A Day in the Life of 13 Directors of Product

Written by Adam Calica
Published on Apr. 22, 2020
A Day in the Life of 13 Directors of Product
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Walking into the following 13 product professionals’ offices on any given day, you’d find them balancing management responsibilities with strategy and design work. The thread that connects the two main components of the role consists of empathy, vision and a curiosity to better understand both systems and employees. 

“Great product leaders don’t have to be the only ones to propose a vision,” Parilee Edison Wang said about operations at Bread Finance. “But they do have to create an environment where great ideas are heard, evaluated and invested in.” 

According to BentoBox’s Tim Rogus, quality product design starts with problem recognition. With a solid understanding of the issue and access to the tools needed to work toward a solution, industry professionals can figure out “when to emulate and when to innovate.”

The following directors of product shared more about their day-to-day activities and the paths the led them to their current roles. 

What Is A Director Of Product?

A director of product guides other product leaders, removes roadblocks, leads all product initiatives, and generally oversees the entire product lifecycle.



Bread Finance’s VP of product is dedicated to coaching and growing her team. Wang said that while there needs to be close alignment and partnership between the product and engineering departments, launches require at least some level of participation from everyone at the company. That means she looks for legal, marketing, sales, operations and financial support.


Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become VP of product?

I’ve always been personally motivated by the chance to help solve interesting problems without obvious right answers. Professionally, I’ve looked for those kinds of hard but valuable opportunities. I’ve found my greatest opportunities for growth and development when I was focused on solving them. 

I started in product management at Barnes & Noble, launching their Nook Press program after I identified a problem and pitched a solution. I was fortunate to partner with a great engineering team to bring that solution to market. 

Later in my career at OnDeck, I consistently looked for opportunities to get involved in complex and high-impact problems. As I grew in my career and built out teams, I helped my team members do the same. I discovered that I love enabling the people on my team to grow their ownership and impact. I also love building teams, figuring out processes and working cross-functionally to create a strong company strategy and vision. 

I joined Bread as the head of product because I was inspired by its product-market fit and because I wanted to work with the Bread team to figure out how to scale on its strong foundation. The problems we’re solving here are exactly the challenging and rewarding kinds of problems that I enjoy the most. 


What are your job responsibilities? 

As anyone in product will tell you, there’s no such thing as a typical day, which is a big part of what makes the function and role both so fun and so challenging.

I focus my time on working with the product leaders on my team to remove roadblocks and ensure we’re aligned on Bread’s top priorities: learning about our consumers, merchants, internal teams, competitors and market, as well as creating, assessing, updating and communicating a clear product vision and strategy. 

I define and follow strong product development processes and practices in close partnership with our CTO and my team and other teams at Bread, as we all assess new opportunities, evaluate growth options, identify bottlenecks and generally turn our strategy into cross-functionally aligned tactics. 

There’s no such thing as a typical day, which is what makes the role so fun and so challenging.’’ 


What makes a good head of product?

To me, product leadership breaks down into three main components: clear product vision, building and growing an exceptional team and driving organizational focus and alignment.

Having a clear product vision means ensuring the product team and executive team are focused on a shared vision of how the product is and will evolve. Great product leaders don’t have to be the only ones to propose a vision. But they do have to create an environment where great ideas are heard, evaluated and invested in. At Bread, we’ve focused on creating opportunities for everyone at the company to submit ideas and share insights, carve out time and space for deeper thinking about our longer-term product strategy and introduce quarterly all-hands roadmap reviews to make sure everyone at the company understands where we’re going. 

Building and growing an exceptional team means hiring, onboarding, coaching and enabling great product people to bring products to market. I focus on enabling employees to do their best work in service of Bread’s mission, vision and strategy. 

It takes more than a great product team to successfully launch and grow great products. Our executive team spends a lot of time ensuring that we are narrowing in on the opportunities that matter most to the company and that we’re all working together to turn those opportunities into market-leading features and products.




When Rogus decided to pursue product early in his career, he took more than 80 classes at General Assembly to get a better sense of roles and responsibilities required. He now has 17 years of experience under his belt, including expertise in wireframing, UI visual design, product management, front-end development and product analytics.


Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product design?

I started working for a few different small digital agencies right out of high school and all through college. I designed and coded websites for small businesses, e-commerce and early-stage startups. When I moved to NYC, I shifted to in-house work at startups. I was interested in all aspects of product and took more than 80 varied classes at General Assembly. That helped me see the bigger picture and connect the dots across product, design, engineering, marketing and operations. 

I also built my own side products, which was educational. Over time, I took on more responsibility and was trusted to lead product design.


What are your job responsibilities? 

I lead the product design team initiatives, which cover end-to-end design including user research, interviews, competitive research, conceptual planning for features and product ideas, wireframing, design and prototyping. I work with engineers and PMs to check for viability and feasibility, negotiate compromises or alternatives and iterate on products using feedback and analytics from real usage by our B2B clients, all while keeping our design system consistent and robust. 

As the director, I also have management responsibilities. I run design reviews, workshops and one-on-ones. I also mentor and level up our designers. I work with BentoBox human resources to recruit and grow the team and coordinate with our VP of product to execute the roadmap and plan for future quarters.

A good product director finds the balance between user needs and business goals.’’


What makes a good director of product design?

A good product director is someone who digs in deep to find the balance between user needs and business goals while questioning and validating assumptions. It is someone who can instill in the organization the value of research and evidence-based decision-making. Product directors should have an awareness of product problems and solution design patterns (both in and out of industry) so they know when to emulate and when to innovate. 

Lastly, design leaders must have respectable skills to be able to provide the right kind of feedback, even if they are no longer pushing pixels themselves.



Zach Robbins


Zach RobbinsRobbins leads strategy and execution of core product initiatives at Centerfield Media. He focuses on e-commerce, omnichannel capabilities and customer-centric marketing at the big data and digital media company. When he’s not owning product lifecycles, he’s analyzing performance KPIs. Robbins credits his personal success with pushing outside his comfort zone and constantly questioning what’s possible for features. 


Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product?

My career started as the founder of a marketing technology business, where I was responsible for both consumer products and the underlying technology. Throughout that experience and to date, my primary focus has been on driving growth and helping scale businesses through product development and optimization.


What are your job responsibilities? 

A typical day for me starts with the requisite caffeine and analyzing performance KPIs. Ranging from conversion rates to revenue per visitor, we push on these to understand opportunities or misses and potentially troubleshoot cross-functionally where necessary. 

From there, it typically shifts toward planning activities alongside a variety of stakeholders, including engineering, data, design, media, leadership and external partners. We focus on our roadmap and pipelines to ensure we are on track to meet our goals.

A typical day for me starts with the requisite caffeine and analyzing performance KPIs.’’ 


What makes a good director of product?

Great directors of product often push outside of their comfort zone to understand what’s possible beyond a set of features and their direct team. They understand the broadest context of how and why a product should or should not function. And they can’t do that without reaching out to their peers and seeking a broader understanding.



Leo Chau


Leo ChauChau gained experience building out a customized customer relationship management (CRM) platform and in-house applicant tracking system (ATS) for a San Diego consultancy in 2014. He took that knowledge with him and moved back to Los Angeles in 2017. There, he joined Internet Brands, managing more than 120 forum websites geared toward car enthusiasts. 

Since joining Slickdeals in 2018, Chau helped launch the company’s Chrome browser extension in November  2019. Chau has his sights set on releasing Firefox and Edge support for the crowdsourced shopping platform later this month.


Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a senior manager of product?

I started off working at an executive search consultancy. We partnered with private equity firms, helping them place executives of tech companies they invested in. Talking with hundreds of chief product officers at companies like cars.com, backcountry.com, Peloton, Groupon, Ticketmaster and Expedia got me really interested in product and the problems that product managers have to solve.

I carved out a product role at the company to build out a customized CRM platform to help the business development team track and better convert their leads. And I built out an in-house ATS to help recruiters better manage the candidates in the pipeline.

About two years into my role as auto enthusiast group product manager at Internet Brands, Slickdeals reached out to me about an opportunity for a product position, soon after Goldman Sachs had invested in the company in 2018. Since it was a great time to help build the product during a massive growth phase, I accepted the offer. I currently lead the Slickdeals browser extension and loyalty platform. 


What are your job responsibilities? 

Sometimes I’m helping conduct user research, crafting user surveys and building user tests to get quick insights on prototypes that the team has collectively created. Other days, we’re digging deep into the data in Google Analytics, Heap and other internal reporting dashboards to better understand how users are interacting with our product.  

We often write requirements and participate in Agile development rituals like discovery, grooming and sprint planning meetings with our development team. All in all, we’re constantly iterating our product to better meet our user needs and solve their pain points while growing the business and meeting our company objectives.

Good senior-level product managers have a deep understanding of the data and empathy for the users.’’  


What makes a good senior manager of product?

The innate intellectual curiosity to understand the “why” behind how users are using the product and the data that’s being collected separates a great product manager from a good one. It’s the intellectual curiosity that prompts the product manager to dig deeper into the data, segment it a dozen different ways and come up with hypotheses to test and iterate on. This strategy allows the team to quickly learn and improve on the product. Without it, product managers can easily fall into the trap of jumping to conclusions and coming up with solutions that probably won’t address a user pain point.

At the senior and director level, I think it’s about turning those learnings into a cohesive product strategy and roadmap. Good senior-level product managers have a deep understanding of the data and empathy for the users of their product. 

Product managers working in a product team should be able to mentor other product managers by helping them develop that understanding of the data and their users so they can craft stories and hypotheses that they effectively communicate to the rest of the team.



Rickard Hansson


Rickard HanssonHansson believes that aside from technical and leadership skills, the best quality a good director of product can have is a healthy sense of balance and level-headedness. In his role, he gets to directly work on the products that make his founder dreams a reality. 




Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product?

I got my first computer when I was 10 years old and started building games. I built my first B2B software in Pascal for a business when I was 15. Before developing <weavy/>, I built three other companies, and one of which became the No. 1 CMS in Sweden. I never went to university and I dropped out of school at 17 but I’ve always been curious and driven to make my own way. 

Transparency within my company (or any software company) is really important.’’ 


What are your job responsibilities? 

I wouldn’t say I have a typical day, but on a good day I’m spending time both down in the ones and zeros, collaborating with my team of engineers and seeing what’s happening, but also having a roadmap conversation with major clients. 

Transparency within my company (or any software company for that matter) is really important. So I spend a lot of my time making sure my team is on the same page and we’re either delivering on our promises or we’re working toward creating something our customers don’t even know they need yet. 


What makes a good director of product?

A good director of product should be stubborn enough to take on challenges and work to find solutions but flexible enough to make changes based on customer feedback and current trends. Good product development takes skilled planning and forethought. We also need to be increasingly adaptable and able to admit when we should think outside of the box. 

I think all directors of product and product engineers will tell you that there’s a sense of pride that comes with building out really solid software. At the same time, you need the right amount of humility to say, “this isn’t working” or “this is outside my area of expertise.”


Core Digital Media

Dan Yerelian


Dan YerelianIn 2017, Yerelian helped the Core Digital Media team navigate an acquisition by Quicken Loans. Since he first started at the company a few years prior, he’s gained responsibility, leading him to his current role as lending product director. In addition to considering himself a central source of information about the business’s lending products, he strives to be a leader and confidante.


Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product?

I graduated with a computer science degree and went into software development for a business process optimization company in California called Aestiva Software. 

In 2010, I enrolled in Loyola Marymount University’s MBA program. During that time, I was recruited to work at Mattel in the global IT department as a business analyst. I managed their girls’ branded digital products and helped the team transition to a global content management system.

I started at Core Digital as a lending associate product manager in 2014 after I completed my MBA. I’ve helped guide the team through different product iterations. I’ve have had some failures and some even bigger wins. 

I’ve have had some failures and some even bigger wins.’’  


What are your job responsibilities? 

I’m a central source of information about our lending products. I lead a team of two product managers who empower people to improve their lives financially.  

A typical day for me starts around 4 a.m. When I get up, I run with my dog for two or three miles. The exercise gives me a chance to wake up and start thinking about the day. Depending on daycare duty, I’m either out the door or starting work by 5:30 a.m. 

At work, our mornings are reserved for our Agile team meetings. We have two teams. One team is focused on our regular product development and QA work like new product initiatives, A/B tests and optimizations. The other team is currently focused on a long-term project to migrate and update our lending framework to a microservice-oriented architecture.

Three times a week we will also have 6:45 a.m. PST meetings with our Quicken Loan team members who are based in Michigan. Depending on day of week, we have larger touch-base recaps on current product tests, sales initiatives and KPI reviews. Once a month, I host an all-hands lending update meeting to provide lending product visibility to the rest of the company.


What makes a good director of product?

A good product leader should have a top-down view of the company. This means understanding, enhancing and providing input on our company’s goals and strategies. A good product leader should be able to identify, align on and drive opportunities. When things change, they should be able to pivot quickly.

They should be the go-to person when issues or challenges arise and know how to quickly identify root causes, provide solutions and communicate clear explanations.



James Oxenhandler


James OxenhandlerOxenhandler said it’s important to balance business processes and the customer when developing products. Soft skills like communication and empathy are essential, but the technical nuances matter too. A typical day at Fanatics includes daily stand-ups, brainstorming with the product management team and conducting one-on-ones. 



Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product?

I took the engineering path. I began my career as a full-stack engineer working on our web platform that sells logo gear to sports fans around the globe. From there, I worked my way up to senior director of engineering and led multiple teams working on that platform. 

I transitioned onto a project performing supply chain analysis to inform our long-term strategy for delivering fans the right gear across every team and league as quickly and efficiently as we can. With that project I had a lot of autonomy, which is how I realized I enjoyed product planning. From there, it was a natural transition to product management. 

Currently, I am leading a team of project managers focused on developing the tools and data intelligence pipelines that are used for our global buying, replenishment, assortment curation and pricing processes.


What are your job responsibilities? 

We engineer tools for our partners on our buying, merchandising and product content teams. It is my job to understand the details and nuances of our business and figure out how the technology team can help serve our customers better. To do that, I work with our business partners as well as our engineering and data science teams to develop the tools they use to always keep us in stock with the gear that our fans love. 

On a typical day I will do several things, such as trying to go to as many stand-ups as possible (I love to see how things are progressing). I also interface with our business teams to plan future work, work with the engineering and data science teams to align on both current and future work, and brainstorm with my PM team. I also have one-on-one meetings.

The ability to efficiently identify solutions and choose the best course of action is crucial to performing the job.” 


What makes a good director of product?

The ability to thoroughly understand business processes as well as your end customer. You are tasked with identifying ways to improve both through technology. To do this effectively, you must have a detailed understanding of how your business functions and distill it down to requirements for your team.

Second is the ability to form close and trusting relationships with both business and engineering teams (a high EQ helps here). This is especially important in the technology industry, as there is a broad range of personalities. Having the ability to facilitate complex conversations while keeping everyone on the same page is crucial to the success of your teams and product.

Finally, there is the ability to think strategically. All product managers spend a lot of their time analyzing data and formulating plans to solve difficult problems. The ability to efficiently identify solutions and choose the best course of action is crucial to performing the job.



Kevin Patel


Kevin Patel

Patel’s professional journey has taken him from developer to founder to product lead. That breadth and depth of experience helped Patel understand how important it is for product teams to work in tandem with the engineering department. And in order to do that well, product leaders must be conversant in emerging technologies.



Career path: I started my career as a software engineer working on large-scale projects. I wanted to understand, work with and deliver data insights, so based on these principles, I founded a company to do exactly that. Afterward, to increase my knowledge breadth and desire to see how business was conducted, I took a role in business development at a data-focused startup in Chicago. Ultimately, this blend of engineering, entrepreneurial drive and business acumen led me to my current role in product. 

You want to know everything there is to know about your products.”


A typical day: I am responsible for the company’s docOS technology products. There are three types of work that I do on any given day. First, I make time to understand what is happening in the market, industry or on a specific topic we are considering for our product roadmap. 

Second, I think about our team, our operations and how to ensure we maintain maximum velocity. Typically this can include hands-on work with different teams, jumping in as another hand on deck when needed. 

Third, I spend time with our highly cross-functional teams in operations, executive, legal, analytics and application users to learn what is important to them and how to deliver our best products. The time allotted to each area changes, but I always find time to do all three.


Best skills for product leadership: Being the person most invested in the product. It is important to know the big picture and industry trends, but also be aware of the details of individual products. Know when taking care of bugs should be a priority or whether a solution already in the market provides similar functionality. You want to know everything there is to know about your products. 

Technical acumen and the desire to dive into details cannot be overstated. It’s not necessary to know everything about all technologies. Rather, the goal is to be conversant and to quickly learn about the tradeoffs of a given technology and the implications technical decisions can have on a product. This understanding will enhance product decision-making and gain the trust of engineering teams. 

Finally, having a bias for action is beneficial to getting products out the door and initiating the feedback process. Don’t let “perfect” get in the way of “done.”





Electric’s VP of Product Tara Goldman considers herself a strategist, researcher, designer, technologist, project manager and even therapist. She uses the people skills she developed during her time at The College Board, where she first discovered her passion for product, in her current role creating and optimizing operational processes.


Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become  VP of product?

I started my career in the NYC digital agency world, building product experiences for clients. I quickly learned that I wanted to be able to continually improve on those experiences rather than hand them off and pray the client invested further. I discovered my passion for product after a lateral move into project management and subsequently product management. Specifically, one of Marty Cagan’s trainings got me hooked. 

Since then, I’ve held product leadership roles at various companies including The College Board, Weight Watchers, General Assembly and currently as VP of Product at Electric AI.  


What are your job responsibilities?

I’m accountable for our end-to-end product experience as well as the product management and design teams. If I’m being honest, there isn’t really a typical day. However, I’m always spending time on our product strategy thinking both short (quarterly) and long-term about how we get to where we want to be. I partner with my team, the engineering team and other key cross-functional groups to make this happen. I speak with customers as often as I can and deal with the occasional fire. 

In order to excel in a variety of areas, you must be curious and empathetic.’’ 


What makes a good director of product?

We are generalists who wear many hats. In order to excel in a variety of areas, you must be curious and empathetic. If you are naturally curious and ask the right questions in an effort to deeply understand what people need, you’ve tackled half the battle by identifying problems worth solving. The other 50 percent is business acumen and being able to define a strategy that aligns those problems with business value.



Jason Tranel


Jason TranelIt doesn’t take a product background to develop leadership skills. Tranel learned leadership, strategy and organization from his previous position working in consulting. At e-commerce and payment company ReCharge, he uses those skills to ensure the product organization is aligned with product vision and business strategy while providing value to customers.



Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product?

My first professional job was working at a top-tier consulting firm providing software solutions. The position taught me leadership, strategy and organization. Following that experience, I started several of my own companies which allowed me to gain skills in engineering, marketing, sales, customer support and the entire product lifecycle. 

Most recently, I’ve worked for several venture-backed and bootstrapped companies, which gave me the perspective of different phases and sizes of product organizations. These experiences — along with hard work, extreme ownership and leadership — have led me to become a director of product. 


What are your job responsibilities? 

As cliché as this might sound, there isn’t a typical day for me when leading the product organization. At all times we have numerous products at different phases in the product lifecycle and I’m helping to guide them. There are days I’m talking with customers to gain additional insights about their businesses. Other days I’m working more closely with engineering and design teams to develop new features. Then there are days I’m working with marketing, sales and customer success to launch a new product or help them better understand what’s next on the product roadmap.

At the end of the day it’s not about my success, it’s about the success of my team and the organization.”


What makes a good director of product?

A good director of product’s primary focus is ensuring the entire product organization is aligned on the product vision, strategy and goals. From there it’s making sure the team is prioritizing and building the right features that provide value to the customers. 

You have to be really good at strategy, being inspirational and understanding the long-term picture. At the same time, you have to be really good at the operational side and making things happen.

At the end of the day it’s not about my success, it’s about the success of my team and the organization.




As a product manager at StockTwits, Michael Bozzello said the company’s users are his North Star. He has found that his previous experience as operations and community manager has served him well in his current role, adding that a learning curve exists in relation to hard skills development. 


Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a product manager?

Prior to Stocktwits, I helped grow a community of traders from 50 to 5,000 participants. My responsibilities included managing and cultivating the health of the community and tracking engagement and growth. I also did operations and product work. While it was a great experience, I wanted to be a part of something that was scalable. I saw a community manager position at Stocktwits and applied.  

The growth from a community role to product was really natural. I understood common pain points and could help the users. Although the soft skills overlapped perfectly, the hard skills were different. I learned to prioritize user needs.  


What are your job responsibilities?

On a typical day, I never know what’s going to happen. I try to help facilitate a lot of work in progress and think of new project ideas. I put out any severe fires and identify user issues.  

Product managers should be positioning the user as the North Star of what they do.’’


What makes a good director of product?

Being empathic to users and to co-workers. Actively listen to people and create plans based on brainstorming sessions. Product managers should be positioning the user as the North Star of what they do.


15 Seconds of Fame

Mack Keyvani


Mack KeyvaniKeyvani looks for a sense of curiosity and the ability to learn quickly in product candidates. The 15 Seconds of Fame team leader also touted the benefits of having a general understanding of product psychology, user testing and analytics. Keyvani is currently working with the company’s leadership team and internal and external stakeholders to create alignment on current projects. 


Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product?

I have a dual degree in electrical engineering and computer science. I began my career as a software engineer for a Fortune 500 company. After almost four years there, I decided to quit to start my own company. I noticed that I really enjoyed talking to potential customers, figuring out what needed to be built, sketching out wireframes and working with developers to build an MVP. That was back in 2012. It took a lot of learning, launching and improving mobile apps and A/B testing to finally become a director of product in 2018.

Product managers must have or develop emotional intelligence.’’ 


What are your job responsibilities? 

I start my day with a cup of coffee as I go through Jira and other communication channels to see if any teams have any blockers that need to be resolved. I also check our app’s pulse by monitoring our analytics dashboard for any anomalies.

Our current initiatives include a new sports teams partnership and increased app functionality. I work with our leadership team as well as internal and external stakeholders to gather requirements for those projects and ensure everybody is aligned with our roadmap. I also help with recruiting and growing our team in LA. 


What makes a good director of product?

In addition to being a servant leader and helping your team succeed, product managers must have or develop emotional intelligence, contextual communication and the ability to learn quickly.

There’s a wonderful book on emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman that dives into contributors such as self-awareness, managing emotions, empathy and managing relationships. These are all important qualities to have when you are in a cross-functional role and have to deal with members of different teams.

It’s important for any PM to be able to effectively communicate goals, roadmaps and other daily updates with people in marketing, tech and leadership roles. They should also be able to identify feature and initiative success so that they can consistently be improved upon.



Lily Jolly


Lily JollyThere are a lot of pleasant surprises that can happen in the workplace, like finding out the work you’ve been doing on a “special project” is actually the basis for an entire department. Jolly experienced this at a former startup, and realized she had fallen into the role of product manager. Since her revelation, Jolly spent a decade working in the field and learned a number of lessons, including the importance of giving a product team agency so they can advance their skills and develop their careers. 


Career path: I was at a startup that forecasted trends for fashion brands, doing a made-up job the CEO called “special projects.” I spent a lot of time doing user research and working with the engineering team to figure out what to build. Eventually, someone told me I was a product manager — a job I didn’t know existed — and I decided to believe them!

I spend time defining our strategy, making sure we have the right resources in place.”


A typical day: More than anything else, I’m responsible for making sure our product teams have what they need to make good decisions. So I spend time defining our strategy, making sure we have the right resources in place and working with people through questions they’re stuck on. 


Best skills for product leadership: A good product lead can do the job themselves — execute well, set a solid strategy and get people excited to be part of it — but mostly works on making other people better at the jobs. They bring clarity to everything they touch and help make sure others can do the same.




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