Daniel Thomason’s Economic Genius Leads to Becoming A Google Product Manager By Way Of Escape Room Entrepreneurship

Article written by Marjorie Blankfort.

The journey from being an economist at a central bank to managing products at Google, particularly in contactless payments, has been driven by a consistent passion for solving significant problems, thinking creatively, and broadening my understanding of real-world complexities. These elements spurred my decision to study economics, a field that offers robust tools for analyzing and addressing practical challenges. Initially, I was excited to work as an economist at a central bank, serving the Australian public, but soon realized that the role was slower-paced and less dynamic than I had anticipated.

Recognizing this, I ventured into entrepreneurship and founded an escape room company in Sydney with my girlfriend (now my wife) and a business partner. Our small team required me to take on numerous roles: developing the website, managing marketing, designing escape room puzzles, sourcing furniture, and more. While the experience was exhilarating, it was also exhausting as our business’s success relied entirely on our relentless efforts. A friend, seeing my enthusiasm for hands-on work, suggested that I consider a career in tech as a product manager, where I could bring new ideas to life on a larger scale.

I began my product management career in Berlin, which added the challenge of adapting to a new continent and learning a new language. I explored various industries to find my niche, eventually settling in fintech, where the complex problems aligned perfectly with my product skills and economics background. Working on different aspects of payments—growth, compliance, partnerships—provided invaluable insights, highlighting that true progress in this sector requires a comprehensive understanding of all its moving parts.

When Google offered me the opportunity to enhance Google Wallet and elevate their contactless payments product, I couldn’t resist. The chance to apply my fintech and payments expertise on a global stage was too exciting to pass up. It has been incredibly rewarding to blend my startup experiences with the expansive reach of a company like Google.  And while I don’t speak for Google or on behalf of them here, it is still a large part of my journey.

Having worked as a product manager in both startups and large companies, I can attest to the stark differences in the role based on company size and stage. At a fledgling startup, the focus is on rapidly iterating to achieve product-market fit. My days were filled with customer calls, user visits, brainstorming sessions with designers and engineers, and planning future developments with the CEO. It was chaotic but immensely satisfying, especially being part of a close-knit team.

In growth-stage companies, the focus shifted to experimentation and optimization. I ran A/B tests to validate hypotheses and enhance key metrics, working closely with data analytics teams to deepen our understanding of customer behavior and needs.

Now, at Google, my role involves extensive coordination, gathering insights and support from various experts to build global-scale features and products. While staying close to users and partners remains crucial, my methods have evolved—from direct customer visits to collaborating with Customer Support and Business Development teams to gather feedback. The goal has shifted from quickly shipping MVPs to ensuring scalability and robustness from the beginning.

Reflecting on my career, I’ve progressively tackled more universal problems. Moving from niche industries to a neobank broadened my scope significantly, and transitioning to international money movements at Wise expanded my audience globally. Now, working on contactless payments represents another leap, with users worldwide depending on the product daily. It’s a privilege to work on something so integral to people’s lives and to make small but impactful improvements for millions. The payments industry uniquely combines challenging problems with the opportunity to create significant benefits on a massive scale, providing a strong motivation to excel in my role.

A major difference between being a product manager at a startup versus an established company like Google is the focus on speed and experimentation at startups, where the primary goal is finding product-market fit before funding runs out. This environment favors a scrappy, ‘get it done’ approach. In contrast, established companies prioritize calculated bets, risk mitigation, and making a significant impact at scale. The challenge here is balancing the ambition of new features with the need to protect and enhance existing value.

My experience as an AML product manager at Wise, working on machine learning models to combat financial crime, profoundly influenced my approach to product management. It underscored the importance of weighing the costs and benefits of new features, understanding the trade-offs involved, and considering the broader implications of product decisions. This experience instilled a mindset of always considering the hidden costs and potential risks of new developments, a valuable perspective in my current role.

For those looking to transition into product management from non-traditional backgrounds, gaining experience in your current role or applying for positions where your existing skills and knowledge are valuable is crucial. Volunteering for projects or rotations can provide hands-on experience, while targeting roles that leverage your industry expertise can reduce the perceived risk for hiring managers.

The future is bright and I see product management evolving back to its general management roots, particularly in the payments industry. With a focus on end-to-end product success, product managers will increasingly work cross-functionally, integrating closely with marketing, business development, and other teams to drive holistic growth and sustainability. This broader scope aligns with the original vision of product management and is essential for creating significant value in the tech industry.

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