“5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Became a VP at GoPro” With Meghan Laffey
“As a leader, do not think your job is to be a dictator. Your job is to give a clear vision, provide direction when needed, but most importantly — LISTEN. Listen to your people, remove roadblocks for them, get out of their way and empower them. This allows your employees to do their best work.”
I had the pleasure to interview Meghan Laffey, VP Of Product at Gopro. Meghan joined GoPro in 2010, when the company was in its early stages. She was 1 of 3 on the “product development team” and the company had fewer than 30 employees. She was instrumental in leading the development and launch of the Hero2, Hero3, Hero3+, and Hero4 camera lines during the company’s massive growth phase. The newest one is being released today. More recently, Meghan helped build out GoPro’s software product lines — including the GoPro App, the award winning Quik app, and launching GoPro’s first subscription service — GoPro PLUS. Today, she leads all things Product for GoPro — including Product Management, User Experience, Consumer Insights, Analytics, and Product Marketing.
What is your “backstory”?
As all good stories start, my dream was to either 1.) become a CIA operative [thanks to all of the Jack Bauer 24 episodes I’d watch] or 2.) be an Ambassador for the UN. I never dreamed I would be a female technology leader, running all things Product for a public, $1B consumer product company.
I studied International Security at UC Davis, and pushed myself out of my Bay Area box, where I had grown up, and decided to study abroad in South America for three months. Those three months got extended to one year — and that year impacted my life in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. It made me independent in the sense that I realized how capable I was on my own. It made me open my eyes to other cultures, perspectives and people and appreciate the goodness that could come from diversity. It made me understand what it feels like to be doing what you are passionate about — that feeling of learning, challenging yourself and being excited to wake up. Every. Single. Day.
After graduating, I lived in Washington DC where I was interning and working with INTERPOL. I thought I had made it, my first step towards my dream; Meghan Laffey — the Ambassador! Except that I hated it. I hated sitting at a desk. I hated the bureaucracy I saw. I hated that there were very few women. I hated that I felt like a cog in a wheel. I didn’t have any passion in what I was doing and soon found myself moving back to the Bay Area and doing what many young adults do — soul searching. I did random jobs — nannied, waitressed, etc. Thought about going to law school, studied, took the LSAT. But I was missing that passion. That THING I felt when I was abroad.
So, a friend and I decided to take off to Europe for a few months…which also turned in to one year. We traveled all over Eastern Europe, and eventually found ourselves living in Dublin, Ireland and working on an organic farm. We fed pigs. Yes, you read that correctly — character building. I found myself mostly content — traveling and learning — but I didn’t feel challenged. I knew I need to stimulate my mind in a way that I wasn’t getting — time to get a “real job” (and I also needed to make some money).
Back in the Bay Area, I got a job as the assistant to the assistant of the Head of Engineering, at a relatively unknown company at the time — Jawbone. It was an entry-level role, but I was just excited to get a foot in the door at a tech company. And that is where it started. I found passion, I found challenge, I found myself learning — I found that happy place I had been seeking out, and my career has grown from there. I’ve continued to push myself to constantly be learning, challenging myself, finding what I’m passionate about — and have been rewarded and constantly given more responsibility along the way.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
GoPro stands out for the memories we help capture. Our products allow people to capture things that they never could have otherwise. It is truly incredible how creative our customers are with our products and the memories they create and share. We’ve seen everything from watching an egg poach in slow motion from inside of a boiling pot, to attaching a GoPro to a bunch of balloons and watching it rise and fall from space. I specifically remember after we launched the Hero2, someone posted a video on YouTube of a Grizzly bear eating their GoPro! Watching that video, I thought to myself — wow, this product is pretty special — no one would have ever captured a moment like that otherwise (and lived to show it!).
What advice would you give to others to help their employees thrive?
Lead and step-in when you need to, but step out most of the time: As a leader, do not think your job is to be a dictator. Your job is to give a clear vision, provide direction when needed, but most importantly — LISTEN. Listen to your people, remove roadblocks for them, get out of their way and empower them. This allows your employees to do their best work.
Build a team of trust: Trust is at the foundation of the highest performing teams, be rigorous about building a culture of trust. When there is a basic foundation of trust in your team, you will feel it, you will see it, and you will be proud of it.
Evolve yourself, never stagnate: Always be evolving yourself, challenging yourself, and never stop learning. Everything — organizations, people, teams — are living and growing, and you must either learn and grow also, or sooner or later you become obsolete.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I’ve been extremely lucky to have had a really strong support system in my life; from my friends and family, to mentors who pushed me out of my comfort zone, to advocates that saw my potential even when I sometimes didn’t.
I do think back to my very first mentor, who helped expose me to all aspects of Product Development while I was at Jawbone. I remember when he brought me along with him and the team to China for the very first time. Seeing the factories, meeting the assembly line workers, getting to see first-hand what it took to make and ship a product at scale blew my mind. Before we left for the trip, I had sent a quality specification document to the factory to ensure the buttons on the product were being tested to have the correct feel and were not being shipped out of the factory with anything less than perfect. When I arrived at the factory and saw a small huddle of people standing at the end of the assembly line, I walked over to them to see what they were doing. Sure enough, they had my document posted and I watched the line operator push and test every button on the product before putting it in the packout box. This station was testing over 5,000 buttons a day! Push. Click. Pass. Push. Click. Pass.
Seeing this testing happening in person — the labor of it, the qualitative aspect of it, the necessity of it — has always stuck with me. No matter what role I am at in a company, you cannot forget how things are made, the manpower it takes to make it happen, and how every person’s role is crucial to truly bring a product to market.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve helped build products that allow people to follow their passions and share those experiences when they otherwise couldn’t. I’m really proud of that.
On a personal level, I’m really passionate about women in technology and making the world a better place for girls and women of the future. I dedicate time to the STEM program and helping young girls understand what it is like to work in tech, why it isn’t intimidating, and most importantly — that they deserve to follow their dreams.
I also take it upon myself to set a new bar for women in technology and leadership, and firmly believe in leading by example. Until the last few years, I never had interacted with a female leader. I had preconceived notions that a female leader had to be “scary”, act a certain way, etc. What I’ve realized is to embrace who I am, what I stand for — and set an example for all of the women I interact with. More women are SORELY needed in leadership and technology. Women bring a unique leadership style and perspective that make for better performing teams, companies and products. I’m honored and proud to advocate for other women, support other women, and drive more diversity at both GoPro and the technology industry at large.
What are “5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me” before you reached the position you’re in now? If possible share a small anecdote or reason why for each.
· Be who you are
· You can be kind and fair without being a pushover
· Hiring! Find people smarter than you and embrace them.
· Trust your gut
· Coffee really is nectar of the gods
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Be yourself. Unless you are a serial killer.” — Ellen
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this!
Condoleezza Rice. She is a bad-ass woman, leader, football-lover, pianist and author. I’d have her over for lunch on a Sunday, watch an NFL game, and probably try to convince her to run for president.