With the career pivot more popular than ever and when there’s no clear-cut path to working in product, I find other people’s career stories not only useful and extremely insightful. Jack’s journey to becoming Product Owner at Habito, an online mortgage broker, is no different. I reached out to Jack because I have a soft spot for companies that are disrupting traditional industries with more simplified processes and a relationship-driven, customer focus. We spoke about his transition from traditional financial services to working in proptech, his advice to anyone trying to secure their first product role, and the app that he’s been loving at the moment.
I actually ended up finding my way into product management not necessarily by design. Straight out of uni, I did what almost every Economics student did at the time and joined a large bank as an analyst. This was Barclays and there I ended up being sent out to a company they had acquired which developed software for small businesses where I worked on their social marketplace platform.
I ended up doing some product management there, which I really enjoyed and moved into a permanent role working at the company on some of their FX products - being in charge of creating a new mobile app. With that launch under my belt, I joined Zopa, the world’s first peer-to-peer lending company, where I headed up the partnerships tribe and developed mainly API products. This was an exciting and different experience, with the company also going through rapid growth.
The move from Barclays to Zopa was an exciting one, it was great to take charge of an entire product area, and to see how fast things could be done. It was also an entirely different way of working - the company was organised into its own version of Spotify’s tribes model which meant engineering, design, product, data science and other functions were together in one team.
It was great to be centred on a single customer area and have all you needed to get things done, with the ability to see the impact directly in the metrics. The role also gave me a chance to work and do deals with a wide range of partner organisations and see how they worked which was interesting.
I get excited about getting things into the hands of real customers and seeing people using them - I can remember the first time I saw a person I didn’t know using the mobile app we’d created!
There are always things that you’ll try that just aren’t quite right or don’t work for a particular reason when you put them out to customers. It’s then you’ve got to work out what to do next to iterate and make things better.
In my current role at Habito, I’m focused on how we can make the process of getting someone a mortgage a lot better. It’s the largest and one of the most emotional purchases of most people’s lives but also one that some banks make pretty strenuous and stressful. There are so many opportunities to use technology and process to improve this for customers.
A typical day could involve anything from working closely with our operations teams to understand their processes and what customers are saying about us. This is normally done by interacting with the large number of third parties involved in the mortgage origination process to spending time with design and development to build out the product. There’s also usually a healthy sprinkle of data analysis and compliance, given it’s ultimately people’s money we’re dealing with.
One thing that I think is underrated amongst product managers is very simple paper prototypes. I’m a big fan of drawing something out - even if my art skills are useless - to get a feel and even potentially get it in front of people. It’s a quick and easy way to get something together and anyone can do it. Having colleagues from across the business and even customers drawing out what they think something should look like/do has been really effective in teasing out problems and needs.
I’d also say make sure you get to grips with whatever data analysis tool your company uses. Being able to see the effects you are making and how they fit into the wider company will be key in both doing the right things and demonstrating your success.
I’d advise them to think about some improvements or additions they’d make to an existing product they know and use, then run through a typical product development process with those improvements. Being able to demonstrate that you can think through things in the right way, even if it’s for something you don’t directly work on, will show you’re dedicated and know something about what’s expected in a tangible way.
I’d also suggest they spend time with likely stakeholders they would be working with across design, commercial, engineering and beyond to see both what they do and what they think makes a great product manager.
For neat new products or apps, I’ve recently started using the Motion Stills app on my phone, which allows you to shoot really short videos similar to the live photos style you get on iOS. It’s simple but adds a lot of interest to what can otherwise be boring snaps. At work, I’ve been trying to get everything that bit more connected together: notifications into Slack, JIRA tickets powering portfolio roadmaps and anything that’ll hopefully make things that bit more seamless. This has also had an effect on me in attempts to build out a more connected home with Hue and a few voice assistants.