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Irina Marinescu, Co-Founder of Save Potatoes Agency, Shares Best Product Management Books

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Irina Marinescu is a product manager, co-founder of Save Potatoes agency, a small UX/UI and Product Management team specialized in building cross-device SaaS Products.

Irina has more than 11 years of experience in digital and marketing. She’s passionate about Customer Development and Customer Success. This means her focus is on understanding and aligning the business goals with teams and customer needs, so that both become successful in their journey.

Since 2015, when Irina co-founded Save Potatoes with Silviu Runceanu (who’s in charge of product design), they’ve worked with a diverse range of clients, from various industries (insurance, HoReCa, but also media agencies and more), helping them grow their products.

Irina’s also a Startup Mentor for multiple Startup Weekend competitions.

Prior to Save Potatoes, she was the co-founder and product manager of Kiteops, a startup that made it easy for small businesses to manage their servers, apps and websites hosted on various cloud providers. It was there that she learned first hand both the do’s and the don’ts of building, financing and launching a new tech product.

She shares 9 cats and 1 dog with Silviu. They’re currently living in France, in Normandy region, close to the D-Day beaches, on the Liberty Road.

Irina goes in-depth in our interview and shares the best books for those interested in marketing, psychology, building products, keeping customers hooked, and other aspects related to product management. Enjoy!

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

My favorite business book has to be by far Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra. It talks about building sustainable products by placing the customers’ success and user experience first instead of leaving all the work to the Sales and Marketing departments.

Non-business favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. I am always eager to learn how people think and form friendships, how they deal with life’s challenges and still remain human. This book delivers that and even more! Shantaram takes you on an incredible journey and you return a changed person.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell us about it?

One advice I found to work well for me is Unnecessary Creation from Manage Your Day-to-Day. Though aimed at creative jobs, it helped me exercise my skills, find new tools and improve my stream of thought.

While reading books I always have ‘AHA’ moments that inspire me and influence my work and process. Some books helped me organize my day better, others helped me structure my work and improve the ways I help startups build successful products. I usually connect something I read in different books and articles to form a new idea so I could say usually it’s more of a process than a single book/single moment kind of deal.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? Perhaps changed the way you see things or dramatically changed your career path.

As a Marketing Strategist, I saw that sometimes it wasn’t enough to have an engaging campaign. The customer feedback was about the product and not about the marketing campaigns. So I started including customer feedback and user research in my marketing plans and advocating for better features and products. It was when I stumbled upon a talk of Kathy Sierra that I understood what I was doing. It might not be something I read in a book, but reading the book afterward definitely helped me shift my career path towards Product Management. Does that count?

What five books would you recommend to young people interested in your career path & why?

1. Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra – it puts the focus where it should when building products – on the customer. I’ve recently read a report talking about how the lifecycle of features has shortened significantly from 8-10 years to ~ 2 years after which users are not willing to pay anymore. It all comes back to the users, the real people, with real lives and how a certain product or service helps them feel better.

2. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by 99U and Jocelyn K. Glei. – Product Managers can easily fill an entire day with work and never get to do any meaningful strategy thinking or feature viability research etc. Emails and meetings can quickly get out of hand. This book doesn’t provide a magical never-heard-of recipe, but its structure, the clear message, and actionable takeaways will do the trick. It helps to return to it from time to time.

3. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal – already a classic about how to build successful products. Also, retention is a priority goal for any Product Manager, but you can’t have retention if you are not setting a good engagement rate. It was a great starting point for me as part of my first startup and continues to help me today as acquired knowledge about user behavior.

4. Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity by Douglas Rushkoff – even before building a tech product we need to prove it is capable of continuous growth. This book gave me a bigger perspective about the place of growth and tech products in the context of a sustainable economy of a highly connected world.

5. Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons – the book starts like a punch in the gut, but the story and the reality dose of this book are something that we all need from time to time in the Tech Startup Age. It helped me look beyond the excitement of working on new projects as a goal in itself and keep at least one foot on the ground. Plus the writing is extraordinary!

And I’d also add some psychology and sociology articles (such as those on Aeon). Product Managers coming from the marketing field have the advantage of understanding user profiles, personas, and customer journeys. Those are best used if we understand as much as possible about people in general and how that shapes user behavior.

For beginners, I’d recommend The Psychology Book and The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained.

We’re interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How do you make time for reading? How often do you read? What format do you prefer?

I don’t read books as often as I’d like and used to. I always loved reading, I used to spend days reading, forgetting all about school revisions and homework. Needless to say, it got me in a lot of trouble 😀 These days, because I have to keep up with what is new in tech and in my field, I read a lot of articles and listen to a lot of podcasts.

Recently, I am trying to change my habit of falling asleep reading with starting my day reading. I find it sets me in a positive and relaxed mindset to tackle the day ahead and also I have more time to get inspired and think about what I read.

Also, in my calendar, Fridays are for learning so excepting for emergencies, I do not schedule meetings or answer emails. Instead, I focus on learning something business or non-business related. I find a lot of inspiration in non-business readings.

I must have in print the magazines and books I love, but otherwise, digital and Kindle formats are enough.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I have a very bad habit, I am a notes hoarder. To fix information in my brain I take stream of consciousness handwritten notes. Then I save digital notes on my computer, in Evernote, on my phone, in Kindle… I have notes everywhere! I try to stop, but it seems this is one habit I can’t control. When I need to retrieve the information, I am lucky to have good visual memory. :))

I don’t usually revisit my handwritten notes, so I make sure that I save every general information, any tactics or tools that I wouldn’t use only once. I add those to Evernote, with well established tags, or in Kindle. This way, I can easily find them when I need them. Evernote is sort of my own curated Google. 🙂

How do you choose what books to read next? Do you prioritize books recommended by certain people?

I would usually hear about books or subjects that capture my attention and then research myself. I can get inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. At one point, for example, I felt I needed to try a different perspective and literature style, so for a while, I read only Scandinavian authors, business and non-business.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber. – the original version is already a classic and since Product Managers are often considered to be a little behind the business aspect of their position, it always helps to accumulate knowledge on the subject.

Links where you can follow Irina Marinescu and find out more about her projects:

All books mentioned by Irina Marinescu in our interview:

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