Engineering and Product
Toby Delamore, Product Manager at Xero
Dreams of becoming a professional athlete led Toby Delamore, Product Manager at Xero around the world, however it was a job washing dishes at a surf camp in Spain he remembers most fondly.
We caught up with Toby to learn how a role in customer support at Trade Me, provided the foot in the door to a successful career in tech that has evolved into a love for building great products. Toby shares some really useful insight into the twists and turns of his own career journey, as well as some sound advice for others figuring out their own careers. Thanks for sharing your story, Toby.
“I solve the tricky puzzle of how to build awesome things that grown-ups will love and find useful.”
Firstly, how would you explain to a five year old what it is you do?
I solve the tricky puzzle of how to build awesome things that grown-ups will love and find useful.
And for the adults, what does that translate to in regards to your day-to-day?
I am a product manager at Xero and co-founder of COLAB.
COLAB is a start-up that I am working on with several co-founders and is focused on establishing micro-communities of product professionals that foster growth, shared practices and connections within a trusted community.
At Xero I lead product teams to tackle the challenge of solving customer problems, while delivering business value.
Day-to-day this means I work with teams across areas like strategy, technology, design, and customer research to understand how Xero can best help small businesses thrive.
I focus on building strong knowledge of customers and our business, so I can clearly define a clear product strategy to help teams know what problems they need to solve.
It also includes a lot of collaboration and communication with other teams and stakeholders throughout the business.
I also lead a great team of product owners that I get to empower and coach towards being successful and creating great products with their teams.
“..the reality of product management is that you have all the responsibility, none of the glory, and all the pressure”
What are some of the common misconceptions about working in Product Management?
The most common is that it is a role where you get to make all the decisions and tell people what to do.
In reality, you do none of those. It is about working out how you can have the most impact for your customers and business, by bringing out the best in the people around you.
It requires strategic thinking, pragmatic decision-making, and an open mind. The best analogy I have for it is that you are the coach of a team.
You scout your opponents, create the game plan, and then you do your best to support and guide players to success in the game.
In short, the reality of product management is that you have all the responsibility, none of the glory, and all the pressure. But, that is really what makes it an exciting job!
Was working in tech something you dreamed about doing as a kid, if not what was?
No, I had dial-up, a Gameboy, and created some sweet Microsoft Paint artwork, but I had no idea about tech companies and working in them.
When I was young I had an interest in a lot of things and this translated into a number of different dreams.
I definitely had dreams of being a professional athlete in soccer and then lacrosse. Then I also had a dream to become an architect after being inspired by a love of Frank Llyod Wrights ‘Fallingwater’ house. It was an eclectic mix of dreams.
“..I had enjoyed the best job I ever had as a dishwasher at a surf camp”
Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and ultimately about how you ended up working at Xero?
My career started after returning to New Zealand from Spain, where I had enjoyed the best job I ever had as a dishwasher at a surf camp, at a well-known New Zealand company called Trade Me.
I had studied in America, getting a degree in Sport and Recreation Management, before heading to Spain and then returning to New Zealand. At the time of returning home, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career.
Having sent what felt like 100+ resumes to anyone advertising a job (seriously, I applied for everything from admin roles at industrial companies to clothing store sales roles), I eventually landed my only interview for a customer support role at Trade Me.
Years later, I found out they only asked me in for an interview because of a reference from my best friend who worked there and not my resume.
Lesson learned. Networks and referrals are the true superpowers of landing jobs.
I spent four and half years at Trade Me and I was fortunate to have fantastic support and encouragement throughout that time from many people who helped me develop.
Eventually, I progressed from my first customer support role into a product manager for Trade Me Property, where I led the launch and ongoing strategy for a new data insights platform called Property Insights.
Having spent over four years at Trade Me, I was interested in exploring the challenges of product management in different industries and businesses. There seemed no better place to do this than Roam Digital, another great product-led kiwi business.
At Roam Digital, I worked with many businesses to help them create new product opportunities.
I was involved in ideating and launching everything from connected Bluetooth rat traps to electric vehicle subscription platforms. It was a whirlwind of design sprints, workshops, and leading great product teams.
Then an opportunity came up to lead product teams at Xero and move back into owning product strategy within a strong product company. That led me to my current role as a product manager at Xero, where I lead great cross-functional product teams.
Across all of my career journey, I’m proud that each company I have worked for has been founded and built right here in Aotearoa. It shows that New Zealand has a strong foundation in building technology companies that can be successful on a global scale.
“It’s just a f-ing website.”
What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
“It’s just a f-ing website.”
Which was advice I got early on in my career as I was getting stressed out and staying late trying to solve some small issue that had come up.
Seriously, when the going gets tough, the stress and pressure mounts, it pays to remember that we are just building software. The world will be okay if we take another day to fix a bug or delay a release.
The best advice I’ve received and it keeps me grounded in not getting caught up in the pressure and stress product management can have as a role.
Do you have any advice for people considering tech as a career path and how they might get there quicker?
Firstly, take initiative to learn about technology product companies, the way they operate, and how they are creating change in their industries.
You can build an understanding on what the best practices are across areas like engineering, design, and product, helping you feel more comfortable and confident as you look to find your first role in a tech company.
Second, be brave and reach out to people in roles or companies you are interested in. Conversations will give you insight, connections, and ultimately people who might help you get on the path towards a career in tech.
In saying that, feel free to reach out to me any time for a chat.
Lastly, Xero continues to grow and evolve. What kind of candidates do you think Xero is looking for in terms of experience, attitude and character?
Xero is always on the lookout for great people who have the right growth mindset, empathy, and a can-do attitude.
I think if you are someone who has constant curiosity, initiative, and the ability to be coached and learn, then you will make a great candidate at Xero.
As we continue to grow globally we have roles open across all levels of experience, so we first look for great people with great potential.
If you check out the Xero values here on Matchstiq and think they match you, get in touch with us!