Office Hours: I’ve been a PM, SWE, founder, acquired, VP, and now a CPO leading a 200 person prod/eng team at a hyper-growth healthtech startup. I’m Claire Vo. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Claire Vo and I’m an ex-founder, ex-Austinite, now Chief Product Officer at Color, where we’re building infrastructure to deliver essential healthcare services & improve outcomes across large populations.

Before Color, I built my career in product management at tech companies, including Optimizely, Electronic Arts,, and uShip. I also founded my own venture-backed startup, Experiment Engine, which I ran as CEO & technical co-founder until it was acquired by Optimizely in 2017. I am now at healthcare company Color, where I lead product, engineering, design, and analytics and have grown the team to 35 from nearly 200 in 18 months.

I’m a San Francisco mama of two, startup junkie, and a passionate advocate for women in technology. In my “free time” (hah!) I invest in API/infrastructure tools, enterprise SaaS, and women-lead NFT projects. I also advise founders and love sharing my experience scaling product and engineering teams.

As a self-taught software engineer, state-school-liberal-arts-degreed executive, and unapologetic working mom, I hope my career can help folks realize there is more than the standard path to success in the tech industry.

Ask me anything about building a career, scaling teams, product management, engineering leadership, healthtech, or surviving as an executive mom during a global pandemic!

Thanks so much for joining us @clairevo!Elphas – please ask @clairevo your questions before Friday, April 8th. @clairevo may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
@clairevo thank you so much for your time!What was it like making the jump from (A) a PM role to being a founder (B) to being an exec?For A: what were the biggest things you had to learn? what did you wish you learned sooner? and was there anything you maybe even had to unlearn when making the mindset shift?For B: I’m a PM and growing in my current role but am thinking about hopping off that path and becoming a founder. While I’m ready to take a risk, I keep wondering what might happen next in the best- and worst-case scenarios. I know in your case you mentioned you became an exec through the acquisition of your company, and I’m curious how you think about paths after founding a company in the alternative (hypothetical) case that the company doesn’t succeed.
Hi Claire! Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to answer our questions. Your life story is incredibly inspiring! I'd appreciate your insights on some product development-related questions. 1. What were some of the biggest challenges you had to learn to overcome when transitioning from being a product IC to leader? Looking back now, what might you have approached differently? 2. As the first PM at the start-up I'm working at, how can I improve my ability to evangelize and bring that vision and higher-level context to the rest of product development? And certainly last but not least: 3. How do you prefer to decompress with everything in life you've got going on? Thank you! 💜
1. PM -> Leader Transition-- results are the only thing that matters. Outcomes > Inputs-- focus on becoming a really great hiring manager; great people are what create great outcomes-- hire slow, fire fast-- what i would have done differently: focused on "ugly" outcomes. I see a lot of product leaders come in and focus on process when really they just need to keep the engine of brute-forcing customer value going. Don't build a pretty process that still outputs crappy results.2. I think "evangelizing vision" is often a tactical question--the vision exists, how do you get it in the minds & hearts of folks? Think about what regular check points (weekly, monthly, quarterly) you can use to reinforce the vision and strategy in a structured way. For quarterly cadence, I like my product planning template as a way to cascade up and down: Hang with my kiddos (my fave!), impulse buy NFTs, and watch tiktok. My only hobbies.
Thanks so much for these valuable and snappy insights! re: regular, ongoing reinforcement of the vision and strategy, thank you for giving me that pointer about creating structured and predictable routines for doing so. Appreciate your sharing of your product planning template, too! 👀
Lovely background! So 'Girl Power' <3
Would love to hear more about your philosophy towards balancing career aspirations with family goals. I'm based in NY, also self-trained-liberal-arts-grad who works in design. Husband and I are were just starting to talk more seriously about going for kids until... I landed my first big leadership gig (just accepted on Friday!). Classic challenge I'm sure so many women face. Spent the last decade+ driving towards career goals and then right when I start seeing the fruits of my labor (these puns tho lol - so not intentional), biological clock starts ticking a whole lot louder. Decided to go for the job and hold off on kids for another year or two but wondering how you decided it was time for kids? As much as my husband would love to stay home with kids, he has his own business so childcare will mostly fall on me since I'm the one who has the option to WFH. What was your approach/philosophy? How do you take your foot off the gas to do raise little ones without giving up entirely on your own aspirations?
I don't know if this reply will be popular, but I feel it deeply and truly:**If you want children and you know you're ready--don't let a job get in the way.**Seriously.I decided to have kids because my husband + I wanted kids and felt ready, and we willfully ignored the professional circumstances around us when making that decision :-) I had my first child when I was CEO of my own startup (the company acquisition term sheet was literally signed when I was 39 weeks pregnant!) and moved to a new city for a new job with a 5 month old.My second came about 3 months after I got my first "Chief of" job.YMMV, but I've seen many regret delaying or deferring their family plans for a job (jobs are transient; family is forever!) And, most good companies to work for are super supportive of new parents and parents of littles. We've hired people that go on leave within their first WEEKS of starting the company, and we're super excited to have them back (baby on zoom) when they return. So maybe my other piece of advice is asking yourself why you think job + family can't be done in parallel and if all your assumptions are really true!Best of luck with your new role 🎉 and the exciting decisions you'll be making over the next few years ❤️
Hi Claire - your time is invaluable, thank you so much for answering out questions!As a similar state school liberal arts grad looking to self study/invest into software engineering boot camps to become more "technical", what resources do you recommend and how do you know you've become "technical" enough?
I learned thought a combination of:- Books (I mean, I am an old)- Online tutorials (step by step instructions)- Trying to build something WITH another engineer (hackathons, startups)- reading the docs- stack overflowMy resources are probably a lot out of date, but I will say I know a lot of women that have had an amazing experience with Hackbright Academy and Techtonica on the bootcamp side!
Hi Claire! This may be a basic question, but what made you leave Austin for SF? What are the pros and cons in terms of the two different women’s tech communities, job opportunities, and quality of life?As someone born and raised in Bay Area, did a decade + on the east coast, who just spent 5 years in SF and found it dissatisfying, I have been doing a test run in Austin for the past month. While the better cost of living and nice people are appealing, I can’t help but wonder why people leave (besides personal reasons) to go back to the Bay?
I grew up in Texas and lived in Austin for a long time--my first job was in Austin, I got married there, and had my first baby! ATX holds a special place in my heart.I left Austin for SF for two reasons:1. Ambition - my company was acquired by a SF based company and I wanted an executive role at the acquiring company (thought that it was more likely than if I were a "remote" leader)2. Adventure - I've never been risk-adverse so thought; why not?ATX(+) pros- all my bffs are there- great food- great lifestyle; no 24/7 grind mentality- no state income tax- a few really fantastic female founders and execs/success stories(-) cons- much smaller job market for executives <--this is a big deal- high property tax- expensive homes (seriously the last year, yikes!)- women's rightsSF(+) pros- sea surf snow sun!- great lifestyle, just different- tons of ambition- lots of exec opportunities- women's rights(-) cons- very expensive- SF is weird politically- grind/hustle culture- almost all tech (I yearn for the diversity of the NYC industries!)tl;dr I'm west coast best coast. we love it here and hope to keep our family in SF/bay/CA for a long time. but i def left my heart in atx
Hi Claire! It's so inspiring to hear how you successfully navigated the transitions between different types of roles in your career to get to where you are now.During these transitions, what signals helped you build confidence in your decisions to pivot to new roles?I'm currently a software engineer with experience at small startups but I've always been drawn towards product and design as well. I'm extremely user-centric, organized, and have a good eye for design so I'm having a hard time deciding whether to continue down the engineering path or pursue product or design.Thanks for taking the time to participate in this Elpha AMA! ♥️
My growth path was quite organic, and truly motivated my by desire, willingness, and ultimately--ability to solve adjacent problems to the ones that I was responsible for. I am a hand-raiser, aka "I see a problem, and I'm going to go solve it unless you tell me no." I think the only decisive part was me deciding I was going to do things and then... off to the races!I think a good framing for exploring where one should focus is the concept of the zone of genius (h/t @Mathilde at Front for sharing about this)
Hi Claire! So excited to have the chance to connect with you! I am an SF based co-founder of Neurona Health, a pediatric wellness initiative focused on screening and management of behavioral conditions. As part of our platform, we are also offering an optional PRS test. We are currently exploring both D2C and B2B marketing strategies. I love to hear about what marketing strategies worked best for color when acquiring customers. Also if you ever have the time, I would love to connect via Zoom for a 30 min coffee chat! Thank you!!
Hi Claire! Wow, your journey is so inspiring! I was wondering if you have advice on how to approach finding your first role in the tech-world with a non-traditional background?Specifically in the Health Tech space, since I have a background as a physician trying to break into tech after a Data Science bootcamp and self-teaching Python. Thanks for taking the time for this AMA!
haha well, step #1 -- we're hiring! think the best thing you can do when searching for a new job, especially one you feel like you're not 110% qualified for is to apply anyway and then reach out directly to the hiring manager or leaders on the team.Even though I'm always talking about how I'm hiring, very few people reach out directly to me and "pitch" their background and why they might be an (non-obvious) very good fit for a role I'm hiring for. And even if I can't find a right fit, I'm inclined to connect them with folks that;dr shoot your shot!
Thank you for your answer! Yes, I do have a history of self-rejecting, trying to get out of the habit and slowly starting to cold-message people, even if I think they probably have better things to do than to talk to Junior-me....On that note:There are some very interesting roles on your careers page, do you happen to have the capability of hiring people remotely in Switzerland? :)
Hi Claire! Love hearing your background and thanks for being here! As a state school liberal arts grad and working mom myself, I’m currently head of ops at a global health tech startup, and an aspiring web3 entrepreneur who is always finding it a challenge to balance all the things. I’d love to hear what you’ve found most helpful in navigating career transitions (creating time?!) especially around learning. An ongoing struggle for me for sure. Thanks!
First of all, love your WITCHAnd oy! I feel this one.I really.... don't have an answer to this one. TBH, I just *don't* do all the things I have ambitions to do. Ex: I want to be neck-deep in Web3 and I'm only ankle deep. But I have zero. hours. to. give. Waiting for my kids to be 10 or some old startups to IPO so I can carve out more of that magical elixir... time!tl;dr I have no answers for you, only empathy!
What was it like to make the leap from one area to another -- from tech-tech to health-tech? What was the key in convincing the people who hired you that you could make that transition and learn a new, complicated industry?
First of allHiiiiiiiiii Elile! I'm sure I owe you a message somewhere, but... TWO KIDS LIFE 😱👀🔥Thanks for asking.What it's like to make the leap? I'll speak specifically for health tech:- Huge learning curve. Not just on the products (18 months in I feel like I have a handle) but on the overall ecosystem, tech, payment structure, regulations, etc. Always learning--it can be overwhelming.- But in some ways feel like such an expert; lots of "low hanging fruit" on PM/eng side that can really uplevel in a healthcare/health tech team/stack- And also fun and weird: I've tested blood collection devices, figured out how to send prescriptions to people in 14 languages, keep test tubes at my desk. The problem space is vast, and the real human part of the product experience is really fun to design for and solve.How did I convince people?- Honestly... I don't know! I know I was up against some hot talent. - I think at the level I'm at (C-suite) my entrepreneurial experience as more important than specifically my product leadership experience, meaning: I think I conveyed a ability to take ownership of an ambiguous problem and make fast, strategic decisions in ambiguity. - I was able to share some of my "style" outside of the interview process by sharing example talks, podcasts, etc. that gave a broader sense of who I was as a leader- I had great referencesp.s. let's hang soon, texting now!
I'm really intrigued by the women-lead NFT projects you mentioned! Which ones and how can I get involved?
I'm vibe-driven, so for communities I love crypto_coven (amazing team, amazing tech, amazing art, amazing derivatives, fun community)I'm starting to get more into 1/1 artists like themystic and tiffatron (I wish I had snagged one of these because now they're $$$)And my PFP is sad girls club, because i'm a secret goth.
Thanks for your reply! I'll have to look into all these artists!
How did you know when it was time to shift jobs from your first one in PM?
Thought leader answer: I wasn't learningReal answer: toxic workplace
Thanks for doing this! Have you ever struggled as a woman developer? I'm usually the only woman on my dev teams and I feel like I am often dismissed and ignored.
As a follow up to this - as a female PM what are some things I can do to support the female devs on my team?
- highlight their wins- proactively bring them into conversations "amy, you've been quiet but i'd love to hear your POV"- assign "admin" tasks around the team fairly (notes, etc.)- tell their managers how great they are!
Hi! When I was doing the most individual engineering I was also CEO of my startup, so really didn't "struggle" specifically as an engineer. Because I hired them and was the technical co-founder; I always had my team's respect. It also helped I hired wonderful humans!That being said, I constantly fight the battle of being perceived as technical enough. Despite my hard technical skills, people often pigeonhole me as a "product" person and don't believe that I have a technical background. Folks are "surprised" I run engineering, which I find super silly. I try not to engage with this POV because I don't think I need to credential myself to anyone, I've had the success I've had because I'm qualified for the roles I take. I think bias in engineering teams are real. Even as leaders, I see women can be dismissed and ignored in ways where it's hard to believe it's not driven by bias. So yes: I've struggled--you're not alone! But some cultures are much healthier than others, and it's most important to work at a place that is willing to confront and address bias, where leaders treat it as a priority.
Hi Claire, Thanks for sharing, your story is inspiring. I was wondering if you have ever taken a job which, after some time, just didn't feel like the right fit. If so, did you stay and try to make it work, and was it successful? If not, how long did you stay before you realized it wasn't going to work?
I've worked at places with bad cultures and toxic leadership -- I stayed longer than I shouldn't have.I have also worked at places that were tough but fair cultures, and I stuck it out and finally found my footing. I think if you're a) miserable every day or b) just don't think the role is a fit -- leave as soon as you feel you can.If you're a) solving interesting problems but b) having a bit of culture shock -- wait 6 months and see if you feel the same.
Thanks Claire! I left my old job because of bad culture even though the work was super interesting, and now I like the team / culture, but don't feel like I'm working on interesting problems / learning new things. But since I like the team and culture I feel bad leaving. Anyways, this is excellent food for thought.
How did you know which problems you enjoyed solving? What methodologies/frameworks helped you decide on the type of work you enjoyed? Was it luck? Was it jumping around?
I enjoy solving ALL THE PROBLEMS! So not super formal: looked around, said "I can do that" and then basically asked for forgiveness not permission to do it. So my framework is probably: curiosity x impatience x high levels of self-confidence.