Finding my path: blurring the lines between PM and VC

This post is a slight deviation from the skills-based posts on Product Management I typically write for AWIP (Advancing Women in Product, a nonprofit I founded for empowering women PMs), and more on my career philosophy — which is that we can’t really put people in neat boxes anymore. No one is just a PM, or just an engineer…we are artists, entrepreneurs, activists…and in the same way that I am both a PM and a VC.

Unconventional career beginnings

Compared to the AWIP members I mentor into Product Management, my start at Product Management had been largely unplanned. I actually started my tech career in government at Washington, D.C. and had once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend healthcare strategy meetings at the White House, work on cool projects like healthdata.gov, and work alongside legendary healthcare entrepreneurs like Todd Park (then CTO at HHS) to help establish the first class of the HHS Innovation Fellow program.

It wasn’t until an opportune conversation by way of a Penn classmate that I first learned of Product Management, who had joined Google as an APM. At this point, I had moved on from government and moved into management consulting, where I was leading system integration/implementation efforts at intelligence agencies.

I really enjoyed what I was doing as a tech consultant (e.g., requirements gathering, process mapping with customers, and presenting roadmaps to clients) and wanted the opportunity to do that full-time (and not be bound to a utilization model — fellow consultants out there, you know the drill).

Product @ Google

My first real Product job was at Google, where I was the PM for the network infrastructure team at Google Fiber. Our team was responsible for ensuring the health of the ISP network, including all the network boxes and TV boxes that were critical components of delivering Fiber’s internet and TV service to consumers and businesses alike. I relished working on ways to automate our fiber ring deployment in the various Fiber metros (including Kansas City, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Austin), as well as devising different strategies to ensure positive customer experience (such as tracking and routing of technicians depending on where the network outage happened, as well as proactive network monitoring and troubleshooting).

What they say about Google is quite true — everyone on the team I worked with was of extremely high caliber, including my own manager and director (who was a member of the original Google File System team). (Side note: if you are looking for a job at Google, please check out the blog I wrote specifically about their interview process.) I was fortunate to have started my PM career at Google (which in my opinion, still has one of the best PM onboarding trainings that I have seen to date), and I still leverage many of the product design and customer-first principles I learned while at Google.

By the time my 2nd year at Google rolled around, I decided to give the world of startups a closer look and made one of the hardest decisions at that point in my career…leaving Google.

Stepping into the unknown

In the face of my parents’ well-meaning astonishment, I decided to leave Google to pursue startups and investing. While Google was certainly the launchpad for my tech career, I had made the decision that it was now or never (before the lure of additional RSUs would make the decision even harder for me). And so I left Google to join the world of VC, to lead B2B, enterprise software investments at California Technology Ventures, a $250m fund based out of sunny Southern California.

I had the time of my life meeting hundreds of founders a month, filling my brain with knowledge from the best and brightest in all of the cutting-edge technologies (e.g., blockchain, GPU databases, machine learning applications across different verticals, and much much more), and being a part of portfolio board meetings in which I was able to bring in my previous product experience and influence key execution decisions.

In my time as a full-time VC, I was fortunate enough to execute on a Series C fundraise for my portfolio company MariaDB (an open-source version and fork of the popular MySQL) and a Series A in GameVice (which was founded by the early team at Occulus), and came away with even more respect for founders — who are not only working to change the world but also the impossible job of keeping a team motivated through all the challenges that come their way.

Meeting my ultimate nerd crush (center), @Michael (“Monty”) Widenius, the founder of MySQL and my portfolio company, MariaDB. Fun fact: did you know that MySQL, MariaDB, and MaxDB are all named after his children?

Starting my passion

A consistent theme that I’ve encountered, whether as a PM at Google or Rubrik, or as a VC focused on enterprise software startups, is the consistent problem, that is the lack of women role models for me to look up. Though I had no qualms about joining Rubrik, which is in the deep infrastructure space, as its first-ever female PM, I definitely knew that I wanted to change the status quo — being a technical PM/VC is something that women can be good at, and should be given more opportunities to excel in.

The Advancing Women in Product (AWIP) logo in honor of Pride.

Hence, Advancing Women in Product (AWIP) was born…and to this day, I’m super proud of the team that I’ve built and the initiatives that we, as a team, have been able to accomplish. In sheer numbers, we’ve grown the community to over 3,000 (with members as far away as APAC and France), and have partnered with over 25+ startups to date to host our events. Our collective resume workshops, skills-based workshops for current/senior PMs, and executive PM coaching sessions have been attended by thousands of women and men — and we can’t wait for what’s to come next: chapters in Seattle, DC, and Boston, as well as new partnerships with VCs and business schools, such as Wharton in SF. AWIP would not be possible without our wonderful team of volunteers, or our invaluable product leaders as our invaluable advisors.

Finding my groove

Even though I had a blast as a full-time VC, I really missed the hustle and execution cadence of working in a company. And so when I came across the lead PM opportunity with Rubrik (to lead a combined portion of our core product lines and our new stealth SaaS product), I didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity. Since joining last year as the first female PM at Rubrik, I have had the educational and leadership experience of my career — on one hand developing key product strategies with the all-star co-founding team at Rubrik, and on the other, pitching our product and gathering user insight from Fortune 500 execs.

For me, going back to product didn’t mean leaving VC; I enjoy keeping a good balance of both: I continue to mentor startups, either by way of referrals from my friends in the VC community or formally via the Alchemist Accelerator and am actively looking to expand my angel portfolio. Also in the works is a top-secret but super exciting initiative around female founders that AWIP will be unveiling this fall. In short, I’ve found that looking at a problem from the combined Product-VC lens gives me a more holistic, 360-degree view.

In conclusion

I’m definitely not saying you should model your career after this, because from my many career switches, I know at this point that there is no right career path — everyone finds their own way, at their own pace. However, here are some career crumbs I’ve found along the way:

Crumb #1: Take risks & never say no to an opportunity you’re excited about

Crumb #2: Find sponsors and mentors along the way

Crumb #3: When you’re young, don’t optimize for money or compensation

Crumb #4: Never stop learning: your value comes from your intellectual capital

Moving forward, I would love to grow my Product and VC career in parallel, and I’m also super excited for what the rest of 2018 and 2019 will bring for AWIP. Because I didn’t have strong female product or VC mentors, I would love to create an organization that will train the next generation of successful, female role models.

If you’re reading this and considering a transition to/back into Product (from VC perhaps?) or ways to enhance your Product, please visit us at: www.advancingwomeninproduct.org or our Facebook page for information on upcoming events.

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