Notes on “Empathy is Product Management”

The focus of the Empathy is Product Management episode is about:

  1. Advantages of being new to an industry
  2. How to get industry knowledge
  3. Strategies for keeping empathy
  4. Formula?
  5. They have users near them
  6. Career transition

The guest is Jon Stross, a Co-Founder of Greenhouse.

The rest of this blog post contains pretty much raw notes. The notes contain a mixture of direct quotes from the podcast, my own thoughts, and sometimes ideas that came to mind while listening.

Advantages of Being New to an Industry

The advantages of being a product manager in an industry where you don’t have any experience:

  • Can stay objective. Can have a wider perspective.
  • Requires you to get out of the office.
  • You are not “..blinded by your biases.”

How to Get Industry Knowledge

(Talking to Potential New Customers)

Need to talk to many people. For them, it was recruiters. They would ask them, what do you like or hate about your tools and jobs? His business partner was an expert. He ran a team of recruiters.

They went and said “we want to teach a course on how to make recruiting a strength of your company.” They did a handful of classes. They figured out what resonated and what did not. They looked to see who showed up. They wanted to bounce ideas off of them. It was “great market research.”

They created a paper product. It was made of notecards and more. “They walked around to people’s offices and tried it out with them.” Before they wrote code or even made a company, they had a pretty good idea that the idea would work.

Strategies for Keeping Empathy

  • They hire out of their consumer service department. The tech team gets a sense of which of those “get it.” So, technical expertise and domain expertise is there.
  • They have a user experience research group.
  • They break out the different segments.
  • Sales and Consumer Service provide input.
  • They look at user data.
  • Product Managers synthesize all of those inputs and decide which ideas to go with.


There’s no formula that they use. Their agile philosophy helps a lot. If they can get twenty things done and eighteen of those things are right, they are doing fine. They keep things scaled small. They manage scope and have things be smaller. Six months is too long.

They Have Users Physically Close To Them

They used their network. They can easily find folks. It helps that recruiters are real public. They want to be easy to reach.

They have lots of data. The hard part is figuring out who to listen to and “the patterns that matter.”

Career Transition

Product Management is a natural step towards becoming a CEO or general management.


Lots of great things in here! Clearly, Jon and his partners have figured out a way to dive into a domain and come out with awesome products. I really enjoyed the podcast episode and invite you to listen to it yourself.

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