Product Q&A with Romy Macasieb
Romy Macasieb is the VP of Product Management at Walker & Brands reporting directly to Tristan Walker, Founder & CEO. He manages the FORM & Bevel brands while also leading the digital product & creative teams for the organization.
Prior to Walker & Brands, Romy was the Head of Product and sole PM for a startup called ThisLife which was eventually acquired by Shutterfly with the plans of building Shutterfly 3.0 (a billion-dollar feat). As part of the acquisition, Romy joined where he completely revamped the ThisLife application lineup, while also launching the company’s first Android and Amazon apps.
Prior to ThisLife, Romy was a Senior Product Manager at AOL, where he led AV by AOL, a simple video chat - a chat that got rave reviews from publications such as TechCrunch and TNW. He also managed AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) for iPad, Mac, and web, ICQ Express, and AIM Expressions such as emoticons.
How do you iterate quickly when you are working in physical product / hardware / regulated industries?
I think less about iterating “fast”, and more about iterating in general.
This isn’t to say you can’t iterate fast, but you have to make sure you’re not backing your team into a corner.
Once you release a physical good, you can’t take it back - especially for goods like razors that don’t have firmware/software components.
That said, it really comes down to prototyping, prototyping, prototyping. And with each one, improving and learning about what you’re willing and excited to launch with.
Are you more competition-focused or client-focused when building your product roadmap? Which one is more important and how do you balance between both?
On the outside, companies often look like they are in direct competition with each other. For example, people look at the Bevel shave system and immediately think we’re in competition with Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club. After all, “we make razors”. To a minor degree, this is true. And if you’re in the know, you’d also know we make goods in competition with products people of color have had to use for ages, like depilatory creams.
There will always be competition and it’s good to understand the landscape, but you’d be doing your customers and yourselves a disservice if all you did was run in circles and chase them. When it’s all said and done, Walker & Brand is in the business of making health & beauty simple for people of color.
We can’t do this by competing with similar products. We can ONLY do this by working with our customers and ensuring we’re building something that is adding value and solving problems for them.
What is your toughest challenge as a product manager?
10 years ago I would have said my toughest challenge was trying to understand the market, building processes, prioritizing, and implementing great features.
Now that I’ve gotten into management, my toughest challenge is understanding how I can help my team solve the same “tough things” I thought about 10 years ago. And usually, that means unblocking them and supporting them any way I can.
Trust me, that can be tough in itself if the way to do that is to say “No” up the chain and sideways.
As a PM what drives more product decisions: qualitative data or quantitative data?
In the famous words of every PM, “It Depends”. It really does. But generally, it’s a mix of both.
Full disclosure: despite my computer science background and almost-minor-in math, I got into Product Management really enjoying the qualitative side of things. I really tried to “feel” what was right for the customer.
This can be problematic though. You never know what you’re improving or what you have to improve.
You have a feeling, but trust me, when you look at data, it may paint a different picture.
Working at a place where I launch something and it has a direct impact on revenue (up or down), the quantitative side is so important. In fact, mandatory.
I have to be maniacal about understanding what my team and I can do to move the business. You can’t rely on “feelings” alone.
What have you learned that's helped you increase online sales? I.e. any tips/tricks around how the ecommerce experience can affect revenue?
Ugh. I’ve learned so many things. For example, when you launch something, you have to consider where your traffic is coming from, and tune the experience for that traffic.
In other words, your ecomm site should probably not look the same for every visitor that comes through.
For example, organic and direct customers that come straight to your website should immediately understand what you want them to know about your brand and product.
But! if you see someone come from a specific Ad, they may actually know about your value adds already, in which case, their experience should a little deeper in the funnel. Additionally, creative assets and copy may actually be more tailored to that target.
In fact, you could land them on a page showing them your product lineup and they’d be happier than landing on the homepage and going through “hoops and ladders” to get to the products. I could go on and on about this one.
Are there any differences you look for in candidates when building out your product team for a physical product vs. a "fully" digital product?
Not really. No matter what the industry, I’m focusing on hiring for what we need.
Usually, that means hiring someone with a skillset that the team doesn’t already possess.
To one of my answers earlier about how I know I’m ~60% qualitative, my first hire was someone who smacked me with spreadsheets. No lie.
I don’t need more people like me. I need more people that can offer a diverse set of thoughts, opinions, and skills.
How are you currently collecting customer feedback and funneling that into your work/team?
The textbook response would be to say that we have a user research team and they + us are constantly communicating with customers and running ethnography research etc.
I did some of this years ago at AOL when we had money and resources. Unfortunately at a startup, you don’t often have that luxury. So I use what I have.
From the team perspective, we work with the Customer Success team regularly. Our CS team is. The. Best.
They’re great at coming to us and letting us know when something is broken or even when something needs to be improved to help the customer understand value prop and purchase.
We also get feedback from things we deploy with the marketing teams. Think surveys and google hangout type interviews.
If the team is really unsure of how an experience is going to be received if built, we’ll hit University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto and have some people click around.
And then obviously we get feedback from the business about what can help them improve their channels or overall sales.
Then we prioritize based on the level of effort, resources on hand, resources we need, and ultimately, ROI.
What's the biggest PM difference between building software v. hardware products? What's the QA process like?
The biggest difference is with software, you can deploy an update if you release a bad bug; with most hardware, you can’t. Assuming it wasn’t a security or financial issue, you stress for a few hours, come back the next day, and just keep swimming.
With physical goods, you can’t do that.
So you have to be empathetic to the Operations & Supply Chain teams and buy them the time they need to get things right.
To be clear, “right” doesn’t mean “perfect”. You still ship in phases/versions - you just have to make sure that each phase is delivering the value you want for your customers.
Before a digital product release, your team “smoke tests” to make sure the most basic of things are working.
For a physical product release, we have to build in time to go through a real-customer-type order. In other words, I buy the product, have it sent to the office, and we inspect to see if it meets our criteria of “acceptable”.
You don’t want to just launch a new good and have the end customer be the first person to go through unpackaging.
So you can imagine, you have to wait at least a day in a scenario where you have the shipment come to you using overnight shipping.
But often, you have to build in a few days of last-minute QA time.
What is the most counterintuitive thing you’ve learned about being a VP of PM? Also what did you once believe about the role that you now believe to be wrong (or not as important)?
Now that I’m VP of Product, I’m also leading the creative organization.
This was BY FAR the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve done. When I was an engineer, I really enjoyed building out front end systems.
When I became a product manager, I really focused on launching consumer applications that had a lot of UX/UI components.
Naturally, I worked with designers a lot so I thought “I got them”. I’ll tell you what. When you manage a creative team, there is so much you’ll realize you never actually knew.
We take our creatives for granted. We think that we can all use photoshop to some degree, so, it’s “not that hard” right? When you talk with them, *not at them*, and really start to understand how they think of things and their techniques in solving a process…and really really trying to understand what they think is broken…it’s an eye opener.
And when you have to lead them and unblock them, it’s really tough at first because you can’t deploy the same leadership skills you may use on a PM or engineer - you have to approach things differently.
And when you start figuring some of these things out, it’s so rewarding. You win, they win, and the team wins. And you really start to see things come together.
How involved you are with the UX of your product as a PM? Did your decisions ever result in negative feedback from end users?
Absolutely. One time we relied on our quantitative side too much.
We looked at the numbers. We looked at other companies. We looked at conversion funnels. And we decided…“You know what. Perhaps we focus more on products and making it easier for customers to come and buy. No need for all this marketing content talking about why we exist. Let’s just let them see a catalog of products and let them buy what they want.”
Well... we ran this as an A/B test and we saw our conversion rate drop dramatically.
Why? Because we lost the swag, culture and education pieces that resonated with our customers. We learned the hard way that our customers aren’t coming to us simply because we sell products...
They’re coming to us because we sell products and solutions for them.
We let that A/B test run for some time to make sure we were certain that we made the wrong move, and then we discontinued it.
Since then, we’ve actually invested more in content, and less on “increasing conversion by shortening the funnel”.
How do you approach MVPs when you are trying to compete with established products?
Your MVPs right off the bat have to have some differentiator.
You don’t have to re-invent the wheel, but there has to be something about it that the established products don’t already have.
For Bevel, we didn’t just launch a razor. We could have, but we didn’t.
We ended up launching a full line of products that all worked together to solve the problem of skin irritation and razor bumps when shaving.
Is priming oil new? No. Razor and brush a new concept? No. Shave cream and after shave? No.
But together, coupled with materials that focus on education and research, all bundled in a brand that is fresh from website to physical good, we have something that sets us apart.
Our first launch did all that and has given us a framework to build off of. It’s how we approached our second brand, FORM, too.
Fun Fact About Romy:
We have 5 minutes left so I’m going to leave you all with an embarrassing video. I made this video in 2012. It was when I left AOL and wanted to get into the startup world.
I didn’t know how to break in. After all, I only had one on my resume and I was new to the Bay Area. So, I tried things. This was one of those things - I hope you aspiring PMs get something from it…
1) You have a lot of ideas on how to approach getting into product, take action on those, and don’t let others tell you otherwise. You know your skills best, lean on them.
2) You’re going to get turned down in interviews, keep swimming.
3) You can do a whole lot with Keynote and some imagination.
Btw - this embarrassing video is probably what kept me top of mind with my friend Sol Lipman. A friend of his asked for a PM recommendation and my name came up. Not long after, I found myself at my first startup where I was the first and only PM up through acquisition.
Embrace embarrassment (sometimes).