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What does it take to succeed in a high growth environment? Will seeking out a high growth opportunity lead to a better career pathway? When is the right time in your career to make a bold move? Finding the right time and opportunity to take the “path less traveled” served as the basis for the executive panel and conversation between product managers, executives, and entrepreneurs in Seattle co-hosted by Advancing Women In Product (AWIP) and bona fide tech unicorn, Outreach.

For those who have wondered how senior product leaders have tackled these questions – AWIP produced an evening conversation with four seasoned product leaders from the Seattle chapter: Sarah Phillips, Vice President of Product, Outreach; Emily Kruger, Vice President of Product, Kaskada; Luke Hoban, CTO, Pulumi; and Laura Ulmer, Principal Product Manager, Senzing. Each product leader provided their own unique perspective to this question. They shared how they thought about crucial decisions in their career journey, such as when/how they decided to take the entrepreneurial leap. Unsurprisingly, they shared similar strategies and outcomes with this leap of faith.

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Succeeding in a high growth environment. 

The resonating theme is that a start-up, especially a high growth one like Outreach, requires quick problem-solving. In a start-up, you will face problems that will need decisive and fast solutions.

Another common theme pointed out by our panelists is the mindset. It is imperative to have the right motivation and the right state of mind because there will be moments of difficulty that will shake all but the most dedicated.

Luke Hoban’s career hack?

"Spend 10% of your time on things that your boss's boss cares about. This is a great way to find sponsors and generate goodwill that will carry you through a career. Every company will have a person that can help you get ahead in your career, and it is usually not your boss."

Will a high growth environment lead you to a better career pathway?

If you find yourself asking why you have the same title and level of responsibilities after having made several lateral moves, only to find yourself with a slightly higher paycheck, but not excelling at your desired career pathway – start seeking ways to elevate your game. Ask your colleagues, manager, or a career coach for some reliable feedback on assessing your skills. Get curious, and always keep learning.

For Sarah Phillips, the key is authentic leadership to your team to help them build a strong career pathway.

“As a leader, you have to be vulnerable and meet your team where they are. Giving people permission to fail and creating a safety zone if something does not go well can encourage creativity and improve morale—both things that are incredibly important to a successful product. As a woman in the workplace, I had found it was common to be misunderstood, but being authentic was an effective way to counteract those misconceptions.”

When is the right time in your career to make a bold move?

This was a very personal choice for each panelist, but a reflection on their career paths, aspirations, and risk tolerance were key contributors to each of their decisions. Our panelists highly recommended exploring your personal risk-tolerance when considering a start-up environment. Our panelists pointed out a common theme around the ups/downs of a start-up environment, analyzing the risk they took and reflected on what it meant for each of them.

For Emily Kruger, VP of Product, Kaskada, she was ready to take a risk with confidence based on her experience with Amazon.

"I had a fantastic experience with Amazon, people I loved working with, and I had formed relationships where I knew I could go back if I really wanted to. This gave me an extra leap of faith, and knowing the new team I would be working with would also be fantastic."

For Sarah Phillips, VP of Product, Outreach, she needed a proven, scalable product and talked with over 30 leaders to determine where her interests were.

"I grew businesses through mergers and acquisitions and international expansion but had no experience in a start-up and realized that the right company for me was one that had already accomplished product-market fit and was ready to scale."

For Luke Hoban, CTO, Pulumi, he was solid in is a mindset to leap forward.

“I was ready to take a financial risk and jumped right in.”

Final Takeaways

Mentors, coaches, therapists, and friends - we need these different types of people to help us identify our blind spots and grow into our best selves. Just know that entrepreneurship is not easy but can be fulfilling. With great advice from these incredible leaders, anyone can be successful and find fulfillment in their own lives.

Laura Ulmer recommends the book Rising Strong by Brené Brown:

“Handling failure and rejection can be a large part of becoming a leader, and this book is an excellent illustration of that. The small decisions we make can have a significant impact on our life if you feel stuck, get Rising Strong.”

Author: Odion Fross

Interested in Attending Future Events?

You can check out our website, Facebook page, Twitter, and Meetup for our upcoming events! With over 10,000 members worldwide, we have AWIP chapters in San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and Paris. Drop us a line. We will love to connect!

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