In a software ecosystem overflowing with apps, products and services, building a new product or prioritizing new features for an existing product can be a daunting task. The best products have a strong team of product managers who understand the fundamental needs of the consumer and have the tools in place to assess the success or failure of a new feature. David Berlin is the VP of Product, Engagement & Mobile at DAZN, the world’s first pure sport OTT streaming service. As a founding member of the company, he leads the interface development of the product across all platforms. We had the opportunity to chat with David about his wealth of experience in product management and the things he considers pivotal to building great products.
David Berlin | Interview
David’s varied career spans entertainment, business analysis, and product management. He started as an Actors Agent in London Management Ltd’s comedy department, before moving to interactive TV format producers Optimistic Entertainment PLC to become manager of Business Development and Research and Analysis.
In 2009, he set up a web/iPhone/iPad app start up called Jacked Productions until he moved over to work at the BBC in 2011 — first as a Business Analyst for iPlayer on mobile and then as a Senior Product Manager for TV & iPlayer mobile applications, launching the iPhone and Android tablet iPlayer apps. In 2015, David joined DAZN, an OTT global sports streaming service, to head up their Engagement and Mobile product divisions.
First up how would you define product management?
Product is the intersection between the business (what makes money), tech (the technologies needed to do something), and UX (a design that customers love). To be a product manager, you have to understand all three elements — you don’t need to be an expert in all of them, but you certainly need to be a jack of all trades. It’s crucial that you understand how these different elements tie into each other and fit into the overall business architecture, and that you’re also constantly in communication with the engineering team.
The hardest part about being a product manager is taking end-to-end ownership for the project. It’s our responsibility to think everything through and have the tools and flexibility to react to issues so that when you release a product, it doesn’t fall completely flat on its face. I spend a lot of time thinking through the flows before designing anything – mapping out the user paths and understanding the implications of each possible step. A key part of this process is inspiring my team and getting their buy-in. Product management is not a dictatorship — it’s about gently encouraging consensus by asking the right questions. People are a lot more passionate and push a lot harder when they’ve been creatively involved in the process from the beginning.
Do you enjoy this process of building a product from the ground up?
I really do. My favourite toy growing up was LEGO — it’s the perfect marriage between form and function. Nowadays, I’m always really impressed when I meet someone who’s got that combination: someone who can create a product that’s amazingly intuitive but also looks great.
I also like the challenge of figuring out how to get people interested in what you’re doing. I remember I went to a really influential (and pretty inspiring) Kathy Sierra talk back in 2014, where she spoke about why reducing cognitive drain was key to building truly sticky products. Even if you’re an insurance company, there are still ways that you can make your app an enjoyable experience that people want to come back to time and time again. These kinds of challenges are inherently quite fun, right? At least that’s my perspective!
What are some of the most important things you need to build a fast-growing streaming service?
I think a lot of the general principles are the same regardless of what you’re building. The first thing you want to do is create an internal product team. You can start with external dev teams and even UX teams, but in order to ensure that the right things are being built, you should expect your product managers to have skin in the game, so I think it’s best to build your internal product team first. They can then do the thinking, frame the problem/need/opportunity for UX and provide the requirements for tech to get stuck into. I’m not just saying this because I’m a product manager — I genuinely believe that this is the right thing to do. In an ideal world you would have lead representatives from UX and tech as early as possible internally too.
Your team is number one. As simplistic as it might sound, you want the best possible people — in a small team, you want people who really know what they’re doing, can hit the ground running, and are proactive. Try to hire people who not only have specialist knowledge, but who also understand how to communicate with customers across various channels. There’s a quote that’s sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein: “If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend the first 55 minutes trying to understand the problem and the last 5 minutes solving it routinely.” Find people who are constantly thinking about what it is that users want and who will first spend a lot of effort understanding what the problem/need/opportunity is.
Once you have the right team in place, get everyone together and write down all the principles, assumptions, and hypotheses of your project. What are the fundamental requirements and assumptions that you need to test? Once you work these out, you can extrapolate out how to deal with the unknowns, prioritise, scope and start building a core vertical slice of the product etc. It’s then time to get to market as fast as possible, get feedback, and start tweaking based on how it’s actually being used. The sooner you have this loop up and running, the better.
We have a data-driven framework for feature prioritization – our decisions must be based on data. We want to know the expected impact of functionality on our North Star metric and core KPIs, before we build it. If you are spending tens of millions on engineering, you need to be sure that you are getting a return. It is well worth having a framework that allows you to fail early.
What’s the most important factor when it comes to product and communications?
It’s all about building trust — if you’re going to give people your payment details, you need to trust them. It’s as simple as that. So, for example, localisation is incredibly important with new users and in the acquisition flow. You don’t want to try to build trust in a foreign language. Even if your users are proficient in English, for example, it’s generally still better to speak to them in their own language. If nothing else, it shows that the company genuinely cares about your region and that you’re not just an afterthought.
Three tips to help you build the right team
Whether you’re a big bank or a fledgling startup, a sporting giant or a Sunday league team, there’s one question that everybody wants to answer: How can we build the right team? Building a strong team is about much more than just finding people with the right skills. Obviously, there’s little point in all getting along well with each other if you can’t actually do the job at hand but there’s more to creating winning teams that perform day in, day out, than simply getting people with the right level of expertise. Here are three tips to help you build an effective team. Of course, these are far from all you need to consider — but they’re a good start.
- Get everyone on board with the vision
The most successful teams have a clearly-defined vision. They have an strong understanding of what success looks like and that makes it much easier to map out precisely how to get there. It’s hard to build a great team if people aren’t on board with your vision. You might have an amazingly talented developer, but if they don’t understand the overall objectives or if they disagree with the company’s direction, they probably won’t go the extra mile.
Having a sense of purpose is becoming increasingly important for employees, too. A 2017 World Economic Forum study showed that having a strong purpose/impact on society was the second most important factor for millennials (those aged between 18 and 35) when considering job opportunities. Without a vision or a sense of purpose, employees can quickly become disillusioned and unmotivated — and this attitude can spread like wildfire throughout your team. The key takeaway? Hire people who genuinely believe in your vision.
- Energy sappers versus energisers
Sir Clive Woodward, the World Cup-winning English rugby coach, has spoken before about energy sappers and energy drainers — and the massive impact that they both have on a team. We’ve all worked with energy sappers before. There are some people who love to complain no matter how little work they’ve got on, how good their weekend was, or how much they’re being paid. Of course, we all like to have a grumble now and again — that’s just human nature. But if your team is filled with people who perennially whinge and moan, you’ve got a problem.
On the other hand, there are people who are always positive. You give them another task to do and they gladly accept it, no questions asked. These employees are the mainstay of any successful team. However, it’s not always about having a smile on your face. Energisers can also be people who willingly tackle any challenge head-on. They never give up and they raise everyone else’s performance by setting a great example. Make sure to stack your team with energisers versus energy sappers.
- Lifelong learners
Last but certainly not least, you want to try and instill a culture of lifelong learning within your organization. There’s no doubt that hiring people with the right skills certainly helps — especially if you want to achieve rapid growth. That said, no profession stands still for too long. There are always new ways of working and new technology to contend with, so you want to hire people who tackle these challenges head-on instead of being stuck in their ways.
A recent IBM report suggests that as many as 120 million people in the world’s largest 12 economies will need to be retrained/upskilled in the next three years. A penchant for lifelong learning is no longer a nice-to-have attitude — it’s increasingly a necessity. Filling your team with lifelong learners will pay dividends in the long run.