The product spotlight: conversations with experts - Adapting to industry and technology trends
Teagan O’Donovan, October 17th 2023

My name is Teagan, and I’m a Managing Consultant at ISL Talent. I specialise in product and have worked hard to build a solid network over the years. I’ve created this blog series to gather insights from high level product people and help others in the community with advice to take their careers to the next level.

In this interview, I chat to Head of Product James Broomer about current industry challenges, how to stay up to date with the latest trends and why it's important for businesses to have a strong product function. 

Can you start by telling me a bit about yourself?

“My name is James and I’m a senior leader in the Product space. My career started way back in 1998 when I was at a crossroads around higher education but ended up doing an engineering apprenticeship with a T1 supplier - it was the best thing I ever did! My apprenticeship led to me getting a sponsored degree in mechanical engineering at The Nottingham Trent University.

Since then, I’ve had a range of roles mainly within the automotive industry, including working at Jaguar Land Rover .  However, it was during my role at Rivian, where I was working on Adventure Products, that I got the eureka moment to migrate from engineering to product. From there, I ended up joining Arrival as Head of Product for the Van Platform. It was an exciting company to work with, looking to decarbonize the light commercial vehicle sector; it was very purposeful.

More recently I’ve been doing some consultancy for a net zero supply chain tech company, and also spent some time on low-cost hydrogen fuel cells.”

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing at the moment?

“Post covid, there’s a lot of economic uncertainty so it is a very challenging time right now. There doesn’t seem to be as much investment around and I think investors are becoming savvier.

Bringing a complex automotive product to market as a new brand has never been harder.  The race is always on to build a business, a culture and get a product to market before your funds run out – as such, parcel delivery companies are having to look to big auto to support their decarbonisation goals.”

How do you stay informed about trends that are coming up in the industry?

“You need to be very intentional with this. How I approach it is through product and industry immersion. I go to shows or summits and utilise my LinkedIn to gather industry information. There are also plenty of industry specific platforms you can use to find out what’s new, what’s hot etc.

Lean into your customers, maintaining a customer first mindset because their needs and pain points may change over time. In some cases, you may need to buy data to understand consumer trends. You certainly need to be very active and very intentional to maintain a pulse on the industry.

Having the wider internal teams be able to share new technologies and trend findings with product is paramount to help paint the most complete picture available of the competitive landscape.  You can only harvest so much as a small team so create an environment of inclusion and data sharing to keep on the front foot – the same goes with new ideas as they can come from anywhere, from CEO to everyone in between."

How do you balance the desire to adopt the latest trends whilst also maintaining stability and reliability in your product?

“The world moves very fast, and the product lifecycle is very lengthy, especially in automotive, it could be three plus years to get something to market from ideation. Having a strong product function is important to shepherd the product through this lifecycle.

New technologies and trends are a constant and the product roadmap / backlog is there to help with this so good ideas and applicable technologies are captured and then developed / deployed when the time is right, often with a level of hardware enabling at launch to minimize the impact downstream.  More is not always more I’ve found as customers only really want a reliable product that solves their greatest pain points that is compliant in the markets they wish to compete in.

A common theme I see is most startups look to go to market thinking they can do it bigger, better, faster and differently to their competitors, they try to take on too much at the outset.  A low CAPEX MVP as the primary offering is very sensible but often doesn’t sound ambitious enough, trust me it is!  You need to weigh up how much you can take on at any given time to remain stable - you can often do anything but not everything.”

What do you see as the most impactful industry trends and technologies in your field?

“From an auto perspective, it’s a race around battery chemistry. Optimisation of this is key as well as rare earth material removal. Simply put, bringing the cost and mass down of these products and scaling the charging infrastructure will help increase the adoption of EV’s. Hydrogen is also looking very interesting right now, with more and more companies looking to this technology but the filling infrastructure is very much in its infancy in the UK.”

Do you have any advice for people who are progressing in their career in product or who are looking to get into it as a whole?

“There’s a wealth of knowledge out there. There are a lot of product schools and books which can help build the first principles of understanding.   Leverage your network too, people are always willing to share their experiences.  Also, be curious and have the customer at the forefront of everything you’re doing, product is very much a mindset thing.”

Get in touch

In this interview with James, we’ve explored his fascinating career journey from engineering into product management. We spoke about post-covid economic uncertainties as well as the pressing need for decarbonisation in the automotive sector. James also spoke about the importance of staying informed about current trends by being intentional and maintaining a customer-centric mindset.

These blogs are all about connecting people, so if you liked what James had to say, connect with him here. Alternatively, if you’d like to feature in a blog or would like to chat to me about product roles, drop me a message on LinkedIn here.

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