How a Product Manager Advanced Her Career With Digital Skills Training

By BrainStation December 17, 2018

It’s often said that product managers come from diverse career and educational backgrounds, and this statement is especially true for Irina Zusman. Having worked in many roles at various startups throughout her career, Irina developed a passion for technology-based product management. Looking for skills to support her on-the-job learning and solidify her knowledge, Irina took BrainStation’s Product Management certificate course. We spoke with Irina about her experience at BrainStation and how the course has helped her to start her own business.

Can you tell us about your education and career background?

I’m a York University graduate with Double Honours in Communication Theory and Psychology with a joint specialized program at Seneca College in Integrated Marketing Communications.

After my graduation, I worked with several startups before I started my own company.

When I graduated I was presented with the unique opportunity to join a tech startup in its infancy stages (touch taxi media) and lead the development of an interactive touch screen interface for a mobile touch screen kiosk on the back seat of a taxi cab. At the time it was cutting-edge technology, and I really had no idea what to expect. The specifics of my role were undefined and the learning curve was steep. It was only a year into my role that I could put a name to it: Product Development Manager. It was a long bumpy road full of lessons but we developed and successfully launched the product overseas and sold the company.

I have continued my career in the field of product development, management, and marketing in the hospitality industry, and now moved to managing parking technology and rolling out a mobile parking app (QuickPay) across Canadian and US cities.

Can you tell us about your company BagsAway and how it was founded?

Simply put, BagsAway Luggage Storage is the Airbnb of luggage storage–it’s a booking platform that connects travellers with a local business that can store their bags for a few hours or days. This is especially important for travellers on arrival and departure days, before hotel check-in and after checkout.

This was not the model we started with; when the company was founded we offered same-day luggage pick-up and delivery within the city. We had good demand for the service but it was challenging to scale, and our customers were seeking a more flexible solution. As we worked to find an efficient way to grow and accommodate our clients’ needs, we pivoted and adjusted the concept. Originally, the inspiration for the concept came from several directions including our own travel experiences hauling our bags around, and a friend’s experience as an Airbnb host who was repeatedly asked to store bags. This was the lightbulb moment that led to the development of an MVP in search of market validation.

Did the skills and knowledge you gained during the Product Management course play a role in founding your company?

Part of the course requirement included a final project assignment that had us develop and present a go-to-market plan for a new product. In the process of assessing the market opportunity I had pivoted the concept based on the research conducted and the feedback from my sample audience. The knowledge set gained during the course directly contributed to the thought process that led us to pivot our own business direction.

What was your motivation behind taking the BrainStation Product Management course?

I had taken on several product development and management roles at the start-ups I had worked for, but the work environment was always very unstructured and I had to rely on self-teaching the role. When I was offered the product management role for the mobile parking app I decided it was time to add some formal process knowledge onto my prior experience to enable me to fulfill my role with more assured conviction.

How would you describe your learning experience throughout the Product Management course?

Very engaging, hands on, fun, and applied. In his teachings, our instructor Balaji referenced many products we utilize daily as case studies, shedding light on the market conditions and opportunities that brought them there. He also brought in guest speakers from an array of industries that provided real-world insight into aspects of the product life-cycle. He brought it all together through creative class exercises that stimulated strategic thinking and in-depth understanding of the concepts.

What was the most valuable skill you gained during the course?

The MVP = Minimum Viable Product. Early on in my first role as a product manager, our company made the mistake of waiting too long to go to market and trying to feature load the product in its first iteration, which was a big mistake. The course gave me the skill to assess where to draw the line and how to determine the key functionalities that must exist in the basic use case of the product. This enables you to test the market fit and opportunity while spending less time and resources to get there.

Can you describe your day-to-day activities as the Co-Founder and COO of BagsAway?

There are many aspects of work that shift in priority from day-to-day. Some activities are product focused: evaluating, testing, and launching new features and product iterations. Others tasks focus on building relationships on both the supply and demand sides, as our business model has a B2C (business-to-consumer) and a B2B (business-to-business) component. This then takes me into marketing, advertising and sales related strategies to reach both sides of the market and drive awareness. On all sides there’s a big aspect of storytelling and educating about the service offering we provide, so opportunities to create content, speak and share the value are important in my day-to-day.

Starting a business is a bit like a roller-coaster ride that you never intended to take, but as you’re on it with all the twists and turns and the ups and downs, you realize that you’d take that ride time and time again!

If you’re interested in learning more about managing the product development process, BrainStation offers a part-time Product Management certificate course.