Voices From The Pod: Christine Lejeune, Director of Product

Meet Christine Lejeune, our Director of Product here at Zeelo, who will take us through how we cultivate and evolve our technology and product roadmap.
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At Zeelo, we encourage a culture where people work together, work smart, and move fast. Over the next month we are going to hear from some of the amazing women in our team from across all areas of the business. Our service is constantly evolving and it is thanks to the hard work and dedication of talented individuals on the ground and behind the scenes that our success is possible.

Zeelo is sustained by its technology, whether that is through our industry leading routing software, or an arsenal of apps and portals designed to facilitate the booking of journeys for riders, onboarding for drivers and operators and usage reporting for clients. It's a mammoth beast to conquer, not only from a technical standpoint but in communicating updates to the wider business and our external stakeholders.

Thank you to Christine, our Director of Product here at Zeelo, for taking us through how we cultivate and evolve our technology and product roadmap.

Hi Christine! Thanks for joining today! Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to work with Zeelo?

So it's a very roundabout story I suppose but my career did actually start with spending a lot of time on coaches so there is a distinct link there.

I studied law at university and the main thing it told me was I didn't want to be a lawyer. What I really wanted was to travel but I needed a job that would allow me to do that so I actually started as a tour guide all around Europe and around America. And that company had its own tech platform that had been built by a kind of one man band. The product was not dissimilar to what we have here at Zeelo; booking and managing the different schedules and routes of the tours.

Since then I’ve worked for various different tech companies; fintech, hospitality, logistics etc. And a lot of them did involve vehicles; Deliveroo's a big one. So that is what brought me to Zeelo; the similarities along the road.

Can you give us a breakdown of how your team is structured?

Sure thing! So, I'm the Director of Product, and also product manage one of our squads. There's Ben and Ashley who oversee two other teams, and then there's another Christine who heads up the Kura platform. We also have separate design and engineering teams. Adrien and Simon handle design, while our engineering squad, based mostly in Barcelona with some remote and UK folks, are the real tech wizards. We all come together as cross-functional squads to tackle projects. It's a dynamic setup that keeps us on our toes!

Can you give us a brief overview of our technology offering and what sets us apart in the industry?

I think one of the really great things about working in products at Zeelo is the variety of users we cater to. Each one has their own unique needs, which makes our job super interesting. We're like puzzle solvers, trying to piece together different parts of the product to keep everyone happy.

As a tech platform, we've got an arsenal of moving parts. There's the driver app, the rider app, portals for operators and clients, and then there's Mission Control, our admin and transportation management platform. We're not just building this stuff for fun; we're actually selling it and getting others onboard too. We're giving transportation managers the tools they need to handle trips and programs. 

There are tons of competitors out there doing a great job when it comes to tracking your rides day to day. But actually not many of them offer what we do. We've got this combination of booked vs non-booked services, and either way, you still get the tracking.

Our whole deal with RINA is really unique. It's not your average platform; it's totally one-of-a-kind. We don't just settle for the routes we've got. We actually help organisations figure out the best routes to take. So, whether we're getting kids to school or employees back home, we do it in the most efficient way possible. And that's a win-win because it means fewer empty coaches roaming around, which, let's be real, is better for the environment and our goals.

Can you share a specific example of a challenging project or feature development you've worked on at Zeelo and how you and your team overcame obstacles?

Yes, I mean software development is a lot of fun. I love it. But sometimes you hit roadblocks! Take trip building, for example. It's crucial for our business, but we've been doing it one way and now we're upgrading to something way slicker and smarter. The problem is, we're stuck in this awkward phase where the tool we're using won’t load as quickly as we’d like it to be. It's a headache because we're in the middle of executing our vision of the product and where we’d like to get it to, but we have teams that still rely on it every day. So how do you balance that?

But hats off to the team, particularly Ashley and Ben from product - they're so good at empathising and aligning with users. They've been all over it, especially with our CSS team, trying to figure out how to make trip building and their lives easier over the next six months, the next year. We've been brainstorming with the engineers to find quick fixes, with a reasonably small amount of effort, to speed up the time it takes to build a trip. Albert, in particular, has been grinding away at it for weeks, trying to optimise the hell out of it. 

We're trying to get to the place where the product does something really really smart and really cool but in that interim understand that there are some pains that you just have to work through and work to give the team the time and space they need to address them, but make sure you are constantly communicating with those that use the platform most.

As a woman in a leadership role in the transport/tech industry, have you faced any unique challenges, and how have you navigated them throughout your career?

Being a woman in tech and having worked in logistics and transport, being the only woman in the room is kinda the norm for me. Funny enough, I'd probably raise an eyebrow if there were more women than men. Having said that, Zeelo has a fantastic team, and we're pretty diverse compared to some other places. That's actually one of the reasons I was drawn to Zeelo in the first place.

You know, something else I've noticed is that sometimes my male colleagues tend to have more confidence and put themselves out there more, whereas I and some others in my generation tend to doubt ourselves a bit. It's like dealing with imposter syndrome, especially in the tech world where there's a whole bunch of jargon that you won't find in everyday conversations. Like, take "retros" for example - we use that a lot at Zeelo, but in other companies, they might not. So, you can feel a bit out of the loop and maybe even unqualified. But here's the thing: you don't have to be a tech whiz to work in tech. I don’t know how to code! I think it's important just learning to deal with the jargon - Google it, ask around. It's a practical tip that's helped me get more comfortable in my career.

How do you envision the role of women in technology, and what advice would you give to aspiring women in tech?

When it comes to women in tech, I see it like this: we should be everywhere, just like women in any other field. I'd love to see the rooms that I'm in being more evenly diverse in every way including women. As for those wanting to jump into tech, just thinking about it is a great start. Sure, you'll hear a lot of motivational quotes about believing in yourself, but let's get real - focus on the practical stuff.

Like, you don't have to be a coding whiz to work in tech. There are tons of roles that don't require those skills. Take me for example, I'm a PM with a background in law - totally unrelated. But what I bring to the table are communication, leadership, and empathy skills. There's a whole world of tech roles beyond just coding, from design to ops and beyond. It's all about knowing your options and finding your fit. 

The thing is, unless someone breaks it down for you, you might feel like tech's this closed-off world if you're not into coding. But trust me, there are tons of career paths out there. I've mentioned a few, but there are loads more. So, don't let that tech bubble scare you off.

Can you share some insights into the technology trends or advancements that you believe will have a significant impact on the future of transportation and Zeelo's services?

I can’t be asked this question without talking about AI, right? I think what's interesting about AI is that everyone assumes it will be a robot doing everyone's job and that is simply not the case. I think with AI, actually we've got over the hump now of everyone getting really excited, thinking it will do everything for them and we are now actually beginning to learn what it is really, really useful for and how it can support and streamline our jobs, not just replace the need for them.

Just like how we're chatting now, this conversation will get transcribed. The key to successful product development is having tons of user insights, and AI helps me gather those insights faster. Take customer support, as another example. Instead of replacing humans with AI, it can be used more to boost their interaction with riders. That way, humans can focus on being, well, human - showing empathy and all that good stuff - without getting bogged down in admin tasks.

Can you highlight a specific instance where technology has driven Zeelo's success, and how has it impacted the user experience for both clients and riders?

Our tools and tech platform have been a game-changer for our clients, saving them a ton of money. I can't remember the exact amount, but trust me, it's a big deal. We've figured out when they need coaches and when they don't, optimising their schedule to ensure vehicles are used to their fullest potential.

We have also managed to land some pretty high profile clients just off the back of being able to meet and exceed their tech requirements. In one instance we were able to incorporate rider tracking into a just board service. Adding this tracking on different service types really helped seal the deal. It's moments like these that really make a name for the product.

And finally, because it can't be all about work! The first thing we always ask: Go-to karaoke songs! Do you have a favourite movie? And has anything exciting happened in your life recently?

Oh, for karaoke, it's gotta be Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" - it's a go-to, especially for duets with my friend. As for movies, I'm a sucker for romcoms. "Miss Congeniality" is a classic - I used to watch it on repeat as a teenager. And music-wise, I'm a massive Taylor Swift fan - she's always on my playlist. But, note to self, "Shake It Off" isn't the best karaoke choice - too repetitive.

On a personal note, I recently tied the knot in Ireland! It was amazing, and yeah, I'm still getting used to calling my partner "husband." Oh, and I did win the Euromillions the night before too - a whopping €2.70!

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