Subhayu Ghosh is Chief Product and Technology Officer at LYTT, an end-to-end sensor fusion analytics platform bringing solutions to the oil and gas industry. Before joining LYTT, Subhayu developed and improved products, programs, and processes for renowned Fortune 100 brands such as Amazon and Emirates Group.
In our conversation, Subhayu discusses what it means to be customer-focused — focusing on getting to the core of the customers’ problem instead of needing to develop the most innovative solution. He walks us through his process for segmentation, emphasizing that every segment will have a different set of problems and intensity and that you shouldn’t try to make everyone happy. Subhayu also talks about the importance of evaluating long-term versus short-term value when prioritizing products to build.
At the very beginning of my career when I was 18, I started as an entrepreneur. To this day, I still think I’m not very good “corporate employee” material. I successfully built three ventures of my own around seven years ago, but I found it challenging to scale above 200 employees.
It was quite a big setup considering I started bootstrapping it from the beginning, but from there, it was much more structured with corporate things that we needed to do. I needed to learn that. So I came into corporate because of that and the closest thing to being an entrepreneur is product management. I didn’t know, initially, that there’s something called product management, but I’m a big fan of Steve Jobs. I found out that he was a product manager, so that’s what a PM does.
I’m the chief product and technology officer, so all the product and tech teams report to me. LYTT was founded around four years back servicing the oil and gas industry. Oil-producing wells are generally under the sea’s subsurface, around 10 kilometers below the sea bed. You don’t have any visibility in these areas. Companies dig wells to get the oils, and LYTT uses fiber optic cables to listen to acoustics, vibrations, and frequencies in real-time.
We’re collecting around 63 million data points. We then put those into machine learning algorithms to predict where there’s oil or water, at what depth there’s gas, and the constitution of the subsurface under the earth.
Another use case of ours is carbon capture. The oil and gas industry is capturing active carbon, which is being emitted directly by the fuel that they’re producing. They’re capturing that, turning it solid, and putting it back inside the well under the earth. The point that we need to prove through the acoustics is that the carbon that we inject under the earth is not coming back up. It is really carbon being replaced and not just greenwashing, which is a big sustainability goal.
We’ve also done a one-and-a-half-year pilot with Thames River in the UK and Affinity where we can actively actually detect leakages in water pipes running underground. With this, we can prevent this massive 25 percent leakage of fresh drinking water they’ve been seeing.
We are solving different problems, but the core of the fundamental technology is acoustics, which are based on a certain cable or fiber optic. There are cables everywhere now, thanks to phones and the internet and all of that. We have 41 patents across our product and the capability of listening to all of those frequencies and interpreting them through machine learning models and algorithms, and we can interpret many different vibrations.
People think we need to drive innovation, so they understand the problem space. And they dive deep into providing the best solution, and that’s what they feel is doing the best for the customer. But that’s not really true — you need to really understand the customer problem because customers, interestingly, don’t care about solutions. People only care about their problem and if you’re solving it.
For example, if you have Gmail and like it, sometimes you might think, “I wish I could press a button here and get ChatGPT to write this email for me.” Despite those wishes, you continue to use it because it solves a certain problem for you. What matters is whether the core problem is solved. That’s step one. That is customer obsession.
Maybe I’m a slow typer and I wish there was a dictation feature. Maybe you’re a coder, so you love to type, but you wish there were more add-ons. Our problem spaces are different. That’s where the concept of segmentation comes in. Every segment of customers faces a different intensity of a problem. You can’t make everybody happy.
In the beginning, you can have a very general idea of a broad problem you want to solve and can come up with a solution. But after, we need to get into segments, understand the problem of each segment, and keep one segment happy. It may not be the most innovative solution, but it solves the problem at the core of that segment. Understanding the problem in a deeper way, segmented, is what I believe is customer obsession.
When I look at competitive advantage, the first question I ask is, “Who is my target segment in the first place?” Every segment will have a set of problems and intensity. Evaluating this and looking for patterns or overlaps, this is known as a value curve analysis. When you do a value curve analysis, you understand which particular problem is more intense in which segment, and then the next step is to do a competitive analysis.
When you go into competitive analysis, you look at the broader problem and go feature by feature. How is this customer segment evaluating the competition against us in solving problem A, in solving problem B, in solving problem C, etc.?
If you see that all of my competitors are doing pathetically in solving problem A, then that’s your jackpot. The problem is acute and the solution is pathetic. So let’s get all over this problem and lead the market. There will be no single competitor who can beat us in solving this problem.
It’s based on the highest problem and the solution curve of different competitors in their ability to solve them. You know where you stand as a solution compared to your competition and where you can create more of a gap, and based on that, you decide one small micro problem area out of a broader problem area for your next step.
I’ll continue with the Gmail example. Say the segment I’m interested in is visually impaired with low vision, and their biggest problem is composing emails. I need some functionality for them and no competitors have it. Once I provide them with a very good solution, I wouldn’t move out of that segment to another segment to solve another problem for a different segment. That would mean I’m trying to make everyone happy.
I’d see, in that same value curve for our segment, what is the next biggest problem that has unmet needs or that doesn’t have a good solution. You have seen the problem so deeply that you understand and can empathize with that problem space of the customer. You’re providing a solution that really solves their problem.
I would cement myself as a leader in that market and dominate that small percentage of email users with visual impairments first. At each avenue of my solution, I would create at least a 3x gap between me and my closest competitor when it comes to solving the problem.
We had mammal detection as one of our sales opportunities, as well as carbon capture detection. We prioritized carbon capture over others not because of the contract value, but because it was more relevant to the oil and gas industry, which are our target segments. I wanted to be the leader in the oil and gas segment, and that’s how we did it.
But what if the mammal detection contract value is bigger than the carbon capture contract value? Then I think about building for the long term versus the short term. And that’s where product management should inform sales. Maybe by building things sporadically here and there, we can earn more money in the short term, but the lifetime value of the customer is going to depreciate because we won’t have a competitive advantage with any customer segment.
The process is, as I say, getting my lazy self up. And talking to as many customers as needed. Quality over quantity — I maintain that if we are speaking to 5–20 customers, it’s enough, but we should have a deep understanding of those 5–20 customers rather than have a superficial understanding and conduct 100 interviews or 100 surveys.
And sampling is important. If I sample 5–20 people from my target segment, I don’t care about the total. By conducting deep interviews with those people in my target zone, I understand the intricacies of the problems that they face. And the devil is always in the details.
In a B2C product, there are so many problems. You have to figure out if the pain threshold is enough for the customer that they’re desperate to pay to get rid of this problem. How much is it paining them? When you talk about competitive advantage, everybody competes against everybody. Customers always evaluate different problems, they don’t evaluate solutions.
When we think of competition, we always think about our direct competitors. But there could be hacks beyond direct competition — something may not have direct software to solve that problem, but the customer may have found a different hack to solve it.
For example, I need to use a VPN. And the IT solution is to buy a VPN credit. Why? Because it’s a problem. I’ve learned to live with the problem and I’m not paying money to solve it. Now, if you are building a product, you know I have this problem, but am I willing to pay for a solution? Probably not.
Let’s say you built it and I tell you I’m not buying it. I use Norton as my antivirus software and they provide minimal VPN support if they think that a website is dodgy. Norton decides the country to route the VPN through. Sometimes I want to go to weaker geographies to get a better price.
That’s where people get confused. The deeper reasoning there is competitive advantage. Every product in this world competes with every other product in this world in the mind of the customer. It was a great aha moment as a product leader. Why? Because take me as a customer now, and I represent the whole world.
There are two main things in leadership: care and challenge. People don’t care as long if they don’t know that you care. To bring a team to a point of caring beyond the average day job, you have to genuinely start caring for them first. Product teams need to be passionate about the problem. They need to believe in the product and the success of the company.
I take people as who they are and start genuinely caring. It is as simple as that. If I try to make things up or write down people’s birthdays, it all works to a certain extent, but beyond that, it doesn’t. If I know what my team members like and have open, honest discussions, we will develop a connection.
And that develops over time. It’s a daily thing. So care is 51 percent of the time, and then the other 49 percent is a challenge, and the challenge follows. How can I challenge you? Where do you want to be? How can I give you feedback that you’ll receive knowing that I have no ill intent? That’s what care establishes. Care establishes trust and challenge establishes progress.
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