From engineering to operations, Meet the Appvians is a series that shines a spotlight on the people behind our products: What they do, what they enjoy outside of work, and how they’ve experienced life at Appvia. For the first edition of the series, we caught up with Therese Stowell, Product Director at Appvia, on what forms a brilliant team, and the rollercoaster of experiences that brought her across the pond and eventually to the helm of Appvia’s product team.
Therese Stowell has been with Appvia since September 2020, and is based at our London HQ (when the state of the world allows it).
In her role as Product Director, Therese leads on product vision and strategy. In the time that she’s been with Appvia, her sights have been set on driving and refining processes on “validating what we build, what we prioritise and making sure it’s fit for purpose.”
What does it mean to have ‘good product practices'?
“I think of a good product team as a machine. They get their process going, achieve velocity and can deliver a lot of value quickly. That’s where we’re pointing at.
I’ve taken a lot of what I’ve learned from [my previous company], Pivotal, and put it into play here at Appvia. At a really high-level glance, it’s looking at our product road-map and adopting a ‘double-diamond’ approach, which is taking a wide look at the problem and, separately, a wide look at the solution. All of that learning de-risks your work and gets rid of as many unknowns as possible.”
ADVENTURES AROUND THE BLOCK AND BACK
While she calls London home now, that hasn’t always been the case. Therese grew up in the Washington DC area and has lived and worked in cities across the United States before settling here in the Big Smoke.
I know you’ve had an eclectic and interesting career, can you speak to that a little bit?
“Yeah, I’ve had a really meandering career. It’s never been by design. It’s been very agile. I do something, I learn, I do something else.”
Spoken like a true project manager. After getting an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, Therese went to work for Microsoft straight out of the gates, from working on Operating Systems (where she wrote the command line for Windows NT … pretty cool) to UX design and ended her time there in a product management capacity. By the time Therese left Microsoft, it had ballooned into a 30,000 strong, massive organisation.
From there, she went on to work for Sony Research to build a product out of a visualisation technology developed at NYU and University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, which brought her from Seattle to New Mexico and, finally, NYC. Before leaving NYC for good and moving back to Seattle, she also had a stint at Hitatchi writing Java.
But tech hasn’t always been your ‘true-north’, right?
“Yeah, so thinking back to my 20s I realised I had an artistic side and was like ‘oh I’m really curious about that, I need to see what that’s about’. Now I realise, that’s very much what a product manager does.”
Therese’s artistic side first was uncovered when she was renovating a fixer-upper house and began to develop a keen eye for design, colour, shape and texture. So, naturally, she pursued that with curious fervour and ended up in London, getting her Masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University.
#1 and #2 from Therese Stowell's 2004 collection, Series for Success
Fast forward, and her life in London has held all sorts of adventures, from starting a family amidst pursuing an art career, to eventually re-training in web-development and forming an impressive social enterprise around sustainable food, Local Greens, from the ground-up (literally).
Closing that entrepreneurial chapter and going back to the working world was, she says, “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” But fruitful, as her breadth of experience and credibility led her almost straight back to product management.
“In some ways I was born to be a Product Manager. I naturally am very clear on prioritisation, working iteratively, understanding systems and being able to lead by influence. And I really like the variety; your day is made up of a lot of little things.”
One of her most pivotal roles, pun intended, was at software innovator Pivotal, where she was for four years up until they were acquired by VMware. She started as PM for the BOSH release of Redis before segueing into a Product Manager role for Platform Recovery and adding Telemetry to their Kubernetes product. She was then promoted to Product Director where she helped nine (yes, nine) teams to “build the best product they could.”
“That role was all about strategy and product practice - how do we do product management. And then, managing, growing, coaching people. “
Do you think all of these things were building blocks to finding your ‘silver bullet’ type role?
“Oh absolutely. I think of all the things I’ve done and how they help me do my job better. A product manager is always listening, synthesising and trying to figure out the right next step based on prioritisation, strategy, intuition and possibility.”
“One of the things that is so important in my job is being a good listener and getting to the absolute root of what someone, like a user, is trying to say. They might say ‘x’ and the thing they really need is ‘y’. With the art critiques I used to do, we would carefully dissect what people were trying to say, and the disparity between them. And that massively helps me with what I do today. And then I think about my social enterprise background. That was when I learned how to run a business - things like forecasting and marketing - and understood the importance of really trying to understand your customer.”
AND FINALLY, LANDING AT APPVIA
Given your vibrant history and natural curiosity for certain opportunities, what drew you to Appvia?
“It was right from the get-go in the interview. I knew I really wanted to work with these people. I’ve realised that it’s way more important who you work with, than what you work on -- not that our product isn’t super cool. People model behaviour that they observe, and here at Appvia that’s contributed to a really healthy, collaborative, top-down culture.”
There’s very much a top-down servant leadership adoption, right?
“Positivity radiates from leadership, absolutely. And servant leadership goes a long way. [Our CEO] Jon is all about outcomes. It’s not about him making his mark or asserting his influence. It’s not at all about him. It’s about the outcomes for the business and about ensuring that people are set up for success.
It’s a priority that people are doing well, are respected and included and can do their jobs well.”
How would you describe the culture at Appvia?
"Fun, energetic, collaborative! One key aspect is psychological safety -- people feel safe to say what they think, offer up ideas that might sound silly or ask questions that might sound uninformed.”
And which of our company values is the most important to you, personally?
"Empathy. Definitely empathy. "
Moving away from your life within Appvia to your life working from home, what’s your workspace like? What do you surround yourself with?
“I’m lucky, I have a separate office. I’ve got a big monitor so I can work on dual-screens, which helps keep me productive, and some amazing wallpaper that I look at that makes me incredibly happy.
The Timorous Beasts Grand Blotch Damask Wallpaper that adorns Therese's office wall and provides joy and inspiration.
I also like a good smell, so I bought myself a nice essential oil diffuser. I have a space heater right next to me so I don’t get cold, and a fan on the other side so I don’t get hot in the summer.”
You’re well prepared! Would you say you have a clean desk?
“No, nooo. But then I clean it and it makes me happy.”
What’s your favourite work song?
"I’ve got an eclectic taste but recently, Are ‘Friends’ Electric? by Tubeway Army / Gary Numan”
COULD YOU BE THE NEXT APPVIAN?
We're looking for talented and passionate people to join our growing team in London and beyond —. check out all of the current open roles. To learn more about Therese or find out more about the growing Product Team, connect with her on LinkedIn.