Product Q&A with Jeff Morris Jr.

Jeff Morris Jr.

About:

Jeff is the Director of Product Management (Revenue) at Tinder, where he leads revenue products including Tinder Gold, Tinder Plus, a la carte purchases, and advertising. In September, Tinder became the top grossing iOS app in the world.

He is also the founder of Chapter One Ventures, an early stage seed fund that focuses on subscription products and mobile apps.

Prior to Tinder & Chapter One Ventures, Jeff led Growth and User Acquisition at Zaarly, a local services marketplace backed by Kleiner Perkins.

Jeff was a finalist for Product Hunt’s “Maker of the Year” in 2015.

He holds a BA in English from UCLA, an MFA from the University of Southern California, and is currently pursuing an MBA at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

On the web:
 
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How do you think an MBA will help you in your career, and how do you see MBAs impacting prospects for PMs looking to level up?

Great question. I’ve been very quiet about the fact that I’m doing an Executive MBA at UCLA on the weekends, as I know there is a bit of a stigma in tech regarding MBAs.

Our world as PMs is becoming increasingly quantitative and I have noticed a large gap between PM’s who are highly analytical and those who aren’t.

I have always been very strong at product, but I believe that I can get better at deep quantitative work. I love being in classrooms and believe that an MBA will be a great way to learn in a structured environment.

Do you see a difference in the concept and expectations of Product Management between different cities (for example SF and LA) and does that have any bearing on how you do your work?

I’ve noticed that San Francisco PMs often compete to become the best “textbook PMs” and lose sight of the most important part of our jobs – creating really cool products that consumers love.

Product Managers in Los Angeles are often a bit more relaxed in terms of process, which can be both positive and negative.

What are the best ways to get traction for small businesses, since your personal projects have been in top of product hunt?

100% depends on the business idea. Building traction always comes down to identifying a core customer need and building products that solve a problem. You then have to figure out how your product will get distribution.

This is where “growth hacking” has become popular. I don’t personally like that term, but figuring out distribution is usually the most important thing.

What is your method for testing out new product ideas? When you guys rolled out Tinder Gold you picked some interesting countries to test it in, why those countries?

We like to test a mix of “developed” and “developing” customers as every market has different audience behaviors and conversion percentages.

Our country selection is often about identifying how quickly we can test a product. For example, if I want to finish a test within a month — we need to make sure we have a large enough sample size to finish the test in that time period.

What’s the process of pricing features like at Tinder? How do you decide on what to monetize & the price? How does testing & experimenting with the live product come into play & when?

We price test every feature. We usually try a few variants Our vertical has a great deal of historical pricing data as well.

Are there any “failed” Tinder monetization experiments that you + your team hypothesized would move the metrics needle and didn’t?

We’re fortunate that every Revenue product we’ve shipped has performed positively– there have been times whenwe’ve prioritized products in the incorrect order.

For instance, we worked on a discounting product too early and should have focused on building more core revenue features. But overall, we’re very lucky – everything has gone very well on the revenue team at Tinder.

Roadmap prioritization is the biggest thing I think about all day. It’s what separates the best PMs from everyone else. Knowing what will have the highest impact. It’s not easy to do.

What are your thoughts on enterprise vs  consumer side of product management?

Enterprise PMs have to think much more about fulfilling the needs of current & future customers. There is often less freedom in that model. If one of your competitors builds a feature and one of your larger customers demands it, you are in a tough position as a PM.

Consumer PMs have to listen to customers, but it’s not as black/white in terms of competing with other similar products.

Do you have any general tips for PM’s that you could share?

  1. Have a very strong point of view.
  2. Get outside Silicon Valley.
  3. Learn how to tell stories.

#3 is my biggest realization lately. When I pitch products, I am constantly telling stories about how customers will use the products and try to get really specific. It really does work.

What was/is the biggest challenge for you while working with teams and how did you approach it?

My biggest challenge is always making sure everyone feels personally invested in the products we build.

  1. When is the right time to ask for input vs. feedback?
  2. How do you make sure the engineers always have a voice in the products we build?
  3. Who should you invite to spec reviews? Is there anyone you should have included?

You are always asking yourself if you’re including the right people at the right time. It’s an art.

I see you spent time in Kansas City. Do you have any suggestions for PMs in flyover country to connect with other PMs where we can’t easily grab a coffee or join a meetup?

Become very active on Twitter in product discussions with PMs and product leaders. Join groups like this. I’ve seen no-name PMs become “tech famous” on Twitter by having a strong and thoughtful perspective.

When is the right time to ask for input vs. feedback?

This is very, very challenging. I am a Product Manager who has very strong ideas about how products should look, behave, and function, but I also rely on my engineering partners at every stage of product development.

When I started my product career, I learned that including your engineering team early in the product development process is super valuable. Their ideas help with technical diligence and everyone ends up feeling invested in the final product.

In an earlier response you mentioned that identifying what will make the highest impact is super important, but not easy to do. Could you talk about how your process in deciding that something is super impactful (or does instinct play a big part in this as well)?

Instinct is a big part of this. But it also comes from staring at your core metrics everyday. The longer you stay at a company, the easier this will become for you.

Create a daily email report with your key metrics and stare at those for 10 minutes every morning. You will start to recognize that matters to your business.

And as much as our industry complicates our core metrics — KPI’s are usually very simple.

  1. Growth
  2. Retention
  3. Revenue

Focus on those three buckets. Everything else is noise.

What is your number one interview questions you ask PMs?

I like to do a real life whiteboarding session. Otherwise the process is too fuzzy.

During interviews, I’m trying to figure out whether you have the right instincts. We can teach PMs process – that is easy.

But instincts are like an art form. It’s almost like being an artist or a musician. There are some intangibles that are very hard to teach.

What’s a good example of this?

The whiteboarding session is simple. Ask them to do wireframes for a small product feature. Do something that isn’t impossible to talk about it 30 minutes — like an onboarding flow.

What would be your suggestion to someone trying to break into the world of Product Management – what kind of skills and educational qualifications should one build?

There are so many skills that will help you in Product Management, but none of necessarily “requirements” for a job. A few things come to mind:

  1. Become fluent in design
  2. Learn how to prototype
  3. Become really strong at data

I wrote an article about skills you might learn: https://medium.com/pminsider/product-managers-what-is-your-unfair-advantage-7a5afc10fedd

I’m a PM at one of the big tech companies, working on an enterprise product. I feel like I’m getting valuable experience engaging customers directly over a Skype call or visiting them onsite. However, we are not big on A/B testing or being data driven since we really have to prioritize our backlog based what our high priority customers provide. Will this cause problems for me if I were to switch to a PM role at a smaller company?

A/B testing & data driven product decisions are required at every company — but if you’re joining a smaller startup, too much A/B testing can be a distraction. You won’t have enough data to make quick decisions and you might waste too many cycles on AB tests.

The smaller the company, the more you need to rely on your own instincts and validating qualitative customer needs.

How do you pick PMs to interview? I am in Program Management and moving into Product and finding that it’s not easy to get the interview calls.

If you’re trying to get into product from another area of an org, you must show me that you’ve built a product before. There are so many ways to build products now. One of my co-workers just built an app in a weekend for $1000 using UpWork. You need real-life examples.

Can you talk about one of your most recent investments from your seed fund Chapter One Ventures and why you are excited about the company?

Chapter One Ventures just invested in the mParticle Series C. I’m so excited about their company. If you work in mobile, they are becoming a “must evaluate product”.

I also love subscription models (obviously haha) and we invested in a direct to consumer subscription company called Public Goods that I’m so excited about.

https://www.mparticle.com/

https://www.publicgoods.com/

When creating your own side project, do you code it up yourself or hire a team? What site do you use to hire developers? (Freelancer, UpWork?)

Best case scenario is that you know engineers and can build your side products with them. Reason being is that if your product works, you will want a real team in place.

I just spoke with a team who built 15 apps in 5 years together. They are now the #1 app in the App Store on their 15th product. Being together and failing so many times created a bond that few of us could ever relate to… but it works.

Hiring on UpWork is a good idea, but just know that your team won’t be “with you” if it grows.

How important is to create and drive loyal community/tribes for the product?

Creating loyal communities/tribes is so important, but few know how to do it well. Communities are even becoming important for SaaS companies. You could say that Slack has built a tribe by building a fun platform that feels very human in an otherwise boring space.

This is also I’m so excited about the Blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Communities are financially aligned with the technologies and their makers. It’s pretty beautiful to see.

I highly recommend the Daily UI challenge: http://www.dailyui.co/

The best PMs are great at product design — and you need to learn the fundamentals. You don’t have to become a professional designer, but you need to become fluent in product design.

How do you know if a product is ready enough to get in the hands of consumers? What in your view is the perfect MVP?

I will say something slightly controversial — I really don’t like MVP culture as the data you collect can be misleading. If your product isn’t ready for showtime, then your customers won’t like it and your retention data will be weak.

I’ve always loved the term “Minimum Lovable Product” – build something that is polished and your might customers might actually love it.

How do you reserve time to understand the customer and focus on more strategic elements of your product?  I feel so often I am in execution mode and have a hard time getting my head out of the weeds. Any strategies?

Focusing on strategic elements has been the biggest transition I’ve had to make. I’ve learned to stop worrying about “every product detail” and to surround myself with people who can help make those decisions. I love being in the weeds and debating UX/UI, but that process shouldn’t distract you from the larger goals.

Your most important job as a PM is to build the *right* products at the right time for your customers. Evaluate your roadmap every week. Eliminate things that won’t meaningfully improve your business.

Which feature do you think is more important (while prioritizing)? 1. High value for the user/Low value for the business vs 2. Low value for the user/High value for the business

Block off time in your calendar to “think about your roadmap” every week. Try to cancel as many meetings as you can that don’t help you achieve your most important goals:

  1. Growth
  2. Retention
  3. Revenue

Like I said, everything else is noise.

Which feature do you think is more important (while prioritizing)? 1. High value for the user/Low value for the business vs 2. Low value for the user/High value for the business

The features you build should always be high value for the customer + the business. Those two goals are directly correlated.

What advice would you give to the 22 year old you?

  1. Become more technical. I was an English major and had many “soft skills” but very few hard skills. It took me a long time to get here.
  2. Go work in technology now. When I was young, I had ideas of working in entertainment even though it was a dying industry.
  3. Build products. I was always an early adopter but I didn’t consider the fact that I could be the one building products, too. I just assumed that I didn’t have the background to make it happen.

Thanks everyone! Feel free to follow me on Twitter @jmj and ask me questions there.

Keep building products and make things that are *fun* – life is too short to build boring products.

 

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