From PM to VP of Product: Jiaona Zhang’s career advice from Webflow, Airbnb & Dropbox
For our 60th episode, we’re doing things a little bit differently — with a new guest host! Welcome to Todd Jackson, who’s filling in for Brett Berson this week.
Todd is also a Partner at First Round, and the episodes he hosts will mostly focus on product, given his previous product roles, from the VP of Product & Design at Dropbox and Director of Product Management at Twitter, to being a PM at Facebook and Google, leading Newsfeed and Gmail. He was also a founder — his startup Cover was backed by First Round in 2013 and later acquired by Twitter. (For more on Todd and his advice for company building, check out his article in The First Round Review from a couple years ago.)
Today, Todd chats with Jiaona Zhang, the VP of Product at Webflow. (She goes by JZ though, so you’ll hear that throughout their conversation.) You might remember her popular Review article, Don’t Serve Burnt Pizza (And Other Lessons in Building Minimum Lovable Products)
Before joining Webflow, JZ was the Senior Director of Product Management at WeWork, a Product Lead at Airbnb, and a PM at Dropbox and at Pocket Gems, a mobile gaming company. JZ also teaches product at Stanford and mentors a lot of rising product leaders, so she’s the perfect person to talk to about building a career in product.
As the framework for the entire conversation, we start with why she doesn’t think of it as a career ladder, but rather as three distinct phases: contributing as a PM, managing PMs, and then leading the function. Here’s a preview of what Todd and JZ cover:
The PM role. Advice on breaking into the function, what you should look for when you’re a candidate interviewing for PM roles, and the mistakes that are easy to make early on.
The managing phase, including how to think more strategically as you get more senior, archetypes to look for when hiring, and her advice for first-time managers.
The executive phase. JZ talks about thinking of your org as a product, and she shares super tactical pointers for working with your CEO, your peers on the exec team, and the board.
Whether you’re trying to break into product, grow in your career, or you’re a founder looking for hiring advice, there’s tons in this conversation for you.
You can follow JZ on Twitter at @jiaonazhang. You can email us questions directly at email@example.com or follow us on Twitter @firstround and @tjack.