#FintechProductDiaries: Transitioning into a career in product management with Vani Goel of GoCardless

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#FintechProductDiaries: Transitioning into a career in product management with Vani Goel of GoCardless
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In our “Fintech Product Diaries” interview series, we’ll introduce you to some of the most experienced and inspiring product and UX professionals in the fintech sector and their unique product stories and lessons learned.

In the latest edition of #FintechProductDiaries, we spoke to Vani Goel, Product Manager at GoCardless — a leader in account to account payment solutions. Launched over a decade ago, GoCardless has built a portfolio of over 75,000 business customers globally, including major brands like DocuSign, Klarna and TripAdvisor. Earlier this year, the company joined the fintech unicorn club after raising $312 million in its Series G funding round and receiving a valuation of $2.1 billion.

Vani joined GoCardless in April after a brief but highly intensive career in one of India’s most recent fintech unicorns, Open Financial Technologies. Open claims to be Asia’s first neo-banking platform for startups and SMEs which has already attracted over 2,500,000 customers.

Despite a relatively short tenure at Open, Vani described her role and experience there as instrumental for her future career development as a product manager:

“In just over a year and a half at Open, I learned everything I now know about product management and FinTech — from execution, discovery, and user research to measurement and tracking.”

Interestingly, Vani hasn’t always been into product management and she actually started her working journey in Audit which seemed like a logical next step following her degree in Financial Management and Investment. She then made her way to Strategy and Management consulting at Accenture until her breakthrough into Product in 2019, at Swiggy — India’s pioneer platform in online food ordering and delivery.

What’s it like to be a growth product manager at GoCardless? And what’s unique and challenging about creating an effective B2B fintech product offering? Discover the answers to these questions and more in Vani’s complete story below.

Vani’s journey into fintech and her newly discovered passion for product management

Vani always had an interest in finance so back in 2013, she completed a degree in Financial Management and Investment. Straight after university, she joined Deloitte, one of the big 4 accounting firms, in a graduate position in their Audit department. But, right from the start, Vani knew that Audit was not really her thing, so shortly after that, she transitioned into what she described as a “typical corporate financial analyst” role at the global investment management provider, D. E. Shaw. There, Vani was responsible for post-trade accounting and reconciliation work but she was still missing something so she decided to complete an MBA degree.

At the end of her MBA, she realised that there were two key career options for her. Given that she wasn’t an engineer, she could either go into a typical finance job in banking, financial analysis or investments, or she could take the consulting path. And she chose the latter which led her to a strategic consulting position at the global provider Accenture. This is where Vani started developing her problem-solving skills and major interest in how businesses operate.

During her time at Accenture, tech startups in India were starting to thrive. As she was finding her role to be too demanding and stressful, Vani took the difficult decision to leave her corporate role and explore the startup world instead.

“Consulting was taking away too much from me and I am a person who enjoys work-life balance thoroughly — this is one of the most valuable things for me...to have that kind of work-life balance no matter where I am, and what position I am. But my role in consulting was far away from that balance. There were a lot of expectations, I had to work weekends, and I had to work late nights. The work was interesting and I was learning a lot, but it was just taking a lot away from me. So, I decided to move on and look for something more exciting. With that in mind, I jumped and joined Swiggy.”

Vani described her work at Swiggy as “a completely different ambiguous, chaotic world where things are so different — what you measure, what you track, what you do, how you interact with people, how collaboratively you work, what is design and sprint and what is expected experimentation versus what is tech — not coming from a technical background, all of this was completely new for me.”

Due to her previous consulting experience, Vani’s role at Swiggy was more focused on the overall product strategy rather than pure product management and development.

“It [the role at Swiggy] was not core product management. It was more around the business side of things and strategy and less around UX and customer behaviour. But after 2 years in the role, I realised that probably this is something that interests me the most.”

Determined to pursue a more product-focused role and with the rise of fintech in India, Vani decided to go back to her first love, finance, and combine it with her new passion for technology and product management. She thus ended up in Open, one of India’s fastest-growing B2B neobanking startups, which reached unicorn status just shortly after Vani’s departure to GoCardless.

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The challenges of creating a B2B fintech product offering

For Vani, there are two key challenges you need to consider when creating a B2B product offering. The first one is, of course, the customer aspect and the second one is the length and complexity of the development cycle.

“I think the biggest challenge is to think about the product from the customer perspective...you have to sort of step in the business customer’s shoes to understand them. And that learning curve is quite, I would say, slow. If you are in a B2C business, because you are a consumer yourself, you can generally relate to customers much quicker and easier. In contrast, if you’re in B2B and you’re not a business owner, it would be much harder to connect to that user segment.

Secondly, I feel that the development cycle and iteration cycle in B2B are quite long compared to B2C. Also, you can’t really attract businesses with a fancy design or a raffle ticket like you could in B2C, so you’d really have to solve their problems. First comes problem resolution, and then comes creativity. So, actually, that’s what makes the sector particularly interesting for me.”

Why GoCardless

To the question about what attracted Vani to GoCardless, she mentioned two key motivations: growth and desire to learn product management from the inside-out.

“There were two core motivations behind my decision to join GoCardless. Number one, I wanted to be in growth. So that was one of the biggest levers for me. The second reason was that I wanted to move to a place much closer to the centre of fintech development like London. And luckily, I stumbled upon GoCardless and their values and culture seemed aligned with mine. So now, I’m happy to be part of the GoCardless growth team.”

What’s it like to be a growth product manager at GoCardless?

According to Vani, “growth” is subjective. “Sometimes it’s growth in terms of users, sometimes it’s growth in terms of revenue or sort of top of the line. And sometimes it’s growth in terms of profitability.” At GoCardless, Vani and her team are focusing on revenue growth. This means that they look for ideas and initiatives that can help the company drive more revenue per user.

“Sometimes, we look for opportunities where we can increase the transaction volume, or where we can cross- or upsell. So that’s the broad level of my day-to-day responsibilities. My work typically entails growth hacking to increase company revenue whilst meeting user expectations through continuous discovery, experimentation and iteration.”

“The current product that my team focuses on is the main GoCardless user dashboard which customers use to manage and process their transactions. So, our main goal at the moment is to make sure that more users are coming in and existing users are transacting and using it more. So that’s basically what we are trying to achieve at the moment.”

What’s required to be a successful product manager?

Vani believes that curiosity and proactivity are the key traits every product manager should possess. Curiosity to think like a customer and truly understand their problems and pain points. And proactivity to explore all available tools and gather all the required user data and information.

“So, product management is the type of job that you can learn on the go, you don’t need to have a specific degree or background. But what you need to be truly successful is to be curious and eager to learn how to think like your customer.”

“A product manager should be proactive. If you think that ‘okay, I want to interview more of my users’, but your team or your company doesn’t have that process in place, ask for it. It might take some time. It might take you three months or six months to get to that point, but be proactive about putting forward new ideas.”

“I think that’s the difference between those great product companies, which we talk about on a daily basis. They implement those principles in their day-to-day work. And this is not an easy task, it takes time and practice. But people who can put at least some of those principles in practice over time will notice the difference in how their team, product, and business are performing.”

Vani’s advice to anyone who pursue a career in fintech product management

Product management has become very popular over the past few years, but Vani believes that it’s not a job that anyone can do. It’s a very intensive, stressful, and responsible role that requires very good soft skills and ability to deal with failures pretty much on a daily basis.

“It’s not like you’re going to launch a product and it will immediately be a crazy win for your company. You’ll often be meeting failure in one way or another because that’s how things are and how dynamic the job is. So just be sure that you’re mentally ready to be doing such a highly stressful and demanding job.”

“Bad product management is way worse than no product management. Because a team without a product manager could still be doing ok, whilst bad product management can result in doing things worse.. So, if you’re not particularly good at it, then you could end up doing more harm than good.” — Vani Goel, Product Manager at GoCardless

Finally, Vani also highlighted that sometimes, especially in B2B fintech, product work might not be as flashy and interesting as in a typical e-commerce organisation, for example. Instead, it can often be a little different because in most cases you’ll be trying to solve not-so-sexy problems like payments and regulations, risks, credit, taxes, and transaction fees. So, before they enter the sector, people should make sure they have their expectations right.

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