Interview with Rodrigo Iannuzzi — Career in Product, Start-ups, Nubank…and more [Product Mayday, EP.03]
All views, opinions and statements are my own.
Greetings, Romulo here! 👋
Welcome to the third post of my series of interviews with successful Product Managers, founders, and entrepreneurs out there. It’s a core element of the vision and MVP for Product Mayday, my project focused on giving my time and experience back to the world. Read more here.
My guest today is Rodrigo Iannuzzi, Product Lead and ex-Nubank, a company on a mission of reinventing what’s possible to redefine people’s relationship with money.
I spotted Rodrigo’s announcement of a sabbatical on LinkedIn, and knowing that he had just left Nubank, a Brazilian fintech darling that is taking over the world (#ProudOfMyBrazilianRoots), it triggered my interest to learn more and I’m glad I took that route. Rodrigo and I had a phenomenal conversation on career in Product Management, start-ups, and of course, Nubank.
I want to thank Rodrigo for his time and invite you to learn from this great conversation.
Quick Bio: Rodrigo Iannuzzi
Let’s start with the basics. Tell me more about your career trajectory?
My first career move was founding a start-up right after getting my Computer Engineering degree in Rio the Janeiro, Brazil.
The business was focused on a mobile app running on (are you ready?!) Palm PDAs, and while it was a lot of fun and brought me many learnings, I struggled to grow the company and make an impact. It was one of those ideas ahead of their time. Consumer start-ups and mobile as we know today were not a thing in Brazil in the early 2000's.
I wrapped up that business and pivoted to the corporate world, spending about 3 years working at Santander Bank in Brazil, which gave me great exposure to leading change and impacting customers’ lives at scale. From there, I decided to go back to school and get my MBA. That led me to Berkeley in California. Amazing experience! First time abroad and living and breathing Silicon Valley every day.
Spending time in the U.S. and being exposed to the best of what entrepreneurship could offer reignited my start-up passion, so I went back to Brazil in the early 2010’s and decided to join Viva Real, a start-up focused on real estate marketplace, pretty much like Zillow in the U.S. The VC and start-up ecosystem had changed a lot, with the first batch of VC-backed start-ups growing at a really interesting pace.
I didn’t start as a Product Manager at Viva Real, but my responsibilities pushed me into that direction. Like in any start-up, I had several roles including business development and digital marketing, and little by little, I ended up doing a whole lot of Product work. When that clicked and I found myself with the scope and the title of a Product Manager, I realized how much I enjoyed working at the very intersection of business, customer experience and technology.
Since then I’ve been working in Product roles with companies like Rede, a payment acquirer part of Itau Bank, Catho, an HRTech company, and finally, my most recent trajectory with Nubank.
Nearly 15 years working in Product Management and now a break to pause, reflect, and go
Looking back, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?
The biggest one is related to the importance of soft skills. Sometimes, we get too focused on learning a new technique, framework, or technology and end up not prioritizing developing soft skills. However, particularly in Product Management, soft skills like communication and influence play a critical role in the Product Manager’s ability to succeed.
There’s also the ability to collaborate with different areas across the company, particularly when Product Managers need to deal with internal politics and disconnected goals. It’s more common than you would think, and it becomes an uphill effort to connect the dots and establish shared objectives between teams (OKRs framework can help here!). For what it’s worth, it goes beyond the obvious benefit of being able to do the work. When you work hand-in-hand with other areas — e.g. Compliance, Risk, and Ops — they become true partners and help the team land on much better solutions.
A third lesson I believe to be quite powerful is how you think about your career. I heard once that great products are a succession of great strategic decisions, and I think the same applies to career planning. Over time, your decisions compound and take you through an interesting trajectory that results in a really unique outcome in terms of knowledge you have, skills you have developed, and experiences you’ve been through.
How do you go about approaching new opportunities and “knowing” that you’re making the right call?
When it comes to looking at new opportunities and assessing the companies I’m considering for my next move, I have a basic framework centered around three things:
- Identify the transformation cycle the company is going through (e.g. Digital, Cultural, Global Expansion) and how mature the Product discipline is. I love transformation cycles and they represent the biggest opportunities to grow, but without a basic foundation of Product Management as a practice, it can be a really challenging job. There’s increased risk of spending more time educating and convincing people of the value of Product Management — our mindset, toolkits, and frameworks — and less time applying Product Management, doing the work, and unlocking customer and business value.
- Think like an investor. Do I bet on the company and its value prop? Is the problem space and solution ripe for disruption? Is the company focused on the right markets and are they big enough? What does the team look like? Taking all of that into account helps me create an assessment of the likelihood of the company succeeding.
- Feel connected with the company and its mission. My go-to example is pets. I don’t have pets and that’s not my thing, so I wouldn’t feel connected with a company focused on products and services for pets, regardless of how trendy and modern the company was. I am aware that sometimes, you are not the primary user of your own product, but I do have a strong bias toward companies that I’ll be a consumer of my own deliverables.
Of course, this is my view of the world and there are many unknown risks out there, but by running through such questions, I feel more in control of my destiny.
Even though you’re taking a break and thinking about what’s next, you’re active with the start-up community and angel investing
What’s your drive and can you tell us more about your recent investments?
Yes, that’s pretty interesting. I’ve just joined an Angel Investing network from alumni of my undergrad school. I’ve done two investments until now and I’m at the very beginning of the learning curve.
What triggered me to do that? I’d say the willingness to be involved with things that are early stage, share knowledge, give advice, and make connections in service of new companies doing something interesting. There’s also the feel-good factor of being in touch with the “new and novel,” seeing trends happening right in front of you, and pushing yourself to learn the basics on hot topics like artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency.
And the last one, of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I expect some level of financial return from my investments. I’m doing this for the long run and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.
Nubank is one of the FinTech darlings out there, with a $25B valuation following its most recent investment round in January
What’s unique about the company and its culture?
This is the one-million dollar question. Well, maybe in this case, it’s the twenty-five billion dollar question.
Nubank does a really good job on several aspects, but I couldn’t start answering this question without talking about their customer-centric approach, which is top notch across industries, but particularly in Financial Services, given the long history of banks not being recognized as customer-first in Brazil. Well, maybe even worldwide. Putting the customer front and center is a huge culture driver and it’s not something that happens overnight, it’s an outcome of driving a mission-oriented company day after day.
In my perspective, there are a couple of other things that Nubank is great at. One is related to scaling teams. The company is now in 3 countries, it has several business units, and it’s been receiving multi-million dollar investment rounds (last one was about ~$400M in January 2021 — read more here). That’s a natural invitation to more stakeholders, corporate goo, and slowness, but not at Nubank. The autonomy given to the business units is the secret sauce to optimize for alignment at senior levels and move full steam ahead with “start-up fast” decision cycles.
I should also mention the multidisciplinary work at Nubank. There are hundreds of books on Product Management that mention the importance of a cross-functional team with Product Managers, Designers, and Engineers. Nubank goes beyond that, let’s call it “full squads.” Taking my former business unit as an example, my squad had business analysts, data scientists, data engineers, and ops teams. That type of collaboration between people with different views of the world is unique and incredibly valuable. The team has the skills for nearly all decisions needed to build and run products.
What does it take to succeed as a PM at Nubank?
I can think of a couple of really important things. In the end, they are all connected with the culture we just discussed.
- Ability to work with many different people in many different chapters…an orchestrator that leads by influence. That’s a common expectation of a PM, but with so many different skills being part of the squad and a lot of autonomy given to PMs, this comes at a new level at Nubank.
- Willingness and resiliency to work at a company in a hyper-growth mode. In the years of 2019 and 2020 , Nubank grew its customer base by more than 6x. With that type of growth, things change really fast and internal business units need to change, reorg, adapt, and hire a lot of people. You have to be comfortable. If for some reason, you prefer a slower pace, predictable change, and not a lot of healthy chaos around, I’d say hyper-growth companies are not for you. Adaptability is the keyword here.
- Lead with a bold vision and strategy. Nubank is focused on the long term and that’s everyone’s job. There’s no such thing as the vision being defined by one person and simply accepted by all others. This type of environment makes the PM role more rewarding, but also more challenging, since people keep a high bar when it comes to assessing how inspirational a product vision is. Sometimes, the PM is not fully versed on long-term inspirational visions, but he or she has great potential, so I’ve seen scenarios where people go through training, get paired with other leaders, and are coached by more senior folks.
What’s something that everyone should be learning right now?
I’d say the hot topics on Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. This will be something more and more present in all products. You don’t need to be an expert in the field, just invest time in learning the basics and make sure you have experts that you can rely on in your network or as part of your team.
What are you reading these days? Is there a book that you would like people to know about?
The main book for Product Managers is Inspired by Marty Cagan (link here). If you are in Product and haven’t read it, you should (or must) start there. Talking about Marty Cagan, I’m about to start Empowered (link here), which was released late last year and is focused on “enabling people to work together to solve hard problems and create extraordinary products.”
Right now, I’m reading Playing to Win by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin (link here). One thing people should know is that the examples in the book are from Procter & Gamble (Consumer Goods Industry), but their Strategy framework is really interesting and applicable to Product Management.
What’s the one productivity trick that only you know about?
I’m not sure if you feel the same, but it’s really interesting how much time it takes for us to realize those small productivity rituals that make a difference.
For me, it’s about working on the most important things in the morning, which is when I have my best performance. I’m a morning person and I love to tackle the most complex work before getting into meetings and connecting with people during the day.
Scheduling and protecting focused time on the calendar go hand in hand with that. Without that, you are consumed by the many urgent things put by others in front of you, which are not necessarily the most important work for you to focus on at that particular moment.
That’s a wrap!
Since I have you here, please consider reading my previous posts:
- Interview with Bogdan Nedanov, Retail Data Science Leader at Shopify, an all-in-one commerce platform to start, run, and grow a business that currently powers over 1,000,000 businesses worldwide (link here).
- My key takeaways from the book “No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer” (link here).
Thank you again for your support and looking forward to continuing my journey with you on Medium.