The Commons Digest (08/17/2022)

The COmmons Insider Newsletter

The Commons Weekly Digest

Welcome to our Weekly Digest. Think of it like a TL;DR of the massive group chat that happens in The Commons community every day.

In this week's issue:

  • Meet Nick! A mentor at The Commons, Nick talks about his career journey from hospitality to Product at Shopify and now, Tonal
  • Learning at The Commons
  • The September Revenue Growth Sprint is officially full. Reply to this email if you want to secure an early spot in the Winter cohort
  • Core & Strategic Finance Sprint applications are now open for September!
  • Your Weekly Level Up
  • ✏️ Practice Interview Question: Tell me about a time when you made a mistake
  • ✅ Community Reccos: Pipe vs. platform businesses
  • 💭 Thought Starter: Staying motivated during your job search
  • 💡 Brain Teaser
  • 🚀 Community Share: #commonroom-pets 🥭🐱


A conversation with Nick May, Product Sprint mentor and Staff Product Operations Manager at Tonal, on pivoting from hospitality to Product and his views on mentorship

It's safe to say The Commons community was excited when Nick joined as a Product mentor. He's not only developed deep experience scaling Product Ops teams across Shopify and Tonal, but he's thoughtful and eager to give back to the community. We appreciate his views on mentorship and of course, the time he dedicates to walking the talk.

Our chat with Nick was so great, that we're splitting it into two parts. In this edition, we're focusing on Nick's career trajectory and his views on mentorship. Next week, we'll learn a bit about Product Ops.

Hey Nick! What's your current role & location?

📍Staff Product Operations Manager at Tonal & a Product Sprint mentor at The Commons. I'm based out of Toronto.

So, you started your career in theatre and in restaurants - tell us more!
My career has certainly not been linear in any stretch of the imagination. I like to say that it's been more of a jungle gym than a ladder. I studied Theatre for post-secondary education in New York City and like a lot of people in the performing arts, I found myself working in hospitality. I became the General Manager of a number of different restaurants, both in New York City and then Toronto. A few of those restaurants were ’concept restaurants’ that pushed me to flex a lot of my operational skill set. One of those restaurants was a not-for-profit social enterprise that supported new entrants into the workforce, another was the world’s oldest LGBTQ+ Bookstore that added a cafe/restaurant as a secondary revenue stream.

What prompted your pivot out of hospitality and eventually into Shopify?
Working in restaurants can be really exciting and fulfilling, but the world of hospitality can also be very tiring and 70+ hour work weeks aren’t uncommon. It wasn't something that I saw myself doing for the rest of my life. So, I dabbled my feet in the not-for-profit sector for a while. At one point I was also a buyer for Blockbuster Canada, and at another point, I found myself working at Shopify.

I knew a lot of people that worked at Shopify already. And while there wasn't one specific role that I felt was the best fit for me at the time, I just knew I wanted to work there. I had heard great things about the culture and so I applied to and started working in Merchant Success - which was a good fit because working directly with consumers and helping solve their problems was something really familiar to me.

I thought that was a great way to learn a lot about the product and get involved with the company. Shortly after starting I transitioned to a role called an Expansion Pack, which supports leaders in the company with different strategic initiatives that they need extra eyes or hands on. Largely, the work that I found myself doing in that role was related to Product Operations, which didn’t have a clear place in the company yet. I knew that there was an opportunity to help support our teams in a new way. And, as the company started to invest further in Product Operations as a discipline, I knew that I wanted to help carve a space for myself in this high impact role. By the time I left Shopify, there were probably ~50 folks working in the product ops space, compared with the two or three when I first started.

What did you take away from your experience scaling the Product Operations team within Shopify?
Through building out the org, it helped me to see the impact that Product Operations was having across the company, which was really exciting for me. It was particularly fulfilling to help define what ‘good’ looked like in the Product Operations space and to be a thought leader within that. As I started to dive a little bit deeper and understand how other companies defined Product Operations, I realized that no two companies viewed the role in the exact same way, which further propelled me to have a stronger voice in defining the discipline, not just at Shopify, but in the Product Operations space as a whole within tech.

I started networking, meeting others that were exploring Product Operations, and creating relationships within small different online forums and slack workspaces.

It’s one of the things that attracted me to coming to The Commons - so that I could share my experience, the best practices, but also learn from others as well and hear about what they’re doing in the Product Operations space.

After Shopify, you made the pivot to Tonal. What attracted you to that role?
When I made a transition from Shopify to Tonal, I was the very first Product Ops hire at Tonal. They were interested in optimizing their product org by driving efficiencies and improvements with best practices, systems, rituals, et cetera. I loved the idea of taking what I learned at a very large company and applying it to a much smaller one, knowing that not everything was going to work perfectly.

There were also opportunities to identify new ways to support our product teams on a much smaller scale and learn about the different pain points that a growth-stage startup goes through.

Let’s dive into mentorship - tell us more about this not-for-profit restaurant. How did it guide your views on mentorship?

The restaurant was called Hawthorne Food and Drink. It helped to provide on-the-job skills training and career mentorship to folks that had experienced systemic barriers towards finding employment - anything from being a new entrant to Canada or folks that experienced disability. We would tailor the training program to the individual to make sure that they were getting the most out of their experience.

It’s an experience that really introduced me to the idea of mentorship and getting people really excited about the opportunities that were in front of them. I think that there's no one size fits all when it comes to mentorship or when it comes to how you work with other people. Being able to help develop and flex those different skills in that environment is something that I still bring forward with me in everything that I do.

Plus, the jungle gym approach to my career wouldn't have been possible without the mentorship of people that really believed in me and what I was capable of doing. Sometimes they played a more formal mentorship role, other times it was a little bit more informal, but knowing that there were other people that I could rely on and leverage to help upskill myself was an important way for me to help see what could be next for my career. They would help me dive into questions like - what were the things that I wanted to optimize for in life, or what are the ways that I could do things better?

Across all industries that I've been in, I've always found supporters of me that were willing to give me the time and energy to help with that. Mentorship is extremely valuable to me and being able to give back in a way to make sure that I'm sharing what I can with other people about my experience is important to me.

How do you think, from a mentorship and community perspective, The Commons can help people grow?

I think that there's value in understanding a lot of different people's lived experiences. With The Commons, you’re getting different perspectives. You're getting one-on-one mentorship time with people that you're directly connected with through your Sprint teams, but you're also part of a broader community which gives you the opportunity to learn from many others. That's something that I really love because my experience is unique to me and I think it's valuable when you put that together with the experience of others to create a well-rounded perspective for everyone in The Commons’ community.

Outside of The Commons, how might you recommend people find mentors - should it be their boss?

I would say that having your boss as a mentor is a tricky situation to be in, and that's not the route that I would often recommend that people go down. Not to say that it can't work, but I think somebody who doesn't have a stake in the game is an important aspect of a mentor. You want somebody who's going to give you their unbiased opinion and feedback.

In terms of how to find that person, it should be somebody that you really connect with. You might have seen them talk somewhere, or you might have had some sort of engagement or connection with them - formal or informal. You need to find someone where you’d think: ‘Hey, I like this person, I think that they could get me, or I could have a really honest conversation with them’. Or, they could be someone whose career trajectory inspires you and you want to better understand how they were able to navigate it.

Additionally, it needs to be a high trust relationship. It needs to be something where you can be candid about your thoughts and feedback. It doesn't mean you need to find people that look like you or people who are doing the same thing as you, but people that you can just have a good conversation with. Those are the people you should be reaching out to.

Lastly, be honest about your intentions. You should share what you really want to get out of the experience - more so than them just being a mentor - and ask if they’re really interested in supporting it. It’s a partnership really.

Last question: How can someone make the most out of their mentor?

Plan ahead. If you have dedicated time for a session or with a mentor, share information in advance, come prepared and have questions ready. Know what you want to get out of the session and make sure that it's time well spent. Like I said, it's a partnership between two people, or even a group of people, and you really want to make sure that you're maximizing your time to make both parties feel like it was valuable. If you want someone to provide really good feedback on things, provide something for them to read in advance so that they can prepare for the conversation.

Honesty & transparency. If you're having a conversation with a mentor or mentee and you don't understand something, take that time to ask those questions and go deeper. It's really easy to say, ‘oh yeah. Okay. Thanks’ and feel like you got something out of it, but if you didn't truly understand something, ask more questions. It doesn't help anybody to just appease and act like you understand something if you really don’t.

...stay tuned next week or Nick's take on the landscape of Product Operations, views on Systems and Product thinking and how Product Operations may vary company to company.

➡️ Missed out on our summer Product Sprint? Apply early to the October cohort to make sure you get a spot. You'll be able to tap into the community as soon as you join (even ahead of your Sprint). Apply here.

🪂 What's happening at The Commons

Upcoming events at The Commons:

  • NYC Mentor Dinner | Thursday, August 18 | The Commons NYC mentors only - check the #mentors channel for more info
  • The Commons Office Hours: Designing the Ideal Community Onboarding | Friday, August 19 @ 12PM ET | Community only - sign up here
  • Community Chat: Making the Move from Ops to Product with Tobin, Head of Growth & Product at Purified News | Tuesday, August 23 @ 7PM PT | Open to all - sign up for free here

Recent past events - community members, you can access recordings on the platform:

  • Company Showcase: Spotify with Daniel, Sr. Product Manager at Spotify
  • Mini Interview Case Workshop *no recording as it was conducted in breakout rooms
  • San Franscico IRL Meetup 🎉

🚨 Application Deadline Alert! 🚨

Looking to join The Commons? Your way in is through a Sprint. Apply to secure your seat below.

We're currently reviewing applications for the following Sprints. Apply below.

  • 🚀 Core - Applications are *officially* open for the September cohort - kickoff is the week of September 19th.
  • 💰 Strategic Finance - Applications are open for the September cohort - kickoff is September 12th.

Sold out Sprints:

  • 🖥 Product - The summer cohort has officially kicked off. Secure your seat for the October Sprint now, ahead of our official Sprint drop.
  • 📈 Revenue Growth - The September cohort is officially filled. Reply to this email if you want to secure your seat early for the winter Sprint.


What the community is talking about...

Discussions in The Commons are prolific. Here’s a top one from this past week: structuring your approach to behavioral interview questions. 🗺

Community Ask: Curious what the most impactful approach is for when interviewers ask candidates "talk to me about a project you were on and the impact you had".

Community Responses: The community shared the following frameworks and advice:

The RACR Method - Marc H.

  • R: Result
  • A: Action
  • C: Context
  • R: Result

Example: Build a custom Tableau dashboard by integrating with Salesforce data platforms; enabled the team to accurately track user engagement metrics and build a roadmap to grow engagement by 20%.

💡Tip: This method is particularly strong when creating resume bullets. "You start with the high-level result (output) and then quantify the impact (outcome) at the end of the statement."

The STAR Method - Marlies F.

  • S: Situation
  • T: Task
  • A: Action
  • R: Result

💡 Tip: "Do this in 1-2 minutes. Get concise; folks can ask for more context if they need it."

Similar to the above, The CAR Method - Bhag R.

  • C: Context
  • A: Action
  • R: Result

💡Tip: "It's important to keep the context concise and focus on the latter. Just like resumes, it goes a long way if you have the impact/result quantified."

⭐️🚘 The STAR and CAR methods are aligned with a tip mentor Julie-Anne shared with us in this article. "You should include: Brief context → How I assessed the situation → What I did → What was the outcome and what did I learn → ALWAYS followed by a closing sentence tying it back to the question that they asked."

💡Final Mentor Tip: "One thing I'll flag is make sure you talk about what YOU did. From my experience interviewing at Uber, I found a lot of people would say "we did..." (as in their team) and it sometimes was unclear what the individual's specific action & impact was (versus the impact of their team)."

Missed the discussion? Community members, hop into Slack (below) to weigh in on the conversation.

Join the discussion

Your weekly level up ⏫

✏️ Practice Interview Question

Type: Behavioral
Question: Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.
What They're Testing For: Everyone is human - they want to hear something honest and understand how you took ownership, how you handled it and what you learned.

🌟 Tips:

  • Don't pick a fluffy example - the interviewer will likely have the view that everyone makes mistakes, so not being able to identify a real example may demonstrate that either you haven't had substantial experience or you aren't self reflective
  • Be sure to articulate how you handled it and what you learned, for example - did you communicate with stakeholders (if so, how and when), what was the subsequent action plan that you came up with (what were the results), what specific things have you learned (and how have you been implementing those since)?

✅ Community Reccos

This week we're talking about the pipe vs. platform business concept, thanks to Raza's share below. 🛠 Here's the link to the article.

💭 Thought Starter

Last week we shared the Alize's prompt about staying motivated during the job search. Here are 7 pieces of advice that the community shared. 👇💚

  1. "Meeting people for coffee chats"
  2. "Shutting my laptop and going for a long walk. Physical exercise really helps me with mental health."
  3. "Encouragement from other people in The Commons is the only reason I haven't given up yet. Lots of positive reinforcement from peers and mentors in the community like Alex P, Robin C, Kaitlin M, Eric L, Fernando F, and Jessy Chen."
  4. "Definitely celebrating small wins as they come is important but just make sure to keep the pipeline moving forward so losses don’t hurt as much."
  5. "Networking and having as many conversations as possible which is something The Commons have really enabled. Even beyond direct connections using little tactics and tricks to break through and stand out at the top of funnel can go a long way."
  6. "Look for the good: think of all the awesome things I learned, how I've become smarter through networking, and how I've become more polished. Every opportunity I had (interview, phone call, case) was a chance to level up once more."
  7. "Also focus on the process. I know I'm going to dedicate x hours a day doing 1. Case prep, 2. Networking, 3. Applying for jobs. I don't care if I have 20 interviews out of it or 0. I know the only thing in my control is the input. I'm going to maximize my effort in it. Over the course of y reps, it has to work out my way at least once! And each rejection is one step closer to the ultimate landing spot :)"

What are you doing to stay motivated? Add the thread here.

🧠 Brain Teaser

There are three boxes, one contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of its box. You can pick one box to open (knowing what it has on the label). Without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit.

By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?

Check here for the answer!

💡Community Share

The Commons community is filled with tidbits of advice and interesting shares, including a whole channel dedicated to our furry friends (because what's better than that?!). In case you missed it, here's a popular share from last week 👇🥭

Share your pet photos in the #commonroom-pets channel HERE.

Thanks for leveling up with us!

If you want to chat about The Commons, text us at +1-416-619-9042 or jump on a call HERE.

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