SummerBlog – Aman Rai – ShareChat (Product Management)
Hi everyone! And welcome to season 2 of Aman’s intern experiences (catch season 1 here). If you are here to understand more about the PM role (and not of the Modiji kind – sorry Rahul please click away, no tips here :/ ), you’ve arrived at the right place, kind of, I hope. If any of these interest you, please continue reading:
- What product management is about
- How I got the intern and what my work was like
- What interning in a (fairly large) startup feels like and why you should (or shouldn’t) do it
“Intro dede bro.”
I am Aman Rai, a fourth-year undergrad currently planning-cancelling graduation trips in my head and waiting for my degree to be emailed to me in PDF format. A little while back, I got an opportunity to intern at ShareChat, an Indian social media startup that became a unicorn (with a $2.88 Bn valuation) as recently as 2021. Given that the Product Management role has caught on significantly in the last few years (largely with the explosive growth in startup culture and the important role Product Managers play in them), coupled with a significantly less number of summerblogs written specifically on this – et voila, this blog is born.
How to Get Interns Online (Fast)
While I was approached by someone in the company to check if I’d be interested in interning with them, I doubt that waiting for a message in your LinkedIn inbox would be a reliable way of getting internships. I’d recommend a three step approach to finding a PM (or any similar) intern:
- Understand the role and requirements better. Articles, videos, blogs like these are a great start:). Build a basic skill set for interviews, if needed
- Shortlist companies to target. This could be – companies you’ve known to hire PM interns, companies you specifically like, or just any company that you come across on LinkedIn/other platforms that looks good enough to you (via researching their website/news/talking to seniors), and is offering internships
- Approach relevant people on LinkedIn/email. For a PM intern role, this might be an existing PM, or an HR person at the company (as they usually have a list of open positions across different functions). It is recommended to approach someone in a slightly senior position (not the CEO, perhaps, but maybe a Director/Senior PM), as you would avoid any latency in communication through middlemen. Try reaching out through your IITB/outside network as well.
Consistency in sending out messages and following-up will lead to success, sooner or later. This will likely be followed by a short interview. If you’re applying for your first PM intern, they’ll probably test your fundamentals instead of complex product concepts; focus would also be on your previous experience and how that ties in with your desire to intern with the firm for that role.
What did I do?
ShareChat (or SC) is a startup that owns and operates two apps – ShareChat, a vernacular social media app supporting 15+ Indian languages, and Moj, a short-video app that currently leads the Indian short video market after TikTok’s ban last year. The startup has witnessed incredible growth in the past 3-4 years, especially in 2020.
I interned with ShareChat for 3 months where I handled one major project and two smaller projects (with other interns, in a team of 2 or 3). The major project involved launching a significant feature ( cannot be revealed as it is still in development) as a product on ShareChat & Moj (the complete thing – building the strategy, laying out the execution and managing stakeholders) – fairly hardcore PM work. My minor projects involved – 1. designing an experiment to test some content consumption patterns on the app (PM work again), and 2. Improving the performance appraisal system of the company (more towards strategy/HR).
Product Management – “Kehna kya chahte ho?”
You could google it for a much more holistic/accurate answer, but if you are lazy and can compromise with a half-baked definition by a 22-year old who’s barely completed just one intern in the field – product management is basically handling all responsibilities related to a particular product (or multiple) in a company.
A ‘product’ could be anything that the intended user interacts with. So, for example in the context of Facebook, the ‘Search bar,’ or the FB ‘groups’, or even something as simple as a ‘post’ – could be called products, in the dictionary of a PM.
So what does a PM do? (Again, you could google it, but you’re gonna wait for me to explain it, aren’t you? Sigh, I thought so). A PM basically tries to solve user problems through products.
So a PM tries to isolate & understand a particular problem faced by a user (e.g. “I want to search & find people to befriend on Facebook, what do I do?”) and then tries to build a product to solve it (i.e. the Search bar, in the previous example). A PM however, does not build the product by himself, but rather rallies various other job roles – programmers, designers etc. – to build the product, ensuring that all the independent departments are on the same page and understand why we’re making what we’re making. The PM is then hugely responsible for testing a product’s success – how well the product solves the problem it was intended to and then deciding where to go with it next – to keep, improve or scratch it. As you might understand, a PM is sometimes (fittingly) called the CEO of Product.
“Work work work work work work” – Rihanna, in her 2016 song Work
The major project involved almost all of the aspects of a PM’s work listed above. We started with research – analysing similar products in India and outside to build our understanding of what makes it tick. Then it was time to lay down our strategy for execution – the what, why and how of the work we were going to be doing in the next 2 months. Aspects of this strategy were discussed with stakeholders (like software, design, content and senior management), revised, re-revised, scrapped completely and reworked from scratch – till we finally had clarity on what we wanted to do and had everyone on the same page.
And then it was onto execution – which involved preparing detailed PRDs (or product requirement documents) containing all possible details of the product we intended to build – each feature, element and characteristic; how they will behave, transition and how a user can navigate the product. These docs are then shared with the different teams, and then after discussion and debates, the product gets made, tested and launched.
So did I learn everything about everything before starting the internship? In this pandemic? Hell naw. Most of my learning was done on the job, which was unnerving (because everyday brought up something I did not know but had to get good at quickly), but also a great experience when I look back. Like most other job profiles in management, using logical, first-principles thinking and clearly, confidently conveying your opinions helps you navigate the environment.
ShareChat as a company is also great in this regard – there are not many companies (that I know of) that would hand over important projects to a newbie, fresh out of the blocks undergrad. Employees that I interacted with were extremely smart and willing to go out of their way to help. The project guide(s) I worked with were great mentors, not attempting to micro-manage the interns while also not throwing us in the water without help or guidance. The company as a whole is fairly employee-friendly – from periodically organising standup shows to giving everyone Zomato coupons – the ‘office environment’ (virtually) is quite informal.
To Intern, or not to Intern (in a startup)
In the last decade or so, startups in India have shot into mainstream job culture. There are obviously the popular, established ones – like Flipkart or Zomato – but also the ones set to become the next big thing – like ShareChat & Meesho. And there are several still in the very early stage, doing great work but yet to ‘arrive’ (look up IITB alumni on LinkedIn from the past 5-7 years, it is quite likely you’ll find some heading/working in fairly early stage startups). Interning in a startup provides a unique perspective to professional work that you might not get through well-designed, company internships. Some of these benefits being:
- A great share of ownership: Good startups (generally) always have more work and less people to do it – which means that there are good chances you’ll get significant projects that have fundamental and large-scale impact. Additionally, there is also a higher possibility that you’ll get more ownership of the project i.e. more independence in handling and taking decisions related to it, than in an established company. Consequently, the gratification you get from the product driving large-scale, ground-level impact is also pretty high.
- Informality: This is something even established companies do amazingly well sometimes, while others just fall flat. But generally, startups are likely to have a more informal culture to let you focus more on the work instead of other things (like dress codes, work timings, addressing senior employees in a certain way etc.). This lets you be a bit more comfortable and do your best work, while also building better relationships with other employees (which, if done right, goes a long way).
Of course, the above points may not hold true for every startup and every job profile, so there’s a fair bit of judgement needed from your side. And obviously, everything good comes with its downsides (except peri-peri fries, they are perfect). In startups, something is always broken most of the time i.e. they are constantly evolving, and people/processes get changed quite often – leading to inefficiencies. There’s also usually less pay, as money is a scarce resource; also ‘brand value’ is generally less for relatively new startups; and (as you might imagine from the projects I’ve listed above) there’s sometimes a huge amount of work which means you’ll probably end up working late (& early next day).
Hope you enjoyed reading this. I’m not sure if Aman’s intern experiences will return for season 3, as there’s only so much clout I have with Insight to get my stuff published (kidding :P). Hope this blog fulfills the purpose of introducing you to product management as a field and giving you an idea of how an intern in the sector looks like. Much better resources about it can be found online, if you want to learn more. If you’d like to talk more about this – or anything else, like if you have TV series recommendations, or a really funny meme to share – I’m always available. Till then, Goodbye, and best of luck!