Office Hours: I’m a Director of Product at Visa and a mentor at First Round Fast Track. I’m Maria Potoroczyn. AMA!Featured

Hi everyone!

I’m Maria Potoroczyn, the Director of Product at Visa. I advise startups and coach founders / operators in my spare time. I also write about my attempts at living in the present moment on Substack and I’m currently training as a meditation teacher.

Over the past decade, I’ve built a career in innovation and fintech. I’ve worked in consulting, large corporations, and small startups. I find my sweet spot at the intersection of strategy, technology, and design to help solve complex business challenges.

Way back when, in my undergrad, I majored in Social Anthropology. At the time, I followed my heart. But I also inadvertently built a human-centered toolkit that has helped me stand out in every workplace I ever joined. What I learned from that is following your heart usually works out.

I speak my mind and never shy away from the hard truths. I try as hard as I can to both embrace my Eastern European directness and to lead with kindness and compassion. I am a big fan of idiosyncrasies. “Both things are true” is one of my favorite sayings.

“Not your circus, not your monkeys” is another one - I try to practice the wisdom of knowing what I can and cannot control. That said, I have a knack for catalyzing my personal frustration into projects that try to make our world a little better:

When I found myself dead bored with CPG work as a consultant, I built a social innovation practice to serve non-profits and social impact organizations.

When I realized the gender gap in leadership was a real thing (yep, I was a very naive twenty-something, don’t judge), I founded WIN: Women in Innovation to lift women up into positions of power and influence.

When I faced life-changing burnout, I created Habit & Co to help others deal with stress, anxiety, and work-related mental health challenges.

Today, I write openly about whatever is on my mind and whenever that resonates with people - I invite 1:1 coaching partners into my container, to go through this interesting thing called life together.

Ask me anything about product leadership, untying your identity from your work, community building, taking and maximizing a sabbatical, recovering from burnout, living a more present life, or anything else that seems relevant given all the above.

Thanks so much for joining us @mariapoto!Elphas – please ask @mariapoto your questions before Friday, August 11th. @mariapoto may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hello Maria, Thank you for sharing your insights with this audience. With a background in Finance/Accounting as a Data Analyst, Manager in Credit and Customer Success, I'm researching and considering pivoting to product development. Do you have any advice or companies that might be interested in a contributor like me? Given the hypercompetitive market among Customer Success candidates, It makes sense to consider roles less aligned with this function and tangential. Your insight is appreciated,Maura-Lynne
As a starting point I would speak to at least 10 PMs across a number of companies / industries / types of PM profiles. This will give you an understanding of how varied the PM job can be and where your past skillset can be a value add, rather than a hindrance. A PM can mean many different things in many different contexts. At the end of the day - hiring managers are pattern recognizers. So you want to feed into the pattern their looking to find. Additionally, I would read up on the PM "practice" - lots of great books on the subject ("Continuous Discovery Process", "The Build Trap", "Inspired". I would also consider following Product Leaders on Twitter / LI (or subscribinig to their newsletters). Finally - one of the best hubs of PMs on the internet is Lenny Ratchitsky's members-only Slack - a goldmine of insights.
Many thanks for the resources and advice.Have a great week!
Hi, Maria. My career has paralleled yours in a lot of ways. I have spent multiple decades navigating the waters of fintech and startups. Over time the ongoing bro culture of tech and unconscious bias even of coworkers who purport to be allies of women in tech has really just ground me down. The further I've moved up the ranks, the more poisonous it feels like it gets.I'm feeling exhausted and just wanting to chuck the whole thing. I'm so tired of being the token woman in the C suite, on panels, etc. Do you have any suggestions on how to recover from just feeling deeply cynical and over the who sh-t show? I'm not feeling like I'm capable of pulling myself up by the bootstraps yet one more time.
Ugh, I'm feeling all the feels Steph. Thank you for bravely speaking up about the way you feel. Many of us feel the same way - at one point or another. And... in my experience, there's no easy way out of this hole. I've tried three "paths" that maybe can help you, but please remember that what was right for me may not be right for you. Path 1: I found myself so angry, that I started WIN. It started with the annoyance at an all-male, all-white partnership in a consulting firm I worked at. Hoping to find women struggling with the same things that I could learn from and lean on. Evolved into an industry-wide movement that built a recognizable brand, that no "white, male partner" in the industry today can ignore. Lesson: anger can be a powerful tool for change. Question for you: what could be the WIN equivalent for you? Path 2: Bow out of the environments you find so draining, toxic, and biased. At one place I worked at, I recognized that one person cannot change an entire organization. It's impossible. Lesson: only so much I can individually influence. Question for you: are you feeling like a "rejected transplant"? If so - what would it take to find a place that cherishes you and fuels you, instead of drains you? (applies to panels / conferences, just as well as workplaces)Path 3: Speak up, speak out, be bold in naming things for what they are. Call out biases, misogyny, inequity. Many ways to do it BTW. You can do it in a way that is bold and angry, or in a way that feels like you're guiding a meditation. Whatever suits your vibe. Generally - you'll make enemies. But then again - did you even want them as friends in the first place? Lesson: this felt empowering to me and helped understand I am not everyone's cup of tea. Question for you: what could that look like for you?
Hi @mariapoto - love this post, thank you so much. I wonder what advice you would give for someone who is looking for a mentor and best places to find one? I recently left my job to pursue what has been a side hustle for the last few years full time (a clothes swapping company) and I'm torn about a few different ideas I have about the direction of the business (& a couple of other potential new business ideas). So often everyone says, well look at the financials of each idea and evaluate that but that doesn't necessarily align with heart for them. I'm looking for a mentor who might be able to help me craft them and decide on some business futures! Any advice would be very welcome on decision paralysis and also finding a mentor! Thanks so much in advance, Jess
Hey @jessbrunt - I generally think that it’s much harder to „think” your way through something like this. I would try deciding quickly and decisively on the smallest experiment you can conduct to help you get the learnings you need to decide whether to move forward on that direction, or whether to try something else. An experiment could be many different things - testing ideas with potential users, launching a bare bones landing page, experimenting on social media with messaging / value props, testing ideas with angels / investors or people connected to the space you’re building in, etc. I coach and advise people on those kind of challenges as well, so if it’s something you’d like to explore further you can drop me a note at [email protected]
Hi @mariapoto! So great to see you on here!
Hi Maria! Thank you for being with us this week. I am excited for this Office Hours! You are clearly a very confident woman and rightfully so, you have achieved great things in your life and you aren't afraid to take risks. I love it and I would consider myself in that bucket too. Now my big question is when is self promotion too much? Like in an era where social media is omnipresent, people have access to us so easily (eg you said yourself you write openly), at what point is the line between self promotion and bragging crossed? This is something I struggle a bit, because I am proud of my accomplishment and I want to share them but I don't want to rub the world the wrong way and ultimately not being taken seriously.
I would say, that's a negative self-belief that you should definitely dig into! Why do you think you would rub someone the wrong way? Why do you think you would not be taken seriously? What is it about not being taken seriously that you creates this struggle for you? These are the types of questions I would ask myself and then see what comes up. I sometimes record voice notes to verbally process trickier topics like this one. Or I take into my coaching or therapy containers if it feels too heavy to deal with on my own. Hope this helps!
Hi Maria! Thank you for joining us and sharing your experience so far. I am currently in an Associate Product Manager role in a global financial services company, prior to this I practiced law and I also have a community org for young women in their 20s. I am at the stage where I’d like to move out of my more delivery product role ( Product owner) and into a more strategic PM focused role. I’m struggling to make this happen - do you have any advice for this, is it worth considering external opportunities and how do I present myself knowing the experience isn’t fully there yet. Thank you Do you have any general advice for a
What could you do today in your job to embody the Product Manager you believe you can be? How would you show up to your job today if you were a PM, and not a PO? I would start with that :)
Hi @mariapoto! I'm currently in tech with a background in entertainment (music, gaming) and looking to have a wider impact in the startup space. Any suggestions how to grow and connect with that community?
More questions than answers :) What kind of impact are seeking? How do you envision your give and your get to a community of entrepreneurs? Are you based in a thriving startup hub or somewhere where there isn't a scene (yet)? Are interested in a specific space or just broadly startups? I suppose that the easiest way is to find communities in your area or virtually that focus on serving the startup ecosystem and support them as a mentor / expert / advisor for their portcos. Since you're in gaming / music - I would look for funds that focus on investing in these verticals (e.g. a16z recently launched a massive gaming-only fund...) Your expertise will shine there and you'll be able to make a big contribution.
Thank you! @mariapoto
Thank you for your time and input @mariapoto.What a fantastic career you’ve built!What have been your most significant career decisions on your journey, positive or negative?
The three decisions that don't get talked enough about in the context of a career (for both men and women) are: choosing a life partner, deciding if/when we have kids, and getting smart about money (investing, diversifying). The three choices drive so many other choices and the flexibility / optionality available to us. Admittedly I've lagged on the third one in some ways, so this is what I'm also focusing on right now. Besides those I would point to a few critical decisions that shaped my path: choosing an immigrant life (small fish in big ponds), going for vague but fun-sounding degrees in college (anthropology, innovation management), taking a bet on myself multiple time (moving to London and then to NY, choosing not to go back to consulting after my first kid, taking a very long sabbatical when I needed it). This is outside of every time I decided to create something new whether that's Amble, or WIN, or a pro bono social innovation practice - all of which I consider significant milestones on my path.
So wonderful to meet you here @mariapoto and congratulations on finding your voice, a great inspiration for many of us. As a Founder building a FinTech lending marketplace around impact, we have finally started onboarding users /enterprises leveraging our MVP in Kenya. We have been largely unsuccessful with raising a first round of funding and are now looking at ways to hit revenue instead while we take a hard look at our model. What are your top 2-3 resources for fintech marketplaces that you might recommend also could be funders? Also, what's your view on marketplaces that are still holding on to the vision of leveraging blockchain payments or cross-border lending protocols given the overall climate? Thanks so much! We'd love to share more about what we are building at Thanks so much for your time.
Hi! I'm really interested in transitioning from Data Science to Product Management/Leadership, what are some practical suggestions for making this jump? Thank you!
How can hiring companies show their commitment to not burning out their employees? Do you think people hide how they achieve work/life balance, making it difficult for people to feel safe to embrace their own healthy habits?
Interesting question, which I am not sure if I fully understand, so forgive me if I'm not answering in a way that actually answers... You can easily vet what the company culture of a prospective employer is by asking questions about this in the interview process. "What hours do you typically work?" "How are timezone differences solved for?" "How much time off did you take last year?" "Would you respond to an email over the weekend or at night?" Hope this helps!
Thank you so much for answering questions, @mariapoto. How does one uncouple their identity from their work while maintaining a healthy stride toward one's "North Star"?
Great question! I've found that taking a longer sabbatical did a very good job at reminding me that I am NOT my work. I took 6/7 months and I discovered that I have interests that cannot be easily categorized into a work "bucket". That I am a human who brings comfort, joy, friendship, and love to so many people around me. That my idiosyncrasies are precisely what makes me me. I realize this was a very privileged thing I could do and not everyone can afford to "bum" around for half a year... But if there's any way you can do that for yourself - I would say it's a "lifetime investment". We're so wired and acculturated - especially in America - to think that you are what you do, which is such a convenient lie for the capitalist framework we all operate in. Breaking up with that "lie" takes time and space and chillness to see things in a different light.
How would you recommend staying in the know about emerging technologies or breakthrough trends that could advance a product? Thank you for your time!
@mariapoto I love your duality vibe. What are some ways to move through the "legitimacy" traps in my mind. To put crassly, my tech career (which I torched after 22 years!) felt like I had a ticket to legitimacy. Now that I'm off of that, and am an author, poet, writer, actor, dancer, I sometimes find myself getting into "proving" mode of justifying what I'm doing, rather than all of it being an exploration of matching my life to who I am more authentically. A lot of it is that this sense of arriving to an "end" is so in the culture, that having a job, a title, and a legit industry felt like it was tied deeply to my sense of OK-ness. I want that vibe of "I am valuable because I exist." And i'm somewhere in the middle looking around to see how to be more "free" in what was supposed to feel like a creative free fall. LOL. But it's trickier than that. Thanks for your ideas.
Wow wow wow... can I just say - I admire the bold moves! You're so brave - pursuing your inklings, and passions. Becoming a more authentic expression of yourself and living comfortably with the ambiguity of that process. Beautiful. Magnificent. The question I would etch in your brain as you're going to go through the rest of your life is: "who the fuck cares?" And then proceed with your magnitude and freedom and authenticity forward.
Hi Maria! It's very nice to meet you! Thank you for making the time to be with us this week. It's inspiring to see how you take matters in your own hand and you don't let hardships get in the way + just create solutions. I took a look at your substack and really enjoyed the content, keep them coming hehe!My question to you is what continues to motivate you to run your own race while you see others taking a more predictable but safer path? It can be tempting to fall in that trap too but curious to hear your thoughts. I am going through it right now and while I have managed to never compare myself to others (comparison is the thief of joy as they say), it can sometimes get hard to see the end in the projects I want to accomplish!And tell us more about the mission of WIN and how does one get involved?
Hi there - I actually don't know if my path was THAT unpredictable or risky :) I took some risks across my career - usually driven by the motivation to have fun, and experience / learn new things. In general, I think that's a solid recipe for a good life - following your curiosity and pursuing fun. With you on comparison being a total vibe killer. One of the ways I have found really helpful for me in managing this was deleting Instagram 4 years ago. I still find myself on Twitter and LinkedIn falling down the comparison hole, and I try to manage that by limiting my exposure to both platforms. I'd like to be more active on those platforms, but I also find it's important for me to limit the time I spend exposed there. I think social media has made our life miserable and we have to take ownership over the boundaries we place with those platforms.
Getting involved with WIN is easy - send me a note at [email protected] and I will connect you with the appropriate folks :) Also - join one of their upcoming events.
Job seekers are often told that a career pivot can be attractive because of the additional skills and experience gained. When attempting to go back to a previous field (before the pivot), how can these additional skills be illustrated as benefits with authenticity and confidence?
I would start at 10k ft. What could field A learn field B? In what ways does work in field B happen in a way that could benefit how work happens in field A? What are some tightly held principles in field B that field A is lacking or behind on? Then I would start writing out all the things you've learned, mastered, grasped since you made your pivot. Finally, I would connect it back to your "OG" space. I think you could get creative with this exercise and think of it as telling a very powerful story. Hope this helps!
Hi @mariapoto! Thanks so for being here. I’m curious what led you to become a mentor with First Round? Would you consider leaving product management and going full time to VC?
When joining First Round, I was craving more connectivity to the startup ecosystem in NYC, a different space to practice my coaching, and a way to learn about the challenges of PMs at the front lines of fintech. It was a great experience and would recommend it to anyone. I am not interested in pursuing a full-time career in VC (in fact I'm pretty bullish on dissing the whole VC-inspired hustle culture, where every company has to be a billion dollar business...), but I do dabble in startup advisory and investing. I only team up with founders / startups I'm mission aligned with.
Thank you so much for joining us @mariapoto! I am leaving my position as head of product at a small company (12 yrs, $10MM, 50 ppl) after a rough year for B2B and burn out after an underfunded project shipped too early. I’m doubtful that B2B is the best landing place right now and considering a few pivots — B2C, eduction to fit AI product management, or data product management that might overlap more with marketing in many ways. I wonder where you see the opportunity? What excites you in the world of PDM right now?
Hi there! Without much context on your career path so far and your interests... this is a hard question to answer. Because at the end of the day - it's all super personal. What makes you tick? What interests you? Those are the questions I would first ask yourself. What excites me personally right now are a few different spaces. All of them are "enduring trends" which I do not see shifting any time soon. 01 Sustainability - there's so much to do here on so many fronts. And it's an absolute imperative! If you're someone who likes to understand deep tech at a deep level - I would look to upskill and learn in that space. 02 Teen Mental Health - social media is hurting our kids and I find myself terrified at the prospect of my 6 and 4 y o one day facing the shaming, bullying, unconstructive interactions, unrealistic expectations that it generates. There's been a shift even in the past 2-3 y when I speak to fellow parents. I used to be the only radical parent who plans on not giving a smartphone or access to social media to my children until they are late teens, like very late teens. Now I am one of many. 03 Generative AI - I probably don't have to say much on this, we're all witnessing the insane pace and impact. I'm spending a lot of time on this at Visa right now, so this is where I walk the talk. Applications across industries that will impact how we collectively think about work and creativity at large.
Hi Maria! I have an interview for a Director role with the HM at Visa. This feels kismet! Do you have any insights you can share about the interview process? Anything you wish someone else had told you before you interviewed?Your background is inspiring to say the least. Kudos!
Good luck in the interview process. Visa is a really great place to work! Different teams have a very different hiring process / approach. Our teams does case studies for example, but I don't think many do. Etc. Etc. However, I believe there's typically a series of interview with 3-4 folks usually a level above what you're hiring for. These tend to rotate on focus - behavioral, past experience, culture fit, etc. Hope this is helpful!