In the ever-evolving world of technology, achieving product excellence is a complex equation that combines talent, vision, strategy, and attention to user needs. To gain a deeper understanding of this intricate balance, Lefteris Chatzispyrou, Head of OilX Product, shares his perspective on the critical elements that underpin software success and the company’s approach to staying at the forefront of technological innovation.
Q: What does it take to build a world-class technology product such as the OilX Platform?
There is no secret recipe to building a world-class technology product. Behind every successful product, there are three key ingredients. First, the people. You must hire great people who can build great products. You cannot make the slightest compromise on this.
Second, a product market fit. The product must solve real problems for its intended target audience and offer an intuitive interface. It must be able to absorb real-world, large-scale data and analyse it with other scattered and disparate data sets to produce valuable insights for its users.
Third, maintaining the balance between the product vision, the execution of the strategy and the users’ feedback is critical for the success of the product. If your product is not good, nobody is willing to use it, and you are not doing anything about it, then, you do not really have a product. Focusing on the strategic priorities that will take you a step closer to your product vision is equally critical. Using feedback from users is useful only when it takes you closer to your target. Doing it right most of the time helps you to straighten the path between the product and the strategic target.
This, in my opinion, is the holy trinity of prerequisites needed to build world-class technology products that solve real problems.
Q: How do you prioritise customer needs and market trends when making product decisions?
The markets will always evolve, and the customer needs will always differ. Under these circumstances, it is critical to maintain the balance between the execution of the strategy and the prioritisation of exogenous stimuli like the ones I mentioned earlier.
When it comes to market shifts, an important evaluation must be made. The results could range, for example, from a pivot on your initial hypothesis and problem that can be reflected to changes of your vision and strategy to an ephemeral trend that could be discarded. You must pay close attention to these market trends because an early pivot on your hypothesis and problem may be the difference between life or death for your product.
There are numerous frameworks on how you can prioritise your customer needs. All of them boil down to understanding how intense those needs are and your ability to create or adapt an existing product concept around those needs. The intensity of the need most of the time must be derived from both your understanding of the market and your data/analytics on your customer feedback.
Q: How do you see the role of satellite imagery evolving in the oil industry, and how does OilX stay at the forefront of this technology?
Satellite imagery is revolutionising the oil industry. Innovative technologies allow for more data and more accurate data than ever before produced across the entire oil and gas supply chain from explorations of new fields by more precise and rapid geological surveys to the end user mobility data used to predict the demand of a product. Data democratisation programs run by ESA and NASA are significant contributors to the rapid adaptation of the existing datasets. In fact, OilX has been working closely with the European Space Agency through R&D grants to create transparency in the oil storage and shipping market.
At OilX, we leverage several different satellite imagery applications to create a real time digital twin of the global oil market. We use this data as the raw material for our algorithms and models. During the last few years, we have developed an award-winning product, which has been battle-tested by the market. Since this is in the heart of what we do, we continue to expand our team with talented earth observation scientists with the aim of expanding our product with more satellite data applications.
Q: What are some recent innovations or unique features that set OilX apart from other solutions?
The OilX Platform was not built only around a technological breakthrough or unique datasets. OilX uses the latest AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology to offer the world’s first real-time oil supply and demand balance. Our data science framework consumes the latest and most innovative data sets, fused together, and transformed into real-time actionable insights.
One of the biggest differentiators of the OilX Platform is the comprehensive approach to the problem that it solves. That positioned us into the centre of competition (e.g., Vessel and Cargo Trackers, Earth Intelligence and Conventional oil analytics providers) but in the sweetest bullseye spot that tackles all the angles of the oil fundamentals.
One other equally important and innovative feature that sets us apart is the OilX Nowcast. The technique of nowcasting has been used in meteorology for a long-time. The term itself is a contraction of “now” and “forecasting” and refers to the utilisation of readily available data sets to infer the current state of a variable. It is about predicting the present, the recent past and the near future.
OilX is the first player in the market that used this technique to estimate the global oil supply and demand in near real-time. OilX Nowcasting models use unstructured data sets to make direct measurements (e.g., remote sensing via satellites of oil inventories) and short-range predictions where the target variable is not directly observed. We see now the concept of nowcasting getting successfully adopted by OilX clients and reapplied to their own data realities.
Q: What advice would you give to individuals aspiring to become successful product managers in the tech industry?
To become a successful technical product manager, you must like to be a generalist. You must embrace the fact that you will find others that are better software architects, engineers, data scientists, business analysts, marketers, or salespeople than you are. In fact, you will have to recruit them to develop the dream team for your product.
But your advantage is the position that you hold as a product manager. You sit in the middle of all these roles, and you must be ‘multilingual’ to function as the ‘glue’ in a multidisciplinary product team. At the end of the day, you have a critical role because you hold all the pieces of the puzzle, even if you do not know a hundred percent how they were constructed. As a product manager, you must be able to assemble the final picture.
My one piece of career advice after a dozen years in the field is to start by expanding your technical skills and try to be technology (language) agnostic, as this is the part of ‘hard skills’ that are acquired through the years. But, during that process of technological knowledge maturity, try to develop your business understanding and your ‘people development’ skills. When you become a technical/people leader, developing complementary skills will eventually be easier. During this journey, do not forget to treat your team as the best asset of you, because it simply stands true.