Name Dropping is a Q&A series that aims to elevate the stories of leaders who identify as women or nonbinary leading in the tech space. The idea came from Angela DeFranco, a former VP of Product at HubSpot, who said one way to be better allies is to name drop underrepresented voices in discussions of achievement, inspiration, and disruptors in tech, instead of referencing, time and again, the same set of (often male) leaders.
What is something you learned the hard way as a manager and leader?
I think one of the things that came the hardest for me personally was resilience and how that translates over to your teams and the broader organization.
When you’re an individual contributor, resilience is important because it helps you bounce back in situations where you're down and under, when you failed and things did not go as expected. When you are a leader, resilience goes a long way. Once you experience a failure, or you hit a roadblock, the way you act, portray, and present yourself to the team matters. And if you are going to portray a feeling of not being confident on what we are going to deliver or what our plan is, it kind of has a ripple effect throughout the organization. Having said that, I am a big supporter of being human as a leader, as opposed to being perfect as a leader. But resilience is something that I've learned the hard way — you take it in stride and then you stand up and start again. So that's something I'm still working on, but it’s started to surface as a strength over the last few years.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new role, and what are some goals you would like to accomplish within your first year?
I'm super pumped about my new role at HubSpot. In my prior posts for the HubSpot Product Blog, I've discussed various things specific to the product world at HubSpot that attracted me.
In terms of what I am most looking forward to, I break it into three areas: (1) people, (2) product, and (3) processes.
So going back to number one, product, I really feel very enthusiastic and excited by what we've created. It's not just another CRM platform, it goes much beyond that. The fabric of connectivity and technology that we put together with HubSpot products is very unique. As we say, “It's crafted, not cobbled.” And that thread deeply resonates with me.
In terms of the goals that I have for products, I'd like to build the systems and architectures with my teams so it can scale not only for the next one or two years, but it could scale as our customers grow, so we can grow with them. Coming to the second category, people — the people here are amazing and incredible in the way that they're open to feedback, discussions, and questions. It feels very real to me.
I'd like to continue to grow and learn from the amazing people that I have in my teams at HubSpot. If I can provide value through my previous experience, or what I have gone through when scaling different businesses and organizations, and bring that to the people here, that's something that I'd love to do and contribute to the growing fabric of our culture and leadership.
This leads me into the third segment - processes. One of the unique things is HubSpot’s triad model. It's very autonomous. It's hard to do. But when you get it right, the decisions flow very rapidly, and the decisions are very concrete. I'd love to contribute to the way we prioritize investments. We look at our three year strategy, five year strategy, and backtrack from there and make short-term decisions which are going to help us evolve both as a company and as a culture. Those are the things I'm going to be excited about and inspired by in the next year or so.
What is your approach to creating alignment and excitement about product strategy within an organization?
This is a very apt question for the week I'm in right now. I went through the Product Embed program, which is amazing in the context of how leaders should onboard in a new organization, how decision-making should happen, when it should happen, and how much context you need to be able to make a good decision. I came out of Embed, three weeks ago. The first thing we wanted to do as a team was get to know each other and then second, create a multi-year product strategy on how we want to evolve and grow the business. So we started working on, number one, what are our customers saying? What is the market looking like? What are the different industry trends? And then where do we want to innovate? In between those three areas, we started crafting a three year plan and process. Once we had that plan, then we were ready, and we got our stakeholders onboard. And part of this is presenting the plan to all of the stakeholders, taking their feedback, bringing the people together along on this journey. And so they become champions of our cause and we are aligned.
And the second thing we are doing is right now, this week, a great kickoff where all of the roles that have ever touched this business at HubSpot are coming together to not only celebrate what we've created, but to look at the plan and give feedback on it and help us iterate on it. So when we go into 2022, we are all excited as a company and as a team to achieve those goals.
They're not just my goals. They're our goals. So that's the plan for now. And from here, it’s intentional prioritization and sustained execution alongside feedback milestones with our amazing customers.
Have you ever had an experience where it's been really difficult to get everyone aligned and excited and on the same page? And if so, what do you do in that kind of situation?
I mean, numerous experiences, because we are essentially dealing with people and not robots. So at any point in time, you'd have misalignment and miscommunication, especially in the distributed world we live in today.
What I've done to get people aligned in the past is to go back to that framework of people first and problem second. Trust is the fabric of a team and an ecosystem that is trying to drive hard decisions at the end of the day. And my goal is always three things: (1) create a compelling vision, (2) have patience to execute that vision at scale, and (3) keep the team together enough to be able to achieve that plan. Most of the short term problems work out. So in the context of that larger thinking, I always try to go people first. If you're running into conflict, just coming out of that particular situation you can have more meaningful, purpose-driven smaller conversations where you try to understand what the conflict is about. Is it data? Is it narrative? What is in it for the other person versus what is in it for you?
And if you can separate people from the problem, it becomes relatively easier. Because at the end of the day, you have to assume everybody has the best intention for your area, for the business, and for the company as a whole. And that's the first principle of leadership — you have to assume best intentions. So most of these problems are if you're able to separate people from the problem and get the people part right, the problem is mostly solved.
How has customer service and expectations for the customer experience evolved throughout your career? How does this tie into what’s next for Service Hub?
Well, this is the heart and soul of what I do. Short story — I actually, by chance, started my career in customer service. So this was the financial crisis in ‘09. I was supposed to start as an engineer at this company. But because of the crisis, everybody had to go through job cuts. I was offered instead a role to lead a small customer service team at the same organization, which in hindsight felt like, “Is this aligned with what I've learnt and want to do?” because I had a computer science/engineering background. But I did take the role. Because in the moment, I did need the money.
And what I learned from that experience is, it is one of the hardest jobs of balancing empathy and outcomes. Because in that moment, when you're talking and conversing with people who are at their most vulnerable, and responding to them, you have to have context, but you also have to have control over your own emotions. And that's why I think it's one of the hardest jobs to do.
So the tool set and the software that is in place, really is solving for human capital management, as opposed to solving just for service as a use case. And that's how I see customer service evolving. So it went from being that you just call someone to get help, all the way to an efficient, empathetic, and end-to-end connected service experience. And that's the evolution we're seeing in terms of the trends — number one, digital acceleration, you want to meet the customer where they are.
My niece talks to me on Telegram, and she talks to most of the small businesses in India on Telegram, which then converts into conversations in the background for the service team that she’s managing. So then she can track her orders and whatnot. And that's just one example in a billion of the kinds of messaging systems and evolution of messaging that we are seeing. So that's number one.
Number two is this idea of automation and AI. So think about it, you know, normally people do not go into customer service thinking that that would be the career they will make, it's more of a transitional job or transitional role. But how do we put a system in place, so that these jobs can evolve and are looked at like high-skilled labor and high-skilled roles in the future? And that is with the help of AI and automation, because it augments the role of a service worker. And they can focus on building the right skills for the future of work, and the future of service.
And then finally, this collaborative and distributed model in which we all operate today. And the interesting part is all of these systems working together, which is the fabric of what we do at HubSpot — we make the parts of the system seamlessly integrated with each other, and the data and the insights can be driven. And the more the users, the more the data, the better the insights. So between those three trends, I'm really excited about what we're building. It's the year of service for us at HubSpot.
How has AI/automation transformed customer service, and how do you find balance between leveraging AI and still maintaining a specific level of human interaction?
AI and automation are such buzzwords that you'd see them being used across every industry, every use case, every software market that exists. I don't even think it's AI versus humans, it's more like AI-assisted human technology.
And for me, at the core the job we are doing is balancing the flow of right information to the right customer service personnels and customers at the right time. That’s the real balance, because you can put all the AI in place, but what if the human capacity is not able to utilize those learnings in order to drive any outcomes? The balance you have to find is, what are the use cases where I can most drive outcomes with AI. And then you take those use cases and you think about them in the context of the actual individual who is performing these tasks. For example, in service, we look at it as two buckets. One is these predictive AI features where you are automatically predicting the value of or the priority of an incoming chat, incoming conversation, or incoming ticket. Is that going to be helpful for agents? Of course, because it's going to cut the time needed for the ticket to get to the right agent and for the agents to get the context of the conversation and therefore be able to help the customer.
The second part is where we think about for example, if we deploy a chatbot, callbot, or even emailbot, how much of the mundane can it take out of the agent’s fleet, so they can really focus on high-skilled work and even preserve time for learning and growing their career when they are doing customer service?
You’re an avid wine lover and have mentioned your dream of running a winery one day. What is your favorite type of wine?
I can drink any type of wine. White wine, in my opinion, it's really not wine, no offense, but I start with sparkling and then transition to the reds.
So Veuve Clicquot would be really awesome if someone wants to send me that.
Images above depict Poorvi, her husband, and her daughter at wine country recently.
You post book reviews regularly on your LinkedIn. What is your favorite business-related read? Personal read?
I feel like business, technology, and personal growth kind of intersect for me. I don't look at it as different segments of life — I don't even think there's work-life balance now, it's work and life happening at the same time. And you have to set boundaries when you need the space for work or personal life. The examples I'm going to give you, they've helped me professionally, but they've also helped me personally.
Right now I'm reading these two amazing books. And I've told the authors a number of times that these are phenomenal books. I just completed reading “The Long Game” by Dorie Clark, and that talks about thinking about your career, and your network, in terms of a longer time horizon. Then you backtrack from there — What is possible? Are you directionally working in your career and in your profession toward that five year goal? And how do you create those milestones where what you're doing is a little bit more targeted? Everybody should have a long game and a plan for life. I'm not saying create a 20 year plan, but directionally it really helped me anchor on what to learn and where I can have an intentional impact.
The second book is probably going to become my favourite over a period of time as I read it. It's called “The Messy Middle” by Scott Belsky and I just tweeted last night, “Why didn't I find it earlier? Or why didn't he write it earlier?” Because he really talks about how when you start a new role, or you launch a new company, you're at an all time high, because that's the honeymoon period. And then you have a dip and you realize the reality of the situation. And that's the messy middle. From there, how do you get back to that winning moment? And then you have peaks and troughs and it continues to grow, and how do you come back? What is the power of resilience and riding the good waves but sustaining the bad ones? What's the power of creating teams that are championing the cause and who want to win?
My all-time favorite on leadership is “Radical Candor.” I love Kim Scott's philosophy on how accountability and caring can go together in leadership. And if you're compassionate, that doesn't mean that you are any less of a strong leader than others are.
Who’s one woman or nonbinary person in technology you’d like to name drop and why?
I've had the phenomenal privilege to learn from a lot of remarkable women throughout my career, but one that had a very deep impact on me is Leyla Seka. She used to run the AppExchange and other businesses at Salesforce. She also led the Equal Pay initiative in our industry. I think she is one of the people who's a powerhouse of talent and a force of nature. And just by virtue of being in the same room as her, I learned a lot even from a distance. I learned how to build with passion, I learned how to be bold with decisions, and I learned how to overcome my fears.
Nadia Alramli, Senior Director of Engineering at HubSpot, recently wrote a piece on how to decide if management is the right path for you. You have been in managerial and leadership roles since the start of your career. From your perspective, how did you choose between being a manager and individual contributor?
For me, management happened by chance and when I started my career, because I was in this customer service role, I led teams when I was 23. And then I wanted to go back to the roots. So I shifted to an individual contributor engineering role, but the basic essence of how I decided that leadership or management was for me, was this feeling that there is no longer the desire to be the decision-maker in the room. And the desire is more to drive decisions through other smart people who are in the room. And I think as long as you like doing that, as long as you like creating an atmosphere where decisions can be driven, and discussions can happen and people can grow, then management is a great role for you.
It's also amazing that you ask this question because I am writing a course on product management and transitioning from individual contributors to leadership with a platform called Maven, and my co-writer and I were just in an accelerator for the last five weeks, working on the course to be launched in January. So it's an area where I'm spending a lot of time thinking about what are the skill sets you need from coaching someone, to letting go of going deep on a subject and being okay to sit back, and then helping drive decisions from a distance. And all of those things feed into the decision of whether you are ready, you have the skills, and you want to be a manager.
Know another woman or nonbinary person whose name we should drop? Tweet us at @HubSpotDev with ideas.
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