Oct. 23, 2022

How to build trust and grow as a product leader | Fareed Mosavat (Reforge, Slack, Instacart, Zynga, Pixar)

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Fareed Mosavat is Chief Development Officer at Reforge, where he leads production, content, and new-product experiences. Previously, he led growth and product teams at Slack and Instacart, was a GM at Zynga, and also served as VP of Product at RunKeeper. Before all of that, Fareed’s fascinating career began in engineering for Pixar, where he learned the art of storytelling and collaboration. In today’s episode, we talk about how his time at Pixar influenced the way he thinks about product, why it’s so difficult to become a better PM, and how to avoid the “manager death spiral.” Fareed shares important insights on how to earn the trust of your manager and coworkers, the four types of product work—and why you need to understand all four. He also provides solid examples of how to generalize your learnings and explains why this will expand your options, make you a better PM, and boost your chances of moving into a leadership role. 

Where to find Fareed Mosavat:

• Twitter: https://twitter.com/far33d

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/fareed/

Where to find Lenny:

• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com

• Twitter: https://twitter.com/lennysan

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/

Thank you to our wonderful sponsors for making this episode possible:

• Coda: http://coda.io/lenny

• Amplitude: https://amplitude.com/

• Vanta: https://vanta.com/lenny


• Naval Ravikant’s Twitter thread about specific knowledge: https://twitter.com/naval/status/1002104865919664128

• Merci Grace on Lenny’s podcast: https://www.lennyspodcast.com/merci-grace-ex-head-of-growth-at-slack-on-plg-interviewing-storytelling-building-a-diverse-team-hiring-salespeople-building-a-growth-team-and-much-more/

• “Crossing the Canyon: Product Manager to Product Leader,” by Fareed Mosavat and Casey Winters: https://www.reforge.com/blog/crossing-the-canyon-product-manager-to-product-leader

• Casey Winters on Lenny’s podcast: https://www.podpage.com/lennys-podcast/how-to-sell-your-ideas-and-rise-within-your-company-casey-winters-eventbrite/

• Reforge: https://www.reforge.com/

In this episode, we cover:

(00:38) Fareed’s background

(03:55) Lessons from Pixar

(09:07) What Fareed does at Reforge

(11:57) The scale of Reforge at this time

(13:51) Why it’s so difficult to become a better PM

(18:03) A PM pie chart—execution, generalizing your solutions, communication, and scaling

(23:00) How creating trust helped Fareed’s career grow

(26:24) How to gain trust by leveraging your curiosity and communication skills

(33:50) How to move from PM to Product Lead

(36:43) The manager death spiral and how to avoid it

(40:43) The four types of product work

(44:13) Moving from IC to product manager 

(47:15) How to ask for the proper resources

(50:00) The trend of senior PMs diversifying into advising, teaching, and angel investing

(57:20) The downsides of being your own boss

(01:00:45) Advice for breaking into advising

Production and marketing by https://penname.co/. For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email podcast@lennyrachitsky.com.

Get full access to Lenny's Newsletter at www.lennysnewsletter.com/subscribe


Fareed Mosavat (00:00:00):

You can't do homework. You can't do exercises. You can't do fake stuff. You have to work on real products at real companies with real customers, with real data to get better at product management. So any kind of training, mentorship, reading, et cetera that you do is just a layer on top of that. The real acceleration happens from doing it and getting more reps. There are ways that I think great PMs use to go faster on this loop, but you still have to do the work. At the core is you have to actually execute and deliver great products, and you have to do it over, and over, and over again.

Lenny (00:00:40):

Fareed Mosavat is the Chief Development Officer at Reforge where he's been for over two and a half years. Before that, he spent three and a half years at Slack leading a lot of their growth efforts, about a year at Instacart leading a number of their key growth analytics and product efforts. He's a GM at Zynga, he's VP of Product at Runkeeper, and something that I only learned during our chat is that he spent six years at Pixar doing character simulation, rigging, and building 3D animation tools. In our conversation, we focus on the journey of becoming a great PM, including crossing the canyon from IC to manager, the importance of expanding your scope, and how to create opportunities where you get more responsibility as a PM. Fareed is such an A-plus human full of so much insight, and I'm really excited for you to learn from him. With that, I bring you Fareed Mosavat.


This episode is brought to you by Coda. Coda is an all-in-one doc that combines the best of documents, spreadsheets, and apps in one place. I actually use Coda every single day. It's my home base for organizing my newsletter writing. It's where I plan my content calendar, capture my research, and write the first drafts of each and every post. It's also where I curate my private knowledge repository for paid newsletter subscribers, and it's also how I manage the workflow for this very podcast.


Over the years, I've seen Coda evolve from being a tool that makes teams more productive to one that also helps bring the best practices across the tech industry to life with an incredibly rich collection of templates and guides in the Coda Doc Gallery, including resources from many guests on this podcast, including Shreyas, Gokul, and Shishir, the CEO of Coda. Some of the best teams out there, like Pinterest, Spotify, Square, and Uber, use Coda to run effectively and have published their templates for anyone to use. If you're ping-ponging between lots of documents and spreadsheets, make your life better, and start using Coda. You can take advantage of a special limited-time offer just for startups. Head over to coda.io/lenny to sign up and get $1,000 credit on your first statement. That's C-O-D-A.io/lenny to sign up and get $1,000 in credit on your account.


I'm excited to chat with my friend, John Cutler, from podcast sponsor Amplitude. Hey, John.

John Cutler (00:03:03):

Hey, Lenny. Excited to be here.

Lenny (00:03:05):

John, give us a behind-the-scenes at Amplitude. When most people think of Amplitude, they think of product analytics, but now you're getting into experimentation and even just launched a CDP. What's the thought process there?

John Cutler (00:03:16):

Well, we've always thought of Amplitude as being about supporting the full product loop. Think collect data, inform, vet, ship experiments, and learn. That's the heart of growth to us. So the big aha was seeing how many customers were using Amplitude to analyze experiments, use segments for outreach, and send data to other destinations. Experiment and CDP came out of listening to and observing our customers.

Lenny (00:03:37):

Supporting growth and learning has always been Amplitude's core focus, right?

John Cutler (00:03:41):

Yeah. So Amplitude tries to meet customers where they are. We just launched starter templates and have a great scholarship program for startups. There's never been a more important time for growth.

Lenny (00:03:50):

Absolutely agree. Thanks for joining us, John, and head to amplitude.com to get started.


Fareed, welcome to the podcast.

Fareed Mosavat (00:04:01):

Thanks for having me, Lenny. I'm super excited to be here.

Lenny (00:04:03):

So to set a little context for listeners that aren't super familiar with you, can you give us just a 45-second overview of your career and all the wonderful things that you've done?

Fareed Mosavat (00:04:14):

Great. Hi. I'm Fareed Mosavat. I live in Berkeley, California with my wonderful wife and two children, but I've been a product leader across a variety of different companies over the course of my career. Today, I am the chief development officer at Reforge where I help run all of our content teams, parts of our operations, and our partnerships with wonderful experts like yourself.

Lenny (00:04:33):

Awesome. What about all the other things you've done?

Fareed Mosavat (00:04:35):

So, previous to this, I spent almost four years as the director of product for a team called Lifecycle at Slack that is effectively a growth team. We're responsible for the self-service business at Slack all the way from first sign up, first team creation through to the first invites, activation, expansion, modernization, and even connecting the dots with our SMB sales team to help nurture some of those small self-service teams into larger commitments through our sales team.


I came to that through a variety of different growth and product leadership roles at a bunch of different startups on larger companies. I built one of the first growth teams at Instacart for about a year and a half in the middle of their acceleration. I was VP of Product at a company called Runkeeper before that in Boston, health and fitness tracking company. I was a general manager at Zynga. I got there through a startup that I was an engineer at, basically started as an engineer, ended as a head of product over the course of a couple of years, and then got acquired into Zynga, and actually started my career with almost seven years at Pixar Animation Studios working on visual effects, software tools, and other creative tech to try and solve problems for a bunch of wonderful films you've probably seen or your kids have seen.

Lenny (00:05:45):

Please tell us the films that you worked at. I had no idea that you worked at Pixar.

Fareed Mosavat (00:05:48):

I am credited on Finding Nemo, Cars, Wally, and Up.

Lenny (00:05:55):

What? I did not know any of this.

Fareed Mosavat (00:05:57):

Yeah. Yeah. Basically, I started there right out of college. I was super interested in computer graphics. I'd actually been an intern there, was very lucky to be interested in that in the moment where they were really accelerating the growth of the company going from like the whole company is working on one film to like, "Okay. We're trying to release a film every 18 months." So they really scaled up, and I had been studying computer graphics, and then I was an engineer focused on computer graphics and a little bit of research on that in college, was an intern there, and joined, and just got to see a fun growth period at that company, and really, I think in a lot of ways is the root of why I love doing product management because everything I worked on was at the intersections of interesting creative problems, interesting technical problems, and interesting storytelling problems.


So, in a lot of ways, it was like... I think if I connect the dots backwards to the Steve Jobsism is the beginning of how I got interested in solving high-level strategic problems across a bunch of different people doing different kinds of work and maybe how I got relatively good at it. It was because even as an engineer, I was sitting in the middle of those pieces, but I got bored, which sounds crazy, and decided to jump into a startup that nobody had ever heard of that had eight employees in 2006, and the rest is history from there.

Lenny (00:07:17):

Yeah. I wasn't planning to talk about Pixar, but I am so curious. One more question there. What's something that you learned from Pixar that has informed the way that you build products or think about product or your career?

Fareed Mosavat (00:07:28):

At the foundation of it is when I first got there, I thought what was important was modeling how things work in the real world. They're making things look right, so to speak. What I learned there is that actually, you're trying to deliver an end experience, and product, and story to your viewers, to your audience. It doesn't actually matter what's real. It matters what you see on the screen. It matters the emotion that it creates, the story that it creates, how it reinforces all of the other pieces. So the technical pieces were just a means to that end. So, of course, we used real physics and real math behind the scenes to do stuff, but if you had to box the numbers to make it look right, that's the right thing to do.


So I remember as I was working on early effects, bubbles, sand, so this kind of stuff, I was trying to do things the way it would really work, and then the camel would look at it, and almost the first lesson I learned there was like, "No. What matters is the end result, the end product, the end feeling." I feel like I go back to that a lot as I think about product development not just from an engineering and technical standpoint, but from what's in your strategy doc isn't that important. It's actually just an input into the end experience that you're trying to deliver for customers. When we're thinking about content development in our programs, it's not important that all of the principles fit perfectly together into this MEC framework. It matters that you help people solve actual problems. What's the end goal that you're looking for? I feel like that's the lesson that I just keep going back to for my time there.

Lenny (00:09:06):

It's a great segue to Reforge, which I want to spend a little bit of time on. Folks that listen to this podcast know that I'm a huge fan, and we have a lot of Reforge alumni on this podcast.

Fareed Mosavat (00:09:15):


Lenny (00:09:16):

So a couple questions there. One, you said you're a chief development officer. Is that your title?

Fareed Mosavat (00:09:20):


Lenny (00:09:21):

What is it that you do as a chief development officer?

Fareed Mosavat (00:09:23):

It's funny because in a lot of ways, it's not a made-up title, but trying to figure out how a role that I ended up sliding into as I grew my engagement with the company, how do we describe what it is? So I think what's unique about Reforge versus a traditional software startup, or a SaaS company, or all the other things you see is that we're not just a software company. Of course, we have a website. Go to it. You see things, you deliberate, but we also build a lot of stuff and experiences that fit into that. We build content. We build programs today. We're going to build all kinds of other content. We have live cohort experiences that are designed and thoughtful, and we build and try to make, solve certain customer problems.


We have a member slack that we try to design to solve certain problems. We have the people like yourself and a lot of the guests that you've had on the podcast like Elena, or Adam Fishman, or Casey who plugged into our system to help us build all of those things because at the end of the day, our job is to help unlock the expertise that's locked in the heads of the greatest operators in the world. So who do we work with? How do we develop that content? How do we make their ideas shine? How do we solve real member problems? How do we help people do work?


A lot of that is a product experience that in some ways, like a Pixar movie, there's the technical aspects and the UX aspects, but there's also all of the content, and the partners that we work with, and those pieces. I own all of that piece, like the production, content, the new product experiences, and all of the pieces that fit in there. So we have a team of really talented, amazing people that work on these things, and I lead those teams.

Lenny (00:11:02):

It's interesting how that comes back to your Pixar experience of the combination of intersection of art and technology.

Fareed Mosavat (00:11:09):


Lenny (00:11:09):

That's so interesting. Okay. Never thought about it that way. Yeah.

Fareed Mosavat (00:11:12):

Like we said, it's easier to connect the dots in reverse than moving forward. I have always been not that precious about titles, career roles, et cetera. I've really found myself drawn to, "Is this an interesting problem that I believe I can bring something valuable to the table? Can I help solve this in some meaningful way, and will I learn something great and new from this role?" At every step, I made those decisions. I've gone up and down the title stack from VP down to ICPM, from engineer to product, from product to this new thing and content. In every single one, I think it's a lot about, "What are you bringing to the table to help solve that problem? What are you taking away from the job and learning from it, and how do you turn that into the next step?"

Lenny (00:11:57):

Awesome, and we're going to chat about a lot of those learnings from your experience going through these career journeys, but one last question on Reforge. Just like how big is Reforge at this point? How many cohorts? How many students? How many people work there? What's the operation scale at this point?

Fareed Mosavat (00:12:11):

It's hard to count how many employees because it's growing so fast. I believe we are at just around 150 total employees across the whole company right now.

Lenny (00:12:19):


Fareed Mosavat (00:12:20):

That doesn't include our executives and residents, subject matter experts, and the partners we work with. That's full-time employees working on the business. Of course, we have a large product development, product design, engineering, and data teams, but also the teams that I run. We call them strategy leads, content producers, content strategists, content designers, building all of that content as well as our partners team and operations team. So it's a relatively large company at this point. When I first started working with it, it was a scrappy operation of just a handful of folks, but we've grown quite a bit of over the last year.


With that, we support, I believe, now 19 total cohort-based programs across product, engineering, marketing, and growth-related topics as well as a bunch of new experiences that we're working on for the coming future here in the next year. We have well over 10,000 active members on the platform, about a dozen executives and residents that work to help us deliver those programs, and hundreds of partners. We call them experts and operators in the space who contribute to our programs in different ways either as guests or as mentors, or helping us develop content behind the scenes.

Lenny (00:13:25):

Awesome, and I taught a couple guest lectures this past cohort. I think my second ever lesson was with you. You were the teacher?

Fareed Mosavat (00:13:32):

Yes. Yeah. We talked about instant buy, I think they're called, but I can't remember the name.

Lenny (00:13:37):

Instant book. Close, close.

Fareed Mosavat (00:13:38):

Instant book, sorry.

Lenny (00:13:38):


Fareed Mosavat (00:13:38):

On the Reforge platform for experimentation and testing program, which was, yeah, actually, also my first program that I helped lead at Reforge, and I think you were my first guest.

Lenny (00:13:47):

Oh my god.

Fareed Mosavat (00:13:47):

So, thanks. Thanks for not making me look bad.

Lenny (00:13:51):

Thank you. So what's cool about your background working at Reforge and all the companies you worked at is that you've seen a lot of PM careers go well and PM careers go not so well. So what I want to spend our time on is talking through just the career development journey for product managers and in particular, the challenges that PMs face trying to become better PMs and just why it's innately tricky to become better as a product manager. It's such a weird job to get better at. So my first question is actually, why is it so hard to become better as a PM? Why is it innately a tricky thing to develop as a PM?

Fareed Mosavat (00:14:28):

One of the trickiest bits about it is that there's no clear, obvious pre-training you can do that gives you a baseline set of understanding that you can use to be a product manager. People come from MBAs, people come from certain kinds of majors in college, et cetera, but it's not engineering where like, "Okay. With a couple of weeks of bootcamp or a couple of years of a computer science education, I have some foundational knowledge that helps me go from zero to one in my first job." Not only does it help me break in because I have a credential that helps me land that job, and we can talk about why landing your first PM job is so hard, but also, there's not a lot of stuff that one-to-one directly correlates to the work you're going do on a day-to-day basis.


I think there's an idea that Naval Ravikant talked about on Twitter and in blog posts a long time ago, this concept of specific knowledge that can only be gathered by actually doing the work. A lot of product management, really, is like that. You get better by doing it, and so you start in the same place, if that makes sense. Of course, there are different skills and intellectual capacities, et cetera that help different people be more successful at it, but at the end of the day, you don't know if a PM is going to be great until they start doing that work. So I think that's one of the pieces that's very hard.


The second is the thing I just alluded to, which is breaking in and getting your first role. It's just a very difficult situation for a lot of companies, and there are a couple of different paths to it, but none of them are straightforward. There's no clear linear path, except for maybe being a Stanford or Harvard grad, top-tier school grad, NCS with an internship, goes to Google to do an APM program. There are a couple of these things that are surefire, but I don't think they guarantee success, and they are actually very limited in terms of the number of people that they let into the business.


So I think this is what makes it so hard is that there's not any upfront training you can really do to prepare yourself or even knock down the door to break in. But then, also, it's not clear there's a lot of training within a company that would help you be successful generally on the job of product management. You can learn how to be a good PM at Google, you can learn to be a good PM at Facebook, but it is up to each individual PM to figure out how to generalize what they're doing to move from different kinds of product across different kinds of product work as they get more senior to solve bigger problems, et cetera.


So what we tried to do at Reforge is we are focused on helping people accelerate that learning loop. It's not, "Hey, if you take this class, now you're qualified to be a PM." It's not really like that. I don't know if that's possible. I hope it will be someday, but it is very difficult. I think it's more, "Hey, we want to help you when you encounter certain kinds of problems, not have to solve them from first principles, but following the footsteps of the people who have done great work in the past, generalize those lessons." But at the end of the day, you still have to get down and do the work.


You can't do homework, you can't do exercises, you can't do fake stuff. You have to work on real products at real companies with real customers, with real data to get better at product management. So any kind of training, mentorship, reading, et cetera that you do is just a layer on top of that. The real acceleration happens from doing it and getting more reps. There are ways that I think great PMs use to go faster on this loop, but you still have to do the work. At the core is you have to actually execute and deliver great products, and you have to do it over, and over, and over again.

Lenny (00:18:03):

Yes. Let's absolutely dig into that. Let me put out a couple mental models that I'm thinking as you're talking.

Fareed Mosavat (00:18:07):


Lenny (00:18:08):

One is just if you think about a pie chart of a great PM's career and/or investments they make along their career journey, how do you break up that pie chart? Like some percentage is doing the work, some percentage is courses, maybe some percentage is books. So just putting that out there in case that's useful to think about, and then the other is thinking about the trajectory of a PM on a line chart, and what are these inflection points that you've seen most impact the career trajectory of a PM?

Fareed Mosavat (00:18:34):

So let's start at the first one, the pie chart idea. What percent is spent on different things? Unsurprisingly because Reforge is all about growth loops, I think of this in terms of a loop actually, which is like, "What is that learning or career acceleration, or ability acceleration loop? At the core, again, at the top of the loop is execution. You have to have a real problem. You're working on with real customers that you want to solve in some way. So, you're executing. You're delivering. You're learning at the beginning. It's all about execution. So we'll start with the pie chart at the beginning. It's almost all execution.


What are the problems you give a junior or brand new PM? Known problem, known solution. "Please work with engineering and design to deliver that thing on time, and then tell us what happened." So it's like a very tightly constrained problem. As you level up, then some of these things become more unknowns. So there's execution, but I think the next step that great product managers do is they think about how to generalize that execution a little bit. So it's not just, "Okay. Now, I know what the best settings page for Slack is." It's, "What generalizations did you make? What are the things that you can take that are applicable to other stuff?"


Some of that is execution-oriented, how to best work with engineers, how to iterate on designs, what customers do and don't do, rules of thumb, those kinds of things. I think that's where reading courses, et cetera can help because sometimes by bringing other... or one-on-one conversations with experts, et cetera. There are a whole bunch of different ways, but is that the generalization step? "Hey, I did this thing. Oh, other people have done something similar. How do I connect the dots on that? How do I make this experience bigger than what I've just done and lead me to help solve other problems?"

Lenny (00:20:23):

These are things you're doing in your head, basically. You're just developing frameworks, mental models, things that you're just taking with you to the next project in your mind.

Fareed Mosavat (00:20:31):

Exactly. So, to use an example, there was a time at Instacart where we were working on onboarding, brand new onboarding and activation flow for customers. We tried a lot of different stuff. We tried the slimmest, fastest, lowest friction, least number of steps path in, and then we had this hypothesis about helping people get set up. So we took the opposite approach, which was a really long onboarding with a bunch of different steps and wanted to see, "Was that more effective or less effective?"


The generalization is, "Oh, for products that had a high bar to activation, sometimes more set up and higher friction, good friction could actually help those customers be successful. There are other kinds of products that are high-intent where they know what they need to do to have simple actions where lowering friction might be the right thing." So, that's a generalization. It's a generalization of, "Oh, I learned a thing." It's a hypothesis about how that might generalize other kinds of products or other kinds of problems that you approach. I think some of that can come from seeing it from the outside, listening to a podcast, hearing you say it, taking a course, et cetera. But at the end of the day, you have to experience it to see how it applies to the world.


Then, the next bit is communication, and I think this is a bit that a lot of product managers, obviously, and any job miss, but you can't just do the work. You have to actually communicate the work. You have to talk about what you're doing, what you've generalized, what you've learned so that you can hit the next step, which is scale your opportunities. Go from smaller known problem, known solution to maybe known problem, unknown solution type of work, which is the next step.


Then, eventually, to where you want to be as a senior, great, high-level individual contributor PM to the not quite known problem, maybe a goal with a set of problems and unknown solutions, unknown problems, unknown solutions, where you're actually identifying customer problems and moving towards on that. So scaling up your opportunity, and then executing again. I think of this as a loop of learning, and so of course, the percentages change over time as you move more senior in your career, but also, depending on where you're at in the step that the percentages change.

Lenny (00:22:40):

Got it. So, just to recap, execute, just do the work, just ship.

Fareed Mosavat (00:22:44):


Lenny (00:22:44):

Generalize learnings from shipping to build up your gut feeling of what will work and not work.

Fareed Mosavat (00:22:49):


Lenny (00:22:50):

Learn to communicate things you're doing, and then scale the things that you're executing based on this gut feeling you're building, and communicate that out, and just continue. Do you think scaling take on more scope or have more impact? Is that how you think about scaling, that last piece?

Fareed Mosavat (00:23:06):

Yeah. I think it's one moving from knowns to unknowns.

Lenny (00:23:08):


Fareed Mosavat (00:23:09):

So like you're being given a hairier, harder to untangle types of problems with more unknowns and more autonomy. I think the second is, yeah, of course, with... although I think for the beginning of your career, you tend to go deeper. So it's like, "Okay. I'm going to work on growth, let's say, or core product, or zero-to-one products, or technical scaling, whatever it is. I'm going to go deeper on that," and then over time, that turns into width, but this is why the generalization step is important.


If you want to be a product leader, you cannot be seen solely as a specialist in that certain kind of product work, and so the generalization step is really important. If you want to move from growth to core product, you need to show that you're not just running experiments and driving numbers up. You need to show and communicate that you're learning deeper lessons about how customer psychology works, and what products people resonate with, and how to think about the business more holistically, and then communication. No one knows what you're thinking if you don't tell them. So if you don't communicate, you don't have control over those scaled opportunities. Usually, your manager, or the organization, or the company does. Maybe by switching jobs, you have some control, but you need to earn that right. You need to communicate. That's why I think there's pieces of the loop you can control and pieces that are externalized.

Lenny (00:24:25):

I'm curious, in your own career, what the biggest inflections of growth have been either in terms of learning, or impact, or just opportunity?

Fareed Mosavat (00:24:33):

The first big one was when I switched from being an engineer to being a product... I didn't even know it was product management, but a product leader of some kind. I think there are two things that happen. One is you got to be doing this stuff, but often, somebody needs to see it. The scale opportunity piece of the step often requires someone from outside to notice that you're doing something really well and trust you with a bigger opportunity. I think of this as sponsorship, not mentorship. I don't necessarily find that in my career. I've had a lot of managers where I'm like, "Wow, their day-to-day help was super awesome at helping me be a better leader."


I hope that I've been that for some people, but I don't have a ton of examples of that in my career. But what I do have is a couple examples of people who deeply trusted me to solve big problems, and I don't know. I'm lucky to have had that or otherwise, but one was a CEO of that startup who's now a venture capitalist. His name is Nabeel Hyatt. I was like, "Hey, you seem to understand the data better than anybody here. You're solving these problems. Help us figure out what we're going to do next," which now we call product management.

Lenny (00:25:36):

But he was at, by the way?

Fareed Mosavat (00:25:38):

it was called Conduit Labs.

Lenny (00:25:39):

Okay. Yeah.

Fareed Mosavat (00:25:39):

It's a game company. Then, eventually, I was the director of product for our Boston studio. The next was at Slack. I was an ICPM working on activation and growth on a team of three or four other PMs, and there were a couple of moments where by communicating my work and talking through how I was solving problems, people noticed that I knew what I was doing and gave me bigger and bigger opportunities. One of those was Merci Grace, who I think has been on your pod and was a wonderful sponsor for me. Then, again, when Merci left, April Underwood, who's the CPO, said, "It seems like you have a handle on this. I'd like you to take on a bigger range of problems across all of this growth and not just the modernization piece that I've been working on before." So I think in each of those steps it's about creating trust and knowing that you have a sponsor there, someone who's going to go to bat for you.

Lenny (00:26:25):

I really love this point of sponsorship. We haven't talked a lot about this on the podcast. There's a lot of talk of finding a coach or having a manager that teaches you how to do the job, but this idea of just getting to a place where someone gives you an opportunity to shine, and that's been really big in my career just like certain managers just, "Here, Lenny. You take this, and let's see what you can do."

Fareed Mosavat (00:26:44):


Lenny (00:26:45):

Is there anything else you can recommend to folks to create opportunities for sponsorship? You talked about communication, executing well. Is that just the core of it, like doing a great job and communicating the great job you're doing?

Fareed Mosavat (00:26:57):

This idea that it's what you do and that's multiplied by your ability to show that work and communicate it, and that's the impact that you can have, but you have to have not just impact on the customers, but also on the organization. I think it is impact on the organization, changing the way people think about problems, helping generalize what works and what doesn't work, bringing learnings to the table.


For me, I've worked a lot on growth, and I've treated a huge part of my job as not just moving the numbers, but also teaching the organization how our growth model works, how the pieces fit together, what our customers care about, what's working, what's not working, and that creates a lot of, A, leverage in other parts of the organization because they can do better work by having more information, but also, B, trust. Trust from leadership, trust from your peers, and otherwise.


So, now, how do you get to that? Some of it is just luck. Someone has got to believe in you. You can create your luck by being good at communicating and solving hard problems. I think the other piece is knowing when you go into an organization, "Is this a role that's important to the company? Is it on the list?" I think it is easier to find sponsors, communicate, and create leverage if the thing you're working on is in the top four or five most important things the company is working on. I find myself drawn to those kinds of problems, and I think that's one way because then, all of a sudden, CEOs notice what you're working on, heads of product notice what you're working on, and your peers notice what you're working on.


The other bit is curiosity. I think to be in the seat where people want to sponsor you, I think you have to show a handle on not just what you're doing, but how that relates to all of the things around you. So I call this going two stack levels up, two stack levels down in terms of your curiosity and what you understand, and also, knowing what's to the left and what's to the right. So let's use the example of if I'm working on activation on growth, let's say, or monetization. It doesn't matter. One of those two pieces. When I say two stack levels down, I like to understand how we build customers, how it works in Stripe, what are our dunning policies, what are the technical things that work and don't work in the pieces maybe down to the database. Right?


It's like technical curiosity, those kinds of things, but also mental models for what's above you. How do we grow? How does modernization fit into that? What are the trade-offs versus free growth versus paid growth? How important is this to the company? How does it fit into our long-term strategy? Those kinds of things. So it's like the strategic things above you. I like two stack levels because it's like you should understand your boss's priorities and your boss's boss's priorities. Eventually, that means you have to know what the board is thinking, right? Then, left and right is, "What are the core product teams working on that I could help advise on in terms of modernization or they could advise me on what they're thinking and what might be coming next? How do we fit together with the enterprise part of the business even though I'm working on self-serve? How do I think about sales? Do they have input, like interesting customer conversations or input?


It's this curiosity like walking around, getting to know what people are doing, and being seen as an expert. Are you the desk people go to when they have questions? Are you a person that people ask the opinion when you're trying to figure out how the dots connect? I have found for me, maybe this is just because this is a strength of mine, that connecting the dots of how the whole company works and how all the pieces fit together has been one of the ways that I've driven that sponsorship. I think for each individual, you have to figure out what your superpower is and where you can be actually top 10%, and then lean into opportunities and also problems that help you show that and shine it that way.

Lenny (00:30:34):

That is such cool advice. I think what's cool about that is I imagine you just go to your manager and even just ask, "Hey, I'd love to understand just what are your highest priorities, and then what are your manager's?" Just ask these questions. Just that alone I think communicates a lot about how much you care and your interest there, and that creates trust, even if you don't do a ton with it, and knowing what your manager cares about is just going to help in so many other ways just like, "Okay. This matters to them. I'm going to make sure to do a good job there."

Fareed Mosavat (00:31:00):


Lenny (00:31:01):

So that is a really cool framework.

Fareed Mosavat (00:31:02):

Not only do a good job there, but I'm going to figure out how to communicate what I'm doing to be only the parts that are important and matter to them. I'm going to know that when I hit a certain decision that needs to be made, whether I need their input or not. There are all these different pieces like understanding when to be heads-down, when to be heads-up, when to communicate, when not to, but I think understanding how all the pieces fit together, you really just try, and I always think of it as trying to build a mental model of how the company works, and what's important to it, and what's the equation, so to speak, or what are all the boxes, and then figure out like, "How is my work creating leverage in that?" I find that when you are thinking at that level, people tend to trust you.

Lenny (00:31:44):

The core of trust is people. Your manager and their leaders need to feel like you will do a good job and a bigger responsibility, and what gives them trust? Oh, they do a good job, or they're curious, and excited, and understand all these things that they need to understand. So it all makes sense, and I'm always weary of asking PMs to do more work. It's such a busy, long hours job already, and what's cool about these things you're talking about is it's not necessarily a lot more work. It's just a little bit of research and a little bit of digging and thinking.

Fareed Mosavat (00:32:12):

Yeah. I think the hard part of this is I have not figured out how to do this well in a remote environment without throwing a lot of one-on-ones on people's calendars because sometimes you figured this out just by hearing conversations, hang out at lunch, and asking questions, and those kinds of things, but it's certainly not impossible. You just have to work out a little more,

Lenny (00:32:31):

Just more Zooms.

Fareed Mosavat (00:32:32):


Lenny (00:32:33):

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So I know something you spend a lot of time thinking about is the transition from an ICPM to a manager, and you have this really epic post that I think you call the Product Leader Canyon that you think of this as a canyon that a lot of PMs don't cross. So I want to spend a little bit of time here. Can you maybe just talk about what this canyon is, and why it exists?

Fareed Mosavat (00:34:08):

Yeah. We talked a little bit about the first of very hard part in product management career development, which is like, "How do I land my first job?" Not a pro at that. We can talk about that more, but then this path from IC to more senior IC working on bigger problems that have more business impact, et cetera, it's a relatively straightforward path. We just talked about some of the ways that you do that. You get a deeper understanding across a wider range of business problems. You solve more unknowns versus being handed problems to solve, et cetera, and you do that by being good at your job. You do that by being good at your job basically as a solo product manager on an island.


We talked about communication and those kinds of things, but at the end of the day, like we described, most of the work is execution. Most of the work is partnering with your engineering manager, partnering with your designer and your team to build stuff and deliver stuff. You've gotten there by being really good at that. Right? You've gotten there by getting in the weeds, getting in the details, sweating what matters, working hard at it. So someone says, "We'd love for you to lead this team." Great. It's really easy to look at that and say, "Okay. Now, instead of owning free to paid conversion, I own growth overall."


The first thing you do is start to figure out, "What are the most interesting and valuable projects that I can work on? As an IC, I can only have one person on my team to go dive in and work on those things to make a lot of leverage." This can create a little bit of a spiral of failure because it's the hard job. The IC part of the job is really hard. So, now, I gave you more work across more things, and you're already working 56 hours a week. Now, you got to keep track of more projects across more teams and more people, and maybe you kept the two or three most critical ones to yourself.


So that's one angle is learning about, yes, it's probably the right thing in the near term for you to focus, and work on this, and be really directive about what to do, and get in every single detail, and make sure you deliver the best product. But long run, you've taken a learning opportunity away from someone else, and you've taken the opportunity for you to be a leveraged person that is more valuable than just their time away as well. So I think that's one piece that drives a lot of failures, just this like, "Okay. Now, I have more problems to work on. I'm going to go deeper on it," and handing the people on your team the least interesting, least leveraged, least fun stuff to do, thinking that's how you get to like, "Oh, now, I get to work on the fun projects, and the interesting and high-leverage ones, and I'll leave all the other ones to other people."

Lenny (00:36:51):

I think you call this the manager death spiral. Is that the same?

Fareed Mosavat (00:36:55):

Yeah. Yeah, manager death spiral.

Lenny (00:36:56):


Fareed Mosavat (00:36:56):

This is not unique to product management. This happens in almost every leadership role. You're in a position. You have broader responsibility. You got there by being the best IC on the team probably, so your instincts are to, "I see a bunch of important stuff," and do management stuff too. Right?

Lenny (00:37:15):

People may be like, "Oh, shit. How do I avoid this death spiral?" Do you have any advice? Maybe you'll get there, but just how do you avoid this death spiral of keeping all the good stuff and just not scaling yourself?

Fareed Mosavat (00:37:24):

I think the first is, honestly, just you have to start trusting other people, which is not common to where you've been till today, but you have to start trusting. You have to shift from doer to editor is the way I think about it. You have to shift from, "My job is to do the work," to, "My job is to make the work better. My job is to plus the work, to review the work, to help other people solve problem." Sometimes that's by being directive. Right?


Sometimes that's by letting them run because you're like, "Lenny, you're great. Please go solve this problem. Call me when you have a problem." If you have people that are in that upper quadrant of like they understand the problem, they have the level of experience to solve it, it's maybe not 100% important. Maybe it is. That kind of thing. Then, there's the coach in the middle, which is like, "How do I help make that work better?" They have to start figuring out like, "Where is each person on your team in their expertise, and what level of input is the highest leverage for me?"


I actually think of it as start thinking in terms of being lazy, "What's the least amount of work I could do to make this thing as good as possible?" versus, "How do I do as much work as possible to make sure it's great?" So it's like looking in terms of ROI. The other is just hiring, bringing on great people you trust, making sure you're staffed appropriately, and there's just a second bit. I think one of the bigger mistakes that new ICs make on teams, that they still treat problems the same way they did as ICs, which normally, when you run a pod, basically, your job is, "How do I deliver the most value with the resources I have?"


When you're a leader, it's now your job to propose, "What are the resources we need to have the most impact on this problem?" I think I personally have messed this up a bunch of times where at the end of the core, I'll be like, "Yeah, but we only had four engineers, and this is what we could do." I'm like, "That wasn't what we asked you to do. We asked you to solve this problem. So adding four more people was what you needed or you needed the marketing team to do X, Y, and Z." You need to go out and do that work now. It is not just your job to get what you can get done with the resources in front of you. It's your job to marshal resources both inside your org and across your organization. I think that's another big area that's related to the trust bit because, again, it's this habit of, "Oh, I got here by doing everything myself." You have to start realizing that your job is to convince other people to do work too.

Lenny (00:39:49):

Awesome. So, going back to the canyon. So the first piece was essentially over-focusing on just being too good at the thing you're already doing versus going broader, is that right?

Fareed Mosavat (00:39:59):

Mm-hmm. Yeah. So it's like, "Hey, how do I maximize my output? I can do this myself faster than I can explain it to someone else, so I'll just do it," and then finding that you're blocking your team because you're in the middle of every single decision, finding that you're totally overworked, and finding that people aren't learning or growing because those opportunities have been taken from them. So what do you do to break that? You have to just slowly start to give up, trust, do that. So I think that's the one bit is that death spiral of what's getting stuff done.

Lenny (00:40:31):

No, no. You can curse all you want. That's all good.

Fareed Mosavat (00:40:33):

Okay. Great. Oh, you've just... Well, be careful with "all you want."

Lenny (00:40:36):

Nobody has cursed yet on this podcast, and it's all allowed.

Fareed Mosavat (00:40:40):


Lenny (00:40:41):

It's the internet. I don't know.

Fareed Mosavat (00:40:41):

We'll solve that.

Lenny (00:40:42):


Fareed Mosavat (00:40:43):

Don't worry. I think the other is what I call the four types of product work, and I think this is not always right at the manager stage. But for every great product leader, you go from being an expert in some type of product work, and I'll describe what those are, to now owning a portfolio of work across a bunch of different dimensions. So the way I think about product work, and Casey Winters and I worked on this framework together, a lot of it comes from him. So I don't want to oversay it, but it's all part of our product strategy program at Reforge is first, feature work, adding new features, product experiences, et cetera into a product in order to drive engagement with your existing customer base and solve a wider range of problems.


The second is growth work. "How do I help my customers or a broader range of customers connect with the experiences we already have, and drive acceleration and either top-line growth, or modernization, or whatever the most important metrics are. I think you've had many guests on to talk about growth type work. The third is related to growth, but I think is slightly different, which is what we call product market fit expansion. So it's not exactly feature work, which is like, "Hey, now that I use your product more, I have this thing I need in order to keep using it because I'm a power seller," those kinds of things. But instead, we want to attract a whole new sub-segments of markets to the product by adding something.


There are two forms of product market fit expansion. There's either taking the same product and finding a new audience. Things like internationalization or vertical like, "I'm going to sell the same product to a different vertical because we're a verticalized product." The other is selling a different product to the same audience. This is what bundling strategies basically look like. Right? So adding new marketing tools to a marketing suite, et cetera that attract a different kind of customer and that either drive upsell or drive new audiences to come to that.


So that's the third kind of product work, and then there's the fourth that is always forgotten by a lot of PMs which is scaling work. So what is the stuff we're doing that is because we are growing, there's new product work we need to do? Most people think of this as technical scaling, but I actually put things like trust, and safety, and other kinds of what we call user scaling problems in this as well. There are a lot of problems that come up at Airbnb just because instead of having 10 hosts, you have 10,000 hosts. Right? There are a lot of problems at Twitter and Facebook that are well puzzle-sized that are a result of their scale, and I think that's a chunk of work that I put in the same category as technical scaling, which is like, "How do we make sure the product continues to work for the people who are using it?"


So the challenge of the four kinds of product work. "Okay. Great. We have a framework. How is that useful, Fareed?" It's not that useful. It is to know what kind you're doing, but I think as you go up the stack of product leadership, you are going from being probably an expert in one of these, so for me, growth, to needing to think about all these other ones, and you've probably never done them before. Right? Maybe you've done two, but how do you lead across a bunch of different things, and how do you make sure not to be over-focused on the one that you care the most about?


We've all seen this. Right? It's like growth leader takes over, and everything is a growth problem. Everything is an experiment. Everything should be measured. That's not necessarily true for some of these other kinds of work, and so how do you start to lead, and grow, and build a portfolio across those? I think that's where some of the stuff we talked about before, deep curiosity, looking across, asking a lot of questions, getting to a foundational understanding of what's important there, et cetera is really important.

Lenny (00:44:14):

Got it. So part of this is learning new types of product work. So we're talking about trying to move from IC to manager and the things that get in the way, and so is the advice there just start to learn and understand... Maybe, say, you're doing feature work. You're just building a dashboard for your users. Is your advice there like start thinking about how growth works and understand the growth strategy of the company so that people give you this opportunity of, "Okay. Let's put Fareed on maybe a couple other things here because he already understands a little bit more about growth?"

Fareed Mosavat (00:44:45):

Yeah. I think there's a framework thing, and then there's like, "What practical advice?" So from a framework perspective, I think it's important to ask the question, "For each of the things that I am responsible for, what category does this fall into? What's important about it? What are the right ways to think about building that, given that it is different than what I've built before?" So, some of this, you can do within an org. If you're working on core product stuff, you probably have an adoption problem on one of your products, and there's growth work associated with driving usage of that thing.


So I think there's a piece at which even within a certain sub-segment that this can be valuable. You could be working on enterprise, which looks a lot like a lot of scaling work, right, and a lot of feature work, "Get me the right administrative dashboards and these kinds of things," but also, maybe you have a problem that's a growth problem. "How do I drive adoption? How do I actually drive usage? How do I make sure that our new enterprise customers are activated and retained?"


So I think at scale, any product leadership work has some pieces of these different kinds, and I think building a mental model for, "What are the other things we need to do? What's the right portfolio allocation across these different types of product work, and do I have enough of a baseline understanding of the different ways to evaluate and think about those and what the goals are in order to drive leadership across work I might not be able to do myself very well?" I am not a good technical PM despite having an engineering background. It's been too long, but I hope that I can lead technical scaling, technical debt restructure on my team or at least understand whether it's important to do or not.

Lenny (00:46:20):

So if you think about this concept of getting through this canyon broadly, it boils down to more scope. Maybe that's the way to think about it. It's like more scope of product work that you work on, being better at different types of work, scaling yourself so that other people can do work on your behalf or within your umbrella, and the point you made about not being satisfied with the resources you have and in helping people understand, "Here's what we could do if we had this many resources," and making the case for that feels like that's the overview. Is that how you think about it?

Fareed Mosavat (00:46:49):

Yeah. I think that's exactly right, and the last one is really important because now, you have moved to owning the impact. As a leader, you now own the business outcome, the impact, the delivery, not some sub-problem or known answer. You have to define the solutions. You have to talk about how many people you need to do them, and you need to figure out what do you need from the rest of the organization to do that. So, yeah. I think those are the three big buckets of things that I see trip people up.

Lenny (00:47:14):

Awesome, and just add plus one to that last point. Just like a lot of PMs end up being victims of the resources they get and like, "Oh, how could I have possibly had this impact with the resources you gave me?" versus, "How do I avoid that and empower myself to help people understand, 'Here's what I need to do this thing that you want me to do. If you think this is important, here's what we need,' and put it on other people's plate?" It doesn't mean you'll get it, but it's important to put that up front.

Fareed Mosavat (00:47:38):

Yeah, and that goes from a "would be nice" and makes you a better... more junior or even senior PM makes you a more effective one. It's extra credit. At the leadership level, it's baseline. The baseline is, "Okay. I believe this is the outcome we need to get to by this time, and this is what it's going to take. Here are the trade-offs. Here's what I need. Here's what I can get you if I can't do that." The reason I drum this one home is I feel like this is the mistake I have made now multiple times in my career, and I can't... At this point, I'm embarrassed to have seen it happen over and over again because you just get caught up in like, "Okay. Here's the team I have. I've got to build a roadmap. I've got to make sure everybody's got work to do," and you say focused on feeding that beast, and you forget to ask, "Is this even the right group to solve this?" Maybe you need a smaller team even, maybe you need a bigger team, or maybe you need different people. I think often, you find yourself victim of the circumstances instead of owning the situation.

Lenny (00:48:39):

I love that. When did you realize this was something you should be doing?

Fareed Mosavat (00:48:42):

I've learned different versions of this lesson now multiple times. I learned it at Instacart. I had a very small team, and we've got a lot done. But honestly, I think I failed to make the case that we should grow it faster and only... It was only when someone was like, "We should add more people." I was like, "Great. Yeah. Let's do that." I don't think I was hurt by that, but I think it was a, "Oh, you have permission. You should have asked," kind of thing. I think at Slack, the lesson I learned was about cross-functional. I think we did a good job of making the case for why we needed new teams or add more things to drive more impact, but I still took a very product approach to solving activation and monetization expansion type problems.


What I think is I look at what could have moved the needle more and what it could have made me a more successful leader at that company. It would've been partnering more closely with marketing, for instance, to figure out how we could be working on things together, helping drive their roadmap, and vice versa. Same with sales. Same with the data org. Same with finance. Those kinds of things where I don't think I was driving enough of the high-level outcome I owned, which is driving growth in the self-service business across the other parts of the company that needed to do that. I was a product leader, so I did product work, and I... Lesson learned.

Lenny (00:50:05):

Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. So we've been talking a lot about the regular path, and getting better and accelerating your path as a product leader, and staying on this track. There's also this alternative track that I know you're passionate about, and Reforge just become a beacon, it feels like, of folks that are moving away from working at one company to working at many companies and scaling their impact. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on what you've seen there. There's this large trend of just senior people becoming advisors, writing things, newsletters, for example. I'm curious what you think is happening there and how you think about that.

Fareed Mosavat (00:50:41):

It's interesting. The whys are hard to pin down, but it's definitely happening. I think some of it is maybe COVID-induced, some of it is remote work driving these trends, and some of it is just like there are a lot more leaders who are a lot more in demand. So, just to recap, a trend that I think we are seeing and that has been really interesting is a trend of senior leaders, people with meaningful operating experience, first, diversifying their impact maybe while they're still at a full-time role. Someone like yourself, Lenny, maybe was full-time at Airbnb or a similar company and said, "Hey, I'd like to do some advising, some angel investing, some speaking. Maybe I'll start writing a newsletter on the side," and then moving to this new category that I don't feel like really existed. Maybe it did in certain pockets of executive leadership around tech and startups, but really seeing it in product management of a shift towards, "The best use of my time and my career is to work across a portfolio of problems that a variety of different companies."


So we are seeing a larger percentage of our executive network. It's still small, but working on things like newsletters, podcasts, those and the like at the edge of the content creator side, but also, full-time advisors, fractional heads of growth, fractional heads of product one day a week, et cetera. Long-term advisory relationships, running workshops. These kinds of things that are more like a la carte. I think they love it because of the flexibility that it creates for them. They love it because of the high upside and non-linearity of possibility of results now instead of having equity in one company for four years of 100% of my time. It's a portfolio approach to not just the time and energy, but also the upside and opportunities that are there as well as the fact that they're just so in demand.


For senior leaders who have been in meaningful seats at well-known companies, you're getting hit up by recruiters all day long, and the decision, "What do I want to spend the next four or five, six years of my life on if it's just one thing?" is a very difficult one. So what we're finding is people seeing, "Hey, you don't need me full-time. What you need is me here a day a week to help your up and coming leaders be awesome." We're just seeing more and more of that in the industry, and it's been a really interesting trend to observe. Of our executives and residents, I would say most now are exploring this kind of advisory, fractional, or otherwise portfolio-based approach to their futures. Whereas most of them came from full-time roles beforehand.

Lenny (00:53:24):

Yeah. A program at Reforge is designed for that. The idea there is, "You don't know what you're going to do next? Come teach a class at Reforge to help some folks out, and then use that as the time to explore what you're going to do next." Right?

Fareed Mosavat (00:53:35):

Yeah. Yeah, it is, and the hypothesis... I was one of the first EIR, so I started as an EIR at the company, and then ended up joining full-time as an executive. The hypothesis was, "Hey, let's give people six months to a year so that they don't just hop from one really high-stress, really difficult job into the next one. We also want great operators teaching and meeting our programs. How do we build a win-win situation?" So what we did was we created the Executive in Residence program as a way to help top operators have a transition point, but I think the hypothesis was that most of them would take on the next VP product role, or CPO role, or CMO type role, and what we're finding is that more and more of them are using that space and time.


They are building up their understanding of where they're experts and what their real TEDx value is, and then finding ways to do that across a variety of different companies and organizations versus just the single one, one, because they want to try before they buy, so to speak, in terms of of like even if you do end up somewhere full-time, it's nice to be able to really work with them and get to know them because at the executive level in particular, it's a really high level of commitment, and you have a lot of opportunities, so you want to be really careful about it. But also, two, because it may not be the best use of your energy. When you have a lot of frameworks and you have a lot of broad understanding, you have a lot of examples, your value to the ecosystem is often by helping lots of companies be successful, not just one. I suspect that's how you feel about what you're doing as well.

Lenny (00:55:07):

Yeah. When I started down this path of experimenting with a newsletter back in the day, I called it Project Avoid Getting a Real Job, and what I was trying to do is figure out, "Can I make a living doing this thing even though I don't know if there's any way to make money writing a thing?" My wife is always like, "There's no money in writing. What are you doing? I thought you wanted to start a company, that you wanted to do some advising."

Fareed Mosavat (00:55:28):

Yeah. Well, let me talk about why I think the generalization there's no money in writing is true, but I think it's true because it's... In general, maybe not, but what's happening, I think, is people are figuring out, "What is my specific knowledge," just to tie the knots back to the thing we started at the beginning, "that because I've taken so many reps at this is actually not easily replaceable in a focused area?" So modernization or building zero-to-one paid channels as a marketer, or whatever it is. Just narrow enough that I know I'm one of the five best in the world at or I can make the case that I'm one of the five best in the world at it. You as a company probably can't hire that person because you're too early, don't have enough money, don't have enough clout, et cetera, and that I have generalized enough in my mind that I can actually be really effective in a small amount of time.


So what works for you, I don't know a lot about the mechanics of your newsletter, but it's not just writing. You're writing about a very specific set of topics that you have unique experience in that has harnessed a very focused community, and I think we're seeing this across a bunch of different things that there's a lot of sub-expertise. No one can be an expert at company. Some people claim to be, but when you get down to it, I feel like an expert on bottoms-up SaaS activation strategy is like, "I can speak pretty confidently about that. Somebody has a problem in that space, I can usually at an hour accelerate their learning pretty dramatically." I think as we're finding what these things are and people are getting smarter about what they're looking for, I think it opened up this space where you can be the best in the world at a relatively narrow topic and make a real meaningful living out of it.

Lenny (00:57:19):

There's two thoughts I want to go into here, and then I think we should probably wrap up, but one is I do worry there's like... everyone that gets to a certain point, it just exits the career track, and who's left to build things? I worry that just everyone is trying to become an influencer/creator person. So what I wanted to chat about briefly is just downsides of this path in life.

Fareed Mosavat (00:57:41):


Lenny (00:57:41):

The other pieces is for folks listening that want to pursue this direction, what could they do to set themselves up? So the first piece is just like, what are the downsides? I'll share a few already. So in this life that I lead now, I get no health insurance benefits. I get no time off. I get no 401(k) matching. None of that. I have to basically pay an absurd amount of money for health insurance and find ways to take time off, invent PTO policies for myself, and all these sorts of things. I've gotten used to it, but it is weird. My wife is also an independent self-employed person, so we both don't have... If we have a child, we have no mat leave, pat leave. We just have to figure that out. I don't know how I would do that. So that comes to mind for me. What else have you seen as the downside of this path?

Fareed Mosavat (00:58:25):

Yeah, the second is it's unclear what the longevity is. How far can you be removed from your full-time experience and still be valuable? This is why I actually think this is a better path than what used to happen, which is all the great operators turned into VCs, venture capitalists. Right? In there, you're pretty disconnected from the ops. I think this advisory type path, I'll leave the creator piece alone because I'm not as familiar with it. But in the advisor path, you are still maybe spending a day a week with these companies. You are still doing. You are helping grow the next generation. I don't like to say generation, but next crop of up and coming leaders. So the question mark for me is longevity. Is it possible to build more and more amazing companies if more and more amazing operators are leaving the full-time workforce?


I don't know, but I hope that it's better than what it's been because actually, they're building and doing, et cetera. So I think that's the other question mark and downside, and I think we think about this as part of our ecosystem. I think as long as people are doing, and generalizing, and executing, as I talked about it at the beginning, I think they can still be valuable in a meaningful way and maybe provide access to that kind of knowledge for a broader range of companies. The other is just like if everybody does it, then maybe it's not so unique anymore. So I think there's a question there as well.

Lenny (00:59:55):

The other piece is like you're constantly having to do sales and BD as an advisor like, "Who's the next company?" You're always wondering if there will be more, if they stopped. It's a real part of it.

Fareed Mosavat (01:00:03):

That's why it has not been attractive to me personally, I will say. I like being focused on a singular problem for some amount of time. I do a lot of portfolio-type stuff outside. I advise casually. I do some coaching. Not coaching exactly, but mentorship for a couple of different up and coming product leaders. I do some angel investing, those kinds of things. I like to see what's happening around me, but I do like having an anchor. That's like my main thing, and I don't like selling. It turns out I don't, and so you have to like that, I think, to do some of this stuff. But I think there are things our platform at Reforge will be able to do for these kinds of offers. There's a long period of time to make that easier and easier. No promises, but stay tuned.

Lenny (01:00:46):

Okay, okay. So then, going back maybe as a final question. For folks that are just like, "That sounds great. Maybe in the future, I want to become a full-time advisor, EIR person, writer person," what advice do you have for folks to set their career up for a place where they can get to a place where they can become full-time advisors, let's say?

Fareed Mosavat (01:01:04):

This is this generalized step I talked about in the learn loop. It becomes even more important if what you want to do is not just do your current job well, but be able to communicate why that expertise is valuable to other people, other companies across a wide range of things. So I would say choose your opportunities carefully to be building the right balance of depth and breadth across different things. You need to connect dots, so you do need different data points from different types of product work and different types of organizations because you don't want to be so narrow that only DDC eCommerce company that sell once-a-year purchases or whatever is the only thing you can work on. That's just an example. I could have come up with a bunch of others.


You need to have some breadth, right, but it's like same problem, different industry. It's one way to think about depth that's focused. Different problem, same industry is another way to think about it, but you have to come up with a unique intersection that is clearly you are in the top tier of the people who know how to do that. That's a little bit nuanced. There's an art to it I think in some respects, but I think that's an important piece of the puzzle.


Second, work at great places. I think this is good advice for almost all product managers in particular, but really, anybody working in tech, for better or for worse, where you worked matters to people for two reasons. One, it's easier to do great work at a place that is fundamentally working. When the tide is rising, there are tons of opportunities to make meaningful, deep, awesome impact. The second is what you talked about. You're going to be in the sales business eventually, and it's a lot easier to sell experience at places people have heard of than places nobody has heard of. Unfortunately, that's I think a big piece of this puzzle as well. I don't have to spend a lot of time talking about what Slack is. You probably don't have to spend a lot of time talking about what Airbnb is. I think that helps, and it is a meaningful piece of the puzzle.

Lenny (01:03:04):

Absolutely. Fareed, I feel like anybody that listen to this episode is going to be a better product manager. I'm very confident of that, and I'm really appreciative.

Fareed Mosavat (01:03:13):

I hope so.

Lenny (01:03:14):

I'm sure of it. So, just to close, where can folks find you online if they want to reach out, learn more, and how can listeners be useful to you?

Fareed Mosavat (01:03:21):

You can find me on Twitter almost most days, F-A-R-3-3-D. That's been my handle since I was a young man.

Lenny (01:03:29):

So complicated.

Fareed Mosavat (01:03:30):

So check me out there. It's just threes instead at Es, right? That's probably my social network of choice and best place to communicate or hear what I'm thinking about or what I'm doing. Obviously, I do a ton of work at Reforge. On our events, I toast a bunch of different things, do a lot of stuff. If you're interested in these kinds of topics, please, I don't want to make this a sales pitch, but we have a lot of programs that are dedicated to deep dives into the problems that we've talked about here. I'm dedicating this next chapter of my career to helping a wider range of product leaders be great at their jobs, and that's what we do for a living. I hope that we can help folks there.


As to what people can help me with, I don't know. I'm always looking for people working on interesting stuff or with interesting, unique problems. If you're a founder working on something interesting and you're looking for an advisor, practical advisor, not for me, but we have a wide range of network experts that I'd be happy to connect folks with. If you're a product manager on a team that's looking to figure out how to break through on certain problems, reach out. Maybe we can help with Reforge or maybe I can help individually.

Lenny (01:04:35):

Thanks for being here, Fareed.

Fareed Mosavat (01:04:36):

Yeah. Cheers. Thanks for having me, Lenny. I think what you're doing is wonderful and making a big difference for PMs everywhere, so thank you.

Lenny (01:04:44):

Same. Thanks, man.

Fareed Mosavat (01:04:45):


Lenny (01:04:47):

Thank you so much for listening. If you found this valuable, you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. Also, please consider giving us a rating or leaving a review as that really helps other listeners find the podcast. You can find all past episodes or learn more about the show at lennyspodcast.com. See you in the next episode.