Welcome to our interview series, "Meet the Product Manager"! In this series, we showcase various product managers and share their insights on their roles, experiences, and learning paths. This time, we had the privilege of interviewing Joran Liessens, senior product manager at Loop Earplugs! Joran stands out as a dedicated enthusiast of dualoop, actively participating in events and even joining our coaching sessions. Curious to discover more about his journey? Dive into his story here!
This time around, we're thrilled to delve deeper into his day-to-day professional life. Are you equally eager? If so, continue reading to share in our excitement!
What led you into product management?
Me, taking a risk. When Maarten Bodewes, co-founder of Loop, first approached me back in 2021, he presented the role of Customer Experience Manager at Loop Earplugs to me. At the time, I held the position of Customer Experience & Market Insights Manager at Sandoz, which on LinkedIn made me a prime target for Maarten. 2 things I liked a lot about that job: thinking customer-centric and using data and analyses for decision-making. 1 thing I was missing a lot: being close to the product. At Sandoz, I was part of the Commercial Excellence team, responsible for supporting and optimising commercial activities. In other words, our clients were sales and marketing. Their clients were our real clients. My product was a process, tool, or advice. Their product was the real one we were selling.
Maarten's first proposal for a Customer Experience Manager wasn't on point, and the charming aspect of the recruiting process was that they had also figured this out. After declining this one, I was offered the role of Product Manager a few months later. Here, the job description made sense: Loop had a product development head struggling to prioritise what products and features to do first, and marketing was bombarding him with millions of requests, some customer-driven, some honestly more sales and short-term profit-driven. That's where they needed a product manager to come in.
I took the role, not having been a product manager before, working directly under 2 founders who had never seen a product manager before either, in a fast-growing start-up where no 2 days were the same, where everything still had to be invented. So, as a product manager and self-proclaimed learning-as-I-go specialist (aren't all PMs just professional learners?), I started to figure out what Loop needed, what Loop's customers needed, and how to tie it together.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Given I still work at Loop Earplugs, which has evolved from a fast-growing start-up to a fast-growing scale-up, or in other words, from 16 to 260 people during my tenure, a "typical day" hasn't revealed itself yet. During the first year, I was heavily involved in building out the analytics and insights departments at Loop so that we'd be able to make data-informed decisions.
After that, my role became more Product Manager like, as more tools, processes and people around me were available for me to shift focus on the core. Then, the next priority was building the roadmap based on problem discovery and market opportunities, aligned with the company vision. Now, a typical day is a balance between executing the short run – guarding the requirements for the next products being built and keeping stakeholders aligned – while maintaining an eye out on the problems and opportunities of the future and building the business cases to allocate future resources there.
What are you currently working on?
I drive both improvement projects and new innovation within Loop, which both support the brand image of today – being a game changer in the earplug segment – as well as prepare us for the future – how can we do what we do now even better? Currently, I am working on a new accessory that will highlight our products' fashion-forward character, and I am investigating what our next earplug in the portfolio should be.
What piece of work are you most proud of?
When I started at Loop, Loop Engage was in its infancy behind the curtains. I am really proud of how I rapidly learned to understand the business and weighed in on pushing its development forward. With some uncertainty at the time – Will people buy this? How will it impact our portfolio and brand? – I helped position it right and launch it in time. It's now a super valuable solution to a new use case and helps millions of people around the world.
What are your favourite tools to use during work?
Google is still my number one. There is so much you can learn and discover on the internet, and I love the times we live in when it comes to having everything one click away.
I also love using Monday.com. It's a very versatile tool that helps us to keep track of projects, product releases, bottlenecks, dependencies, resource availabilities, etc. It requires some setup, but you can go pretty far in tweaking it to your needs.
How is your product team structured?
The VP of product has product management, engineering and design reporting to him. In product management, we are 5 people now, aligned by customer promise/segment. Since we still have a small portfolio, I am sure we'll slice and dice it in many different ways over time, looking for the best way to bucket them so that we can help grow the current business while focusing on new business.
What do you pay attention to when you hire news PMs?
One of our company attitudes embedded in one of the company values is "first-principle thinking". It's the ability to look beyond the face value of a problem and dissect it to its core and root problems. It's about finding out that one issue that drives all. The first domino in the line.
This is an incredibly important skill and attitude for a PM. Understanding the real problem in a customer's frustration, hearing an engineer say, "It can't be done", and knowing how to navigate that, unpacking a stakeholder's desire from the true north star they couldn't voice. It's all the same. Don't accept what you see or hear; ask why 1 more time.
What product or feature have you been blown away by recently?
I recently bought the Samsung Freestyle mini projector, and it is amazing. Besides its high lumen, image resolution and UX-friendly set-up menu, it has one feature that blew me away: automatic focus and image adjustment. Most people know the keystone function of projectors these days, which, similarly to corrections on a photo on a smartphone, allows you to adjust around each axis.
The Samsung Freestyle does this automatically! So no matter in what angle you place it in front of a surface, it will recognise a flat surface and project straight onto it, with adjusted focus. If you move it 20 centimetres or bump into it, it will automatically recalibrate. When looking into what technology is behind this, I couldn't find too much. Still, it is some impressive optics combined with smart technologies.
What do you do to stay up to date and become better as a product manager?
Frankly, since we work so much with other people in the day-to-day, a lot of my learning and development still goes to developing myself and building emotional maturity, professional communication, general empathy, and listening skills. I take this from books and talks with people through coaching and introspection. Next, I invest in technical and industry knowledge that is useful for the job.
Again, Google is your friend, but you know where the specialised websites and blogs are after a while. And lastly, I really like Product Focus' work on product management. They are one of the few schools that stay high-level enough so that their info is both applicable to PMs in hardware and software. I use their material often as a reference or gentle reminder of what product management really is about, especially in those times when too many things come together and I tend to lose my focus.
Any recommendations for aspiring product managers?
Well, the fact that one would aspire to it already sets you apart from the many who just stumble upon product management as a career track. So good for you!
My advice would be to take the role as soon as possible. Start in a junior position in any industry or sector that genuinely interests you. I firmly believe it is going to be harder to work on a product that you fundamentally are not interested in or align with. It doesn't need to be a product or service you use yourself per se, but there must be some form of "I believe in this". As soon as you have found that product or company, and they have a PM position open – go for it! Figure it out when you are there, learn from seniors, learn from the network, learn anywhere. You can't learn this job by not doing it, so just start doing it.