#WomenInTech: Tackling Complex Problems with FreshBooks’ Lindsay Rothman
The Lead Product Manager at FreshBooks, Lindsay Rothman is focused on making accounting and billing enjoyable experiences. In our chat, we spoke about how product management has evolved in recent years, how companies should think about diversity and her role as a SheEO Activator.
Nudge: What differentiates FreshBooks from other competitors?
LR: FreshBooks is an invoicing and accounting app for freelancers and small business owners. Everyone wants to focus on their work, not their billing. So we take care of that.
Our customers are all different kinds of freelancers such as graphic designers, IT professionals, business consultants, as well as tradespeople. We try to make accounting as awesome and painless as possible. Billing is an essential part of doing business for any freelancer, and because we’re a critical part of their day-to-day operations, we have an opportunity to play a big role in their business.
As a product manager, it’s an interesting challenge to take something that not everyone likes and make it not so bad, or maybe even a little fun.
Nudge: You’re now Lead Product Manager at FreshBooks – what does your role entail on a day-to-day basis?
LR: Overall, the role of a product manager is to figure out what problems exist for our customers and how to solve them. Day-to-day, the job is about having a lot of conversations with customers, as well as analyzing data from different sources to find out how we can assist customers in new ways. It’s a lot of collaboration with our user experience designers and our development team to figure out how to make these things happen. Then it’s about launching these new solutions, seeing how they perform in the market and making further adjustments based on customer input. Things are always changing.
Nudge: How has product management changed or evolved since you’ve been in the role?
LR: Well, the bar for products is a lot higher now. Over the last few years, we’ve seen successful companies emerge where the CEO was a former designer (Airbnb and Pinterest come to mind). As a result, consumers now expect products to instantly solve the problem, and really be usable and beautiful right off the bat.
Nudge: You’re also an Activator with SheEO. How did you first get involved as an Activator, and why is funding female entrepreneurs something that’s important to you?
LR: I think I first heard about it on Twitter. And I just thought, “why hasn’t this existed before?” This is such a great thing!
Becoming a SheEO Activator means you contribute $1,100 to create a pool of capital loaned out to women-led ventures. It’s one thing to say “I support women entrepreneurs”, but it’s something else to make a large financial contribution. Paying $1,100 per year into the pool of capital really shows a different level of support.
It’s very important for me to support female entrepreneurs. In North America, only 4% of venture capital goes to women. Given that access to capital is an important part of fostering entrepreneurship, we need to financially support women-led ventures. Simply saying, “I support female entrepreneurs” isn’t enough.
Nudge: Lots of companies in Toronto have their own ideas and policies about how to increase diversity at their company – from what you’ve seen, what’s the most effective approach?
LR: Companies need to reframe their thinking about diversity. Many companies approach diversity as a touchy-feely sort of thing, but creating a diverse workplace isn’t about feelings – it’s a complex business problem and there aren’t straightforward answers to complex business problems.
A company might say that they care about diversity, but these are just words. Unless a company thoughtfully delivers different initiatives in a sustained way, the status quo is unlikely to change. To improve customer retention, for example, a company would gather different stakeholders to investigate what other organizations have done successfully (or unsuccessfully) to address the problem, read up on the latest research and relevant data, and then try out different initiatives and experiment. Similarly, the same sustained and thoughtful efforts are necessary to increase diversity.
For more information on why diverse workforces perform better, here’s McKinsey’s article on Why Diversity Matters.
Nudge: What was the last book you read?
LR: I’ve recently embraced my inner nerd by reading classic sci-fi. I just finished Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, which is the book the film Blade Runner was based on. The protagonist is a bounty-hunter in a futuristic world tasked with killing (or “retiring”) artificial-intelligence robots that are almost indistinguishable from humans. Trust me, this book is about so much more than a dude killing robots. The story forces you to ponder deep questions about empathy and what it means to be human.