This AMA is an abridged recap of a session from our private community.
Dexter Zhuang is Director of Product at Xendit, an Indonesia-based fintech unicorn. He has also built product & growth teams for Dropbox and growth-stage startups.
Here's what you'll learn from this AMA:
- How to take a product from zero to one in SEA
- Org structures for Product, Growth and Marketing teams
- How to isolate signal from noise when taking user feedback
- Why Growth and Product teams in SEA are siloed (and what to do about it)
Building products in SEA often means limited data with lots of unknowns. How do you navigate the "zero to one" stage and make sure you're working on the right things?
Since the ecosystem is so new, the challenge in a market like SEA is the absence of quantitative data, or even a lack of people who have "been there done that" and can just point you in the right direction.
All of this forces you to rely on your qualitative data / intuition.
Here is a process you can use to increase your chances of success in a zero-to-one situation:
First, determine your goal:
Why build this 0-to-1 product in the first place? Is the goal to:
- Try to create a whole new market?
- Break into a new customer segment altogether?
- Address adjacent use cases for an existing customer segment?
Second, talk to customers:
This step is where you generate your qualitative data.
Based on the customer segment you pick, it’s critical to understand their use cases/pain points.
A rule of thumb we use at Xendit is to first talk to >=30 customers at a minimum (in your desired segment) to get a decent sample size of qualitative data.
Third, score the customer pain points:
Two major factors to consider:
1) magnitude of each pain point
2) satisfaction with alternatives available
A critical mistake I see many product people make at this stage is understanding (1), but rarely go deep enough to understand (2). This is a recipe for shipping a product that’s dead-on-arrival.
Here's a classic example in SMB SaaS: the product team finds a pain point around merchants juggling spreadsheets for admin work. So they go and start scoping out that product or feature, and in the worst case scenario they even go and build it and release it.
However, what the product team didn't realise is that merchants are comfortable using spreadsheets and are not motivated enough to switch!
For B2B businesses, you need to understand the customer’s business process and journey to avoid the types of traps. Score the pain point with the context of current level of satisfaction.
For example, at Xendit, one of our aims is to help the massive influx of Indonesian SME merchants going online for the first time to sell online.
What we hear from them is that the selling experience is indeed painful.
However when we ask about alternatives, some of these merchants are pretty satisfied with services provided by marketplaces. Satisfied despite pain.
Our insight here was that marketplaces are an unavoidable sales channel for these types of merchants in Indonesia, so we launched the ability for our merchants to sync their inventory with marketplaces for Tokopedia.
Fourth, form your hypotheses and validate them:
After you pick a pain point(s) to solve, you probably have multiple possible solutions.
Build quick concepts for each solution, whether it’s a prototype, wireframe, or even landing page.
Basically, anything visual that you can set up a concept validation session with an actual customer to share and discuss the concept.
More often than not, you don’t know what you don’t know and your customer will tell you (painfully) how certain parts of this solution don’t make sense for their needs.
In addition to customer interviews, are there other ways you can build product intuition for a rapidly developing region like SEA?
Xendit operates in markets like Indonesia and Philippines where entire categories of fintech solutions are completely new & being built from scratch for the first time.
Since merchants haven’t experienced these types of solutions in the past, the market feedback data simply doesn’t exist.
Of course, as a digital infrastructure builder we care a lot about serving these new fintech categories as they’re getting built.
So in absence of this data, we generate product intuition by learning from fintech markets across the world — not just the US and Europe, but India, South America, and Africa — forming our own hypotheses about features/products, and testing them as quickly as we can in the markets we serve.
You prioritize getting lots of user feedback and qualitative insights. But how do you differentiate signal from noise?
User feedback is indeed critical to product development, but I try to differentiate how I digest the inputs based on the scale of user base & nature of business (eg B2B vs B2C).
For example, in Xendit’s Enterprise business:
Our customers include regional fintech & e-commerce players who are very clear in knowing exactly what they’re looking for in a payments solution. So, when they ask, the scope is usually clear and well-defined. We also have few enough Enterprise clients that we can dedicate a lot of time to interviewing them to gather qualitative data, so it’s scalable.
Whereas at Dropbox, where I worked on the consumer growth/freemium products:
Our free users would make all kinds of requests, but when we’d launch the features they may not get the uptake or desired effect you’d expect. In B2C, my bias is to test/experiment with live users wherever possible.
We also had millions of users which made it possible to get stat sig on a feature experiment within the matter of days to weeks. In many cases, the richness/robustness of the validation data we’d get from interviewing all these users would pale in comparison to just shipping the experiment
This article from Casey Winters, CPO at Eventbrite is helpful for this topic.
In Southeast Asia, most Growth teams are really just performance marketing or paid social teams with a different name. How do we make the Growth more cross-functional?
My assumptions here:
- Growth team sits on Marketing
- Growth team mostly focuses on Performance Marketing, SEO, CLM
- Growth team has a target that’s mapped to one part of the user journey, e.g. # qualified leads, newly activated users, etc.
Align on a cross-team goal and breakdown into levers:
The biggest mistake I see a growth team making in this situation is to not map out the growth model for your product and align on how it maps to each team.
The way I see it:
Growth team output + Product team output = both inputs into the same North Star metric that you’re trying to drive as a business/company
For example, at Dropbox, we measured our overall self-serve business performance based on Net New Subscription ARR. Each team had to know how their lever/metric mapped back to Net New Subscription ARR.
- Performance Marketing owned # Free Trial Starts driven by paid marketing, which was a subset of total # Free Trials Starts.
- Growth Product owned the % Free Trial Start to Trial Convert rate.
Both teams could align on these input metrics to establish clear accountability for their respective levers for the overall growth goal / business outcome.
Establish a cross-functional operating cadence
Now that each team knows their lever and how it fits into the entire growth machinery, it’s time to establish a recurring cadence (I have one called a Business Review) where you’re bringing together every team that owns a lever to:
- Report on performance numbers
- Share learnings on what’s working / could be improved
- Call out blockers and action items for immediate follow-up
This meeting is important because it creates a rare forum you have to drive shared understanding and actioning of the business between growth + product teams.
For example, at Xendit, our Product team owns the dashboard web & mobile app onboarding flows.
During Business Reviews, the Product team might update on recent changes made to the dashboard onboarding flow and the impact on conversion, then immediately Performance Marketing will know what’s driving the CAC changes they’re observing, which starts the discussion on what to action next.
Add value to the product team deeper in the customer lifecycle, e.g. engagement/retention
From what I've seen in SEA, Product teams typically are siloed, thinking about just the customers that interact with their respective product instead of the whole product suite / customer journey.
This is an opportunity to think about Emails/Notifications/CLM holistically, as they are still neglected on the product side and are typically a major growth lever.
A final thought on how Marketing/Growth teams can establish stronger connections with Product teams:
Share data & insights that show how the product fits into the entire customer journey — which spans multiple products and experiences.
PMs might be surprised to see how huge the friction/drop-off is before & after customers engage with their product.
Once the friction is clear, it’s a good opportunity to brainstorm together on how to jointly craft an optimized experience from both the Product & Marketing/CLM sides
Is there an ideal organisational structure that allows you to maximise leverage from your growth, product and marketing teams?
Honestly, there is no "best" org structure. The one org structure that works best depends on the current organisational needs/pain points.
Some questions to ask:
- What problem is your business trying to solve in its stage of growth? Is it user acquisition, engagement/retention, or monetization?
- What are your current levers to drive the above metric? What’s working / not working?
- What are your biggest sources of friction and bottlenecks for tapping this lever?
By answering these questions you’ll quickly observe that bottlenecks might sit on one team alone or rather multiple teams like marketing, data, product (who were operating in silos).
It’s important to regularly revisit every 6-12 months and adapt the org structure to the updated business reality.
Dropbox’s Growth team had basically travelled across the entire org chart from 2015 to 2019, constantly changing to adapt to the needs of business.
It had reported into Marketing, Revenue, COO, VP of Growth, and Product all at varying times across those 4-5 years depending on the nature of the problems it was solving.
The reorgs were a bit crazy but taught me that Growth can really survive anywhere in the organisation. What’s important is if the structure supports getting the dependency teams working together to solve the current problem — whether it’s acquisition, engagement/retention, or monetization.
What’s your perspective around product, product marketing and how a successful partnership between both teams looks like? Do you use north stars and KPIs?
Ultimately, I think PM and PMM should align on the same North Star metric for the product and break down the levers that each team will drive.
However, I’ve seen product marketing play a much different role in B2C vs B2B organizations (similar to product managers).
In B2B organisations:
There are a huge number of stakeholders that are typically involved with a GTM. Product Marketing can play a big role in spearheading the alignment and coordination of this GTM (ie enabling the sales force). This is no easy effort.
For example, at Xendit we split up the scope of PMs and what our Business Leads (which handle product marketing) based on stakeholders to make this process more efficient and prevent overwhelm:
PM stakeholders: Engineering, design, infra, security, data, other product teams
Business Lead stakeholders: Sales, marketing, PR, sales ops, compliance, GR, legal, operations
That way, the Business Lead (performing PMM-like tasks) can help drive market analysis, sales enablement, product positioning & messaging, and other tasks that help various GTM teams perform better.
Caveat: Jury is still out for us on this model, but so far so good.
In B2C organisations:
There are fewer stakeholders so Product Marketing can drive additional scope such as post-launch growth, customer communications, and/or qualitative interviews.
For example at Dropbox, B2C product marketing drove awareness, adoption, and engagement of products/features primarily by taking lead on product launches, in-product and external campaigns, and handling market/customer research.
In addition to Dexter's work as a product and growth leader in tech, he is also a career coach and wellness enthusiast. You can hear Dexter's advice on building a "Career GPS" in this podcast interview..
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