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Start Me Up

with Cody Rice of GoGuardian
Feb 15, 2017
Back to Podcasts
Start Me Up | 100 PM
Start Me Up | 100 PM

Suzanne: Why don't you kick us off by introducing yourself, tell us your name, your role, anything to ease us into the conversation?

Cody: Perfect. I'm Cody Rice. I am a product manager at GoGuardian.

Suzanne: Great. We're here in El Segundo. Do you live out here on the Westside?

Cody: I'm very spoiled to live on the Westside. I actually live about a 10-minute drive from work in Manhattan Beach so, yeah, I'm very spoiled to not have to deal with LA traffic on a regular basis.

Suzanne: Well, when the sun came out today and I was driving and I said, "I'm going, basically, to Manhattan Beach," which was one of my favorite places to hang out if I can find an excuse like this one to be on the Westside. Do you surf?

Cody: I attempt to surf. Actually, the CEO and the head engineer at GoGuardian have been trying to teach me how to surf. I think I'm starting to get there.

Suzanne: Yeah, okay. Have you always been out in LA or did you come from somewhere else and ended up here?

Cody: Yeah. I actually grew up in Texas. I spent 18 years in the same house. Then I literally was like I'm doing anything to get away so I went to college in Colorado and then lived in Australia, back to Colorado, worked in Silicon Valley for a while, was in Indiana for a while and then finally made it to LA. Then I've taken some stints to work remotely in Europe for a while. Now, I think, LA might be defined as home.

Suzanne: Yeah. I mean, it's a pretty amazing place to call home, for sure.

Cody: Definitely.

Suzanne: It sounds like there's a theme of abundant nature in all of these other environments that you sought out, is that part of who you are, an abundant nature guy?

Cody: Definitely, 100%. I always joke that I feel like my soul is split between the mountains and the waves. I either am chasing a mountain or I'm chasing a wave or I'm seeing if I can somehow get both which LA works out because Big Bear is up the hill and then surf is right down the street.

Suzanne: That's awesome. Your title here at GoGuardian is product manager but you don't have product manager as a title anywhere else in your long history. You're a young guy but you have a long history of career adventures. Can you maybe just tell us a little bit about your journey into the product manager role?

Cody: Yeah. Actually, when I was in college, I was an engineer and not a software engineer as most people in product manager start as but actually I'm a mechanical engineer. Then I went into aerospace. Then I originally jumped out, I played in the CrossFit space for a while. I did some consulting and advising for startups. I also taught myself how to code along the way. Then I ended up at GoGuardian and through my time at GoGuardian, I think I've probably worked in almost every aspect of the business at this point in some way, shape or form and then eventually got to product manager. I think that's actually one of the things that is also a really valuable quality of a product manager is to be able to understand the perspective of everyone they're speaking for as well as be able to be an effective product manager because now I have to have to speak to those people, speak for those people and aggregate all of those thoughts into the decisions I'm making going forward.

Suzanne: This isn't about singling out anyone here at GoGuardian but when you talk about this people, I think what you're describing is the different departments and different departments have different mindsets and you come from an engineering background, who are the hardest people for you to learn to speak to and with along the way?

Cody: Of course, with my engineering background, the engineers were by far the easiest because we just nerd out on something and then we're bonding. I would say, actually, the hardest has oftentimes been the leadership. Simply because the things that make, especially in a startup environment, leadership successful is this very much bias towards action and moving quickly and just pushing to get things done whereas, oftentimes, a product manager needs to sit and think and digest and then come up with a plan of action based on a strategy. Being able to communicate effectively both for and with the executive team is oftentimes both what's the biggest challenge and where you can have the biggest results because by effectively communicating to the rest of the organization the strategic direction from the company that's coming down from a leadership above you, you can actually cohesively help them understand the vision of the company and where it's going.

Suzanne: It's interesting that you bring up the executive team because one of the things that I tell my students pretty much first day of class is confidence. If it's not currently on your self-audit of personal qualities, you got to go out and you got to bolster it because the truth about this role is you're oftentimes going to be surrounded on all sides by people who are perhaps more senior than you, certainly more skilled than you or domain specific in their skill. Product managers are great generalists but that tends to be a bit of a dilution of skill set across a lot of different areas. Then you're dealing, as you say, with an executive team and you don't have power. You have all of this responsibility that's being thrust upon you and expectation to get people into alignment and no power and then you have to also, as you're describing, stand up sometimes to ... It could be the people who founded the company, that will be challenging I imagine.

Cody: Very much so. I would say, it's how different people derive their confidence. I would say most product managers actually derive their confidence from their data and knowledge. In an engineering capacity, an engineer is going to derive their confidence from their skill sets within engineering and understanding the architecture and the data flow and the actual code itself.

As a product manager, oftentimes your confidence and your knowledge in this case comes from the market. What you're trying to do is you're trying to understand the market forces, you're trying to understand the customers, you're trying to understand the costumers' problems, you're trying to understand the problems as well of the business and where the sales people are struggling with, what are the support team struggling with, why is design and engineering conflicting. What you're doing is by taking it all this knowledge and constructing frameworks of thought and really graphing out how those pieces interact with each other. Now your confidence is not an abstract or artificial one, you are confident in the data that you have and the data that you've collected and how those pieces interact and can speak effectively. That's when not only are you able to project that confidence outward but you're actually able to get people to buy in, that you're the one to be coming to when they have questions about the market knowledge or how these teams are feeling or what data is most important.

Suzanne: I'm so glad that you bring that up specifically because I think that's the other piece is, okay, how do I stand up for myself. Another challenge that I've heard a lot from folks is I've got data and intelligence that suggests that the decision that we need to make is this one. Then I've got pressure from the leadership team who may not be as connected to the data as they once were, may have a different agenda that's driving them, pushing, to have things be a certain way which could be rooted in ego, could be, as I say, pressure from investors, from outside forces or just, generally, a lack of connection. In that case, do you just put your business case down, present it and hope for the best? I mean, what advice could you offer somebody who's in that position of being right based on the data?

Cody: Totally. What I would say is, very often, when someone believes they're right with the data, they believe they're right with the data that they have in their hands and they have access to today. Oftentimes, you can be wrong because you don't have a piece of data that contradicts your conclusions. You gave a great example which is what if it's coming down from the leadership team. Starting from the perspective that you're working with intelligent, rational, logical human beings, everyone has a perspective, a lens through which they see the world, that's being influenced by these different pieces of data that they have whether it's how they grew up as a child or whether they had a conversation with a competitor that makes them see something differently.

Oftentimes, the confidence to be able to push back and ask why someone sees something differently is how you, for lack of a better word, level up because now I can actually say to my leadership team, "Why it is the data that I have and I came to this conclusion off of different than the conclusion that you have?" If I can really try to understand these foundational pieces that are different, it allows me to both have confidence in the decision they're making as opposed to being disenfranchised when somebody tells me, "We're going a different route." As well as be able to effectively communicate with them in the future as well because now I can understand that they only need one to two data points but if they're from somebody they trust, that's how they think and that's what's impactful for them. Then I can communicate with them by ... I don't need a survey, I need to go find one or two leaders who also reverberate with the data that my survey provided.

Suzanne: Yeah. I think the sound bite for that is to know your stakeholders is to know their bias.

Cody: Exactly.

Suzanne: Let's go back a minute for your background because ... Okay. You're a mechanical engineer, then you're like CrossFit and then that's something completely different, and you sort of found your way into consulting and consulting for startups, and you've worked as a data scientist. I mean, you have all of these diverse skill sets across domain but then, also, diverse skills across the product management domain. The thing I think about product management that makes it equally exciting and challenging is that it does cut across so many different areas of focus. Are there specific skills, in your opinion, that are more must have than nice to have? If you were advising me on starting to level up from zero, what would you suggest will be a good place to go and what would you suggest I could leave for later?

Cody: The biggest piece is how do you truly understand the perspective. My background gave me perspective because I was a customer support person. I did built sales tools, I have worked as a software engineer so I have actively been in each one of these roles and that's what has allowed me to be an effective product manager. What I would say is if you don't have actual experience as being a support representative, how can you understand their struggles and what they're going through on a daily basis? In some cases, that's literally just shadowing somebody for a day or taking that role for even a day or two days allows you to more effectively step into each one of those roles and really understand what are their frustrations, what are they feeling and be able to communicate effectively for them.

Suzanne: What I think I'm hearing you say is start with empathy, start with perspective. Well, you said perspective but how do I step outside of my own self and start to observe situations and lived experiences of others in a way that allows me to empathize with their position.

Cody: I would even go further and say not only do you have to empathize with their position but you have to advocate for their position. When design comes back with a mock and says, "This is what we want to build," I know how to say, "We can't do this because this is going to take engineering too long," but I can't do that unless I have an understanding of what engineers are actually facing. When leadership comes and says, "We're going to make this change. It's going to be a breaking change and, yes, it'll frustrate some customers," I need to advocate for the support team and say, "I don't think this is going to work because our support team is just not going to be able to handle the load and they're going to get frustrated with how we're doing this." To really be a good product manager, you have to advocate for whoever is not in the room when decisions are being made. That perspective and that empathy, as you speak to, allows you to do that more effectively.

Suzanne: One of the things that's striking me hearing you speak about that is the difference between a startup environment versus an environment that's scaled. Most of your experience has been with startups, GoGuardian might be described as a startup, we'll talk a little bit later more about that. I think that's an important distinction because the smaller the team, the less process, the less defined whatever, the more you are constantly evaluating everything and trying to see it. If you have the luxury of coming into an organization that's been stood up, there's already a clear delineation, there's already a flow for better or for worse and it's not usually tasked upon you as a PM to deal with that stuff. I'm sure there's a question in here. I guess what I'm looking for first is just your own reflection on the startup environment, why it calls to you and how you think it's different fundamentally from larger scale organizations or established organizations?

Cody: Yeah. To begin with, as you mentioned, most of my experience is much more the early stage startups whether it's less than 10 people or GoGuardian which is right around the 100-person mark. In a startup environment, there is almost no process. If there is a process, oftentimes it's one that was ad hoc and just created out of the ether because something went wrong and we just had to solve it, a hacky solution if you will in engineering terms.

Suzanne: A hot fix.

Cody: Hot fix. Don't get me started, that's bringing me back nightmares. Starting from that sense whereas a more established company, I used to work at Lockheed Martin, they have already solved all these problems. When you're talking at a startup, they have the problems they haven't solved them yet. Oftentimes, it's trying to put those pieces in place, trying to identify what are the biggest problems and how do you really address them as a product manager.

Suzanne: Comparing that kind of established experience that you're describing, would you go back into that environment willingly?

Cody: No. I would say, this is one of the biggest learnings I had about myself. One of the things I would advocate anyone, a product manager or otherwise, to really understand is where do they find happiness and what really draws them, what are they most engaged, most happy, most effective. For me, it's when I feel like I have some agency, some control over my situation. That is something that was kind of why I jump from the cog in this giant Lockheed Martin system to very much the other end of the spectrum, on the startup side is because I felt happier when I had some control and when I had more ability to drive decisions and have a voice. I traded. I traded a stable salary and I traded a higher risk in terms of, okay, I have options but there could be zero dollars in a year if something goes wrong. That's who I am as a human being and that's what I really enjoy. The more you can understand who you are, what's important to you and where you are most happy, then you can find a position that's a better fit for you personally.

Suzanne: Yeah. It's funny, you used the word agency and I advocate for this with people who come to me for career advice is the first bit of agency starts with knowing who you are, what excites you, where you're going to thrive and what motivates you. I'm a serial entrepreneur and I, as well, thrive in smaller environments and environments that let me get my hands into a lot of things.

Early in my career, as a leader, I made the mistake of assuming everybody also was motivated that way. People would come in to my organization and then I would say, "You can carve your own path, you can do whatever you want. If you see something that hasn't been thought about, think about it, bring me a process, bring a solution, leave your mark, isn't that going to be amazing," and a lot of the times I found that people just stayed inside their ... It's like when you're training pets and there's, they call it, an invisible boundary. There's no walls but they're like, "No, I'm here." That was perplexing to me and then I had to realize, "Okay, it's just different."

When I talk about agency with people, I say, "If you want to touch everything, if you want some control, some legacy, then ... I mean, don't go to Apple. I mean, I'm sure it's an amazing place to work for a lot of different reasons but it's not going to be a role, certainly, for a junior product manager where you're going to walk-in off the street and then be road mapping and having all of these major influences. It's going to be like, 'No, you're going to groom the backlog,' is what you're probably going to do."

Cody: Yeah. I think you nailed it on the head when you said it's very much the expectations and who you are as a person. It's interesting that we have that conversation because GoGuardian is in the education space and so oftentimes in early hiring, we look at people that are hired straight out of that college environment or from large companies as well, I will say, very much reinforced this which is here's your expectations like here's your 10 KPIs that we're measuring you against and here's your career path for the next 20 years. In education, you hit these grades at the end of the year, you go to the next level. You hit these expectations through job, and then you go to senior product manager and then you go to head of product and then you go to director and then you go to VP and then you go to senior VP. You had this very linear path forward whereas ...

Suzanne: Sounds like Deloitte.

Cody: Right. This is the real world especially in larger organizations. Whereas I feel like the people that are drawn towards the startup, the entrepreneurship and, like you said, the people who can really get their hands dirty and want to touch everything and want to have control have almost rejected that mindset. A lot of times, actually, I would say even the people that are drawn to product management and the people who are drawn to leadership roles in general are the people who have rejected this and they're like, "I want to solve these problems." When I get frustrated, that's an opportunity for me to get better at the company, to get better and just run in that direction. A lot of times, it does come down to how you think and what is the best fit for you.

Suzanne: Great. Let's talk about GoGuardian. The way you're describing it, it sounds like it spits out a personal road map for you on the other end of something. Why don't you do the proper introduction to the company for our listeners who may not have heard about it?

Cody: Totally, yeah. As a starting point, we're about three years old at this point. I think it started in 2014. I came on about two years ago. When it started, originally it was actually a laptop recovery. The CEO was scared he was going to get his laptop stolen so he created a Chrome extension to help him find it if it ever got lost.

Suzanne: Was it called GoGuardian?

Cody: It was actually called Laptop Lookout.

Suzanne: Okay.

Cody: What he did was he did the lean startup methodology. He created a landing page and started capturing emails and had people interested in this. In that process, one of the biggest people we reached out was the schools and said, at the time Chromebooks were just coming on to the market, "We're buying thousands of Chromebooks, how do we find these things if they get lost?" He's like, "Okay, well, there's thousands of, essentially, devices that I can charge for." He started digging in deeper and he had more conversations with schools. Then schools were like, "Well, we also want to filter the internet because that's a requirement," and he was like, "Well, a Chrome extension can do that. Yeah, I'll just add that to the Chrome extension." Actually, his earliest iteration was features around filtering the internet.

In the United States, it's a federal law that if you're providing technology to a student, they have to be filtered from obscene material, "obscene" being a term of art and legalese means that there's no real definition, everybody kind of gets to make it up so California has a different definition in taxes. From that stage, the first step was I am handing a student a Chromebook, it's now their personal device, it's going home with them. As an administrator, I want to feel comfortable and safe handing it off but as a parent as well because parents are like, "No, no, no. This device is not coming into my house and going into my student's bedroom," so that was the starting point. That original product was called GoGuardian Admin, the subsequent product we released was called the GoGuardian Teacher. Now that students had Chromebooks ... There's actually an initiative called one-to-one meaning they're trying to get each student their own device. Currently, there's about 24 million devices in education, meaning about one out of two students has their own device.

Suzanne: Is that California specific?

Cody: No, this is actually United States.

Suzanne: Wow.

Cody: There's 55 million students in United States and there's about 25 million devices so about one to two ratio at this point. It's only going to continue to accelerate over time. The goal is eventually to have every student have their own device for, essentially, equal access.

Suzanne: How the times have changed from my days of school. We had three old PCs played a day in the life of.

Cody: Exactly, right? The next stage, you may resonate with us as well, is when a device is now in a classroom, how do you use it as a tool and not a distraction? Because I would just switch tabs between whatever game I was playing and whatever I was supposed to be doing as soon as a teacher walked around in a computer lab of 10 devices.

Suzanne: Most people do that at work everyday.

Cody: Shhh, don't tell anybody. Teacher was more like, "How do you make it a tool?" Lock the screen ... Apologies.

Suzanne: Go back to teacher was more like.

Cody: Yeah. Teacher was more of how do I make this device now a tool in the classroom. The ability to lock down a student's device and give a PowerPoint presentation at the front of the room or open a YouTube video for all your students at the same time so they can all watch it on their personal devices. Cut them loose to learn at their own rate and you can kind of see what your students are doing live and send a chat message if a student gets distracted like, "Hey, I see you went off and play a game. Did you actually finish your work?" "Yes, I finished my work." "Okay, you can go play a game." It kind of allows the teacher now to actually see what's going on in the classroom real time and be able to help asynchronously and also students can chat back to the teacher, lock them down for a quiz at the end of class. Now, it actually becomes a tool in the classroom and it's not just a digital textbook and it's not going to be shut the entire time.

Then what we're moving towards now is how do you now, actually, provide the real value that a device provides. Like you don't use it as a tool, to you, this is access to this world of information that makes you better, allows you to grow and allows you to really learn and improve. That's the next iteration is how do you facilitate that. It goes from being safe to have, now it's a tool, how do you really allow students to get the value that is your own personal laptop and access to the internet.

Suzanne: Well, I love the story because it's a real story of a series of zoom out pivots, it sounds like. It's here's a widget, here's a variation of that widget that does a little more and stumbling a little bit into problem solution fit and saying, "Here's the market." It's a concept that we talk about a lot and I know a lot of people are familiar with it. Of course, if they've read Steve Blank and they've read Eric Reese, then they know the discourse, but actually to be in the experience of discovering whether on purpose or through a series of trails, where your true market is and where the real opportunity is. Although it doesn't really speak to why your founder was so paranoid to begin with but I guess we'll never really know.

Cody: I think it was his roommate's laptop was stolen and so he was like, "What'll happen if mine get stolen," and so he was trying to come up with the solution. Actually, he found one, his dad just wouldn't pay for it so he's like, "I guess I have to build my own if my dad won't pay for software."

Suzanne: It's interesting, though, even just to hear you describe the application, well, first of all, because I'm an instructor. I mean, it's an adult learning environment but a lot of the fundamental principles of education apply and then a lot of new principles that we're trying to bring in. I'm trying to remember myself being back in school and imagining how it would have looked like and felt to have ... What's the age range of students with devices, we're talking as elementary school even?

Cody: Yeah. This is the part that is changing so quickly. Under about third grade, most students aren't really able to log-in to a device so oftentimes they have tablets and group sign-ins or they use QR codes to sign-in like their QR code on their name badge.

Suzanne: That's why QR codes still exist.

Cody: Right? Up to the camera and log-in. Once they get to about third grade, they're able to log-in. Third graders are now having their own personal Chromebooks. It depends on the school. Some of them, they sit on a cart and they pick them up each time they get to class, some go home and they come back over the summer and they turn their devices in, some, it's now their device full-time. Each school is making their own decisions on how their students use their devices and how they can be used most effectively. I would say primarily right now, it's around middle school is where most of these devices are going into education simply because high school, they're already ingrained and they're already on a pathway to graduating. Where if you can get a student a device in middle school, it can almost follow them through high school as well. By getting it earlier, it's kind of like an easier transition into getting into the higher grades.

Suzanne: Essentially, with the product now in its current state, the individual teacher has some sort of interface that allows them to monitor activity at a high level like all my devices are plugged in, I can see when a light is on and a light is off. I mean, this is a simplification but is that the concept?

Cody: Even a little bit more granular. For example, a teacher can actually see a student's screen. In a lot of cases, this is useful because they can see when a student is actually getting stuck. Just like a teacher walking around the classroom as you're doing a problem in class, she would actually have to look over and see are you stuck on this problem and ruminating and trying to come up with a good solution and she can just help you jump through that. Or now, can a teacher be at the front of the room and he can just see in real time where students are getting stuck, where they're getting off-task. Essentially, make that intervention in a way which is really what education is is how do you intervene at the appropriate times to have the most impact and to help them get where they need to go.

Suzanne: Your role as product manager here, are there other product managers or are you the guy ... Tell us a little bit about how the organization is setup to flow.

Cody: Totally. Right now, we have two product managers. One of our product managers, actually, had come from ... He was an engineer who built the entire Teacher product by himself. We'll just say ...

Suzanne: I might have to edit that out because other people will be listening and then they'll say, "Oh, we just need one developer, the folks at GoGuardian did it."

Cody: Fair. I will say, he's one of the most exceptional human beings I've ever met. He was a user experience guy and he was a developer and he very much thinks as a product manager and so he naturally did all of that early testing iteration. Then came to a product and then became a product manager and then was like, "I don't like product management, I'm going to be the architect."

Suzanne: He didn't like product management.

Cody: No.

Suzanne: How come?

Cody: Oftentimes, a product manager is both the face for our product, responsible for our product and responsible for communicating about that product both internally and externally. He liked being the guy who came up with ideas and tested them and was in the nitty-gritty and got to have the calls and write the code and then see if it worked and kind of go back and forth there versus I'm sending an email to the company about the feature releasing next week and here's how we're testing it, who has access today and managing a backlog and a road map and those types of things so he was like, "I'll go back to being the, essentially, MVP builder."

Suzanne: Right. Well, again, just further testament to what we're talking about earlier which is knowing where you want to be and then equally knowing where you don't want to be.

Cody: Definitely.

Suzanne: Yeah. Okay, so two product managers.

Cody: Yeah. We have two product managers. We report directly to the CEO in this case who, as we said, the CEO was essentially the early product manager at GoGuardian because he was the one talking to the users and figure out what they wanted and he wrote the code which, hopefully, we've deleted most all of it at this point. He's still very much a product CEO. We report directly to him. We work very closely with our design and engineering teams, that's where the [tightest loops 00:36:04] are in terms of processes and making sure that we are building the right things as fast as possible.

In our roles, we are essentially you would call those the CEOs of the product. Every organization is going to have a product manager that falls on a different spot. There's actually some great resources. I want to say Pragmatic Marketing is a great tool, I think there's also [SiriusDecisions 00:36:36], S-I-R-I-U-S, and they all have a mapping of all the different responsibilities of a product manager.

At one end, you have the strategic needs which is I need to understand the market, I need to understand the competitive landscape, I need to understand the funding environment and I need to understand the vision of both the company as well as the market for the next few years. At the other end, you have the very tactical which is I'm writing a road map, I'm hopping on calls with special customers to get sales and I'm very much involved in the sales and marketing and those pieces at the end. Then there's the middle which you can play on both ends. At the strategic end, oftentimes you're referred to as a strategic product manager. At the other end, they would oftentimes be called a technical product manager. Then I think product owner has started where you're a little bit of the world in the middle. The challenge is sometimes, as a product manager, you could be at any one of those or all of those at any one time.

Suzanne: Yeah. Again, it goes back to the benefit of having a wild looking path because if any of those past experiences that you've done ... This is another thing that I offer up as advice to people is if you don't have the product manager title, now I'll start telling them, "Go check out Cody. He didn't have the product manager title, he's doing just fine but if you don't have the title on paper, probably you already have a lot to leverage against the role, you just don't necessarily know it yet." Looking at the different things that you've done, unpacking, what did I really do in that role if it was a marketing role, if it was an engineering role, if it was something completely unrelated? Certainly there's experience that you can take and reframe through the lens of a product manager because a product manager is a great generalist.

Cody: I think you nailed it on the head. I think the requirement of a product manager is almost to be the generalist, you have to have enough experience or understanding or perspective of every other piece of the organization to be effective, not even anything beyond that but just to be effective. You need enough understanding of what the engineers are coding, you need the understanding of how long it takes to design something and how your salespeople are going to sell it. Each one of those things is a required knowledge to be as effective as possible.

Suzanne: Well, since we're playing here in the sandbox of practical advice for folks, let's transition to a segment we like to call get the job, learn the job, love the job. Whenever I set this up for guests, I always feel like a talk show or a game show host, we're about to enter into the lightning round. It's not a lightning round but ... What advice beyond skills, which we discussed a little earlier but just what advice would you offer to somebody who is looking to get into product management as a starting point?

Cody: Great question. As a starting point, I would say, think like a CEO. I say that because you are then having to understand all the driving forces, what does the market need, what is the problem that you're solving, who's your competition, what's your advantages. If you start to think about that in a regular basis and you're having an idea and you're like, "Wait, I have an idea, how much would it cost to build, what will be the returns," and so you're starting to ask yourself these questions. I would say, starting from that mindset of really thinking about you being the owner of whatever you're driving forward. Second, I would say, diving into the actual data. If I wanted to be a product manager at ... Let's use Uber for an example.

Suzanne: Although they're not a really popular example right now, this place in history. Let's use Lyft.

Cody: Let's use Lyft, okay. Lyft just donated a couple of million to the ACLU Rights so they're a little bit more popular. To become a product manager at Lyft, I should understand their market. What's a great way to show that I understand their market? Well, let's say I'm going to walk into an interview at Lyft or I'm going to try and talk to somebody at Lyft, how do I leverage the resources that I have available to me to best understand their market and their users? One is have I used Lyft. Yeah, of course, I have it on my phone, I've used it. I've actually compared it to Uber. I can speak for why I like one versus the other, what are the benefits. Have you talk to some Lyft drivers? Did they like Uber? Did they like Lyft? Why do they like one versus the other? Well, I can tell you, the Lyft drivers that I've talked to liked it because they can get their money that day if they make more than $50.

Then second, I can also get some data by doing something really simple like launch a survey. I could just launch a survey about why people like one versus the other. Now I actually have real data, this is ...

Suzanne: You're talking about launching a survey for a company you don't even work for.

Cody: You don't even work for but that would take me 15 or 20 minutes to get feedback. Now, if I'm going to walk into an interview or even just have an informational interview with somebody at the company, I'm actually now thinking as a product manager like how do I make your product better, how do I make your company better. You're literally starting to think in those mindsets. When you walk-in, you're always going to have a better positioning than you would if you were just, "I want to be a product manager and I think it's a good idea for you to hire me."

Suzanne: Yeah. I think it's a great companion piece to what we discussed earlier about agency which is also having intention if you're on a job search so part of it is I want the product manager role and experience but then the other part of it is where do I want to begin to get that experience at which organization. I think it's really practical advice to say to somebody, "Take a minute, learn about the organization." It might end up meaning that you have to learn about a lot of different organizations as part of your job search but either way that's research that's going to benefit you both from assimilating information perspective and also showing up to an interview prepared. You purchased [and paid 00:43:46] a lot thinking the recruitment process here as well, I am always curious about how prospective hiring managers ... Where is the line between I've done a lot of research about your company and I don't know about this person coming in and telling us a bunch of problems that we need to fix?

Cody: I would even go further and I would say if somebody walked in and pointed out a problem to me that I didn't already have knowledge of, I would figure out how to pay that money to help me solve my problem even if maybe they didn't get hired like, "Here, I'll just pay you to help me solve this problem." Subsequently, it would show that they had agency. That they looked at, and this might get philosophical for a second but looked at their frustrations as problems to be solved. To zoom out, the more that you look at a frustration or a challenge as just a problem that you need to come up with the solution with, I think it's how you can always be the most effective and have the biggest impact and achieve what you want to achieve.

In this case, I've said my problem is that I'm not a product manager and I want to be a product manager and so now I'm actively working to solve this problem. In that case, now it's not, "I failed to get a job or I didn't get hired from this interview," now it's, "I have data that shows this wasn't a good approach and so now I need to shift it and I need to try something different." Now it's just like iterating on finding the right solution to the problem that I have. That can be applied in product management of what do I need to do that's going to be the most impactful thing for my product or it can be applied across your life as well like what's the most frustrating thing you're dealing with and approach resolving that as if it's a problem to be solved.

Suzanne: Yeah, absolutely. Your life is the product, your career path is your first road map, the skills that you need to go out and learn, starting with empathy is your foundation. Love it! Go and solve that problem. It takes the emotion out of it in an important way, as you're describing it, because now it's not, "I'm not good enough, I'm not the right person, I'm not smart enough," whatever self-deprecating belief system and it just changes it to, "This is what I have to fix, the funnel is broken." All of those skills that you will use, where are we having attrition, let's stitch this up, let's optimize this, let's pivot, whatever ... See how many terms I can throw out.

Cody: We can throw synergy in there.

Suzanne: Innovation is important.

Cody: Lab. We'll just throw startup, that term always gets people excited these days.

Suzanne: All right. Well, what about the hard stuff? Where have you either personally or witnessed in others, product managers struggle in doing the job? If I can prompt you on this too, you spoke earlier about implicit expectations and filling the role, doing the job given versus looking for an opportunity to make impact.

Cody: Definitely. I was just trying to frame it up. Building on what we said earlier of seeing things as problems to be solved and delving into them, I'd even say I have learned a ton of things, some of them very painful and some of them very expensive lessons along the way. At least in my past experiences and the ones I've seen other people struggle with the most has often been, especially in product, has been the implicit expectations versus the explicit expectations. I'll say this, it's even much more relevant in early stage companies.

In regards to a product manager, a product manger's implicit expectation is that they're going to do the most impactful things to benefit the company through their product. That expectation is not that's communicated on paper and it's not going to be a KPI, it's not going to be increase the revenue from one million dollars to two million dollars over the next 18 months through these efforts, it's zooming out and saying, "With my skill set, with my expectation, with my knowledge, where should I be spending my time in the most impactful way?" Versus an explicit expectation which is, like I mentioned earlier, it's like, "Here's what you should accomplish at your 30 days, here's what you should accomplish after 60 days, here's the things we're going to measure you against ..." In GoGuardian, we use OKRs, Objective and Key Results. That is the result of choosing the things that are most impactful.

Oftentimes, that's a stumbling block because it's hard. It's easy to get into the weeds and say, "Here's my road map and this is what we're knocking down, here's how many points we're going to finish this week and this is what's in this print and this is my road map for the next 12 months," without ever stopping and zooming out and saying, "I haven't trained the salespeople on how to effectively sell my product. Have I leveraged different sales channels? Are these things that will be way more impactful to do than actually get into the API docs with the engineers to determine how we're going to write the code at the end of the day?" I think that's a big stumbling block, and really understanding implicit expectation of our product managers to make the most impact they possibly can versus the explicit ones which are the ones handed to you on a sheet of paper or a Google doc to say, "Here's what you should be doing."

Suzanne: Well, this has come up in other conversations as well which is the tendency to get stuck and/or comfortable in the tactical because it's familiar, it's knowable and it's completable. You can cross it off the list at the of the day, you can mark tickets as accepted. I think what I'm hearing you say to build on that theme is you're probably not going to walk into a product manager role where somebody explicitly says to you, "Think strategically, think about how to stir this ship, think about what we're not thinking about, look under this rock," and so you have to take up that power. That can be certainly scary if you're coming at it new and certainly scary if you're not used to having been in environments that encourage you to look for problems that other people haven't found already.

Cody: I would even go further and say this is oftentimes the role of the product manager is to really understand the business, the market, the space, the customers and figure out what those things are and then not only that but come up with a solution or plan to go forward and then get buy in if that's the best one using the data set that you have. Then if you get into a spot where you have a conflict, now the conflict is about what is the data that they have, what is the data that I have, what information do I need to close the gap between those two mindsets and perspectives. That's when the rubber meets the road in terms of now I actually have the right data and I convince them and I got to plan out what I'm doing, why we're doing it and how this is going to be the best road forward.

Suzanne: It's also a call to action for greatness, potentially, if you're willing, reach for the gold rings as they say.

Cody: Hopefully.

Suzanne: What do you love about product? What's your favorite thing about being a product manager?

Cody: Yeah. I would start from the fact what I really enjoy. At the end of the day, I'm seeking a state of flow which is very abstract or spiritual, if you want to use that one. In my mindset is that the more that I am in this optimal state where I'm really excited to be doing what I'm doing and I'm waking up everyday with almost kind of a call to action, not one that's given to me but one that's internal and that motivation is really what I'm going to be both having the steepest learning curve possible, I'm going to be challenging myself on a daily basis.

To come back to why I really enjoyed doing what I'm doing and why it's a good fit, one, I really enjoy being around intelligent quality, amazing human beings that push me to be better. Oftentimes, a product role requires you to interact with the leaders at every point of the company. GoGuardian in particular but I would say almost any company, those leaders are, by definition, going to be the people who are pushing the hardest and the most driven and the most motivated. That's the people that I want to surround myself with because you become a reflection of the people closest to you.

Subsequently, I feel like anybody in a product role also has this need for self-importance. To go back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs mindset, there's this drive that is inherently ... Like I want to feel like I am doing things that are valuable, that I'm doing things that are important, that I'm making an impact and that I have some control over which direction this ship is stirring. That's also really important to me.

Then lastly, I really enjoy empowering other people. At the end of the day, when I can hand that off to somebody and I can communicate with them in a way that either allows them to grow ... I can have a conversation with my designer and explain to them how data algorithms work and why we can't query this data and paginate it in this way ...

Suzanne: Although you can only do that because you're a data scientist.

Cody: I did nerd out way too hard for a while there. Then I can have that conversation and then they can become a better designer through that process. Subsequently, I can have a conversation with our sales team and say, "Hey, here's the problems we're really trying to solve and here's the pain points that our customer are really experiencing." Now they become a more effective salespeople, they achieve what they want to achieve, they grow in ways that they want to grow. You literally kind of become this agent of change and growth throughout the entire organization by being able to empower those around the organization to really become who they want to be.

Suzanne: I love that. Speaking of empowerment, do you have any recommended resources, learning that you want to share with our listeners who are also on the path to empowering themselves into new roles?

Cody: Yeah. From a starting point, I think there's a lot of product management books that are out in the market, that I have a feeling you're going to do a much better job recommending than I can in this sense such as ... What is it? There's Preaching in the Gap or Innovator's Dilemma or some of those. Lean Startup, actually, is a great example.

What I would say, one of the things that has been the most impactful for me is actually a mindset change. I'll say the mindset change in this case is something called the Growth Mindset. It comes out of a psychology professor at Stanford called Carol Dweck, D-W-E-C-K. What she found was that if you tell someone that they're intelligent and I give you a puzzle, if you start to get stuck on that puzzle, you've now created cognitive dissonance between the image you have of yourself as intelligent and the fact that you're struggling which means you're not intelligent and so you quit earlier. Versus if I praise someone for working hard, then when they are taking the same puzzle, they're now going to think they're a hard worker and so they will work harder and longer on the same puzzle before giving up. What happens is over a long period of time, you will see the people who value the effort put forth versus the image of themselves for being intelligent or smart or capable or a problem solver, whatever those things are, allows you to have much better results over time when you get frustrated and upset.

The more frustrated and the more upset you are, that is where you have the biggest opportunities for growth because now if you see that as a problem ... I'm upset, I'm mad, I can't convince my leadership team that I'm right and that the things they're trying to say are incorrect as opposed to getting disenfranchise and disillusioned and saying, "Well, I have the right data and they have the wrong data and it's the wrong way to go about it," versus saying, "Why? Why is that the case? How do I solve this problem?" Then it becomes this iterative feedback loop where you just tighten the loop over time because when I get frustrated, I say, "This is a problem to be solved. I solved the problem. I solved it not only for this time but probably the next time that same problem comes up. In conjunction, I've now reinforced this mindset the next time I get frustrated, it's a problem and I can solve this problem. When I solve this problem, I will be better off."

You just continue to get to a better state of mind, closer to where you want to be as a human being. Also, your daily life just becomes an iteration on problems to be solved and the continuous improvement and closing the gap between that and where you want to be.

Suzanne: All right. You're right, that's a much better answer than the Lean Startup. Although you're absolutely right, it's a great book too. In a lot of ways, I think what you're just describing and the way you're describing it sounds like it informs the way that you live. One of the things that I often ask to the guests here on the show in closing which I'm going to ask you is do you have a personal mantra or quote or philosophy that does guide you personally, professionally or both, something you want to share with our listeners.

Cody: Yeah. I'll say, one of things that has been the driving force of who I am as a human being has been the idea of entelechy. Entelechy is from Aristotle, it's the idea between the difference between potential and actual. It's the moving between what is potential and what is actual so, for lack of a better word, self-actualization, achieving your own potential. I've applied this to myself in the sense that I want to be the best version of myself possible, I want to achieve my own potential. I've optimized my life in this way so I surround myself with people that push me forward. Even when I get frustrated or upset or scared or in pain, I have people that push me to be better. Subsequently, it helps me, actually, take the people around me and help them achieve their own potential because when you look out, you'll just see we're operating so much lower than where so many of us could be.

Subsequently and why I work in the education space is because if you continue to apply this in a concentric, circle fashion from myself to those around me, to those I can impact, to the larger scope, you eventually start to get to this idea of global actualization. If you look around the face of the planet, we have .001% of what we could actually be accomplishing with, close to 10 billion people that we're closing in on in the next few years. If each one of those people was able to achieve their own potential, the leveling up of global civilization will just be immense. The more we can move towards that and the more we can frame our thoughts around that, at least mine personally, the more I'm able to feel like I have an impact. It kind of reverberates what Simon Sinek uses like the why at the center of the circle, that's my why and it just flows into everything that I do.

Suzanne: Cody Rice, thank you so much. Your insights are thoughtful. I think spiritual is a perfectly acceptable word to use, we invite it on to this show. Really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to share these ideas with us and our listeners. Thank you.

Cody: Suzanne, thank you very much.

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