The Startupbootcamp FinTech ‘10 things’ is a series of interviews in which main stakeholders from the FinTech landscape answer questions you were afraid to ask yourself. This month, we’ll head into the world of Product Management as we chat with Anna Sitnikova, Product Manager at iZettle.
What is iZettle?
iZettle is a Swedish Financial Technology company that helps start, run and improve small businesses. They provide simple and easy-to-use payment tools, like a point-of-sales app and a very handsome card reader. As the company ended up being placed 21 on Financial Times’ list of the 1,000 fastest growing companies in Europe, it’s really one to watch.
1. Tell us more about your background.
I started my first business when I was only 6 years old. I was living in Russia and the early 90s were pretty tough for most families. I would say the entrepreneurial mindset wasn’t really prevalent at the time, but I really wanted a piano and was determined to find a way to earn some extra cash so I could buy one.
My grandparents were growing potatoes, so I decided to start selling potatoes in the local farmer’s market across the street. The competition was seriously tough! To make my potatoes stand out, I started a home delivery service and even offered to wash the potatoes for my customers at a slightly higher price. It worked. So well in fact, that my competitors decided to join my team and eventually, I didn’t even need to go to the market to earn money – they made it for me.
My first serious experience with entrepreneurship started with building a service for students designed to help them find internships or their first jobs through competitive events (such as as case studies, hackathons, engineering competitions, etc). During our proof of concept, we had over 1500 participants and events in 8 different Chilean Universities as well as some of the largest tech companies in the area.
I have worked in and around other start-up environments since then and recently joined the iZettle family in the beginning of 2016.
2. You have worked in several different industries, what is it that you love about FinTech?
FinTech is a very broad industry that, in general, has been underdeveloped for many years in terms of innovations and bold solutions to how businesses operate.
Helping small businesses grow and evening the competitive landscape sounds very exciting to me. I understand the courage it takes to become an entrepreneur and applaud services that try to simplify the workload for them. iZettle is that kind of company; which is why it’s very exciting for me to work there.
Before working at a FinTech, I thought “how complicated could it be?” Now, I take a different view. I realized that there are some pretty interesting and complex challenges in this industry and that it takes a lot of creativity and ingenuity to overcome these challenges.
“I understand the courage it takes to become an entrepreneur”
3. What differentiates iZettle from its competitors?
iZettle has always focused on helping a historically underserved market segment (small businesses with between 0 to 10 employees). We now offer a wide range of tools for both medium and small businesses which help our customers compete against the big players in their markets.
We’re present in 12 different countries across Europe and Latin America, with a wide range of customers. While our users in Brazil, for example, are quite different from those in the UK with regards to how they interact with our products, the underlying drivers are largely the same – they are motivated by a need to sell more, manage their businesses more efficiently and grow. Our products make it easy for them to do so and we are one of the few companies, globally, doing what we do.
When I get a chance to meet with local merchants, I can clearly see how well iZettle has managed to identify their specific needs and has built its services around meeting those needs. It is obvious to me that iZettle really cares about the success of our customers – when they succeed, we succeed. Also it is very easy to start taking payments with us – just provide us information about your business and we will onboard you within minutes, compared with traditional competitors it is a huge simplification of the getting started process.
“We’re a ‘one-stop-shop’ for commerce providing a range of financial and commercial services”
4. How would you describe your job as a Product Manager? What is your role within the wider organization?
My role is to lead my team towards a product vision and make sure that on this journey we generate value for our customers, solve the most important problems and act on opportunities. We are a cross-functional team of twelve experts in our respective areas; one Product Manager (myself), five Backend Engineers, two Web Developers, one Tester, one UX Designer, one Agile Coach and an Analyst.
My team owns several platforms and technical areas which support the customer’s journey to becoming a user; from learning about our value proposition to registering and onboarding. We are constantly working on simplifying this process, removing barriers and reducing friction points. We try to maintain a balance between providing the best user experience for our new customers while also being compliant with all possible regulations.
We experiment with different hypotheses and are constantly iterating on our experiments to ensure that the thousand small businesses from twelve different markets that join iZettle every day find the journey to be a smooth and easy one.
In my role, I often have to collaborate with different stakeholder groups across the organization such as Risk, Logistics and the Commercial Department.
5. What does your day look like?
In the office, my day starts in the cafeteria with breakfast and brief morning chats with colleagues from other departments. Our office cafeteria is really nice, with great views of downtown Stockholm. It’s an excellent place to eat breakfast or lunch, and even turns into a bar on Friday evenings when we have our legendary ‘after works’.
My team follows a traditional scrum set-up, which means we work in sprints. We’re currently running one-week sprints, so almost every day we start with a stand up in our room where we identify dependencies and potential roadblocks for the day´s deliverables or discuss the discovery process.
Most of my day I focus on improving the current delivery process, supporting my team with new releases or helping remove roadblocks. I also spend a lot of time working with stakeholders and users to try and identify opportunities and solutions to solve existing problems.
“My team is following a traditional scrum set up, we work in sprints and constantly try different setups”
6. Since you started working within FinTech, what has been your biggest mistake and lesson learned?
I find the product development cycle in FinTech companies is a bit longer than in other industries simply because making a mistake could be significantly more costly in this business. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that everything I do should be motivated by “how it will affect the end user.” I´ve made mistakes along the way by not thinking of the end user first.
Another lesson I’ve learned is that things you think are “obvious” are not necessarily that obvious in the end. It´s important to experiment and get feedback from your users, instead of building what you might think is the “obvious” solution from your point of view.
“Obvious things are not necessarily that obvious in the end – it’s important to experiment and get feedback”
7. There are many regulations and compliance barriers in FinTech. How do you tackle this as a Product Manager?
That´s so true, especially in my area. However, at iZettle, we have excellent Risk and Compliance Departments and they actively participate in my team’s initiatives which makes life a lot easier for us.
We’ve developed a mental interval where we are free to experiment from the risk perspective and this helps to avoid unnecessary frictions in decision making and brings more flexibility to the team. Whenever we need to go beyond the interval we start to include risk and compliance for consulting and helping.
8. Diverse thinking is very important for you, why is that and how do you encourage this within your organization or team?
iZettle is a very diverse company, with over five hundred employees from across the world. My team of twelve has six different nationalities represented.
In my opinion, without attracting international talent, we can’t possibly deliver the best possible products for all our markets. In fact, I believe my team’s strongest asset is its diversity. We come from very different cross-cultural backgrounds which allow us to attack problems from different perspectives and come up with creative and unique solutions. Perhaps it takes a bit longer to mesh as a team but it´s definitely worth it.
In my team, we’re continuously trying out different techniques to incorporate diversity in our processes and how we work. For example, we pair team members from different functional areas together in projects so that each role has a better understanding of what their colleagues do and how they work. We also experiment with the office layout so that you aren´t always sitting next to the same person. We even rotate different roles at recurring meetings so that each team member gets a chance to speak or lead.
“Without attracting international talent, we can’t possibly deliver the best possible products for all the markets we are present in”.
9. Do you have any tips and tricks for people that want to diversify their organization or team?
Talent is blind to gender or nationality. You should evaluate people’s skills not the colour of their passports. If you build your team/company to “include the very best talent,” diversification will happen organically. I also believe that an inviting and tolerant atmosphere should be present everywhere – in your corporate language, office space, team lunches, events, parental leave, possibility to take day off for religious holidays…etc. But when you get to this diversity condition the next challenge is how to embrace it.
10. What’s next for you this year?
My goal for this year for this year is to make my team move as fast as possible in terms of product development and technical improvements. And there are several tactics around it, one of them is to decrease amount of legacy and manual solutions in our domain. And of course keep simplifying life of our users.
It would also be great to represent iZettle at some tech conferences and share my challenges as a woman in tech & product with others in the industry.
To conclude, building successful products is hard but building teams that build successful products is even harder! Invest in your team, embrace it and your product development will go much smoother and journey will be joyful. Read more about iZettle here or take a look into their office on Instagram @lifeatizettle. If you would like to chat with Anna, you can contact her by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org