The Commons Digest (10/05/2022)

The COmmons Insider Newsletter

This week's discussion...

What the heck do Product Managers even do?

Learning at The Commons

The Product Sprint kicks off Tuesday. Applications due this week!

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Your Weekly Level Up

✏️ Practice Interview Question: Motivating team members

✅ Community Reccos: Daily Market Briefs

💭 Thought Starter: Interview questions to get a sense of work / life balance

💡Brain Teaser: Hourglasses

🚀 Community Share: A creative take on a LI banner!


What the heck do you even do?!

Product continues to be a hot role in tech, but with role scope varying significantly across companies and teams, it can be difficult to know which types of roles you'd gravitate towards and excel in. Or at the very least, if you should focus on Product Operations vs. Product Management roles (did you even know there was a difference?!).

Our advice is to talk to people who are in those roles and gather a cross-section of information about projects, skills and work culture that show up in their day-to-day. Over time, you'll begin to gravitate towards some elements more than others.

So we did it for you! We sat down with 10+ Product Mentors at The Commons who work at DoorDash, Instacart, Planned, Tonal, The Trade Desk, Uber, Wealthsimple and Google to learn about projects they've worked on. Here are a few they shared:

Aarti - Product Manager at Uber

  • Project Objective: Improve emergency response when a safety incident is happening.
  • Project Overview: In-app “Text to 911” capability. When used, Uber live-shares the user’s location and the car details with the 911 agent so that emergency personnel can get to them quickly.
  • Your Role: Defined the problem and approach we wanted to take, in addition to coordinating with external stakeholders to bring the product to life.
  • What made it so interesting? Even though we all know we can call 911, not everybody knows that they can text 911 as well. I love this product because it gives drivers and riders an opportunity to get help discreetly, without escalating the situation, as nobody else in the car needs to know that they’ve reached out for help. In another life, I would have loved to be a lawyer or a detective, so the use of technology to solve crime and save lives is super rewarding - especially for a Law & Order fan!

Eric - Product Manager at The Trade Desk

  • Project Objective: Solimar - A complete redesign of The Trade Desk UI, built to empower advertisers to achieve their marketing goals.
  • Project Overview: This project was a ground-up rebuild of the entire platform with the goal of making marketing goals the core of all user behavior. We improved data onboarding and management and launched a lot of features to make it easier for advertisers to help brands reach the right audiences.
  • Your Role: Leading alpha and beta testing with customers to make sure that we were iterating quickly to build the best experiences possible.
  • What made it so interesting? It was a great project because it allowed me to really work cross-functionally globally. I got to work with teams and clients in Europe and Asia to ensure we were capturing the needs of different markets.

Kaiz - Product Manager at Google

  • Project Objective: Expanding a partnership between Display Ads and Search Ads to share marketing dollars to help SMBs achieve their objective.
  • Project Overview: Growing the ~$500M product by 3x through better performance, improved customer education and adoption, and increased sales partnerships.
  • Your Role: Product Manager - responsible for overall product vision and the success of the partnership.
  • What made it so interesting? This project requires full partnership between so many different teams - engineering, product, sales, UX, user research etc. It’s amazing to have the opportunity to work with each partner towards a common vision!

Ellie - Product Operations at DoorDash

  • Project Objective: An “explore project” to learn more about one of DoorDash’s key middleware providers.
  • Project Overview: A middleware provider, in the DoorDash world, is a company that provides software, giving technical capabilities to restaurants (you might be familiar with ordering online through Square or Toast apps). One of the middleware providers we had partnered with for a long time was quite unique in this space in terms of the offerings and product solutions they provided to merchants, and our team hadn’t focused on it in the past. It was truly a blank space project to work on and explore.
  • Your Role: Research the middleware provider and understand why their offering is so compelling to merchants.
  • What made it so interesting? So rewarding? I really enjoy work where I can explore “uncharted territory” that hasn’t been prioritized before. I am a learner and I love to understand intricacies and details of projects and present them back to my team.

Julie-Anne - Product Operations at DoorDash

  • Project Objective: Fulfilment Data Enrichment
  • Project Overview: Our fulfilment model requires a lot of data – most of which is merchant provided – and not every merchant can provide that data with a high degree of coverage and accuracy, so the scope of our features was being severely limited. Our objective here was to prove out an ops mechanism for generating missing data ourselves.
  • Your Role: This project is my baby! I first put together a case for why a test was valuable, ran that test, reported on it, and am now working on operationalizing and scaling the approach.
  • What made it so rewarding? Proving this out lets us scale one of our most important features to a much broader merchant base, beyond large, sophisticated enterprise brands!

Alum often say that one of the best parts about joining The Commons is the deep interaction you get with our mentors. If you want to gain Product skills from strategy through to execution and build powerful relationships with people who work in Product - consider joining our Product Sprint. It kicks off on Tuesday and enrollments are closing soon.

The Sprint was specifically designed to be:

  • mentor-led
  • cohort-based
  • project-based that you can learn what you need to know, from who you need to know, because to excel in today's roles, you need to understand a lot more than concepts and frameworks.

Here's what a recent alum said about the Sprint:

“I learned a lot about Product Management and loved hearing from so many different mentors throughout the sprint and their different perspectives, experiences and ideas on product and tech in general.”

Apply Now (~5 mins)

What’s happening at The Commons

Upcoming events

Last week, we launched an update to our small group learning experiences, Circles, including the ability to lead a Circle of your own! Head onto the Platform to upvote or downvote potential circles! Some teaser topics: Founder Deep Dive, Exploring Health Tech, Reading Circle: “Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard

Community only
Vote here

Finding opportunities for mentorship and structured learning & development opportunities can be difficult at early stage companies. That's why we've opened up two full-ride scholarships to our Strategy & Operations and Product Sprints for individuals working at Pre-Seed/Seed Stage startups!

DEADLINE TODAY! October 5th at midnight ET
Anyone is welcome!
Nominate yourself or a connection here

Past events

ICYMI we recently hosted these events. Members, you can find the recordings on our platform.

  • Resume Peer Review | Another peer resume review session is underway, where community members exchange feedback on how to stand out from the crowd
  • Great Debate - MBAs | A discussion on a hot topic for many in our community - MBAs. We had 4 community members on the panel: 2 who have MBAs and 2 who thought about it, but opted not to pursue.
  • Mentor Office Hours | Two of our incredible mentors, Drayton (Product at Paysail) and Vidya (Strategy & Ops at DoorDash, ex-Facebook & ex-Uber), shared their trajectory and how they broke into tech, and answered community Q&As.

Application Deadline Alert!

Looking to join The Commons?

Your way in is through a Sprint. Apply to secure your seat below.

Product Sprint

You'll get end-to-end exposure to Product roles in tech, from strategy to execution.Kickoff is on Tuesday (Oct 11)!

PS - we have a couple seats left for our Europe-based mentor (Sweatcoin, ex-Revolut). These openings are rare, so you should jump on it if you're based in Europe / Africa / Middle East!

💥 LAST CALL FOR 2022 💥

Learn more // Apply now

Strategy + Operations Sprint

You'll learn SQL, analysis, problem solving and data-driven recommendation building. Great for generalist roles in tech. Kickoff is October 17th. (PS: If you've been following us for a while, this is the renamed Core Sprint).

💥 LAST CALL FOR 2022 💥

Learn more // Apply now

Strategic Finance Sprint

Our November Strategic Finance Sprint is officially open! It'll kick off in November and wrap before the holidays. This is an extremely curated cohort of <20 seats.

💥 LAST CALL FOR 2022 💥

Learn more // Apply now

View all Sprints


End of Year Salary Reviews

If you're not yet thinking about your year-end salary review conversation, you should be.Last week, there was a lively thread on this topic, and here is a summary of the top responses to the above question (thanks Saumil, Joel and Nei!):

Is a salary review an appropriate conversation to have?

  • Absolutely it's a valid conversation to have, but you'll need to consider your company's structure and timing. For example, is this something your company typically does at the end of a calendar year or does your company's review cycle land during another month? Is this a scheduled process or do you need to proactively bring it up with your manager?
  • If your company doesn't have structured timing, consider anchoring around a win. You don't want to ask for a raise after a project bombed or when your manager is swamped.
  • Be sure to have the conversation early enough - you'll kick yourself if you bring up a salary increase when budgeting decisions have already been locked in. Typically these conversations don't happen one day and come to fruition the next - plan a few months ahead.

How do I frame the meeting?

  • Framing should be around the value you have added to the company - i.e. outputs over the last year. What tangible things can you point to that you either drove or played a significant in? Anchor in the big picture projects that you've contributed to that have added the most value to the company. If you can link to data points or - even better - financial figures it'll be even more effective.

"IMO saying 'I want a comp increase solely because I have been here for a year' isn't an effective way."

"Broadly speaking, asking for a raise is like playing pokers. You have limited chips and can only ask a few times. If you are going to ask, you need to be confident that you good reasons on why. Secondly, are you prepared to leave if they say no? Everyone has their own thoughts, this is just my opinion."

What is a fair amount to ask for?

  • Gather information - build data points on what the typical compensation is for your role at other similar stage companies through:
  • Open job listings for similar roles (check job portals and platforms like AngelsList, LinkedIn, Glassdoor etc.)
  • Data from recruiters: emails / causal calls on the above
  • Actual offers: a personal decision and there are time/effort considerations, but you could go out and interview to obtain real salary offers (or at least salary ranges from HR at the beginning of a process)
  • Ask peers: When chatting with peers, we all know it's awkward to come out and say "what do you make?". Instead, reframe and position the question to a peer at a different company as: "How would X align with roles at your organization?" or "What do you think I should be making in this role?"
  • At minimum, adjust for inflation
  • Typically, it's better to propose a fixed number than a range:
  • If you share a range, some people will only hear the bottom of the range
  • It's helpful for managers and HR to understand what will
  • If your manager is going to go to bat for you, you want them to come back with a figure that you were expecting - and happy with (especially if they're using up relationship capital)

Two final thoughts

  • Verbal agreements don't mean anything! Get everything in writing
  • If you get a "no" - ask a question in return. Try: "What would need to happen to make it a yes?"

Your weekly level up

Interview Question: Describe a time when you were able to motivate unmotivated team members.

Question type: Behavioral

What They're Testing For: Team-building skillset + ability to align vision


  • Share brief context of the situation, what you did (be specific!) and what the outcome was (did it work? If it didn't work right away, how did you pivot?)
  • Ideally, you can touch on the following: how you uncovered the root cause of the lack of motivation (how did you guide the conversation? what questions did you ask?), how you demonstrated empathy, why you decided to do what you did, how you drove alignment and an awareness of what worked and why, an understanding of any knock-on impact that you had to consider (eg. with other team members)
  • Note, it can be helpful to read the room and tailor to your audience. For example, does the company culture lean more empathic or straight 'get shit done' / 'grow at all costs'. But, at the end of the day, you should be honest and true to your approach / style. A good hiring manager will see through you anyway.

Daily Market Briefs

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While this is technically an #ad, we've been working with the folks behind Daily Market Briefs - they, and the newsletter, are awesome. Definitely check it out!

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What questions are you asking at the end of an interview to get a sense of work / life balance?

Check out this post that Loren shared and add your suggestions to the thread!

Given two hourglass of 4 minutes and 7 minutes, the task is to measure 9 minutes.

Check out the answer here.

Is your LinkedIn banner helping you stand out?

Michael's sure is!

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