In this edition of our Expert Insights series, we talk to Arun Sreelalan Iyer, Senior Product Manager at Ola. We learn more about the product design of Ola and how he managed to crack the code on how to stay on the user’s phone.

In Conversation with the Man Driving Product at Ola: Arun Iyer

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In March 2017 it was reported that there were close to 2.8 billion apps available on Google Play Store and 2 billion apps registered on Apple’s App Store. And these numbers don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Not to dishearten, it was also reported that the average Android app loses 77% of its daily active users (DAUs) within the first three days after the install, and 90% within the first 30 days! (source: Quettra)

product design ola

So how do you ensure your app isn’t one of the 77% or the 90%?

We have expert insight from Arun Sreelalan Iyer, who has built the Ola app and has managed to crack the code on how to stay on the user’s phone.

When Will.I.Am is learning how to code, you know coding is cool. But it gets overwhelming with the new changes that take place and it gets difficult keeping up with it.

So how do you keep up with the times?


I personally try not to keep a track since I feel there’s a lot of noise that comes along with the useful things. A lot of Product Managers read Techcrunch or to know what’s new, but for me, I think it’s important to ask the core questions and understand how your work is going to impact the customers.

What are these core questions?

1. Who are you building this app for? Basically, your customer.

2. What is the problem that you’re trying to solve? More importantly, how is your idea/app going to solve this problem?

The more clarity you get on those two questions, the easier it is to design a solution to attack those questions.

For instance, Pervacio is a B2B company whose clients are telecoms and to provide them with mobile diagnostic services and solutions for their retail store.

In Pervacio, if I know a user is a non-technical person, then the UX will be simple and not very cluttered. You also have to remember that the environment may be noisy with a shaky internet connection.

Whereas in Ola, you will assume your user to be someone who is pressed for time and his criteria are comfort and fare. You also have to keep in mind that anyone should be able to use it and not just people with a certain education. So you design it in a way which is very friendly, colourful, self-explanatory etc.

Literally, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Try to gauge what the customer will feel or think when he sees it or comes across this feature.

How do you gauge what the customer wants? Are there any particular tools that can be used?

No. But this is something B-school exposes you to. It helps you structure problems and think in a detailed way. It teaches you how to design for customers and ensure it fits into their lives.

Despite all of this, how do I ensure my app stays on and is used on a daily basis?

If you see any phone, there will be at least 60–70 apps on it. Out of that, only about 10 of them are highly used like Gmail, Google Maps, WhatsApp, Facebook etc, and then people install games which are used frequently in the first week and then dropped off.

So any company that’s building an app has to fight for that space in the phone and in the user’s mind. The basic principle that is applicable to any business is to make something that is so useful that the user will want to go back to. Ola and PayTM have managed to crack it.

Pro-tip: Arun recommends reading Hooked by Nir Eyal which guides on how to make habit-forming products.

For those looking to join companies in the product development team, what advice would give them on how to crack the interview?

Ola usually conducts 3–4 rounds of interviews where they ask about your previous experience and they ask a few design questions.

An important aspect which many engineers tend to miss is the reasoning as to why they built a certain app or feature and what problem did that solve.

So have definite logical reasoning for why you took a step instead of just preparing for what you did.

Just to help our readers get a glimpse of the life of a product manager, talk us through a day in your life.

My day consists of several cups of coffee! Hehe!

My day starts with looking at the metrics and seeing what went wrong, what needs to be fixed etc.

I then go through my emails to see if someone requires any reports or anything else. Next, I have a couple of meetings with either the design team or the Ops team or technical team etc to understand their requirements and if they need anything that needs to be integrated into the product etc.

In the end, if there is any ideation that needs to be done, where we have to come up with a new feature and how would that work, then I sit with my analysts and find out where we’re going wrong and try to rectify it.

As a Product Manager, I have to then write a spec document which explains to my engineers what it does and how it rectifies the problem etc. I sit down with my engineers to find if that much information is enough and clarify if any doubts etc.

Once the feature is built, I test it out with a small group and see if it actually works.

So there are many tasks involved with the Product Manager and it usually involves talking to a lot of people and trying to solve problems of the many stakeholders involved.

How has the app development scene changed over the years?

What I have noticed, not only in apps but in the software industry, it is becoming more customer-centric. I’ve been working with computers and software for over 25 years and I’ve noticed that the initial versions of the software were very clunky and would require a lot of training and expertise to use it.

And earlier the user would blame themselves for not knowing enough to use it but nowadays, the users expect the software to be simple enough for their knowledge and if it isn’t, they blame the developers.

Earlier the technology was not simple enough and was primitive to use but these days it’s very easy to write code.

And in the past it was important to optimise on performance, speed, space and cost but now with Amazon Web Services and cloud computing, everything has become so cheap and you can focus on your work and don’t have to worry about optimisation since there is ample of computing resources.

Another change I noticed was in software management and processes. Earlier Microsoft would release their product after every 3 years but now it has become a monthly and weekly thing. Customers have started appreciating it more when you realise your mistake and try to rectify it.

How is it going change in the next coming years?

Companies are moving towards Progressive Web Apps. In countries like India and China where the bandwidth and data constraints are stringent and users may not have a big budget to download heavy apps, Progressive Web Apps plays an important role.

These are basically websites that look like an app. The world is moving towards that point where people don’t have to download heavy apps on their phones anymore. So just the link will be on your phone and it’ll open the site which will look like an app.

About the Expert:

In this edition of our Expert Insights series, we talk to Arun Sreelalan Iyer, Senior Product Manager at Ola.

Arun is currently the Senior Product Manager at Ola.

Graduate from R.V. College of Engineering, Bangalore and IIM Calcutta, Arun had a keen interest in technology and interacting with customers.

After having worked in Microsoft for over 2 years and in Pervacio for a year, Arun understands his B2B and B2C customers well.



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