to co-exist across the company.

In closing, Ebi encouraged attendees to ask themselves, “What culture am I in and how does this culture empower me?”


Inflection Points: Key moments that shaped a career

Looking back on his career journey, Ameet Ranadive, Chief Product Officer at GetYourGuide, identified turning points that led to significant change and personal growth. At PMF, he shared his takeaways from three moments that shaped his career and leadership style.

Inflection Point 1: Confront reality quickly

As a co-founder of a security service aimed at at small and medium-sized businesses, Ameet and his team were not willing or able to confront the reality that maybe there was no market for their product. This situation is not unique to startups: Regardless of the size of company you work in, whenever you’re working on something new and innovative, there’s a good chance it’s off track. Ameet urges PMs to confront reality by distancing yourself from your idea, failing fast, setting intermediate goals and developing a Plan B.

Inflection Point 2: Impact is the only thing!

At Twitter, one of Ameet’s first products was building internal dashboards for the finance team. It wasn’t cool and it wasn’t glamourous. But it was pivotal to his future development. His advice for the audience? See out the highest impact opportunities, even if they are outside your job scope or domain. Don’t mistake cool and innovative for high impact. And finally, put the needs of your team above your own to earn trust and credibility, and build an image of being someone you can rely on.


Inflection Point 3: Do the simple thing first

A key product principle at Instagram is to do the simple thing first. The benefits of keeping the scope small are to unlock the key features that deliver 80% of the value, getting to market faster, learning from users and avoiding over-building. But how can you actually do the simple first? Three tools used at Instagram were identifying the biggest risk for your product, doing the lifeboat exercise (what 3 features would you save from a sinking boat) and applying the 90% rule (rating features from 0-100 and descoping any that are below 90).

Celebrate good times!

PMF is about coming together and connecting. And what better way to do so than over drinks and dancing. Day 1 finished off with an apéro at the cinema, followed by food and dance and one big cake at Papiersaal. As expected from the PMF crowd, there were some cool new moves on the dance floor and singing late into the night….

DAY 2 – The future of product management

November 10 was future day in Switzerland, when parents are encouraged to bring their children with them to the workplace. Festival co-founder Adrian Zwingli welcomed a very special guest on stage – his 10-year-old  son Robin. What a unique opportunity to hear stories from hundreds of PMs from across the globe!

What doesn’t break you makes you stronger

Jennifer Liu, SVP and Head of Product @ Lattice shared very personal stories including the challenges she faced in childhood and how they shaped her into the person she is today. Already as a small girl, she learned that while there are things you don’t have control over, you still need to deal with their implications and consequences. She discovered resilience, an inner force that allows us to deal with hard situations, difficult people, things that come up unexpectedly. As a society, we tend to focus on happy moments, happy endings. But life and work are rarely linear. Some of the unexpected things that come up in life could make you stronger. It’s about changing the narrative for the narrative for the setbacks, the challenges, the things that didn’t go your way. Moving forward and framing challenges in your mind as sources of strength.

Who over what

Another lesson Jennifer still carries with her today is choosing who over what. Though working in Billing & Payments at Google may not have been her go-to career move, having a manager who made her feel like what she was doing was important made all the difference.

A matter of perspective

Two days before the launch of Product Listing Ads, life dealt Jennifer a heavy personal blow. As a result, she disappeared days before launch. Once again, her resilience saw her through. She knew she couldn’t change things, so she accepted and processed the wave of emotions and then got back up again and moved forward. As she says, “When things are stressful, when nothing seems to be going right, when you think nothing else could be more important….something worse happens”. This thinking grounds her and provides perspective when times get tough.

There’s no right way, there’s your way

Who do you see when you think of a typical startup employee? How about a mom of four? Probably not. But that’s who Jennifer was when she joined Lattice. Jennifer urged participants to broaden their imaginations. There is not a single mould, not a single path for a PM. You lead with your own strengths.

Resilience is a choice

In closing, Jennifer clarified that resilience does not mean to always grin and bear it and suffer in science. It is a choice for which mountains you climb and when to choose a different path. She urged attendees to, “Think back to what has made you resilient and then take that ball of resilience and choose what to apply it towards. In your work and in your life”.

What if you were your own product?

Michael Bullion, Director of Product Management at WhatsApp proposed applying the product market fit model to your career and managing your career like a product.

You, your passion, principles, personality and potential are the idea that sets your career plan in motion. Your career plan is underpinned by your value proposition. Company or validation is about assessing product-vision alignment, cultural fit and opportunity for impact wherever you choose to invest your time as a PM. Personal development and impact is the key part of the loop. Impact is your currency that opens the door to new opportunities. If you are making an impact, this will reflect positively in your personal performance metrics. It’s a dynamic loop that requires constant iteration. Every role you take, every company you move to, every opportunity is a new part of your loop.

Know your market

Know your market. know what you want and take it. Be deliberate and thoughtful about where you are investing those increments. Gaps – known, unknown, perceived. Right-side of the framework – Context incredibly important – opportunity to close gaps and build skills. Grow with the company.

Your career plan: Own it, drive it, make it happen

Your career will never be a linear trajectory. Sometimes to take a step forward, you must take a step back or to the side. Instead of asking whether you are on the right path, ask yourself if you are on the trend line. And remember that you are not in this alone. Teams matter. Your teams are you family, friends, formal and informal mentors, colleagues, all the communities (did someone say PMF?) you are part of.

Be true to yourself

The most fulfilling roles and experiences ultimately come back to the 4Ps. Those where you are able to engage your passion, follow your core principles about how you want to work and be treated and bring your whole self to work. And also about realizing your full potential. Not the perceived potential that others see in you, but your true potential, defined by you.

A shared passion and drive for personal growth

We heard a lot about culture and mindset this year. About impact and personal growth. And about resilience and reframing how we view challenges and setbacks. Over the last two days, we learned not just from the speakers, but also from one another. As we go our separate ways and return to our respective companies and countries, remember that we are all part of the PMF community. With our shared passion and drive for personal growth. A bond that connects us not just during the festival, but throughout the year.

Product Management Festival is organised by Peak Product, an advisory service company aiming to make product organizations highly effective and state-of-the-art.

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