The Importance of Communities, Mentors, and Side Projects in Your Product Career
Updated: Nov 22
How can community of peers, mentors, and select side projects help your product management career?
In this episode, Naimeesha Murthy, VP Product at New Venture Labs and Founder of Products by Women, shares her journey in product management - including founding and growing a global networking and education community, leveraging mentors across her career and life, and finding side projects that stoke her passion - and how all of these have made her a better product person.
product, mentorship, community, building, mentor, career, people, management, important, women, opportunities, projects, life, find, align, point, journey, folks, skill sets, learn
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 productvoices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of great product management.
Hello, and welcome to product voices. I'm excited about our episode today we're going to be talking all things career and product management and some of the ways that we can help break into the field and then become successful once we're here. We'll talk the importance of community side projects, mentorship and more. My guest on the episode is Naimeesha Murthy. Naimeesha is an award winning inclusive product leader with over a decade of experience in managing digital products. She's also a passionate community builder and is the founder of products by women an amazing global diverse community led network for women in tech and business. Naimeesha, thank you so much for joining me,
JJ, it's so wonderful to be here today. Thank you for including me.
You bet. I've loved working with you over the years. So I'm so excited that you're going to share your story on product voices. So first of all, just just tell me a little bit about how you broke into to product management tell us that story.
Yeah, absolutely. You know, I actually have a very untraditional journey. I you know, I'll go all the way back. I moved to like my, my formal education was actually in business and advertising. And soon after graduation and my master's in like UK, I did my undergrad in India, and then my master's in UK, I got this amazing opportunity to work at a start, like almost like a startup level in a large organization, a telecom giant, which was setting up their operations in India at that point of time. And after that live brought me to the US. And actually at that point of time, I found an opportunity, which I wasn't really excited about. And then you know, being an emigrant, it took me a while to find an opportunity, which I really resonated with. After looking around quite a bit, I found an organization which aligned with my core values of being an immigrant, being a person, like who's really kind of going through this journey of trying to not just fit into the culture, but also identifying like, what skill set do I need to hold on to. So I worked at a social enterprise for about eight years started off as a marketing, early marketing career person, moved into product marketing, moved into product management, and then into the CEOs office. So long story short, at that point of time, like I really didn't have the skill sets, or like, even the required, like, tech stack to be a product manager. And everything that I've learned along the way, was self taught in a lot of ways. And that was actually the starting point of even just building out a community because it was around the same time that I had a kid, I was going through like a rough time of like, trying to understand, like, what do I really want to do. And I was missing, like, a network of thoughts. And, you know, it is a lonely journey, kind of trying to, you know, aspire to, you know, rise up in the tech space. Also, you know, being a new mother, it was, it was, it was a very challenging space to be in. So I created a small community, try to understand the gap that I really had, which is pivoting from product marketing into product management. And that was like my entry point into product management. Because I started learning from my peers, I started getting inspired, even by people like you, I recall, you were like, so encouraging about me going down this path. So that was, that was like a very, very early start of like me trying to pivot into product and since then, I've actually held a bunch of roles. I consulted for big tech companies like Google Octa and most recently, I'm working at like a incubator at a large financial firm, which is which is working in on building products for advisors.
That's amazing. And yeah, I remember the early days of of your community and and I mean, it's just grown so tremendously much since then. But But I want to I want to pivot and talk a little bit about products by women so I love that I mean, you you had a need for yourself, and you knew that other folks would as well. And so you you started this this community and I think it's amazing because your your path is unique, but it's it's also somewhat similar to other folks, right. A lot of people didn't start in product management, they had to find their way You're and so you've built this community that allows folks to work with each other and learn from each other. So tell me a little bit more about products by women to talk about the mission, the vision and kind of what what folks get out of products by women and communities like that.
Yeah, absolutely. You know, very interestingly, when I started, like I mentioned, I, I had been living in the US for a little over 10 years, and I still didn't have like a network, you know, as an immigrant, my husband's networks, my network, in a lot of ways. So what I what I felt was very stuck in my career. And that was a starting point where I was like, I really need to do something about this, right? Like, if I feel this way, I'm sure there are other people who feel this way, not just women, but in general, people like emigrants or people who just feel like at that point where they've, they're trying to read, like restart their career, like after taking a maternity break, or like just feeling confused, or pivoting into a different career. So really, literally, one day I created a small meetup. I really didn't expect anybody to turn up at this meetup. But that that meetup actually was like, so inspiring to see so many different women actually show up I, I literally begged my co workers saying, hey, no one's going to turn up at this event, can you please come with me. And to be honest, like it was for my for myself, in a lot of ways, it was a pain point that I had, which is lack of opportunities. And in the process of developing like opportunities for myself. And the premise being lack of skill sets, the required skill sets provide access to professional development jobs. Mentorship is actually the premise of products by women in a lot of ways. I didn't have a community, I built that community of support, right, I didn't have access to opportunities, we we've created those opportunities for people, people have actually landed jobs, through products by women, they found they're really close friends, to products by women. I mean, I often get messages from the community saying I found my best friend during the pandemic because of products by women. It's incredible to see that. And I think that's what's driven me and that's what helps me sleep better at night. Every day.
I love that it's so amazing. So tell me so. So not everyone's going to want to create a community like you did. And thankfully, there are folks like you who want to take that on and do it for others. But talk to me a little bit about what advice you would give to folks about leveraging communities and how how to get started or you know, how to get involved with communities to find that group of people that they can learn from become friends with and help build their career like what's what's kind of best, your best advice on how to leverage others in your career.
You know, there are various pillars, I think that there are two parts to it, right? Like one is if anybody wants to kind of develop a community itself, I would say there are a couple of pillars that which is a non negotiable, of course, one is authenticity, right? Like you want to be passionate. If you are the creator of the community, it's important to be passionate about what you're doing. Because without it, you can't you like it's a long journey. And you you really would be like, Hey, what is the purpose? What is the endpoint, right? For me, the vision and mission is like, for it boils down to the fact that we wanted to reduce gender pay gap, we want to increase opportunities, we want to re engage women off in back into the workforce, especially after COVID like the number of women who quit the workforce is is is is crazy, to be honest. So that's one that is being able to find that, that cause that authenticity and like that passion itself. The other one is really kind of look, look into your stack. What do you specialize in? Are you subject like, for me, personally, I come from a product marketing background. So I have that martec experience, which I leveraged into building out a community. It was a full circle moment, I knew how to fold up my sleeves and run email campaigns. I knew how to do ads, I knew how to build designed because it's just something that I really enjoyed doing. I knew how to you know, do podcasts. So it became my lab in a lot of ways for me to say hey, like, you know, it's okay if I potentially don't have those opportunities, but I'm going to create more opportunities, put my voice out there, uplift other women. So find your your subject matter, you know, like your expertise, and then reach out to other people to bring them in. And not one one person cannot definitely not be able to do everything. And so that's really critical. And I think those are two foundational areas which which are really important in order to be building out a community itself. And then of course, there are many other things like I mean, there are so many different benefits of like building out a community, which includes in the future, if people do want to consider monetizing it, we've not done that. But like, there are opportunities to monetize it, there are opportunities to build out products through it, you know, through through the community itself. Community LED product development is the new go to market, right, in a lot of ways, like a lot of people can, who have entrepreneurial like aspirations can be building out communities, and using that as a panel to test ideas to test products to test and then scaling it at a point. So there's so many endless opportunities of like, and benefits of building out the community itself. Yeah, so I think I think that's, that's one thing in terms of engaging with the community itself, there are so many incredible communities that are out there, whether it's in product, whether it's in design, of course, products by women is one, one community, there's product buds, there's ADP listeners, doing some incredible work, when it comes to mentorship. And women in product, there's like, endless opportunities out there, sadly enough, like when I started this journey, even talking about 2017 to 2019 phase, there are not so many outlets out there. And so for anybody whose early, early career, I would like, really encourage them to go out there to talk to people, you know, and to seek coaching, to seek mentorship, to connect with people to get ahead, wherever they want to.
I love that advice. And I want to I want to dig a little bit into one of the last things you said, which is mentorship and, and leveraging those communities and finding those networks, and it truly is, you know, career changing. And it's, it's what I've found is, you know, I've got whatever, I've got 1000s of connections on LinkedIn, and you know, the 500 of them that I really know and actually, you know, have have met and can talk to and can and can do things with right, find those folks who, who, you know, even if they're not one to one mentors are folks that you can learn from and, and have a real connection with. So I want to talk about mentorship, tell me a little bit about how mentorship is has, you know, maybe played a part in your career, and then what advice you give to folks in how to find mentorship, how to leverage men mentorship, and some of the ways that they can, you know, use mentors to become better in product management.
Yeah, for sure. I think mentorship has been critical in my growth in so many different ways. And you know, the way I look at mentorship is very, is very fragmented in different ways. Like I have mentors for different parts of my life, compartmentalize my life in a way that I have a mentor with, you know, I would, I would probably aspire to be like the best in a certain area of my life, whether it's being a mother, and I have a mentor in that sense, I look up to some people, I'm learning from them, right like, and you take what you like about that person, and then you leave other parts which you don't feel like aligned with your objective or your goal. Similarly, I know that I'm at a certain phase of my career, in, you know, in my life when it comes to product management, and I want to get somewhere else, right? Like I'm at a and but I want to get like I'm at p but I want to get to a. And so for me to get to that place, I actually need to understand a little bit better, like what what what, what's that gap? Where does the skill gap? Where is the career growth gap? And for me to be able to do that I need to connect with somebody else to understand like, what, what, what's that path that they had? And how can I get to that place. And one thing I do want to say is that I think there's a huge difference between being inspired by someone and being able to kind of emulate like, exactly what what they've done, because everybody's journey is so different. Sometimes you realize those opportunities sooner, and some a little later. And that's totally fine. But mentorship has played like a very critical role in my growth in so many different ways. I really, truly could not be where I'm at today, if people didn't believe in what I was doing and backed me up in so many different ways when it's whether it's at work, whether it's outside work, whether it's sponsors at work, whether it's coaches, whether it's mentors itself, so super critical, especially early in your career, and thereafter as well as you grow, go along. Yeah.
I think it's a good point you make that, you know, not everyone is going to be perfectly aligned, right. So, so learn the things that you can from them, take the things that that you know, align with you from them and then find other ways to build yourself and and sometimes at least in my experience, I've I've had, you know, mentors that there were great and I learned something from them and then it kind of ran its course right And we were still connected and still, you know, had a great relationship. But then you might need to find another mentor someone else to help you with other parts of your life or other parts of your career as you go forward. Right. And so I love how you mentioned kind of compartmentalizing and finding various mentors for various parts of your, your, your life and your career. And I think that's an important piece of advice is, you know, not every, you know, mentor is going to be perfect for every area. And so sometimes you may need to find multiple folks to learn from and, and the other piece that I'll say is that being a mentor, right, and at early in your career, you may not feel like you're, you're capable of that. But being a mentor is actually a really great way to, of course, help someone else. But it also helps you, right, teaching someone is a really, really great way to learn. And so for those listening out there who are in a position where you think you can be a mentor to early stage product folks, or or anyone else, I definitely encourage you to, to reach out and take that step, because being a mentor is is really important, as well,
100%, I think, you know, some of the best learnings or the best friendships and the best, everything that I've done is actually through mentorship sessions is definitely a two way street. And to your point, you know, it brings in one of my I was talking to a friend of mine, and she was talking about how she feels like some of the friendships like that, you know, she's had has, like, she's not able to connect in so many different ways. And what I want to talk about is normalizing the fact that sometimes, you know, people, you can be a great mentor and all of that, but it really needs to align with your overall goal. And, and so normalize being, like having multiple mentors, whether it's skill based mentors at work, whether it's outside work, whether it's your personal life, like but it's really important to have some role model and someone who you look up to,
yeah, absolutely. So I want to, I want to turn a little bit and ask you something that, because you have been kind of the master of side projects, and and, you know, having having multiple hats, I often when you and I speak together, or when we're together, I often joke that you've got about 10 different jobs. And I still don't know how you do it all. But one of the things that that it has become very common and kind of well known, if you will, is that product management is one of those things that you can't necessarily learn everything you need to learn in a classroom or in a in a training session, right. And so having real experience working on real projects with with real ideas and products is very important. So a lot of folks are now you know, embracing side projects and doing certain things that will, you know, not only teach them product management, but again, hopefully add some value and become either a product or community or something like that. So tell me a little bit about your thoughts on the importance of side projects and how, you know, doing multiple things and being multifaceted is is a benefit in product management.
You know, first of all, I do want to stress that I think product management is a very, very rewarding career path. Some of the tools and the way of thinking and kind of refining my product thinking has helped me pick up transferable skills with which I've been successfully applied, like been able to apply to my side projects. Perhaps when I hadn't pivoted into product management, I had all of these incredible ideas, but I just didn't know what the starting point was right? So for anybody who's an aspiring entrepreneur, aspiring like CEO, someone who wants to grow in their career ranks, I think product management is definitely a space where you know, you you can learn how to do that how to prioritize what's important, how to see if an idea can scale, how to build prototypes, all of these skill sets, how to negotiate how to negotiate potential roadmap, how to prioritize what's important, all of these things are amazing. I would say skill sets needed in order to scale an idea from zero to one. And I think the importance of like having a side project or people are trying to people are understanding or realizing the importance of having multiple revenue streams. And the importance of having like side projects even more after the COVID 19 pandemic hit right we have seen so many like layoffs that happened during that time. We have like a recession coming up. So it's more important than ever before to start thinking on those lines. And and for me personally you know, when I really felt like, it's important for me to have something beyond work, like, I am definitely not the type of person who, who really like takes so much pride in my job. And that's about it right like, and I think like people like need to look at life in in other ways, which is sure you you're excelling at work. And I really take a lot of pride in doing my work well, and, and outside of that I do have other interests, I have, I'm building out a product, you know, like a community called products by women. I've invested in like some women led businesses, I'm also, you know, I founded a wellness startup. So for me, I look at life in a way that I, I'm interested in these areas, I want to develop it. And and of course, like there are monetization opportunities in the future. So that's how I look at life. And for me to make these ideas come to fruition, of course, I mean, everything that I've learned so far is definitely really helpful. I also collaborate with like minded people. And I think over the years, and as I've grown older, that's one thing that I've understood that it's so critical to align with people and work with people you have, like implicit trust, and align on core values as people. And you trust someone, and they are subject matter experts, and you collaborate with them, and you know, that it's going in a certain direction. So those are my core values that someone like in terms of like, how to work, why product management is important, and and how I skill side projects,
I think it's important, what you mentioned is in terms of like, finding things you're passionate about. And, you know, there's also this kind of trend these days where, you know, side hustles, and hustle culture and all of this kind of stuff is permeating and you know, I want to balance that personally. But I also want the product management community to balance that with doing things that make you happy, that make you you know, successful, that are good for your well being. And so as you, as you mentioned, like your side projects are things that you're very passionate about, and you you're very picky about what you do, you do a lot of them, but you do them well, because you're, you're happy and you're passionate and they align with you. And I think that's really great advice is that, yes, we can take all of these things that we're doing and learn from each other. And each of them will will give us some learnings along the way. But we also have to, you know, think about our well being and be balanced and not just you know, do things because we you know, want to want to succeed. Success is dependent very often on wellbeing and a healthy balance of what we're doing.
100% You know, at one point when I was building out like products filament, or like just kind of working on the community, as as passionate as I am, and every project that I touch is it does have to come from a place of passion, because I think that's the only thing that takes me that far. I was working under two or 3am. And this is it, you know, working a nine to five, putting my son to sleep and then working on projects that I really, but at one point I really burned out. And that's when I took a step back. And I realized that it's so important to identify your non negotiables in life. And for me that is like being able to be healthy, and being able to have enough time to put my best self out there. Right. So I took a step back and to your point I completely 100% do not endorse hustle culture in any way or form. Please don't overwork yourself, make time for your friends make time to build those relationships because life is outside your laptop and life is life is outside building out those side projects. Yeah,
yeah, absolutely. So any final advice for product managers who are who are you know, getting into the field or early in their career I mean, I love the the career you've built for yourself any any final advice that you would give to someone
I think my advice to someone who's starting out in product would be just come in with like an open mindset product means different things to different organizations. And it's really important to especially early in your career, it's really important to understand and just be just be open to taking in as much information and absorbing as much as you can learn from everyone and don't be afraid to roll up your sleeves and and really get your hands dirty because that's that's that's what's going to help you pick up like skills which will set you up for success in the future.
Naimeesha Murthy, product leader, founder of Products by Women, thank you so much for joining me on Product Voices and sharing your story.
Thank you so much, JJ, this was so much fun.
Yeah, I've loved having you. You'll have to come back and we'll have more conversations because you and I can talk for hours. So thank you again for joining me. And thank you all for joining us on product voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.
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 productvoices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.
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