Curiosity, collaboration and data: What brings products to life at 5 Austin tech companies

by Kelly O'Halloran
March 20, 2019

Part of the allure in working in product is the development process itself — determining what users want and then figuring out how to get it to them. But what makes for a good product team at one company may not work for another. While collaboration across departments is paramount for any team, what really sets product squads apart at these five Austin tech companies extends far beyond communication within the office.  

 

homeaway ajay waghray
image via homesaway

HomeAway’s senior product manager Ajay Waghray said that by using scientific data to drive their product launches, the vacation rental company is able to take more shots on goal. HomeAway even has multiple sensory labs staffed by researchers and neuroscientists who collect biometric and behavioral data from volunteers that’s used to inform product decisions.

We let the data guide us.

What sets HomeAway’s product team apart from others in the industry?

What sets HomeAway and VRBO apart is our deep belief in the scientific mindset. In previous jobs, I’ve seen a lot of product launches that weren’t always informed by what people want and need. Here at HomeAway, we spend a lot of time understanding our customers using qualitative and quantitative methods to make our app easier and more intuitive to use. As product managers for a travel app, what we really want is for people to quickly and easily find what they need so they can put down their phones to do what they planned to do on their trip — like explore a new destination or bond with their family and friends. 

 

How does that impact your product development process?

Approaching everything scientifically helps us eliminate a lot of waste. It allows us to take much better shots on goal. Conducting smaller A/B tests at a high frequency and volume helps us eradicate guesswork before larger product launches.

We let the data guide us. In certain observational studies, we were seeing tons of app users sharing specific properties with people they wanted to travel with. We were observing this behavior over and over again, and there were plenty of emotional signals to go along with it. Based on this data, we decided to focus on how we can make it easier and more fun for users to share a property with other people within our native app.

 

scalefactor product team
image via scalefactor

ScaleFactor’s smart financing platform powers back offices for small businesses all over the country. Laura Johnson, a product manager for the firm, attributed ScaleFactor’s ongoing success to her team’s varying backgrounds. Here’s what she means by that.

I used to think it was cheesy when startups claimed they were going to change the world, but we actually are.

 

What sets ScaleFactor’s product team apart from others in the industry?

The ScaleFactor product team comes from a wide variety of backgrounds, industries and experiences. As a team, we’re able to work collaboratively towards a common goal by leveraging each other’s skill sets and depth of knowledge.

 

How does that impact your product development process?

Because we’re contributing to the success of small businesses, the stakes are higher to deliver a world-class product. I used to think it was cheesy when startups claimed they were going to change the world, but we actually are. Thriving small businesses support families and communities, changing the world from a local level. I love that our product team brings so many perspectives to the table to make that a reality.

 

shipstation
image via shipstation

Curiosity guides ShipStation’s product team, according to Leanne Kawahigashi, a senior product designer. While members of the team rely on one another often for answers, Kawahigashi said they’re not afraid to reach out to their users and ask for help when needed.

We aren’t afraid to ask questions, admit we don’t always know the answer, and ask for help when we need it.

 

What sets ShipStation’s product team apart from others in the industry?

The team is made up of passionate people from a wide range of backgrounds. Each person brings a different perspective to the projects we work on, making collaboration a blast. Not only do we learn things from each other, but we also learn things from our users. We are curious people who enjoy digging into hard problems and putting ourselves in our users’ shoes. We aren’t afraid to ask questions when we have them, admit we don’t always know the answer, and ask for help when we need it.

 

How does that impact your product development process?

As an agile work environment, we are continuously iterating on features to provide the best experience for our users. Cross-team collaboration plays a large role in our product development process. From start to finish, we are communicating with different teams to reach the same goal. Whether it’s researching, planning, or user testing — we have real-life, real-time conversations. We care about the product and, because we care, we are proud of it. Our process wouldn’t be successful without us taking the time to make thoughtful decisions, learn from our users and learn from each other.

 

360training product team
image via 360training.com

Alex Deck, a business unit manager at 360training, praised the e-learning company’s leadership for taking a chance on him. Deck, who joined 360training in a sales role after working in higher education, proved himself an asset to the overall direction of the product and was given an opportunity to work in product management in return. Here’s how else leadership has impacted product.

If we come up with a well-baked idea and business case, and are able to prove it, we do it.

 

What sets 360training’s product team apart from others in the industry?

The flexibility and openness we are given by our CEO to run our business within the business. We can identify our own particular game-changer ideas. I love the autonomy. If we come up with a well-baked idea and business case, and are able to prove it, we do it. Also, the dynamic between the other business unit managers on our team is open and flexible. Together, we partner with sales, operations, technology and finance to have this impact.

 

How does that impact your product development process?

We have the best of both worlds in product. I get to leverage strategic partnerships with prior clients to grow our vertical. My experience in higher education opens the doors. Our VP of product, Mudassir Katchi, values that experience in the product process.

Our goal is to see profit through how we work with the other functions: sales, operations, finance and technology, in the process. As we get to see the operations side better, we see better growth in our profit and loss.

 

compeat product team

One of the best ways to build a solution that properly serves your clientele is to develop a team that includes people who have worked in the same industry. At Compeat, that meant hiring product folks with actual restaurant experience. Kathy Wirt, the restaurant management platform’s SVP of product management, told us how that affects their product strategies.

Our customers are engaged in working directly with us to help shape our software.

 

What sets your product team apart from others in the industry?

Our product team has the perfect mix of industry knowledge in the restaurant space and traditional software experience. The team has nearly 40 years of firsthand experience working in a variety of roles in restaurants. This means our product team understands the daily lives of restaurant operators and managers who use our products every day, which is essential to our design process and prioritization of future features.

 

How does that impact your product development process?

Because we come from the restaurant industry, we understand the challenges our customers have, and can use our software development expertise to meet their needs. We also believe in staying connected with our customers. An important part of our process is to regularly spend time with customers where they work so we can see how they use our software in their daily jobs. Significant product releases are rolled out to early adopter customers so that we can iterate on and optimize our software before general release. Our customers are engaged in working directly with us to help shape our software.

 

 

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