In the sixth post of our series “Who is Valon?” we’re introducing Ming, our brand new VP of Product. Ming brings along years of fintech experience and a passion for product management. Get to know more about his background and vision for Valon!
Hi, I’m Ming, Valon’s new VP of Product. My role involves articulating the company’s product vision. It’s a position that works closely with the other senior leaders of the company to define our vision, differentiation, and strategy. I then articulate that down to the managers and the contributors of the product organization as well, so that everybody knows what we’re doing and, more importantly, what we’re not doing.
Why don’t you tell me a bit about what brought you here?
Well, what brought me here specifically was a serendipitous email.
I didn’t know what Valon was. I didn’t really know what a mortgage servicer was! I know what mortgages are, though, and because of my experience with a mortgage servicer, the first email that I received about this opportunity was very interesting to me, as in, “Oh, I had a problem with my mortgage, and it was a painful experience, and I am a problem-solver at heart.”
I’ve worked like this for much of my career, going back to the early days as a dot-commer (I’ll date myself) in a pure lending space, to my most recent experience at Toast, a restaurant technology FinTech platform. I’m a restaurant owner, so I got to have this nice symbiotic relationship of being a customer of a product that I’m building.
Did you say you’re a restaurant owner?
Yes, I am! In Cambridge, Massachusetts, I have four restaurants. My career as a restaurateur spans 10 years.
How do you think your experience in owning these restaurants has informed your career in product management?
There are a lot of moving pieces in the restaurant business that need to work together for the business to be successful. It’s not like there’s one product and one easy way to do things.
There is a constant operational excellence, compliance excellence, and marketing excellence that’s required. And a lot of that is about setting guest expectations and having strong communication between your team members. The food doesn’t magically appear! It’s made to meet your needs—say you have allergies or aversions to certain ingredients. These kinds of things mean that the front of house and the back of the house staff have a really tight relationship. So, team building is really critical for a restaurant to be successful.
I was able to take some of those restaurant experiences and bring them to Toast. That was pretty easy, because our teams were designed kind of like a restaurant’s: they worked on a product in a restaurant, there were areas that did front versus back-end experience. And I could triangulate all of these more easily because I was a customer, I really understood the core problems and the root causes of problems. That’s a skill that I often use interchangeably between the restaurant business and the software business.
In that vein, you mentioned you had trouble as a customer of a mortgage servicer. What’s the story behind that?
The root issue was the complete lack of empathy associated with my home ownership experience. Without naming names, I received a letter from my servicer that said my insurance was out of compliance. Therefore, a copy or a proof of insurance was required for me to submit to my mortgage servicer. And I got a nasty letter in the mail that had zero empathy and almost treated me as if I had done something wrong.
It actually made me feel pretty terrible. It felt as if the letter was telling me, “If you don’t handle this perfectly, it’ll cost you lots of money or maybe even affect your ability to own your home.”
That should not be taken lightly. I brought this up with our CEO, Andrew Wang, in the first fifteen minutes of my interview. I mentioned that if Valon is changing this experience for the better, making home ownership more stress-free, then I am very interested in talking more about it.
What do you think makes a great product at a startup like Valon?
It’s important that the teams know what they’re contributing towards and how their role plays a part in the bigger picture of the company.
In the early days, it’s really easy. You might have one product manager. But I think the key to the success of a startup is that, as you scale and you specialize in certain areas, the connective tissue of the teams continues to exist, and, in fact, somehow get better as the company grows.
What do you feel like you’ve learned about Valon in your first two weeks here?
There are a lot of moving parts and pieces to the company. Call it similar to a restaurant. There’s a lot of pieces that need to come together to create a best-in-class mortgage servicer.
A lot of people are playing their roles and driving towards outcomes that are making sure their piece is delivering. So, I’m excited about the idea that we could become an all-in-one technology platform, a real best-in-class servicer that can do almost everything and be a trusted partner for our clients.
What advice would you give to a young aspiring product manager?
My advice to you is there’s no perfect way to get into product management. The way I did it was that I started my own company, and I needed to build a product. And so I was a product manager. There’s the structured way, working for one of the large tech companies and getting into their rotational APM programs, which is perfectly fine. But there’s not one way to do it. As long as you’re doing the work, that’s a good start. It’s an even better one if you get to work on a hard, complex problem like Valon’s at the scale of the entire US housing market.
And how would you describe your product articulation process?
I’m a visual person. So, often I’ll draw what I think it is that we’re doing. I like to zoom out to the big picture, and then I’ll drill down and go into the different aspects of our business with higher and higher fidelity.
Lastly, how do you hope to see Valon’s product change?
I’m joining at a time where I must really praise the current team. They have achieved something really special, where a young company has gotten over the hurdle of a regulation-heavy environment.
Usually those types of environments require companies to elongate their product development before they quote unquote “make their first dollar.” Valon has figured out a way to move very quickly and overcome those hurdles, penetrating the market at a faster rate. The industry is also a moving target where there is complexity in making all the servicing components work better together while the regulations adjust to enhance homeownership access and retention.
So that’s why I’m excited to continue with that and help the team scale at 10, 100, 1000x from where we already are today. And that’s a hard problem to solve. So I’m really excited to bring my experience to help us do that.
Thanks so much for chatting with me, Ming. And hey—what are you streaming right now?
Oh, the Julia Child series on HBO Max. I’m really enjoying that, given its proximity to Cambridge and food.
And do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?