Video: Product = People by Nilan Peiris

BY Martin Eriksson ON OCTOBER 16, 2015

TransferWise is famous for it’s founders, evangelical customers and phenomenal growth – they’re transferring over £500m every month and doubling every 3 months. But what’s the common thread between those three things? At Mind the Product 2015 Nilan Peiris argues that it’s their culture.

Product is People. Every single person in your organisation influences the customer experience in some way, so the experience your customers have is a direct outcome of the people you hire and the decisions they make. There’s a myth in the corporate world that people do what you tell them to do, but in reality they only do what they want to do so you have to build a culture that influences those decisions in the right direction.

In traditional product management how decisions get made has a lot to do with how accountability is structured, from shareholders through the CEO down to the product teams. Because the accountability and the decision making sits at the top tier of this org chart the feedback loop to the actual customer is far too long, leaving you with top down plans and ultimately unhappy customers.

Startups are meant to be different. They are driven by the founders, so they start with a conviction and vision but little data. Sadly this usually leads to similar top down decision making and the development of the same flawed plan-oriented process bigger companies pursue.

So what’s the alternative? Devolving the decision making away from the management team to the people closest to the customers.

This is an emergent way to build teams and products that AirBnB, Valve, Zappos, Spotify, TransferWise and many more are trying out. Some people call it Holocracy but it’s broader than that.

At TransferWise they’ve built fully autonomous teams with clear KPIs but otherwise full freedom to set their roadmap, decide their organisation and build the team and resources they need to execute that plan. Any team can change any part of the product, so for example Marketing doesn’t have to wait for Product to build what they need – the Marketing team has full access to build the pages they need, change user flows, etc in pursuit of their goals.

Nilan argues that this isn’t just a nice theory but has been fundamental to their success and growth. In order for your product to be truly successful you need your users to be advocates for it and this only happens if your product is an order of magnitude better than the incumbent. But even product success isn’t enough, and you want your customers to not just advocate for you but be evangelists for you – and this requires alignment with the vision, the values and the culture of the company behind the product.

Watch Nilan describe how they do this at TransferWise, how they’ve scaled these autonomous teams globally and cross-functionally, how they work across teams and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Martin Eriksson


Martin Eriksson

Martin Eriksson has 20+ years experience building world-class online products in both corporate and start-up environments for global brands such as Monster, Financial Times, Huddle, and Covestor. He is the Founder of ProductTank, the Co-Founder and Curator of Mind the Product, and an Executive in Residence at leading private equity and venture capital fund EQT. He is also the author of best-seller Product Leadership, How Top Product Leaders Launch Great Products and Build Successful Teams (O'Reilly, 2017).