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4 Ways Southeast Asians Can Build Successful Products

Building products in the region is vastly different from doing so in Silicon Valley

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 02 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Building products in Silicon Valley is vastly different from doing so in Southeast Asia, yet only a few resources dedicated to the practice of product management in the region exist. Andreas Galster, founder of product management organization Product PH, wants to change this.

“We collaborate with other Asian product management communities and try to expand our network in order to bring more people from different disciplines together — such as design and product, quality assurance, development, customer happiness — because we believe great products are built by great teams,” he says.

Galster has worked the full spectrum of both web development and UI/UX design in his time as a product manager. He is a two-time winner of Startup Weekend Manila, and has founded a start-up backed by Founder Institute. He served as a UX lead designer for payroll and attendance software company Salarium.

Here are some tips he has to offer to other product managers in the region.

1. Encourage people to own up to their mistakes

Galster believes that the concept of losing face is much more pronounced in Southeast Asian cultures than in Western ones. As a result, people in start-ups don’t often own up to their mistakes, which could lead to disastrous results for the company in the long run.

“If you want to build good products, you need to own the product and the mistakes made while being built — and you have to do it together as a team,” he says.

Galster says he’s a fan of the concept of Gemba, a Japanese term to refer to the place where value is created. Entrepreneurs must be able to identify the most important place in the organization where one cannot make a mistake. Accordingly, one should find flaws in the process, not in the people.       

“If you invest in good processes from the start or at least continuously [doing so] by raising problems at post-mortems and retrospectives, then you’ll create better culture, people will enjoy working with each other more, and you can have real conversations about how you can push the team and product forward,” he says.

2. Focus on the product, not the scene

Galster did not hold back in describing what he has observed across Southeast Asia, even in some of the start-ups he has mentored.

“What do you think do most of them focus on? Their start-up pitch. What do they not do? Build their product. Instead of making something people want, they jump from one pitching competition to another,” he says.

He argues that this is a widespread problem and it’s a trap that the discerning founder doesn’t necessarily have to fall into. “You don’t need to raise a lot of funds if you’re building something that many people crave for,” he points out.

3. Reduce friction in your product

Galster defines friction as red tape, slow Internet connections, and small penetration rate of easy payment options.

He explains that every second spent waiting for an app to do something results in a drop off in conversions. Since Internet speeds tend to be slow across Southeast Asia, Galster implores product managers to do what they can to optimize the responsiveness of their website or app.

“Fortunately, those issues are easy to address if you measure your performance and address technical issues early on, not just when they’ve turned into a huge mountain of problems,” he says.

4. Define your objectives and key performance indicators

Galster still sees too many start-ups operating without a clear measure of success in mind.

“It’s very simple: Define what matters for your team. Everyone in management should have a say in this for bigger teams. If the numbers go down, ask why and try to improve it, compare to your previous endeavors. If the numbers are climbing, ask why and ride on your success,” he says.