Office Hours: I’m the Chief Product Officer at Hinge, a Product Mentor at First Round Capital, and I previously led teams at Netflix, Spotify, and Kayak. I’m Michelle Parsons. AMA!Featured

Hey Elphas! I’m Michelle Parsons, Chief Product Officer at Hinge, the dating app that is “designed to be deleted”.

Before Hinge, I spent 2 years working at Netflix leading the Kids & Family product team where we worked to create a Netflix experience for our youngest of members globally.

Prior to Netflix, I worked in personalization at Spotify leading initiatives to create the algorithms that are used to power some of the most popular Spotify experiences such as Discover Weekly, Daily Mix and Your Year in Review.

At Kayak, I was responsible for the Hotels product from search to purchase across both web and mobile. I got my start in product in the ed-tech space after having spent 2 years teaching high school science with Teach For America.

I have a passion for finding elegant and implementable solutions to big problems and creating impactful, user-centric products. I am a firm believer in inspiring and empowering my team to ask the right questions, leverage data and user creativity to find solutions to the biggest user problems.

My experiences have turned me into a serial optimizer with a keen ability to translate data into bold strategic visions that teams can confidently organize around to create meaningful impact.

In my spare time I love to cook up new recipes with my partner, take my dog Reed out on long hikes, or discover new restaurants in my new home New York City. Fun fact: My partner and I met on Hinge over 6 years ago and deleted the app for good. It’s very exciting to be at Hinge on this new journey to help our users find love just like I did!

Ask me anything about building and developing a hyper customer-focused team, leadership, product innovation, and more!

Thanks so much for joining us @michelleparsons!Elphas – please ask @michelleparsons your questions before Friday, July 1st. @michelleparsons may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi @ElphaStaff and everyone! I am excited to get to answer all of your thoughtful questions. I'll try and get to as many as I can in the next hour!
Hi Michelle!Thanks for taking questions!- have you worked in an organisation or with stakeholders who didn’t share your user focused approach, and if so what advice or lessons would you have from that?- I’m interested to see you have moved between travel, media and now dating. I’m curious what inspired you to make those moves, and if there are standout similarities or differences between the different industries?Thank you 🙏
Hi @michelleparsons Love hearing about your transition from teacher to Head of Product! I am a former educator turned tech founder (@BenchK12) and we are (among other things) helping educators grow their portfolio of verified credentials so they can pursue career growth in the K12 sector and beyond. For everyone here making career transitions, how did you identify the skills sets you had as an educator to make them marketable & applicable to other careers; what did you do to grow your skill sets to help you grow in your new career path; and (selfish question!) can we connect outside of Elpha and could we do a profile piece on you to demonstrate how valuable educators are in the classroom & beyond? (Context: the last few years have been ones that have burned out even the most committed educators. We're trying to attract others (back) to the prefession--even folks like you--through gig substitute teaching a few days/year or help educators (and other sectors) understand all of the skill sets educators have that make them great.) Thanks--this was way too long-- but so excited to read you started your career as an educator, too!
Hi Michelle!Love many of the products you've worked on. I have a couple of questions for you: - I'd love to know what skills you doubled down on as you moved up in product leadership and which skills you "let go of." - What are the "highest leverage" (non-hiring/recruiting) tasks you do as CPO?Thanks!Bhavika
Upskilling is something that has been very front and center for me throughout my career. Early in my career, as a young PM, it was really important for me to show that I could deliver and execute. I focused on learning more about the technology that I was working on (eg. front end, back end, data, etc.) all work together to turn the ideas and designs into the product and features that users engage with. Getting more of this technical nuance and aptitude allowed me to be a better parter during feature plannings and technical reviews/scoping and helped me become a better prioritizer over time. This allowed me and my team to consistently deliver high quality work on time which gained me a lot of trust by my managers and leaders of the company. As I moved up in the Product ladder and gained more experience I learned -- through some hard lessons -- that execution is important but that it isn't the most important thing when you are trying to build a strong, collaborative and highly effective team. I started to turn my attention to building systems and tools that could help everyone, regardless of their discipline, get closer to our users, the problems that we were trying to solve and to each other so that everyone could deeply contribute to all parts of the product development lifecycle from strategy to ideation to execution. These deeper bonds, understanding and empowerment of all team members led to better ideas, better solutions, and faster execution. As I grew to be a people leader, my role has evolved to be more of a coach and sounding board than a doer. However, it is really important to have effectively done in order to be a strong teacher and coach. I aim to empower my team with the context, the tools and support that they need to make the best decisions and to lead their teams with that same type of care, empowerment and focus. The highest leverage thing that I do to stay on top of the evolving world of product and of the business is to build very close relationships with the other leaders of my company. It is helpful to have deep trust and to know what the top problems that they and their team are working towards. This allows me to make the connections on how me and my team might best support and creates an environment where we are all working together to support each other and our company and user goals (vs. departments being out for themselves and their own objectives). I also try to stay up to speed on the consumer industry as a whole so that I can bring new learnings, ideas or trends to my team and enable them to integrate that into their day to day.
Hi @michelleparsons! How do you think about setting culture within your team now so many workplaces are remote? Is there a role for in-person and if so how do you see it evolving - regular team and company all hand offsites? city "hubs"? hybrid events?I'm building to help remote companies plan offsites. We found out that most Office Managers/ HR folks/ Exec Ops folks who plan offsites just use Google sheets to stay coordinated and it seemed like an in-elegant solution. Would love to get your thoughts on how offsites, retreats and the like fit into a Future of Work at tech co's!
Flexibility for people is a huge value add and allows individuals to not have to sacrifice their personal lives, family, friends, self, etc. for the sake of their jobs. That being said I do value in person time and connection for a few reasons. I believe that human bonds, connection and understanding are more effectively built through in person relationships. There is so much meaning that is lost over video -- body language, communication styles -- not to mention the energy it takes to be on video calls in one spot back to back all day. In person problem solving and creative collaboration I have also found to be so much more energizing and effective in person. But these things don't need to happen every day. I think it is important to bring team's in together for smaller collaborative working sessions / roadmap plannings, as well as for larger team bonding retreats or offsites. The balance of these in person moments with the flexibility that working remotely provides can create a culture that values both personal and professional time and lead to stronger output with people that truly get to know and respect all parts of an individual person. In fact, I just brought my entire product, research and design team together yesterday for our end of Q2/beginning of summer team BBQ. We cooked, played games, and got to bond with each other and I know that everyone has been so energized after just a few hours of getting to spend time with their colleagues (and hopefully friends) outside of a work setting.
Hi Michelle! Thank you so much for doing this! What is your opinion on the value of higher education in a PM's career? MBA or technical graduate program specifically? As a current PM, I haven't needed it, but I could see as one moves up the ladder and becomes a CPO, it could become more valuable. What are your thoughts?
This is an interesting one. It's a commonly asked question, and I think that especially as Product Management becomes a more desired and better understood career path more and more people want to pivot into product. For pivots in product specifically is where I think that MBAs or other alternative programs can be beneficial, but again not required. However, additional schooling is not necessarily required and an aspiring PM could also get the skills (if not more!) they need by working in an adjacent discipline (CX, research, eng, etc.) within the tech space. Ultimately, schooling in my opinion is really a preference and should be determined by a person's individual circumstances and goals. As I've grown in my career, I have of course had gaps that I've had to close. I do this by finding mentors, coaches or colleagues who have the skills I need to acquire or learn. Additionally, I have taken courses such as on Reforge to help me up level in very specific concepts (eg. Growth). I have found that to be invaluable and allows for me to learn the specific things that I believe I need to grow on my own terms.
Hi Michelle,Thanks a lot for hosting the office hour! I'm a product manager and an aspiring startup founder in building consumer software products. I'd love to learn from you:1. Unique Product Offering in a Crowded Market - I was intrigued by Hinge when I first started using it (the long yet engaging and somewhat fun onboarding questions, the voice recording, and more). I wonder how Hinge evolved overtime and how the company found its unique offering in a competitive dating app market. 2. Balancing the Big Picture and the Details - I often find it challenging as a product manager to focusing on the vision while working out the details. As a serial optimizer, how do you learn to do that effectively throughout your career and what are some notable lessons?Cheers!
Hi Michelle, would love to hear what you got to say in terms of important role transitions. I am currently a senior designer at a big tech company and thinking about going back to a smaller firm so I can own a bigger part of the pie and grow faster from that. It seems like you had a huge role jump from Senior PM to Head of Product when you took the role at Kayak. Can you explain a bit about what prompt you make that transition and what are you looking for in the new role/team to ensure it is a good transition for you? Thanks!
I always start from my own individual goals. Jumping from Cengage to Kayak for me was a result of wanting to learn other methods in product management, most notably A/B testing. In the education space, we did no A/B testing and instead did a lot of in-person prototyping and user research. Our development cycles were long (to match the semesters in school years) and we got very slow input from users once products were live. I was looking to learn more about faster paced consumer companies and also go to a place that valued my ambition, hunger and curiosity, but accepted that I had some skill gaps that I needed to fill. At smaller companies, especially in my case where I was the 3rd PM at Kayak, the ability to wear multiple hats present themselves often. There is usually more work and opportunities than people and so you can really grow and stretch yourself at much faster rates than at bigger more established companies with more rigid hierarchies, processes and structures. I do want to not that I started at Kayak as a Product Manager for desktop hotels, but given the speed of growth, my ability to have some autonomy and take ownership of large projects (and prove that I could execute) I was able to eventually quickly grow into the head of product for our entire Hotels product across website and mobile from search to checkout. When transitioning I am usually first focused on the skills that I can gain learn and the impact that I can have. I then consider the problem space and whether or not I am truly passionate about the business and the user problems we are working to solve. Lastly I am laser focused on ensuring that the management and team in place are supportive of their employees growth to ensure that the value I add to a company will be rewarded with opportunities for professional development, exposure and impact.
Hello @michelleparsons! Thank you so much for being here and doing this Q&A. I just landed my first job in product and at a start-up in tech from an academic background. Therefore, I have a collection of related questions: * What do you wish you had known starting out in product? * What tips and tricks have you learned along the way to onboard faster? * What are some examples of key things that one can do well early in your career to create a strong upward trajectory? * What is one thing that you can share or expand upon here that is not covered in your public Product School material (like this fabulous interview )?
Hi Michelle, I’m from hospitality industry , completed my Masters in Business administration. Wanting to shift my industry to tech as product manager. Will you be able to spare few minutes to talk?
Hi @michelleparsons - thank you for taking the time to tell us more about your experience and answer questions!I’m a data person that loves applying statistical methods to the smallest and largest numbers and solving those difficult-to-answer questions with easy-to-understand frameworks. In your experience of translating data to action, is this skill transferable from each consecutive company or do you have a process for learning how to do it specifically for the job/project. What are the steps you take to become a better “translator”?Thank you!!
Hi Michelle! Your career trajectory is amazing.In your role at Hinge, are you guys working on any product innovations that can help with the growing political divide in the U.S.? I'm an active user of the product, and I find the political labels (Liberal, Conservative, Moderate, Not Political) woefully inadequate, and almost more damaging than not including them at all, because they mean almost nothing without follow-up questions. I live in New York City too, and less than a third of men here will label themselves as Liberal. Many will leave it blank. I find that if I match with someone and I ask them to elaborate on their politics while messaging, it kills the vibe of the conversation, even if they end up being pro-choice. But if I actually go on a date without confirming these things first, I'll sometimes end up on dates where men will mention loving Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, or Dave Chapelle. I even ended up on a date with a man who turned out to be against gay marriage.I don't even consider myself terribly political (I vote but haven't actively participated in protests). Even so, I mark myself as Liberal in the app.This kills my spirit and makes me want to spend less time on the app, since it's just as much of a crapshoot to meet likeminded men in real life. Of course I try to match with Liberal men, but I find that they are so in-demand here it's hard to even meet up before they are snatched off the market.At the same time, I think of men like my brother who are also single and would probably list themselves as "Not Political" despite being very well-versed in intersectional feminism. I am sure that if there was a Hinge field about abortion, he would mark himself as pro-choice, but only if it was a required field.I guess this isn't really a question, I just never thought I would be so lucky to get to personally vent to the Chief Product Officer of the main dating app I use!
Hi @michelleparsons - thx for doing AMA. Here's my ?: I'm a pre-seed Startup bootstrapping that has LOI's from Companies wanting to do unpaid pilots. I want to get feedback in the pilots to shape the continued dev of the product. However this (and not being funded) it taking sooo long I'm afraid we will miss the window we have if we toil around here too long. What's the best way to blow people away with somethg simple to get paid traction so you can raise, then build faster (without taking forever to do unpaid pilots for feedback?) Tysm.
Hey Michelle!Love what you say about finding elegant and implementable solutions to big hairy problems🙏As a Product Manager, I used PM competency frameworks to help me understand my strengths, gaps and interests and work towards honing my strengths, closing my gaps and prioritising what interests me.However, now in a product leadership position (I head a product team of 5 ppl), I havent come across similar frameworksWas curious to understand how your approached working on your product leadership.Thanks :)
Can you share the frameworks you used?
Hi @michelleparsons ! Nice to meet you! I am building a markeplace in Mexico to connect hollistic therapists with customers. My question is: What should I look out for when first starting to develop a product? Should I talk to customers or watch out for metrics? How can I make sure to build a feature that will actually improve my customer experience without having to spend tons of money and time to develop the feature and then learning if it’s valuable or not.
Thank you @michelleparsons for taking the time.We just launched our MVP to help users find safer routes. My co-founder is the CTO, we work with a designer to improve UI/UX, and we are starting to measure user experience. At what point of an early stage startup do you recommend bringing a product (customer-oriented) person onboard? Thank you!
Hi Michelle! Thanks for taking the time :)Can you give us an example of how you used user data to think up a new feature (maybe like Spotify's Year In Review or one of the many at Hinge)?Also, how do you think about the line between personalization and privacy?
Hi @michelleparsons - thank you for doing the Q&A!Recently went down the rabbit hole of app reviews - and the thing that surprised me the most was how strikingly different perspectives on Hinge were, and how clearly some of them were from folks who were not the intended audience (as in, not looking for long-term relationships).Was that the case for Hinge as you were building the product - and if yes, how was the team separating ideal-fit-customer feedback from not-so-ideal-actually-customer feedback? Has the latter ever influenced product decisions or feature development (to help folks self-segment themselves and leave)?