What is a product-led organization? What does it take to build one? How can technology help solve real-world problems? These are just a few of the questions that Yi-Wei Ang has dedicated his career to answering. Yi-Wei is the Chief Product Officer at Talabat, the largest food delivery and quick commerce company in the Middle East, and is responsible for Talabat’s rapid growth in the region. He joins Barry O’Reilly to talk about what better leadership means, and what it takes to build a product-led organization.

How Product-led Organizations Solve Human Problems

“If we think about what great design is and great experiences are,” Yi-Wei tells Barry, “it’s not just [that] it’s beautiful – it’s how the thought process that goes behind every decision you make… is anchored on the end-user.” From an early age, Yi-Wei was fascinated with how you could create something that works using technology. He became immersed in human factors engineering in university, especially with building resilient systems that were responsive to unplanned exceptions. Ultimately, he remarks, it’s about understanding humans and building products that help them solve their problems. [Listen from 1:50]



Better Management

Marty Cagan taught Yi-Wei that people aren’t looking for less management, they’re looking for better management. This was counterintuitive to what he believed at the time, and it was a major unlearning for him. He knew that he didn’t want a top-down micromanaged organization, so he mistakenly felt that this meant giving his teams complete autonomy to choose the problems they wanted to solve. The result from this approach was that his teams’ efforts were misaligned, and they did not deliver on several commitments because of it. Cagan’s advice opened his eyes that he needed to set constraints and provide context and direction for his teams. Barry agrees, “Part of being a leader is actually setting some constraints… sure, give them the space to be expressive and bring their ideas to life – but innovation needs constraints and teams need commitments to be held, to actually build more trust and deliver things for each other.” [Listen from 8:15]

(Listen to the previous episode with Peggy Liu about Winks From the Universe)

One Thing That Matters

Trust the team close to the problem to solve the problem, Yi-Wei advises. Solving that problem should be their sole focus. At any given moment, there are 10 problems you could solve, and you might be inclined to tackle them all at once. This is a mistake, Yi-Wei and Barry point out. It’s more productive to pick the most important thing on the list and focus on solving that one problem. What you learn will tell you how to proceed. Leaders should help the team pick the problem. “The thing that often we don’t spend enough time on – and I believe is that the crux of product leadership – is the ability for product leaders to help the team pick the one thing that actually matters,” Yi-Wei comments. He adds that better leadership is setting the long-term vision and then working backward to choose the levers that will get you there. That’s how you achieve focus. [Listen from 14:00]

Product-Led Organizations Across Cultures

Barry asks Yi-Wei how he gives teams context and directions company-wide, while also paying attention to local differences. He replies, “The challenge with building an organization or product across all these different markets is that when you try and paint it with one brush you often just get an average product across everything.” The best approach, he finds, is to choose the most strategic problem in just one market and address that. You can go deep and find out details that you wouldn’t otherwise. Talabat’s impressive growth is due in part to taking this approach. The company sees the intersection of technology and the real world as an interesting challenge and is driven to innovate their operations to serve their customers. Yi-Wei’s definition of a product-led organization is one where you use technology and product to solve customer problems. “People don’t care about your departments,” he stresses, “they care about the end-to-end cycle… We have an opportunity to really tie that entire journey together and solve that holistically.” [Listen from 18:15]

(Listen to the Shifting Bias and Beliefs with Sejal Thakkar, Chief Culture Officer at Nobody Studios)

Looking Ahead

Barry asks Yi-Wei what he is excited about as he looks ahead. Yi-Wei responds that they are very focused on solving more problems in the food delivery space, including online and offline experiences. Scaling quick commerce is also part of their agenda, as he believes there are opportunities in so many verticals “to help enable people and bring a lot of autonomy back into their lives.” Continuing to build an organization that maximizes for context is another major goal, he says. Bringing teams closer to the business and customers, creating flow to maximize learning, and building flexibility into their systems, are some of the steps towards that goal. First of all, Yi-Wei remarks, he role models the behaviors he wants to see. [Listen from 29:20]