Transforming a company to a product-led approach is no easy task. Especially when your first job is building out the product department itself.
Nick Falkowski, Head of Product at Bionic, sat down with us before his session at the Product-Led Festival to talk about his career journey and what goes into building an entire department, gaining cross-functional alignment around Product, and what it's like leading it.
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your background? How has your career evolved from conference production to product leadership?
Sure - so for a start my background is non-technical. I have degrees in Philosophy and Classics, and on entering work I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do. What I was sure about were my passions for learning, understanding deeply how and why people think the way they do, and uncovering how successful businesses are built and the special ingredients that enable them to thrive.
Combining all these led me to conference production that, as you know, is all about uncovering and understanding the problems and opportunities affecting industries and value chains.
However over time I found I was so interested in the challenges facing the speakers and attendees, I wanted to move into a role where I could have a more direct impact on solving those challenges myself.
Upon realising this, moving to Product felt surprisingly natural. It married that deep problem analysis with my love for understanding and learning about customers, and the belief that the proposition, nature, and quality of the product is essential for driving businesses forward.
When you joined Bionic, you were tasked creating a brand new department in the business - how did you go about establishing product?
I joined Bionic when Product as a function was a very new concept. I was fortunate to join soon after our CPO, Andrew Stocks, who had a rich experience in Product Development and Price Comparison from senior stints at MoneySuperMarket and Compare the Market.
Setting up Product from there was all about attracting the right talent in the right roles, and giving them a platform to get to know the business and succeed. We built out a series of Product Teams each with PM, Devs, BA, QA and UX. We then ensured we could connect them with knowledge bases within the business, and our target customers.
That initial team building was one half of the battle; the other was convincing and then proving the value of a Product-led approach to the rest of the business.
What was the reception from internal stakeholders?
I would describe the overall reception as a mix of genuine enthusiastic support, and healthy skepticism.
This was a brand new (and not cheap) department and focus, a new way of doing things, and a fresh approach to understanding customers. It was sometimes hard at first to win time with key stakeholders or sales-focused roles, as we were asking for their time for something that wasn’t yet fully tangible or even always understood.
However by being open and developing and sharing work in a very collaborative, iterative, and open manner, this became less and less of a battle over time.
During your time at Bionic you’ve reinvented the customer journey for energy comparison, what process did you take to understand the initial problem, and identify a solution?
We zoomed out, we looked at the business fundamentals, but more so than anything, we looked at the challenge for the customer.
We could see they weren’t being well served by the existing solutions in our market (even our own), so we got back to basics with user research, working agnostically to understand what the key concerns businesses had over energy switching, how that differed to the domestic market, and building a solution from scratch that tackled those concerns.
That in reality meant 60+ hours of face to face research, along with countless surveys and quantitative analysis on top. From it, we created a product that instilled trust, quickened the switching process, and helped customers save time and money.
…and what have been the results?
To put it simply, we have doubled the number of customers who visited our business energy landing page and would then go ahead to switch with us. We saw similar patterns and returns on our key price comparison website partners, and great upticks in NPS and customer reviews.
A great result for the business and customers based on taking a customer-first approach to the product experience.
We’re looking forward to hearing more at the Product-Led Festival in a few weeks. What does being Product-Led mean to you?
Being Product-Lead to me is the shift to a new understanding of what a business is truly about, and from there shaping the organisation around what matters most: the customer’s experience and the value delivered to them.
That’s why I think it is a natural and necessary, if sometimes difficult, move for any successful company to make.
And following on from that… what role does product play in your organization? Would you describe Bionic as product-led?
I think at Bionic we are on that incredible journey to being product-led, which for us at its core involves us moving from a previous understanding of our customer experience as defined largely by a direct, one-off advisory phone call, to instead looking at every possible interaction (direct or indirect) someone has with our product, service, and brand, and relentlessly examining and optimising their experience and outcomes.
In your view, what should be the relationship between Product teams, Marketing teams, Sales teams, and Customer Success in a Product-Led company?
Collaborative, communicative, and aligned. All teams are necessary in the overall success of the company, and so the building of consistent communication channels and through that, shared understanding, is integral to moving forward.
What is your favorite aspect of product leadership?
Something I’ve really enjoyed is building and nurturing a product-focused culture, not just within the team but in the wider business, by listening to and engaging with every department and bringing them along as key parts of the journey.
The chance to explore new opportunities, rethink approaches, and bring in and synthesise different perspectives and ideas into viable solutions is what makes me excited to work in a product leadership role.
And finally, if you could go back to the start of your career, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself?
I would say firstly to never be afraid to appear the idiot and ask the obvious questions when starting in any business; it's how you gain true understanding and if you’re open about why you are asking, people will respect that approach.
Secondly is to never forget the customer; it’s sometimes too easy to get lost in the details and hardwork of delivery, but you should make sure you always consider the customer and its potential impact on them when making a decision or compromise along the way to ensure what you eventually deliver will still serve them well.
Thirdly is to trust in people; respect and support the team around you, and you’ll usually find that more than paid back in the environment, and products, you create together.
Be sure to tune in to Nick's session at the Product-Led Festival.