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On Building Great Travel Products, Product Management, and Business Intelligence: Khondoker Mashuk Ibn Mahfuz, VP, Product and Business Intelligence, Go Zayaan

Khondoker Mashuk Ibn Mahfuz is the Vice President of Product and Business Intelligence at fast-growing travel-tech startup Go Zayaan where he and his team look after the product development and management and business intelligence efforts.  

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to speak with Mashuk about his work, product management, business intelligence, how Go Zayaan has built some excellent travel-tech products, how product development and management work at Go Zayaan, the science and art of building great products, autodidactism, personal productivity, and much more. This is a phenomenal read if you want to learn how product development, product management, strategy, and business intelligence work in practice. 

Ruhul Kader: Thank you for agreeing to this interview? How are you doing? What are you busy with these days? 

Khondoker Mashuk Ibn Mahfuz: I'm good. You know winter, in general, is the peak travel season in Bangladesh. So we are in a huge rush. Moreover, after our recent investment round, we have been busy because we are quite aggressive in the market. We are working as hard as we can. Every team is operating at 120% capacity and putting on their best fights. Now that we have found a new momentum after a period of lockdown and uncertainty, the morale and spirit of the team have changed. We are in it hundred percent. 

Ruhul: That's such good news after two long years of slowdown in the travel industry. To begin with, I wanted to learn about you. For our readers, could you please tell us who are you? Who is Khondoker Mashuk Ibn Mahfuz? 

Mashuk: At this moment, I'm a product and data guy, professionally. I love building products and working with data and analytics. I started my career in Analyzen working in the world of digital marketing. As I used to say, I was born and brought up digital. 

About my education, I did my school and higher secondary from St. Joseph Higher Secondary School under the Brothers of Holy Cross. The culture and orientation of the school have fundamentally impacted my life and worldview. For my undergrad, I went to IBA, Dhaka University where I majored in Finance and minored in operations management. Although most of my career I worked in marketing, I studied Finance at University. Finance was full of data. We had to work with tons of financial data. Since I enjoy numbers, I loved that. It was an intense program. Everyone would make you work harder. It helped me grow my capabilities and be disciplined. 

Two to three months into my undergrad program at IBA, I joined Analyzen as a part-timer in 2015. So I have been working since my student life. I was a creative professional working in design and content management. From there, I started working with clients in projects and client management. When I started working with advertising tech and collaborated with Analyzen's tech team that used to design different tech solutions for clients. 

I had a gratifying few years at Analyzen. Had the opportunity to work with a long list of prestigious brands from across markets. I worked with almost 50 brands directly and indirectly. 

Analyzen has two offices in Singapore and Myanmar and a growing international business. After joining full time, I started working in their global business team. I had to travel a lot during this time — almost every month to pitch and meet clients. I worked with some 21 clients in the South East Asian region including RedBull and Unilever. We tried to expand our business to Thailand during this time. It was an interesting experience working with Southeast Asian people and big brands. That was my career at Analyzen. 

In 2020, Go Zayaan offered me a unique opportunity to work in product and business intelligence. Being a customer and product-focused B2C tech company, Go Zayaan needed a product team at that time. Before, there was no dedicated team for products and data. Our leadership team — mostly our CEO and CMO — was looking after the product due to its strategic importance. As I said, I have always been passionate about products and data. So when I got the opportunity, I joined. However, before I could settle into my new role, the coronavirus pandemic happened. 17 days into my job at Go Zayaan, we went into the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020. That's my career so far. 

I do a bit of music from time to time. Although I come from a business background, I love learning new things. I have been into learning coding, basic query languages, design, data analytics, etc. Now I learn them with my team. In a nutshell, outside of work, in my personal time, I learn, do some music, and travel. 

Ruhul: How do you approach learning new skills? For example, coding is a different skill from business and finance. When you are learning a new skill, what's your process of learning? 

Mashuk: I started learning new skills out of necessity and have been doing this for a long time. And I'm mostly an autodidact when it comes to learning new skills. I started with learning design. Design has become an important component in business. A lot of business students today are good at design. If you are willing to invest time and effort, you can learn almost anything these days. There are tons of resources online. 

I always try to learn things hands-on — doing the things while learning. When I need to learn any new skill, I research where I can learn the skill from the available resources online, plan, and then start learning. And I implement the lessons while learning them. If you ask, that's the most effective part of my learning process. If I have a problem. I need to solve that and for that, I need to learn something. When that is the case, you invariably learn better. 

For example, for data analytics, we need to use SQL query language and sometimes need to build data models in Python. When these needs came, we thought let's learn it. Since there are a ton of good resources on the internet, it has been easier to learn new skills. 

We have built this culture in our team where we are learning new things all the time. I asked my organization whether we could get financial support for paid courses. Go Zayaan has done that happily for employee training and development. We routinely learn the skills that we need for doing our work better. We approach learning systematically. We start from the basics and learn through pretty advanced levels. 

Ruhul: It is useful that you learn skills that you need at work and you are always implementing the things you are learning. How does the learning process itself work? For example, you are learning coding? How do you approach the learning itself? Do you have a structured process for taking the classes, do you go to a teacher or take certain kinds of structured courses, etc? How does that work? 

Mashuk: We are living in a time when whatever you want to learn you can find relevant material for that online. Many of these resources you can find for free and others for a small fee. You can go to Datacamp. Udemy, Coursera, and other online learning platforms. 

We prefer paid resources and courses because it enforces accountability and urgency. For example, we learn SQL from DataCamp. Datacamp is an execution-driven learning platform where you learn by doing. You learn by coding instead of learning theory. We choose courses that are precise, specialized, and of high quality and prefer learning through execution. I prefer this method of learning and I try to implement the lessons immediately. 

Whenever I start a new course, I religiously follow the schedule of the course. If I'm doing a 22 hours long course, I plan to invest an hour every day to finish the course in 22 days. That's how I go. It helps me to save money and time. And I learn the things I need to learn on time. When I return home every evening, I study for an hour. Since everything is now on mobile, I practice lessons throughout the day when sitting in traffic or spending some idle time. 

I try not to do long courses that I would not be able to complete which saves me from giving up courses in the middle. Second, when doing a course, I break it down into digestible sizes. Instead of trying to do it all at once. It helps to break things down. I try to choose courses that I would complete. 

The same applies to my team. I try to assess who would be willing to learn something. We try to see who needs to learn a certain skill. Then we offer them these learning opportunities and tell them that if you learn this and that skill, it would make your life easier. So they have the incentive to learn. 

Ruhul: You work as a Vice President of Product and Business Intelligence at Go Zayaan. Could you please tell us about the work you do and how you approach your work? 

Mashuk: My first responsibility involves designing our product strategy, building our product roadmap to take that strategy forward, and aligning other relevant teams with the roadmap. Product development requires cross-functional collaboration. 

The second aspect of my work is creating data infrastructure to synthesize business data and intelligence and then building processes for communicating these insights such as creating different kinds of dashboards, projections, and analytics. 

We want to establish Go Zayaan as a data-driven organization. We review all the available data before making any decision. Our team mines these data and communicates these to the strategy level. 

The other crucial job I do is team building — which is building the product and business intelligence team. Inculcating the unique culture of Go Zayaan in our team. Maintaining the motivation in everyone for doing their best work. 

We aim to create product and data leaders. My philosophy is not that I'm the VP of Product and Business Intelligence, so I lead the whole thing. My philosophy is we are a team and we work together. I like to listen to my team. They bring a ton of new ideas to the table and they are empowered to do their work. 

We have a product owner for each of our products. The title says it all — they own the product. They feel that it is their baby and they are the parents, so they do everything to look after it. I work with my team and build with them. 

As a product team, we have a “product triangle”. We are in the center of the triangle, in the other three corners we have our tech, marketing, and operations teams. We try to coordinate among these three big teams and communicate the strategy so that it has the intended effect on our business goals and metrics. 

Ruhul: That's such a compact and comprehensive way to explain it all in a few words. I wanted to dig a bit into product roadmap designing. How do you think about designing a product roadmap be it a new product or a product enhancement and how do you align other relevant teams with your roadmap because, as you mentioned, tech plays a role in building products and marketing does the communication? 

Mashuk: Product roadmap designing is an intricate process. More so because we are going through a pandemic and things keep changing. We create our roadmaps keeping that in mind. 

The first decision regarding any product roadmap is strategic. The first high-level decision takes place at the leadership level where we deliberate and decide based on the business goals and metrics which products and product improvements we should introduce in the market. We first create a topline consolidated roadmap based on the market insight and customer demands. 

Now every product is a combination of a ton of features. We begin with an MVP so that we can save cost, time, and technical debt — which is basically the time and resource of the technical team. So if we are designing a new product, we go with designing an MVP. We first decide the necessary features for our minimum viable product — the features we can't do without.

For example, our Go Zayaan app has now been launched. It is in the play store and you can download it. Before this version, we launched an Alpha and Beta version in early October and November respectively which were our MVP. The core products without any bells and whistles. 

The product roadmap initially looks like this: we have to roll this out in three months, let's jot down all the features we want in the product. Product owners and the team list down the product vision and all features. Then we start prioritizing — what we want to be in the MVP version. We mark the features we want in MVP. We speak with the marketing, operations teams. The product owner brings the customer perspectives and then finally we sit with the tech team. 

We then design the entire roadmap that we want to build this product. We have four months at hand. In the first month, we will conceptualize it, we'll do wireframing and design the UX, and in the next two weeks, we will send it to the design team who will design it. It will then return to the UX team. The product owner and UX will review it to see whether everything is okay including UX, customer journey, information architecture, and check whether suppliers are ready for the necessary products and whether those features are technically feasible to build, and whether they will clash technically with other features and priorities. We validate all these things. Once we find no issues, it goes to the tech for development. We break it down and go from board to development where the product finally comes to life. Until the development, the product is on the board. 

We follow the agile approach for development. We keep pushing features as they develop. Once the product is built, it goes to testing where the tech and product team together test the product for potential issues, bugs, etc. If there are issues, it goes for fixing. Then the entire Go Zayaan team uses and tests the product internally to experience and find any issues. Once we become confident that it is good to go then we do a public release of the product. This is how products are built. 

The entire roadmap is prepared along with the timeline and resource allocation. Product decisions depend on the company growth metrics, priorities, and whether it will give the company a significant business benefit. Based on these priorities, the roadmap is designed. 

Ruhul: How big is your product and business intelligence team? How does the team operate? What are the internal dynamics of the team, which is how the team collaborates within the team and collaborates with others in the company? 

Mashuk: We are a seven-person team in product and intelligence including myself. People who work in my team are good at multitasking and can navigate the collaborative nature of the work. 

We have built a culture where we delegate. Instead of centralizing things, we operate in a decentralized manner. We are an agile team. Although agile came as a software development principle, tech product teams across markets have adopted these models. We use different collaboration tools for teamwork. We usually have backlogs, which is pretty common for a product team. We maintain these backlogs and prioritize them based on importance and urgency. 

The structure of the team is something like this: As the VP of product, I lead the team. Product owners work with me. Product analysts work with the product owners. 

Product owners have the core mandate of a product. Product analysts conduct the research, bring customer insight. Product owners use the insight to design strategy, work with other teams, analyze our internal data and try to ship the product. 

Since we work using the agile principle, we can make parallel progress which allows us to best utilize our resources. As soon as we are done with a feature, we ship that for execution. In the meantime, we work on other features. The cycle continues. 

We respond to market signals and customer demand. Our product owners have their own roadmap for their products. Based on the market demand, they prioritize the features and necessities. They fit the market demand into their roadmap and coordinate and prioritize accordingly. 

Go Zyaan product team at work
Go Zayaan product team at work

Ruhul: That's an excellent overview. You have several products at Go Zayaan such as flights, hotels, tours, etc. This is how we see Go Zayaan from the outside. You could have a different definition of a product within the company. Anyways, could you give us an overview of Go Zayaan from a product perspective? 

Mashuk: You have rightly said, we see these services as separate products. We currently have four core travel products — flight, hotel, tour, and bus. We have a few peripheral products such as travel loan, travel insurance, COVID test booking, and seat and baggage booking. Internally, we treat some of our tech stacks as separate products such as our app, our website, etc as well. We maintain these products from UX to look and feel and their responsiveness across devices, user comfort while using the product, how we present the deals and discounts, and everything in-between. That’s a brief rundown of our products. 

We build products for travelers. We have optimized the platform for both people who want to travel on a future date, research and plan their tours, and for people who want to book flights, hotels and buy travel services. If you want to research traveling to certain places such as prices of hotels and flights, experiences, and plan your tour, you can find all the information on the Go Zayaan platform. For people who want to purchase and book travel services, they are our core customers, and we have built the platforms in a manner that makes it easy for them to do so. 

Our platform is automated and optimized end-to-end for the customers. If a customer books a flight or a hotel, we send immediate booking confirmation to the customer. Giving them immediate gratification. We know when you are booking hotels or buying tickets offline, it takes at least a day to get your ticket. At times, waiting could be uncomfortable. We want to give everyone a different feeling when they book through us — instant confirmation on payment. You can buy your ticket three hours before a flight. You can buy your ticket on your way to the airport and get the ticket before the plane. 

Ruhul: You have launched some fascinating products. For example, local tours where you have brought tours, activities, and experiences that travelers can book in different tourist destinations in Bangladesh from Sundarban to Cox's Bazar. As you mentioned, you take customer demand and market signals seriously which inform a lot of your product decisions. To that end, I wanted to go into your overall product philosophy at Go Zayaan? What is your overall underlying product philosophy when you are developing or improving a product? How do you approach and think about product development? Also, could you shed some light on how the product development process works backward? For example, as you mentioned earlier, you have business goals that dictate product development decisions. So where does a product development decision happen and then how does it progress to a final product? 

Mashuk: Our product philosophy is we will make customer-friendly products. We are a B2C company and customers are our lifeblood. We do everything to meet the demands of our customers — satisfy and delight them. 

How do we do that? For example, we look for dormant demands of which the customer is not aware of and we tap into that and meet their yet unexpressed needs. To give you an example, last year we were traveling to Cox's Bazar. While having breakfast we overheard a group talking about where they could go and what they could do in Cox's Bazar. People usually go to the beach, walk on the beach, eat, do some activities that are available around. That's about Cox's Bazar. A lot of the time people don't know what else they could do in Cox's Bazar. That was the inspiration for our tour product. 

We look at the overall landscape. People go to these different destinations, they spend some time around and after a few days, they get bored because they don't know what else they could do. Whereas there are a lot of local experiences and activities that people can do in every destination. For example, in Cox's Bazar, there are parasailing, relatively less crowded beaches like Patuartek,  the tourist caravan, deep-sea fishing with local fishermen. So there are many experiences and activities that could make your travel to any destination full of surprises and delight. 

After seeing the hidden need and exploring the landscape, we thought why not launch a product to address this problem. Moreover, there are proven similar products in many parts of the world. We thought there are many local experiences across Bangladesh that we could bring together. That was the first insight for our tour product. 

We then started building it. It was hard initially because it is an unstructured market with no ecosystem of suppliers like hotels or buses. To solve the challenge, our operations team spent days on the ground to acquire partners. On the other end, our product team started designing the product. On one end, we were working on the supply side. On the other end, we were working on the product development and customer side.

The biggest challenge came from the sheer breadth of the product. It was many products into one. We had to think about the customer journey and product experience intricately to address this challenge. We had to change the whole thing several times and we had to revise the tech developments many times. 

We gradually brought in the most interesting suppliers to our platform and launched the product. We wanted to design unique experiences. For example, we designed an experience where you could go deep-sea fishing with local fishermen in Cox’s Bazar and take the fish you catch and have them cooked with the help of the fishermen. Now executing this experience is not easy. We had to find the suppliers. It is in a remote location, so we provide transport to and from the location. First of all, customers need to know they can get such an experience, then we designed an end-to-end process to ensure transportation for customers to go to the location, enjoy the experience and return to his/her place. We designed the entire experience from end to end and launched it. 

Ruhul: That sums it up brilliantly both the philosophy part of your product development and as well as how you execute on building a product from going to market to understand what customers need and then building it from end-to-end. My next question is, you look after two functions: product and business intelligence. Does the same team look after both functions? 

Mashuk: At this point, product and data go hand in hand at Go Zayaan. We are a data-driven product team. All of us know SQL. When a product owner is making a decision, he/she has to be able to mine the data and glean insight from that. 

To answer your question, we have a small separate team of three people within my team who dedicatedly work with core business intelligence and company-wide data management. Our data requirement is growing every day and we are growing that team as well. The rest of the team — product owners and product analysts — understand data analytics and business intelligence to operate in their domain efficiently. 

Ruhul: You mentioned that data and products go hand in hand at Go Zayaan. Could you tell us about how you use data in product development as well as in overall operation at Go Zayaan, preferably with an example? 

Mashuk: As I mentioned earlier, our tour product came from market data and insight. We know where our users go the most. We routinely talk to our customers. Collect their opinion and feedback. We then convert these qualitative data into quantitative data. We then try to create a model putting these two together which can offer us an insight into what our customers want. From that insight, we get some ideas — product improvements we can make, features we can introduce, and new products we can launch. We also share insights and understanding with other departments such as marketing and operations. This is one of the most prominent examples of how we use data to do good for our customers. 

Ruhul: You are designing digital travel products for Bangladesh. Our market has definitely grown. Our internet penetration has grown. People now buy products and services online. Digital commerce has seen quite a bit of adoption in Bangladesh. But there remain challenges. A large portion of the customers still doesn't feel confident shopping online. There are other challenges as well which I think you have a better understanding of. To that end, what are the challenges you face when you design technology products for Bangladeshi users and what opportunities do you see in the space? 

Mashuk: The first thing I would like to mention is that we are a consumer-focused travel tech company. We have several travel tech companies in Bangladesh and almost everyone does multiple things such as B2B travel solutions, etc. We don't. We do only B2C. That allows us to go deeper into designing products for our customers that delight. 

Coming to your question, trust is the biggest challenge when it comes to digital commerce in Bangladesh due to recent activities in the space. And this is a challenge we can't solve alone. Our entire organization including our marketing, customer experience, and operations team has been working to address this challenge. 

We keep the concern in mind when designing our products. One thing we do when building the products is that we maintain transparency. If you go to our platform, you can see a comprehensive price breakdown of every service. We make sure communications are straightforward. Once a booking is done, we ensure customers get details of these policies in their confirmation email. 

For COVID, we have introduced a program called Go Safe, a travel advisory through which we provide customers with detailed safety measure guidelines for COVID so that they can review and make informed decisions. In every step, we make sure the customer is making an informed decision — they exactly know what they are paying for and getting in exchange. We maintain this transparency throughout our product development process. 

Ruhul: What opportunities — in terms of building products and solutions — do you see at the intersection of tech and travel in Bangladesh? 

Mashuk: Our local market is huge which we did not realize even before the pandemic. During and after the pandemic we have come to realize that we have a lot to explore in our country. And people in Bangladesh are increasingly willing to see their country. Before the pandemic, people were mostly outward bound. Pandemic has taught many people that they can have the same experiences within Bangladesh as well. Now people are building infrastructure for travelers in Bangladesh. There is a tourist caravan in Cox's Bazar which you used to see in London. 

The opportunities of building for travel and travelers are huge in Bangladesh. Our middle class is growing. People have more disposable income that they want to spend on recreation and travel. Bangladesh also attracts international travelers who want to see the unique experience of Bangladesh which is different from Southeast Asia and many countries in the South Asian region. Overall there is a huge opportunity for building travel products. 

Second, there is a lack of accessibility and transparency in the sector which offers an excellent opportunity to build products to address these challenges. There are a lot of frictions in the travel experience of a customer. He needs to find things. Arrange experiences. There are uncertainties in every step. 

At Go Zayaan, we want to eliminate these uncertainties. We want to offer customers a platform where they can do everything related to travel. They can plan, book hotels, flights, experiences, and everything in between without worrying about the service quality and other things associated. That is the opportunity we have in front of us. 

Ruhul: As you mentioned, the pandemic started right after you joined Go Zayaan. We are not yet out of the woods. International travel remains limited. We don't know whether another wave will come or not. As a company, how did you navigate the challenges of the pandemic in the last two years? 

Mashuk: This is a question I get asked a lot. We were very prominent for international flights before the pandemic. International travelers used to love our automatic flight booking service. From there, the process of moving to domestic travel was not easy. Initially, we were skeptical whether to go for the domestic market because international flights were our core strength. 

Moreover, the domestic market is small compared to the international market and we were not sure whether we could generate the value we wanted to generate and whether we could adapt to the domestic market needs. Since the pandemic happened, international travel stopped, the inevitability of the situation made the decision easier for us. 

We eventually managed to get over our hesitation and pay due attention to the domestic market it deserves. Our management team and the product team then put the effort to understand the customer and behavioral shift in the domestic market which helped us to ride on the pandemic and put ourselves strongly into the local travel market. 

We have built the largest domestic hotel inventory in the country. We have improved our domestic flight product. Everything is live and you book whatever you are seeing in real-time. Prices are real-time and accurate. We price match. In addition to that, we provide extra benefits to customers. 

We did not sit idle during the pandemic. Instead, we worked hard on building the product and services for the domestic market. We knew that domestic travel would be the first to open if the pandemic slows down, so we prepared ourselves accordingly. We built the products and solutions for the domestic market. And when domestic travel opened, we created value for both the business and customers. 

Ruhul: One of the challenges the travel marketplaces face is that you need to pay Google and Facebook to acquire customers and in turn sharing your commission with them in the form of paying for ads. Essentially Go Zayaan wants to build a direct relationship with customers where customers would think of Go Zayaan every time they think about travel and directly go to Go Zayaan. But that usually does not happen and you need to run Google and Facebook ads to attract customers, essentially diminishing your commission gains and hampering your ambition to become a platform for customers. Do you see that as a challenge? If so, how do you plan to deal with it? And then what are some of the plans, product-wise, going forward? 

Mashuk: Honestly, we always have this in mind. While our marketing and brand team could offer you a better understanding of our initiatives around this, I would give a brief answer. Trust is the key factor here. If customers trust and rely on us, they will come to us and we would not have to rely on ads on other platforms. If we want to be the go-to platform for customers, we have to build a brand that customers trust and can relate to. 

And I believe we are doing that. 

We are a customer-first company. We try to give our 120% when it comes to serving our customers. And we are seeing the result of it. We have an excellent retention rate. Customers tell other people about us. Customers tell us that they want to stay with us. So I think we have done some good work there. We have a long way to go, of course. And we are mindful of that and are relentlessly working on it.

Mashuk: Honestly speaking, the overall environment is frequently changing. We learned from the last two years and we are not planning anything that’s set in stone. We are operating dynamically so that we can make quick changes at any moment. So it is difficult to offer an in-depth answer to your question. 

However, if international travel returns, we will be investing there. We already have an excellent user base in international travel and we will double down. 

Overall, we are always on the lookout for opportunities to serve our customers better. We are working to find friction customers face in their travel experience and create innovative solutions to these challenges. That's a big part of our overall strategic direction. As a result, our product roadmap gets reshuffled often. But one thing is constant, we are always looking for solutions to challenges customers face in the market. 

Ruhul: That was the last question related to Go Zayaan. With that, I want to get into product management and related topics. What is the job of a product manager? 

Mashuk: Product management is a relatively new concept for us in Bangladesh. We are not taught this in school. The concept came from tech companies, basically out of Silicon Valley. In the early days, it was thought that product managers are the CEOs of a product. The narrative has changed a bit. Now product managers are considered deep generalists people who have an interdisciplinary understanding of things. Since they need to work with almost all the teams, they have to understand almost all general aspects of a business with a deeper knowledge of their own domain. In their own domain, they should be able to go deeper and be granular. 

I think product managers are a blend of two things. One, they are project managers because they manage the roadmap so that we can ship a product super fast and efficiently. Two, they are strategists. Because product managers work at the intersection of execution and strategy. So the core job of a product manager is to blend execution and strategy. Being able to do both tasks simultaneously is a crucial skill for product managers. 

They need to have good communication skills because they need to do a lot of documentation and maintain communications with different teams. Finally, product managers should understand data better than anyone else because they synthesize insights from the market and across organizations and build products. 

Ruhul: You have touched upon these things throughout our conversation but I wanted to be specific. From your experience, how should companies approach building a product team and establishing a product management culture within the organization?

Mashuk: In any startup, usually, founders start the product management process in the early days. Once a company reaches a certain stage, product management needs dedicated attention. The product team comes to align the strategic ambition of the entire organization, improve the overall product management, and better the user experience. 

For product management, firstly you need product leaders, people who can deal with insight and data. You need people who understand data and use insights while building the products. You need to bring in people who can connect diverse ideas in a thread and pursue goals with a common ambition. These people should be good at cross-functional collaboration and be able to work with every other team in the organization. 

The most crucial skill for the product team is research and development. A large part of product management is R&D. You need people who are good at research in your product team. 

Ruhul Kader: You mentioned research. Could you please break down what kind of research is required in the product development process and the approach you need to take? 

Mashuk: We research three levels. We do competitive-level research. We do macro-level research. And then we do company-level research. Macro research is about understanding the macro-environment that we are in — the legal, political, and economic condition of the market I'm working in. This is very important to know. At the end of the day, economics and social structure affect a product in many ways. The Bangladesh market is very different from any other market because people are different here. That's why we need to do research. 

People who do user experience design, need to have a thorough understanding of cognitive psychology. People who work in UX need to understand why people do the things they do, what and how people think. The socio-culture landscape is important to understand. 

Then comes the competitive landscape — how my product is any different from similar offerings in the market. If I can't build differentiation, I better not make a product. I need to create some sort of a point of differentiation. We also need to understand the point of parity — where my product is similar to other competing products. Unless you understand the point of parity, you can't understand the difference. 

Finally, we need to understand what our strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities are as a company when we are developing a product. We have to research these things and understand them well and based on that we have to make product decisions. It will help us to understand what we will be able to build and how far we will be able to scale it. 

Ruhul: What does it take to build a great product? 

Mashuk: You need to move with the customer insight that's the key to building products that customers will love. There should be some sort of delight in your product that will make customers happy. 

Ruhul: That was the last question. This has been a fascinating conversation. Thank you for being generous with your time and insight. 

Mashuk: Thank you for having me. 

Ruhul Kader is a technology and business analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at [email protected]

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