"Products drive business. As a PM, you’re at the front-end of that; you help define and optimise them which is always an exciting challenge."
COO, author, Karate black belt, and venomous snake handler – Johann van Tonder is perhaps equipped with the precise combo of skills necessary to handle the ever-changing world of e-commerce. When he's not handling Cape Cobras, he's helping some of the world's most recognisable brands grow their online sales using a data-driven process we can't wait to learn more about.
Johann van Tonder, iXperience 2018 Product Management Head Teacher
After spending 15 years at global media giant, Naspers, Johann left his corporate career to help turn around a struggling internet retailer. His techniques for transforming the loss-maker into a star worked. Just three years and multiple successes later, he took on the role as COO of AWA Digital – a leading UK-based conversion optimization agency with clients like Canon, Interflora, and Avis.
In 2017 he co-authored the book E-commerce Website Optimization – a practical guide to improving online conversion rates.
What are you working on now? Tell us about an exciting project that you’ve recently completed or are currently involved with.
My agency, AWA Digital, is constantly doing exciting work so it’s hard to single out one project. Last year we added €3.7M to a global brand’s revenue by applying the principles I teach in this class.
What do you enjoy most about the Product Management industry?
Products drive business. As a PM, you’re at the front-end of that; you help define and optimise them. I also love the surprise of customer engagement - you think you know the business and its product until you reach out to users.
Why did you decide to get involved with teaching and how do you continue to keep things fresh?
I’ve always enjoyed teaching, and have been teaching in various programmes at universities for over 20 years. I enjoy the exchange with critical thinkers, and the eternal learning.
What are you most looking forward to about iXperience this summer?
I'm looking forward to forming great friendships and relationships with students and teachers – some of whom I know I'll have contact with for many years to come.
How do you see the Product Management industry changing in the next year to five years? What skills will professionals need to hone?
Artificial Intelligence will change the industry. So predictable, I know. But it's going to be a a really good tool in the right hands. Embrace it, use it to your advantage, learn all you can about it now.
What skills will iX students have after graduating from your class?
My students will leave equipped with practical insight into how to define, build, and take to market, products that are commercially viable. They'll learn more about customer research, value propositions, and behavioural psychology.
What’s one piece of advice that you have for the iX class of 2018?
Have fun in Cape Town, it’s an amazing city. But there’s a portion of your day during which some phenomenal people will be investing their time into you. Respect that, and invest back! The growth with be tremendous.