Insights: Talia King, Head of Product at Connectr
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2022, we have asked key female leaders from across the Puma Private Equity portfolio about their career, challenges and advice for other women in business.
In the first in our series, we spoke to Talia King, Head of Product at Connectr about working in the tech sector and how adopting a growth mindset has allowed her to progress.
1. What do you see as the challenges facing today’s business leaders and do you think there are any additional or different ones for females?
Whilst the ‘Great Resignation’ is very topical right now, I think holding on to your best people has been an ongoing challenge for years – particularly in start-ups/SMEs. Having people stick around for at least a few years can really help the growth of a business as you ensure retention of knowledge and real domain expertise.
Building a team culture that fosters belonging is something that’s so important for talent retention – even more so as businesses continue with hybrid working.
There are many ways to achieve this, and we’ve tried a number of things at Connectr including daily stand-ups, encouraging office days once a week, having lunch together (in real life or digitally – Friday Zoom takeaways are fabulous), driving an environment that fosters openness and minimises hierarchy, organising socials, monthly company-wide sessions and investing in L&D. Probably above all else, being empathic and encouraging empathy within your teams, will make the most difference in my view.
In terms of additional challenges as a female leader, I’ve been pretty lucky in my career to have worked in teams with a fair gender representation, but I know this is not the case for many people.
It’s also really clear that businesses are more successful when they have a real diversity of leadership – so hiring, onboarding and retention processes need to have this as a priority.
2. How did you get into your career?
At the start of my career, I worked in Learning & Development at a big corporate. Whilst this had many positives, I really struggled with the lack of autonomy and the (sometimes) slow-moving decision making. I felt my drive might be better suited to a smaller business where I could make and see change quickly. I started working at Connectr in a Campaign Manager/ Account Manager-based role, and was soon given a project by our CEO @Will Akerman that ended up shaping my whole career to date – for which I am hugely grateful.
One of our clients at the time had a problem that our services didn’t necessarily solve, so we came up with a hypothetical solution that we could test. The data spoke for itself, and we’d managed to tap into something that that offered huge potential for our customers: technology. Initially, I was spread across all functional areas – product manager, customer success manager, onboarding specialist, marketeer – but all of this intel proved to be so useful. It’s also where I really fell in love with the idea of building technology to solve problems. I studied Psychology at university so analysing human behaviour to understand why people make certain decisions is something I’ve always found interesting. With tech, you can see that unfolding so quickly – this immediate feedback loop is something I really love.
In the beginning I really was making best guesses but it was within a cultural framework where failure wasn’t frowned upon. “Failing fast” was actively encouraged. Landing our first round of investment was when we really got going with the tech offering and we started to scale our team.
During this time, I felt my own growth accelerated as we hired engineering and product experts. My brain became a sponge and I am so grateful for the hours Rich Else (Our Head of Engineering) spent answering questions and explaining technical challenges and solutions to me.
3. What words of advice would you give to women looking to accelerate their careers today – what are the three things you wish you’d known?
It feels overwhelming when you are starting out and deciding on the path you should go down. The reality is – whatever job you go for, it is a great first step. Until you are in working it’s hard to understand fully the different industries and opportunities there are out there. So don’t put too much pressure on that first decision. You’ll learn what you love and what you don’t, and these are all great learnings to take forward into your next career move.
I would also say it’s important to have a growth mindset. I’ve seen this many times in my career where something makes you feel out of your depth and vulnerabilities start kicking in. The reality is that even the most senior people are sometimes still making guesses and don’t always know what decision to make. Don’t see these situations as risky or something you might not achieve – see them as a journey that you are taking and be excited to be on it.
Also try inviting yourself to sessions or asking questions that maybe seem “out of your remit.” This can show you’re genuinely interested and want the best for the business. You could end up being invited more and more often and you become an integral part of broader, more strategic conversations.
I’d also recommend trying to work out how you like to learn. Personally, I love to listen to podcasts and chatting to other Product people. Peer-to-peer mentoring is a great support, and finding a mentor in the product space has honestly been one of the best things to happen to me. I’d say each week I have a 30-minute chat with a Product person from a different company. The space to talk about problems you need to solve with someone who has been through it is invaluable. It was daunting at first as I asked my colleagues/friends for contacts, whilst also reaching out to people on LinkedIn, but you’d be surprised how many people are happy to give up their time to chat. If you get the opportunity to have a mentor grab it with both hands.
Finally, remain true to who you are and your personality. It’s important you bring your own experience, background and voice to the table, rather than trying to mould yourself into what you “should” be.
4. What does a typical day look like for you – or is every day different? If you could have an extra hour in the day what would you spend it on?
One thing is pretty consistent, I spend a lot of my day talking to people which is great as I love spending time with people. I have a number of regular meetings – product stand-ups twice a week to ensure alignment across our product squads, weekly release meetings and 1-1s with each of my team. Generally, I spend a lot of time with my team making sure we are clear on customer outcomes and metrics, they aren’t blocked by any barriers and they are feeling motivated and happy.
The rest of my work is very varied, but to give you some examples of things that my day might include:
- Strategy-based work looking at trends in the market and how these impact product decisions
- Reviewing processes within our team to ensure everything is working efficiently and in the best way it can for our people
- Talking to our customers to understand how we could be solving their problems better with our products
- More commercial discussions around sales pipeline, profit margins or reviewing pricing strategies
- Reviewing our security processes as the product grows and changes, to ensure we maintain our high standard
- Leadership meetings and presenting to investors are also a big part of my role
- Talking to product people from other companies – that peer-to-peer mentoring is the BEST.
5. Who do you most admire in business and why?
Emma Glassford-Biggs (Senior Product Manager) joined Connectr a few months ago and was raving about Teresa Torres. Teresa is an amazing leader in the product space and the absolute queen of product discovery. She really emphasises how important it is for product teams to refine their ideas through a deep understanding of real user problems. Teresa teaches an approach that ensures product teams consistently deliver product work and value, whilst always doing product discovery work. Some product teams have a tendency just to do product discovery when there are new things to build, but continuous discovery is a habit that’s integral to product success. On that note, I hugely admire Emma Glassford-Biggs who has been smashing product discovery within Connectr.
6. Where do you see your business or division in five years’ time?
Of course with Puma Private Equity’s support, I would love Connectr to own a massive share of the mentoring tech market!
I’ve loved seeing our team grow and it would be great to accelerate that growth with even more cross-cutting squads centred around common user problems or journeys. Keeping the team culture we have now is also something I’m working hard on to maintain.
7. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your business, what would it be?
With more investment, you can scale but this creates more and more roles to fill. We all feel so ready for change to begin, but we need the people to start first. If there is one wish I could therefore make, it would be that we could fill all our roles with the click of a button. We are definitely getting there, but if you do fancy joining a growing tech business please see our live vacancies.