A Novo Story: How to Design a Product That Connects With Customers
Miranda’s tale begins in the Colombian countryside, where she developed an eye for the simple and beautiful things in life. Read on to learn how she fine-tuned her design skills over the years, and now plays a vital role in designing the Novo brand.
In honor of National Women’s Small Business Month, we are highlighting the story of our Head of Product Miranda Garrido. She was Novo’s first U.S. employee, heading up design to build our award-winning app. In the role, she has played a vital role in the look, feel, and functionality of our banking platform for small business owners. We sat down with her to learn more about her design philosophy, her connection with the Novo identity, and her advice for female entrepreneurs.
Where are you from?
I was born in Cali, Colombia and lived there until I was 5. After that, I moved to Bogotá, and spent the majority of my childhood in the countryside, where my family still lives. You could say I was a child playing in a swamp. As a kid, I would ride horses, play with chickens, jump into lakes, milk cows, make cheese, pick fresh vegetables from the ground, and live without a care in the world.
Where did you study?
I went to school and college in Bogotá, where I studied Design with a focus on Product and Service Design. For me, design is problem solving. It can be something very literal like creating a way for people to pay their bills through a banking app.
But it can also be something more sophisticated, like designing a product that makes someone feel more confident and in control of their lives.
What work did you do before Novo?
I had several product jobs in Bogotá early in my career where I met a lot of entrepreneurs and connected with small businesses. Through these opportunities, I gained a better understanding on how to create a product that engages an entrepreneurial crowd by adding value first before asking for something in return.
In one of these gigs, I worked as an interior designer for a micro-housing complex. It was cool to create an atmosphere that some people would call their homes. I also worked for a design agency creating brands, websites, collateral, and presentations for brands in Colombia.
Through these projects, I came in contact with many small businesses, which made me passionate about the entrepreneurial world. I also started a swimwear brand with a dear friend from college called Electropico.
What’s your role at Novo?
I moved to NYC because I wanted to gain more business knowledge, so I went to study Strategic Design and Management at Parsons. During this time I got into tech, and had several internships with software companies.
In my last internship, I worked for the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars, where I met Tyler and Michael (Novo co-founders). I got to know them, and noticed we had a similar vision when it came to understanding people and what problem solving could look like.
Once the accelerator finished, I was hired as the first Novo employee in the U.S. in February 2018. I was in the thick of things right away. One week into the job, I traveled to India with Novo, and spent six weeks there.
It was great to be on board early on as I learned the ins and outs of the business. It felt overwhelming at first, but I’m very grateful I went through that. I learned the company structure, the banking side of things, what happens at the backend, all the tech it takes to build software, the story of different small business owners, and more.
Why did you join Novo?
There are two reasons. I like the Novo vision as a great service with potential. I truly believe in it, and the impact it could have in the lives of business owners. It’s not just business banking–it’s a magical situation where an entrepreneur trusts Novo with their dreams, so we’ll go as far as we can to help them succeed.
The second reason is the founders. In an early stage startup, the product or company can always change. I like who the founders are as humans, what values they embody, and the type of professionals they are. That’s what’s going to inspire you to go to work everyday in whatever we end up doing. I have nothing but profound admiration for Michael and Tyler.
Another great thing about Novo is that it’s different from my previous jobs, where the rules of the game were very much laid down. Here, if we have a problem, we ask questions, dig deeper, and figure it out together because we believe we’re all going in the same direction. Having a common goal means each employee has more freedom to do anything they want.
What did being an entrepreneur teach you about small business owners?
People romanticize this idea of being a small business owner. The job is not as glamorous as it seems, because it really just means solving one problem and start with the next one. I personally love problem solving and it’s what gets me out of bed.
What do you think makes a great product?
A good product is something that solves a need for a customer, which can be very straightforward in many cases. The Novo experience offers diverse banking tools and personalized customer service. Our product instills trust and confidence in our users. When we’re able to align all these things together is when a product becomes great.
How do you go about designing a great product?
This may sound cliche, but you have to start with your customer. Really understand why they’re hiring you, and what you can do for them. Once you got that down, you can start offering them solutions.
Most important quality for designing a great product?
Empathy. When you feel someone or something truly knows you, it means they’ve done their job in understanding who you are. And that’s when you think: “That product gets me.”
At Novo, we try to move our customers with ideas and words that we use. We try to simplify banking from this complex thing that people don’t understand, and we are transparent about it. Even if a customer has an issue and they’re frustrated, when you provide education as to why it will take longer, they’ll be more understanding.
Show that you’re not trying to hide anything with good service, and people will appreciate it. They will choose you.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by our customers. I try to change the world by listening to them. Small business owners inspire me because they are inspired. They are also relentless, and they are basically fighting for something.
When you hear their stories, there’s usually a lot of magic in them. Many of them had a moment where they couldn’t take working for someone else anymore, so they started their own business. Novo helps you bring this magic to life.
I also draw inspiration from my life. Meeting people in New York City is amazing because people are here for a reason–they’re trying to change their life for the better.
Proudest moment with Novo? Most exciting thing going forward?
I am proud of the personal touch we’ve been able to provide customers. We have a customer success team that cares deeply about our customers and will go above and beyond to get their questions answered. Having this personal relationship with customers and understanding what their needs are is vital, as we plan the release of new features and integrations based on these. We design for our customers, and we grow with them.
We started as an iOS-only app, so moving forward, I’m excited to release our product on Android and web. It’ll be cool to be more inclusive, and make sure no one gets left behind because of their operating system.
What’s your vision for Novo’s future?
Entrepreneurship is on the rise, and you should be able to have a bank account that’s great for you even if your small business is just getting started. We want to support more people taking the leap into entrepreneurship and make sure we’re helping them in this journey..
Advice for entrepreneurs?
Like the Nike motto says, “just do it.” Being in New York City, people often confuse entrepreneurship with the startup scene or the VC world of raising money. Being an entrepreneur is not about becoming the next Facebook.
You can take a simple project off the ground and make sure it adds value to other people. Just go with whatever you feel you can accomplish.
Advice for female entrepreneurs?
The world is now noticing that being a woman entrepreneur is a very valuable thing because of the point of view that being a woman brings to the table. In some cases, women entrepreneurs are doing things in a different way than men have done it. That different perspective is not a burden–it’s a gift that might bring better results.
Something I believe is that being a woman gives you the intuition of wanting to do something of value, and not just doing it for the money. It means more when you focus on adding value to the customer instead of being blinded by the lights of profits.
The companies that make the most money are not necessarily the ones adding the most value. And I believe women can see through that.
What’s your favorite leadership advice or quote?
Pro tennis player Roger Federer said “staying the same is going backwards.” Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by the prospect of change. Everyday is an opportunity to reinvent yourself. Time is the ultimate luxury, and if you can take advantage of it to improve yourself every day, then do it!
What’s your favorite business book or podcast?
The NPR podcast “How I Built This.” Every episode is a story of a different entrepreneur and how they started their company. They share how they came up with the idea, the struggles they went through, and how they got through them.
Anything else you’d like to add?
You accomplish more by doing 20 minutes of something than by thinking about it for 20 years.
Being the first U.S. employee at Novo, Miranda has played an integral role in the design and development of our product and culture. Her story is an inspirational one for female entrepreneurs, product lovers, and design professionals. But her values and vision are ultimately the reason why she’s made such a profound impact on the lives of every Novo customer.