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  • JJ Rorie

Finding Your Voice as a Product Manager

Episode 066

Victoria Ku, director of product at Highnote, joins the podcast to discuss finding your voice as a product manager. Such an important and fun conversation.

We discuss...

  • How to find your voice as a product manager.

  • How to best use that voice in the workplace

  • How leaders can best help their team find their voice.

  • What impact will payments have on the world in the future? (a bonus discussion based on Victoria's expertise)



Connect with Victoria:

Episode Transcript:


voice, product, people, finding, thinking, payments, love, resources, important, pay, great, management, question, hear, person, lean, unique perspective, world, contrarian, victoria

Intro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest) 00:03

Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources to help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests or to submit your product management question to be answered in our special q&a episodes. That's all at product And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.

JJ 00:36

Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. Got a great conversation today about how to find your voice as a product manager. Wow, it's such an important topic. And we're going to dig into that what that means and some ways that we in product management can really become ourselves become confident and find what matters to us finding your voice in product management. Really great conversation. Joining me today is Victoria Ku. She's Director of Product at Highnote, a Fintech startup headquartered in San Francisco that specializes in creating customized debit and credit cards for companies looking to deepen relationships with customers. She was previously at Airbnb for eight years, and she led payments products at Airbnb. I'm so excited about this conversation. Victoria, thanks so much for joining me.

Victoria 01:23

It's great to be here, JJ.

JJ 01:25

Okay, so finding your voice in product management or finding your voice as a product manager. What does that mean to you? Why do you think it's so important? Why are you passionate about this?

Victoria 01:35

Yeah, when I think about product management, it's both artistry and science. And the part that I'll lean more into is the artist because I like to, I like to talk about the the voices in my head, warring against each other once in artists. And once a financier, and finding your voice is figuring out how to unify and focus that voice all the voices in your head into something that the world can use that you can share and give to the world. And so when I think about that voice, a lot of it comes down to leading with authenticity for me, for other people. It can be, you know, creating progressive measures in the world, like ensuring that people have the right data to use, there could be any number of things. For me, it's about leading authentically and very specifically for me, it's about my sort of contrarian thoughts on leadership. And leading with untested authenticity is staying true to that. So I'll I'll say it here in the beginning, because we'll probably hear it as a theme. But I'm definitely a maverick, I think a little bit differently about things. And over over time, I've learned to use my experience and guide the way that I think into more productive ways to communicate sort of my Maverick ways.

JJ 02:53

So I really love that. And that, that last part about you being a maverick, you know, I think people have a difficult time finding their voice, and then even if they know what their voice is having the confidence to use that and to push that if you will, and, you know, especially if you are a maverick, especially if you have some thoughts and, and a vision for your product or the world or whatever that is contrary to others. So So why do you think generally, you know a lot of folks have a difficult time finding their voice or at least using their voice and making that voice for front and center?

Victoria 03:33

Yeah, wow, the answer to that question. We could, we could talk about this. I didn't capitalism all day. You know, from a summary perspective, I'll start from like, how I came about and understanding like what voice use, and it really came just to one day, I was thinking differently. I remember I was a teenager, and all of a sudden, I just remember thinking, like, who profits from me feeling this way? I was feeling pretty down about myself, you know, insecure, Pimply, whatever. I wrote about this on my LinkedIn post, but all of a sudden, I took a different turn, right, a different neuron fired. And I was like, who profits from me thinking this way? Because it's not me. I'm not profiting from me thinking this way. And that changed the course of my life. I really felt like from that moment on the questions, the Socratic method that I use myself, helped me think a little bit more differently about my inner workings about the way that the world works. So I had a lot of opinions from that day forward about society about capitalism. But that's really where it started from. And so for people who are kind of in this area where they're, they're asking questions, they're thinking, how can I have a voice? What is my voice, right? Like, I remember in high school, my high school teacher was like, use your voice. I'm like, What's, what is my voice right? What is it that I want to put out in the world? What is it that the world needs from me? Because there's a ton of dissonance in the world there's chaos, there is noise. And like why do I want to contribute to the noise? What like, what is it that I can give to the world that kind of dispels? The Chaos dispels the dissonance, like, what is it that the world can use from me? That's kind of where I started from with regards to the voice. And and so the more I asked myself those questions, the more I leaned into my experiences, both professional, both personal and realize that, hey, to be Victoria, to be the voice that I am, I need to lean really authentically into how I think, and I can't just shut myself up. When I disagree with something say like, Sure, go ahead, think that way, I now have to be more elegant about how I present contrarian sort of perspectives.

JJ 05:45

Yeah, that's, I think that's a really important part is, you know, it's if you have a differing opinion, there's a reason and you have every right every, every person has the right to bring that up, but but to, to make it land to influence others, you've got to do it in such a way that it is still true to yourself, but but also is impactful for them. Right? It means something to them. It it's in a way, it's that that proves the point and, and lays out the case, right. And so if you know, part of part of I think finding your voice and using that voice is, is finding what matters to you, I love kind of that that side of things. But then you've got to figure out how to put that voice out in the world and put it in, put it out in the world in a way that again, stays true to who you are and that voice. But if you're trying to use that voice to influence people, which we often do in product, it's got a it's got to land, it's got to resonate in some way. Right?

Victoria 06:44

Absolutely. Especially as strategic wars. Definitely.

JJ 06:48

Yeah, absolutely. And so it's it, I personally have found it as specifically finding your voice isn't necessarily only about contrarian views, right? But it's, you know, specifically about that, I have found it difficult that, you know, kind of finding that balance of, you know, when do you you know, what, what battles do you fight? And when do you say, Okay, let's let's compromise or, you know, something is so important and your view your view on how we should do something and how it should be especially, you know, ethics and inclusivity? And all those sorts of things. Like if we're not doing it that way, we shouldn't do it at all, you know, finding those kinds of places, I think is is also somewhat difficult for people. Right?

Victoria 07:32

Yeah, I think that in those cases, right? A lot of people default to frameworks. And yes, frameworks help us with cutting the chaos. But, you know, I do think that at the end of the day, really developing that like critical thinking spine, and understanding like what sort of principles you want to follow. Again, it kind of goes back to what do you want to put out in the world? That is like an even more important skill set to put out there, right, in helping you figure out that voice?

JJ 08:01

Yeah, absolutely. So like, if you were to take someone on as a mentor, or you know, someone on your team, or just anyone listening out there, that, you know, they love this, and they want to buy into it, and they know they have a voice in there somewhere. Like, what are some kind of tangible ways that you found and and you've mentioned some of these that have helped you, but like, what advice would you give to someone like how to get started on that not only solidifying what they think and know their voice is but then using it in the workplace.

Victoria 08:33

Yeah, I mean, I think the Socratic method, as I mentioned, definitely helps with that. But the other thing that I want to do that I want to plug you and agree with you on is that your five years of Product Management include the communication aspect, which if you can't sell your ideas, if you can't even get someone on board with how you think, then life is going to be very tough. So it's like leaning into that communication skill that is really hard for people, especially specialists who are deeply in the details. This is why I'm really excited about chat. GBT though, like that is a game changer for people who aren't great at communication. And to be clear, there's two aspects of communication. There's like the writing element, and there's a speaking element writing chops up absolutely can help with, and the more that you figure out the type of voice that you want to write with, the more that voice translate into the inner workings, the brain that speaks to you the inner monologue, for people that have it. And so then the second part of that skill set is to work on being able to speak verbally, right, and translate your thoughts into a way that is palatable and also, you know, to uplevel, elegant to the person that's hearing that. And so these are really the traits that I would I would focus on and they sound very simple. It's very difficult to execute on because it is a skill that requires time. And today's modern society, time is a commodity that we don't get back That is the most important, right. And so, personally, from a from a personal anecdote, I was not great at communication early on, you know, I was definitely one of the specialists, very analytical, thought deeply about things in my head had trouble communicating the points to my superiors, to peers, we were all in the detail. So it wasn't as much of a problem. But I was lucky enough to have an amazing mentor who worked with me and I kid you not for two years, honing the way that I thought, taking my verbal throw up, so to speak, and reaching back to me and saying, is that what you meant? Right? Look at how you can say it this way. And it's much more clear. And that was a privilege, right? Like we should all seek to understand areas that we can work on, but then also find the people who are best able to help us with the areas that we need to work on.

JJ 10:50

That's amazing. And yeah, what an amazing experience to have that mentor. So on that I want to, I want to ask you one other question about this. And so for the leaders out there, is there a way that they can best help their team, the individuals on their team find their voice, right? So let's say you're a leader, and you have this person, and you know, they've got it in there, they've got so much potential, maybe they aren't as confident as they should be, or whatever it may be. Right. We've all seen it. And but you know, they've got this really unique perspective and this unique voice, is there something they can do specifically to help them find that voice? Is it you know, again, just kind of mentoring or or talking to them? Are there other things that they can do?

Victoria 11:34

Yeah. So there are two aspects to helping those like shining stars rising stars rise to the occasion. I'll call it sponsorship and mentorship, right? The mentorship part is pretty clear. Right? Encouraging people teaching people, right, really helping them understand like, what's holding themselves back at getting them to answer the questions that I asked like, what, who, who profits from you thinking this way? Right? that that part is often talked about? The part that isn't talked about as much as sponsorship, now that you've got this opportunity to face like what you want to work on? How do you execute on it? What are the proper environments for you to be able to show off that skill set? What are the areas for you to be able to reap the rewards of you executing, you know, properly on that skill set? That's the sponsorship. Those are the meetings that like, people talk about your great work when you're not in the room. Those are the meetings where people advocate for you. Those are the times when people like stand up on behalf of your leadership, right, and say they point to you and say, Victoria and whomever they're willing to go through the storm, and I agree with it. Right. That's the sponsorship portion. So for leaders, it's really thinking about these two areas. It's not just mentorship, it also needs to be sponsorship.

JJ 12:49

Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. And I love that it's like, you know, when they bring you up in a room that you're not in, and they bring you into that room have been truly is also a good way to do it. Yeah, I love that I'll share, since you brought up a mentor, there was a boss that I had many years ago, and still probably to this day, my favorite boss and the most influential boss in my career. And one of the things that she would do for me is allow her allow me to shadow her in some some meetings. And yeah, maybe my role had a little bit of reason to be there. But But really, the main main reason I was there was to hear the type of decisions and the type of conversation that happens. And then after that, she and I would just sit down, and we would talk and I'd say, Well, what did that mean? And why were you doing this? And why was there such a push back here. And so she would tell me all about this. And, again, you don't you can't do that with everyone, you can't do that with every meeting, you can't, you know, as leaders, you can't, you know, spend all your time doing that. But that is a huge part of leadership is is building up the next, you know, the next set of leaders. And so I love that, and I love that perspective. So I've loved this part of the conversation, but actually want to do a little bit of a detour, if you don't mind, because I love that you're in payments. And I started or at least early in my career, I was in pain in payments, and it was a Gosh, 15 years ago or so now. So the world has changed quite a lot. But I still love the space of payments. And I just find it fascinating kind of the the view of connecting commerce and people and it just kind of makes the world go round the goods and the bads. So I would love to hear your thoughts like what what's your vision of the future of payments products? And what you know what impact it's going to have on the world?

Victoria 14:30

I love this question too, because it's such It's the dream product question. You know, at the end of the day payments is so dynamic. It's one of those arenas that are constantly iterating constantly innovating. And what you know to be today is definitely not going to be in the next like two to five years. And we're already in that cycle of the exponential curve where things are changing rapidly. So when I think about payments in the future, just from the get go, I'm like it's going to be invisible. Right? It's just the way that the They're going things are going to be completely invisible in the future, like, we're not going to ever have to pull out credit cards, things are potentially going to be embedded in us. So like, for example, like high note has a fleet product, it's an amazing fleet product, right? Like we work with EB fleet in the future. We won't even need to pull out credit cards to like fuel fleet, right? Like it's gonna be cars are programmed to like pay for their own charging costs. Humans don't even have to interview, right, and you see this because like today, like their iterations, like good design, there's a statement that good design is, is amazing. It's beautiful, but great design is invisible, right. And then Uber even said to themselves, the thing about Uber that makes it magical is like, it took away the pain of paying on the taxi, you get in you get app, right. And so that's where I see the industry going, everything is heading towards an equilibrium, where you don't see it. And that's the magical part.

JJ 15:55

That is amazing. Funny story, actually, on the Uber so so I mean, Ubers a great example to me of of products and companies changing what a lot of consumers didn't even know needed to be changed, right. So nobody, I don't think I mean, obviously, there was some problem that they saw there, right. And they really did a good job and in solving it. But but the truth is like taxis were fine, right? Like we got us there. But man, that little bit of difference that they made. So the first time I took a I used to take cabs in New York City all the time, right? And you, you know, you weigh in your pay, and it was no big deal. Like we didn't know how burdensome that was until I started taking Ubers all the time. And then the first time I took a cab after that I jumped out of the cab without paying. Because I was so used to it. And then of course, I realized I was like, oh my god, I'm so sorry. You know, we went back and paid but but it was like it trained us as consumers. And that is such a burden. Like the one minute that it takes to pull your card out and pay and all that nonsense. It's like, right. And so I love that example. And how how everything is just going to be so much easier. Wow. And the and the evey cars and just pay for themselves. That's awesome, too. Wow. Yeah. So fun.

Victoria 17:04

Yeah. And you're gonna see me like how payments is going to feel a lot of different problems in the world. Like, I'll pitch you on another one, right? Since becoming a mother, I'm kind of like, wow, why don't we in the US have, you know, pelvic floor therapy? Why is it that six weeks later, we're still bleeding, we're still postpartum. But yet we get cleared for birth control and not tolerated for therapy, right. And so this is an infrastructure problem. But I think about like how, like high note and like credit cards, right? We'll be able to use the activity, things that we do every day, we buy groceries, we buy our cable, we do public transport, why can't we take these transactions, user rewards, and go back into more healthy behaviors, right? Get pelvic floor therapy, because of our everyday behavior, get healthy food, right? So things like this are already happening. That's the amazing thing about an industry. But I'm really excited about moving forward and having these frictions just disappear. And you get to focus on the things that you actively want to focus on.

JJ 18:00

Yeah, that's awesome. And in good working in a in an industry like payments. I can see tying it back to the voice, I could see how your voice kind of penetrating all of the work that you do to make sure the world is better in that domain in that space. Right. Like it's it's bigger than just, you know, the products that you're creating and what you're putting out there. It's it's how that's impacting the world and how that's making the world better.

Victoria 18:28

Absolutely. I mean, we have, we have like eight, I mean, realistically, eight to 12. Now, right? Like, our 24/7 society, we have like eight to 12 hours in a day where we are working with our peers are working on problems. And it's super important to me that we are not only paid to do our jobs, but also to do them well. And for what mission. Right and for and, you know, again, for me where I'm in San Francisco, money is not the end goal, right? I want to make sure that like the people in this world are taken care of long after we pass, right? That's kind of the legacy that I want to pass forward, among others. But so in that sense, right, like, I think about my voice, and I'm like, Cool, okay, this prospective company, like has the mission that I want to support, right? And do they have the product that I want to insure can create good in the future, right. And so luckily, I've been in really great positions, Airbnb high note, like, have all gotten amazing missions. And so I'm very comfortable with speaking up using my voice to push these missions in like my little corner of the world. And that's kind of a thing that I think about that I communicate with Mentees is like, is this an area that you feel comfortable to champion? Like if this is the end all be all for you? Like, let's say you stop working after this? Is this the legacy that you would want to give to the world? And if the answer is yes, and you're in a great place, right, you're, you know, you can lean in you can be authentic about how you're going to move forward.

JJ 19:55

Yeah, that's such good advice and really important for people to hear. So my final question for you big Your is what I asked most of my guests, which is what resources have you found valuable? Are there any that you like to learn from that you've, you know, learn to teach others or anything else that is kind of helped you in general product management and also in finding your voice?

Victoria 20:17

Yeah, it's a great question, I'm gonna be a bit contrarian here. I don't necessarily lean into one person, I think that I think that we're all human, we can be wrong, right, I think it's a bit of a risk to put all of my weight on one person. So what I like to do is actually take from very disparate resources. So like, you're gonna see me reading Wall Street, you'll see me reading like, I don't know, like cosmopolitan, right? Like, you'll you'll, you'll see me reading like the Atlantic, I'll listen to Fox News, I listened to podcast, I also look at Hacker News, the Reddit threads, I like to take from all of the threads and come up with my inner sort of critical thinking voice, and consider like, what are the problems that people are talking about? What are the sign of the times? What are the things that are most top of mind? What is the thread of emotion that is running through our society right now? And then I think about like, oh, how can we solve that? Right? Where, where are we in society? What are the tools that we have that could potentially solve this, and then I thread the two together. And that's kind of how I think about product management. That's kind of like the the framework if you if you will, the Victoria framework of how I take all this news and stay updated, but then come up with a unique perspective that I have an opinion on. And it's worked pretty well for me, but but in general, like all of all of the people that you you hear about, like the Martin Kagan's the Scott Galloway is like, they're all great resources. But at the end of the day, you and the voice that you want to put out in the world should be uniquely what you've thought of. And so that's how I approach the resources and then regurgitate it into what I hope is a more elegantly framed blurb to be able to communicate.

JJ 21:59

I love that I actually think that's a really, really great approach. And I think more people need to do it that way. I think, look, they're amazing thought leaders out there, and really good experiences to share and all of that, but there's no one person who knows how to do product management above and beyond everyone else. And there's no one way to do product management. And there's no one way to learn it. And so, I love that you kind of bring it all together. And in many ways. It's it's like product, right? I mean, we bring so many data sources in to figure out, you know, what the problem is, and you know, what's real and what's not, and all of that. So I love that you kind of, you know, look across diverse resources. And I think that's very valuable for people to hear so awesome. Victoria, who this has been such an amazing conversation. I've loved it. I've loved loved hearing, kind of how you found your voice and how you help others find their voice in product management. So thank you so much for joining me love the conversation.

Victoria 22:54

Thanks, JJ. It was a pleasure.

JJ 22:56

And thank you all for joining us on product voices. Hope to see you in the next episode.

Outro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest) 23:01

Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.


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