Product Hero is our bi-weekly series that highlights outstanding members of the product management community. These industry leaders share tips on processes, team building, how to be a better product manager, and who they are outside of their careers. This week our product hero is Emera Trujillo, Senior Product Manager at MediaMath.
Emera started her career in customer services at Cars.com but eventually found herself seeking to satisfy her growing customer-centric mindset through product management.
Along with former Product Heroes Vanessa Ferranto, Cait Porte, she is an organizer for Boston Women in Product, whose mission is to inspire, equip and help advance women in product. Part of the larger Boston Product Management Association, the group organizes events for local female product leaders to learn and affect one another in an open, casual setting.
In this episode, Emera and I discuss:
- The challenge of onboarding users
- Establishing relationships with the Sales organization in your first 90 days
- Collecting user feedback when the buyers of your product are not necessarily the users of your product
- Having in outcomes mindset vs. an outputs mindset
- The difference between good user friction and bad user friction, and how to strike the right balance between the two
I hope you enjoy our discussion.
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- Boston Women in Product
- Boston Product Management Association
Heath: Say a few words and let’s see if it’s working for you.
Emera: Hello, my name is Emera.
Heath: Maybe a little closer than that if you’re going to be that gentle.
Welcome to Product Hero. Thanks for joining us. Can you describe how you got into product? Have you always been into product? What was that like for you, the journey into product management?
Emera: So, no, I wasn’t born into product. I got into product 10 years ago actually. Somehow I never thought I’d actually get to that number. To actually say, wow, I have a decade in this product world.
So I started off in a customer service role working for a website, Cars.com. They’re based in Chicago. It was great but definitely not … after a while you kind of figure out how you’re answering the phone calls, answering emails, updating things. I was always asking for more. What else can I do? What other projects can I work on?
And after about a year, the head of my department said, Hey, there’s an opening in product. Is this something you might be interested in? And I had no idea what product management was like, but a couple of weeks later, I found myself as a product specialist, and have never looked back. I’ve loved everything.
But, yeah, when I think about what I do today, a lot of my initial thoughts about how I’m going to approach a problem typically still come from this customer-centric mindset. I can’t break out of it.
Heath: What are your biggest challenges at MediaMath? And we’ll get into what MediaMath does. But what are your biggest challenges, and what keeps you up at night?
Emera: So many things. MediaMath in its simplest form, we’re connecting marketers with their customers and their prospects. We have an advertising platform. People are coming in to launch their ad campaigns with MediaMath. Here in Cambridge, most of our office, myself included, focuses on our data management platform. So my view of the marketer’s landscape is very audience-focused, and I think a lot about who marketers … sort of, customers are.
So in terms of challenges, there’s a few things. Specific to the advertising technology industry that are kind of coming down the pike, the European Union had some regulations that are going to be implemented next year. So it’s certainly keeping a lot of marketers and advertising technologists up at night.
For me, I think about there’s a way today that marketers are thinking about audience segmentation and how do they identify their best customers, how do they find new prospects, what’s the right cadence to reach those individuals with messages, what messages should they deliver and where. I think about how is that going to change in the next couple of years. This is a super exciting time to be in the advertising technology space, which is part of why I have been in digital advertising for the past 10 years.
It’s really thrilling to be able to shape an entire industry’s trajectory and be a part of that, but that’s … I try and think about these marketers. What are they going to need to do in three years? It’s not even on their radar right now because there’s so much technology that’s coming out that’s really going to enable them to reach consumers in a much more smart and sophisticated way.
Heath: So how do you as a product manager keep an eye toward that two, three-year horizon? Are there others on the team who take on the day-to-day tactical load that seems to be such a blocker for most product managers? Or are you just not talking about that and say no, no, we’re able to … are you able to look ahead two to three years?
Emera: I feel really lucky, and I’ve had other experiences where … and I think this is especially true in more of a start-up culture or a much smaller organization where as a product manager, you have to wear a lot of hats.
And to your point earlier about product management meaning something different to every organization, to every individual to some degree, that’s still true. Like if I talk to a product manager or at a healthcare startup in Fort Point, their day-to-day looks incredibly different from mine. We could have the same title, but they may not have a really great project manager that they can work with.
I’m really lucky here that we have that established within the MediaMath organization, so some tactical aspects don’t necessarily fall on me. We have a great user experience design team as well. So, again, I’m not necessarily trying to find users that I can interview with, because I have a team that can help me do that. MediaMath is over 750 employees worldwide. So, yes, I have a lot of, in a sense, perks. I’m glad that I went through an experience where I didn’t necessarily have all of that, and I was wearing a ton of hats.
But at this moment in time, yeah, I can step away from some of those tactical things that just need to get done, and I actually have time to do some serious product discovery.
And the question you asked about how do you figure that out as well, I think, is an interesting one. One, we have a great vice president here of our data management platform, so certainly I’m not …
Heath: Shout out to the VP.
Emera: Shout out to my boss. I’m not necessarily leading that charge every day, but it is something I think about quite a bit, and how I can help him inform the plans for what we’re doing.
But I think that I also look a lot at other industries. I think that’s such a great thing for product managers to do, regardless of where you are in your career. I’m constantly fascinated by what’s happening in the financial tech industry right now, and I think that there’s some interesting parallels with advertising technology, especially in regards to privacy of information and also what we can do to scale while keeping cognizant of the fact that … for instance, for my specific product, I think a lot about people and audiences that marketers are trying to reach and how do they make sure that that information is safe, but also is working for them in an efficient manner at scale.
Heath: You mentioned perks. It was a nice perk to be able to focus on the horizon and not just what’s in front of you. I would say it’s even more than that. It sounds like you guys have structured the larger product team in such a way that allows you to accomplish that. And I’ve found that’s all too unique. It is often the product manager that shoulders all of that burden, and it sounds like you guys have structured it such that you have people tasked with and responsible for and good at managing the UX and the design, and you have the people managing the day-to-day as project managers. And you as a product manager can focus your skills and your responsibilities appropriately as well, so that’s certainly refreshing to hear.
Emera: I truly feel … and it’s not that it should be a luxury, but it feels that way. At other organizations I’ve worked at, that has not been the case. And it’s easy to get burned out, and it’s really tough to know where to put your focus, and it’s literally … for me in the past, it’s been like, okay, today is Monday. What are the three things I need to get done today that are very much like … they have to be finished today. It’s not like, oh, no, I’m going to start thinking about my three-year plan or something and … start sketching something out. That’s much tougher, and I think if you don’t have in that instance senior leadership support, you really will … either you have to be hyper-focused and really great at managing your time management, schedule management; otherwise, you really will burn yourself out.
Heath: I would say in all of my discussions with product leaders, it’s easily top three and maybe even the top one challenge, the inability to take a long view for the product and be that internal product strategist. So that’s certainly refreshing to hear.
So you referenced your to-do list. What’s the one challenge or two challenges that you’re working on right now?
Emera: One is adoption. I’ve come in, and this product is already established, some parts of it at least, let’s say. One is growing internally the awareness of the product, and two is externally growing adoption, how do we get people on board. And really doing some basic discovery, like what are those roadblocks, what is holding people back. It’s not necessarily always some user experience issue, per se, like how do I get started using the product. There’s paperwork involved, and asking the questions of can we get rid of this? Is this a roadblock? Does this send up a red flag for the client that maybe this is just going to take them too long to get started on? So that’s certainly one thing, just building awareness and adoption for the product set.
The second piece, I’d say, is that user experience question. I’m always fascinated about how people onboard new users to their product or their application or a feature, whatever it is. I have the benefit at the moment of coming in sort of fresh, so I have a lot of ideas. But I basically just take all of them, call them assumptions and go, okay, how are we going to figure out if this is a legitimate issue or if this is an ideal workflow. And maybe we just need some tool tips or some feature guide to help someone get started.
Heath: Tell me about your team … the broader product team’s relationship to your users. How do you collect that feedback from your users?
Emera: I’d say this is definitely an area where I feel like I’m still learning, so a piece of it is certainly quantitative. We have an integration that helps us measure usage of certain pages and certain features. That has been super helpful for me to dive in and see how the feature is being used compared to other features, maybe similar features in the platform. And it’s also nice because it identifies certain users, as well as clients that are interacting with the product, so I can start to build the list of who do I want to reach out to to ask some more questions. These are the heavy users, these are the light users. Let me figure out where those boundaries are for them and why they’re using the product today. So that’s all nice because that’s stuff I can do on my own.
I feel very enabled by our user experience and design team, but they’re the second piece, which is they … our main headquarters are in New York. Our UX design team is based in New York, which can be really nice for me when I want to just talk to internal users. They can really be the conduits to help me figure out this type of question or these sets of questions are really good for maybe a focus group. Let’s set something up the next time you’re in New York and figure out who we’re going to invite.
Heath: So you guys are users of your product as well?
Emera: The other piece of that is establishing relationships with the sales team. And I will say in full disclosure, I’m in my first 90 days period, and that’s a big goal of mine is establish some best friends that are out in the field who are actually going to get me in front of our clients. When you’re in the B2B space, I think conversations with clients and also the big clients are different, because, one, you might end up talking to the people who are buying the product but not actually using the product at the company. So you might have to work at building out a relationship with a salesperson and then with the buyer at the company in order to eventually to get to the user at the company. It’s nice when you do have internal users of your product, but you never want to get stuck in that funnel where you’re like, oh, these are the only users. They’re not. They’re a unique set of users.
Heath: They know the product probably more than you’d like your users to know it that you’re trying to get surface issues, concerns, needs from, right?
Heath: And they certainly know who to go to for workarounds and when they get stuck?
Emera: Yes, yes.
Heath: Tell me about MediaMath. What does MediaMath do?
Emera: I think at its heart, we are all about connecting marketers with their best customers and prospects. It’s interesting because when I think back on all of my experiences … and I’ve exclusively pretty much worked in digital advertising in some form or another … I have always been really fascinated with how marketing messaging reaches people, and there is a balance of wanting the consumer to opt in or opt out of your experience and making sure that it is the right message reaching the right person at the right time. I mean, it sounds a little cheesy, but it’s so true. And what got me really excited about MediaMath is that they have a couple of core values that I really believe in and resonated with me. For instance, we’re really focused on outcome. There’s this phrase like obsess over outcomes, and I think it’s kind of like a little bit of a take on obsess over your customers, right?
Emera: But for us, our marketers are really obsessed about outcomes. They want to drive leads. They want to drive sign-ups. They want to drive purchases, whatever it might be. So for us to have that mindset, I think is really important in the advertising space. There’s also a real push to make decisions and to be accountable, which I think especially in product management is a really big thing. If something fails, the buck stops here with product, and if you succeed, it’s a team effort. But I thought that those things really resonated with me, and I thought this is the company I want to grow with.
Heath: How does MediaMath measure success of product? Either product management or the products themselves?
Emera: For me, I’m approaching it like … and this is something I give advice to like newer product managers, and I always say in your first 30/60/90, make sure this is something you set up. I’ve selected a group of internal KPIs for my product. Just a way for me to start measuring immediately to determine the health of the product. They could be the wrong numbers for me to track. That’s okay. But I think you need to start tracking something. And then continually evaluate it. If the idea is okay within the first 90 days, you pick a handful of metrics. And then in the next 90 days, you actually figure out if those are the right metrics to be looking at, and it’s okay if you’re wrong. That’s all right. These are internal, and they’re meant to inform you and the team that you’re working with about the health of your product.
I also think that having ambitious and also transparent goals for individuals at the company can be really important. At MediaMath, they do that. You set goals, and they are within a system that anybody in the company can access. So anybody can say, What are Emera’s goals for this half of the year? Certainly some of them are tied to company initiatives, some are personal goals. And I think that’s an interesting way to make sure that the rest of the organization, regardless if it’s a QA engineer who sits right next to me or it’s someone in an office half way around the world from me, knows what I’m thinking about when it comes to moving the product forward and also personal development.
Heath: A good friend of mine whom I interviewed for Product Hero said it the most bluntly, As product leaders, we don’t make anything. We’re sort of the coordinator of all of these talented people. We’re trying to bring engineers together, with designers together with implementation specialists together with the QA to create this awesome thing as a team, but at the end of the day, this notion that we’re the CEO of the product is fortunately dying on the vine, right? We’re not.
Heath: We don’t create something ourselves. We coordinate and try to get a bunch of talented people to create something. So it can be very hard if the revenue for your product is not up to snuff, is that because of a pricing issue? Is it because sales is not good? Is it because the messaging from marketing is not good? Who knows? It could be all of those things or some of them. It’s important to find out which it is, but it is really tough to come up with the best way to measure the success of a product. It’s always interesting to hear …
Emera: I agree.
Heath: … how people are trying to do that.
What is a mistake that you remember, that you learned from, that you made as a product manager?
Emera: Yeah, I think if I think back there’s usually two areas where the mistakes come from. One is lack of communication for whatever reason. Not communicating enough, not communicating to the right person. The other is you kind of lose sight of the problem that you’re trying to solve.
In a previous role, I had come in. I was ready to tackle anything, and I took on an initiative that had already been specked out, so to speak, but there were these requirement documents, and I asked a few folks internally about it. And they said, No, no, no. We already spent time on this. We already spent so much time on this. It’s already in the docs. Just look in there. Go ahead. I was like, okay, well, all right. This feels weird, but I’ll just do it. There were a lot of other things going on too. And sure enough, like 60 days later, we’re unveiling this feature that nobody uses. It’s not actually solving any problem, and it haunted me. It was a button in this interface that I looked at daily for a couple of years, and it was a great reminder in a way of, yes, we built something that didn’t have a purpose. Let’s never do that again.
Heath: Yeah. Products you admire that aren’t MediaMath products. It can be something that you yourself use or that you see out there in the market that you’ve always thought this is a really good product.
Emera: There are a couple. One, I have been using Buffer for a while now, and it’s really come in handy when I’m working with Boston Women in Product, and we’re scheduling out some social posts. It is not from the company but my interpretation, but a way to manage social media, applications, footprints, if you will.
A couple of months ago I actually did a little favorite product Fridays, and I was talking to someone who was writing this blog post and I said, Buffer. It’s great. I’m on the free version, but I’m definitely considering paying. And, yeah, over the past six months, I upsold myself. Now I’m paying, and it’s fantastic. It’s even better.
Heath: Did you post that you were definitely considering upgrading?
Emera: Oh, I did. Yes.
Heath: Did Buffer jump in and grab you and say, What can we do to get you … We’re glad you love us and …
Emera: They did not, no.
Heath: Oh, missed opportunity. Well, they had you anyway.
Emera: They knew. They knew from the language I used.
Heath: Don’t ever oversell, right? Stop when you’ve made the sale.
Emera: Yes, yes.
I like it because, one, it definitely solves a need for me, helping me schedule things out in advance. Love that. But it’s interesting because there’s definitely some like friction that I have for using the app, and I should say both apps. I use their website version on my laptop, and then I also use the mobile app on my phone. And it has to do with scheduling. And it’s one of the points of friction … an interesting topic, I think, in product management, and UX as well, about what’s the right level of friction to have.
Certainly, the outlook like there should be absolutely no friction for the user, I think doesn’t make sense. One, you have multiple types of users, and, two, there is a little bit of good friction. I don’t want to accidentally post everything that I’ve scheduled, so there should be something that holds me back from doing that. So whenever I’m using the app, I’m constantly thinking about that, especially when it comes to scheduling. Like, oh, this is an interesting way to get me to not accidentally post everything or post at like 2:00 in the morning, when I actually meant 2:00 in the afternoon.
Heath: Ten years in, how has product changed for you?
Emera: When I first started in product, the company I was at was practicing waterfall product development. And, again, I came in and didn’t know anything about product. So I was like, this is how it’s done. We plan out a year and a half.
Heath: And yet you stuck with it.
Emera: Right? What was wrong with me?
Heath: It didn’t drive you away.
Emera: And I definitely am not someone who’s like … different product development cycles work for different products and for different companies. There’s nothing wrong with waterfall. A lot of people now are on the We hate Agile Bandcamp which I don’t understand at all. Anyway. That being said, while I was at that company, we went through this Agile transformation, and it really was sort of like a little … I don’t know … I guess, career affirming for me. I think I was definitely at a point where I was like, I don’t know if I can keep doing this. I was managing a couple of products. I had direct reports. I was traveling like six out of seven weeks, and I thought I cannot keep this up. This is too much.
At that point when I thought is this a breaking point, we went through this Agile transformation. It really was that, going from an organization that had over 20 product managers title-wise of some sort or another to all of a sudden having only 10 product owners within the organization was very different. I think in retrospect, our company … I think we did a pretty good job. I am … when I look back, I really am impressed by senior leadership and our CIO who really got behind the effort. And everybody involved too. People who previously were product managers who then become solutions managers, and their titles changed, and they were by and large really behind that. They understood what we were trying to do.
But since then it’s interesting. There’s definitely in the past couple of years, much more of this take like Oh, I’m going to go … whatever I’m in … I’m going to go get an MBA and then I’m going to be a product manager and be a CEO, and that’s going to happen in the next five years for me. Well, I applaud that ambition. It’s interesting. To me, I’m not sure it’s bad or good, but to your point about there are no product courses, or you don’t go to school to be a product manager, I’m a big fan of general assembly and the courses that they offer for folks who are interested in product.
Most of the folks that I’ve talked to who have MBAs and specifically went to B school to get an MBA to get into a product role, I think that was the right choice for them. It wasn’t the right choice for me. I didn’t really even know that that was something you could do. I think it’s bringing different energy into product management to some degree, and I like it. I think that there’s a lot of parallels between product management and the start-up world, so many. So I think if you are someone who has studied what it’s going to take to build a great business, there’s a lot of transferrable skills into what it’s going to take to build a good product. You get some interesting POVs from folks who are coming straight out of business school into a product role.
Heath: What do you think is missing right now in the product management conversation? What are we not talking about in product that we should be talking more about?
Emera: That’s an interesting one. I’m kind of a little tired about talking about roadmaps, the roadmapping process. I am super excited for the book that’s coming out, but sometimes I think folks get so myopic about their roadmap and the process of coming up with a roadmap. And suddenly you look back and you’re like I feel like we’ve been in meetings for weeks about this thing.
And to your point about … you kind of lose sight a little bit about What are we doing again? You have to constantly revisit that vision, that mission statement and not get so tied up in the roadmap part because certain folks will be like, I’m going to tie you to that date that you’re mentioning.
Emera: Even if you just say later. When does later start? It’s interesting. There’s so many facets about roadmapping, like who are the right people to be talking to when you’re building your company’s roadmap, your product’s roadmap? How frequently can it change? Does it have to be cohesive? Certainly, if you have a board or a set of external clients, you need something to show them. You should always have a couple of things in your back pocket. To answer that question, What’s on your roadmap?
But realistically in product, we all know, Yeah, but it could change.
Emera: That’s what I’m thinking about today, but tomorrow I might discover something crazy and new, and that’s going to shift things. To change a version is very powerful, And you do have those external commitments like a board that you might have to be responding to. You might be public. That may have a whole different set of implications. You might have customers that are actually driving certain things on your roadmap. So it’s an interesting topic, but in some ways I need a break.
Heath: You just flipped my question on its head. I asked you what’s missing. You said what needs to be talked about, which is a nice way of answering that. It’s a nice Jedi move. You know, I think if people have that reaction to a roadmap, that’s probably a symptom that people are not understanding the purpose of the roadmap appropriately, right?
Heath: It’s a communication tool. And to your point, it does, will and needs to change. It needs to be able to change. And to the extent that people are, A, putting an actual date on there, and, B, holding people to that, I think that’s certainly a sign that they’re not really understanding the purpose of the roadmap.
Heath: And the organization needs to take a half step back and say, Look. We do roadmaps here for a reason. It’s not the reason you’re describing.
Heath: So let’s talk about what it is and what it isn’t, because part of what goes on a roadmap is what we’re not going to do.
Emera: I was at an event at Drift last week on being customer-driven.
Heath: One of their meetups?
Emera: Yes. It was fantastic. There was a gentleman there who previously worked at Zappos. He’s now here in Boston working on his own start-up, and he mentioned that he’d like to see more problem roadmaps, rather than solution roadmaps. And I was like, oh, I love that.
To your point about being outcome-driven, you don’t ever want to be like, Well, product manager, I’m going to basically be evaluating the success of you on the fact that you deliver X, right?
Emera:… this product, this solution. But if you can show me that by the end of the year you’ve addressed this problem in three distinct ways and you can articulate how you’ve addressed that, okay, now we’re talking more of that outcome-driven way to manage and help product managers succeed, and you’re also talking about having this problem-focused roadmap. To your point, that’s not what everybody needs to see.
Emera: Some people really do need to see the solution roadmap, but I think if you can spin it in a way internally that, hey, these are the problems we’re tackling. That can be really powerful. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that actually happen and really be adopted throughout the organization, that understanding of what is this roadmap meant to do for us.
Heath: Tell me about Boston Women in Product. How did you get involved? What is it? And it dovetails into another question I’ll ask, what advice would you offer for someone looking to become a product manager? Maybe those are related.
Emera: Love that question. I was introduced to Boston Women in Product by my fabulous friend Vanessa Ferranto. I think she might have introduced us.
Heath: Yes, we know her. Hi, Vanessa.
Emera: We had worked together previously. She had contacted me and said, Hey, I’ve been involved with the Boston Product Management Association, and we’re starting an off-shoot, a sort of community group to focus on connecting women who are in product roles, who are interested in product roles in the Boston area. I was like, Sign me up. So we have been organizing events in the local area for a little over a year and a half now. It’s been really exciting to see the community grow from these three co-founders, Vanessa, Cait Port, and Sarah Tollis, who were just so passionate about this idea, and now we have 600+ members in our meetup group. We are sort of part of the Boston Product Management Association, and it’s nice to be able to offer events that feature either female speakers or topics that are of interest specifically sourced from our community, what they’re interested in hearing. And we also try and host a lot of our events in the T-accessible area for those who might be working and living in the city and not always able to travel out to the suburbs to attend an event.
Your second question about someone getting into product.
Emera: I have so many thoughts. One is that if you really are interested in product, regardless of where you are in your career, how much experience you have, one, reach out to those local communities. I think it’s such a great way to get involved and meet people and just hear different ideas. You can hear people talk about why they don’t like Scrum or why they’ve tried Kanban and they’re not happy with it. You can start to meet people who might be in user experience and design and engineering. I don’t only attend product events. Women Who Code run some really great events in the area. It’s a good way to get some exposure to some of those ideas. You don’t necessarily have to be looking for a job, just if you’re interested in the topic.
And, two, you can start of follow up with people, people who might help you in your career search if you are interested in getting into product. I also highly encourage anyone to start trying to think like a product manager, whatever role you’re in. It doesn’t mean that you have to be doing that role at your company per se. You can certainly come up with a list of questions and ways that you might test something, test a theory. Who are your customers that you’re thinking about, and start to talk to people in your organization.
If that doesn’t quite work for you, I really encourage people to get involved in volunteer activities in Boston. I’ve been volunteering for maybe the past two years through Boston Cares, and even the work I do with Boston Women in Product is volunteer work. It’s such a great way to get to know yourself and your strengths and your weaknesses.
And especially as a product manager, I think it’s been really interesting for me to see where I become impatient. I have a bias towards action, and I want to start leading when I feel things are going astray. But it’s also been interesting for me to try and take a seat back sometimes and be more of a collaborative team player. Even when I feel like there’s maybe a leadership gap, sometimes, it’s okay. And it’s alright to let someone else find their own way. I think that that can be a really great way to test some of those product management soft skills that, to your point, there aren’t really any courses for. And ultimately, it’s only going to help you and your community if you are doing something like that.
Heath: So you just alerted me to the fact with you now being one of our Product Heroes, we only need Sarah, and we’ve had all of you that run Boston Women in Product …
Emera: Oh, I love it. All right.
Heath: … as Product Heroes.So I think I need to try to get the four of you in a room and do an episode of the Dirt where we talk about Boston Women in Product. That would be great.
Emera: Would love that. I love that.
Heath: I’m going to do it. Well, thanks for joining us, and thanks for being a Product Hero.
Emera: Thank you so much, Heath.