Becoming a Product Leader, with Matt Fenby-Taylor, CPO at ClearScore

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The professional journey of Matt Fenby-Taylor, Chief Product Officer at ClearScore, is nothing less than awe-inspiring. He rose through the ranks in a slew of organisations — from Sony Music to SoundCloud, and from Skyscanner to finally at the helm of product development at ClearScore.

Despite his enviable CV and rapid professional growth, his humility is something that sets him apart from the crowd. After having earned a degree in astrophysics, he believes he was an average engineer in the early days of work.

Even now, he believes he is a generalist who is not the smartest person in the room and who learnt his craft by a straightforward rule of ‘fail, fix & repeat’. Let us dwell deeper into the career journey of this man who calls himself a product leader and learn his core principals in product management.

What’s Inside?

  1. Matt Fenby-Taylor’s Career Journey
  2. Developing as a Product Leader”
  3. Creating User-First Solutions
  4. Main Qualities of a Product Manager
  5. Discovering a Leadership Style
  6. Four Core Tenets of Great Product Management
  7. Lesson Learned
  8. Who is Matt Fenby-Taylor

Matt Fenby-Taylor’s Career Journey

Having graduated with a degree in astrophysics, Matt surprisingly began his career working for Sony Music Group, first as a Digital Operations Manager, then as Digital Operations Director, and finally rising to the position of Senior Director for Digital Operations before moving into Product Management at Sony. 

In 2013, he moved to SoundCloud to become Director of Creator Product & Content Operations, before being promoted to Vice President (VP) for Creators Product & Content Operations. 

After 4 years at SoundCloud, Matt moved over to Skyscanner in 2017 as their Senior Director of Product. Finally, in February 2020, he joined ClearScore to take up the role of Chief Product Officer.

Developing as a Product Leader

I joined Sony Music straight out of university in an engineering role. It was a lot of fun doing early CRM stuff, working with SMS and data capture forms on ridiculously expensive websites. 

As I was doing this, I realised that I was an average engineer but also that impacting one thing in a business will have a positive ripple effect throughout the organisation and for your users. What was needed was to join the dots between teams, functions etc. It encouraged me to start working across different departments.

This fascination set me on a path to what I am now.

We created a product that shows your credit score, why your score is where it is (and how to improve it), and how to make better financial decisions about credit in the future. 

We tell consumers that if you apply for an X credit card, you have a Y% chance of being approved. Often, we signpost deals with 100% approval likelihood. This is important because being rejected is not only inconvenient but can also harm your chances of getting credit in the future. We connect people to great credit products, helping them use the financial system appropriately. 

Currently, we’re operating in the UK, South Africa, and Australia.

Creating User-First Solutions

The company isn’t what some people think of when they imagine a fintech. It’s user-centered and helps consumers instead of simply maximising. We’ve left revenue on the table multiple times to do the right thing for our users. 

This is incredibly important but difficult to do, especially when you’re young and slightly strapped for cash. You should keep your company’s vision in front of your mind and always look towards your long-term goals. 

Losing short-term revenue can be worth it if you build trust with consumers which leads to engagement. We’re in the business of building long-term user relationships. Sure, we could make a quick buck here and there, but it’s useless if we damage our reputation and lose the client’s trust.

Main Qualities of a Product Manager

Product people (whatever their title, let’s not get into product managers vs owners) are generalists, not specialists.

You need to operate from deep detail up to a high-level birds-eye view and work with different teams to be successful: engineering, design, marketing, and data science, etc.

This requires a certain level of generalism. You need to know what good UX/UI looks like, even if you don’t do it yourself. You should understand cross-channel marketing strategy and the role your products play in the organisation. Even as eg: a specialist growth product person you’ll be the generalist in the team. This is why I love product management – it’s a mishmash of a little bit of everything.

Discovering Your Leadership Style

Even the most junior product managers are leaders. They must be comfortable knowing when to step back and when to take the front seat in driving a product’s development forward. Honing your leadership capabilities is a unique, personal process. Everyone’s leadership style is different. 

Whether you’re a natural extroverted and boisterous person or an introverted thinker, you’ll need to find different approaches with different people and teams. Build you EQ and toolkit of approaches.

I am usually not the smartest person in a conversation. I don’t want to be and I don’t have to be. Instead, my job relies on getting everyone else to work to the best of their abilities and helping join the dots.

Four Core Tenets of Great Product Management

We’re actively working to integrate marketing, product, and engineering teams and move towards a product marketing setup. Marketing teams are increasingly involved in product strategy and product planning, while product teams are working on lifecycle marketing and CRM exercises. 

Moving from individual product management to group product management is a tricky task. It’s a fairly easy process if you’re the sole person responsible for developing a product. When there’s a group, you need an entirely different approach.

This process helped me develop some core principles I still use:

1. Give Context and Set Boundaries

You need to be incredibly explicit with the team from the get-go. Provide them with the driving insight on the context behind the project, how it links to the overall vision, what sort of risks they can take, and their constraints.

2. Autonomy and Empowerment

Ask your team to put all of the relevant context into a shared document. Making the most out of everyone’s learnings will ensure the whole team benefits from the group’s collective knowledge. 

Then, ask your product managers to go away and devise:

  • Articulation of the overall goal
  • Approach to reach the goal

This greatly reduces the concern some people might have over their work autonomy. You let them take the reins. You won’t just blindly follow everyone’s plan – there’s always feedback – but at least take their ideas on board and let them have the first say.

3. Psychological Safety

This is arguably the hardest thing to do. So many great ideas go left unsaid because people are too afraid of what others might think. 

You need to make it safe for people to voice their opinions, ask questions, make mistakes, and ultimately develop. This takes an incredible amount of discipline, rigour, experience, and trust. But in the end, it’s more than worth it. 

4. Embrace Trade-Offs

No product is ever perfect. You’re always going to have a trade-off on one thing or another. It might be the product design itself, when it’s released, how it’s marketed, or plans for improving it. 

The best product leaders find a balance between accepting certain trade offs and not letting the rest of the business completely block you from doing what you believe in. 

Lessons Learned

Put users first at all times, even above revenue. If you do that, you can expect great customer loyalty

Product people are usually jacks-of-all-trades, and rightly so. You need to operate at the birds-eye view across a wide range of teams and learn continuously.

Even the most junior product managers are leaders. They need to be comfortable taking the driver’s seat and delegating tasks.

Who is Matt Fenby-Taylor?

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