A conversation with Julia Friesen from Knix


During this week’s Product to Product episode, Amy Chyan, Product to Product podcast producer & host, chatted with Julia Friesen, an E-Commerce Product Manager from Knix.

Amy and Julia chatted about Julia’s start in tech as a Customer Experience rep at Knix and how she transitioned into being a Product Manager. Julia highlighted ways her background has helped her when making product decisions.

They also chatted about how Product Managers need to separate themselves from the customer — even if they use the product — as a PM is too close to the product to know what it’s like for a customer to experience it for the first time.

We’ve pulled out some highlights from the talk and have included time codes if you’re tight on time — otherwise we highly recommend watching the full conversation.

Highlights


(The highlights have been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Tripping into product management from CX (1:24)

Amy: So, Julia is an E-Commerce PM at Knix, which is a women’s intimates company based in Toronto. Julia, when we talked about your journey into product in our pre-interview, you had a funny term, you said you tripped into product and that you actually started out as a Customer Experience Member. Can you tell me the steps you took to take you from CX into product?

Julia: I started in customer service and it was a pretty small team at the time. We were about eight people. So I would get customer feedback and then want to make changes on the site based on that feedback. So I would work with our contract developer at the time and I had an awesome boss who was like, “Oh, you’re doing user experience design.” And I was like, “I don’t think so. I’m using Microsoft Paint.” Again, tripped and fell into this role. So in doing a few more of those projects and growing with the company, I was able to get promoted into a merchandising role where I was doing more web-based work. And again, continuing to work on those user experience changes. But when I was a merchandiser we had about 10 products. So there wasn’t a ton of merchandising to do. So I started project managing the changes that were happening on the site, which accidentally turned into product management. So now I’m the E-Commerce Product Manager at Knix.

How Julia’s CX background helps her in her PM role (2:46)

Amy: So how do you think your time as a CX member helped you in your role as a PM now?

Julia: I think it’s so important, and such a wonderful happy accident I’m really glad it happened that way, because I think as a Product Manager you really want to be the voice of the customer. You’re this middle ground between the business problems and the user problems and being able to advocate for those customers and having really heard their pain points in depth. It’s been a great way to lead into this role.

Levelling up to transition from CX to Product (3:14)

Amy: Right. And you mentioned a little bit previously that to transition into CX to PM-hood, it took encouragement from your managers. But you also mentioned in your pre-interview, you were like “Me? I don’t know, I don’t know how to do that. That’s not me.” But what were the things that you did or had to learn or level up to for this transition to happen?

Julia: As I said, I didn’t really know what I was doing was what I was doing. So it took some encouragement from some really awesome managers that I’ve had along the way. So I think a big levelling up is just owning what you’re good at even if you didn’t necessarily know it was what you were doing. I think just taking a gift, like taking … don’t look a gift horse in the mouth basically. If you happen to be doing something awesome, run with it. But I think a big thing that I had to level up was like Scrum. Anything dev related. I had never worked with a developer before. I didn’t know how websites work, so there was a huge learning curve there. But again, I think leaning on your coworkers and being really open of what you don’t know, people are often really happy to help and want to see you be a great PM.

Remembering as a PM that you’re not the customer (even if you really love your product & use it) (4:29)

Amy: We also discussed in our pre-interview that a lot of times in product when PMs have this mindset like, “Oh, just think like the customer.” They overdo it and they forget that they’re actually not the customer. Can you talk about how this can actually hinder a product team?

Julia: Totally. I think that as much as I’m so happy that I started in customer service, there’s a flip side of that coin where for probably too long I was like, “I know the customer, I was just chatting with her.” And then my work wife at Knix was just like, “You haven’t worked in customer service for over a year. You actually don’t know. The site’s changed, the products have changed. This is what they’re actually talking about.” So I think sometimes, especially when you’re similar to your customer, I’m like a young millennial woman who buys bras and underwear. I get a period, all that good stuff. So I’m our target market. So I sometimes think I am the customer but I’m not going through the site the way a customer is coming cold off of Instagram. I know way too much.

So I think reminding yourself of that and actually tapping into your customer service team and saying, “What are the issues of today?” We release code to our site every other week, so our site is changing constantly, even if it’s small things. So I think owning that you’re not the customer, owning that you’re not an active member of your CX team and letting them speak for the customer, or even better, doing customer interviews and letting the customer just speak directly to you is an awesome way to make sure that you’re interpreting them correctly in your mind.

Growing pains of an expanding team (7:11)

Amy: I know you work with a very small team and you’re the E-Commerce PM. Tell me the structure of that team and what are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

Julia: For sure. So I’m the single PM on the team and we have a director above us and then we have three developers, one lead, one intermediate and one junior. We have a QA and then we have two merchandisers. And I would say more than half those roles have joined in the last year. So it’s been a huge learning curve of how we work with so many people. I think alongside that, we integrated Agile and Sprint Planning. So there’s just been a huge learning curve. I think the nice thing is that we’re all really excited about what we’re doing and all want to do a great job. But there’s definitely been a couple moments in Sprint Retro where we’re looking around and being like, “Well, that was a weird one. What happened?” And I think just our eagerness to improve bridges the gap for what we lack in experience.

Learning from those “Well, that was a weird one. What happened?” moments (8:21)

Amy: So piggybacking on that point, when you say, “Oh, what happened? We thought we got this right.” Can you give an example of one time when you were like, “You know what? I think we did the user research, we think this experiment is going to work. We think this product is going to land well,” and it didn’t.

Julia: Yeah, we had this feature that encouraged cross-shopping and we put it up and had to basically take it back really quickly, which is the first time that that’s happened. I think partially because we’re just doing a … it’s kind of a catch 22, because it’s proof that we’re doing a better job of tracking our projects. We’re like, “Oh, good to know that this isn’t working and we should take it back.” It ended up impacting site speed really negatively and slowed the whole thing down, which in turn triggered a really interesting site speed project of some code rewriting that we did. So silver lining. But yeah that was a recent project where we’re like, “Oh, okay let’s think about this. Let’s dig a little deeper.”

Now we know site speed’s a thing that we have … it’s not just about the user, it’s the raw user experience of looking at design files and being like, “How’s a customer clicking around?” It’s like if the page never loads for the customer, they’re not clicking anywhere. So it’s zooming out and thinking about the holistic customer experience.

Receiving customer feedback (9:42)

Amy: You mentioned that a lot of customers are very into the brand Knix, but what are some of the ways that you guys get feedback? Do you just look at the Instagram comments? Do you let them click through the website? What are some ways that your team does it?

Julia: Yeah, I mean customer service feedback is our number one. I recently delved into one-on-one user research, which is really exciting. Before this pandemic, we have beautiful new stores and we have one here in Toronto, which is such a gift because I get to go in and talk to customers and see how they shop in real life versus how they shop online. And I mean, I can’t wait for this to be over for a number of reasons, but my user experience research is on the list.

Confidence is like a muscle, you need to stretch it (10:33)

Amy: We talked a little bit about your managers being very encouraging. And when I speak to a lot of women in tech, especially one female tech leader, she’s like, “Confidence is like a muscle. You just need to stretch it.” Were there times when you were in a PM role and you’re like, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t think I’m good at this. I feel like an impostor.” And how did you get over it?

Julia: I mean that’s like every other day. I think two things that have really helped is yeah, having really key players along the way to boost you up when you’re really looking around being like, “I’m alone in this. I’m really feeling overwhelmed and scared and incapable.” I’ve had a couple of really good managers do that and be the person to pull me out. I also have an incredible lead dev who, I mean, I came into this with no technical knowledge and she will sit with me and walk me through some seriously basic concepts time and time again. So that has been super helpful.

But the thing that I’ve been able to do for myself is I started a Medium blog, writing the articles that I wanted to read when I was really struggling with something. And it’s that idea of once taught is twice learned. And I think creating the content that I want for myself — I go back and reread my own stuff 99% for myself just to affirm what I’ve learned but also act as a piece of reference material. Because sometimes when you’re growing so quickly you have to learn the same lesson a few times.

Audience Q&A Period

(12:19) What did you do outside of work, if anything, to scale your dev related skills or learnings?

(13:00 ) What are some work from home tips that you have or you and your team are working through?

(14:53) Your work mentor sounds incredible. Was having that support a key factor in making the decision to join Knix? Or what other factors played a role in taking the position even though you didn’t have any experience?

(16:47) Can you talk about your one-on-one customer feedback gathering framework? And how has this helped you pivot or reiterate on your product?

(17:41) A lot of feedback is either they’re very happy with the product or they’re very upset with the product. And then you have this middle ground of people who are just like, “Well, I bought it and I kind of don’t like it or I’m okay with it, but I don’t care to reach out to them to let them know.” How do you kind of suss out this lackadaisical fan base?

(19:48) What do you do when you feel burnt out at a startup or tech role?

(21:19) Is there a one person or a brand that you take inspiration from in this industry in terms of tech and product world?

(22:25) Are there any tools — or — what’s your dashboard look like when you’re gathering all this data?

Speakers

Hi, I’m Julia and I love solving problems. I work as a Product Manager for Knix, a women’s intimates company built on Shopify! We make intimates for real life, from wireless bras to period underwear. Working in Product Management has given me the chance to solve not only user problems but business problems. I love talking to people and getting to the heart of their daily struggles, and then working with different teams to make solutions come to life!

Amy’s a Content Marketing Specialist at Roadmunk on the Marketing team. She produces Recess, the Product to Product podcast and video content. Prior to Roadmunk, Amy worked as a journalist in various Canadian newsrooms and wrote for publications like NBC, CBC, Vice and more.

You can follow her via her website (amychyan.com), Twitter (twitter.com/ayl), and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/amychyan/).

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