Office Hours: I led Product and Growth at Airbnb, Box, and Google. Now, I’m the Director of Product at Noom. I’m Cynthia Song. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Cynthia Song, Director of Product at Noom - a psychology-based weight loss app that helps people live their most healthy lives. I oversee our international product strategy in building new expansion features such as sleep, fitness, stress, etc.

Before Noom, I led Product and Growth at Airbnb, Box, and Google. I scaled Airbnb’s guest referral programs globally. In my previous life, I was a management consultant in London and helped multinational companies with digital transformations.

During my downtime, I enjoy traveling the world (45 countries and counting), hiking in nature, dancing salsa, and life coaching.

Ask me anything about product management (vision & strategy, end-to-end execution, and prioritization), career transitions, navigating difficult conversations, negotiations, building a global mindset, anthropology & psychology, leadership, or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @cynthiasong!Elphas – please ask @cynthiasong your questions before Friday, March 1st. @cynthiasong may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi Cynthia: Thanks for hosting an AMA here! I am currently exploring new roles after spending years at early stage startups. As I am trying to figure out how to pitch myself in today's market, one of the things I am struggling most with is figuring out how to identify relevant roles and pitch myself for positions at more established tech companies. I have feel like I have done a bit of everything - from high level strategy, to product management, to business operations and customer service. I do think I have a real skill-set in working cross functionally, navigating ambiguity, standing up new functions, and solving the biggest problems a company might be facing at a given point in time. I imagine this is a common experience that many folks who have been called things like "operators / ops generalists" might be navigating as well - where do they fit into the career ladder of a more established company? You have a very impressive track record of success at some of the most established tech companies - any advice on how folks from the early stage start-up world can better articulate their value to make that transition to more established companies? Thanks! Emma
Hi Cynthia! My name is Annie and I’m a data analyst for a city agency that regulates on-the-road transportation businesses. I’m looking to transition from data analyst to data scientist. What are some of the most common mistakes that you’ve seen when people make their career transitions? What can I do to avoid making these mistakes? I believe that in every facets of life, growth and better opportunities arise partly from having difficult conversations in general. I’m someone that avoids having this kind of conversation. Just the thought of it makes my stomach churn. How do you navigate difficult conversations?Just like you, I want to travel to many different countries as possible. I haven’t decide what country. Whatever country I’ll end up with, it’ll be my very first traveling experience. I would like your advice on what to expect when you travel to another country for the very first time.
Hi Cynthia! Your intro is all rounded, precise and shares your personality with so much ease. Thank you for sharing this with us! I find the community here mostly American/EU and was wondering whether in your line of work you have worked with remote teams from Africa just to manage my expectations.We have an exceptional talent pool in Africa but most meaningful jobs are only limited to the above mentioned locations.I am open to remote roles in data/customer success, product, project management and VA.
Hi Cynthia! Thank you for taking our questions! I am a SaaS Marketer in the early stage startup space and responsible for growth from a demand-generation standpoint. What methodologies and areas of focus have been most important when it comes to growing, scaling, and creating demand for products that are new-to-market? How do you overcome the challenge of moving products from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’? Also, I’m a trained life coach and I’d love to know how you leverage coaching as a tech leader!
Hi Cynthia, as someone who's worked at some really neat places in increasingly senior roles, do you have any advice on how to grow your career at your desired pace while maintaining your downtime?
Hi Cynthia,I'd like to move into a product director role in the next 5 years. Currently I'm a product designer (looking for a new company that offers some more growth opportunities). What advice do you have for that transition? What do I need to focus on in terms of what to look for in a company, and what skills to make sure I'm building to transition to a director role eventually? How did you build those skills?Thank you so much!
Hi Cynthia! I am a Product Manager with just under 2 years of experience and I was laid off from the start-up I was working at in May. Do you have any advice about skills/books/classes or things I should be doing to continue to develop as a PM and find my next role? Thank you so much for taking the time to do an AMA :)
Hi Liza, sorry to hear about the layoff. It can be a difficult process to go through. I hope you have strong support (friends/family, and from yourself) during this time, and take good care of yourself. I have seen over and over again, people come out of this process stronger, and more aligned with what they really want to achieve. So I'm rooting for you! There are a few things that I'd suggest:1. Reframe your narrative. I don't know too much about your personal circumstances, but I know a lot of folks feel defeated when a layoff happens to them. They could be wondering what they've done wrong, or what could they have done to prevent it from happening. I'd say the sooner you could divert your energy from figuring out the "why me", and moving on to "what I want next", the easier this transition would be. A layoff in most cases is a business decision, and it's entirely out of the control of the individuals impacted. The last thing you want is to have your confidence negatively impacted from a business decision that was outside of your control. 2. Reaching out for help. I'm sure you have many people in your previous company and personal network who are eager to help out. This is a great time to reach out and ask for an introduction, a glowing recommendation, or time to do interview prep together. 3. Strategize on your next move. This is a great time to take stock of your past work experiences (as a PM or otherwise), and figure out what truly energizes you vs. drains you, what kind of roles/companies would be the best fit for your next chapter. A lot of companies would only want to hire a direct fit for their roles, and if you are considering a slightly newer field, you'd need to rely more heavily on networking to at least get a foot in. 4. Resources: - Lenny's newsletter for the hottest topics in PM- Reforge product management classes/Growth product classes- Women in Product facebook group for brainstorming/peer support- Lewis Lin's slack groups and interview prep groups- for salary information- find a good coach or mentorHope this helps!
Thank you, @cynthiasong for the insightful response! I'm sure I will be looking back at your tips and wisdom often.
Hi Cynthia,Thank you for offering your insights and advice! I'm curious what advice you would have for me in this situation: I am a naturally introverted woman who is looking to up-level as a Product Manager into being a Senior Product Manager. I work at a start-up and I am finding it hard to get my voice heard enough to get stakeholder buy-in for my ideas, which I think could be inhibiting me being viewed as a leader. Did you ever deal with this dynamic & if so, what methods did you use to be seen as a trusted product leader?Thank you!Isabella
Hi Isabella, love this question! I think there're a lot of stereotypes regarding how PMs need to be more extroverted in order to succeed. While the role does require superb communication and influencing skills, I don't think being introverted should be a barrier. Here are a few of my thoughts:1) You mentioned having a hard time getting your voice heard. The deeper (and more important) question to figure out first is: do you believe you have something important to say? Among the more junior folks I mentor/coach, I have noticed a lack of confidence in what they could bring to the table. And logically they tend to keep quiet during meetings. Before working on the tactics of speaking up, I think it is very important to work on validating your own value. 2) Tactically speaking, introverts tend to need more time to process and digest before they would give a thoughtful answer vs. extroverts who enjoy being in the spotlight. I'd suggest anticipating questions/responses before any major meetings to prepare yourself as an introvert. E.g. you have a product review with senior leaders and prepared a doc/slides. Could you think of potential questions/areas they'd like to dig into before the meeting based on your understanding of them? Could your manager or other stakeholders help provide feedback beforehand? Could you ask senior leaders to review the deck/doc beforehand and leave comments, so that you have time to digest and respond rather than being put on the spot? In the case of getting difficult questions on the spot, I also recommend gracefully asking for more time to follow up after the meeting. This is a reasonable ask and could help you avoid not having your thoughts ready at the meeting.3) Make it a goal to speak up a few times every day/week. Once you have worked on knowing your value, as well as doing a better job of preparing beforehand, I'd encourage setting a realistic goal of speaking up more time than you currently are. In the beginning, it's much more important to hit the volume goal rather than caring too much about the quality of what you say. Gradually as you get over the hurdle of speaking up, you could do even more to make sure what you say is relevant, valuable and succinct.Hope this helps!
Thank you so much for this thoughtful and incredibly helpful response. I am definitely going to take this advice & do the day to day work to work on validating my own value & also using these strategies to give myself the time I need to process and digest before responding. I will also practice speaking up.
Hi Cynthia! Thanks for taking time to do this. I’m a Product Owner with 3+yrs of experience and trying to transition into a PM role. My current team doesn’t lend itself to strategy or anything UI/UX focused and I’ve been struggling with this as a missing piece in interviews. I’d appreciate any advice on how to progress. Thank you
Hi Cynthia. I am a Product Manager with 7 years experience in Cyber Security and another additional 3 years in Marketing. I have an MS EE and an MBA as well.I'd like to identify different career paths, network and go up the career ladder. I'd like to get to managerial/leadership level in the next 5 years.I think being part of a women leadership group would help identify some options and get ideas for my next stage of my career. How do I find one? Any other suggestions on figuring out my career would be very helpful. Thanks so much!
Hi Cynthia,Thanks for taking time to share your immense experience with us! I've been working in Product Management for a while and am curious if you've worked with PMs who have transitioned out of Product Management and where their experience has been successfully translated into new roles.Thanks again!
Hi Cynthia, I transitioned into product management about a year ago and while I love it, I'm having a hard time making time for professional development (or much of anything else!) amidst the busy day-to-day. Do you have any advice on how to manage your time and make space for becoming better at the job while on the job?
This is a great question and I had a similar question for Cynthia.I've been working in Product Management for a while but struggle with the constant context switching and getting dragged into every conversation. How have you managed to schedule / complete deep focussed work to drive the product strategy vs drowning in the daily tasks / questions?
Hi Corinna and Kim, thanks for this questions. I think this question is about time management, as well as learning and progressing as a PM. Here are a few of my suggestions:1) Always take care of your physical and mental well-being as a first priority. It's easy to have 8-hour meeting days and then having to work more afterwards. This will quickly lead to burnout, which can be difficult to recover from. I still recall when I first transitioned into product management, I didn't have time for lunch most days. While it felt exhilarating at first because of the immense learning, I gradually realized this is not sustainable and needed to adjust. Make sure you put blocks on your calendar for lunch, quick walk, and overall set your work schedule (start/finish time) so that you are not only managing expectations of everyone working with you, but also with yourself. 2) Your Big Picture: At the start of every quarter and week, set a few learning goals for yourself. Not just a to-do list for what tasks you need to complete for your PM role, but more so what learnings/skills you'd like to practice or acquire. E.g. if you have a goal of getting better at crafting product vision and strategy, you should make sure you're budgeting time each week to do so. Otherwise it's easy to lose sight of the big picture and get dragged into every detail/conversation. If you're still finding it hard to allocate time for your bigger goals, you should consider having a candid conversation with your manager regarding priorities and how you could shift 10% more attention to the goals that you're most interested in. 3) Learning on the job: There are many opportunities to learn beyond just doing your role. For example, you could set up a learning group of a few PMs to regularly brainstorm key topics and learn from each other. You could join community groups outside of your company (such as women in product) etc. You could also find relevant conferences to attend (and even get your company to sponsor). Additionally, there are a few product training courses, such as Reforge, that could be very valuable to attend. I also love Lenny's newsletter - check it out for many relevant topics on product management and tech in general.Hope this helps!
What are your best tips for going from IC to Lead / Head track?
Hello Cynthia,As a software engineer, I'm curious about the relationship between Product and Engineering, in particular at larger companies. What challenges do you commonly see when it comes to working alongside engineers at your current or even previous roles? Also for fun, which country has been your favorite to visit thus far?
Hi Angie, thanks for the question. A good relationship between Product and Eng is pivotal to the success of the products. Here are some of my observations:1) Business impact vs. technical complexities. PMs tend to focus more on business/user impact of the products, while Eng are concerned with technical delivery. Sometimes there might be tension/tradeoffs to make sure engineers are excited about the projects while also maximizing for the biggest impact within the shortest delivery time frame.2) The need for flexibility vs. having set requirements. PMs are constantly navigating changing requests from leadership, customers and stakeholders, and therefore may want to have a certain degree of flexibility with the product requirements. However, Eng would much prefer to have all the requirements set before they start implementation. This is a balance and would require good communications from both sides.For fun, my favorite countries have been Iceland, Japan and Costa Rica! But a lot of places are truly amazing, and it's hard to pick a favorite child :D