February 5, 2021

No Brilliant Jerk Product Managers

Written by adriena


Every company touts their values, but at TextNow, we have six values by which we truly live and breathe, one of which is: “No Brilliant Jerks.”

What do we mean by that? Well, it’s ok to be brilliant. We all want brilliant. But nobody wants a jerk. Being smart doesn’t come with a license for egomania. It’s ok to make mistakes, and it’s ok to be wrong.

We've all worked with a "brilliant jerk" archetype, and unless you're the jerk in question, it's no fun. But beyond that, it's simply bad for your product to be under the purview of a jerk, brilliant or not. The thing about jerks is they're really bad at accepting outside input, or incorporating data points that run counter to their current predispositions. Part of what makes 'em jerks is a jerk will take new information as a personal attack. We simply can't afford, as a company, to have people who can't (or won't) collaborate or evaluate new ideas on their merits alone. I'd wager your company can't afford it either.

We take pride in having a mission that is user-centric and focused on a demographic of users who need free or inexpensive access to communication. We are constantly learning more about our users. Over time (especially over Covid time), their needs and the reasons they use TextNow have shifted and changed – but we hadn’t necessarily changed along with them.What was needed was some fresh eyes and brains to evaluate our product.

product manager venn diagram

Who doesn't love a good Venn diagram?

A feature implemented last year provided us with data on the many reasons users were using TextNow, which validated some of our hypotheses around these use cases. We found that we had an audience of business owners and side hustlers who used TextNow to separate their business from their private lives on their device. This was great insight, and we talked a lot about all the things we could do with it. What was immediately clear, however, is the data warranted refocusing on our user, what they really needed from us, and what value we could provide them in addition to our current value proposition.

At the same time, we brought in new product, design, and data people, and with new people come new perspectives. The new data team members began digging into our user behavior and discovered that this business group had higher retention and engagement rates.

Amongst our new product people was Brett, the Product Manager brought on to focus on growth, specifically onboarding, and also --- importantly --- not a jerk. He had identified early on that we should delve into a more personalized onboarding experience, and after the data findings about this business segment, it seemed clear this was an excellent group to focus on.

So, Brett and Jesse, the designer on our Growth team, went into research mode. First, they dissected our existing onboarding, everything from product to in-app, email, and push communications. Then they moved on to (virtual) whiteboarding sessions. They approached it with a design thinking framework, asking “How might we....” questions and producing hypotheses on how and what would improve a business owner’s TextNow experience, like: What is it they need from a phone service? How could we provide it? What did we have that already addressed their needs? What was our product lacking?

Next came some competitor and non-competitor analysis. Brett, Jesse and I began collecting screen shots of great onboarding experiences we came across (no need to reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to, right?).

what a product manager looks like

Pulling inspiration from our new whiteboards and analysis of other brands, Brett and Jesse began putting together prototypes. Prototype One was something completely new – nothing like our current onboarding experience. It was fresh and fun, but it needed to be tested, so they conducted user studies with business owners who had never used TextNow. The feedback was great --- not all positive, but oh so useful! We found that they had questions we were not addressing and wouldn’t have caught without the study. Everything was documented, and they began iterating on the prototype. They tested two more prototypes, getting feedback, iterating, and then testing again each time. And each time, they found concerns we hadn't thought of. We needed education, a lot more of it. In many ways we already knew this, but now we knew exactly where it was needed.

As of this writing, Brett and Jesse are continuing prototypes and user testing while I assist with messaging and testing our hypotheses via in app channels. Had a "brilliant jerk" been involved at any point in this process, there's an excellent chance we wouldn't have ever gotten to the point of getting the data we needed to improve our product.

So long story, well…. long (oops), sometimes you need to hit refresh, and rethink your thinking. We needed to let the users’ voice shine and douse the jerks. We’re very excited to build out the final product based on all this work --- certified 100% jerk-free.