Sasha Memus, Chatfuel: How to build a career in products after consulting, is it dangerous to meditate and how to change behavior

    The talk of the author of the Ponchik News channel Alexey Ivanov with Sasha Memus, product manager at Chatfuel and former consultant of McKinsey.

    “We talk in our kitchen in San Francisco.” What brought you to California?

    - I work at Chatfuel. In a nutshell, this is a chat bots designer for Facebook. Yes, it's hard for me to explain to mom what I do. Chatfuel is an American startup of Russian origin, we have offices in Moscow and San Francisco. So I came to work.

    Once I wanted to move to the Federation Council, but I had a long relationship, and did not grow together. And now I decided to take a closer look. I live in the Good House by Andrei Doronichev, a top manager of Google.

    Pro product

    - Tell me about Chatfuel so that it will be clear to my grandmother.

    - In Facebook, everyone communicates with each other messages. Now they are also starting to communicate with businesses. We make a bot designer for these businesses so that people can communicate with them right there: choose a product, consult, write with support, etc.

    A startup about 3 years old, I joined last fall. By the way, I don’t know when a business grows and ceases to be a “startup”. In my opinion, any vigorous company is a startup.

    - What does the product manager at Chatfuel do?

    - We have two products, so there is not a lot of data for generalization. As a product, I invent features, do research, propose an action plan, formulate a strategy together with our CEO Dima Dumik . I do a little bit of operations, sales, helping to hire people.

    About transition from consulting to products

    - How did you come to the products?

    - I have been in products for the last 3-4 years since I left McKinsey in 2015.

    Actually, let me tell you my path. Initially, I lived in Belarus, went to school, and did not really understand why all this was necessary. Until adolescence, I did not want much. In Belarus, it was not fun, the family was abuzy.

    A good MBA means slavery: you have to pay your tuition fees to your employer, you are actually tied until you pay it off.

    In high school I began to participate in olympiads in physics and mathematics, and was very keen on the process. So he entered the Fiztech in Moscow, the main technical university of the country. And there I felt sad again. Olympics time was very cool and engaging, and the university was not about creativity, but about botany and evaluation. But the coolest friends are still left exactly from the Physics and Technology Institute.

    After uni began to think what to do. Got a job at Tinkoff Bank. There was some time fun. Then I suddenly realized that I wanted to go to consulting - something attracted me in this. I was arrogant back then, I wanted to work in the top 1 company. I got to McKinsey, became a consultant and worked there for 3 years. He made strategies for various Russian and international companies.

    Two McKinsey problems: high salary and narrow specialization

    McKinsey was interesting, but there were three nuances:

    • 80 working hours per week. By the third year it becomes complicated.
    • In consulting there is a moment when you have to go to study at a business school, but I did not want to. A good MBA means slavery: you have to pay your tuition fees to your employer, you are actually tied until you pay it off.
    • Intellectually, McKinsey is an incredible company, but the problem is that you work in high-level strategies and are not involved in the implementation. No influence.

    The transition to consulting products was painful. Burnout, full bottom. Long came to his senses. From banks and finance it became nauseous, plus I realized that this is not very compatible with my personality. What I can do, I did not understand. In general, two problems of McKinsey are a very high salary, with which FIG get off, and a narrow specialization. Many find it difficult to leave.

    I worked as a product in the bank, but I didn’t get high. Then I went to Yandex - also through finance, the Yandex Money service. After a year and a half, I moved to a startup about truckers Trucker Path . After it became a product in Chatfuel.

    Achivki and numbers - this is about how you perceive the market, and not like you yourself.

    - Impressive career path. You said that you are not interested in talking about your numbers and achivki. From what?

    - About achivki: I do not really want them now. The fact is that companies like McKinsey hire only one type of people: insecure overachiever . For various reasons, this definition is about me. Goals and achievements have always been my pattern. Over the past year I have had some insight on this topic, I want to move away from this pattern.

    The results are like an icon with a bell on Facebook. Dopamine game. This is good in the short term, but in the long term it affects me negatively.

    Achivki and numbers - this is about how you perceive the market, and not like you yourself. I want to move from result to process. After MIPT, you can count the numbers anyway. But no one there teaches to enjoy the process. Therefore, I increasingly ask myself the question: how to make such a process, so that I blithe, and that it leads to results?

    The results are like an icon with a bell on Facebook. Dopamine game. This is good in the short term, but in the long term it affects me negatively.

    Look again, as soon as I figured my number in something, I go and compare it with someone else. And there will be at least another hundred people in the world who are better in this area than me. Insecure overachiever in me is very upset. This is some kind of endless game of competition, it creates problems.

    Competition is such a pattern of my behavior as I can remember. But this is a pattern that takes all the RAM. I'd rather compete with friends in board games or in the console.

    About reflection

    - It seems that you reflect a lot. Is this a good trait for a person - reflexivity?

    - It depends. I would ask if this is a good trait for Sasha Memus? Rather, yes.

    First, I have a difficult background, difficult childhood in Belarus and all that. If he hadn't reflexively, stayed there, depressed, he would yell at his child now, instead of drinking tea in the kitchen in San Francisco and talking to you on philosophical topics. Reflection allowed me to change something.

    Secondly, thanks to reflection, I can understand the feelings of other people, and how I influence them. To see how I have an effect on this world, to create some kind of net positive is very cool. This is a big positive component.

    Thirdly, reflection is pushing for self-development.

    On the other hand, due to reflection, I easily begin to compare myself with others, condemn myself, etc. If I were not so self-copying, then I would take less responsibility for everything, less would be upset.

    Perhaps, for the growth of the economy, reflecting people are bad. And for society, probably the opposite is good. What do you think you yourself?

    - I think there is a difference between reflexivity and awareness. I think it would be good for feeling people to learn to turn off reflexivity from time to time. And awareness, on the contrary, is included.

    - Yes Yes Yes! You see, the coolest idea in this interview was expressed by you, not me.

    - It seems, _insecure overachiever _in you again compare yourself with someone ...

    - (laughs). Yeah! Another question arises, is not reflection and self-development a form of aggression towards oneself? Constantly changing something, in a hurry to change something in yourself instead of just accepting yourself as you are.

    - There is.

    About meditation

    - Let's talk about awareness and meditation. How did you come to this?

    - After consulting it was emotionally difficult. I was a militant atheist, zadrot from the Physics and Technology Institute. All the more spiritual perceived with bayonets. But I have a friend from the Greek office of McKinsey, I trust him very much, and now he advised me to meditate. He started with Headspace, first 10 minutes a day, then 20, throwing, started again, and for the first year he did not do meditations every day.

    By the way, here's a figure for which I am proud: I have been meditating for the last 1300 days in a row. Never interrupted the chain.

    I believe that the key to effective change is discipline. Meditation was the first principal commitment, contracting me with myself. And when you succeed in fulfilling principal contracts, it gives you strength and confidence in yourself.

    I also have a friend who loves to understand everything that is connected with consciousness. We somehow dug about Buddhism, and I realized that the basic concepts resonate a lot with how I understand myself. [Meditation is a key practice in Buddhism. - approx. ]

    - There is an opinion that meditation leads only to good: calm, peace, the ability to concentrate. Do you agree?

    - Bulshit. Meditation gave me a lot of cool stuff and a lot of non-cool stuff.

    Look, 10 minutes a day of meditation a day is physical education. Objectively, physical education is useful in the morning. For example, I was always pleased to share something with others, and after regular meditation it became even easier to exercise it. It was nice to be yourself.

    Then I learned about Vipassana - a ten-day silent retreat with non-stop meditation. I went. I thought it would be a continuation of that morning gymnastics. But for me it turned out to be a hellish experience. I remembered many unpleasant things, including from childhood. I am an extrovert, and on Vipassana I could not talk for 10 days. After that, I almost quit meditating to hell.

    The experience was hard, how to run a marathon after physical education classes. I am not ready to recommend it to everyone. There were many people at the retreat who were very cool about these 10 days. But for me it was more traumatic.

    Then after a while I went to a three-day vipassana. And again the month could not come to his senses.

    Then he began to try other meditations, new formats. And gradually something began to change fundamentally. I became more spiritual. Now I consider myself a Buddhist. Even shaved bald. And you know, when I say “Buddhist”, I think: on ... I generally say this, it even sounds very strange from my mouth ... But I understood something about myself through meditation and spiritual experiences, which I on the one hand cannot describe rationally, but on the other - I can not deny.

    About behavior change

    - What should a person who wants to change something in his life do?

    - Let's start with the fact that it is difficult to change your behavior. Here you have your own coaching practice . You know how difficult it is for a person to ask for help from a specialist like a therapist or a coach. People want to achieve everything themselves. The man did something in life, got used to it, and it is uncomfortable for him to admit that he needs someone to help.

    Another aspect of post-Soviet culture: there are always a lot of non-positive people around. Many important something to advise you so, and very often you are advised outright nude. They will load their projections on you. Maybe people do it from the best intentions, but often they simply assert themselves. In these conditions, it is difficult to learn to trust someone.

    "It is impossible to think about the product, and not to think about changing habits"

    My strength is openness and ability to learn quickly. Due to this, I went far away: I noticed that I was annoyed by something, made some experiments, it changed something.

    This is very related to the grocery approach.

    Firstly, it is impossible to think about the product, and not to think about changing habits . The product approach allows you to see that in small steps you can lead people to the changes you need.

    Example: for 4 years I kept a diary every day and marked with a number how the day went. Recently, I built a graph, and I understood which events influenced me well and which ones badly. This is absolutely a grocery approach.

    When I wanted to build the habit of keeping a diary 4 years ago, I began every night to open a Google doc before going to bed. It cost me nothing. I evaluated every day on a scale from 1 to 10. I gradually added the fact that I am writing one sentence. Then a paragraph. Then it all turned into a diary.

    Secondly, I worked a lot with a psychotherapist. It has changed a lot inside. I began to interact differently with the world. Some habits just changed themselves. This is completely unpredictable: my query, when I started, does not correlate with the results now. But here we are sitting and talking frankly now in the kitchen, and this in itself is a consequence of how I have changed.

    Thirdly, experiences of awareness, such as meditation, vipassana. They all influence your behavior. Unfortunately, also unpredictable. I think, like psychedelics.

    Fourth, to change behavior, it's cool to send your thoughts to a public or teach others. When you formulate, write down and tell, it structures your thinking, and forces you to change in the process.

    - You do the Memus solves podcast with psychotherapists. Why do you like hacking into psychology?

    First, because of my character, I like to do something, all the time I have some projects. Just do not want to blunt at home. When the therapy affected me, I decided to talk about it with specialists in this area and share it with the audience.

    Secondly, I am an extrovert, I love to communicate with new people. The podcast format suggests itself.

    Thirdly, I like to do something cool from my training. I design myself something so interesting from my experiences. Also with products. In the CIS countries, people are not used to doing something unique. We have the same houses, the same refrigerators, etc. In the States, for example, everything is customized. Everyone does things differently, each trucker has his own unique truck. Americans are just kicks. Here I am on a high for talking to people, that's why I designed this format in such a way.

    About teaching

    - In British, you teach on the course " Design of mobile applications ." What do you get from this?

    - I have never received such a high from work as from teaching in the British. I tried it as a new experience, and got great pleasure. I remember, I waited for each of the following classes to repulse. Wild high.

    It’s pointless to curse students, they have to be praised. It’s so unusual for them - when you aren’t ... dyed, they don’t say how you r ... but did. People have so many ideas and options, they have a safe environment.

    It is great to pass on knowledge: you see how people change, you notice the difference between what students came to and how they left.

    I also formulated for myself a few insights about a good education.

    Insight 1. It is senseless to scold, you need to praise. I do not criticize. Just encouraging what you liked. For students, this is so unusual - when you are not “n ... dyat,” they don’t say what you are ... but did. People have so many ideas and options, they have a safe environment. Some of the guys began to perform very well. In my work at Chatfuel, I changed my way of giving people feedback, now I'm focusing on strengths.

    Insight 2. Retelling something else means to understand it very well yourself. This is a very important thing for teaching, it makes you understand the topic properly.

    Insight 3. There is a learning zone, and a performance zone. In a working context, you are expected to be in the performance zone. In this situation, you have no incentive to learn, only to give the best possible result. In the training area, the result is not important; you need to accumulate as much as possible so that there is more benefit from the training. But learning traditional institutions works in the productivity zone. The world generally drives us into the productivity zone.

    "Students should learn how to do things themselves, be independent, not ask for my instructions. Students should be on ... my opinion, this should not be a stopper to do something."

    - Was on Berning Maine?

    - Of course! He influenced me a lot. After Bern, I showed my students in the British 10 principles of BM , and told how each of the principles will be applied in the course of the year.

    For example, there is the principle of "Self-reliance". Students themselves must learn to do things, be independent, not ask for my instructions. Students should be in my opinion, it should not be a stopper to do something.

    About important skills

    - What are the most important skills for a product manager?

    - There are two thoughts. Firstly, the ideal product does not exist, all PMs are different. A product is a person who talks to everyone and wants to make friends with everyone. This is such a generalist.

    Secondly, PM must be able to think and to manage people at the same time. Usually the management of people in a product is not direct, but virtual, but still it needs to be managed.

    - Ok, top 3 global skills for product manager?

    • Empathy . You do something that fits into people's lives. Not understanding the life of people, Pts is difficult to make a good product.
    • Creativity . It is always necessary to approach solutions creatively. Only in this way can the new and incomprehensible be made intelligible.
    • Structured . In our business, a systematic approach is important. Anyway metrics will be your second me.

    Of course, there are many factors, but if these three skills are developed, then a person can be a good product.

    About top products

    - Top 3 Russian-speaking products?

    - Last year I traveled often, so I probably missed a lot in the industry. I have not worked with many, and I do not know what is happening inside them, so I don’t want to go out. Let's say this: there are people I have watched, and I find it cool what they do. For example, these are three Misha:

    • Misha Vysokovsky , Yandex. Navigator. The Navigator team does everything very well, tests a lot, they have a good product, a working business, and there is a lot of fun in the product! It is difficult to combine when you have such a big product.
    • Misha Karpov , Skyeng. He is a great fellow, makes ProductCamp , develops a community, really cuts into the products he manages.
    • Misha Kalashnikov ,, investor in FunCorp . He did the whole , now he is investing, he keeps a blog “ Media Skunk ”, has created an offline course for products , does a MEH conference . A million activities, and all very cool!

    - Do you have any last words for the readers?

    - I will. First, it's better to be a better person than a good product.

    Secondly, the food profession is very specific. Everyone has his own path. Among the good products you can find absolutely any background. Think what is important to you.

    Thirdly, if you have questions, ask me on Facebook , I'm always happy to answer.


    Alexey Ivanov is a product designer at an AI startup Directly in San Francisco, leads the Ponchik News channel in a telegram, and coaches. Sasha Memus writes articles on Medium , leads a course in the British, takes questions on Facebook.

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