We chatted with Patreon’s Head of Product Marketing Robin Fontaine about her fascinating journey into the role, her views on whether PMMs should report to Marketing or Product, why she thinks the lack of definition for what the role entails is a good thing, plus heaps more.

Full transcript:

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:00

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Product Marketing Insider podcast which is brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. My name’s Bryony Pearce and I’m the Content Manager here at PMA. This week’s pod’s sponsored by the Product Marketing Festival. For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, it’ll be coming to a screen near you between June 8th and June 14th, and will featuring headline acts from companies like Amazon, Uber, Adobe and Facebook, talking about everything from research all the way through to optimisation. To get your ticket, just head over to the site, festival.productmarketingalliance.com. To help establish and elevate the role of product marketing we’re on a mission to speak to 50 PMMs and pick their brains on everything from their journey into the industry, which teams they interact with most, what skills they believe are critical for the role, and a whole load more. To do just that, with me today is Robin Fontaine, the Head of Product Marketing over at Patreon. Robin’s been at Patreon since July 2018 and before that, spent almost two and half a years in product marketing at a company called Twitch, and five years as OnLive’s Director of Marketing. So let’s get stuck right in. Welcome to show Robin, could I get you to kick off by giving everyone a bit of an intro into you, your role, and Patreon.

Robin Fontaine  0:08

My name is Robin Fontaine and I head up product marketing for Patreon, which is headquartered in San Francisco. So I've been based in the San Francisco Bay area for about 20 years.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:18

Okay, cool. And how long have you been at Patreon for?

Robin Fontaine  0:21

I've been at Patreon for about a year and a half. So not that long, but it feels like a long time by now. It's been quite fun.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:28

And can you just kind of give us a bit of a background about what Patreon does?

Robin Fontaine  0:31

Sure, Patreon is a platform for artists and creators of all kinds to develop direct relationships with their biggest fans, and also develop a membership business where they get recurring revenue in exchange for exclusive content, behind the scenes access, and forming communities with their fans outside of social media.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:54

Okay, cool. How long has it been around for as a company?

Robin Fontaine  0:57

It's been around for about six years.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:59

Oh, nice. Then kind of pre-Patreon, what was it that made you want to get into product marketing in the first place?

Robin Fontaine  1:06

I didn't actually seek it out. I didn't start out knowing that there was such a thing as product marketing. I was actually a marketing generalist when I came upon product marketing. And my first job that really specialized in product marketing was just prior to Patreon at Twitch, which I started in early 2016.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  1:26

Okay, cool. I think that's a trend that I'm getting a lot of the time with these podcasts as well, I think people just end up falling into it. And I guess sometimes you go into product marketing realizing that you've actually done a lot of the tasks within product marketing in previous roles.

Robin Fontaine  1:40

That's absolutely true. Even before I was a product marketer, I was a marketer who spent a lot of time with the product and engineering teams. I really wanted to understand how things work, how things got built, why certain decisions were being made. So I was already sort of acting as that bridge even before I was a product marketer.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  1:58

Yep, and then did you say Patreon is your first kind of product marketing specific role? Or with the company before were you doing elements of it as well, were you saying?

Robin Fontaine  2:06

Prior to Patreon, I was a product marketer at Twitch. So that's where I came upon product marketing. And that was, I was there for about two and a half years. And that was a really intensive time where I launched a lot of big things and I really, you know, learned the ropes by doing it.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  2:20

Yeah. And was that within another product marketing team or was it quite self-taught?

Robin Fontaine  2:24

It was within a product marketing team.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  2:27

Okay, cool. And then in terms of your product marketing team, where you are now at Patreon, what does that look like in terms of numbers and roles?

Robin Fontaine  2:34

Yeah, so my title is head of product marketing, and I report up to the VP of product. So at Patreon product marketing lives in the product team, which is great. I have two direct reports, two product marketers, and we're also hiring a market researcher. So we will be a team of four that lives within the product team.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  2:55

Okay, cool. And then in terms of the company as a whole, what's the size of that?

Robin Fontaine  3:00

We're about 200 people. And that's pretty close to doubled since I joined. So we've gotten a lot bigger.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  3:06

Yeah, and are they all based at the same kind of headquarters as you?

Robin Fontaine  3:10

The majority although we have a small office in New York where our merch team sits, we have a small office in Omaha, Nebraska, believe it or not, where we've got some brand designers and some other folks. And we're in the process of opening an office in Berlin.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  3:23

Nice, awesome. And then in terms of a standard day, in your role, if there is such a thing, what does that sort of look like and are there any elements of your job that are set day in day out?

Robin Fontaine  3:35

Wow, that's funny. It's like what is a standard day? You know, no two days are alike it's really true. But yeah, I'm meeting with a number of teams, we're working right now on our international expansion plan. So, I'm meeting with the payments team to talk about how multi-currency is going to work, I'm working on a project to help our creators learn how to launch on Patreon better. So it's often a whole variety of things and with almost every team across the company.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  4:06

Yeah, and would you say that's something you quite like about the role, the variety?

Robin Fontaine  4:10

Absolutely. I love it. I love solving problems. I love working with different teams and understanding what they're trying to accomplish and how we can get involved and help. Yeah, and I love learning. So I love that we're working on new things every day.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  4:24

Yeah, for sure. And then in terms of those other teams outside of product marketing, who would you say you kind of interact with most day-to-day and what are your relationships with those teams like?

Robin Fontaine  4:35

Yeah, absolutely I would say the product team is our number one collaborator. Our goal is to really be working with product closely from the beginning and sort of early ideation phase of anything that they're doing. So we're really embedded on those teams. I've got two product marketers, and they're assigned to about three product managers and they're really there early on in all the ideation meetings and working on the opportunity assessments. And the collaboration there is that we're doing our best to be the experts on the customer and on the market, and deliver those insights and sort of help shape the early planning phases of product by bringing those insights to the table.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  5:17

Yeah, that's really good as well because I think a problem most product marketers have is that they don't always get brought into that roadmap process early on, but it sounds like you kind of get in right from the start and maintain involvement.

Robin Fontaine  5:29

And I would say that's one of the advantages of being on the product team as opposed to the marketing team. I feel like we really get a seat at the table and we're really close collaborators with our product colleagues.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  5:41

Yeah and out of interest how does that compare to the previous company you were at?

Robin Fontaine  5:45

Yeah, I have a direct comparison because at Twitch product marketing reported up to marketing. And so that was a different situation. It did feel like we had a struggle sometimes to get a seat at the table early and often, and we were sometimes brought in in the later stages, and that's really challenging.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  6:06

Yeah. And then in terms of your contact with product, do you have formal kind of huddles every morning? Or is it ad hoc desk drops, or how does that work?

Robin Fontaine  6:17

Because we don't have a one to one ratio of one product marketer to one product manager, we can't be at every meeting, and that's okay. But we are definitely having at least weekly check-ins with our product managers, and often coming to like design review meetings and opportunity assessment meetings, roadmap meetings. So we're there as often as we can be.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  6:38

Yeah. And then in terms of sales, how do your relationships with those work in terms of your catch-ups, etc.?

Robin Fontaine  6:44

Yeah, we have a team here at Patreon, they're called creator partnerships, but they are kind of the equivalent of a sales team. They go out in the world and they find creators that should be on Patreon that would do great on Patreon, and they talk to them about launching and help them get launched. We do provide enablement materials for them, decks and one-sheets and things that they can use as they're talking to creators. And those are often customised for creators. So we provide kind of the framework and the strategy, and it also helps define the definition of what that target creator looks like. And we work with them on an ongoing basis just to understand how that's working. And we have a great feedback loop with them.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  7:24

Yeah. And then out of curiosity for those kinds of sales enablement, bits of collateral. Do you have any go-to tools that you use to create and disseminate that kind of stuff?

Robin Fontaine  7:32

Well, we use Google over here. So we're just using like Google Docs, you know, that's the main thing. We're not at the size where we need an official sales enablement tool. We have a very small team, there are three people on that creator partnerships team, so we don't need those kinds of tools that really do tracking and are really quantifying things yet, I think we'll get there.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  7:53

For sure. And then out of curiosity as well what are your KPIs and what are you measured against?

Robin Fontaine  8:00

So we have a lot of shared KPIs, I think that's one of the biggest challenges with product marketing is that there aren't that many KPIs that you can really fully, holy, and 100% own because so much of what we do is in collaboration. So for example, we have a lot of shared metrics that we look at with our product teams. And so depending on what each team is working towards, for example, there's a team that's working towards Patreon retention, and so we share that goal with them. If there's a new product or feature launching, we will work together with the product leader to come up with a shared KPI in terms of adoption. So there'll be a product adoption goal that we're working towards. But they're all shared goals.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  8:42

Yeah, and was that a similar setup to when you reported to marketing at Twitch?

Robin Fontaine  8:49

At Twitch, it was a little bit different. We looked at sort of the success of our launch communications more so than the outcome. So we were looking at how many leads did the blog get? How many clicks did it get to the page? So I think our KPIs ended up being quite separate and more kind of tuned in the way that marketers think about their KPIs more so than product adoption type of metrics.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  9:14

Yep. Sure. And then what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you get where you are today in product marketing?

Robin Fontaine  9:23

I would say communication for sure. Flexibility or adaptability, and then definitely curiosity.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  9:32

Yeah. And then also I meant to ask, so you mentioned you were in marketing before product marketing, but pre-marketing and product marketing, were you in any other roles or has it always been in the marketing aspects?

Robin Fontaine  9:48

Boy, my career has had a lot of different phases. So I can go back and kind of explain that path as to how I got here. My education is as a theatre director, I studied theatre in New York. And by the time I left undergrad had decided that I didn't want to pursue that as a career. I felt it was number one a too small a box to play in. And you know, I'm really curious about the world and I started to feel that theatre was very kind of self-referencing and kind of a small academic bubble that it lived in. And I really wanted to break out of that. So I've done a lot of other things. But those skills like marshalling a team toward a vision and working towards a goal together have been a part of my career my entire life. I had a stint as head of my own production company doing like videos, like corporate videos and music videos, museum pieces. Then I worked for a company in visual effects that did something called facial motion capture and as a producer for that small company doing all kinds of things, including marketing activities. And that was like 2007 to 2010. But it was a technology company. So I started to sort of get my feet wet in this world of technology companies. And that company, a lot of the same folks that built that technology moved on to the next thing, which was online, it was game streaming. So this was like the first company that really did game streaming back in 2010, which is now becoming a thing and all the big gaming companies are building their own game streaming platforms. But I worked for a company that did that back in 2010. So 2010 to 2015 I was in marketing for online which was in the gaming space and by the time I finished there, I was director of marketing so I was a generalist, and I had done everything from you know, events to email marketing to subscription marketing to launching things, building e-commerce, so I got a really broad range of experiences there as a marketer, that was really like a typical kind of startup in 2010-2015. I started as one of the first maybe 10 people to join the company and grew with it as the company grew. And that was a super interesting ride. And it was in that gaming space so it wasn't that big a jump to go from there to Twitch.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  12:24

I just think it's really interesting as well hearing people's kind of backdrop getting into product marketing because there's just no such thing as a set path and everyone has such varied backgrounds. I always find as well in some way there are always skills in every different role that are transferable and will feed into the role today.

Robin Fontaine  12:40


Bryony Pearce - PMA  12:42

Okay, next up, would you say there's a lot of crossover between what you do and what a product manager does?

Robin Fontaine  12:49

I would say that the biggest area of crossover is in really understanding the customer and championing the customer. Product managers really have to be thinking about that all the time and talking to customers and doing interviews and doing discovery. So they really need to have that knowledge. And so do we in terms of really understanding how to best talk to the customer and how to give those insights to help us build for the right customer. So there's a lot of crossover there. And then you know, where things are delineated is obviously, the product manager's responsible for deciding what to build and why. And we're responsible for how to position and message that thing and bring it to market. But even there, we influence each other a lot with the different skills and perspectives that we bring.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  13:38

Yep. And in terms of customer contact, is it shared between the two of you or is it just kind of product that will actually get on those calls and speak to the customers?

Robin Fontaine  13:48

We both will do that. We will both have different initiatives where we'll sort of spearhead talking to customers, depending on what it is.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  13:55

Yeah. And do you have any sort of quota, so for example, every week we'll aim to talk to two or three customers or every month we'll try and talk to X, Y, Z, or is it more of an ad hoc project by project thing?

Robin Fontaine  14:07

It's more project by project. But I'd love to move to a place where we are at least having a couple of conversations a week.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  14:13

Yeah, sure. And then in terms of kind of updates and releases and new products, how often does that kind of thing happen for you?

Robin Fontaine  14:22

Well, it's interesting, things have shifted a lot since I started here at Patreon. It's only been a year and a half. But there's never been a normal, you know what I mean? Things are always looking differently. I think in the first year that I was here, we were more on a track of launching a few bigger things. And we had this large project, which was updating our pricing and packaging, which I lead. And that was a giant project for almost a year, which ended in sort of a big launch moment. And there were a few other larger features that we launched. Now we've shifted into this place where we're doing more kind of improvements on product quality and iteration and experimentation. So that's a very different motion. So there are very few like big launch items, there are more series of small changes every couple of weeks. And the challenge there is for the product marketers to keep our arms around everything that's happening, understand how it fits into the big picture, and be able to tell an overarching narrative that's compelling about why we're doing what we're doing. And not to fall into like, you know, kind of communicating each little thing as its own separate thing.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  15:31

And then in an ideal world, how far in advance would you ideally plan for these initiatives?

Robin Fontaine  15:40

I think it's such an ongoing process right now that it doesn't ever feel like, here's one thing we're launching, and it's six months away. It's just you know, here are like 12 work streams going on at any given time. And we have ideas about the things that the teams are working on, but we won't know for sure what's actually going to make it through. When you're experimenting, you assume that you know, a bunch of the things we try won't work. So as long as we know all the things that we're testing and all the things we're trying to move, I feel like we have the leeway to kind of understand what's happening and when it might be coming.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  16:16

Yeah, that makes sense. And then, in your opinion, what, if anything, do you think needs to change about product marketing?

Robin Fontaine  16:25

I think product marketing is a little bit different, depending on the company that you're at, and the skills that you have. And I actually think that's a good thing. I really like the flexibility that we have, and I don't subscribe to the philosophy that we should sort of narrowly define it. And, you know, have everything nailed down with no sort of leeway to change things. I think it's great the way it is with the kind of flexibility that we have.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  16:54

Okay, awesome. And then final question, if there were any new or aspiring product marketers listening to this podcast right now, what would your advice to them be?

Robin Fontaine  17:07

I think the most important thing is to be curious and to sort of get out there and meet other people, go to meetups, meet other product marketers, find out what they're doing, ask a lot of questions. And I think learning by talking to others in the field is probably the best thing that you can do.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  17:27

Okay, perfect. Well, thank you very much for your time today Robin, it's been a pleasure speaking to you.

Robin Fontaine  17:31

Of course. Thank you so much for having me on the show. It's been a pleasure.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  17:33

Oh, you're very welcome.