Have you ever met someone with an unstoppable entrepreneurial spirit? That’s Manon. For him, being the most creative guy in the room isn’t a conscious choice or career strategy. It’s just who he is.
Today, he channels his abundant energy for ambitious what-ifs into his role as Vice President of Product Innovation at EF EdTech, the global research and development arm of EF Education First. Chatting with him about his career — which is both curiously diverse and sensibly focused — would leave anyone wondering, “ok, so what CAN’T you do?” (Spoiler: The answer is probably nothing.)
From software to hardware, music to tech, and product management to product development, Manon has done it all. And given his many successes, it’s clear that he adds a uniquely inspired spin to just about everything.
That is not to say he spent even one breath of our conversation bragging. Quite the opposite: Manon talks as though he’s just another teammate bringing his ideas to the table, even as he describes achievements that are, frankly, #goals.
From his London home office via Zoom, he chatted with us about product innovation at EF, knowing your audience even when they’re a continent away, EF’s newly formed Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging team, and living life with entrepreneurial spirit.
It sounds like your career has taken a winding path. How did you end up working in product innovation at EF?
I was working in QA — and then as a software engineer. From there, I pivoted into the world of product management and quickly fell in love with it. I’m a musician, so it was amazing for me to work with tech-driven music companies, creating instruments that help fans of music learn how to make songs of their own, for instance, through color patterns.
With this, I got more into hardware. Building the teaching instruments that eventually ended up in Apple stores all over the world. It was incredible to work on products that encompass so many of my overlapping passions.
Later, when I was working at an ed tech company, a friend introduced me to the person who was building EF’s EdTech team. And the rest is history.
Why did the EdTech team at EF feel like a good career fit for you?
It was the perfect fusion of what I wanted to do — help people learn new skills and build technology. And the more I talked with Lee, our President of EdTech, learning about his background in gaming, it was clear that he wasn’t looking to take a traditional approach. Neither of us had much experience in ed tech, but that wasn’t a problem. It was exciting. The goal was to build a team that would put EF at the forefront of ed tech. Ahead of the curve.
At one point, Lee asked me about my strengths. When I answered, “innovation” and explained some of my background and successes, he offered me the job. The idea that we were there to innovate from the ground up, not relying on a legacy product or idea, was very appealing to me. It was an untethered invitation to create products that help students learn languages.
The Study Buddy language immersion smart speaker embodies entrepreneurial spirit — how did your team decide to build it?
I started collaborating with Enio, EF’s Chief Experience Officer, talking with him about ways to bring language immersion to very young kids. We were focusing on kids ages three to six in China, where there’s a huge interest in English language learning. With this age group, the kids are too young for travel immersion, so our goal was to give them an immersive language experience in their homes.
We had fun with it — but it was also a massive challenge. For example, all my previous product design experience was for western audiences. Everything I thought I knew about creating a successful consumer electronics product turned out to NOT be true for our young Chinese audience. And it wasn’t only the kids we were designing for, of course. It was their parents who would make purchase decisions, grandparents and guardians, and teachers.
A major mindset shift was that Chinese parents don’t usually associate play with learning like we often do in the U.S. We had to consider very carefully how to introduce the Study Buddy speaker into the Chinese market in a way that would clearly highlight its educational value first and foremost.
Speaking of cross-cultural understanding, tell me about the EF Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging team you recently joined. What are the team’s goals? How did you get involved?
We’re working to build a roadmap that ensures EF becomes a more inclusive place to work. We want to give all EF employees a dedicated space where they can have any conversion on their minds. Employment rights for women and people of color, creating a more welcoming space for LGBTQ+ colleagues in leadership — absolutely anything is on the table. We’re ready to talk about the issues that people live every day.
Another goal is to celebrate the diversity we already have and the many positive aspects of EF culture. It’s stunning, really, the way we’re a multinational organization with tens of thousands of employees all pulling in the same direction to connect the world through language and travel.
This is my first time formally contributing to a team like this, and I’m privileged to represent the team during these important times for all of us. And on a personal level, l feel like EF has really encouraged me to bring my whole self to work. As a musician, I’ve never shared so much of my art with colleagues who are genuinely supportive. EF is only as successful as we are because of the diverse lives, perspectives, and passions that we all bring to work everyday.