Running Austin Voice Of Product, co-organising one of Austin’s largest product meetups, speaking at events, and mentoring startups sounds like quite a commitment on top of a day job. But AffiniPay Senior Product Manager Reza Shirazi is fuelled by passion for his craft and exceptional energy; energy that propelled him to represent India at the Asian Games in Seoul while still at school in Mumbai.
India’s Male Athlete of the Year
It all started with his mother taking him to the local swimming pool as a very young child. By his early teens, he was training four hours a day, six days a week for 11 months a year. And, well before finishing high school, he was crowned Male Athlete of the Year at India’s National Games, winning six individual gold medals in middle distance butterfly, freestyle and individual medley events and setting three national records.
From projects to products
After finishing school in Mumbai, Shirazi moved to the United States for university, initially to Lawrence, Kansas and then to Austin, where he has remained since completing an MBA at the University of Texas. Post-graduation roles focused on managing IT projects and people, but a conversation with a Chief Technology Officer about the impact of technology on business led to a second career as a product manager, and this is where Shirazi feels he came into his own.
Helping professionals collect fees electronically
In broad terms, his job is to help lawyers, accountants and associations use AffiniPay to get their fees paid electronically. While there are a number of other payment technology companies out there such as PayPal and Square, AffiniPay’s service is highly customised for its clientele.
For example, its LawPay brand helps attorneys comply with bar association requirements such as separating earned and unearned fees, and allows a busy lawyer to pick up the phone to get immediate help with any questions rather than trawling through online forums. LawPay can be integrated into practice management software, and enables law firms to do things like quickly emailing an invoice with a link to a secure payment page.
Integration with partner products
As product manager for AffiniPay’s “partner API”, Shirazi tries to make it as easy as possible to integrate AffiniPay into other “partner” products such as practice management software systems so that clients can pay fees electronically. Conceptually, this is broadly similar to the way that PayPal is integrated into e-commerce sites to enable customers to pay for their purchases.
A role that combines business savvy with the ability to empower technical experts, Shirazi enjoys the end-to-end involvement and overall responsibility for making a product successful.
Responsibility for product success
He begins by researching the market, talking to clients and prospects, and setting a strategy for how the product can be successful via a “product roadmap”. He then prioritises features that would make it easier to integrate AffiniPay’s offering into other software systems. For each feature, he provides an overview of why it should be implemented and what impact it will have on the organisation. The next stage involves working with engineers to bring the feature to life, while constantly experimenting and testing and evaluating feedback.
Once it is up and running comes the measurement stage, which could involve tracking how many clients use the new feature, or to what extent it has led to an increase in revenue. There is no real end to the process due to ongoing “iteration”, which involves making tiny changes to continually improve the feature.
Credit cards reign supreme …
In terms of the outlook for the broader payments industry, Shirazi expects credit cards to retain their dominance in the U.S. market due to ease of use. He does not anticipate that technologies such as cryptocurrencies will displace credit cards in the near term.
… helped by the network effect
Shirazi believes that we have already seen the major revolution in the U.S. payments industry, which was the switch from cash to credit cards. This was driven by the network effect of increasing numbers of credit card holders opting to purchase from retailers providing card payment facilities. This encouraged more outlets to accept card payments, which in turn led to more widespread adoption by consumers and businesses.
He points out that, in order for a different technology or technologies to overtake credit cards, the network effect would have to take place all over again. Also, the pain of using credit cards would have to be substantial for people to fully embrace an alternative payment method.
While acknowledging that digital wallet services such as Apple Pay and Google Pay reduce payment friction, Shirazi views these wallets as essentially an extension of credit card technology, i.e. an incremental improvement on an existing payment method.
Outside of work, Shirazi is passionate about Austin and raising the bar for product management in the city via his Austin Voice Of Product blog, co-organising The Product League meetup, and generally supporting the tech community. As he says, “Great product managers build great products, and those great products make organisations successful”.