Mitchell Clements

Leading At An Enterprise Level

Expanding Marketshare to 1 in 4 U.S Mortgage Loans with 10M+ Users 🚀

Leading At An Enterprise Level

Expanding Marketshare to 1 in 4 U.S Mortgage Loans with 10M+ Users 🚀

Primary role:

Sr. Product Design Manager

Time frame:

2023 - Present

Summary:

I helped transform a 17-employee basement startup into a 1,700-employee enterprise by leading initiatives to develop our people, product, and process. Nurturing a team of 26 high-performing designers, I help lead our mortgage portfolio vision and strategy across ~20 cross-functional teams touching 1 in 4 loans in the U.S.

The Genesis of Growth 🌱

Picture this: a small basement startup with a big dream and only 17 employees to make it happen. That’s where I found myself when I joined SimpleNexus. 


But after driving an ambitious product experience vision and strategy, we achieved a jaw-dropping $1.2 billion valuation. In a rapid succession of surprising acquisitions, we suddenly found ourselves merging 3 separate companies with a total of 26 designers into a single enterprise with 1,700 employees across the globe.


But with growth comes new challenges. When your design team grows from 2 to 26, how do you maintain the agility and innovation of a startup while operating at an enterprise level?

The Genesis of Growth 🌱

Picture this: a small basement startup with a big dream and only 17 employees to make it happen. That’s where I found myself when I joined SimpleNexus. 


But after driving an ambitious product experience vision and strategy, we achieved a jaw-dropping $1.2 billion valuation. In a rapid succession of surprising acquisitions, we suddenly found ourselves merging 3 separate companies with a total of 26 designers into a single enterprise with 1,700 employees across the globe.


But with growth comes new challenges. When your design team grows from 2 to 26, how do you maintain the agility and innovation of a startup while operating at an enterprise level?

Connecting People to Purpose 🤝🏼

Designers need opportunities to foster creativity, build relationships, explore big ideas, and connect with one another on a deeper level. That is why twice a year we bring the entire team together for an in-person offsite.


When the concept was first proposed, I felt some trepidation. Would everyone on the team feel comfortable sharing an Airbnb for three days, sleeping under the same roof, cooking meals together, playing games, and collaborating on complex projects? 


However, the results have been nothing short of spectacular. This recurring event has brought our diverse and remote team together like never before and has become the cornerstone of our design team culture.

Connecting People to Purpose 🤝🏼

Designers need opportunities to foster creativity, build relationships, explore big ideas, and connect with one another on a deeper level. That is why twice a year we bring the entire team together for an in-person offsite.


When the concept was first proposed, I felt some trepidation. Would everyone on the team feel comfortable sharing an Airbnb for three days, sleeping under the same roof, cooking meals together, playing games, and collaborating on complex projects? 


However, the results have been nothing short of spectacular. This recurring event has brought our diverse and remote team together like never before and has become the cornerstone of our design team culture.

Building culture through other team rituals

While our team offsites are powerful, they only happen twice a year. As we continue to grow, we’ve had to adapt and find ways to foster collaboration and strengthen our bonds between these events. Some of the most significant rituals that we have implemented include the following:


  • 🎓 User Experience University (UXU): These bi-weekly workshops and presentations are an opportunity for us to share knowledge and train each other on design topics.


  • 🎨 Design Critique: Every week, we gather to present our work and receive feedback from the team. This is a chance for us to learn to improve our craft and ensure coherency throughout the product.


  • 💻 Show & Tell Friday: Each Friday, we share a 1-minute video showcasing our work from that week. This provides an opportunity for us to see what everyone is working on and stay connected.


  • 🏢 Team Collaboration Tuesdays: While the majority of us are remote, we still try to gather in person on a regular basis for those who are near our headquarters.


  • 🍣 Sushi Lunches: We gather for team lunches, often enjoying sushi together. These moments are great for building relationships and having fun outside of work.


By implementing these rituals, we have been able to maintain a strong sense of camaraderie and collaboration, even as our team continues to grow.

Building culture through other team rituals

While our team offsites are powerful, they only happen twice a year. As we continue to grow, we’ve had to adapt and find ways to foster collaboration and strengthen our bonds between these events. Some of the most significant rituals that we have implemented include the following:


  • 🎓 User Experience University (UXU): These bi-weekly workshops and presentations are an opportunity for us to share knowledge and train each other on design topics.


  • 🎨 Design Critique: Every week, we gather to present our work and receive feedback from the team. This is a chance for us to learn to improve our craft and ensure coherency throughout the product.


  • 💻 Show & Tell Friday: Each Friday, we share a 1-minute video showcasing our work from that week. This provides an opportunity for us to see what everyone is working on and stay connected.


  • 🏢 Team Collaboration Tuesdays: While the majority of us are remote, we still try to gather in person on a regular basis for those who are near our headquarters.


  • 🍣 Sushi Lunches: We gather for team lunches, often enjoying sushi together. These moments are great for building relationships and having fun outside of work.


By implementing these rituals, we have been able to maintain a strong sense of camaraderie and collaboration, even as our team continues to grow.

Emulating our team principles

Though we've adjusted our rituals and summits as our team has grown, our team principles have remained steadfast. These principles, distinct from design principles, embody the qualities of a genuine team player. Weekly, we reflect on and engage in an open dialogue on 1 of our 12 team principles.

Emulating our team principles

Though we've adjusted our rituals and summits as our team has grown, our team principles have remained steadfast. These principles, distinct from design principles, embody the qualities of a genuine team player. Weekly, we reflect on and engage in an open dialogue on 1 of our 12 team principles.

How do we attract top talent?

Job postings have a funny way of missing the mark. They fail to do the job that they’re meant to do: answer candidates’ questions and make them enthusiastic about applying. Let’s face it, no designer jumps out of bed and thinks, “I can’t wait to create complex B2B SaaS products for the mortgage industry!” 


But when our hiring pipeline and referral pools dried up and we still had three open positions to fill due to growth, I knew we had to think outside the box. That’s when I took it upon myself to create a compelling job ad deck using Figma that resonated with the design community and inspired many talented candidates to apply.

How do we attract top talent?

Job postings have a funny way of missing the mark. They fail to do the job that they’re meant to do: answer candidates’ questions and make them enthusiastic about applying. Let’s face it, no designer jumps out of bed and thinks, “I can’t wait to create complex B2B SaaS products for the mortgage industry!” 


But when our hiring pipeline and referral pools dried up and we still had three open positions to fill due to growth, I knew we had to think outside the box. That’s when I took it upon myself to create a compelling job ad deck using Figma that resonated with the design community and inspired many talented candidates to apply.

Defining the Product Vision 🎯

When you’ve created a culture of top talent, then you’re able to build a winning product. However, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when we get bogged down in day-to-day tasks. As a leader, I aim to provide context instead of control, and inspire people through establishing a compelling vision.

Defining the Product Vision 🎯

When you’ve created a culture of top talent, then you’re able to build a winning product. However, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when we get bogged down in day-to-day tasks. As a leader, I aim to provide context instead of control, and inspire people through establishing a compelling vision.

What makes a vision compelling?

A product vision in the form of text on a slide deck rarely inspires. To truly motivate diverse teams, a vision must be visualized and conveyed through storytelling.


After successfully leading the efforts behind our consumer experience vision and strategy, my role expanded to other product areas. I conducted workshops with leaders from various domains to transform aspirations into compelling stories, and then collaborated with the design team to bring those stories to life visually.

What makes a vision compelling?

A product vision in the form of text on a slide deck rarely inspires. To truly motivate diverse teams, a vision must be visualized and conveyed through storytelling.


After successfully leading the efforts behind our consumer experience vision and strategy, my role expanded to other product areas. I conducted workshops with leaders from various domains to transform aspirations into compelling stories, and then collaborated with the design team to bring those stories to life visually.

Translating vision into an actionable strategy

As each domain established their vision, I then worked to integrate their aspirations into a unified, comprehensive product vision. Using my background as a product manager, designer, and developer, I helped formulate multi-year strategies to build towards a unified vision through actionable, incremental releases.

Translating vision into an actionable strategy

As each domain established their vision, I then worked to integrate their aspirations into a unified, comprehensive product vision. Using my background as a product manager, designer, and developer, I helped formulate multi-year strategies to build towards a unified vision through actionable, incremental releases.

Forget the north star: we need a constellation

As a leadership team, we struggled to identify and agree on a single north star metric to measure the success of our product and progress towards the vision. Eventually, we decided to balance three key metrics, forming our North Star constellation.


To execute this, I proposed dividing our leadership team into 3 groups, each owning a specific metric. I led the initiative with my group for measuring and reporting on our user satisfaction metric. In addition, I also facilitated the creation of a company-wide dashboard to visualize our North Star constellation metrics. This allowed us to measure progress towards our holistic vision.

Forget the north star: we need a constellation

As a leadership team, we struggled to identify and agree on a single north star metric to measure the success of our product and progress towards the vision. Eventually, we decided to balance three key metrics, forming our North Star constellation.


To execute this, I proposed dividing our leadership team into 3 groups, each owning a specific metric. I led the initiative with my group for measuring and reporting on our user satisfaction metric. In addition, I also facilitated the creation of a company-wide dashboard to visualize our North Star constellation metrics. This allowed us to measure progress towards our holistic vision.

Ensuring cohesion through frequent product audits

As each team pursued their part of the vision, we used regular product audits to ensure interface cohesion as our product scaled across multiple domains and user roles. These audits helped uncover weak points in our architecture and opportunities to improve our design system.

Ensuring cohesion through frequent product audits

As each team pursued their part of the vision, we used regular product audits to ensure interface cohesion as our product scaled across multiple domains and user roles. These audits helped uncover weak points in our architecture and opportunities to improve our design system.

Scaling Process & Design Ops 📈

My belief is that process should exist to serve both people and the product, not the other way around. As a leader, I prioritize autonomy and empowerment to bring out the best in teams and individuals.


In terms of design ops, it is crucial to recognize that team members are the primary end user. They should be engaged in setting standards and experience the benefits of scaling and unifying efforts.

Scaling Process & Design Ops 📈

My belief is that process should exist to serve both people and the product, not the other way around. As a leader, I prioritize autonomy and empowerment to bring out the best in teams and individuals.


In terms of design ops, it is crucial to recognize that team members are the primary end user. They should be engaged in setting standards and experience the benefits of scaling and unifying efforts.

Implementing a design system

Initially, a lack of a design system resulted in a disorganized product, as uncovered by user research and audits. And while setting up a design system in Figma is straightforward, getting buy-in to implement it in code posed a real challenge.


To gain traction, it was crucial to build relationships with engineers across different platforms such as Web, iOS, and Android. As time progressed, we devised a formal business case and strategy to advance the design system and established a team to lead the initiative.

Implementing a design system

Initially, a lack of a design system resulted in a disorganized product, as uncovered by user research and audits. And while setting up a design system in Figma is straightforward, getting buy-in to implement it in code posed a real challenge.


To gain traction, it was crucial to build relationships with engineers across different platforms such as Web, iOS, and Android. As time progressed, we devised a formal business case and strategy to advance the design system and established a team to lead the initiative.

Sharing knowledge through a research repository

Initially, everyone had individual research organization systems, making it difficult to share insights and findings. We tried encouraging everyone to use a shared repository in Google Drive, but it was too cumbersome and difficult to navigate.


To address this issue, we established a research ops lead role to identify more effective tools for research organization and user recruitment. After successfully creating a business case to acquire budget for a new system of tools, we then collaborated with other departments—such as legal and customer success—to automate user recruiting and break down existing barriers.

Sharing knowledge through a research repository

Initially, everyone had individual research organization systems, making it difficult to share insights and findings. We tried encouraging everyone to use a shared repository in Google Drive, but it was too cumbersome and difficult to navigate.


To address this issue, we established a research ops lead role to identify more effective tools for research organization and user recruitment. After successfully creating a business case to acquire budget for a new system of tools, we then collaborated with other departments—such as legal and customer success—to automate user recruiting and break down existing barriers.

Reflections on Remarkable Growth 🌳

Reflecting on these experiences, I’m humbled by the incredible journey we’ve undertaken as a design and leadership team. By leading initiatives across people, product, and process, I've seen our startup of 17 grow into a powerhouse of 1,700, embracing challenges and celebrating milestones along the way. 


Our company was able to continue growing despite a global pandemic and challenges in the mortgage industry. As we continue to push ourselves and strive for even greater heights, I’m excited to see what the future holds for our company. Together we have proven that anything is possible with the right people and a shared vision.

Reflections on Remarkable Growth 🌳

Reflecting on these experiences, I’m humbled by the incredible journey we’ve undertaken as a design and leadership team. By leading initiatives across people, product, and process, I've seen our startup of 17 grow into a powerhouse of 1,700, embracing challenges and celebrating milestones along the way. 


Our company was able to continue growing despite a global pandemic and challenges in the mortgage industry. As we continue to push ourselves and strive for even greater heights, I’m excited to see what the future holds for our company. Together we have proven that anything is possible with the right people and a shared vision.

2 → 26

Design team headcount

17 → 1,700

Company headcount

49x

Annual revenue

1 in 4

U.S mortgage loans

72 NPS

World-class experience

35 of 50

Top mortgage lenders

This Was Only a Glimpse.

This Was Only a Glimpse.

I would love to share the full version with you. Connect with me on Linkedin, email me at mitchclements.design@gmail.com, or send me a message below.