We’re preparing for world domination (jk, but not really). So, an international team with a perspective to match isn’t an optional extra. Lia Siebert and Pooran Panwar are two of the finest tech people on the West Coast, bringing experience from Strava & Spotify. Here’s why they chose Cleo, their take on our mission to fight for the world’s financial health, and why we’re excited about our US expansion.
So you obviously bring some incredible experience to Cleo, including in health and wellness. Tell me why Cleo, a FinTech, felt like the right place to you.
When I came across Cleo, I was pretty taken aback by the boldness and transparency of the brand. I connected with the mission to improve the world’s financial health right away drawing parallels between financial health, physical and mental health.I got this lightbulb moment of: this isn’t just another fintech. This is a money app that's using behavioral science to empower users to take control of their money. I believe that when people have one less thing to worry about, in this case - money, they can focus on other things. Like themselves.. So, I was hooked.
One of my absolute favorite teams in a past career-life was the team I was a part of at the Stanford d.school. We had shared values around teaching and product innovation, but wildly different and non-traditional backgrounds for working at a University. This diversity is what made it amazing and my early conversations with Cleo struck me in the same way - my experience in behavior change, in community product, in teaching design, and in health tech were superpowers for what the team hoped to achieve. I loved that, and heard it in the stories of others who had joined too.
What makes the Cleo team unique in our competitor space?
We consistently hear from users that Cleo stands out among any other apps (let alone finance app) they have tried - through her entertaining tone, her jargon-free insights, her ability to care but also push you. The team that makes this possible thinks about and works on this relationship every day, which is different than focusing only on engagement with financial management tools or products.
I think it’s our empathy that sets us apart. Something we come back to on a daily basis is that we’re building a product around a basic human need: feeling better about money. We do that by taking a coaching approach that’s conversational, personal, and funny, combined with access to radically transparent credit products. We are a bunch of creative, passionate, smart people from different walks of life that are united to serve the underserved.
What excites you about our US team expansion?
I’m lucky to be joining Cleo right after Strava, where I was the first hire for the new Denver office in 2017. We learned early on that you need people who are incredible at what they do, and who take a ton of pride in building a team and culture from the start. The people who will put the IKEA furniture together before standup, and who get out into the community to host meetups in their 2nd week! It’s fun to be at that stage again, and I think people here will love Cleo.
A couple of things that are table stakes for the people we hire are the connection to our mission, and that builder mentality, as Lia said. We’re looking for people who want to build upon our amazing Cleo product, but also our organization and culture. We need people who can sprout really strong roots here, and help others do the same.
What’s one recent change at Cleo that you’re happy to have seen?
I was on a Product Leadership panel a few months ago, and someone in the audience asked for advice on how to get buy-in for changes that they might want to make related to strategy or team. It made me realize how quickly we move to try new ideas at Cleo - almost the opposite challenge! In recent months we have done a great job of keeping that spirit while also focusing on the most important place to start. Specifically, I’ve been happy to see us move towards experience “pillars” to build towards longer term goals and improve squad x squad collaboration.
We’re set out to build a radically different money app that combines financial products with the kind of coaching people haven’t seen before, and there’s no one way to do that. We’ve come to understand that, and are being creative in taking different approaches towards product development within different product areas.
And what’s something that you didn’t expect about Cleo when you joined?
Honestly it was tough to get deeper into the data and learn about how difficult the situation can be for the users we serve - they spend a high percentage of their income on interest and fees, and often are not yet saving or in a position to cover emergency expenses. I expected the mission to set the tone at the company overall, but it feels even more important once you actually get started.
On a lighter note the global nature of the team makes for some really fun stories about language, holiday traditions and “pechakucha” intros - I didn’t know how much I needed this after so many months stuck at home!
Our User Research and Writing functions are much more established than what I’d expect from a series B company. Also, the diversity of the people in terms of experience is mindblowing, and is going to help us create something truly unique. As a younger company, though we are known for breaking the norms, the team is very open and flexible to incorporate diverse ideas to evolve Cleo.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself on your first day at Cleo?
Joining a team remotely - it needs a completely different playbook. I would have taken more time to embed and build with a few teams to get to know them at the start. Run user interviews, respond to CS tickets, join a writer’s room brainstorm, ship a feature with a product squad. It’s great to do any time but especially in those first weeks.
OK, so there are three things I would tell my past self:
- Don’t rush. It’s a very interesting but complex problem that we are going after, so take time to get the lay of the land.
- Be intentional about where to use your super power.
- Spend more time outside of product functions.
If you feel like joining these West Coast tech legends, we’re hiring! Check out our open roles.