We’re sharing stories of people’s early careers. Everyone we interview has worked for a startup early in their career. We hope reading about others’ experiences at startups will help you make more informed career decisions!
At Otta, we’re advocating for working at fast growing technology companies. We think this is where learning opportunities and development potential are highest.
Matt at Monzo
Matt Jones is currently a Product Manager at Monzo. Matt studied Economics, Italian and Spanish at Sheffield University and started his career on the Future Leaders Development Programme at Barclays. He stayed at Barclays for three and a half years in total before joining Metro Bank as a Product Manager, where he worked for two years. Earlier this year, Matt joined Monzo as a Product Manager in their Lending team and has been there for six months. I met Matt at a coffee shop near Monzo’s office in Moorgate.
Tell me about the journey to getting your first job
I was a real keen bean in my first year of university, and I remember thinking that I really needed to get a job sorted. Probably not the thought that goes through most people’s minds in their first year! My Mum had even given me a list of places she thought I’d like to work!
I applied for quite a few summer internships and naturally got declined from all of them (most internships are targeted at people going into their final year of studying), apart from Barclays.
They said I was way too early for the internship, but they thought I had potential and liked that I was keen, so gave me an offer to join them on their Spring Insight Programme. This was a four day activity week, where I shadowed people in different departments to learn what happens in the business.
Off the back of that, they fast-tracked me through to a summer internship, which I completed in Canary Wharf in the summer of 2012, right after my second year at University.
During the internship, I worked in the Current Accounts team for six weeks. I was working on defining the ‘mass affluent’ segment and thinking about specific products and services that would suit their needs.
It went really well, and I ended up getting offered a job on the graduate programme in the leadership stream (basically the stream for people who weren’t sure what department they wanted to go into!).
What did you work on during your time at Barclays?
The graduate programme was made up of four six month placements. I spent time in the Digital team working on making online banking and mobile banking. Next I was sent to Hamburg in Germany for 6 months to work in Sourcing and Supplier Management for Barclaycard.
On my return to the UK, I worked in business banking, helping business customers boost their online presence, and my final rotation was in the Mortgages team, with some of the same colleagues from my internship, which was lucky!
I stayed in the mortgages team for another couple of years, but towards the end of my time I was getting frustrated by how long projects were taking. The structures and hierarchy I had to conform to made it difficult to move fast. The projects were exciting, but simply taking too long.
Projects that should really have only take a month or two were taking two years. I didn’t think I was progressing as quickly as I should be. I’d get to performance reviews and didn’t feel like I had much to show for myself despite the fact I’d been working really hard.
I had loads of friends there and really loved the team, but I wanted to push myself and see the rewards of my work, so I started considering other options.
How did you end up moving to Metro Bank?
I started looking for roles knowing that I wanted to go to a smaller organisation to work at a faster pace and have more impact, but I was quite open minded.
A couple of my friends had gone to Metro Bank, which was growing quickly at the time, and they were also hiring for Product Managers.
Having done project management and strategy in the mortgages team, it was something I knew a bit about and I liked the idea of being able to take ownership of a product and influence what was being built.
What were the main differences compared to Barclays?
When I started working at Metro Bank, the biggest difference immediately was the size of the team I was in.
If you look at the product team for retail mortgages at Barclays when I was there, you’re probably talking c.50 people. The product team I was in at Metro Bank looked after the whole retail business as well as the commercial and the private bank, and it was about 20 people when I joined. Immediately there was a step up in terms of responsibility and expectation.
This enabled me to work much faster, and there weren’t as many bottle necks. As the Product Manager, I had the ability to set the strategy and decide on priorities and manage my time effectively.
However, slowly but surely Metro became more like a big bank. The strategy came from executives at the top and my work became a bit of a to-do list written by someone else. I became less enthusiastic at this point, because I like exploring and setting the direction of my own work.
Tell me about the move to Monzo
I had been a Monzo customer since early 2016 (their Beta stage) and loved it because it made my life so much easier. I was a massive advocate and was always talking about them, eventually managing to convince my parents and a lot of friends to get it!
When I saw they were recruiting for a Product Manager, I decided to throw my hat in the ring, with no real expectation that I had a chance. I actually thought I might get struck off the list because I’d worked for two big banks!
That didn’t count against me, and I managed to get through the door. I’m now working as a Product Manager for the ‘Decisioning Squad’ within the Lending team.
This is the team that helps us decide who to lend to and how much to lend them, across all of our lending products, such as overdrafts and loans.
I’ve been here for six months now and I’m loving every single minute of it!
What are the big differences with Monzo compared to Metro Bank and Barclays?
I’m now in a team of 6, all back-end engineers. That was a big difference straight away. At Metro Bank, I was isolated in a Product team with a Product Director.
If I wanted help from an engineer, I’d have to fight for their time allocation which would usually be booked up on projects for the next 6 months.
At Monzo, I’m sat in a room with the engineering squad. If we want to try something out we’ll plan it on a Monday morning and build it the next day. We’re trusted as a team to go off and try things.
We’re able to test ideas very quickly at Monzo, and we’re taught that it’s OK to fail as long as you’re learning. At previous companies, I felt like I had to prove something was going to work before we’d roll it out to even a small percentage of customers.
At Monzo we’re always testing things like new user flows or a new screen in the app and this is really exciting.
Do you think Monzo will keep that culture as they get bigger?
I really hope so. It’s one of the most powerful things the company has. Put simply, the culture is fantastic.
As product squads we have product reviews to update stakeholders in the company on what we’re working on, and why we think it’s the most impactful thing to be doing.
Our CEO will often come to these and different people in the team will critique and challenge us on what we’re building to make sure it’s the most impactful thing we can be doing.
Being able to have those discussions with a CEO in the company as big as Monzo is great. We’re already 1,000 people and the culture is still so, so strong, and I’m hopeful it will stay that way.
Product Management is one of those jobs where there’s not a clear career path. Do you have any advice for people wanting to work as one?
All product managers are different, and you don’t have to fit a mould to be good at it. Every product manager I know has a different background and a different approach.
If you went to every daily stand up (product managers typically have a daily meeting with the engineers they’re working with to check everyone is aligned on what they’re working on) they’d all be run differently, but would all get the job done.
There are a few key skills that make a good product manager, though:
- You need to be ruthless at prioritisation to manage everyone’s time effectively
- You need to be able to motivate a team, as they’ll look to you to understand why what they’re working on is important
- You need to be organised. You’re the voice of your team and they’ll look to you for updates from across the business
If you can develop these skills through a variety of experiences, you’ll be well positioned for a role as a Product Manager.
How important was the structured learning you got at Barclays during the graduate programme?
My first ever boss said to me on the first day “I’m going to let you sink so you can learn to swim.’’ That’s something that’s really stuck with me. However, that’s not really what happened at Barclays because it was a very structured experience.
What it did do was help me figure out what parts of work I liked and enjoyed, which was useful as I was coming into the corporate world fresh from university and didn’t really know what I wanted to do.
However, 6–7 years on and now at Monzo, I really like the excitement of being at an early stage business.
We’re on a journey, and I’m loving the pressure that comes with. I didn’t get to feel that at Barclays and didn’t realise how much of a motivator it was for me.
So to answer the question, I think it was nice at the start, but looking back, it may have been better for me to jump in at the deep end and learn how to swim straight away, like my boss said on my first day.
Do you have any advice for people considering working at startups?
If you’re somebody who likes to get stuff done and you’re willing to put the hard work in, definitely work for a startup, as that’s when you’ll have the most impact.
There are projects at Barclays that are still going from when I used to work there. One started in 2015, and I’ve still not seen it in the Barclays app, but friends there still tell me they are working on it! At Monzo, we make changes on a daily basis sometimes — and most things you can see in the app. It’s a really cool feeling knowing you helped make it happen!
My second piece of advice is to be resilient. This is important when working for a startup because startups are ambitious and going after hard goals. You need to be able to take challenge and challenge other people.
Finally, it’s really important to have belief in what you’re doing. Monzo is the first place I’ve worked where I’d truly recommend the product. Believing in what you’re doing makes you work harder and makes you more likely to succeed!
Want to share your story? We’ll buy you a coffee whilst we do the interview, and then give you £25 in Amazon vouchers as a thank you. If you’re interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a bit about yourself and your career so far (a few short bullets is fine!).
At Otta, we’re rebuilding job search. Our product is the smartest way to search for jobs at startups in London, and we have great companies like Monzo on the platform.