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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 Patrice Hall.

Patrice Hall

Patrice Hall is the Director of Product at Dopple, the most engaging platform for 3D virtual commerce. Dopple partners with brands across verticals to enable collaboration between teams, easy setup and launch, and visibility into consumer demand. 3D experiences powered by the Dopple platform foster meaningful interactions that build customer confidence and drive revenue.

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 began my career in design and marketing but always felt drawn toward emerging technology and startups. I joined a 3D startup in 2013, and that sparked my transition into product management. I was fascinated by the value the product development team was creating and the impact they were making with experiences in AR, VR, and 3D.

That experience inspired me to pursue my master's in Software Management at Carnegie Mellon so I would be well-equipped to support innovation and product creation. While studying, I was offered the opportunity to join the product team at Williams-Sonoma in a role focused on product visualization in the interior design space. The product leaders and the other product managers challenged me to take on innovations at scale that impacted millions of people as they purchased furniture for their homes.

Visual inspiration with 3D and immersive technology have been themes throughout my career, so it felt like the perfect fit when I first met the Dopple team. The Dopple mission to democratize 3D creativity inspires me every day to do my best work.  

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?

I learned an important lesson from one of my first big product pitches. I wanted to be totally prepared and put a lot of effort into the vision and the business case. Following my habit as a former designer, I mocked up a concept for the UX—and that was a big mistake. When I presented this vision across teams, it really got me off on the wrong foot with the design team, a team I had been especially excited to work with. We went on to establish a great relationship after that misstep, but I learned a big lesson that day to approach partners with a collaborative mindset and inspire others by inviting them into the process early.

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.

One of my early experiences with a virtual reality headset was opening Google Earth. I could view any corner of the planet, but the first place I wanted to see was my grandparents’ house. That place held so many memories for me and the feeling of hovering outside it, almost able to walk in and hug them, was so powerful it brought tears to my eyes. That demonstrated the power of an immersive experience, and was a moment of clarity where I knew I wanted to dedicate my career to creating products that give users a feeling of meaning and control.

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?

When I started my shift into product, I thought my opportunities would be limited because I had a background in design and not the engineering experience that big tech companies expected of product managers at that time. Several years into my product experience, I was questioning whether my ambition for a bigger product leadership role was achievable. A mentor, a former manager, told me, “Don’t sell yourself short. You can do this.” Hearing that encouragement from someone I admire gave me the confidence I needed to pursue a role where I could make the impact I was capable of. We often don’t know our own power. It’s essential to support and celebrate each other’s ambition.

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?

Retail is going through a transformation right now. Customers expect to fully evaluate, customize, and purchase products from home. Brands are faced with challenges between growing traffic and building customer confidence in an online purchase. Dopple empowers those brand creators and 3D teams to collaborate on highly engaging product experiences that give customers a sense of control and creativity.

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?

Great leadership and products require robust decision-making ability. That includes being thorough when defining priorities for product development as well as your own time. It’s being able to decide what not to do. It also means the ability to discuss criteria for how those decisions are made, and to make collaborative decisions with other teams. To build this muscle, I’m currently reading Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke, which is all about how to make better decisions both individually and as a team.

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?

The Dopple team is distributed, so we have to be intentional about cultivating our relationships. Every week, we begin our team meetings with each person sharing their top highlights of the week. Not goals completed, but the things we’re proudest of. We each usually share one highlight from our personal lives and one from work. That builds a strong foundation for close collaboration and gives us the ability to navigate product challenges as a team.

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?

Dopple is the strongest team I’ve ever worked with because of the high level of respect and encouragement that we show one other. It’s one of the things that drew me to this team early on. When I was interviewing with each of the team members, the way they spoke about each other with admiration struck me. Comments like, “oh—you’re talking to Bryan next? He’s brilliant, you’ll enjoy meeting him” were consistent. I’ve been lucky to have great work experiences in the past, but had never encountered folks that were so enthusiastic about their teammates. That deep camaraderie becomes important when we have tough product decisions to make or creative challenges to tackle. Everyone on the team has a voice and can see what drives decisions, which builds commitment to meet our goals.

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?

G-suite is underrated, especially Google Slides. Product innovation demands constant collaboration, ideation, whiteboarding, and roadmap communication, and all of that is easy and flexible within Slides. My design foundation means I think in charts and images, so it’s my go-to to express product ideas and shape them with others. The other tools that are mission critical include Google Analytics, Sheets, and Data Studio for metrics and analysis, Jira for product development, Google Meets and Transcript for product research, and Spotify, which I use to set the tone of team meetings with upbeat music.

Let’s talk about downtime. What’s your go-to practice or ritual for preventing burnout?

Meditation and golf. About 6 years ago, after a particularly stressful day at work, I stopped at a driving range to try to leave my stress behind before going home. Having one task, to hit a golf ball, and another, and another, pulled me out of my chaotic thoughts and shifted my focus to the world around me. Golf and practicing meditation both give my mind a chance to rest and to be open for fresh inspiration.

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. Start with understanding: Observation is the best way to uncover user needs that are difficult for users to articulate themselves. At Williams-Sonoma, I dedicated time to observing the interior design process that spanned retail and digital. That gave me clarity on the whole journey and how to transform it into a cohesive, collaborative process that could empower both designer and customer.

2. Interrogate your expectations: It may sound simple, but it takes discipline to make our assumptions explicit when planning a product. I always start with a hypothesis and I check for alignment with my partners on our objectives and KPIs. When I introduced a new retail onboarding and appointments system, my hypothesis was that if we asked more questions up front, we would increase sales and efficiency but could decrease leads as the quality of the leads went up. Having a decrease in an early-indicator metric was a tough conversation but it gave us the ability to set expectations and plan for risk mitigation before launch.

3. 360 degree collaboration: Transparency takes courage but it solves a lot of problems in communication. To increase product visibility to both stakeholders and engineers, I changed the structure of biweekly engineering demo meetings to include updates in the product roadmap. This gave all teams the same picture of the product plans and sparked new discussions that had previously been happening in silos.

4. Test & iterate: I read in an agile development book that the riskiest thing about software is the users, and that rings in my ears each time I’m planning new products. I love the Lean Startup methodology of finding the simplest ways of user testing as early as possible.

5. Make a little magic: Trying new technologies can easily frustrate users. Paving an experience with moments of delight is key to encouraging users to push through the learning curve and become evangelists.

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?

What excites me about tech is that our industry is architecting the future. That means diversity and equity are critical to having a future that is designed for all of us. Women in tech are growing in number and finding our networks, but we still reach leadership at much lower rates. Having diversity in our workforce isn’t enough; it’s important that the leaders with power to shape our industry are diverse. When considering joining companies, one of my must-have criteria is women in leadership. At Dopple, I’m proud to be part of a company with an executive leadership team that is 40% female.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

I would love to meet April Underwood, the co-founder of #Angels, an investment group working toward equity in Silicon Valley. I’m inspired by her vision around democratizing startup leadership and closing the gender leadership gap. I would enjoy talking with her about how she navigated product challenges leading high-growth collaborative tools like Slack, and the creative spark behind creating Nearby during the pandemic.

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By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is the Editor of The Product Manager. Following six years of experience in the tech industry, she pivoted into the content space where she's had the pleasure of working with some of the most brilliant voices in the product world. Driven by insatiable curiosity and a love of bringing people together, her mission is to foster a fun, vibrant, and inspiring community of product people.