Aug. 4, 2022

How to own your career growth and become a powerful product leader | Deb Liu, Ancestry (ex-Facebook, PayPal)

How to own your career growth and become a powerful product leader | Deb Liu, Ancestry (ex-Facebook, PayPal)


Do you put as much time into your career planning as you do into your product planning? Deb Liu has had an extraordinary career path, from Ebay and PayPal, to Facebook, and now Ancestry. She’s sat in on, mentored, and managed hundreds of product managers. In this episode, she shares poignant advice on how to intentionally find growth opportunities and drive your career forward. Join us.

Find the full transcript here:

Thank you to our wonderful sponsors for making this episode possible:

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Where to find Deb Liu:

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• Take Back Your Power: 10 New Rules for Women at Work (Deb’s Book):

• How To Change Your Life Through Resolutions:

In this episode, we cover:

[04:32] What it was like when eBay acquired PayPal

[07:31] Quirky culture clashes as the companies merged

[09:46] How incentives drive employee behavior

[14:43] How Deb took on a product management role at a young age

[17:51] PayPal’s hiring strategy for early growth

[20:03] How to succeed as an introverted leader

[25:29] What sets successful Product Managers apart from one’s who plateau

[27:09] Specific tactics for unlocking growth in your Product Management career

[32:06] How to find and create mentorship circles

[36:30] The most important skill for early Product Managers to focus on

[43:58] How to grow your confidence in communication

[46:55] Deb’s upcoming book "Take Back Your Power"

[50:35] One tactical tip from Deb’s upcoming book on how to improve your Product Management

[52:09] How to get involved with Women In Product

[57:11] How companies can recruit more diverse Product Managers

[1:00:04] How Deb built Facebook marketplace from scratch

[1:06:03] The blessing and curse of gaining a lot of users quickly

Get full access to Lenny's Newsletter at


[00:00:00] Deb Liu: We don't talk about this, by the way, but if you look at the very senior, people who rise faster in organizations, the senior executives, they have this skill. And I noticed this as I got further and further in my career. I didn't realize how important this was. And then I realized that anyone who can go into a room and speak about almost anything intelligently without any preparation, has a huge advantage in our industry.

[00:00:24] Lenny: Deb Liu, is maybe most known for incubating, launching, and scaling Facebook Marketplace, which is now used by over one billion people around the world every month. But before Facebook, where she spent almost 12 years, she was at PayPal, where she led much of the product integration with eBay after they were acquired by eBay, and then she went on to lead much of the PayPal product team. Currently, she's the CEO of Ancestry. She's also on the board of Intuit. In our chat, we cover what made PayPal so special and what she learned from the people, the culture, and the way they built product that's informed her approach today.

[00:00:58] We also talk about how despite being an introvert, she was able to excel in numerous leadership roles, what attributes she's found to be most common to PMs that do super well, and also what skills she believes PMs should focus on above all else. We also chat about Facebook Marketplace, her upcoming book, 'Take Back Your Power,' and a whole lot of stories from the course of her incredible career. As you will see, I so enjoyed my chat with Deb and I'm really excited for you to hear this episode.

[00:01:25] Hey Ashley, Head of Marketing at FlatFile, how many B2B SaaS companies would you estimate need to import CSV files from their customers?

[00:01:33] Ashley: At least 40%.

[00:01:34] Lenny: And how many of them screw that up and what happens when they do?

[00:01:38] Ashley: Well, based on our data, about a third of people will consider switching to another company after just one bad experience during onboarding. So if your CSV importer doesn't work right, which is super common considering customer files are chock full of unexpected data and formatting, they'll leave.

[00:01:57] Lenny: I am zero percent surprised to hear that. I've consistently seen that improving onboarding is one of the highest leverage opportunities for both sign-up conversion and increasing long-term retention. Getting people to your a-ha moment, more quickly and reliably, is so incredibly important.

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[00:03:26] Welcome to the podcast, Deb. I am really excited that we're finally doing this.

[00:03:31] Deb Liu: I'm so happy to be here, Lenny.

[00:03:34] Lenny: So, you're currently the CEO of Ancestry, and before that you were at Facebook for about 11 years where you led the Facebook Marketplace team, which is a product I love and have used so many times and I've sold so many products on it. And you also did a bunch of the payments work at Facebook, led a lot of the teams that did the payments work. But before that, you were at PayPal for six years, where you led the integration between PayPal and eBay. And also led a lot of the product team at PayPal. And so my first question is around that. There's been a lot of writing coming out about the early history of PayPal. I read this book called The Founders-

[00:04:13] Deb Liu: Jimmy? He's, it's awesome. He actually interviewed me as part of that book.

[00:04:17] Lenny: , Okay. I, I missed that part and I will have to go read it. It's such a fascinating tale, the story of PayPal. And- And there's a story about Meg Whitman coming to the office when the acquisition was announced and her, like, very corporate T-shirt and everyone at PayPal is like, "Oh no, what are we doing joining this big company?" And so I'm really curious from your time there, and I think you joined right before that happened, what was it like to be on the PayPal side of this acquisition going through this acquisition by eBay?

[00:04:44] Deb Liu: You know, I actually stumbled onto my career at PayPal. I was graduating from Stanford and I saw this start up, PayPal, and I loved PayPal. I was an eBay seller, and I went to the booth that PayPal, um, had at the Stanford, the Graduate School of Business and I just wanted to tell them how much I loved their product. And they said, "Why don't you come interview?" And I thought, "No, I'm kinda moving back to North Carolina. I'm not sure what I wanna do." And I ended up going to interview and it was really incredible, just meeting the people. And they convinced me to join at the end of June. And we were acquired, I believe, the first week of July.

[00:05:16] Lenny: Oh, wow.

[00:05:16] Deb Liu: And before I joined, I actually had a sale dinner. So, uh, Peter Theil, David Sacks took me out to dinner. And I said, "Is there any chance we are gonna get acquired by eBay because, you know, it would be really awkward actually intern at eBay and then and they offered there, and I turned it down." And they said "Absolutely not. We're gonna stay independent." And about two weeks later, we were acquired by eBay [laughs]. And I actually started working with the same colleagues that I had worked before. It was, it was an incredible journey. I think PayPal is such a small, scrappy company trying to do so many amazing things with a few hundred employees. And it was, just, the adventure of a lifetime. But, it was really different being bought by a company that was run in such a corporate way and it was a very corporate tech company.

[00:05:55] They was a wonderful product and, and I had worked there, and so, I really love the people there as well. But it was just the culture clash between the two experiences, between the two cultures, between the two teams. It was just, it was very alien, I think, to really have one culture and at one point, they called it the mother ship. It was that kind of culture. And PayPal was the smaller, scrappier cousin. And it was just a very different vibe and I think, you know, looking back, what made the product successful was the two things just belong together, right? Commerce and payments. And I think that it really unlocked a lot of value. But I think most people saw the value unlocked, I mean, the value that you looked at PayPal's now larger than eBay from market cap perspective. Which is what Meg had wanted at some point. But at the same time, So she was very [inaudible 00:06:40] in a lot of ways, but I think the differences were, the culture differences were really hard to overcome.

[00:06:46] And now, even as we talk about oppositions, as I advise companies who do acquisitions, it's to remember that there are people and cultures and real human beings behind, you know, each of these products. It is not just, you buy a company and you sloth them in, like, it's a stock. It is a completely different thing. And so there were a few of us who became very close during the integrations. [inaudible 00:07:07] who now is the heads the customer experience at Swimply. You know, she, she and I stayed friends over the last 20 years. And, you know, we talk about those days and how crazy it was and how we kept our teams from fighting it out, you know, and, and how successful it ultimately was. But I think that people kind of look at the story and it's very easy to just gloss over the details, but they were real humans that, and a lot, you know, detailed how d-how did we make this work.

[00:07:31] Lenny: Were there any stories that stand out of, like, culture clash and how different these two companies were? And then also just, like, how did you as a leader, help people through that? Because I imagine many people are like, "I'm outta here. I'm not gonna go work at eBay." How did you keep people excited and sticking around?

[00:07:46] Deb Liu: Well, I just remember, we did all of our product planning on one shared work sheet. It was a s- a spread sheet, like an Excel spreadsheet. And we had to check it out. So it's on a web page, an internal web page, and we would check it out, and if somebody left it open, other people couldn't get in. And we would send each other haikus to get people t- to actually shut down, to close the worksheets so other people would get in.

[00:08:08] Lenny: Wait, what's a, what's an example of a haiku that you send to key people?

[00:08:11] Deb Liu: I need to find some of those haikus, but I remember [inaudible 00:08:13], Ryan Philips. And a lot of them would send haikus to each other, like, they would send these crazy emails and they would say something like, I think it was like five, seven, five. And they would actually, like, beg people to close the worksheets so that someone else could get it.

[00:08:25] Lenny: [laughs]

[00:08:25] Deb Liu: It was just, it was kinda cultural quir- quirkiness. But eBay barked on the system. There was an internal tool called 'tracker' and it tracked train seats. So instead, we would work up our engineers say, "How many days does it take to build this?" And we would give them a spec. The spec would be a few pages. And we would link to it from the shared worksheet and that was literally the entire product p- planning process.

[00:08:45] At eBay they had this thing called tracker. It would submit, like, a PRD and then they would have, like, tech specs and the- it was just the whole system, and you would book train seats, you had to go cue product council. But before you went to product council, you had to lobby all the executives in product council to sell your products. So you would have to set up a series of meetings and you'd have to book a time in product council. You'd have to get the green, green-green, or, gre-,you know, green-green meant that your, you could go forward.

[00:09:09] I just remember us just being bewildered. Like, we would drive down to eBay, One time, they had a meeting, it was 9:00 PM, and we're trying to get clearance in product council because it was the only time we could meet with somebody ahead of time. I just remember all of us going, "What are we doing?" Like, "How are we doing this all wrong?" And it was just a lot of cultural differences and how, your booking a train seat, one train seat, by the way, was 15 days of engineering. Our estimates were like, two, three, five days, like, a big project was, was 50 days. And it just, it was just so, so different, and we really had to navigate how to work at two companies at once. It, it really had very, very different cultures, especially the teams that were kind of in between the two.

[00:09:46] Lenny: What did you take away from that experience that stuck with you to other work that you've done about keeping people excited and on-board with some radical change like that?

[00:09:56] Deb Liu: Well, I think the biggest thing I learned from that entire experience is that people are people, but they respond to the process and respond to culture in different ways. People would go back-and-forth between the two companies and completely go native. They would adapt immediately, because you just had no choice. To get through, uh, a process, to get through a system, you had to do that. And so you realize that it's the same amazing people you worked with on the other side of you with different incentives. And they were still the same amazing people you could go have drinks with, but there incentive system was completely different. Now, it was like, how do you get through this process? How do you get booked? How do you get support? And, I realized that sometimes we all, we often blame individuals for things that are actually systemic process problems.

[00:10:36] Like, if there's a process broken, we think, like, well, they just tried harder to work better together. They just had a better relationship. And I'm like, no. Actually, you're setting up a system where you're putting two people against each other. You're pitting them against each other, and then saying you should collaborate better. And I realized that, you know, there were so many amazing people who've gone, who went back and forth over the years. I went from one side of the integration, and I ended up on the, on the other side of the integration. And just to see how the perspectives were completely different. To be on both sides of an integration meant that you could see why one team felt the way they did, and another team felt the way they did, but they were completely immersed in their own ecosystem.

[00:11:14] Sometimes we, we just, we, we think that if we had just hired the ideal person it would fix everything, but we never look at or systems, our processes, our cultures, and say, what are doing wrong? What are we rewarding? How are we asking people to do their jobs? And saying, actually this is not about the people, it's about the water they swim in.

[00:11:32] Lenny: That's such an important point and a reminder of, just, the power of incentives and processes, and systems, and how that, more than anything that influences how people work. Is there like a story and example that comes to mind of how that went well or didn't go well or something that you changed? Or someone at eBay or PayPal changed to take advantage of that insight?

[00:11:52] Deb Liu: I just remember we would, we were working on a project called 'Next-Gen Checkout'. It was Next Generation Checkout and I was about to go on maternity leave. And, you know, my son was gonna be born, it was my first child, and we kicked off the project. And then right after that, I went on leave. I came back. I actually handed my team over to a, the, to my colleague, who was a friend of mine, and he was, he was my successor. Mike [inaudible 00:12:14], he took over the team, and he was doing a great job and I didn't want to displace him, so I went to corporate strategy. I worked with Rajiv who was the CEO of PayPal at the time, and kind of did strategy for him, and then eventually I started the charity and social converse verticals at PayPal. I was in the verticals job for a while, then I ended up going to eBay. And, when I got to eBay, I lead the, the end-to-end buyer experience, including Next-Gen checkout. And they were still working on it. I've had, actually, and, and we celebrate, we actually had drinks on the, on the lawn of eBay and we celebrated when the project was done, and my son had just turned two.

[00:12:49] Lenny: [laughs]

[00:12:49] Deb Liu: And so, if you think about that, we did the first integration between the two sights. We actually planned it, my team and the teams at eBay, between the announcement of the integration which was July. And we shipped it on October when the deal was cleared. And so, and we had actually, like, we weren't even allowed to talk to each other for a long time because the d- the deal was actually a due diligence, so we actually only did the integration in a very short period of time. And you think about the Next-Gen, that checkout, took two years. And then after that we, we shipped that product and it was successful and then they said, okay, we're kicking off unified checkout. We're gonna integrate the checkouts even more. And we looked at the road map, and it took, it was gonna be another two years.

[00:13:27] And at that point, I said, you know, I'm not I- I can't do this again. [laughs] I ended up leaving to go to Facebook at that point, but, but what I learned from that experience was that it wasn't for lack of trying or care, it wasn't that the teams weren't working hard, on both sides, like, the team was eagerly eager to work on it from both PayPal and eBay, but each individual team had insufficient information and support to actually get it done, and that was the big issue. And yet, there was a lot of misunderstandings in between, it was like, well, they're not supporting us. They're not picking our features. But actually, I was literally on both sides of the project, and that was not really what was happening. What was happening was there was insufficient support on both sides.

[00:14:08] And so, thus you end up in a case where you end up fighting over prioritization. And in the end, when you're starving, what you're focused on is what you need to get done on your side. And so, really, I think, instead, you either fund something like that fully, get it done quickly, or when you elongate it like this, where things are just, you know, you're just creating hostility between the teams.

[00:14:28] Lenny: It's so cool that you were on both sides of this experience and saw how very different teams and approaches worked. Something that, I don't know if people know, is that you joined PayPal when you were very young, and it was maybe your first PM role, and you ended up taking on some significant responsibility super quickly. I'd love to hear a bit about that part of your career and how you were able to take on such a big role so quickly and how you kind of scaled and learned it as you went.

[00:14:51] Deb Liu: So, I had had, um, I had come to the table at the, at the career fair, and I saw Tim Wenzel, who had put together a lot of the PayPal mafia. And, uh, he was the recruiter. He was one of the first recruiters at PayPal. I think he might be the first recruiter at PayPal. And then Katherine Woo, she's the head of today. And she was a year ahead of me at Stanford. And, he said, "Hey, we have jobs in marketing and product. Which do you prefer?" I look at Katherine, since she was the, I kind of knew her, I said, "What do you do?" She said "I'm in product." I'm like, "That sounds good." They've no idea what a product manager did. I mean, at the time, it was just not a thing, it was not kind of the thing it is today.

[00:15:26] And so thus, I ended up interviewing for product, and while I was interviewing, they would say "What would you build?" And I had all these ideas. I mean, as an eBay seller, I had many things I wish PayPal did. And so I would describe all these ideas, all these things I wanted to do, and then I started the job, and I went to the VP of product. And I said, "What is the actual job of being a product manager? I have no idea." I realized that I had taken a job I, I had no idea what it entailed. And she actually very patiently explained it. My manager, [inaudible 00:15:53] also did and, just really kind of mentored me and showed me the ropes.

[00:15:57] And, you know, being a new product manager and having no idea what your job is, I was able to, to really kind of look at the product from a very customer-centric way. So a lot of PayPal employees were not eBay sellers. In fact, some in the company were hostile towards eBay, whereas I said, this is the best opportunity. You have this marketplace of sellers who have their own website. If we could just get them all on board, this is a massive win for both companies. And so I looked at it from a very different perspective. And I think that it kind of gave me this ability to see the world from a customer perspective, but also from a product lens. I, turns out that I'm a very natural product manager, but I think if you had asked me at the start, I just had no idea what it entailed.

[00:16:37] Lenny: I love that you decided to be a PM on the spot, [laughs] in the interview line talking to a recruiter [laughs]. That's amazing. And you were, like in your early 20's at that point and that turned into, basically, leading this integration between PayPal and eBay, right?

[00:16:50] Deb Liu: Yeah. So at that point, I was pretty young and I knew very little about anything, [laughs] honestly. And, and I was, you know, early in my career and eventually my manager left. So a couple years later, my manager left and I ended up taking o- on the entire team. So I had wor- I was working one the integration for a long time, and then after a couple years, I actually took on his role as well. And so, it was just an incredible opportunity at the time, you know, I think that's what's really great about a career in tech, is if you're in a high-growth company, they give you so much responsibility that they, you have no business deserving the right to do. And yet, you have this opportunity to shape a product that's touched by millions and millions of people, and you can grow your career so quickly because you're gonna have such impact in such a short time. And that was it for me, was that I, you know, had this opportunity to build something that was really special. And to be a part of a company at a growth phase that was so incredible and to be part of one of the, you know, most, like, really wonderful stories of two products that came together. And as Meg had said at the time, "One plus one equals three."

[00:17:52] Lenny: Yeah that's, that's how it turned out/one of the ones became ten, [laughs] the PayPal side.

[00:17:57] Deb Liu: Yeah.

[00:17:58] Lenny: Just, like, thinking back to your time at PayPal and eBay, what's, uh, what's like one or two things that you've taken to where you work now that informed the way you built product, hire, lead teams, anything that, what's, like, a lesson that you've learned from that experience?

[00:18:12] Deb Liu: Well, what's really wonderful about PayPal was they did not look for credentials from a, you know, like, you had, you need 10 years of product experience to be a senior PM here. Instead, they, you know, th- the way they shaped their product team with, let's hire really smart people who have product orientation, and let's just let them loose and we're gonna build amazing things. It was just incredible. So few people had product experience at the time, and so they, they said, we're just gonna hire amazing people with like, you know, with great ideas. And they did, and, you know, to this day, a lot of those PMs have now spread across the valley doing amazing and incredible things and are now senior leaders across, you know, so many different places.

[00:18:49] And nobody had had any experience [laughs]. And I think that that part is something which I think we over-value experience over instincts and learning mindset. And that's something I have kept in mind, is that you can have someone who is an incredible expert, has tons of experience, but they're not growing, they're not scrappy, they're not pushing. But somebody who is excited, someone who has passion, someone who understands the customer and really cares, is gonna exceed them every time.

[00:19:15] I remember one day, we went to, we went to lunch a few years after, you know, all of this, we had joined PayPal, and by the way, the PayPal PMs, the early PMs still have reunions every year, thanks to our friend Allen Tien, one of the early PayPal PMs. And we still get together. We're friends to this day. And we just, I remember one day, we got together, this was when we were still there, we joked that none of us could get a job on our teams because we kept raising the bar, saying, "Okay, you need this much experience to be an APM, to be a PM, to be a senior PM." And we said, "We wouldn't even qualify to even be on our own teams." And at that point, we were all directors, GPMs, pretty senior, you know, at that point, and, and we said, "We couldn't even get hired here today."

[00:19:51] And, and that's the difference, right, is that we grew up in a culture, in a company. And so I'm gonna actually say that as you look at the cultures, and the the cultures I wanna build, I just wanna hire really amazing, raw talent. It's great to have experience, it's great to have the credentials, but more than that, do you have the passion, do you have the ability to actually show that you can grow? And I think that's something I really look for.

[00:20:15] Lenny: I want to, get more of your insights on hiring and leadership, but before we get into that, I wanted to ask you a question. I read that you consider yourself an introvert. And there's always a lot of work to, kind of, push yourself into these leadership roles that you're in and have been in for so long now. For people going through this themselves that just like, "Man, this is so hard for me. It's so unnatural for me to become a leader and to be the center of the team," do you have any advice for what helped you through that and kind of pushed through that innate aversion maybe, to leadership in the limelight?

[00:20:47] Deb Liu: Well first, I wanna ask you, Lenny, are you an introvert or extrovert?

[00:20:49] Lenny: 100% introvert. Like, I've moved closer to o- extrovert, and I come across as an extrovert a lot of times, but I'm definitely a index introvert.

[00:20:59] Deb Liu: The reason I ask is I have sense that we are very similar. You know, um, as a PM though, you're expected to connect the dots. You're the connector, you're the culture carrier, you're the convener of groups. You are, in a lot of ways, the defacto person who brings together, you know, the, the teams that build the products. And to, you know, I found that job really hard as an introvert, because you're job was literally to pick up the phone and call people, back in the day when we used the phone, or to, like, gather groups of people to, like, really, to lead from the front. And it was very uncomfortable for me. And I can see that in you as well as over the years we've, you know, we've talked. And, you know, I don't think you have to be an extrovert to be a successful PM. You can be an introverted, successful PM.

[00:21:42] However, you have to exercise the muscle of communication in such a broad way. And so, if I told myself 10 years ago, 20 years ago, that I would be doing this, you know, speaking publicly and leading a company, I would not have believed it, because I was so introverted and I think that's probably true with you. You have 150,000 subscribers who show up to meet-up events, and I think, you know, that's not our natural inclination, but I also think that you and I have one thing in common, and I hope that our listeners will know this, which is, we also are people who if, when the occasion comes, we will rise to the occasion 'cause that's what needs to get done. And that's what a great PM does.

[00:22:20] And I think sometimes we forget, you know, it's easy to kind os say, "Well, I'm fixed," like, "I'm an introvert, I can't do this." And I said, "Yeah. I was not born knowing how to write stacks, or doing customer interviews. I was not born knowing how to do strategy." Anything can be learned if you treat it as a skill, but if you treat it as a natural inclination, if you say "I am just this person," you know, our height is fixed. That is very difficult to change, but our ability to learn something like speaking up, convening people, leading from the front, is a skill that can be learned. If we treat it that way, then it's no longer, well, I have X height, or I am, you know, I am fixed tier, instead, we treat it as something that's learnable, where we can grow into it.

[00:23:01] Lenny: I love that it touches on a recurring theme on this podcast that comes up a lot with guests, is the power of being proactive and having high agency and not just defaulting to, here's the way things are, and here's who I am. And there's not gonna be much I can do about it, that just leaning into that and understanding that you can use your strengths, whatever they are, even if they're not necessarily, like, innately extroverted, you can accomplish a lot of the same kinds of stuff that someone that's more natural at it can.

[00:23:28] Deb Liu: You know, someone is always gonna be smarter than you, someone is always gonna be, have more experience. Someone in the room probably knows more than you. But at the same time, if you say, you know what, that's okay. Like, someone is gonna be more extroverted as well. But, the question for you is what is the best version of yourself the you bring to your team, to your work, to your product, to your customers, and what are the things that you must do? And if that thing is... If I told you the success or failure of your product is you being willing to stand in front of 10,000 people and talk about it, you would go do it because you w- you want your product to succeed, you want you customers to be served, you wanna fight for the resources that you need, you wanna get the word out.

[00:24:08] But I think sometimes, we can give ourself a free pass. So my friend, Caroline Suzaki, she's a, a career coach, she says, you know, unintentional, ridiculous strategies is we give ourselves a free pass. We say, "Well, I'm an introvert, so therefore, I can't." But instead say, "This is what's absolutely necessary. How do I rise to that occasion?" You don't, you know, in the back of your head, you don't go, I'm just gonna show up to this meeting and not say anything, but that's a, that's a ridiculous strategy. But how often do we do that because we give ourself a free pass? And so one of the things I encourage each of us to do, as you said, high agency, like, take control and say, what is the distance between here and there and how do I get there? It might be harder for me, it might be a longer distance, I might have, you know, physical differences in ability, I might not have the same access and privilege, that's okay. I can still get there.

[00:24:55] Lenny: And I find that a lot of times you do that thing that feels so scary, and it always ends up being great, like, it always works out, you know, it's like, rarely is it the fear that you have that comes true. Usually it's like, "Oh, cool. That was a great presentation. Everyone loved to. All right, well." [laughs] "Why was I so worried about that?"

[00:25:10] Deb Liu: [laughs] Yes, absolutely.

[00:25:12] Lenny: I wanted to ask you about your experience hiring teams, leading teams, promoting people. I'm curious, what have you found separates PMs that go on to be really successful and have really successful careers, versus those who kind of just drift and stagnate and, just, don't go anywhere? What have you found to be, like, one or two common habits, or behaviors, or ways of working of someone that ends up being really successful as a PM versus not?

[00:25:37] Deb Liu: I definitely think the growth mindset is absolutely the most important thing. Because someone who's constantly growing is gonna listen to feedback. Someone who's growing is gonna seek out information in areas they're not good at. You know, I had one PM, he, he was, he was an analyst, he went to move over to PM, and he just, he's like, "I don't have a design eye." So I gave him three books, we prepped for the design interview, and now he is the head of product for one of the most design oriented products in the world. But he said, "You know what? I know what I don't know. I'm willing to learn." And one of the things that we need to do is really have that mindset of, I'm not an expert in this, he wasn't even a PM, he was an analyst, and he said, but this is my dream. And, you know, just seeing the people who rise to amazing careers, 10 X careers, are the ones that have that mindset of growth, who say, "I don't wanna just work on my strengths, I wanna shore up my weaknesses. I wanna grow in ways that are as- asymmetrical."

[00:26:32] And, I see this in the best people that I've worked with is there the ones who are the most hungry and are willing to do whatever it takes to get to where they wanna go. And that hunger is just hard, right, it- it's not something that people can have, that ambition, it's not something people could have at every phase in their life, and that's totally okay. It's to say, I'm gonna push when I have the ability to push. I'm gonna take a step back when it's time to step back. But I think a lot of people are like, "I'm okay. I'm happy here," and that's okay for different season of your life, but the most successful PMs are the ones that say, "When the time is right, I'm gonna really push, and I'm gonna drink it all in and make it as possible to get as far as I possibly can during this season of my life."

[00:27:10] Lenny: For people going through that or wanting to push through that and develop, and maybe in th- this example, what do you find is a, is worth your time? Do you find, like, courses are a good way to improve? Is it, like, mentors, coaches, just doing the work? Do you have a general mental model like, hey, I wanna improve a, say, design on a... Do you push people to, like, one direction versus another to actually get better at a lot of these things?

[00:27:33] Deb Liu: I think one of the most powerful things that we can do, is actually, first, starting a coaching circle, because, getting feedback is incredibly important. If you have an amazing manager and peers that give you feedback, that's amazing, but I think, often, you don't have that. If you can find a coaching circle or mentoring circle of other PMs, they will actually help you see your blind spots, because having seen your blind spots helps you to work on them. Second is actually taking that feedback and saying, "Okay. Here are the three things that I wanna work on." So every year, I do a New Year's resolution, and this is not just for PMs but across the board, I, I write out, here's the things I wanna improve in my life, and here's what I'm gonna do to do them.

[00:28:08] Like, having a written goal, and the goal isn't check- checking the box, like, I'm gonna do X, the goal is, I want more of this, and here's how I'm gonna get it. And every year I publish and then I give myself a score for the previous year. And it- it's really, as you know, if you measure, you're gonna get more of what you measure. Well, how many people are really measuring their careers? How many people are measuring the output of the things that they're learning? And so I, uh, I really encourage PM your career, like, you PM your product. You put so much care into writing specs, having goals, having metrics, doing reviews, how often do you think about your career? Not nearly as much. And so, what I encourage PMs to do is, you're focus group is your peers, you know, that's where you're getting feedback from. Those are your customers, those are the- your peers are the ones who are giving you feedback, who are telling you things you need to work on to make your product, your career, better.

[00:28:58] The second thing is, then what are you gonna do about it? What is your road map? You know, often, we don't have a road map for our career. We have amazing road maps. Two year road maps, five year road maps, visions, you know, all of those things for our product, and then, our blind spot is ourselves. I just tell people, like, write out what you wanna be in two years, in five years. Write out your, your pre-mortem for where your career is gonna go, and then work your way backwards.

[00:29:21] Sometimes, it's just very easy to drift from, "Oh, I have this opportunity, should I take it or not?" You know, someone called me about X, uh, this company... And, not to be intentional, but if you say, "Hey," you know, "somebody called me up and she said, I would like to be CEO by the time I'm your age." So I say, "Okay. Let's work our way backwards." And we did the math, and she's not even a manager today, but she's 35. And I said, "To be eligible to be CEO, you need to get on a board, you need to be a GM of a very large product. You know, how fast can you get there?" She said, "Well, I'm probably a year or two away from getting promoted and getting the opportunity to manage." You know, like, at the pace you're going, you're not gonna get there. And so I've been mentoring her and coaching her and finally, you know, she got a new role, they're, they're giving her management responsibility. She got a higher level, but she realized that on her path, her road map was gonna elongate way farther than, you know, when she needed to ship. And so instead, we worked on a new plan. But I think a lot of PMs are like her, not because, and she's an incredible PM, but she puts so much more care into her product than she really thought about her career.

[00:30:22] Lenny: I love all these tactical pieces of advice. I'd love to get even more tactical. Is there, like, um, like, a framework or template that you use of these sorts of exercises? Either working backwards or your kind of resolutions?

[00:30:32] Deb Liu: You know, that's actually interesting. One of my first posts was actually about my resolutions. It wasn't a template, but maybe this year I'll put together a template.

[00:30:38] Lenny: Amazing.

[00:30:38] Deb Liu: But my first post was, how to change your life through resolutions, or something like that in my sub-stacks, so if you go to my sub-stack.

[00:30:44] Lenny: Great. We'll put that in the show notes.

[00:30:45] Deb Liu: You could read about it, but I use that as marking time and actually being able to make progress, just like you do for your product. What are your metrics? What are you measuring? The second thing, I do think that for your career, I should work on a template for this, I actually have, like, a pre-mortem I wrote when I first joined Ancestry, for example, of what I hope to accomplish in 10 years here. I had a template for how our product would evolve over two years and five years that I started with, and anchored the company against. And we show that every all hands, for example. And, these are the kinds of things that are useful because you're, you're now, you know, and then each of the PMs takes my, the vision that we put together, um, when I first started with our leadership team, and says, "Here's how my product contributes to us evolving our product to the two year, five year road map."

[00:31:25] And so it's great to actually have an anchor. And it's the same thing, if you don't have some sort of measurement for your career, but every opportunity that comes along, it has to be evaluated on its own. But if you say, my goal was to reach management by X, to have the opportunity to run, you know, be, to head up a product by Y, to do X, then you can say, "Does this opportunity take me closer or further away?" You actually now have an evaluation criteria. And I think, too often, it's by instinct, right? Like, you'd have too much instinct on, well, you know, is this the right thing? But it might actually take you off course. And so instead, actually focusing on, you know, hey, that's [inaudible 00:32:00], let's focus on what's important. The thing that matters most is what matters. Let's focus on that.

[00:32:06] Lenny: Basically it's like a personal vision statement, or vision for your product, for yourself. I love that.

[00:32:10] Deb Liu: Yes.

[00:32:11] Lenny: You also talked about mentorship circles. What is that and how do you create one?

[00:32:16] Deb Liu: Yeah! So, you know, I've had, um, I've had access to coaching circles, or mentoring circles. I've been in a couple lean-in circles. I'm in a couple s- now I'm in- in a, kind of, executive circle. And these are really your peers, who help you think through problems, but also point out your blind spots. They say, "Hey. I think you're weak in X," and, and, you know, one example was in our lead circle, one of the things that was a huge challenge was, you know, there were a few folks who said, "Hey, I wanna get promoted," and someone else goes, "Well, have you asked your manager?" You know? And that's a very simple question, but that really lit up one of the women on the team. She's like, "You know what? I haven't asked. I was just kinda waiting for him to, to offer it.

[00:32:53] And, you know, instead, she asked for it, and another woman was offered a position in a different office and we said, "You should ask for." You know, "What are they promising you? Can you get that written?" You know, "When you have the opportunity to come back, what ar-" you know, and make her really think through not just saying yes blindly, but actually, very thoughtfully saying, if you had the option to come back, would they, would they compensate you? Would they cover your travel? Like, you know, what are the things that you need? And she said, "You know, I never really thought about that." But I think having a group of people who are kinda brainstorming you career and your, your challenges with you, gives you so much more perspective.

[00:33:27] And they're not there to tell you the answer, they're there to ask you the hard questions that you probably have forgotten to ask yourself because you're so deep into it. And so, I've been a member of four of these circles over the years, and they're just incredibly powerful. Because they give you very different perspectives. One of the circles was the women VPs at Facebook. It was just great to be able to run. If something happened, you could run it by them. They were your, they- we called it the 'leading ladies' and it was just an, an opportunity to have people who are in the same situation as you, and you could run the ideas by them, but they would also say, "Hey, I hear that you're having a rough day, let's talk." And that kind of support is something that's really invaluable and I think we don't use that enough in our industry, honestly.

[00:34:07] Lenny: For someone listening that's like, "Oh, I want one of those." Do you just create one? Do you find people, you know, let's start a circle, or is there a place they can go to see what's out there?

[00:34:14] Deb Liu: Well, there are some, you know, there are some more organized things like chiefs, you know, and things like that where you can join a more organized one. But actually think like, for example, Lenny, you have an incredible community, right? I think your community should create circles amongst themselves, maybe local circles, you know, in New York and San Francisco and Seattle and Chicago. I think this is a natural place for you to find... Make sure though that they're your peers, because it is really important that people understand at what place you are, and differential in, in level makes it really difficult to kind of have rich conversations, but having people who are your peers, really kind of reflecting on you, what you're hearing, you know, the same thing writers use kind of these critique circles, where they're all writers, they're all, you know, sharing and, and helping one another, I think we should have that. And this shouldn't be something that's really standard in our industry. I think way more PMs should be part of these circles. And it has been a huge unlock in my own career.

[00:35:04] Lenny: Awesome. There's actually, uh, something in the works in our community, my community lead, Trey is really excited about mastermind groups and he's looking for someone to help run those things. So that might actually come together, and I'd love your advice and help as that comes together.

[00:35:16] Deb Liu: Absolutely. I am here, I'm here to help.

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[00:36:24] One more question before we get to Facebook Marketplace stuff, which I'm excited to dig into a bit. If you had to pick one, one skill for an early stage PM to focus on, to help them in their career, and then same question for mid stage PM, what would you suggest they focus on most?

[00:36:42] Deb Liu: I would say for both, actually one of the most important things that I think we, we lack is is communication skills, because you know, I, I don't know if you, the communication is the job. You can't do anything alone. You're not coding the product. You are not designing the product. You are not doing the research. You're not doing the data analysis. You're not, you know... You, your job is purely communication and how good you are at communication is really, really critical. And I think we underestimate that. We think our job is something else, but actually most PMs, the job is communication. Actually many jobs, your job is literally communication. And I think we underestimate how important that is. And so this is the, you know, having clear and good written communication skills, but also communication skills around broad communication. Like, can you get up and actually convince a group of people that your strategy is the right one?

[00:37:31] Can you write a six pager, that seems so obvious that everyone's like, yes, we should do that? Can you communicate the need for additional resources to get your team what they need? Those are all communication skills. One of the biggest challenges I see is, it's actually not just the communication skills, but the lack of courage to actually communicate. You know, I get emails that say, I don't wanna bother you, but... They're like, or I'm sorry to waste your time, and I'm thinking, no, don't say that, you know? And I've coached a lot of people on this, like don't, don't say just. Don't, you know, don't devalue yourself before you pitch your idea. And so I do think that it's not, it's a small things, but it's also the big things being really comfortable in a room.

[00:38:12] One of the biggest biases we have in our industry is that we have a bias towards people who can speak intelligently about almost anything on the spot. We don't talk about this by the way. But if you look at the very senior people who rise faster in organizations, the senior executives, they have this skill. And I noticed this as I got further and further in my career. I didn't realize what, how important this was. And then I realized that anyone who can go into a room and speak about almost anything intelligently with- without any preparation has a huge advantage in our industry. Is that fair? Absolutely not. There are a lot of people who are quiet and are very thoughtful or need time to process. And it is a huge bias against those people. And it's also a bias against people who, you know, English is not their first language or they're extremely introverted, or they have other abilities. I think, but I just wanna acknowledge that here, because if you have that skill, it will be rocket fuel. It will be so powerful for your career. And if you don't, it will hold you back.

[00:39:12] And so, you know, I, I don't think it's a fair, I don't think it's fair, exactly, but at the same time, you know, when you go to an executive review and I, I've done these during product reviews where we have multiple teams, like maybe 10, 15, 20 teams come in, and there's a huge bias to the people who can actually answer the questions on the spot, and a huge bias towards those who could riff with the, the leaders. You know, and it is just something that's systemic. Now, I don't know how to solve that problem because the actual work matters way more in the day to day, but you're being judged on the 5%, which is your presentation or your ability to answer questions on the spot. And I think it is something that we need to wrestle with. And I, I do think it's something which will plague our industry. We might not have the best people at the helm because we have this bias, but it is real.

[00:39:58] Lenny: It is such a good point. I have never thought of it that way, and it's so true. I, and I'm not great at that. I'm much better when I can think about it and come back to someone with an answer. And that is not fair. Such a good point, your answer about communication being the most important thing to work on, I, that's exactly my answer to that exact question always. I'm curious if you have any advice for how to get better at communication. What have you found helps people most, other than just kind of doing it again and again and again?

[00:40:25] Deb Liu: Well, so I was extremely introverted, as I said. When I was growing up, I was, I grew up in a small town in the south. I was extremely quiet because people would say, "Go back to where you came from." You know, they would make fun of me and my sister and my family. Like we just had a lot of things happen. And, and again, it's, it was a very different time and I hope things are changing, but, you know, and I just realized if I just stay silent, maybe no one would notice me, if no one noticed me, they won't say anything. And so I just learned that silence was, was my protection. And then I realized when I got to, you know, went to college and I studied engineering, you know, you're doing problem sets. You know, you do labs and it's very easy. You never have to talk. There's no class participation grade. So, it's great.

[00:41:05] And then I went into consulting and I sucked at the client part of client service. I was pretty good analyst. You know, I understood how to, how to do the analysis. I was pretty good at strategy, but I was terrible at the client part. And they would say, "You need to hang out with the client." I'm like, "Why? I do really good work." And, and I realized that so much is not just, you know, if, if a, if a, if a great strategy falls in the forest and no one knew about it, like it doesn't even matter, right? And so I, I learned that I was not, I was failing at the part that was the most important part of consulting, was- wasn't, wasn't just getting to the answer, but it was making sure you could convince people of the answer. And I really struggled with that.

[00:41:45] And so, you know, when I got to business school, 30%, 50% of the grade was class participation. I was terrified because I had never really spoken in class. I had never raised my hand. And I actually taught myself how to, to speak up by actually having tally marks, how many times I spoke. And then I started rating how good the comments were. And it took, it was a practice. Like I practiced it like a language, and it was a skill. And I think, you know, that is really important for somebody in the workplace today. You have joint Toastmasters. I've seen a lot of successful people who are very uncomfortable joining Toastmasters, and then being forced to do it, having a group of people around you, encouraging you and teaching you. That's really incredible.

[00:42:24] Another thing is really joining circles, having a safe place to speak up, lets you try out different things. And then, you know, you'll get more comfortable in speaking in groups and, and those give you more, more kind of confidence for the next conversation. And then I would say this, which is actually try when I did it in, in business school. Like go to a meeting and try a strategy where you really show up. And the strategy is I'm gonna show up and this is how, and this is the thing I'm gonna do differently, and try it out, then get feedback. I remember that we did a two day product review, where we marathon went through every product that we had, and it was like a couple dozen. And at one point, one of the leaders hadn't said anything in two days. I wasn't even sure she'd come, and her manager came to me, she's a lead of one of our, our functional areas. And her manager came to me and said, "How is so and so doing?"

[00:43:09] I said, you know, [inaudible 00:43:10] I don't think she said anything. And I went to her and actually spoke to her about this. And I said, you know, you are an incredible leader. Your pulse scores are great. Your team speaks so highly of you, but we were together with everybody and you didn't say a single thing. And she said, "Oh, you know, you're right." But she goes, "I didn't feel like it was my place." And I said, "But then every single person from your function feels like it's not their place now because you're their leader." And so when I've said it that way she started, she said, "You know, you're right." And she started working on it. She, she wanted to be, she wouldn't do it for her, but I think she did it for them. And so have a motivation, a reason and then start working on it, and just like any product, like have a roadmap, have measurements really understand whether you're getting, making progress.

[00:43:56] Lenny: Such good advice. I imagine part of this is also don't expect every time to go great. Like you have this tally and maybe like 50% of time, it'll go great. 50%, maybe not so great. And that's okay. Right?

[00:44:08] Deb Liu: Yeah. Well the other part is if you only speak once, it better be brilliant.

[00:44:12] Lenny: Hmm [laughs].

[00:44:13] Deb Liu: But if you're part of the conversation, you're trying different things, you're, you're part of the, the group you're part of the, the discussion and not every comment then has to be so fraught, but the less you speak, the more people when you do speak, put so much weight in what you're saying. And so in some ways, actually having a conversation, this is like growth tactics, right? If you only pitch once, you have to hit that home run. But if you're up to bat a lot and you, you take lots of shots and growth teams take lots of shots. They're like, you know what, for the teams that are only take two, two at bats, they better be doing, they better hit a home run each time. But if we have 20 at bats, you know, our hit rate only has to be, you know, more than 10% to beat the other teams that are doing, that have to hit a hundred percent. And so really kind of playing the odds and giving yourself a little bit more space then makes it much less fraught.

[00:44:58] Lenny: And I imagine people may feel like they say one dumb thing and their career's over. They're gonna be fired. Everyone's gonna think they're terrible. And in your experience, would you agree? It's not actually true. People kind of just like, forget it, and they would even ever think about something you said that you think is really dumb.

[00:45:14] Deb Liu: Well, I always ask people, think about the last three meetings you had and somebody, I'm sure somebody's kicking themselves or saying something dumb. Do you even remember what it is? I bet you, you don't. I think we are in our heads so much more than other people are at our heads. And so instead, really say, you know what, I wanna add overall value. Every single thing doesn't have to be perfect, it has to just come together. And not everything has to be ideal. Not every word has to be, you know, gold wisdom, instead actually say, you know what, I wanna be part of the conversation, and I wanna be in this room and present. And I think we overthink the downside risk and we actually underweight the upside risk. You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don't take. You're definitely gonna fail if you say nothing, but if you say one thing that's bad, most people don't even notice you missed the shot, so what? You know, but you took a lot of shots and you're able to think the ball enough that you're gonna help win the game.

[00:46:05] Lenny: I have a friend who was promoted to be a senior leader at a big tech company. And he used to be really nervous saying things in big meetings with all the execs, 'cause he thought they'd think about it and remember it. And he just like thought about it for the next week every time he said something dumb. And then being on the leadership side, he's like, "I don't remember anything anyone said, really." [laughs] Like, what was I thinking, that they have time to think about my dumb comment?

[00:46:29] Deb Liu: When you do two days of product reviews, you know, straight,

[00:46:31] Lenny: Right.

[00:46:32] Deb Liu: ... and it's like, you know, 16 hours, do you remember any individual comment? Instead, you remember how that team made you feel. Are they moving in the right direction? Are they scrappy? Are they fighting for their product? Do they understand their customers? What you feel as a leader often is not about the individual comments, but it's about, did they communicate the problem and the solution in such a way that I'm convinced that they should continue and they should get more resources.

[00:46:55] Lenny: This is a, maybe a good time to chat about your book, which is coming out later this year, Take Back Your Power, which touches on a lot of these things. Can you just kinda share what this book's about and who might find it most valuable, and then I'll ask you a couple more questions about it.

[00:47:08] Deb Liu: Yeah. So I started the book actually almost four years ago now at this point. And I wrote it because, you know, I, I've always, I have an open door policy and I, for many years at, at Facebook, I had an open door policy where anybody could reach out to me and I would just spend 15 minutes coaching them, mentoring them, whatever they wanted. I think for me, I always needed an ally. There were just times when I felt like I needed to talk to someone who wasn't my manager or someone wasn't someone who was really close to me. And I felt like I didn't have that. And I ended up having these amazing coaching circles, but not everyone has that either. And so I said, you know what, if you need a friend, call me. And I did new hire training for many, many years. And every time a new hire training, like call me, it could be tomorrow. It could be five years from now.

[00:47:48] And by the way, there were people years later that I'm using your open door policy, you mentioned years ago. And you know, sometimes people are just in a tough situation. You know, I got a lot of, "Am I crazy that this happened?" You know, "My manager said this, what should I do?" Or other people saying, "I just, I'm, I'm really not resonating with a product." Or, you know, something like that. I realized something though, is that a lot of people were asking me questions that, I realized where I was repeating the answer, which was, "Hey, you know, have people said I feel really stuck. They said, I wanna get promoted. How have you asked?" And you'd be surprised at how many people said no, and/or how many people said yes, and when I asked them how they asked, they didn't really ask.

[00:48:25] And, you know, I realized that some of these lessons were really repeatable and, and my, my manager, um, Boaz said, you know, write down what you repeat. And so I started compiling these things, and I pulled together the stories of over a couple dozen women also, and their lessons of how they succeeded in the workplace. And these were not all up into the right, you know, shiny, happy stories because there were a lot of people who faced a lot of circumstances. And the question about how they got there was that these are the ones who had the resilience to overcome and the lessons that they learned along the way. And so I wanted to share those stories and the lessons I learned as well. And, and so this book kind of weaves that together, but I'm gonna be able to hand people this book and say, you know, what, what you don't need is necessarily me asking you the hard questions. You should just read this because I, you know, I've coached over a thousand people, but I only have so much time, right?

[00:49:12] I talked to someone last night because my kids and husband were in bed and someone texted me and I said, yeah, sure, happy to do it. She reached out to me via LinkedIn, and it was a simple thing, but I hope, you know, then I can increase the reach. The reach of a thousand people is incredible, but it's never gonna reach 10,000, 100,000 people. I just don't have that kind of time or ability. And so really, you know, at tech, it's all about scalability, right? You can write a beautiful email and one person reads it, but you can post a, a post and, you know, on your, on your sub-stack and 150,000 people read it. It could go viral, and even like millions of people can read it.

[00:49:44] And that's the point is scalability. And so I wrote this book with all those lessons, because I just think, you know, in some ways they're really obvious. And in some ways it's really important to remind ourselves. You know, it's like eating right and taking care of your health. People say you should exercise and eat right. It's not like we don't know that. So they should sell no books about that. But instead, this is a reminder that these are the things we need to do, and here's a guide. So it's 10 new rules for women at work. And it's just really focused on specific rules. What other women have done to implement those rules, and how it really changed their career?

[00:50:15] Lenny: When is it coming out and where can folks, can people pre-order yet or, or no?

[00:50:20] Deb Liu: Yeah. So it's, pre-orderable on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and all of the, all the big sites, but also we can send you a link for your show notes.

[00:50:28] Lenny: Absolutely.

[00:50:28] Deb Liu: And then also, you know, it comes out the, uh, beginning of August, August 9th. And so it's coming right up.

[00:50:35] Lenny: Awesome. We'll revisit it when it launches, is there like a tactical tip you can share from the book for folks listening to this right now to give them a little peak at the kind of things they'll find in there?

[00:50:45] Deb Liu: So I, I touched on this a little bit earlier, is the unintentional ridiculous strategies, right? So my friend Caroline Suzaki teaches this and they'll go into a meeting thinking, I'm just gonna sit in the back and not participate. I'm just gonna join the zoom and not comment at all. It's, I'm gonna pretend I'm not even here. Nobody goes into a meeting doing that, but how many times do you leave a meeting, having done just that? And so instead, really choosing intentionally for everything you do, what is the output you want? In this meeting I wanna achieve X. Sending like five seconds before we walk into a meeting and saying, this is what I wanna achieve, and here's how I'm gonna do it. And just thinking about it, that is just something that's so important. And I think that we, we don't do that enough. And so instead, like when you show up, really show up, or don't go. Don't be a free rider.

[00:51:31] And I think that's something which, you know, how many zoom meetings do you kind of drift off in? You're kind of there, but you're not there. How many times do you go to a meeting, but you're kind of, you know, you're mentally checked out. Instead, like when you go, be 110% of yourself, like really show up and be there. And I think that's one of the things that I see, which is if you are gonna do anything, make sure that it's worth your time, and if you don't, it's totally okay to say, no.

[00:51:54] Lenny: I like the, uh, the option of not going. There's so many meetings people have, and it's like important to just recognize you don't have to go to every meeting. It's fine. You got other work to do.

[00:52:03] Deb Liu: Absolutely. Like pick the things that you really care about, and it is absolutely okay to say no.

[00:52:08] Lenny: Awesome. I definitely wanna get to Facebook Marketplace questions, but one last question while we're on this topic is, uh, Women in Product, which is an organization that I believe you co-founded, and you're on the board and you run. And it's such an awesome organization that I look for every opportunity to collaborate with. We've been doing partnerships on meetups and be giving away subscriptions. And so I'd love to just get your, um, just like an overview of what this organization is, what kind of work it does, and then just how folks can get involved. If their, if they're not already involved,

[00:52:36] Deb Liu: Women in Products was born when we... When I was at Facebook, we actually had less than 10% women product managers, but I started out my career at PayPal. The head of product was a woman, the head of product at eBay was a woman, a lot of the directors at one point, Amy Clement, who was the VP of product at PayPal, a hundred percent of her direct staff who were product managers, all the product directors were women around her table. And when I went to Facebook, I was really confused, like what happened to all the women? And in fact, I'm gonna actually enter through product marketing and some of the most successful PMs at the company, the [inaudible 00:53:06] and Fiji also came in through product marketing. We could not be product managers at a company where eventually we not only ran our own product teams, but also engineering. And, and Jim, we were just wondering like, what, what happened?

[00:53:18] And so one of the things that we did was because there, we wanted to recruit more women product managers, and we wanted to network with more women product managers, we started doing these dinners, and we hosted these dinners for years. Our first dinner was years before we started Women in Product in 2016. The dinners started maybe in 2012. And, and for years we would host quarterly dinners. We'd invite everyone we knew, we'd invite other people to invite other people. And we would just get together and talk and connect and get to know each other. And so many friendships were born of that. And then one night we were thinking, you were talking about who was going to Grace Hopper. And we said, why don't we have a PM conference of our own? And suddenly a group of strangers at a dinner said, "We're gonna start our own conference."

[00:53:54] I don't know. It's pretty crazy to do that. But you know, we got a group together and a lot of those women are still on the board, and we started a conference. And I remember when we were putting together this conference, you know, and, and a lot of the, the event planners that were helping us from Facebook were like, you shouldn't do a conference, you're not gonna have anyone who wants to come. Maybe you should just do like an evening event or something. But at that point we had kind of announced it, so we were committed. And so we opened up registration, almost 4,000 people applied for 300 slots. So we thought, and I remember Amy Vora saying, "That's what product market fit looks like." You know, and what do we do now? And so one of the things that we we needed to do was like to first put on a conference, we had no idea how to do it. We had no organization, we had nothing.

[00:54:37] And I just remember thinking, this is amazing. There's so much hunger for this. So we started a Facebook group and, you know, we start, we just saw, women just started the community forum around it. We didn't do that much, but people would find each other jobs. They would coach each other for interviews and they would help each other and network. And that's what's really incredible about these communities is they are organic, right? Very little that we did. And we continue to put on events. Now we have chapters in two dozen cities, which you talked about partnering with. And, and these are women who volunteered, really put together a community in their local area to support each other. And it's just been an incredible journey.

[00:55:10] We started it because we wanted women to be able to connect and build community, but the ultimate goal is to have more women in product management, because what happens was the reason that companies like Facebook and a lot of other tech companies didn't have a lot of women and that we lost so many women was that a decision was made 2004 to require a computer science degree to become a product manager. And only 20% of computer science degrees are actually are women in America. And so a lot of women, including myself, and a lot of the people I mentioned, couldn't get the next job because we didn't have a computer science degree. And so we went into other organizations and other roles. And so we swept out a generation of women who were already kind of pretty senior unless they were rising their own organization. And then with the next generation of women, product managers didn't start.

[00:55:54] So we went from a field that was almost 50/50 to one that was like drastically different. And now we're climbing our way back. And, you know, I started the community because of that. And I think that part of that work is to continue to bring more diverse voices to the table, that we went from diversity, a lack of diversity and progress shouldn't be taken for granted. And so, you know, we're making our way back. We have, you know, worked with companies to drop the computer science requirement. We have encouraged companies to drop the technical interview. We encourage companies to create rotational programs or APM programs that people who with very, very different backgrounds can enter.

[00:56:29] When you think about where product managers go, they beco- eventually become the investors and founders. They become advisors, they become board members. And so if your pipeline for, for one group of people is much worse, you're just never gonna equalize what products are built into the world, because we don't have the, the diversity starting at the very beginning. And so that's the work that we've been working on over the last now six years it's been, and, you know, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

[00:56:53] Lenny: I had no idea that that requirement was such a big component of the lack of diversity in product. Wow. What can companies do if they're finding it tough to have a diverse PM team, as like, I imagine step one is drop that requirement, don't expect your PMs to be technical. Is there something else that you'd recommend?

[00:57:11] Deb Liu: We actually went through this at Facebook. So I was leading the recruiting and I was working with the recruiting team, so I was the, the PM advisor for the recruiting efforts, and first dropping the computer science or a technical degree and seeking out people from a broad background, because I've seen... Some of the most successful PMs do not have a technical background or any type of background like that, but could be incredible leaders. Second is not having a technical interview and not requiring, you know, not having engineers ask about that. The third thing though, was actually the way the interviews were conducted. The way that bias works is that one of the things we did we used to have is something called a futurist interview. And we found out that the futurist interview was actually not correlated with success of the PM at Facebook, but the futurist interview, it favors those who are willing to riff on the future.

[00:57:57] However, people who are minorities and women tended to be more realistic because they tended to be hired based on the realism of their plans and how concrete they were. And again, it was not that the company was intentionally doing anything, it was just the way that we realized it wasn't even correlated with success, and so all we did was to drop that interview. The other thing, uh, I think companies need to do is especially if you have low representation from women and minorities is to, one thing I did personally was I volunteered to interview every single woman PM who came through the pipeline for years. 'Cause there were only four of us. So, you know, so I was on every first person interview loop that they needed somebody. And it was because I read that, this was from Google, I believe, it was [inaudible 00:58:38] Google or something like that.

[00:58:38] It says something like, "If, if a woman is on the interview panel, the candidate, the woman candidate is much more likely to accept the offer if they got one." And so I said, here's the thing like people drop out after the, the first round interview, if they feel like it's, these people are not for me. And so I made it a point to interview every single first candidate, like first round candidate that I could. And, and it was something I did behind the scenes. But as we brought on more women, a lot of them like, "Hey, I bet you were in the first round interview." And I realized it did mean something to some people, you know? And so I do think there's a lot of these studies that have shown how to build more diverse workplaces. But sometimes we forget, you know, just like we have signals on our products, we should look at signals in our interview process too, to build a great product team, it's the same way you build a great product. And it's really looking at the signs, where are you failing? Who are the people who are turning late? You don't look at who made it through you look at who dropped out. Why are, why is there a blocker for this person? Do we lack product market fit with this group? And if we treat it that way, I think we would look at the problems very differently.

[00:59:39] Lenny: Such good advice, knowing how hard it is to do interviews and how time consuming that is, that is an incredible commitment that you made to be in every first set of interviews with every female at PM. And that was at Meta, right, where they're probably interviewing hundreds of people, uh, a, a day.

[00:59:56] Deb Liu: This was earlier on, but yes, it was when we only had a few hundred PMs, so it was a little bit easier. Today, it's like, you know, there's many more people.

[01:00:04] Lenny: Wow, okay. I wanna make sure we chat about Facebook Marketplace, which I keep talking about that we will. And so just to kind of set this up, you basically help come up with the idea for Facebook Marketplace, build the team, build the product, launch it. Now it's got over a billion monthly active users, as far as I know, probably a lot more. I think that was the last public number. You basically smoked Craigslist, which nobody has done before. And like I said, I've used it many times. It's amazing. It just works. It's like what you want Craigslist to be. And so just a couple questions here. One is, I imagine it was really hard to incubate and protect this really big bet that early on was not showing any promise and everyone's like, no way, this is gonna work. We're not like a eCommerce company, we're a social network. How did you keep it from being deprioritized and resources being pulled away in the early days before it showed promise? Because there's a lot of PMs that are trying to do that for their own project, I imagine.

[01:01:01] Deb Liu: So one of the things that was really important early on was that we didn't go full bore. We actually had a small team, but the leaders actually worked on other products. And I think that helped a great deal, because you don't put a giant target on something. When you incubate something, you wanna start small, get product market fit, then double down and so on. And I think sometimes some companies are like, we're going to put 100 people at X. They're like, no, no, no, don't do that, because when it fails, it's like such a, it's so painful. Instead, actually start with two people, five people and kind of get there. You know, a startup doesn't start with 100 people at a $100 million worth of funding. It's the, scrapiness, it's the seeking product market fit that makes it successful. And it is absolutely true in a company as well.

[01:01:39] I think sometimes you, you have... The luxury of too much resources is actually a curse because it also becomes a target. And so instead the way we did it was small teams testing out different things. I think the other thing was really, the user research was incredible in this product. We would go around and say, we need to build marketplace. Here's what we're gonna do. And so many people are like, why would you buy anything on Facebook? And what we realized is there was, there were two groups of people, people who bought stuff on Facebook, people who never could see anybody doing it. And it, I realized the differences is because I'm a mom, and I was part of all these mom groups. And these mom groups were people buying and selling things in the local community.

[01:02:15] So mom sale groups, you know, I bought a ton of things. I sold our stroller, our crib. Like we, before the open marketplace, these kind of secret mom groups would crop up and people would just trade, trade products with each other. And I think that that was the real power, which was, you know, be, the community, built the product first, got to product market fit, and then we came in. And our question was, how do we take these local communities that were closed? And they were very close to outsiders, for example. So you couldn't get distribution. So yes, if it was a mom group, you could sell, you know, a crib or, or stroller, but you couldn't sell for example, a car because the probability another mom needed the exact car you had at that moment was very, you know. So we needed liquidity across a broader range of groups. And so what we were solving was we actually had plenty of supply, but the demand was very fragmented.

[01:03:02] And so we needed to think about actually how to drive demand liquidity. And that was a lot of the work we did in the early days. It wasn't a success in the beginning. It was a long road. And part of it was that we were just not, we were not a commerce company and, and that made sense, but it was, there was a lot of organic behavior, but how do you really harness it? How do you actually pull it together? And there was also frankly, I mean, like with every marketplace, you go through periods where there's fraud, where there's, you know, things that, that might be inauthentic, where there's a lot of issues and you need to make sure you put all those things in place. And so we had to do a ton of the groundwork as well, something that the company had not been used to before. But as we, as we built, it was really the stories of the people whose lives were changed. That really changed people's minds.

[01:03:45] Like people building businesses on Marketplace, people sharing stories of how, you know, this was, there was a woman, Claire's greenhouse. She built a business, she's deaf. She works in the, the government in DC and she builds a community around plants and she sells cuttings of her plants, and teaches people to bring plants into their lives. And she became a wild success locally, and sold thousands and thousands of plants. And her son is her translator, and it's just so incredible to hear these stories, and we would amplify those stories and say, you know what, these are the people we're serving. And so, you know, internally, it was really about communication as I said earlier, how incredible important that is. Externally, it was really about drawing people in having them come in and actually explore the product. And like, you know, I, we sold our car on Marketplace within 24 hours.

[01:04:30] Literally my husband listed it, he got so many contacts. He's like, how do I turn this off? He met two people. Second person picked it up. We sold our minivan and it was magical. And what was really incredible is, you know, it's, um, he had gotten a quote from CarMax or something like that. And we sold it for way more. And it was a very smooth transaction. He's like, "This thing really works." So I was thinking, I worked on this. Of course I worked this, but I think it is that kind of thing where people, then the word of mouth spread, "Hey, if you wanna sell a car, you should go here," because there's trust too. People were like, "Well, I don't wanna meet a stranger," but you know, he has this profile picture, which is him and our daughter, they were gonna meet near our house.

[01:05:06] And it was really that trust element that was really different than other marketplaces too. It's not anonymous. It is just like human beings. But people are coming and look at furniture at your house. They're test driving your car in your car. And so, you know, that trust that Facebook offers, which is how long you've been on the site, whether you've changed your profile picture is eight times, whether your pictures with your kids that you've talked about, all of those things, the things you have in common. Friend- I've bought things from mutual friends, it turns out, and that level of trust was something that was the killer piece of the, the product that most people didn't understand. It was real identity, authentic people and real connection.

[01:05:42] Lenny: I love so much of this advice. Keep it small. Don't create a target on your back. Share stories of success internally, 'cause just like people always, I don't know, don't take one off anecdotes that seriously as evidence, but it, they're so powerful in getting people to just like buy into an idea early on. And so that makes a lot of sense. With the success of it, you mentioned a lot things I was gonna ask you just, like , what was core to the success of this thing and, trust, you talked about. Also imagine just, like, the fire hose of traffic that Facebook brings and being in the Facebook app, but I imagine it also has downside of, like, people are fighting for that real estate and trying to be like, where the hell's marketplace here? This was my product. So that's probably a blessing and a curse. Is that, is that what you've found?

[01:06:23] Deb Liu: Yeah, I mean, that's... So here's the thing. The Facebook app is about relevance, right? And so you want to show marketplace to the people who want it and you wanna show video to the people who come for the videos and games to people who want to play games. And it was constantly like, how do you balance all those things? And so our team was just really incredible at saying, you know what? We want the audience and the people who come here for this. Like we don't want to take up space for no reason. And so the team was very focused on that, making sure the audience was targeted and that the people who loved it got access to it all the time. But [inaudible 01:06:53], it was, in some ways it was a blessing and a curse that, you know, what made, what made marketplace successful was that it was part of Facebook, that the real identity, the history you had with the, the, the company, the relationships you had, you know, a, a sep- a different marketplace would be very difficult to build separate from all of the assets of what Facebook is, which is the history of 10 years that you've spent on the site, you know, doing other things, and your access to your messaging history and your access to your friend graphs, who you have in common.

[01:07:23] And so those types of things are absolutely what made us successful, which is also why it's not a separate app. People always ask, well, why is Marketplace not a separate app? And that's why, because it's so embedded in the fabric of the community that you actually live in, that you're in already in those community groups, you already know these people. And so it's really a very different take on the marketplace.

[01:07:42] Lenny: What an incredible product. Imagine it's in the hall of fame of most impactful products in the world, like a billion people are using it. Like how many products have gotten to that scale? It's unbelievable.

[01:07:54] Deb Liu: It's just, yeah, it was an incredible, incredible team, an incredible experience to really build something that touched so many people's lives. Like people pay to [inaudible 01:08:03], the platform, people supplemented their incomes and, and were able to really build businesses. And, and that was what we were really excited about was that, you know, that people could get financial independence at a time when you know, it, it, you know, when things are tough, you can actually like build something. And it became a platform for a lot of people to really build their business all around the world. And you know, like I think it's is in over a hundred countries.

[01:08:27] Lenny: Wait, is it more successful than eBay right now? I just realized that you worked at eBay and you basically disrupted eBay.

[01:08:34] Deb Liu: Well, it's different because a lot of is local community, so it's local businesses, local people trading. And the other part, I mean, I would say absolute numbers, sure, but it's because there's access to the Facebook like,

[01:08:45] Lenny: Yeah. Wow.

[01:08:45] Deb Liu: ... the Facebook community. But more than that though, is that it was less about the absolute dollars, it was really about are you actually... 'Cause a lot of the people by the way, were very mission driven in the team. Like being able to sell products that you no longer needed or no longer use and not create more greenhouse gases by, you know, getting it from the store, breaking things brand new, but instead of actually up-cycling, recycling, reusing was part of the ethos of the team. And when we talked about success, like how do you define success? We define success was like how many people were getting value out of this? Not necessarily GMV, not exactly... I don't know what the numbers are today. I left, um, almost 18 months ago. But, but I think that the most important thing, our north star was not necessarily just dollars, it was really, are we helping the world? Are we connecting people? And the, the mantra of the team was connecting people through commerce.

[01:09:34] Lenny: I love it. I love the product. Okay. Final question. Where can folks find you online if they wanna reach out, learn more and how can listeners be useful to you?

[01:09:43] Deb Liu: I have a sub stack, DebLiu.substack. I also, and on Twitter and DebLiu_, as well as on LinkedIn, so you can find me on LinkedIn as well. I do post there, and I'm on Instagram. I can send links for your show notes for all of those things. One thing I would love to see is, you know, I, I would love to see your, your listeners talk more about their experiences, or share more about their experiences. 'Cause I think we learn more when we have conversations and we're open. And I know we do that in smaller communities, but I do wish more people shared a little bit about their product journey and some of the challenges that they have, because it's through those stories that we can learn ourselves.

[01:10:18] And I learned so much from people. I, I follow only like for example, Will Lawrence, and that he said, Deb [inaudible 01:10:23] was one of her favorite newsletters, but here's the thing, he was an, an RPM on my team, you know, a few years ago, but he's willing to like put himself out there and learn in public, and I love that about, you know, people like that. And I hope more people are willing to do that.

[01:10:38] Lenny: Would you encourage people to tag you in their sharing if they post something on say LinkedIn or Twitter?

[01:10:42] Deb Liu: Absolutely. I read what people tag me on. I absolutely am on those platforms and I wanna learn more about your experiences too.

[01:10:49] Lenny: Awesome, Deb, this was so much fun. I learned a ton. Thank you for being here. Thank you so much for listening. If you found this valuable, you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. Also please consider giving us a rating or leaving a review as that really helps other listeners find the podcast. You can find all past episodes or learn more about the show at See you in the next episode.