Product Q&A with Yardley Ip

Yardley Ip

About: Yardley Ip is the General Manager of Trulia Rentals at Zillow Group where she oversees product management and marketing for the rentals business. She is on the founding team of Women in Product, a new nonprofit organization focused on connecting women product managers throughout the tech industry. Yardley is also a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post where she blogs about work-life balance and how to succeed in the workplace. Yardley is passionate about building marketplaces, growing monetization businesses, and mentoring the next generation of leaders.

A Silicon Valley veteran, Yardley began her career as an Engineer at Apple before changing career paths to focus on product management at companies such as eBay, Yahoo, and Dun & Bradstreet. She has served on the regional board of the Canadian Cancer Society and she is an informal advisor to several startups.

Born in Hong Kong and fluent in Chinese, Yardley graduated from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, and she earned her MBA from the University of Chicago. Yardley lives in San Francisco with her husband Jason and their two-year-old toddler, Tyler.

 

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What are some key questions you ask in a product manager interview?

In an interview, aside from understanding a candidate’s background, I want to better understand how the candidate thinks about solving a problem, how passionate he is about customer empathy, how he leads a team, and how he sets goals and measures them.

So typical questions would be surrounding these areas but my favorite one is always : “What’s a product that you use everyday? What do you love about it and why? What are the improvements and why”?

This question really helps me understand the candidate’s love for product, how s/he thinks, and allows us to brainstorm together.

Any advice for software engineers looking to transition into product management?

Yes, I was an engineer myself! I got my MBA to transition into product management, but a MBA is not a must-have.

It depends on what type of product management you want to go into, as product management is defined differently in every industry and company. You may be able to transition by finding a problem to solve in your current company that is a little more technical in nature and allows you to define requirements to solve the problem.  

For example, if you are building out a billing system, and there isn’t a PM on the project, you can self-select into the role by identifying problems that you and your team are trying to solve and coming up with solutions for them.

Product management is all about problem solving, and leading a team to help you succeed and get to the goal.

I remember you moderated a panel discussion at WIP summit at Facebook. I was impressed by the depth of your questions and how you articulate yourself. Any advice on how to improve one’s communication skills? How to be more articulate?

Thanks! I am glad to hear that you found the panel and event useful. We’ve since turned Women in Product into a non-profit, and we are excited to do many more productive events like the one in September.

I’d recommend practice, practice, practice in improving your communication skills. It is necessary to have excellent verbal and written communication skills to be successful in product management.

Before I communicate on stage and in meetings, I prepare by thinking through my audience and figuring out the key takeaways I want my audience to have. By thinking about my audience, I can better connect with them while I’m speaking.

Through practice, you’ll learn to be more articulate over time as you’ll find efficient ways in delivering your message and helping others understand your point of view.

What would would be the best first steps for someone who is a Business Analyst to move into Product Manager/Owner role?

Similar to my response above about transitioning from engineering, you can move in product management by finding roles and projects that leverage your domain expertise.

I’ve mentored and managed multiple PMs who started as analysts. In understanding the numbers, both product and business metrics, you’re uniquely positioned to see opportunities where the product and business can improve.

Then with those findings, you need to think through solutions to improve the metrics and solve problems. Being data-driven gives you one of the most valuable foundations to be a successful PM.

What are the key metrics you look at for product success that others may not agree with you on?

Good question. Many PMs look for product adoption by studying top of the funnel metrics, such as visits, and I deeply care about down the funnel metrics to help me understand if the product is actually serving its purpose.

Conversion is key — rather it’s making a purchase in ecommerce, submitting a lead in marketplaces — to know that users are actually taking an action that is valuable to them is how I measure success. Another metric that is often overlooked is retention. If your product is valuable, users should come back and make it a “daily” habit.

What’s your number one challenge in building a marketplace like Trulia?

I love marketplaces. If successful, a marketplace can become its own kinetic energy that never stops. The number one challenge to start is supply. Regardless of how awesome your product is, if there’s no unique supply to meet demand, the demand will diminish.

That’s why at Trulia, we’ve always put a strong focus in having trusted listings, especially in the rentals market, so the renters can confidently find their rentals. Focus on building unique and valuable supply, then the demand will follow.

Working in a very similar industry, the title of “General Manager” is an interesting one to me — especially for folks with a product background like ourselves. I’m curious, how do you see a General Manager and a senior product role being similar or different?

As a General Manager, I am focused on not only product but also on the business overall including other functions such as marketing, engineering, analytics, etc. My goal is make the entire business unit be successful — in metrics such as revenue and in team morale.

Regardless of the direct reporting structure, everyone who supports Trulia Rentals business unit is a part of my team.  On any given day, I’m thinking through product and business challenges, team dynamics and morale, the rentals vision including brand awareness, and what I need to do to make sure my team is empowered and setup for success.

What are the key differences between and individual contributor PM versus a PM in leadership roles?

As you move into management, like any other function, being a people manager in product means that you will have less time executing and actually launching products.

You spend more of your time thinking about strategy and your team. Your “high” when you launch a product becomes a “high” when you see your team excel and accomplish great things.

My advice would be to slowly move into a management role and assess. You can always stay in a role that allows you to be part-manager, part IC and launch products especially in startups where the product management organization is small.

Is it ok to give a non-software product example in an interview as a favorite product? I feel most candidates site the same products like Evernote, iPhone, Slack etc.

Yes of course! Any products that’s relevant to your everyday life is meaningful. Just make sure that you are focused on answering the question by highlighting how you solve a problem and customer empathy.

Being able to demonstrate the your deeply understand the customer’s needs and creating solutions to solve them is key in showing that you’ve what it takes to be a good PM.

What’s a product that you use everyday? What do you love about it and why? What are the improvements and why?

I love Evernote. It’s where I organize my life. I love its simplicity, both in absorbing content and filing system. I love having notes and notebooks. The system reminds me of writing on sheets of paper and filing them away in folders.

However, Evernote hasn’t become a collaboration tool for me and nor has it ever convinced me to paid for an upgrade. If I worked at Evernote and I want to grow its revenue, I would change its value proposition to upgrade users from a freemium product to a paid product.

I’d love to know more about your experience writing about product, especially as a woman. Do you have any advice for writing about product?

Writing about product management can be about many different topics. As I first began in my product journey, I was surprised by how much the soft skills such as getting people’s buy-in and leadership matter.

As women, I don’t think we talk about leading with empathy enough. I strongly believe in leading with empathy which allows me to truly understand my team — what motivates them and what they’re passionate about. And as I’ve become a mother, I find product management skills such as prioritization key to balancing work and life.

You should feel free to write about anything that inspires you. Don’t be afraid to tie your personal life into your writing, because chances are, others will find that they’re going through the same thing and you’ll get the conversations going.

I’m a former web dev that found his career turning into a VP of project management role at 2 NYC digital agencies. I’ve led numerous e-commerce flagship launches for major retail brands and have always been frustrated by the lack of experience and fluency between my creative technical and strategy teams. After filling those gaps and getting to launch, I think I’ve now discovered that product management is where I should have been all along. Any suggestions on making this pivot?

I’ve mentored many folks who move from project management into product management. You already have a head start by understanding the importance of resource management, prioritization, and time management. You also have a technical background which is another skill set that will help you relate to engineers and understand technical challenges and solutions.

I’d suggest either finding a PM role in your current company that requires someone with those skill sets. Or, if you look outside, make sure to highlight some experiences where you understood the customer’s pain such as user research and ideas / solutions that you have to solve those problems — having a rockstar cover letter to explain your transition would be key.

Hope you may also find this article helpful — I wrote it on Huff Post a few months ago: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yardley-ip-pohl/making-a-career-decision-_b_11076346.html

What was the most valuable experience you got while working for Apple that helps you today as a product manager?

To be innovative. I worked there at a time when Apple was launching OSX before the iPhone days. Don’t be limited to see the products that are out there today and *assume* that these products already do the job of solving consumer needs. You may be able to find a solution that works even better and you never know if you don’t try it.

Any techniques or processes you’ve had success with when working stakeholders? And some that haven’t worked so well?

The biggest success in communication to stakeholders is to understand what they want. If you understand the others’ goals and motivations, you can then find common goals that would help them want to work with you.

Do not ever assume that you have all the best ideas. When presenting an idea, be firm but be open to feedback.

At the end of the day, you cannot succeed alone — you need the team to believe in the common goal and want to support you through the marathon to win.

 

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