Institute of Product Leadership
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What makes a strong Product Leader? - Ranjit Radhakrishna, Chief Product Officer, BYJU’S

Ranjit is currently the Chief Product Officer at BYJU'S - India's largest edtech company. He is a product and business leader who has headed and managed products at Hike Messenger, Zynga and Verizon. A cross-functional organizational leader, he has led world-class products used by millions in India and across the globe. He has built and led large teams towards acquisition, building revenue and driving innovation. Ranjit enjoys advising and mentoring promising companies and passionate individuals who are looking to build truly disruptive products. A Computer Science Engineering graduate from Visvesvarya Technological University, Ranjit has earned a post graduate diploma with specializations in Strategy, Finance and Marketing, from the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode.

What are the critical success factors for a career in product leadership?

A lot people want to get into product management and eventually want to be a product leader. There are some elements that are very critical for you to be a product leader. The first and the foremost is the empathy for users. You need to know what exactly the users are feeling so that you understand them well enough and design your products for them. I’ve seen a lot of product leaders who say ‘Hey, I’m going to build a product and my users are going to come by and learn how to use them’, which is completely the wrong way to look at things. You should be building products around the users and you should have the clarity of vision to do that really well. One, was empathy with the users. The second element for a strong product leader is the ability to have a strong vision, where he can think through as to how macro trends are trending at this point of time. He sees relevance of various technological changes, he sees how hardware devices are transforming, how software is evolving, and hence is able to imagine use cases as to what is going to the standard behavior of users going forward. That bit of vision is critical as well. The core strengths that any product guy needs to have is being analytical, being creative, and being able to tell good stories. All those are necessary. Over and above that, to be a very strong leader, you need to have the capability to be doing the first two elements that I spoke about.

Is IPL relevant in India today? Your thoughts.

it’s a wonderful time to be in India as a product builder. You have 1.3 billion potential users, so many of them under-served in terms of very few brand/products trying to cater to most of their needs. The future’s here. That’s why everybody is looking towards India. Thousands and millions of products have to be built out for all of these users, and that’s going to be built by people like you and me. Some of us have been in this space for a longer period of time, and there is this knowledge that has been accumulated, and that knowledge is ready to be passed on to a lot of more folks out there.So what IPL is doing and what other Institutes are trying to achieve in terms of networking, creating access to these product leaders with people who are aspiring to become product managers. It is the right thing to do, because if you see the Valley and multiple other places, the strength of any ecosystem has been how knowledge percolates and transfers down the pipeline. I think we’re ready to do that and all the leaders are ready to do that. The future’s going to be bright in terms of new product leaders emerging out of India. I look forward to that.

What would you advise young product managers trying to grow in this space?

Invest in yourself. Invest in learning certain tools; figuring out what the market is all about, speaking to people. We are all Indians; we understand India and how India functions. So, give some more thought and mind space to thinking about that all at points of time. Invest in yourself. Think of yourself s a product. Understand that there are weaknesses, there are strong areas, and certain things need to be polished up at different points of time. Invest time and effort in learning those skills, reading up enough, and speaking to people from the industry itself.
There are plenty of mentors out there who are willing to mentor you. Be a learning animal. Learn as much as possible from multiple places and people. You would pretty much be in a very strong place to be able to aspire to that level as well. Opportunities are there in India. It is the right timing. If you invest in yourself, the results are going to pay-off soon.

Key Take-aways:

- The foremost characteristic to have to be a good product leader is empathy towards users, which will help build relevant and superior products.
- The second most important element in product leadership is to have a strong vision for the future, understand current trends, imagine use cases and determine future standard behavior of users. Other supplementary skills include analytical, creative and story-telling skills.
- India, with 1.3 billion potential users, presents an enormous opportunity for product builders to create thousands of products.
- With emerging mentors in product leadership and with Institutes like IPL, the best course of action for an aspiring product leader is to invest in oneself - learn about the ecosystem, understand behaviors, stay updated on trends, discover new tools, and identify user needs. This is the right time to leverage such knowledge to build world-class products.