Ravi Mehta (Outpace, Ex-CPO Tinder): How to Define Your Product and Career Strategy
Bringing clarity to mission, strategy, roadmap, and goals for your product and career
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Product strategy is a nebulous term for most people.
Too often, mission, strategy, roadmap, and goals get mixed up and feel like a game of checking the boxes.
In the interview below, we cover:
Ravi’s path from PM to CPO to founder
How to define your product strategy
How to apply the product strategy stack to your career
Ravi’s path from PM to CPO to Founder
Welcome Ravi! You had a long career leading products at TripAdvisor, Facebook, and Tinder. What advice do you have for product folks looking to accelerate their career?
I started my career after college with a lucky break - I was an early member of the Xbox team when the company wanted to make a big bet on gaming. Since then, I’ve also been a product leader in social, travel, dating, healthcare, and education. My personal mission is to use consumer tech to help people connect with each other.
If you're looking to accelerate your career, here’s what I recommend:
Look for fast-moving water. Companies and industries that are growing also help your career growth. For example, I joined TripAdvisor after it went public. I played a key role in helping the company evolve from a UGC to a marketplace which also created opportunities for me to grow as a product leader.
Deliver business impact. Product is a means to an end - and that end is to create a more valuable company by helping customers. Try to work on products that can move the needle for your company. At larger companies, it’s possible to get a role that is more about feature delivery than business impact.
Create teams and systems that provide leverage for you and the company. As you get more senior, your time becomes the primary drag on your growth. You have 10x the responsibility but the same 24 hours. It’s easy to get into an infinite loop of meetings and fire drills. Since Tripadvisor, I’ve focused on implementing better systems for goal setting, strategy definition, team building, and self-assessment to scale myself.
Work on problems that you love for customers that you care about. My success has been tied to how much I could empathize with customers and how excited I am to solve problems for them. At TripAdvisor, I was a customer myself. At Tinder, I was not a customer but was nevertheless passionate about making dating and social discovery better for people. I spent hours doing focus groups, usability studies, and talking to both singles and relationship therapists.
Many people are going through a tough time right now due to the economy. Can you share a time when you had a big setback in your career? What got you through it?
I made a risky decision to go from Tripadvisor to Facebook.
At Tripadvisor, I was VP of the Consumer Product team. I had dozens of PMs in my org and wide scope across the product.
At Facebook, I joined a new team focused on Gen Z engagement with only one PM.
It quickly became clear that my team was in a tough position. Priorities at Facebook were shifting due to controversies like Cambridge Analytica. Meanwhile, the Gen Z landscape was moving to TikTok and Discord. We were not set up for success, and I likely burned bridges trying to get my points across. I didn’t take time to understand the politics and decision-making process at the company. To make things worse, I also had a personal accident that resulted in multiple surgeries.
Two things really helped me in the face of these professional and personal setbacks:
I made a concerted effort to reframe my situation. I found the writings of Ryan Holiday about Stoicism, particularly The Obstacle is the Way, to be essential.
I thought a lot about my career momentum. A setback can feel like getting stuck, but everyone has momentum that they’ve built up. I looked for a role that would make use of my unique experiences as a consumer product leader with deep expertise in UGC and social. Becoming a CPO at Tinder was a perfect combination of these skills.
What led you to start Outpace instead of going back to work for another company?
After my CPO role at Tinder, I wanted to find the right problem to solve for the next 10 years. I became an executive in residence at Reforge where I coached many talented PMs at a critical inflection point in their careers.
A consistent challenge that I heard is the success criteria changes as people rise in their careers. Individual contributors succeed by mastering technical skills. But managers need to master influence, leadership, communication, strategic thinking, and other soft skills to succeed.
From my own experience, I found that 1-on-1 coaching was critical to helping me transition to a leadership role. But, coaching has been expensive and hard to access for most people, especially at the early stage of a person's leadership journey.
So, I knew that limited access to 1-on-1 coaching was a big, valuable problem, but I wasn’t sure that it was solvable on a venture scale. Historically, coaching has been a services business, not a technology business.
Around this time, I started advising a D2C healthcare company called Sesame. Similar to coaching, The doctor/patient relationship is a high-stakes, personal connection that has resisted the technological change that has swept many other fields. But, that was starting to change due to companies like Hims and Teladoc.
It clicked. Now was the right time to build a new way for people to get 1-on-1 coaching at scale – not just because the problem space is big and valuable, but because the solution space is evolving rapidly.
We decided to start Outpace to truly democratize access to professional coaching. Outpace’s product provides a library of Guided Programs, each designed to help people with topics like managing up, thinking more strategically, getting hired, and leading a high-performance team. We match you with a coach who has experience in your field, and you work 1-on-1 with that coach to complete your program.
👋 If you’re enjoying this post, check out:
My live PM course for new and aspiring PMs. All students get a free copy of my PM book (4.5 stars, 100+ reviews) and we’ll also do an AMA with Ethan, an ex-product VP from Amazon. Use the code EARLYBIRDPM to get $100 off.
Outpace’s waitlist to be the first to know when career coaching sprints from Ravi and the team will open up.
How to define product strategy
Let’s talk about product strategy. Can you start by defining what mission, strategy, roadmap, and goals mean?
Yes, the definitions are essential. Too often, mission, strategy, goals, and roadmap get conflated into a jumbled mess. For example, teams may set goals for the quarter (like increase retention by 5%) and assume that they have a strategy — but strategy and goals are distinct concepts, each serving a different purpose. I like to think of it as a stack from top to bottom:
Mission: The change your company wants to bring to the world.
Strategy: The logical plan you have to bring your company’s mission into being.
Strategy: The plan for how the product will drive the company strategy.
Roadmap: The sequence of features that implement the product strategy.
Goals: The outcomes that measure progress against the strategy.
Each layer of the stack is a prerequisite for the layer below.
What are some mistakes that people make in going through this stack?
I see a few common mistakes:
Assuming that goals and strategy are the same thing. A goal tells your team what winning looks like, but they still need the plan to achieve that goal. Too often, companies rely on teams to infer the plan, but it’s critical for PMs to define the strategy explicitly and make sure the goals are aligned with that plan.
Assuming that achieving short-term goals is the same as a strategy. Companies must be vigilant about making strategic progress beyond achieving short-term goals. A good example is Homeaway vs. Airbnb. HomeAway was the leader in the vacation rental industry and successfully hit its goals to increase bookable listings on the platform. They achieved their goals but missed their strategy.
Setting goals before defining a roadmap. This is controversial since many companies want teams to set goals first and then define the roadmap. In my experience, this rarely works in practice. In the absence of a roadmap, teams are rudderless and will do anything to achieve their goals, even if that means optimizing for the short term.
These mistakes played out at Facebook – the company optimized News Feed for engagement without a clear roadmap for the use cases the product should serve.
Over time, those use cases eroded and opened the company up to disruption: social entertainment (TikTok and Instagram), messaging (WhatsApp and Snapchat), and community (Discord and Reddit).
Can you walk through a real-life example to bring this product strategy stack to life?
Company mission: Tinder and Hinge have different company missions despite both being dating apps. Hinge’s mission is to deliver on its promise of “designed to be deleted” – it’s built to help people find long-term relationships. Tinder’s mission is to make single life more fun – it’s built to help people enrich their dating lives without being prescriptive about what that means.
Company strategy: Tinder and Hinge are both owned by Match Group. They have similar company strategies, particularly around monetization. However, they have distinct strategies for customer acquisition, with Hinge relying more on TV ads and Tinder relying more on brand, event, and influencer marketing.
Product strategy. Tinder’s product is built around a lightweight experience of swiping and chatting. Hinge is a “post-swipe” dating app that prompts people to build detailed profiles to strike up interesting conversations. The Tinder product strategy reinforces its mission to be opinionated and fun, and the Hinge product strategy reinforces its mission to help people find long-term relationships.
Product roadmap. Some aspects of the Tinder and Hinge product roadmaps are similar (for example, both added live video chat in 2020), but other parts are very different (such as the more advanced profile features on Hinge).
Often, product teams add a feature because a competitor has it. The stack reminds teams to ask: Does this feature align with our mission and strategy?
Product goals. Ultimately, both Tinder and Hinge are solving for the same long-term goals – to get users into meaningful conversations and grow the business. But, that’s where product goals start to diverge. Each product has a distinct experience that is measured in different ways.
So, the product strategy stack helps us understand the value we want to deliver to users and how to deliver that value in a way that’s aligned with our long-term strategy. For example, Hinge could increase activation rates by making dating profiles simpler – but would that align with its goal to help people find long-term relationships?
Love that comparison and it’s always great to bring these concepts to life with real examples. Let’s do one more - what’s the product strategy stack for your new company Outpace?
Company mission. Executive coaching is a superpower for many of the world’s top professionals. However, coaching has been out-of-reach for many people. Outpace’s mission is to bring the power of 1-on-1 coaching to everyone.
Company strategy. Our strategy is to make coaching more efficient for both coaches and coachees. We’re doing this by building an AI-enabled coaching platform that will bring the highest tier of coaching to every professional.
Product strategy. Historically, coaching has been a service business but we’ve spent a lot of time on the user experience of going through a structured coaching program. On the coaching side, we’re building a powerful dashboard to amplify the support coaches provide to their clients.
Product roadmap. Our roadmap looks very different from other coaching companies. For example, we care about building great content-authoring tools. We have a system, inspired by Stories, that allows us to build snackable, mobile-friendly coaching programs. We also have an AI-enabled feedback system that helps coaches provide deep, thoughtful feedback.
Product goals. Today, our strategy revolves around finding product/market fit for a reinvented coaching experience. As a result, our goals are focused on engagement and customer satisfaction rather than growth and monetization. We ask every user, after every coaching session, to rate the quality of their coaching program and their coach. We’ve used this as a north star to understand if we are making progress on our strategy.
Applying product strategy to your own career
How can PMs apply this product strategy stack to their own career?
I love this question. As PMs, we spend so much time thinking about the strategy for our products but often not for our careers. The PM career is especially exciting because there are so many options, but it’s also easy to get overwhelmed. Here’s how you can apply the stack to your career:
Personal mission: We get to make a difference through the products we work on. Where will you focus? Factors to consider include:
Stage: e.g., Seed to big tech
Domain: e.g., Fintech, social, AI, trust & safety, crypto
Type of work: e.g., 0-1, growth, platform
Business model: e.g., Marketplaces, ecommerce, SaaS, microtransactions
Culture: e.g., Design-led, analytical, customer-obsessed
Personal strategy: Draft a logical plan that will enable you to achieve your mission. Your strategy might include seeking out a particular type of role, expanding your network, or starting a successful side hustle.
Personal roadmap: What’s the sequence of steps that will help you execute your career strategy? What do the next few years look like?
Personal goals: Hitting your goals is evidence that you’re making progress towards your mission but missing a goal can also help you refine your strategy and roadmap.
As an example, my personal mission is to build products that help everyday people improve their lives by connecting with others. As a result, I’ve spent my career working on consumer products that have a strong social element – Xbox Live, Tripadvisor, Facebook, Tinder, and now Outpace.
Can you share an example of how coaching can help a PM define their career strategy stack?
Coaching can help you identify blind spots that you may not be aware of.
For example, at Outpace we worked with a Sr. PM from a leading tech company. His personal mission was to grow into a product executive at a fast-growing consumer startup. He wanted to get coaching to level up his strategic thinking.
However, coaching conversations revealed that he already had a strong grasp of product strategy. The challenge was that he hadn’t been able to effectively present that strategy to the company’s leadership, particularly the founder-CEO.
We worked on his managing up skills and he recently got promoted to Director. He credits coaching with being able to help him identify a challenge he couldn’t see himself.
Do you have any closing words of advice for PMs?
My Product Competency Toolkit provides a framework of 12 competencies that PMs can use to evaluate themselves. I used the icon of a unicorn to describe the peak product manager because no PM can excel at every single competency.
Over the next few years, I think we’ll see further specialization of the product role, similar to how engineering has specialized from a full-stack role into front-end, back-end, devops, and specific roles for security, AI, and many other domains.
In a world of increasingly specialized product managers, it’s critical for PMs to take stock of their skills and build a career that is focused on where a person’s unique strengths and passions align.
This is even more important as tech companies streamline their headcount and look hard at the ROI of every PM on the team.
There are some headwinds, but the tailwinds are equally strong. Sharp PMs, with a clear personal mission and the skills to back that mission, are going to invent products that seemed impossible a few years ago.
On behalf of all my readers, thanks Ravi!
If you enjoyed this post, check out these resources:
My live PM course for new and aspiring PMs. I’ll be covering how to build your own career strategy to stand out. Use the code EARLYBIRDPM to get $100 off.
Outpace’s waitlist - be the first to know when Ravi’s career coaching sprints ship.
Ravi’s free product toolkit about PM competencies and how PMs can level up.