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Meet this Week’s Humans of Product: Leo Balan

By Rebecca Dorsay
This week's humans of product Leo Balan

Meet this week’s Humans of Product, Leo. A lover of product and …. wait for it…. farm animals. Not only does Leo love farm animals, but he also enjoys being creative.

“The creative itch is one thing that I always get. I get the urge to do something that’s more immediate than the creative work you do in Product Management.

In my spare time, I created an app with my cousin who is a photographer. She designed it and I coded it on iOS and Android and got it out to market, which was fun – and it’s done reasonably well. It’s called Digital Film.”

“I’ve also got two young kids, so I spend a lot of time with them. We love getting out into nature.”

“We’re lucky enough to live on the outskirts of Sydney so we actually have some space – we’ve got a little bit of land and some animals. We’re raising chickens. We even had some goats but we had to find a new home for them, unfortunately. They were lovely animals but so naughty! They would find ways out of our yard and into the neighbors.”

“Our kids love the animals but they’re always looking for the next one. We’ll have a full farm one day!”

Leo used his creative itch to find his way into the Product Management realm,

Leo Balan with Chickens

“I think like most people, I had a very roundabout entry into Product Management.

Early on, I studied Software Engineering at UTS (University of Technology, Sydney). I was very much interested in the intersection of creativity and technology.

I’ve always enjoyed creating stuff and I used technology as an outlet for that. I was interested in video games and movies so I studied software engineering with the goal of working for a gaming company or in visual effects.”

I got an offer to join a visual effects company in Sydney called Animal Logic, which I was a huge fan of. I joined as a developer and worked there for five years.

It was also the first time I was exposed to Product Management without actually knowing it. We created these systems that allowed production managers to pull up all of the shots their creative team was working on during the day and be able to manage all the different assets involved.

When creating a movie there is an enormous number of assets that get created so our systems helped the production staff manage everything easily. During this time, I was doing the development work as well as managing the product. I was working closely with the production staff to understand their needs, pain points and learn how we could improve the systems for them.

But for me, being a developer was just a means to an end. It was just the tool to be able to create but I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing.

After Animal Logic, I ended up joining Atlassian and I was there for seven years. It was during this time that I learned Product Management was an actual career path and I realised it was the perfect career for me. 

I found what I was passionate about was getting to the root of the customer problem. Really putting myself in their shoes. I have a very curious mindset so I’m always digging deeper to get to the core of an issue.”

Then Leandro discovered Product Management as a career and realised it was the perfect intersection of creativity and technology he had been searching for,

“After a few years into my time at Atlassian, I reached a bit of a career crossroads. I was working in the Growth team and pondering what I wanted to do next when our Head of Growth, who was more or less the Head of Product at the time, told me I might secretly be a Product Manager.

I still didn’t know what a Product Manager was so I spoke to some of the respected PM’s at Atlassian and realised it was exactly the role I had been looking for.

I was lucky enough to stay in the Growth team but move into a Product Manager role in a secondment for six months and it was amazing. I was also very lucky that the same Head of Product became my manager and my mentor. She really supported me in my growth as a Product Manager over the years and pushed me out of my comfort zone.”

Now he can’t stop raving about Product,

”Product Management gives you that satisfaction of creating something from scratch that solves a real need and then getting to see it through to impact. The thing that drives me most is impact and Product Management allows you to focus on the outcome you are trying to drive.

Also the ability to be close to customers and see how what you’ve built helps them do their job or improve their life in some way. It gives me a lot of satisfaction.”

Leo in the snow

Leo, as part of the Growth team at Atlassian, made some notable impacts throughout his career so far,

”My time at Atlassian was very fruitful. As a Product Manager there, I was able to help drive some of the growth strategies.

One of our focuses in Growth was helping customers to discover and effectively use multiple Atlassian products together. The Atlassian growth model is based on a more organic bottom-up approach or Product-Led growth.

We looked at accelerating the flow of users across multiple products – what we called “cross-flow”. As an example, a lot of customers would start using Jira because it was industry standard.

Then when they realised they needed space to store information that doesn’t fit on a Jira ticket they would start using Confluence. However, there was not much attention being given to how those products worked well together and how we surfaced these key moments in a customer’s journey.”

“So one of my big achievements at Atlassian was driving the strategy behind connecting the products more closely to drive that flow of users from one product to another and see that strategy through to execution.

One of the really fun things was the way that we measured everything. We worked in a very scientific way. This meant that when we had something that was really successful, we could easily quantify it and understand the full impact of what we did. Our work had a huge impact on the business.

We saw massive growth in monthly active users so it was a very proud and defining moment early on in the Growth team’s journey at Atlassian when we were still trying to prove ourselves.”

Now Leo is Principal Product Manager at an innovative startup called Qwilr,

“I joined Qwilr which is a startup here in Sydney with an awesome vision to change how businesses create & share compelling documents that leverage the power of the web.

I had spent a lot of time in the Growth team at Atlassian and I got to a certain scale there but I realised that I hadn’t experienced a product at the startup phase yet.

So I joined Qwilr and have had an amazing year with them so far. I’ve had the great opportunity to work really closely with the founder to help drive some of the strategy and vision of the product.

And it’s exciting to know that as Qwilr grows, I will have the opportunity to grow the product culture and product team because I find that really fulfilling. When I was leading a team of Product Managers at Atlassian it was amazing to see the impact you can make through them. To be able to coach and grow people and learn how to empower them and give them the best tools to succeed.”

As more of an introverted person, he had one final piece of advice for Product Managers out there in the same boat,

”A lot of my career has been spent learning how to communicate more effectively. I think in Product Management, communication is one of the core pillars. It’s the way you get buy-in from stakeholders and the influence to pursue and drive a vision or a strategy.

Learning the importance of this and how to do it properly is key. I’m more on the introverted side and that can be quite hard for a Product Manager because you’re constantly having to put yourself out there and build connections.

So for anyone in the same boat, always practice communication as much as possible,  put yourself out of your comfort zone, and take any opportunities that come in front of you. Even if it makes you feel terrified.

You will build the communication muscle over time and it does get better.”

Leo with family
Leo on a boat
Leo with family in the snow

Want more humans of Product? Read last week’s feature on Rebecca Jackson or follow us on Instagram!

And if you are keen to come together with a community of wonderful Product people, join us at the next LTP DIGITAL.