In this Age of Product, people are seeing the potential in starting their own businesses. But starting a business from the ground up can be extremely challenging. These trailblazers need people to help them make the money move faster, and also to make the checking experience powerful and specific to their needs. So, how do entrepreneurs access powerful banking experiences that fuel their businesses? Novo Group Product Leader Akash Desai shares insights on how to gain a business edge with powerful and simple business banking. 

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Patrick Blute

Welcome to Product talk. I’m your host product strategist and marketer Patrick Blute. And our conversation is always about meeting the best product leaders who shaped the way we do what we do today. Hey, everyone, and hope everyone is having a fantastic q4 Going into the new year. I am very excited to introduce you to your guests today. Akash Desai is one of the product leaders at Novo. As a personal user of the product, I’m extremely impressed with how this team is thinking, growing, and innovating. And congratulations on the journey so far and what’s yet to come. Welcome to the show.

Akash Desai 

Thank you, Patrick. Appreciate that. Really looking forward to the dialogue.

Patrick Blute

Awesome. So Akash, just talk me a little bit through your own product journey to coming to Novo, and really how the product has evolved since you’ve been a part of this growth story.

Akash Desai

Yeah, for sure. So background, I started my product journey back at Citibank working in their global transaction services business. Where the bread and butter were moving funds flows. Or moving money around the world for large corporates. But like when you’re working with a large corporate at the end of the day, speed and very low cost are everything to them. You’re building on a roadmap that meets the needs of the largest clients in the space, not the SMBs, not the consumers that you know, we’re using our solutions every single day where we’re trying to see that sort of overlap.

I was in the FX space where money movement is continuing to be disrupted. Whether that’s through the ability for large institutions to have access to domestic rails or it’s through crypto, right were going above and beyond in any shape or form to help consumers’ businesses move money faster, whether that’s through the same currency or a different currency. And that led me to Bank of America where I was in charge of building one of the new emerging payment options, which is called the International push to debit.

Akash cont.

And so if you think about that, rather than just suppliers moving us dollars around the world, now we have Uber drivers, or you have people that are selling on E-commerce websites, who are also earning money globally. They want that money as fast as possible. Because when you’re doing gig economy jobs, there’s a reason you’re trying to earn that side income. I became obsessed with speed and money movement. But what I realized is, I still wasn’t solving it for a user base that I was very passionate about.

And so I came across de novo, who’s building for the underdogs, who are building for people who are brave enough to start their own businesses, and who really need cash flow to work for them to really survive and to continue to reinvest in themselves. So, I joined over about 13 months ago, very obsessed with helping move money faster. Also making the checking experience as powerful as need be for each user and their unique set of the business that they’re operating.

Patrick Blute 

I love that there’s this user centrality, which is a core theme of the podcast and all of the leaders that we speak to. So as you’re thinking about the user base. what challenges were you hearing and what were you hearing from those end users?

Akash Desai 

Yeah, it’s a great question and for everyone’s benefit. Novo helps all SMBs. We help from Seoul props all the way to partner chips and LCDs that are looking to continue to use a powerful banking experience to power their business. And so when you hear from a multitude of businesses, let me focus on running my business. Make the movement of funds, whether that’s money that’s coming into my account, which I worked extremely hard to earn or the money that I need to pay my employees, my vendors to have a lot less guessing involved to be more transparent, you know, to make it easier for me to understand how this process works.

Akash cont.

And so, you know, for those who are listening and understand how money movement works, it’s a science, right, the banks operate on rails. The Fed operates on rails that can be studied and mastered, and then be used to become user-centric. So in, you know, a simple change, such as your money will arrive tomorrow versus today, rather than using the words. It will arrive in a couple of business days. And provide significant confidence to a business when they’re actually trying to plan out their finances.

And so as we continue to talk to more and more users, you start to learn that if you give me the knowledge. The information that I need to make a smart business decision. I can operate like an owner and like a business that can really succeed. But when you have me guessing, I can no longer give that certainty to my vendor or my employee. Or myself when it comes to the next big purchase or next item that I need to buy to really operate.

Patrick Blute

Wow, I love that framework that you’re speaking to, as you’re thinking through how users are taking this information and making planning ahead. So as you’re getting a lot of feedback input, the small-medium business category is very vast. Like there are definitely a lot of interesting use cases you come across. To what extent do you as a product leader, prioritize versus predict when you’re thinking about what your end users need within the product?

Akash Desai

Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, when it comes to priority, you basically need to assess it in two ways, one, what is the tangible market of users? Who is going to be able to make use of this product? And how large of a problem is it going to solve? When you do user interviews, and you do use the Mom Test, you have asked different questions, what you start to hear is that although some people may have different solutions to solve their individual problems.

It’s really a common theme that’s coming across from the different interviews. And you know, when as you start to put together different user interviews, and you start to overlay the common themes, you start to realize, like there is one solution that can solve it for these 10 people. But to solve this bigger problem, there’s a solution that can solve it for possibly the user base. 

And which of those options should we prioritize more? Every business is going to have its own philosophy on how to stack rank, whether that’s building for your Northstar or building for your entire tangible market, we follow something similar as well. At times, it differs based on where the business is headed. In situations like faster money movement, what you’ve realized is, everyone needs to move money faster.

Akash cont.

So how do we create an option that everyone can utilize when it’s best suited for them? And that’s kind of how we went about prioritizing different solutions in that space. But then you have different bets that you’re willing to make, which is still around the common theme of faster money movement. What we noticed is, you know, with our E-commerce businesses, there’s this concept of moving money in quicker for their e-commerce sales on different partner institutions. 

And so as we started to realize that we said, Okay, let’s start with one, which is our largest tangible user base today, and then let’s, you know, plan accordingly to expand. And so that’s a difference between building something for the full user base versus building it for a subset of users, but still across the common theme.

As we continue to validate that common theme, we can start to incorporate new and new solutions through our opportunity tree to help the product outcomes, meet the business outcomes, which really are user-centric. So essentially, the user is winning at all times.

Patrick Blute 

Fantastic. So what’s the most interesting experience you’ve had in building this type of product, especially as there has definitely been really an evolving user who’s had so many new possibilities, new opportunities, working remotely, like flexible styles, like what have you really seen as some of the most interesting emerging trends as a product leader in this space at this time?

Akash Desai

I think we’re in a really interesting scenario, again, where SMBs are the bread and butter of the US economy, and they’ve always been and they continue to endure and always prove that point. As you guys. Look at the stats there. More and more businesses are being created every year. But now we’re entering into a market of recession and who gets hurt the most? It’s SMBs. And so, as we try to learn from our users, what we’re trying to do is, what are your biggest pain points right now?

And how can we help you because it’s, it’s, you’re brave enough to start a business, it takes a significant amount of work, to run that business, it would be devastating to us and our mission, to have that, you know, that goal not be met, regardless of the economic times that are happening. As we talk to users, you start to realize, like, there’s already this sensitivity about money. In general, right? People want their money to be secure their money to be safe, and the ability for things to be flexible and free, because it’s already so costly to do what they do today. 

Akash cont.

And, you know, they’re paying for convenience, they’re paying for solutions that actually help them grow. The second is, helped me remain, and help me grow even during a time like this. And so, you know, when when you start to think about that piece of the puzzle, you start to realize, like, everything you’re building needs to have that emotional human touch because it is sensitive. So to just assume that the user will understand is okay, in certain instances, but not in most instances.

We take a very holistic approach of making sure that the user comes first there, not only the job to be done, but it’s the emotional job to be done as well. And so we’ve started to, you know, be very, very, very vocal about the emotional job to be done. Whether that’s through our responses to the user, whether that’s through the functionality that we provide the user, because we understand that we shouldn’t be part of the stress, we should be part of the solution for their business.

Patrick Blute 

I love that. I think that seems like a core philosophy and tenant-like, again, spoiler alert, I do use the product, and I love it. Huge fan of the style. And even just on the home screen, every time there’s calming imagery, there are quotes, there’s inspiration like you’ve really break baked in that entrepreneurial story into the experience which comes across.

Akash Desai 

Yeah, no. And I think that’s just part of the heart and soul of the company, right? But it’s the recent launches that have happened, such as a reserve’s Profit First methodology. For those who haven’t read that book, like, the whole concept is, you know, recognize your profits first. We make that so simple. We try to help people manage their incoming credits, in such a way that they’re prepared for the future taxes that are going to come out of it or the future purchases that they need to plan for. The goal is to continue to automate and be that solution for you.

Even with invoices, it’s this world of how do we make that easier. How do we emotionally make your relationship with your vendors even stronger, you know, we can do the checking, right? But when we’re having this ecosystem of bringing tools and information into you, it’s to really empower you to feel confident in all the decisions that you’re making. And whether that’s the quote, When you log in, or if it’s the feeling you get when you close the app after completing your task. Our goal is to make sure like Novos, on the right side of the coin, when you’re basically doing your business banking.

Patrick Blute

Awesome. So question we ask everyone on the show, what makes great product management?

Akash Desai  

It’s a great question. I think it’s, it’s a matter of two things, one, be obsessed with the user. And I know that you know, people can interpret that in many different ways. But it’s like becoming the user, testing your product when you’re going through the development cycle. Realize that any shortcut means might be an impact on the user, right? Think about the edge cases, take a little bit longer of a time before you deploy the product to like, understand that this has implications then it could grow to be super successful, you know, and if you’re obsessed with the user, you’ll probably make sure that the that you’re not putting out a product that isn’t isn’t successful enough for even your own standards, right. And when you’re obsessed, it’s pretty high standards when you’re doing those things.

Number two is truly writing powerful business requirements. Try to take out the guesting as much as possible by doing what we do, which is it’s a great philosophy our Director of Design helped us implement as well. It’s project mapping. And it’s saying, Here’s, you know, let’s start with the jobs to be done for the user journey or the problem that we’re trying to solve. Now map out every piece of the puzzle, like, what’s the content? What’s the call to action here? What are the screens that we need to create? How does this flow if you go from x to y, what happens if the user does this action versus There’s action, where do they go back to? 

Akash cont.

And why is this extremely powerful when every single department looks at that project map, it’s very clear to them the role and responsibility that they play. It’s easily interpretable, what job they need to do to make sure that the user is really getting the best experience possible. So, you know, it’s easier to plan sprints, and it’s easier for engineers to interpret what you’re trying to build.

Even from a marketing and growth perspective, a QA perspective, a legal and compliance perspective, everyone’s in the know, at the end of the day, like product managers are, and product management in general, the CEOs of your products, like you want it to succeed as much as possible. When you have a blueprint, it’s like the same blueprint. When you’re building a house, you don’t want it to fall apart. Everyone plays a role, right? We’re the center of bringing people together. And so true project or product management has a powerful Project Map. But then the second is it’s built in a way that’s so obsessed with the user.

Patrick Blute

Phenomenal answer. That was very, very cool to kind of hear your philosophy on that, and would love to know similar vein, what makes a great product.

Akash Desai

A great product solves more than the immediate user need, that you’re trying to a great product, tries to synchronize so many lessons learned so many reviews, NPs comments, interviews, and surveys like it’s that delightful experience, when you say, not only to do this, but I also got to experience this. And it’s not always going to be highlighted, people are going to be very vocal about products that don’t work, they’re going to be very vocal when something breaks. But it’s not always going to happen when something is successful and is extremely delighted that people are going to be vocal. And so silence is blissful at times when you launch a new product. 

But also, it does more than its intent. And I think that’s what makes the journey that much more powerful. That much more exciting is, hey, this is about to do more than even I’ve envisioned. You know, it’s hearing that success story on the next user interview, or on the next user who says, Oh, I didn’t even know it did this. This is so great. Like, I didn’t even plan for that. That’s fantastic. It’s that cherry on top. And we all live for the cherry on top. Awesome.

Patrick Blute

So not just serve surprise and delight. Well, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your philosophy on product as well as really how you’re shaping FinTech and helping your users navigate this changing landscape. So congratulations, and thank you so much for joining us on the show.

Akash Desai

Of course. Thank you for the opportunity. And Patrick, this show is fantastic. I look forward to listening to many more sessions myself.

About the speaker
Akash Desai Novo, Senior Product Manager Member
About the host
Patrick Blute Transfix, Director of Brand and Sustainability

I am the Director of Brand & Sustainability for Transfix, a leading transportation solutions provider, combining tech and a best-in-class carrier network to reshape the future of freight. I am also a host for Product Talk helping bring product leaders together to answer the question: "What makes a great product?"

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