Working at the TU Incubator not only exposes you to the passion and creativity of entrepreneurs, but it immerses you in it. Our education technology members have big ideas that make a real impact in our community. It is a privilege to work with them day in and day out. Recently we caught up with Heidi Hildebrandt, Director of Product at Osmosis, a TU Incubator member company.

Seven Questions with Osmosis Director of Product Heidi Hildebrandt

1. Can you please describe how you started working at Osmosis?

I’ve always had a desire to create something unique and different. That said, I wouldn’t say I decided to become an entrepreneur. It was more so that I realized there was a way to authentically improve student learning outcomes and nobody else was doing it. It almost became a question of, “How could I not?” rather than “should I?”

2. What was your initial role at Osmosis?

I initially joined the team as a user experience (UX) designer and began speaking with our learners by “shadowing” the student success team. I’ve now had over 3,000 quality conversations with learners about how they use Osmosis. After putting processes in place to better analyze what our learners were asking for, I transitioned to the Director of Product role, to help organize product team development.

3. What does your day-to-day look like?

While my daily schedule is constantly evolving, I can always guarantee that we’re building something, so I catch up on what’s being built and answer questions from our engineers for both release and review. This daily check-in facilitates product development as good, clear communication and organization is critical.  I also have meetings with other teams (e.g. marketing, content), create bug reports, write blog posts about product updates, and groom the backlog by prioritizing requirements on our roadmap.

On a weekly basis, my favorite part is speaking with our users. If we’re at the inception phase of a new product release, e.g. currently we’re gearing up to release Osmosis Nursing and Osmosis PA, I qualify and recruit users to talk to, and also perform user research. Listening is a key skill to make sure the product is headed in the right direction. In the pre-launch phase, I’m also involved in design work to help communicate requirements. If we’re at the post-release phase, I track usage in our product.

On a monthly basis, I lead our team’s retrospectives and biweekly demos. Retrospectives can lead to awkward conversations, but they make us a better team. The demos are fun, high energy, and a wonderful way to keep our team, which is distributed across four continents, in tune with each other.

4. Can you describe some of the major milestones for the Osmosis product and organization?

Building a system to collect user feedback in a scalable way has been hugely impactful. One of the things I’m most proud of with Osmosis is the quality of our Student Success team. They spread joy to our users (one of our six core values), and also help me understand the problems users are facing. By formalizing our process of conversing with users we can better understand the masses, not just the squeaky wheel.  We use a blend of Github issues and Intercom to gain insights. I read through every feature request, and make sure each user’s voice is heard. It can be easy to like an idea, but we work hard to validate the impact of changes to the platform.

Once we implemented an A/B testing framework, we were able to get a better idea of how impactful changes were to the platform. At the same it’s been imperative to build a pipeline for data, analytics, and reporting. This allows us to answer questions quickly and set goals for future projects. Building and perfecting the data pipeline is an ongoing process.

5. What advice would you give entrepreneurs about designing products and getting customer feedback?

Try to get small changes to the experiences out there as soon as possible, but don’t go with preconceived notions that these are right. You have to listen to the user, ask for their feedback and satisfaction, or look at usage data. When listening to users, try to get an understanding of their story. Are they a paying user? How long have they used the product? Think about how that might affect your data.

6. Which books, blogs, conferences, podcasts, or other resources do you recommend?

We have a strong learning & development culture at Osmosis and often post “book reports” on a dedicated Slack channel. A few of the books I recommend:

  • INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love, by Marty Cagan
  • Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, by Nir Eyal
  • The Elements of User Experience, by Jesse James Garrett

As far as conferences and meetups, I’ve had great success with small meetups I’ve found on Interaction Design Association (IxDA), ProductTank Atlanta, Ladies That UX (LTUX). I am looking forward to going to Industry Product conference this fall as well.

Podcasts I really enjoy include Inside Intercom and This is Product Management (Short form, well scripted and edited). I’m also on a Slack channel called “Product Collective” and also often read blogs such as Appcues and A List Apart (Favorite read is this article).

7. Do you have any final comments?

Product managers wear many hats, and there is really no formal training for the role unlike other roles in product: marketing, data, design or engineering. I’ve learned the most by being on a team that moves quickly and surrounding myself with people who are smarter or more experienced than myself. I can’t recommend enough to get out there and go to meetups, especially if you’re in a startup.