Shiva Rajaraman’s Product journey spans across some of the most iconic companies and products that we all use and love today. Currently, he is the VP of Product for OpenSea, the world’s first and largest web3 marketplace. Previously in the web2 world, he has logged years in Product Management for Spotify and Google. Before coming to OpenSea, he was VP of Commerce for Meta. He also acknowledges stops that were different in hindsight: He was Chief Technology Officer for WeWork (“As seen on TV,” his LinkedIn bio quips. “No regrets.”). Shiva and I connected on his insightful journey in the Product space as well as his foresights on what’s to come as we are on the “cusp of a Cambrian explosion.”
What was your path to Product?
A big part of my path to Product was just curiosity. I didn't even know what "product" was early in my career. I was meandering in analytics, research, and a startup. I just wanted to build things and keep the pace of learning high. There were times I missed aspects of school life. I regretted not studying or learning things in school that I was most passionate about. Eventually I ended up in a role where I shipped things. The first moment I shipped something that people started using was one of the happiest moments of my career. I'm still chasing that feeling continuously.
"The first moment I shipped something that people started using was one of the happiest moments of my career. I'm still chasing that feeling continuously."
Overtime, after many new roles I grew as a leader at YouTube, getting exposed to great managers, peers, and team members who rounded out my perspective. I learned about looking ahead a few steps to building an ecosystem, not just a feature. I learned the art of deeply caring about and influencing and supporting product design, and going beyond the product into how we market it and how to build a community. I still learn things every year; and now I get more of a chance to teach which I enjoy quite a bit.
You’ve led Product across so many formats. What do you see as the common traits for successful Product Managers and successful Product Teams?
It may seem obvious but great Product leaders and teams spend a lot of time in the product itself. Effective leaders role model attention to detail, commitment to looking a few steps out, and prioritize whatever matters to create the best product: design, speed, utility, enjoyment. They understand their best users and spend time with them where feasible. They understand where they are – in steady state vs. inception. If you’re in early stages, you can change your model to less A/B testing and more opinionated problem solving. If you’re in steady state, ask yourself whether the next step is an iterative improvement or is it important to achieve a step function? What are your users using instead of you? What adjacent problems can you solve? What trends have come into the landscape that are likely going to lead to your disruption.
It may seem obvious but great Product leaders and teams spend a lot of time in the product itself.
We're seeing a lot of new things happen now such as the rise of generative AI that are either going to be cataclysmic events for companies or opportunities to leap forward with bigger bets. Great Product teams and leaders ask themselves: Now that this is possible, what can I do differently and better? Or: Now that this new capability exists what unique advantages do I have to make this a strategic play for us and our users?
What about more established companies, even FANG? What can they learn from the emerging new ecosystem tech products like OpenSea and vice versa?
More established companies often have builders too disconnected from people and their key use cases. Engineers, designers, and product teams overall tend to be too disconnected from the people they serve. When they operate through user research, often the cycles are long. They trust the logs too much and excuse contrary anecdotes. They lose the muscles necessary to apply or commercialize research into real product bets. Emerging tech products need to have this continuous pulse and be able to iterate quickly to product market fit while holding a high bar for comms and activation. This means smaller teams are empowered teams where all functions come up with ideas and speed of iteration is prioritized , as opposed to established processes or functional bloat and approvals.
Emerging tech products need to have this continuous pulse and be able to iterate quickly to product market fit while holding a high bar for comms and activation. This means smaller teams are empowered teams where all functions come up with ideas and speed of iteration is prioritized.
What elements of Product thinking would be useful for all leaders, including CEOs and executives?
Some key things all CEOs and executives can benefit from:
- Take any feedback you get from a customer, partner, lost prospect and root cause it. Ask those “5 whys” and get to the problem crisply and clearly and solve it in your org or at the company. Cracks are plentiful and small. Go to the source of that erosion and design so it doesn't happen again.
- Understand that your customer is evolving faster in today's world. Information flow, product choice, access to new services in new forms is 100x what it was a decade ago. This means leaders must ask themselves: Just like your app needs to change every week is your org also changing? Do you have the skills you need? Do you have the urgency? Do you experiment with different orgs like you do products? Are you agile and focusing that agility on the problem to be solved for the customers you serve? No one needs another "labs" team that is just there for employee retention. People want to have impact.
- Care about every touchpoint with the attention you give to the product itself. Is your blog useful? Is your marketing effective? What's enjoyable about being your customer beyond the product? Iterate and test beyond the product and give teams ownership and accountability for excellence and impact across all functions.
Looking ahead, how do you think the Product function is likely to evolve in the next five years?
Prior product revolutions were driven by platform evolution, such as mobile. Going forward, people in Product are going to have to better understand infrastructure and technical limits and opportunities deeply in order to perform. We're likely on the cusp of a Cambrian explosion of apps given the new platforms emerging such as AI, web3, AR, new wearables. These combine with ubiquitous powerful computing power. We'll also see a push towards leaner, efficient organizations again and that will be exciting for many PMs who thrive in "full-stack" ownership and working deeply to solve problems or create awesome experiences.
To be successful, Product will need a better understanding of the business, not just the process of creating great products.
The other area PMs will need to shine again is understanding revenue and especially profit levers in a post-cheap capital world. We've seen this play out before too when the world shifted from desktop web to mobile. In that period, PMs emerged that became experts in revenue/yield optimization, designed new ad formats that worked on small screens, and developed mobile friendly checkout, payments, and conversion designs. It’s possible this new era will emphasize even more urgency on profit levers and doing more with less. To be successful, Product will need a better understanding of the business, not just the process of creating great products.