From seasoned product people to those who simply want to learn more about product practice, Richmond ProductTank organisers, Travis Bjorklund and Jessica Allison tell all about their thriving community, how they came together, what they want to know and why they’re proud of their ‘kickin’ little city’.
What is it that motivates you to run ProductTank meetups?
Despite some serious corporate and start-up innovation in town, before ProductTank, there was no group focused on the Product Management community. We had UX, we had agile, a ton of technology groups but no product. We would see product people at these other meetups, saw an opportunity to build a community from the ground up, and to learn a lot about product ourselves. We leveraged World Product Day 2019 as a great kickstarter for bringing “ProductTank RVA” to life.
Who plays an important part in Richmond’s ProductTanks?
Jessica Allison and I are working product managers at CarMax and Capital One, respectively. We just try and get the most talented people to speak or work with our community.
Sarah Kilmon is our community lead (and PowerPoint master) and Austin Chandler is our data guru. He’s the guy as asking who’s coming to our events? How do we drive higher attendance, engagement, and satisfaction? It’s a strong team. We also have a number of advisors that we’d like to formalize this year.
How many members does your ProductTank have?
We have 600 members and to date, we’ve held eight ProductTanks so far.
Usually, our ProductTanks are usually held at a sponsor’s office or a local events space. Sponsors have included: Capital One, CarMax, UDig, Unboxed, Lighthouse Labs, and the Da Vinci Center, which has the only masters in Product Innovation I’m aware of in the U.S.
Without these sponsors, we’d have to meet on street corners or the courthouse steps. So, seriously y’all, thanks! It’s a symbiotic relationship – our sponsors are looking for talent, exposure, and learning.
What can you tell us about Richmond’s Product Community?
Richmond is a funny, medium-sized city with old roots (Capital of the Confederacy) dominated by a few truly progressive product-focused companies like Carmax (the #1 used car dealer in the US), Capital One (the 8th largest bank, founded here), and Snag (the #1 lister of hourly jobs in the U.S.), some really awesome product-led startups, and a lot of old, staid companies (that I won’t name).
Carmax and Capital One are the big two, but there is a ton of product talent elsewhere in town. Startups and accelerators have become increasingly prevalent in Richmond, and many local employers are coming out to ProductTank to learn where they might begin their product journeys.
The range of experience and demographics represented means everyone has someone else to learn from at a ProductTank Richmond event! Also, I’ve been told Richmond has the second-highest number of breweries per capita in the U.S. So, beer is part of it. I’m sure.
Which talks have been a hit?
Gibson Biddle’s talk on “Wicked Hard Decisions” and Christian Idiodi’s talk about “Customer Centered Disruption” were huge hits (as measured by NPS – both 75+). These two have fascinating experience in the trenches: they are charismatic and polished.
We had a more intimate event with Jeff Gothelf on his book “Sense and Respond” that we loved. And we hosted a panel discussion about “Richmond Product: Present and Future” on World Product Day last year, featuring four product leaders from our hometown. Our members like content on discovery techniques, how to grow a product skillset, and case studies, and they hope to see more on product strategy in 2020.
How does ProductTank help product people in Richmond?
There seem to be two broad groups of people that come to our events. One is seasoned product people – product managers, designers, engineers. The other is the product-curious: “Product seems exciting – what is it?”. For both groups, there’s a lot to learn about product management discipline and techniques. The product people can then go back and apply them immediately. We find we’re often in a happy place with the basics, and that bringing in speakers from big-name companies helps grow our engagement and credibility for newcomers. We measure every single event with a quick NPS survey/solicitation of improvements and ideas, which really helps drive our content. Our next ProductTank will be an “Introduction to Customer Discovery” – wanna come?
Fun Facts about Richmond?
Richmond is a kickin’ little city, with really amazing food. If you don’t believe us, check out the New York Times article on the top ’52 places to go in 2020′ (hint: you won’t quite have to read all the way to #52..).
It’s where American revolutionary Patrick Henry gave his “give me liberty or give me death!” speech, where Thomas Jefferson built the Capitol building, and was home to tennis luminary Arthur Ashe.
We’ve also been told we have the second-largest number of tattoo parlors per capita. Great place for ink of all kinds!
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