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2019 Year in Review

Recognizing the top 20 leaders at the intersection of research and product development

Product Management Leaders and Their Contributions in 2019

By now, every company, regardless of size, structure, or industry, understands why embracing product management best practices, such as experimentation, gathering customer feedback, and data-driven decision making, are necessary techniques to solve problems and deliver breakthrough innovation.

As product management principles become more commonplace, the truly innovative companies and product managers recognize that a new need has emerged: the ability to work cross-functionally with product, insights, marketing, and research teams to solve the toughest problems and do more with customer insights.

This year, many individuals helped to push the product management industry forward by not only launching new products or key features, but by applying innovative thinking in user and market research and working collaboratively across teams and functions.

Take a look at 20 founders, thought leaders, CEOs, authors, and product leaders whose contributions in 2019 we’ve chosen to spotlight with the help of Alpha’s community.

*This list is in no particular order. 

 

1

Ashley Wali

VP of Product, Discuss.io

Like any product person, Ashley is dedicated to putting the customer at the core of Discuss.io’s solutions. And like any company, this has historically been hard for Discuss.io to do at scale. At Discuss.io, which brands use to connect directly with customers via live video, the mission is to make it easy for anyone in the organization to have a conversation with any customer, anywhere in the world.

Ashley, as the product leader, has made this mission a reality. As she crafts the roadmap on a daily basis, she continually looks for ways to improve the customer connection process, whether that means improving the quality of technology, creating more successful customer connections, or automating the process of uncovering insights. And at Ashley’s urging, the Discuss.io team began to use their own platform to collect user feedback and interviews to inform the product roadmap.

“She is a strong advocate of the customer’s needs,” says Celine Rosak, senior marketing manager at Discuss.io. “She has a great eye for prioritization and knows what will make the largest impact.”

2

Charles Battle, Jang Kim & Jason Simon

Senior Director of Product Management; VP of Product Management; VP of Product Management; LendingTree

Charles, Jang, and Jason, alongside the rest of the product team at LendingTree, are responsible for the company’s recent product evolution from a free credit score solution to a complete financial intelligence platform.

As they described it on This is Product Management, by all accounts the LendingTree app was considered a success. But the product team recognized the sheer number of credit score offerings on the market, and they knew they had to find a way to separate themselves from the pack if they wanted to attract more users, foster deeper engagement, and better serve their users.

Research became a critical component of the development process when they set out to re-envision the product.

Through focus groups and user research, they learned that MyLendingTree lacked a complete picture of a consumer’s overall financial health. And concept testing and prototyping taught them what features would resonate with users. “Having that validation from users is invaluable to building that confidence to be able to evangelize this across the company and support what we’re working on building,” Jason says. 

3

Bryan Brown

Chief Product Officer, Terminus

Bryan, who has more than 20 years of B2B product management experience, leads product and engineering at Terminus, an account-based marketing software startup.

Bryan is known internally for his leadership skills and ability to facilitate collaboration between research and product teams. In his three years with Terminus, he has worked tirelessly with sales, customer success, engineering, and leadership teams to transform the company’s offering from a point solution to a complete platform.

Recently, Terminus undertook a multi-year research effort to better understand how B2B marketing was changing. Using data-driven insights and customer collaboration, Bryan led the product management team to deliver a new marketing platform.

“Not only has this new product offering made the company extremely valuable, but it has given the company a more motivating and inspiring mission to strive toward,” says Jack Mcglinchey, product strategy lead at Terminus. “Bryan is one of the few examples of an executive who actually spends more time with customers than in a boardroom. He deeply understands the needs of the people he serves. He is the first person to roll up his sleeves to understand and solve a customer problem.”

4

Julio Corredor

Founder & CEO, Zooterra

Key Contributions

Launched Zooterra, a wildlife conservation and habitat protection technology startup

“Products that deliver a compelling experience for users is an obvious example of good product management. But I believe products that deliver lasting outcomes to users and society overall represent the best of the best in product management.

Julio Corredor is the embodiment of that sentiment. His company, Zooterra, has used digital technology to create transparency in environmental conservation projects and has done so in a way that is fair, equitable, and sustainable for his partners around the world.

It has been an honor to see how he draws from his deep empathy for the environment, translates it to a clear product vision, and experiments on his ideas to ensure maximum engagement and impact.”

— As told by Aaron Davis, head of community at Alpha

5

Marcia Tal

CEO, Tal Solutions

Key Contributions

Launched PositivityTech, which uncovers and enables strategic growth opportunities hidden in customer complaint data.

“Marcia Tal is a visionary leader in the fintech industry, merging her expertise in customer listening and advanced analytics to shed light on the hidden value of financial institutions’ customer complaints. In June 2019, her company, Tal Solutions, launched the PositivityTech intelligent platform, a new platform that uncovers and enables the strategic growth and risk management opportunities hidden in customer complaints.

Marcia was inspired to create the platform, because throughout her career, she has found that customer complaint data is an under-leveraged asset. While executives want to listen more closely to their customers, most are not yet uncovering and taking action on the systemic patterns that manifest in complaints. PositivityTech leverages AI and machine learning to home in on customer complaint data in new ways—and solve real business needs. Now, executives have a way to see their competitive position on customer complaints, foresee future complaints and their causes, quickly and proactively address customer feedback, protect their businesses, and improve performance.

Today, financial institutions have better access to their proprietary and very large and unstructured data sets, as well as big data tools that they need to mine the data. And Marcia is making it possible to extract insights that lead to real impact.”

— As told by Amy Radin, executive adviser and author of “The Change Maker’s Playbook” 

6

Brian Crofts

Chief Product Officer, Pendo

Since joining Pendo, Brian has spearheaded two acquisitions. In May, Pendo acquired Receptive.io, a U.K.-based product demand intelligence platform, and set an aggressive goal to fully integrate the two companies by the end of the summer.

During roadmap planning and after dozens of customer interviews, Brian and his team realized there was an opportunity to integrate product planning and user feedback solutions with Pendo’s existing solution.

His team took a disciplined and hands-on approach to researching and vetting potential companies: They started using the products to find the best fit and mocked up what a potential combination might look like. After deciding on Receptive, they took the necessary steps to ensure a smooth transition. Brian and the executive team paused sales for three months, brought the entire Receptive team to Pendo’s HQ early, and worked with the Receptive team to share insights and knowledge. By September, Receptive had been relaunched as Pendo Feedback at the Pendomonium user conference; the Pendo team expanded to Sheffield, U.K.; and Pendo Feedback exceeded the company’s revenue goal by 346% in the first quarter.

“Brian led this work during a year of massive change at Pendo,” says Laura Baverman, director of communications at Pendo. “He led the company through a rebuild of a core part of the Pendo product, the launch of a new SDK for mobile, and the launch of an entirely new product and business for Pendo. His family also moved from New York City to Tel Aviv to Raleigh, N.C. This is a credit to his leadership, vision, and dedication to doing what it takes to build a product that solves the toughest problems for PMs.”

7

Roman Geyzer

Director of Product, Northwestern Mutual

If you ask Vivek Bedi, head of consumer experiences, digital products at Northwestern Mutual, Roman is a big deal in product.

Earlier this year, Vivek named Roman the head of product strategy, a newly created role with ambitious goals and a lot of autonomy. Since then, and while leading a team of product managers as the director of product, Roman has single handedly reshaped the product scene in Milwaukee, a city not known for product management presence.

Since January, Roman has launched Product Brew, a monthly product meet-up that hosts impressive speakers and workshops, grew a newsletter to more than 600 subscribers, and added a one-day product track to FallX, a predominantly tech-focused conference in the Midwest.

How did he launch this successful product community from scratch?

Much of the initial work was a grassroots movement, sending emails to Northwestern Mutual’s internal and external network, using LinkedIn Live, and even distributing flyers at local events and spaces. Roman also used Alpha to research the product community in Milwaukee. Along the way, he uncovered market needs, narrowed down his target audiences, and discovered which innovative approaches would attract local product talent.

He learned early on that any product community in Milwaukee was going to have to be more educational at first compared with major markets such as New York or Silicon Valley. “Product is not as defined,” Vivek says. “He first needed to define for people what product is.”

A natural storyteller and a longtime product manager, Roman has made the transition from building things to building communities look easy.

8

Cheryl Michael

Chief Product Officer, CentralReach

Key Contributions

Named a Top 25 Leading Women Intrapreneur.

Cheryl, who has 20 years of health tech experience, led multiple product launches this year for CentralReach, which offers electronic health record software solutions for patients with autism, and the doctors, clinicians, and administrators who treat them.

One launch, CR Insights, gave clinicians a comprehensive view of their practice health, both clinically (care gaps and opportunities) and operationally (wait times, scheduling, and financial records). Another launch helped to install new scheduling features for payments, claims, and billing, a notoriously complex part of healthcare management.

“Cheryl’s innovative solutions have been a main driver behind the company’s growth from 40,000 users to 85,000 users who support over 150,000 active clients on the spectrum,” says Shelley Perry, operating partner at Insight Partners. “The innovative products and solutions that Cheryl has helped roll out have had a tremendous impact on the CentralReach customer base and have established the benchmark for what a great chief product officer looks like—making the profession rise with her.”

To launch such successful and innovative products in a heavily regulated industry, Cheryl is committed to collaborating with all teams. She also makes sure to keep the user at the center of her product strategy through a variety of research and customer discovery techniques, from in-platform surveys, user profiles, and product usage analytics, to product roadshows, focus groups, and user conferences.

“Collaboration starts with alignment across the leadership teams, which Cheryl is proactive about,” Shelley says.

9

Mike Belsito & Paul McAvinchey

Co-founders, Product Collective

Key Contributions

Grew Industry, a global product conference, from 200 attendees to 1,200 attendees in four years.

“Before being conference organizers, Mike and Paul were both product managers at tech companies. The two came together after realizing they were both looking for somewhere to learn more about the field. They also wanted to meet product management peers from around the world. After seeing there was a lack of world-class forums such as this, specifically in the Midwest, they decided to create Industry: The Product Conference.

Over the past six years, they have used their knowledge of product management to continually improve the conference, which they consider a product, just like the software products our attendees are building every day. Mike and Paul leverage tools such as the jobs-to-be-done framework to refine the experience, improve positioning, and develop new features, such as the much-lauded Industry Notes, comprehensive notes of the conference sent to attendees hours after the event ends. As a result, Industry attracted over 1,500 product people in 2019 to Cleveland in the fall and Dublin in the spring, and it is now considered one of the most highly respected conferences of its kind in the world.”

— As told by Rebecca Feliciano, director of operations at Product Collective 

10

Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia

CEO, Product School

Key Contributions

Created new online resources and training for Product School that connects participants to product leaders in Silicon Valley.

“Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia has over 10 years of experience building teams and digital products in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America. Carlos founded Product School in San Francisco in 2014. Today, the company is the global leader in product management training with 20 campuses worldwide and a live online campus.

Designed to fit into work schedules, classes are held in the evenings or on weekends. All the instructors are real-world product managers, working at renowned tech companies such as Netflix, Airbnb, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal.

In addition to individual classes, Product School also delivers custom corporate training programs to Fortune 500 companies seeking to up-skill their existing teams or onboard new talent.

Carlos is committed to pushing the product community forward. With this aim in mind, he published the Amazon bestseller, The Product Book. He also hosts Proddys, awards that annually honor the best software products, and he produces ProductCon, a multi-city conference attended by tens of thousands of product managers every year. He also helps organize over 1,000 free events every year in 200 cities around the globe.”

— As told by Gabriela Araujo, author and director of content at Product School

11

Roberto Grandillo

Senior Director of Product Development, Lightspeed

Key Contributions

Managed a team of 15 product managers to realign Lightspeed’s entire roadmap against a new product direction and portfolio.

“Roberto’s successes come from his ability to prioritize teamwork over everything else. Despite working in a fast-growing environment, he is capable of turning a team 360 degrees while ensuring an engaging culture. In personal interactions, he quickly identifies areas of improvement and helps the team’s growth in those areas.

With his open mindset, understanding of the industry, and passion for technology, I feel that he can quickly make decisions, which contribute to scalability and time-to-market, and benefit both internal teams and our broad base of customers.

In my opinion, Roberto is an ideal leader in product management, as he is capable of finding that perfect balance between business and technology, customers and internal teams, data-driven and intuitive.”

— As told by Jean-Philippe LeBlanc, senior VP of technology at Lightspeed 

12

Joe Lalley

Experience Design Leader, PwC

Design thinking is a powerful problem-solving tool. And you’d be hard pressed to find someone who believes this more than Joe Lalley, who designs and conducts digital transformation workshops and training for PwC’s internal teams.

Through these workshops, which are held both remotely and in-person, Joe’s team works with PwC’s employees to help them learn new skills and solve some of the toughest product and digital challenges.

Joe has coined the phrase “transferring excitement,” to describe the process of spreading key workshop learnings across an entire organization — something that’s especially challenging for a company of PwC’s size. His training curriculum places a significant focus on preparing people to leave workshops and think critically about the questions their coworkers will ask them. As he explained during an interview on This is Product Management earlier this year, he believes strongly in spreading “anything that is really real and tangible, that somebody else can connect to, to feel the feeling that they have.”

In 2019 alone, he’s held hundreds of workshops, and he helped thousands of people apply user-centered design thinking and experimentation principles in their work.

13

Nabil Rahman, Lexi Leinenkugel & Maria Miller

Product Marketing Manager; VP; Co-founder & COO; Spot

Key Contributions

Launched Spot, a new short-term insurance product for a unique audience: extreme sports athletes and enthusiasts.

“To launch a successful product, I believe a team needs a deep understanding of their users, relentless curiosity, and the courage to step outside traditional industry boundaries.

While collaborating with the team at Spot, I have seen them embody all of these traits. They took a risk in developing a low-cost, incredibly simple insurance offering for those who live adventurous lifestyles. And they have consistently evolved this offering to address customer needs. The team’s curiosity drives them to explore new ways of telling their company story, while being grounded in making a complex, expensive traditional insurance system more accessible.

I believe they represent the best of the best in product management, because they all share a passion for what they do and understand the impact it has on their customers’ lives.”

— As told by Aaron Davis, head of community at Alpha

14

Joe Toscano

Founder, The Better Ethics & Consumer Outcomes Network

Key Contributions

Launched BEACON, which helps brands and companies become CCPA and GDPR compliant.

“Joe is an award-winning designer, published author, keynote speaker, consumer data privacy advocate, and the founder of BEACON. Joe previously consulted for Google, but left in 2017 due to ethical concerns. He has since written a book called Automating Humanity, delivered the TED Talk ‘Want to Work for Google? You Already Do,’ launched BEACON, and traveled the world championing the need to increase technology literacy, to address the emerging consequences of data-driven technologies.

Joe recently partnered with Crownpeak to introduce the Trust and Consent Framework, a solution for enterprise brands struggling with GDPR and CCPA compliance. Joe designed the interface with the consumer in mind, to give them a voice, using design best practices applied to old, static legal agreements. His goal is to make the consent process more accessible and to provide real understanding about what a consumer is agreeing to and the companies’ commitment to this agreement.

Joe is a confident thought leader and risk taker, willing to challenge big tech and take action to create a better future for everyone.”

— As told by Leah Taylor, chief communications officer at Cast Influence 

15

Michal Zachar

Head of Product, Hello Health Group

Michal leads product at Hello Health Group, a consumer health information provider in Asia. Using a network of local platforms, the company brings more accessible healthcare information to consumers and helps them make more informed decisions about their health.

As the head of product, he sets and executes the global product strategy and leads product management, user experience and design, and editorial and customer operations teams.

In his time at Hello Health Group, Michal has prioritized collaboration and stressed the importance of bringing qualitative and quantitative research to product decisions, development, and launch.

Whether it’s customer surveys, interviews, or keyword research, Michal sets out to develop product positioning, messaging, features, and solutions that fit the specific needs of different markets, regions, and countries.

16

Melissa Perri

CEO, ProduxLabs

Key Contributions

Published “Escaping the Build Trap” and founded the Product Institute.

“Melissa Perri has dedicated the last decade to pushing product management forward. She has guided countless companies in shifting from project-oriented work to product-oriented strategies. The list of conferences she’s spoken at about lean practices, the Product Kata, and now product operations, is vast, and her impact continues to ripple.

In recent years, Melissa has made her product philosophy more accessible through Product Institute, an online course, and her book “Escaping the Build Trap.” Now as she pushes the software world forward again, she’s focused on up-leveling product leaders, which is lacking in the market, and encouraging product operations to enable them even more.”

— As told by Tami Reiss, senior VP of product at ProduxLabs

17

Kevin Lee & Clement Kao

Co-founders, Product Manager HQ

Clement and Kevin are co-founders of Product Manager HQ, a leading product manager community and product Slack community.

Product Manager HQ has single-handedly brought together product managers, leaders, and founders who are seeking to level-up their product teams and organizations. Discussions range from career advice and job description tips to growth trajectories and conflict resolution techniques.

In addition to bringing the product community together, Product Manager HQ also serves to bridge the gap between user and market research. Community members frequently trade market research techniques such as compensation strategies, outreach strategies, facilitation techniques, and how to conduct surveys and ask the right questions.

Clement credits Product Manager HQ and Kevin with his professional growth as a mentor, leader, and product manager. “The questions I see in the community have significantly changed the way I think about launching products, maintaining products, and sunsetting products,” he says. Likewise, Kevin speaks highly of Clement and recently asked him to take on the co-founder title. “Clement has done some incredible work for Product Manager HQ and provided amazing value for PMs everywhere,” he says.

18

Scott McDonald

Co-founder, Modern Accelerator

Key Contributions

Co-founded Modern Accelerator, a digital design firm, last year.

“Scott McDonald is an entrepreneur and an innovator. He has co-founded successful user experience and product management focused consultancies not once, but twice. He gets that the customer should sit at the center of all product development. He’s exceptionally adept at connecting with others and helping them recognize and articulate their business challenges.

Scott saw that companies and their consultants were evolving too slowly for today’s faster-moving realities and not taking enough advantage of the latest tools and techniques, so he created Modern Accelerator. Modern Accelerator builds customer research, testing, and interaction directly into its design approach. It’s not a separate project, a nice-to-have, or a line item. It’s all-inclusive. Modern teams reach out to the market for insight as needed throughout the design process, using whichever tools and techniques makes the most sense. He founded his firm on the belief that design and research are one and the same, and that one team can effectively perform continuous research, birth and refine designs, and test in order to build successful products.

Scott is a leader and deserves recognition, because Modern Accelerator leads by example, shares powerful stories, and improves not only team and company cultures, but the cultures of the design and consulting industries, as well.”

— As told by Karen Kranack, co-founder of Modern Accelerator

19

Michael Sacca

VP of Product, Dribbble

Key Contributions

400+ episodes of Rocketship.FM podcast.

“Creating a world-class podcast from scratch as a side hustle is no easy task. In fact, less than half of the podcasts that launch ever make it to episode 14. To make it to episode 400 is nearly unheard of. Yet, that’s exactly what Michael has done with Rocketship.FM, now one of the longest running podcasts over the past five years.

I’ve been proud to have tagged along with Michael for the past couple of years as his co-host, sidekick, and friend. Rocketship has become one of the top-rated podcasts for entrepreneurs and product people, and I’m convinced it’s because of Michael’s leadership. He doesn’t just talk about product. He lives it. Now as VP of product at Dribbble, he’s evolving a well-known product that’s used by nearly half a million of the world’s top designers.

There’s nobody more deserving of this recognition than Michael Sacca.”

— As told by Mike Belsito, co-founder of Product Collective

20

Heather Samarin

Partner, Product Rebels

“Heather believes completely in scrappy research,” says Vidya Dinamani, founder and partner at Product Rebels. “She’s a product leader who could just as easily be a research leader, because she believes so strongly that every product decision must be customer-backed.”

What does product strategy and research collaboration look like at Product Rebels because of Heather’s customer-centric mindset?

According to Vidya, Heather is adept at quickly launching experiments to test a hypothesis, getting in touch with consumers, and quickly prototyping use cases before development work begins. She personally handles the scripting process, and she makes sure to inject directional data from prospects or customers into every product decision she makes, no matter how big or small.

Heather is known for her collaborative approach, too. Nowhere is this more evident than on a recent project she led with Product Rebel’s product management and market research groups. Traditionally, research and non-research teams operated independently from each other at the organization, but Heather brought the functions together to collect qualitative and quantitative data. The market research team set out to study and gather large market data, while the product team collected observational research from small focus groups. Both teams came together to share their findings, identify consumer patterns and trends, and prioritize the next product decision.

“She always brings in customer examples, she brings the customer to life,” Vidya says. “This engages the team enormously. They know who they are building products for and why.” 

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