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Product Management

Meet the PMs Who Created 2018’s Hottest Mobile Apps

Lewis C. Lin  //  April 24, 2018  //  8 min read

What are some of the hottest, up-and-coming mobile apps not named Instagram, Snapchat, or Uber?

Venmo comes to mind first, followed by Duolingo and its stunning first-use experience. And who can ignore DoorDash, the popular food delivery service with over 721.7M in funding?

The PeopleMaven team talked to the amazing PMs at Venmo, Duolingo, and DoorDash. We also interviewed four additional PMs from Picsart Photo Studio, LastPass, 1Weather, and Blendle.

Read on to see all seven interviews, including their:

  • Favorite PM tips and tricks
  • Most important lessons learned as PMs
  • Emerging trends every PM should know
  • Little-known features they shipped that made a big difference

Ny Vo of Venmo

Venmo

App Name: Venmo
Description: Venmo is the popular mobile payment app. In 2016, it handled 17.6B in financial transactions.
Installs: 5M – 10M
Average Mobile App Rating: 4.7/5

Q: What is a key challenge that mobile PMs face, and how do you address it?

As a mobile product manager, one challenge I face is prioritization. There are so many great ideas and problems to solve, so figuring out which one will deliver the most impact can be challenging. At Venmo, there are so many things that we want to do and things that we have to do. It’s up to us to find the balance.

Q: What is a new feature that you are the most proud of?

In late 2017, my team launched instant transfer on Venmo. The feature gives people the ability to transfer money to their bank account via their debit card in a matter of minutes. With increased competition in the p2p space, we felt that this was the right time to launch the feature, especially because we knew our users would find it valuable.

Q: What is a new trend that you foresee in mobile?

I think machine learning is trending and will continue to do so. If we take a look at the commerce space, personalization is becoming more and more important to buyers. Sellers have to think of new ways to target customers with meaningful content. Machine learning will allow mobile apps to deliver personalized experiences that users are looking for. The best part about machine learning is that it gets better every time you use it.

Natalia Castillejo of Duolingo

Duolingo

App Name: Duolingo
Description: Duolingo is a language-learning app and website with over 200 million registered users around the world.
Installs: 100K – 500K
Average Mobile App Rating: 4.5/5

Q: What is a key challenge that mobile PMs face, and how do you address it?

PMs need to understand the differences in behavior between mobile and desktop users. For example, mobile users are more likely than desktop users to look at their devices for brief periods of time, devoting only a few minutes to each app. In our case, they may be using Duolingo on their phone during the small breaks they have throughout the day — like waiting in line, commuting on the subway, or taking the elevator. We constantly use A/B testing to discover the exact lesson lengths that will keep people coming back again and again.

Q: What are you the most proud of regarding your work at Duolingo?

One of the projects that I’ve worked on that I’m most proud of is the Duolingo Spanish Podcast. It features compelling stories told in easy-to-understand Spanish with English narration. We launched it this past December, and it quickly reached the #1 spot in the Apple Podcasts charts.

The secret for its success was that instead of focusing on grammar and vocabulary lessons, the podcast uses great storytelling to provide language learners with a fun, easy way to improve their listening comprehension.

Charlton Soesanto of DoorDash

DoorDash

App Name: DoorDash
Description: DoorDash is a food delivery mobile app serving 600+ cities. Raised $721.7M to date.
Installs: 1M – 5M
Average Mobile App Rating: 4.5/5

Q: What is a key challenge that mobile PMs face, and how do you address it?

Building mobile products is about solving a user problem. The mobile platform forces you to deeply understand your user needs and figure out which specific information and actions to display on each screen.

At DoorDash, the consumer app needs to help you create your meal: find a restaurant, add items, and checkout. Behind the consumer mobile app experience, there is a Dasher and a Merchant mobile app doing a lot of hard work to provide a seamless delivery experience including:

  • Adjusting menus
  • Making food
  • Routing Dashers effectively

Q: What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a mobile PM?

Two things come to mind. First, don’t fall into the trap of designing a mobile experience that does everything for everyone. Second, the first impression and first page experience is the most important; it helps users grasp what your app is all about.

Some tactics to evaluate your app’s homepage:

  • Evaluate designs on the phone itself. Design tools like Invision, Flinto, Figma, and Sketch allow your designers and product folks to mirror onto a phone.
  • Ask users. Have them look at the home screen and tell you what they think your app is about.
  • Re-evaluate button usage. Words typically outperform buttons for calls-to-action.

Q: What is a new trend that you foresee in mobile?

The move to screenless interfaces.

Whether it’s asking your home assistant to play music, exploring a new environment via a VR headset, or unlocking your front-door with your smart-lock, we can’t assume that a screen is the best input method for every user.

Peter Butler of Picsart Photo Studio

Picsart Photo Studio

App Name: PicsArt Photo Studio
Description: PicsArt is the #1 photo editor and picture collage maker mobile app.
Installs: 100M – 500M
Average Mobile App Rating: 4.5/5

Q: What is a key challenge that mobile PMs face, and how do you address it?

Mobile has grown so quickly around the world that keeping up with your base presents more challenges on mobile than on other platforms. For example, we have 100M active users around the world. Understanding the different use cases and needs is complex. A user in California is very different from a user in Mumbai. For instance, differences in:

  • Culture
  • Language
  • Privacy norms
  • Device storage
  • Mobile brands and devices

For mobile PMs, this means you need to laser in on where users overlap and where they don’t. The average smartphone user has 80 mobile apps on their phone, but only about 40 get used each month. I’m focused on making PicsArt one of those 40.

Q: What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a mobile PM?

When I first started out, I was tempted to try and get everything right including:

  • A/B tests
  • Use cases
  • Messaging
  • Distribution channels
  • Monetization strategy
  • Target customers and personas

While being accurate is important, I’ve found that its more valuable, in most situations, to be fast and semi-accurate instead.

I think any PM with a few cycles under their belt would agree that it’s better to learn quickly vs. wait and optimize for success in every scenario.

Q: What is a new feature that you are the most proud of?

Last year, we embarked on a major project to build our own proprietary influencer program and network, PicsArt VIPs. We scaled it quickly and have been leveraging it for a variety of brand and partner activations since. We’ve seen great success with the program, including community growth, retention, and partnerships.

Akos Putz of LastPass

LastPass

App Name: LastPass
Description: LastPass is the popular personal password manager and generator.
Installs: 1M – 5M
Average Mobile App Rating: 4.6/5

Q: What do you like most about your role as PM?

The pain of remembering myriads of usernames and passwords is present everywhere. Our LastPass users rely on LastPass for a seamless, secure experience storing and accessing their valuable information.

As a LastPass PM, my work positively affects the lives of millions of users every single day. This is what I like most about my role. Simply wearing a LastPass T-shirt triggers many conversations about people’s password pains and how they’re using LastPass.

Q: What’s your personal favorite mobile app?

I’m a big fan of automation, even at my home. I’m a frequent user of the Nest, Alexa, Harmony, Kevo, Hue, and IFTTT, because I’m always trying to figure out how I can automate even the simplest recurring tasks. And of course, the Kindle app, so I can make out the most of my daily commute.

Eric Haar of 1Weather

1Weather

App Name: 1Weather
Description: 1Weather is the most beautiful and powerful weather app you’ve ever seen.
Installs: 10M – 50M
Average Mobile App Rating: 4.6/5

Q: What do you like most about your role as PM?

I enjoy being involved in the entire product lifecycle. I get to work with our designers, programmers, server engineers, and ultimately, our customers to plan the future of 1Weather. It’s a good feeling when a product finally gets into customers’ hands and gets a warm reception.

Q: With the 1Weather app, what are you most proud of?

I’m proud that we’ve built an app that regular folks, “weather watchers,” and critics all enjoy. We’ve made dozens of “best of” lists from various web sites, we’ve received the Google Play “Editor’s Choice” award for weather, and we’re one of the most highly rated weather apps.

Q: What’s your personal favorite mobile app?

My current favorite is CLZ Comics. My hobby is comic book collecting, and CLZ is great for cataloging and managing my collection. The best apps ultimately make our lives easier, and CLZ handles a lot of input in a light package.

Ayden Galeh of Blendle

Blendle

App Name: Blendle
Description: Blendle’s mobile app provides the best journalism, handpicked by human curators and friends. Users only pay for stories they love.
Installs: 100K – 500K
Average Mobile App Rating: 4/5

Q: What do you like most about your role as PM?

Being a product manager feels like being the CEO of a small company. You deal with a lot of stakeholders, both external and internal. I get to work with a new generation of developers and designers who are more and more business oriented, which forces me to improve all the time.

Managing a product, whether it’s a native app or a website, is not the most complex part of the job. Many tough challenges stem from outside the product manager’s environment including:

  • How does the product fit into the industry ecosystem?
  • How does marketing work?
  • What are the financial aspects to consider?

All those dynamics are crucial for the success of the product.

Q: What’s your personal favorite mobile app?

Two come to mind: Uber and Whatsapp.

From a user perspective, Uber’s app usability is close to perfect. It’s amazing to see the Uber app’s progress over the years.

Whatsapp is also among the best: no fancy features, just a useful, simple communication platform. You get the value of the product from the moment you download the app. This is how product managers should approach design: keep it simple.

About Lewis C. Lin

Lewis C. Lin is the founder and CEO of PeopleMaven, a new way to people search the world’s most amazing people. Lewis is also the author of several product management bestsellers, including Decode and Conquer. He graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor’s in computer science. Chelsea K. Tucker also contributed this article.
View all posts by Lewis C. Lin >

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