How 4 SF Product Teams Stay True to Their Vision

Although the strategies for staying true to the product vision varies from company to company, the goal is always the same: a purpose to continuously evolve so that you’re providing customers with the best possible product. We caught up with product leaders Flexport, Tinder and two more local companies across San Francisco to gain some insight into the strategies they implement to ensure they’re never straying too far from their North Star.

Written by Taylor Karg
Published on Jan. 22, 2021
How 4 SF Product Teams Stay True to Their Vision
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How does a product team stay true to its vision? 

Well, it depends on the product and vision. And, if company stakeholders are involved, the answer can get a little more complicated. 

At logistics software company Flexport, staying true to the product vision means maintaining a constant and transparent stream of communication between the product team and the stakeholders. 

At Tinder, because its biggest stakeholders are its members, staying true to the product vision means always keeping them in mind — whether it’s creating tutorials for how to use certain features or sharing stories that humanize the platform. 

Although the strategies for staying true to the product vision varies from company to company, the goal is always the same: a purpose to continuously evolve so that you’re providing customers with the best possible product.

Built In SF caught up with product leaders at Flexport, Tinder and two more companies across the city to gain some insight into the strategies they implement to ensure they’re never straying too far from their North Star. 

 

Greg Greiner
VP of Product • Bolt

At checkout experience platform Bolt, staying true to the long-term product vision while meeting the needs of customers and stakeholders is a balancing act. Greg Greiner, VP of product, said that the company’s biggest focus is to find opportunities that enable them to improve the customer experience while simultaneously taking steps toward the company’s bigger, long-term vision. 

 

What is your team’s overarching product vision and how do you communicate this vision across the business? 

Bolt’s mission is to democratize e-commerce and, in doing so, level the playing field so that independent brands and retailers can compete with behemoths like Amazon. Our product vision that supports this mission is to partner with independent retailers to shift e-commerce from a one-size-fits-all guest experience to a tailored, known shopper experience powered by cross-retailer shopper accounts. 

Today, shopping experiences on independent retailers are generally “guest” experiences where you are anonymous to the retailer and don’t have any saved information or preferences. This untailored, one-size-fits-all experience means shoppers don’t always trust independent retailers, can’t easily discover the right products, have to re-enter information over and over, can’t easily manage their orders and aren’t rewarded for their loyalty. We believe this disadvantage is one of the most important issues holding independent retailers back. The first part of this vision that Bolt is tackling is checkout. We’re building an accounts network that allows shoppers to easily save their information and reuse it to checkout in one click on any Bolt retailer.

 

How does your product vision help inform your product strategy or other decisions around product development? 

We’re constantly working to balance investing in our long-term product vision with the more immediate and tangible needs of our current and prospective customers. Our product vision is what grounds us to ensure that we’re always building toward something that is greater than the sum of its parts. One specific example of our vision informing strategic decisions is the Bolt Tokenizer. Early on, Bolt decided to build its own credit card tokenization capabilities in-house. Even though this was a major investment and we could have continued using our partner’s tokenizers, this has allowed us to ensure that Bolt accounts work across any processor a retailer may be using.
 

Our vision is to shift e-commerce from a one-size-fits-all guest experience to a tailored shopper experience.”


How do you stay true to your product vision while also taking into account the wants and needs of various stakeholders?

It’s always a balancing act. You can’t afford to purely invest in your product vision while ignoring the short term needs of the business, and you can’t afford to purely invest in the short term and ignore building truly differentiated and defensible product value. Our biggest focus is looking for opportunities that enable us to both unblock business and improve the customer experience in the short term while also taking steps toward our long-term vision. These types of opportunities don’t always exist but when you can find them they can be your most important investments.

 

Yuko Kamae
VP of Product Management • Flexport

At Flexport, a logistics software company, the product team works to involve key stakeholders throughout the entire product process. VP of Product Management Yuko Kamae said that through constant communication and transparency, they are able to work together to bring the vision to life.  

 

What is your team’s overarching product vision and how do you communicate it across the business? 

Our vision is to build products that empower global businesses to trade reliably, securely and efficiently. 

We continue to focus on becoming the best freight forwarder over the next few years while keeping our long term goal in mind: to become a reliable supply chain control tower. We are going to design and build our product in a way that helps us achieve our short-term goal, but also in a way that gives us a foundation for the long-term strategy.

 

How does your product vision help inform your product strategy or other decisions around product development? 

Efficiency, predictability and visibility are the key ingredients missing from the industry today. There are several ways of solving those problems and our vision guides us to identify the right steps to get there. Rather than taking shortcuts and addressing the problems in an easier way, we’re here to build the right platform for future scalability that allows us to play the long game and be the standard technology of global trade. 

When we prioritize our ideas, we make sure to invest in foundational initiatives while building short-term solutions to address immediate business needs. When we make a trade-off, product vision and strategy help us clarify the expected impact and therefore we can make more informed and educated decisions. 
 

When we prioritize our ideas, we make sure to invest in foundational initiatives while building short-term solutions to address immediate business needs.”


How do you stay true to your product vision while also taking into account the wants and needs of various stakeholders?

Communicate our product vision clearly, provide transparency on our progress and show how each of the initiatives would fit (or not fit) to help our strategy come to life. Get key stakeholders involved and be part of the process of developing a product roadmap. 

 

Udi Milo
VP of Product & Growth • Tinder

At social dating app Tinder, the biggest stakeholders are its members. VP of Product and Growth Udi Milo said that the best way to ensure the product team and company stakeholders are aligned on the overall vision is to always keep the app’s members in mind, whether it’s creating tutorials for how they can make the most out of their time on the app or sharing stories that humanize the platform.  

 

What is your team’s overarching product vision and how do you communicate this vision across the business?

We want to build a place where people around the world connect to expand their social circles and spark new connections. We believe this can only happen when the product allows for authentic self-expression of one’s self and intentions without judgment, as long as our members adhere to Tinder’s safety guidelines.

We’re focused on how the Tinder experience can help facilitate this vision on a global scale. What do we need to do to make participation safe and authentic? What can we build to create a fun experience that fosters self-expression? How might we innovate on new discovery experiences where people not only find others around them but are also surprised by things they learn about themselves and delighted to match with people they might not have expected to meet?

We communicate this vision with the entire company by making sure we frame all-new features, updates and optimizations through that lens; set goals that align with that vision with member success metrics as our true north KPIs; and share stories that humanize the platform. As we deliver millions of matches a day, we try to share member stories to demonstrate the wide range of what success could look like.

 

How does your product vision help inform your product strategy or other decisions around product development? 

At a basic level, our members have to understand how to use Tinder to have success in sparking new connections. Otherwise, they’ll never have the opportunity to really be themselves on the app. For a while, it was the easier path to assume that our Swipe feature was universally understood, even for those new to the platform and new to the category as a whole. 

As we’ve grown our global footprint, we’ve had the opportunity to invest more in member insights and research, which has helped us challenge our assumptions right down to the core UX. During a feedback session in Japan, we learned that the Swipe wasn’t universally understood, especially by women, when trying the app for the first time. We sought to find a better way to onboard them to increase the likelihood they stay on the app long enough to have success in making a match. 

This may seem like a small facet of the experience to focus on, but developing a Swipe tutorial complete with practice profiles and feature explanations helped new members start off on better footing when using Tinder for the first time. And a better introduction has led to an increased likelihood that women in Japan form a match with someone new.

 

How do you stay true to your product vision while also taking into account the wants and needs of various stakeholders?

We first need to acknowledge that while in the short term we need to consider quarterly goals, in the long term there will be no Tinder without our members. If one takes a long-term perspective, one always gets back to the value we bring to our members first and foremost. We understand that satisfying other stakeholders is important, but without our members, there will be no long-term value to anyone, including shareholders, employees and others.

 

 

bigcommerce product team
bigcommerce
Dassi Shusterman
Senior Manager, Product Design • BigCommerce

At BigCommerce, a platform that empowers e-commerce businesses to build and grow their brands, the company’s stakeholders and product team have a mutual understanding to always work together. Senior Manager of Product Design Dassi Shusterman said that by doing so, both parties are able to gather enough information to make decisions with confidence and provide customers with the best possible product.

 

What is your team’s overarching product vision and how do you communicate this vision across the business?

At BigCommerce, we are building not only a product but an ecosystem spanning multiple domains and catering to a wide range of customers in a quickly-evolving marketplace. It’s like building an airplane in flight where the blueprint is ever-evolving. Our product vision helps us make decisions while we are moving 500 mph!

Our overarching vision — to build the world’s best and most successful e-commerce platform for growing businesses — and our product vision — to be the irreplaceable advantage — permeates how we talk about our work at every level, from our CEO to product teams and customer support. We focus on “unlocking value” for our customers, understanding that if we don’t solve their most important problems they will go elsewhere. Regular gatherings like monthly roadmap meetings, all-hands and demo days help communicate vision across teams. 

 

We focus on ‘unlocking value’ for our customers, understanding that if we don’t solve their most important problems they will go elsewhere.”

 

How does your product vision help inform your product strategy or other decisions around product development? 

Domain level teams are doing the research and developing the strategy to determine product-market fit. Teams put together their own North Star vision to rally the team and communicate it across the organization through presentations with background data and mocks.

This year we launched version one of a brand new product, Page Builder, which allows merchants to easily customize their storefronts. In a soft launch to our customers, we were able to evaluate how our customers were actually using it and where they struggled. The team then ran a design workshop to explore solutions widely. From that, they constructed a vision for the roadmap in 2021. 

 

How do you stay true to your product vision while also taking into account the wants and needs of various stakeholders?

We think it’s important to understand why stakeholders are asking for certain things. Once you understand that, you can become a partner in the solution. This is so important for product teams and designers in particular because just reacting to an ask without understanding the root cause is liable to result in a bad solution that doesn’t really solve the problem. We have to work together to establish the unknowns and figure out how to get enough information to make our decisions with confidence. This is where looking beyond the set boundaries matters, where relying on research and expertise makes all the difference.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photography was provided by featured companies.

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