Interview with Waleed Elaghil - Product Manager at ClickUp
Waleed shares his experiences going from Civil Engineering to Product Management at ClickUp.
We got connected with Waleed Elaghil through Asad Raza (CTO @ Unmudl). Waleed Elaghil is currently working as a Product Manager at ClickUp. He attended American University at Sharjah and graduated cum laude with a Bachelors in Civil Engineering.
We had a chance to talk to him in August 2021, where he shared his story about transitioning into Product Management from Civil Engineering.
Host: Hope you're doing well Waleed, tell us about yourself?
Waleed: I graduated from the American University of Sharjah in Civil Engineering. I worked as a structural engineer for three years. In 2020, I had this passion to pursue entrepreneurship and technology. With my old job, I was learning about technology, start-ups and the local tech ecosystem.
I founded and launched, along with two of my brothers, an EdTech start-up called Mogz, a friendly and social learning system management for university students. I was full-time engineer back then bootstrapping this start-up for 2 years.
I, then, joined an EdTech company called SchoolVoice as a growth manager. It was an early-stage start-up, so I pretty much wore many hats. From pitch deck preparation, to raising funds, to developing a unique sales and onboarding pipeline to revamping the user-flow for growth opportunities.
During my start-up,I struggled to find product-market fit, which as you know is a huge milestone to for any start-up or product to achieve. From this frustration, I decided to crack this code and researched the topic for years creating the StartHackFramework, which is a practical step-by-step framework that takes start-ups from ideas to product-market fit.
With this new passion, I later I joined a start-up studio as a venture builder where I helped facilitate the launch of three startups in the region.
I wanted to learn more from practical SaaS companies because I think they're the best in terms of learning how to scale tech companies. I came across ClickUp out of my love for productivity and tools and was fascinated by how they launched features weekly, how they read and responded to customers' ideas. I used to think about an idea and I'd see ClickUp launching it the next week. That's when I reached out to Zeb, at the time ClickUp was around 30 employees and had not raises any external funding.
ClickUp was bootstrapping and was organically growing. I managed to meet him on a video call and found him to be a very humble person, great founder, and a passionate CEO. He saw my passion for what they’re building and we instantly connected and I've been working with ClickUp since then. We've grown from 30 to 300+ since then and raised $35M as our first seed fund, and then $100M again in December 2020.
Host: What specific part of ClickUp's product are you currently working on?
Waleed: We don’t have full ownership on dedicated product areas but collectively work to ship what our customers need fast. This makes us flexible I'm owning the custom fields in ClickUp. There is a PM who is just owning the hierarchies and then PMs owning the design systems, who work a lot with our designers.This is probably the reason we're cooking features weekly and have a lot more to offer than our competitors.
Now, as we grow, we are structuring the team in a squad basis to enable ownership of a specific product area for each PM there are PMs for each part of the core product. So there is a PM for automations and another PM is owning dashboards.
Host: How many web engineers (backend, frontend) do you currently have out of the 300+ employees?
Waleed: Zeb picks the best engineers and prefers to hire a small number of engineers that have an exceptional skill-set.He has this 10x rule where it’s better to hire the best engineer that can make the work of 10 other average ones. Now, i think, we have thirteen engineers (backend and frontend), with three of them hired on a part-time remote basis. Among them five are just pure geniuses, they are holding and managing the entire thing by themselves.
Host: Wow, only 13 engineers out of 300+employees?
Waleed: Yes, a large chunk of our employees belong to the customer support and customer success team. We have a vision of providing the best customer support ever with 24/7 live support to our customers. We also provide free coaching for onboarding users, free of charge
Host: Do you as a PM communicate with the engineering team?
Waleed: Yes, on a on weekly basis. We get in touch during the product scoping to get some sense on the technical ease and effort required for each epic or feature. We also meet for sprint planning. So, yeah, pretty much. In fact, I think most of the PMs work is communicating and bridging the gap, and that’s why communication is the most important skill a PM must learn
Host: So basically, your day-to-day is researching new features and writing documentation?
Waleed: Hmm these are among the things we do, yes, scoping features, coming up with new features, analyzing, synthesizing the building system together, analyzing the feedback and the ideas and feature requests from customers.
As a PM I also do customer interviews, and then we work with designers to come up with a mock-ups. I frequently communicate with the designers, and on a lesser extent with the engineers, and the quality assurance team. It's a lot of management and being a glue between different teams.
Host: You reached out to Zeb and got his attention, most people are too afraid to even reach out. The fear of rejection creates inertia which results in a lot of missed opportunities. What are your thoughts on this?
Waleed: That’s a great question. I don’t think hiring is about sending CVs to a portal or something and hopping for a company to pick you up. In fact, it’s the opposite.You pick the company!
What I did is simply pick top 3 companies I truly admire, they were Figma, Miro and ClickUp and focus on pitching my self in.
For ClickUp, I actually pitched them the hard way. Zeb offered me a support or a content position. I thought that I would be able to create more value as aPM, and that's when I wrote Zeb a three page document of things that I would want to change in ClickUp and emailed that document to him.
He read it with his product team and that's how I was hired, I pushed myself into it because I loved the tool and I knew where ClickUp could improve. Even before getting hired, I was also referring ClickUp to my local tech ecosystem. I referred a lot of people, gaveClickUp a lot of new customers and got tons of feedback from my local ecosystem.
There was a lot of hustling involved, I didn't have a PM background so I had to put extra effort for them to notice me.
Host: Do you believe that you got noticed because ClickUp was a small startup at that time?
Waleed: Absolutely, that is why it is always great to keep an eye on up-and-coming startups, who are about to get funded. Early-stage startups are looking for passionate employees rather thanexperienced ones, and it is very hard to find those passionate and hungry employees in the early days.