Navigating Your Product Career: Startup to Acquisition
From writing about tech to pioneering e-commerce innovation at Venmo, it's no surprise that Ashley Phillips has quite the story to tell. Everyone's product career takes interesting twists - going from large-scale businesses to emerging startups. As part of our Diverse Voices series, Ashley talks about joining Groupon during a period of significant growth - and what it was like to work at a brand-new startup that eventually became acquired by a large corporation.
Venmo Product Lead on Building Your Product Career (Part 2)
My product career took a few interesting turns after moving on from my initial start at media-based organizations. First, I joined Groupon during a period of crazy-fast growth. For example, they hired eight engineers per month – which at the time actually seemed like a slow day at the office. In other words, things were moving so fast that we didn’t know where everyone would fit in. However, we knew that the business needed this influx of talent – and I’m lucky to have been there during a period of such incredible growth.
Following a year-long hiatus in China with my husband, I returned to Groupon for a new product position. However, after a few years in a familiar place, I found a new challenge at a startup called Modest. For starters, the company’s mission focused on a unique and fulfilling solution for small businesses to expand their e-commerce footprint. In many ways, this change in my product career put me on the path to where I am today. First, I was the only product person on the team – allowing me to set the direction for the product organization moving forward.
Initially, I didn’t know if my arrival would be welcomed or turned down. For example, the company’s product decisions had been driven entirely by engineering. Thankfully, the engineers were quick to say – we’ve needed someone like you for a long time. As a result, the company’s product culture really began to take shape. While living the startup life is inherently hectic and crazy, the opportunity to build product-forward processes and a product-forward culture serves me to this day.
After building significant momentum, it was only a matter of time before Modest got on the radar for acquisition.
With this, I got to experience the acquisition process from the front lines. Following many months of negotiations, we became part of the PayPal/Braintree family. Given that I’d seen the founders go through funding conversations in the early days, you can imagine how interesting it was to see them work through acquisition bids. I can honestly say that this process is equal parts exciting and scary. That said, it’s one of the most defining moments of enhancing my product career experience.
For example, our little company of 19 employees needed to adjust the culture of an 18,000+ employee corporation. In the end, this transition became very easy to manage because of the strong culture of our new partners. Simply put, it’s easy to get along with new co-workers when they are equally pleasant and competent.