Over the last few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to chat to this year’s Canvas Conference speakers, as well as some of our alumni, to ask about their career journeys, their secret weapons, and the product mindset.
This week, I’m introducing you to Bhavesh Vaghela, a Senior Product Owner at Callsign. We catch up over Google Meet in the first few weeks of remote working, Bhavesh in his home office and me in my kitchen. Bhavesh is warm, friendly and full of an excitement and enthusiasm which is very endearing! We share our experiences of working from home so far, and bond over how nice it is to hear a fellow northern accent, before jumping into the questions.
So let’s start by telling me a bit about your role. What you do and who you do it for?
I’m a Senior Product Owner at Callsign, which is an identity and authentication company. Essentially what we do is provide some clever bits of capability that banks and other companies can use to identify their customers.
For example, we have a technology we call ‘swipe’. Swipe essentially measures behaviour biometrics. When you use your mobile device, your swipe will be very different to anyone else’s swipe. And once you’ve done a number of swipes, then we have a behavioural fingerprint. Whenever a bank or a company wants to do something which is quite high risk, they can ask for a swipe. We compare that to what we’ve trained already for you, as Stephanie, for example, and then we can give a result back in seconds to say, “It’s Stephanie,” or “We don’t think it’s Stephanie.”
Callsign has a number of innovative active and passive solutions. Active is things like swipe, pin, bio pin, passcode, OTP, and passive is location, device, location proximity – so, if one minute you’re logging in from Blackpool, and then a minute later you’re logging in from London, that gets picked up as actually there’s no way, unless you’re Superwoman (way to blow my cover, Bhavesh…), you could travel that quickly.
My main role is product ownership, but I guess my other role is pushing stuff forward, driving and putting leadership where there’s voids, and delivering great customer outcomes. What I do a lot of is bringing people together, clarifying a common purpose and getting things delivered to customers. It’s about bringing order to chaos and trying to define what minimum thing we can do to deliver value to the customer is.
We talk a lot at 383 about removing frictions, and I think security and verification is an interesting one, because it’s a necessary friction. It’s one of those things that is inevitably going to be a little bit annoying for the user, but it’s also entirely necessary. People don’t really want to think about it, but also, when it goes wrong, it’s the first thing on your mind.
Yeah, and the example I use is when you go to an airport. Before you even get to the airport there have been a number of passive checks carried out on your passport. Before the lockdown, I flew to San Francisco from Heathrow and I was only checked twice – once at check in and once at boarding. There’s a few active checks and plenty of passive checks, where they’re scanning, making sure you’re not on a watch list, making sure your passport is valid. You don’t know they’re happening, but they’re happening passively to verify you.
I believe customers want some friction. I introduced something at Barclaycard called the ‘green path’ with Apple Pay, where, basically, you scan your card and you’re good to go. We had complaints because customers were like, “Hold on, anyone could steal my card and scan it and steal my details!” What they didn’t know is that Apple has a really clever bit of kit that says, “Yes, that’s Stephanie,”, or “No, that’s not Stephanie.”
What Callsign provides is something called decisioning which gives the person, the bank, the customer facing app, whoever, the control to orchestrate the customer experience and level of friction in real time. So, if your swipe wasn’t correct, maybe you’ve got a hot cup of coffee and you’re using a different hand than we’re used to. So, maybe, we’ll use your location and send you an OTP.
This is the USP for Callsign. Because we have this decisioning, you can create processes of friction based on risk appetite. Therefore you’re not subjecting everyone to the same friction, which is what most banks do right now. Plus, you can have multiple authentications. I can say, “Right, do swipe. No, swipe wasn’t good. Do location. Location doesn’t look good. Device? Device doesn’t look good. Okay, let’s do an OTP call out. OTP doesn’t look good. Okay, let’s do face? Face doesn’t look good. Fine, we’re not going to let you in.” But if you pass at the first hurdle, you’re in. That way a customer only experiences the most stringent policy if they’re falling down on each of the other steps.
Tell me about how you ended up at Callsign and what your career journey has been like?
I’ve always been an app and product guy. The biggest kick I get is helping people and seeing what I have created in customers’ hands. I wanted to be a doctor when I was about seventeen. Then my father passed away and I just had an aversion to hospitals, but I still have this inbuilt urge to help humanity and leave the world in a better place. I think I can do this with digital.
Ultimately, I landed in finance. I always think that people talk about health, they talk about life, but no one really talks about money, and money is one of those things that’s so essential. The last fifteen years, I’ve been working in banking on a number of products, internal facing and external facing. Then Callsign came up, and I think what Callsign are trying to do is to protect people who don’t have a voice, vulnerable customers. I want to be able to provide products that help banks protect their end customer – our customers are B2B2C, I guess, and ultimately, I want to make sure that the people who are in the ‘C’ are protected and get a magical experience in any product they use.
Callsign came along with an interesting proposition, looking after mobile intelligence, and now verification. It was a chance to use all these bits of my knowledge of banking and these capabilities to drive and create products that are going to really help protect the vulnerable. The purpose around making identity accessible for everyone, everywhere is something I can relate to. And my biggest kick is stopping fraudsters, or naughty people, and protecting the vulnerable. That’s the reason I landed in the role.
I guess that ties into the next question — what’s the best thing about what you do? Why do you get up in the morning and go to work?
Well, dial in at the moment, I guess!
I think, for me, at an abstract level, it’s people. I enjoy talking to intelligent people. What I mean by intelligence isn’t necessarily people who’ve been to university or that kind of a formal education. I mean people who have varied views on the world, the art of the possible, rebels who want to challenge the norm. That’s what I find at Callsign; a diverse range of thought and lots of highly intelligent people, working in a tribe, wanting to make a real difference.
I have a saying; please throw tomatoes at my ideas. And, oh boy, I get that at Callsign! Callsigners will give you candid feedback and will challenge your ideas with the intention of finding the better solution. Looking at different angles of a problem really helps produce a product that’s going to be more effective and robust in the wild. I think the best thing about what I do is working with people who are all aligned to the same purpose, who do whatever it takes to deliver value and ultimately produce products that customers are going to use and love.
What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your career?
Oh, I’ve got loads!
From a career perspective – I mentor a few people, outside of Callsign, and what I say to them is that if you want something, you need to ask for it. People are not going to read your mind. I’ve struggled with this a lot in the past – the inner voice and critic. I used to always think, “Oh, actually, I shouldn’t ask this,”, and, “I should be grateful with what I have.” Then, even when I did ask, I used to be quite pacifying and go, “Oh, but it doesn’t need to be now…”
What I’ve realised is that to move on in your career, to get to where you need to get to, you have to set your stall out, be realistic and say, “My expectations are, in the next three to six months I want to be doing this, and these are the things I’m doing to get there. Is there anything else I need to do?” And make sure that’s visible across the whole leadership team, so people are aware of your ambitions and you have sponsors who can support you on your journey. You are in the driving seat of your career no one is going to steer for you.
The lesson I’ve learned is that shy monkeys never get the nuts.
I’ve not heard that one before, I like it!
Well, you can have that one for free!
From a product perspective, I wrote a blog called What do customers want?. You’re not the customer, and that’s one thing that people forget. As product owners, you’ve got to be really humble. Your idea, you may think, is your idea, but you’ve got to let people rip it apart with the view that, actually, it makes it a better idea.
If you’re not humble, and you think your idea is the best thing since sliced bread, then you’ll produce something that makes customers go, “What the hell is this?!” They’re not able to relate to it. Make sure you put in feedback loops, so whoever you define as your customer is able to give you feedback on what works, what doesn’t work. There’s plenty of frameworks, like jobs to be done, for example, but they’re just frameworks and not prescriptions for success. Ultimately, it’s making sure you have direct lines in to the customer and if you have to bend some rules to do it, it’s worth doing.
I think what tends to happen in large organisations, and banks even more so, is that you have an agency come in to do the research for you, and you sit behind a glass wall and watch the research happen, and then you get a PowerPoint deck at the end. That’s great… but you don’t get to really understand the customer. Your assumptions are filtered through someone else’s assumptions, which are then filtered through customers.
If you really want to understand what customers want, you need to be able to have that real, direct customer feedback and not use these generic personas like ‘Ethel’ – ‘Ethel’ finds trouble with opening the door, so what should we do? Let’s give ‘Ethel’ a big Thor hammer so she can smash the windows to get out of the house… That’s probably not what you want to do. Find real solutions that fix real customers problems. That’s what we are doing at Callsign.
There’s a lot of hype around ‘product’ at the moment, a lot of people talking about ‘product thinking’ and people needing to work in more of a ‘product’ way. How do we make sure that that doesn’t just become another buzzword in the C-suite that people talk about but don’t really understand?
I’ve never come across a company that says, “You know what, we’re going to give shitty customer experience!” Everyone wants to be customer centric. Everyone wants to give a great customer experience. And everyone thinks that design thinking is the solution to do this. What people forget is the context of what they’re trying to deliver. If you really want to be customer centric, you need to involve customers, believe it or not.
To be a product organisation, you need to make sure you’re structured for success – that means and breaking down boundaries and siloed thinking. It becomes a buzzword because people think, “Yeah, we’re going to be a product organisation,” and then everyone becomes a product manager. There’s a concept of product managers and product owners, where product managers are business facing and looking at the future, and product owners are delivering stuff. In a really mature organisation it might work to have that split, but I think it doesn’t work in most organisations. All that happens is the division of duty means there is a ‘get out of jail free’ card for product managers and product owners, as they can just shift any shortcomings of a product onto each other, forgetting about the customer needs. I am all for non-prescriptive role titles, where everyone wears a number of hats to get things done.
You have an agency come in, you sit behind a glass wall and watch the research happen, and then you get a PowerPoint deck at the end. That's great... but you don't get to really understand the customer. Your assumptions are filtered through someone else's assumptions, which are then filtered through customers.
Organisational design is inherently flawed because there’s always going to be winners and losers. If you’re going to become a product organisation, then you need to put the money where your mouth is, and actually deliver using agile, using SAFe, whatever works. But don’t be so ingrained into the framework – the danger is people just say, “Right, we’re going to be a product organisation – we’ll do jobs to be done,” and they’ll have workshops, or jobs to be done, but there’s no customers. They’re thinking about ‘Ethel’ again, and they just make shit up, because they think that they know what ‘Ethel’ really wants.
I know McKinsey have written quite a bit recently on how one of the reasons that digital strategies are failing in a lot of big organisations, and it’s because they’re not actually changing anything. They’re still using the same organisational structures and hierarchies, and having a department for marketing, and a department for technology, and a department for customer service, and that just doesn’t work anymore. It’s a 150 year old model that we’re trying to make fit to the way people are building and consuming digital products.
Yeah, I totally agree. It’s like learning to bake a cake, right? If the first time you make it, not even your dog will eat it, and then you’re not going to change the ingredients or the methods… surprise surprise, you’re always going to get a shit cake. So the secret is to make sure that your methods, your processes, and your ingredients are such that you’re going to get the right outcomes and that you ingrain learning so you adapt. I have been watching a lot of Star Wars with my kids during lockdown and I always think having a few rebel forces who think differently, work differently, and bend the rules helps catalyse digital strategies for success.
Thank you so much for that!
Sure! I’ve sent you a link to a blog that I did called Digital transformation is a piece of cake. Let me know what you think!
Well, actually I’ve got a piece of cake ready to eat this afternoon, so that seems like an appropriate time!