This is a Q&A series on women in product management. You can find more such interviews here.
Jill Soley is a strategic product and marketing leader, based in Silicon Valley. Jill has held Product Management and Marketing leadership roles at large cloud companies and startups including Adobe, Siebel Systems, and Freshworks. She received her Bachelor of Science in Media, Arts & Science and a Master’s in Business Administration from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
You can follow her here.
Thanks for your time, Jill. I hope you will inspire my readers.
You learned to be an instructor of hang gliding —one of the most dangerous in-air sports. That’s incredible!
While I’ll save hang gliding lessons for another day, tell us about the leaps you made in tech. What drew you to technology and working with software companies?
My mother started a software company when I was 9. She wrote the code to put real estate listings online. So, I grew up with the idea that that was just a normal thing that Moms did — in the 1980s. For someone who is mission-driven, software and technology in general is exciting because there are always new ways for it to help solve our problems and improve our lives.
You have a BS and an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. How has this combination of degrees helped you as a strategic product management leader?
Obviously I learned a ton during my MBA program that has been an incredibly useful business foundation. But, ironically, it was some of the non-traditional courses I took as an MIT undergrad that have helped me the most in my product management career. Glorianna Davenport, a documentary filmmaker who ran the MIT Media Lab’s Interactive Cinema Group taught me about interviewing people, listening, and observing – critical skills for product managers.
You led product management for Adobe Creative Cloud web experience and mobile apps from seed project to public launch. What was it like to ship a lean product to the market?
A LOT of cool technologies were “left on the cutting room floor” when we first released Creative Cloud. That first release didn’t even have a way to cancel a subscription via the app. Users had to call to cancel. Obviously not ideal. But, we knew we had to focus and do a really good job with the core functionality. That is what an MVP is.
And that meant being ruthless and saying “No” to a lot of things.
Freshworks sets as a good example for strategic sales and marketing among SaaS companies. As their former Vice President of Marketing, share us one valuable marketing lesson during your time there.
Freshworks does an amazing job of leveraging their employees as a powerful social media army. Many companies are fearful about the risks of what their employees may say or do online but Freshworks has always embraced social media, trusted it’s employees, and been unafraid to experiment. This strategy has definitely helped build Freshworks’ presence.
In your recent book Beyond Product for non-marketing founders, you talk to 50 successful entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders from venture firms and companies such as Slack and LinkedIn. Could you share a few excerpts from the book?
This story and the brief section following it encapsulate what Beyond Product is about and why I wrote it.
There is a lot of wisdom in the book, shared by startup veterans about everything from market validation and content marketing strategy to brand, metrics and international expansion.
How do you stay updated on new technologies and where the market is heading?
It is hard to keep up – there is so much information. I curate lists of people to follow on social media, try to attend high value events, and just read whatever I can. Fortunately I also have an incredibly smart network of friends and colleagues who I continually learn from.
Being a mother of two young men, a published author and a founding member is akin to holding several full-time jobs at hand. What advice would you like to share with young women who want the best for their career, marital life and motherhood?
Be really clear on your priorities.
You can “have it all,” but not all at once. Your career probably won’t be a straight highway up and to the right and doesn’t need to be. It is okay to take off ramps or flatter roads sometimes.
You will need to sacrifice one thing for another sometimes and that is okay. That is life. But that’s also why it is really important to be clear about what is important to you and where you can compromise. It is also okay for those priorities to shift over time.
Don’t be afraid to lean on other people sometimes and don’t be too hard on yourself.
When I feel like I’m failing to juggle everything, I sometimes go back and reread this commencement speech by Shonda Rhimes. She talks about how, “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life…” It’s a good reminder to be kind and compassionate to yourself as well as others.
What does it mean to be a valuable startup advisor/ board member?
Being a valuable advisor for startups means being available to them and providing perspective, expertise, and unbiased advice. Startup founders need to be experts in everything – they need to run the whole business. Of course, they aren’t actually experts in everything and it is easy to get caught up in whatever is going on and lose perspective. As an advisor, you can offer expertise in your area. You can also provide that outside-in perspective to help them see the forest through the trees and broaden their thinking.
What advice do you have for young women who want to take up a career in technology- on the product, operations, or platform side?
Go for it. Learn everything you can and just do it.
Do your best to look out a few steps ahead into the career you’ve chosen and envision the life you want.
Try to understand what the career options look like from a lifestyle as well as a job perspective. Don’t be afraid to envision and ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, you won’t have a chance of getting it.
And finally, build your network. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Talk to people, get to know them, learn about their worlds, help them. Your career is a team sport – you won’t get there alone. In fact, recent research suggests that the most successful women in business have an “inner circle of close female contacts.” Find your tribe and nurture it. It will pay off both professionally and personally.
Who is a product management leader that you have lots of hopes for?
Smrithi Parameswar please!