Breaking the Status Quo - Damon Pezaro - Leading the Product

Breaking the Status Quo – Damon Pezaro, Domain Group

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Damon Pezaro Leading the Product

Damon Pezaro, Chief Product Officer from Domain Group asks –  when it comes to product, are you the chef or the cook?

Damon Pezaro shared insights into a highly busy three years as CPO of the fast growing Domain platform at Leading the Product 2016.

The evolution of business

Opening his presentation, Damon shared some very sobering facts about big business:

“In the last 15 years, 52% of the top Fortune 500 companies have disappeared. 50 years ago, the life expectancy of a company was 75 years. Now? It’s just 15 years.”

Just 12% of companies on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 exist today. In today’s world, change is accelerating and so is the decline of once-great businesses. According to Damon, this is because change is the new normal.

“We’re currently witnessing a new breed of business. The global success stories that are embedded in our daily lives didn’t exist 15 years ago. The services they provide are changing our world and our habits in unimaginable ways. As Product Managers, we can’t help but feel the pressure of this change. The pressure of brands, products and services that we are bombarded with every day.”

Damon clarifies, “As product leaders, our challenge is to cut through the noise and stand out from the crowd. This challenge means breaking the status quo.”

Damon explains that the best new businesses are product led. His main point for the Leading the Product audience :

Think differently. Do things differently.

The chef vs the cook

To use a simple analogy, Damon compares product management to the role of someone in the kitchen.

A cook follows the recipe and gets little variation in results.

A chef creates. They are the trailblazers, constantly experimenting and learning by trial and error. Chefs start with the raw ingredients and through discovery and learning are able to create something that people want.

Being a chef and acquiring knowledge from experience is where the real magic happens, even if there are a few wasted ingredients along the way.

No matter what type of chef you are, there are fundamental keys to a good product recipe. These include:

  • Vision
  • Customer focus
  • Culture
  • Story telling
  • Innovation
  • Process

All business are different, but those that succeed include all these elements.

Instigating change

When Damon joined Domain in 2013, it was confronting how much change was needed. It was a 2nd runner, without a strong chance of success. “In classifieds, it’s winner takes all,” says Damon,  “Many people predicted that Domain would fall away, a victim to the success of our major competitor.”

Domain started thinking like a chef. The major hurdle however, was that there was no vision or purpose. Teams weren’t sure what they were trying to make happen. Being honest about his challenges, Damon says “The truth is, it took a lot of time to work out the vision – to find goals and ambitions for Domain to focus on.”

Once they had established a vision, Damon and his team had to ensure that everyone understood how it related to the overall objectives of the Domain business. Next, every person on the team had to understand the role they played towards achieving the vision. Damon created visions within visions… but each vision was tied back to one thing – customer value.

To establish consistency while they have undergone a dramatic period of growth, Domain’s vision and key objectives have stayed the same since 2013.

Customers. Always customers.

Unlike many people within his industry, Damon spends 20 – 30% of his time with customers, getting to understand them as people. It’s Damon’s belief that you build success through the success of your customers. Obsess about them getting what they want … and the glory days of your business will follow.

To encourage his staff to get out and about, Damon includes KPIs for them to meet customers face to face. “This enables them to go beyond the persona, beyond the ‘ideal transactor’ to be able to refer to a real name and a real person.”

For every PM at Domain, Damon gets them to constantly be asking three questions:

  • What customer value are we adding?
  • How to we know we’re adding value?
  • What else can we deliver right now that is going to add value to our customers?

To clarify, Damon explains that customer empathy needs to be woven into the fabric of company culture. “Most companies don’t set out to disrupt,” says Damon, “What they do is try to solve a customer problem in a way that nobody has done before.”

Innovation through customer understanding: Case Study

Through talking to customers, Domain realised there was a key factor when people were looking for property.

“Extensive research showed that people wanted to know what schools they could send their children to. But there wasn’t a ‘catchment’ database and it was tricky to find out when searching for real estate.”

The solution? A custom made database, formed by literally phoning every school in Australia. This was applied to a map and after an enormous amount of effort a new feature was added.

One in two Domain users now looks at school catchments when they are searching for property – a perfect example of how innovation leads to engagement as a result of LISTENING to the customer.

Final words

Since Damon joined Domain in 2013, the product and engineering team has expanded from 15 to over 200 people. There used to be 80 product releases a year. There are now more than 3000.

Profits and revenue have skyrocketed. User numbers went from 1.8 million to 4.5 million. At a recent Facebook conference, Domain was highlighted as the most engaged real estate brand on the platform. And that’s worldwide – pretty impressive for a business with a market as small as Australia’s.

Damon’s key takeaways for product professionals:

  • Do away with ‘projects’. These imply a beginning and an end and don’t allow room for change in response to what the customer wants
  • Encourage a peer-positive environment. Your team should be able to support each other’s skills
  • Don’t try to imitate the competition or you will always be a step behind. Forget the sales-based culture of ‘doing what they’re doing’
  • Don’t limit innovation to hack days. Allow everyone to experiment and make suggestions all the time
  • Make mistakes and don’t fear them – but don’t just make mistakes! You need to have wins as well.

Finishing his presentation, Damon reminded the captive audience that “Success comes from standing out, not fitting in”. Something that has certainly been achieved with the Domain brand.

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Leading the Product 2016 Sketchnotes by Rebecca Jackson

About Damon

Damon Pezaro’s experience in managing products, staff and commercial objectives as well as creating strategic direction and execution has resulted in a diverse career in the digital industry. Working across businesses including Domain, OurDeal and News Digital Media, Damon has developed in-depth commercial, product, technical and management expertise.

Read more:

Driving your product management career – Victoria Butt, Parity Consulting

Creating value for customers – Dan Olsen, Author

Iterating a new product culture – Lucie McLean, BBC

Details are the difference – Ash Donaldson, Tobias & Tobias

Life after launch – Cameron Adams – Canva