Vibhav Viswanathan,

How to build a strong product team: Lessons from Mobile Premier League (MPL) | Vibhav Viswanathan | Chief Product Officer | MPL

Vibhav Viswanathan,Mobile Premier League (MPL) has carved a niche for itself as a gaming giant with over 200 million users worldwide and over 60 games straddling diverse genres. But how did this startup get to where it is in just five years? Vibhav Viswanathan, Chief Product Officer at MPL, offers a glimpse into what’s behind MPL’s success – its product culture.

1. Empower Teams, Not Micromanage
Fostering a culture of ownership within product teams is crucial for success. The way Mobile Premier League achieves this is with a decentralized, cross-functional pod system. Vibhav elaborates: “We have leaders from all verticals who come together to decide key themes or goals for the business. Once these themes are finalized, we have smaller teams or “pods” as we call them which comprises a cross-functional team of designers, product managers, engineers, and data analysts who will decide within themselves how to go about achieving these goals.”

But this autonomy comes with a crucial element: aligned incentives. Vibhav states, “What’s important is aligning what “the key metrics we are pursuing. The success of a Pod is directly tied to the metrics of the product they build.” Regular OKR (Objectives and Key Results) check-ins keep pods grounded and ensure their efforts translate into measurable progress that propels MPL’s products forward.

2. Failure is part of the process
“Out of 100 new games or features you launch, at times, 40-60% will not work,” says Vibhav. However, unlike companies that shy away from discussing setbacks, MPL views them as opportunities to learn. Teams are encouraged to kill features or games that don’t work, and move forward. “For example, if after launch, we discover through user feedback and data analysis that a new feature is clunky and confusing, leading to low adoption rates — at MPL, this wouldn’t be seen as a dead end.” The teams analyze the user data and feedback to pinpoint the exact issues. Did the feature miss the mark on user needs? Was the interface overly complex? “By understanding the “why” behind the failure, the Pod can use this knowledge to iterate and improve, or if necessary, pivot to a different approach altogether,” Vibhav explains. This fosters a culture of experimentation and avoids wasting resources on products that don’t resonate with users.

3. Launch fast, learn faster
“From the start, we have always followed a culture of launching fast but at the same time keeping the app performant,” says Vibhav. The way the team achieves this by launching features in phases. Introduce it to a small user group first, allowing for rapid iteration based on real-world data. “It could be as few as 100 users in some cases or during lean times to reduce the blast radius. This targeted approach lets teams gather feedback and make adjustments quickly,” says Vibhav.

There’s no single framework for this – the approach depends on the specific launch or feature. But the core principle remains: launch fast, learn faster. “This strategy allows us to achieve both speed and quality by identifying and addressing issues before a wider release. It’s also scalable – we can gradually increase the user base as confidence grows,” says Vibhav.

4. Know what problem you are trying to solve
Imagine this: you’re building a fantastic new tool, packed with features only to find that users don’t seem interested. This is exactly the situation MPL avoids. Their philosophy in product development revolves around a core principle: “We don’t build any solutions without knowing the problem statement,” says Vibhav.

Here’s an example he offers: Imagine MPL identifies a problem – users are waiting too long to find opponents for a particular game. Instead of just throwing random features at the wall, they focus on understanding why the wait times are high. Maybe there aren’t enough players for that specific game at certain times. With this understanding, they can craft a targeted solution, like offering incentives for playing during off-peak hours or dynamically suggesting similar games with shorter wait times to start a tournament.

5. Anticipating problems is also paramount
User churn in gaming is a constant threat. So anticipating problems is a core tenet of MPL’s product culture. They achieve this through a two-pronged approach: actively gathering user feedback and staying ahead of the curve through constant research.

“The best problems are actually given to us by our users,” says Vibhav, “We conduct periodic Voice of Customer (VOC) calls to hear directly from users about their experiences and any pain points.”

MPL doesn’t just rely on anecdotal feedback, however. Their research goes beyond surveys and forums. Vibhav explains, “We constantly research other consumer apps, including games. In fact, for at least an hour every week, our team plays games for one hour to understand what’s happening in this space.” This extends to both online and offline games.

While staying informed about competitors is valuable, Vibhav warns against the dangers of blindly copying others. “It’s okay to be thoughtful and maybe even be a little late to market with a shiny new feature that others have already launched. Rushing out something subpar is a costly mistake. We’d rather take the time to understand if we really need this, and develop something that truly resonates with our users and integrates seamlessly within the MPL ecosystem.”