I lead the global product marketing team at Uber and today, I want to share with you six lessons I've learned over the past four years because in this time, I've defined, built and scaled the product marketing org from a handful of PMMs that were scattered across the business to a team of 67, supporting all of Uber's lines of business ranging from rides, eats, bikes and scooters, freight and even autonomous vehicles.
Also in this time, Uber has experienced unprecedented growth. We've gone from trips in the millions, up to over 10 billion trips, and scaling my team in tandem with this growth has been the greatest challenge of my career. It's also been the single biggest opportunity for learning and growth I ever could have imagined.
So the first step was finding that opportunity. And for me, the call, or in this case the email, came at the least opportune moment. It was a seemingly innocuous note from one of my former PM partners asking me what a reasonable budget for a product video was. I didn't know at that moment, but that email would change my life.
I had just found out I was pregnant and I was working at Google - the San Francisco Google office. This is basically the promised land. I had waited for four long years for that sweet, sweet Google maternity leave. And now it was just months away. The prospect of leaving seemed unappealing and sounded difficult, and it sounded uncomfortable.
But the real truth was that I had gotten way too comfortable. So when the email came from Tom, who had been my former PM partner at Google and had since gone to Uber, I told him, "I'm interested but we should talk in eight to 10 months when I might be ready to make a move". And he said, "Great, you can definitely wait but I do need to hire this person. So in eight to 10 months, you can come and just report to that person".
I couldn't sit with that. I said, "You know what, I know this is uncomfortable, but I have to embrace this discomfort". So I took my belly and we waddled on over to 1455 Market, and I seized that opportunity. So I joined Uber 26 weeks pregnant, meaning that I had 14 weeks left before my due date, and I got to work building an org.
When to make the jump?
Now the key lesson here for me was recognizing the unique nature of this opportunity. We are so, so lucky that we live in a time and in a place where this function is in high demand. And we all get so much inbound. So sometimes, actually, the greatest challenge is to stay focused and pursue growth within your own role. You need to avoid distractions and dead ends in order to be ready to seize that unique opportunity when it does come.
Jumping from role to role is definitely not a recipe for success, so it's important to really know what you're optimizing for. And then once you actually understand what your goal is, and when that moment will come for you, then you can sort out the signal from the vast noise of email inbound.
What I was looking for specifically was the opportunity to have ownership at scale. At Google, I had owned a pretty tiny piece of a product landscape that reached a huge scale of users, but I didn't feel that true ownership. I had had some entrepreneurial forays where I was effectively the CMO, but we had just such a tiny user base that I was not making a real impact.
What does Uber scale mean?
At Uber, I had a really unique opportunity to make this impact that I had always dreamed of, to be at the helm of one of the most game-changing companies of our generation, and have that end to end ownership at scale. So what does scale at Uber mean?
Well, let me start with the question, who has ridden in an Uber in the last week? I'm going to guess it's many of you. Well, you're in good company because we have 100 million monthly active users.
What does that mean as a PMM? It means that when we build something or design a new experience every single month, we can connect with 100 million people. That's a lot of people. We are reaching riders, drivers, eaters, and bikers in 700 cities around the world across 65 countries on six continents.
I mentioned before we've done 10 billion trips. What's interesting is that it took us six years to get to the first billion trips. And in Q2 of 2019 alone, we did 2 billion trips, and each of those 2 billion trips is a touchpoint for our work. So when we implement the product roadmap, when we build something, when we write copy, when we send an email, we're reaching people at an unprecedented scale.
On the earner side, we have almost 4 million people around the world provide for themselves and for their family, and even at this huge scale, we're still experiencing double-digit growth. So for me, that skill seemed very, very unique and attractive. From an ownership standpoint, we also have a lot going.
Every single PMM is deeply embedded within the product team, we have end-to-end responsibility for driving product adoption across the user lifecycle. And whether we're designing a rider loyalty program, launching bikes and scooters, or building the freight business or designing an education benefit for our drivers, we all have a huge and stretchy scope.
What that means for every single person on the team is that they each own a meaningful piece of the user experience. And coupled with that enormous scale of the platform, they're making a bigger impact at Uber that I think they could make almost anywhere else in the world. So I think that's how we were able to build such an incredible and diverse team of product marketers. This leads me to lesson number two...
Define your vision
How do we build a team that could execute with such impact? In order to build such a great team, you need a unifying vision and in past roles, I had plugged into existing frameworks where all the hard work had been done and I never appreciated all the thought that went into that. When I got to Uber, I was confronted with a blank page, I had to define what we would do, why we would even do it, and how we would get the work done.
So confronted with that blank page, I went back to the fundamentals of why I had been attracted to the discipline in the first place. For me, the seed of my passion for product marketing started when I was in business school at Stanford, learning about design thinking.
There I learned about and practiced what we call user-centered design and it exposed me to the product development process in cross-functional work. And most importantly, I developed a philosophy and a framework around how to do work.
Then at Google, I learned about tech marketing. I spent almost four years there honing the craft of product marketing, learning from some of the best in the industry, and I took the mantra to heart - know the user, know the magic, connect the two.
So when I got to Uber and had to start from scratch, I started to integrate my past learnings and experiences to define a new framework. All around me, people were asking what is product marketing? And I realized that this was the chance to create the role and the organization of my dreams.
I began to articulate what would become the blueprint for how we would work, focused on driving user adoption across the product development lifecycle, we would answer the questions:
- Who's this for?
- What value does this deliver? And,
- How will users discover it?
We also focus a lot on playbooking and engagement and scaling things globally. Our jobs as product marketers would be to connect people around the world with the amazing products that we would build and thereby unlock the business value of our technology.
So in short, when people ask me, “Why do I need a PMM? What is a PMM?” I just say, "Hey, if you're building something you want users to adopt, adoption cannot be an afterthought. You have to build for it from day one".
Invest in amazing people
So, now that I knew what we were doing, I needed a team so that we could bring this vision to life. In thinking about how we wanted to build out a team, I wanted to establish a set of values that would become the foundation for our culture. For me, there were really three key things.
Number one is being the voice of the user to product and the voice of the product to users, that really goes to that advocacy for the users that we need to bring to work every day.
The second is around being left-brained and right-brained, being equally able to have a conversation with the data science as with a designer, and the third is building for business impact. It's critical that every day we drive those user adoption numbers so that we can continue to earn our seat at the cross-functional table.
Similarly, we needed to define core competencies:
- What were we actually looking for?
- What kind of skills were needed to get this job done?
We defined six of them that map to that job description and to the working process I defined, they include:
- User insights,
- Product knowledge,
- Global best practices, and, of course,
It was critical that every single PMM be able to hit the ground running given the massive challenge ahead of us, so we developed what I like to call an evidence-based hiring process.
So we undervalued all the traditional tools like a phone screen or behavioral interview and instead, we looked for concrete evidence of those values and of those competencies. So we started to develop tools like homework assignments or jams, and the first step is really that homework assignment.
The idea here is that we give someone a sample of a real business challenge that we're facing and look at how they approach the problem - this also gives the candidate a chance to test drive the work that we're doing. And as we start to move beyond that homework phase, we start to involve our cross-functional partners. What's nice is that through that homework, we're able to determine do we think this candidate is viable or not? And from there, we really take the backseat and we start to say, "Look, this is someone who we think is viable, but really cross-functional partners this is your person. This is coming from your headcount. You need to want to work with this person. You need to hire them".
So once we have someone who we consider viable, we start to bring in PM data scientists and designers. The result is that these cross-functional partners have deep ownership of the hiring process, they buy-in on the candidate. So when that person shows up the first day, they look at the team that they're sitting with and they're like, 'these are the people that hired me'. And similarly, the cross-functional partners look at this person and say, "Hey, I'm invested in this person's success. This is someone that I brought in, that I need to make work".
It's interesting because some people say, "Oh, if you're giving someone a homework assignment, isn't that going to deter people from getting into the funnel?". Then I'm saying, "Great, perfect. We don't want the people that don't want to do the work. We want the people that want to do the work".
So as a result of this very somewhat arduous hiring process, we ended up getting the best people that were the most motivated and we didn't sacrifice quality for speed. The result is the strongest PMM team, I think in the valley, possibly in the world. And also one that has such deep respect and support from their cross-functional peers.
That brings me to the next lesson, which answers the question:
How do we actually set people up for success?
So we've now hired this amazingly talented team, best in the world, but we need to make sure that we set up foundational processes and tools that enable us to work efficiently and deliver consistently.
In order to get started, I started with the basics, what are the most basic things that we need to have? It was a brief template, a project tracker, and a team stand-up meeting. From there, we started to look at what kinds of other tools might work well at Uber and adapt them to the very unique pace and culture.
Because PMMs are so deeply embedded in their cross-functional product team, they're actually the sole representative of the function for that group of people. So it's actually supercritical that these people are delivering the highest quality work consistently.
One of the tools that we adopted to make sure that we held the bar high was something that we call ‘bullpen’, which was a twice-weekly meeting, where we would have anyone who's writing a brief or delivering final work come to a group of their peers, open attendance, and review that work.
What was amazing about this is that it ensured that every piece of work that comes out of our team reflects the best of our collective talent. And it also has the added benefit of creating community and giving people a forum to learn from one another. We can also identify synergies in one team’s work to another and apply best practices from one team, say driver, to another team, say courier.
Create a community - we’re stronger together
Now the downside of this embedded model is that PMMs can actually start to feel a little isolated because they're scattered across the company, there aren't a lot of other people or there aren't people on their team that share their same craft. So we had to think about how we would come together in a regular way to form that community of like-minded folks.
So this is where that org comes in, and a lot of where I have spent my time and energy, especially as the team has grown, to really thinking about:
- What do we do to help foster this culture? And,
- Why can we be stronger and better together than if we're just reporting up through product?
What we have learned over time is that we're definitely stronger together. When we come together, we can develop cohesive customer strategies, we can share best practices, and most importantly, we can build community. When I think about what our community is about, it's really about the love of the craft, critiquing peer learning, sharing ownership of our own team culture - our own unique cultures and rituals, as well as fun.
What are your superpowers?
I want to share one ritual that I really value from the earliest PMM meeting, around four years ago, when we started with a tradition of introducing ourselves with our superpowers. Each one of us would get up and say, "Hey, my superpower is..." For me, it's this design thinking. But each person would say, "Hey, I'm really great at playing copywriter", or "I'm really good at analytics".
That helped us understand how we could learn from one another and leverage each person's unique strengths to make us better as a team. And that's a ritual that still continues to this day, every time we get a new team member they have to do some onboarding slides, the last of which asked them to share what their superpower is.
Develop a cross-functional working model
The next thing we really needed to do is think about community beyond our own team, because it's equally critical to build relationships cross-functionally. For us, we really sit at that juncture between product and marketing, and our work building those relationships, especially on the product side, has proved invaluable.
We have strong champions on other teams, including product management, design, and data science. Whenever we put candidates up for promo, it's typically that endorsement from their PM or their DS that really helps us make the case that we are being unbiased in our recommendation. And ultimately, over time, this strong internal world word of mouth coupled with the results that we drove helped our function grow.
I can't tell you how many times over the years PMs would come up to me and say, "What is product marketing? Do I need one of those?", and over time, we worked to add product marketers to almost every team in the company. But the road has not been totally smooth, and as marketers we love tension. So this article wouldn't be complete without it.
As empowering as it is to write your own functional manifesto, you can't do that in a vacuum. You exist in a world that has adjacencies to other teams, and what we've had to do overtime is really define:
- What is the clear value proposition of our team? And,
- How does that relate to the teams around us?
We've been in constant conversations with other functions within marketing, even within product, trying to define those roles and responsibilities and establish the operating model. But that process has been generative because it's helped us to really refine and define our own core value prop, and now we're really known for doing the work of user adoption.
One of my proudest days as a PMM came at what I would call a relationship goals moment.
So there's a PM and she came to me and she said, "Okay, so this PMM thing, pretty excited about it, I think I need one", she was building a product called Uber Lite, which is essentially a lightweight version of our app, and designed for users in emerging markets who might have lower-end devices.
They built a great app, but they weren't really seeing any impact coming out of it - no one was using it. So she went to her VP and said, "Hey, I really need a PMM". And he said, "Okay, well, you're going to have to trade in one of your other cross-functional headcount. So is a PMM worth more to you than an incremental edge head?".
And she said, "Yes because if I don't have a PMM, the technology I build is just going to sit on the shelf, we need to drive user adoption so that we can unlock the business value of what we built".
Hearing her pared-back our value prop was, to this day, I think my career highlight. And now we have PMMs aligned with her team and others that are working in that space and we're seeing user adoption through the hard work of the people that work on this day-to-day.
Share your impact
As product marketers, we have to share our own story and our own value prop with the broader company in a compelling way. And given that storytelling is part of our craft as product marketers, we have to make sure that every time a PMM takes the stage at a product all-hands, or a marketing summit, or a company all-hands, that we are treating this as an opportunity to showcase the best of what our function has to offer.
Whether that's through our user-facing work, internal case studies, sizzle reels, we have to capture the attention and even the imagination of our cross-functional peers and of the broader company community to drive home why product marketing is a must-have for Uber.
Within the PMM team, we have a mantra, it's own the narrative, own the results.
So I'll start with the results.
What does it actually mean to own the results?
Again, it means that as the members of the cross-functional team that own user adoption, we have to sweat the metrics, we have to earn that seat every day. We have to commit to deliver on OKRs and then test, learn and iterate our way to get there.
It's important to send updates, track progress visually, and help your partners have confidence that every day you're delivering for them what you said you would. This is actually a real chart from one of our PMMs, a real slide he made where he looked at his adoption curve and overlaid this awesome hockey stick image and sent this around.
And it made me really happy because this is why we're here. This is what we're doing. This is what we're providing. And it's so great to have those iconic moments where you can celebrate those wins.
From a narrative standpoint, what does that mean?
It means to return to that value of putting the user first and to share the human stories of how your work is changing lives, not only externally in your campaigns, which we all do, but also internally, and to remember it's important to inspire the people around you - those engineers and those data scientists - and help them see the impact of the work that we're doing every day.
Now at Uber, we are so lucky because we get to touch the lives of 100 million consumers every month, and also these 4 million earners. We hear 1,000s and 1,000s of stories of people who are empowered to do things that they otherwise couldn't have done and pursue opportunities that would have otherwise been out of reach.
One of my favorite stories recently comes out of some of our driver work. So we have a driver loyalty program called Uber Pro, and we offer our highest tier drivers an education benefit so that they can pursue a college education at ASU, and since my story started with an ask for a product video, I thought it was only appropriate to end with a product video that showcases what I consider to be some of our finest work.
So this is the high impact work that I had always dreamed that I would get to do and I'm so, so proud that we've been able to build the team and the function that I always dreamed that I would get to be a part of - which brings me to the end of the six lessons. But the truth is, I'm still learning every day.
I just celebrated my four-year Uber-versary and what I find so amazing and what I tell people when they're interested in joining the team and they ask what it has been like I say:
"Every single day when I come to work, literally every day, I feel stretched, I have to do something every day that I didn't know how to do the day before. And so I've never gotten comfortable and actively and happily uncomfortable. And that's why it's exciting to go to work".
So I encourage each of you to ask yourselves, are you stretching? Or are you too comfortable? Whether in your current role or in your next one, seek out the opportunities that will let you learn every single day and then you can come up here and write your own lessons.