Q&A with Aire’s Director of Product — Pete Bulley
Pete Bulley joined Aire to establish Product in March, 2017. As our Director of Product, he’s accountable for Agile Delivery, Data Science, Engineering and Product Management. Here’s a quick snapshot of his work, and life beyond.
1. Tea count so far today (13:41)
🍵🍵🍵- and preferably loose-leaf and fair trade.
2. Tell us about your journey to becoming Aire’s Director of Product?
Having worked with Aneesh (our Founder and CEO) in a previous start-up, joining the company had some familiarity for me. Before Aire, I worked with digital products in retail experience and automotive internationally, moving to Shanghai in 2013, and then to Bangalore in 2015.
Aneesh and I stayed in touch and our conversations about the opportunity in the market for Aire continued. Once the company was in a place where it was ready to formalise its Product Function I got involved, joining in March 2017. And it’s a journey I’m so pleased I took — it’s truly exciting working in a fintech with such a strong social purpose: we’re helping people to access the credit they deserve and we’re educating them about their financial futures.
3. Why product management at Aire?
At university, I studied Management Accounting and Marketing so deciding on a career in product management was not the inevitable choice. However, I’d always been pretty technical and fascinated by science and people. I’m also naturally entrepreneurial: starting up little enterprises at home as a child, often recruiting my brothers. The ideas were varied — selling land on Mars was one of the more ambitious (and least successful) ventures we tested out. What I knew from an early age though, was that I wanted to be a parent and I’m now father to Hattie and Kit.
As all Product Managers will know, Product sits at a really fascinating intersection in any business. Encompassing user experience, technology and a keen understanding of customers, Product operates quite uniquely and this requires close relationships across the business. Specifically at Aire, it’s about our ability to use information provided directly by consumers to inform lenders’ credit decisions: that involves our online interactions with consumers, our models, our integration with lenders and our regulatory compliance.
Today at Aire, product management is all about being clear on our long-term mission and leading the charge on what we need to build to get us there. This needs constant focus and a clear strategy. It’s techniques such as quarterly Big Room Planning and team OKRs that keep us on track, moving us from strategy through to continual, iterative discovery and delivery.
4. What’s been your biggest accomplishment since becoming Aire’s Director of Product?
As Aire’s first product hire, I’ve thought about what the team should look like from day one. In that time, we’ve shifted from a focus of delivering on the specific needs of individual lenders to taking the company to market with a leading product proposition that stands to benefit many more, across the customer lifecycle. And as the company has grown and functions have built out, I’m now able to wear fewer hats. Having had a broader involvement in many more areas of the business, it’s rewarding to be able to have a laser focus on our product strategy for the longer-term. Our business operates in a complicated space, there’s lots we can do to change the landscape of credit, and like many young companies, we have a temptation to bite off more than we can chew. With limited resources, focus is my watchword.
A true group effort was last year’s reorganisation of the company around the product vision. Having a key role in the strategic thinking behind this, it was rewarding to work with so many others across the business to make this happen, everyone lending their experience, knowledge and enthusiasm to make this work successful.
5. What uncomfortable forest* are you glad to have taken a walk in since arriving at Aire?
* At Aire, we’re not afraid to take the hard path. Even if it takes more time or creates more pain. We want to ensure we do it the right way.
As a product team focused on delivery, external delays can feel frustrating when you want to get your product out to lenders as soon as possible. The industry we operate in, as well as the lenders behind it, move cautiously. Aire has lots to do to build credibility and trust with lenders and that means we operate with long sales periods.
I’m also a member of Aire’s Executive Team, which has been an exciting role to take on. With the Product Organisation spanning across Agile Delivery, Engineering, Data Science and Product Management, my team is almost two-thirds of Aire’s employees and it’s crucial that Product has a place at that table to represent and advocate for this part of the business at board level. More personally, shifting from being an individual contributor to joining the Executive Team has been a somewhat uncomfortable forest for me. Changing your relationships with colleagues is never easy, but as a naturally close and supportive team at Aire, the transition hasn’t been hard.
6. What are you most looking forward to getting your teeth stuck into next at Aire?
We’re conducting some really interesting customer research sessions at the moment, training ourselves to run these more frequently and to build the outcomes of this research into each iteration of the product. There’s nothing better than hearing directly from the consumer when it comes to developing a product and the feedback we’re getting is already informing our work which is brilliant to see.
Looking into the future, for me, one of the most interesting angles of what Aire has the potential to do is in financial education — and the ability for Aire to forge a better path for each of us to manage and understand our relationship with money. Our education system doesn’t do a good job of financial education: I’ve seen friends and family struggle with this aspect of their life. Aire’s mission — to make credit equitable for everyone — sits at the heart of these interests and it’s really this that gets me up and into work each morning (as well as the children).
7. What do you think the biggest change to the product team has been so far this year?
There’s no perfect way to structure a Product Function and at Aire we’re always iterating to improve our methods to deliver our best work. We’ve recently shifted our squad structure (squads at Aire are cross-functional teams with a common mission) to align with our users, putting a clearer focus on the outcomes of our efforts. As equal beneficiaries to Aire’s work, we now have a ‘Consumer’ as well as a ‘Lender’ squad to enable each member of our team to focus on the objectives of what we deliver and to enjoy greater end-to-end ownership of their parts of the product.
8. How do you stay up-to-date and keep your skills sharp?
I’m a big fan of audiobooks and with a half-hour drive at the beginning and end of my commute back to Buckinghamshire, I listen to plenty of non-fiction in the car. Later this year, I’m excited to be taking part in a workshop run by Marty Cagan, some would say the leading thinker in Product Management. With many of the practices we follow at Aire inspired by his teachings, I can’t wait to discover more of his insight on that course.
9. Any personal projects outside of work?
My biggest personal project has to be my children: three-year-old Hattie and Kit, who’s recently turned one. Hattie is just beginning to learn the value of money, so my wife and I are teaching her to manage her own pocket money. We put no limitations on what she can spend it on so she’s learning the freedom of money as well as the discipline required to manage it for the longer-term. Watching her save one coin at a time for the things she feels are most important right now is fascinating and I’m really enjoying watching her flourish.
— Thanks for the insight, Pete!