Engineering and Product
Stephanie O'Brien, Product Owner
Although she could not have pointed New Zealand out on a map a few years ago, Steph O'Brien, Product Owner at Imagr has really settled into her new home.
We caught up with Steph ahead of Fast Forward Auckland, to learn more about some of the key product challenges they are working on as a team, how she ended up at Imagr in the first place and what has her excited about the next leg of the journey.
If you want to have a virtual chat with Steph, you can catch her and a handful of the Imagr team for a virtual coffee, Tues Nov 30th @11am NZT. Register here.
“..I do think that what we're doing is the future.”
How did you end up at Imagr?
Before I joined Imagr, I was working at a consultancy agency, doing healthcare process redesigns. I really didn't like healthcare, but I did enjoy thinking about the experience we were creating for our customers.
After a while I decided I wanted something different, so I went on AngelList and matched with Imagr. I ended up meeting WIll whilst he was touring the United States trying to get money for the company.
Very quickly I became obsessed with what Imagr was building, because I do think that what we're doing is the future. I do think that automation in retail and technologies like ours specifically in supermarkets, is inevitable.
It will happen and I think it's really neat that I get to kind of have a small say as to how it's going to happen.I want to be able to say like, no, this is how I would like to shop. This is how it's proven that people do enjoy shopping.
What stage of the journey was Imagr when you joined?
So I joined the company in 2018 and I was the first non-engineer. I was the first product addition, so the state of the product was pretty rough, because it was just a bunch of engineers making cool stuff. I came in and did some UX research and started poking around the non-engineering side.
“I don't think any of them knew how to interview me..”
Were the engineering team ecstatic to see a product person join?
I think they were. I don't think any of them knew how to interview me, because they didn't have anyone who could interview a designer or a product person. So they had no idea. I think they asked me if I had any pets?
They didn't know what questions to ask me or how to vet me at all, but they were thrilled to have someone come in and start giving them requirements and guidance. Someone focused on how a customer was actually going to use all of this cool tech they had built.
Had you been to New Zealand before you joined Imagr?
I couldn't have pointed it out on a map. No, I had never been.
Was the business as expected when you arrived in New Zealand?
Our CEO is a very smooth talker, so I think that in my excitement I had kind of glazed over some of the patches of like, okay, this has a business versus this as a cool tech project.
However, in the time that I've been here, we've really grown as a company and grown in every aspect of the business. When I joined it was really exciting and fun, but also kind of like the wild west for a business!
“We're there, we just have to now grow and really blow-up.”
How has the product evolved since you began working at Imagr?
At that point, we had a basket that just kind of sat on the ground. Then we got a basket that had wheels and you could pull behind you, that went live in Japan.
Now we are no longer making that basket and we are now making an actual cart! Like we did it! It's actually a cart that you get to push and it has plenty of room to hold all your items.
We have the cart in three or four retailers in Europe, one in Japan and the shopping app that's live on the iOS and Google Play store that you can download. If you go to Osaka, you can use that app that you've downloaded, so we're real, which is just crazy to think! We've come such a long way. Now it's just about growing. We're there, we just have to now grow and really blow-up.
“..it's one thing to have our MVP, but it's another thing to make it like a great user experience.”
From a product standpoint, how do you get feedback from customers given they are scattered around the world?
I mean, we'd love to be able to travel more, but I don't know if you've heard of this thing called the COVID? That's definitely taking the wind out of our sails a bit, just throwing another challenge our way and having to learn about these retailers and about these markets without being able to go visit them.
We were able to set up an office in Europe and we have a great team in Osaka that supports us and really does funnel feedback. Then it's John and I, and the rest of the product team's job to sit there and just organise it and connect the dots and say, what is connected here? Because it's one thing to have our MVP, but it's another thing to make it like a great user experience.
What has been the most surprising thing you have learnt in your time at Imagr?
I think for me, the most eye-opening thing is just understanding how much, and sometimes also how little, supermarkets know about their shoppers.
Our Japanese retailers don't even have profiles built up. They don't have any of that information.
But then in Europe they really know their shoppers. I remember when we first started talking to them, they were like "well, you know, our shoppers buy a minimum of three candy bars and they hold them this way and they put them in the cart".
Maybe they're making that up, but still you think about with your loyalty cards when you're checking out of Countdown, you get those promotions, you get those offers, they're tracking what you are buying and when you're buying, so that they do know what their shoppers need.
What keeps you up at night?
For me it is the handover piece. How can we make it so that a store can run this themselves, manage it and take care of their shoppers.
How do we get to a place where we don't need to be a 24 hour support for it. It is just self-sufficient and they have all the tools and access to everything that they need to monitor it and manage it. That's a big one for me.
“I really love them cause I'm always the dumbest person in the room and they'll always repeat things to me again and again and again..”
Why is now such an exciting time to join Imagr from your perspective?
I think one of the other biggest pros of joining a startup is you get to be a Jack of all trades, right? You get to wear a lot of hats and get to be involved in a lot of things that might not be directly what you're there to do.
Imagr is still small enough that you can do that, but at the same time, we are present enough that those little things that you get to be involved in are really important.
It's not just like we're trying to get a call with the dairy around the corner. You're on a call with like this huge European supermarket chain and they're wanting you to figure something out. It might not be anything that you ever saw yourself doing in your life, but you get to be a part of it.
Also, it's a great community of engineers. I really love them cause I'm always the dumbest person in the room and they'll always repeat things to me again and again and again, and take the time to explain it. It just feels like a family which is really great.
“We're looking to attract rock stars! People who are great at what they do and are a pleasure to work with. ”
What kind of people typically do well at Imagr?
We're looking to attract rock stars! People who are great at what they do and are a pleasure to work with.
I'd say that the people who I see thrive at Imagr are team players and just honest people. If you're honest that sometimes you don't know what you're doing, you need help or you need more time, people really resonate with that and it feeds into the team culture.