Riccardo Tartari is the Chief Product Officer of INZMO, who started in the position in October. Mr. Tartari has previously held various product-related positions in the past nine years. Our employer brand communication manager talked with Riccardo to find out his take on what makes a product manager successful and what traits & skills are a must-have for every product manager.
In this interview with Riccardo, you will find out how he started his career as a software engineer but later found his way into product management.
We hope that it's as joyful for you to read this interview as it was for us to talk to Riccardo while we recorded our interview. For the whole product team, Riccardo is a very inspirational leader.This interview was written by Rene Rumberg, INZMOs employer brand communication manager.
PS! Riccardo is looking for new team members to take INZMO product to the next level. Connect with us on our TeamTailor page and be the first one to hear about new job opportunities. https://inzmo.teamtailor.com/
Riccardo, when you were a kid, who did you dream of becoming when you grew up?
When I was a kid, as for many small kids, I looked up to my dad. He was the one who was always fixing things in the house, as he was an engineer. So, it left its print on me and it was very clear to me from an early age that I wanted to have technical capabilities and knowledge to make things with my own hands. Before I entered the product world as a product manager and head of product, I was a software engineer.
It is great that there are still people out there who know how to fix things with their own hands, because we seem to live in an era where it is amazingly easy to replace broken things with new ones and just throw old ones away.
Exactly! Coming back to my father for a second, he was always in the management position since I remember and I saw the kind of respect that the other people had towards him, and how they ended up repaying for his leadership, trust and it was very inspiring for me. When you want a trustful relationship with anyone, then you must keep up with everything you are promising. Of course, situations can change, but then it is important to be the first one who raises the hand and says it out.
“When you want a trustful relationship with anyone, then you must keep up with everything you are promising. Of course, situations can change, but then it is important to be the first one who raises the hand and says it out.”
There are many career opportunities out there and as you said, you started out as a software engineer. But what gave you the initial push to dig deeper into the world of product in the beginning to start working as a product manager?
When I was a software engineer, besides being responsible for information security of different companies, I did a lot of work in that direction. At a certain point, I noticed a difference between me and my peers – a lot of them were excited about using the latest technologies, no matter how much the technology changed or impacted their products. I came to the realization if you just care about technology by itself, it does not look so relevant. That was the moment when I realized that I had been doing products from the technological standpoint. I embraced that change and worked for it. It required a lot of studying and learning. It came with a momentous change, because that was also the moment when I moved from Italy to Germany. It was an incredibly good revelation for myself, as I always considered myself to be a very tech focused person, but suddenly I realized that I was focusing on the value for the end-user.
What three critical traits should every product manager professional possess?
1. Curiousness. Are they curious and want to learn or not? It does not apply only to products. If you are not curious and willing to learn, dig into new things, then you are limiting yourself. I appreciate if people ask even obvious questions, because it brings clarity and establishes the ground level of knowledge that is needed to move forward. 2. Attention to make decisions based on the data. As product people, we make a lot of decisions. Making those decisions comes with a lot of consequences – we might take the product in a direction that does not make sense, we start to implement a feature that might not be the best way to use the time of our people. What are the decisions and processes behind this? A lot of people that I know think they know what the right thing is to do. This is extremely dangerous. I have been lucky to work together with a lot of gifted people that in most cases were right with their gut feeling, but you cannot really make your gut feeling a process. It can be right, but it can also be wrong, and you have no way you know which is which, before you actually do things. If you start from the user's behavioral data and come out with the hypothesis, based on the data your users are giving to you, you start with the much more stable base. So, if you would like to prioritize distinctive features and take decisions, and you have a way to make sure that this decision makes sense from the metric’s perspective and prove that what you did improved that metric, no one can tell you anything, because you are delivering tangible and measurable value.
“If you start from the user's behavioral data and come out with the hypothesis, based on the data your users are giving to you, you start with the much more stable base.”
Tartari about the three most critical traits that every product manager should possess.
3. Product people should be looking out for their users to deliver the best possible experience to them. Product people are the ones within every organization who should take the user perspective into everything we do and say, “What is the value for the user?”. Obviously, we are a for-profit company, and we need to put together different perspectives of the company and end-users. In most cases, there are solutions in which these two groups of stakeholders do not collide with each other, and we can deliver value to both. The product needs to work for users, otherwise there will be no traction. You should always keep this in front of your eyes.
Okay, we have a good overview of critical traits that are important to have as product managers. If we now take a step forward and look more specifically into skills, then what are the top skills you are looking for in a potential employee when interviewing the candidate?
It depends on the level of seniority of the profile we are talking about. When you’re hiring a junior product manager, or if there is someone inside of your organization transforming from non-product role to a product role and they start to learn a completely different skillset, then I try to help them develop those skills. Since some of those skills are not super straightforward, then it is important to trust the person and read between the lines. That is not easy, because a lot of those traits can be soft skills and they are not easy to measure.
But if we’re going more into details, then for a junior, I look for the appetite and desire to learn, put the head down and shadow people, follow advice and being able to listen for feedback is vital. When talking about more senior candidates, everything previously mentioned is important, plus on top, the capacity to manage a team and to be able to take on tasks that are higher level in terms of strategy, being able to look at your product and think about a potential roadmap and strategy for it.
Product management is not something that works in the vacuum. So, if you are a product person and would like to sit in your ivory tower and call all the shots, telling everyone what to do, then it is not going to work. What I have learned in product management is that you are constantly part of the team, gathering insights, feedback, looking for opportunities from all the different corners of the organization and from outside of your organization, looking at the market, how your competitors are doing and how is your product benchmarking against competitors. It is also particularly important to talk to your users, otherwise you do not understand what they perceive as the product strong capabilities and pitfalls. The capacity to be humble and not thinking of yourself as the smartest person, willing to put your ideas under the microscope and constantly validating them, are vital if you want to progress in your career. I would not expect that from a junior, but a lot of senior people have strong opinions, and this can be dangerous, because opinions that are not validated with data are just gut-feelings.
“Product management is not something that works in the vacuum. So, if you are a product person and would like to sit in your ivory tower and call all the shots, telling everyone what to do, then it is not going to work.
Tartari regarding the top skills he looks for when interviewing a potential employee
The more senior you become, the more important it is to have effective communication skills, because you must gather feedback from different stakeholders, users, and the market. Then you must be able to communicate effectively and put people in a position where they can be open about your product, so they feel safe and can openly say anything to you, either positive or negative. This is something that is not so easy to do, and I have seen very gifted product managers who struggle to communicate.
This can be a roadblock, because on the paper, if you have a product that delivers a lot of value but you are not able to communicate it, in the end, the product doesn’t make it. In 2022 and 2023, if you are not a good communicator, you are really going to pay for that.
How should well-structured meetings look like, in your opinion?
It is extremely important to prepare for the meetings beforehand by establishing a decisional process, that will be shared with people attending the meeting, giving them all the information that they need to make the best decision during the meeting. That is needed to cut an hour-long meeting into short, maximum 15-minute, straight to the point meetings, with concrete outcomes, where everyone knows what they need to do next.
As a manager, what do you value the most?
Being very upfront and direct. I can help people in my team, and if I cannot help, then I can help them to figure out ways to help them. But for that, we need to be straightforward with each other. If that does not happen, then I can do anything that is in my power, but it is not going to support people in the best way. It has happened to everyone, it has happened to me several times, when you reach a point and you realize that you cannot make it by yourself, then raise your hand and ask for help. There is no problem in asking for help and no one should be judged for asking for help and I push myself not to judge anyone due to this. There are situations where you do not have all the pieces of the puzzle, and no one should go forward before they have answers. Ask for help! The more eyes there are, the better the outcome in the end.
I also appreciate a proper feedback culture. No one by themselves is perfect for a specific organization. You are one piece of the puzzle, where three sides fit, but one side might not, because we come from different experiences, backgrounds, meeting different people. Is this a problem? No, the opposite, this is an opportunity. We need to give people the chance to be straight forward and receive straightforward feedback.
“There is no problem in asking for help and no one should be judged for asking for help and I push myself not to judge anyone due to this.”
Tartari about what he values the most as a manager
What does receiving or giving feedback mean for you?
It does not mean receiving one email every year. It is an on-going process, where your direct manager receives feedback from everyone who is around you. When someone needs mentoring or assistance, then the manager can help them by working on it, day in and out.
Of course, the level of assistance depends individually or on the specific case – sometimes it’s just a small nudge in the right direction, and other times, more hands-on assistance might be needed. This positive feedback loop enables you, and the company as a whole, to go in the right direction. I’ve previously seen people who’ve struggled in the beginning, because of different communication styles and behaviors. Once they’ve received straight feedback, guidance, and have understood the importance of those different things from the organizational point of view, in 90% of the cases, they achieve better results, for both company and them as an employee. If the process is not there, the employee might sit by themselves thinking that they’re doing great, even when they’re not.
This is a mindset, not only a process. It must get into the brain of every employee, starting from the top. If you do this, I can guarantee you, the outcome is going to be amazing. People will feel more at home and they’re more understood and the company understands you.
What are some of your favorite tactics to motivate your team?
One of the ways that has worked in the past for me has been to make sure we’re not building the company product, but we’re, all together, building our product. This means that I don’t want anyone in the organization, even founders, to take decisions on where we want to go. It should come out of all of us, together. Building this process is one of the most valuable lessons that I can bring in from my past experiences in different companies of varied sizes. If you build this mindset, that the product we’re working on is my product, it gives you so much motivation, you can leave your mark, you will learn and bring this knowledge to yourself.
I like to push everyone in the organization that works in the product department to think about what we can do for them to make them better and give them chances to learn, because it’s a win-win in the long term for everyone – product people get better, they become more efficient, productive, more strategically savvy and at the same time, the company benefits out of it.
From my past, I’ve had CEOs asking me “But what about if people leave?!”. I’ve asked them, but what happens if they don’t? If we have people who could be way better, but we do not give them a chance to learn and they will stay with us for 10 years, then is that what we really want? Investment into learning and trying new things is one of the biggest motivators, similar to when your manager understands what is important for you and supports you on the way. This is super important! It is a lot of work, but it pays back in 100-times.
Time is another very important element. It is something that we cannot buy. We have a fixed amount, no matter what we do. In the past, when I’ve asked my team to support the company to deliver something and go beyond, then I always have got their support. Most of us have families or hobbies outside of working hours. If I’ve asked them to spend 14 hours in a row working on solving a challenge and when they’ve done it, then in return, I’ve given them time off, so they could spend time with their families or whatever their hobbies are. It’s important to give people back their time when they’ve gone the extra mile, and it should be something bigger than just a pat on the back. It creates relationships that last beyond workspace.
“Make sure we’re not building the company product, but we’re, all together, building our product.”
Tartari about how to motivate the team.
Professionals tend to join companies because they are excited to solve problems and tackle challenges. What unique challenges does InsurTech industry present for product managers?
That is also why I joined INZMO. InsurTech is an industry that has good space for innovation and disruption. It’s an industry that more or less works like it used to work 50 years ago.
It means that digitalization has barely touched the market and there is a ton of potential. One of the trends that I’ve been dealing with for 8 or 9 years is the fact that users take for granted that they are served a service that is customized for their needs. There is nothing that is further away from that than insurance, as it works the opposite way – they have fixed products and you, as a user, can only get product A, B or C. There is no such a thing as the possibility to skip the complexity and just take the simple solution that covers my house, car, damages in my flat, if my phone gets stolen. I need to have specific coverage if my phone gets stolen, but it does not cover if the screen breaks. That is why insurance is complicated for Generation Z, so no wonder that insurance has so far been a service/product that people after a certain age are into.
It’s the mindset behind it that is not what many younger people expect from many services today. The difference between a standard TV vs Netflix. With standard TV you’re passive, you don’t choose what you watch, they choose it for you, but with Netflix, you can choose what you watch. You build your own product. This is something that the insurance industry doesn’t have yet, and it gives us the chance to be the first one to build that.
“InsurTech is an industry that has good space for innovation and disruption. It’s an industry that more or less works like it used to work 50 years ago.”
Tartari about why it’s the perfect time to work in the InsurTech industry.
INZMO will be the Netflix of insurance!
Exactly! There is so much potential in this industry that is untapped. Of course, as in many different areas and industries, you must be careful, and the most important part of the work is to prioritize things in the correct order. If you do 25 things at the same time, nothing is going to work.
Why should someone come and work for INZMO?
Because we are on the verge of a tremendous change in the insurance world. If you join INZMO, you have a chance to be part of that change and shape with your contribution to the product and the experience into something that I really see being part of the lives of many people in the future. If you’re able to plant the seed that makes more sense for everyone, and you have a chance to see that turning it up into a tree. If you can come through the door and influence this, then you will look back in 10 years and say “Wow! I was able to be part of this huge wave of change that will bring a lot of value to the users and hopefully to the company!”. This is what motivates me, to improve the life of people through digital interactions. In INZMO, you have a chance to do that.
If you’d like to change and shape the insurance world together with Riccardo, then connect your LinkedIn profile with our TeamTailor page and stay up-to-date with job openings in our Product department!