Handling money transactions with friends or colleagues is one of those stressful annoyances that mobile apps can make so much easier. One of the top apps for divvying up expenses and bills is Splitwise. Splitwise helps protect friendships from money woes by making it super easy to understand who owes who, and keeping things fair between friends.
We had the opportunity to chat with Zoe Chaves, product manager at Splitwise, about the app and what makes it unique. In this Professional Spotlight interview, Zoe discusses her journey at Splitwise, the future of the finance app category, and the current growth challenges that mobile apps face. She also has some great tool recommendations and advice for product managers (especially for those who are just starting out). Check out what she had to say.
How did you get started as a product manager, and what led you to your current role at Splitwise?
I joined Splitwise in 2013 as employee #2, in an entry-level generalist role. The co-founders and I agreed that I’d spend ~1 year in the generalist role then specialize based on my strengths and interests.
I fell in love with product and slowly started owning product-related workstreams: I conducted user interviews, wrote product copy, and more. In my spare time I devoured blogs / books about product management, attended product-focused meet-ups, and did onboarding teardowns for the apps on my phone.
In early 2015 I earned the promotion to product manager.
What are some key features that differentiate Splitwise from other finance/billing apps?
A lot of our peers are focused on money movement (Ana sends Bob $20). With Splitwise, the focus is on the relationship between Ana and Bob. Do they understand who owes who and why? Do they feel confident that they’ve been fair to one another? At its core, Splitwise is a ledger that helps people communicate about money.
Finance apps face the challenge of not only keeping users safe from fraud and theft, but also making them feel safe. How do you accomplish this at Splitwise?
I think our identity model has been a boon to trust and safety. To connect with someone on Splitwise you must know their email address / phone number. Users can leave groups, remove friends, and block other users to make sure their Splitwise social graph is right.
Do you foresee any changes on the horizon for fintech/finance app category?
Most fintechs have built their flagship product on top of infrastructure owned by a traditional FI; Chime partners with The Bancorp Bank, Acorns works with Lincoln Savings Bank to issue debit cards. I think this is going to change, partly because the regulatory environment is opening up to fintechs and partly because VCs are favoring the sector so many private fintechs are extremely well-capitalized. We’ll see established fintechs move off their third party partners and new companies will launch with wholly in-house offerings. For evidence of this shift we can look to Robinhood; earlier this year they debuted Clearing by Robinhood, their own system for clearing and settling all transactions.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that mobile apps in general face?
For social media and content-based apps, I’d say the biggest challenge is competition for attention. Especially now that many folks are working to decrease their screen time and we have OS level tools to help monitor consumption. For finance apps like Splitwise I think the biggest challenge is winning and keeping trust.
What is your mobile app pet peeve? Something you constantly see on mobile apps that drives you crazy?
I dislike when search results load inconsistently. All too frequently I’ll perform a search, go to tap Result #3, but then more results load in the top positions and Result #3 turns into Result #5. I find this very frustrating.
The life of a product manager is particularly stressful. What’s your favorite way to relax and regroup, and to stay collected when stress levels are high?
I love to cook. When I’m not at the office you can likely find me in my kitchen, listening to music and braising something.
What are some of your favorite tools? What do you use to help yourself and your team stay on track?
The Splitwise mobile team uses Github quite heavily. We make a milestone for each release, then use milestoned issues to host everything related to the release: user stories, QA checklists, engineering work, mock-ups, release notes. I like bringing all the context about a release into my engineering colleagues’ primary workspace, and the centralization helps me track many different yet related workstreams. Github’s collaboration and search features make it easy to make a decision, document it, and return to it later.
For my personal life, I’m a huge fan of my Passion Planner.
What are your favorite blogs, communities, and/or influencers to follow?
Got any interesting points of advice for product managers who are just starting out or trying to break into the field?
While I was still in the generalist role at Splitwise I did a lot of email-based customer support. This helped me develop intuitions about our users, their needs, and our product’s strengths and weaknesses. I used this knowledge to make my first contributions to our roadmap and specs. I think CX is an under-rated avenue for getting into product management.
Top item on your bucket list: 3,2,1, go!
I would like to create make-up products that confound face-detection technology.