An Interview With The Brains Behind Our Product And Operations

Product, engineering and operations are our backbone; these teams have helped propel Freespee into a front-running position within the conversational commerce arena. The last few weeks has seen the introduction of new faces and features to our community and platform.
With these launches in mind, we wanted to delve deeper into the production side of what makes Freespee tick. I caught up with our product managers, product marketing manager and head of tech operations to better understand the goings-on behind the scenes.

Product Managers and Product Marketing Manager: Jussi Pekka-Kekki, Carolin Wellering, and Heather Baden.

Product managers and product marketing managers probably have the best idea of what the client wants and know how to execute these requests. They’re creators at the end of the day, bringing together multiple variables to establish a unified product, all under the umbrella of the company vision. No easy task.
Freespee product managers Jussi Pekka Kekki and Carolin Wellering are based in Uppsala and run the operation from Freespee’s Swedish Hub, alongside London HQ-based Product Marketing Manager Heather Baden.

What is the role of product marketing in Freespee?

Heather: Traditionally, our role is to be the translator between product & engineering and sales/marketing. As with sides of the brain, every product marketer will “favour” a side. I lean more towards spending more time and energy with product and engineering – understanding how they operate and their pain points. This helps me in creating a more well-rounded translation to sales.
On a day to day, I work very closely with the product team to understand what is going to be released and when. We meet regularly to understand the detail of the features. I follow what they’re doing in Jira and try to have a general view of where things are before they get close to launch. As a translator, I then take my knowledge from both sides and create content that is technically rich but high level.

How are you involved in releasing a product?

Heather: That’s a pretty broad question. There really is no start or end to launching a new product/feature. There are a couple of key parts to a launch, but the foundation of it is always the technology. I work closely with engineering and product to understand the tech regardless of the size of the product and take that to create content.
The way I do this is through translating the tech into competitive solutions for sales to have an edge. For each release, I communicate the content internally in various ways (from newsletters to full-on training sessions). I’ll also produce externally facing guides and value propositions. One of the initiatives we’re kicking off now is improving our tech documentation, and full Getting Started for developers. It’s really exciting to have various facets of enablement and different audiences to translate to.

How do you approach building a new feature?

Carolin: Usually, it depends a bit where the new request is coming from, it starts with a problem that a client has, and then we think of ways the client can solve it. There is always a lot of useful feedback from clients and success managers. We then define particular and very technical requirements. These instructions are given to the engineers, and they execute. We work in agile, so we get a lot of feedback, a lot of learning by doing. It’s an on-the-go process.
One of the best parts of building a new feature is how everyone contributes to the functionality; everyone is trying to solve the problem.
Probably one of the most challenging aspects is the stakeholder management; it can be a bit of a challenge to evaluate how long a solution will take, sometimes we don’t know where we will end up. We don’t know the direct path, for sales and the success managers.

What has been your greatest achievement so far as a Freespee Product Manager?

Carolin: How we kicked off as a team was quite smooth. I tried to provide a vision for the team that we felt responsible for, making sure that everyone stays symbiotic. For me, the team always comes first. I at least always try to make sure everyone can contribute to where we want to go. I don’t like to dictate where we want to go. If its contradicting my opinion it’s even better. Freedom of communication in every aspect is vital.
With regards to product, I’d say a significant achievement has been building the roadmap. Overall, I hope that with Freespee, we help customers/clients better evaluate the calls coming in and the conversations they have with their customers. Freespee can show them the value in these conversations.

What is the role of product manager in a cloud communications platform like ours?

Jussi: Well, the first part is to be the advocate for both the customer and the consumer. The consumers are the broader audience; they’re on a website looking for a car, for us that person is important, but it’s the customer or client who pays our bills. They serve the consumer, but since there are millions of consumers its difficult to talk to them directly. So we talk to our customers to understand how they can better provide for their consumer base.
Our role is to interpret the signals and messages we get from both parties, all over the world. We sort of create answers to problems.

What has it been like developing the product?

Jussi: Challenge-wise, at some point you realise how little you know. We’re going full speed ahead testing solutions, but sometimes you forget how fast you’re going. We are constantly building it; it feels like it’s never going to be finished. It’s the toughest part, you want to get something done, but before that’s done you’re already working on the next thing, you don’t have the time to enjoy your accomplishments.
On the positive side, we have endless amount of innovative energy where the team is constantly looking to solve a problem. We’re in a nice place where we have the potential to grow the company and product. We have so many more ideas that we can’t wait to implement.

Head of Tech Operations: Peter Hedman

Peter was recently promoted to head of tech operations at Freespee, fronting the Tech operations squad which includes Alaa Rahimi and Håkan Lund. Tech operations is the foundation of our functionality – without operations our infrastructure would cease to exist! Peter gave me a bit more insight.

How do you plan to approach your new position? What does it involve?

Peter: It involves offloading Niklas [Malmgren] with all the operations work he did before becoming CTO. I will have a closer look into the operations team. Hopefully, I can develop a better understanding of what the team is able to do and chat about how I want to work towards each sprint.
The most enjoyable part about taking this role will be the opportunities to change and shape tech operations to my vision. Since I started here, I’ve had a vision of how to make things run as automatic as possible.

We recently moved to AWS (Amazon Web Services), what will this transition offer Freespee?

Peter: It means that we don’t have to worry about potential hardware failures and we have more space to keep expanding. With AWS we haven’t had a single hardware failure, which means everything is covered in the infrastructure. AWS probably has millions of hard drives up for grabs, they likely have hard drive failures every second, but you’d never know, its resolved so quickly and allows us to keep growing.

How does that benefit us?

Peter: It improves our ability to stay online as much as possible. Not even Amazon claims to be able to provide 100% online services, but I haven’t seen any hardware related downtime since I started here a year ago.

What would you say is the most useful tool you work with?

Peter: Jira is probably our most important tool. Before that, I could not live without the text editor Vim.

Greatest achievement so far?

Peter: Implanting the Saltstack software. We’ve gone from installing three servers (for example MySQL), over many hours to getting the job done in minutes.