Life of a European Product Manager

Exponent Alumni
Mitchell KimMitchell KimLast updated

We talk to Katja Muradyan, an Exponent alumnus, on her journey to breaking into product management from a consulting background and her experiences building various products in Europe. Katja is currently PM at Google in Europe, working on Wear OS.

Q: How would you answer the “Tell me about yourself” question?

I’m Katja and I’m currently working as a PM on the Wear OS team at Google.  

Right after university, I worked as an IT consultant for big and small companies. In my biggest project, I used to plan, follow and test the features with users in a company HR software. Even though my contribution was small, it helped the company monitor and enhance its social sustainability development effort.

I later took a leap of faith and left a Big4 company, Ernst and Young, and went to a small eco-friendly email startup. I started there as a Project Manager and left as Product Manager. There is nothing better than learning the product role in a startup as you have an incredible amount of both liberty and pressure at the same time. This is where I learned how to prioritize, how to say “no” (that my ex-colleagues still laugh about), and basically how to only invest in things that matter. I made a lot of errors, but they are very valuable assets to me today.

Since then I have worked in another more mature startup and as a consultant PM at Thiga. I have also had some entrepreneurial experiences. In my last year at university, I opened a tourism agency in Moscow with my mum. It was amazing to work on a family business with my mum who is an experienced entrepreneur.

These days, I am thinking about my career path as a product and try to get the most out of every experience.

Q: What was the most difficult thing when you were recruiting for product roles and how did you overcome it?

In most European countries, unlike the US, product management is a relatively new field. Hence, the hiring process is not yet standardized. Every time you apply for a product role, you should be ready for anything. UK, Germany, and Netherlands are exceptions so far as they follow much of the US model.

In the prep, you could not expect to have Product Design or Analytical questions. The varieties of interviews went from: "What do you know about online advertising?" to “We want to have this feature, write us a PRD.” To prepare for this diversity of questions was impossible.

To be honest, as a PM it is hard to sit down and write a PRD as 1) a PRD should never be written in isolation, 2) the thinking that you are just working for free for this company, 3) you never know when to stop, as a PRD is a very specific document to every company, team or product.

So the only way to lower the risks was to ask the recruiter: "what should I prepare for the next interview?” and try to guide the interview yourself.

It is quite different from going through interviews with more mature companies. Even though the process at big companies was very challenging, it almost was a relief :).

Q: How did Exponent help with your interview process?

Exponent helped me talk to recruiters and hiring managers better.

I wanted to shape my thoughts and be able to focus only on the essential things during the interview. Instead of guessing what the hiring managers need and not to be shy to ask questions.

I must say that this skill also helps me in my day-to-day work.

Q: Any advice for aspiring PMs applying, interviewing, and considering offers?

Be confident and keep your head up.

Job searching is hard. PM job searching is even harder. It is such a multifaceted job, that even the companies do not always know how to hire you. Be mindful that the company will set up very particular expectations for the role (because they want to make certain what the perfect candidate looks like) and it might even require a non-existent set of skills and experiences.

Remember, the recruiting process is itself a product :). For the companies, iteration starts the moment they start seeing candidates trickling in through the pipeline. You might be one of the candidates they meet before realizing that their perfect talent does not exist. That does not make you a bad candidate. It means that they have not shaped their process well enough yet, so don't take it personally and stay confident.

Q: Readers of the Exponent blog may not be too familiar with the technology scene in Europe. Are there any cool companies and products that you want to highlight that are based out of Europe?

Europe is a great place for tech startups. There is so much great talent around and a lot of investors.

You can name any industry type and you would find a promising candidate: Fin-tech, Health-tech, Clean-tech, SaaS, Entertainment.

Have you heard of these?

Q: How is product management as a role perceived in Europe? Has the role been rising in popularity as it is in the U.S, and are you aware of any differences between being a PM in Europe versus any other region?

It is important to understand that every European country has a very different level of maturity for product management as a discipline. In some countries, such as the UK, Germany or the Netherlands, it is already a clearly defined profession, whereas in other countries, like France, it is just becoming popular over the last couple of years and you can still see a shift from project to product management.

In general, the PM industry is growing, meaning that there is a growing number of job offers and talents, conferences and meetups.

Q: Are there any specific things to note about building products in Europe, such as the implications of the GDPR and generally a heavier focus on privacy?

Definitely. In Europe, there is a higher consideration for user privacy and also a focus on mindfulness of the business itself. People care about sustainability: economic, ecological, and social. Users also tend to choose a local alternative to a service (instead of choosing a big, global brand) if one exists.

As a result, it is close to impossible to grow a successful product if there are any hints of abuse. The press and the legislation are the major driving forces to make sure that the companies deliver only the best services to their customers.

Q: Favorite PM resource or blog?

Look for PM meetups in your city. Best way ever for me to learn new things was to talk to people in real life. Make friends and ask questions.

Q: Who’s a product manager you admire?

I believe is worth admiring real people around you, because there are so many people around you who do great things and you can actually talk to them. I admire Elize Bosker and Diane Mergui, who shape the Paris product scene, with their small but impactful efforts (On a side note, Diane has organized events on sharing the difficulties of recruitment of PMs in Europe).

Q: What is your favorite product and why?

Image Credit: Offisante Official Website

One of the interesting products I found recently on the market was a pharmacy management tool by Offisante. It might not shine like the top mobile apps today, but it provides a deeply disruptive service in the health industry. You might ask—has this not existed before? The answer is if you were a local family-owned pharmacy, you had close to no power over your stock and prices.

Its innovation is in its simplicity, putting crucial information together and making it available to everyone. It is a simple tool that helps small pharmacies be in control of their stock and predict the future needs of the drugs. For example, if there is a flu epidemic, they would increase the stock of drugs treating flu symptoms. It also allows pharmacies to have more power in negotiating the prices of the drugs, making them more accessible to the local community.

Another great feature is that the Offisante allows pharmacies to check and reserve in another neighborhood pharmacy the drug that is out of stock in their city. The customers, instead of walking through all the pharmacies one by one, or waiting for the order to arrive, can just walk to the closest pharmacy to get the product he or she needs. And that pharmacy does not need to be part of a huge franchise.

What is amazing is that this company humbly calls this product an MVP, which it definitely is not anymore. All this together helps the pharmacies become closer to their clients and spend more time treating the patients, not commercial and operational issues. It allows entrepreneurs to open local and neighborhood-friendly pharmacies, where the pharmacists function almost like family doctors.

This product is amazing because it answers the major pain points in the drug sphere—industrialization and commercialization of the service which is deeply personal and should be accessible to everyone. And they develop only the features that truly matter and can change the world around us.

The potential for growth is also enormous, from last-mile-delivery of medication (the Swiss healthcare model already does this) to global transparency tools of the medical market provided for the patients. After all, the only thing that should matter is the health of the patient.

That's a wrap! Thank you so much for reading.

You can find more about Katja on LinkedIn.

Interested in breaking into product management like Katja with the help of Exponent's expert interview coaching? Visit Exponent's Interview Course and website to learn more.

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