How We Work - Litmus

Julie McCollough
Interview with Jason Rodriguez, Product Manager at Litmus

Your email list is the most valuable asset your marketing team has. Even in the world of Facebook live and social selling, email remains the most effective way for businesses to communicate and ultimately convert new subscribers into paying customers.

However, what happens between the first opt-in and first sale is a delicate process - where anything could go wrong and render your valuable list, worthless.

Luckily, we have Litmus. Litmus ensures that your emails avoid all the major spam filters, scans for subject line improvements all while catching broken links, testing load time and tests your email in over 70 apps and devices with just one click. By tracking subscriber insights, there’s no more guessing games when it comes to the best time to woo your subscribers. Working with Litmus means you’ll never send an ineffective email again.

Product Manager, Jason Rodriguez talks about how agency experience led him to self-publish a book on web design that introduced him to Litmus, how extraordinary customer experience is ingrained down to the bones of Litmus culture and why data is awesome, but nothing tops human conversations with actual users.

Q - How did you get into this industry?

Jason - A few years ago, I was working at a small agency that did digital work for one of the Big Three car manufacturers. Part of that work was building HTML email campaigns. It was a tough slog, mainly because there wasn’t a lot of reliable information on the web about email design. I finally decided to write and self-publish a book on the subject, which did surprisingly well and brought me to the attention of Litmus, a software company that builds the best tools for creating, testing, and tracking email marketing campaigns.

One of the founders actually emailed me the same day my wife gave birth to our second daughter seeing if I were interested in joining Litmus. It was a good day. Fast forward three and a half years, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with an amazing team to help improve the email community. While we all wear a lot of hats, I’m currently a product manager overseeing our community platform, which connects email professionals and allows them to discuss all things email.

Q - When you start a new project, what process do you follow?

Jason - I’ve always been lax on process, but have been trying to get better—especially as our team grows and more people have their hands on the product. At Litmus, we use a few tools for communication (Slack, Trello, Basecamp, etc.). Depending on the project, discussions around strategy will take place in one of those tools—or on a call—but will always make it into GitHub, which is where most of the product work is tracked. We’ve been using GitHub Projects heavily since it came out, and it’s been a great way to organize and track work.

The PMs typically flesh out the the direction of the product, taking into account conversations with business stakeholders, design, marketing, and engineering teams, and, most importantly, customers. Once we have an idea of the next steps for the product, we work with the design and engineering teams to build out features or updates. Marketing is also brought in to discuss strategy around releasing things.

We recently moved to an agile process (using the scrum methodology), so we’ve been working in two week sprints on product updates. It’s still a new process, and not without its challenges, but it’s allowed us to move a bit quicker and communicate on a more regular basis across all the teams involved in a project.

Q - How much is your work focused on user experience and content?

Jason - Although I’m a product manager and don’t do any official design or development work anymore (outside of occasional email campaigns), user experience and content are still a big part of my work. Litmus prides itself on providing a great user experience wrapped in beautiful design, so UX is something that everyone thinks about all of the time. It’s ingrained in our culture.

And content is still a large part of my job, too. I still contribute to the Litmus blog (although not as much as I used to), participate in the Litmus Community, and run workshops both at our office and at our yearly conferences. Outside of Litmus, I occasionally give talks at industry conferences and work on content projects like my books and blog.

Q- Where do you look for inspiration in your day-to-day work?

Jason - From a product standpoint, I am always trying out different products and services and take a lot of inspiration from products that I admire. Companies like Panic, Basecamp, The Omni Group, 1Password, Slack, and CloudApp are producing amazing products that people love, so I take a lot of tips from them. Like most people in the tech world, I routinely read sites like Hacker News and Designer News, although I try to take everything on their with a grain of salt. I’ve been increasingly concerned with the bubble we all seem to live in and have been attempting to get inspiration from outside of the tech world.

Since my focus is on building and improving our community platform, I also keep a close eye on community-related products. There are some really interesting projects out there, from classic products like Stack Overflow and Discourse to more innovative ones like the experiment that &yet is just starting up.

Q- What does the future of product look like?

Jason - Like most people, I think data will continue to be a large factor in determining what is built and how, but I hope that more human interactions take a bigger role in shaping products, too. No data can replace conversations with actual users of a product, nor should it. I’m also looking forward to some of those conversations leading to quirkier products. A lot of product design is interchangeable from company-to-company, so I like seeing companies take weirder approaches to building things. It’s refreshing when a real voice and point-of-view comes through in a product, so I hope more people embrace their own quirks and build them into the tone of their products. A great example of this is what Fog Creek is doing with Glitch.

Q - What are the workflows at Litmus where you see teams using CloudApp?

Jason - While not everyone uses Cloudapp at the company, quite a number of us do across a lot of different teams. For the most part, people just use it to quickly share screenshots of damned near anything. Customer success uses it to share snippets of customer conversations and feedback, and design and engineering post looks at work in progress as well as bugs using Cloudapp.

One of my favorite uses of Cloudapp is the screen recording—especially the GIF recording. I recently used Cloudapp to create beautiful animated GIFs that I included in a blog post showing off one of our products. It was the perfect way to show off specific features of the product. Animated GIFs essentially allow people to experience a product before they even get their hands on it, and Cloudapp is one of the easiest ways to make high-quality GIFs as quick as possible.

Q - What is the tech used at Litmus?

Jason - Litmus uses a lot of different tools for different purposes. Since we’re a remote-first company, most of those tools are used for communication both across teams and the company as a whole.

We use Slack for everyday chatter, but document most things on Basecamp. Trello is used for tracking the progress of certain projects and as a content calendar for the marketing team. Design relies on Invision to share designs in progress, and, like I mentioned before, GitHub is used to track work on the code base.

Finally, we rely pretty heavily on Google apps, CloudApp, and Bluejeans, too.

Q - What are the top 5 songs in your Spotify/music queue right now?

Jason - In no particular order, I’ve been listening to:

  • Blessings by Chance The Rapper
  • Anything off of Perfume Genius’s new album, No Shape
  • Pa’lante by Hurray For The Riff Raff
  • Slack Jaw by Sylvan Esso
  • Nobody Loves Me But My Mother by B.B. King

Q - What’s your favorite book? And your favorite film?

Jason - My favorite book is a toss up between A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, Jr. and I Bought Andy Warhol by Richard Polsky. The one movie I can watch over and over is You’ve Got Mail. Email pervades all aspects of my life.

Q - What hangs on your living room wall right now?

Jason - An amazing painting that a family friend did of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton from Annie Hall.

Q- Links to a favorite project you’ve worked on that most people may not know about?

Jason - I really enjoyed helping Sacha Greif revamp the Sidebar email newsletter. For those who don’t know, Sidebar is a daily email that rounds up the best links on design and development. It’s been around for a few years now, has a huge readership, and exposes some great content I wouldn’t otherwise see. I helped design and development the email templates for Sacha to coincide with a huge redesign that launched last year.

Q - As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Have you fulfilled your hopes?

Jason - I always wanted to be a comic book artist. I spent an absurd amount of time copying my favorite artists and characters and became a reasonably good artist as a result. While I don’t have any comics under my belt (yet), I jump at any opportunity to illustrate when it arises. I used to illustrate a lot of blog posts at Litmus, and still throw in illustrations on my own blog whenever I can.

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