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Key Takeaways from Elevate Product 2019



October 1, 2019

Elevate 2019 was bigger than ever before. The product track swelled in number, with over 600 product thinkers coming and going from our office throughout the day. 

The reason for the ground swell of people? A lineup of world-renowned leaders, offering insights on every element of the product development process from discovery to delivery. Each speaker brought their unique perspective to the day, with an overall focus on the real-world impact of products and a deeper dive into incorporating design thinking methodologies into the building process.

But as with any speech or discussion, there are those one-liners that hit a little bit harder and stand alone in people’s brains. At Connected, we’ve put together a short summary of each talk and the top two quotes from each of the speakers—quotes that we know will help guide our product building process both now and in the future.  

Defining the challenges in product building

Jonathan Savage, VP of Product at Connected

Kicking off the day, Connected’s own VP of Product identified the three key facets of great product building: identifying the missing, collaboration, and harboring an appetite for risk. 

“It is often the case that large organizations lack the right mix of people, practices, and structures to both build the right software-powered products and to build software-powered products right.”

“Growth comes from making bold and calculated bets about the future.”  

Designing for User Pain Points

Shawna Wolverton, SVP of Product at Zendesk

Shawna Wolverton spoke in depth about the need to love and understand your customers, and the work that is required to show customers your depth of care for their issues.

“We live in an age of an overwhelming amount of data on what our customers are doing… but it’s not enough. Those data points and graphs don’t tell the full picture.”

“We have an airing of grievances meeting… it’s tech support, it’s therapy, it’s a chance for us to put a human face to our customers and for them to put a human face to us.” 

Building Products with Meaning

Reena Merchant, UX Leadership at Google

Google’s UX leader challenged the crowd to think more deeply about the products they develop. Rather than viewing development as a cold science, it should be seen through the lens of giving people the tools required to evoke joy and bring meaning to their lives. 

“The desire to deliver meaningful products has to be part of the core intent of a company’s mission…its DNA.”

“Meaning is unique to each of us, it guides how we interpret the world and how we act.”

How Tinder Builds Inclusive Products

Samantha Stevens, Director of Product at Tinder

Talking with Stefan Palios, Samantha Stevens unpacked what inclusion really means in the product development process. She advocated for a deeper sense of empathy, more diverse teams, and localizing products to fit the experiences of individual users. 

“We can’t have an understanding of product fit without understanding the world outside of our office.”

“Q: What does inclusion mean to you? A: For everyone in the world to be able to open the app and feel that the product has been designed for them.”

Redesigning Wealthsimple: Building a More Human Financial Institution

Avrum Laurie, VP of Product at Wealthsimple

With Wealthsimple’s extraordinary growth over the past few years as a backdrop, their VP of Product shed light on their internal strategy and how they design their products to meet the emotional reality of their users’ lives.

“We’re forever in beta mode.”

“Not only is it impossible to ignore people’s negative feelings toward dips, it’s dismissive.”

In Conversation with Professional Esports Champion & Gaming Icon

Stephanie Harvey (missharvey)

Having spent her career in a male-dominated environment as a gamer and a game designer, Stephanie Harvey focused her discussion on how she wanted to be an advocate and a champion for young girls who will follow in her footsteps. 

“I thought I was an imposter for so long because there’s not one right way to be a game designer.”

“It is so important to inspire young girls to go into gaming, to go into tech—anything that we can help them with a little push to go do it.”

The Future of OpenSource

Katharina Borchert, Chief Innovation Officer at Mozilla

Mozilla’s impact on the growth and even distribution of the internet is undeniable. Katharina Borchert’s fireside chat was a shrewd rumination on the importance of keeping the internet open for everyone and the need to find ways to reignite people’s ability to trust the information they read. 

“Currently, the internet and social media silences voices. It doesn’t just replicate the biases we see in the real world, it amplifies them.”

“People often don’t realize how much we rely on open source technologies in our core internet infrastructures.”

Transforming MLSE through Digital

Humza Teherany, Chief Technology and Digital Officer at MLSE

Off the back of the Toronto Raptors’ championship-winning season, the MLSE’s Chief Technology and Digital Officer walked the crowd through their approach to innovation and how his organization built a unified, impactful, and digital fan experience. 

“We work to the 70/30 model. 70% of the time we work to move products forward, the other 30% our aim is to disrupt the industry.”

“When we see a gap in the market we build to fill it.”

A Story from The Front Line of Innovation: Democratizing Video Creation

Mark Kornfilt, CPO and CTO at Vimeo

Mark Kornfilt used the Elevate stage to highlight the explosion of short-form, branded video content and announce Vimeo’s pivot into this exciting space. His talk focussed on the way this explosion has influenced everything from the subject of videos to their length and the regularity with which they are posted. 

“Everyone is trying to adopt the medium of video.”

“78% of views on videos happen in the first 4 days after publishing.”

Looking beyond lean startup: Productive innovation at-scale

Alex Hood, Head of Product at Asana

In a lively and often-humorous fireside chat with TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington, Asana’s Head of Product had the audience nodding along with his view of an increasingly problematic aspect of office life: The feeling that doing work is impossible as you jump from app to app and meeting to meeting talking about what work needs to be done. 

“Collaboration is not always a virtue… We should be focussing on killing the BS, so that researchers can research, designer can designers, engineers can build, and product managers can dream up big ideas.”

“Workers spend 70% of their time doing work about work. That stuff is kind of soul crushing.”

How to Build & Scale Products for & With your community

Chris Slowe, CTO and Founding Engineer at Reddit

Reddit’s rise has seen it become one of the most interesting—and sometimes peculiar—corners of the internet. Chris Slowe, Reddit’s CTO, talked to the Elevate audience about how the platform and the business were designed around a close connection with their community. 

“Don’t apologize unless you really mean it…Don’t engage with a community if you’re not prepared for debate.”

“Magical experiences are lucky. Hard work is important—luck is also important.” 

Overall, Elevate Product 2019 was full of diverse voices and insights. Each element of the product development process and user experience was covered, from initial strategy to evolving the “final” product. At Connected, we understand that great products are never finished and that great strategy work requires an aligned team; a sentiment that was reinforced at this year’s Elevate.

Want more product strategy insights? Download our latest e-book created in partnership with Netflix’s former VP of Product.

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