A young woman in a bright blue windbreaker stands on a hilltop on a windy, foggy day, smiling at the camera.
Kelly Moriarty. Image: Stripe

Why being a product manager is all about helping people

5 Aug 2021

Stripe’s Kelly Moriarty discusses her role as a product manager and why she loves working with start-ups.

One of the best parts of being a product manager is seeing a product that you have worked on become a reality. For Kelly Moriarty, that product was Stripe Tax – a product to automate businesses’ tax compliance.

Stripe Tax has been rolled out in 30 countries and all US states and it manages the requirements for tax collecting from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

The product was built out of Stripe’s engineering hub in Dublin and, as a product manager at Stripe, Moriarty had a major role in building it.

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If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

It certainly depends on the day and even where the product is in its life cycle. When we first kicked off Stripe Tax more than a year ago, I spent almost all of my time talking to users and learning about the tax industry.

I reached out to almost any user I could find that had tweeted at Stripe or asked about tax in the past to understand what the problem really was. Conversely, in the past few weeks, while I’m still certainly talking to users, I’ve had to split my time to work with teams internally to educate them on why tax is hard, why we built Stripe Tax, and really how it all works.

Regardless of the stage of the product, my role involves two key functions: meeting with people and writing. These days meeting people means hopping on a Zoom call, but we also created shared Slack channels with early Stripe Tax users to facilitate more real-time conversation and feedback.

On the writing side, I’m a fan of Dropbox Paper as I’m the kind of person that will spend an hour getting the formatting of a long document just right, but I’d say Google Docs is great for writing docs collaboratively.

What kind of projects do you work on?

I’ve worked at Stripe for six years and in that time have realised I love building products for businesses. Being able to save someone else time, money or frustration in their job is something that I get quite a bit of fulfilment from, because who doesn’t like their work day being just a little easier.

While I’ve worked with users of all sizes, I love working with early start-ups or developers as I find the impact of my work is often felt to a greater degree. These users are often very transparent with what they like and don’t like and willing to spend hours out of their day talking to me. As a product manager, nothing is better than users that are willing and excited to talk to you.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

When I was a kid, my dad always told me if you need help, ask the busiest person in the room, they will always find a way to help you. What I didn’t expect was that I would become the busiest person in the room!

What I mean by that is, a majority of my job is figuring out how to help people in the most efficient way possible. While we help users solve their problems by building products, I also spend a fair amount of time helping my colleagues tackle any challenges in their way standing in the way of creating that product.

Helping people means anything from simply listening, to finding solutions, to decision-making, and I think I’ve built up a good sense for how to best help people.

What are the hardest parts of your working day?

The hardest part of my job is the constant mental prioritisation of planned tasks I had for the day compared to all the ones that will pop up overnight or during the day.

The best way I’ve found to handle this is to have a predetermined framework for evaluating issues as they come up, as well as staying very organised. If neither of those work, I will compensate by working longer that day or week, but I usually make it up to myself by taking time off at a later date.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the day?

Aside from learning how to type very quickly, I’d say the one thing I wish I was told years ago was not everything needs to be perfect. I used to spend hours tweaking tiny grammar changes or formatting on documents, but I no longer have that luxury.

I’ve found it’s better to get something good enough and share as a draft and iterate, than wait until something is perfect.

What skills and tools are you using to communicate daily with your colleagues?

My laptop pretty much never leaves my side, which is more so a side effect of me not leaving my house due to a pandemic than me taking it with me, but I digress. It’s been a bit of an odd year in all honesty, the line between work and social is blended as they both revolve around virtual calls or messaging.

The one change I made though was removing Slack from my phone, which was great for creating a bit of separation especially when scrolling through my phone at night.

How has your role as product manager changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

Being a product manager is a funny one. It’s where the requirements, expectations and output vary from company to company, but yet somehow everyone has them, even when you think you don’t!

For instance, when I joined Stripe we famously had no people with the title ‘product manager’. That didn’t mean product management wasn’t happening, it was but it was just shared across engineers, account managers and business operations.

As we saw the value in this work, we started hiring dedicated product managers, where now we’re drastically increasing the size of the organisation given the immense impact we can have.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

In all honesty, and this will be cheesy, my team is just the absolute best. They’re talented and driven and great at their jobs, but more importantly, they are genuinely nice and enjoyable to work with.

When it comes down to it, we work in indirect tax compliance, which could end up being a very dry and draining topic, but the people I work with not only make it interesting, but make it enjoyable.

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