Fahad Ahmed

Working with customers and stakeholders across the business to build successful products.
Senior Product Manager
@
Open

How did you get here?

I spent four years at Deloitte Digital prior to my role now as a Senior Product Manager at Open Insurance. I started at Deloitte as a graduate and my role was largely a product consultant which meant working with engineers to build websites, mobile apps as well as developing go-to-market strategies.

What options were you considering?

After having worked in a corporate setting for so long, I knew I wanted to test out life at a startup. I had heard really great things about working in earlier stage businesses - where it’s an environment that allows you to have more autonomy, responsibility and ability to run hard at things.

Within the startup setting, I was considering three different pathways, all of which had a high degree of transferability - Product, Strategy/Ops and also VC investing.

How did you make the decision to take your current role?

I interviewed for a couple of different startups - mostly for Product Manager roles as I thought I’d be able to add the most value there.

As I progressed through the applications, I drilled down by anchoring myself to a set of criteria I cared most about. I basically scored each company/ opportunity based on learning, career growth, salary and culture. This helped me take the emotion out of the decision, and helped me land at Open.

One of the biggest things for me about Open was around the people and culture - the founders had started, ran and exited other businesses before and so I knew I could learn from them. A lot of startups fail and working with people who have already been down that route does help increase the chances of your success.

Also, the existing people had been in the business for a long time, which had to indicate something special about the business.

What are you doing now?

Right now, I’m a senior product manager at Open. I’m responsible for the success of my product which focuses on the experience behind how our agents service customers and manage their claims. I work closely with our customers as well as other stakeholders across the business to build a product that is valuable for our customers, and the business.

What does your day to day look like?

Day to day, it’s about 20% strategic planning and 80% implementing tactical initiatives. On the strategic side, this is about setting the overall product vision and strategy, as well as planning the product roadmap over the next few quarters. On the tactical, this is about working with engineering and design to deliver commitments we’ve set for this quarter.

On any given day, I am typically running stand ups with the team, talking to stakeholders across the business, talking to customers and prioritising different initiatives that we have at play.

What do you love about your job?

There are a couple of things!

Firstly, I love the exposure to different domains (e.g., design, engineering and the business side) - and I get to be the one who brings it all together.

I also really enjoy solving really interesting customer problems. These are usually quite unstructured and so there’s a bit of creative liberty as to where we can take it. For example, if the customers aren’t satisfied with the payment options we provide, we’ll do a bit of discovery on what they want, and we’ll take this all the way to building a prototype and testing it to see what resonates well with our customers.

Finally, results are often very tangible and so you get to see the fruits of your labour, which is something you don’t get as a consultant. We experiment all the time, and you could be taking something from concept to live in 2 weeks if you really wanted to.

The earlier you go into a startup, the more hats you get to wear and the more exposure you get to different domains.

What do you not love about your job?

One thing that can be challenging in Product is that you need to be able to wield a lot of indirect, unauthoritative influence. The people you work together with to solve customer problems aren’t your direct reports and so you need to win them over to get their buy-in into your decision making.

It can be quite hard in the beginning before you’ve built any credibility. I personally enjoy investing in building relationships as a means to do this.

Another thing can be stakeholder management. If your product is critical, everyone in the business is going to be interested and want to have input on how you build it. This is where you need to take ownership of your product - which can mean backing yourself, and saying no to certain inputs.

What advice would you give someone deciding what they should do?

If you’re thinking about entering Product, I’d say it really helps to love the problem space you’re entering. This is because you’re ultimately solving ‘customer’ problems which means talking to the customers, trying to empathise with them. If you don’t love the problem space, it can be hard to design the best solution for them, whilst also enjoying the process.

I’ve also been fortunate to join a company when it was 55 employees and watch it grow to 130 now. I’d say if you're wanting to maximise your learning, joining a seed to Series B startup is a great option. The company is still small and as they grow, this gives you opportunities to move into areas that are interesting to you. I’ve seen many colleagues move from Operations to Product and from Product to BizOps - all because there was a business need as they grew.

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