How Klaviyo’s Colleen Farrell Went From Teacher to Team Lead

colleen-farrell-working-at-klaviyo

Ever wonder what it’s like to build a career in tech? Curious about who the people are behind the products? This article is the first in a series that helps you get to know the team and see what working at Klaviyo is like.

 

When you think about Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies, maybe you think their product experts—the people who help customers be successful with their software—have to start off with a highly technical background. Or a good amount of technical knowledge, at least.

Not so, says Colleen Farrell, customer support manager at Klaviyo.

Colleen began her career as a product expert at Klaviyo after having gained some experience working as an account manager for another SaaS-based tech company. But how did she spend the bulk of her career? Teaching English as a second language.

I spoke to Colleen to hear more about how she made the move from teaching to now leading a team of software product experts. Read on to learn more about her story.

 

Katie Tierney [KT]: Tell me about your path to becoming a product expert.

Colleen Farrell [CF]: I started as a product expert on the customer support team in 2017, but before that, I was actually a teacher—an ESL teacher—for eight years. I loved teaching. I loved my students. But it was time to do something new. I moved on to a tech company where I worked as an account manager, and that really gave me the background and some of the tools I needed to eventually start at Klaviyo.

KT: What part of your experience was most helpful in becoming a product expert?

CF: Wanting to help people learn and understand things was a big part of it. Learning new things is like trying to climb a mountain. You can’t just land at the top of the mountain. To help people climb a mountain, you show them how to start at the beginning, build their foundation, and teach them how to climb.

When customers need help, it’s similar to being in the classroom teaching so my experience as a teacher really helped me to transition into the role of a product expert. As a teacher, the most interesting part of my day-to-day job was helping people get from point A to point Z and helping them through all the little steps in between. I think that translated really well into becoming a product expert.

KT: So you didn’t necessarily need to have a technical background?

CF: No, not at all. In college, I worked in the IT department but then I didn’t work in tech for eight years. I think that, while having a tech background is great, of course, there’s a lot you can learn just by getting to know the product yourself and by helping other people understand how to use it.

"While having a tech background is great, of course, there's a lot you can learn just by getting to know the product yourself and by helping other people understand how to use it."

Colleen Farrell

KT: I’d love to hear about your experience working in a customer support role as a product expert. What does that entail?

CF: You can deal with totally easy stuff like customers saying, “I forgot my password, can you reset it?” to really digging in and helping them with various pieces of the platform. For example, automated flows are one of our big product features. A customer could have 52 messages in a flow and maybe message 49 isn’t working, but messages 48 and 50 are working. You get to dig in and figure out what’s wrong with 49 so everything works properly for the customer.

KT: Are product experts primarily troubleshooting problems or do they offer advice to help customers grow their businesses?

colleen-farrell-working-at-klaviyoCF: They definitely help customers grow. On average, our customers see a 29 percent increase in growth within their first six months, so we help them see how they could be using features more effectively or what features they could utilize more frequently.

Going back to the flows feature I mentioned, a customer could say something like, “I’m not making enough revenue from email.” A product expert would be able to see that perhaps they haven’t started their email welcome series or they haven’t connected a sign-up form to their newsletter, and make recommendations.

Beyond that, product experts also help to innovate and grow the product. Something that I found really motivating was getting all this feedback from different customers about things they wanted or needed and having the ability to share that with the product team who could consider those things for the product roadmap.

"Something that I found really motivating was getting all this feedback from different customers about things they wanted or needed and having the ability to share that with the product team who could consider those things for the product roadmap."

Colleen Farrell

KT: How has your career grown since you became a product expert?

CF: I was on a bit of a quick career path because of how fast we were growing. I love digging in and I love getting customer feedback, and that really helped me to create a stronger voice for the customer internally. From there, I was very quickly promoted to a team lead of six product experts. That’s when I started creating onboarding sessions that worked really, really well.

I’m now moving into a new role where I’ll be onboarding everyone who starts at Klaviyo on the academy, data science, product, engineering, and customer success teams. They’ll go through a five-week training course I’ve designed and they’ll actually graduate from our new Product Expert Program. This will really help people all across the company learn to empathize with our customers so they can be more effective in helping them.

KT: What are some of the other paths or opportunities product experts can pursue as they grow in their careers?

CF: A part of my role (and the role of the other team leads) is to define not only what a product expert is, but what a product expert level one is, what a senior product expert is, what a team lead is, and so on. We’re developing career paths both within the product expert role and across the company.

As Klaviyo continues to grow, one of the great things is if you find the work interesting as a product expert and you want to grow on our team, you can do it. We’ve got the career paths and opportunities for you. But maybe in a year and a half you think, “I want to be a product manager or I want to be a success engineer.” There’s lots of room to grow, both laterally within the company or upwards within the team.

KT: Switching gears a bit, let’s talk about what it’s like working at Klaviyo. What’s your most memorable moment?

CF: I will never forget it. We definitely work hard on Black Friday and Cyber Monday since that’s the busiest time of year for our customers, but because we work so hard during that time, there are so many perks and everyone gets a huge reward.

Last year, Jake Cohen who heads up our product team, hosted a presentation right after the holiday weekend and he said something like, “How should we celebrate? We’re a Boston-based company, so what are the types of things that we like to do? We like to go to Patriots games, but the home schedule’s sold out for the season.”

Then he revealed the big reward: Klaviyo offered to fly everyone in the company down to Miami to see a Pats game. To be flown by private jet to Miami was like… it’s… sorry, I’m losing the words just because it was so incredible and it was so impactful. It’s so cool to work really hard, but to be rewarded even harder.

working-at-klaviyo-patriots-2018

"It's so cool to work really hard, but to be rewarded even harder."

Colleen Farrell

KT: Klaviyo’s customers are ecommerce companies, so what’s one company or product you’ve discovered since working here that you’re a huge fan of?

CF: Rareform. They’re based in LA and I actually got to meet the people who work there when I was in town for a conference. What they do is really cool. They recycle billboards and use them to make rare, individual bags and they never have the same bag more than once. It’s super interesting!

  Watch Rareform’s story.

KT: Last question. Any specific tips for someone considering a career as a product expert? What do you wish you would’ve known before you started?

CF: It’s okay to fail. What I liked best about being a product expert, and what I want someone coming into the role to know, is that it’s okay to mess up. If anything, that’s how you grow here. I think people who understand that right away do the best at Klaviyo versus people who think they always need to be perfect.

Think a gig as a product expert might be right for you? We’d love to meet you! Learn more about what it’s like to work at Klaviyo and apply on our Careers page.

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