Lyndon Maher is a consultant helping startups to optimise their product management, and was recently the Director of Product Management at Domain Group, Australia’s digital property portal. Domain was listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in November 2017, but Lyndon says that despite being a large company majority owned by Fairfax Media, Domain’s success can be owed, in part, to its startup mentality.
We spoke to Lyndon about what it was like working for such a corporate, the importance of user experience (UX) and why founders should focus on building a team of ambassadors.
Lyndon Maher, former Director of Product Management at Domain
While most people jump ship from a big corporate to a startup, you did the opposite, going from the startup Bigcommerce to Domain. What was your reason for heading back into a corporate setting?
I loved being in startup land. But Fairfax’s mission with Domain was to create a startup within a corporate, so right from day one it was separated off and given direct investment and its own management function, strategy, vision and brand new people, including myself.
In many ways, it was a B Series startup. If it was publicised as a startup getting funding, it would have rivaled some of the best startups at the time, in terms of investment. Domain had a great brand and great customer loyalty. It was already earning great revenue and was semi-successful off a low investment base. But the website itself hadn’t really changed in about seven years.
With startups, sometimes you might be struggling to get your first customer to validate things. Because we had quite a large customer base, we could run experiments with really significant data samples and learn a lot from that.
What’s the most valuable thing you learnt from being in a startup that helped you at Domain? It sounds like, from what you’ve said, that might have been figuring out what a corporate with a startup mentality looks like.
Startups are incredibly good at being customer-focused, especially ones that are really getting traction, because they spend a lot of time with customers. Some corporates and more established businesses can forget the importance of spending time with customers.
In my first week at Domain, I was already out on the road meeting real estate agents. My team spent at least 20% of our time each week with customers and we approached it as a partnership. We talk about a partnership because if our customers are successful, we’re successful.
You also need a ‘always be pitching’ frame of mind. When you’re working with startup co-founders who are always pitching their products to VCs or customers, there’s a real sense of passion and ambassadorship that you pick up. Bring that into a business, be the ambassador and build a team of ambassadors that are always pitching. It creates a really good energy.
You’re vocal about the importance of UX. What’s a product you’ve loved recently?
Go back five or six years, even a bit longer, UX was an emerging field of expertise. Whereas today, the expectation is that you need UX as a core capability. I could easily spot 20 or 30 companies who are doing great UX because it’s the norm. But consumers have great expectations and they won’t forgive a bad experience.
I’m very interested in micro-UX: how companies are looking at really specific, task-based experiences. So a really simple example is you’ve booked a hotel on a website. You look at the hotel on Google Maps when you’re going to check in and see your reservation details on the map when you click on the hotel.
Optimising those micro-experiences is really fascinating. When you actually apply them on scale to a product, that’s when you have amazing experiences.
If we noticed someone screenshotting a property in the Domain app, that told us that they’re trying to do something the product didn’t quite provide for. Are they looking to share it with someone? Are they wanting to favourite that property and save it for later? To me, it’s about finding those little diamonds.
What can startups learn from corporates like Domain, and vice versa?
As you scale and grow and you start to become distracted by scale, don’t lose sight of the customer. Don’t be an armchair product manager. Get out on the road, talk to people, get to know your customer more than you know them today.
As you grow, you can lose sight of understanding what’s not working in your product. Have a critical eye. I get just as excited killing product features as shipping them. You want to be always monitoring current products and understanding if there’s any areas in which you’re falling short. If you don’t do that, and you keep adding things to the product, it very quickly becomes bloated. You end up with this Frankenstein product that isn’t providing the most immediate value.
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