Jules Walter is a product leader at YouTube and co-founder of both the Black Product Managers Network and Codepath.org. Previously, he led monetization and mobile growth teams at Slack. He’s also a very well-known leader in the broader product community. In today’s episode, we discuss the skills that matter most to PMs, and how to build those skills. We also spend quite a bit of time talking about the importance of finding mentors to help you learn new skills, how to nail your next job interview, barriers to entry for underrepresented people, and some of the most common paths into product management.
Find the transcript for this episode and all past episodes at: https://www.lennyspodcast.com/episodes/. Today’s transcript will be live by 8 a.m. PT.
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Where to find Jules Walter:
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/julesdwalt
• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/juleswalter/
Where to find Lenny:
• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/lennysan
• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/
• Black Product Managers Network: https://www.blackproductmanagers.com
• Maryanna Quigless on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/quigless/
• Brittany Bankston on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brittany-bankston-77693a85/
• Benin Saffo on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/benin-saffo/
• Lawrence Ripsher on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lawrenceripsher/
• Matt Mochary on Lenny’s Podcast: https://www.lennyspodcast.com/videos/how-to-fire-people-with-grace-work-through-fear-and-nurture-innovation-matt-mochary/
• Adriel Frederick on Lenny’s Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/humanizing-product-development-adriel-frederick-reddit/id1627920305?i=1000583287891
• Bangaly Kaba on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/iambangaly/
• The Minto Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing, Thinking, and Problem Solving: https://www.amazon.com/Minto-Pyramid-Principle-Writing-Thinking/dp/0960191046
• Pathwise Leadership: https://pathwiseleadership.com/
• Erin Teague on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/erinteague/
• Bradley Horowitz on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bradleyhorowitz/
• Nikhyl Singhal on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nikhyl/
• Tim Ferriss on what makes a great mentor: https://www.businessinsider.com/tim-ferriss-what-makes-great-mentor-2017-11
• Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It: https://www.amazon.com/Never-Split-Difference-audiobook/dp/B01COR1GM2
• Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends and Colleagues: https://www.amazon.com/Connect-Building-Exceptional-Relationships-Colleagues/dp/0241986869
• Chris Voss’s MasterClass on negotiating in the workplace: https://www.masterclass.com/sessions/classes/win-workplace-negotiations
• Lex Fridman’s podcast: https://lexfridman.com/podcast/
• Never Have I Ever on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/80179190
• Top Gun: Maverick on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KBTJBiL3oQ
Interview Prep Communities:
• Lewis C Lin's Interview Community: https://join.slack.com/t/pminterview/shared_invite/zt-1mqc5lzdt-SZuIvbzZIl8ob7UJeydVGg
• Exponent: https://www.tryexponent.com/
• StellarPeers: https://stellarpeers.com/
In this episode, we cover:
(00:00) Jules’s background
(06:07) Two paths to becoming a product manager
(07:20) How Jules became the first growth PM at Slack
(09:03) Black Product Managers Network and Codepath.org
(12:05) The most important skills to refine as a PM: IQ skills and EQ skills
(14:48) How to improve your interview skills
(18:50) Why interviewing is more difficult for underrepresented people
(20:39) EQ skills: what are they and how to improve them
(22:44) The EQ skills Jules has had to develop over the course of his career
(24:27) The importance of having a mentor or coach for self-reflection
(26:09) How cultivating self-awareness helped Jules improve his communication
(30:13) Strategies for learning new skills
(35:32) Improving strategy, execution, and product sense
(37:00) How identifying best practices can help you improve skills
(40:22) Communicating clearly and asking for feedback
(42:38) Methods Jules uses to improve skills
(45:31) How to approach asking for feedback
(47:46) Why it’s harder to get honest feedback on EQ skills
(50:56) The importance of understanding your strengths and weaknesses and leaning into the former
(55:18) Jules’s most impactful mentors
(56:14) The qualities to look for in a good mentor and how to approach them
(1:02:15) How to foster the best relationship with your mentor
(1:06:51) Lightning round
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Jules Walter (00:00:00):
If you give me feedback, I'll be like, "Hey, thank you so much. This is super helpful," because people are like, "Oh, he actually likes the feedback." Now, inside my heart might be melting. I'm like, "Oh, I thought I got better at this." You know what I mean?
Jules Walter (00:00:14):
But externally, I'm like, "Hey, thank you," and I mean it. I think that's the key that most people don't focus on. And if you get more feedback, then you'll just get better at the things.
Welcome to Lenny's Podcast. I'm Lenny and my goal here is to help you get better at the craft of building and growing products. Today, my guest is Jules Walter. Jules is a product leader at YouTube. Before that, he spent four and a half years at Slack, where he was their first growth PM and then went on to lead their monetization teams and also their mobile team. He's also the co-founder and a board member of the Black Product Managers Network and CodePath, both of which are nonprofits that aim to increase diversity within tech. Jules and I have collaborated on a number of projects over the years, including a killer guest post on building product sense that continues to be one of the most shared and beloved posts in my newsletter.
In our conversation, we focus on what skills matter most in advancing a PM's career, and more importantly, all the ways Jules has found to build those skills. We also go deep on mentorship, how to find a mentor, what to look for in a mentor, how to get someone to agree to be a mentor, and a lot more. I super enjoyed this conversation, which I'm sure you can tell. Jules is such a gem of a human. I can't wait for you to hear this episode. With that, I bring you Jules Walter after a short word from our sponsors.
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Jules, welcome to the podcast.
Jules Walter (00:03:52):
Hey, Lenny. Thanks for having me. I'm really excited.
I am even more excited. This chat has been a long time coming. I've been hoping to get you on this podcast ever since this podcast even launched. And then in the meantime, while we've been waiting to schedule it, a number of guests have mentioned how useful you've been to them in their career, and so I'm just really excited to finally have you on.
Jules Walter (00:04:11):
Yeah, same here.
Let's just start with a quick overview of your background. Could you share some of the wonderful places you've worked, some of the wonderful projects you've worked on, and then just a bit about what you're working on today?
Jules Walter (00:04:25):
Yeah, happy to. Some quick background, grew up in Haiti, studied computer science in college, went to business school. My first career was actually not in tech; it was in medical devices. I was a GM for a company based out of France and also overseeing West Africa business for them. After doing that, I moved back to the US, launched my own startup, which didn't work out, and then I moved to the Bay Area roughly eight years ago. In the Bay Area I wanted to become a PM, which was really hard to get into. At first, I joined a startup, series a company, became head of product for them, and then join Slack as the first PM on their growth team. Then from their, help scale the growth team at Slack. When I joined revenue was around 50 million; when I left roughly four years ago was 10x that. And then after Slack I recently joined YouTube Google about two years ago. At Google I'm a product lead at YouTube, where I'm driving a product called Primetime Channels, which actually recently launched in November in the US. And in that product, we're bringing streaming services to YouTube so that users can watch their favorite movies, shows, and sports content.
Amazing. The reason that I think we pushed this schedule of this podcast recording out is because you've been working on that product for many months and I'm glad to hear that it's finally launched. How did the launch go?
Jules Walter (00:05:45):
So far so good. It's really exciting to take a product from nothing to something.
Especially at a company like Google.
Jules Walter (00:05:51):
Yeah. And then over time we are adding more exciting content onto the product. We just recently you announced that we're adding NFL Sunday Ticket in 2023 to primetime channels and also to YouTube TV. It's been a really exciting project.
That's awesome. I bet there's a lot of stories there, but I know you can't talk too much about what's happening at Google, so we'll move on. I like the point that you made about joining a startup, like you were trying to get into product management and you joined a startup as their first PM. I think you mentioned that's how you got into the PM path or I guess... Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's an interesting example of one of the paths into product management: joining a startup, getting into product there.
Jules Walter (00:06:27):
Not as their first PM, but I joined as one of their first PMs. Yeah.
As one of their first PMs?
Jules Walter (00:06:32):
That's something I hear often is just one of the paths to product management is join a startup, start doing product, and then you're a PM. And then you have a PM title on your resume and you can now join other companies. Is that something you found or anything you can take away from that experience?
Jules Walter (00:06:46):
Yeah. It's really, really hard to get into product and there isn't a really set path to do that. What I've seen is the path that we just talked about, join a startup and then from there go into different companies. And then the other path that is typical is being at a company and then switching product management, especially if you develop domain expertise and there's a need for a PM. So, that's even more frequent. Of course there's also acquisitions that sort of thing, but making that initial transition is really hard.
I didn't realize you were the first growth PM at Slack. That is a big role. How did that work out? How did you become the first growth PM at Slack? Was that the first time you're doing growth? What's the story there?
Jules Walter (00:07:30):
I joined Slack early 2016 and the role that was available at the time was growth. I did not know anything about growth, but I was like, "Hey, this is my way in at such a great company." So, that's what I joined to do. And then what I did there was really take a learning mindset and lean on mentors, and we can talk about that to really learn the practice of growth and applied for Slack.
Cool. We're definitely going to talk about some of those things. Just thinking about that experience and that ride at Slack, what's like maybe the most tangible memory or most, I don't know, interesting story of just riding that rocket ship of Slack growth as one of their early PMs?
Jules Walter (00:08:14):
There's many, many stories. My experience was I got in, didn't know much about growth, and then through mentorship, in particular, one mentor, Bangaly Kaba, sort of learned how to apply growth frameworks to my work. And then when I did that within six months, I was able to ship changes in the new user experience, especially on mobile. That moved the needle by a lot, like double-digit percentages within your [inaudible 00:08:38]. And we're talking about top line metrics like activation. It was just interesting being able to have such impact very quickly at a company, and then the company itself went through all these milestones. I mentioned I joined 50 million, the next thing it's a hundred, and it keep doubling, going through a public offering. So, there's just so many stories that are unique to hyper growth.
You also didn't mention in your background all these kind of extracurricular activities that you have. I've always been impressed with how much time you put into things that are kind of just volunteer projects on the side. Can you talk about some of the stuff that you do outside of your actual day job?
Jules Walter (00:09:15):
Outside of my work at YouTube now and also my family and young kids, I'm also involved with two nonprofits that I co-founded. Both of them are actually about improving diversity in tech, which is something I'm really passionate about. The first one is called CodePath and it's improving diversity for software engineers, and the second one is Black PMs focused on product management. With CodePath specifically, what we do is we train over 5,000 students every year at universities, typically the university with strong underrepresented populations, and we help them find internships and jobs at top tech companies. And then with Black PMs, we have a community of over a thousand PMs and aspiring PMs and then we help them find community and also grow their skills. Both of them are nonprofits that I wasn't actually setting out to build them. It's more like I had the need myself or I wish I had those sort of support when I was earlier in my career. And then I started helping folks and then one thing led to the other, especially my co-founders, and then these became big.
Sounds like a classic startup story, solve your own problem and turns into a larger and larger thing. I think I try to work with Black PMs as much as I can, and I know that you recently had a conference, which is so cool. I don't know, it was a really big conference that you organized. I don't know how you all had time for all that, but anything you can share about this conference and is there another one coming?
Jules Walter (00:10:42):
Now we have a really good team at Black PMs. The CEO, Brittany Bankston and the team, Benin Saffo and others, have helped put together that amazing conference that I was able to attend. It's amazing that it's hard for underrepresented community to see themselves in podcasts, at conferences, at speakers, that sort of thing. So, it gave that opportunity and it also enables us to realize that you're not alone. Because part of why I created Black PMs with my co-founders is... Actually, I'll tell you the story.
I think it was around 2016, I was at a barbecue. I met another Black PM, Maryanna Quigless. I didn't know her and I was like, "Oh, you're a Black PM at Facebook. How many of you are there at the company?" And we're joking and we're like, "Hey, I bet we can list all the Black PMs we know." And we had basically roughly 15 between the two of us and we're like, "Hey, let's bring them all together in a room and to have a community." From there, started helping each other and that grew from 15 to now over a thousand.
Wow. Amazing. It's really inspiring, the work that you do. I don't know how you find time for all this. I love that you found ways to kind of delegate this and have other people run the program now.
Jules Walter (00:11:55):
Yeah. Now, I'm mostly on the board of these organizations. We have really solid teams for both Black PMs and CodePath, and the teams are just really amazing.
This touches on the stuff that I want to spend most of our time on our chat, which is around mentorship and just generally becoming a stronger product manager through all the ways you can become a stronger product manager. You mentioned you had a lot of great mentors. I've heard from other people, you've been a great mentor to them and you've also just been really successful at a number of really world-class companies. What I want to chat about is just, what have you found to be the most important skills to develop as a PM as you advance in your career, and then how to actually build those skills partly with mentorship, partly other ways? Maybe just to start, what have you found to be the most important skills in your career that have most helped you advance in your career and other PMs around you?
Jules Walter (00:12:50):
In terms of skills, I think of it in terms of two buckets. One are IQ skills, intellectual skills, like what sometimes people call hard skills. And then the other things are the EQ skills, oftentimes called soft skills. What I've seen in my career is that early on, I leaned more into the hard skills, the IQ stuff. That was what was most helpful to me. And then later on, I spent more time getting better at the EQ skills. The reality with PMs is that within each of these buckets, there's so many skills and then you can feel overwhelmed, so my advice is really just start skill by skill. What I did specifically is I joined Slack, I was in ICPM. When you join a new company, especially if you're earlier in the mid-career, you really want to get good at things like execution, IQ skills, execution, product sense, strategy. So, those were critical for me, especially my first year at Slack.
The other skill that I'll also call out, which nobody talks about for some reason, is interview skills, because so much of what gives you a chance to become better as a PM is working at a great company. How you get that job beyond networking is actually becoming good at interviewing. If you think about my career, getting into Slack changed my trajectory and I was able to do that because I got slightly somewhat good enough at interviewing. I barely got the job and then I was really good at execution and got better at these other things, product sense, strategy, et cetera. In that phase, the things that I was working on, as I mentioned earlier, were things like improving user activation. So, it relies on those skills: identifying the opportunities, running experiments, executing quickly, and so on. That's the first set of skills.
Before we move on, and the second set is EQ, right? Is that where you're going?
Jules Walter (00:14:51):
Cool. Maybe just one quick thread I want to pull on is this interviewing skill. That's really interesting. Your point here is you're not... And I think you're going to get to this of just how to get better at these skills. You mentioned one of the best ways is to be surrounded by amazing people who can help you get better at these skills, but you won't get there if you can't actually get into a company like Slack. Is there something you've found to be useful in building these interview skills? When you say interview, it's being interviewed, not interviewing other people, like passing these interview tests.
Jules Walter (00:15:22):
Yeah. I guess what have you found has been most helpful in helping you become a better interviewee?
Jules Walter (00:15:28):
When people tell me, "Hey, I'm going to a interview at this company." First question I ask is, "How many mock interviews have you done?" And the answer typically is zero. It's, "Oh, I read a bunch of stuff. I practiced in my head." But I'm like, "How many actual mock interviews have you done?" And I would recommend people to do dozens of those mock interviews. Now, the other thing about practice is it's always better if you deliberate practice. If you mock interview with somebody who's actually good at interviewing, then you'll get better faster. But even if you don't do that, just going from zero mocks to practicing in your head to actually doing mocks with peers and others is going to get you to another level. And then the other thing I'll say is interviewing can be quite traumatic and difficult for a lot of people, even me. I mean before I got this job, I interviewed at Google, I don't know how many times, over the last decade or two.
Wait. You're saying you're interviewed at Google many times and you didn't get in then you kept looking for new opportunities?
Jules Walter (00:16:27):
Yeah. I graduated from MIT and I think even since internship times in '07, I'd interviewed for roles at Google and I didn't get those roles or Meta or various other companies. It's because I wasn't good at interviewing and I didn't know people at those companies. By the way, most things you do, people give you some feedback so you can get better at it, but interviewing you never get any feedback. That's the thing people don't talk about, but it's actually an important skill or a barrier to underrepresented folks.
To actually get feedback?
Jules Walter (00:17:02):
Yeah. You won't get feedback after an interview at any company.
That's a really good insight of just people see you join a YouTube and are like, "Oh, yeah, of course he's going to get into YouTube." But you're saying that you actually tried to interview and get into Google many times and it took a number of attempts and advancing your career a little bit before you actually... So, don't feel so discouraged if it doesn't work out.
Jules Walter (00:17:23):
In terms of this mock, that's a really important point of just actually doing the interviews, like practicing, practicing, practicing. Not just reading questions but actually testing and practicing interview. If you were interviewed at a big company, there's a lot of videos out there of like, "Here's the questions they ask. Here's what they look for." And you're saying find people that work at the company and do these sorts of interviews with them. For companies that are smaller that maybe don't... It's not as obvious what they're going to ask you. Do you have any advice on how to find someone to do a mock interview with or how or what to actually be talking through?
Jules Walter (00:17:56):
Yeah, it's hard at smaller companies. However, I think interviewing even at bigger companies will help you [inaudible 00:18:04]. A lot of the times the bigger companies have more rigorous processes. So if you can do well there, then it is a bit easier elsewhere. But the key is really that practice part, which people overlook.
Cool. Well, maybe one last question there and we'll move on. Do you have any favorite resources or just advice of where to go find the questions to mock interview with and then who do you look forward to do these interviews with, like just find someone at the company or one of these larger companies that you respect to mock interview with?
Jules Walter (00:18:34):
I mentor a bunch of people who talk about various communities that exist out there. I can follow up on those, but there are large communities of people prepping for these companies. The key is really just being a part of a community and doing the mocks. And then the last thing I'll say on this is interviewing is hard and especially, I think, hard for underrepresented folks because it's high pressure. It's high stress, high ambiguity-
So much stress.
Jules Walter (00:19:03):
... coming into a company. I've gone into companies like an interview and then the whole panel, nobody looks like me. I walk into the cafeteria, nobody looks like me. And then you are interviewing and you have all this self-talk about, "Hey, do I even want to work there? Will I belong," while you're trying to solve complex problems. So, that's also the other part companies don't think about. What I do, like folks at Black PMs that I coach, is really help them find groups of people, like small groups. Let's say three of us, et cetera, three to five, and then you practice with that group who are going through the process. And because you like the people, then it makes it a bit more fun and it also can help you prep for your own nerves in those interviews.
What I'm hearing is, and I know we hear this all the time, if you're, say, a Black product manager, it's so much harder to not just get in because there's potentially bias at the company, but you're just psychologically not feeling as comfortable because nobody looks like you. You're worried that they're going to have bias against you. Is that what you find?
Jules Walter (00:20:07):
Yeah, that has been my experience and it's also what I hear from a lot of people I mentor.
Your advice there, and this is helpful to anyone also, is just practice even more because that's probably the best way to get over that as much as you can.
Jules Walter (00:20:21):
Yeah. You want to basically practice so much that even at your worst, you're good enough. I've always felt like most interviews, I literally did my worst. It's just that it was good enough to pass. You're so stressed out, you don't relate to the person, et cetera.
Got it. Okay. Let's go back to the question I asked that I pushed us away from. We were talking about what skills as a PM you want to be focusing on that mostly will help you in your career, and we started with IQ. I wrote a couple notes, so there's the concrete skills, execution, products and strategy, interviewing, and then there's a second bucket of EQ.
Jules Walter (00:20:57):
So, the IQ I already talked about. Those are the skills that help me at, especially in my first year at Slack, drive big good experiments, design good product experiences, and then drive results. But then what happened is as I get promoted, managed people and then start having larger scope, then there's a lot of ambiguity and stress that comes in with that increase in scope. And that's where the EQ stuff shows up a lot, specifically things like communications, because it's no longer my team. It's like cross-functional partners, other teams, executives, so you have to communicate all the time to different people. And then the other thing is things like leadership. Now, I'm driving initiatives that involve multiple teams, basic company level OKRs, and then the other thing too is beyond leadership, which is managing your team as well. How do you be a good manager? How do you deal with the ambiguity, stress? How do you influence various people?
These are the EQ skills. What I've seen is, number one, it's much harder to learn these skills than the IQ stuff. The IQ is very intellectual. Sometimes, you just need a mental model, practice a bit. The EQ, I'm still learning these things. It's just like every... I'm trying to get better. Then the other thing beyond it being hard to learn is that the EQ stuff... What you need to focus on is specific to you, so you learn it. You probably work on something different than what I would work on versus if we're both trying to be better at strategy or execution, there's a lot more overlap. So, there's a lot of self-awareness that you need to have to know even what to work on and then you need to continuously practice it.
What did you find was the most important EQ skill for your career that helped you in this journey?
Jules Walter (00:22:50):
I don't know if there is one that single-handedly was the most important. I had to develop on many of these things. I can tell you, for example, communication is something that is helpful, especially as I become more senior. What happened for me is, early in my career, it was more about clarity and then conciseness. Then later it became more about how do you tell a story, and then also how do you communicate in an empathetic way. Specifically, you're telling the same story or presentation but to different audiences, and each time you have to adjust it because the CEO will care about this part, the CFO will care about this other part, and so on. I think that's one area where I spend a lot of time. And then the other thing also that has been helpful is the self-awareness part that I mentioned, where through mentorship, especially mentors who were very honest and help me see my blind spots, I was able to see my own patterns.
When I'm under stress, for example, I tend to withdraw and not see anything. So, then you might think I'm disengaged. By the way, in an interview context you might be like, "Oh, does this person even want to work here?" Then once you know these patterns you know, "Okay, I'm stressed right now, but I need to say something so that people see that I'm actually interested in this problem; I'm just thinking through it. Well, let me verbalize my thought process." So, that's me as an example. For you, it might be the opposite. The self-awareness piece has been really helpful and it's something I continue to work on.
That's an interesting point that it's important to understand how you react and to figure out what's unique about you that you want to be working on, especially within EQ. For this example you gave about how stress impacts you, how did you actually discover that? Was that this mentor just pointing out, "Hey, Jules, I've noticed this happens," or is there anything else there that maybe folks would find useful?
Jules Walter (00:24:47):
Generally, you need someone to put a mirror in front of you irritably. Sometimes, it's like you hire a coach, I talk to, and they see patterns. I've done group coaching too. In this case specifically, he was a mentor. His name is Lawrence Ripsher. He was head of product at Pinterest and became a mentor and now a close friend. One day I was preparing for... I think I need to do a representation and he was like, "Hey, I've noticed that when you are thinking, you're just quiet. Let me tell you what's going on in my own head when I see that." And then he was like, "Hey, I'm telling myself that he's not interested in what we're doing." And I'm like, "Really? That's the least thing." And then I realized that's a pattern I have. Over time, through him and others, I've also observed other patterns.
I missed this, but was he a manager or just a mentor you had within the company?
Jules Walter (00:25:42):
We didn't work at the same company. When I was at Slack, he was head of product at Pinterest. We met at a dinner and then from there, over time, he became a mentor and then we started meeting. When I would hit difficult situations, sometimes I would call him and ask for advice, and then through those interactions he's helped me identify some of my blind spots.
Okay, awesome. We're definitely going to talk about mentorship and how to work with a mentor, but let's kind of wrap up this EQ piece. You mentioned within EQ, skills to think about working on communication, leadership, and management. Is there anything else and then is there an example of one of these skills and how, I don't know, it helped you in your career or held you back until you figure out how to work on this?
Jules Walter (00:26:30):
High level, I think those buckets are pretty broad: comms, leadership, management. Within each of them, there are various skills like setting vision, strategy, listening to learn, those sort of things. It's actually the type of things that Matt Mochary talked about when he came to speak at your podcast. I mentioned communications was one thing, right? What happened was, when I was at Slack, I was pretty good at writing, which by the way I was terrible at long time ago. It took me years, maybe decade, to get better at. But then when it was time to present... I was fine at presenting, but then if you ask me questions, things would crumble. That even happened to me once at an interview, where I did well presenting and then they asked me a question and then I just gave an answer that wasn't good.
Then the self-awareness part helped me figure out what was going on. For me specifically, I realized whenever people ask me questions, if I didn't know the answer, I would have all this negative self-talk and I basically... You'd ask me a question and of course it could be something like, "Why are we doing it this way?" And it might come from a place of curiosity, you're just like, "Hey, I don't know. Can you tell me why you have more context," right? But in my head I would hear, "I don't agree with this." And that would be my self-talk. "Oh, this person doesn't agree with this," instead of being present and trying to understand where are they coming from and maybe asking follow-ups like, "Hey, thanks for asking the question. Is your concern more about, I don't know, scalability of this approach or is it more that you don't think it's effective even if it's not scalable?"
You know what I mean? For someone else, it might be the easiest thing, but for me it took me months and months to, first of all, figure out that I had this pattern. And then once I figured out the pattern, it took also a while to now actually act on it so that now I'm comfortable. If you ask me a question, sometimes I don't know and I'll say, "Hey, let me get back to you." Sometimes I don't know and I'll say, "Hey, I don't know, but here's what I'm thinking." This little thing that may seem so obvious to you took me a while and different people have different versions of these blockers.
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I love these stories and this is a good segue to start talking a bit about not just what skills to focus on, but how to actually get better at these things and identify these patterns in yourself. There's like a bunch of skills we just named, so let's also talk about where you think you start as you're starting off as a PM, which skills to focus on first, second, third. Let me just ask this broad question. We've talked about all these different skills PM should have. What have you found to be most effective broadly at building these skills in your career?
Jules Walter (00:30:24):
I will share my approach. It might not work for everyone and later when we talk about strengths and weaknesses. You might see why that works for me. What I do specifically is when I'm trying to learn something new, I try to think about what is an outcome that I could drive. And if I drive this outcome, it will be proof that I'm better at this thing. If we go back to this story of when I joined Slack, I didn't know anything, literally anything about growth. And I was telling myself, "I hope they don't fire me." But then the outcome I wanted is, within six months, I wanted to ship enough experiments that were successful, that drove activation by, let's say, X percent. So, that's very concrete.
Then once I have this outcome, I work backwards to figure out how am I going to do that. One of the things we can talk about later when we talk about strength is that, for me, I'm really good at asking questions. What I do then is I start asking questions like, "Okay, I'm trying to drive activation for Slack. What are some frameworks that I should use to drive activation? What are best practices? What are examples?" I have a sense of the kind of question that, if I were to answer them, I'd be able to drive the outcome. And then what I do is I read a little bit, not a lot about the topic, just to make sure I'm asking the right question. Then I refine my questions and then I find the best people in the field and I just go talk to them. That's where we'll talk later about the mentorship part.
In the case of activation, I was like, "Okay, what's the company that defined growth?" At the time, Facebook. "Who are the people that I can reach out to that do growth at Facebook?" And one of them was Bangaly Kaba and also Adriel Frederick who spoke at your podcast. I had met both of them at a random event. Then I'm like, "I need to find a way to have a chat with these folks and to help answer those questions with them." So, that's what I did with Bangaly in particular and also Adriel to a certain extent. I then learned, "Okay, here are frameworks to use for growth." For example, understand, identify, execute. Spend a lot more of your time understanding why people aren't staying on Slack versus anything else, so then I had pointers.
Once I have the pointers, then I try to go through the thing. I'm like, "Okay, now let me..." I call the user researcher, "Hey, can we do a research on people who are signing up on Slack?" Data analysts, let's look at the data. What correlates with activation?" Those sort of things. Then after I go through a look, where I actually see results, whether they're good or bad, I go back to the mentor and I'm like, "Hey, I did this. It was actually successful. Thanks a lot." Now, I'm thinking about this other problem." I keep going and that's how I rinse and repeat, and over time I drive the outcome and I also know I'm getting better at this thing by working with the experts.
There's a few interesting takeaways there. One, is that you kind of create a forcing function for yourself to learn a thing. It's like, "Hey, I'm going to learn this thing. Let's create a goal that my ass is on the line to hit and then that's going to force me to go figure this out." And then two, it's interesting how often you come back to mentors and other people around you helping you out, which is a really good reminder. You don't have to figure things out for yourself; there's people out there that know these things and they're happy to help. A question I want to ask and I'll save this, because I we're going to talk about mentorship specifically a little bit later, just like how to find these people. Not everyone has access to Bangaly and Adriel, and I'm curious just how you found these folks, how you recommend other people find folks like that. But that's an awesome example. One tactic you're talking about here is just work backwards from a forcing function you've created for yourself to learn a thing. And in this case, what was it you were trying to learn? You were trying to learn growth, is that right?
Jules Walter (00:34:11):
Yeah, I was trying to learn growth and I wanted to do it in a context of activation, like new onboarding. And then later I also wanted to learn growth but in a different context, which was monetization. How do you drive revenue growth, not just get more users? And then later it was things like, "How do I learn how to create a growth org? How do I structure my team? How do I set work streams that add up to a coherent strategy?" And you just keep going
In those examples, did you do the same thing, you found people to talk to?
Jules Walter (00:34:46):
Yeah. Yeah. It's the same approach. Sometimes what happens is I have a few mentors that I just keep going to over the years and it's just a top exchange and sometimes I sort of get new mentors who are experts at these new topics. It's a combination of those two things for me. And the thing is you obviously can learn without this approach, but this approach makes you, at least for me, makes me learn so much faster.
That's probably one of the most interesting things I've learned about mentors, and you're touching on this, that people want to help. They're happy to help if people come ask, unless they're just dumb questions or they're just overwhelmed. People are generally very happy to help. People are always worried like, "Why would they spend any time trying to help me with this random thing?" It's really the opposite; they're happy to help.
Jules Walter (00:35:34):
Coming back to the EQ and IQ buckets, are there other examples of ways you've learned to improve, say, strategy, execution, product sense, things like that?
Jules Walter (00:35:46):
Whether you have a mentor or not, there's other things you kind of have to do. For me, for example, one thing I do is I try to identify what's the best practice for something. For example, let's say strategy. There was a phase where I got feedback, "Hey you need to be better at strategy." Then I'm like, "Okay. Well, can you help me understand what are people at this company that was awhile back, where you think have done a great job at strategy or what are examples of artifacts?" Then I get these artifacts and I reverse engineering them. I try to think, "Okay, what are the top questions, the answer? Maybe I'm not answering all these questions. How do they do it?" And you start seeing the patterns like, "This person did it in a memo, this person did it in a deck." So, it's not about the format, but what is it about? Then this person had a lot of data, this person is quantitative, qualitative. So, that's a big part of what I do as well. It's true for all these things.
For execution, it would be things like me attending another PMs meeting. "Oh, I heard this person is amazing at executing. Let me just see how they're on a meeting." And then you're like, "Whoa, things we didn't notice." Or somebody is great at communicating and I'm like, "Okay. Well, did you send this email? It's great. Let me save it." I'd have docs where I saved templates of things, and a lot of the reason, I think, people don't learn through osmosis that way is because one is you're not at a company where you can see great artifacts sometimes. That's why I mentioned if you can get a better company, do that. The other thing, too, is even if you see the greatness around you, some people don't try to break it down, to understand: "Why is this one great and not that one?" So, I actually do spend a lot of time every week reflecting like, "Oh, I saw these docs that were great or I saw this presentation this person gave." I sometimes crash presentation audits PMs give to executives, just to see how they handle questions or these sort of things. A lot of it is just spending time observing as well.
I love this advice, it's so powerful. Just like, "Who is amazing at this skill? And let me just go watch them and learn from them."
Jules Walter (00:38:01):
Something that you touched on here is, and I talk about this a bunch, that one of the benefits of working at a large company like Google, like Slack, is that you have access to a ton of real examples of strategy documents and vision documents and roadmaps and things like that, that once you're out of a company, like me, nobody shares these things publicly because they're sensitive. One of the best benefits of working at a large company is they have access to real life strategy documents, vision documents, things like that, so you should really savor that and collect them and, to your point, just study them. And I love your advice of just working backwards from like, "Okay, here's a strategy that work. What is it about the strategy that I can use when I'm building my strategy? What questions are they answering? How are they structuring it?" Things like that. That's awesome.
Jules Walter (00:38:48):
Similar to the mentor point, people are actually happy to talk to you. They're even flattered because no one else asked them. "Well, hey, I read your doc. Can we talk about it?"
Right. Whoever gets the... What PM ever gets someone coming to them? "I love your strategy doc. Tell me all about it. I'd love to talk about that."
Jules Walter (00:39:06):
Yeah. And then the other thing I'll say, too, is a lot of learning happens through the iterations and not by seeing the final product. We all see these products, like the iPhone and name your favorite product, but you don't know what versions they tried and sort of eliminated. And that's the benefit you also get at a company that has great product management. I actually sometimes tell the PM like, "Hey, don't just show me the one you just did. When are you going to do your next strategy? Can I join you then? I just want to sit and watch you write down the outline and just understand your thought process," or "I want to see when you're going to write your next exec update and understand how are you..." And you see them go through these iteration and you see them do things like get feedback that you didn't know they were getting all this feedback from. So, seeing the backstage is also really helpful.
It's interesting. Just as you're talking, I'm reflecting on how many benefits there are to working at a world class company. You are surrounded by really smart people who you can talk to and ask for advice and watch how they operate. You have access to really incredible documents and artifacts that you can learn from. Also, just the logo on your resume is really powerful for future job opportunities, which then comes back to the interview skills that you talked about and how important it is to be good at that to get into a company like that.
Jules Walter (00:40:24):
Interesting. Okay. What about on EQ? Any examples of how you learned some of those skills that you talked about communication or leadership or management or anything along those lines?
Jules Walter (00:40:36):
Yeah. On the communications side, I read some stuff like Minto's Pyramid Principles. Extremely helpful and I know you had an article on that.
Jules Walter (00:40:45):
I mentioned also that whenever I see a great email exec update or whatever, I literally save it in a special folder.
I love that.
Jules Walter (00:40:55):
Also, by the way, I always ask for feedback more than I think many people and I try to see patterns in feedback. For me, one thing I've observed is I tend to write long sentences, coming from a Haitian-French background, but then I see that because I've seen enough feedback that are about it so I see the patterns. Or as I mentioned earlier, I used to not be clear like, "Are you saying this solution or that solution?" It's better sometimes to be wrong but clear than the other way around. That's on the comms side. And then the other things, it's mostly, for me, through mentorship, people like Lawrence helping me be real with myself. I've had a coach for a while and I also do group coaching, which I really love. Right now I'm doing group coaching with a company called Pathways to Leadership.
These sort of things have helped me infer what my strengths and weaknesses are and then work on them. And then one thing I'll say also about the EQ: it was the most frustrating learning for me. For the IQ stuff, within six months, sometimes three months, I can see clear progress when you see enough documents. You see five, six of them, you start seeing 80% of the patterns. But then with the EQ stuff, it's things I've been working on for years. I am better at them, but I still feel like I'm continuing to work on those things. And a lot of it is like lifting weights or building muscles; you have to do it every day or every week. And then if you stop doing it, over time you atrophy again. That's something that people need to acknowledge, too. Give yourself time and then also learn these skills one at a time ideally.
Oh, interesting. Can you talk a bit more about that learning skills one at a time? Is your approach just like, "Here's the thing, I'm working on this the next six months. I'm going to focus on that."
Jules Walter (00:42:53):
Yeah. My approach is typically I'll say, "I'm giving myself, I don't know, three months, six months." It depends on what [inaudible 00:43:00] I want to see in my behavior for these things and then I just go all in on that skill. Let's say I wanted to learn strategy, I'll be like, "Okay, I'm giving myself, let's say, six months." Every week, I'm going to do something related to learning strategy. It's going to be maybe I read the strategy for another feature product at my company and you just divide, right? Let's just say there's 10 features or 20, it doesn't matter. You just do one a week, so 20 weeks. You see what I'm saying? And then the other thing is, every week I'm also going to practice it towards my outcome. I'm going to spend, I don't know, three hours a week, maybe one hour a day, just thinking through my own product strategy. And I do that for six months. You do it enough that you get over the hump and then actually develop the skill. Now, the other approach you could take is... What most people do is they read an article on your newsletter or some other place and then like, "Oh, great. I learned an insight." And then you go back to usual.
And it's not like at the end of these six months, you're done. I'm strategy expert, I am good on strategy. To your point, it's building this muscle that will never be fully built. It just will get stronger. And every time you invest time learning something, it gets stronger.
Jules Walter (00:44:15):
Yeah, exactly. It's not that within six months you are clearly better. Now, you can invest another six months to get to the next level. Or you could say, "Now I'm going to switch focus to another skill and get that one to a similar level."
Is there a skill you're working on right now?
Jules Walter (00:44:30):
Always working on something. One I can call out is listening. One thing about the EQ stuff, too, by the way is you hear these words, and depending on how familiar you are, you understand or don't understand what it actually means. When I say listening, I'm good at seeking information to solve a problem. If you come to me and you're like, "Hey, Jules, I have this problem," I will know what to listen for and what to ask you. "Hey, Lenny, can you tell me A, B?" And then I'll help you solve the problem. However, there's also different listening patterns, one of which is you just create space for someone. It's not like you're seeking a particular information, just give them space to tell you what they want to tell you. And then the other side of it, too, is you help that person feel heard, "Hey, I feel like you actually understand me and you've heard what I'm saying." So, that's the part I am working on.
You mentioned the Matt Mochary episode. I imagine you've been listening to that, because that has a lot of great advice.
Jules Walter (00:45:29):
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. It's those kinds of things, right? And then he talked about saying back to people what you heard, asking for more information, et cetera.
Awesome. You mentioned that you asked for feedback from your peers, and I wrote that down. I wanted to double-click on that a little bit. How do you actually approach asking for feedback? Do you sound like a survey? Do you just ask people in meeting? How do you do that?
Jules Walter (00:45:51):
The feedback piece, it's something that I had to get better at. Over time, I'm asking for it, because what I realize is if people don't feel comfortable with you, they won't give you feedback. It's depending on the risk, right? Especially if it's constructive feedback. By the way, that's also something that's hard about being underrepresented. People sometimes don't have the same natural level of connection with you. I basically learned to go out of my way to make people comfortable giving me feedback. There's different techniques and Matt Mochary also talks about some of them. Sometime it's basically ask in a very specific way, "Hey, I did this presentation. I'm working on, I don't know, having more executive presence. Did you feel that? To which extent did you feel that I showed executive presence?" So, it's a very specific thing versus, "Hey, how did it go?" That's one thing you can do.
Other thing you can do sometimes is you give yourself critical feedback in front of them and then you give them a chance to agree or disagree. "Hey, I feel like this presentation didn't go well for this reason. What do you think? But actually I thought it would've been fine; however, this other thing could have been better." And then the other thing I'll say that is very, very important if you're asking people for feedback is if you manage to get them to take the risk to give you the feedback, your answer has to be enthusiastically grateful. That's the key. What people knew at Slack, Google, et cetera, is if you give me feedback, I'll be like, "Hey, thank you so much. This is super helpful," because people are like, "Oh, he actually likes the feedback." Now, inside, my heart might be melting. I'm like, "Oh, I thought I got better at this." You know what I mean?
Jules Walter (00:47:42):
But externally, I'm like, "Hey, thank you," and I mean it. I think that's the key that most people don't sort of focus on. And if you get more feedback, then you'll just get better at the things.
That is such a good advice, all these very tactical ways of getting actual real feedback from people.
Jules Walter (00:47:55):
Yeah. And then one thing I'll say, too, by the way, it's harder to get feedback on the EQ stuff, and that's also why it's harder to develop and why a lot of people reach terminal levels in product, because people are like, "Oh, they lack emotional intelligence." They say that in calibration rooms but not in your face, so that's also what you want when you hear feedback. You don't want just to like, "Hey, here's my piece of feedback that I can prove." You also want the part that is like, "Here's how you make me feel or how you come across that... If this is taken out of context, it won't be good for... I don't want this to be shared publicly or taken out of context, but I want you to know." And it could be things like, "Hey, when I talk to you, sometimes I feel like, I don't know, you're angry." And then I'm like, "Oh, really? In what scenario?" And then it's like, "Oh, I was so focused and listening to you intently that I could see now why I come across that way."
But you could literally go your whole career and then nobody ever says these things, right? And that's the kind of feedback that I personally find most helpful is the subjective feedback, because nobody will tell me those things. Once somebody I trust tell me and I'm like... Oh, here's an example. I mentioned earlier I'm good at asking questions. I had somebody ask like, "Tell me. Hey, sometimes when you ask questions, you sound more junior." And I was like, "Huh." And then I can see that because I asked the question plainly like, "Hey, why did you do this or how did you that," instead of also saying where I'm coming from, "Hey, I noticed this blah, blah, why, blah?" You know what I'm saying? Instead of showing I have an understanding of the thing and then asking a follow-up question, I just ask the question bluntly without context and people feel like, "Hey, I'm asking a very basic question." So, that's the kind of feedback that I particularly value.
The feedback you're getting is pretty incredible, like the stuff you shared about someone saying you come across as angry in a meeting if you ask questions or you sound a junior. I don't know if I've ever gotten anyone to give me that brutally honest feedback. When those specific cases, what was it about these people that helped them give you this feedback? Is that what you talked about, you built trust with them over the years or is there something you did to get that kind of feedback?
Jules Walter (00:50:10):
I mean, it's definitely they trusted me and they cared about me. They trust that if they tell me the feedback without translating, that I would see the intent behind it. And they were able to do that, because after months and years of working together, they know how to respond to feedback. Because what happens is most people, when you have to get feedback, you kind of have to really do a lot of translation work so that it lands, "I don't want to hurt your feeling. I don't want you to take this." I just told people, "You don't have to that with me." That's one. And then the other thing, too, is people reciprocate also how you talk. I'm not saying I talk to people like this, but I try to be vulnerable with people so they know we can be vulnerable and things are safe like, "I really want to hear things the way you experience it."
Got it. So, there's a lot of foundation setting that you do to create this environment where people are like, "Jules, here's something that's going wrong. You can work on this."
Jules Walter (00:51:05):
That's an awesome takeaway. One other thread I wanted to pull on is you mentioned focusing on strengths and how that ends up being really important. Something I'm a big believer in is focusing on strengths versus trying to make your weaknesses much, much stronger. Is there any advice you can share to better understand what your strengths are, why that's an approach to take in developing your skills?
Jules Walter (00:51:28):
For the strengths, breakthroughs. For me, a lot of it was talking to my mentor, Lawrence Ripsher. And I organized this event for Black PMs at Pinterest, where Lawrence was speaking, and then we were talking about, "Hey, watch should we talk about, et cetera." I don't know how, but in the conversation he talked about doubling down your strengths more than on fixing your weaknesses, and then he used me as an example. Then the fun part is he had this approach of how you actually find your strength. It's a very simple question, where basically he's like, "Hey, what is something that a lot of people say you're good at, but you think it's not a big deal or it's not that important?" And that's the key. I always that's what resonated with me. I was like, "Oh, a lot of people keep saying I'm really good at networking."
I'm like semi-introvert, so I'm like, "Hold on, I don't know." [inaudible 00:52:32] not everyone or people will tell me, "Hey, you have asked great questions." And I'm like, "I asked basic questions." And then he helped me understand, "Actually, that's how you know it's a strength." Now, what you need to figure out is how do you get more out of that strength. An analogy, by the way, is imagine that you saw a fish and you were like, "Hey, you're really good at swimming." And then the fish would be like, "Oh. Duh, doesn't everybody swim?" And so, that's the key and I invite people to think about that question like, "What's something people keep telling you you're good at, but you yourself don't think is a big deal?" And that's how I was able to find a bunch of my strengths. ]
[NEW_PARAGRAPH]For me, generally I'm thoughtful, ask great questions. I also simplify problems a lot. I mean, we work together on a product sense article, which is a very complex thing, made it more simple. And then once you identify the strength, then it helps to also think about why are you good at this thing? Because that's the underlying resource that you have. A big part for me is I'm actually quite curious. And fun fact, I don't think of myself as curious, but people keep telling me I am. And even my mom was telling me when I was a kid, I used to always try to unscrew toys to see how they work in the inside. That's one thing: being curious help me ask the questions and so on. And then the other thing, too, is once you have the strength, you want to understand the shadow side of it, and that's the connection between your strength and weaknesses.
That was a key breakthrough for me, especially Lawrence helped me understand that. Strengthen and weakness, it's not a binary thing. It's like the same thing, but it's a dial. In some context it's good, in other contexts it's serving you. An example in my cases is... I talked about I ask great questions, but sometimes I ask a question without context, I might come across as less knowledgeable. Or another thing for me is I'm able to take very complex problems and then create a mental model that's much simpler, whether it's growth or other things. But until I come up with that mental model, if I'm in a meeting with you, I won't talk much about that topic. Basically, I'm more quiet than other people when people want to hear my point of view because I'm just listening and trying to create a mental model of the situation. You're seeing how the same strength is perceived as a weakness depending on context. And once you have that... For me, I feel more empowered. I'm like, "Oh, I just have to dial down a little bit here or dial a little bit here," and I also know this thing is serving me, which is why I keep doing the bad side of it.
Awesome. This all often comes back to mentors in your life. I want to get to talking about mentorship and how you find your mentors, how you work with them, all that kind of stuff; something we've been touching on a bunch and I'm excited to begin to. Maybe to start, can you just talk about some of the mentors you've had in your life, some of the most impactful mentors that you've had?
Jules Walter (00:55:35):
I've definitely had a large number of mentors over the years. Fun fact, when I came to the area eight years ago, I didn't know anyone.
Jules Walter (00:55:43):
It took a while to build those relationships. I talked earlier about Bangaly Kaba who sort of helped me figure out how to grow Slack even though he wasn't working outside, but helped me have the frameworks. I talked about Lawrence Ripsher. He helped me discover my strengths and also how to lean into them. Aaron Teague is another friend and mentor who brought me to Google, actually. And there's also Bradley Horowitz, former VP of Google Photos, also helped me in terms of how do you think about leadership and so on. Many other folks, Nikhyl Singhal, VP at Meta helped me with PM career. So, lots of mentors for sure.
Okay, that's the killer list. Two questions. One, what do you look for in a mentor when you're trying to find someone to work with? And then two, how do you actually find these people? Most people listening are like, "Wow, I would love an amazing mentor to help me in my career. I don't know how to find one." What advice do you have for folks to finding a mentor?
Jules Walter (00:56:41):
I look for two things. One is, are you good at one specific thing I'm trying to get better at? And then two is, are you good at explaining it? Those two, at least for me, they're important. I know people are really good at their roles, at their job and at the subject, but they don't actually know how they do it or they don't really want to explain or cannot explain easily. So, that's what I look for. And then in terms of where I find these people, it's really everywhere. If you look at the list I mentioned earlier, Bangaly I met at an event. Facebook had a recruiting event, I showed up, I see this guy, I'm like, "Oh. Hi." Chat a little bit. I talked about Lawrence, who's now a close friend. I met Lawrence at a dinner. He organized a dinner for underrepresented PMs, we chatted, one thing led to the other, and then he became a mentor and friend. Bradley was at a fundraiser. And Nikhyl was an intro via email. Somebody was like, "Oh, you should meet Nikhyl."
I know this sounds counterintuitive. I don't think the hard part is where to find them; it's more about finding the right person and then how do you get a foot in? Now, what I've seen... A lot of people, sometimes they get mentors who are too senior or who don't actually think about the topic they're interested in. Maybe they did five years ago, but once you find the right person, the key is like, "How do you have that initial conversation? How do you get the foot in the door?" And what I've found is you should make the smallest ask possible, which is the opposite of what 95% of people do. 95% of people is like, "Hey, I've never met you, but I heard your talk or I saw you on LinkedIn or whatever. Can we set up a call?"
That's like a big ask. What I do... For example, there's this person who came to Slack, he was head of product of a major company and then he gave a talk about different methods to improve products. He had this concept of finding the heat for products. He spoke at the company, I got his email, and I reached out in the evening and I was like, "Hey, thanks so much for speaking today. We talked about finding the heat for products. Is there an example of product that you think was created with this approach?" Something he could answer in literally two minutes via email? That was my question. It wasn't like, "Hey, you talked. Now, I feel entitled to meet with you." But then the key is once you get that foot in the door, it could be a quick email, a tweet, a quick chat at an event, that sort of thing, and you get some advice that's useful, the key is to circle back with them at a later point and show that you've actually made good use of the advice.
I think that's the thing nobody does. What I would do... For example, there's currently the CEO of a top tech company I met an event. She spoke there and then she gave some advice that was useful. I emailed her a follow-up type thing and then she gave me advice about how to rethink the mission statement for my nonprofit, all via email. Then at some point I was like, "Hey, I've applied your problem trend competency framework to crafting the mission for my nonprofit. Here's where we landed. That was super helpful. Thank you so much." Replies back. And then what I would do then later is maybe a month later or two months, X months later, I can reach out again for another problem and maybe I could say, "Hey, this time it's a little bit more nuanced. Can we grab 15 minutes?" And the person was like, "Yeah, sure." That person was very, very busy. I was like, "Hey, let's do it." And then over time we become Facebook friends, that sort of thing, but that's the approach I take.
That's such a good advice. It reminds me of Tim Ferris's advice also, which is just like, "Don't go up to someone and be like, 'Will you be my mentor?'" Everyone's going to be like, "I don't have time for that." Instead, to your point, it's the exact opposite. Just start asking simple questions and then over time build up relationship, and then over time, maybe you start meeting regularly. But don't start big; start small.
Jules Walter (01:00:50):
You. As small as possible.
It's not like you just have one mentor. You've listed a whole bunch of people that have helped you over your career. It's not like, "Here's the person, they have to be perfect." It sounds like you kind of identify, "Here's a skill or an area I want to focus and this person is going to be really good at that."
Jules Walter (01:01:06):
Then I also just love the point about it feels really hard to find an amazing mentor. From what I'm hearing, the main thing you do is just go to things, attend events, basically go events, meet people, right? That's kind of the foundation in which you're sharing is just meet as many people as you can, and amongst that group, you'll find people that are probably going to be helpful.
Jules Walter (01:01:26):
Yeah. And I understand it can be harder for some folks. I mean, now I have two young kids, so I don't do as many events. I've also met quite a few people through introductions, sometimes being cold outreach. I had a chat with Shishir through cold outreach [inaudible 01:01:44] a very clear question, and then he offered to come to Black PMs and share some insights. Those kinds of things happen, too, but you have to show the person that you're going to make really good use of their time. You have to give really specific contexts like, "Hey, let's grab coffee." It's like, "Hey, here's a very specific question. Can you share some thoughts or point via email?" And then they might offer, "Hey, why don't we just talk?" That sort of thing, too. Yeah.
That works really well. Anytime I get an email request of, "Hey, could we do a 15-minute Zoom or a copy chat," I quickly do not have time for that. But an actual question that I can be really helpful with really quickly, that's so much easier, so that makes a lot of sense. The next thing I wanted to ask you is: how do you build and continue this relationship? And then once you actually start engaging regularly, what do you suggest folks talk about in these meetings if they're ongoing.
Jules Walter (01:02:37):
I make sure to bring something very specific that I'm dealing with where they can provide input. And this is the opposite of what many people do where they're like, "Hey, can you tell me about how you... Whatever, your path to PM," which may or may not be relevant to them, versus, "Hey, I've interviewed for three companies. I'm trying to decide among those three. Can I walk you through my thought process and get your feedback?" So, it's very different. I definitely make sure I bring a very specific context, and sometime it could be... I mentioned the example of Bangali like, "Hey, I'm now a growth PM at Slack. I'm trying to improve activation. Can I talk to you about how you approach growth in general?" Or it could be, "Hey, I'm having internal..." Let's say I have internal mentors at Google and I have a few, then it's like, "Hey, I'm about to have this negotiation with this team. Can I walk you through my thought process and hear your advice?" So, it's very specific things.
And then the other thing I'll say, too, is when I talk to mentors, I always take notes. I mean, I'm seeing you even here in this interview. You're taking notes. These are basic things people don't actually think about it sometimes. And then when I follow up, whether it's via email or in person, I bring up older conversations. It's like, "Hey, remember last time we told about X? I did it," or "Hey, how's your daughter? I know she was going to college this semester. How did that go?" So, it always feels like a continuation of a conversation and it feels like an actual relationship instead of transactional interactions. And then the other thing, too, is I try really hard to identify ways that I can be helpful. Sometimes, at the end of chat I'll be like, "Hey, is there anything I can help you with? Anything top of mind for you?" And sometimes the person could be senior or wealthy, doesn't matter, and they're like, "Actually, yes. I'd love to better understand how the team is really doing. Nobody will tell me the truth," or "Hey, I am trying to hire for this role. You have [inaudible 01:04:43] Black PMs. Do you mind sharing?" There's always ways you can help, but most people are so focused on themselves that they miss out on these opportunities.
The point about coming back to the person and sharing what impact their advice had and how it went is so good, because to your point, it just feels like you're sharing all this advice and just isn't going anywhere. And then note-taking, such great stuff. This is really good advice. I could see how it would work on me if someone's asking me for advice.
Jules Walter (01:05:10):
By the way, I mean we didn't know each other two years ago, right?
Yeah, that's right.
Jules Walter (01:05:14):
Yeah. It's like a similar process, where we got to know each other mostly via email and led to the other, and we try to help each other.
And look at us now. Any final thoughts before we wrap up and head to our very exciting lightning round?
Jules Walter (01:05:31):
I have found the process of learning how to be a PM very difficult and I also find it quite rewarding. And I want to set expectation, especially for people who are early in their career, people may be frustrated by the process, because you have all these skills. We listed, I don't know, half a dozen, a dozen that you want to get better at. So, be patient. Then also it takes a while to see massive differences, but once you see those differences, you set yourself apart from your peers. That's one thing. And then the other thing, too, is it's really building muscles more so for the EQ stuff, but even for the IQ stuff. You have to practice. It's not just read Lenny's top 10 articles for two hours and then you're good. Read them, do what they say, get feedback after you do what they say and say like, "Huh, it worked for me. It didn't work for me." Reread them again, find mentors, et cetera. It's a long process and I don't think people have that mental model around how to learn in general, but also specifically how to learn the PM skills.
And I imagine there's also this one step forward, two step back experience that often happens, too, where you're just like, "Oh, I thought I figured out how to think about strategy, and this one failed." And you're like, "Oh, that was useless." No, this is how you learn. You fail sometimes. Oftentimes, it works out slowly but surely you move forward.
Jules Walter (01:06:57):
Amazing. Well, with that, we have reached our very exciting lightning round. Since we've gone a little long, I'm going to keep it just four questions. I'm just going to go through them pretty fast, whatever comes to mind. Fire off. You ready?
Jules Walter (01:07:10):
What are two or three books that you've recommended most to other people?
Jules Walter (01:07:15):
One of them is Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. It's about negotiations. There's actually also a masterclass on it.
I was just going to say that. I watched that. That was really good.
Jules Walter (01:07:24):
Yeah. Yeah. And then another one is Connect by Carole Robin. It's inspired by Stanford's Touchy-Feely class, if you've ever heard of it.
Yeah. She did a guest post for the newsletter, actually.
Jules Walter (01:07:35):
Oh, really? Awesome. Yeah. It's really a helpful especially as you are thinking about the EQ skills and how to improve your relationships with people.
Awesome. I highly recommend that book. I haven't read it, but I read a lot of things about the class and my friends have been in that class and she wrote this guest post. That sounds like a really good pick for EQ, so I'm actually going to re-pick it up. Next question: favorite other podcast that isn't this podcast.
Jules Walter (01:08:02):
Lex Fridman is one I'll call out. Brings really interesting speakers and also on diverse topics, so I find it really helpful.
Awesome. I also love that podcast. Favorite recent movie or TV show?
Jules Walter (01:08:15):
I watch fewer now. Top Gun: Maverick is a movie I really like. I'm sure many people have seen it. For me, it's like just going back in the 80s. And then TV show is Never Have I Ever. It's coming of age in America, Indian teenager. Pretty funny and also deep.
Awesome. I haven't heard of that one. We'll check it out. Final question: favorite interview question that you like to ask folks when you're interviewing them?
Jules Walter (01:08:41):
One I used to ask a lot is: what's something work related that you're trying to get better at? Sometimes I change the wording of it, but a big part of it is trying to understand how self-aware people are, to which extent they have a growth mindset, and then also how honest and vulnerable they can be. What I will say, though, about interview question, by the way, is I don't anchor a lot on the first question. What I find the most value from are the follow-ups. Once you ask that question, you can take in various directions like, "Why did you focus on this versus other things? How did this come to your attention? Was it feedback you sought or feedback people gave you, et cetera?" Yeah.
Awesome advice. Jules, this interview was a longtime coming. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. Thank you again so much for being here. Two final questions: where can folks find you online if they want to reach out and learn more, and how can listeners be useful to you?
Jules Walter (01:09:39):
In terms of finding me, Twitter is one place to start. My handle is @julesdwalt. And then in terms of how people can be useful, it's really about paying it forward and then sharing this with others, especially parts that people find useful.
Amazing. Jules, thank you so much. We'll chat again soon.
Jules Walter (01:10:00):
Yeah, thanks for having me.
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