Product Love Podcast: Jorge Mazal of Duolingo

Published Jun 26, 2018

This week on Product Love, I sat down with Jorge Mazal, Director of Product at Duolingo, the largest education app in the world. With more than 200 million users, Duolingo has revolutionized language learning, offering completely free courses that are both fun and addictive. Besides, you know you’ve always wanted to learn High Valyrian.

Jorge’s background prepared him for this exact job: he worked at gaming giant Zynga, consulted with McKinsey, and has experience in the nonprofit world. These all converge in his work at Duolingo, which is a gamified, educational, values-driven tech company.

The Eight Skills Every PM Needs

Jorge’s experience has taught him that you cannot take a cookie-cutter approach to your product management team. You have to treat each hire carefully and in relation to others on the team (or in the recruiting process). When building teams, he says, you should outline the tasks, problems, and opportunities facing the company, and then try to create a list of skills that a PM would need to tackle those.

When doing this, he came up with eight skills, including leadership, strategic thinking, and creativity (and you’ll have to listen to the full episode to hear the rest).

He then evaluates each PM against each of those areas – no applicant will meet all of them, but when you’re building a product team, you can create coverage for all eight. “Get the right people on the bus first,” he says, then figure out how to make those people work together.

The Product “Lit Review”

Learning and teaching are crucial for a good product team, that’s why Jorge’s team holds a “lit review” every few months. In academia, researchers will review other articles for rigor, style, and novelty. The product version of the “lit review” is looking at all the experiments run during the quarter and seeing what can be learned from them in a group setting. This eliminates silos that are bound to form in fast-growing organizations and helps PMs reflect as a team on what experiments yield actionable insights.

Jorge and I also talked about hiring, experimentation, and how to make user interactions a regular part of the PM’s life.