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Failing fast, succeeding faster: A product leader's journey

Fail Faster

Episode 445


26 minutes

Peter Papaioannou, the inaugural Vice President of Product at Everyware, is a seasoned professional in the fintech and payments sector. 

With a wealth of experience collaborating with renowned global organizations, Peter has excelled in high-growth environments, showcasing his proficiency in strategic visioning and pioneering product innovation. In his previous role as the Vice President of Global Product at Global Payments, Papaioannou played a pivotal role in shaping the strategic vision and fostering innovation. His focus was on delivering cutting-edge omnichannel, e-commerce, and in-store solutions to a vast network of over four million merchants.

Podcast transcript

Marc: How are you doing today, Peter? 

Peter: I’m doing great, Mark. 

Marc: I’m glad to have you. Where exactly in the world are you calling us from today? 

Peter: Austin, Texas. Home of the breakfast tacos. 

Marc: Hey, that’s nice. You a big taco person? 

Peter: Oh, yeah. When you’re in Austin, you have to be a big taco person. You just can’t live here and not have them. So yeah, absolutely. 

Marc: I get that. Definitely love me some good tacos. You know, it’s great having you today. I know our audience is very excited to learn more about your experience. Just to start it off, I’d love to get a better idea of your background. You know, where were you born and raised? What was childhood like? What’s the family dynamics? 

Peter: Yeah, so I was, I was born and raised in Minnesota. But I think probably more importantly, I’m first generation Greek. So both of my parents migrated from Greece. My dad when he was 15 years old, and my mom was around 29. So yeah, I, you know, one of the first in my family to go to college and get an MBA. And yeah, just kind of grateful to have like very strong, strong knit roots, basically. But yeah, I grew up in Minnesota and then proceeded over the course of my career to live in places including Arizona, Florida, spent many years in LA, San Francisco, and now finally landed in Austin. So it’s been kind of a journey, but I call this home, especially for now. 

Marc: That’s nice. You know, if you don’t mind, how did being the first gen impact you throughout your life? 

Peter: Yeah, I mean, it’s a great question. And I think it’s something I think actually, as I get older, I just think more about it, you know, kind of like my upbringing and, and also how it kind of impacts me and influences my decisions. And for you know, some of you know, I’m still kind of frugal. And I think it’s a mindset of I’m frugal kind of in my personal life and frugal at the office because because of that experience, but I think it really has kind of laid the foundation for me and in my life in terms of where I came from understanding where I’m from understanding just different cultural aspects of even as I apply them today for products, how they have to be multi, multinational, multicultural, and understanding different levels of user base. So I think I applied some of those same concepts, you know, almost every day to my life. 

Marc: That’s good to hear. And it seems like, you know, within your career, you’ve been involved in technology innovation, where did that interest begin? You know, how did that come about? 

Peter: Yeah, and a little bit of my backstory as well. So I’ve been everywhere here since about May. But even before that, I spent, let’s say about nine, nine, 10 years in payments, seven at Visa, and two at Global Payments. And then before that, I spent about nine and a half years at Deloitte. And that’s kind of where I think my interest really began around this, because and even like, you know, people ask me, where did I get excited around the product. And I think for me, it came back from even when I was in consulting, because as a consultant, you go and you deal with a wide variety of clients, like I had entertainment clients, manufacturing clients, gaming clients, you name it. 

But I think where I ended up is like you, you kind of look for what the client problem is, and you try to just build solutions around it, right. And whether it’s you’re, you’re consulting around a solution, doing analytics, or analysis around a solution, or kind of where I am now, kind of building out a scaled solution to a product. I think that kind of that was my mindset is really, I understand, you know, what the issue is, what the business problem, I can frame it, but also I can start building solutions around it. So that’s kind of where my, I think that’s where kind of my interest in technology really started. I mean, even I have an undergrad in accounting and computer information systems. And I even at that time chose computer information systems over accounting. So even very on, I think I made those just, you know, decisions and determinations. 

Marc: I think that is so at what point would you say that you were able to start understanding these challenges, something like that takes years to perfect. So at what time did you start seeing like, hey, I’m getting this, I’m understanding how to interact with a variety of clients. Now I’m starting to understand the industry. At what point did that start for you? 

Peter: Yeah. And that’s a great question. And I’ll, I’ll start by saying, like you said, how do you perfect it? And like this, you know, technology, especially you have to kind of stay on top of it. And I think the one thing that I know is I don’t know it all. And there’s always something to learn, right? Even maybe 10, 15 years ago, like the cloud was not necessarily a concept, you know, cloud is infrastructure and everything else. And cloud-based applications were not as prevalent, obviously, as they are today. Right. So all this stuff is kind of new. So I think from my standpoint, even where I started my career is really around setting the foundation. I think when I was working at Deloitte, I was fortunate to even do it. I think some of my first engagements were around Sarbanes-Oxley. 

And this is around, you know, IT controls and business process controls. And as kind of boring as that kind of sounds, it really did set the foundation for me on multiple levels. One level was just about understanding business processes, you know, understanding, you know, what it means when you say procure to pay and going from a you know, procurement from an accounts payable standpoint to paying a vendor, and then how that translates to IT and IT side. So it really gave me a foundation or framework and a structure to say, you know, this is what the main components of kind of like the technology stacks are, and really have a good foundation, whether it’s security or application, database levels, networking levels, it really kind of set the foundation for me to really understand, understand complex, you know, can be fairly complex areas in really simplistic kind of things. 

So that kind of laid the foundation, I felt like, and from that, I was able to do things that are more technical, I’m a CISSP, or I was at the time. And that kind of, again, laid the foundation for what I thought are really good building blocks. 

Marc: So you mentioned this briefly, you know, a couple years ago, clouds weren’t as big as they are now. And so, you know, as years progress, the new trends that are arriving, can you talk about some of the trends you’re seeing that have impacted your strategy? 

Peter: Yeah, and I fortunately, I’m in, I’m in the business of, I would say, you know, payments, money movement, and fintech, right. And, also, I would say cloud is one piece of that. But I think even when you think about the payments business over the last 10 to 15 years, you think of when the iPhone came out, and you think of well, when did you know, iPhone came out? And then when did actual Apple Pay came out? So if you think of like the last 10 years in payments, and kind of the where we’re progressing, there’s so many different trends that have happened since then, you know, bringing, you know, even the business that we’re kind of started out of here at everywhere is just bringing payments, making it simple for easy end user consumers to use their mobile device, right? 

That’s, it’s a very, very important thing to kind of think about. But the trends in my mind is yeah, the move to mobile is certainly one of those trends. Certainly the consumer experience and consumer expectations have changed, even from, you know, we we talk a lot about, you know, whether we’re like B2B or B2C company, or maybe a B2B to C company, consumers, whether you’re sitting in an office working for somebody or on your own personal device, you don’t really care anymore, you want that same ease of consumer experience and usability and the applications that you’re kind of using. 

And that is really a trend that I’ve seen. And I think it’s really been enabled by the mobile kind of generation. But, you know, certainly there’s a lot of cloud aspect in terms of trends, but those are the ones that highlight. I get it. 

Marc: And speaking of mobile, you know, Peter, I know you led the product development launch of the new mobile first payment for everywhere. Can you talk more about that process? You know, what were the challenges? Did you get any backlash during that time? 

Peter: Well, and actually, I mean, I was fortunate enough to come in a situation where there was an existing product. And I would say as a product leader in this area as well, you know, a lot of times, like in my past life, you kind of look at your product and you try to understand whether you have a good product market fit. You know, you understand what you built or what has been built by the previous product managers or product owners or leaders. And you kind of find gaps in where that product market fit is kind of lacking. I would say this is one situation where I feel like there’s a strong product market fit, because I think the ability for merchants and ISVs to communicate with their end consumers, you know, whether it’s a servicing conversation, whether it’s something around you wanting that consumer to pay via invoice, it’s really a strong product market fit. And I think there’s a lot of demand. 

And I think there’s a lot of going forward demand for that. With that said, there’s always things that you want to do with the product itself, the portal, how merchants and consumers interact with your product. And that’s the area that we’re really going to focus on, and hopefully do some really innovative things in the future. When it comes to like products, what are some of the factors in your opinion that make the product have that wow factor? 

Yeah, and this is where, you know, products, as a product manager, I want users to use my product, right? So, you know, I, I may measure, you know, that success of the product differently than let’s say an executive and let’s say, you know, others kind of ancillary to the company as well. But my primary objective for me as a product leader is to have products that people use my product features, and actually they like it, right. And they’ll kind of refer other people to use it, right. And we certainly look at other metrics as well, like an adoption rate and things like that, and usability, but like that is, those are the primary, the most important things from from my standpoint, because ultimately, if a user is going to use your product or use your features, they’re going to find value in it, it should be related to the jobs to be done, or that particular person or individual. 

And then really, you should be able to charge for and commercialize it and pricing. And this is where, you know, that kind of comes in. But you know, a lot of times, you know, maybe in the past life as well, like we’ve talked about, like, well, why are we getting? Why are we seeing an uptick? Or why aren’t we able to price for it? If users don’t find value in what you’re presenting, or the product or consumer experience around it, or the user experience, they just won’t pay for it, right. So that’s where you’re going to end up. 

Marc: Can you talk about a time where users didn’t find value in something you were presenting? And what exactly was the strategy to, you know, turn that around and make that into a success? 

Peter: Yeah, and I would say there’s definitely certain applications that we used to use. And I’ll speak generally about this. But there was one application that was really intended for, to pitch to banks, and look at a banking portfolio of card holders. And, you know, through like, using AI at the time to understand who would be more has more propensity to travel, right. So it was like one of the, it’s really not the first use case of AI. 

But it was a common use case, I think, to look at more of like a marketing play from an overall cardholder portfolio standpoint, right. So I think, you know, what really ended up happening is we had a vision in mind of the product, we were able to develop the product, it took us a while to develop the product. And then I think, you know, through the development process, you kind of lose sight of who your user is, how they would use it, and also how they would incorporate that into their own business process. And I think that’s kind of where we ultimately failed, right. And so we had to kind of kind of think through of how you create more of a modular experience, how we adjusted to make it more part of their own workflow, rather than just like, here’s, you know, we’ve identified out of your, you know, 30,000 cardholders, these 3000 are going to be traveling in the next like two months. 

So it was a really good lesson. But I think a lot of times when you’re like, especially in net new products, it takes a while to kind of develop and to kind of quote, unquote, do it right to do user research, and usability testing through the process is really key. And that’s kind of how I applied it going forward, right? Anything that I try to do now, especially if it’s a new build, I will do, you know, you can do user interviews, you know, blind or known, you can do a bunch of these testing. And I was fortunate as well to like learn from people along the way that that guided me from a user research and kind of understanding, and certainly using design thinking techniques to kind of advance my, my, my thought process around the product life cycle is really has been really paramount for me. 

Marc: How long does something like that take you? 

Peter: Well, it kind of depends what it is, right? And where you’re at and what type of product I mean, it could take and there’s certain tests that I would recommend that you’re doing, like, even if it’s, you know, if you’re looking at information architecture, you’re gonna there’s certain tests that you want to do like a tree test, right? Now, these tests are, they’re easy, they can be easy set up, there’s a lot of tools out there that can help you do it, they will save you a lot of time and doing development rework in the long term, right? 

So I’ve trust and tried, this stuff really works. And it’s something that I definitely incorporate into everything I do, whether or not like the executives may or may not understand and understand the importance of it. But it’s really important, I think, from product leaders to kind of do that, and just built it in your process. So it can take a month, it can take a few weeks, but I think lessons that you’re going to learn, especially upfront, you’re going to help you really define the product and the metrics that you’ll find after will be, I think, better, for the most part. I completely make sense. 

Marc: You know, this got me thinking, you know, right now within the market, are there any emerging technologies that you’re closely monitoring and hopes to integrate within your solution? So for instance, like, you know, Chat GPT has been a very popular AI, anything you’re watching that you’re thinking like, you know, this might be big for us in the next couple of months? 

Peter: Yeah, and I’m not sure what the timeline would be. But I mean, there’s certain technologies out there that I think have been out there for a while. And again, I have a payment lens on things, because I see technology and I have to make it in a use case that’s acceptable for me and my clients, right. But as an example, blockchain, blockchain has been out there for a while, I think it’s started to kind of be embedded in payments, but there’s really large payment providers and kind of the models that are, you know, historically set up to do this and money moving and transfer, but there are use cases around, certainly around blockchain that I’m looking at. 

I think maybe not Chat GPT, AI, or generative AI, but I think there’s other use cases around AI, especially for like, companies like everywhere where we, you know, we should own or we should understand mobile risk, you know, risk around the mobile device, we should understand, you know, the opportunities around the mobile device, whether it’s, you know, shopping behavior, or shopping cart, being able to pay to the mobile device being able to pay in store with it. So looking at a mobile rail, there’s AI use cases around that. And certainly our two way messaging platform would certainly do that as well. So I look at AI, I look at specific AI use cases, maybe not the Chat GPT route, but there’s other AIs that I’m definitely looking at. 

Marc: Yeah, you know, this podcast is called Fail Faster. So you know, we have to talk about failures within your career. But I always viewed it as you know, it’s never a failure if you learn from them. What would you say were your I guess, top two failures in your career? How did you learn from them? 

Peter: Yeah, and this is always a question, right of like how you and I believe in failing fast. Yeah, so one of the applications that I mentioned was around the travel application, there was another one that we kind of built because what we were trying to do at the time is really scale consulting services, right? So how do you get to, you know, you can do consulting for, let’s say, 100 clients, you could do consulting for 200 clients, but it’s all like personal dependent. Like what we were trying to do is scale consulting for 10,000 clients through our product set. And we learned that there was a couple applications that we built that were, you know, I think, in theory, were great applications, right? There were concepts, there were ideas. 

And at the time, we did not do any vetting, we did not do any prototyping, we had, you know, kind of taken the mindset of, you know, if you build it, they will come. And, you know, ultimately, they didn’t come. Or the other alternative is they used the product, but we couldn’t commercialize, they didn’t find enough value there to be able to commercialize it for us. So in my mind, that is also a failure when the intent is really to do this for pricing and for money, right? For value. So I took a lot out of those two applications that we kind of look to launch. And I would say it’s influenced kind of how I approach product management, product development decisions around doing several different iterations of prototyping. I’ll do design prototypes, I’ll do components, I’ll do like how the modules appear. 

I’ll do usability testing kind of throughout the process if I can. But that is what I really learned out of it is like there’s, I think there’s always pressure from product or to product leaders around just, hey, I have this concept, just do it. And I think it’s important to kind of take a step back and make sure that you are engaging with users directly, and not through salespeople, like users directly through this experience as well, or user management. And there’s another thing that I learned as well, like I think that salespeople have pretty good insight into what clients are telling them. 

And, and that’s certainly something as a product leader, you want to take into consideration. However, they’re not the end user per se, right, the end user might be different. So you want to actually try to get to the end users that are using the product. And sometimes, for product leaders, it’s difficult to do, right. But you have to make that effort to kind of do that, whether or not you’re doing it to an advisory board that you might set up, whether you’re trying to do that through kind of survey tools, and some of these may have to be compensated as well. 

Marc: But, you know, I think getting in front of the user, understanding their jobs to be done, understanding why they’re trying to, what they’re trying to do when they come to your kind of, you know, product or platform to use on a day, you know, hopefully daily basis, but sometimes, you know, it can be weekly or monthly basis, like, what are they trying to do? What are they trying to get out of it? And how do you kind of make sure that you can reduce the number of clicks that it takes for them to get their job done? 

Peter: Yeah, I think I think that’s what it comes down to, I got to understand the users and what their needs are. 

Marc: So with payments, there’s probably so many rules and regulations, how do you proceed? How do you handle? 

Peter: Well, hopefully they’re, you know, hopefully you have partners like I do that, that kind of understand the details of regulation, like in detail, I mean, obviously, you know, in the payments business, it’s heavy on PCI. And, and also because we have like in my current role, you know, at everywhere, we have messaging like two way messaging. So that’s, there’s certainly regulations such as 10 DLC that merchants need to abide by. Like the good part about it is I understand, I have a good understanding of those regulations, I, I have to understand it enough to be able to implement product based decisions on it. I’m certainly not the experts, I rely on experts to kind of help, help drive that. So but it is top of mind, especially when you’re in situations where you’re moving money, you’re, you’re authorizing payments. And this obviously affects consumers as well. 

Marc: When it comes to, you know, what’s next, what does next year look like for you guys? So right. So let’s say taking a look 12 months from now, you guys are like, Oh my god, we did this, like, what would that look like? 

Peter: Yeah, I mean, our vision, the future is really around developing a mobile real for payments. I mean, if you think of like, the consumer payments, and when you think of like your consumer experience, it’s really been, you know, regulated around your, your name, your address, your zip code, the the back of the card where you type in your CVV code, all that stuff has been traditionally, traditionally done as a consumer and the consumer has understood that experience. It’s been fairly consistent across, you know, different e-commerce sites, or merchant sites, I think we’re trying to do is just think differently and understanding how can we actually put the mobile device center to the payment conversation, and the payment conversation and the payment experience could be online, it could be in store, you know, you’ve seen as a consumer, you’re also tying in consumer loyalty programs through your mobile device now more often, especially at your your local coffee shops. 

So we believe that the mobile rail is the most efficient rail. We believe that consumers prefer their mobile devices and would prefer to communicate with their merchants directly via SMS text message rather than, you know, sitting on a call for seven minutes and getting an agent that doesn’t understand what they want. Because I think the consumer now is a multitasker. And I think the multitasking consumer does not have time for a seven to 10 minute phone call to get their issue resolved. So I think we just see better ways to do things and more efficient ways to do things as well. 

So that’s going to reflect and kind of how we’re approaching our product roadmapping of where we kind of see this going and, and really supporting our merchant partners or ISV partners, that consumer products. 

Marc: Do you foresee anything hindering you from achieving this goal? 

Peter: The hindering side, I think because of the size of right currently, I think we, you know, we have to be opportunistic, and certainly, you know, opportunistic to, you know, partners, new partners, new geographies, but at the same time, we have to be able to say no on certain certain areas or understand where we kind of have to say no this year, or at least no temporarily. So one of the thing challenges our team and our company is just to make sure that we’re really focused on the things that are going to provide the most value to our, our merchant partners and the consumers. And, you know, there’s certainly things that we are considering, but there’s certain things that we need to also say no to, or at least say no for now, right? And that’s part of it. 

Marc: I get that. We’re approaching my last question for you, Peter, you know, to the audience right now, what, what is one piece of advice you’d like to leave the audience with? 

Peter: Wow, one piece of advice. You know, I think it kind of goes back to the kind of comment I had earlier around like learning. And I think being open to try new things, being open to, like, look at yourself in the mirror and say, how can I improve? And, you know, I think my founder, Austin, he, he had a line in a recent leadership session, and he says, I want tomorrow to be better than today. So he wakes up with a mindset that he is going to, today is going to be better than yesterday. 

And I think as a product leader, I think he can also take that same mindset and say, you know, what can we do and do better, you know, today and tomorrow? Like, what is that incremental improvement that you can do to build in? Is it stakeholder management you can improve on? Is it getting in front of the users and, and really trying to take steps to, you know, make those changes happen, even though some of these steps may take a while to kind of get there. And I know that many product leaders are sometimes frustrated with that, because the organization sometimes is maybe not as fast on grasping some of these concepts. 

And you’re kind of trying to also, you have to also pitch it kind of this, these ideas internally. But I think when you get to that point, you know, making these, you know, attempting to make these incremental changes will go a long way. And ultimately making your, you know, product program much more successful. I love being better than you were the day before, even if it’s like 1% growth each day, you know, it’s something. 

Marc: Peter, it’s been absolutely amazing to have you on today’s episode. 

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