Currently, only about 1 in 4 employees in the tech industry is a woman. So what does it take to create a successful career as a woman in Tech? In this interview series called Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech, we are talking to successful women leaders in the tech industry to share stories and insights about what they did to lead successful careers. We also discuss the steps needed to create a great tech product. As part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Amanda Baum.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I joined Clutch very early; there were 6 other people on the team, and the product team was nonexistent. I began creating content and visuals about development and how to build websites and web applications effectively. Our founder noticed I was interested in this area and that I had some design skills, so he asked if I wanted to work on the product with him. And that’s how my career started!
I majored in visual design in college and had a good design foundation. From there, my curiosity and passion for UX and how to build a successful product fueled my career growth in the early days. I fell in love with all things product and knew that this is what I wanted to focus on for the rest of my career. Eventually, as Clutch grew and as we saw success, I was able to build out our product team to what it is today.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Back when I was a team of one, I had a lot of random responsibilities. This translated into working many late nights to accomplish more mundane tasks that didn’t fit into normal work hours.
One night, I needed to update some pages with a simple algorithm written in PHP. I typically made these updates within a couple minutes with limited brain power. I was very tired on this particular night but still needed to make the updates to check them off my to-do list. I thought I’d just make the updates while sitting on my couch to be comfortable, and it’ll be more fun and less like work. Next thing I know, I had fallen asleep while making the updates. The next morning, I saw several SOS messages claiming that some of our pages were down. I quickly checked where the problem was and found that my incomplete work from the night before had caused the outage. I fixed the problem relatively quickly but was horrified that I had caused an outage by falling asleep.
One of the lessons I learned was that it’s ok to leave some things for the next day and to definitely not do any work when I’m too tired. I’m one of those people that thinks I can stay awake while watching TV or reading a book, or doing some small work tasks, but as soon as the sleepiness hits, it quickly takes over.
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment? We’d love to hear the lead-up, what happened, and the impact it had on your life.
While I don’t think I’ve had a single career-defining moment, I have had some memorable moments that have changed my path and led me to where I am today. One of those moments is when I moved from an individual contributor as a product manager to fully building and leading a product team.
The move from a product manager to a product team leader can be very shocking. Going from needing to own everything about the product and making sure it is successful to letting go and helping others be successful on their own journey is a very difficult change. I went from trying to control everything to figuring out how to let go and find ways to coach my teammates to success. It was a very strenuous change for me because I love product management work, finding a problem, and going through all the steps to develop a solution with my team. It's a collaborative, innovative experience that never gets boring. Moving into a product leadership role, my daily activities were not as organized and clear. I needed to find new ways to be productive, which came through coaching and strategic activities. It took me a couple years to get used to this new form of productivity, and as I’ve built a highly successful team, I take joy in seeing my teammates thrive and deliver impressive outcomes for the business.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Oh yes! It was so hard at the beginning of my career when I was a product team of one. I had a grand vision of how a product team should work and how we should prioritize what to build. My vision was nice and dreamlike and not at all rooted in reality. I like to call this our “survival phase” because our devs and I were in survival mode, trying to keep our platform stable to continue growing with the rest of the company. We were having a lot of success as a business, which meant we needed to keep up and fuel that growth. But, with a small team, we had multiple jobs to keep up with all the product and development needs. It was very overwhelming at times, but what kept me going was my love for product and my team. I recognized that our product had so much potential, and we were just starting. In those early days I would remind myself of that potential and try to focus on making progress every day. The team I worked with was amazingly supportive, especially my boss (Clutch’s founder) and our lead developer. They are both such positive people, and that helped me to continue when I was overwhelmed.
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address? How does your company help people?
Clutch is the leading online marketplace of B2B service providers worldwide. Over 1 million business leaders visit Clutch each month to search, find, and decide on trusted service partners for their business needs.
The B2B buying process is long and challenging, and business leaders lack the transparency and trust they need to make informed decisions about which service providers are best for their project. Consumers regularly read reviews of hotels, restaurants, home services, etc. to validate their own research, but prior to Clutch, there was no trusted third party source to verify the information on B2B service providers' websites or sales pitches. Without Clutch, business leaders are left to the limited recommendations from within their professional network or an endless series of Google searches to find legitimate business service companies to consider.
We streamline that entire search process and amplify your professional network with over 150K+ reviewers on Clutch who have given in-depth experiences of the projects and outcomes they've had with service providers. Buyers know they can find a trusted partner through Clutch and leverage verified reviews and client portfolio examples to make better business decisions.
If someone wants to lead a great company and create great products, what is the most important quality that person should have, and what habits or behaviors would you suggest for honing that particular quality?
Continuous Improvement - for an individual and a company, it is important to always think about how to improve.
While focusing on how to improve, it’s also important to celebrate successes along the way. Don’t forget to spend time recognizing great work and its impact on your business. Then, look at what is next and how to take your product to the next level.
I think focusing on a growth mindset can help build the muscle for continuous improvement. Look at problems as challenges, and if something doesn’t come easy to you, figure out what you can do to learn more about it and improve your skills. By focusing on growth and learning from your mistakes, you will think more about continuous improvement and how to keep improving over time.
Let’s talk about teams. What’s a team management strategy or framework that you’ve found to be exceptionally useful for the product development process?
Finding ways to give ownership to my teammates. There will always be certain areas that need more attention and hands-on management, but, for the most part, I think it is important to build a team that has the autonomy to make their own decisions. This requires clearly defining goals and aligning everyone on the desired outcomes. Once that is clear, it is important that my team members have the autonomy to get to those outcomes based on the path they see fit.
I would say I have an adaptive leadership style - different teammates have different needs, and the same teammates have different needs depending on the situation. It’s important to adapt my style to what my teammates need at that time so that they can succeed; for some instances, that means completely hands off and focusing on giving the necessary context. For other situations, a more hands-on approach may be needed, especially when a teammate may be uncertain about or new to a specific area.
When you think of the strongest team you’ve ever worked with, why do you think the team worked so well together, and can you recall an anecdote that illustrates the dynamic?
Teamwork and trust - the team respects one another and understands how important it is to work as a team to succeed. No one can be successful on their own, and each person requires other team members to support them to get to the outcomes we’re looking for. Each team member communicates clearly and is inclusive to ensure everyone knows the goal we’re all working towards. Without this teamwork mentality, it is very hard to build a successful team.
I think that the strongest team I’ve ever worked with is the current team that I have. They are collaborative and trust one another, they will meet with each other to get continuous feedback on their projects. They often don’t even need my feedback because they come with all of their teammates’ aggregated advice on how to move forward.
If you had only one software tool in your arsenal, what would it be, why, and what other tools do you consider to be mission-critical?
Jira - it can do anything. You can use many tools for various processes, but with enough planning and organization, Jira can be used for anything product management-related.
Another mission-critical tool is Figma. Every designer I know absolutely loves Figma. Our product managers, project managers and developers also use it for visualizing and planning.
Let’s talk about downtime. What’s your go-to practice or ritual for preventing burnout?
Yoga during the week and skiing during the weekend. I relax by staying active and doing what I love.
I typically take 30-45 min during my lunch to do yoga. This helps center me and remind me that nothing is too important to get overly stressed about.
I love hitting the slopes and seeing what adventures I can find on weekends. There is nothing like making turns in the crisp winter air. Skiing helps me get away and rejuvenate for the week ahead.
Based on your experience, what are your “5 Steps Needed to Create Great Tech Products”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1. Initial Research: Find a real problem that needs to be solved. A product will only be successful if it solves a real problem for real people. Once a problem is identified, it’s important to survey the relevant market and receive feedback.
For example, when Clutch was first an idea, our founder went into the field and surveyed various business leaders. His goal was to understand the biggest problem in the procurement search and if a platform like Clutch could be a solution to finding a reputable third-party company. He first made sure to understand the needs of business leaders and then carefully evaluated if a platform like Clutch would be valuable.
Another important research step is understanding how to monetize the product. Are users willing to pay for your product or service? The reality is that the best product can be built, but if users aren’t willing to pay and there is no strong foundation for monetization, the product will fail in the long run.
2. Product Discovery: Once broader market research has been conducted and initial user feedback is collected, it’s time to move to in-depth product discovery. This means dissecting the problem, asking the “why” at every step, and discovering how a user’s problem can be solved. Through this in depth exploration, you can map the user’s journey, define the requirements for the product, and experiment with possible solutions.
A few steps we take at Clutch are analyzing existing data and metrics, conducting user interviews, aggregating past user feedback, and researching other industries to understand how similar problems have been solved. We then aggregate this information and create a prioritized map of what is important to users and what we think will be pivotal to the product’s success.
Product discovery is one of the most complex parts of product development, but when done right can produce a highly effective product.
3. Design and User Feedback: The most successful designs are user-centered, innovative, and concise. We like to share an important motto at Clutch: “You are not your user.” Our opinions can only take us so far, and we need to test with real users to know what will have an impact. Designers that focus on user needs, gather continuous feedback, and hone in on solving real user problems are invaluable.
For example, we take the information we’ve gathered from product discovery and put together the context, requirements, and priorities to consider. Our designers will take that and interpret the best way to visualize a solution. Once they’ve put together a design and received internal feedback, they will create a prototype to get feedback from real users. This step allows us to make improvements before we work on development, making our team more efficient in the long run.
4. Execution: Successful execution takes persistent planning, solid organization, and consistent collaboration. Once the requirements and designs are defined, creating a plan for implementing the solution is essential. The team must understand the context, research, and requirements to develop the proper implementation together, and only then is it possible to define a possible timeline. From there, it takes diligent organization to maintain transparency and to ensure the right stakeholders are involved. Without effective execution, an idea will stay an idea.
Without the why, there is no valuable reason to build a feature and without the how there is no tangible way actually to accomplish the goal.
5. Test, get feedback, iterate: Continuous improvement is the key to a successful company. This concept is equally important in the product development process. Once something launches, it needs to deliver on the intended outcome; even once it meets that outcome, there are always next steps for improvement. So, it is vital that as a product is launched, testing and data collection follows. From the quantitative and qualitative feedback, there should be enough information to define what comes next. Optimize, iterate, and define next steps to evolve the product.
For example, we measure our quarterly performance at Clutch based on objectives and key results (OKRs). We use this information to evaluate our goals and to see what we can focus on next for further improvement.
It’s important to note that these are the key steps to creating a great tech product but that none can be done effectively without a team that puts collaboration and support above all else. Creating a great tech product takes team members willing to put their egos aside to come up with and execute on creating a great product.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
No - there need to be more women in tech, and there needs to be more support for women leaders in tech companies. Additionally, I’d love to see more opportunities for women to lead and create their own tech companies.
Our cultural expectations around STEM and who best pursues these degrees must change. These long-term, systematic needs will likely take decades to influence future generations. But there is no better time to start than now, and finding ways to support these systematic changes is essential. One way to do this is to support local organizations that set up STEM and tech programs for young women within and outside of schools.
What we can do now, at our own companies, is create job opportunities that don’t have unrealistic requirements and that support growth within the job. There is no reason that a product manager needs a computer science or engineering degree. Because of the systematic bias put on obtaining these degrees, this is already putting limitations on women being candidates for these roles. In product management, everything can be taught, from product management foundations to language or framework specifics. Our job is to create an environment where anyone with a range of degrees can come in and be successful as long as they have a growth mindset and a passion for tech products.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
Mikaela Shiffrin - her determination and resilience are amazing. She is an inspiring role model for every woman. She continually fights for what she believes. In the toughest situations she is realistic, takes her time to reflect, and finds productive ways to remember and learn.
She has a growth mindset - whether she had an amazing race or didn’t have her best day, she always thinks about what she can do to improve and grow. She appreciates every race and sees it as an opportunity to do what she loves and find new ways to grow as an athlete and a person.
She’s also the best ski racer in the world. :)
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