Insights

Employee Spotlight: Karlin Wong, Product Manager

As Product Manager, Karlin Wong, is responsible leading product efforts from conception to launch. 

On a regular basis, we talk with our team members about their experience working at Canoe, and their future goals and aspirations. This week, we talked with Karlin Wong, Product Manager

Describe your background and current role at Canoe.

I was first introduced to tech as a customer support intern at SplashThat.com. At the time, I was studying art at Kenyon College but I’d always been interested in technology and was excited to learn about a new field. When I was thinking about what career I wanted to pursue after college, I was drawn to product management because I have a “get things done” attitude and love creating things. I ended up joining Canoe as a Junior PM shortly after graduating.

A product manager on any tech team has a range of responsibilities, but they’re especially widespread at a growing company like Canoe. My focus is to lead product efforts from conception to launch. This means taking an idea and shepherding it through design, prioritization, testing, and development. On any given day, I could be writing a product requirement document, meeting with the commercial team about a new feature idea, working with engineering to plan out development efforts, or designing a prototype in Sketch. Since Canoe is a nimble company, I’ve gotten to take on responsibilities that a PM wouldn’t normally have at larger firms, like UX design, product marketing, and technical writing.

How has the company evolved since you joined?

In my two years here, Canoe has grown from around eight to 30 people. Teams have been built out, roles have become more specialized, and our product has seen huge advancements; all of this reflects the hard work we’ve put in to get here. At the same time, we’re still a startup and when you’re growing that rapidly you have to stay flexible. An internal process we implement today won’t necessarily work a year from now, so all of us have to be adaptable while also being mindful of scalability.

What product enhancement are you most excited about and why?

I’m very excited about being the PM and designer for Canoe Connect, an enhancement to our product that alleviates the burden of collecting documents from disparate portals. Canoe Connect is going to be a centralized hub that allows users to facilitate automatic retrieval of documents from portals via API, RPA, and other solutions. Portal connectivity is a huge workflow challenge for our clients, so it comes with many interesting problems that have been fun to think through. 

Scaling down a big idea like Connect into an executable MVP [minimum viable product]–and managing the expectations of so many different stakeholders has been a super interesting challenge. I’m excited to see how Connect evolves over the next few months and beyond.

What has been the most challenging project you’ve worked on? Why?

The functionality for extraction from documents with multiple allocations was probably the most challenging project I’ve worked on at Canoe. It was our biggest feature launch to-date, so it was a learning process for everyone involved–especially me. Multi-allocation extraction changed the structure of our Intelligence product; this required a few months of development time. It was also a tricky UX problem, and coming up with the solution required multiple iterations and many meetings to build consensus internally. A big feature also requires extensive testing and multiple rounds of feedback, so I had to manage a UAT program across different teams at Canoe. Finally, I had to figure out the product marketing materials as well as how multi-allocation documents are presented in sales demos. 

Since it was such a significant release, it provided an opportunity to build out some important processes. For instance, I learned about the importance of dividing up development projects into releasable milestones so that code doesn’t need to be rebased. I also got to create a product marketing process that’s become the foundation for our go-to-market strategy today. 

How do you collaborate across teams in your role? How has this shifted since working remotely?

I interact the most with the rest of our tech team, but as a B2B product manager I’m constantly meeting with people across the firm. We used Jira and Google Chat a lot before Covid, so our habit of memorializing things in writing has helped in the shift to remote work. To be honest, I’ve just gotten used to meeting with people through video call. The only thing I haven’t found a good replacement for is physically whiteboarding ideas together, but even so I’m sure there’s tooling for that I’m just not taking advantage of yet.

The product team has also added some recurring checkpoint meetings to make sure we’re all aligned on weekly priorities. Ultimately, we all trust each other. Accountability is one of our cultural principles, so even if I’m not in the same office as my teammates, I know that we’re all working hard towards the same goals.

What is your most memorable experience at Canoe so far?

I think any PM would say that shipping products and seeing things they worked on being used out in the wild is one of the most memorable parts of the job. I’ve also been fortunate to form some close friendships at Canoe, and that’s a part of this job I’m thankful for. Things I’ve done with co-workers include running the Brooklyn half-marathon, cooking shakshuka, and fooling the machine learning technology at Amazon Go’s midtown store.