Emma Hong spent the first year and a half of the pandemic in Singapore.
A worldwide lockdown certainly wasn’t what she had in mind when she decided to move there in 2019 to gain international work experience as part of the Associate Product Marketing Manager (APMM) program at Google.
“It was like an island bubble. Things were pretty safe, but I just couldn’t go anywhere,” she says, laughing.
After two and a half years in Singapore, and four in total at Google, Emma was ready to make some changes. She wanted to move back to the U.S. to be closer to friends and family, and she wanted to join a company where she could make a greater social impact.
“I‘m interested in the intersection of technology and applying that to social problems or social issues,” she explains.
Enter Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT), the go-to platform created by teachers, for teachers to access the community, content, and tools they need to teach at their best, where Emma has worked since September 2021.
We sat down with Emma to learn more about her path to EdTech and how she’s able to make an impact as a product marketing manager (PMM), and to get her advice for others looking to join the TpT product marketing team.
Making an Impact in EdTech
At Google, Emma often worked on one very specific aspect of a product, such as consumer insights. When she would come up with an idea she’d like to test, she would often wonder, “Has someone already done this?”
“And at a large company,” she says with a laugh, “that answer is often yes.”
So after four years, Emma felt ready to find an organization where she could make a bigger impact, not only in a social sense, but in terms of her contributions as well.
She’s found both at TpT.
As a product marketing manager at TpT, Emma is responsible for a whole host of PMM responsibilities, from go-to-market strategies for new feature launches, to positioning, competitor research, and consumer insights.
“It’s been a wide range of things,” she says. "And people are pretty open to changing aspects of the product and adjusting roadmaps when these opportunities can have a positive impact on the business, which inspires me knowing I can have a stronger influence and my ideas matter for the team.”
Having this kind of end-to-end influence on a product aligns well with Emma’s can-do approach to work. “If I see a problem, I always ask, what am I personally going to do to help solve that? Even if nobody's specifically asking me to do that, or if it's not specifically in my scope of work.”
Currently, she’s focused on TpT’s School Access subscription product, which has enabled her to create the kind of social impact she was seeking.
“Previously,” Emma explains, “teachers had to pay out of pocket for products and resources they needed for their classrooms. So TpT built a B2B school product so that you sell directly to schools, and they can offer these resources to teachers.” So far, TpT School Access has reached thousands of schools and has provided resources for educators across the country. The TpT School Access product continues to grow each year, and the team is excited to continue meeting the needs of educators as it scales.
3 Tips for Potential PMMs
Emma’s team at TpT is growing, and she shared a few pieces of advice for those looking to join the supportive and dynamic team.
- Be open to change and ambiguity: Knowing how to navigate change quickly and “being able to apply some sort of structure to navigate that change” is essential as a PMM. Being able to highlight past experiences where you’ve successfully dealt with ambiguity can help set you apart as a candidate.
- Embrace collaboration: Working collaboratively and cross-functionally is a key part of the job, and candidates should be prepared to demonstrate that they can excel in a collaborative culture. (Luckily, TpT’s culture promotes regular collaboration opportunities, both within your team and cross-functionally.) “Everyone's easy to get along with and super helpful. There's good rapport and a sense of humor,” says Emma.
- Show how you connect to the mission: Emma didn’t have formal experience with EdTech prior to joining TpT, and she believes it isn’t necessarily essential for others looking to join. Ultimately, the team wants to know more about how the mission resonates with you. “I think people love personal anecdotes,” says Emma. “Everyone's had impactful teachers in their lives, and that can help explain why this work is important to you.”
Understanding the issues affecting schools currently can also be useful. “A lot of the discussions at the company are around staff shortages in schools, learning loss among students, how schools recover from the pandemic, social emotional learning, and student mental health. So showing an interest in those kinds of topics, and some fluency there would also help.”
Interested in making an impact in the lives of teachers—and students—at TpT? Learn more about their open roles here.
As an instructor of other scuba diving instructors, Diane Tetrault knows how to convey life-saving lessons in a way that encourages and supports her students. And as it turns out, that skill is highly transferable to two other key roles in her life: manager and mother.
Diane is the Senior Director of Product Marketing at Elastic and is also a mom of two sons. In the water, at work, and with her family, she’s gotten plenty of practice creating the right environment for other people to learn and enjoy.
“Scuba diving is something lots of people have on their bucket list, where they say, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that, but I’m too afraid.’ But I know lots of people would love it if they tried.”
Diane’s not one to shy away from new experiences, even when it seems like they’d be hard to work into her packed life. As a working mom, for example, she still makes time to travel and dive, this time bringing her kids along with her and giving them a taste for the adventure that she and her husband so love. Her eldest son, now 8, had visited 11 countries by the time he was 14 months old!
We sat down with Diane to learn more about how she balances her passions, her career, and her family, including how her role at Elastic makes all of that possible.
An Intersection of Interests
“There's probably not a product marketer alive who woke up one day and said, ‘I'm gonna be a product marketer when I grow up,’” says Diane about how she got into her role. “It’s rare that I meet someone who doesn’t have a curvy, wavy road into product marketing—and I think that’s a good thing.”
Her own role looks like this: she got a programming job right after university and immediately realized the heads-down work with little to no human involvement wasn’t for her.
She moved into technical project management, where she got to interact with customers and still deal with engineering topics. Diane stayed in that role until she was promoted into product management, where her work shifted from outward-focused to more inwards, figuring out what her company wanted to build and what it should look like.
But her sense of adventure pushed her to live abroad, so she decided to move to England. Her company didn’t have a product management job open there, but wanted to keep her as part of the team, so they offered her a role backfilling a marketing director who was out on maternity leave. Diane stepped up into a completely new field, picking up demand generation across events, PR, and advertising. She ended up building a life in England and staying for seven years before returning to her home country of Canada.
“Once I had experience in product, experience in marketing, and experience in sales—because I had sales people reporting to me and I spent a lot of time in the field—I understood that there was something we needed to do in the middle,” says Diane.
Enter product marketing.
She leans on three key skills in her current role, and suggests that anyone else interested in product marketing work to develop the same ones:
- Technical inclination. “I started off life as a developer, so with that technical aptitude, I can hold my own talking to deeply technical people.”
- Customer focus. “You need customer-facing experience so you can understand what they’re trying to achieve. You need empathy for what the customer’s trying to do.”
- Domain expertise. Diane describes a lot of what she does as translating, and credits her years in the industry to giving her the right background of knowledge that makes that translation possible. “If you’re translating to something you don’t already understand, that’s hard,” she says.
When Diane had her first face-to-face exposure to Elastic, she had already heard of them years before. Her current company was trying to compete with Elasticsearch, so they sent Diane to attend Elasticon in San Francisco in 2018.
“I was just blown away by the culture—and particularly by the women of Elastic,” says Diane, who went to a breakfast hosted by the ERG and was shocked to see the company’s CEO there, fully engaged and listening. “He wasn’t presenting, but he wasn’t playing on his phone, either. He was nodding away, really engaged in everything. I was really amazed by the fact that it didn’t seem like lip service. It seemed like the company really did value diversity and inclusion.”
Experiencing the Elastic environment made Diane want to work for them. And that’s what still motivates her the most. “I came for the culture, and I stayed for the culture,” she says. “When I interview people, I’m always looking for cultural fit. We’re fiercely protective of our culture, because that’s what makes people stay.”
Here are Diane’s favorite ways that Elastic’s culture manifests itself:
- Respect, not deference. “I used to work in a company where we had to call the CEO 'monsieur,’” says Diane. “Here, you can just say ‘hi’ to people in the hallway.”
- Distributed, not remote. But those hallway run-ins are few and far between, because Elastic is designed to be a distributed company. “We’re distributed by design. Everything is optimized for that. And notice I didn’t say ‘remote,’ because that implies a center where people who are working outside are remote. At Elastic, we’re all over.”
- Flexibility first. “When you have small kids, flexibility is unbelievably important,” says Diane. “If I say I’m stepping out for two hours because it’s my kid’s Christmas pageant, no one’s like, ‘Oh, really?’ I’ve worked at companies where if you left 10 minutes early, everyone gossips.”
- Leading by example. Diane’s never once worried about putting her workouts, her after-school pickups, or her other personal appointments on her work calendar, because she’s seen Elastic’s C-suite do the same. “We’ll have 2,000-person calls and Shay [Elastic’s CEO] will have his kids in the background, asking him something,” says Diane, smiling. “Or you take a call with senior leaders and they're going outside for a walk as they talk. That sort of gives others permission to do the same thing, too.”
Building Towards the Future
Diane has always known that there’s more than one way to solve any problem. That’s as true for how she approaches product marketing, as it is for how she approaches parenting.
Just this year, for instance, she and her husband pulled their kids out of school for a week to hike in the Canadian Rockies. “We told them they had to learn something new every day, and they learned tons, like about climate change and its first-hand effects,” she says. “Seeing new things gives us perspective. There’s lots of different ways to look at things.”
Diane hopes that people who are looking to build careers in product marketing share that approach. “Be open to different things. Product marketing is a windy road, and you have to create the opportunity. I’m always looking for people who have a hunger for learning, because no one will have everything. The ability to learn and adapt and be open to new things helps you with everything else.”
Bringing people together around the table is one of Kit Garton's favorite ways to spend time.
"Meals are a really special time for connections," she explains. "Cooking, eating, trying new restaurants or new cuisines—sharing a meal is my favorite way to get to know someone."
The VP of Product at apparel company Chubbies says she especially likes the way that breaking bread together gives people from different backgrounds a common space to connect and share stories.
She has a penchant for making the most of an interdisciplinary approach. When studying at Stanford, she started off on a pre-med track before Intro to Human Anatomy derailed her. "It completely ended my aspiration! I could not hang," says Kit, laughing. She switched to human biology, which she explains "sits at the intersection of biology, psychology, and sociology," and studied decision-making and development.
Years later, her interdisciplinary background would find her perfectly suited to lead the product team at a weekend-obsessed brand known for perfecting shorts.
Read on for Kit's insight about switching functional areas, making the most of a diverse team with different identities, and building the exact career you want.
Kit's path to product leadership wasn't a typical one.
Technically, Kit's first full-time job after college did deal with products, but specifically the kind you might see in the grocery store: she worked for a PR agency on consumer packaged goods accounts.
Planning events, creating marketing moments, and running campaigns taught Kit a lot, she says, including that she loved thinking about her work with the end consumer in mind. "I'm a people person, and I love making people happy," she says. "I started to see marketing as a way to connect consumers to something that might bring them joy or help them."
She also loved how quantifiable the work was. "I am someone whose performance is pretty driven from data and analytics," she says of her affinity for chasing metrics and using data to inform her next campaign.
But being spread across four or five accounts made Kit feel like she couldn't channel her creativity in the most effective way, so she started looking for a singular brand vision she could get behind.
She'd gone to college with the founders and had followed the brand since its launch. "No one at that time was creating clothes for young men, no one was marketing towards that," she says. "I thought that was unique and cool, but it never occurred to me that they would be hiring."
She checked, and they were: a role in PR and events. She applied, got an offer, and took a major leap to join them.
Kit was sure about the brand itself. "They were all about the weekend, and it felt like a fun and unique story I could tell really easily," she says.
But she wasn't so sure about the career change. "I was leaving a pretty established corporate job that had 401ks and management trainings," remembers Kit. "And when I started at Chubbies, I was reading over the job offer and said, 'I didn't notice a section about healthcare.' And they were like, 'We don't have healthcare, but we do provide lunch and Clif bars.'"
She had a bit of runway left on her parents' insurance, though, and decided to make the most of a big marketing role at a new startup. Her first few months were spent working at her desk for seven hours a day, then heading down to the warehouse to pack boxes for an hour or two.
"We were growing so fast, and we were so new, that we had hard times guessing when the demand for our shipments would arrive," explains Kit. She'd go home with hands stained blue from the boxes, and show up the next day to start again.
A Three-Point Approach to Switching Functional Areas
Kit started in a pure PR role, but she didn't stay there. She wanted to stretch her skill set by applying it to product marketing campaigns, so she asked to take on the project management of Chubbies' Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions.
That's her first lesson for anyone else looking to do the same: 1) Ask to take on what you're interested in.
Her boss said yes, and those campaigns went well. The cross-departmental coordination required to align departments and vendors on a common goal excited Kit, and when Chubbies' email manager said he was planning to leave the company, Kit stepped in to cover the role and help in searching for a full-time replacement.
After interviewing several candidates, Kit thought she could be that full-time replacement, and asked to take on emails full-time. Once again, she got a yes, leading to her second lesson: 2) Don't be afraid to grow your scope.
Kit became the senior marketing manager of earned media, which had her managing Chubbies' influencer program, retention, and email marketing. She had no formal education in those fields, but was able to take on those new tasks by soaking up everything from those around her and embracing self-study.
Then came lesson three: 3) Be excellent and opportunities will follow.
Chubbies' founders saw what Kit was doing with email marketing and asked if she'd apply her then-trademark customer-focused, data-driven approach to the product team as the director of merchandise planning. She said yes.
"I didn't hesitate. Fashion has always been a secret passion of mine," she says.
Her current role as VP of product came after a successful stint in merchandising, and it has her overseeing design and digital merchandising, from setting the strategy to managing a team of about 15 people across three departments.
Thinking About Identity in Product
When she was a marketer, it was natural to use diverse models to showcase products and inclusivity.. But now that she's in charge of figuring out the future of Chubbies' signature shorts (and other apparel and products), Kit has started to think about how she can stay focused on all of Chubbies' different customers.
She used to wonder if she was missing out on something by being a woman working on a clothing brand worn primarily by men. Then she learned to see it as a strength. "A mentor told me it was actually a huge positive, because the decisions that I make are not because of how I feel about something—it's all because of data," she says.
What she's learned lately is that there are multiple places that valuable data comes from. It turns out that a lot of women and nonbinary people wear Chubbies' shorts, says Kit. Kit regularly solicits feedback from a diverse range of buyers so that she can better understand the why behind their purchasing decisions and make sure that Chubbies' products keep evolving to meet their needs.
"Even though we're so much bigger, I still get to have personal interactions all the time," she says. "Our customer base is just as passionate today as they were nine years ago [when I joined]. They're almost more surprised now when they hear from me, like, 'Wait, you're a real person?' And I'll be like, 'Yeah, we could set up a Zoom and you could give me this feedback while seeing my face!'"
Something from Everything
Reflecting on her career, Kit sees her path from PR to marketing to product as a feature, not a bug. "At every stage of my career, I've gained a unique skill set that I still use today," she explains.
From event production, she learned how to deliver during crunch times and manage people. When running email campaigns, she figured out how to collaborate cross-functionally and always assume positive intent. From the shift to product, she learned about the importance of data analysis and understanding the customer perspective.
She can go all the way back to her first jobs and do the same thing. "I'm a confident public speaker because I worked as a campus tour guide in college," she says. Reflecting on her time as a waitress, working to create the dining experiences she so enjoys today, she adds: "I developed people and time management skills there."
"Every job is worthy and has a transferable and valuable skill set," says Kit. "Opportunity is out there, but you can't just sit back and wait for it—many times you have to create it for yourself."
5 Tips from VideoAmp's Kelly Metz on Learning to Listen, Seeking Out Discomfort, and Building a Career You Love
Kelly Metz was on her thirtieth rewatch of a video her team was producing when it hit her: creativity wasn't her strong suit.
"I just missed the things my peers saw," explains Kelly. "I was blind to them."
It might surprise you to hear that from Kelly, who, now the VP of Product Marketing at advertising technology platform VideoAmp, has worked in various advertising roles over the course of her long career. But she owns the fact that she's not the most creative person (and that she's working to improve in that space, eager to learn from the people around her). Part of that is because she's very comfortable taking feedback and recognizing her weaknesses. And an equally important part of that is because she's fully confident in her strengths, knows what she brings to the table, and recognizes that the strongest team is one that's diverse, full of people who think differently and have different strengths.
"When you surround yourself with people that are really, really talented, you start to recognize that they see things differently. They have a lens I don't have. But I see things differently than they do. And I will comment on things they don't notice," she says.
We sat down with Kelly to talk about her career path, why she left bigger advertising firms to join a startup, and what advice she has for other women looking to take smart risks and make the most of them.
From dot-com startups to VideoAmp
Kelly started her career in technology and advertising and found that her first few years on the job were rich in learning and development opportunities. "It's just exponential learning in your twenties; it's fantastic," she explains. "Even reaching the director level didn't seem particularly momentous because it was just constant growth up to that point."
Starting out in tech during the dot-com bubble certainly contributed to this steep learning curve and fast pace. "At one point I was driving my own car to ship packages because we were in ecommerce and just trying to make the Christmas deadline," she says, laughing.
One of the first turning points in Kelly's career was when she decided to leave the world of scrappy dot-com startups and join software giant Oracle. There she took advantage of all of the training and coaching that they offered.
"It was a game changer for me," says Kelly. "They spend a lot of resources training their people. At smaller firms, especially during the internet bubble, everyone was new. There was no guidance or mentorship and you kind of had to just go with it."
She learned a lot at Oracle, including how to grow through discomfort and be a good manager of people (a key tip: never, ever skip a one-on-one). When she left the company after five years, she took those learnings with her, continuing to develop not only her understanding of the ad space, but of people management as well.
After five years as VP, Business Development at StudioNow in Nashville, Tennessee, Kelly felt ready for a change. She realized that she wanted two things: first, to move back to her hometown of LA and reunite with the Pacific Ocean, and two, to work at a growing startup with strong fundamentals where she could have an impact.
Kelly says that she knew VideoAmp was the company for her not when she found out their headquarters were in Santa Monica (though that helped), but rather when she genuinely enjoyed her interviews with the team.
"The more corporate and rigid the interview structure, the more the culture is like that," says Kelly. "I'd done many rounds of interviews like that. At VideoAmp, everything was way more freeform. They were very inquisitive in the questions they asked. They were clearly curious. I felt like I wouldn't be hemmed into one role. And I'm very pleased with the decision I made to join."
Finding the right amount of risk
VideoAmp hired Kelly as their Director of Sales Engineering, but not long after joining she became their VP of Product Marketing. "I'd always been on the business development revenue side, and I became interested in product marketing because you're able to work across teams and impact the entire revenue chain," she explains.
She didn't have prior experience with product marketing, but she decided to reach out to VideoAmp's SVP of Marketing, Esther Maguire, who just so happened to sit across the office from her—in pre-pandemic days, that is—about an open spot on her team.
Now, as the VP of Product Marketing, Kelly is responsible for communicating what VideoAmp's technology can do to their clients and prospects. "You can't measure everything. So what are our clients' priorities and how are we delivering capabilities against those?" she says. That involves visualization, collaboration with designers and other creative types, and really strong communication skills.
Throughout her career, right up into that big switch from sales engineering to product marketing, Kelly has taken calculated risks. These risks have paid off for her, but they haven't been the result of indiscriminately saying yes to new opportunities. She has five key pieces of advice for anyone looking to embrace opportunity and advance their career:
1. Seek out discomfort. "I was never comfortable at Oracle, not for a moment," says Kelly. "And ultimately, if I hadn't had those five years of experience, I wouldn't have gotten where I am now." She notes that "if you're not uncomfortable, you're probably not growing fast enough," particularly if you're early in your career. If you're mid-career or late career, don't stop taking risks, but do make sure they're things that feel in line with your "true north," that is to say, your long-term career and life goals.
2. Set your comfort/risk ratio and live within it. Taking risks can feel like an amorphous challenge, which is why Kelly suggests spending some time reflecting on how much discomfort is right for you personally. For her, this ratio has fluctuated between 60-75% comfort and 40-25% risk. "I really do believe that positivity and confidence breed success," says Kelly. "Confidence comes from your experiences and what you've achieved, so, especially early on in your career, you need to say 'yes' to enough risks to actually build that confidence." The key takeaway? Confidence doesn't necessarily come from feeling comfortable—it comes from embracing opportunity and showing yourself that you're capable of meeting the challenge.
3. Assume the best of people. Part of taking on risks means that you might fail. You might be wrong. You might do something your team doesn't agree with. Kelly highlights how important it is to be open to feedback and advice and never assume that your team is out to get you. "When you're in a new situation and you're not yet as confident, it's easy to be defensive, but in the end, everyone's on the same team," she says. "Even when you think someone's feedback is wrong, challenge yourself to consider the possibility that they might be right and see how that changes your perspective."
4. Avoid "yes teams." When you're doing step three well, it makes it easier to have constructive disagreements and avoid groupthink or "yes teams—people who always say yes and do everything the same way." Kelly finds that truly diverse teams are much more successful: "It's teams that complement each other and challenge each other that make each other better."
5. Be a good listener. "Those who listen advance the farthest," says Kelly. "People want to be heard. Make sure you're accountable to who is speaking. Take notes, repeat it back, make sure you're capturing their intent. That will speak volumes to your desire to be there, to learn, and to have an impact."
If you're interested in learning more about growth opportunities at VideoAmp, check out their PowerToFly page here.