In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune, Ahmed Fahad talks about how he got involved with the most famous startup in the country and what it means to work in it
In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune's Zisan Bin Liaquat, Pathao's Senior Vice-President and Head of Product Ahmed Fahad talks about how he got involved with the most famous startup in the country and what it means to work in it
How did you get involved with Pathao?
I've been coding since I was very little. At age 15, I began working as a freelancer for clients all around the world on Upwork, earning money while sitting in my bedroom.
I didn't know how to create mobile apps; I just knew about web programming.
In order to create the mobile app, I wanted to employ a developer.
When I was 17, I was networking and looking for co-founders or investors to make this vision a reality. It was at this time that I met Bangladeshi-American investor and entrepreneur Fahim Saleh. Later, I would learn that he, too, had been a high school smarty and had gained a million dollars through his apps. My work ethic immediately won Fahim over, and he invited me to his recently established company incubator, HackHouse.
I was brought to HackHouse by Fahim Saleh, where I met the other co-founders of Pathao, Elius and Adnan, and we developed numerous company concepts.
Before coming up with the concept for Pathao, a tech-enabled courier service, we had tried and failed with five prior projects.
As one of the founding members of Pathao, what aspect of the business was your core area of focus?
Roles are ill-defined in the early stages of a startup, and everyone is responsible for helping the business thrive. I was in charge of everything design-related in 2015, including the user interface of the website and app as well as the business cards. The Pathao logo, which I created, has endured and is still in use today.
Later, when our business began to take shape, my responsibilities fell squarely in the technology and business strategy.
Seven years later, this position is now known as product management. Planning, developing, launching, and managing a product or service are my responsibility.
Pathao Rides, Food, Courier and PayLater are all business verticals we have launched and scaled over time.
What is product management? What's an interesting design choice you have made during the growth of Pathao?
Because of their end-to-end responsibilities, which include everything from planning and development to product launch, product managers are frequently referred to as the "CEO of a product." To put it plainly, a product manager's responsibility is to comprehend client wants and translate them into specific specifications for engineering teams. Other responsibilities of the position include managing stakeholders, collaborating with UI/UX designers, and doing data analysis and insight extraction.
When we launched Pathao Rides, I took it upon myself to gather feedback from hundreds of bike drivers who had been using our platform.
After speaking to them, I realized that most of them were using the Pathao Driver app in broad daylight, on low-cost phones that did not have high enough brightness levels, making it difficult to read anything on their phone screens.
As a result, I changed our existing colour scheme to high-contrast colours, such as black, white, red and green, and used big buttons with icons and minimal text.
Later, I learned that our practices of putting the user's needs above all else and prioritizing usability over trending patterns are the cornerstones of human-centric design (HCD), which is taught as a course at top international universities.
What skills are prerequisites for working as a product manager?
I've researched the career routes chosen by hundreds of product managers (PMs) in order to prepare a course I'm developing. It is quite evident that PMs do not begin their careers as PMs.
They work in a separate position for at least a few years, gain some essential abilities, and then switch to the product.
Technical competence, domain experience, and communication expertise are the three crucial abilities I believe you need to have in order to become a product manager.
Product managers translate customer and business needs into engineering requirements. Therefore, they must understand how their organization's technical stack works.
This knowledge will help them communicate with designers and engineers, assess technical feasibility, and understand the technical side of implementing a project.
Next, it's essential to understand the domain you're working within. For example, if you're working on the product stack of Pathao Courier you have to know about the nuances, challenges, and competitive landscape of the logistics industry.
Furthermore, hard skills around design or data go a long way.
The ability to whip up a design of what you want to create and sift through data to come up with insights can be useful.
PMs need to be excellent communicators. A unique aspect of this role is that no one in the team, including engineers, designers, and those in operations, formally reports to the product manager. This is popularly termed as “leadership through influence.” Therefore, the best product managers are deft communicators and highly personable.
Product managers are like conductors in an orchestra. Conductors never make a sound but are responsible for making the orchestra as a whole sound awesome to deliver a great performance to the audience.
Pathao is the pioneer of the BNPL (buy now pay later) model in the country. How has the introduction of such models shaped the local consumer market in terms of financial inclusion?
Globally, the BNPL feature allows shoppers to split the cost of goods into instalments with no interest but a late fee if payments are missed.
In doing so, it offers consumers greater purchasing power without putting pressure on their finances.
Designing Pathao's PayLater service was a unique design challenge because we introduced this innovative concept to local consumers for the first time and wanted to be as transparent and user-friendly as possible.
This service was primarily targeted to our platform's most regular and loyal users. Our data shows that many users have increased spending on the platform and enjoying services they would have otherwise held off. Nearly all users have cleared their dues on time and over 7 times more people have indicated an interest in the Pay Later feature through the app.
You mentioned joining Pathao at a young age, how did you hire and manage people over the years?
Management is learnt through experience. That being said, I did read a few good books and got familiar with best practices.
Additionally, I've received executive coaching from Stanford GSB alumni, worked with and received training from a few McKinsey consultants, and actively sought mentorship from seasoned executives like our current CEO, Fahim Ahmed.
I did everything in my control to learn and get better at management.
As I've mentioned, it requires “lived experience” to understand people and enable performance, and after five years of being a manager, I'd say I'm still learning.
Outside of your corporate role, you are a content creator on YouTube and other social media platforms. How and why did you start creating content?
In 2020, during the lockdown, I spoke to many founders and executives about their product strategy and management challenges. It was clear how nascent the product management function was (and continues to be) in Bangladesh. I wanted to bridge some of the knowledge gaps by sharing my experiences and advice. That's how my YouTube channel came to be.
I started with niche product management topics and later addressed broader topics like “How to Raise Funding” and “How Pathao Started”. Today, my channel is dedicated to technology and business-related topics. Recently, I informally covered the “World Cup of Programming” (ICPC World Finals), which was hosted in Dhaka, and this video attracted 130,000 views in one week. To me, this shows the appetite for technology-related content in our country.
What are you most excited about in 2023?
I'm excited to release a breakthrough product management course that I've been working on for the past six months. I've joined forces with Shikho and Bohubrihi, the leading edtech platforms, to ensure the utmost quality in terms of curriculum and production.
This course has the hard-won lessons that I wish I had known when I was just getting started in the product.
From writing technical specifications to prioritizing a company's roadmap, this immersive program will transform careers.