We sat down for a chat with Caroline (Caro) to find out more about the role and responsibilities Product Owners hold in the venture building process. She also shares her very own journey and gives a glance into the learnings she had along the way but also what she loves most about her job.
Tell us a bit about yourself: Who are you, what’s your background and what drives you?
Hi! I am Caroline. From my educational career path, I hold a BBA and master’s degree in Management Information Systems, which I completed by attending universities in Paris, Stockholm and Santiago de Chile and while working in Germany. This was also the time that sparked and formed my passion for entrepreneurship, innovation and IT. My background is quite diverse. This is something that I have acquired by having studied and worked in various parts of the world (6 countries so far). I like anything that is creative, provides freedom to create and test — no matter if it is during my free time or at work. My motto is “I never lose. I either win or learn”. I strongly believe we can make the best of every situation.
Why did you want to become a Product Owner?
This goes back to when I did an internship at the end of my bachelor's at a start-up in Paris. There, I started my first coding class on how to build websites, becoming very interested in the technical aspects of building products. During that period I also met Virginie, a UX designer I supported on various projects like identifying personas, user research and user testing, which I became to enjoy very much. I realized that product management is the perfect match between design, tech and business, putting the user at the center and enabling me to pursue a creative job. For my last internship, I decided to go into Product Management at Flixbus in Munich where I learned tremendously about the importance of soft skills. Once my master's finished, I started looking for a full-time position where I could combine my passions: entrepreneurship and building products. This is how I landed as Product Owner at Sparrow Ventures, where I found a match between those two and can do both.
What is your role as a product owner in the venture building process?
Within the team, which is composed of Venture Architects, a Growth Marketer, a UX/UI Designer and a Product Owner, I am responsible for the product strategy and building the product, helping us to find out if a venture is working or not. Then, depending on the venture project, my tasks can vary quite a bit. However, there is a common process we usually follow as Product Owners with new ventures:
- It starts with understanding the problem and doing user research together with the UX/UI designer.
- Once we have identified the problem, we proceed to the solution ideation, interview target users and define the needs and requirements
- Based on this information, we create the first prototype.
- Then it’s time to do user testing for validation. This validation is for the hypothesis and the direction we want to take with the venture project, which is done through getting feedback and seeing user interaction with the first prototype.
- Having the first user feedback and interactions gathered, allows us to then refine and reiterate the product of the prototype.
- At the same time, you ensure alignment with the team, giving feedback on why certain changes and decisions are made.
This whole process is like a circle and you go on and on about it for every feature of the product.
After a few sprints and once we have enough confidence in the product, we have of course to deliver the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) that will be going live for the pilot phase. The timeframe largely depends on the scope and complexity of the MVP to be built as well as the number of resources we have available for it. For instance, we may use no-code tools or put together a team of engineers to build something more complex that requires more technical programming and coding.
What do you like most about your role? What excites and motivates you every day?
Definitely the creativity about building new products. You really have the freedom in testing new things while interacting with people from different backgrounds. From designers, marketers over to engineers and colleagues with a business focus. It’s really interesting and for me essential to see the different perspectives because it also gives me so much more input for my role and job on the venture. When building a product, it can be overwhelming but getting different perspectives helps to steer the product in the right direction.
Also, and while this sounds very standard, every day is different. Unexpected events are always going to happen and this is something I really like: the challenges and the unexpected. Sometimes, this also involves ‘fire fighting’ which is usually not a positive thing to happen, but it certainly spices things up. ;) It can’t be smooth sailing or surfing as I would say, all the time.
Finally, building ventures from scratch, seeing how they evolve from an idea, over to prototype to MVP and seeing it live in the market with users is simply a rewarding feeling. No matter if the venture project works out or not. The next one is always in the pipeline.
What is the biggest challenge as a Product Owner at Sparrow Ventures?
For me personally, it is to really build the right features for each MVP. While this is a common challenge, at Sparrow Ventures we always work against a very tight timeline.
We have to move fast and test as much as we can within a few weeks, striving to build the right product with the right features that give us the most insights to develop and enhance the product further.
This can be tricky because typically in the beginning there are few data points and insights to base decisions on, making it harder to choose which feature is essential to go for when it comes to the testing of the business model. We only gain those insights over time and along the process while learning from and working on adapting the product to the target group. Often this results in a shift of the initial idea we had in mind and been wanting to build. Therefore, it is important to be flexible as the goal should always be to build the right features and have the right focus to properly test the viability of the business model.
How does one excel as a product owner? What does it take?
For me, it comes down to being a good listener. As a Product Owner, you need to understand the concerns, needs and requirements of each stakeholder involved in the venture project. But especially a good Product Owner is close to the user becoming their voices and representing their best interests when building the product.
This also includes being able to adapt your communication style, meaning you cannot talk, explain and reason to everybody involved in the same way.
In Product Management, soft skills are as important as hard skills.
Everyone working on a venture project has different needs but also understanding when it comes to the product we are building. So it is vital to consider this and establish a rapport accordingly. In the end, it comes down to making sure that every voice and every perspective is heard and considered.
We are always on the lookout for Sparrows to join our flock. Head this way to check out our open or upcoming job opportunities or to learn more about our team and culture: https://sparrow-ventures.com/career