Joe Leech

S1-E3 Harpal Singh AI / ML Chief Product Officer and 2019 Best Product Visionary Award Winner

Harpal has taken three AI / ML products from zero to $20M+ in revenue and scaled two products to $100M and $300M+ He’s also winner of the 2019 Product visionary award.

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Harpal:[00:00:00] I don’t know how smart I think I am on the BMA is 115 females. If you are launching X number of features, the success of those features is going to be around 10%, which means that even 15% is good, like 10 to 15% of those features will be conducted.
[00:00:29] Joe:[00:00:29] Hello, and welcome to making better decisions to podcast with digital product people. I’m your host, mr. Joe Leach, and I’m a product coach, speaker writer, and author. Each episode, I talked to a product leader from a startup scale up or large enterprise about one thing, how they make decisions. In this episode, I talk to Harper, SIG Harper as a product leadership veteran, having taken three artificial intelligence.
[00:00:51] Machine any products from zero to $20 billion in revenue scale to further products, to a hundred million dollars and $300 million respectively. It’s also winner of the 2019 product visionary award. It’s a, tell me a little bit about you. So can you give us a bit of a history of your career where you’ve come from and how you’ve kind of got to where you are today?
[00:01:11] Harpal:[00:01:11] I work as a consultant, an CPR. Currently I work on AI machine learning products and I help companies take those products to market. And the sector that I work in is marketing or MarTech as a corner. So most of my BI products on my job here has in some ways being quite smooth. So I started in. InDesign to my mind.
[00:01:40] Bachelor’s and master’s, I have a bachelor’s in computer science as well as a masters and I have another masters. So basically I had this kind of mix of skills, very comfortable with engineering and also kind of with the design side of things. So FEI taught me a lot about how people think. So I had like this into 10 years.
[00:02:03] So you’re initially as a UX designer working on the hands on UX designer with various needs around 2012, I kind of jumped into my own startup, which was, which is the machine learning based startups. So we were building a machine learning recommendation engine. That’s how, kind of, that was my journey if you like into product.
[00:02:26] So. As I was working on my startup for two years, I had to kind of, so as you imagine, in a startup building the product, managing the team, raising the funding that random for two years had the investment team of around 20 people over two years after which I kind of primarily in the product, because I learned a lot of more my own interests.
[00:02:53] Um, and part was the area where I felt really confident with everything very quickly. I kind of moved into a director of product roles and one full time job for three years of PLC, which is the largest shopping center in the country. And then after that, I’ve been kind of doing these interim CPO roles at key for companies of various sizes and now consulting.
[00:03:17] So to kind of summarize someone who’s like you are entrepreneur and product.
[00:03:23] Joe:[00:03:23] You mentioned
[00:03:28] Harpal:[00:03:28] PLC. So I NPU, unfortunately they have just gone into administration like a few weeks ago. He did business and, um, I, you know, they kind of rely on, they have like the shopping centers in the country so they can not rely it on a tendency fee. And I think because.
[00:03:51] Joe:[00:03:51] Yeah, challenge. Can you think back to a important product decision that you had to make,
[00:03:57] Harpal:[00:03:57] talk to you about one of the products, because they’re kind of changed the direction of the company completely. So I was working for this. This may be AI startup, their product, which is a prediction platform. It was surrender kind of built the part of initially it was, they were trying to target it to, uh, We have different industries.
[00:04:19] In fact, the sales team was so good. They actually sold it to an airline business, a retail business. And I started walking one day. One of the things I realized was that our sales team, almost three meetings, three, one, explain what the product does because it was so complicated for them to understand.
[00:04:42] Also they kind of pitch it as a big data product. Oh, no. What happened was although they were genetic sales because of product, the job has solved the problem for the customer, but wasn’t really the kind of growing as it’s evolving, kind of going to the full potential. So when I got to start looking at the product strategy, so things I did, one was kind of look into the whole product positioning itself, if you like, how should we.
[00:05:13] Then I have looked into the tech behind the scenes with the, with the data science team and engineering. And it turns out that selling it to all of these different industry of actually making the product work, technically speaking. So you can see like how on one side, the sales teams, which are leading the business, they were saying, okay, there’s an uptick in the, in, in the growth of the company, in the revenue.
[00:05:38] And the other on the other side. It was actually what, for the product. So I’m going to, to you, one of the things I changed for kind of the product positioning and the section we’ll be able to focus in, and it makes sure it kind of aligns with what the engineering needs are. So we ended up kind of being focusing on this one or two sectors and tending the product feature set slightly for those.
[00:06:05] So there, wasn’t kind of a big strategy game and if all want to it off two months, it kind of rolled out in the entire company. From anywhere from the sales team to what they were selling on the website to how we were positioning. So the customer success teams and how they were developing the engineering door mapping, they were developing.
[00:06:22] So it’s like, it’s such a simple thing. It’s not about. Building product features. It’s not about impact. I kind of didn’t build any feature in that space. Well, I’ve been there myself, but it was all around the positioning and the game, which kind of, uh, and a lot of that was within 12 months of that, of the company has kind of grown 10 next in their revenues.
[00:06:49] Joe:[00:06:49] How difficult was that change to advocate? Is that just a product change? Was that a change in the direction of the business? How much kind of sway and input did you have to
[00:06:57] Harpal:[00:06:57] to do that? There was, I mean, I was the person who was leading product overall. So I was there to the VTO. I unfortunately didn’t have much challenge in this case because all of the senior leadership whole kind of set it’s on the same level as them, they kind of understood where I was coming from the insights from dental supplies with that.
[00:07:18] The only challenge I would say was many of the CEO, because when you work with a very originally founder who is really kind of driving the product forward, and sometimes they will kind of make really irrational decisions because they kind of think they know everything. So he was more of that kind of bringing on board.
[00:07:39] Um, but secondly, it was like, how do you roll this change out? Because you can’t simply say, this is what we found we’re going to do. In fact, I remember like the team was based across various parts of the board and I had to kind of organize this two weeks off hackathon, if you like, or we can have brought all the teams together.
[00:07:58] In fact, before that, I don’t remember their sales team and an engineering team actually sat in one room together simply because they were based in different locations. Right. So that also gave them opportunity to know each other well kind of book together and see kind of aligned in the same direction.
[00:08:14] I think so for me, this is still a product change, what we were doing, what kind of, because it has direct impact on what their teams are building or features. They building what we are solving customer Lia solving. There was a complete , but it had impact on commercial strategy as well. We just like work
[00:08:36] So I think that’s why the alignment between the.
[00:08:44] Joe:[00:08:44] He’s VP of product and product strategy. Do you think then that the marketing and sales of that product, I mean, how much, how much influence should a VP of product have over the sales and marketing strategy of that?
[00:08:57] Harpal:[00:08:57] I have seen
[00:09:05] clients who understand this. I kind of tend to be more helping them become. Or if they do not understand this terminology, then I would still kind of book on there to become more. And when I say product landed in the customer centricity and the customer, I think some companies are better for it as customer names.
[00:09:26] But for me, like it’s about having the product, thinking the design thinking principles in place. To really move forward. The question you asked about the theme and the product, one of the common challenges, it’s actually quite a big one that I’ve seen quite often is sales teams specifically have really hard time letting go of their KPIs and thinking and get collaborating on the KPIs.
[00:09:54] So if they are the ones who are kind of driving the revenue or kind of delivering the sales. And their entire kind of bonuses are tied to that. And when the person comes in and says, Hey, I am also responsible for that. It really makes them uncomfortable. So you cannot, you cannot kind of build a portlet organization where teams are kind of working in, in their own, literally in their own silos and driving their own KPIs.
[00:10:23] Uh, to me, thinking all becomes about collaboration across the board, and it’s not really about marketing meeting their own target. NQL or whatever, or the lead or sales meeting, their growth for revenue targets is about how you collaborate. You drive the company forward on the core KPIs. That actually matter basically how you align the leaders on the outcomes.
[00:10:48] Yeah, because there is no kind of a protective story that should be for this. If you like, what does it, how do you even know that we have become a partner? And it’s not like, Hey, you do these things. So what I tend to do is kind of do an assessment of, um, where the, where the business stands. What’s the emotion like in the company?
[00:11:15] How do people make decisions? Right? Because it really goes down to like how you make me feel. I mean, one classic example is invaded no customer insights coming into the business. We do actually use to either inform your decision making or have inform your arthritis. Then it’s a very basic thing. I won’t even need to use the terminology of being of our thinking.
[00:11:42] When it’s small, we need to understand our customers. We need to bring the customer to start engaging with those kinds of situations. I would try to open the professors with the teams where the start. Engaging with customers who have not engaged with their customers. It could be frankly, quite a big jump for them.
[00:12:05] Don’t get to. Okay. It can be quite no, if no, but I can reach out to customers and there’s some basic questions. How do you find the people? How do we speak to them? What do we need to ask them? Okay. So it really kind of depends on the maturity of this. But one thing I do have just occurred to me is a maturity matrix of a business.
[00:12:26] So we kind of go through various different, various different functions within the business. And what I look into that is like, if they’re doing marketing, like how they’re doing marketing, if they’re doing sales, how we’re currently. Product features prioritize and things like the hood. That kind of, I think for me, whether any of the frameworks or any of these terminology, that kind of metal is all like a facilitation of communication and making sure other people really understand what we are trying to get to and why.
[00:12:58] So it helped to come down.
[00:13:06] It’s a bit broadened way. Again, there is no kind of central recipe. And one thing I’ll tell you, like in my experience, and it’s really bizarre in some ways that you have done all the work for aligning, aligning the leaders in the business for different functions, different units. And if you don’t actually on it, Not long, just within two weeks, it’s going to start falling apart just in the two weeks.
[00:13:35] And that is a bizarre element from like, if I think it probably goes back to people kind of going back to the comfort zone. So you have kind of done all the work and help them understand how did them align, have them communicate. Right. And they are on the same page. And if you don’t continue that on an ongoing basis, even for two weeks, People kind of go back to the zone and then start being one building.
[00:14:02] So I think what I tend to do is like somebody, because I know something about other person knows something, it doesn’t mean that it will be a behavior change and they will start grouping the things in a new way. Uh it’s like if someone are trying to kind of put myself in their shoes, if someone comes to me and they have convinced me to do certain things in a certain way, And I am Alexia.
[00:14:29] I’m working on foot on, on that for last 10 years in my own way. I won’t be able to change that in two weeks time. But in one week I got to dead was a big learning that I’ve seen in terms of alignment and communication. First of all, don’t make it a big thing. Don’t make it a thing
[00:14:49] because if we make it a thing, then it kind of becomes more challenging and people are like, okay, there will be also some things that, again, emotions and feedback and criticism and all sorts of stuff. So I think keep it low key. Keep it to the basic, the language you use, focus on outcomes. Okay. How. Why, what are you trying to align for?
[00:15:11] What is the communication about what is the outcome that you’re looking for and how does it benefit? The other course, I tend to think of, you know, this book from Daniel pink to sell is human. There’s like one big, big key takeaway from the activities around every person is in a field job in the company.
[00:15:31] By in some ways, every job is a steel door skills to help them understand all the problems for them. So me as a part, of course, when I’m dealing with different departments with different teams, I am really considering them as my customers at that point of time and communicating from that perspective and because using this kind of customer thinking.
[00:16:01] I can get in the position of, okay, how can I benefit them? What’s in it for them, right? We are looking for a win, win situation here. And when it comes to communication and alignment, it’s all about winning.
[00:16:15] Joe:[00:16:15] Interesting, interesting love that you talked about a lot of decisions and things that have gone well. Could you talk about sort of perhaps a decision or a time you’ve made a choice when it hasn’t gone so well. And you’ve had to sort of either change, track, backtrack, or what, you know, when things haven’t gone great
[00:16:33] Harpal:[00:16:33] all the time.
[00:16:42] Right. Any problems that I’ve worked on. I know there are some numbers out there, but for what I have seen is no matter how smart I think I am, or the team is a hugger, the team is if you are launching X number of features, the success rate of those returns going to be around 10%, which means that even 15% is good, like 10 to 15% of those features will be really, really well the way you want it to be, or want it to be a doctor or to be used.
[00:17:11] Tell me about you have launched a feature. It doesn’t mean you’re that thinking or utilize their thinking in my own work and help the teams with, with the similar thinking as well, which means that for the 80% of what you’re doing, it will not be used for. You have to be cleared on that for you to take it to a level where the features will be or.
[00:17:33] So all of this to me, like is times are kind of mistakes. It’s like building a mistake, culture and learning from those. Now there are these feature lounges. They exert, I may quite often, from that perspective, when you look at it not, Hey, we have built something, we know it may not work. It’s about making it the more, the better, right.
[00:17:54] And making sure that we are working on something. That we really think could deliver quite well, but kind of accepting the fact that even after all that effort, even having all the data on insights, we would only know when something is launched. We would only know when something gets. So that’s kind of the little bit of principles and theory.
[00:18:18] If you like behind all of this, I’ve made many mistakes on that aspect. Then there are a big strategy, mistakes, et cetera, which again, falls into mind image. If I gave you an example of how the team and strategy really help the business, increase that revenues and go the team and do everything. There has been a similar type of season, which turned out to be a complete disaster.
[00:18:48] And it had impact on the entire company as well. And I can’t go into details of that, but I can tell you like it was an eCommerce business and we were trying to build a union Watson checkout, which allows multiple brands to come into one place. And that was a poor strategic decision for various reasons.
[00:19:11] And then we kind of change the strategy. Also nine months of banging her head into the wall and downs our, after we changed the strategy, then it kind of started. So my point is that you will never know what is going to work, or it’s not going to work if kind of having that mindset of, okay. We know everything.
[00:19:32] Most of the things we do, most of the things will not work. So how do you prepare to. Adapt. How do you prepare to change? What do you learn from that? And how do you evolve? I think you want, if you can do that much, well, you’re already ahead of the curve.
[00:19:50] Okay.
[00:19:51] Joe:[00:19:51] And when it comes to making these decisions and what kind of, what do you use to inform the choices? What sort of, some of the inputs to make these decisions?
[00:19:59] Harpal:[00:19:59] Yeah, it depends. Like, it depends, like what kind of decision are you talking about? One thing, which, which is a little bit unpopular. So something which most people would not even dare talk about is a gut feeling, right?
[00:20:13] Cause in the first floor, it’s highly frowned upon to use your gut to make decisions. And I personally don’t believe that, although I’m not saying that you should use gut to make that, but I am saying that it’s actually one of the core decision making elements. So that is, I think it’s like, you need to, I’m talking about
[00:20:37] then you would need. All the data to inform that if you want, you will need to understand your customers, understand or bring some important from the customers. You want to understand what problems you are solving for the job needs to be done for that. Right. Then market knowledge. Why are we doing what’s?
[00:20:56] One of the things that I’ve noticed is people tend to forget about the market forces. So you may have all these decision making factors that I mentioned, but if you don’t understand the market. And how it is changing and evolving rapidly, then it’s going to fall apart. So depending on the type of decision you’re making, you have to kind of look into this radio, different, any of different lights and you don’t have to do all the legwork yourself, and you may not be the best person for that knowledge.
[00:21:25] So you have to kind of, this is where the communication and collaboration comes into place, kind of relying on the team. So makes those types of diseases. And the reason I mentioned Garceau specifically is like equal and off all the knowledge that you have about the company, plus your own experience, plus the market knowledge and using that to say, okay, what is the right thing to do?
[00:21:49] I don’t shy away from it because it’s for making better use of our, how informed you are. I mean, I don’t actually, I mean, this is a little bit controversial as well. I don’t believe in data driven diseases. I believe in informing yourself with data. And then using other sources of inputs, like customer insights or market knowledge, or your own experience, or, uh, few other things to kind of inform those things, right.
[00:22:17] I think you will end up being, making much better product decisions in comparison, but just relying on some data from Google analytics on this data, from this analytic software, because to me, all of that is one of the things that have happened in the past. So many decisions that you’re trying to make, or you’re trying to make it in the future.
[00:22:40] And I think this year is the best example where the world event has changed everything so fast that you just cannot rely on your preexisting data, your preexisting knowledge.
[00:22:58] Joe:[00:22:58] Very true. And I think that’s, that’s an important thing. And so talking about the code with the lock down is that had any effect on the businesses you’ve worked on. If you had to make any fast or quick decisions based on the stuff that’s happened with COVID.
[00:23:14] Harpal:[00:23:14] Yes. I know that even under the kind of businesses I’ve been working with in last few months, they have not been impacted by code that much. So it was more like business as usual and doing bacterial logged on. And before that I was not working, I was actually in a long holiday. So on the holiday for like six months.
[00:23:40] And I was three months into my travel.
[00:23:46] So when I came back, I kind of get it on my holiday.
[00:23:56] So maybe perhaps
[00:23:58] Joe:[00:23:58] or something, but we haven’t talked about much is competition and competitors. How much do you educate following or not following what the competition is doing?
[00:24:05] Harpal:[00:24:05] Competitor analysis competition is one of the areas. Again, I’ve learned this through experience, which is, it can be as broad as you want, but it can be as specific as you want.
[00:24:17] There are so many angles, so many things to kind of review from a competition perspective. So if you are, you can look into their marketing study, you could look into their, their chart features. You could look into their, I don’t know, Like how they are running events or things like that. So there’s like such a broad spectrum of things that you kind of, you could look into when it comes to competition.
[00:24:44] So when it comes to decision making for product to understand like the why, why do you need to look into this? And which areas do you specifically need to look into this site? I believe that. Competition matters, but it matters more from understanding where you stand in the market. So it’s metal from a marketing position perspective.
[00:25:07] I don’t believe that it actually matters because even though on paper, you might have to part of delivering the, exactly the same features, the same service having similar problems, but yet they kind of, they have different set of customers. I think it all comes down to your own customers and how they are using your sort of, because your interface, your user journeys we’ll have a, we’ll have a different impact on the customer life.
[00:25:36] And one classic example of that is to do so. There are so many to do apps out there anywhere from to Microsoft, renewal and whatnot. And yet they all have their own, they don’t set up users who are paying them for their products. And their core functionality and the basis question you could start comparing various to do, and you could go into the rabbit hole and end up actually making the wrong decision if you didn’t like too much on that.
[00:26:07] But from the point, I mean, when, like you still need to understand from the market perspective that why someone is choosing a product over wiper or. And what is the customer thinking in their perspective, what is drawing them forward? And in some products actually like to do, they could be featured you on that.
[00:26:30] I want to have reminders and reminders a feature, but I’ve seen like in bigger stores, it’s not always featured. In fact, I have started thinking. Uh, if you like, and it might sound like I’m limiting myself, but in reality, if you combine all the touch points and all the experiences and product in one of them, then it’s the sum of all the parts that the customer is experiencing, which means that actually getting a survey from you.
[00:26:58] Every time, they email you every time they ask you a question, every time they got in touch with you or how you deliver your first onboarding, you’re actually servicing them in a way to solve their problem. Yes, you have using the scan. It, this kind of service mindset helps me to, again, focus on the end customer, the end user, but an expression in the soft product area.
[00:27:23] There is a thinking, Hey. All we have to do is just build a product and 10 million copies of it. And we are making $10 million. If you mind, when you’re scaling fast business, if you have the service model thinking, then what you’re saying is here, we have so many thing, this very large group of users and how do we still give them an experience?
[00:27:46] It seems like we are doing it just for the customer. I don’t care about other 10 million users other than me.
[00:28:02] Joe:[00:28:02] It’s such an interesting way of thinking about how that product works. So like you say, sort of thinking about it less as a thing, and more of that service can really transform that. Like you said, that end to end journey of how people experience the whole touch points with you, because like you say, part of it is just using.
[00:28:16] Website your app, whatever. But a lot of that is the customer service. So tell me about, you won an award didn’t you last year. Can you talk to me about this award that you won last
[00:28:23] Harpal:[00:28:23] year? Oh, it was quite a surprise me and it happened while I was traveling. I couldn’t even go to accept the award in New York.
[00:28:36] One of my ex colleagues nominated me for this award and they have come across a sort of management of our SPMS. And within that, they actually nominated me for two different categories, started leadership and originally, and basically I ended up winning the, the best drug visionary award for that year.
[00:28:57] It was like, or any kind of standard process of going through various stages, being graded by the person on the other side to really know what I’m talking about and kind of asking questions, looking into the possible. And assessing it across the board and then kind of coming up to the point.
[00:29:18] Joe:[00:29:18] Wow. Is there somewhere alone where people can learn a bit more about you or where’s the best place to kind of do, do you write much?
[00:29:25] Can people keep up with you? And some of the stuff you’re doing,
[00:29:28] Harpal:[00:29:28] I have my own website, dot com, but again, that’s just a very basic portfolio info for now. So that’s the kind of way to stay in touch on LinkedIn. I kind of spend some time on LinkedIn every week. If I can.
[00:29:48] Joe:[00:29:48] It’s been, it’s been absolutely fascinating learning and I’ve learned myself. I’ve done an awful lot from you in terms of how you think about how you approach problems. So thank you so much for your time today. Thank you very much. Helpful. You’ve been listening to making better decisions. The podcast for product leaders
[00:30:05] Harpal:[00:30:05] to find out more,
[00:30:06] Joe:[00:30:06] get show notes and further episodes.
[00:30:08] Go to Mister Thanks very much for this thing. So you see .

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