Project show-and-tell, Part 1: What 4 Seattle product managers are working on right now

by Quinten Dol
May 15, 2019

Product managers have all the fun. Leadership assigns a mission and the PMs set off in search of a solution, interacting with multiple departments and facets of a business in the process. Every problem is different, and each company has its own culture and area of expertise — meaning each has a different way of finding new and innovative solutions.

In part one of a two-part series, we spoke with product managers at four Seattle tech companies to learn what they’re working on, and what sets their experience apart from their industry peers.

 

 

leafly seattle cannabis tech product managers
photo via leafly

Washington state leads the country when it comes to the legal cannabis industry, and Seattle’s own Leafly leads the industry as a cannabis strain, product and dispensary directory. In addition to its news and culture content, the company’s crowdsourced reviews and professional guides help consumers find cannabis products to suit their individual needs.

Product Manager Cassondra Copeland said her team is busy negotiating the industry’s regulatory obstacle course to complete big projects in the coming months.

 

Describe a big project your team is currently working on. How will it impact the company or your industry?

There are really hard problems to solve in cannabis. As a technology company in the cannabis space, we strive to present a customer experience that’s informative, empowering and elegant in the face of a regulatory environment that is, on its best days, very confusing. I can’t go into great detail about the big initiatives we have going on right now, but I can certainly say our north star is to connect people to legal cannabis, and help them discover the right cannabis for their needs.

 

This industry is full of visionaries and at Leafly, I’m surrounded by people want to make things happen, and do it right.”

What aspects of your job do you enjoy most?

I love the people I get to work with. I love working around driven, smart, passionate people. This industry is full of visionaries and at Leafly, I’m surrounded by people want to make things happen, and do it right. It’s a productive, engaging environment — a can-do culture.

 

highspot seattle tech startup product management
photo via highspot

Highspot is an enablement tool taking the sales world by storm. The startup’s platform helps reps find the relevant pitch decks, on-pagers and brochures where and when they need them, and track how prospects interact with each piece of content. The software also features interactive sales rehearsals, plus communication and training materials to help reps get ready for meetings.

VP of Product Jon White said his team is currently building its own analytics dashboard.

 

Describe a big project your team is currently working on. How will it impact the company or your industry?

One of our most exciting projects right now is a re-imagination of our reporting and analytics capabilities. The insight that Highspot generates is a fundamental part of what makes our users heroes within their teams. Acting on our vision that any component of Highspot can benefit from dashboards and insight, we made a big bet on building a proprietary analytics architecture. This bet has paid off — we can tightly integrate reporting in the fundamentals of our product in a way that is just not possible with third-party solutions.

For example, we built our own query language that has domain-specific relationships built into it. This allows for much more intuitive construction of queries than a typical query language will provide.

 

I love that our culture promotes the notion that ‘details matter.’”

What aspects of your job do you enjoy most?

The Highspot experience is simple, fast and intuitive. This is one reason why we have such high user affinity — our platform sees an average 90 percent adoption rate, which is extremely high for enterprise solutions. Behind the scenes, the product has to be best-in-class in many complex spaces — search, reporting, content rendering, distributed processing and more — to provide a seamless experience. I love that our culture promotes the notion that “details matter” and that we give ourselves the freedom to think hard about each technology challenge in order to create such a compelling user experience for our customers.

 

sift seattle tech startup product management
photo via sift

Sift’s suite of fraud protection software protects some 34,000 digital platforms, including Twitter, Airbnb and Zillow. The company automates a large chunk of the decisions and work processes that go into fraud prevention, and makes it easier for non-coders to investigate cases. Headquartered in San Francisco, Sift uses machine learning to monitor data troves for account takeovers, promo abuse, payment fraud and other signs of nefarious activity.

Before joining Sift, Seattle Product Manager Shahar Ronen had never worked at a startup before, and loves the passion he sees in his colleagues at work each day.

 

Describe a big project your team is currently working on. How will it impact your company or the industry?

An initiative I’m excited about is to further increase transparency of our AI models. Through components that tightly integrate data science and UI, we help customers quickly understand risk and trust for every action on their platform — even if they have zero experience in fraud analysis. This combination of machine and human intuition demonstrates the true power of AI and will help our customers get even more value out of Sift.  

 

I spend much of my time creating the environment and processes that enable my teams to effectively leverage their passion and intellect.”

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

Sift is my first time at a startup after more than 15 years in big tech companies like Microsoft and IBM Research. I was fortunate to partner with extremely talented colleagues throughout my career, but the level of passion I see everyday at Sift is unprecedented. So as a PM at Sift, I spend much of my time creating the environment and processes that enable my teams to effectively leverage their passion and intellect. Building trust within a new team takes time, but it’s worth it. Once everybody understands the “why” and is empowered to propose the “what” and the “how,” you experience teamwork at full force.

 

varsity tutors seattle tech startup
photo via varsity tutors

Varsity Tutors connects students with tutors looking to pick up extra work, and helps set appointments at a time and place of the student’s convenience. The St. Louis-based company has raised over $100 million since it was founded in 2007, and the tutors on its platform cover everything from basic arithmetic to grad school preparation.

Senior Product Manager Kai Ory said his team is currently working on bringing courses in a wide variety of topics online.

 

Describe a big project your team is currently working on.  How will it impact the company or your industry?

One of the projects we’re working on is launching live, online courses in thousands of topics.  Many people prefer learning through live courses and by ensuring we have a wide selection of live courses available, we’ll be able to help more people access expertise and learn new things. 

 

We’re all committed to the same mission of helping people learn.”

What aspects of your job do you enjoy most?

I love working with the rest of the team at Varsity Tutors. We’re all committed to the same mission of helping people learn, and it is a lot of fun to work together to quickly launch, test and iterate on new features and products.

 

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