“Speak to Impress: Elevator Pitch and Crafting Impact”: Hana Rasheed, Senior Engineering Program Manager, Office of CIO, Cloud and Software Optimization at Adobe (Video + Transcript)

In this session, Hana Rasheed discusses the importance of having an impactful elevator pitch and shares her own journey of finding her voice and career success. She emphasizes the need to tailor your elevator pitch based on the audience and situation, and highlights the importance of numbers and specific skills in making your pitch impactful. Rasheed also provides tips on building confidence, making eye contact, and practicing your elevator pitch.


Hana Rasheed: Thank you so much, Amanda. Happy to be here. And also thank you so much for everyone who have joined here and have believed in this platform that Girl Geek community have brought in. I’m a huge fan of Girl Geek community. I have been part of that since 2015. And this session is more for you. And I would love to know from you and your journey about why are you here, because I wanted to ask you guys about your journey, and why is this session, which is to carve your elevator pitch? Why is it important for you? And I would love to see a lot of your responses in the chat.

And I would love to share my journey. Just like Amanda shared about my experience, I would like to add why am I passionate and why am I here, because I myself have been an introvert early in my career and [inaudible 00:01:11] 15 years of experience, and I would say it’s only in last five years that I have found my voice thanks to the community. I have lived in San Francisco, recently transplanted in Texas. And in my career, I have been in Massachusetts for five years, in San Francisco Bay Area for eight years, one year in New York. And what I learned from all this transition and travel was, A, there are career transition, B, there can be a rollercoaster ride in your journey and, C, how would you communicate your journey to other people and make it more impactful? So you make a mark on people’s mind that, “Hey. I met this person at this place.” This is a great takeaway of finding your voice.

And my journey I would like to share, but please use the chat why is it important for you to have an impactful elevator pitch and why are you here. So my journey started, I graduated from graduate school, background in electrical engineering and computer engineering, network management. I had a job while I was graduating, but since I am an international student, my paperwork was not available. They did not come on time and my offer was rescinded. In 15 years, I have come into a plan of having a better immigration strategy and now I have a green card. However, I have been through a stage of being an immigrant, being on student visa, being on work visa, being on dependent visa, getting laid off. I had a rollercoaster ride with multiple reasons and multiple breakthroughs in the country.

And when I graduated, I was looking for a job and when I found my career path, it happened to be based on my networking skills. I landed a technical marketing engineer role at NetApp, Network Appliance Company, which was back in the day a competitor for EMC and now a competitor for Dell. And this is the place where I got the opportunity to travel across the world, present in front of 200 people. I was part of product management, but still an engineer which I started my career in. But also I learned from my reporting director, my manager who at that time was director of Product Management. And I learned by connecting with them that, “Hey. I would like to shadow. I would like to learn, I would like to explore,” because being an engineer, just sitting on the desk was not something I would want to do. I was in lab working with all the cables. I was in front of customers as sales, training them on technical pieces. I was working with marketing. I was working with engineers. It was very cross-functional role.

And this gave me an opportunity to dive into different areas, but what I went through was a rollercoaster ride where I got laid off, immigration things changed, and I got opportunity to connect with a lot of professionals in my industry. And guess what? Somebody from my friends hired me because I went on few trips or a reunion trip you can say and they saw me how I’m managing the skills of having a whole group together and making a plan to go somewhere, do the activities, and I got the role in a utility company in New York. But that helped me with it, it helped me in transitioning from an engineer role in analytics and going towards project and now program manager role.

It was not an easy ride. And as I say, why this workshop? Because I had been through multiple layoffs. I had been through multiple rounds of interviews and still have gotten rejected. I’ve been in video interviews even before pandemic started. I’ve been in the shoes of people who are struggling now or have never had a chance to go to the networking event and find their voice of like how can they articulate their journey based on the audience. And I am now in Texas living in a house, having a great husband in my life. Why would I need to do that? Because I know I want to give back to people in the community who look like me, that I did not have in my time.

So that’s why since 2018, I started helping people out on LinkedIn by making their LinkedIn profile optimization, helping people with salary negotiation. I started a podcast, Hire Talk. I started a community when I moved to Dallas Fort Worth area, because I did not have friends, but I did want to give back and contribute to the community because I felt the same thing, being the only woman in the room, being the only woman in leadership, being the only woman in the lab or in the workshops that you are conducting and going to the conferences. There were hardly 10 women among 100 men.

So here is the agenda. Please share your why because that’s where I would love to help out, make it more interactive, and let’s start to help each other out. Now one more thing I would like to say, if you are sharing your why, I would like to [inaudible 00:06:29], but also, this is your chance to connect with everyone in the chat too. Drop in your LinkedIn profile. Connect with each other. Send a personalized invite saying that, “Hey. I was in the same session as you on Elevate Career Conference and we attended the session of Elevator Pitch Articulation, and would love to connect.” This is how you will grow the network, and this is how I used to do. If I could not [inaudible 00:06:59] connect with the panelists, I would also connect with the people who are attending because guess what? They are in the same boat as I am. And you can find my LinkedIn profile in my session. It’s also on my page. Hana Rasheed is my name on LinkedIn as well.

Now your why. I [inaudible 00:07:21] quickly go through some of the why’s. It is so important to practice an elevator pitch. It feels so much more [inaudible 00:07:24] otherwise. Sometimes things you say, someone else needs to hear, and never [inaudible 00:07:30]. I love that. I just bought a house. So I’m terrified of even the idea of layoff. Absolutely. I [inaudible 00:07:39] support piece of community that just need little help. So far in my career, I have been software developer for only nonprofit. I’m here on the session, we’ll learn about it [inaudible 00:07:49] more effectively with my colleagues. I’m here to learn from each other and help each other out. Community is incredibly important. [inaudible 00:08:00] love to refresh and refocus on [inaudible 00:08:02] absolutely we all need to learn, even [inaudible 00:08:05] who’s the senior product manager. Highly experienced person, but every stage of life we need to learn because we are what? Millennials, or maybe not, and there is Gen Z who’s coming in. So we have just keep up with the new generation as well.

I do not [inaudible 00:08:25]. Absolutely. There are people who have told me, “Why don’t go open a business?” And I was like, “I have never thought about it.” And this is happening since last 10 years. And pandemic happened. I started exploding and things started exploding as well. Now, let’s go quickly on our session and I would [inaudible 00:08:47] click on this. Now, this is why I said community support is important. Just spam the chat with your LinkedIn profile. Click on all the tabs. You can send the Connect, Invite afterwards, but spam, spam, spam, spam. Because chat is what you would need. I’m sorry if it’s going on YouTube, but still. You have to learn to pay it forward. If you are going forward in your leadership role, put back the ladder and bring those other people up because we need more women in leadership role to build up more and more [inaudible 00:09:23] network. It’s amazing to see a room full of women leaders that you can connect with and you will also [inaudible 00:09:30].

And one thing I want to share if you want to… This is something a lot of people have said. If you want to get things done, hire a woman. If you want to get everything done, hire a mom. I’m not a mom yet, but I still vouch for a mom. So whoever is mom in this group, kudos to you of working in so many roles in your life, as well as in your career.

Here are a few tips and I would say there could be even more that come up. So what is elevator pitch? Can you guys share in the chat please? Elevator pitch is basically your introduction. It can change based on the audience, based on the place you are in. And introduction, we’re in an era of Instagram, Threads, Twitter, where everything is changing every day. Attention span is not more than 30 to 60 seconds. That is why the elevator pitch has to be less than a minute. In an interview, it can be two minutes when you have an interview or job interview, but otherwise, keep it brief, keep it simple. Know your audience. If you are in a networking event or a baby shower or in a housewarming party or in a kids play area, your elevator pitch would be different compared to if you are meeting somebody at a conference. If you are meeting somebody in a meeting or a customer meeting or in your work trip, your elevator pitch will change.

And I will still be amazed by guys. We have to learn a lot of things from men because there goes the confidence. I met a guy in one of the ice cream social and he was talking to me everything technical and I heard him same thing talking to someone else but marketing focus. I was like, “Hmm. What is this guy doing?” But that depends on your audience. Your audience is important. If you are in a job interview, you look for jobs. And I’ll talk about that example later in the slide too. You talk about the job. You talk about the job description. You do the research on the company. However, in the social environment, if you are in a happy hour, if you are in a conference or interested in networking even, your elevator pitch would be different. But how can you make it impactful?

And I would like to ask you guys in the chat, how would you make it impact? Because it does not matter if you are in a leadership role or if you deal with finances or not. But the number gives you the data and the data shows the impact of your work. And there are some examples I can give you, which is even before I started handling finances and stuff, is number of projects [inaudible 00:12:20] worked in. And start with number of years I have worked in. It does not matter which role you are in, but it does matter how many years of corporate experience do you have? And even if you have started working from the age 16, that’s something you can share in your personal life story too.

But when you start about your professional experience, number of years you work with, number of projects you worked with, if you have worked with different number of stakeholders. For example, I have worked with 25 stakeholders in 11 projects and the dollar amount of that project is $500 million. Even if it’s not $500 million, even if I’m working on 100K project but that is a dependent project for a $500 million project, that is impactful project for you. And that’s something you must say because it can become a risk for a bigger plan, bigger company vision. So that is why numbers are important. Now, if you have worked with different geographic location people, that’s a number. If you have traveled to number of places, if you have worked with X number of customers, that is a number you can talk about. If you have bring in savings of X dollars amount, that’s number you can talk about. If you have improved number of cycles or efficiencies or performance of any kind of software tool, that is a number you could talk about. But keep it simple.

Something that you must learn and explain what you do, what are your skills. If you are transitioning from a certain role, suppose journalism, to QA or journalism to any other role or from UX design to a product manager, talk about your transitional skills. For example, in my case, I’m an engineer with number of skills that I can translate to for project manager. I’m more of a people person. I like working with one-on-one. That’s your USP. Make [inaudible 00:14:23] about how you are different from others. Mention your goals specifically and bring a specific interesting hook, which is, “Oh, by the way, I love photography. Oh, I went to podcasting. I love to share these things with other people and love to help and give back to community. I love to do volunteer work.” Those are the things that you can be very specific and you can stand out.

And what you do is you quickly go over. On the confidence side, be more persuasive, make more eye contact and practice. Every time end your conversation with your LinkedIn profile QR code. That’s how the [inaudible 00:15:03] one round circle of connecting with people. And it’s okay if you have not talked to anyone and gone to a conference or in a networking session. Happened to me five times or more and I made a goal of, “Next time I go, I’ll talk to one person and come back.” That’s a goal I would have. And then I increase one by one. And that’s how I practice my elevator pitch.

Now what not to do. When I’m nervous, I ask or I ask or talk too fast. And a lot of time it’s taken as, “Oh, she’s an immigrant and she talks too fast. I don’t know of her lingo,” but that’s not the case. It happens to everybody. So what I would say, practice, practice with pause, because whenever we are nervous, we are verbose and we talk too fast. And you have to emphasize on the work that you want to emphasize in. For example, I have 15 years of experience working in five different companies in the cloud environment. Do you know? You have a pitch voice going up and down. That’s what you have to elevate and not restrict yourself in one pitch. [inaudible 00:16:12]-

Amanda Beaty: I’m so sorry. We’re out of time. And there’s so much interest in this topic. Thanks, everybody, for joining us. Thank you so much, Hana, for your time and for putting this together for us. And we will see everybody in the next session.

“Engineering Your Impact”: Sumita Palanisamy, Director of Engineering at CarGurus (Video + Transcript)

In this session, Sumita Palanisamy discusses the importance of self-advocacy and how it is essential for women in the tech industry to speak up for themselves. She emphasizes the need to prioritize work that will lead to promotions and to avoid taking on tasks that do not contribute to career growth. Palanisamy also highlights the importance of having a sponsor and mentor, using social media to showcase achievements, and being one’s own cheerleader.


Sumita Palanisamy: Thank you, Amanda. Thanks for having me and thank you everyone for attending. Super excited to be able to have this opportunity to talk to everyone and kind of discuss how to engineer your impact. So the session that we are going to talk about today is how to engineer your impact as a woman in the tech industry. So in true engineering fashion, I wanted to kick off the session with some cold hard data. What we are seeing right now in this particular slide is research based on McKinsey & Company. All women lose ground on the first rung to manager, but the broken rung holds black women and Latinas back the most. While companies are modestly increasing women’s representation on top, doing so without addressing the broken rung is not really a fix, it’s just a temporary stop gap. Because of the gender disparity in early promotions, men held up holding about 60% of manager level positions while women occupy 40 positions.

Since there are so few women to even promote to senior manager, the number of women decreases in each level. So as we progress, you can see how as an entry manager, a senior manager, to a C-suite, the number of women is consistently decreasing. And you can also see the disturbing trend such as the percentage increases year over year is really small, and also the number of women who are just leaving the workforce is really great compared to the amount of men of the same level who are leaving the workforce. So now we have seen the data and I think now we know that there is a plan or the need for a plan as to why we need a strategy to engineer real impact, and what are the valuable steps you can take to do so, and what would be the ripple effect, the after effect, of what you can experience as a result of engineering your impact. So this is what the session is going to cover, so let’s get started.

The first thing I want to talk about is self-advocacy and why that is so essential. So a lot of us have problems about self-advocating for ourselves, so please tell me if you ever had issues with self-advocating for yourself. You can say thumbs up… Yeah, exactly. So this is a common problem that we all have about like, ‘Oh, why do I need to do this?” Right? I see all your responses and I hear you. I see you. This is the same with myself. Whenever I talk to my friends about what is the reason, this is the same thing about why you’re here. Mary, I see your comment about how you have self-advocated for other employees and helping people. I feel like as women, we are really good at doing that for others, but not for ourselves, and this is something that I really want to nail down and see how you can love yourself as much as we do it for others. Yeah, exactly. So I think we need to change it a little bit and look into ourselves as to what can we do to do that to ourselves.

So the reasons I hear are modesty, shyness, cultural norms, fear of no, also to be grateful. Yeah, that’s so true because if you don’t have the option to speak up for yourself, you are essentially losing your most powerful advocate. No one cares about your career more than you do. And why to speak up for your career? This is the most important thing, to make sure that people know what you’re working on and to be able to talk about it as to, okay, this is what I have done and this is the impact I have created. And also, in today’s world, there’s lots of reorgs going on about people trying to save money, companies merging, acquiring and all that, so this is an important reason, again, to talk about your success, and also to have control of your career. I feel like too much power is given to bosses as to how they decide what are we going to do next. Instead, I think it’s time to take some of the control for yourself and decide, this is what I want for me in my future and this is how I want it done.

So we spoke about the essentials and why to do it, and the way that I usually prioritize this is to make sure that you only say yes to the work that will actually lead to a promotion. So don’t take on work such as planning office parties, planning a holiday event. How many of you have done these things? I myself am guilty of all of those. I have planned office events, I have planned… Yes, exactly. So this is something that I really don’t want to spend time on anymore because this is not something that you would put in someone’s promotion document as to, “This person planned a birthday party.” Right. Exactly. We do it as a part of our natural process, but it’s a time thing as to what can you ruthlessly prioritize. If you can study something or talk to an important stakeholder at the same time as planning for this party, what do you prioritize? So being ruthlessly prioritizing and being able to pick the time and your projects carefully is important. And not all projects are even given to us.

Stretch assignments are only given to people who are in good terms with the stakeholders. So making time to establish that is important. And we’ll dive into more of that in the coming slides, but I just want to kind of emphasize that pick glamour work and not office housework. And also making sure that you have a sponsor and a mentor. Women are often over mentored and under sponsored, so making sure that you have people who will speak for you when the room is closed and you cannot be in the room to self-advocate is important. And also use social media to your advantage. If you have a boss who does not advocate for you, always use this. Always talk about your achievements, always talk about what have you done and what are you doing. It’s not just important to learn things and achieve things, it’s equally as important to talk about them. I cannot emphasize this enough. All in all, be your own cheerleader, be your number one cheerleader, and to be able to stand up and be able to advocate is, I think, comes with practice, but definitely doable.

The other thing that I wanted to dive into today is a relationship hero. So what do I really mean by this is essentially, we’ve all had disagreements at work. Have you ever had a disagreement with someone at work who as soon as you say something, they’re just like, “No.”? I have had this at my workplace. There are some people who as soon as you project an idea, they’re just like, “No,” Just because it’s coming from you. So being able to take that on and being able to advance that objective is really important, especially because you can actually hear what are they trying to say and what is their exact pain point. A lot of times I’ve found that I’ve actually waited for them to finish their sentence so that I can talk. I realized that’s not the way it should work. We should actually learn to disagree and kind of see what is the way forward in this for the both of us, what is the middle ground that we can so importantly do?

Learning how to disagree can be a huge career advantage. It’s not something every people is good at. A lot of people avoid disagreements by, “I don’t want to meet that person. I don’t want to be in that room when this disagreement is happening,” Is usually people’s philosophy, but learning how to disagree is very important, and also equally important is to get buy-in from stakeholders before you get into that meeting. So you know that this SVP already agrees with my idea, so I can propose this forward, is important. So knowing when to disagree, the timing of when to say what, and also getting as much stakeholder buy-in as you can before you know that you’re going to get into a contentious meeting is important. So being able to say that, yes, I disagree, and this is the reasons, so people know that you actually stand up for yourself and you have ideas that will help the company grow.

And it also depends on the type of company you work in. If you work in a company that actually promotes active disagreements and you can work through them, then that’s perfect. If you don’t, then that is a different strategy. So knowing what kind of company, knowing what is the kind of person, and… Yeah, it’s definitely challenging to find a culture where discussing disagreement is encouraged. So knowing the type of environment and knowing the type of person beforehand. Essentially, pregame the meeting and prepare for the meeting. Another thing that I would like to highlight is, essentially, objectivity. We’ve all had projects that we are really passionate about. You know that that’s a good thing and you know that this is what you should do. How many of you have had projects like that that you know in your gut that this is it? Yeah. So we’ve all had this before. The problem is if you have a person who is a person you have to convince to buy into the project, acting passionate about it actually works against you.

So this is another key of where you can clearly point out, these are the pros and these are the cons, and kind of leave it up to the decision maker, the key stakeholders to make the final call. So end of the day, the way this works, that I see, is a win-win is because no matter what is chosen, you always get the credit because you are the person who actually did the research to present the pros and the cons of both. So no matter what wins, you always win. And also because you are not the final decision maker, if this project goes sideways, you’re still okay. So making sure that objective point of view, and as a person who has that is important because people will know that, okay, this person always has a clear point of view and has a fair point of view. So even though it may differ from their opinion, people know that you are a consistent source of truth and that’s the kind of name to develop way going forward.

And this is one of my favorite books. I love this. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. This is at a very pivotal point of tech for us. Like, Gen AI has taken every industry by storm. There’s not a single industry that’s unaffected by all this. So one thing I would suggest is knowing what your CTO cares about. What does your SVPs care about, what is it that matters to them, and upskilling yourself in this. I cannot emphasize this enough about how essential it is to get our teams and up skill our teams in this. Let’s say that your CTO really cares about Gen AI and wants to see how can they improve business process and where can we put this process in place. Being able to know that piece of information and being able to push in that perspective is important because that will give you the edge over people who are just watching this from the sidelines.

So don’t just get the information, but actually act on it so that you know are pushing on the right buttons and so that when there is an opportunity in that space opens up, they know that, oh, I know that this person is already upskilled in this area, or this person has already upskilled their team in this area, so why not consider this person? So I would up skill in this area, talk about this on social media so people know that you are learning and you’re upskilling and your expertise is known, hence also connecting your self-advocacy matter into this. So it’s essentially a ball of things that I would consider doing to engineer your impact.

And finally, I would also talk about paying this forward. A lot of people here are directors and managers who manage people, so this is really important for us as managers to be the best possible manager for our reports, to make sure that we avoid confusion, to make sure that we motivate and recognize our reports. And lots of people don’t leave companies, they leave their bosses, so to make sure that you’re the best possible boss for that particular employee and doing right by them is important. So let’s say that there is an office event that you need help for and you need planning. Have a spreadsheet of people who have volunteered before and make it fair so that everyone signs up regularly and you’re not asking anyone for volunteers, you’re instead just telling them, “This is a thing that I need help for. You did not volunteer. Can I get your help?” So let’s play it fair and make sure that we do right by our employees.

I would like to open this up for questions if there’s any. Yes, what skills to up skill at? I would look at what are the things your CEO or CTO are talking about? What is the thing that are being discussed in the quarterly earnings call? What is the thing that’s always coming up is kind of things what I would look into. And growing up in a different culture and absorbing a new culture is super difficult, I 100% understand this. And yes, it is 100% relearning new skills and how do we adapt and grow in that direction. Pinpoint the company’s CTO’s focus is essentially looking into what are the strategic objectives? Where are they putting the money at? If they’re putting money in AI or data models, then you know that’s where it is. If they’re putting the money in some other technology like data mesh or data governance, then that’s what it is. See where the money is going, that’s the skill you want to focus on.

“Are You Brave Enough To Write Your Eulogy?”: Eileen Grimes, Founder of Loved As You Are (Video + Transcript)

Eileen Grimes explains how writing your own eulogy is a mechanism to reshape your life, define your own path, and live your fullest life.


Eileen Grimes: First of all, I’m so grateful for you being here today with me. My name’s Eileen Grimes. I’ll dive into that a little bit later. But I first wanted to invite you today to show up as you are, as deeply as you’re able and whatever mental space you’re coming from. And first and foremost, I love the live chat piece of this, and I think the connection is so incredibly important here. So I would love to see who’s here. Say hi, show me you’re here. I see Sophia. Hi. How are you doing? Hey, Angie. And where people are coming from?

I find that these events are so incredibly powerful in the connections that we create, and so connect with each other, find ways to talk with each other in this space, but also outside, whether it’s in LinkedIn or other spaces. I would love to connect with people. So definitely feel free. We’ve got some LA, we’ve got Atlanta, Florida. I’m coming in from Spokane, Washington, but lived in Philly for a while myself, as well as lived in Berkeley for a little while and grew up in Seattle on the west side. So been all over and it’s wonderful to see so many people from so many different places. So I wanted to just first and foremost say “Hello, I acknowledge that you’re here. I’m not just talking into this empty space.”

So with that being said, please connect. That is one of the most powerful things that we can do as women, as allies, as people in this space together, is to find that connection because we are so much stronger when we’re together. Gosh, has this not been an incredible day with amazing speakers? I truly feel so honored that you made this space to show up today for yourself and just show up with me here on a topic that, my gosh, I don’t know that I would’ve necessarily wanted to approach, because we’re going to be talking a little bit about mortality.

So thank you for being brave just in showing up. I want to start. So one of the things that I’ve been doing or a lot of centering practices and been working on those with clients, and I felt really called to share one of those with you today. So wherever you are, hopefully in a space that you’re feeling comfortable, but do this to the best of your ability with wherever you are and wherever you’re at. So whether you’re sitting or standing, whatever feels the best for you, I want you to start by first grounding your feet to the floor. And if you feel comfortable closing your eyes and then start taking some breaths in. And as you breathe in, I want you to really focus on that space that’s deep down in your torso, down to your sacrum. That sacrum is that bone that’s fused together by five bones located at the base of your spine. And as you breathe in, I want you to imagine a ball of light in that space.

Notice its color, its brightness. Does it have a temperature or texture? As you breathe in, feel the light strengthen on every breath, whether that’s the size, the shape, the opacity, whatever way that is, let it strengthen as you breathe. And as you’re breathing out, I want you to let go of anything that doesn’t continue to feed that light. Anything that’s not yours to hold onto. Anything that’s just not part of you. If you feel called to put your hands on your belly or your heart, do so. If not, keep them to your side or at your legs or on your lap. Just to know your presence in this space, to feel your physical presence taking up space. I want you to continue to breathe in and out, noticing that light, not in judgment, not hoping for it to be something it’s not. Seeing it as it is. I want you to take about five more deep breaths in and out, just seeing that light.

Now as you take one more final breath in, I want you to hold it, hold the breath and that light as long as you’re able, let it fill you up and bring you here fully and completely. And then when you’re ready to let go, think about those last things you’ve been holding onto from today, from the week, from the month, my gosh, the year, we’re at the end of this year, that are going to allow you to finish this day for yourself at the most present that you can be. And then let it go. Let that shit go. When you’re ready, I want you to feel free to open your eyes if you’re not ready and just feel free to focus on that image as I talk and keep that sense of awareness inward because we don’t always get that time. We don’t always get that time to feel fully present. And if that’s what feels right, right now, please feel free to do so.

So my friends, thank you so, so much for having me. My name is Eileen Grimes. In addition to my roles as mother, author, founder, podcast host, chief growth officer of a human-centric leadership and cultural consulting firm, I’m an innovator and passionate, curious, continuously self-reflective, he and a healer, a light bringer, and the list goes on. Now, it wasn’t until after I decided to write my own eulogy in 2020 that I’d be able to fully sit with you here today and declare those things about myself.

I don’t know about you, but sharing about me, and especially things that are my strengths was not always my strongest trait or one that I felt very comfortable in. In fact, right now, I want you to share in the chat what are some of your strengths. For some of those of you who are in the corporate world, you might be in self-evaluation time right now, and it is time to shout that from the rooftops. How have you succeeded this year? What have you learned? How have you grown? Share some of those things in the chat. We want to celebrate each other and be able to hear those things. So what are your strengths?

Determine and resilient learner. I love that, Caitlin. Yes, definitely. Connecting dots across functionalities. Yes, it’s amazing what can happen when we see how we cross those gaps, certainly, and bringing people together. Relationship building, thoughtfulness. Empathetic. Mission driven. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Keep them coming. Growth mindset. Raised 500,000 for my nonprofit, Kendra. Heck yeah. That’s amazing. Oh my gosh, yes. Please keep these coming. I love this. Let us celebrate this, and that’s the next piece of this. I want you to take it further. And how are you celebrating those, not just writing them down. I love that we’re sharing these, but how have you paused to celebrate where you are now on December 6th, this Wednesday, December 6th, about how much you’ve learned and grown since January 1st of this year. I mean since the day you were born, really. But even since just January 1st, is anyone celebrating? I highly, highly encourage you to do so.

I myself love dance parties. But you… Celebrating by making awesome coffee for myself. Yes, Ingrid. Absolutely. So finding those ways that we can celebrate even if they’re small celebrations, but just to acknowledge that we’ve made it where we are. So definitely keep those coming. I love hearing these and we are allowed to take up space by sharing these things because we deserve this. We have done the work, and you are here and deserve to be heard. So I’m going to go back to the eulogy. So this lead up to writing was wrought in the fires of living my own life’s trauma from abusive relationships and losing pieces of myself to them throughout my life, to almost losing my dad to encephalitis in 2019. And then that facepalm of some large events in 2020 that we don’t need to talk about because we all know them.

It all came to a head. The past however many years long of hiding behind the walls of perfectionism and not feeling at ease with who I was and how I showed up in this world brought existential gut punch after existential gut punch. So I sat down with my own mortality and wrote, I asked myself, “If I left this earth today, what was I leaving behind? Who was I showing up as in this life I had been living? Was it the fullest version of myself? Was it one that I was okay being shared in front of family and friends?”

Do you ever feel like there’s, sometimes you hear the same message over and over and over and over, and then one day you hear it again, but this time it’s different This time it’s from the messenger who opens up your soul and allows the words to flow in. Well, apparently that messenger was me. After writing the first eulogy I cried. That cry you just can’t stop, the kind where years of shoving things down finally opened the floodgates and strangely brings in more calm. It was the start of grieving the time I had spent trying to be some version of myself for others I didn’t even know. After taking up space with those tears, I knew things were never going to look the same again. I took the time to decide for myself what I wanted from this life. What were the values I had to live this one life I had without abandoning myself?

What success mean to me and what were its dimensions? And I talk about dimensions because success isn’t one thing. I created the definition for me that was based on the impact that I wanted to have, the influence I had with others, the financial freedom that aligned for me and what time meant in a life that was my own version of success. Who did I spend it with and what did I spend it doing? With those self-reflections I wrote a new version of my eulogy, one that I now strive for daily, one, which my mind and heart are aligned and I show up as my full imperfect self because that’s the only one I can share my unique perspective and experiences that I’ve had. One that’s creative beyond belief, one that knows when we share spaces in which we can see each other. That’s what I’m talking about right here. We can see each other in our lights connecting. We can change the world.

So I ask you today to consider how are you showing up in your own life? Where do you dimm that light you felt and saw earlier? How are you leading those around you? In my heart, I know great leaders emerge when they ignite their own radiant light, shine bright as fuck, pardon my language, and spark the potential of others. And I want to see your light shine. So I’m giving you some homework. Did I mention I taught high school math on my very winding path to sitting with you here today? Nope, I did. So your homework is, as much of this as you want to take on. Define what success means to you. Follow those dimensions to success, what matters to you most? What is the most important to you? Get clear on how you want to show up in this world and share that with at least one other person.

And I am happy. If you want to share it with me, please, please, please slide into my dms or shoot me a message over on LinkedIn, whatever it looks like. But share it. Keep that light your very own and shine it as bright as you’re able to because it is you and you deserve so much to be seen, heard, and loved as you are. Thank you so much for having me here today. I am so grateful for having this opportunity to connect with all of you today. I hope you had a moment to pause, center and see the light that you truly bring into this world. I will end this a little early just to make sure that there is space if anyone has questions. But please, please, please enjoy the rest of your time here at Elevate and have a kick ass rest of 2023.

Thank you.

“Harmonizing Passions: Navigating a Career Transition from Music to Cybersecurity”: Danielle Good, Channel Account Manager at Thales (Video + Transcript)

Danielle Good shares her journey from being a professional singer to working in the cybersecurity industry. She emphasizes the importance of adapting to different audiences and roles, soliciting feedback, and celebrating wins in one’s career. Good concludes by offering advice on how to pivot into the cybersecurity industry, including networking, reading industry publications, and finding the right fit in a company.


Danielle Good: Thank you, Angie. It’s great to be here. My uncle came to visit us in Florida when I was six months old. One morning my mother was talking to my uncle and he said, “Your daughter has a beautiful voice.” My mother thought he was crazy. Flash forward a few years later, I was jumping up on our coffee table, belting out my favorite songs. This passion led to voice and piano competitions, musical theater productions to majoring in music in college, singing in Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and even for Pope Benedict XVI. I moved to Manhattan to pursue my master’s degree in singing. I sang locally and wrote my first musical called Okay Cupid. Yes, it is based about online dating.

I loved everything about performing, the people, the places, everything but the pay and my rent was rising. My voice teacher recommended I work at a law firm as a day job. I was organized, worked well with clients, and by 5:00 PM I was jumping into rehearsals for my musical, auditioning, and gigging around the city. While I could now pay for my rent, the dream and glamor of a professional singer was starting to fade. I got an audition callback for a show where I was asked to line up on the back wall with a dozen other women where the director pointed and said, “Yes, no, no, yes, no.” I was a no. I turned my focus to my day job and my musical. I used the latest music software, the best recording devices, the best technology for Okay Cupid, but when I arrived to my nine to five, the law firm technology was behind the times, heavily paper-based, on-prem, and no backups.

So I proposed to modernize the tech. I owned the migration, the integration, and the education of all the lawyers, and this is where the start of my new passion came, helping people through the power of technology. At night, I was singing in a musical, and by day I was speaking in a boardroom. At night, I was telling stories of love and loss, and by day I was telling stories of data loss. At night, I was directing actors and by day I was directing a team. I finished writing my musical, raised money, cast it, staged it, worked with lighting engineers and sound engineers to produce my show. Seeing the culmination of my years of work all come to life on stage was a dream. And doing all of that made me realize it wasn’t just performing that I loved, it was putting on a show.

Today I may not be singing on stage, but I do put on shows. At Thales, I have the privilege of working with technology partners to make our customers safer. And as a channel account manager, I educate sales associates at resellers on cybersecurity solutions. In my day-to-day, I jump up on stage in front of 50 to 200 sellers leading technical and sales training. In this role, I’m creative and I’m filled with passion and purpose because I help companies protect their data, protect their people. It seems like every day we’re hearing about a data breach. Did you know that less than a quarter of companies know where their data is and that 52% of companies have experienced a breach at least once in their history? Now, more than ever, it’s important that companies are in the driver’s seat of their data. And there are so many jobs out there where you can help them, from marketing to engineering, to sales, to channel. My way into cybersecurity was not a straight line and yours doesn’t have to be either.

In my career tree, I have many branches, music, legal, operations, customer success, and channel sales. In music, I became a strong communicator, a strong presenter, but I needed money, so I worked in law. I was a customer of legal software, realizing it could be better, and spearheaded a successful implementation. I put the success of the migration on LinkedIn, and before I knew it, someone called me to consult and that led to a string of consulting gigs. If you follow me on LinkedIn, you’ll see I’m very active. I hit a ceiling as a director of operations and law and wanted to continue to grow, so I decided to move fully into tech and after six months of interviewing, I got a position with a ServiceNow partner implementing ServiceNow for customers. I then moved into leadership where I enjoyed growing my team and building their careers and helping our customers.

I wanted to move into sales because I wanted to be at the beginning of the customer relationship instead of joining in the middle. I could set customers up for better success by meeting them at the beginning and selling them the right solutions. In channel sales, I train resellers on Thales solutions, which means I am a teacher, a presenter, a panelist, from boardrooms to big stages. I’m still performing just as I was performing as a professional musician only now it’s to sellers and to customers, and whenever I jump up on stage, I remember the lessons I learned in music. What is my role? Who is my audience? Am I the lead in this customer meeting? Am I the supporting actor? Am I the comic relief as this customer is having a bad day or am I a teacher? For instance, as a supporting actor, I need to ensure not to upstage the lead role. Let them lead the questions because if I jump in, I might undermine their credibility.

Who is my audience? As an artist, I would adapt my singing, my body movement, and acting to my audience. How I perform in a small theater for an Italian-speaking audience is completely different to how I would perform in a large auditorium for American children. In tech, we must do the same. What level am I speaking to? What is their native language? Is it storage? Is it networking? Is it security? And what language are we technically speaking to? 2 inches deep, 20 feet, or 200 feet deep. Perfect practice makes perfect play. I grew up playing piano and for my four other siblings, they did not like listening to me practice because practice did not mean playing a piece from start to finish, it meant focusing on one measure over and over forwards, backwards, with piano pedal, without, with different accents, at different speeds. Now instead of listening for the melodic line in a measure, I’m listening to my customers refining their use case and measuring how I can bring value with the best solution for their needs.

I also apply this same discipline when presenting. My father once told me, “If you prepare 10 minutes for a 10-minute presentation, you’ll present for one hour. But if you prepare one hour for a 10-minute presentation, it will be 10 minutes.” Perfect practice leads to perfect performance. Whether it’s on a call with your customer, your team, or your boss, showing up prepared demonstrates your dedication, respect, and pride for producing good work. Solicit feedback. What landed and what didn’t? I used to record every performance when I was on stage. Not to listen to how I had done, but to listen to my audience, to hear what landed and what didn’t, what joke got laughs and what fell silent.

Soliciting feedback of what went well and what didn’t has helped me tremendously in my career. After a customer meeting, I do a team huddle. I ask, how did we do? What resonated with the customer? What could I have done better? When you’re a manager, it’s a little trickier. Your team can be reluctant to give any negative feedback, but by asking what would’ve made this meeting even better can set up a conversation that’s more positive versus critical. Soliciting feedback from your team, your direct reports, and your bosses can help you identify how your efforts are landing. Remember, all the world’s a stage and stage lights are bright. It may be difficult to see everyone’s perspective, but through collaborative feedback, we all grow.

Celebrate the wins, create the applause. After a performance, there’s always a big applause. Recognition of good work, recognition of performers. In today’s tech world, we do not celebrate our players enough. Take the opportunity to celebrate the wins, create the applause through kudos that echo up and down the company chain. CC their boss, their boss’s boss. Like any production, it takes a team, and when people feel a part of a team, the team will be more successful. Find your spotlight. In theater, you can walk out on stage, start to sing, only defined the spotlight didn’t make it to your mark. While maintaining character, you have to feel for the warm light on your face until you find it. In my career, there were times I could not feel the spotlight. I did not feel valued and I did not know which direction to go to find it. But by being true to myself, embracing change, being open to opportunities, and feeling for the warmth, I found my spotlight.

These are some of the principles I’ve followed in my career. While pursuing a career in music, anytime I met accomplished artists, I would ask for advice. And while at the time they were speaking about the arts, I realized that what they shared with me is still applicable now. I’d like to share two stories with you today. I was singing in a music festival in Perugia, Italy. One morning I woke up early and went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, and much to my surprise, no one was there except Anthony Hopkins eating his meal in the corner. I gathered my food, walked past Sir Hopkins, and said, “Good morning.” He said, “Good morning,” and asked what I was doing in Perugia. I said I was singing at a local festival. He invited me to join him for breakfast and told me one of the pieces he composed for orchestra was also premiering at a festival.

We chatted about life, the arts, opera, and piano. He told me he wasn’t good at school, but he was great at piano and that was going to be his future until one day he auditioned for a community theater production, and that’s when he knew that acting was the path he was meant to lead. I asked him, “What advice would you share to young artists?” He said, “Stay on top of your technique. You won’t notice a change day to day, but six months will go by and you’ll notice a wrinkle. Thank everyone around you. It’s the effort of the group that makes something extraordinary. And the minute you think you’re good, you’re dead. You stop growing.” Even in his eighties, Anthony has always had this always-growing, always-learning mindset. Anthony Hopkins won his second Oscar in 2020 at the age of 83.

A few years later after I graduated school, I attended a Julie Andrews book signing. She asked how I was doing. I said I was wonderful, and she said, “Yes, you are.” I congratulated her on her book and asked what advice would she offer to young artists? She said, “Always be prepared. Do your homework. You never know when an opportunity will pass right by your nose. And speak forward and out. Let your words carry. Let your voice be heard.” Although I originally applied this to singing, I still apply this to my day-to-day life. My voice can carry on stage, can carry in a boardroom, and as a leader, I embrace my voice and my message.

As women, we too often feel upstaged or that we need to stand in the chorus, but like Julie Andrews said, “We must let our voices carry, let our voices be heard.” I’d like to close on one final note. It’s okay for your dream at 5 to be completely different at 35 or 55. I’m still an opera singer. It’s part of my dream, but my dreams only got bigger. My dream of helping people through the power of technology, my dream of being a wife to my husband and a mother to my daughter. Dreams are complicated and messy, but as they come to you, awake within you, they are beautiful. So please imagine me on a coffee table as I sing. (singing). Thank you.

Oh gosh, I love all these comments. Thank you everyone. I see some comments in the chat regarding how to pivot into cybersecurity, and I’d love to offer a few pieces of advice. First and foremost, the cybersecurity industry is huge. I would say focusing in on the role that you think you’d be a good fit for is a good start, and then meeting with five people in that role. See what they like, what are the challenges, what are they seeing with their customers kind of learning the language of that role.

Next, I recommend reading. Every single day I wake up, I read The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, all of the tech sections to see what are some of the problems that my customers are experiencing, why did this data breach occur, what solutions do we need to make sure that we’re providing for our customers. In addition, Krebs on Security is also a great thing to follow. He’s an amazing journalist that focuses on cybersecurity. And then after that, once you start interviewing and connecting with different companies, you can see what’s a really good fit for you and how you can grow in that company.

Angie Chang: Thank you so much for your talk on your career transition, and we’re really excited to connect with you on LinkedIn, and now we’ll be moving on to our next session. So thank you, everyone.

Danielle Good: Thank you.

“From Good to Great: Strategies for Achieving Excellence in Technical Project Management”: Shayla Gibson, Technical Services Operations Manager at Treasury Prime (Video + Transcript)

In this session, Shayla Gibson emphasizes the importance of leadership and team management skills, stating that people skills are a superpower that can set project managers apart. She also highlights the need for technical proficiency, explaining that project managers should have a deep understanding of technical tools, processes, and industry standards.


Shayla Gibson: Thank you Amanda and hi everyone, I hope you’re doing well this lovely Wednesday and happy hump day everyone. So, welcome to Good to Great Strategies for Achieving Excellence in Technical Project Management.

Little about myself. My name is Shayla Gibson. I have roughly eight years experience in project management and seven of those have been in the banking and finance sector. I have led company-wide agile transformations and created and revolutionized project management techniques for small businesses and small corporations. Some of the topics we’re going to go over today; leadership and team management, technical proficiency, tools, and project management and its aliases.

So, first things first. What is the difference between project management and technical project management? And apologies in advance that this seems kind of obvious, but it’s the technical aspect. Technical project management requires knowledge and expertise in technical software development or specific technical domains and a deep understanding of technical tools, processes, and even industry standards. Project management can be on a wide range of projects and a wide range of industries, including construction, marketing, and event planning. It doesn’t mean that technical project managers cannot also be in those fields, but the difference mainly is just the technical aspect.

Now, leadership and team management. If you Google or search project management, this term is probably within the top five of that list of skills that you need. But I like to bullet down even further and for me, it’s the most important thing to have; people skills. People skills are your superpower. Can it be taught? Sure. But if you’re good with people, if you’re good at persuading people, sharing your narrative, your story, inspiring them, talking to them like a person, everything else can be taught. I can teach you the intricacies of how money truly moves through our banking system. I can teach you how to read NACHA Fedwire files. I can teach you change management or how a system works, but if you know how to manage people, manage a team, manage stakeholders and executives and everything in between, then that is your superpower.

And I want to make it clear, you do not need to be defined by being an extrovert or an introvert. I know plenty of introverts that are amazing people, have amazing people skills, and I know the exact opposite with extroverts. The thing you should focus on is, can you use your people skills? Because if you can, that is the excellence that’ll make you stand out from others.

Now, back to the defined bullet points that I have. You need to be able to lead a team, lead by example. If you are working hard, your team will also work hard. You need to inspire and motivate. Sometimes we have to work on things we don’t always care about or don’t even have the complete vision. Technical project managers and project managers need to have the ability to explain that vision and to keep their team motivated and going. You also need to have the confidence in the decisions that you have to make. For me, it’s making sure I have all the information, all the sides of the stories, and all the risks laid out. So even if I make a decision and it doesn’t pan out for the best, I was confident that I made this right decision with the information I had.

I have a little story time and it is going back to that bullet point about inspire and motivate. I worked with various technical teams. Some comprise the developers, engineers, product owners, product managers, you name it. This particular team was mainly developers and engineers and they worked well together. So this is not a story of where they weren’t working together, they didn’t mesh, and I came in and saved the day. No, they worked just fine with each other. If you ever meet me in person, I am this bubbly ray of sunshine and I actually really love bad jokes and dad jokes. So, every Friday that team will actually get a bad joke from me, a dad joke, and I can hear the eye rolls and the groans, and that’s what the team gave me too, but I still did it every single Friday. Eventually my team was, I’ll say, bold enough to all start ganging up on me and tell me how terrible these jokes are, that I need better jokes or some of them just don’t make sense at all.

Eventually, they started posting their own jokes. I didn’t even have to post anymore, but I still did because I love doing and I love hearing the groans. Eventually, they started giving each other feedback on these jokes, whether they were good, they were bad, whatever. Eventually, my team started going from working well with each other to great to excellent. Why? Because they were able to communicate together. They were able to collaborate and give each other feedback. Now, I’m not saying this is the secret sauce. All I know is that I’ve done it multiple times with various different groups and I’ve gotten the same outcome. So that is me using some sort of people skill, my superpower, to inspire and motivate a team.

Technical proficiencies. So what do you really need to know to be considered a technical project manager? It’s not knowing how to code. It’s not me logging into GitHub and looking at failed processes in sandbox, debugging it, and figuring out the best way to resolve it. It’s not me knowing that in a NACHA file for ACH payments, one place I can find a routing number is in the file header record, which always begins with 101 followed by the routing number of the originating sending bank. It also includes some date timestamps and the originating bank and the company name. But what language they use to code, knowing that some of their errors are flagged in GitHub, or even that my engineers need help debugging it, maybe this is an error that we see regularly.

Now, let’s go back to that technical statement that I just said, and feel free to fact check me on those routing numbers. Understanding the technical aspect, understanding the technical language and be able to spit it back out so others can understand is key. Things are always changing so you need to stay on top of them. So I’ll repeat that technical statement, then I’ll repeat it back in a more digestible way. So the technical statement. For a NACHA file, one place I can file a routing number is in the file header record, which always begins with 101, followed by the routing number of the originating sending bank. It also includes date time stamp, as well as the name of the originating bank and company name.

Here’s a more digestible way. ACH, it’s a payment type. And for banks to digest it, there’s a file format that’s called NACHA and this format is regulated federally. So there’s certain rules that all banks need to follow. The routing number, and I’m sure everyone here has opened a checking account or a saved account, we all get paid. You get a routing number. In this massive network of banks, that routing number is how we know which bank is which. So Bank of America, Chase, you name it, they all have their own individual routing numbers. So if I’m looking at this NACHA file and if I can find a line that starts with 101 and then right after that should be the routing number. Now there’s additional data in there and sometimes it’s going to look like a date timestamp or company name, but as long as I find 101, right after that should be the routing number.

That’s much easier to understand, right? And that is what we need to do as a technical project manager. Understand the technical and have the ability to rehash it for others to understand. We don’t need to be the smartest in the room, but we need to know how to talk to them.

Common questions I always get asked is, where can I get training for this? And the safe answer is starting with a PMP or a course in project management, figuring out what types of technologies or software are in your industry of choice, and learning about them. But this is the digital age and I can’t tell you countless times someone has asked me about a project or to look into something that I have never heard of. But YouTube has, Google has, and I am never shy to ask 1,000,001 questions. Sometimes it just takes that initiative.

Lastly, cross-functional understanding. Going back to the example I gave, not everyone in your company is going to have the same level of knowledge as you. So you need to be able to rehash those technical aspects and understand the 360 view. On the screen, you’re going to see a list of tools and you don’t need to know all of them and you may have came across them, you may not have, and you may, in your career as a technical project manager or a project manager. But if I can zoom in on one, the project manager software box, there’s two listed in there, but there’s probably 1,000,001 out there. Project manager software tools are all the same with different colors and maybe a slightly different feel to them. But let’s say you know nothing about Tableau or Power BI, once again, it’s a digital age. So somewhere someone has figured out how to use it and has put it online. Let’s work smarter, not harder.

Professional development. So I already touched a little bit about this, but just to give you some more color, I am actually currently studying for my PMP. So in the world of project management and technical project management, there is the infamous question, PMP or not? All I can say is this; whether you get one or not, experience is going to be what you can follow on. And also a PMP might help you get your foot in the door. I don’t have a complete answer, but just like anywhere else, if you look up professional development, you need to keep networking, talk to other project managers, technical project managers, certifications out there, especially within the industry of choice, and conferences and events like the one you’re attending now.

All right. Last but not least, technical project management and its aliases. So here’s a short list of what a technical project manager can look like in the world. It can be an IT operations manager, the DevOps project manager, or a implementation manager. If it walks like a project manager, or a technical project manager, it probably is, but just make sure you ask your questions too. Here’s an example.

So at my current company, my title is a Technical Operations Manager for our Technical Services Management team. I work on special projects that pertain specifically for the Technical Service Management team or the Operations team, and I mainly focus on our internal clients. But when I started at this company, I was actually implementation manager, getting our clients’ implementations up and running. It was very customer facing. I was working hand in hand with our solution engineers, our engineers, our product managers, and I was in charge of creating a template project plan and then following that through through its ups and downs. And before that, I’ve had many other tiles, but they were all within project management. Just make sure you do your research and you ask your questions when you’re seeing titles out there.

And thank you everyone. So glad you came to listen. Please get in contact with me on LinkedIn. Amanda, I don’t know if we’re open for questions. Do we still have time?

Amanda Beaty: Yeah, you’ve still got a couple minutes.

Shayla Gibson: I see one in the Q&A, I think this is a good one. So, how do you think AI is going to change up the situation for program or project managers? I think AI is a tool that we need to get used to and that we can use to our advantage. Going back to that this is a digital age and that there’s so much data out there, there’s so many tools out there, AI is just another tool that we can actually learn to use for our benefit. So, I would actually encourage you to learn a little bit more about AI and see how you could use it in your day-to-day. But I think they are only up to date until April this year, so be careful what you ask AI or ChatGPT or whatever you use, and it is just a tool, so you will have to actually read it and make the decision if you can use it or not. I will take one more if I can and I said-

Amanda Beaty: Yeah, go ahead. Yep, you’ve got three more minutes. Go ahead.

Shayla Gibson: So, do recruiters look for PMP or mainly reply, I think rely, on the experience of project management and roles? I think that’s really dependent on the company. Like I said, some really, really would love to see a PMP and others are more lax on that. So, unfortunately there’s not a really good answer, it really depends on the company, but sometimes the PMP just gets your foot in the door, and then other times if you can prove that you have the experience.

How to mention transferring skills in another industry when transitioning to tech. Are all program and project managers fundamentally doing the same core work? That’s a great question. If you have the basis of project management, you should have some of the basic skills to go and take that from one industry to another. However, I will say this, in tech it’s all about your experience with tech and how much you know. So if you are going to be transferring from a different industry into tech, make sure you do your research, learn as much as you can on some of the tech fields and most popular fields out there. And that way you can still use that within your resumes and your interviews to talk about that experience. I think I’m at time now.

Amanda Beaty: Yep. Let’s go ahead and call it and we’ll pop over to the next session. And thank you so much, Shayla, everybody really enjoyed this and thanks everybody for joining us and we’ll see you in the next session.

Shayla Gibson: Thank you.

“What Does ‘Being Innovative’ Mean in Digital Transformation?”: Anusha Dharmalingam, Executive Director and Senior Architect at Athenahealth (Video + Transcript)

Anusha Dharmalingam emphasizes the need for a culture of innovation within companies and provides tips on how to foster such a culture. She explains that innovation is about putting creative ideas into practice and highlights the importance of desirability, feasibility, and viability in the innovation process.


Anusha Dharmalingam: Hope you can all see the screen and can hear me fine. So here I am to talk about what does being innovative mean in the digital transformation. So a few words about me… Thank you for the feedback. It’s really hard to know if everybody can hear me. So a few words about me. I’ve been in the industry for 23 years, primarily in the technology industry. So today I play a role of an executive director and a senior architect at Athena Health. So I have played different roles, as you can see over the pie chat, like a software engineer, a development manager, program manager, and architect. I have been in the consulting, banking, and high-tech, and healthcare industries. My expertise is in the cloud technologies, and I’m really very passionate about women leadership and especially in the technical leadership. I’ve led digital transformation projects over at various companies at different roles.

On a personal note, I am a mother of two boys and I love to spend time with them and to bike when I can. So with that, let’s move on to our topic for today.

So I would like to start this presentation with a small story, a story that would ground us all on the essence of innovation. At the same time, give us the significance on why the culture of innovation is important for the long-term success of a company. It’s a story about a Stanford graduate back in 1990. He was a computer science graduate who started a company named Pure Storage… Pure Software, sorry. It was a company that built diagnostic software for unique based applications. Back in those days in 1990, that was very rare. So the company gained quick in popularity and had revenue that doubled year over year. So finally they sold the company in 1996 to National Software and they were very successful at it.

So this founder of the company had a moment in his life which would change the movie watching experience for all of us down the line. So the incident goes like this. He basically rented a videocassette from Blockbuster for a movie named Apollo 13. Despite his wife’s continuous reminder to return the cassette, he actually misplaced it and returned six weeks late. This incurred him about $40 of late fee. He had a very embarrassing experience on this that he decided not to even share it with his wife, and was constantly thinking about this on why did he have to pay a late fee for just misplacing his video rental. So he misplaced it and he was not very happy about it. So later when he went to the gym, he realized that the gym’s model of working was far better than what he had experienced while renting his movie.

So in the gym, all he had to do was pay $30 per month and there was no limits on number of workouts that he could do on a monthly basis, and there was no late fee concept. So he wondered, what if he applied the same concept, a concept of a monthly rental for the movie rental business? And that’s exactly what he did. After selling the Pure Software to National Software, he started a company which we all cherish today as Netflix. So in 1997, Reed Hastings, along with Marc Randolph, started Netflix as a movie DVD rental that would be delivered to your doorstep. So as customers, all you had to do was log into the website, choose your movies that you would like to watch, and the movies would be delivered to you at your doorstep for no late fees, but for a monthly subscription fee. So this whole business model took a while to gain popularity, but around 2000 they started making profit.

So in 2000s they went to Blockbuster, at that time a $4 billion company with 6,000 brick and mortar stores, went to them and said that, “Hey, could we partner?” Could you buy us by taking 49.5% of our share so that we could become a digital arm for you? But Blockbuster rejected that offer, and so Netflix went back to the DVD rental business. But Netflix did not stop there. They observed the digital era that was picking up in 2000s, so Hastings went to his board and said that we are in a pivotal point for our company. We either choose to stick to what we have been doing, or we embrace the digital transformation that is going on in the industry and start moving on to the steaming services business. Very reluctant, the board slowly accepted Hastings proposal and they invested on that proposal. And thereby in 2007, Netflix started their streaming services.

And from then on we all know what happened. Netflix thrived and thrived. And they did not just stop there. That is not the only reason they thrived. They actually build the culture of innovation within their company and they continue to innovate on a day-to-day basis. Some of their innovations that we are all familiar of are their recommendation algorithm, which suggests movies for us when we watch Netflix, or the ability of being able to stream out of Netflix on either your movies or on your phones or on your DVD players when those things existed, on your iPad, whatever. In all possible devices. So they worked with hardware vendors to make sure that that is possible. And apart from that, Netflix also started producing their original content. So we have their series, their movies, and whatnot today. So with all these things, they have now made their name as a common household name, not just across the United States but across the world.

While along the same lines, Blockbuster on the other side stuck to their original model. They did not adapt to any transformation that was happening in the world and they had filed bankruptcy in 2010, and they do not exist anymore. So these two companies gives us a stark contrast of the power of innovation, the transformation that it could bring in any long-lasting business. So this clearly sets us on why the topic of discussion today is super important. So with that, let’s start talking about… There are two things I wanted to cover in this whole session. One is to understand deeply what does innovation mean. And number two, to give you all some tips based on my experience on how to build a culture of innovation at your workplace.

So when you talk about innovation, it has a slightly different meaning than creativity. Creativity is about an idea, right? You have an idea on how to do something. Innovation is about putting that to practice. It is about making change to something that’s already working, something that’s already established. You’re making a change to that. It does have some few characteristics that are being shown here, the desirability. So for you to do an innovation, that should be a need, that should be a customer demand. And this demand can be implicit or explicit. Sometimes the demands are implicit. That might not be an explicit need for that, but it is somewhere there. There’s an indirect need for it. So that is the desirability. And the next important thing is feasibility. You can have whatever desires you want and you can come up with ideas on how to implement the desire, but that implementation should be feasible. It should be on top of your current operational capabilities.

You can’t be a company doing a movie dental business and want to suddenly provide cargo for airplane, or something of that sort. It should be aligned to your business. And the third important thing is the viability. The cost for buying that product, or the cost for building it should make some business sense. It should be possible, it should mean something, or it should be delivered in a medium that is possible to be consumed. So those are the viability things. So when we innovate, it is important that it has characteristics of all these three things and it intersects to meet at a sweet spot, which will give us a successful innovation. So with that, let’s slowly talk about why do we innovate. What better way to explain that than the story we just talked about, that clearly showed the contrast of a company that innovated and the company that stuck back and what happened.

But all said, the main thing on why we innovate is to meet our customer needs. So we need to deeply understand our customers, empathize on what they actually would need, and build products or solutions for that. It also helps us to have a competitive advantage in the market. Of course, it’s for growth, for us to make money and reduce the cost of how we are doing things. And overall, it provides adaptability. You’re constantly in the lookout of what is happening in the industry in the world, and you’re able to adapt to what it is. And no one said that innovation is easy and it can be easily done. It really involves some thought process and some investment to kind of get this going and to keep it up and keep it running in your workplace and the company.

There are different types of innovation that could happen. Let’s start from the right corner over here. The radical innovation. This is the one which I was talking about earlier about implicit demand. So when smartphone came into the industry, none of us knew that we needed a phone which could do all in all everything, where we can watch movie and listen to music. We didn’t know that we needed it, but it did come. So somebody radicalized and they introduced it into market and we soon adapted to it. So that’s a radical innovation. A disruptive innovation is in an existence market. So radical innovation creates a new market, a disruptive innovation is on an existing market, a totally different way of doing business. Say for an example, an Airbnb. We already had a hoteling industry and a lot of hotels, but Airbnb came up with a new model which would disrupt that and do something different.

Same with Squire. We all knew how to use credit cards, but to enable to swipe credit cards on a mom-and-pop shop using just a smartphone, that was a disruptive innovation. If you move towards the left, the architectural innovations are one where in an existing product, in existing market, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing a significant improvement. Doing something drastically different that would strengthen your space in the market, like the GE’s Ecomagination products. These are products that already existed, but to adapt to the climate change and being concerned on the environment, GE came up with these new set of products that made them leaders in those kind of products. Incremental innovations are one which I’m sure most of the companies are doing on a day-to-day basis. For example, the new versions of Apple iOS versions, which comes with newer features, or even the Netflix recommendation algorithms that keeps changing constantly. I’m sure all of us are continuously evolving our products that we develop, and those are all part of incremental innovations.

So at a different point of time, the companies would play a different role in each of these quadrants. And like already mentioned, innovation is not a one-time thing. It’s very similar to the agile methodology that is being recommended for a development process. It’s very similar to that, but it does have its own differences. So as you can see, the cycle starts here, right? You challenge the status code that you are in today. You say that you want to move away from whatever you have and you want to do something different. That’s where the creativity idea sparks up. You take the idea and you build, what we call as a prototype, or a minimum viable product, and that’s when the cycle starts.

You take the product and then you apply it to your user base and see if the product has its feasibility and is it viable to build it. And once it is done, you measure the metrics out of it. It is always a data-driven decision. So you measure saying that how much impact did it make in terms of the users, in terms of the revenue that it generates, in terms of the metrics that it provides you, performance. Whatever makes sense to that particular idea, you want to evaluate those metrics. And if those metrics are great, you would want to continue invest more on that and start to build that as a product and evolve it again and again. What’s very different about innovation cycle is sometimes it could so happen that these metrics clearly indicate that the idea that you came up with does not work. It’s not going to work. It’s either not viable or it’s not feasible, or it is not exactly meeting the demand that your customer wanted.

So in those cases, you happily pivot. You celebrate failure. What it means is you basically learn from what happened. You learn from what was done and how was it different than what was asked, or how was it different in terms of the cause that involved and whatnot. So these things are compiled and that is what is applied in your next set of learning. So this cycle continues and this is what is the innovation cycle. And this is very important that it continues on and on, and it does not stop. To have such an environment where these innovation cycles continue, you need to make it a part of your culture. It does not happen like one-offs, it has to be part of the company’s culture to do that.

For that, I would like to quote this from Grace Hopper, which totally resonates on this theme, “The most dangerous phase in the language is, We have always done it this way.” If you all stick to saying that we have always done it this way, then there is no way we are going to innovate. We have to challenge the status quo, that’s the first step. So you need mechanisms within your company or within your group, whatever level you can operate in, to promote those creativity ideas. And how do you do that? You do that by creating a conscious environment where those ideas prop up.

So you need to have forums where you can listen to your customers, where you bring in all people from different levels, from different groups all together, and democratize the idea generation process. You talk about the problem that your customer had presented, or you talk about the problem that the company is facing and democratize the ideas. So create an innovation lab. Innovation lab is where again, you are throwing a problem space and you are having people come up with ideas, and you pick few ideas that might work and you try it out. That’s pretty much it.

In all these environments, the hierarchy of your company structure is super important. It has to be flat, but it has to be strong. It has to be flat in the sense that the participants of the innovation group or the members or the employees should feel very safe, courageous, and should not worry about what would happen and things like that. So it should be such a safe environment for them. We need to enable the environment to be experimental, but it should be highly disciplined. When I say highly disciplined, it means that you should have proper focus on the scope of what you’re trying to achieve and the metrics that will be measured as part of that.

It’s quite successful in the companies that I’ve worked on when the reward structure is very much aligned to these innovation impacts that you make. So it naturally encourages and motivates the members when your reward structure is aligned to that. And also, it’s important that we provide the training and the tools required, especially in the technology area, so they can learn the new technologies. Like now gen AI is a thing and everybody would like to learn it, so provide the training for that. And always encourage collaboration. So it is not one kind of role, it has to be collaborative across multiple teams.

The last, it’s important to learn from these failures and treat them as opportunities, and also very important to have some fun when you do all these things. So with that, I would like to leave this whole session with the simple innovation framework that you all remember, especially on this winter month of December, FROST. So let’s remember this FROST. FROST is nothing but being focused, so the innovation group should be focused on what they’re trying to do. It should be regular. It should not be like, “Oh, I have a escalation today. I have an emergency today, so I cannot do it.” It should happen at a regular cadence. It can be once a week or once a release or once a month, whatever makes sense for your organization. It has to be on a regular cadence.

It has to be open, like it said. You do not have to specify this is how we should be done, it’s more open. Just take the problem, the ideas flow, and you will try and implement it. Safe. Everyone should feel safe, and people should be ready to accept their mistakes and learn from it. They should be ready to take risks. It’s a trusting environment. Trust each other kind of an environment.

Angie Chang: [Inaudible 00:18:11] sorry.

Anusha Dharmalingam: The most important thing, the output of this whole thing should be tangible. It should be tangible and it should be put to use for building your product.

Angie Chang: Thank you.

Anusha Dharmalingam: I want leave with this note, that remember FROST. So you can build an innovation culture within your organization if you adopt these few techniques within the group.

Angie Chang: Thank you so much for sharing this-

Anusha Dharmalingam: And to conclude the session-

Angie Chang: We are out of time.

Anusha Dharmalingam: Thank you so much for listening to me. And this is my LinkedIn, feel free to reach out to me and I will share the-

Angie Chang: Thank you. Thank you so much.

“Prepping for Execution: Metrics Interviews for Product Managers”: Tanvi Shah, Principal Product Manager at Upwork (Video + Transcript)

In this session, Tanvi Shah discusses the importance of metrics in product management and focuses on the concept of North Star metrics. North Star metrics are particularly important for prioritizing features, aligning with stakeholders, and measuring personal and company success. Shah outlines a four-step process for finding the North Star metric, which involves thinking about the business, identifying audience segments, brainstorming metrics, and narrowing down based on the stage of the business.


Tanvi Shah: Hi, everyone. I’m going to be talking about metrics and we’ll talk about interviews and we’ll dive into one specific topic, but let me quickly thank you, Amanda, for the introduction, but I just wanted to do a quick, better introduction here where I’ve basically worked as an engineer starting off at NetApp and then I transitioned into product management into the B2C world. Worked at a number of tech companies, both small and big, but being in B2C has helped me being a lot more metrics focused. I’ve learned a lot on the job as otherwise do. Personally, I’m also a mom. I have a six-year-old son. I also am a trained Indian classical dancer and I love reading books on the side. You might see me binging on two, three books at the same time. That’s a little bit about me.

Before we dive deep, I want you all to keep this in mind. Whatever I share today is like a toolbox. Use whatever you need, tweak it as you need it. It’s not gospel truth, you can change it. Don’t forget the big picture. When we talk about metrics, we get so deep into it, but we forget what the big picture is, so don’t forget that. Do a lot of mock practices when you’re thinking about interviews and prepping for interviews, and then run through more examples of interviews and compare it against the real world and quarterly statements of big public companies to understand what metrics they’re following. At the end of it, it’s really fun to understand metrics and to track them, so have fun while you’re doing this. It’s really important to keep the fun part of it here too.

All right, why do we need metrics? Let’s start there and then as we keep going through, I’ll ask a few more questions. Please interact in the comments. It helps me understand if some of this content makes sense or if not, we can diverge a little bit here. So why do we need metrics, quickly? We want to make decisions. We want to make projections. We want to have quarterly reports. We want to understand how an AB test works out. We want to understand what is the opportunity analysis for any feature that we’re trying to do, and that’s where metrics comes into play. There are three types of metrics, interviews generally. We talk about North Star metrics, there is a trade-off metric conversation or a diagnosis question. Diagnosis questions are not as much used these days, but I’ve still seen a few. North Star and trade-off, really big topics. North Star, there is another variation called dashboard. It’s kind of treated with the North Star here, so that’s why I’ve clubbed it together.

Today we’ll talk only about North Star because we just have a very limited amount of time. Why is a North Star metric important? Why do you think we should all care about it? Basically for three things. One, it helps us prioritize as PMs which feature is more important in the roadmap. It also helps align with stakeholders who might be talking about different metrics, and then you align metrics against company metrics and it ultimately helps succeed as a person because your performance review goals are definitely tied to this, and as a company it definitely helps them succeed.

Now, how do we find the North Star metric? It’s a four-step process. The first step is going to be thinking about the business. We’ll run through a mock question and we’ll go through the answers, but the first half, first piece here is thinking about the business. The second half of it is thinking about audience segments. These two then go into the third part, which is thinking about broadly brainstorming the metrics for the business and the audience, and then the last one, the fourth point, is to narrow it down based on where the business is at, in which stage is it, and we’ll go through all of them now.

Let’s run through this. What is the North Star metric for Airbnb? I think an example explains it better than simply giving ideas and how to do it in framework. For Airbnb, let’s start with what kind of business is Airbnb? In this case, the first thing that we want to start thinking about is the different types of services Airbnb offers or different business lines that it has, and the second one is it a B2B company or a B2C service? Again, they have business lines and what are the services here? With that, if you can take a stab at it, can you answer in the comments, what kind of services does Airbnb provide and what type of business models are these? This will help us dive into the next part. Add in the comments if you can answer the different types of services, types of business models.

Perfect. I see B2C. Yes, travel. Great. I’m seeing amazing things. One more thing to remember here is Airbnb has two major business lines. They do have the whole rental side of it. They also have experiences and that’s something that came up new. Now for each of these business lines, Airbnb travel is a B2C as some of you mentioned here, and Airbnb experiences both B2B and B2C because they do work with small businesses that are providing services. Now with that in mind, let’s talk about audience segments. How do we think about audience segments? Let’s run through a quick example.

For an audience segment example, let’s think about Amazon. For Amazon, there are three major types of audiences. We have the end consumers, there is the shopkeeper of B2B of business, and then there’s also the delivery person that’s involved in the Amazon side of things. [inaudible 00:06:22] is just an example to showcase the difference audience segment. What we are trying to do here is to then bring strong metrics. Who are the audience segments at this time for Airbnb? Can you answer in the comments based on the different business lines that we talked about? I’ll give a minute here. Who could be the audience segments for Airbnb Travel experience? Yes. Travelers host services. Yes, that’s correct. For experiences, who are the audience segments? Yes, consumers. Yes, yes, all of that is correct. I’m seeing good, but when we think about these different types of experiences, it’s necessary divided out.

For renters, there’s renters, there is the host, and for experiences, there are the experience seekers, the end users, there are hosts, and also there could be guides for physical tools or maybe there’s an in-between party that’s helped manage these services. This gives you the broad picture and now we go broad. Let’s try to find metrics for each business line and for each audience type. What we do is basically we use something like the Heart or the AARM metrics framework that’s out there to actually think about metrics for each of these audience segments. I’m going to pause here for a minute and ask again for the interaction in the comments. What are the metrics for each service type that we talked about? We have the Airbnb travel experience and the Airbnb experiences. What could the metrics be? If we go back to thinking about acquisition, engagement, monetization? What kind of metrics can we start thinking about for travel and for experiences?

Can some of you add it in the comments and then I can show what I came up with when I was doing it? Yes, number of bookings in a month, number of renters, hosts. Yes, very good. We also have, don’t forget, the Airbnb experiences. We want to ensure we are thinking of metrics for both service lines for the different audience segments. We have hosts on the platform, number of nights booked, and also visitors who are coming back. We have talked about metrics on all angles, also there’s revenue. Then on the experiences side, we are thinking about the number of experiences booked, revenue from these experiences, number of hosts, number of visitors. Again, all of the things that we did on the audience segment and the business side comes in here when we start brainstorming metrics.

Now, if we have a list of metrics, the next thing is to narrow it down to get to the North Star metric. What do you use to narrow down metrics now? We basically use stage of the product to define the company goals and to help us narrow down metrics. This is a rough framework where early stage companies are more about acquisition, product market fit goes into engagement. Growth is about user segment acquisition, engaging existing users, monetizing, and then expansion and maturity. Now, let’s think about the two business lines we talked about, Airbnb travel and Airbnb experiences. What kind of stage are they at? Can you answer in the comments again if you think Airbnb travel is growth or expansion or product market fit at this time? Yes, Airbnb travel is definitely mature. What about Airbnb experiences? Is it in the growth stage? Is it in the expansion stage? Is it in the product market stage? Yes. Airbnb experience is actually in the growth stage at this point. The comments are right on.

Mature phase, you think about monetization, retention as metrics. For growth phase for Airbnb experience, you’re thinking about engagement, monetization. Now this helps us narrow down from that bigger list of metrics to get to the North Star metric for Airbnb. Without giving away too much here, I wanted to basically take one beat here to really understand if we get the North Star. For Airbnb travel, who do you think is the North Star? We talked about a number of metrics here. Out of this, which is the North Star metric for Airbnb rentals or Airbnb experiences? Can anyone add it in the comments? Not sure would be one or two metrics at this point of time. Basically I know Priya asked what is the question? The question is trying to understand which is this one metric that really defines what should the company really aspire for?

Airbnb rentals, yes, nights booked is actually a good one. This is what it comes up with ultimately. Nights booked and revenue are actually the two metrics that they look at and they actually report this in all of the quarterly reports and Airbnb experiences is experiences booked revenue from experiences. Yes, the growth and maturity stage metrics look really similar, but I’m sure back in Airbnb they’re looking at a few deeper level metrics, but when we’re asked to report metrics, which is at a very high level, what is the North Star metric that I have to worry about as an Airbnb PM for renters or for Airbnb experiences or what is the CO looking at? These are the metrics they look at and they report on that. Basically this is a Q3 2022 readout of their quarterly report. Airbnb rentals and experiences, they reported 100 million nights booked and experiences booked 29% revenue year over year.

Now how are you going to use North Star metrics? You are going to use North Star metric as a PM most of the times to really prioritize your roadmap. But this exercise comes up a lot in the interviews and this is one of the frameworks of basically using it to get to your North Star metric in going broad and then narrowing down. I want to end it with saying that if you are interested in more metrics, if you’re interested in understanding more about trade-off and the others, well, definitely there is this … I think there’s a survey after this. Please express interest. But apart from that, these are the resources that you should look at. Lean analytics has been a Bible for all of my metrics things. I go back to it every time I interview.

I’ve heard about Gopractice.io. I have used a little bit of it. This is great for practicing and also don’t forget to mock interview with others, especially a lot of these execution interviews happen that way. That’s pretty much it. It was a quick rundown of metrics, generally takes longer, but if you have any other questions, please let me know. Amanda, I think we are right on time.

Amanda Beaty: Yes, you did great. Thank you. It’s a lot of interaction there. It looks like the audience enjoyed your talk. Thank you so much. Thanks to everybody for joining us and we’ll see you in the next session. Thank you so much.

“Building High Performance Teams”: Stephanie J. Neill, Vice President, Product, Twitch at Amazon (Video + Transcript)

Stephanie J. Neill discusses high-performing product teams and scaling effective product leadership. She emphasizes the importance of creating a high-performance culture and outlines the key elements of a high-performing product team, including clarity of purpose, psychological safety, and effective processes. Neill also highlights the importance of team composition, incentives, and managing underperformers.


Stephanie J. Neill: Thanks for having me Angie. And hi everybody. Wish I could see you. So I’m Stephanie and I’m here to talk to you today about high-performing product teams as well as how to scale effective product leadership. I do want to say before I get started, I lost my voice inconveniently today, so if my voice is cutting out, it’s not your computer, it’s just me. But yeah, hopefully it stays strong. Alrighty. So a quick intro. I’ve been doing product basically my entire career and close to I guess two decades now, I’ve been leading high-performing product teams. I’ve worked across a number of big tech conglomerates generally on e-commerce or content marketplace type sites as well as platforms and services. So the internal guts, all the fun stuff across federal government as well as private sector. I tend to enjoy leading smaller teams, so I’d say my sweet spot’s probably around 20. Smaller teams with outsized impact working on a mission-critical endeavor that helps vulnerable populations.

I guess the last part is probably the most important to me. I really want to feel like I’m having impact on people who need it. And then personally, I’ve lived all over the world as the child of a diplomat does, moving every couple of years. So I think it’s probably pretty small on the slide, but you can see a lot of the little blue dots just littered around. I’m also a Enneagram three for those in the know, which is basically very success-oriented and driven, but I guess always wanting to feel that I’m bringing value in everything that I do, which I think is probably a universal trait, but they ascribe it to the number threes. I’m also a Pisces, so sensitive and confused, I guess. Two fish swimming in different directions. And then I don’t have this on here, but I’m a big I little D on the DISC assessment, which means I’m basically a megaphone.

I love to amplify people and ideas and concepts that align with what I believe. And then I’m also a ENTJ, a commander personality, so very focused on getting shit done. And yeah, in general, I love these little personality tests and I actually see them as great tools for teams, to be honest, to compare and talk about themselves because one, it creates self-awareness, but it also creates shared awareness across the teams of why certain people might behave certain ways or might think certain ways. Of course the disclaimer is these are pseudoscience, so it’s really just a fun thing, but I think it really helps with culture and getting to know each other and all that. So that’s part of why I wanted to share with you today.

So a lot of you have probably seen this adage, I’m sure it’s been across the internet forever, but people plus process equals performance. I very much subscribe to this philosophy, and as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been leading teams for far longer than I’ve actually been shipping products, like hands-on product. And as many of you probably know from experience, when you move into management, you get further and further from a lot of the aspects of PM that initially drew you to it and gave you life. So there’s no more exhilaration of a launch day when you know you’re accountable for success or failure. There’s no more knowing every detail of how things work or what your customers need. You have to rely on others for that and you should, because no one person can keep all of this in their brain. And there’s no more deep camaraderie that comes with the pain and challenge of shipping a product with your building partners.

So this can be a huge mindset shift for people who move up into higher leadership. How I flipped that in order to keep my personal product power source strong was really to continue to apply product thinking at a more detailed level by thinking of my team as a product portfolio, like not the actual products they were managing. Of course, practically speaking, that is a portfolio, but thinking about the actual people as products in my portfolio. And so really looking at them and understanding what’s their vision for themselves and how does this company, how does this role, how do I fit into that and what does success in their life look like? What are they really trying to accomplish and achieve? Where are they’re trying to go? And then working with them to really put together a plan. So to me, each team member is a product and their success is ultimately my success, which is ultimately the company’s success. So this is sort of like the cynical take on servant leadership, but you’d be surprised at how easily you can manage your career and yourself like a product as well.

So, but today we’re going to talk about high-performing product teams. So one disclaimer I do want to give is that when I say product teams, I don’t actually just mean PM at all by any stretch and you can apply these principles to that, but I’m actually more thinking of the people who are accountable for building the right product in the right way at the right time for the right users. So not just the PMs, but really the triad of tech leads and UX designers as well as all the service-oriented groups who help make product launches a major success. So I’ll start with a definition. What does good look like for a high-performing product team? So I’ll state the obvious. A high-performing product team is one that accomplishes the outcome that they set out to achieve, assuming it was the right outcome, but I don’t actually see that as sufficient.

You can death march a team to success, they can achieve success or people can have a really great time together, but be chasing, I guess, the wrong outcome or not even moving any needles toward it. So I really see it more as a high performing team is one that accomplishes the outcome they set out to achieve, but they have fun doing it and they want to keep doing it together. And that last part is important. I’m going to double click on that in a sec. So that’s effectively the outcome or the output. You could measure it as an output. That you want them driving measurable impact to success metrics that matter to the business, and you want them aligned on values while also having high trust. So we talked about this people plus process equals performance construct. That is great and it does work well for a team, but it’s not necessarily scalable.

The way to make it scalable is to actually create that culture. So you’re not really creating a high performance team. It’s not what you’re really seeking to create. It’s really you’re seeking to create a high performance culture because culture will become self-sustaining, and that is how you can scale it. It’ll monitor people. It won’t be just you sort of having to look and check every box and make sure that every corner of your earth is tidy and perfect. There will be people within the culture who will do that. My favorite definition of culture that I’ve ever heard, I think about it all the time. Culture is the worst behavior that a leader is willing to tolerate. And I believe that so wholeheartedly. If you let infighting happen, if you let bad incentives be built, if you let people be rude to each other, it will detract from your goal of having high performing teams that are sustainable.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that it’s obvious to all I think, product is a journey. It’s not about shipping one big success and then like woo-hoo we’re done. So it’s easy for I think a team to get together and stay focused on a specific goal and make something happen, but it’s not sustainable over time and product needs to be sustainable. So it’s about consistently delivering value to your customers, having fun while you’re doing it, and you can measure the success in terms of team retention I think is a clear one. Team learning velocity, which to me is really, it’s really about how fast are we validating insights by shipping, so shipping does really matter. And then ultimately, what’s the impact to key metrics over time?

So I tried to sort these into the people, process sort of performance framework there, but the conditions that you as a leader at the highest level need to set, it’s really clarity. Clarity on outcomes. What does it mean to perform? What are the results that actually matter to the business and to our customers and how does that work in concert? So as the leader, you have to set clear expectations of what good looks like and how we know if we’ve achieved it or if we’re achieving it, but also the guardrails of how do we know we’re not achieving it? The team needs that structure, that top-down structure to be able to work backward from. And then you do need, I shorthanded this as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but you do need to start there. It is incredibly, like psychological safety for me is probably the most important factor for a team in order for them to really bring their all to bear and for everyone to trust that their special expertise and we’ll complement each other, we will find a way to complement each other.

And actually there’s a book, Culture Code. I forget who wrote it, but I really liked the way he described sort of a low trust culture versus high trust. Low trust is like everyone is like alone, scared guard dog barking at social threats, which creates interpersonal conflict and just all sorts of noise versus a high trust culture, which is basically a pack of wolves hunting down a shared goal together and winning together. And then lastly, but honestly probably most important because these are your feedback mechanisms of whether what you’re doing is even working. You need to have the right guardrails and mechanisms to take the guesswork as well as the busy work out of the repeated activities that lead to success.

So I’m going to talk a little bit more about each of these. Sorry for so much text on a slide. Hopefully it’s useful if we can share these slides. But talking about the leadership expectations, the clarity of expectations, there’s really three dimensions to shared purpose, right? So you need a vision, you need success metrics and you need guardrail metrics. That’s still important, but taken together, that’s purpose. Right. And in order to really institute shared purpose, you need the clarity, you need shared clarity of that purpose. People all need to understand. I often see these pithy sort of like vision statements or strategy statements, and those are good, but they can be interpreted many ways. So you need to ensure that there’s a shared understanding, a shared clarity against that purpose.

You also need to make sure that there’s actual alignment to that purpose because some people might not understand it very well, but just frankly disagree. And in many cases people can be kind of passive, I guess, aggressive against that. And it can keep people from rowing in the same direction with all their might. Some people might be just coasting on the oars or even digging into the water. And then that leads to empowerment and that empowerment of the team assigned, the accountable team to go after that shared purpose as hard as they can. So these are the three sort of management dimensions or leadership dimensions that I think are really important for you as the leader. And then of course, yeah, from a people perspective. So attending to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Again, psychological safety is super, super important.

I really don’t believe that you can accomplish great things for very long when that is lacking. I also think as a piece of that, we need to create space for more voices. So I often observe on teams, there are certain personalities that are very comfortable speaking up and sharing their opinion or sharing their thoughts or sharing their disagreements. But then there’s often many more that are not comfortable doing that. And so I take a lot of time with the teams and I instill this in my leaders as well to pause. I will oftentimes ask a question in meetings, and then I will sit there for an uncomfortably long period of time just looking at the team and smiling until someone is uncomfortable enough to speak up. Or for folks that I know are more introverted or less comfortable speaking up, I’ll ask them a very specific question.

I’ll be like, Hey, Fred, blah, blah, blah, because I was thinking, and then I’ll talk for about 30 seconds intentionally to buy them time to process or give them something to key off of. And then I repeat the question anyway, Fred, I’d really love to hear your opinion on X. So just those little tricks, like it creates a warmth I think, for people and a welcomingness that lets them bring their best to the table. And then being really explicit about your values, even writing them down honestly. What are your values? And then working with the team to develop team values, which I believe is great as a shared exercise because it makes everybody really think deeply about what they care about in terms of delivering value to this audience and solving the types of problems that they’re here to solve.

And then I also want to talk a bit about, I should highlight a bit about team composition. For people, it really matters. So I strongly believe in the triad, so PM, UX, and tech lead as the core components of the builder team. And I feel when you are missing any one of those, you’re not going to get to the right outcomes. You also want to guard against ratios. So if the ratios are off, for instance, if the PM to engineering ratio is more than one to 10, 10 is like a max, right? They call it a two pizza team at Amazon. If you go beyond that, which I also see too often, the PMs get so stretched thin that it becomes this feed the beast mentality where they’re just, they’re not thinking about the right work, they’re just thinking about getting engineers work. And that can, again, take away from the team being able to target and hit their outcomes that they want to and achieve their outcomes.

Of course, bad incentives, that’s like the quickest way down the wrong path. So you have to be careful. I know in some companies I’ve worked for, paths to promotion can sometimes create engineer or create an environment where engineers will seek out really specific types of work rather than doing maybe the less sexy, important work. So just making sure, like that’s just an example, but bad incentives are everywhere. So making sure that you’re really thinking about how are you incentivizing the team and how are you reinforcing it with your feedback mechanisms? What do you praise? What do you recognize? The people that you promote, what are the traits that they exhibit? And then I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about making sure that you’re actively managing underperformers and thinking about the mix of people you have. If you have too many type A personalities, if they’re going to be like beta fish in one pot, you need them in their separate. So you need to think about who are the people that I’m bringing together and am I setting them up for success?

Woo. That was more than I expected to say on that one, but I just, I really care about people, I guess. And then as far as process goes, you need accountability checkpoints. So opportunity assessment, like make sure the team is coming to you and speaking with you. Oh shoot, I’m already up. Is speaking with you. Make sure co-escalation paths are clear and not fraught with terror. Make sure there’s an emphasis on learning and make sure that product teams are really doing proper stakeholder management and they’re communicating internally as well as getting information internally. Oh, and you have to make it insanely easy for them to access customers. That’s the last one I’ll say. And I look forward to seeing you all again.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Stephanie. Everyone connect with her LinkedIn and we’ll hop to our next session now. Thank you so much.

Stephanie J. Neill: Thanks everyone.

“AI Product Management for the Enterprise Consumer”: Savita Kini, Director of Product Management, Speech & Video AI at Cisco (Video + Transcript)

In this session, Savita Kini discusses the emerging area of enterprise consumerization and the impact of AI interventions in both enterprise and consumer settings. Kini highlights the three layers of transformation happening in AI product management (PM) roles in the enterprise, and discusses the opportunities and challenges in leveraging AI in the enterprise, including the need to balance personalization with privacy concerns.


Savita Kini: Hello. Thank you everybody for joining and good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are. I’m going to talk a little bit about a new emerging area around enterprise consumerization, and there is also AI interventions that are happening both in enterprise and consumer. So there are three layers of transformation that’s happening to the AI PM roles. And in the enterprise, how that’s changing, along with the consumerization of the enterprise. So there’s couple of themes and I’m trying to go through it quickly.

Okay, so what is really enterprise consumerization or the enterprise consumer? I think one of the things that happened over the last decade with the consumer apps is all of us who work in enterprise have expected that same kind of personalization of experience; like how we use app, how we do our performance reviews, how we file our expenses in the enterprise. How do we collaborate with our colleagues? That trend was already happening, even before the pandemic started. And then the pandemic happened and all of us worked from home. We were extremely reliant on the network, on the collaboration, talking to our colleagues via chat. And over the last two, three years, really that whole trend that began before the pandemic only got accelerated.

And then what happened? We had the whole LLM and generative AI explosion, and we are now getting into a whole new generation of enterprise SaaS where we as enterprise users and you, me, all of us, right? We want that same simplicity, the delightfulness, the creativity, the intelligence, the personalization. All of this experience that we see in the consumer domain, we want that in our enterprise experience, but not at the cost of losing the privacy: privacy of our customer data, privacy of our employee data. So there is a very unique transformation that’s happening, and I’m going to speak to it from the perspective of an AI PM in the enterprise.

I have a couple of little nuggets of transformation data that some of the research firms have been talking about. So like I said, hybrid work is here to stay. The Future of Work Research from IDC has put forth some very interesting data points around how our offices are transforming in the post hybrid, post pandemic era, because workplaces are becoming interesting watering holes. We are not going into work for … And this is true much more in the IT sector and since this forum is of women in tech, I will speak to it from the IT sector. It does not maybe apply to education or healthcare or retail. I think I’ll touch upon it a little bit later in my presentation.

But specifically we are going into work more to collaborate with our colleagues. We expect our workplaces to be, again, something of a draw, but not for our regular work, not for our regular mundane jobs. We are going in to collaborate. We are going in because we want to ideate, we want to create. And how do we augment that experience? A lot of companies are spending, according to IDC, over trillion dollars just in 2023 to redesign those workplaces. Now that’s the physical, but how do you create that same 10x better experience when you’re working remotely? And I think those two different trends are kind of colliding.

Now, let me just go specifically into what’s happening in the enterprise. Now this transition of AI in the enterprise actually started before the current generative AI efforts, and so there was speech recognition. I mean we all know about Alexa, Siri, and so on. But there were voice assistants already in the video conferencing space. There were computer vision models in the video conferencing space as well. That’s some of the experience that I come from, so I can speak to it. But what’s happening with the natural language-based model explosions is that that whole transformation is only becoming even more pronounced.

And there’s a huge opportunity. I think a lot of the AI talk with ChatGPT and so on, you talk about all the new opportunity to create your own video, write your own storyline script. That’s still consumer, but how does that change how we work on a day-to-day basis? What productivity gains are likely to happen? And there’s a lot of prediction. You can see everything. Like I looked at it, I was looking at some of the numbers. They’re changing anything from 130, 155 to 200 billion dollars by 2030, and that’s like a huge explosion of investment.

So where are these investments really going? They are going in different categories around AI infrastructure, AI chip sets, and neural accelerators. How they fit into the enterprise infrastructure; software, which is again, enterprise software. And I talked a little bit about the video conferencing space, and the collaboration space is another one with the large language models that we are seeing.

So it’s a gigantic opportunity. And how are we all prepared for capturing that transition and making impact? I think those are the key themes here, as for AI product managers in the enterprise.

Just a quick note that this transition, again, did not start today. It was already happening. There were machine learning models being used to optimize IT for robotic process automation and manufacturing in healthcare, in pharma, lots of different places where there were smaller models and innovations happening. What deep learning is transforming is in sort of the cybersecurity space, further optimization of enterprise infrastructure, sales, and marketing. So that’s where we are seeing some of the newer more game changing innovations.

Again, just to touch upon some of the industries where generative AI is accelerating that trend, you’ll see a lot of innovations in legal services, consulting, consumer and retail. How we personalize the experience for end customers, for example, in retail. Personalized healthcare. You’re going to see a lot of this kind of innovation in the next decade, which is just kind of starting. We are in the infancy zone as some of these viability of some of these products and business models gets fleshed out. So we are still on the hype curve. We have to get to this mainstream, what you say, viable business models, viable use cases, viable experiences. Because remember back to the original premise, enterprise is different from consumer because of just the data privacy concerns. And I’m going to go a little deeper into that in the next couple of slides.

So where are some of the innovations like I talked about? So manufacturing, supply-chain, you’ll start see some of the automation that was already started, but how to predict and make that even more informed and more intelligent.

Where the enterprises have the biggest advantage, which is lacking in consumer, is really the data. If you think about consumer, like let’s say take Google example, or Alexa; they rely a lot on our data, what we have produced. Even ChatGPT for example, there are huge concerns about copyright violations. That ChatGPT is trained on content of the writers and it has not credited them for their contributions, right? It’s just using that data, crawling the network and internet, and just using it to train the models. And that’s not okay.

In the enterprise, however, we are sitting on treasure trove of data from users coming to our website, who’s coming, what are they buying? There’s so much information across the customer journey that sometimes today sales is not able to make informed decisions. What should I upsell? What should I do better? HR, recruiting, there are so many of these interventions that are possible. One of the data points, for example, that I was reading about Copilot is that it has increased 30% productivity for developers. Our hiring practices, how we [inaudible 00:10:26] candidates, how we interview, how we train our interviewers, how can we do that better to make the hiring process simpler, more ethical, and unbiased.

AI can actually help us. There is a lot of talk about how AI has influenced bad hiring practices because of the data, but the other flip side can also be true. It can help us in detecting our own prejudices and biases. I think that’s where some of the interesting ways in which AI can help us do better, is what I think are some of the interesting interventions.

Anyway. So the big advantage for enterprise is that they have treasure trove of business data, which can be capitalized hugely to create very customized experiences for both internal employees as well as their end customers.

I want to show a quick video here about just an example of how we are doing it in Webex. Hopefully this will play through.

Narrator: In today’s fast-paced world, collaboration is key. Bring teams together effortlessly with real-time communication, no matter where they are. From home to office, or across the world. AI powered interactions break down barriers and make virtual collaboration immersive. Integrated meetings, messaging, calling, and events give you the tools needed to reach a global audience. Easily manage from a single place for uninterrupted productivity. Experience the power of seamless collaboration with the Webex suite.

Savita Kini: Okay, so now let me talk about the gory details. I presented a nice view of what the opportunity is out there when it comes to collaboration, business workflows, sales and marketing, healthcare. But what’s unique and different about the enterprise use cases is enterprises serve two stakeholders, ideally speaking. It’s the customers and then employees. Employees help us build the best products to serve our end customers. Right? I mean, that’s the bottom line. If you have good employees, good culture, you create the best customer experiences. And so when you think of enterprise apps particularly, it would be for one or the other stakeholder primarily.

Now, the second thing that I want to highlight that I have learned over the last five years of dealing with AI in the enterprise, is the issue around data governance and privacy. Unlike in consumer where you can get away by doing things like ChatGPT, just crawl the internet and release something, in enterprise we can’t do that. Because we are governed by stricter laws, our customers expect. We sell to both public sector and private sector. Like for example, if you sell into the federal government, you have to go through specific certifications. If you’re selling into healthcare, you are going through a lot of healthcare related regulatory compliance and certifications.

And so there are very strict governance policies that enterprise software and hardware and infrastructure vendors have to adhere to. And so that flows into how the apps have to be developed when we create these experiences for the enterprise use cases.

The other question is training data. So if you are building an app and you are building it for an enterprise, how do you acquire the data? If I’m sitting, I don’t have the data of a large bank. I might not have exposure to the conversations that they have internally in their meetings. How do I create a summarization using an LLM? Those are very interesting challenges that are unique in the enterprise space. So you’ll see a lot more of large enterprises actually building their own AI tools and experiences. So the opportunity for AI PM in the enterprise is both from an external vendor, but also internally in large enterprises. You’ll see AI PMs coming in to actually help with their own internal business workflow and optimizations.

There are restrictions to using third party and open source tools as well. Like at Cisco, we have very strict guidelines and tools and processes as we build our products on what third party or open source tools we can use. Then finally, the complexity of AI models, how they are deployed, transparency and aligning to public and private sector concerns.

Finally, in closing, let me just say, the big transformation here for AI product managers is not only do they have to do the enterprise PM role, but also there is this whole challenge of balancing personalization versus privacy when it comes to AI models. Because unlike in the consumer, in the enterprise, we have to disclose what we are doing with our models and what models are built into our features.

I know I’m running out of time, but-

Amanda Beaty: Yeah, I’m sorry. We do have a hard stop.

Savita Kini: Anyway, so those are the key takeaways. Final words, there’s enormous opportunity, but high ambiguity and chance of failures. Because finally, AI models are statistical models. The role and the concern and the focus for AI PMs will be how we bring the productivity gains through AI and deliver a more personalized and creative experience for the enterprise consumer. And it’s an interesting and challenging, but very hugely impactful opportunity in the enterprise.

So I’m happy to take questions offline. Please feel free to connect with me offline. And thank you for listening.

Amanda Beaty: Thank you so much. And thanks everybody for joining us. We’ll see you in the next session.

“Venturing Out: Leaving Big Tech to Start a Startup”: Anna Fuller, CEO & Founder at Halo (Video + Transcript)

In this session, Anna Fuller discusses the important factors to consider before leaving a company, such as personal finances, family obligations, health, and legal status. Throughout the talk, Anna provides practical advice and recommends resources for further learning.


Anna Fuller: Awesome. Thank you so much, Angie. I’m excited to be here with you all. And while I get my slides up, I’m just going to publish a quick question so I can see what type of folks we have in the audience. So, I’m curious. I’m going to be talking today about leaving big tech to found your own company. And I just want to know of those of you in the audience who’s thinking about it, who is actively acting on it, and who is just here because they’re curious. So, if everybody could go ahead and vote, I’ll give you guys a few seconds. Okay. All right, so, we have a lot of folks who are in the thinking about it and curious stages, which is great.

All right, so I’m going to go ahead and hide this poll. You can keep answering, I think, throughout this session. But let me bring up my slides. All right, great. So today I’m going to be talking about starting a company, and specifically, how to start a company when you are leaving another company. So, who am I? I’m Anna. I’m a two-time founder. I’m currently working on a company called Halo, which is weekly flash deals for new moms. If you yourself are a mom or if you have mom friends, please head on over and sign up. I used to be a product manager at Google. And previously, I have a lot of startup experience, mostly on the product side and mostly in e-commerce and consumer.

Okay, so today we’re going to talk a little bit about that all-important question, when is the right time to leave your company? We’re going to go through the basics or what I call the important stuff, the meat of creating that new startup, so idea, traction, team, and funding. If we have time, we’ll go through some of the tactical stuff, but I’m going to leave them behind for you on slides so you can always come back. It’s basically the logistics of setting up a business and all the different software tools that I recommend. And likewise, if we have time, we’ll take some questions at the end.

Okay, why am I here today doing this? So it’s been shown that female-founded startups actually return 2-1/2 times the amount of revenue of others, but still, unicorns only have 14% female founders, only 6.2% of the CEOs in the S&P 500 are women, and under 3% of VC funding goes to women. These numbers are terrible. We need to do something about it. The thing that I would like to do to try and help enable you guys to come out and make these numbers better is share some of the hard-won early lessons from starting a company so that you can hopefully shortcut that process and get there even faster.

All right, let’s dive right in. So, first up. When is the right time to leave the security of your company, your current company, and start your new company? Okay, let’s think through a few things. What do you need to have in place before you leave? There is one thing on this list that everybody needs to have in place. It’s fully required. The others are going to depend on you. So, the stable personal foundation or your personal runway, this everybody needs to have locked into place. What do I mean when I say personal runway? Let’s look at a couple of different things. Think about your finances. What is your monthly spend right now? How long can you make it, how many months can you make it with the savings that you’ve accumulated, and how comfortable are you with burning down some of your personal savings?

Think about your family. Do you have any obligations right now? Are you caring for parents? Do you have young children? Are you thinking about starting a family? You can do a startup with all of those things. I have a toddler, and I’m doing a startup. But for you, you may want to just understand what that looks like and when you’ll be most comfortable to branch out on your own. So, health, make sure you’re in a good spot. Startups are really hard. They take a big toll both physically and mentally. So, just make sure you’re in a good spot with health. And then, lastly, consider your current legal status. So, if there are some folks who are here that are being sponsored or on visas, just think through those implications and make sure that you’re set up for success when you do decide to leave.

Okay, so we’ve got that one locked down. The reason I call it your personal runway is it dictates how much time you have after you leave your company before you need to have your startup providing that stability. And this depends on the length of your runway and also your own risk tolerance. So if you have more runway and a greater risk tolerance, you’re out the door. Go ahead and leave now, and you have time to figure it out. But many of us have a shorter runway. We want to check off a few more of the below before we actually leave our company. And I have the asterisk here. Don’t forget to check about your moonlighting policy. A lot of big tech companies will let you work on your own side projects, but you just need to disclose it. So, just read the fine print there and make sure you’re on the right side.

So think about these next four things, idea, traction, team, and funding, really, as things that we’re going to progressively de-risk. And you may choose to leave your company before any of them are de-risked, or you may choose to wait and leave until they’re largely de-risked, but it’s a gradual process. Okay, let’s talk about this. This is the important stuff. This is the meat of building your business. The idea, this is something that occupies an out sized mindshare. I think before you actually start a company, you have this idea of the founder, and they have this brilliant idea that comes to fruition, and they bring it to market, and everybody loves it. But that is a total myth.

In fact, I think too much emphasis on the idea is actually a bit dangerous because the reality is that as you get in and start working on your startup, the idea is going to change, and you don’t want to hold onto that too tightly. What you really want to focus on is the problem that you’re solving for your customers and how you can best solve that. And that’s likely going to change quite a bit.

So when you look at this handy little chart of this wood carving, at the end, you can see a fully formed statue. We do not want to start there. Don’t assume that your idea is what you’re going to ultimately build. Instead, start on the left side where you see this progressive, this outline of a wooden block that’s going to progress through the stages. So, how do we progress it? It takes a lot of time and effort. And to be honest, this is work that you’ll be doing over the course of your startup.

So, start with a problem area. How do you choose a problem area? Ask yourself a couple of questions. What are you the world expert in? It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing or groundbreaking. It’s just what is your expertise. If you were to start a consulting business tomorrow, what would people actually pay you money to do? Because odds are, if you were to solve that problem for them, there are some problems that you could solve for other people in that domain. So, think about that. Also, think about what are problems and frictions that you encounter in your day-to-day life. And then, lastly, make sure you pick a domain that you’re comfortable spending the next 10 to 15 years in because startups are long, and you don’t want to be bored. You want to be passionate about what you’re working on.

So in the next step, you’re going to navigate what we call the idea maze. So, really, what this is, it’s just understanding what the array of solutions that are already out there in existence are, and how are they solving the problem? How are they not solving the problem? You want to go out and talk to people in your space. You can talk to experts. You can talk to potential customers. You can talk to competitors. Just understand the lay of the land. And then start on your customer discovery. And this is where we start this lifelong journey of a startup because you’re always doing customer discovery. You want to get out and talk to your customer.

So refine your solution, move on, test prototypes, refine again, build your MVP, refine again, go to market, refine again. It’s just a constant loop of refining until you’re solving more and more of your customers’ problems, and what you end up with could look very similar to what you thought it might look like or it could look totally different. So, in startups, we have a phrase called pivoting. Sometimes, you just need to read the market and do a hard pivot, and you’ll find some other problem to solve. A book that’s super helpful as you think about customer discovery and idea validation is called The Mom Test. Go out and get it. It takes about four hours to read, and it’s going to really demystify that whole process for you.

All right, so traction. There’s really this continuum from your idea through validation and traction. But traction similar to the idea has this sort of mythology about it. It’s like, “Well, do you have any traction yet?” So, let’s break it down a little more. Traction itself is too vague. Let’s think about a couple of things. Why do you want to see traction? Is it because you want to de-risk the idea for yourself further, or do you want some validation that this is the right solution to work on? Is it because you want to get investors? Is it because you want to start getting revenue to fund your operations? All of these are valid things. But it’s important to understand why you want to see traction because we’re going to use that to understand what to measure and how much traction you need.

So, in terms of what’s important to measure, this depends totally on the startup that you’re building, but there’s a couple of key metrics that we always tend to go back to. One is users or customers. I differentiate the two because users are just coming back and using your product, maybe not paying directly. Customers are people who are paying you directly. We also want to look at maybe average contract value or gross merchandise volume if you’re a marketplace, anything that indicates that you have money that is either coming in or about to come in the door.

And then how much do you need? This is a really difficult question to answer. You need to set reasonable milestones based on your goals. And one thing to keep in mind is that this hockey stick growth is just not going to happen right away. So, try to prevent getting into the trap of thinking, “Oh, I’m just going to wait to bring on my team,” or “I’m going to wait to fundraise until I launch because then it’s going to be through the roof.” That’s probably not going to happen. So, set measurable, realistic milestones for yourself. I get asked a lot, and I think about this a lot as a founder, “How much traction is enough for fundraising?” And here I’m specifically talking about VC-backed companies.

This is not a straightforward answer, unfortunately, but there are some tactics you can take to figure out what the right answer is for you. So, first off, ask other founders. If you are in a B2C space versus if you’re in a B2B space, the metrics for raising that first round of capital are going to be much different. So find other founders in your space who have maybe just raised their first round and go and ask them. Ask them what the process was like. Ask them what their strategy was and what their metrics were like. Read funding announcements. TechCrunch is going to publish articles about companies in your domain who have just gotten funding. Read those to understand what their current status is. I would say there are two things to keep in mind here. One, founders like to paint a rosy picture, so take what you read with a grain of salt. And two, funding announcements can sometimes come months after the actual round happens, so they may have progressed a little bit further in that time.

And then, lastly, talk to investors. Reach out to investors in your domain. Let them know that you’re not fundraising right now but that you want to get their feedback and you want to get their input on your idea. Then, talk through with them what do they like to see before they write their first check for a company. Other ways to validate your idea. Like I mentioned, it’s sort of a continuum. You want to go through discovery, validation, and, eventually, real traction. So, discovery, there’s a number of ways you can actually figure out whether your solution is going to resonate without even writing a line of code. You can do surveys. You can do customer interviews for that qualitative data. Or you can set up what we call a fake door test where you put up a landing page with a call to action.

Let’s say, “Buy this product.” And you just measure how many people click “Buy the product.” And, of course, you don’t have the product yet. So they land on a page that just explains, “Hey, we are in the process of making this. We want to make something excellent for you. Enter your email address, and you’ll be the first to know.” So, we’ve gauged their demand because they were ready to buy even before we have the product itself. When you move a little bit further into the validation stage, you may want to run a beta with a small, trusted group of customers who will give you good feedback. You may stand up a wait list, people who enter their email address. That’s sort of giving up something of value to them in exchange for getting your product in return. That’s a good way to gauge demand.

Or if you’re in the B2B space, maybe it’s letters of intent. These are just letters that a company will write, or you can send it to them. They’ll sign, saying, “Hey, when you build this thing, I want to try it out,” and it’s not binding. So, it’s low risk for them that you can gather these to understand who your initial design partners will be and show some demand. Then lastly, real traction, customers and growth. There’s nothing that there’s no other secret sauce there. You just need to bring in people who are getting value from what you built. A really helpful book here is also called Traction. I highly recommend this.

Okay, moving on to team. So the traditional sort of triad that you might hear of in a co-founder relationship would be this hacker, hustler, hipster combo. And really, what that means is you need somebody to build the product, you need somebody to sell it, and you need somebody to design the user experience. Now, you don’t need a separate person for each of these things. Maybe you as the founder have two of the skills, and maybe your co-founder has two of the skills. So between each other, you have this overlapping skill set. But you do roughly need to know who’s going to build it, who is going to sell it, and who’s going to be responsible for that user journey.

So, to think about here, what are your own strengths? What do you bring to the table, and where do you need help? I would recommend getting very creative here because think scrappy. You’re going to leave your big company where you have a person to work on every small thing, and they’re a subject matter expert in that, and you need to be comfortable with wearing multiple hats. You might need to be comfortable with understanding what is good enough for now. Maybe you are a product manager, but you can do some wireframes, and so that is good enough to translate to a developer to have them help you build the initial product. Think about how you can get to your end goal and validate your ideas as quickly as possible.

Then, also, contractors and interns are a lifesaver. So, if you have no idea how to market something, you can look to hire an intern marketer who will get a lot of value from helping you in addition to you getting value from them helping. Do you need a co-founder? This is a big question, and I think this presentation is too short to answer it here. But I will just point out that co-founders are great ways to bring on a supplementary skill set for equity in the early days. They have skin in the game. And you don’t have a lot of resources, so you need people to contribute who have real skin in the game.

Also, founding a startup is an emotional roller coaster. So, having somebody there who can go through those ups and downs with you is essential. But make sure, on the other hand, that you’re not just bringing on a co-founder that you don’t know very well because it really is akin to a marriage. It’s going to be a relationship that you need to foster over the next 10 to 15 years of your life, so think carefully there.

Funding. Okay, a very important question. Why do we care about funding first off? So it’s not to say, “Oh, I raised this round of capital.” It’s because you need to fund your own company operations. You need to fund your own personal runway. Eventually, you’re going to run out of your savings. You need something to supplement that. So, let’s think through a couple of different types of company funding. So, we have broken down into three. Venture-funded, this is your typical equity VC-backed company. The exit event here is usually an IPO or a sale. And what to think about for this category is you’re going to go through multiple rounds of funding, so the founders will get diluted. You have to have an exit before the founder realizes all that value. So, you’re not going to have these yearly cash flows. There’s going to be a lot of pressure for growth, and billion-dollar outcomes are expected.

It’s really this big swing all-or-nothing thing. You’re also probably going to need to be full-time before you get that first check. Boot-strapped, usually this is the situation where a founder will put in initial capital, and then it really could go either way after that. It could be venture-funded. It could be revenue-funded. A lifestyle company, think here, these are if you’re going to start a physical business like a restaurant or if you’re starting a passion project like a blog. It’s any type of business that is not the sort of typical venture-backed Delaware C-Corp style business. This is usually revenue or potentially debt-funded. The business pays for itself.

A couple of key characteristics. It will have regular cash flows. So you can get this to a point where it’s actually paying you to operate the business, and you can start taking cash out of it. It’s usually more aligned with a more sustainable growth pattern, and you can start this as a side hustle.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Anna.

Anna Fuller: Okay, how are you-

Angie Chang: [Inaudible 00:17:42] time. We’re out of time.

Anna Fuller: Okay. Great. Okay, well-

Angie Chang: Thank you so much for your-

Anna Fuller: Yep, no problem. If you guys want to download the slides, feel free to grab this deck. And I’m always available for more questions.

Angie Chang: Great. And you can always hit replay in this Airmate software and they can just re-watch this session and get this QR code.

Anna Fuller: Awesome.

Angie Chang: Thank you so much.

Anna Fuller: [inaudible 00:18:08].