An MBA is Great Training for a PM
+ TikTok's Amazing Last Year
Unpopular opinion - an MBA is great training for a PM:
Sundar Pichai has a Wharton MBA. The top Chief Product Officers do too:
· David Schmaier, Salesforce (Harvard)
· Scott Belsky, Adobe (Harvard)
· Surojit Chatterjee, Coinbase (MIT)
· CJ Desai, ServiceNow (Illinois)
· Alex Hood, Asana (Berkeley)
Yet, people hate on the MBA in product. They say the MBA is a “waste.” I completely disagree.
I have a Wharton MBA. Many of my classmates are succeeding wildly as PMs. Here’s Why:
1. Product Design Training
Great PMs understand design. An MBA helps. Two of my favorite classes were product design & innovation. We built products & got feedback over successive rounds. It’s hard to get feedback as quickly and thoughtfully in industry.
2. Marketing Case Studies
Academically, Product is part of marketing. It is one of the 4 Ps: product, price, place, promotion. MBAs are masterclasses in marketing. You compete with other teams in case study simulations. You learn much faster that way.
3. Financial Concepts
Great PMs have a mastery over “the business side.” In an MBA, you learn it all. The quality of info is 100x google because experts compile it. You can’t get to that depth on your own.
4. Speaking Coaching
As a PM, you have to convince daily. In the MBA, we had 5 person groups with a professional coach who improved our meeting presence & presentation skills. I improved more in the 2 years of MBA than 10 in industry.
5. Leadership Training
PMs have to be servant leaders. In the MBA, I had a 1:1 leadership coach. We completed surveys of my past colleagues, and worked on improving my skills. Coaching feedback across jobs like that is invaluable.
6. Strategy Depth
Bad strategy sets you up for failure as a PM. Strategy was invented by an MBA prof, Michael Porter. In MBAs, you dissect strategy case studies. These give you a depth of knowledge you can’t gain elsewhere.
7. Brand Name
PMs must command credibility. This is especially important for the VP/CPO tier. An MBA helps you break in. One reason is that a top tier MBA looks good to investors, since many have MBAs themselves.
You have to be hungry to keep improving as a PM & endure the grueling schedule. Most people you meet daily are not this hungry. MBA students are. Nothing has done more for my motivation than being around such a high-density of overachievers.
9. Soft Skills
Great PMs have to influence without authority. Soft skills are key here. 1/2 of the MBA is social & team events: clubs, happy hours, company treks. These vastly accelerate your social skills.
I now have friends who run billion dollar VC, PE, and hedge funds. There’s zero chance I would be close to these people as a manager in tech.
There’s just two caveats.
1. There’s tiers of MBAs: Top schools like Harvard, IIM, and Wharton are clearly worth it. At lower tier schools, it’s less clear.
2. You get out as much as you put in: If you party and skip important classes, of course it won’t be valuable.
How TikTok Surpassed Snapchat and Netflix
If you add up the revenue of Twitter, Snapchat, Zoom, Lyft, Dropbox, Airbnb, and Spotify all together, it still wouldn’t be as big as Bytedance. The company is a behemoth.
And Bytedance’s biggest product, by far, is TikTok. This year, TikTok crossed Twitter and Snapchat for US users.
Yet, as recently as two years ago, TikTok’s future in the US was not even certain. Then president Donald Trump had signed two executive orders that sought to force TikTok to divest its US operations.
Then, the fate of TikTok was held in limbo for months, as a deal to sell its US operations to Oracle and Walmart was held up by Chinese regulators.
Kevin Mayer, TikTok’s new, American CEO, abruptly departed after three months on the job.
It was not until Trump lost the presidential election, the Biden administration came into power, and then suspended legal actions against TikTok that its fate in the US was even clear.
Then, as soon as the road ahead was looking brighter for TikTok, its founder-CEO Zhing Yiming was removed from his post by the Chinese government.
TikTok could not have endured a worse string of luck. Meanwhile, big tech was rolling in with the copycats. Instagram launched Reels, YouTube launched Shorts, and Snapchat launched Spotlight.
Suddenly, everyone was playing TikTok’s game, and it had lost its leading man. Yet, against all these odds, TikTok has emerged like a phoenix rises from the ashes.
It took its horrible string of luck on the chin and proceeded to:
· overtake YouTube in average watch time in the US
· surpass Google as the most popular site in the world
· more than double Netflix in total watch minutes
· surpass Snapchat MAU in the US
How has TikTok managed to do so well in the past year post-Zhing? It’s been a combination of 5 key factors.
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