On Tuesday Dec 10, Unusual Ventures and Boss Women Collective (BWC) co-hosted an intimate night of discussions with some of the best builders and product visionaries in consumer tech at Canopy. The night was filled with interactive conversations about the skills and relationships product leaders need in an ever-evolving industry and lessons learned from the trenches.
This event consisted of lightning talks from select product leaders — such as Sharmeen Browarek Chapp and Deepika Yerragunta — on specific challenges and best practices for scaling a consumer startup and a fireside chat on overrated and underrated aspects of product with the CPO and co-founder of Opendoor, Tom Willerer and JD Ross.
Sharmeen Browarek Chapp, VP of Product & Engineering at live video streaming service Twitch, kicked off the night with a presentation focused on diversity and inclusion. Sharmeen is no stranger to being the only woman in the room, having worked in multiple male-dominated industries as an engineer.
She outlined how to diagnose a need for change management, including issues like the team taking double the amount of time to ship products, customers being displeased with products, and low team morale. Sharmeen shared tactics around how to build strong relationships focused around trust. She also offered her best practices for listening to understand customer sentiment, making data driven decisions based off of metrics and results, and shipping small wins centered on eliciting customer delight.
She shared her advice for aligning expectations around performance, and creating contracts between executives to get buy-in. Sharmeen stressed the importance of looking at the bigger picture — team engagement, morale, and retention — when evaluating the success of a team, rather than just the bottom line.
Deepika Yerragunta, Senior Product Lead for Amazon Alexa, shared her process for how to hire for product management — a notoriously difficult hire. She identified examples of what a broken product management team looked like, some of which included: weak communication, lack of awareness of a product management role, constantly “re-inventing the wheel,” and an overall lack of empathy for unique and unforeseen challenges.
In order to build a successful product team, Deepika provided a framework of tips to follow:
She also shared traits she always looks for including technical chops, structured thinking, customer obsession, natural influencing, writing skills, being well-read, and what she calls “The X Factor,” or ability to understand what the customer wants even before the customer is aware of it themselves. Deepika made clear the value of hiring for PM from nontraditional backgrounds and the power these diverse voices can add to building delightful products.
Finally, we ended the night with an interactive session of “Overrated/Underrated: Product Edition” presented by JD Ross, the Co-Founder of Opendoor and Tom Willerer, the Chief Product Officer of Opendoor. Throughout the conversation, moderated by Andy Johns, a Partner at Unusual Ventures, the group discussed key topics in the Consumer Tech and Product landscape such as A/B Testing, Venture Capitalists, Quarterly Planning, Roadmaps and more that were either overrated or underrated in their opinion. The goal of the activity was to spark debate among the group, which we achieved! (Fareed Mosavat, the Director of Product at Slack gave his view about the value and challenges of the tool as a company scales when someone brought up “Collaboration” being overrated.)
We are proud to have assembled such a diverse group of product leaders (50% female across speakers and attendees), ranging from those earlier on in their career (5–7 years in) to the founders and CPOs of products we love to use. The shared curiosity and peer support was truly amazing to see. A special thank you to Sharmeen, Deepika, JD, and Tom for sharing their experiences with us, Canopy for lending us the beautiful space, and to each and every product leader who joined us! We can’t wait to do more together and see everyone again at the next one!
About Unusual Ventures:
Unusual Ventures is an early-stage firm that invests in both consumer and enterprise startups. The team provides uniquely practical support to companies, helping them recruit top talent, find early customers, and learn from the best in the tech industry. Follow Unusual on Twitter for more.
About Boss Women Collective:
Boss Women Collective is a platform for women to connect in real life to form meaningful relationships. BWC hopes to create spaces for women to meet and inspire each other along the way through personal and professional development. Follow BWC on Twitter for more.