Amit Fulay (VP, Microsoft): PM Lessons from Google, Meta, and Microsoft
A candid conversation about Google's confusing messaging strategy, Satya Nadella's superpower, and the ups and downs of PM careers
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Amit Fulay is VP Product for Microsoft Teams and previously spent a decade building products at Meta and Google. I spoke to Amit about:
Lessons from Google and Meta (e.g., why Google fumbled its messaging strategy)
How PMs can build trust with leaders and manage career setbacks
Microsoft’s resurgence and Satya Nadella’s superpower
Amit has built products at three of the most dominant tech companies of our time. He was also incredibly honest with me about his own mistakes and setbacks.
Check out the abridged interview transcript below.
Amit’s path from PM to VP
Welcome Amit! I’d love to start with your time at Google. You spent 7 years there and grew from PM to group PM. What did you learn from that experience?
When I look back on my Google journey, there are a few things that stand out:
High talent bar. I was lucky to work with caring leaders and best in class engineering and design teams. You don’t find that talent in every environment.
Making bets. I worked on 0-1 products instead of established businesses like search and ads. I saw how willing Google was to make big bets like tap and pay commerce, Wallet, and Hangouts.
Being persistent. To ship 0-1 products at a large company like Google, I learned how to navigate the organization and not take no for an answer.
Let’s talk about Google’s messaging products. Google has taken a winding path in their messaging strategy - launching and deprecating multiple products (e.g., Hangouts, Allo, Chat). Why do you think this happened?
I can write a book on this topic because I had a front row seat to some of it. I think we got two things wrong:
We were chasing competitors instead of creating new ways to solve user problems.
We were too focused on solving company problems instead of user problems.
Let me give you two examples:
Hangouts. When we shipped Hangouts back in 2012, it was part of Google Plus. We were too focused on going after Facebook instead of thinking: “What could we be world class at?” As a result, we totally missed the mobile communications trend and the rise of WhatsApp and FaceTime. We couldn’t get the same traction because Hangouts was tied to your Google Account, which wasn’t widely adopted.
Allo and Duo. We built these apps to chase WhatsApp. Unlike Hangouts, you could sign up with your phone number even if you didn’t have a Google account. But people already had WhatsApp and we didn’t offer anything truly unique. In fact, Allo and Duo were more of a hedge in case Android native messaging (which had carrier dependencies) didn’t work out.
I see similar patterns with Google’s messaging strategy today. For example, Google is bringing Meet and Duo together in Workspace. That may be a great idea, but it’s also chasing the success of Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Chasing competitors blindly doesn’t work. You have to define a few key areas where you’ll solve a user’s problem better than anyone else.
At Meta, you led News Feed, which is certainly not a 0-1 product. What did you learn from that experience?
I think Meta is really good at a few things:
Using data to make decisions. Meta’s data science and growth discipline is the best that I’ve seen. The amount of rigor they put into analytics, user research, and other functions is best in class.
Giving voice to cross functional partners. Meta has a strong culture of giving cross functional partners like design, data, research, and marketing a seat at the table. It really helps to bring diverse perspectives to the team.
It took you a decade to grow from PM to VP. But as you wrote recently, careers are full of ups and downs. Can you share a time when you felt frustrated in your career?
When we experience a setback, we assume that it’s only happening to us. Nobody shares these setbacks publicly, so it’s easy to assume that you’re the only person who’s getting left behind by a reorg, layoff, or skipped promotion. But the truth is, all of us go through these setbacks.
I’ll give you an example:
At Google, I got really good at building 0-1 products, but I also got feedback that I wasn’t experienced at building products and teams at scale. At that time, I thought that this was a huge setback because I put so much effort into building these new products in this massive company.
But you know, a more constructive way to look at the feedback was, “Ok, I’m going to get that scaled experience. I’m going to learn the truth about why this experience matters.”
So that’s why I took a job to manage the most scaled product out there - the Facebook News Feed with 2B users. Working on News Feed taught me how to make decisions when every pixel had massive trade-offs for billions of people.
I was able to turn my setback into an opportunity to build a new skillset. I think everyone can do this if they can reframe their situation.
Managing your PM career
Along the same lines, you wrote that sometimes people have to take a step back (e.g., smaller role, company, or compensation) to catapult to better opportunities. Can you explain how this might work?
Yes, let me give you another example.
Early in my career, I went from Microsoft to a really small startup that only had seven employees. People thought I was crazy, but that startup turned out to be one of the best places for me to grow. Because the startup was rapidly expanding, I got to grow my responsibilities and scope much faster than if I stayed at Microsoft.
Even today, when I mentor other PMs, some of them will look at opportunities and say: “My comp is going to be less” or “My title will be lower” or “My team will be smaller.” But sometimes it’s worth making these trade-offs for the right opportunity.
That’s what I mean by catapult. You have to choose your bets carefully, but often you can get on a faster growth trajectory by taking a step back.
At a large company, success often comes down to whether you’ve built trust and relationships with your manager and the leadership team. Do you have any advice on how to do this?
Totally. I have three suggestions:
Give before you take. You may think you have nothing to offer to an exec or senior leader, but you do. For example, when I joined Meta, I had a meeting with an executive. After that meeting, instead of asking him for anything, I offered to help with recruiting and referred a great engineer who he hired. Doing this helped kick off a great relationship with this leader. So when I needed something from him, it became a lot easier to ask.
Try to understand people. When you’re at a large company, you’re often just trying to push something through. So it’s easy to have a lot of interactions where you’re pushing for something and others are pushing back. Instead, try to understand people deeper:
What do they care about?
What are their strengths?
What POV are they coming from?
Start thinking about the above questions instead of just talking in a “give or take” way. Put in that extra time to reach out and learn about people.
Be authentic. People often speak with a lot of jargon or force others to guess what they’re saying. If you’re direct, honest, and objective - I think that’s incredibly refreshing and a great way to build relationships. People don't want to connect with phony people.
I think one caveat is you don’t want to be too negative even if you’re being honest.
You’re so right. If you’re always bringing problems instead of solutions, that’s not great either. But you can be honest even if you’re struggling with something. You can say, here’s the challenge we’re dealing with or here’s the solution that we tried and why it didn’t work. Just having that honesty goes a long way.
What advice do you have for people who feel career angst? This angst could come from a goal to get promoted in a certain timeframe, a feeling that they’re not being recognized, or a sense that their colleagues are getting ahead.
I think it’s a human thing to feel angst about our careers. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, be aware of what’s creating your angst so that you can deal with it.
I see a few common sources of angst:
Artificial timelines. I mentor a lot of people who have goals like “I want to be a director by age 35.” These goals make you unhappy. Instead, be flexible about the long term and enjoy the journey along the way.
Comparisons. It’s never fruitful to compare your journey with someone else. You never know what other people are dealing with or what setbacks they’ve experienced. Instead, just focus on running your own race.
When you feel career angst, seek to understand what triggers it and then to find ways to deal with it. This is an important skill that everyone should work on for their happiness.
I think people should also be open to serendipity. If you’re only focused on being a director by age 35, you might make a bad decision to become a director at the wrong company.
Yes this is the classic fixed vs. growth mindset. If you have a fixed plan, then you’re shutting out all the other opportunities that might come along the way.
Sometimes I feel like the best career plan is to not have one. Instead of asking, “Where do I want to be 5 years from now?” I find it useful to think:
What kind of work gives me joy?
What do I want to learn?
What experiences do I want to have?
I think just having that lens opens you up to so many more opportunities.
Yeah it’s kind of like building a product strategy. I mean how many 10 year strategies actually work out exactly as planned.
Yeah. These days I just want to go along with the journey and see where it takes me.
I’d like to wrap up by talking about Microsoft. You and I both worked at Microsoft over a decade ago. I’ll be honest with you - I sold all my stock when I left because I thought the company was done.
But Microsoft has really transformed under Satya. How do you think the company has changed since a decade ago?
Yeah I also sold all my stock when I left! 13 years later I’m back and it’s definitely a different company.
If I can sum it up in one line - Microsoft no longer has hubris.
The Microsoft I left felt entitled to succeed. People were always projecting a sense of success and teams were territorial.
The Microsoft I joined is so much more honest. Everyone’s upfront about their challenges and honest about their shortcomings. People are nicer and teams are more collaborative. People want to do the right thing and help each other out.
It’s honestly remarkable how Satya was able to change the culture of this company. It’s hard enough to change culture for a small team, nevermind hundreds of thousands of people.
Do you have a personal story to share about Satya?
You know I’ll call out one experience that shows how he operates. I don’t think I’ve ever shared this before but here it is.
A few weeks after I joined Microsoft, Satya randomly called me and my manager to chat. During those 30 minutes, he only asked questions. He asked about our thoughts on the product strategy, Microsoft’s culture, and what we thought needed change.
Here you have this CEO of a $2 trillion company just listening to two new employees instead of telling us what to do. That’s remarkable.
Later on, I realized that this is how Satya gathers signal. He’s really good at getting different points of view from different sources and then connecting the dots on what needs to be fixed. It’s remarkable that he can do this without falling into the temptation of telling you what to do or becoming defensive.
Wow, that’s an amazing story, thanks so much for sharing it!
Let’s close by talking about how Microsoft is integrating AI. You’re a VP in the Microsoft Teams org, which just announced AI-powered meeting notes, timeline markers, and translations. Tell me more about the level of energy in company about AI. Is this the big new charter for the company?
Yes! You’ve seen the recent announcements and there is a lot more to come.
In Teams, we are thinking about how we can use AI capabilities to make collaboration easier and more productive. There are manual tasks like taking meeting notes that can be automated through AI.
I can say that there’s a lot of excitement about AI across the company. Satya is definitely pushing us to do more and to do it faster.
I can’t wait for hear about your future product announcements. Thanks Amit!
If you enjoyed this post, follow Amit on LinkedIn.
Thanks for sharing this stories, Peter. They are teaching me so many valuable things.
wonderful insights ! great job Peter as always! keep it going