Office Hours: I'm an SVP at charity: water and previously led product teams at Glossier, goop + more. I'm MZ Goodman.Featured

Hello!I’m excited to be here. I’m presently SVP Subscription at charity: water--an organization that brings clean and safe water to people in developing countries--where I’m trying to build a consumer brand and revenue line in the context of a non-profit. Prior to charity: water, I led product teams at Glossier, goop, Ralph Lauren and the New York Times--all very different businesses!I live in NYC with a terrific partner who is thankfully much more detail-oriented than I am and our two terrific kids. Last year, inspired by my son’s learning differences, I founded and tried to raise funding for a community platform for young adults with developmental disabilities and their families called BASE. Though I wasn’t ultimately able to get that business off the ground, I now sit on two disability-related boards as a result of the networks I built.Ask me anything about working at a growth stage startup, leading digital efforts for a consumer business, being VP Product at a founder-led company, how to manage #startuplife as a working mom, or anything else!
Thanks so much for joining us, @mz!Hi everyone – please ask MZ questions before this Thursday (3/5). She may not have time to answer every question, so please upvote the ones you'd most like her to answer.
Hi @mz - thank you for joining Elpha! Given your previous experience, I am curious of your recent shift from primarily for profit to a non-profit organization. Can you share more about that decision making process?Cheers, Melanie
Hi, Melanie. Thanks for the great question. When I was out fundraising for my disabilities community platform I was frequently met with the knee-jerk "why aren't you doing this as a non-profit"? As a veteran start-up operator, I thought of non-profits as slow-moving and not-operationally-excellent. So why would I want to start one?! When I realized I had gotten some of the model fundamentals wrong on my business plan, I decided to look for an innovative non-profit to see what I could learn. charity: water is that. We function much more like a start-up than a non-profit (or I would have lasted about six minutes). And I get to solve challenging problems in a mission-driven culture with smart, committed humans. 
Hi @mz, it's refreshing to hear this stigma against non-profits addressed directly. I lead digital marketing at a mid-size nonprofit and as I job hunt I'm realizing this perception makes my resume a nonstarter for most recruiters and hiring managers, despite managing large projects successfully, glowing recommendations, and a demonstrated commitment to learning and growth. How would you suggest a candidate get "ahead" of this perception? How can it be addressed directly in a resume or cover letter without being presumptuous? Thank you for your time!
There is hope yet, Yasmeen: I read the 18% of the Stanford GSB MBA class of 2019 chose "socially responsible" employment. And as a hiring manager I'm seeing a lot of candidates looking for a change in this direction.I would urge you to join networks (one down!), see if you can lend your skills to an advisory board in the private sector and to be very focused on metrics and results in your resume. Find challenging problems to solve, even if in a non-profit context. Pick the thing that gets you to the next thing. FWIW I don't put a ton of stock in cover letters, so I would make sure your resume "shows" your capabilities and dexterity. Good luck!
Thank you so much for the insight! Charity:water is indeed an innovative non-profit that is leading the change in the non-profit sector. My partner works in the NGO space for sustainability and shares the same sentiment. It would be great to see more non-profits run like start-ups.
Hi MZ! I assume that Glossier, goop, Ralph Lauren, and NYT have vastly different cultures. What are some of your insights on the power of culture, and what are some of the big takeaways that you've brought with you to charity: water?
Hi, Divya. I was hoping I'd get this question! I've come to realize how critical it is for productivity and fulfillment to find a culture that aligns with how you like to operate, and how difficult it is to parse for this while interviewing. (I'd love to work on a product that solves for this!) The Times was fairly transparent as a culture (and there are upsides/downsides to this) and I didn't fully appreciate how well I worked within that matrix until after I had left. Ralph Lauren and goop had similarly opaque cultures, which makes sense when you think about the fact that both businesses very much represent/merchandise the POV of their founders. I am personally thrilled to be back in a culture where transparency and autonomy are valued, as I am of the mindset that people do their best work when they have the needed context and latitude, but it's all about finding an environment that maps to your values and how you like to work.
And a PS: in my experience, cultures that value diversity of context produce better products.
Thank you for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully!
Hi @mz! My question is around managing the vision of a product as product requirements rapidly change. In all of the companies that you mention, the market can be quite volatile and with that, changes to product can occur quite frequently and intensely. Do you have any recommendations on how to manage morale during strategic pivots and ensure that agility is maintained in a way that doesn't cause employee burnout nor lack in product quality?
I felt this most acutely at The New York Times, where our business model changed several times during the years that I was there and there were intense pressures on the dynamics of the business. This was often painful, but ultimately pushed us to be innovative. (I have always been a believer that constraints drive creativity.) We ultimately put processes and org changes in place that baked regular change into the culture. We had teams that focused on core ops and teams focused on new products, and we got better at evaluating new approaches, trying things and sunsetting products that didn't compel. In my experience, the best you can do is to empathize with your user's needs, synthesize the market forces at play, focus on the goals at hand and lead with a positive attitude. When I felt I could no longer do that at NYT, I knew it was time for me to leave, and for a fresh perspective. Unrelated to morale but a good view on portfolio management to drive strategic innovation that I have relied upon is this approach by Rita McGrath, whose courses at Columbia Business School provided a ton of value: I hope it's helpful.
Thank you so much! This is very helpful advice and I will absolutely be diving deeper into this resource!
Hi @mz - it is a pleasure to have you here. I am trying to build an NGO database filtered by interests (people would like to help people who are blind or children and etc), country/city and etc. NGOs can announce what do they need in terms of goods, services, and funding. The main purpose is to create a place where NGOs can share there needs with local and national companies who are interested in CSR. You have experience in that field. Can you please tell me would it be helpful for your NGO for instance?
Hi, Mariia. We have a partnerships team here that responds to these sorts of inquiries from brands, and we do get a lot of inbounds. I've only been in the sector for six months, so I'm not an authority on how brands identify or evaluate these opportunities, but I will say that at both goop and Glossier we took this responsibility very seriously, and were careful about not wanting to haphazardly align ourselves with causes (someone's pet cause, an issue of the moment, etc).
Hi @mariiayershova! Great thinking here - this problem is definitely an important one. Some folks also working on this problem are NeedsList ( Have a look at them for some best practices if you haven't already!
Hi @mz - thank you for your willingness to help the community. I'm curious to get your insights about trends you're paying attention to at intersection of tech + impact (philanthropy/charities, etc.) and how charity: water is approaching this for their benefit and the benefit of the sector at larger. charity: water is consistently a leading voice on industry best practices so it would be great to hear where you're focusing your attention whether in product or otherwise. Thank you in advance.
Hi, Kristina. My team is focused at the moment on creating a subscription (monthly giving) program, and we're spending a lot of time trying to understand what compels people to give on a regular basis, and what they would like in return. If you subscribe to quip, you get a toothbrush and floss in the mail every few months. What do you get when you subscribe to a charity? We're also trying to figure out how to show you your impact in a way that compels you to broadcast it to others. (I am obsessed, as example, with my spin class metrics, and regularly share them among a group of friends who share theirs back. This compels us all to continue to spin and to track our progress over time. What's the analog here? Ideas welcome!)
Totally agree - how do you keep folks engaged and does a value exchange increase this engagement? Particularly with limited resources (although I know charity: water does a great job separating operations funding from charitable programming). Or, in the case of an Orange Theory, is something like "points" with a "leaderboard" simply value enough? All incredibly important things, especially as we're seeing an overall decline in giving (as an industry overall, I suspect charity: water isn't seeing this).It's something I spend a lot of time thinking about (I'm also obsessed) and would be happy to share some of what we've learned - our learnings are in the North American context but there could be some insights that could be applied to work in developing countries. Happy to help push the sector forward in whatever way I can. Let me know :)
Hi @mzThanks so much for sharing your personal story, Would like to hear more about your base journey and your thoughts on employment for differently-abled individuals. Cheers.
Hi, Shirli. The BASE journey is a longer story but in short I had a bit of runway after leaving a stressful job and I wanted to do something meaningful with the time. As both a special needs parent and a veteran operator I saw so many "opportunity areas" (i.e. problems to solve!) in the special needs space. I spent a couple of months interviewing families about their needs and made a list of roughly a dozen business ideas. Ultimately I decided to focus on young adults with disabilities as there has been a lot of evolution/innovation around early intervention. As I mentioned above, I am not now actively building anything, but I am on two boards where I am trying to push for progress along a couple of fronts.My main interests have been around housing, care coordination (I've seen so many accomplished parents drop out of the workforce to manage the lives of their adult children with disabilities) and future planning (terrifying to me as a parent is the question of what happens to all the individuals living at home and being supported on all fronts by their caregivers when their caregivers are no longer around) but employment (or lack thereof) is obviously a huge issue in the IDD community. Eighty-five percent of college educated adults on the Autism spectrum are unemployed. While there are a number of vocational training programs out there, they do not necessarily come with follow-on full-time roles, and many companies are woefully ill-equipped to onboard and retain ASD employees successfully. I am heartened to see efforts being made by the big tech companies in this direction. (Satya Nadella has made neurodiverse hiring a focus area for Microsoft and I heard from someone at Google earlier this week that Google is trying to do the same. In NYC the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities is working with Cisco on a training and employment program. Hopefully these companies will chart a path forward that other organizations can learn from and adapt.)Happy to chat more on this in a sidebar if of interest. I'd love to know whether you've been personally touched by this and what your thoughts are if you have.
Hi @mz,Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. I’d love to chat more in a sidebar. I currently work with ASD young adults as a career coach and been touched by their stories on many levels. I’m also personally vested in to solve the many concerns you have highlighted. I too know of many individuals who drop out to care for their differently-abled children.Would appreciate opportunity to chat more. Once again, thank you so much.
Hi @mz, thanks for being here and sharing your personal story.What do you think are the most important metrics to look at when building a world-class brand? In a resource-constrained environment, how do you make decisions on where to spend resources on the brand? What tactics do you think have the most accountability?How do you navigate potential tradeoffs between brand-building and monetization?(By the way, I'm also a mom of 2 and CEO of Cake, an early-stage tech startup building the consumer brand for death and end-of-life planning.)
Hi, Suelin. A performance marketer whom I greatly admire once told me that great brands are made above the place in the funnel where performance tactics live. By this he did not mean brand marketing (or why would so many brand-driven companies have to spend such significant share of revenue on acquisition?) but rather cost-effective first touch, particularly in the early days. Glossier obviously did a terrific job of building a community on Instagram that paid off in spades as the business grew and we brought more products to market. Partnerships are another interesting potential unlock if you can get the dynamics to work. As a product person by training I would also emphasize getting the product to a place where it grows organically, which means giving the users what they want.And: way to go, launching a start up as a working mom! Working moms are super-productive, amiright?
Hi @mz! Thanks for taking the time to do an AMA! If you could go back in time, what is one piece of advice you would give to yourself when you were first starting your career?
I feel so fortunate to have had a curiosity-driven career, propelled by questions I wanted to tackle or things I wanted to learn (as example, when I joined Glossier I was less immediately motivated by being VP Product in a consumer products ecommerce company, as I had done that before, but I wanted to experience and understand hypergrowth).I am generally of the mindset that you have to move forward and that you can't go back, but from a wealth accumulation perspective I would have done well to have accepted the job I was offered at Apple ten years ago. Turning that down (even if for the right reasons) was perhaps not the smartest move!
For your organic social media efforts, how do you know how much time/$$ to spend on organic vs. paid? What were your most successful marketing channels for your consumer business?
Hi @mz!My question lies in product development. Any advice you can give on including customers to be part of you product development? I know Glossier was very inclusive of their ambassadors with their R&D. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
Hi, Fatima-Zohra. It was a huge privilege at Glossier to have access to an engaged customer base. There was really no downside. You may have read about the customer Slack channel we had for a while, which gave the Product and UX team a great opportunity to put ideas in front of customers and to "overhear" what customers liked in other brand experiences. We had a robust UX research program by the time I left.  (And the vocal audience input was instrumental on the physical product development, too.)It all goes back to value proposition. You need to deeply understand what your customers/users/visitors/readers/whatever are looking for from you. This was very clear at NYT, goop and Glossier. Ralph Lauren was a tougher nut to crack in that at the time the online business looked and operated much more like a wholesale business than an RL flagship store, and attracted a discount-minded shopper. We didn't have easy access to the customer we wanted. At charity: water we've recently undertaken research to understand what compels people to donate regularly to non-profit organizations. (We have a good read on what's motivated our early donors.) Once we have a little more visibility into areas of opportunity, we will target growth strategies accordingly, based on the needs of those audiences. 
Hey @mz - thanks for taking the time to do an AMA! Keen to hear about what challenges you are facing working for a charity, having previously worked for non-charities. My question for you: What are the main challenges you face day-to-day in a non-profit, that you didn't expect to be as big a problem as it is (coming from profit)?
Hi, Bethany. On balance, the challenges faced here are not specific to working in a non-profit (i.e. getting our data/calculations in order, optimizing our product development and release processes, improving our ESP, shifting the culture from making assumptions to relying on data) but I was surprised to encounter some of these issues at a company that is 13 years old and that has, despite some of these constraints, created innovative products and broken so much ground.
Hello, and thanks for making yourself available @mz!I have two questions:1) Were you working on BASE while employed elsewhere? If so, how did you communicate to new folks you were meeting who you are and what you did? Context: I have two start-ups, one as a leadership coach for leaders in social impact (The Center for Conscious Leadership) and a self-coaching and self-help subscription box (Go Love Yourself). I never know how to answer the question "what do you do?"2) I'm looking to build my network and coach leaders in non-profit and for-profit spaces. I'm wondering - where do leaders of your caliber and interests hang out? What conferences do you attend? What sites do you read? Where do you look to continue your own professional learning?I truly appreciate you!
I started at Glossier three days a week and was working on my own thing the rest of the time so I typically explained both (Glossier by day, my own thing on nights and weekends--or something to that effect). When I went full-time at Glossier I wasn't trying to raise funding (I was principally looking for real estate partnerships, building community programming and cultivating pilot families) so I didn't really have to explain anything--I had a side hustle, essentially. It reads to me like you're a coach and you have a self-help coaching product--that doesn't feel too disconnected to me!
@cadran At first, I was bummed that I missed my opportunity to have a conversation with @mz but I gained so much value from all these other conversations! <3 the brilliance of the elpha community!
I'm excited to hear your answers to the other questions and I'm curious about what your thought process was in deciding to work at such different companies (CPG retail, DTC disruptor brand and Publishing/Advertising) and how you were able to be effective in each business. Thanks so much :)