Tessa Pettman

Global Head of Product Marketing at TransferWise

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Product-led Growth at Wise - the Secrets to Hypergrowth

Tessa Pettman leads the Product Marketing team at TransferWise, one of the most impressive fintech startups in the world!

They were founded in 2011 and were recently valued at $5 billion, with over 8M active users around the world.

In this interview, Tessa shares:

– what are the differences between product marketing and traditional marketing

– how they approach product growth at TransferWise

– what she believes is the future of the fintech market in the UK

– what qualities she’s looking for when hiring product marketing managers

– the findings from some interesting experiments they’ve been running internally

– what she believes sets TransferWise apart and how they have become one of the world leaders in fintech.


Please note this transcript is automated

00:01 Desi The term product-led growth has become a buzzword in the last few years. How do you build a product that grows from within, using its own features to acquire, activate, and retain customers, instead of relying on a heavy sales-led strategy and traditional acquisition campaigns. This new norm has created a much needed role in most startups – Product Marketers, who bridge the gap between Product, Marketing and Sales. I spoke to Tessa Pettman, Global Head of Product Marketing at TransferWise to find out the differences between Product marketing and traditional marketing and what qualities she’s looking for when hiring product marketers for her team. She also shared with me how they approach product growth at TransferWise one of the most impressive fintech companies in the world! They were founded in 2011 and were recently valued at $5 billion, with over 8M active customers across the world. Here’re some super interesting product insights from their kitchen.

01:17 Desi Hi Tessa, welcome to the Product Show

01:20 Tessa Pettman Hi, nice to see you!

01:22 Desi Great to have you! Thanks for agreeing to spend some time with us! Tell us a bit about your background. You’re Global Head of Product Marketing at TransferWise, you previously held a similar role at Handy. Tell us about your journey so far.

01:39 Tessa Pettman Yeah, sure! I worked in consumer tech products for probably about 10-12 years now all in marketing. But actually my very early career was in journalism and a little bit in public affairs I worked at the European Parliament for a while and as a journalist in Argentina, before I transitioned into marketing roles and ended up in technology which felt like obviously the best place to be

02:10 Desi You’ve been in product marketing for over five years now. Can you tell us the difference between traditional marketing and product marketing. How has this field evolved over the years?

02:22 Tessa Pettman I think really the secret is in the name, isn’t it? For me, the biggest difference is how close you’re to Product For example, at TransferWise all of our product marketing managers are embedded in product teams. They plan with them, they work with them every day, they’re very closely working with the PMs all of the time, with designer, with UX research with engineering. And I’d like to think that our goal is to sit in a Venn diagram of know your customer really, really well and know the product really, really well. And what that means is we’re able to position a message, products really really effectively to customers. With the goal that whether is a launch campaign or an ongoing adoption, or it’s messaging and product whatever it might be, the idea is that we help every single customer understand the value TransferWise offers and enables them to adopt all of the products that fit their use case.

03:21 Desi Having said that, does that mean that you don’t have a traditional marketing team or … Do you have one?

03:28 Tessa Pettman TransferWise has a big Performance Marketing team and Product Marketing works pretty close with those guys. So essentially, performance team will include Paid Social, SEO Paid Search, all you traditional acquisition teams, and product marketing at TransferWise is a bit more closely to Product, but we work very closely to the marketing channel owners, so when it comes to a launch campaign we’re working side by side with them to make sure that we do the best job possible on all the marketing channels that we look after.

03:58 Desi Product marketing is an interesting animal. I’ve been speaking to brilliant product leads from all sorts of backgrounds, like data scientists, UX designers, engineers, business analysts. I guess the reason for the is that you require quite a broad spectrum of skills in order to be good at product management. You come from a communication background. You were a journalist, then you transitioned to marketing. Do you think this has helped you? What do you think that your communication background brings to the table?

04:32 Tessa Pettman I think in the ideal world your perfect PMM is this great balance between analytical, creative and commercial. But generally speaking everybody tends to skew one way or the other and definitely being analytical and very comfortable with data is really, really important for this role. Every single person on my team is skilled on data analytics will learn sequel, if they don’t have it already, can do HTML, can do various other things. To your point about the strength of the communication background. For me, a really big part of this job is nailing customer messaging. If you really, really care about language then that’s a huge benefit to doing that I can’t underestimate the power of great copy the difference between good and great can often come down to really, really sharp copy and great messaging. So I do think that if you have a background or at least strength in communication and written and verbal communication, it’s definitely a benefit in those regards. Great copy sometimes could make all the difference, right? Fortunately, we have a fantastic copy team and we work closely with those guys.

05:47 Desi Great. Can you give us an example of a product-led marketing campaign you’ve done recently and some interesting findings?

05:55 Tessa Pettman Yeah, it’s actually a very nice feature launch that we’ve done recently which is around our Money Tracker. One of the products that TransferWise offers is a money transfer product is send an email to money from A to B around the world. One of the things we learned very early on is that when you’re sending money there can be a degree of anxiety about if and when it’s gonna get there. It’s a bit like sending a valuable parcel with DHL. You kind of wanna know, if this is going to the other side of the world, where it is along the way. So we built a “money tracker” to help solve that anxiety for customers. It worked really well. The customer really loved it. And more recently we had one of our product teams led by a fantastic PM called Undine who built a Recipient Money Tracker, so the idea being that actually the person receiving the money would get just as much value and may have the same degree of anxiety about when they would receive what they were expecting so we built this recipient money tracker that you send via a text message WhatsApp, email, so the recipient could track where the money was and when they could expect it. And having build that, we also realised that actually that’s already a great opportunity to use it as an acquisition tool, because by that point you already taught this prospective customer how they can get value out of TransferWise. They already began to understand that they could save money – up to 8 times cheaper than a bank by using TransferWise to send and receive funds around the world. So we’ve been running experiment using the Recipient Money Tracker as an acquisition tool, giving recipients an opportunity to sign up for TransferWise and try it out for themselves and it’s worked brilliantly! I can’t really go into the specific data points around it, but we’re thrilled to be able to see that you can actually build an acquisition tool out of a feature that’s already adding value for the customer.

07:54 Desi Do you have a new process that you follow when you introduce new features and offerings? Or is it mainly work in progress all the time? How much of user research do you do when you introduce those? TransferWise is quite a mature company now.

08:11 Tessa Pettman Yeah, we do a ton of user research, I think to your question about how we think about product development. There isn’t a silver bullet to this. There’s lots of very smart and sophisticated processes that our PMs would follow, but from a product marketing point of view, it’s pretty simple – we’re really, really, really close to the customer! Obviously, we’re in a slightly different world at the moment, but ordinarily there isn’t a single month when we’re not running interviews, or customer calls or focus groups or surveys. The goal here is that we understand our customers inside out. And the value that product marketing brings to the development roadmap is feeding that back to product teams and to PMs, so that they’re always thinking customer first and we’re always building customer first.

09:02 Desi You’ve done quite a lot of product marketing campaigns. I’m interested you know the signs that things are going great , but what are the signals that a campaign is heading for trouble?

09:16 Tessa Pettman We’re a hugely data-driven company. We major almost everything! I think that there’re some fairly obvious signals whether your product adoption is not going as you wanted it to – whether that’s retention or usage or churn, or whatever the metrics are that you look out for I think a good example for us on this is we built a Facebook bot, for Facebook Messenger I think it was in 2017 and we launched this product and it got huge media attention which we kind of weren’t really expecting to be honest. We built it because we thought it would be valuable for customers. And suddenly the media went wild. I think it’s the first time a money transfer fin tech company had integrated with Facebook Messenger and it was this big story out of nowhere which is great, it makes you feel all good and happy about life. But at the end of the day, the adoption from customers just wasn’t there. And I do think the reason for that is bots are great and they solve lots of problems but at the end of the day, when you’re handling money, when you’re handling your own finances, there’s nothing like the human touch. Knowing that there’s a real person at the end of the phone or at the end of the email to help you if things do go wrong or if you’re not sure about something – it makes a big difference. And at the end of the day there’s a trade-off between the investment cost of maintaining a product that isn’t being hugely adopted by customer vs. taking that investment and building product that are more popular. It’s the kind of critical question. I can’t remember when exactly we sunsetted that product, but we eventually took the decision what we won’t continue maintaining it.

11:01 Desi What’s the Aha! Moment for TransferWise? Have you identified it?

11:09 Tessa Pettman I actually have the real life answer to this! I was interviewing a customer, it must have been just before lockdown. Yeah, towards the beginning of this year and I asked him that exact question. I said: Was there a single moment for you? He’d signed up for our multi-currency account and our debit card. And I said: When did the penny drop? When did you suddenly just go: “Oh my god, this thing is brilliant!” And he told me that he was going on a business trip to New York and he was flying via Dublin and he’d put I think like £1,000 on his GBP balance with TransferWise and he took our his debit card and went to go to pay for something in duty free in euros. I think it was a bottle of vodka or something, and he hands over his card and pays for it and immediately gets a push notification on his phone from TransferWise saying you just spent 55 EUR in duty free that used £48 of your GBP balance. This is how much you saved. And he was blown away! He said I literally laughed out loud at how good this was, it was like some kind of magic. So I think that for us is like the literal Aha! Moment for customers who suddenly understand the value and the power of the multi-currency account we offer. I always like to think of that when I’m thinking about where we’re trying to get out customers to. 

12:31 Desi Great! Competition is fierce at moment, right? We’ve got products like TransferWise, but then we’ve got the neobanks which are growing like crazy – Starling, Revolut, all of the rest. How do you manage to protect your identity and don’t get lost in all the opportunities of what else you can bring and could build

12:58 Tessa Pettman It’s a good question. I think there’s a couple of things that are fairly easy for us. One is a really, really robust commitment to transparency. I genuinely have yet to see another company on the market be as committed to transparency as we are. We not only hold ourselves accountable to transparency to the the point where we’d actually show you a breakdown of fees of where your fees go to, what they get paid for how much we invest in the company vs paying to bank partners. But we also actively campaign for transparency across the industry. For too long banks have existed in this opaque world where they have hidden fees and exchange rates, and not being honest and upfront with customers I do think that the challengers banks are much, much better than the traditional banks, but I think the degree of transparency that TransferWise offers sets us apart from the rest. More on the product-first side I think the big benefit to the TransferWise multi-currency account vs challenger banks is the bank details product with your multi-currency account you can actually open bank details for over 30 countries around the world. That means that you get UK account number and sort code, a US wire and routing number you can get an Australian BSB number, Euro IBANs, so you can actually receive money from people in those countries around the world for free, without needing to open a bank account abroad. I have yet to see another challenger bank provide that degree of power to an international banking solution or replacement. So I think that those two things – one on a values level and the other on the product level is where I find it actually quite straightforward to set us apart from the others.

14:45 Desi It sounds like a great product to be doing marketing for!

14:49 Tessa Pettman It’s pretty good!

14:58 Desi From our previous conversation I was left with the impression that you’re currently recruiting people. What are you looking for like the three main characteristics, when you’re hiring them for your team?

15:08 Tessa Pettman Obviously there’s a huge list of required skillsets, but in terms of characteristics product marketing is a hugely cross-functional role. First thing they need to have a really strong ability to collaborate. They need to be able to work comfortably with product, senior leadership, with marketing, with design, with creatives, all sorts of different characters, so that’s for me is number 1. The second is a high degree of customer empathy, having a strong ability to talk to customers, to not be afraid to to roll up your sleeves and call them, or have a focus group or run interviews. That’s critical! I can’t have people on the team who just wanna sit behind the scene and do their own work. And the third thing I think is it’s a quite an overused word, hustle, but you do need to have a bias for action and a degree of drive to get stuff done. It’s not always straightforward as a product marketing manager to take other teams on the journey with you, so I think that’s also very important characteristic that I look for.

16:14 Desi What do you think is the secret to sustainable product growth?

16:19 Tessa Pettman What do I think is the secret… I just think probably – just never lose sight of the mission. TransferWise has a really, really strong mission, we’re a very mission-driven company and that’s “Money without borders”, so making the ability to move and convert money around the world instant, convenient, transparent and eventually free, so I think in all of the product decisions that we do, in all of the company decisions that we do in fact, we’re always thinking “How can we make this more transparent? How can we make this more convenient for customers? How can we make this cheaper for customers?” And those values and that attachment to the mission really drives everything we do.

17:04 Desi How do you think the consumer has changed in the last few years in terms of money management, because we have so many options now?

17:18 Tessa Pettman Money transfers are getting easier and easier I think consumers are a lot more savvy now. There’re so many different fin tech products on the market, particularly in the UK. On some of the other international markets we’re in around the world is less crowded. But I talk to a lot of customers from markets that we’re in globally and certainly in the UK people are very savvy. They’re often using different products for different things. They often use more than one challenger bank but for slightly different purposes. And some people are really happy to do that – to chop and change, to dance between things, to use things for different purposes. And then you get a whole another type of customer who just wants everything streamlined in one place, and there’re definitely products out there that are attempting to do just that. We see with our business products, for example, more and more of a bigger business customers starting to use TransferWise for all of their international business banking rather than for just one off international payments and part of that is due to some product releases that we did recently around adding multi-user access. So we went from being a great tool for small and medium size businesses with small teams to being something that a business of any size could actually use and save money with. We now have big businesses who’re using TransferWise for their currency accounts for making payments overseas for staff, for payroll, for Treasury. For connecting their Xero accounting tools and other stuff, it’s actually got to a place where it’s now a hugely, hugely powerful tool that saves money for businesses of all sizes which is pretty cool. 

18:52 Desi I remember a few years ago when I had to open a US dollars account on HSBC – I bet that was a nightmare! – It took me a month and I couldn’t believe it back then. It was probably 5 or 6 years ago. I can imagine that in 2020 that is not possible anymore. No one would be bothered to spend that much time and energy on something that should be so simple.

19:16 Tessa Pettman Yeah! Depending on your level of verification we could that within a day. I don’t wanna make any promises, but I reckon it’s possible you could do that in an hour with Transferwise.

19:27 Desi What do you think is the biggest challenge for the industry now in 2020?

19:32 Tessa Pettman Gosh… I think that it’s very crowded right now. There is gonna be some consolidation. It’d be very interesting to watch the next few years to see what format and shape that takes place whether there is aggressive acquisitions, whether there is consolidation on the market in a different way, I think there’s gonna be in the more crowded market a bit of a fight. It’s gonna be a fight customer attention, it’s gonna be a fight on pricing, but also on convenience and trust. At the end of the day, we’re asking customers to trust us with their money. There’re a lots of very shiny, exciting new startup brands and challenger banks that are promising everything. But will the customer trust them? Will the customer trust them to get their salary paid into them? Will the customer trust them to offer them solid interest rates, but also actually make sure that they’re protected if things go wrong, so I think that TrasnferWise has done a very, very good job at building trust, with 8M customers and we have not done that by firing out shiny bells and whistles at all time. We’ve done it by building a really, really robust product and one that customers can trust us to look after their money and their future with for the long term.

20:51 Desi Have you ever done a small UX improvement or tweak that had a disproportionately high impact on the product, considering the effort it requires? Did you ever have such a small tweak that turned into a big win?

21:05 Tessa Pettman A nice example of this for us. So I explained to you a little earlier. The bank details product that exists within our multi-currency accounts that enable you to receive money from around the world for free in different currencies. And we actually realised fairly quickly that for consuming users is quite a hard product for them to understand, because it’s not common language, it’s not something that exists in any other bank account in the world. This idea that you could have multiple sets of bank details that enable you to bank in different countries is kind of unique and unheard of, and so we realised that customers were having a problem figuring out a) how to find these b) how to use them. We originally had bank details as part of your currencies balances, so you’d open your GBP balance and see your bank details, you’d open your EURO balance and see your EURO IBAN. So we ran a bunch of user research and tested some prototype around change to that UI. And by moving bank details into a separate section in the app on the account settings, we found that discoverability changed immediately. People really suddenly understood and were better educated about what these were and how to use them and as a result the number of people using TransferWise to receive money form around the world has seen a really high growth as a result of that.

22:28 Desi That’s amazing! So they suddenly realised that they actually have a separate bank account for each currency, just by seeing the number there. – Exactly! Amazing! That really sounds like a small tweak.

22:39 Tessa Pettman I don’t know if the product team would have called that a small tweak, they spent a lot of time on it but… 

22:44 Desi As a product person, what’s the one metric you start your day with? Honestly – there must be one that you’re really obsessed with.

22:56 Tessa Pettman At the moment is cross-sell. A lot of the things that product marketing team are focused on is helping every single TransferWise customer understand all of the things they could use TransferWise. That would help them save money and make their lives easier, so we have 8M customers around the world, often that means people who use us for money transfer, helping them understand that they could open a multi-currency account with us. People who are consumer users helping them understand that they could use us for their business, as well. So those cross-sell metrics are a big part of my team’s remit and yeah, we look at these a lot.

23:33 Desi Thank you so much for your time, Tessa! It’s been very interesting. I wish you all the best with TransferWise and your future career.

23:42 Tessa Pettman Thank you, thank you so much!