We sat down with Tribe PM Faheem Khemani to talk about his journey to consulting and why he doesn’t see himself taking a full time job again.
Your journey to being a product manager was really rooted in curiosity. Can you tell us a little more about how you got started?
I studied economics and international studies, primarily because it was the broadest surface area where I could aggregate all this knowledge about the world. After completing undergrad, I started working as a data analyst and I found it fascinating because a lot of what you do when you’re studying these wide open social science domains is essentially assessing and learning from disparate data sets, so it felt like an easy transition from school. From there, I came across product management. And it seemed grounded in this interesting set of skills rooted in curiosity and a desire to learn and have a bit of fluency in a lot of areas rather than going hyper deep in one.
Why does being a generalist align so well to being a PM?
If you think of all human knowledge as a sphere, there are hyper specialists – your PhD on some super specific topic – and they’re all the way at the edges trying to poke one tiny hole. And that’s naturally very important because it expands this sphere of human knowledge. That’s interesting, but it’s never been what I’ve been drawn to. What I find most interesting is building coverage across all of human knowledge – what if I can connect the dots? – and that kind of wide view really aligns with being in product management.
You’ve worked at a number of startups across really different domains. Are there any common threads between the experiences?
I’ve been a PM for a decade and I’ve been really attracted to building early-stage companies. All these companies where I’ve spent significant time have been business-facing rather than consumer-facing, and I think it’s because businesses have a tangible set of problems that need to be addressed and they’re relatively rational in how they behave. But the domains I’ve been operating in are pretty diverse – for example, customer experience analytics aggregating and synthesizing customer feedback using NLP, followed by Flexport, whereI worked on productizing and optimizing shipping logistics at scale. What I looked for in my past experiences has been a virtually unlimited runway for learning.
You left Flexport with the idea to found your own company. Can you tell us about that?
I was in the second cohort of On Deck’s founder fellowship and started to explore a data problem in recruiting, essentially trying to marry an ATS like Greenhouse or Lever to HRIS systems like Workday. At our start, we were trying to answer the question: can you connect the recruiting process and the outcomes you're looking for from candidates with successful hires from your company? Then in an unexpected turn of events I got recruited to help build the core product team at Lever – but at a high level I was solving a similar problem: how do we structure and connect recruiting data in more intelligent ways to improve hiring for both candidates and companies?
So how did your journey lead you to consulting?
Ultimately, I realized I’m less interested in building other people’s startups now. It’s been wildly rewarding and I’ve learned so much, but I don’t see myself being a full-time product manager in a company environment again - I don’t believe in the incentives of full-time work any longer. I want to keep learning, but retain the freedom that comes with not being exclusively committed to a company’s mission. That’s when I connected with Tribe.
What has been the most valuable part of consulting with Tribe?
I think consulting provides exposure to new ideas and ways of looking at the world, new industries and problem spaces, and most of all to highly talented people. For my first Tribe project, I helped solve driver dispatching problems for an energy logistics startup which drew heavily from my work at Flexport. My second Tribe project has been quite different, a wide-open problem in the foodservice industry where the customer wanted to introduce standardization and intelligence around a specific sales process. So there was a lot of upfront discovery involved.
What’s different about being a PM for ML projects?
I think what’s not different is the importance of the problem definition process. I think it’s even more important in ML projects or frontier technology in general because people may have an unclear idea of the steps required to build a stable, useful model.
At Tribe we talk a lot about enabling freedom. How has consulting changed your life?
I’m so thankful for this type of consulting work because it gives me economic balance in my life. I just bought a house! And at the same time, I have a flexible enough schedule, working with people with a high level of trust, that leaves a lot more time for personal exploration. I’ve learned so much over the last ten years working at companies, but now I have time to be fascinated by all these things I never gave myself permission to explore.