Shaun Clowes is no stranger to disruption. As former Head of Growth at Atlassian, he saw the company go from being one of many in the B2B solutions space to becoming a highly-differentiated multi-billion dollar business, and helped develop and grow products such as Jira and Confluence. Now he’s applying his expertise at Metromile as Chief Product Officer, introducing the insurance industry to a truly user-centric business model that’s set to shake up the incumbents. We caught up with Clowes to talk product and learn some of his trade secrets.
Amplitude: What drew you to Metromile? Is the auto industry poised for a product revolution?
Shaun Clowes: The insurance industry in general has a pretty awful relationship with its customers. Insurance companies aim to speak to their customers once when they first sign up, and then again when they renew. Other than that, they would prefer never to hear from them, and so the experience is pretty adversarial. But I don’t think it necessarily has to be. Metromile is aiming to deliver an insurance experience that is delightful in ways that aren’t just about price but are about service. I really enjoy building a win-win product, one where you deliver value to the customer first, and then revenue flows from there.
“Product businesses exist for no other purpose than solving user pain.”
A: What lessons from your time at Atlassian have served you well at Metromile?
SC: I think the greatest lesson that I learned over the years at Atlassian is that product businesses exist for no other purpose than solving user pain. I know that sounds really obvious, but what that actually means is that the only type of authentic success is measured in the total number of people that are reached, and the total amount of value delivered to them. So if you’re making money from lots of users, but you’re not increasing the value delivered to those users or the total number of users that you reach, then your growth isn’t authentic. You feel like you’re succeeding, but you’re actually putting yourself at greater risk, because all of those users who are paying you will eventually realize that the relationship is one-sided.
“Truly great product experiences are universal. They’re beautiful because they’ve got nothing left to remove.”
A: Have there been new challenges that took you by surprise?
SC: I think there have been some significant challenges in translating my experience to Metromile, but they’ve all been fun. There’s incredible diversity in the consumer market versus the B2B developer market that Atlassian primarily played in; it can be extraordinarily difficult to deliver a great experience to a market that includes, in Metromile’s case, both millennial city-dwellers and rural retirees.
But truly great product experiences are universal. They’re beautiful because they’ve got nothing left to remove. They’re beautiful because they just seem to know what you need to do next, and they guide you toward it. It’s really hard to build universal, clearly communicated, clearly valuable experiences for people, but when you do that—when you put in the hard yards and avoid shortcuts—then you end up with product experiences that are compelling, and that sell themselves.
A: If you could give only one piece of advice to product and growth teams, what would it be?
SC: Potential value created and value delivered are only very weakly linked. It’s ultimately our jobs to deliver the latter, not the former. So always be checking your assumptions about the market, about how a feature you released is performing, about how many people drop out of your various funnels. It’s sad but true that many more people have failed with your product than are currently loving it and sending you feedback. Work out how to deliver more value to your existing users, but spend time thinking about those failed users as well.
A: What do you wish you could tell yourself five years ago? What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in product management over that time?
SC: That one’s easy, because there was a time I believed product management was about knowing a market well enough that you could anticipate its needs. Now that’s really not enough. Sure, you need to absorb as much information as possible until you’ve got killer intuition. But then you need to set up a system that allows you to constantly deliver, ingest feedback, and course correct. The best product managers I work with deeply understand how to convert market needs to strategy, strategy to incremental delivery, and delivery into learning.
” The best product managers I work with deeply understand how to convert market needs to strategy, strategy to incremental delivery, and delivery into learning.”
A: What excites you most about the field of product management?
SC: It’s hard to believe that in today’s world, we can ship new product increments to users multiple times a day. Seven years ago, that would have been a fantasy. We’ve never before been able to do that, and we’ve never before been able to so directly and immediately interface and interact with users. To go with that, we’ve also got incredible data-collection capabilities that allow us to measure the results of what we’ve shipped in minutes.
Those changes set the stage for product management today: when delivering software or collecting feedback is no longer the hard part of the equation, the question is how we make sure we’re delivering things that matter. Product management is becoming less about how we deliver and more about how we make an impact. It’s super exciting.
“Product management is becoming less about how we deliver and more about how we make an impact.”
Clowes’ successes, both past and present, teach us a lot about achieving better product growth by actively serving and championing users. And he’s got more to say at Amplify 2018, where he’ll present alongside some of the most accomplished growth and product specialists in the industry. Save your spot, and join us October 9th.