Speaker 1: Hey there, product lovers. Welcome to the Product Love podcast, hosted by Eric Boduch, co- founder and chief evangelist of Pendo and super fan of all things product. Product Love is the place for real insights into the world of crafting products, as Eric interviews founders, product leaders, venture capitalists, authors and more. So let's dive in now, with today's Product Love podcast.
Eric Boduch: So welcome, lovers of product. Today, I'm here with MaryAlexa, who is the Director of Product at public. com. Why don't you kick this off by giving us a little overview of your background?
MaryAlexa Divver: Will do. Thank you for having me, Eric. I'm excited to be here. Quick background on me. I went to the University of Michigan, studied Psychology and Economics. And then actually kind of worked out, given product is really the marriage between the user experience and the business. So, one of few that has a degree that actually relates to their career these days. But, I'm currently the Director of Product at public. com, on the investing side. So, what that means is we've currently have our product organization split, between investing and social. To have you understand that a little bit more, Public is the investing social network. Public members can own fractional shares of stocks and ETFs, follow popular creators, and share ideas within a community. So, we also split our product organization in that way, to help develop the best experience across the board. We definitely collaborate, communicate all the time, but ultimately, our mission is the same, which is to open the stock market for everyone, by changing its culture. Since we've built a social media platform within a stock brokerage, we're taking a community- based approach to make investing more inclusive, educational and fun.
Eric Boduch: So tell me, how did you get into product?
MaryAlexa Divver: To be very frank, I got pretty lucky. Product management was still relatively new after school, or school for me anyway. And after some time, bootstrapping at a startup that introduced me to the world of tech, I ended up with a role at American Express, which is not something known for their tech, but it was a user experience analyst role in a very waterfall world. For those that are unfamiliar with waterfall, because it's not really used anymore, it's mostly two to three major releases a year, without a lot of room for iteration, which makes all of startups cringe, where you can't move quickly and change things rapidly. And where the luck comes in, after about six months in this role, the business unit that I was a part of ultimately became the startup within American Express, with a combination of an acquisition. So their leadership decided to experiment with our business unit in technology. And they basically brought in a bunch of consultants to teach us about agile development. And two days later, I became a product owner to two web scrum teams. And, that baptism by fire actually worked out quite well for me, because I learn by doing. I've recognized that's the quickest way for me to learn something. So, being thrown into the deep end worked out well. And, instead of shipping updates two to three times a year, we were shipping in two- week cycles. And then, over my time at American Express, I worked with web. I've worked with mobile, and I worked with some R& D teams as well. So, it was a great foundation to a start of a product career.
Eric Boduch: It seems like everyone has their own little way to get into product. Every path seems to be unique, or at least a lot of them seem to be unique. And a lot of them don't come from kind of a traditional path. And I do want to dig into American Express a little bit, but first, tell me a little bit more about your problems, your challenges, what you're currently working on in public. com.
MaryAlexa Divver: Sure. So, ultimately we want to provide access and education to investing at public. com. Right now, our big focuses are certainly growth and scalability. But, from a very personal perspective, I believe that our public education system doesn't do a great job of setting people up for success, in regards to personal finance. I say this all the time, my trigonometry in high school, probably not something I needed. Learning how to balance a checkbook or understand taxes a little bit would have been far more helpful. So, I do believe that our combination of a social media platform and our community- focused endeavors are a great way to disrupt this lack of education. So we are very much at the beginning of that journey, and we're trying to create as many tools as we can for investors and long- term wealth building.
Eric Boduch: Talk to me about some of the product challenges at your job at public. com. What keeps you up at night?
MaryAlexa Divver: Yeah. Challenges that keep me up at night. Well, at a high- growth startup, we definitely want to maintain our growth and scalability, and in order to do so, we need to build that trust. So I think the biggest challenge here is making sure that every feature that we create, every experience that our members have, that we are continuously building that trust with our users. Because at the end of the day, we are dealing with their money, and money is emotional. A lot of the times people think that," Oh, it's just math. It's money." But, if you're putting your life savings into a product, you should be able to trust them. And we want our members and our community to put their trust in us for their investments. And also, with all of that, there comes a lot of responsibility. We've launched a lot of products to help provide education in the right context and at the right moments. And we continue to look for different places across the product to do that. A good example of that are our safety labels. So, if there's something that's potentially risky, we do want to alert the member in that moment that, if before they invest, that they know that this is extra volatile for X, Y, and Z reason. We've also launched a feature called long- term portfolio, where people can move what they believe to be their long- term" I'm going to buy and hold this for the next 30 years, put it a little out of sight, out of mind," and focus on their longterm goals in that. So actually, when they get prompted to sell, they are reminded that this was a long- term purchase and associated with a long- term goal, and just giving them an extra nudge on how they want to proceed to remind them of their original intent.
Eric Boduch: Yeah. I like that. I mean, because people invest in different things for different reasons, and keeping their perspective on," Hey, you're betting on XYZ for the longterm," maybe that stops the rush sell decisions when stocks go up, so to speak. Let's go back to American Express for a second, right. Previously worked there. Obviously, a big company. Very different, I imagine, than the culture at public. com. Talk to me about the big differences you see in working in American Express and where you are today, and how that leads to different challenges.
MaryAlexa Divver: Yeah, absolutely. First and foremost, very thankful for my time at American Express. It gave me a lot of foundation in the product management field, in the financial services field. But at the end of the day, I would say the biggest differences are around speed, agility and the ownership of decisions. When you're a 10- person, 30- person, 50- person company, you're likely making a lot of those decisions on your own, and kind of have that ownership and accountability behind of them. When it comes to larger companies, there are a lot of more people that you need to get on board with your ideas, before you really are able to get moving on anything. So, for example, if you have every single... Not these days, but when most people or when every single person in the company is in the same room, that decision- making process is so much faster than, frankly, it could ever be at a Fortune 500 company like American Express.
Eric Boduch: For now, you've worked in finserv, fintech, financial space for a little while now. What do you like about product management in that space?
MaryAlexa Divver: Yeah, so I touched on this a little bit earlier, but I think the education piece around it is super important to me. But then by nature of having these products be so available to people, we're breaking down barriers around the topics that we're normally taboo. So, I remember growing up and being taught," Don't ever talk about money. That's not something you can talk about." I find that we are changing that perception, and that it is okay to have those larger goal, finance- oriented discussions with friends and family, and even people that you've never met before, like a lot of the conversations that organically happen on Public.
Eric Boduch: Yeah. I mean, it's interesting. That was one of the things you were supposed to not talk about, right? Like religion, money, that kind of stuff. And this whole idea of a social network around that is, it's unique, right?
MaryAlexa Divver: Absolutely. Absolutely. But I think, one of the more interesting notes about the social network on public is, we are the most verified social network out there. Right? If you want to open a brokerage account per our regulated space, we need to verify your identity and make sure you are saying who you say you are. So, that really does open the door for a lot of honest, respectful conversations amongst strangers, which is pretty cool to see.
Eric Boduch: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think there is a lot of value in specific social networks of having a strong understanding of actually who you're talking to, versus some of the other social networks that are out there and the anonymity they provide. I think there's advantages to both, right.
MaryAlexa Divver: Oh, absolutely.
Eric Boduch: So, tell me a little bit about metrics? What metrics, what data is important for you, as a product manager at public. com? And are those metrics, you think, consistent across what product managers building software should be concerned about, period? Or do you have specific ones that you look at to Public, that say you wouldn't look at, if you were building some other kind of software product.
MaryAlexa Divver: Yeah, for sure. So, the metrics that we're super focused on at Public include a variety of things, because we are both a brokerage and a social network. Most importantly, as mentioned, growth is a huge one for us as a B2C company. I think the important thing for us is that we ensure that we keep our business metrics aligned to our customer goals. And I think that's where it is important to make sure that you're accomplishing both at the same time, and that those all stay aligned. Ultimately, you're trying to build an experience that makes a problem for a particular person go away. While you're trying to accomplish that, you also need to figure out how to make money along the way. So in order to do both of those things at the same time, you need to align those types of goals. So, for Public, specifically, and on the brokerage side, we do measure growth, so the size of our community, how active people are, and if they have invested in their brokerage account.
Eric Boduch: You're also in a pretty competitive market, right? There's a lot of options as far as sites, programs, companies through which to invest in the market. But at the same time, you have this strong social component. And because of this strong social component in particular, I imagine you get a lot of feedback and interaction with your customer base. How do you capture that feedback? How do you incorporate it into the product decisions you make? Do you actually get as much feedback as I think you guys do?
MaryAlexa Divver: I would say yes, we do. We definitely have a very wonderful support team that interacts with our members from that perspective. But then also within the community, we have our community team that interacts with our members and collects feedback in that way. But ultimately, our members are our first priority. And probably one of the latest and greatest examples of this is a big change that we recently made to our business model on the brokerage side. We stopped our participation in payment for order flow, which is a common but controversial revenue stream associated with zero commission trading. And we did this so we could align our business incentives with those of our members. As I was discussing earlier, the business KPIs, as well as the user problem solving metrics need to align. So, just for some background on payment for order flow and why it's a conflict of interest, it's because those trades will go to market makers as opposed to directly to exchanges. And we wanted to remove that conflict of interest from our business model. So, because we are building tools for longer term investors, we are less incentivized for those high- frequency trades that happen multiple times a day. We actually discouraged daytrading on Public, and most of our members self- identify as long- term investors, and we are working to build products for them.
Eric Boduch: So for our listeners out there who don't necessarily understand why there might be a conflict of interest when you're not going directly to exchanges. Can you explain that?
MaryAlexa Divver: Sure. So, the way payment for order flow works is that it actually encourages companies to build products for more high- frequency trades and more speculative types of investing. And because majority of our community identifies as long- term investors and do not daytrade or trade on a very regular basis, it just didn't match with our incentives. And that's why we removed it. Instead, we are trying to find ways to innovate on the brokerage business model itself, and with the removal of payment for order flow, we introduced an optional tipping feature for users to decide if they would like to pay for the particular service that they are experiencing at that point in time.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. Thanks. Going back to feedback, talk to me about how you do customer interviews.
MaryAlexa Divver: Yeah. At Public, we interact with our community on a very regular basis. There's the social feed, that there's a feedback that comes through that way. We also measure how our members are interacting with the app, and we definitely hear them when they are asking for new features and that kind of thing. So, in order to get into greater detail around what is best for our users, we tend to reach out directly on the app. That's kind of the beauty of having a social network directly in our product. A good example is recurring investments. We've seen many people post when they trade with an acronym DCA or dollar cost averaging. So, in conjunction with the support and community teams, we try and keep track of those people that take part in those actions, or even ask for those features outright in the feed. And then, talk to them and present them with design prototypes and wireframes to get feedback from the user themselves, so we can actually go in there and solve the problem and really create a new feature that will be used by a good portion of our community.
Eric Boduch: And how often does Public do customer interviews? How often are the product managers, they're interacting with customers?
MaryAlexa Divver: I think it varies, if I'm being honest. It depends on what else is going on in the organization and what other priorities we have. I, personally, have not done a customer interview in about a month or so, but I think it ebbs and flows with each team, based on priorities, mostly, and other current events, probably.
Eric Boduch: So, let's talk about teams for a second. What's the approach that your company takes for building out your product organization? How are you building teams? How you guys are looking to hire other product managers? What are the backgrounds look like? Do you have categories of PMs you look for? Take me through the product organization building process.
MaryAlexa Divver: That's a great question. So personally, I believe that building a team is a little bit like a game of Tetris, regarding people's different strengths and weaknesses. If I had carbon copies of me all over, Public would definitely have many gaps and a big, large blind spot. So, definitely want to hire people with complementary skills across the board. That could vary based on what we're looking to hire for at any point in time. Right now, as I mentioned, we have our team split between the investing side and the social side. So, there is some benefit to having financial services experience on one side, but not necessarily the other. And on the flip side of that, we're building a product for everyone. The name is Public. We want to open this up to the public, right, and really change the culture of the stock market. So, in order to do that, you need perspective from those that aren't necessarily from a financial services world, to build and to come up with something new and different ideas and execute on those. I think that's probably the key thing that we're looking for across the board at this point, is just the ability to operate and execute in the product field. Where you're coming from, that could vary. We have a social network. We have a brokerage. But, there's also a ton of other products out there that could inspire different types of features and items on the roadmap. So, definitely people that we can all learn from each other and have a solid sense of collaboration.
Eric Boduch: Now, one of the challenges a lot of product people have, product teams have, is just the relationships between product and the rest of the company, knowing that product is often pulled in a lot of different directions. And part of what they have to do is often to say no and keep focused. You have advice for young PMs out there trying to build strong relationships with the other parts of the company.
MaryAlexa Divver: That's a great question. I think ultimately what it comes back to is open and honest communication and frequent communication. Most times, you need to say something three times for anybody to really hear it. So, when you think you're being repetitive, it's actually more helpful than you would think. And as for building relationships, I think building trust, coming into that conversation with empathy, trying to understand things from their perspective, go a long way. Like if you have a stakeholder within the company, that's like," I really need something because of X, Y, and Z, but you're stacked with priorities." I think going to that person to either understand why is it such an emergency for them, and make sure you're asking questions around that. We have a principle at Public called" honestly kills bullshit", excuse the language, but it is a principle, and it's actually one that I think a lot of us live in our day to day, which really helps us make sure we're working on the right things at the right time.
Eric Boduch: So, I'm curious, what's your favorite part of your job there?
MaryAlexa Divver: Yeah, that's a good one too. I think I enjoy working with amazing people in their fields, right? Everyone is an expert in their realm, and it really shows when we need to buckle down and get things done. And I enjoy that, so definitely working with everyone else at the company. And then I feel pretty strongly about the mission in general. I've said it before and I'll keep saying it, I'm happy to be a part of the team that is filling that public education gap around personal finance. It shouldn't be so hard to understand some of these lessons earlier in life. And until that changes, I'm happy being a part of it on the tech side.
Eric Boduch: That's an interesting thing to talk about, the mission- driven companies, and you guys have a pretty strong mission over there. I imagine that makes it easier to both make decisions and also to hire, right? Hiring from a standpoint of view, you really want to hire people that buy into the overall mission. And because yours is big and easily understandable, I imagine that can be a hiring criteria. And then crosstalk... Yeah, go ahead.
MaryAlexa Divver: I was just going to agree, and just... You can see it on people's faces, that they are bought into the mission. And like you said, it's a pretty big mission, and it's easy to understand, so it's not hard to buy in. But it just makes you care that much more and put that much more effort. And that gives that extra oomph to everything that you're doing, because at the end of the day, you're helping somebody save enough money to buy their first home, or to pay off their student loans, or to retire early or to whatever makes them happy. So, I think it's a pretty wonderful mission to be a part of.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, absolutely. And I meant to ask, to help you too with decisions, right? Because you can look at, and you can frame decisions in how it positively or potentially even negatively impacts your mission, right?
MaryAlexa Divver: Oh, absolutely. And that goes a lot towards our decision to remove payment for order flow from... We turned a revenue stream into a cost center, but that was better for our users. And by keeping alignment with that is incredibly important to us. And we always want to keep them top of mind when we're building features and products.
Eric Boduch: Now, did you find when that decision was made, everyone there was like... Because of the mission, they were like," This is the right decision and probably something we should have done sooner." Was there that kind of feeling there?
MaryAlexa Divver: So the thought was actually there ahead of time. And then at the moment when we did finally make that decision, I think everyone was definitely on board. And we had already been trying to figure out ways to innovate on the brokerage business model in general. So, it was a great segue into that. The timing just kind of worked out well.
Eric Boduch: Yeah. And I imagine, given the timing with Robinhood and things like that, that only helped the kind of growth rate of your business.
MaryAlexa Divver: Yes, it did.
Eric Boduch: So tell me, what's your favorite product?
MaryAlexa Divver: That's a great question. I think, right now, my favorite is Duolingo. For those unfamiliar, it's a language learning app. It's been around for a while. But, I try to do it, one little lesson a day, and create a habit to build some vocabulary out for myself. And I think the thing I like about it is that, it actually leads to shared experience, because I'm able to use the language in a deeper way. And I see it pay off, after the fact.
Eric Boduch: Yeah, yeah. A Pittsburgh company too crosstalk I have a-
MaryAlexa Divver: A Pittsburgh company, yeah.
Eric Boduch: Soft spot in my heart for Pittsburgh companies, given my education from Carnegie Mellon, and having-
MaryAlexa Divver: Oh, I didn't know that.
Eric Boduch: Yeah. Always got to have the shoutouts for the Pittsburgh companies.
MaryAlexa Divver: Yeah. I'm pretty sure. Yeah. Yeah, no, that's great.
Eric Boduch: So, what language are you learning?
MaryAlexa Divver: Greek.
Eric Boduch: Oh, wow. Cool.
MaryAlexa Divver: I mean, to be honest, I actually... I would say I'm socially fluent, but vocabulary could always use some help. So.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. That's exciting. Cool. And so, one final question for you today. Three words to describe yourself.
MaryAlexa Divver: Okay. One, I'm direct. It goes into that" honesty kills bullshit" principle that I mentioned earlier. To be frank, I don't have a lot of time for the fluff, so it makes it a lot easier when you're directing communication, both written and speaking. It helps your mind processes quite a bit. Second, industrious. Nothing you want comes easily. So, having that mentality and work ethic behind that, I think really helps, especially in the startup environment. There's no task too big or too small for anybody, when you're in this type of a position. So, I think that helps kind of get you through that. And then the third, I'm going to pick a word that I am still working at, but I have found that it's easier to get there when you say," I am", versus" I want to be", so, composed. So I am working immensely hard at taking a minute to think before immediately reacting to anything. I think it goes a long way. It lets you think about a couple of different scenarios before you jump right into action. And when you're in product, especially in the financial services app, you're going to get feedback all over the place. So, you need to make sure you're thinking before you're leaping a little bit.
Eric Boduch: Awesome. Those are three good words. So thank you, MaryAlexa, this has been great. It's exciting hearing the story of what public. com is doing in bringing the social aspect, and really changing the way that people are looking at the stock market, and money as a whole. I appreciate you being here today.
MaryAlexa Divver: Thank you so much for having me. It was wonderful being here as well.