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We Have a Great ‘Try it’ Culture: Bella Renney, Head of Product at Tray

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Bella explains some of the technical challenges she faces day to day as a product manager at Tray.

I loved how friendly and innovative the Tray.io team was right from the start.

Small start-up

I was looking for a small start-up with big plans; I had to jump through a lot of hoops with other companies but my interview at Tray felt much more natural and human.

It was very open, I met the Founders and they gave me a lot of time to question them… In the end it was a no-brainer!

Automation

Automation is a really exciting space for a PM, especially in an enterprise market. Tray has a really unique perspective on it too, a powerful tool built on flexibility for business users rather than developers or “IT”. What we’re doing hasn’t really been done before so we get to push boundaries and take risks!

It’s a great personal learning experience too. Our customers are some of the most innovative companies in the world, each of the users are at the forefront of cutting-edge technology themselves and hearing what “automation” means to them is very enriching!

“It’s not difficult to make a product that does something simple feel like an enjoyable experience. It’s a lot more challenging to take on something like automation.”

The automation market is a big space, with a lot of competition, what I believe changes the field for Tray is the heavy emphasis we put on user experience, which we like to go one step further and call user delight. Prospective customers always talk about how enjoyable Tray is to use.

The power & reliability of Tray has created an extremely loyal customer base; many of whom even take Tray with them when they move between companies! This in turn sets very high expectations. It means nothing is ever “done” so we’re always doing user-research and beta testing; being iterative constantly looking for ways to improve.

We strive to do our best for every customer but with only so much resource you can’t do everything so making Product decisions is always a trade-off, especially in a B2B.

“Our Product Design team is instrumental…. it’s who I spend most of my time with!”

Small start-upIn the weeds of product development & bug fixing there’s pressure coming from every direction; our customers always need something and you’re trying to push forward to make things better for them.

Customer behaviour data

Having customer behaviour data helps a lot here if we know X customers need Y, whereas Z customers don’t need W, we can then afford to do Y now but do W in the next phase. Which means we can keep as many people as happy as is possible with our resources and can commit to our actions!

Tray is an extremely technical product, which comes with a lot of challenges for a non-engineer but as a general rule the engineers at Tray.io are incredibly kind, patient and will always go the extra mile to help you understand complex problems; you’ll even hear that from people operations!

“This means I think about product development from their point of view and we bounce off each other. Sometimes they make suggestions that I didn’t even know would be possible.”

Small start-upConversely, they don’t take my word for granted either and they push me to explain why certain things are so important to our users which gives them more information to act on. We have a fantastic product-driven team, I’m very lucky… and so are our customers!

We’re looking to grow the team!

Our latest challenge was developing a product line that allowed customers to embed our technology into their own application via an API, so their end-users can create native integrations. The Product also has a UI element (to make it truly native); together these two parts comprise the product’s USP & capability.

“It’s a really complex challenge because you’re essentially building for two very different users.”

Small start-upThe UI element is used by another product person, or even a programme manager whereas the API user is an engineer. Engineers have a very different view of most tools and are hard to please!

I had to rely heavily on our BE team. Normally what they say goes in the situation. As a PM you have to explain every decision you’ve made which gets very difficult with complex technical elements. As we always ideate together as a team, we’re always on the same page. They make every effort to help me empathise entirely.

Operating principles mean different things to a lot of different people. To me, making sure our customers get the best service they can from our product doesn’t mean trying to stop anything from going wrong. With a product like ours comprised of so many moving parts all being developed so fast it’s bound to happen, and it’s just part of progressing.

“Designing an API is not normally in a PM toolkit.”

Ongoing learning

Small start-upYou learn a lot here, we constantly evaluate & iterate. I’m surrounded by domain experts who always share and educate. One of the greatest things about furthering your career is getting to freely experiment. No one is particularly precious about anything so I get to use whatever tools I want and so do the engineers!

A lot of product management positions are very rooted in business analysis. Whether it’s analysing market fit, people user base or cost-saving calculations for target customers. But working at Tray requires a very different perspective. We’re a rapid growth B2B and we prioritise rapid innovation. This means we get to throw the rulebook out the window; hack, and experiment to innovate at all costs.

It means I get to be really close to the furnace. Immersing myself in rich user cases at the end of the quarter helps get deals over the line. Building out new features on demand sounds stressful on the face of it. However, we are motivated to stay ahead of the curve and pin-point features our competitors have and ours users need.

“You get to see that new value materialise in real-time right in front of your eyes.”

How much is Tray for Traydies?

Female employees at Tray (like almost every tech company I’ve worked in) are in the minority. Although I’d love it to be 50:50 -as would our founders, for whom this issue is very important. A direct quote from our CEO once “It would be great to just have a female powerhouse Product & Design department”. The fact that it’s not has meant we’ve built a fantastically supportive culture in what we call ‘the Traydies’.

The cohort has seen considerable expansion this year. The Talent team is very proud the ratio has gone up nearly 7% to 24. Some did the Race for Life together, some hit up Triangirls. Others have not one but three slack channels (one ‘ladies.io’, another traydies_london and also traydies_SF). Here we shout each other’s praises, ask to borrow paracetamol (you know when) and plan our next cocktail evenings.

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