Letting Users Lead is Product Management

Ashley Wali, VP of Product at Discuss.io, discusses the challenges and opportunities that come with being a product leader at an early-stage startup, plus how product managers can help other teams put the user at the center of their work.

Ashley leads product design and product marketing at Discuss.io, a video platform founded in 2012.

She’s all too familiar with the early days of startups, when companies don’t have benchmark data, teams are often making educated guesses, and resources are limited.

“You’re making a lot of leaps of faith,” Ashley says. “You may not have all the data you wished you had, and I think that can be difficult for product leaders, who really like to have numbers to back up the decisions we make.”

According to Ashley, it takes a lot of alignment across the company, and effective communication is the first step toward alignment.

“One of the first things that’s important to do for any leader is understand the personalities you’re interacting with,” Ashley says. “Understanding how to communicate with people is probably the first step around driving alignment to anything, but certainly as a product leader where what you do influences most, if not all, other areas of the business.”

Using communication can help product leaders build positive and impactful relationships with stakeholders across teams, even those who are resistant to change, but it also helps the entire organization to strategize and prioritize around a shared vision.

“We put forward quarterly road maps. It forces important conversations around trade-offs. By putting things forward like that, it just drives the trade-off conversations that are so important when you have limited resources, which I think all companies do,” Ashley says. “Once you have alignment, your leadership team becomes your allies to communicate and reinforce that with their own teams. This is something I think everyone's going to come up against, and one of the first things that I think it can reveal is whether or not your goals are aligned or in conflict.”

In this episode, you’ll learn a lot about product leadership, stakeholder management, and decision-making.

Here are the highlights: 

  • How Discuss.io has grown since its founding (1:53)
  • Ashley’s approach to getting executive alignment for decisions and priorities (6:51)
  • Important skills that product teams at early-stage startups should possess (14:53)

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