Column: How to Embed Your Audience in Your Product Teams

Amanda Lui
Amanda Lui is the head of product at Albert, an L.A.-based money app that helps people manage their financial lives. See more at albert.com/terms/. She uses design to simplify complex experiences and as a tool to tackle engineering and business challenges. Amanda was an Imagineer at Walt Disney Imagineering—the birthplace of Disneyland (and all Disney theme parks)—where she visualized business data. After getting her BFA in Graphic Design at CalArts, past works also include her time as a freelance designer helping small businesses with branding and web development.
Embed your product team

Have you ever used an app or product and come across a fundamental feature that was either hard to access or somehow more confusing than helpful? These are surprisingly common problems caused by a similar root issue.

When companies create products and experiences, they are often focused on a set of considerations: goals, budget, resources, timing, etc. But often one ingredient is missing: their audience — not just through research but through the direct makeup of the team designing the product.


Building New Features Through Mixed Perspectives

Representation comes in many forms: gender, sexual orientation, race, age, upbringing and more. Depending on the product, some criteria may or may not be relevant. What's important is that you build your team around the audience you're trying to cultivate, both now and in the future. As the chief architect of your customers' experience, you want to make sure your team can anticipate all the possible problems and provide unique solutions people might encounter. As head of product at Albert, an L.A.-based money app that helps people manage their financial lives, this idea of representation is important to me. That's why we've sought to build a balanced team that includes experts in personal finance, but also people who might not have known how to budget before. Our audience tends to skew slightly female, and, while I don't represent all women, I'm proud to lead design in a world where women fill less than 11% of design leadership roles across industries, despite representing 54% of designers.

Empathy and research will always be key to product design, but they can't replace representation. Without having stand-ins for your audience on your team, it's hard to know if you've covered the nuances in addition to missing the blind spots.

To achieve that at Albert, we aim to hire a cross section of our target audience: people who understand what it's like living as a young adult with limited access and experience with financial tools, as well as true personal finance experts. Fortunately for Los Angeles tech companies, this city has a huge pool of diverse, creative talent to hire and embed in product teams.

Assembling Representation in the Right Places

L.A.'s landscape offers so much to help companies achieve strong teams. It's a tapestry of SoCal born and bred as well as transplants from across the U.S. and the world, who bring influences from across the globe. These different backgrounds create a local ecosystem of potential representation. For Albert, financial needs like living costs and spending habits inherently vary by region, and that breadth of experiences in L.A. talent helps us stay relevant for a broad audience.

To find that perfect mix of representation, it's important to know what role you want each background to play in the product process and then source talent accordingly. I've found that the sweet spot is leaving the user experience up to the non-experts, the deep inner-workings to the experts, and the content to a collaboration between the two.

We want to make sure the core and operations of our experiences come from the experts who know what our target audience needs. The non-experts who can relate to our audiences play a crucial role catering the experience and the delivery, based on what they know will be most accessible to them.

Working on Albert's investing feature illustrated this for me personally. Our goal is to make investing approachable for those who feel overwhelmed at even the thought of taking control of their finances. To make it as easy as possible to get started, we have people on our team who are deeply experienced with the investing landscape, but it has been just as important to have team members who know nothing about investing.

For the deeply experienced, it's hard to know what needs more context. For the beginners, it's hard to know what's important to focus on or where to begin. Using investment lingo like ETFs and stock tickers would seem like a foreign language to our audience. Trying to teach technical aspects upfront doesn't solve our goal of making investing more approachable, and may even heighten the sense that it's overwhelming. Rather than trying to force it, we can get creative with new investing experiences that are easier to relate to as someone just starting out.

Those on our team who were newer to investing concepts gave critical feedback on what may be difficult to approach and what could make it more relatable—in this case, it was introducing themes like "sustainability," "technology," "biotech," and "women-led companies." On the flip side, without the experts on our team, we wouldn't know what kind of investing would actually be most appropriate for our audience. It's the teamwork that helps us make better, fresher products.

The Business Case for Inclusion

This is just scratching the surface of how important well-rounded representation is for making successful products. When working entirely from a place of empathy, decisions can be made on assumptions. With research, assumptions become educated guesses based on what users tell you. But, with your audience embedded within your teams, that information becomes fact from personal experience. Red flags can be raised quickly and easily internally instead of waiting to hear from your audience.

Product teams absolutely can and should include people that don't look like their target audience. It's an important piece to having good balance and perspective. But ultimately, you risk missing the mark on multiple fronts without representation. Companies nationwide are finally putting more action behind their words when it comes to embracing diversity within their ranks, and Los Angeles has a unique local ecosystem of talents of all varieties that no business based here should miss out on.

No matter what industry you're in—representation matters.

Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

LA Venture Funds


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