I grab my morning coffee and check my product dashboards. User traffic? Normal. A/B tests? Still logging new data. Budget? We’re still within it. I double-check my schedule for the day to affirm what I already know; Yup, today’s the monthly check-in with my team’s executive sponsor. Maybe I should put down the coffee to calm the jitters in my stomach.

As an associate product manager (APM) on Indeed’s Incubator team, I get to build out new product experiments with the resources and support of a large company. Influenced by lean and agile methodologies, we move quickly and simply to validate or invalidate new products. Once a month we meet with our sponsor, the senior leadership team member who funds our product, and every few quarters we re-pitch our vision to the entire senior leadership team.

But let’s go back a year. Let me show you how my first year at Indeed brought me to Incubator and taught me the most important lesson so far: Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.

Group of people posing in front of Indeed University presentation and several gongs used for celebrating wins

The Indeed Job Fairs team, Indeed University 2018

From one university to another

One year ago, less than a month after graduating, I began Indeed’s three-month training program, Indeed University (IU). Acting more like an innovation lab than a training program, IU brings together new hires to build new products from the ground up.

Encouraged to build simply and test continually, IU teams iterate on their products repeatedly to learn as much as possible. Teams receive mentorship from seasoned IU leads and attend weekly check-ins that, during my session, included Indeed’s CEO, COO, and CTO. At the end of 12 weeks, teams have the option to pitch their product to Indeed’s Incubator team. If funded, the IU team joins the larger Incubator organization and continues working on their product.

Find a problem worth solving

“Raise your hand,” IU participant Lane said to the room, “if you got this job at Indeed through the Indeed site.” Crickets. “Okay, now raise your hand if you got this job through a job fair.” About half of the audience obliged. “Exactly. I’d like to pitch an idea — Indeed Job Fairs — that helps job seekers find career fairs so they can meet with employers face to face.”

After a week of UX panels and brainstorming sessions, IU participants pitched product ideas to one another. Teams then formed around those ideas and presented them to the Indeed senior leadership team.

During early brainstorming sessions, I realized I was passionate about the problem of limited human interaction in the recruiting process. I didn’t know much about how job fairs worked, but I was excited to learn. I joined forces with Lane and two other IU participants, and our team hit the ground running.

Get out of the building

“Get out of the building!” we were told by mentors and executives, alike. So we did. On day one, we piled into a car and drove to a local job fair. We talked with job seekers, employers, event coordinators, and venue managers. We even collected email addresses of job seekers who were interested in using our Indeed Job Fairs product, a cohort that later became our first users.

The Indeed Job Fairs product we built aggregated recruiting events in ten major cities and presented them to job seekers on our site. We saw an encouraging number of job seekers searching for and RSVPing to events through our site. We decided to pitch the product to Incubator.

Here comes the pitch…

The first step of pitching Indeed Job Fairs to Incubator was research. We needed to know everything about recruiting events, such as market sizes, competition, and the number of job seekers searching for these events on Indeed. We also needed to know how our product fit with Indeed. Could we repurpose Indeed’s technology for event aggregation? What value could we bring to Indeed? True to Indeed’s data-driven culture, we investigated and extrapolated, when necessary, to put numbers behind each of these research items. We then combined this data into a compelling story laid out in a pitch deck.

After much anticipation for the pitch, the day itself seemed to whirl by. We shared our results, vision, and roadmap with Indeed’s senior leadership team and, by the time the day was over, we heard the exciting news: Indeed’s CTO, Andrew Hudson, would sponsor Indeed Job Fairs for a three month round of funding.

Graduating to Incubator

When our team moved to Incubator, we found that it ran on many of the same principles as IU: thinking simply, building quickly, and maximizing learning. We continued to expand our event aggregation, improve the job seeker experience on our site, and conduct rigorous user research to ensure that the job seeker was at the core of our product vision.

One of the biggest challenges of transitioning to Incubator was an increase in the number of people who had a stake in our product’s future. This experience allowed me to practice the critical product manager skill of absorbing many opinions, thoughts, and requests before building one cohesive vision. And — what I found was the harder part — convincing everyone to buy into it.

As the funding period ended, we shared our findings with senior leadership to inform their decision about continued Indeed Job Fairs funding. Although we did successfully increase the number of job seekers RSVPing to events, ultimately the executive team decided against another round of funding. After three great months in Incubator, we documented our learnings and sunsetted Indeed Job Fairs.

Getting closer to the solution

The sunsetting of Indeed Job Fairs was not the end of my Incubator career, nor was it the end of our quest to add more human connection into the hiring process. As a part of Indeed’s APM Rotation Program, I was able to stay on the Incubator team to complete my year-long rotation. I was excited to join what has been my team for the past eight months: Indeed Chat, a product that uses direct messaging to form meaningful connections between job seekers and employers.

After an eventful, challenging, and instructional year, my biggest takeaway has been the one brewing in my mind since the IU early pitches: Always start with the problem. Indeed’s ways of addressing the problem of missing human connection did not include our Indeed Job Fairs product. But I did stick with the problem and am building out a different solution today.

With that in mind, I can finish my cup of coffee in peace — maybe even grab another. Divorcing myself from the solution gives me the freedom to objectively look at the success of my product. I can walk into my executive check-in with confidence that my product is likely only one small step in Indeed’s mission to solve the problem at large.

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