From Product Manager to Platform Manager — the Partners’ Impact(1/5)

Platform Managers listen to the voice of the developer. What is platform, the platform manager role, the partner’s impact

From Product Manager to Platform Manager — the Partners’ Impact(1/5)
Photo by “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash

From Product to Platform — the Partners’ Impact(1/5)

What is a platform?

“That’s a crock of shit. This isn’t a platform. A platform is when the economic value of everybody that uses it, exceeds the value of the company that creates it. Then it’s a platform.”
Bill Gates referring to the Facebook product
(from Stratechery: The Bill Gates Line)

A product becomes a platform once the revenue generated by the partners exceeds the platform revenues. Tech examples include MS Windows, Apple iOS, Google’s Android and, more recently, Shopify.

This blog series is not about platform vs aggregators (see Stratechery). The focus of these posts is the key differences between a platform product manager and the more traditional product manager. Most of it comes from my last 18 months at Shopify, where I transitioned between these two roles.

What is this platform manager role?

Platform manager is a new role. Job offerings will mostly relate to a Product Manager role. You need to look at the company (is this a platform?) as well as at the role description. Even within platform companies, there are lots of pure product roles inside platform companies, as well.

In this blog series, I will use PM for regular PM and PPM for a “platform product manager.”

Platforms: The partners’ impact (1/5)

Partners as users

Partners are users of the API. Their personas, interest, motivation, key objectives are very different from your product users. For Platform Product Managers (PPM), it adds a lot of activities like doing partner research, API design, API MVP as well as a go-to-market strategy for partners. Those require different tools and skills than regular user research, MVP and go to market strategy. The API first approach is also something you may want to adopt in the context of a platform. A PPM should master this context and the associated process, especially if nobody in the team is familiar with partner interactions.

Partners as stakeholders

In product organizations, bringing partners into the mix is often hard. In the product world, partners are a necessary evil: between competitors and part of the value chain.

In platform organizations, partners are the ones creating the value: they are critical to the success of any API and product launch.

As a PPM, you should consider your partners as stakeholders: they have a critical role to play in the platform’s success.

Product Managers listen to the voice of the customer.
Platform Managers listen to the voice of the developer as well.

Partners as a community

Once you have more than a couple of partners, it will become hard to gather feedback and have direct information from each partner. Once this happens, you need to consider the partners as a community.

Platform companies do not have product announcements. They have a developer conference: a fixed (yearly) release cycle to bring partners together and announce the future of the platform. For platform companies, the developer conference is, in fact, the most critical marketing event of the year.

Like the yearly reveal of the roadmap for product companies, developer conferences mix a compelling vision of the future where partners have a critical role to play.

Partners at a workshop / Photo from Burst

In your area of the platform, I genuinely believe that PPMs should develop this community and use this collective wisdom and intelligence to shape up a better partner and user experience.

Do not take this community for granted and make sure you solicit this community feedback and interact respectfully and truthfully with each partner. Typical activities include office hours, dedicated 1:1 time with partners and workshops. This will ensure that you remain connected with the partner community.

Platform extensibility & partners: where is the boundary between the core platform (product) functionality and the partner businesses?

A PPM will have to align with its stakeholders to define, which functionality will remain a partner exclusivity or be part of the platform in a future release. The boundary between a stock user experience (no app) and an extended user experience (with at least one app) will evolve with time.

The boundary between the platform and the partners depend on partners’ and platform business model as well as user expectations. The features which were unique to a partner ten years ago are now undoubtedly expected by your users.

Delighters of the past are basic functionalities of today (See Kano model). Slowly, the platform incorporates more and more features from partners, while partners continue to innovate and create value by adding needs unmet by the platform.

As a PPM, you need to understand the value creation chain from a systemic point of view. You need to consider partners’ contributions to the ecosystem for each of your decisions. Platform evolution is the subject of the fourth blog post on the platform vs product series.

Feedback is a gift

You can reach me at Benoit des Ligneris.

  • Which key characteristic linked to products, partners or platforms did I miss?
  • Any feedback?

Complete series:
1. Partners (1/5)
2. Platforms complexity (2/5)
3. Mental Models (3/5)
4. Revolutions (4/5)
5. Conclusion (5/5)