Interviews and Reviews

“The best product managers are distinguished by their entrepreneurial mindset” — Interview with Alexander Blinov from GFI Software

Interview with Alexander Blinov from GFI Software

On April 21st, the PLG Disrupt Summit took place in Athens — a major European conference for technology and product leaders. Among its attendees was Alexander Blinov, the VP of Commercial Product Management at GFI Software. Alexander boasts an extensive background in strategic business planning, stakeholder management, global product management, and product budgeting. He created products for major companies, such as Osome and Yandex. We sat down with Alexander to delve into his pivotal contribution to integrating with platforms like Amazon and eBay, as well as his strategies for product localization and quality control—key competencies for any proficient product manager.

Could you share your experience presenting at the PLG Disrupt Summit? Which do you value more at these events, gaining new knowledge or networking?

This conference stands out as one of the most interesting events for product managers and engineers in the software development industry. The theme of my presentation was “Looking for product-market fit.” The summit went excellently and provided me with a wealth of insights and new knowledge. Events like these allow you to learn about trends firsthand, and most importantly, to meet professionals in your field. That’s why I try to participate in them as often as possible, both offline and online. When it comes to learning and networking, I would say they are equally important and interconnected.

Professional development is crucial for product managers to adapt to changing technology and customer requirements. The best product managers are always curious and study not only their own sphere but also adjacent ones as having a broad range of expertise and insight enables them to anticipate shifts in the market and stay one step ahead. It’s crucial not to focus solely on working mechanisms but to always seek new ideas and approaches. Nowadays, product managers of any level have access to a vast array of courses and training programs: these include online courses on various professional platforms and programs at top business schools.

I can highlight the Product Management Executive Program at the French business school INSEAD, which I completed several years ago. The program proved to be very helpful as it provided new insights into the role of Product Managers in internal communication and the transmission of product vision within a company. The course also helped me make numerous interesting connections.

What other qualities, besides the ability to constantly learn, help you initiate and lead strategic projects?

In my role as VP of Product, it’s crucial to effectively interact with internal stakeholders, partners, and clients. One should carefully consider all viewpoints and adapt plans based on gathered feedback.

It’s also essential to have a visionary approach to projects, with a clear understanding of how the product and the team can achieve the desired outcome. It’s important to involve the team in your vision and strategy, so they can feel engaged and enthusiastic about the project. After all, good results can only be achieved when people are motivated and team efforts are invested in the outcome.

Moreover, I always rely on an entrepreneurial mindset, which allows me to see how to benefit from any given situation and minimize costs. This includes the ability to assess risks clearly and take responsibility, implementing my decisions into action. All of this enables me to build partnerships with leading industry companies.

At GFI Software, I launched Kerio Control MSP, which is a network security system as a service for a new customer segment – our partners. These were distributors and resellers of our products who started using them directly. This is what I call entrepreneurial thinking – the ability to look at processes from a different angle, to propose a shorter and mutually beneficial path. Kerio Control MSP became the first product specifically designed for managed service providers, who previously only paid us a percentage of the revenue generated from their clients. This opened up an entirely new customer segment worldwide.

Speaking of global clients, you’ve worked across European, Asian, and American markets. What is your approach to handling cultural differences in product strategies for different countries?

Cultural nuances and mindsets indeed exert a significant influence, particularly in marketing. Therefore, product promotion strategies always take into account the linguistic and social norms specific of each market. This goes beyond mere translation, involving the adaptation of marketing tools in terms of context and cultural differences. It’s crucial for advertising messages and the overall brand narrative not only to be comprehensible to customers but also to resonate with them. Consumer habits and media consumption also vary. In addition to differing preferences for global products, many countries have their own media platforms and channels for information dissemination. Finally, attitudes towards media and social networks also differ across countries, and it’s important to keep this in mind when developing effective communication tools.

I gained interesting experience in product localization while working at Osome. During that time, I was responsible for integrating our product with Amazon, Shopify, and other e-commerce platforms. We launched the Osome application on these platforms, accompanied by extensive marketing campaigns and joint advertising efforts with the platforms themselves. Quickly, we noticed significant differences in customer acquisition methods between the UK and Asia. Direct online acquisition works well in Singapore and Hong Kong, where customers are willing to purchase our accounting services online. However, this approach doesn’t work in the UK. There, building trust in the service is crucial, which is difficult to achieve through cold acquisition. Therefore, in the British market, we decided to focus on partnership relations, working with influencers, and brand development.

We successfully collaborated with e-commerce platforms, many of which provide their partners with acquisition and support tools. For example, Shopify offers its partners the ability to attract customers from its database on a CPC (cost per click) model. Thus, Shopify becomes an additional advertising channel for our marketing team.

Could you elaborate on your work at Osome? As I understand it, your project with Amazon and other platforms significantly influenced the company’s trajectory?

Osome is a Singaporean startup that provides accounting and tax support services for small and medium businesses. I was brought into Osome to lead the e-commerce product segment, which quickly became a strategic priority for the company. One of the products was Osome.Connect — an automated data processing tool for accounting and tax filing designed for marketplace sellers. Partnering with major marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Shopify, Lazada, Etsy, Shopee, Square, and Wix enabled us to attract and convert such sellers into Osome clients. The project was challenging because it required considering the interests and technical peculiarities of each corporation. Each platform had its own team of developers and systems analysts working with Osome, and research was conducted to choose the most suitable integration architecture. As a result, 1500 of our clients were able to connect to the service from familiar e-commerce platforms where they conduct business. For the company itself, the project was also successful — these integrations increased the efficiency of the internal operations team by 50%. Developing strategic partnerships with these platforms allowed the company to maintain quarterly additional revenue growth from e-commerce clients at 15%. Together with the product teams, we positioned Osome as an industry innovator and made it the top choice for accounting services for e-commerce clients.

This sounds like a real challenge. Alexander, with your nearly fifteen years of experience, what advice would you give to product managers aspiring to grow in their profession?

In my opinion, it’s crucial for product managers not to forget about empathy while pursuing knowledge and deep immersion in their industry. Empathy plays a significant role in product management, especially when it comes to constant interactions with stakeholders. Understanding their desires, and motivations, and being willing to compromise is essential. Customers themselves don’t always fully understand what they want from a future product, so it’s important to be able to put yourself in their shoes, and developing empathy is simply essential.

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