Currently, only about 1 in 4 employees in the tech industry identifies as a woman. So what does it take to create a successful career as a woman in tech? In this interview series called Women in Tech, we spoke to successful leaders in the tech industry to share stories and insights about what they did to lead flourishing careers. We also discuss the steps needed to create a great tech product. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Khue Tran.
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 walked into this career path. I had no job coming out of college, and one day I was walking around my hometown in Florida looking for an opportunity. That’s when I stumbled on a startup company in South Florida that I heard was doing great things. I walked into their door and asked the receptionist about an internship. I started a $10-an-hour internship and worked my way up. Then, I landed a full-time job with them and stayed with that company for about seven years. I had a lot of great opportunities with the company, and it went from a startup to a massive company overnight. Revenue was 10 times from when I started to the time I left.
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?
The one mistake I’ll call out is thinking that I would be in the same role forever, and that was the best I was going to do. I wasn’t asking more of myself. I learned that I am smarter than I gave myself credit for. Looking back, I can admit it’s funny because I’m in a much different position now. The lesson to be learned is that you should always aim for more and give yourself more credit because everyone can do more than they give themselves credit for.
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.
About two-and-a-half years into my career, I hit rock bottom. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I didn’t have any goals. I knew I had to work to support myself and my parents financially. I picked up the book, “How to Say Anything to Anyone.” It made me realize that I needed to have conversations with others to help me understand what my next step might be. I knew I couldn’t have this entry-level position forever; that was when I decided I could do more. I reached out to my boss, my boss’s boss, and the executive team and asked for a mentor. I took advantage of any executive with an open door. I put myself out there into the world, opening new opportunities. Within months, I landed a new role in a new function. That led to another promotion, which led me to do my MBA. And that MBA led me to my job here. I had seven roles in seven years, and that positioned me to never settle for any one job and to just keep learning and growing. It started with having conversations with people and putting myself out there.
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?
I’m in the middle of the hardest work I’ve ever had, so I think I am still at the beginning of my journey. I’m in a position where I have to make some hard decisions. Being a leader is a gift; you’re in a position to change lives. I need to do whatever I can to minimize the impact on people and inspire them to be their best selves. But I’m a young executive. It’s lonely when you’re one of the youngest executives. On top of that, I’m a woman in a technology field; on top of that, I am a minority. What is most challenging right now is that many executives are facing in tech is trying to scale a sustainable company that focuses on smart growth and profitability.
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?
Azalea Health’s mission is to help underserved healthcare providers — that’s rural health and critical access hospitals that operate on grants; they’re underfunded and often overlooked. We serve the underserved market and help them improve patient care and help them improve their profitability by being the simplified EHR [electronic health records] experience that is loved. We want to focus on the customer experience and make sure that we’re providing value to them, improving their workflow, making sure that they see more patients and improving their profitability because it’s a tough market for them. And not only do they lack the funding, but patients in rural areas lack access to care. We’re focused on improving a patient’s access to care and helping providers deliver that service to patients.
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?
There’s no more important quality than having that vision. Behind that vision is identifying the problems you are trying to solve for people who don’t fully comprehend their problems. It’s figuring out the right problem to solve, articulating it, and having the foresight to come up with solutions. Consider the cell phone. Ten or 15 years ago, did we even know we needed this? Apple created this solution for us. We didn’t even know that we needed it. Now we’re addicted to it.
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 framework I like to use is called the “four disciplines of execution.” The first is the company-wide North Star — the focus for the entire company. The second is how we act on that. The third is to keep a scoreboard to measure how we’re doing against performance. And the fourth is accountability. It’s a bottom-up approach, and I think that’s critical because that’s how you’re going to get faster execution when the team members are the ones inspired to problem-solve for our customers. And they are the ones who push the agenda toward the finish line.
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?
The strongest team is the one that has a mixture of different perspectives. Diversity is critical; an agreeable team is not a great team. Conflict drives better results; if you don’t have conflict within a team, you’re probably not aiming to do better. It is important to have a competitive team, but equally important that you’re willing to help one another when you see that someone is stuck.
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?
If I could only pick one tool, it would be Salesforce. My entire customer experience is in it. You could run your entire company with just Salesforce. It’s where I get the most usage from employees, I’ve implemented the tool for a massive organization before, scaling it from 100 users to 1,500 users internally, and you can automate processes within it. That means that you don’t need as many heads to support internal processes and instead employees can spend more time talking to prospects and customers. It’s one way to really optimize and scale up your business.
Let’s talk about downtime. What’s your go-to practice or ritual for preventing burnout?
Personal hobbies are important. For me, exercising is my number one. I have a dog who is my little therapy animal. She’s a very anxious dog, so I’m her therapist sometimes, but it gives me something to do outside work. You must have a work-life balance. If you can’t take care of yourself first, you will not show up and perform at work. The most effective I’ve been at a job was when I had goals outside of work.
Based on your experience, what are your “5 Steps Needed to Create Great Tech Products”?
You have to think long-term: What is the value you provide your customers, the position you want to be in the market, and what does your business look like? Second is your strategic intent — what business challenges are standing in the way of reaching your vision, and what initiatives will you create out of that? This leads to the third point, which is the problem you want to attack from a product perspective. What product initiatives are you going to create to tackle your strategy? The fourth will be your options. There’s always time pressure to get a product to market. If you can have the foresight to think ahead of how others are thinking of it, you’re going to be able to get to that strategy a lot quicker and get to the product initiative a lot quicker and get to the options a lot quicker to deliver. And then to get that constant feedback and stay on top of the industry trends and being able to execute quickly to beat time to market.
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. I don’t see many women in tech at all. There’s just not enough diversity, and having diversity is critical. To stay competitive, you must have diversity and different ways of thinking. Investing in your people and investing in talent management is critical. And being intentional about that diversity. I think what needs to change is that certain people in a position of power need to be the one to create those paths. I had someone to create that path. I’m speaking as someone who is a minority, very young and a woman. A white male in a leadership position advocated for me at the table and allowed me to have a voice and continue to push that voice. That allowed me to get promoted in my last role, leading me to my job here.
Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
It has to be Michelle Obama. People don’t give her enough credit for how intelligent, educated and classy she is. She has a Princeton degree and a Harvard degree. You don’t see that in first ladies; she is really the showrunner, and Barack is just her husband to me. And people don’t realize that she was in a prominent leadership position. She has the work experience on top of all the other amazing credentials that she has. And she’s a minority, and she’s gone through a lot to get there. I would love to have lunch with her.
For more content like this, subscribe to The Product Manager newsletter.