What You Can Learn from Female Product Leaders
When a group of female experts in product development gathers online, you might be surprised by the range of routes they took to reach their current roles. But what’s even more surprising is the similarity of realizations once they have professionally “arrived.” Across the board, they shared that it took plenty of motivation, bravery, learning, and networking.
A recent Clubhouse session offered an opportunity to hear many perspectives on ways to get in, thrive, and inspire others in product management. In front of an interested audience of circa 35 people, the session gave experts in this field a chance to “compare notes,” revealing useful career advice including how to cultivate soft and hard skills advice, great book recommendations, and a helpful list of people worth following. Let’s dive in!
Mathilde Leo, Co-founder MakingJAM started out in project management. Then about 5 years ago, she started building a community for product builders. What began small as a passion project grew into one of the biggest communities for product makers around the globe and is now a true business. Mathilde pulls insights around serendipity and side-projects-turned-into-businesses and shares knowledge about how to use the power of a community to grow your career.
Kristina Walcker-Mayer, Chief Product Officer at Bitwala, inspired with her energy, her boldness, her courage, and her ambition. Her spot-on advice is: “don’t stop unless it’s great” and challenge yourself as much as you can while staying true to your benchmark. She has a long-tenured career as a Product Leader and her perspective and advice go way beyond the obvious: focusing on the customer is obviously important, but make sure you rally the team around one goal and enable them to deliver outstanding results. That’s what differentiates great product leaders from average ones. Her advice for junior product managers: Ask for what you want and go out and get it. Don’t wait until someone offers you a career.
“Don’t stop unless it’s great.” — Kristina Walcker-Mayer
Darja Gutnick from Bunch AI helps future leaders grow. Reflecting on her own path, she says: “If you have ideas on how to solve the problem, stay close to the product. Think about your vision & why you are motivated, write it out and keep it holy….Have the courage to put your vision on the table and document it.” She credits one of her team members as being part of the source of these realizations. Darja adds that to be stellar at product, you should “adopt a servant mindset: be ready to solve problems, serve others and have empathy for customers.” She also offered an HR tip: employers & startups can use this “servant mindset” framework when recruiting for product people. Ask potential employees who will work on a product to describe an experience of when they successfully served someone else? This helps you see how they dive into problems to serve others, a critical aspect of good product development.
“If you have ideas on how to solve the problem, stay close to the product. Think about your vision & why you are motivated, write it out and keep it holy.” - Darja Gutnick
Emily Tate, Managing Director of Mind the Product, suggested owning your talent and skill, saying “don’t let imposter syndrome or doubt” overtake your path. She learned the hard way to mostly listen to people who tell you that you are ready, and not those who say: wait, first, you must do this or that. She encourages people to ensure an experience of respect and recognition for their talent. If not, go look elsewhere at other companies. If you are seeing no chance of promotion or confidence in your growth path, the answer may involve leaving.
Abby Hehemann, a Saas Product marketer with a passion for the people-part of products, advised listeners to “write how you talk,” keeping free of buzzwords and sugar coating. She recommends listening to industry podcasts to “level up” and let external ideas into your consciousness. This helps improve your work and gain the industry language needed for success.
“Write how you talk.” — Abby Hehemann
Merissa Silk, Head of Product of fundingport, says you need to connect with your team on a real level and deeply understand what drives people for a few key reasons: 1) doing so will make them more motivated to work for and with you, and 2) if they are not keeping up to their own potential, you know better how to help redirect or focus them. Merissa also mentors product leaders and she is advising Darja & the Bunch team on their product journey.
Stephanie Leue is a passionate product leader and startup founder. In her current business as a Product Leadership coach, she empowers product people to leave their comfort zone. Stephanie organized this session, and skillfully navigated the discussion to help bring out individual stories and find parallels between them. She herself believes that you need an awesome team to create awesome products that deliver value to the customer and the business. When seeking a new role, Stephanie says to ask questions and assess if the potential team and product match your interests, but ultimately follow your heart. You want to be able to happily stick with the team for at least a few years.
That launched some more discussion with insights for people looking to get into new roles. The audience wanted to know how to approach job searches and navigate their careers.
Darja had a unique tip for a job search strategy: She suggests looking at the investors behind the startup you are considering joining. Take a look at the other portfolio companies that the investor has funded. If you feel an affinity for those companies, and admire their products and culture, then it is more likely you’ll find kinship in the company you are considering. The reverse is also true: steer clear if the portfolio looks unappealing or not in line with your interests and values. In other words, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Emily suggests following people you admire to learn from them. Find good leaders early in your career so you can mimic their good habits, good skills, and the good environment they create. In doing so, you adopt goodness yourself, making it more likely to continue that way. Then, when you are ready to move on, you keep rising based on these good standards, rather than tolerating something bad and hoping to escape it down the road.
For her own successful career, Merissa partially credits managers who “took a chance on her”, who said, “You run with this.” She urges you to find the kinds of people that, when you put your hand up, say “yeah, go for it!”
Kristina wrapped up by saying it is crucial to be brave, but do your homework first. Google what you want to know but also ask for what you want. Emily echoes that and adds to it the importance of friends and a network who push you to be brave and overcome imposter syndrome. She says you need some accountability to step out and “do the things.”
All these women are doing the things...Follow them, as well as these influential thinkers in product management whom they listed as inspiration:
Lindsey Jayne, formerly of Monzo
Susana Lopes at Onfido
April Dunford, author of Obviously Awesome, Elusive Unicorns
Melissa Perry author of Escaping the Build Trap
Julie Zhou of ex-Facebook, author of Making of a Manager
Petra Wille author of Strong Product People
There is a common saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you are in product and want to grow your career, or if you want to step into a product role, start surrounding yourself with people who you can learn from and get inspired. So tune in for the next session of Women in Product Leadership. To do that, follow Stephanie Leue on Twitter, Medium or Clubhouse.