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Insights for Growth: Stories of Enterprise Innovation Podcast

Ep: 8 // Tsega Dinka, Dollar Shave Club // Growing within a start-up

Air date: February 3, 2021

Tsega Dinka, Vice President of Digital Product at Dollar Shave Club, shares his insights on growing his career and learning within a fast-paced start-up. This episode of Insights for Growth is perfect for anyone working in a start-up, wanting to expand their expertise into other areas of business. 

Key Insights:

  • The importance of actively looking for ways to upgrade your knowledge and skills.
  • Being customer-forward is an essential mindset when growing a business.
  • Using experimentation to test and mitigate business risks.

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Episode Transcript

Tsega Dinka:

Always being open to learn and being curious to truly just suck up knowledge and understanding from diverging schools of thought and diverging areas.

Chris Goward:

This is Insights for Growth, the show where we hear insights from entrepreneurs who drive change within large organizations. I’m Chris Goward, founder of Widerfunnel. Widerfunnel helps great companies design digital experiences that work proven through rigorous experimentation systems. Today on the show, we have a great conversation lined up.

Tsega Dinka:

My name is Tsega Dinka and I’m currently the VP of Digital Product at Dollar Shave Club.

Chris Goward:

Great. Welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us. Let’s start with Dollar Shave Club. As most people would have come across Dollar Shave Club, or seen the ads, or know about it, but let’s not make that assumption, tell our listeners what that’s about.

Tsega Dinka:

Dollar Shave Club is an innovative, groundbreaking direct-to-consumer men’s grooming brand, which came to life close to nine years ago at this point with a very recognizable viral video selling razors direct to consumer via subscription. We’ve continued that journey by expanding to sell more grooming products and really holistically approaching how we as a brand can make men’s lives better. And obviously with the direct and consumer approach, technology and user experience has played a very key part in the launch and continued growth of the business.

Chris Goward:

So what’s your current area of responsibility there?

Tsega Dinka:

The digital product team has oversight across both our web and native app experiences. So the channels through which we sell the products or consumers, and then internally, we also have leadership and ownership over the tools that we use internally, as well as the platform that sits behind the experience that actually powers our subscription engine and our E-commerce.

Chris Goward:

So you’ve been there now for eight years, and I’m going to want to get into some of what you’ve learned over that time, but I think some background context would also help because I think it helped inform kind of, the perspective that you’ve taken in your role. We’ve had some conversations about this, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you were doing before Dollar Shave and that might have informed how you approach problems or opportunities?

 

Tsega Dinka:

Sure. For me, even as a child, growing up solving problems and the story that you might commonly hear of people taking gadgets apart and putting them back together, that was very much how I grew up. I was always very curious about how things work, technology and engineering and just how people solve problems and how products are put together. As I went through school and college, I ended up focusing more on the arts and communication art because that was really where my interests lie at the time.

And I came out of school and I ended up in the UI UX web design field of work. So this is, 2001, 2002, that timeframe. And at that point, the web and just the whole practice of product management and web design and UI was still very early. And so everyone did a little bit of everything and you really have to develop a broad understanding of both product and engineering to truly be successful in that line of work.

And having then practiced primarily as a web and UI design professional, and interacting with a lot of product people, and eventually made the transition to product as a role where I can have more impact then I can truly apply all my different interests and my experiences to solve problems in a grander stage.

Chris Goward:

What was it that prompted that shift, that decision to go into product? Was there a moment when you realized like, this is the direction I want to go?

Tsega Dinka:

In some ways maybe prompted by how limited the decision-making and the impact of a UI designer was at the time. In this day and age, I think there’s definitely been more advancements made with regard to creating a level playing field with regard to where UX designers sit as well as engineers with regards to just the decisions around a product and its functionality. 15 years ago, it was not quite the same. There is very much a hierarchical structure where you may have a product manager that determines what needs to be built and is very much in that seat. And as a designer, you’re left to operate within these lines that have been drawn.

So I think I always felt like I could contribute more broadly than maybe that specific box that was being defined for designers at the time and I would have very constructive and very sort of collaborative conversations or working sessions with product managers. So that exposure alone gave me the sense, the confidence that, hey, this is a role that I could go into. And I think in addition, what was happening at the time too, though, was that there was this shift that was starting to happen where even if I look at my first role in product, it was at MySpace.

I don’t know if all of your audiences will remember MySpace, but I went to MySpace or I was hired to MySpace at a point where MySpace was already past its prime in some ways and was needing to be more competitive against Facebook. And there was a thought that bringing more UX-minded product people might be one of those competitive advantages MySpace could take, or could have. Because that was probably one of the biggest drawbacks that people used to identify about my space was how cluttered and hard to use, and hard to navigate it was.

I think just that natural shift into how and user experience was becoming more of a differentiator. Think about the iPhone and how it came into a field that was already in some degrees mature, but ultimately it was the simplicity and the user experience that made the iPhone really special and leapfrog a lot of these existing brands.

 

Similarly, there were shifts that were happening in the industry where UX was starting to be seen as the competitive advantage over maybe technology, because things were becoming maybe more readily available from server standpoint or from an engineering standpoint. So I think there was a few of these factors that all went in. I was exposed to the role and I got interested in it.

I think the field was also shifting and looking to bring in more different divergent thoughts into the product practice. And so it all lined up perfectly and I had the opportunity to shift.

Chris Goward:

How did that design and UX background inform you as a product manager? Or how has that influenced your perspective?

Tsega Dinka:

I think ultimately if you’re in the field that I’m in where you’re building digital product, being able to really put yourself in the shoes of the end user and the consumer of your product is probably one of the most important skills to have. I was able to maybe get there and think of products and the products that I would build through that lens just much more easily, because I came from that role. And maybe if you look more broadly, product managers come from three different general directions.

And the MBA business direction is one, the engineering direction is another, and then the UX direction is one. So I came from the UX background and that gave me maybe that one advantage, but over the course of my product career, a lot of my journey has then been also to develop and augment my perspective so I can also bring in more of the business side of thinking as well as the engineering perspective.

Chris Goward:

Every advantage has a counterbalance, so you have to shore up some of those things or figure out how to compliment team members, I guess. Isn’t it right?

Tsega Dinka:

Absolutely.

Chris Goward:

We want to shift into the Dollar Shave Club experience. First of all, how did you end up getting into Dollar Shave Club?

Tsega Dinka:

In a lot of ways it was luck. And I say that maybe with not too much seriousness, but definitely luck played a part. Dollar Shave Club was incubated out of Science Inc, which is a VC and incubation firm here in LA. And that firm was started by the executives who had overseen MySpace in that second stage where I got brought in. And I had also worked with those executives prior to MySpace at a previous startup. So when Science got established and they were starting to identify different start up ideas to validate, they reached out to me and brought me in to lead product on a separate endeavor, which is not around anymore.

Tsega Dinka:

I was brought in to build an E-commerce platform for a slightly different idea that had recently been funded. And there was a small team, so myself and that team spent a good three or four months. This was in the mid 2012 timelines. At the time where Dollar Shave Club was launching, I was actually working at this other startup and we were working in a shared space, and my startup was pre-launch, and we were working day and night and trying to put together this first version of the product that we were going to launch.

And I would see across the room, the MySpace room, just scrambling to keep up with orders, and fulfill packages, and printing shipping labels and answering support tickets. They were clearly for better or worse figuring out how to manage that original response. Fast forward, four months later, that original startup launched and some of the assumptions around the potential for it were quickly disproven. And within the incubator, there was a decision to not necessarily continue to invest and try to pivot, but instead just wind it down.

That seemed to in a lot of ways, line up with the stage at which Dollar Shave Club was looking to start building out a product organization. Luck would have it, I got introduced to the Dollar Shave Club team. Because of that mutual connection we had with Science, I was able to quickly build rapport and come on board as in a lot of ways, the first day-to-day product manager at Dollar Shave Club and I have been there since.

Chris Goward:

Okay. So, right place at the right time, got an opportunity. It’s always a little bit of luck involved, but made the most of that opportunity and jumped right in at a good stage. Now it’s been eight years of growth at Dollar Shave Club. Gone through quite a bit over that time, I would imagine. So what’s kept you engaged over eight years? How has that journey been for you?

Tsega Dinka:

For me, when I think about my time at Dollar Shave Club, I see it in four distinct stages, both for myself, as well as the Dollar Shave Club business. So it’s felt in a lot of ways like I’ve had four different jobs over the course of eight. When I came in, it was early stage, early in my career. At that point I had been two to three years in the product function. So I came in, in a lot of ways early in my career, obviously Dollar Shave Club was an early stage. It was still grappling and riding that momentum of the launch.

The problems we were trying to solve at that point was how do we make sure we have a platform that can set Dollar Shave Club up for the long term vision around growth from a user-based standpoint, as well as a product assortment standpoint, et cetera? Then the second stage came at a point where some of those pieces were in place. Now it was a question of, how do we maximize acquisition and how do we make the best of that.

And for myself, that was at a time where I moved more into a growth role within product, I was working very closely with our acquisition team. The Facebook platform had recently launched, so there was a lot of discussions and work that was happening around how can we maximize and really take advantage of the Facebook ad platform. It’s funny you think of it now, but this was at a time where we didn’t even have a mobile optimized experience.

 

So us moving into Facebook advertising in a lot of ways prompted the need to prioritize a more mobile optimized experience. So there was that synergy and that back and forth that would happen, “Okay, we’re going to this ad channel. We need to make some of these changes.” And similarly, we started thinking about landing pages and how we can utilize those to really connect the message from advertising into an offer that would lead you into acquisition.

Not all of these are necessarily clear two years start to stop timelines, but then the third stage for myself was then moving more into this product operations role where I got an opportunity to really understand the Dollar Shave Club from a holistic business standpoint. I mentioned earlier about product, and product, really a well-rounded product thinker needs to have that UX engineering, as well as the business sense.

So in that operational role, I was naturally paired up with our finance team, our supply chain team, and building more of that communication and feedback loop between the digital team and how digital can solve problems for those groups, or how digital can be more aware and more informed by those insights from those themes to enable what things we worked on or how we prioritized our initiatives. At that point for Dollar Shave Club, one of the big focus was international expansion. We launched into the UK.

It was also a time where we maybe in some ways, the first chapter of being razor-focused, sort of run its course. This was post acquisition, so there was really a focus around how can we build a more longer-term, more sustainable brand that is treating all products the same and has different avenues through which we can acquire, and then we can continue to grow the business.

Last stage or the fourth stage, which is the current one for myself is I’ve now shifted more into a leadership role within the product team. I’m very much, obviously still retaining some of the operational work, but there’s someone focused on that specifically and I’m looking at how to just better empower the product team and better structure the product team for just more long term success, and impact, and satisfaction from a day-to-day work life perspective.

Chris Goward:

Sure. Yeah, a lot of change in eight years. How many people were there when you started?

Tsega Dinka:

20.

Chris Goward:

Okay. So a very different feeling, it must’ve been, you’ve be wearing a lot of different hats, I would imagine and maybe a broader scope of responsibility. What did it feel like back then, when you’re 20 people, again, trying to slap shipping labels and get things out, and figure out how to keep the website up?

Tsega Dinka:

In some ways, it’s freeing and that you have to focus. And obviously there’s maybe the momentum and the adrenaline that is just naturally there and needing to continue to be scrappy and fast, and get know things out the door. So for myself, it would be anywhere from writing product requirements or putting together UX flows, launching an experiment, sitting down and running analysis on that experiment.

 

And even all the way through, like thinking through email campaigns and how our emails could be structured to be better click through rates, and better converting, and just… You see a gap, you fill it in. That’s just the general, general vibe. And for the business, we had that momentum, so in a lot of ways, it just felt like there was fire already there and everything you would do would just be more fuel to that fire. There was also just a general positive sentiment around the brand because of the disruptor position that we took, and the fact that we’re going against the big guys, and we’re trying to cut costs, and just get you the best value with the most convenience.

So there, we just had very positive sentiment from our consumers. We had the original video that was continuing to just drive our growth and just seemed like every single thing that we did, we just augment.

Chris Goward:

You mentioned that positive sentiment, and I think… I’m sure at this point, everybody listening has seen these initial videos or at least the first video that came out. I still remember it from the first time I saw it there, and the humor and the good nature approach that it seemed to be reflected in that. I was curious if that was reflected in the internal culture as well, or if it was just like any other company. Did that permeate through or how do you see that?

Tsega Dinka:

Absolutely. That was that video in a lot of ways really reflected the brand and in saying that approach also came to life and our user experience, the copywriting in our emails and in our web UX. And even just the conversations and the comments that would happen, or just the way we would work. It was very much no BS, we know what needs to be done, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Those are all definitely, and continue to be a big part of our value system. So the video was only one reflection in some ways, not just a reflection of that brand.

Chris Goward:

So there was a sort of a genuineness to the brand, and it wasn’t just like marketing, but really the approach that the company had from the beginning, I guess the founders brought that in. So what changed over these four phases in terms of the challenges that you are facing. It sounds like, early on, the first phase, figuring out the tactical elements of talking to customers and getting the customer journey working and those sort of things. So how did that evolve in the next phases?

Tsega Dinka:

I would say, on one end, obviously pre-acquisition, a lot of maybe the focus would have been on growth, user growth. So in that sense, there’s maybe certain metrics that you would look at or you’d optimize against. I think that approach coupled with the benefit that we had and the tailwind that we had really allowed us to grow and sustain that growth without necessarily having to go through the same trials, and tribulations, and validation stages that most early stage startups have had to go through.

Eventually as nationally would happen, once you’ve sort of saturated the market and you’ve brought in a lot of the early adopters, then you move to more of an audience where you need to compete harder to acquire them. So there are shifts in which audiences were out there from an acquisition standpoint. And in parallel, there was also shifts from a competition standpoint where after the first, maybe couple of years, there was, “Oh.” Instead of like, “Oh, this is a flash in the pan, we need to start taking these guys seriously,” these guys, meaning Dollar Shave Club.

Now, there was competition from the incumbents as well as other startups as well. And maybe the second and third stages, it really required us then to become more disciplined, more rigorous, and more scrappy, and having to develop a lot of those muscles later than most startups would have. Because of just the shifts in the ecosystem. So we had to become more competitive, or we have to really approach and find new creative ways to continue acquiring subscribers versus the ease that we had earlier on.

That required us to continue to experiment with different offers as an example, different subscription models as an example, as well as some of the different we were expanding into different product lines right or into different countries. So all of these were just ultimately moves to be able to continue to grow the business while also keeping in mind what that competitive landscape was like.

Chris Goward:

So in the early stages, it’s almost like growth was so easy because there was like this catapult from that video and the brand that it created. So it was almost like you’re perhaps hard to fail at that point from a growth perspective, but you hadn’t the company hadn’t learned the rigorous lessons that you might have if it hadn’t been so fast at the beginning.

Tsega Dinka:

Yeah. I would say, obviously this was my observation and someone on the acquisition side might tell a different story. But the common tale of a small, early stage startup that has to find product market fit and really go through multiple iterations and being scrappy to finally get to that stage. For Dollar Shave Club, that happened immediately with the video. I think we had that advantage early on, but then later we needed to develop those abilities in order to stay competitive.

Chris Goward:

And that rings true to a lot of companies that I see and the work at Widerfunnel is some companies that might be early stage growth, they’re growing fast or they’re hacking through, trying to find that product market fit. They might not necessarily value or understand rigorous methodology, and structure, and discipline as much, because it just seems like it might slow them down or it’s too burdensome to think in that way. But I think over time, that sophistication or maturity develops and realizing the value that that brings.

And the process of coming to decisions with using more methodology or rigorous systems becomes more valuable. I think people start to recognize that over time.

Tsega Dinka:

Absolutely.

Chris Goward:

Now, speaking of that, of experimentation, thinking some of that rigor, you’ve always been an advocate for experimentation and being customer-focused. Some of that coming from your CX and design background. Thinking about these phases and your development over that time, how has your view of experimentation changed over time?

 

Tsega Dinka:

I would say if anything, I have a deeper appreciation for experimentation and I have a broader view and a broader application of experimentation. Early on, if you were to ask me that question, I would say, “Experimentation to me was the fact that we’re just running an A/B test on a website,” and at a Dollar Shave Club too, although we definitely had an experimentation program from the moment that I joined.

The way we thought about experimentation has evolved and matured over the years. Early on, from the rigor that we may place on prioritizing the right experiment to the rigor we put around how much investment you put into building an experiment, all those things were not as deep. So we would actually for a few years we had our A/B testing experimentation program actually coming through our development process.

So you’d actually have engineers developing the different tests and we had an internal A/B testing system, so we were pretty much tied to that system and the dependencies that brought with it. But in recent years, we’ve made very explicit moves towards decoupling and unlocking velocity by moving our experimentation program into more of a self-serve model. Obviously, partnering with experimentation professionals such as Widerfunnel.

And also, even within that approach, thinking about what is the right level of investment into an experiment. When does it make sense to maybe think about a usability test, a LO-FI usability test to get insights versus a painted-door experiment, which is obviously less of a development effort than a true developed experiment, even within a third-party tool. So that’s definitely a level of maturity we’ve started to arrive at this year, last year I would say.

And then the other piece is really also thinking about experimentation and how it applies to solving just general business problems or questions in the business and not necessarily just in the user experience.

Chris Goward:

Okay. I think that’s really important to highlight. Thinking about the appropriate type of experiment for the appropriate question, and that it’s not necessarily always the right thing to develop a whole A/B test that’s fully developed with your dev team in order to validate something. There might be a faster way of doing it that can get you directionally toward where you want to go. And in other cases, you might need to have that kind of high confidence rigorous methodology.

But then you also mentioned painted-door test, and some people might not understand what that means. So painted-door test usually is something that might be testing an ad or some sort of click or indication of interest in maybe a different types of products or features or a question you might want to answer that then leads to putting someone into a waiting list because it doesn’t actually exist yet. It’s more of a test of someone’s interest in a certain type of product.

Tsega Dinka:

I would say in some ways Kickstarter is a great example of a real life painted-door test? It’s all about validating the interest and the demand for something. Whether it’s an actual physical product or a feature.

Chris Goward:

So how have you found painted-door tests to be useful in your type of role?

 

Tsega Dinka:

It’s really a way to inform prioritization and decision-making. Sometimes maybe you’re, you’re trying to determine where should we focus our efforts or where should we invest even from an A/B testing standpoint. Like, “Should we invest in this A/B test?” So a painted-door test in some ways is a validation to determine whether or not you want to A/B test. And then an A/B test is a validation as to whether or not you want to actually build this feature. So there’s definitely kind of a graduated approach that you can take.

So for us, if, as an example, we want to build, say a feature that allows someone to add some additional products in the checkout process, and let’s say right now we… And even A/B test that full fledged feature, there is some level of investment required. A painted-door test that may mimic that experience, but ultimately just says, “Hey, okay. Sorry, this product is sold out.”At a minimum tells you, is there actually interest in people wanting to engage with this feature.” That answers that first question.

Then you run the A/B test with a little more investment to understand maybe what is the right way to use this feature, as well as what is the upside and potential downside of actually building this functionality in your checkout field?

Chris Goward:

Great. Okay. So having different types of tests available to answer different types of business questions are important. Then you talk about thinking about experimentation beyond the UX to answer other types of business questions as well. Do you have examples of any interesting tests in that area?

Tsega Dinka:

Yeah. A good recent example is around just pricing decision. And then for several years, there was debates around some price changes on a couple of products that there wasn’t any clear way to understand what the implication of that price change might be. And so there’s definitely kind of a standstill, where obviously the risk of sometimes changing your prices is that there’s a negative backlash from your consumer base. And once you introduce a price change, it’s really hard to roll that back.

But then on the flip side, the upside of obviously successful price change is that you’re able to improve your margins and potentially cover some increases in costs that you were seeing in some areas of your business. So getting an answer as to whether or not you can successfully move forward with this kind of decision is hard to do without actually doing it. So where experimentation was able to help us is that we actually leveraged an email notification program.

And program, not meaning like software, but sort of communication cadence, where we took a small group of our user base and two months ahead gave them a notice that, “Hey, prices on these products are going to go up in 60 days.” Some of that, legally you actually have to communicate, especially for subscription products if the price is going to change or other material changes are going to happen. On a subscription legally, you need to notify your user base.

So we took advantage of maybe that requirement and used it as a way to determine, okay, if we gave this notice 60 days ahead, what would we see from just a backlash? Because in some ways you would expect either some or maybe majority of the backlash to happen when you announce that versus when you execute it. And so we monitored that. And furthermore, we saw originally, some positive signals, so we continued with a next stage communication saying, “Hey, now this thing is coming in 30 days.”

And ultimately with a small group, utilizing these required communications that needed to happen because of legalities, we were able to stage through this change and validate along the way that there actually wasn’t going to be a negative impact from making this change. And so we over time increased the audience size and had a phased approach. And ultimately, were able to successfully execute these changes and really maintain satisfaction and not really create any negative backlash for our member base. So I would say it’s more of, I guess, experimentation as a mindset can be applied.

Chris Goward:

Yeah, it’s almost also de-risking these types of business decisions. I remember a few years ago when Netflix, I think first made a significant change in their subscription pricing and there was huge backlash and negative PR. And I think the smell of that still sticks to the brand a little bit, that sort of feeling that they don’t care about their customers and that sort of thing. But perhaps if they’d taken this kind of approach, they would have been able to gather some of that feedback and understood their potential response they could get.

Tsega Dinka:

Yeah. Definitely I could see a lot of parallels there for sure.

Chris Goward:

Now, speaking of experimentation and the growth, you mentioned that the work that we’re doing together with Dollar Shave and Widerfunnel, can you maybe speak to how that’s working out, how that’s working? What do we do together and how does that work for Dollar Shave?

Tsega Dinka:

What do we do together, we’re partners, strategic partners for our experimentation program. And your team is very much embedded into our overall ideation, validation, discovery, delivery life cycles. So originally we were introduced to you guys through an experimentation software that we onboarded and, and you are part of that onboarding program, ensuring that we’re able to get the best out of that program.

But over time, what we’ve been able to do is really leverage the depth of knowledge that WiderFunnel has with experimentation and behavioral sciences, and how that formulates these really sort of rich, complex hypotheses and experiments. So that’s just in the experimentation side, really a mature approach around how to identify experiments, how to assess the impact of those experiments.

But furthermore now, we are also engaging with your team for conducting a user research and usability research. Which I think is also another way to validate assumptions and hypotheses prior to going into full investment with your development team. So I think in both facets really, it’s allowed us to make more confident decisions early on in products we build and what experiences we bring to life.

Chris Goward:

Cool. It’s been a really great experience for our team as well. Of course, it’s fun working with a great brand like Dollar Shave Club and being able to work within that lovable brand. It’s always more fun than working in a brand that is kind of a slog. It’s tough to have to be presenting this to people, but also working with the team. Working with you and Diana and the others on the Dollar Shave team.

I think what’s interesting when we talk about the brand and the genuineness of the brand, it actually does reflect down to the team as well, where it does create that consistent experience, which is why I felt pretty confident asking that question, because I think it still reflects today in the people at Dollar Shave Club, which is cool to see.

Tsega Dinka:

Yeah. That’s exactly what I was saying earlier, as far as that video and the irreverent, lighthearted everyday person feel that I think is alive in that video is just as much a reflection of the overall brand, our hiring practices, how we conduct ourselves day to day.

Chris Goward:

It’s so important and I know that that’s something I realized pretty early on in Widerfunnels history as well. I remember realizing that one of my key roles as leading the company is to create the culture that we wanted to have and to create an experience for these team members that they’ll always look back on as a special time in their career. And not just as cogs in a wheel or as production machines, but as full people that come in with their rich experience and bringing in people that we actually think enhance the experience as well and make this an even better place.

So it’s really cool to find partners like Dollar Shave Club that have that kind of perspective as well and value the people and the partners that we’re working with. So that’s a lot of fun. I’m curious about, as well, how that’s changed over time, thinking that a lot of intrapreneurs will have a different experience perhaps than you have, where you started in a startup, 20 people slapping labels on the boxes, and then to the point where you were acquired by Unilever.

How did that feel when that happened? Was that a distinct change or was it just business as usual, we just got some new captains?

Tsega Dinka:

In most ways it was the latter, and at least I think definitely from my perspective, it seems very much as business as usual. Maybe consciously or subconsciously within certain areas of our day-to-day focus, what shifted is that, and I touched on this a little bit earlier, I think when you’re early stage or pre-acquisition or pre IPO, sometimes there are certain metrics or KPIs that you’re optimizing against that maybe more of a reflection of your growth.

But I think most acquisition, I think that focus shifts more towards longevity, sustainability. Not from an environmental standpoint, although that is very important, but sustainability from a business standpoint. So I would say that’s a shift that has happened, maybe at first a little slowly, but definitely for sure now is that we’re taking more of a long-term look and thinking about how do we ensure we’re bringing in the highest quality users, and subscribers, and focusing on quality, I would say over quantity.

Chris Goward:

Interesting. No, that makes a lot of sense, taking a longer-term view of the business, rather than just sprinting towards the exit that happens in a lot of startups. Okay, great. There’s a lot there to learn from. I think that gives a really good, interesting picture of the story of growth and how things shift over time at a fast growth machine like this.

 

I guess I want to then go back and just, thinking about someone who’s listening who wants to become Tsega in the future, this leader with a great story of growth. What can you tell them that you wish you had known earlier on, maybe 10 years or more?

Tsega Dinka:

One it is possible and what I would say is that obviously for myself, there were certain things that had to be right. I have to be in the right place and some of the right things happened, and there are certain shifts in what types of product managers were in demand. But holding that aside, I think there’s always maybe a sense in some and maybe not in others where you feel like maybe you don’t have all the right experiences.

Another thing is, if you’re aspiring to go into product and maybe you’re not in a product role, you could feel like, well, I don’t have that business experience, or I don’t have the UX experience, or I don’t have the engineering experience. But I would say, looking back, I think one of the most important skill sets that I think are important to have is one, just growth mindset. Always being open to learn and being curious to truly just kind of suck up knowledge and understanding from diverging schools of thought and diverging areas.

Because ultimately, as a product manager and as a product leader, you’re put more and more into positions of orchestrating and leveraging the best of your team. Whether it’s your UX designer, or your engineer, or connecting the dots between what you might see happening and sort of financial report, and what you might see over here around shipping performance or cost of goods.

And being able to take and distill some of the connective tissues from these things and identify ways to solve business problems or identify business opportunities is really a unique position that products get, can be in. So I think just that open-mindedness and that curiosity, I would say is probably the most important skillset to have. I think from there, obviously, there’s, especially these days, there’s classes you can take to at least get some rudimentary foundational understanding of any of those specific areas around UX or engineering and development concepts and so forth.

Lastly, it’s making sure you always ask. If you have colleagues that are in product or if you work in an organization where there’s a product team, make sure that that team or the person leading that team knows that you have that interest and develop that relationship. I don’t know if there’s necessarily like one single path for it, but I think there’s a lot of things that one can do to position themselves to be able to get into product when that opportunity arrives.

Chris Goward:

Okay. So creating your own path, not necessarily feeling hindered by what experience or knowledge you might not have, but just going out there and making it happen. You can always find a way to learn and talk to people that can open doors and find a way through. So it goes back to perhaps the confidence that you talked about early on, having the confidence that you can take something on.

Tsega Dinka:

Yeah. And listen, especially these days, there’s also product school and other very specific, like boot camps and immersions that you can go in and really develop some of the fundamentals around how to think and operate as a product manager. And those are definitely helpful. But I guess, the points that I’m observing and the things that I’ve seen really become valuable is maybe those intangibles.

You can know the fundamentals around agile, or product discovery, or things of that nature, but if you don’t have that curiosity and that just general approach to really take different facets of what you’re hearing and formulating ideas from those, you can very much just be limited in the types of products you build or the types of problems you’re able to solve.

Chris Goward:

Great. Okay. Thank you so much for all these insights. I will let you go to the rest of your afternoon, but I appreciate your time, Tsega and always good to talk with you.

Tsega Dinka:

Likewise, Chris. This was great. Got a chance to go through the memory lane and think about my career a little bit, so that’s always a fun journey.

Chris Goward:

This show is made possible by Widerfunnel, the company that designs digital experiences that work for enterprise brands proven through experimentation. For more information, visit widerfunnel.com/tellmemore. That’s W-I-D-E-R-F-U-N-N-E-L.com/tellmemore.