Follow Me Homes
The Value of Learning to Talk with your Users as a Product Manager
One of the biggest learnings at Intuit was the value of talking directly to users. Intuit has a long history of "follow-me-homes" where you go to the place of work or the home of a user and see how they manage their business or finances.
The most instructive part of this early in my career was the value of empathy for the user. When I was working on Quicken Online, it was much easier to feel the visceral pain of credit card debt and balancing a checkbook by seeing the actual systems and struggles people had.
I remember in my early days going on multiple visits with John Flora to watch people manage their finances. We saw their crazy post-it note systems, all their ways of remembering and managing passwords, and the immense amount of stress that it created.
Despite the fact we weren't the winners of the space, it was clear there was a real problem that wasn't solved by the Quicken Desktop product. Quicken Desktop was a great product for people who had one goal in mind - knowing how big their net worth was.
For most people, that was an aspirational goal and not a real one. Most people were just living month to month and trying to make ends meet. No product existed to help with their real problems and it would have been hard to know that without talking to them in person.
There was a real opportunity to help people actually manage their finances by helping them understand:
How much money they actually had. After all the bills they owed and the income coming in, what was the real balance a user would have left over for the month.
Educating users on the cost of debt. Many people were in credit card debt, but the rates felt meaningless or unexplained, even though they were expensive. Lots of people just thought it was a balance they could draw from, when in reality, it was costing them $$$ every year.
Focusing on the core of financials. Lots of products would focus on investments, but when you are just trying to make ends meet, you don't even have time to think about (and likely don't have) an investment portfolio. Budgeting is a lot more important
Creating an easy way for users to manage money. People are terrible with categorizing and budgets. Anyone who won the space needed to make it as easy as possible for people to quickly understand how much they actually had to spend as the primary goal and take all the other work away.
The most important product learning for me was the value of actually talking to and observing your customers. It made the problem very visceral and created empathy for our users. Without it, I don't think I would have cared about solving the problem as much as I did.
Long story short - talk to your customers and do it regularly. You'll get lots of valuable learnings and you might also discover product opportunities that you didn't know existed.