The Next Phase of Social? Listen Closely: Product Management Mental Models for Everyone



Aug 24, 20234 min read


The Next Phase of Social? Listen Closely: Product Management Mental Models for Everyone

In recent years, audio apps have gained popularity due to their hands-free experience and ability to provide a deeper and more intellectually stimulating content. Unlike visual platforms, audio apps compete with everyday activities such as washing dishes, working out, or driving. The personal nature of listening to someone's voice and hearing unedited audio adds a different dimension to content consumption.

One of the most successful audio apps is podcasting. It has become mainstream, with more than half of the US population tuning in to roughly a million shows. Podcasting can be described as a user-generated network, where semi-professional content creators share their ideas with a wide, public audience. This user-generated aspect sets podcasting apart from highly produced audiobooks and podcasts.

Looking ahead, we can expect three themes to emerge in the audio space: innovation in content format, the evolution of the business model, and the growing ubiquity of audio. Just as messaging and video have seen significant innovation in the past decade, audio is poised to undergo a similar transformation. The draw of audio apps over traditional formats is their ease of use and the ability to provide a hands-free experience.

As audio continues to evolve, both long- and short-form content are likely to thrive on audio-first platforms. Just as many apps today support messaging, it is possible that they will also support synchronous and asynchronous audio in the future. This opens up new possibilities for social interactions and user-generated content.

In the realm of product management, it is crucial to have a collection of mental models to make better decisions. Relying on isolated facts is not enough; one must build a latticework of mental models that can be drawn upon when needed. Here are some key mental models that can be applied to product management:

  • 1. Return on Investment: When comparing possible projects, choose the one that maximizes impact to customers for every unit of resources available, such as time, money, and people.
  • 2. Time value of shipping: Product shipped earlier is more valuable to customers than product shipped later. Consider how quickly features will ship and prioritize those that can be delivered faster.
  • 3. Time Horizon: The time horizon you choose, whether it's focusing on the next 3 months or the next 3 years, will greatly influence your team's decisions and priorities.
  • 4. Expected Value: All decisions create probabilities of multiple future outcomes. Evaluate the probability-weighted sum of these outcomes to determine the expected value of a decision.
  • 5. Working Backwards (Inversion): Instead of starting at a problem and exploring towards a solution, start at a perfect solution and work backwards to figure out where to start. This approach optimizes for ultimate impact rather than immediate practicality.
  • 6. Confidence determines Speed vs. Quality: The level of confidence in the problem you're solving and the correctness of the solution should determine how much you're willing to trade off speed and quality in a product build.
  • 7. Solve the Whole Customer Experience: Creating great end-to-end customer experiences, including distress experiences, can earn long-term customer trust.
  • 8. Experiment, Feature, Platform: Each type of product development has its own goals and optimal trade-offs between speed and quality.
  • 9. Feedback Loops: Products are part of systems connected by positive and negative feedback loops. Consider the impact of these feedback loops on the overall product growth or decline.
  • 10. Flywheel (recursive feedback loop): A positive or negative feedback loop that feeds on itself and accelerates from its own momentum. Nurture the flywheel to achieve accelerated growth.
  • 11. Diminishing Returns: Improving the same product area over time will eventually result in diminishing customer value for every unit of effort. Know when it's time to invest in something new.
  • 12. Local Maxima: Incremental improvements reach a point of diminishing returns, forcing a step change in product capabilities. Innovation becomes necessary to progress.
  • 13. Version two is a lie: Don't rely on a second version ever shipping. Ensure the first version is a complete product that can stand on its own.
  • 14. Freeroll: When the current user experience is so bad that any reasonable change is likely to make it much better, take risks and ship something fast.
  • 15. Most value is created after version one: Launching a product provides valuable customer insights. Iterate and build on those learnings to maximize product success.
  • 16. Key Failure Indicator (KFI): Pair your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with metrics that indicate unhealthy growth. Keep your team's performance in check and focus on creating net-healthy outputs.

By applying these mental models to product management, you can make more informed decisions and drive successful product outcomes. Building a latticework of mental models allows you to navigate complex processes and relationships effectively.

In conclusion, the next phase of social lies in the audio space, where platforms are shifting towards user-generated content and live conversations. At the same time, product managers can benefit from a collection of mental models to guide their decision-making process. By incorporating these models into their work, product managers can maximize impact, prioritize effectively, and create successful products.


  1. "The Next Phase of Social? Listen Closely - Andreessen Horowitz", (Glasp)
  2. "Product Management Mental Models for Everyone", (Glasp)

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