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Podcast: Season 1, Episode 12 Transcript (Leon, Product Manager at Warner Music)

37 minute read

In Episode 12 of the THIS IS HOW podcast from Season 1, we spoke to Leon who works as a Product Manager for Warner Music. You can listen to the episode here but for those who fancy a read, or might be hard of hearing, the full transcript is below.

Intro: You’re locked into THIS IS HOW created by Nominet and Livity helping you access digital careers using tips and stories from people working at some of the most influential brands, platforms and publications and culture. For free content, resources and advice to kick start your dream career, as well as insider tips direct from our podcast guests and industry experts, head to our platform at thishow.co.uk.

Bwalya: My name is Bwalya. I’m a freelance journalist and editor, founder of the women’s basketball collective called The Happy Gazelles and occasionally I DJ too.

Alex: My name is Alex and I’m a creative director and copywriter working in sportswear and fashion. We previously co-founded the publications The Daily Street and Crepe City Magazine. And on today’s episode, we’re meeting Leon Farrell. 

Leon: Hey, hey.

Alex: He works as a Senior Product Manager at Warner Music Group.

Bwalya: Applause in the studio.

Leon: Thank you. Thank you.

Bwalya: Oh, I do think it is the first thank you!

Leon: I’m thankful for even one clap.

Bwalya: Don’t cringe are you blushing?

Leon: Yeah!

Bwalya: Leon’s blushing. That’s nice.

Leon: Absolutely!

Alex: We like the studio applause.

Bwalya: We like a humble guest. We like a humble guest. 

Alex: It’s going well, it’s going well. Sick!

Bwalya: So, Leon. Hey. What is a Senior Product Manager? 

Leon: I mean, I’ve always had issues explaining what I do, but there are kind of two different versions of a product manager. One in the traditional tech sense is someone who oversees the building of. A platform or an application or a tech, or you know, manages a tech team, which is kind of my skillset, my background. And then in a traditional record label sense, is someone who oversees the release of a product, i.e. an album or a single. So I fall into largely the tech kind of, you know, traditional skillset of a manager. I sometimes fall into the, the record label side of things too – more in my recent job. 

Bwalya: So yeah, Warner Music, that must be quite exciting. 

Leon: Yeah. You know, to be honest, it’s my dream job. I mean, yeah it is! I mean I love music, like I love music and I also love streetwear and trainer’s that’s my – my biggest kind of vice.

Bwalya: And that’s your office wear look.

Leon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Alex: We need to point out right now Leon’s actually wearing his own merch. 

Bwalya: Yeah – he looks sick!

Alex: I’m saying it’s yours…

Leon: Yeah, it’s a uniform for me so yeah! You got, you know, bet on the horse you’re riding.

Alex: So break it down a little bit further. What, what kind of things are involved in your job day to day?

Leon: So I oversee a kind of an in-house brand label. Plug it, Run the Mic. Shout outs to Run the Mic. 

Bwalya: Hello – if you’re listening and you wanna check out what Leon does. Where should they go for Run the Mic? 

Leon: Run the Mic on Instagram. Yeah, we have, you know, an application on the app on the App Store, which people can kind of go and freestyle off. So it’s like a bit of battle rap, you know, it’s like, you know when I when I grew up in London, when I was younger, I used to kind of, you know, watch Lord of the Mics and Risky Roadz and have to wait till someone passed the DVD round and, you know…

Bwalya: Or Scratched Up and stuff…

Leon: Yeah, Scratched Up and stuff… So as kind of urban music became the most consumed music digitally, my demographic didn’t really have an application, you know, that allows people to kind of, you know, jump on and do things like hashtag challenges and that kind of stuff. So which made no sense. You know, pop had Dubsmash and, you know, TikTok of music. You didn’t really have that, you know. You got those companies kind of crowbar-ing, you know, the kind of urban music into their platforms, but it wasn’t really a home place. So, yeah, we came up with this concept of what Run the Mic was and we kind of – we went for it.

Bwalya: So people are able to go on to the application and download it?

Leon: Yeah, upload your bars, you know, rate other people’s bars…

Bwalya: So you’ve gone from crunching numbers and from what I understand now, you’re like an editor, an A&R, a product manager – you’re a lot of jobs, yeah, underneath the bracket product manager?

Leon: Yeah. So my contract, it says product manager, like senior product manager at Warner Music, but with any product manager, they kind of evolve into becoming like mini CEOs. When you have a product, you’re kind of responsible. 

Bwalya: Oh, we like that title!

Leon: A mini CEO. Say that – a miniature CEO.  So you’re kind of responsible for…

Alex: I guess it kind of makes sense because if you’ve come up with this thing and put it out there and it pops off, that’s it. It’s yours, it’s just managing the product.

Leon: That’s it.

Bwalya: That’s really cool.

Leon: So, you know, it started as a you know, in more of a traditional sense, a real product side to manage the you know, I source the development teams, manage those guys through what we call sprints, which is small iterations of building an app, testing it, releasing it. Okay. And then once it was released, that’s when we look at marketing and expanding the brands. You know, I spoke to the guys over at GRM and they were like, listen, you can’t just come across as a piece of software, everything is lifestyle-based now, you know? So I will look at a gap in the market and be like, boom, we don’t have that – let’s put this in place…

Alex: So this is very entrepreneurial…

Bwalya: Very entrepreneurial, but it also sounds like it’s governed a lot by personal taste. So like you have to really enjoy the product that you’re consuming and the stuff that’s going to be on the platform. 

Leon: Yeah, I mean, you work best on the things that you love.

Bwalya: Oh, yeah, for sure.

Alex: Is there quite a bit of pitching you have to do internally?

Leon: Yeah one hundred per cent!

Bwalya: So day-to-day, how much pitching do you do? How many days in the week?

Leon: It’s swings and roundabouts. So if you are in product inception which is like the ideation process – you have like five or six ideas and products that your wireframing then, yeah, you’re pitching kind of constantly, you know like I guess once a day. So for example, one day, for Run the Mic, for example, I’d have to continuously go around to the different labels that if you know A&R and the marketing teams and essentially kind of pitch why an artist should be on it or why it’s good for a marketing team to kind of collab with us, or why I’d need more budget from the senior leadership team to do let’s say, an event or more merch or, you know, so you’re constantly pitching to people internally, but then also externally to like vendors and people that you want to collab with an artist. So, for example, you know, getting an artist from a competitor’s label on board, that pitch is completely different to, let’s say…

Bwalya: An artist who already is on your label?

Leon: Correct. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s completely different. 

Bwalya: You were talking about artists earlier. We’ve already done a little cheeky cursory search and interview. But like Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa, when you’re working with, like people of that calibre cause you were saying that’s when you were in the sort of like product stage before Run the Mic. How are you doing that stuff? And then realising, “oh, I think I’ve got a mode now to actually do something that’s my own platform?”

Alex: I mean, in your role, do these artists come to you and go, “I’ve had this crazy idea”

Leon: Yeah, of course…

Alex: And you’re like “oh my God, I’ve got to try and make this right!”

Bwalya: What’s Ed Sheeran like, first of all, give us the T on Dua Lipa and Ed Sheeran.

Leon: Ed Sheeran’s the most down to earth, humble guy. I mean, he’s exactly kind of the way that you see him, you’d imagine – that’s that’s how he is.  He is the boy next door. Just a great lad. I haven’t actually spoke to him specifically about product, that usually comes through other people in-between. He’s obviously extremely busy to kind of go through the nuts and bolts of that kind of stuff. With Dua Lipa’s team, it’s a bit more closer to her people so she is the person who is one removed from her, who understands her brand and what resonates with her audience. I would speak with that individual and what works and kind of you know, I’ll come up with ideas. So they would give us a, let’s say a brief and then we go back. We’re like five to ten ideas. But then you have someone, for example, like Mist, who when we were signing him, he was getting kind of taken around the building. You know, artists get building tools when they, we’re looking to sign them. And he’d stop by he stopped by my office and, yeah, like he came in and was like, “oh, like you’re doing this Run the Mic stuff, that’s incredible, I’ve actually got all these ideas for apps and products” because we’ve seen kind of people like Wiz Khalifa make a killing with his application…

Bwalya: Yeah he smashed it.

Leon: Yeah. So it’s kind of you know, you get artists which are very much completely invested, that have all these crazy ideas that they want to see kind of come to fruition but they don’t necessarily have the people that are close to them within their team, but they have the road manager, their managers that do great, you know, let’s say their merch team, but building out applications is a very unique kind of proposition. So they would come in and be like, “we want to do this”, and then we would help them flesh the idea out or let’s say go back in with ten ideas that they can kind of pick from and then tweak, and kind of iterate. 

Alex: I guess you must have to be quite good at managing people and their emotions and their expectations as well, because you’ve got big names coming and being like “I want this and I want it tomorrow”…

Leon: Dude, that’s the job. So the job of a product manager is you have to be human. So like, for example, I’m not saying that developers aren’t human, but they have their way about them in terms of socially. And then obviously you have the CEOs are very fleeting, you know, with their time. So you need someone who’s a people person that would sit down with an artist, understands what what makes them tick, can speak their language and be like, yeah, yeah, I get, for example, that you want, let’s say Run the Mic came from someone else, I get that you need a a digital version of Risky Roadz, like if that was your pitch, I’ll go away and be like what he actually means is this and then I’ll go back and be like, this is what you meant, right? Without kind of giving him too much tech jargon. You can record, you could spit your bars and upload, but then to my developers I’m like, OK, cool, this needs to be in HTML5…

Alex: It’s literally a translating role? That’s what they’re like, “I want digital Risky Roadz” and you can’t go to a developer and he’s like, “what the hell is Risky Roadz?”

Leon: That’s it. So like for me, for example, I wear so many different hats. I’m either pitching to us like to C-level executives about needing funding and talking their language about, you know, ROI and growth and, you know, like projections and all, let’s say speaking to seed investors or VCs, venture capitalists, on getting funding for an idea and speaking that language from more of my my tech start-up background, all the way to having to, you know, sitting in a studio with like a sixteen-year-old kid and trying to get him to write something, you know, like for for a track with a producer. I have to be able to see wear those different hats. 

Bwalya: That’s so fun!

Leon: So depending on what depending on which day you catch me on, I could be wearing like a shirt and trousers…

Alex: It all becomes so clear now, when we were like, “explain your job title”, and you were kind of like, “oh, it’s a lot of things”!

Leon: Yeah, my mom doesn’t know what I do!

Bwalya: Yeah, that’s a tricky one…

Alex: That’s because you do everything!

Leon: Yeah it’s a strange one…

Bwalya: But that’s really fun.

Alex: So you’re saying you specifically don’t deal with like the tech yourself, you kind of put together the teams to achieve your vision.

Leon: Correct.

Bwalya: Because he’s a CEO, remember, he’s a mini CEO…

Alex: Micro! So, being a product manager, do you need a huge amount of tech knowledge? 

Leon: It always helps, when I first got the role, so as a product manager, you’re supposed to… I’m not sure how technical to get here, but the idea is you’re supposed to articulate the requirements of what you require to be built to a development team and they will get it.

Alex: So need a basic knowledge?

Leon: Yeah, because they give you an estimate, and depending on how crafty the developers are, sometimes they inflate those estimates. 

Bwalya: Who doesn’t guys?! Guys, you wanna cut a check? 

Leon: So when I first got into the role, I knew nothing about what kind of product management I’m not you know, my background is in tech, it’s in design. So when I first got the role and I was tasking these, you know, developers with requirements, you know, they would inflate the kind of, you know, the estimation so ridiculous. So when I came into the game, it was very much like, you’re a nice person but we’re kind of going to rip the arse out of you. So it was a baptism of fire for the first year or so…

Alex: An expensive baptism!

Leon: Yeah, yeah, and painful! So I had to go back to the drawing board and train up. So I guess the first couple of skills I got was, you know, utilising data. So I use a product called Seeq Workbench – so SQL, it’s a querying language of how to go into databases and pull out statistics based on kind of, you know, on rows of data.

Alex: And you knew about that before?

Leon: No, I had zero idea dude, you know, coming from a design background, you know, I always use, like Adobe Illustrator, for example, to do design and fashion design, but when I got into obviously product management that is all about technology and using data to define your decisions, you know, SQL, and, you know, databases like Red Shift, which is like an Amazon database, those are the kind of, you know, the bread and butter of asking questions when it comes to products. So that was one of my first products I would use. So the product management side of things, there’s a platform called Jira, which helps break out every single feature into its own thing called a user storage. This is getting so granular, but it allows you to manage, kind of, how many things go into a product. It’s like like a recipe list for, you know, for a dish that you cook, it’s an online version, there’s an online version of that called Jira. 

Bwalya: So you mean, like, you need all of these things in order to make this thing…

Leon: Correct. Yeah, so developers, they go in and they just basically pluck off the top. Okay? Next I’m going to have to build the recording function, so I’m going to take that and build that out. Check.

Bwalya: That seems less daunting when you say that it’s a recipe list, cause I can follow a recipe. And if you do want to learn about those technical attributes, then go on to the THIS IS HOW website: thisishow.co.uk. Hit us up and you can actually look up courses and figure out how to do things like SQL and loads and loads of other coding and do quizzes and find out whether you’re kind of suited to becoming another Leon, who is dope. So how did you feel about your own educational process? Did you like it?

Leon: No, I didn’t really.  You know, for me, my university experience was the same thing as going to like six form. You know, I didn’t kind of move way into halls of residence or do the whole engrossing, you know, like university experience. It was pretty much just going to class as normal and going home, and like I was still working retail three days a week.

Alex: And so you went to uni in London?

Leon: Yeah. So I went to St. Martin’s for my first year and then went to LCC for my…

Bwalya: You’re just around in general. You know where you are based.

Leon: Yeah, so for me I went to university when I needed to, you know, I grafted, my lecturer at the time, had no kind of belief that I would pull through and, you know, and deliver what I needed to deliver. We had our battles and yeah it was crazy.

Alex: There’s always one lecturer who’s like “this isn’t going to happen”.

Leon: Yeah, and it was tough, man, because in architecture and, you know, spatial designs – spacial design is kind of what I was doing – you know, it’s expensive as well. 

Bwalya: Would you do education differently or would you still go down the same route? 

Leon: Yeah, I mean, so a lot people that I know, they are in professions which have no relation to their degree.

Alex: It’s common, right?

Leon: Yeah, it’s common. So, you know, I think the the value in doing say a Bachelor’s for me is how disciplined are you? You know, in a completely self, you know, like, you know, you have very little kind of contact time or someone demanding that you hand your work in and do all this kind of stuff – it’s on you. And if you don’t, you know, it’s very self directed. So it gives you the discipline to meet deadlines and be very disciplined at what you do. You know, it takes a lot to get through a degree when a lot of people are kind of off doing, you know, their gap years and a lot of people fail in their first year because they get sidetracked by a lot of things that no one’s kind of asking them, hey, like, where’s this kind of homework? Like you would get in kind of secondary school. So I think it gives you good discipline, but, you know, nothing kind of beats practical, for me I learn more within the first month of my first kind of real job in my career than the entire three years when I was at a really prestigious university. So, you know, universities are great for building a network – you can’t get a lot of jobs, for example, I can’t get a job in Google, cause I haven’t got a degree you need, which is computer science. That is one of their first things, which is what you need, which is computer science, for example. So there are certain jobs which require it, obviously being a doctor and that kind of stuff. But in the creative arts, you don’t need ’em. I’ve seen people that have been hired into, you know, positions at incredible fashion houses or even record labels that haven’t got, you know, degrees. It’s kind of it’s almost meaningless to a degree. You know, like you look at all the top producers now, they haven’t got degrees, you know, in you know, in music production, they’re just in their house just banging out beats…

Bwalya: That was a lesson in itself.

Leon: That’s it. Yeah. So, you know, you can’t really teach that.

Alex: So you mentioned, about like your first month on the job, you learnt more than you ever did in your degree. So what kind of skills are you picking up? Where do you get them from? Like where were you learning the stuff and what are you learning?

Leon: So the guy who I sat next to, he was a product manager…

Bwalya: Can we name him?

Leon: Jamison Yee, Jaymo Yee, he is uh…

Alex: Big up to Jaymo Yee.

Leon: Yeah, he’s he’s an absolute product legend in the game. He’s very well known now and he’s doing great stuff over in LA, we’ll probably work together again one day. So shout to Jaymo for lavishing me with his knowledge, so I sat next to him whereas my the guy who initially brought me in, he was Director of Products, but he was more of a salesman, so I had one guy on one side, so Jamison, who was a perfectionist at teaching me about building requirements, boiling it down into the absolute MVP minimum viable product, and kind of really delve into the mind of users as to what they really want, and that and he kind of always had these quotes that he’d kind of throw at me. You know, one is obviously kind of the Henry Ford – you know, if you ask people what they want, they want back when Henry Ford invented the car, if you ask people what they want, they want a faster horse, not a car. So it’s always kind of understanding what people really want and then building the requirements out from that. He’d always grill me about my requirements, about what was necessary. He’s a perfectionist. He was always seeking perfection when it comes to product management. Whereas the guy that I line into, Nick, more of a sales guy, he taught me about the power of charisma and the power of PowerPoint and selling your vision into, you know, to inspire individuals to adopting your products. As a product manager, you have zero authority over your consumers using your products. If you create a product and they don’t like it, people won’t use it. You can’t force them to like it. So you have to kind of build, you know, the romance in your idea and really kind of build a story as well as to why it will give value to the end user. So he’d always give me the more of the fairy tale and the romance of product management and selling product. Nike’s incredibly good at, you know, building that Nick was very much about brand and, you know, feeling and emotion, whereas Jamison was all about specifics and requirements. So I sat next to these two guys that completely gave me a balanced view on on how to build products and how to, you know, to go into a room and sell product to, you know, an end user. 

Alex: So how did you find out about product managing and then how did you go about getting that first gig? 

Leon: So I came out university, did a few different design jobs and just like planning permission and, you know, those got shot off. I was frustrated. I thought Asia would be a great place to go and apply my kind of, you know, my trade because it’s a lot less red tape. So I went over to Asia, got shanked a few times, and I have a twin brother who was working in marketing and digital at the time who would always call me on his lunch break bragging about “hey, man, I just built this thing overnight, got it out, and, you know, I got feedback”, and for me, you hear stories about being an architect, you only kind of realise your ambitions when you’re like 50 plus, right? For the first 20 years of your career, you’re literally kind of putting doorknobs on doors, that’s what you’re doing, you’re not trusted to do anything else. So rather than kind of waiting, you know, that long to kind of start seeing my things out there and being realised, I was like, listen, I mean, in the digital world, it makes more sense to kind of do these kind of quicker turnaround products. So I took a risk after three years living in Thailand and the recession hit, they were laying off all the architects. I came back to London with absolutely nothing but a wardrobe of of sick clothing, selling off all my clothing on eBay. 

Alex: We’ve all been there…

Leon: As you do! A guy hit me up on eBay and I was like, hey, love this of really kind of iconic desquared civil war jacket. And he’s like “man, I really love this jacket, what’s the lowest offer you’ll do?” And I said – so I Googled his name and he was like the Product Director of like AOL, I didn’t know what a director was, listen, “it sounds high calibre, high paid, you can obviously afford this ridiculously expensive jacket, I’ll give you a good deal if you give me an interview”. He wrote back on eBay, and was like, “you’ve got balls coming for an interview”. So I came in with the jacket in hand, he’s like “leave that shit by reception, this looks way too dodgy!”

Alex: So I’m here with your bribe (laughing)!

Leon: You’re right. So, yeah, I had an interview with him and he gave me a two week research project in video advertising. He sat me next to this Australian product whiz kid and yeah so he said “listen, I see a lot of me in you and I want to teach you everything I know”. And yeah, he made me into an absolute product weapon. So I have everything to kind of…

Bwalya: Product weapon!

Leon: Yeah. So whenever he so he moved to a couple of companies, he always needed a second in command, went to Warner Music in LA and he needed someone to oversee things within Europe and said “hey, listen, come out to, you know, live in New York for for a little while just to understand the business”.

Bwalya: What?! So it’s fine, your work visa – it’s sorted?!

Leon: Yeah! Yes, I lived in New York for like a year in Midtown and understood the business, and also I was back and forth between LA and New York because Hugh sat in LA, and then after a year, I came back and, yeah, got into this crazy, crazy game. 

Bwalya: Sorry, silence, cause I’m like, what?!

Leon: That’s the compact story!

Bwalya: Everyone think about your Depop accounts and who you’re selling to – google them! Maybe the job is there!

Leon: Facts! You know, when I came back from Thailand, I sent off like a ton of CVs, just the traditional route of, you know, likeCV builder and, you know, applying via LinkedIn and stuff. And I had zero responses. Like one response was “hey, you didn’t actually attach your CV”! (laughing). So yeah, I know. Like, yeah, I was like at least I got the reply that feels good! So after that, you know, I’ve always been creative in my problem-solving and i was just thinking, listen, there has to be another way around it – I can’t just be some, you know, black text on a piece of paper. So, yeah, I mean, I think getting jobs in today’s world, you have to be very creative and, you know, getting your foot in the door by any means, it’s hard, it’s ridiculous.

Bwalya: Because you mean, you’re an architecture graduate – you should be getting people just being like “come in, we wanna work with you!”

Alex: I think sometimes I think it’s quite hard to make that process human. And it’s just like, CV, CV – and they getting thousands of them. They’re just seeing bits of paper and like you said, black text on a sheet, right? Whereas you kind of broke through that by hitting the guy and being like, yeah, I’ll give you a sick discount. 

Leon: I mean, it’s just it’s one of those things where you have to, like, zig when everyone zags and you have to come across as human as possible. You know, if I was, you know, starting back, you know, at the age of 21, 20 now, I would take a completely different kind of route to try to get a job versus, you know, like handing a CV over. I’d be completely creative in the way that I would do things.

Alex: Give us some examples, I want to know…

Bwalya: Do you have any like?

Leon: Yeah, I mean, so this is absolutely me spit balling, but whenever I’ve gone for an interview, for example, I know so much about the person interviewing me. I do so much, kind of, almost like a background check, using LinkedIn like what football team do they support? Where do they live? Where did they go beforehand? What school did they go to? I know so much more about them that I try to use that information to kind of to try to get into getting through the door. So, for example, if I knew you were into trainers, for example, and you know, like if you had a Twitter account or Instagram, for example, I might hit you up on Instagram. I’d be like, “hey listen, what you think about these new Dior Jordans?” X, Y, Z… That might kind of pique your interest and be like “oh, cool, this person speaks the same language, we’re on the same wavelength, he’s a cool dude.” ” Listen, like, I might be looking for a position at whatever you are doing, I’m just kind of in the game” or something like that. Just basically there’s so much data and information on people in general online. People are a lot more kind of available than you actually can imagine. You know, there’s there are tools, again, this is kind of given the game away about every corporate has like an email structure. So, for example, I’m not even going to give away one…

Bwalya: So and so, dot last name at company.co.uk or dot.com.

Leon: All that kind of stuff. So, you know, if you know, for example, there is a position that you’re after and there’s a person that is in that camp that you’ve seen on LinkedIn and they have a first name or last name on there, find out – there are certain kind of tools online that are email checkers. So you can send an email and it will tell you whether it’s bounced or it’s been accepted, so, you know, if it’s real… I’ve done this a ton of times for like even for Run the Mic. So I would hit someone up and just be like, “hey, listen, you like trainers? Cool. Listen, that might have hooked you in, but I’m actually after X, Y and Z, there’s a quick video link of me giving, you know, a bit of a discussion on this subject in this location like just check it out”. That kind of would resonate a lot more than, let’s say, a CV.

Bwalya: Just a CV.

Leon: Yeah, or even I mean, you know, again, it depends on how desperate you are, but there are people that wait outside of our offices, you know, playing guitars and stuff, you know, like they might know your face from LinkedIn, they might know you are the person that’s in A&R, for example, and they might just be like, “hey, listen Leon”, and that’ll catch you off guard, you know…

Bwalya: Has that ever happened to you?

Leon: I mean, there has been occasions where people have reached out or let’s say stopped, like we’ve got into a conversation. 

Bwalya: What you wanna to say stalked you? So you can say that, it’s a safe place…

Leon: Maybe stalked (laughs).

Alex: It’s data, it’s research data, big data.

Leon: But, yeah, there there are, there is a million ways to kind of to to get your foot in the door. 

Bwalya: And at the moment when you look when we’re looking at research and who we are interviewing, there are very few women in tech, I mean, it’s growing, but also for me, people of colour, like black people actually in tech, like what you’re saying is, like nurturing black music, yeah, that’s really interesting. Can you talk or speak more about that? Because I think a lot of people listening, it kind of makes that job a little less distancing. 

Leon: Big question, it’s very broad. My career is kind of almost spanned like, you know, there’s been a lot of change in, you know, in tech and in music over the last, I guess, 10 years. Yeah, so when I first got in, there was a certain, you know, demographic which dominated tech, data and advertising and you know, and it kind of is what it is, but throughout my career, you know, for example, like the team that I’m kind of, you know, I work with and now we have a very diverse team. 

Bwalya: I think it’s an important thing to mention in tech, because there are so many young women, young people of colour, who are looking for avenues to get into these kind of industries that haven’t necessarily always been explicitly open for them. Yeah, and it’s really interesting to see someone like yourself who’s coming in and he’s like they’re saying like I’m from ends, I’m from here, there’s avenues that are open for you. 

Leon: Yeah, I think it’s almost like an unwritten responsibility to humanise what what I do. And I think some like just the jargon alone, you know, when you look at, let’s say, a job position, it’s so confusing and it’s all this kind of jargon. I think if you come from a certain kind of background where you’re not around, like let’s say your dad wasn’t a technologist, you’ve never heard these terms, for example. It’s a different language to what you know, it can come across as intimidating…

Alex: And you know when you see, like the job applications and stuff, and they’ve all got like minimum two to three, five, seven years experience doing exactly this job – if you want this job. And you’re like “where do I start? How am I gonna get into this.” Yeah, this is where I think your story is so helpful because you just kind of sidestepped the whole system. 

Bwalya: Yeah, you put yourself out there, and if you really want to if you want to go big, you’ve got to put yourself out there. 

Leon: Yeah. And, you know, I think staying humble and I think one thing that’s really kind of got me through my career to where I am today is understanding my limitations and and always trying to grow and listening to people that have been through it, and has that knowledge. You know, I’ve always sat next to someone and I’m very open about what I don’t know and I’m always, you know, I’m always asking for people to like, you know, “can you, like, teach me how to do that?”  You know, if someone teaches you how to do something, if you’re humble enough to openly admit that you don’t know shit and that there is room to grow, and that has always got me through things. I think that there are people that I’ve worked with that have winged it and there is an element of fake it till you make it, however in tech, you get found out. And I find that it’s OK putting your hands up and being like, listen, “I don’t know, I’m going to learn though”.

Alex: There’s a big difference between self-confidence and self belief, and arrogance and ego. They can both get you through the door but trust me, that second one, you fall on your face very soon. I mean if you don’t back it up and what I’ve been hearing the whole time is that you’re like feed me, feed me, feed me, learn, learn, learn.

Bwalya: That’s fab so ‘listen’ – this mentality – listen, learn and be hungry to listen and learn. 

Leon: Hungry. I’m absolutely super starving all the time. 

Bwalya: I love that. Well thank you super-starving Leon.

Leon: Absolutely, any time.

Bwalya: You’re amazing. I feel like, yeah I feel quite motivated! Like I’ve been given a pep talk!

Leon: Go chat to randoms now on the street. What can you teach me? What jump can you give me? What do you know? What have you got? What have you got?

Bwalya: It’s so intense, it’s so good!

Leon: It’s Thanos just…

Bwalya: Oh my god!

Alex: It’s your CV mate. Ok, so every episode we ask our guests beforehand to fill out this little CV. 

Bwalya: You know this portion by now.

Alex: Yeah, all our loyal listeners! It’s all about quality, so every episode… So let’s run through it. Start at the top, as always. Name: Leon Farell. Social’s: LeonFarrell123…

Leon: Yeah, not very creative, but yeah, Ronseal!

Alex: Very functional!

Alex: Job: innovator.

Bwalya: Yeah I quite like that – that’s good. Can you get them to change on your contract?

Alex: Maybe a little more humble than ‘mini CEO’.

Bwalya: Yeah – fair, he wants the job that’s why he like toned it down a little bit. He went a but humble…

Alex: Mini CEO is fine for now but I don’t wanna step on any toes! Company: Warner Music.

Bwalya: That is fact, yeah, we know that. 

Alex: Big companies – good! Career highlight: collab with Harvey Nicks, consisting of a capsule collection, in-store event and social takeover.

Bwalya: That’s so random in comparison to… 

Alex: When?

Leon: Well, yeah, I mean, so I kind of put this on there because, you know, being like a London born raised boy, we’d always go to, like, you know, West End and run through Selfridges and Harvey Nichols and Harrods window shopping and thinking of these huge establishments as so prestigious and, you know, very difficult to infiltrate, like they would never want anything that I could have to offer.

Bwalya: So you did a collab there?

Leon: So we had a kind of collab where they let me do a takeover of their basement of their menswear store and we put on these incredible kind of raves. So we had, you know, artists come down and perform like, you know, we had like great, huge drill artists and come in and, you know, they performed and we had a crazy, like capsule collection with like, you know, T-shirts, which I designed and did a takeover of their socials as well. And it was all co-branded on the same kind of lines as their brand. So kind of, you know, my living room at home, I’ve got, you know, the Harvey Nichols and Run the Mic kind of sign that they built for the takeover in my kind of room that just, you know, is a bit of a career highlight for me.

Alex: Right, next, let’s let’s tone it down a minute with his best failure. Let’s bring this bring this guy back down to earth, please. ‘Mini CEO’… Blowing a lot of money on building an in-house CMS (content management system). Yeah I used to run a website! Building an in-house CMS, which was decommissioned within six months!

Leon: Yeah. This was one of those, so when you’re very young and you assume that, you know it all, product management, you’re kind of very inexperienced, you second guess and assume what end users want from your products, because it takes a lot of time and effort going out, doing the market research and really understanding what people want, how they want to use something. So I pretty much assumed a bunch of the requirements and then released it and they were like “we don’t use it like that”

Alex: So no one likes it! So you put it in the bin!

Leon: So I blew like close like a million worth of developer resources.

Bwalya: Ouch!

Leon: And I was a young buck at the time, and shout out to Jaymo, he looked at me and was like, “yeah just don’t do that again”. So having someone that, you know, in those kind of, so those are kind of those sliding door moments where you say “it’s the users that don’t know what they want and it’s not my it’s not my fault, it’s theirs”. Or you say, “no, no, like it’s 100 per cent me, it didn’t work”. I said that to my boss was like, “I won’t do that again – I will completely change my method and do the actual work next time”. He was like “oK, cool”. You know, for me, I’ve always kind of developed and grown from my failures. 

Bwalya: And also if you are going to make a failure, it better be like a million pound worth of a failure (laughs).

Alex: This is why they say ‘learn on someone else’s money’ right? (laughs)

Leon: Not my money!

Bwalya: True! (laughs) Why should we hire you?

Alex: Yeah, this is the salesman coming out straightaway: who doesn’t need another problem solver?

Leon: SoJaymo he would always say to me, you know, bring me, you know, solutions don’t bring me problems. You know, I think in today’s day and age where, you know, media, you know, social media and news, all they talk about is problems in the world. I think everyone is very quick to talk about how crap certain things are, uncertain, how dire certain situations are, and I think people need to get back to being, you know, solutions architects. So for me, it’s whenever I see a problem, it’s not a problem – there’s a a potential solution to build. So, you know, I think if you go in and you can always have a kind of solutions-finding hat on and you’re not the person within the team that’s just like negative about things, but you’re like “no, no, why don’t we do…”, like you create solutions, you will always be needed somewhere.

Alex: Pointing out the problems is the easy bit. 

Bwalya: Wow!

Alex: Hired!

Bwalya: Yeah, I mean, yeah, he got me on solution architect. I’d forgive the million as well! (laughs)

Alex: Money well spent!

Bwalya: Money well spent! Oh, thank you so much for coming in! (laughing)

Leon: I love conversations! Love it. 

Outro: You’ve been listening to THIS IS HOW created by Nominet and Livity, your essential rundown on figuring out a path into digital careers for the brands you love. Head over to our website to listen back to other episodes, find industry role you’re most suited to and discover free training to help you get the job you want. 

Bwalya: Oh, thank you so much for joining us. You’re dope. Big up to you. Another applause in the studio for the solution architect.

Leon: All the guys in here – you guys go nuts!

Bwalya: Ah stop it! (More clapping)