Frank Chen

Frank Chen

trends in web3 product management

If you haven't subscribed yet to Lenny's Newsletter where he writes all about product management, I would highly recommend you do so.

I'm jotting down some thoughts here on one of the more recent articles that Lenny Rachitsky wrote alongside Jason Shah about the differences in product between web2 and web3.

The TLDR of the article is that doing product in web3 is different than doing product in web2 and involves understanding a handful of new concepts that have redefined the way we work. Some highlights:

  1. Good product management in web3 is more art than science.
  2. Web3 product managers work in public rather than private.
  3. Web3 product managers should strive to build strong communities in addition to traditional products.

For the most part, I'd agree with all those points. They're surprisingly not too dissimilar from many of the things we're taught as traditional product managers.

The art part of doing product has always been heavily reliant on how good your judgement is and if your judgment yields value. That judgment is informed by understanding market trends, sleuthing around in the data, talking to people, and understanding how things are built. Just because you have all the data available doesn't make you bulletproof to shitty decisions. There's something about combining all of that into an almost-prescient sense that makes great product managers.

Doing good work in public rather than private is important because it builds trust. It also has the added benefit of exposing your shitty ideas so they become less shitty in a shorter amount of time. Trust has been and will always be a dominant paradigm in web3 that products and people who collaborate together have to get right. If you show your thinking, people have a better understanding of where you're coming from and how you've formed your thoughts. You also make more friends.

Building strong communities is in direct alignment to knowing your users. Getting out of the office, off your butt, and into real conversations with people who are using your product gives you perspective on what to do next. However, building a strong community takes a different approach to user interactions. Creating a community as compared to understanding user behaviors as a means to a better product are two distinct but not mutually exclusive approaches that have subtly different outcomes.

My suspicion is that the main reasons that web3 product management is viewed differently are:

  1. Concentration of important information.
  2. The nascent stages of almost every blockchain related company.
  3. Decision-making with a community versus a handful of leaders.

To point number one. Web3 has been extremely engineering dominant. While many of us can understand the basics of private and public keys, advanced cryptography and its mathematical implementations can be lost on many. Therefore, much of the context of how these early web3 products operate resides in a few key individuals. Add in the details that those particular people may be founders, don't have time, are peculiar about the way they communicate, and have a very specific vision - you end up with a high concentration of context in one place. Having an external product manager try to manage that would be a nightmare, unless you were somehow mind-melded to them.

To point number two. The blockchain movement is still in its early stages. In my experience, when new companies are formed, there are only a few functions that need to exist to stay afloat. Vision. Building. People relations (partnerships, community, and marketing). All that other stuff - product management, data analysis, account management, project management, are all somewhat unnecessary until you scale to a certain size. Of course there are exceptions, but I won't cover them here.

To the last point. Trust and transparency when coordinating with a community from a bottoms-up perspective is hard. Too many voices can prevail and one can miss the forest for the trees and end up building the wrong things. Quality begins to become an issue. Something as complex and as fickle as community is difficult enough to grow and manage, let alone poll for major product decisions.

So what does this mean when we are preparing for a future in web3 product?

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