5 Questions with Yardley Ip Pohl (General Manager at Trulia Rentals)

Yardley Ip Pohl is the General Manager of Rentals at Trulia (a Zillow Group brand) and moderator of our Leadership panel at the Women in Product Conference. See what she had to say about how she became a PM, her greatest achievement and more:

What was your journey to getting into product management?

I got into engineering back in high school when my favorite math teacher — shout out to Mrs. Steinberg! — sent me off to UC Davis for the day to shadow electrical engineering students. I was blown away by watching the students build their own radios in the labs. It was so cool, and it inspired me to get into the tech world.

In 2004, I was working at Apple and we were launching exciting products such as the Mac Mini, OS X, and iMac. I had a fun job; I was paid to write code for new products, work with R&D and hardware engineers on prototypes, and travel to different manufacturing factories worldwide to roll out new products. But, I was more fascinated with consumer feedback, how business decisions were made, and how product requirements were developed. I wanted to be a part of the strategic and product decision process, so I quit my job and decided to pursue my MBA and then switched into product management.

What is your greatest achievement to date? Why is it meaningful to you?

My greatest accomplishment is when I launched a new line of small business risk management products (SBRI) for financial services customers during the economic downturn in 2008. The product was not the most revenue-generating or innovative product I’ve worked on during my career, but through launching SBRI I learned not to be afraid to do a job that I hadn’t done before.

When I joined Dun and Bradstreet in 2007, I was newly graduated from Chicago Booth and it was my first product management job. In 2008, when the global financial crisis hit, our financial services customers needed guidance with making sound risk management decisions. I was still new to the risk management industry, but I believed in an opportunity to help financial services customers better manage their risks. With that belief, I formed a business case to relaunch our existing risk management products by adding a pre-marketing score for informed marketing campaigns, creating the first-ever web-based portal for small banks, and forming D&B’s first customer advisory counsel to beta test our risk predictive analytics solutions. As the product lead, I owned product requirements, go-to-market, pricing, in-person customer meetings and conferences, technical resources hiring, and being a partner to our sales and analytics teams who had far more risk management experience than I did. The product launch was a success, exceeding customer participation and revenue expectations by 25%. I learned that execution and passion can overcome inexperience, and since then I do not let my fear of not knowing something hold me back from saying “yes” to new challenges.

What has been your biggest challenge working in product management?

Learning about influential leadership early on in my product career. Product managers are leaders without authority. Often times PMs are leading cross-functional teams such as engineering, marketing, QA, and design, without direct reports, so it’s crucial to get teams rallied around a project’s goals, timeline, and scope to ensure a successful product launch.

I’ve learned the three key lessons to being a successful influential product leader are:

  1. Be persuasive. Sure, you have a brilliant idea and you have a team around you to help execute it. But to truly get the team’s commitment, you want them to feel ownership and be accountable for the product’s success as well. -To do that, -you need to persuade the team with charisma, data, and vision. Get to know the team members and what motivates them. You will end up having more influence if you can find the keys to unlocking their motivations.
  2. Walk the talk. You own the product which means everything that comes along with it. When needed, you should be open to picking up anything where help is needed, just like a startup CEO would. Even if it means you have to learn Photoshop or do endless QA before a launch, you need to be there for your team to make the product launch a success.
  3. Be open to other ideas. You’re a team of talented people and they too will have ideas for the product or how to make the plan even better. No one simply wants to be told what to do, so be receptive to other people’s input and be open to changing the product features and plan when needed.

Who has been your biggest ally during your career? Why?

According to an article from Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2013/02/do-women-take-as-many-risks-as/), women are perceived to be more risk averse, so we are at a disadvantage when getting support to try new things. Fortunately, I have a strong support network of valuable mentors and my biggest ally, my husband Jason. He understands my passion for work, and he has consistently supported my decisions to take risks that pushed me further. When I was pregnant, I started my own startup on the side of my full-time job, and when our baby Tyler was eight months, I took my current job running Trulia Rentals. With the support of Jason, I have been able to fully pursue my passion. We manage our schedules together so we can take care of Tyler. For example, when we both traveled for work multiple times last month, we closely coordinated so we did not have to travel at the same time. Six months ago, knowing my love for writing, Jason cheered me on to pursue being a Huffington Post blogger and he gave me the courage to submit my writing. Jason is also my sounding board when I face difficult situations. If you are my Facebook or LinkedIn friend, you will notice he is the first to post my work achievements on social networks. I feel blessed having a life partner who understands, respects, and fully supports what I do and who I am.

What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were starting your product career?

Often times making the perfect career decision is impossible because there are too many unknowns. You can only make the best decision based on the information that you have.

The analogy I always use in making a career decision is that starting a new job is like walking into a candy store; there can be many different choices, but you have to focus on which candies or skill sets you want, so you can take them with you after you leave the store. Make sure you are focused on the candy basket that you are bringing with you. If you only want peppermint candies and develop deep expertise, then stick with the path that will get you all the peppermint candies you want. If you want to try new candies, even if it is within your current role, you should work with your manager to figure out the path and timing with developing new skills. But if the current store is limiting and not providing you the challenges that you need, then you should consider picking up that basket and find another store that will allow your to broaden your skill set. Focus on what you want to accomplish, take whatever imperfect data you have, deeply evaluate what you are looking to learn, and make the best sound decision you can.

Originally published at The Women In Product Facebook page on Aug 15, 2016