Like almost all product managers, Sam Goertler did not study product management in school. While her area of study was politics, her area of living was the Bay Area. As it happens for many Bay Area graduates, Sam landed a job in tech. Her path turned from product marketing to product management. When she joined Asana in the early days, she was part of the team to launch their first mobile app and open the NYC office.
“As PMs, we often have to anticipate and reconcile the differences between what users say vs. what they actually do.”
Name: Sam Goertler
Current role: Lead Product Manager at theSkimm
Location: New York City
One word to describe how you PM: Fearlessly
How did you get to where you are today?
I studied Political Economy in college and had no idea what Product Management even was back then. But, I went to UC Berkeley, which is right outside San Francisco, so most of the jobs I considered after graduating were in tech. I ended up joining Capital IQ, a financial analytics startup, as a customer support rep. It was a great way to learn the ins and outs of a product and build empathy for the user. From there, I moved through an internal rotational program, and got to try out a variety of roles like sales, account management, and marketing. Later, when I became a PM, I would lean on those experiences to help me build alignment across departments.
After a few years rotating around the company, I landed a new job as a product marketer at Yammer. It was a really exciting time to join—I got to see the team grow from 75 to 500 employees and eventually get acquired by Microsoft. I realized I was more interested in building products than marketing them, so I transitioned from product marketing to product management in the midst of all that growth.
“I realized I was more interested in building products than marketing them”
A year after the acquisition, I was hungry for another startup adventure and joined Asana in their early days. I was fortunate to work with extremely talented leadership and peers who gave me tons of autonomy to grow the product and team. I launched their first mobile apps, led a redesign, and opened a development office for them in NYC.
Once that office got up and running, I decided to take some time off and explore new opportunities outside of enterprise software. I actually just started my next gig with theSkimm, where I’ll be leading product initiatives that help female millennials live smarter lives by integrating news and other important info into their daily routines.
What role do you think data has in product management?
Data keeps us honest. Usage stats, a/b test results, and UX research help us understand the impact of our work, so we can build better instincts and make smarter decisions over time. It’s an invaluable resource, especially when coupled with things like product vision and common sense.
Data keeps us honest.
What’s the best thing you’ve read to learn how to be better at your job?
I usually learn best by doing rather than reading (too many Medium articles out there!). That said, I found Dataclysm by Christian Rudder to be really valuable. He does a great job of mining various data sets to understand human behaviors and biases that most people wouldn’t readily admit to. As PMs, we often have to anticipate and reconcile the differences between what users say vs. what they actually do. This book taught me how to strengthen that muscle.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received on how to be a PM?
A mentor at Yammer (hi Drew!) told me at the start of my PM career how important it would be to get good at saying No*.
There’s rarely a shortage of smart people pitching great ideas, but if we were to pursue them all, we’d never get anything done. So, we have to set clear, focused goals and stick to them, which means turning down good ideas that will only distract us.
*Later in my career, once I’d said No enough times, my boss at Asana (hi Jackie!) taught me to say, “Not now, and here’s why,” which has proven to be even more effective.
When it comes to personal professional growth what are you most focused on right now?
Right now, I’m focused on putting the skills I’ve developed over the years to good use. I want to lead product initiatives that serve audiences I really care about and solve problems that matter to me. My first challenge at theSkimm is to build software that informs female millennials about the upcoming midterm elections and drives them to the polls. Feels like a great fit.
How I PM is an interview series with product managers that digs into their philosophies of product, how they run their teams, and anything else that could help other PMs on the job.