Our third instalment of our #Makingtheleap AMA series was packed with actionable gems from two product experts — Jeremy Seow, Vice President of Product at Gomu, and Ming Ma, Head of Product at A&T Capital, a Web3 Venture Capitalist. Ming is also currently building a DeFi project. Moderated by Qin En Looi, Principal at Saison Capital, the 45-minute session was attended by more than 50 participants.
Having both successfully made the leap from Web2 to Web3, Jeremy and Ming Ma generously shared learnings from their journey.
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Here are some of the key insights from the session.
What is Web3 and Decentralization All About?
Ming Ma: Building products in a centralized world vs a decentralized world
Ming likened Web2 to a theme park with a centralized system, in contrast to Web3, which resembles a fun fair with a decentralized system.
Who owns user data: Unlike Web2 companies who own (too much) user data in the name of better service, users manage their own identity, money and data in the Web3 world. Users get to keep their money, and now have the freedom to transact at a ‘booth’ and leave whenever they want.
The voice of users: The increased voice of users in Web3 levels up the type of questions that product teams need to handle in order to build better products. Web 2 users have little voice because they have no access to the code and data. Web3 projects, in contrast, are open source with data being stored on-chain. Access to data has allowed users to ask questions which Ming has never experienced before in Web2.
Keys to success: In a centralized world, success relies on owning user data and content (e.g., Google, Meta). In a decentralized world, code is open source where data and assets are owned by users. The key to success in Web3, therefore, is trust.
The availability of talent: Finally, Ming emphasized that there is a huge shortage of tech talent in Web3 as compared to Web2, for example in areas such as UI/UX design, security, and product features. People already in Web2 have much to bring to the Web3 world!
What Web2 product management practices do we need to unlearn to make the jump into Web3?
For people in product, the biggest change is probably one of mindset, from being a subject matter expert to being a research expert.
Jeremy: For people in product, the biggest change is probably one of mindset, from being a subject matter expert to being a research expert. It is more important to know where to look for information, much of which now come from external sources rather than internal sources.
Having spent 6 years in the Web3 world, Jeremy also cautions that it is still early days. There is a need to be skeptical about many promises that brands make. It is important to understand that there is no silver bullet that, say, brings about quick transactions or accelerates finality. Every solution involves a trade off in some other aspect. Therefore one must know how to research solutions and not be too starry-eyed.
Building first vs generating hype — how to find the balance?
Jeremy: Hype is more applicable to token management. However, not all Web3 projects are token projects. For example, at Gomu, the traditional matrix applies more, e.g. the building of APIs. Depending on what part of the Web3 world you’re in, you may be building a lot more.
In both Web2 and Web3, hype may rally people together and serve as a way for the team to commit to a project.
Ming: Hype is nothing new. It is reminiscent of the dot com and mobile apps hype 20 or 10 years ago. As the market gets smarter and users demand better products, the speculative atmosphere will die down, possibly in one or two years. So it is likely to be a temporary phenomenon. In time to come, we are likely to see more communities in Web3 building before the hype.
What is the role of community in building products in the Web3 space?
Web3 communities are more well-informed. They may do a lot of research and know even more about the products than the Product Managers
Ming: It’s important to establish that the user base in Web3 is skewed, as users are usually more adventurous and have higher risk appetites, much like the early adopters in Web2. The key difference is that users in Web3 often have direct access to the product team within these communities. Users can also sometimes get very involved in the projects, even to the extent of, say, building dashboards to monitor the project’s performance. As a result, both sides hear each other more frequently. It changes the relationship and brings about more transparency.
Jeremy: Web3 communities are more well-informed. They may do a lot of research and know even more about the products than the Product Managers. Some become very involved in the projects, even to the extent that they may volunteer their time. It is also easier to incentivize communities in Web3 as compared to Web2. Web3 users can be incentivized with tokens, whereas it is much more difficult to incentivize users in Web2 with esop (stock options).
The flipside is that users may go on a witch hunt if the team is undoxxed or suspected of doing anything shady. That is why team members for certain projects may choose to remain anonymous.
How valid and effective are pseudo product managers? Is it possible to be a fractional PM?
Ming: The question is should we remain anonymous and why? It depends on how you build trust with the team, your investors and the users. It is hard to build trust without them knowing about your track record. Ming’s take is that it is impossible to maintain anonymity within teams, unless it is a job that is easily outsourced.
Fractional PM: There is no difference between Web2, Web3 or other industries. If you’re capable, you could do 2, 3 or even 4 jobs.
Jeremy: It’s quite hard to maintain full anonymity as leaks may happen. If one is careful, it is still possible to maintain some level of anonymity. However, it could be a double-edged sword, as some may embellish their track records.
Fractional PM: It is possible to be a fractional PM, especially if one has specialized domain knowledge e.g. building a tokenized customer support system. The question then would be how effective it is. While fully decentralized projects tend to be built quickly, coordination happens slowly because of the high level of coordination required.
Do you need experience in Web3 to get involved in Web3 communities?
The real question is whether you want to get onboard, rather than whether you have the right experience.
Ming: The real question is whether you want to get onboard, rather than whether you have the right experience. As with Web2 at pivotal points e.g. the rise of mobile apps, there were talent shortages. Companies like Facebook would hire web engineers and train them to be mobile engineers. Likewise with Web3.
Jeremy: Do your own research; you will need a high level of conviction to stay in the space beyond the up and down cycles. Jeremy observed that many communities in Web3 are fine with hiring folks from the Web2 world. However, one does need to at least acquire PM or software engineering knowledge before jumping into Web3. The gap that companies want to close is Web3 domain knowledge rather than base technical knowledge.
How to get immersed in the community, and how to stay sane?
One doesn’t need to understand every pixel in order to understand the big picture.
Ming: Stay focused on 5 or 6 projects, rather than trying to catch up on every project. One doesn’t need to understand every pixel in order to understand the big picture. You could work on 1 or 2 projects, stay up to date on 2 to 3, and keep an eye on 3 to 4. Some of them may die off. It would be natural then to pick another project. By drawing connections between these 5 to 6 projects, one would be better off than 99% of the people in the market. It’s simply impossible to catch up on every new thing that pops up.
Jeremy: Jeremy’s approach is to try to make useful and thoughtful comments in 1 or 2 communities that he really likes at least once a day, or if he is in a full-time job, once or twice a week. Eventually people may notice and rope him into a conversation or into a project. As for the rest, he just keeps up to date.
What is one thing you wished you knew before you started your Web3 journey?
I was fixated on finding the correct thing to work on when he first started. However, Web3 is really early and some experience is better than no experience.
Ming: Ming said that he should have joined the Web3 space earlier. He jumped into a project that he was clueless about, not being familiar with the team. The only thing that connected him to the project was that a friend of a friend shared that the team was looking for a product person to bring it online. If you’re earlier in your career, be even bolder. Stop asking what you need, because the barrier to entry is much lower than traditional tech companies. Scoring an interview at Facebook or Google is really tough, but it is way easier to get an interview at a DAO or volunteer to work on a token.
Jeremy: Jeremy shared that he was fixated on finding the correct thing to work on when he first started. However, Web3 is really early and some experience is better than no experience. Even if projects do not work out, it is still a learning experience. If you don’t have experience, when the next big thing comes along, they would not be looking at you. Another easy way to break into the Web3 space is to look for Web2 companies that are playing in the Web3 space, or vice versa. Mix concepts that you understand with concepts you are learning, so that you don’t feel so lost.
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