You don't always need a fancy degree to follow your passion for tech!
Sometimes it just takes a $1 Hotwheel, an idea, and a few right people!
And that’s how I became a Product Manager!
The story began in August 2016, a year after I had completed my UG. I was working as a strategist for a Marketing agency.
The agency was pitching to a cycle manufacturer.
During the pitch, our well-thought-out campaign lost to another agency.
I felt dejected because I had put my heart and soul into the idea. Agency life is such, it creates uncertainty and chaos.
That's precisely when I knew this wasn’t a career for me and I should look for what’s next.
So I spoke to my then manager, he was okay to let me go if I had a good offer. But during the discussion with him on what I was going to do next, he gave me my first career lesson.
"In case you are planning on doing an MBA later, do it for the connections, Nav, and not to learn marketing."
Later in my career, I realized that my MBA was my time at the agency.
After the discussion, I anyway couldn’t have afforded an MBA, so I started focusing on where I would like to work. And ended up zeroing on two wizards who were breaking grounds - Girish from Freshdesk (Currently Freshworks Inc) and Arvind from Zarget. I went with Freshdesk first.
Now the harder part; why would a startup with $150 million in funding(as of 2016) having marketers from the best B-schools in India hire someone like me who isn’t from a pedigree college and had no relevant work experience?
I knew the traditional way of posting my resume wasn't going to help. I had to improvise.
Trusting my gut, I dedicated three months of all my spare time to only research on Freshdesk.
By the end of the 3rd month (Dec 2016), I knew what they were up to and my pitch for Girish was ready.
But sending a pitch to him via an email or social media message wasn’t going to cut it.
So I took a step back and went retro. I designed my work really well and took a printout of it. I also learned Girish loved cars during my research, so I added a Hot Wheel inside the box and couriered it to the Freshdesk office, addressing it to Girish.
I sent the courier on Dec 1st, 2016; this was the receipt copy.
After 15 anxious days, I got this email from Freshdesk’s then Head of marketing.
Three months later, I attended an official interview and cracked it. I still remember discussing my salary with the HR and slowly walking back to Thiruvanmiyur MRTS railway station.
While I was waiting for the train, I called my mother and told her what had happened.
Being a first-generation graduate from my family, I had hefty repayments on my UG loan. Making ends meet wasn’t going to be tough anymore, our lives were going to change; tears rolled down my eyes as I spoke to her. She cried too.
As the train approached, I told her that I was getting my first car soon and cut the call.
Three months later, I bought a second-hand Tata Nano, and it meant the whole world to me, my mother, granny, and Milo (our dog).
It's funny how things worked out after I joined Freshdesk; three months later, Zarget got acquired by Freshdesk, and Arvind became my new boss. Remember? That’s the other startup I was supposed to apply to if Freshdesk didn't work.
After my training, I was told Arvind would interview me to join his new Corporate Marketing team. I'd be his first hire.
I was anxious about the interview.
During the interview, he asked his first question.
"Naveen, what are you good at and tell me why?"
That was it; I knew he was the guy who's going to set me up for success. Until then, anyone I met started with "Tell me about yourself" and always said "Eh, come again" when I told them about my college.
They always judged me for where I was from.
But all this man wanted to know was what I could do and how I was going to do it.
After the interview, analyzing both my campaign skills and analytical skills, he told me that my number game was stronger than my campaign skills; I trusted him and took the job as Marketing Operations and Automation specialist.
"Work for someone who sees what you can be when no one else can."
Between 2017 and 2019, when I was doing marketing operations and automation for corporate marketing.
The team needed a lot of support from legal, product marketing, finance, website operations, IT teams etc for their campaigns. My team always reached out to me to handle other teams. I'd always take these grunt tasks; I saw an opportunity in them. I perceived it as a way to learn the business process of different teams and ways to make new friends.
"Grunt work is a gold mine."
Until it doesn't affect our core responsibilities, grunt work helps one understand the depth involved in our jobs and builds cross-team relationships.
The turning point In 2019, Zarget(Freshmarketer) pivoted from being a CRO tool to a full-fledged marketing automation tool Freshmarketer. That meant we had to replace the existing Marketing automation tool before launching our Freshmarketer to customers.
It wasn't going to be easy; we had a lot of features to bridge and product integrations to be taken care of. Yet, I knew that my knowledge on marketing automations would hold me in good stead. Grunt work helps, remember? I had mastered the existing Automation tool and its current implementation and knew I could pull off the project and my manager really backed me up as well.
Lesson 4th & 5th:
"People come first." - Our team is our most important asset.
"Pick your battles." - Make sure never to let go of things easily when you are the best person for the job
During the project, the Freshmarketer Product head Naveen Venkat recognized my talent for feature prioritization and in 2020 asked me if I'd be interested in moving into Product management.
Thus, I joined Freshmarketer (Freshworks CRM Marketing cloud) in November 2020, and to my luck, there was a Hackaton the following month; I convinced a couple of my dev friends to team up with me and we won it in Dec 2020.
This made my skills more noticeable to the Head of Freshworks CRM, Srivatsan. So Naveen Venkat looped me in to work on the product onboarding project along with Srivatsan. It was a whole new experience to do product-led growth initiatives along with someone like Srivatsan, a veteran in the CRM industry.
So by April 2021, I won the "Impressive New Starter Award" for my work in Product onboarding initiatives.
"Go with the flow."
If you look closely, it was always the people who made the difference in my career, not my degree or background. So many folks are convinced that their growth is attributed only to their hard work and degrees, but that's not always the case; it's the people who believe in our capabilities, who want us to grow and are happier when we exceed expectations… they are the ones who make the difference.
So if you're looking to switch careers, choose where and whom you want to work for more than anything else and show them how you can make an impact.
I wish you all the best!
My name is Naveen, and I build SaaS products that stand out!
To keep this story from going any longer, I missed mentioning my favorite people: Meshach Thomas, Kingston, Sairam, Natarajan (Nats), Devesh Kumar, Deepak, Karthik Pasupathy (KP), Swati Sharma , Santhosh Guru, Monica Maria who have equally trusted me and helped me grow.
Also, during my stint at Freshworks, I have made a good number of mistakes as well, which I couldn't cover in this article. When we are taking risks and trying stuff that no one else dares, we mess up at times. Never let it get the better of you.