The Victoria Kennedy Hypothesis: Your Actions Have To Match Your Words For True Diversity And Inclusion

Victoria Kennedy is driven by her core values of impact, adaptability, and discipline. These values have guided her as a product leader in early-stage startups, an advisor to early-stage founders, and now as a founder of the venture studio, Seed to Harvest. She is from Atlanta but calls NYC home.

In this episode of the Product Science Podcast, we cover getting into product, practicing continuous discovery, being inclusive as a product manager, and founding a venture studio for social impact.

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Resources

Questions We Explore in This Episode

SImple doesn't mean easy

How did Victoria get into Product? Why did Victoria pivot from the healthcare sector? How did Victoria enter the gaming industry? What did Victoria learn about user research from being a community manager? How can data help validate user reviews and claims? How do users’ actions differ from user opinions? What challenges does customer loyalty present when adding new features? How can users get used to new and unfamiliar features? What value does quantitative and qualitative information have in decision-making?

What were Victoria’s first jobs as a product manager like? What mentorship & support was Victoria able to receive as a product manager? How much of a technical background did Victoria have when becoming a product manager? How can customer conversations help decide what to do next on the product roadmap? How can you validate user research? What types of questioning help uncover how a user really feels?

How can you balance helping the social good and still being profitable? What impact do declared company values have on work? How well do companies uphold their own values? How can tech be used to help promote the social good? What was it like working at a consulting firm that included social and economic justice as a core value?

How did Victoria become interested in continuous discovery and human-centered design? How continuous was the feedback at the gaming company? What process does Victoria use in practice? How does she convince others to practice continuous discovery? How do we make user research more inclusive? What value does being interested in learning about other cultures have for product managers?

Why did Victoria found Seed to Harvest venture studio? What has getting it started been like? What kind of entrepreneurs does she focus on and why? Why is it difficult to stay in the tech industry? What does a truly diverse company look like? Should people have to burn out to make it in tech? What kinds of wealth impact entrepreneurship?

How important is it to get stakeholders aligned on the goals of a project? What is the value of having a working agreement? What advice does Victoria have for people struggling in their current role? How are product management skills applicable to other things?

Quotes from this episode

“The best thing about product is that even if you're pretty junior, you're already a leader. You're already getting people together to do something that you actually have no authority to tell them to do.” - Victoria Kennedy Click To Tweet

“If you are talking about being a diverse, inclusive company but all of your diversity and inclusion is at the entry and mid-level, that’s not really diversity and inclusion. All your stakeholders and the people who have the power to make decisions that go across the company are still people who are not diverse and inclusive.” – Victoria Kennedy

”When you make things simple, people sometimes think that means it's easy…just because it's simple, it doesn't mean it's not incredibly hard.” - Victoria Kennedy Click To Tweet

Transcription

Holly: Hi and welcome to The Product Science Podcast, where we’re helping startup 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 and CEO of H2R Product Science.

This week on The Product Science podcast, I’m excited to share a conversation with Victoria Kennedy. Victoria is driven by her core values of impact, adaptability and discipline. These values have guided her as a products leader in early-stage startups, an advisor to early-stage founders and now, as a founder of the Venture Studio Seed to Harvest. She’s from Atlanta but calls NYC home. Welcome, Victoria.

Victoria Kennedy: Hi.

Holly: Hi. So, I always like to hear about people’s journey into product, so how did you get into product?

Victoria Kennedy: Sure. I actually got into product through gaming, that was where I first started my career. I left college, I was originally focused on the healthcare sector, so international community health. I ran a clinic for teen parents. I was really interested in how health and tech work but knew much less about tech outside of mandatory classes we had to take. And so, I decided to join a tech startup that I could learn as much as I could. I ended up joining a gaming company and that’s actually where I learned that product was even a real job. I tell people I work with now that like “Back in my day, I didn’t even know product management was a job,” so I found that out in my first job.

Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, tell me more about that first job, what did the gaming company build?

Victoria Kennedy: So, it was back in the day of Facebook games and RPG games, so massive multiplayer online games, and we started off as a Facebook game. We actually then transitioned to our own gaming platform as well. The company was called Kabam. So, they had this program for recent undergrads that was supposed to be, you go into customer success or community management and you grow throughout the company. But since it was a startup in and of itself, they did a great job of attracting really smart people, but no idea how to do anything with them and so we all just forged our own path. And I didn’t have a car at the time so the commute for me was an hour-and-a-half. We ended up buying another company in San Francisco so I learned that game in a day and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to San Francisco. I know this game better than everyone else now.” And they’re like, “Sure, okay.”

And so, I ended up joining there as the community manager and I got really lucky because the game was just in beta when I joined and it ended up being the highest groups of game at the company. And so, I got to learn so much about how products or our how teams grow, how everyone’s role changes as the product grows itself. So, I transitioned from being the community manager and ended up being a part of the product team just by curiosity and boredom because I had to do all this programming for my role and I was curious about the efficacy of it and how do I know this is actually working? Why are we even investing in this?

And so, I ended up working with the product team to start getting real numbers around it so I could do predictive revenue off of it and it just developed into this whole non-future revenue part. Then I started helping the product team make decisions since I had the closest relationship to all of our players, so I managed the forums and all the social media. And gamers are obviously super passionate people. And our game as well had in-game chat and so there’s just so much information that I could use to guide product decisions. And then actually, as I got better understanding how to use data, how to then monetize that but also understand what motivated people to action, which was really cool.

Holly: So, what was some of the things you learned about in the game that you guys were running? What motivated people to action?

Victoria Kennedy: So, funniest thing, this is the story I used to tell a lot in interviews and I talk about it a lot to this day, I learned that the first lesson that we all learn eventually but I learned it really early likely is that people often do things that are very different from what they say that they do. And so, a big thing for us was it was a freemium game. So 95% of our players never paid a penny, the other 5% that did paid a lot and funded our company. And what was interesting, the game was pretty formulaic in the beginning. It involved dragons. You’d have a different dragon. You expand your cities that way. And they were pretty standard, they were very elemental. And then our producer team got really excited about doing this kind [inaudible 00:03:59] Halloween themed dragon update.

And it was very different than anything we had done before we released it and all of our players were like and the forums were like, I hate you. You’re so stupid. This is dumb. And they were, “Oh crap, should we pull this out?” I was like “Well, I’m checking the revenue we’re making the most money we’ve ever made, so no.” But give me a couple days to figure out why this is happening. And as I started to look into it, I started to see that a lot of the players who were saying that they were unhappy were players who were kind of people had been with the game for a while and so they felt really comfortable in the game with the mechanics. They made wikis. When new players would come, they would be like, this is how you do it. And so they felt very comfortable in being the guides and the wise people in the game.

And so these new game mechanic made them newbies again and they were kind of upset about that. But also what I realized a lot of these people, even though they said they didn’t spend money, were spending money trying to figure out how to actually beat the new game mechanics to understand how to play this new part of the game. And then about two days later, a lot of them are like, “Oh my God, this is so exciting. I’m having so much fun. I get to learn new things again. I like how we’re growing.” And they also, then we got to become the experts again, because they had spent so much time and often money trying to understand how to advance in this new part of the game. And so it was really understanding that the motivating factor for people, both in spending money and complaining was this idea of understanding the game and how well could they coach others and be the person who was deemed wise enough to coach others and how to play this game.

And so for me it was just super interesting is one, if you just go off of what people say about your product, you can make one decision. If you go off just of about what people are doing, your product, you make another decision, but the best decisions are made when you have both of those things. And I was luckily enough at that time, especially to have all of that data and be able to play a complete picture about why people were doing the things that they were doing and how do we as a company benefit from them.

Holly: That’s awesome. I love how your story involves both qualitative and quantitative information. So you’re able to look at the data, but you also have all those conversations in the forums and things that people are saying. I think that must be a really rich experience for a products’ manager.

Victoria Kennedy: Yeah, it was great. I think I had the access to most data in my very first job. And then I went into earlier stage startups where it was just me, was a much less access to data, but figuring in how to do research, how to get the data I need when the team is much smaller.

Holly: Yeah. So tell me more about that. Where did you go after the gaming company?

Victoria Kennedy: I actually went to a medium size e-commerce company. It was at the tail end of the whole daily deals craze. And so we basically made white labeled e-commerce sites, but really focused on daily deals. And so really niche brands like Fearless and DailyCandy, helping them build their e-commerce site.

Holly: Oh, okay. What was the team there like?

Victoria Kennedy: When it started, it was my very first actual product job and I got hired in and there was two product managers because obviously I would need mentorship since it was my first product job. But about a month in, one became the COO and the other one became head of a new business unit. So it was just me again, figuring that out. And so especially I think at that time, I would ask someone, what should I be doing or focus on as a product manager and I would get 10 different answers. And so I would go to conferences, I would find product leaders and convince them to be my mentors, but just trying to find out who could tell me what I was supposed to be doing. And frankly, I just ended up figuring out what worked for me after a lot of trial and error.

Holly: Do you have any stories from there that you can share?

Victoria Kennedy: Sure. I think, well, interesting thing was starting off as a PM, I had less of a technical background. Again, I was focused on healthcare. I’m also a dancer. And so a lot of what I was focused on was community arts. And so I really understood the problem in the people aspect of very curious about problem statements and how do you nail this big idea into something tangible that we can actually do, but let’s clear on how we actually did it tech wise. And I remember there was this whole conversation because towards the end, the company ended up being acquired about 10 minutes after I joined. And one thing was we started off with niche companies and then we started adding customers who were bigger, I forgot their name, but they were the Groupon of the UK.

And there was some needs that they had as a company that didn’t really meet the needs of most of our customers. And so they had kind of told our executive team “Hey, we need this feature.” And then they told me, “Hey, we need this feature.” And I was like “But why?” And honestly at the time, I didn’t know, that was a product skill. I’m just curious and I need to know why I’m doing things before I do them. And so it never works for me to just be told what to do. I’m like I need to know why else it just won’t work for me. And so I asked why, and they kind of just said, “Well, because they asked for it and I was like well, I need to know more information. We already are doing certain things. Can I talk to the customers and see what they need?”

And so at the time they were like okay, you can’t tell them about yourself, but somebody will go on the call with you and we had a conversation and we figured out actually what their problem was and a much different solution that they could implement that didn’t detract so much from our roadmap that actually still kind of benefited our other customers as well. And so for me, it was that lesson really in, because I think there’s something interesting that happens. I actually talked to a couple of friends who do user research, especially particularly UX.

And we were talking about the importance of user research and one of them was saying he was like I don’t think user research is that important. People often say things they don’t mean. For me I was like actually think it’s the most important thing and one of the reasons is, yeah, people won’t say it initially. It’s just, if I asked you, why are you with your partner? You’ll be like, oh, they’re really lovely and they’re really attractive and we get along. But it’s not until I ask you more questions that we really will get to the real reasons of, they inspire me to do X. They really fit the life goals that I have. It’s really hard for people to know exactly the things that drive them just from one specific question about anything.

And so if you’re only asking one question then yeah, people will tell you the wrong thing all the time, but not because there’s anything wrong with them or because people don’t know, it’s because you have to ask better questions. And so for me it was kind of my first lesson of even if you don’t have all the skills of I know how to code, or I’ve been doing product for 10 years, you can always ask why and add value to the conversation that way.

Holly: Yeah. I agree with your sentiment, that user research is the most important thing. And I like how you talk about that? Were you able to convince this friend of yours?

Victoria Kennedy: I think so. We always fight. So honestly that’s our thing, no matter what, we’re always on different ends of the tunnel but it was an interesting conversation from someone who does research, their sole focus, well, not their sole focus, but he does a lot of early idea research as well. And so I think it’s actually in that phase when you’re kind of more exploratory, it’s really hard to feel like you’re making progress because everything’s exploratory. And so I think in that way, sometimes that can probably be the hardest research to do because you’re not going yes or no to an idea or statement you’re trying to explore and find a needle in a haystack.

Holly: Yeah. I like to think of it as the mining for gold.

Victoria Kennedy: Yeah. Yeah. Which again, I think is great, but it’s probably also exhausting if you do it every day.

Holly: Yeah, probably. So what was the next step of your journey after that e-commerce company?

Victoria Kennedy: So for me, again, kind of going back to those core values, I’ve always been really curious about how tech could actually help people. So originally, I came up with this idea of tech and healthcare adding a little bit more context. My senior year I did this sort of thesis from my undergraduate, is that you had to kind of do an internship. And I did one on this teen parent and children program. And I worked with teen parents, mostly. It was all teen mothers, both in English and Spanish and just helping provide childcare. It was also both it was a educational research component. And then it was actually improving their physical health? They had doctor’s appointments every week and we tracked it. And at the end of the program, I remember there was this two year old who had some behavioral issues, but really, really liked me.

And so he was is in the program. He was crying, his grandmother’s trying to pull him off of me so that they can leave. And I was just like I really care about this, but I don’t really have that many skills yet. I’m 21, I’m smart but people are asking me about how to deal with a partner who’s in jail or thinking about things about childcare. I don’t have answers for these questions. Sure I can talk to you about science, but I just didn’t have the skills I needed to make the impact I wanted to make. And so I just thought that maybe combining tech with that could be something that would give me the impact that I wanted. And what I kind of quickly found in tech especially [inaudible 00:12:33] gave me any commerce, those aren’t really thinking about social good a lot of the time, they’re really focused on making money. And for me, I really wanted to figure out how can you make money, but also have a sustainable business that is focused on helping other people. What does that actually look like in practice?

And with that in mind, I ended up joining a company where at the time it had what they call three pillars. The three pillars were excellence in technology, being a sustainable business and social and economic justice. And of course it didn’t always work out as planned, but it was really interesting for me to be in a place where that was constantly something we were thinking about all of our decision making. And I knew at the end of that, I really wanted to go somewhere where having a social impact was a part of the business, but also where I could learn a lot of technical skills. And so I ended up doing that as a consulting company.

Holly: Cool. What kind of projects did you get there?

Victoria Kennedy: So many different projects. The company was like 75% developers I think at that time. So a lot of tech focus things. So I worked on large scale APIs, enterprise civil databases. And I also got to live in Brazil for a little bit with that job, which was great, but really focused on building more enterprise level complex technical things, which was great in terms of really it’s where I first learned about APIs, you to build APIs for majors airlines, consumer app, and at that time I didn’t know what API’s were and I was in charge of building it. And so I had an amazing developer that I worked with who really broke it down in terms of text messaging. He ended up creating this whole kind of presentation around it, but just people could really help me understand more advanced technology and how to implement that. And so in that way it was really, really great, but what I found it towards the end of my tenure, there is a lot of what we were doing and were really highly technical projects.

And I was getting more into continuous discovery and humancentric design. And how could we do more higher level kind of encapsulating, bigger business problems? Because we also did a lot of agile transformation, but it was still really focused on the IT side of the business and not the business as a whole. And so I wanted to kind of move somewhere where I could get more into those kind of building products in that space. So I moved to this company that was more of a design agency, but that had a really big design research background that was trying to move more into the technology space. And so I did some really interesting projects there for the consumer app for a major news organization and different things like that and a kind of consumer loan application for a bank. And so it was really interesting to kind of do more consumer facing where you could really match customer research with data to make really great products.

Holly: Yeah. Tell me a little more about how you do that now, once you got to this point in your career, when you on some consumer-facing things. What are some of the things that you did along the way to use user research and quantitative data as well to make decisions?

Victoria Kennedy: Yeah, so I really forgot what conference I went to, but I think her name was Teresa Torres and I got really interested that day of how do you make user research continuous? Because again, kind of going back to that first company I worked in, when I worked in gaming, even though no one would call it that week, I kind of had availability of continuous research, right? We had the player forums, we had all the wikis that they did, I was in charge of social media. So I was constantly getting feedback from our players. They also were convinced that somehow I was both the engineer, the game producer and ran out of the forums. they thought I single handedly ran down into our game. So I got a lot of feedback, both good and bad all the time. And what I realized as I went further into the product space, especially the consulting space research was often front loaded.

And so you do your two to four weeks of research, then you go build your product months later, you come back and still something’s wrong and people are asking why. And that’s mostly because you need feedback at each part as often as possible when you’re building this out. And so when I was in an organization called Hustle, we had a researcher who then became a product manager as I worked with her. And then our design lead that I worked with and we started thinking about how we could do more of a continuous process. And so kind of how I talk about it now is breaking out into three phrases, the discovery part, which is like you’re using research to validate who your customer is and what problem they have. And also, especially in the company space, if the problem people are talking about is actually a problem at all.

And so you’re really validating, does the problem exist? And if it does with who? The second part, that’s your standard user interviews. I don’t do focus groups a lot, but if you do focus groups, reading through your feedback, reading through your forums, whatever you can to get the information you need to validate it. The second part is in that validating solution. And so that’s when you’re okay, we have an idea what their problem is. There’s a bunch of different ways we could solve for how do we know which one is best? And so going back to customers and validating what solution actually works for them. And so I’ve done everything from wire framing and [inaudible 00:17:18] to sometimes using Keynote. Designers can do wonders with keynote. People are like, “Is this a real website?” And I was like “No, but I’m glad we got here.” Prototyping, but whatever you need to actually go validate the solution that you came up with actually works or doesn’t work.

And then it’s like once you’ve built that solution, what’s the first version of that and actually getting into customer’s hands? And still learning along the way like, is this a higher risk profile for shown customers? Will this break something internally? And so there’s so many questions that you have all along the process from the initial idea to getting into customers hands, that if you don’t have research or a way to contact customers and get that feedback along the way, you end up just making mistakes and sometimes are small, but sometimes become bigger because you didn’t get the answers you needed at the time or that decision was really critical. And so we all kind of worked together, the three of us to really figure out how we can build research continuously into our practice as we were building. And then I’ve taken that into other organizations that I’ve worked with afterwards and then also when talking to founders and startups.

Holly: Awesome. I love hearing stories about people using continuous discovery. It’s so critical. So when you’ve taken that to future projects or later projects of yours, what has the response been like? Have you had anybody who was skeptical and if so, how did you convince them that it was worthwhile?

Victoria Kennedy: Yes. Well, I think two things there. One interesting thing is that when you make things simple, people sometimes think that means it’s easy. And so when you say like oh, you just need to validate the customer problem, you need to validate the solution and then you build on that, people are like that’s too simple, it can’t be that. I’m like just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly hard. You don’t need to make this really complex process, that doesn’t validate that it’s a hard thing to do it just makes a hard thing harder. And so I found that to be one of the biggest hurdles is that people like frameworks that sound complicated or make them feel very advanced, even if that’s not what they need. And even if it detracts from getting to the thing that they actually need.

The second thing actually holds back to what we were talking about earlier in terms of user research. I had a founder that I worked with recently, where he was like I don’t need to talk to customers, they don’t know what they’re talking about and it’s also funny because we had a really interesting conversation because his startup is not in America. It’s actually based in Africa, specifically in Nigeria and Kenya. And he was saying, it really frustrates him a lot of user research tactics are very US-centric and not even just Western, but very US-centric and the culture there is very different about going out and just asking people questions. People aren’t going to answer you, they don’t know you, they have the same trust in you. And so we ended up having a really great conversation about how do you do user research in different cultures, which is something I hadn’t actually thought that much about and now I’ve just been doing a lot more research on, but what was interesting about that conversation is like again, when I first asked about why don’t you want to do user research? It was just “Oh, I don’t think it’s valuable.” But as I dug more and brought me to this really interesting space of oh, hey, how do we make user research more inclusive? What does that actually look like? What it looks like in different cultures, especially as more and more products are built outside of the US and for audiences outside of the US and even within the US, there are certain cultures and submarket that are never built for us so what does that look like to do research with those cultures and build for them as well? So that wasn’t exactly the question that you asked, but it was just interesting where that conversation ended up in terms of how do you think about the research that you do?

Holly: Yeah. So what have you learned about doing research with different cultures? How do you get past some of those US centric challenges?

Victoria Kennedy: Yeah, I mean, I think, and to be fair, I haven’t done a lot of it because I mostly work with us based companies, but where I’ve thought about it a lot is like so the venture studio we’re working on, we’re really focused on kind of non-traditional founders. So basically more diverse, less white, sees men as founders, but what does it look like particularly not only to have founders that are underrepresented or wildly underestimated, but what does it look like to also build for those communities? And so a lot of what I’ve been doing research on, and I did a kind of a research. I talked about 20 different black founders last year and was a really interesting thing of the VCs when they’re trying to raise money, seem to not understand their market. And so there’s a really interesting VC because I think it’s called rare breed VC, where he talks about this story about this woman, this black woman wanting to do a startup around wigs.

And he worked in VC at the time. So he was trying to help her raise money and people are like I don’t understand the context, is this market that big? And he was like, of course it’s that big. But I think, honestly it sounds simple, but all this to say is I think it’s really just about being open and willing to learn about other cultures. Right? For me, I’m in Mexico right now and if you take the time to just learn about the cultures that you’re supposed to be representing, some of those things will probably come through. And so for me is, I don’t think it’s so much about doing anything particularly special other than taking the time to be like if I’m building a product for black women in Mississippi, I should probably go talk to black women in Mississippi.

Same thing with validate customer thing. I don’t sorry it was a disappointing answer, but yeah, I don’t think it’s anything particularly big or complex. I think it’s more just really okay, if I’m doing this and I better go make sure I actually know the people that I’m doing this for and I also … something me and my business partner have been talking a lot about is this idea of intersectionality and not obviously in its original context, which is a very legal context, but in the context of what does it mean when you have different people with different perspectives together, but not just to draw on their own, but to kind of highlight their own perspectives.

And so what I mean about that is if I’m working with someone, as I’ve worked with people who maybe are more in the accessibility space or I’m a black woman from the south, and I work with someone who’s Latin X from Mexico, definitely things that we have in common, but there are things that we definitely have that are not in common and we kind of highlight those since we talk, but as I build products and I think about it and I think about a central problem statement that might apply to both of us, I think about the nuances of both.

So maybe I’m building for instance something around banking. But if I know and I understand I’m trying to build a banking app for both US and Mexico, if I have that understanding that there’s some cultural differences in Mexico, I’m building something that can actually do both markets instead of discounting one. Where I feel a lot of times what happens now is that you build a product and you’re like we’re just going to say that this culture works for everyone and move on instead of figuring out how do you from the beginning, think about all the different stakeholders involved and build for all of them, but not again, not build for all of them in the way that’s doing too much, but what is the core that really maps to everyone? And then what are the specific nuances that you have to hit in order to really be valuable for all of these different markets?

Holly: Yeah. So it sounds to me like at the end of the day, working with different cultures when you’re doing user research is a lot about understanding that culture and taking the time to get to know them.

Victoria Kennedy: Yeah.

Holly: So you mentioned your business partner and tell us more about what you’re doing now.

Victoria Kennedy: Sure. So I’ve been working on this idea for about a year now and Venture Studio, and it’s a fairly new idea to me. I had a lot of work practice and consulting, and I knew about the venture space, obviously from working in venture back companies, but not as a venture capitalist myself, but I got really interested the idea of one, the part about consulting that I love was to just kind of learning about these new different industries and be able and take lessons I learned from airline and put them into e-commerce and understanding how those different problem statements might relate to each other and building products from that. But also what I love is just starting companies. I love the beginning where you’re just like okay, this is an idea, how do we actually get to a point that someone can use this?

And that’s what I’m really good at is getting do the chaos and be like “Okay, this is what we’re building. Let’s build it, build it in 10 weeks. And this is how we kind of continue to learn and grow after it.” And so it became something I was really interested about interested in doing personally, but then starting it myself. What I became really curious about and what I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past couple of years is I’ve personally just had such a hard time staying in tech at times and have seen so many people who are not white males just have a really hard time feeling like they can stay in tech, from feeling pushed out, to being burned out, to just feeling like things weren’t for them. And even especially as a product manager, I’m sure you’ve seen this too where you read all those silly articles where they’re like we found out in AI was racist and you’re like, well, yeah, the people who are writing the code are people.

And so if they don’t think about people who are different from them and the AI will do the same thing is you can’t just code away people’s own biases. You have to think about them actively and figure out how to do something differently. And so I’ve been thinking a lot around how I can make an impact in that and what that would look and so this kind of idea of a venture studio came together, both from that impact angle of, I think if we could start building the type of companies we would like to see, we could start to make the impact that we want to see. But also just personally, I think it’s just something I love to do. I love starting companies. I love working with super early stage founders. I did work with Techstars last year and another organization called Visible Hands that’s focused on underrepresented founders.

And so I started on this idea last year, and then I’d been talking to Isabella, I asked her to kind of help me just kind of give feedback and focus and we started meeting weekly. Then she got really excited. And this year we really started focusing on okay, what can we do to get started? And so we’re starting with a pre accelerator program. We also start fundraising this year.

Holly: Awesome. That’s very exciting.

Victoria Kennedy: Yeah.

Holly: So it’s pretty recent and that’s from Seed to Harvest, right?

Victoria Kennedy: Yeah.

Holly: Awesome. So is there a particular angle that you’re focused on with the kinds of companies that you’re looking to work with?

Victoria Kennedy: Yeah, so we’re definitely looking for unrepresented and underestimated founders, but we’re also looking on what we kind of we’re calling the toolkit we’re focused on is really, how do you focus on the people part of building products and cultures and helping them get to [inaudible 00:27:23] VP and traction throughout kind of using the toolkit that we are developing. Also based off our own experiences of being kind of in these environments where you don’t have a lot. So what are the different types of things you can use, pick out these different activities that get you to the results that you need, but based off who you are and the resources that you have. And so our focus is really on underrepresented founders, but focus on building people first products and cultures. And that’s what we’re really matching, especially in the wealth creation space. And so we’re thinking crypto and FinTech, but also real estate. Anything that’s thinking about how wealth is generated currently and how it could be in the future as well.

Holly: Awesome. That sounds like a really needed area for more people, can have as many people working to help grow things like that as possible. That would be awesome.

Victoria Kennedy: Yeah. We’re very, very excited and just been really lucky to just find this and create this network of people who are also really passionate about it and have just helped guide us a lot, especially as someone fairly new to the fund manager side. So I’ve been doing a lot of, I got into bunch of programs last year and I’m working on our fund model now. And I’ve just been able to email people at 2:00 in the morning, hello, “I’m having a little anxiety about this model, can we talk about this?” And they’re like “sure. Why not?” So, yeah, just very lucky, but also very excited to really start doing what we’re doing. And right now, too, I freelance and I work with some early stage startups and do advising for them, but really excited to start institutionalizing what we’re doing.

Holly: That’s awesome. That’s very exciting. So I would love to touch a little more on the difficulties of staying in tech. I think we don’t talk enough about it as a industry. What are some of the things that you see that you feel like we could all be doing better at?

Victoria Kennedy: Sure? I think the first thing is just being honest. I think I’ve been in a lot of companies that talk about diversity inclusion and social impact and at the end of the day, no one’s perfect, but your actions have to match your words. So if you are talking about being a diverse, an inclusive company, but all of your diversity inclusion is at the entry and mid level. That’s not really diverse and inclusion because all your stakeholders and all the people who have the power to make decisions or decisions that go across a company are still people who are not diverse and inclusive. And so it just doesn’t work.

And I’ve been to a lot of companies and seen it with friends that I have as well, who they rely on the people of color in their organization or the white women of the organization to start the ESSU groups and to do all these initiatives on top of their existing jobs, which means they become even more likely to burn out because they’re doing labor that they aren’t being paid for. And that probably isn’t going to necessarily give them a leg up in the company itself and it’s not work that they were trained to do. And so it’s just for me being honest about where you are and what you actually want to do as an organization, I think is really important.

I think two, is being clear about the amount of work it’s going to take to change. We want to make the current culture obsolete. We want to make obsolete the culture of hustle at all costs till you burn out, but the only people who are getting paid or the people who invest and the founders. And you can work for a company for a long time, but if you’re investing doesn’t work well, or they get acquired too early or whatever, or even if it doesn’t sell for them like you thought it would especially in start-up culture, which I think is changing is like you’re supposed to work that hard because at the end of the day, if the company does really well, you’ll make this life changing sum of money. Which sometimes happens but for a lot of times, it doesn’t and it’s okay. It’s a risk endeavor, that’s why we do it.

But people shouldn’t have to burn out to get there. But also what we want to see is a diverse and inclusive culture from the foundation, right? Not just as an add-on or something nice to have, but really seeing it and value it from the beginning and then valuing people from the beginning as well. But that’s a huge undertaking, right? A system that already exists, changing it from the foundation is a huge endeavor. And so I think a lot of the times when people talk about making tech and venture more inclusive and diverse, it’s like I don’t know if there’s a real, a good kind of going back to honesty about how difficult it will be and that it means the power structure will need to change.

The infrastructure in which we use to do this will need to change because there’s so much from … I was talking to a friend, I was like for me, it’s like wealth isn’t just about money, there’s all these statistics about how black households hold have a fraction of the net worth of white households, which is bad and hard. But the other thing is a lot of recent founders, I’ve talked to friends who are founders who are white and they’re like, yeah, I have a friend who’s a founder and that person is like it’s a B2B company and so they’re helping be my first startup person or I have a friend of a friend who’s dad is a VC and that can kind of use him that were kind of my first check. So much about wealth than just the direct money, but the access to information and resources.

And that’s all part of the infrastructure and it’s like VC is super opaque. It’s like you can read a lot of articles. It’s super funny now when we talk to our mentors and advisors and we’re like “Oh, we thought we needed this.” They’re like, “Yeah, no, most of the stuff you see on the internet is a lie. You just need to really work on your relationships and find the right people.” And it’s like who does that benefit? Who does it benefit to keep something gated? Who does it benefit to say that this is the way things work, but to know actually it works this other way. And so for us, we’re excited about this, but it’s also scary and daunting too. And we know it can’t just be us, but I think that’s why it’s so important that we all kind of talk about realistically, what is it going to take to make the changes we want to see? And how do you go about actually making those changes?

Holly: Yeah. What you’re saying really resonates with me. And in particular, another episode that I recorded recently was with Janice Frasier, who was talking about how we make durable decisions and really that the first starting point is getting everybody to recognize where everyone is at, even just that starting point of being, well, we’re probably all coming to the table with a different opinion of the current state and we need to start with what is understanding the current state and only then can we be honest about the work it’ll take to get from here to there.

Victoria Kennedy: Yeah. That’s a really big thing I’ve kind of been taking that lesson from product, the consulting company I was talking about I worked with, we used to do these things called inceptions, where we take anywhere from one to two weeks to kick up our project. And the first thing that we always did was get every stakeholder in the room. So the people who worked on it day to day, executive leadership from both sides or all sides, if there are multiple companies involved and really disagree on why are we here? What are our goals? And how do we make sure that we get what we need out of this? And it’s so simple, but again, it’s so impactful that if you can get the ideas from the VP day two, instead of day 75, when it very much interrupts your roadmap, it’s a very different conversation feeling.

And then also having a working agreement. There was a great project I did for, we had to rebuild major news organizations app in about 10 weeks and we did it, but that was because the first three days I again got all the stakeholders in a room and we had a conversation about what are our goals? We prioritized those goals. We didn’t talk about these are the goals, but we’re not focused on those specific features, we’re just focused on solving those problems that relate to those goals. We had everything prioritized and we had a working agreement around, we do not stick to features, we stick to problems.

And so if we know a feature doesn’t work, we’ll talk about new ways that we could do it. But again, we don’t have conversations around like can’t get that feature, but we’re still solving that problem and here’s how best to solve that problem. And we were able to do something incredible in 10 weeks, but that’s because we got aligned all together at the beginning of the project and then had to establish working agreement about how we would deal with issues as they came up.

And in the same thing, just on a, vastly different scale, it’s like, okay, if this is the commitment we’re making, if you want to make VC be a tad better, this is what it actually looks like. It’s kind of like when you go into those meetings and people are like “We are going to make the next super app.” And you’re like “Okay, what does that actually mean?” Is that what you actually want? And what does that really look like? And I think almost with anything, it’s really defining what you mean and defining what the end goal looks like, that’s the most important part for not only just getting shared context, but to really making sure that’s actually what you want to do at all because it’s like you get so attached to the words and then you realize , “Oh, this isn’t actually what I want to do. This is the thing I want to do.”

Holly: Yeah, absolutely. I love how you tie it back to the problem and stay focused on what problem you’re solving. It’s really important. So what kind of advice do you have for products people who maybe are struggling a bit in their current role, maybe they’re not getting the recognition that they think they deserve or they’re not getting the opportunity to move into leadership. How would you tell them to move forward?

Victoria Kennedy: So I’ve been thinking a lot of lately about reframing both leadership and progress. So I’m a huge Brené Brown fan and she talks a lot in being like oh, well, I’m not like hey, that product, or I don’t have the title or I don’t have as many people who report to me therefore that must mean X about me. And really it’s like the best thing about product is that even if you’re pretty junior, you’re already a leader, you’re already getting people together to do something that you actually have no authority to tell them to do. You’re never anyone’s boss and the best leaders, people don’t follow them because they have to, it’s because they want to do the things that people are propositioning. And so immediately from day one, if you’re a product person, you need to think about how do I get all of these people who frankly don’t necessarily have to do what I say to do what I say.

And even if they do, they can always figure out ways to undercut it because then the people are actually doing the work. You’re not doing the code, you’re not doing the design, they are. And so for me it’s thinking about more than likely if you’re a product person, you’re already a leader. And so really understanding how do you lead and what does that look like and thinking about it more of like what are the skills I’m already developing that can be translated that I can start talking about? Because I think what took me a long time to realize as is how to talk about the great things I was doing. I thought there was only one standard way And so I was like, well, I don’t have this title, I do this thing, so I guess I’m not capable of doing this, but once I figured out how to talk about it, I’m like no, these are the skills I’ve developed, these are the things that were accomplished. It made a lot more sense about how I could do these other things that weren’t necessarily planned out for me.

Also, when I think a lot about progress, I think just something I got for a product manager that I’ll never forget, it’s honestly just much harder to progress as a product manager, like engineering teams grow tenfold in a year. Most companies, unless they’re giant companies never get more than 10 to 20 product managers and that’s if you’re lucky. So it’s going to be really hard to get a managerial position as a product manager, unless you’re starting with the early, early stage startup, just because that’s the way those companies grow. Your team is not going to be big enough. You still need three to four product managers who really, really need a lead or manager over them and so your career growth is not going to be necessary how other people think about growth and thinking about what do you actually really want to get out of it? Do you want to be head of product or do you just want to take on bigger and bigger products?

And I think the best thing about being a product manager is you can make those skills really applicable to so many other things. So you can become a founder, you can go into VC, there’s just so many things that you can do and so figuring out what it is that you actually want to do and figure out how to talk about your skills and create the narrative that fits into the thing that you want to do. I hope that answers your question, but I have built a lot with anxiety and what I’ve realized a lot lately in the past couple years is that I know I’m in an anxious place when I think there’s only one or two decisions, when I think there’s only one or two options is yes or no, that’s when I know I’m anxiety.

Because in reality there’s always so many more options, but when you’re in that place of just this is what it should be, or this is what I should do, you narrow your options. And if you can just come from a place of what are all my options and what do I actually want to do? It’s just a much easier decision. Even if the decision is to leave companies, which I’ve done. So sometimes it’s just this isn’t the right place, I got to go. And sometimes it’s like this is the right place, but I’m not going to get exactly what I want, but I can get this to go get what I actually want.

Holly: Yeah. Awesome. So where can people find you if they want to learn more?

Victoria Kennedy: Sure. So unfortunately I’m not great at social media, so I don’t have Twitter, Instagram, but we have a website it’s seedtoharvestvs.com. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Victoria Kennedy and yeah, those are places you can find me.

Holly: Awesome. All right. Well thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure talking with you, Victoria.

Victoria Kennedy: Thank you too. This is great.

Holly: The Product Science Podcast is brought to you by H2R Product Science. We teach startup founders and products leaders. How to use the product science method to discover the strongest product opportunities and lay the foundations for high-growth products, teams and businesses. Learn more@h2rproductscience.com. Enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s episode. I also encourage you to visit us @productsciencepodcast.com to sign up for more information and read sources from me and our guests. If you like the show, a rating and review would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


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