The Lea Hickman Hypothesis: Product Management Is a Team Sport

Lea Hickman is a Partner at Silicon Valley Product Group, where she travels around the world working with product teams to help them create better products faster. Her storied career in product management included Netscape, Macromedia, Adobe, and InVision. We discuss the key to building a great product management team.

Subscribe for the full episode on Apple, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, and more. Love what you hear? Leave us a review, it means a lot.


Questions We Explore in This Episode

The Lea Hickman Hypothesis: Product Management Is a Team SportHow did Lea first get involved in product management? How did she meet Marty Cagan? What was it like working for Netscape in the 90s? Why is Marty so successful at product leadership? What are the potential pitfalls when an organization starts to grow very rapidly? Why is onboarding just as important as your recruitment and hiring process?

What are the key lessons Lea has learned about culture fit with an organization? How do you identify when it just won’t work out? What does Lea mean when she talks about a style fit? When is it time to drive change in your organization?

What was Lea’s experience working at Macromedia? How did they build a business around Flash? What was it like transitioning to Adobe? How did the Macromedia and Adobe merger work from a culture perspective?

How do you drive organizational changes in product strategy and product discovery? How do you get an organization on board? How do you keep teams aligned while you shift course? What were the keys to communicating the changes her team wanted to make? How do you balance communication with keeping up with the speed at which tech can move?

How did Adobe manage to shift to a SaaS model? What kinds of data did they look at? Why is conversion so important for a SaaS business model? What were the key things that Lea’s team used to make the transition?

What can we learn about product from newer interfaces like Slack and Snapchat? Can you work in product for two decades and still be surprised by how people use new technology?

Quotes From This Episode

When you're hiring quickly things fall through the cracks. You have to understand what an effective onboarding program looks like and how to set the bar for expectations for the people coming into the organization. - Lea Hickman Click To Tweet It's not a one person show. A product is a team sport. So you need to make sure that you bring people in who can get the best out of the people around them. - Lea Hickman Click To Tweet At Macromedia we had a focused process for how we would get customer insights and get closer to the customer so we could make product decisions. Customer discovery was getting the key people in the room. - Lea Hickman Click To Tweet One of the most critical things for us was evidence so we could have a higher confidence we were going in the right direction, because there was a lot of risk associated with it. - Lea Hickman Click To Tweet


Holly Hester-Reilly: Hi and welcome to the Product Science podcast. Where we’re helping startups, founders and products leaders build high growth products, teams and companies through real conversations with the people who have tried it and aren’t afraid to share lessons learned from their failures along the way, I’m your host, Holly Hester-Reilly, Founder & CEO of H2R Product Science.
Holly: This week I’m super excited to have Lea Hickman here is our guests on the Product Science podcast. Lea, I’d love for you to start by introducing yourself and telling us what you do now and then a little bit about how you got there.
Lea Hickman: Sure. Thanks for having me. I am a partner at Silicon Valley product group. I work with three amazing partners. Marty Cagan, Chris Jones and Martina and I have the privilege to travel around the world working with product teams to help them create better products faster. And it’s really fun. I work with all types of companies from a very small startup that only has nine people to organizations that have over 4,000 product people. So, it’s really, really fun. And I get to find out a little bit about the company as I do it.
Holly: That’s awesome. That is a big range there. Over 4,000 products people. My gosh.
Lea: I know, I know. Can you imagine?
Holly: No. How big is the company that has 4,000 product people?
Lea: It’s a humongous global company. They’re based all over the world and they’re doing some pretty innovative things and yeah, big company. Big, big.
Holly: Yeah. Really big. Wow. So tell me a little bit about your sort of origin. How did you get started? How did you even learn what product management is and then what did that journey look like for you?
Lea: Yeah, sure. So I’ve been doing product definitely over 25 years. I started my career on the east coast working for IBM as a consultant and in the mid 90s, I had the opportunity to go work for a small startup called Netscape. That’s actually where I met Marty Cagan. Marty was actually my boss at Netscape. And, that is definitely where I got bit by the product management bug.
Lea: I feel incredibly fortunate to have my introduction to product management actually done by Marty Cagan, which is pretty cool. And throughout the course of my career, after I left Netscape, I went and I joined a small startup doing more product marketing than product management. But you know, from my perspective the two are so intertwined. And then, after that company was acquired, we had a good exit. I decided… I was actually recruited by the president of products at Macromedia and I spent a fair amount of time at Macromedia doing product.
Lea: And I also left Macromedia right before the Adobe acquisition and then went to InVision, which you might’ve heard of, which is a small startup, well, not so small anymore and did product there. And when I left InVision, that’s when Marty called me, my friend and mentor and asked me if I wanted to join SVPG. So bunch of different products, a lot of 1.0’s, a lot of optimizing existing products. Lots of go to market. Pretty much ran the gamut. All things product.
Holly: Yeah. Wow. And, when you first got to work for Marty, what was that like?
Lea: I was actually there before he got there and then when he got there, he… it was really funny ’cause at Netscape at the time was fairly small. It was shortly after the IPO but still pretty small and you know, we were growing exponentially and Marty was kind of the adult in the room ’cause we were all, you know, in our late 20s, no clue about how to do anything. And Marty came in and he started introducing things like, “Hey, what are you trying to achieve? What does success look like? And he started putting the structure and framework around things that we were doing, which wasn’t very process heavy, but it was just enough structure that would give us guideposts and guidance in terms of how we could go about building better product.
Lea: And you know Marty, so you spent time with him. He has this… someone actually, there’s this great quote that someone shared with me, which was, “If Marty wasn’t so into product, he might be a Buddhist monk in another life.” He just has this air about him and he also has this great way of… I’m not trying to make this into the Marty Show, but obviously I adore the man. He has this really calm air about him where he can give you the most critical feedback that might be really painful to hear, but when you hear it coming from Marty, you’re like, oh yeah, yeah, I can totally see why that’s the case. And, so as a mentor, he’s phenomenal.
Holly: Wow, that’s wonderful. And I’m curious because you know, we all have such different experiences. You mentioned that Netscape was kind of small at the time, but had IPO’d. And I know that like IPO’s have changed so much over the years, so can you put a little more color on what size was it? What did that, why did you think it was small? What does that mean?
Lea: Oh yeah. So let me put it in context. So, I was at IBM prior to Netscape, so from my perspective it was small. And it also was a completely different culture obviously from being in the consulting organization at IBM. So small, I can’t even remember. I mean this was what, 20 plus years ago, how many people were there? But, they were basically bringing in I think something like 50 people a week, so 50 new people a week. And I think one of the challenges they had was how do you get all these people tooled up and trained in terms of how to drive product. And at the time we had some phenomenal product leaders who it wasn’t their first shot at it like Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen was there. And there were people who were basically inventing the web at the time and they had all of these great ideas in terms of how these best practices or how products should be built.
Lea: And it really became this great training ground for everyone who was there at the time. I mean, some of the really phenomenal product leaders came out of that organization.
Holly: Yeah. Can you speak a little bit more about what some of the techniques, whether it was there or something since there, but what are some of the things that people can do when they are in that kind of 50 people a week. Wow, that’s a ton. But even just like dozens in a month or dozens a week, that really high growth situation, what starts to go wrong and what have you seen work well and not well?
Lea: Yeah, obviously when you’re hiring that quickly, a lot of things fall through the cracks. And so you really have to understand what that effective onboarding program looks like and how you’re going to set the bar for just the expectations that you have for the people coming into the organization.
Lea: So I think what works really well is making sure, especially if you’re the product leader in the organization, making sure that you take onboarding very, very seriously. So most people, they spend all this time doing a phenomenal job recruiting and they really try to find the right candidates and fill the pipeline. And it’s a really structured approach and they have a great rigor around the interview process. And then the minute the person comes on board, they basically forget about that individual and they leave that individual to their own devices. And so one thing that I learned early on, and I think works really effectively is making sure that you invest at the time, same amount of time in the onboarding because you don’t want to lose that investment in terms of bringing that person on board.
Lea: So you need to be doing those daily check ins with your new product managers and making sure that as the leader, you’re really investing in them as individuals so that they can grow and drive the product the way you need them to drive the product. So I think that’s the most critical piece. The other stuff around product and you know this, you can pretty much teach anything as it relates to product in terms of best practices, tools and techniques. The other thing that I think works really well is making sure that you’re bringing the right personalities into the room, and that it’s going to be a cultural fit. That’s critically important from my perspective.
Holly: Yeah. I love that one because that’s something that I think… I talked to a lot of people who their first pass at recruiting is all about the credentials and you know, that could be a proxy for the other skills and qualities that you need, but it’s so much more effective if you can identify those qualities and look for them and find them. What are some of the things that you look for when you’re trying to find how a team should fit together and how you see if it’s got all the skills needed and all of the cultural components needed.
Lea: Yeah, I think for a product, first and foremost, you have to be a really strong communicator. As well as collaborator. I think you need to do both really, really well and want to do both really well. I find a lot of times if you are not willing to hear other people’s ideas and bring everyone’s ideas to the table, you’re just not going to get very far. It’s not a one person show. A product is a team sport. So we need to make sure that, especially in product management, you bring people in who can get the best out of the people that are around them and really shine a light on that.
Lea: I think it’s critically important. Also, you know, I’m not a fan of working with big egos, don’t like that at all. So there’s got to be a certain level of humility. And so if you bring a big ego into the room, and I think this is where people get tripped up, they find someone who is a product rockstar, they bring him into the organization. Sometimes there’s the tax that goes with that quite frankly. And you just need to make sure it’s a good fit.
Holly: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s one of the misconceptions that people are just like, “I’m just going to find his great intuitive product rockstar and they’re going to make everything, and then that… I haven’t personally been in a place where someone was hired with that in mind and then they succeeded and lasted there. So I’m curious if you have any ways that you’ve… help people see if they were doing that, and help them change.
Lea: Yeah. I wish I were successful in helping people change or [crosstalk] we’re seeing some of the behavior. If you figure that out please let me know because I haven’t figured it out. But I definitely observed. There was one case, I’m not going to name names, I’m even not going to name companies, but, there was one situation I was in where we brought someone in who really had the talent and the DNA that we thought we wanted to propagate throughout the organization. And they just got product and they were like really, really strong at what they did. And they had a lot of great successes under their belt and we brought this person into the organization and it was just a disaster. And part of the disaster was twofold. One was the organization basically built up all of these antibodies and rejected the new organ so to speak.
Lea: Which was really hard from an organizational perspective because it brought up a lot of animosity where the organization wasn’t quite ready to change and the style that the person came in with wasn’t appropriate to create the level of change that was needed. And so you literally had situations where people would talk over each other as opposed to really trying to get to a better place from a product perspective. And it was really, it was really a struggle. And then ultimately that person opted out and left the organization because they couldn’t have the impact that they wanted.
Holly: Yeah, I have to say like, so ironic, I was chatting earlier today with Hope Gurion, she’s going to be on a future episode, and she literally used that exact phrase about somebody being a rejected, that the organization and rejected the organ. Yeah. So shout out to her-
Lea: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Holly: So you get the same thing. But it is so tough and driving that change is so tough too. I’ve definitely seen… when you were saying about the cross talk reminded me of a situation I was in in the past couple of years where I literally watched people like not be able to hear each other finish sentences and just be so at odds. And it was just like, “Oh my God, this is painful for everybody.”
Lea: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And it is, I love how you call out the fact that it’s painful for everyone ’cause it’s like watching your parents argue. I know no one wants to see that yes. Or the couple at the table next to you in the restaurant, bicker with each other. No one wants that.
Holly: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it was bad. So I also like, I really want to hear more about… you mentioned Macromedia, and then Adobe and I’d love to hear more about your time there because, I know from your profile in Inspired that you did some interesting stuff. So can you tell me a little bit about how that journey started?
Lea: Yeah, absolutely. So, I got to Macromedia, oops, sorry about that. I was hired by a man named Norm Meyrowitz. A lot of people who in the early days of Macromedia will know of Norm. Phenomenal guy, sweetest man. He used to be part of what they call it, the Brown Mafia. So a lot of people from Brown University. I did not go there. He brought on and kicked off this organization called the New Business Opportunity Organization and the challenge, and he recruited a bunch of people, actually one of the Al Ramadan, one of the coauthors of Play Bigger who is a partner with Chris, right?
Holly: Yes.
Lea: So Al was one of the people of this group. Michael Golf who was head of design at Adobe for a period of time. I think he headed design at Microsoft for a while and I think now he’s at Uber. And David Wadhwani who was an SVP at Adobe and then became CEO of App Dynamics and now that was acquired by Cisco, all these heavy hitters. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this team and the challenge that we had at Macromedia was we needed to come up with new product ideas that would help Macromedia make money off of the flash runtime. So do you remember the flash runtime?
Holly: Very much. Yes.
Lea: I think actually Al and Chris profile some of the great marketing they did around rich internet applications in the play bigger book, but… so it was literally looking at version 1.0 products and how we could make money for the business. So there were three different product lines were spun out of this effort. The first was Adobe Flex and that was something that David really took leadership of and drove, David Wadhwani.
Lea: The second one was ultimately became Adobe Air. That was one of the products that I worked on. after I left the Flex team with Kevin Lynch who was the CTO, who’s now at Apple running Apple Watch. And then, the third one was, I think it was called Adobe Connect, which was a real time video conferencing solution. And so these three businesses as they grew actually were what led to the acquisition of Macromedia from Adobe, which is kind of interesting. Unfortunately for me, I left three weeks prior to that acquisition. So it was not a good timing, a decision on my own part. I know bad timing, we’ve all had them. But then I got recruited. Yeah, exactly. I got recruited into Adobe. Basically I was working there as a contractor for one of my friends just a contracting gig.
Lea: And an opportunity came up to run product marketing for products like Dreamweaver and Fireworks. And so I said, sure, I’ll do that. And then while I was there and I hired on full time, there was no product manager to drive product strategy for all of the web tools.
Holly: Yeah.
Lea: Hey, I know how a little something about product management. And so they hired me to do that. So I was doing product marketing and product management and then the guy who was running product management for the design tools decided to leave. And so they asked me if I wanted to take on the design tools and I said, “Sure, I’ll take on the design tools.” And that’s when I started really focusing more on the product management side. So I had a responsibility for all the product management of the design, web and interactive tools at Adobe for a period of time. And Yeah.
Holly: And what was the culture like at the time? ‘Cause I think it’s sort of an interesting company because it’s survived, and I feel like maybe saw some ups and downs along the way. So what was that like?
Lea: Yeah, yeah. No, there was definitely a different type of culture between Macromedia and Adobe. And so when those two companies came together, and you could almost feel it even when when you visited the former Macromedia headquarters in San Francisco versus when you visited the towers in San Jose for Adobe, it was like night and day. And I think it took a lot of time to fuse these cultures together. And, I can’t really speak for how Adobe was prior to that acquisition, but at Macromedia we had a pretty focused process on how we would get customer insights and how we would get closer to the customer so that we can make product decisions and we would do customer discovery and pretty much everything and it was always a combination of the key people that you wanted in the room, right? You wanted a product management, you wanted your tech leads, you wanted your lead designer.
Lea: Sometimes user research would be there, sometimes product marketing would be there and it was pretty much known that you don’t develop a product unless you get those insights and you do that customer discovery. I think at Adobe it was a little bit more technology driven or engineering driven where you would have these stellar engineers who would come up with new ideas and they would hand it over to the product manager who would write all the requirements around it. And it was just a little bit of a different type of process. And as the teams came together and people started cross pollinating, there became this great opportunity to put a little bit more rigor in terms of how we did a product discovery, which was helpful I think.
Lea: And in fact when I was running design, web and interactive, one thing that was pretty cool is that I had… and again, you know, I kept my relationship with Marty, had Marty come in and do his workshop multiple times in the organization and it was really helpful to change the perspective of how we would develop product right around the time when we started introducing, thinking about the creative cloud strategy, thinking about mobile applications, thinking about SaaS based business models.
Lea: And so it was a really great juncture to help people rethink of the way that we went about building products and also get everyone on the same page, right?
Holly: Yeah.
Lea: Post integration.
Holly: Yeah. I think, that’s really interesting to me because I know that, I talked to a lot of people who see that there’s something missing in the way their operation is running or the way that maybe they’re not the head of the department and yet, and they see that the strategy doesn’t totally make sense to me as a product thinker or we’re not doing enough discovery, but they don’t always know the path to try to make that happen. And so I’m curious if you have any learnings from that time there that things that worked and didn’t work when you tried to get people around you to say, “Okay, well we will do that.”
Lea: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a great question. Well, there were a couple things, key things that happened that would not have made it possible from my perspective. The first was, and just to be clear, it was not all me by any means. There were hundreds of people who were involved and dozens of leaders who were really critical to making this happen. The first-
Holly: Always the way good things happen, right?
Lea: Yeah, exactly. The first meeting that we have, we actually had an offsite out here in Danville where we had an engineering leader who was phenomenal. We had a product marketing leader who’s still at Adobe driving that business and she’s a rock star. Her name is Mala Sharma. She was there, we had a gentleman who was in BizOps who really had a great understanding of what was happening with the business and so very data driven guy.
Lea: And even though revenue was increasing, he had concerns on whether or not people would keep upgrading. And given that we were an upgrade business model, obviously that’s something that we needed to look at. We had folks from corporate strategy and it was this small group. I think there were about eight of us. And we decided that we needed to come up with a plan and a strategy about how we were going to get to the next phase of the company because we couldn’t keep on this path. It was right around the same time also that the iPad was introduced, and Steve Jobs, wrote that letter, published that open letter about flash being dead.
Holly: Oh boy. Yeah.
Lea: And we had a customer base that was excited about leveraging the iPad and iOS devices for content creation. And flash was a key and critical part of our mobile strategy. So there were so many headwinds that we had to think about, but in terms of getting the organization, I don’t want to say on board, but convinced that it was a good vision and a good strategy. I we use typical artifacts that everyone uses and product, we actually built a vision type, which was focused on a day in the life of a key customer persona whose name is Marissa and if we achieved our vision Marissa’s world’s going to be so much better than it was today.
Lea: And so we literally did this narrative and I think I did this pitch maybe 400 times, but we basically went around the organization and explain to them what the future could look like. And I will absolutely say that it was a slog. I mean, it was hard to get people on board because… and it’s so funny. It’s so in line with the Barry O’Reilly book, I think you had him-
Holly: Yes. Unlearn, right. Or lean enterprise and_
Lea: For unlearn because what made us successful for the last 25 years wasn’t going to be what made us successful for the next 25. So we had to really rethink and unlearn some of those ways that we actually made it ourselves successful. So the vision type was huge. And then again, that communication over and over and over again. And the guy who was SVP of the division at the time David Wadhwani who I mentioned earlier, he was the best at really making sure that the teams had alignment. So was Kevin Lynch. So both of them were senior executives and there was one more executive who really helped. And that was Johnny [Luwakino 00:25:48]. And Luna’s who was the CMO, she’s still the CMO, I think at Adobe.
Lea: She launched the Beta in a way that I’ve never experienced in my life. I remember being at the launch announcement for it and I’ll probably never launch another product the way this product was launched. It was just phenomenal. Phenomenal. So lots of support and a clear vision and just making sure that relentless about communicating it.
Holly: Yeah. I love that you mentioned both, I love that you say sort of out of hand. Well, the way most people communicate these things are the way product leaders do this. And then you’re like, I probably told that story 400 times. I feel like that’s the type of thing that I don’t think I fully understood until I got to a certain point in my career. When earlier on they don’t… I don’t know, it’s just, I feel like it’s not as well known and communicated and then you get to a certain point, all of a sudden you realize, oh wow, this job is all communication all the time. We just say the same story again and again.
Lea: Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. And it’s relationship too. How do you create those threads with other parts of the organization so they don’t think you’re crazy and that you build that trust and credibility with them. I think it’s really important.
Holly: Yeah. Yeah, I think so too. And then the other thing, I think I’ve spent a little more time recently than I have had in the past with more traditional executive coaches and business people. And so a lot of them, they understand this side of how much you invest in people and communication and relationships. But they don’t always just have the set of experiences of working with fast moving tech. And so when you have that too and you can bring it all together, you can… just some crazy, amazing things happen.
Lea: Yeah, now I completely agree. I think though also in product management, one of the things that people tend to forget is how much and how important stakeholder management is and making sure that you’re setting expectations appropriately is just super important.
Holly: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s like… it’s also something that, I describe this as somebody that’s very recently, I don’t know if you have any kids?
Lea: Oh, yeah, three.
Holly: Okay. Yeah. So I have two kids and they’re five and two now. And we’re in the midst of the small young child’s phase. And I said it’s like that it took me a while to fully grasp the first many times that my daughter was like, I just want the cupcake or the extra candy or the thing like that. And I was just like, “Well, if I just say yes to you now, life will be easier. I’m tired.” And then then I realized how much I pay for that over time later. And then I got to the point where I was like, it’s easier for me to say no now and set the right expectation.
Lea: Exactly.
Holly: [inaudible] And I feel like, you know, once you’ve been around the block enough times in product, you get to a point where you’re like, “Oh yeah, no, I’m going to just put that line down now and make everybody realize what’s really going to happen.”
Lea: That’s such a perfect analogy and I love that you brought up how parenting taught you to be a better product manager or illustrated how to be a better product manager.
Holly: It definitely helps.
Lea: I could not agree more. It’s so funny. I have three daughters and they’re so much older than your little kids. The oldest is 23 and the youngest is 15. And I have to say even having limited time to raise my kids while I’m working has helped me be a much more focused product manager. Without a doubt. You just don’t have time for all this superfluous things that are going on.
Holly: Yeah, totally. I agree. And I’m excited to say that, I’ve been talking to a decent amount of new dads in the product management and product leader space. I think we’re getting to a place where they see more of that too. And share those stories too. But it’s… I just love it when someone realizes like, wow, there’s so much, there’s so many places where there’s stakeholder management involved. It’s like you’ve got to listen to what they want first before you try to direct them towards what you want. It’s like there’s a lot of skill overlap.
Lea: That’s so perfect.
Holly: So, then it sounds like it must’ve been an incredible journey. Going back to the Adobe and building, so it’s like business model change for a big company. And so I guess I’m curious too, to hear what did it look like in the early days of implementing that strategy and did you have to do a lot of work to help people know whether it was going well? What did that look like?
Lea: Yeah, definitely one of the most critical things for us was evidence so that we could have a higher confidence that we were directionally going in the right direction ’cause there was a lot of risk associated with it. And so the organization was incredibly data driven in terms of understanding that evidence and making sure that we were very clear on obsessing over that data on a daily, if not weekly basis. And this is where I give in the go to market team and [Mala] a tremendous amount of credit. They really invested heavily and making sure that they understood what the indicators were and really focus their efforts on getting the results that we needed. From a product perspective we we’re fairly lucky in that we have a very passionate user base and that passionate user base we were pretty closely connected with.
Lea: That’s not to say, I mean I think there was even a petition for some folks who didn’t like the strategy shift or the business model shift. But for the most part for that, target customer that we were going after, that freelance graphic designer or that freelancer, having the opportunity to not have to pay a $2,500 every other year to get the most up to date software and just having full access to everything for yes, a low monthly subscription fee. That was game changing for them because then they could actually have access not to everything… sorry, they could have access to everything and then we could build on those services, which was fundamentally different. We can change the way that we brought value to them. We could look at different ways of bringing value to them. It just became game changing at least from my perspective.
Holly: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I actually knew many designers during that timeframe, that originally in their career had to do the upgrades and then switch to the SaaS. And, so I think it really was, I mean, I saw people for which that was… that changed what it meant to operate their own freelancing business.
Lea: Yeah. One of the early comments that we made when we were looking at pricing and the go to market strategy was, if it can be cheaper than a cup of coffee a day for a designer, then we think that’s the bar, that’s the ultimate bar that we would like to get to, which it was. And, and I also think that Ann and Kevin were really great at being aggressive with the launching price point as well, which was smart, super smart.
Holly: So one thought I had in there, you mentioned, Mala and the metrics that and the indicators that they were looking at. Do you remember what any of them work? ‘Cause I know I just find it fun to kind of get specific studies, not necessarily what the value is, but even just like what metrics were they looking at? What did they think was important at the time? What did you think was important?
Lea: Well, I’m not going to give you specifics, but I can tell you that one of the key things that was important to look at were what were the predictive indicators of conversion. So obviously in any kind of SaaS based business model, especially if you have some sort of trial period or some sort of freemium offering, conversion is the metric that you really need to be paying attention to because it’s a key driver of revenue.
Lea: I think she and her team did a great job. You know, as someone came to the website, you know, what were the predictive indicators of behavior that would get them to that conversion point. And to get to them to that trial point. And I think that was really critical and being smart enough to have the insight in terms of it’s not just about how they’re using the product and how often they’re using the product, but it’s about their entire path and that entire customer journey was absolutely brilliant. Brilliant.
Holly: I guess, how long after the transition to SaaS, did you stick with that whole operation and then what came next for you?
Lea: Yeah, so I got creative cloud to the Beta. So we launched it at the Adobe Max user conference. And then after that I had the opportunity to run the consumer division at Adobe. And it was about, I’d say roughly like a $200 million business at the time, and it was not a priority for the for the company at the time, which was really fun actually because I had a lot of autonomy to do a lot of really interesting things. And I did that for about two years and then stuff happened at home. My husband actually got sick for a little bit and I decided to take some time off. He’s well now, decided to take some time off. Took 18 months off, did absolutely nothing. And then I joined Envision, and I was there for about a year and then that’s when Marty called me when I joined Envision.
Holly: Yeah. Cool. So you must’ve been at Envision during, um, some really interesting days there too.
Lea: Definitely.
Holly: What was that picture like? And they’re remote, right?
Lea: Yeah. Yeah. It was such a different environment. Coming back in after having taken some time off, it was amazing in that 18 months that I was not working full-time, slack became a thing, right? So when I came into Envision, not only we were working remote, it was basically a completely different tool set that everyone was using in terms of building products. So for me, like those first few weeks, I was like, holy Moly, what is going on? So it was a crazy transition. And I think the fun thing for me was I was probably, there were, there were a few product managers who are already there.
Lea: I definitely had a perspective and a point of view on how we should do product management and how we should do product development. And the thing that was most difficult for me was the 100% remote a part of it. And I think there were certain people and personalities where they thrived in that type of environment. But I think my success in product management has been built on what we were talking about earlier, those relationships and that collaboration and that real time communication and conversation with folks. And I really struggled with that. That was hard for me on a remote basis.
Holly: Yeah, it’s a huge shift, right? It’s a different story doing it in that situation. So I can understand that for sure. And I also, I was thinking when you said that about slack and having taken some time off and come back and it’s like they’re… I think for myself I had a more organic experience with adopting slack, ’cause the company that I’d been at had adopted Hip Chat first and then slack, but my corollary is one company I was working at in the past couple of years adopted Workplace by Facebook. Just like, that was my version of “what is happening?” I don’t know… where am I supposed to be getting my information? Starting to have conversations with people and have them be like, well yeah, I know that because it was here and this place in Workplace by Facebook.
Holly: And I was like, I’m sorry, I still just don’t want to feel like I’m on Facebook during the day. It felt like missing out, so it’s interestingly I feel like we all have some experiences or hit some points where we’re like, well this whole culture is different.
Lea: Yeah, this is totally different. Exactly. And I know, and as product people, we also are kind of, we like to think that we can do these things fairly intuitively. And so yeah, that was a little bit humbling funny.
Holly: Yes. Yeah, exactly. So those moments are really like, I thought I was going to be always on the cutting edge. And then, yeah-
Lea: The other thing that was so funny was oh my gosh and I came from… at Adobe, the average age is significantly higher than it was at Envision, which was also kind of funky, but I actually loved that. And the number of animated gifs and Emojis in slack with the funniest thing, I was like, “okay, and so I became really, really good at finding the appropriate animated Gif. I really feel like I upped my game there, which I’m really proud of.
Holly: That’s awesome. I have also… the past couple of years, I think in the beginning of those showing up at work, I was like, how are people doing that? And then now I’m like, “Okay, I figured it out.” I’ve got to join this too. And now I’m very proud of like, “Okay, I found the right Emoji for that, you know?”
Lea: Exactly. Exactly. I know, I really impressed my teenage daughters during that time ’cause that’s awesome.
Holly: Yeah. So actually that made me think, you mentioned your kids and their age. I’m super fascinated whenever I think about, I mean for me parenting with kids who are two and five, like my two year old son, he has a Kindle Fire tablet and I’ll tell him that he needs to turn the volume down and he literally like finds the right button on the YouTube thing and turns the volume down and it goes back to playing. And I’m like, “Wow. Okay.” I guess I’m curious to hear if have you have any stories of just like technology and your teenagers and what it’s been like to watch kids navigate this world from that generation.
Lea: Oh my gosh. It’s so funny. I think that the biggest, oh my moment I had was a with SnapChat when they convinced me to get on SnapChat and I’m not a huge social media user just to begin with, ’cause I just… it’s not where I wanted to be spending my time. I was using SnapChat and everything. I can’t remember what version it was, but everything to me was so counterintuitive and I just felt this huge generational divide where, I was amazed at how they used it.
Lea: And for me it was kind of a lot of the things that it was doing, and the interface we’re going against everything that I thought to be true, which for me was a big aha moment in terms of, okay, this I think is really… it reinforces, just to bring back the parenting to product parallel, it really reinforces the fact that you need to know your user and be really specific with who that user is and what they’re trying to achieve because my assumptions about how you would implement something like that, were completely a 100% off and, and that SnapChat example is just something that just shone a light on that, which was definitely an aha for sure.
Holly: Yeah. I will confess I’ve not used SnapChat enough to even know how to get through whatever things were shocking to you about their interface. I think I downloaded it and tried a conversation once ’cause I was like I should like do this thing, but I don’t know anybody who uses it regularly so [crosstalk]
Lea: Why would you, if you not in high school.
Holly: Yeah, exactly. But that’s exactly it too is even if you think… even if you’ve been studying people and how they use technology every day or week of your life and then you take a break for a year or you look at a different type of technology and so many things will change. You can never rest on your laurels.
Lea: Never, never, never. And I think that’s what makes it exciting though. You keep fresh and it also brings in a level of humility, which I think is very, very, as we talked about earlier, it’s very healthy for product people to have.
Holly: Yeah. And you spoke to me there about keeping it exciting ’cause that was a big reason why I moved into tech in the first place ’cause it was just like the day to day life, and environmental and chemical engineering was exciting on a passion level but on a day to day level, I was like, “Oh, this changes way too slow.”
Lea: Yeah. Yeah.
Holly: Like what constructs can I create to keep myself entertained? Tech does it all by itself.
Lea: Yeah, that’s right. You picked a good one. That’s right.
Holly: Yeah, exactly. So nowadays you go around and you train, you do workshops and things like that. Do you have any favorite things that you like to tell people or that you always want people to leave your sessions with as a takeaway?
Lea: Yeah, the most satisfying part of the workshops or when the team get that aha moment and they start to understand how all of the elements fit together. And I had one guy say to me, this was in a workshop in London. He said, “None of this stuff is rocket science, but the fact that they all fit together and how they fit together just makes complete sense. And it was just when they have that aha moment, you’re like, yes, that is awesome.” The other thing I love about it is when you just get bombarded with questions, and people are like, wait, what about this? Well, what about this? And, I love that because that’s why I liked the workshop type of venue better than big on stage stuff. That level of interaction and engagement it’s an adrenaline rush.
Lea: It’s just really exciting, because if they’re asking questions, they want to know more and that means they’re starting to get it. And I love it.
Holly: Yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. Well thank you so much for your time today and for having this conversation with me and for our listeners. That was Super Fun and interesting. How can people find you if they want to follow what’s your up to you?
Lea: Yeah, yeah. Well, the easiest way to reach me is little old school, but you can check me out on the SVPG website. I am on Twitter, but I never tweet just so don’t be surprised with that. It’s just Lea Hickman. I am not on Facebook and I am on Linkedin, so there are a few ways that you can find me.
Holly: Okay, good. Awesome. Well, it’s been a true pleasure, so thank you again.
Lea: Thanks Holly. Great to see you.
Holly: Great to see you.
Holly: Product Science podcast is brought to you by H2R Product Science. We teach startup founders and products leaders, how to you use the Product Science methods to discover the strongest product opportunities and lay the foundations for high growth products, teams and businesses. Learn more at Enjoying this episode. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s episode. I also encourage you to visit us at to sign up for more information and resources from me and our guests. If you love the show, a rating or a review would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.