Navigating Ecommerce Skies - Episode 3

The Role of Product Management
in Entrepreneurship and Ecommerce

Podcast cover art for episode 3 of the duoplane podcast. Image of Ali Alavi, CEO & head of product from Seed to Sold.

Episode Summary

In this episode Ali Alavi, CEO of Seed to Sold, unravels his extraordinary journey from Iran to LA, bringing a wealth of product management wisdom to the growing cannabis industry. Ali leverages his unique background and expertise in product management to enhance user experiences and implement technologies in the cannabis e-commerce space. Together, Ali and our host Mandy discuss the role of product management in entrepreneurship and e-commerce, the importance of creating a great customer experience, and the evolving impact of AI in the industry.

Ali has also generously donated ‘A Product Manager’s Reference Guide’ for our listeners to download and use as they wish. This comprehensive guide includes strategies and frameworks that he applies in his professional career. Click the button below to download it.

You'll learn:

  • The journey of Ali Alavi, CEO of Seed to Sold, in entrepreneurship and the cannabis industry
  • Applying product management principles in e-commerce
  • The importance of creating a great customer experience
  • How personalization and human touch in business can set you apart
  • Strategies to avoid and strategies to use in e-commerce
  • The evolving role of AI in e-commerce
  • The fundamentals of product management
  • The role of AI in analytics and data-centered product management

Quote Worth Sharing:

  • “Customer service should play a role in informing the designs of each step in the sales funnel.” – Ali Alavi
  •  “The user should always be dead center and always remember the problem you’re trying to solve.” – Ali Alavi
  • “Applying product management principles to your e-commerce business can translate to better products and real-world results.” – Ali Alavi

Mandy Potter: Welcome to another episode of the Duoplane Podcast: Navigating Commerce Skies, where we take a deep dive into the evolving world of commerce. Today on our show, we have Ali Alavi, the CEO of Seed to Sold, a company that develops and markets brands and products in the cannabis space, such as DankGeek, LaPipes, and more. Ali has a fascinating background. Born in Iran, he fled to Turkey and eventually settled in LA. His journey in sales began at 13, and by 19, he was involved in the film industry. He started several production companies and an e-commerce tech company, UPC, which he later sold. After serving as a Senior Product Manager (PM) at Cast and Crew, he took a year break to focus on Seed to Sold. Today, we will discuss a range of topics, but our primary focus is entrepreneurship and product management. Ali attributes his success to applying product management and development principles to his websites and e-commerce software. He believes that applying these principles to your e-commerce business can translate to better products and real-world results.



Mandy Potter: Welcome, Ali. How are you today?



Ali Alavi: Fantastic. Thanks for asking.



Mandy Potter: I’m excited to get started. We have many clients in the cannabis sector. I have some experience in that area myself. I started one of the first on-demand cannabis delivery companies in Canada around the time cannabis was legalized there. It was an exciting time, and I’m keen to learn more about you and your businesses.



Ali Alavi: Interestingly, I’ve also worked in the cannabis space in Canada. That’s quite a coincidence!



Mandy Potter: I’d love to delve into your background. It’s intriguing how you tie your past experiences and childhood to your current work. You told me that you learned early on in life that giving up was not an option, and you developed great resilience and perseverance from your childhood experiences. I’d love to hear more about that.



Ali Alavi: Yeah. I believe personal experiences often provide the best lessons. We tend to overlook those experiences and lean towards emerging best practices or frameworks to solve problems. However, these approaches are often rooted in personal experiences. I was born in Iran, and our culture has significantly influenced my product management style, which we’ll discuss later. The Iranian culture values hospitality and anticipation of a guest’s needs. This perspective applies to e-commerce, where you serve customers on your platform or design software for them. After escaping the war in Iran, we went to Turkey, and from there, we gained refugee status to come to the US, landing in Los Angeles.



Ali Alavi: I developed an interest in computers early on, in the 90s, before the internet era. Simultaneously, I was also interested in creative arts, particularly photography and film. So, my career has been at the intersection of software technology and entertainment. Later on, I ventured into sales. My father was an entrepreneur, so I was always intrigued by business and sales. I started at 13, working in door-to-door sales. It taught me that sometimes you sell more than just a product. An underlying value exchange is even more significant than the physical product. This was the case in my door-to-door sales experience, which I’ll elaborate on as we discuss the elements of the product and how it applies to sales and commerce.



Ali Alavi: At 17, I started a web development company. We built websites for entertainment and real estate companies during the dial-up days. We were pioneers in encoding video for the web. It was an emerging industry that was starting to gain momentum. Later, I moved into special effects, developing software for the industry, focusing on non-linear digital post-production and eventually production. I frequently find parallels between my experiences in entertainment and commerce.



Ali Alavi: Fast forward to my venture into the cannabis space with a company named UPC. We started by manufacturing products for the industry, but I leveraged my tech and computer science background to optimize the development and marketing of those products. At that time, technology was not fully exploited in the industry. Decisions were often based on gut feelings rather than data-driven insights. We were among the first to use data analytics and SEO in the cannabis space.



Ali Alavi: I had to determine which markets to target and when and the best products suited for those markets. Additionally, I had to decide when and how to market those products. Since we were pioneers in the cannabis space, one of my companies, which I later sold to Smoke Cartel, became the highest ranked across any keyword in the cannabis industry. It remains a prominent player in the industry, now owned by a Canadian company called High Tide, which has acquired many others in the business. After that, I wanted to explore the mainstream software development side and joined Cast and Crew, where I developed software for the film industry. I applied my previous experiences and knowledge in the development process there.



Ali Alavi: Seed to Sold has been involved in various projects throughout this journey. Initially, it served as a consulting and technology development company, working behind the scenes for the companies I was involved with. Even today, Seed to Sold plays a significant role, as my relationships with companies keep me occupied. About a year ago, I decided to fully focus on Seed to Sold and work closely with companies to bring the best product management experiences to their cannabis businesses, including developing their physical products. We rely on Duoplane for integrating our websites, which has been immensely helpful. So, thank you for that.


Mandy Potter: I find it interesting how you mentioned the use of technology in the cannabis space. As someone with a background in software, I’ve always started software companies. When I started my company, which was an on-demand cannabis delivery service, I realized the industry lacked technological advancements. This contributed to our success, as we were the first company in Canada to offer an app-based ordering system with driver tracking, providing a seamless experience similar to Uber. It was quite archaic, especially in Canada, where traditional methods like texting or making phone calls were still prevalent. So, my question to you is, did you also see the opportunity to leverage technology in the cannabis space and use it to your advantage?


Ali Alavi: Absolutely. The two points you raised are quite interesting. Firstly, there needed to be more technology in the industry, especially since many people in the business came from the traditional smoke shop model, which is a hands-on, in-person experience. If you’ve visited smoke shops, you’ll notice that the customer experience could be better, and customer service is a significant aspect that needs improvement. Secondly, companies like Eaze and others in California and across the states consider themselves tech companies involved in the cannabis space. However, their technology could be better informed, functional, and more user-friendly to solve user problems more effectively. Even larger companies like Weedmaps have room for improvement in their application and could adopt better practices to enhance the user experience.


Mandy Potter: Definitely. You’ve highlighted another good point that the cannabis industry lacks, which is the customer experience. In our case, we focused on providing excellent support and a great overall experience. Simple features like live chat, sending emojis, thumbs up, and smiley faces were new experiences for customers in this industry, where they were used to texting or making phone calls. It wasn’t just the technology aspect that impressed them, but also the fact that they received exceptional customer care, which made them keep coming back.


Ali Alavi: Yeah, exactly. Using technology for the sake of technology doesn’t accomplish much. Technology should solve specific problems better than humans or traditional methods. Many of these newer cannabis companies consider themselves tech companies with the latest tech stack and all the bells and whistles, but their user experiences and services often fall short. As a user, if my problem is solved optimally with the expected experience, all the technology in the world will make a difference. Going back to your earlier point, we utilized technology not only to inform our internal business decisions but also to enhance the user experience, as you mentioned. Whether it’s through chat features or simply conveying emotion with emojis, it’s the small things that matter. We are emotional beings and need that sense of validation. A templated email response from technology won’t provide that connection. So, how can we bridge that gap? As technology progresses, the key differentiator won’t be who has the fanciest website but who provides a better user and customer experience.


Mandy Potter: Yeah, definitely. I recently had a conversation with an e-commerce agency owner, and he emphasized the importance of the customer and their experience. It truly is the most crucial factor that sets you apart. Even if another company duplicated your website, products, and everything identically, having a better customer experience will attract customers to you. It surpasses factors like pricing. At Duoplane, we always prioritize personalization and refuse to use templates, whether it’s dealing with business leads or providing support to existing clients. We believe it sets us apart. We often hear stories of customers going to our competitors and receiving template responses that actually need to address their questions, resulting in a frustrating experience. So, we genuinely value that personal touch in business. Even when you grow and have numerous clients, it’s better to invest in more staff to maintain that personal touch rather than relying solely on automation.


Ali Alavi: Yeah, 100%. I experienced that firsthand with my first company in the cannabis space. We competed against others who constantly lowered prices, had larger selections, and potentially more manpower to ship quickly. It became a race to the bottom in terms of pricing, but lowering our prices didn’t lead to the expected increase in sales. When we reached that point, I started a new company after selling the previous one, and we actually raised our prices in line with inflation. Although our costs increased, raising prices resulted in higher sales. We used the additional resources to provide better customer service. In the cannabis space, many companies offer similar experiences, and if everyone focuses on price, it becomes a race to the bottom where everyone loses. Instead, it’s better to maintain prices, signaling that we compete on the customer service aspect and leverage technology to support that. This only sometimes means human interactions but also extends to how we build our websites and funnels, commonly known as sales funnels.


Ali Alavi: First, you have the initial search for a particular product. Once you find it, the landing page or product page becomes crucial. What kind of experience are you going to provide to the user? In physical stores, you have the option to pick up the product, examine it from different angles, and get a good feel for it. However, in most cannabis stores, you’ll find a single low-quality photo that hardly shows what you’re buying. At our company, we invest in more photographs than other websites, including 360 shots. We understand that it comes at a cost, but it translates into providing users with the same experience they would have in a physical store. It’s like picking up a product and examining it closely. Therefore, customer service should play a role in informing the designs of each step in the sales funnel.


Ali Alavi: What I’m searching for is a lot of people are using AI to write product descriptions, and so, therefore, you get sensational, this is going to take your game to the next level. What does that really mean again, as a buyer? Are you providing me with all the information, all the different tips I need to make the most important decision about that purchase, and then, as you’re going to go down the funnel, add it to my card? To the end of that funnel, each step is another opportunity to take user experience and customer service and weave it in. And I think, again, that’s where product management comes in. And I think somebody who’s got good product management jobs and cares about the customer can really bring that into each step of users, experience with the technology and with the people as well.


Mandy Potter: Yeah, definitely. I think you can tell that you’re passionate about this side of it, and I think passion when it comes to customer experiences, what translates to success, and I’m sure that’s definitely one of the key factors in that, but you brought up product management again. So I want to dive into that and start with the basics. Can you explain to anyone listening to what product management is? Also, give us a little bit of your personal angle on it.


Ali Alavi: Yeah, absolutely. So, you’re probably going to get a ride at different answers to that particular question. What is product management? A lot of people think it’s project management. Yeah, that’s some aspects of it; it could be essential. I’ll give the industry definition and kind of what I think is the most important aspect of the job. As a product manager, you’re working with a team of designers and developers, your job, and stakeholders. Those are people that have an interest, whether they be the users or whether they be the executives of the company that has an interest in seeing something get built. You’re supposed to determine what you’re supposed to build. And when you’re supposed to build that thing and what you build is supposed to satisfy some particular user need, you’re working with the users to figure out what their needs are. You’re working with the business, you’re working with the designers to design some solution, and you’re working with developers to develop that solution. You’re working with the business owners to internal stakeholders, the business stakeholders to figure out how much you’re going to spend when you’re going to release those kinds of things.


Ali Alavi: Those are the day-to-day logistics of the job. But what the most important to me; I consider those outputs busy work, creating, writing descriptions and documentation, etc., that I consider output, which is a more important outcome. What kind of value are you getting? What? Are you actually building at the end of the day? The job of the product manager is to really identify the most critical user needs. That is needed to be solved for a particular problem.


Ali Alavi: For example, there’s a great author, Clayton Christensen from Harvard, that is written quite extensively about product development and not necessarily product management. And I use a lot of his frameworks and ideas when I’m building products. It’s that; what problem are you trying to solve? Every time I come to a website, or I use a particular product, I use it to solve a particular problem. I pick up a screwdriver because I need to screw in some particular type of screw. Maybe if, but that could be a flat head, and I’ve got a Phillips that’s not going to work. So again, that tool is the website, or, let’s say, in this particular case, and me meaning to screw in that screw is the problem and try to solve Clay and Christians and use these examples of a milkshake.


Ali Alavi: You think that you’re buying a milkshake, simple. I want a milkshake. That problem is I want to milkshake, the store is supposed to sell me a milkshake, and they did extensive studies on this and actually found out that no, this group that buys milkshakes in the morning, for example, is buying it because they want something that’s going to sustain them throughout the day. They want something that they can sit very slowly in their car as they’re driving down the road. So, in fact, they’re not solving a desire and need for wanting something sweet like a milkshake; there, solving a need to resolve an appetite while in traffic, and so that informs the viscosity of that milkshake. You don’t want to be too watery so that it takes a long time for somebody to drink it versus the milkshake that people are buying in the afternoon. They’re actually buying it for their children. Those children have a completely different problem. They’re trying to solve it; they’re not saying traffic and going to work and want some energy. They want something just really sweet. And parents want to avoid sitting there and having their kids drink that milkshake over the next three hours. So milkshake viscosity needs to be such that the child can drink it quickly. Something as simple as a milkshake is solving two completely different problems. So, as part of product management, you have to figure out what the problem is that the user is trying to solve, and often time it could be clearer-cut.


Ali Alavi: Another good example, all thrown out there, is my own experience. When I started doing door-to-door sales, I was 13. I think it was quite illegal what this company was doing, but they would pick us up in a minivan and drive us around and kind of someone shady neighborhood sometime and give us a basket full of all kinds of random stuff, and you could tell us just stuff. They bought it really cheaply. They’d be old chunky candles in their expired caramel turtles and crowns and tea bags. All kinds of random stuff, and each one of them, the minimum price, I think, was 20 or 30 dollars where somebody could go into the store by any one of those things for three to five bucks. But what we were selling we’re not a bag of tea bags or a box of chocolates. We had a whole stick, we would go up, and we had to tell a story about how we’re young youth. And, we’re troubled, and we’re supposed to stay off the streets. This is helping us stay off the streets, and if I sell more than a competitor, I’m gonna get a free trip to Disneyland. They had a whole stick Dad wrote for us, and it actually worked brilliantly because the customer, the person, and that house were no longer buying that box of chocolates; there was satisfaction and a need to want to help a young person who is trying to do well for themselves. So that’s what I was selling. I wasn’t trying to convince them that this was the best box of chocolates or buy. As a matter of fact, they are the worst expired terrible chocolates you’ve ever had. They were going to be very disappointed when they opened them, but they could feel good that they helped me out. So again, there’s a perfect example. You think you’re selling chocolates; you’re selling human connection. You’re selling a desire to want to help somebody, and that’s what we’re selling. It’s the same thing in product management, find that underlying need and find the best way to solve it.

Mandy Potter: I actually really like that, and I have heard that milkshake example before. So it was cool. Hearing it against. It’s been a while, but I like your take on this. How do you think that the role of a PM in ecommerce is different than a PM building other types of software?


Ali Alavi: It’s a good question. I really don’t think it’s very much different. I think that different companies and different industries, and different organizations may look at it differently. But from my perspective, I think the one is the same, and I’ll go even further back. I think that, again, using my own background, and I think that is why people’s personal backgrounds, I think are important. When you’re determining the product manager to put into a particular position because, obviously, for different products, there might be slightly different skill sets that are needed. But, often times when you’re looking at product managers, there’s a particular set of qualities and questions that are asked of them. And often, the background is just kind of an ancillary, but it creates a whole group of folks that all kind of are very minded, and that creates monotony, and that doesn’t create the diversity that really makes for robust clever solutions. Now, in my own experience, in Iran growing up, we are known, and we have this entire language even around this for being very hospitable to our guests. If you go to another person’s house, you’re going to leave just obese and full. And, you have to have 50 cups of tea, let you leave. They’re gonna stuff your pockets full of food on your way out, and when you think you’re going over, just for a cup of coffee, you’re gonna have a whole spread, and it’s all about hospitality and anticipating needs and figuring out how to best deliver the optimal experience to that person who’s coming over just for an afternoon. Let’s say now, taking that over into product management. Sure, you’ve got busy work. Does your presentation look good, or do you have all the data? In my opinion, I think that that’s gonna be the job of AI analyzing and looking at data. So I think the human component is even more important.


Ali Alavi: Now as AI is really taking a significant role as a product manager and product development in general at a company. If you are developing soft, or even if it’s for the film industry, you’re again supposed to accommodate and anticipate those needs. How can you even look four or five steps ahead and maybe even anticipate the needs of the user themselves? He hasn’t even realized that they have again. I’m sure you’ve heard this; it’s a common thing; if you ask it, you never want to ask the user. What do you want the answers? They don’t really know what they want yet. It’s your job to anticipate what they want, the problem they’re trying to solve, and how are you gonna provide that to them. Often, what happens, though, at the companies that are just kind of very soft for focused where the users are kind of in the background in a company like cast and crew? You don’t have millions of users; You don’t have enough data to get really statistical significance there. And again, in my opinion, I don’t think you need it for product management or development. I think just enough to inform you or give you an inkling deduction. You need to go is enough, But when the users are kind of far away, the internal voice kind of takes hold, and often you end up with a product like, let’s say, ADP, everyone knows that software. It’s the worst thing. Who would use ADP if they had a choice? It’s payroll software, obviously, for those who aren’t familiar with it, but that’s just because the users aren’t as important. It’s that company that’s using it. It’s four, five, ten fifteen, maybe a thousand people. That’s different in ecommerce; in ecommerce, your users and your customers are gonna let you know when they’re not happy. And there’s a lot of them; you’re gonna have thousands and thousands of people interacting me their product on a daily basis. So you have a lot closer connection to that end user than you do in a company, which divine go software for others. In B2B, let’s say, or even in B2C but a very small user base.


Ali Alavi: So, I think, at the heart of it, it’s the same. You have users that are trying to solve a particular problem, and you’re supposed to solve that problem for them in the most efficient way possible. The significant difference is that in e-commerce, you have a lot more people who are going to tell you’re doing something wrong when you do something wrong. In software, B2B or even B2C, where the consumer base is very small. In cast and crew, we had B2B but then got a production crew; there aren’t millions of filmmakers; production throughout there is just 10,000 20 30,000, so not that many. It’s a lot harder to get that immediate feedback, and other voices in the room often take precedence. I think there’s a similarity there again at the heart of it. We have to remember that it’s about the user, and that often gets overlooked at bigger companies. But ecommerce, You can’t forget that if you do, you’re gonna go out of business, somebody’s going to go somewhere else, and the customer is gonna go.


Mandy Potter: Definitely. Yeah, you took the words right out of my mouth even when you were talking. The biggest difference is just b2b versus b to C and the enormity of, hopefully, the size of your customer base versus a B2B company. And I can also attest to Persian hospitality. I grew up with quite a few Persian friends, and recently, I had a friend say to me, did you grow up in a household where you weren’t like Caucasian or something? You’re very hospitable, and I said, no, I just grew up going to a lot of Persian friend’s homes because it is that you walk away with tons of food, and you’re kind of just like they do so much for you and it’s such a great experience, and I think it’s cool that you take, these experiences that you had as a child and how you grew up even talking about your dad being an entrepreneur. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why you are as well, and it’s interesting that these experiences that we have as children, or even as teenagers, can play such an important role in starting a company, but then also how we run that company,


Ali Alavi: Yeah. Yeah absolutely. And I think that there’s lots of frameworks and new lingo, and it’s constantly evolving and product and in software and product development agile, this that and into the new lingo. But if you are a student of it and you go back far enough and content had some schooling, but I do a lot of my own studying. I love what I do and product management software development in general, so I study a lot of it. You see that even books that were reading 50, 60 years ago, at their heart, they’re saying the same thing, we’ve just kind of changed the catchphrases and keywords agile when you look at the various different frameworks that are used in product management, they’re essentially distillations of earlier lessons that were taught sometimes even a hundred years ago so definitely using that and using our own experience. I think sometimes undervalued, but I think it’s tremendous. It can be tremendous, especially if you tie them and further inform them with what’s kind of out there in terms of the latest, and best practices are always going to be one step behind. There are always some new latest, and best practices. There’s always a new Harvard Business Review article that comes out and says, Hey, you should do it like this and not like this or McKinsey write. Something’s do it like this versus do it like that, but plenty of successful companies have been around for 100 years when they didn’t have our modern frameworks, and they’ve done quite well in solving user problems. So, yeah, I definitely drew experiences and then even drew lessons of the past, even if they’re not my own for sure.


Mandy Potter: Definitely. At what point do you think that an e-commerce company should think about hiring a PM, or do you think that should be part of the founder’s role, just learning and becoming that for the first while?


Ali Alavi: Yeah, It’s a question that I struggle with myself. I’ve struggled as well in my own businesses. Of course, I have a product management background, but after where a lot of different hats, there are a lot of things to do; it’d be really helpful to a dedicated product manager and some of the aspects. Obviously, cost is one thing. Product managers are expensive, like, software developers. And so, that’s obviously a huge factor, but if you can afford one, I certainly think you should have one. The role of a CEO is often a modified version of a role of a product manager. If you’re an entrepreneur, you know whether or not you have the title of a product manager or even know what a product manager is. You’re often doing what a product manager does. So, when you hire a product manager, you’ve got to hire somebody who you trust to run your business. They could either destroy the entire business or keep part of its success. So it’s supercritical, and that aspect that there is going to determine the success of your business essentially.


Ali Alavi: the early later on, if you have hundreds of employees, maybe a bad PM isn’t going to really mess things up too bad, but if you’ve got just four or five employees, and you’re just starting out. Somebody who’s kind of blindly applying frameworks or it’s just kind of understands the job but really doesn’t understand the crux of it can really be damaging. I think that it’s important for all business owners to learn these things themselves. Lots of them could be applied. Lots of them, they probably already know, but they just know it under a different name. They’ve probably been applying it but maybe forgetting one part of the framework that wasn’t in their repertoire. All of this information. Thankfully is readily available, and it’s easy to digest. It’s not super complicated. And if you’re a business owner, I highly recommend taking a product management course. I’ve taken them myself from Boston University online, six months course fantastic. I’ve been applying what I learned in that course from that point forward. There are courses from all the different online education programs, and there are even free ones from LinkedIn, etc. So I think the first step is If you can’t afford a PM, if you’re not at that stage, learn it yourself, become informed yourself, and apply what you learn to your day-to-day, and you’ll quickly realize you’re a much better business owner. If you’re a place where you can afford one, then by all means, I mean, I think at the point where we would bring one in is where we have a team of developers, we have a team of designers, and we need somebody to kind of guide them in terms of what to build, how to build it, and when to build it. And so I think that’s a decision that depends on the finances of the business, and the size of the business, and really the skill set of the CEO. You may not have any technical background whatsoever. I don’t think that’s necessarily a hundred percent required, but it’s really, really good to have some technical knowledge. So I think those are all factors to weigh in and then inform but most important law just go out there and learn it. The information is there fantastic. And you probably hire a better product manager when you do find one when you are ready for one if you have an understanding of the job yourself.


Mandy Potter: I fully agree with everything you just said; I’d love to talk a little bit about the future of commerce. How do you see the role of AI in product management and commerce? What do you think the future looks like?


Ali Alavi: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously, we all know AI is a big talk right now; we leverage AI in our company and what we do, and I think that’s gonna have a significant role in the job of a product manager and ecommerce in general. And that’s what it’s also going to do. In my opinion, going back to our original point is, doing service, caring for your users, and working to best solve their problems even more critical because the playing field, to a certain extent on some fronts, is going to be level. I’ll tell you how we kind of use AI and kind of our anticipated going in the future. Obviously, we know chat GPT we use for product descriptions; we use their APIs. When we have a new product in the past, we will upload a case. Somebody’s catalog. We do lots of drop shipping on one of our websites. We upload 6,000-7,000 products. Now we have to write product discussions for all of them. It was a monumental task; it took a long, long time to do it. What we do is we hit attach ChatGBT endpoint and API endpoint, and we get parameters for how it should write a particular product description. It’s all automated, is the second. I had a particular tag to a listing in Shopify attempt to ppt, picked it up, and did the rest; it writes the product description, writes bullet points, it writes a blog article that’s related. It finds. It does a whole slew of things and then sends that back to Shopify. And we use that as the product description; we stylize that information as it comes in. So, we have proper tags all along the way, and that’s all done with AI; we can now write product descriptions that are as good as ones written by humans, more or less for the majority of the part unless it’s a brand new product or information isn’t available. We can do all that in a weekend, where it might have taken us a year. So obviously, that’s huge. And so now I have a lot more searchable data than my competitor. If my competitor isn’t using AI, I’m able to produce thousands and thousands of pages of content overnight, whereas my competitor might take months. And I know that Google says that they can detect AI, but in reality, they really can’t. I think they kind of have to say they can, we’ve tested it, and they can’t. We can also rewrite and rephrase; for example, you are using one AI to write the description and another AI to rephrase the original description. That completely compounds the system at a certain point. You don’t want humans wasting their time writing product descriptions. I would rather have my human using their brains to do other things. That is very much human and unique to that particular person, things that they could do, such as making bigger decisions that I particularly wouldn’t want AI to make. The other part about AI, besides product descriptions, image modifications, and all of these things that are very time-consuming, sometimes expensive, especially if you’re doing them stateside. AI will take over all that, even in terms of recommending products to our customers, In terms of determining what products to market to what customers and when. When sending out a particular email to a customer who maybe has had some particular browsing activity, looking at data, and trying to glean some information from that data, I think that AI is going to take care of all of that. Analytics, data, centered product managers. I think that AI is going to really kind of come in and take some of that away.


Ali Alavi: So what’s left? The customer experience, the service design, when I come into your store? What do I experience next? How are you going to make it so that I have all of the information I need to make a particular purchase decision? Once I’ve made that particular purchase decision, How are you going to nurture that relationship to make sure that I’m happy with that decision that I’ve made and that I continue to come back to you to make future purchases? AI may help a little bit there, but that’s going to have to be the job of some particular product manager who’s making the team essentially because this product management is essentially one part of a team. That’s all these decisions are made by the team product manager. They never should never make a decision by themselves. In a vacuum, it’s informed and made with the team. It’s those people that are in the room who got their heads together, who are kind of having a discussion or kind of whiteboarding or going to make those decisions. And that’s really going to be the key differentiator. All of the websites, in my opinion, will have similarly well-worded product descriptions and high-quality photos that have all kinds of their background and their proper resolution that the AI will determine which product to show in terms of another product or a particular variant color to show to a user versus another variant color. All of those decisions will be AI, and the rest will be up to people. And I think that right now, we’re at a particular time in product management and even in E-commerce, where it’s data, data, data, and we kind of look down on people that make their decisions with their guts because we don’t make decisions well with our guts and I agree. Humans are inherently biased. No matter how unbiased I think we are, so making a decision just with our gut, we’re gonna make biased decisions.


Ali Alavi: But I think the data component will go to AI, and that will then inform a team to then make a human decision about a particular type of service or how to provide that service. I think that that’s going to be the role of AI in my opinion in e-commerce. But I think that as that happens, that’s fantastic. It’s going to open up our hearts and our minds to really figure out how to be that hospitable host to the person who has come into our store. They’re essentially our guests for that period of time, and how do we make them leave happy? So they want to come back again and again and again, and AI won’t be able to do that.


Mandy Potter: What’s the biggest takeaway? Do you want listeners to hear today when thinking about product management?


Ali Alavi: So I think that the first thing is to understand at the heart of it what product management is; I’ve even people in the tech industry that sometimes, they don’t know what the role of the PM is. And also because they worked at companies where the role of the PM has been shifting in different things. I think the most important thing is to remember that you are solving a particular user’s problem, whether you have a commerce website or you’re building some particular software that’s integrating, even, let’s say, Duoplane. At the end of the day, there’s a user on that other side that’s having to interact with your interface that’s having to interact with your team. That’s going to get a particular outcome from using your product. And that product, whether it be your commerce store, your entertainment film software, you’re integration, whatever it might be. The user should always be dead center and always remember the problem you’re trying to solve. The rest of it is just; you could put your own spin on it. You could take a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And make sure you understand that and don’t get distracted by all the other noise in the room. I think that’s the most important thing, and I think what’s allowed me to have continuous success in my businesses is that I always look to see who my users are. Why are they here, and how can I make them leave happy?


Mandy Potter: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for joining us today. I think that you came up with some really valuable insight. I know I learned a lot, and I’m sure a lot of people definitely will when they listen to this.


Ali Alavi: Thanks, Mandy. Appreciate it.


Mandy Potter: Awesome, Thank you so much, Ali, for joining us today. We have a PDF that he actually has generously donated to us that we can share with you that’ll go over a lot of product management frameworks for you. So we’ll definitely be putting that on our website. As always, you can check out Duoplane at, and you can find us and subscribe wherever you listen to your podcast. We’ll catch you next time on the Duoplane podcast.

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