Advice for product managers on learning, moving into different industries, and becoming problem experts
Today we are talking about lessons learned in product management.
Lending her insights is Eleanor Hasler, Senior Product Manager at Impala, a travel company making it simple to sell hotel rooms. She has had a variety of product roles and has some tips to share with us.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[1:39] What was your path to product work?
I started at university studying politics but later decided to develop commercial skills and see if I could make the world a better place. I started working in talent in London and loved it because I got to meet so many incredible people but I felt I needed to get closer to the action.
A turning point was participating in Techstars Startup Weekend, where I worked on a team to build a business in one weekend. We developed a cycling product, and I spent all day Sunday calling cafes to learn about the problem and find out if they were interested in helping cyclists. I loved the experience.
After that, I was hiring for a product leadership role, and I loved every product person I met. I decided to quit my talent job and start from scratch. I worked for a company doing sales in exchange for their help learning product. I was overwhelmed with how much support and time people are willing to give when you’re willing to take a risk.
After three months, I started working at a property tech startup helping people find places to rent. A year later, I started at FinTech, a banking company, and built an app that helped people become investors.
Last year, I started working at Impala. People told me I was crazy to go into the travel industry at the start of the pandemic, but I believe crisis creates room for creativity and innovation. We’re now working on a platform to help hotel rooms sell quicker.
[13:47] What kind of customer interactions get you excited?
The biggest moments of joy are when I have a call with someone and talk about a potential solution, and then they email me a few days later and ask to talk again about new thoughts they’ve had. The magic happens when you’ve built a relationship with someone and built enough trust that they can tell you what’s not right.
I start discovery calls by telling the customer that the more negative feedback they tell us, the more we can learn—please don’t be too nice.
[16:47] What other experiences or decisions have been pivotal to where you are now as a product manager?
One decision I’ve been really happy with is choosing building over learning. My intuition was to take courses and read books, but people advised me to build actual products. Books and courses are never going to teach you what product work will. Build earlier than you’re comfortable with.
Don’t be afraid to take risks and start from scratch. Moving into a different industry with a fresh set of eyes can be a superpower rather than a hindrance because you’re not thinking about how things have been done, and you look from a customer’s lens. Don’t worry about having deep knowledge of a specific area; trust yourself to start from scratch.
[21:19] How did you make the change to different industries and get companies to want you to help them?
I think we should be deep subject matter experts, but it doesn’t take years or decades to get to that point. Any product manager is a naturally curious person who won’t back down until they’ve gotten to the bottom of a problem or new area of innovation. Every time I went into a new industry, I spent my evenings and weekends learning everything about that industry and getting excited about it. If you come in with drive and curiosity, companies, particularly startups, find you valuable. In a good startup, you’ll be in a completely different company every six months, so you need drive and excitement.
[23:49] What advice do you want to leave product managers with as they develop their careers?
Our job as product managers is to be experts of the problem and customer and to present that problem to a team, which then uses the knowledge from many areas to come up with a solution. One mistake I made was thinking I need to have all the answers. Great solutions are created by teams with diverse thinking.
Action Guide: Put the information Eleanor shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Visit Impala’s website
“Creativity is coming up with lots of new ideas, and innovation is doing things.” – Theodore Levitt
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.