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Building Fintech Products is Product Management

Anish Acharya, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, shares how his product background has helped guide his investment choices and shaped his belief that fintech products must put customer empathy at the center of development.

Anish Acharya, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, has a background in investing, as well as in starting and scaling companies, but his roots are in product.

Anish has built two products from scratch: SocialDeck, a social gaming company, and Snowball, a notifications startup. Finding product market fit for social products, during an economic recession and when the consumer mobile space was exploding, wasn’t exactly an easy feat.

But Anish chalks it up to a learning experience.

“The interesting thing about 2008 was that it was easy to get customers, but impossible to get investors,” Anish says. “I think one of the mistakes I made, as a first time founder, was looking for external signs of validation. ‘Hey, if I get an investor, that means that what I'm working on is right,’ or, ‘Hey, if I hire people.’ In reality, the only validation that matters is consumers using and buying your product.”

Social Deck was ultimately acquired by Google in 2010. At Google, he was able to work on his startup ideas through the company’s entrepreneur in residence program. There, he built Snowball, which was acquired five years later by Credit Karma.

“There's a lot of lessons to be had. One of which was if you're not building for someone who looks like yourself, you can't really use your intuition, or at least, your intuition can only be a part of the story of product design. You got to really look to other ways to learn. User research is one of those and looking at the data is one of those.”

When he joined Credit Karma as the VP of Product following the acquisition, one of the biggest challenges he faced was learning the differences between building social products and building fintech products. At the time, “consumer fintech felt like consumer mobile did 10 years ago, a really green field and the incumbents were sometimes hundreds of years old. There’s just tons of opportunity to do cool things,” he says.

He learned quickly that building successful fintech products for consumers is a nuanced and unique endeavor, because not all consumers have the same financial pain points, and their attitudes towards online financial services are changing. Product managers must identify the consumer need they’re solving for, whether it’s functional, cognitive, or emotional. And in fintech, it’s often most impactful to focus on emotional value.

“Know the emotional context of your consumer and how you can add value,” Anish says. “There’s functional value, which gets them more money. There’s cognitive value, which helps them better understand their money. And there’s emotional value, which helps them feel like everything's going to be OK.”

In this episode, you’ll learn a lot about customer empathy, entrepreneurship, and building and scaling fintech products.

Here are the highlights: 

  • How building fintech products differs from building social products (7:55)
  • What approach product managers should take when building fintech products (12:11)
  • Anish’s advice for transitioning from an entrepreneur to an investor (16:26)

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