About The Guest
Lena is a product manager turned entrepreneur, writer and speaker. After running an innovation lab as a product manager and getting her first taste of entrepreneurship, she quit her job in February 2020 to take a break from the corporate world and test her own ideas. Lena’s projects include a self published book called The Making of Product Managers and a customer interviews tool for venture teams at startup accelerators called Hypothesee. She writes about her entrepreneur journey on her website and contributes some of her writing to Product Coalition and The Startup, two large Medium publications.
CONNECT WITH LENA
Episode 34 – Lena -Audio
people, product manager, product, thought, entrepreneurship, build, bit, honestly, company, entrepreneur, imposter syndrome, literally, linkedin, startup, job, projects, idea, canada, customer, entrepreneurial journey
Lena Sesardic, Karen Swyszcz
Karen Swyszcz 01:02
You’re listening to The Bacon Bits ‘n’ Bytes Podcast, and I’m your host, Karen Swyszcz. This is the podcast where a bit of business and a byte of technology come together. Every month I interview entrepreneurs, investors, startup founders, and people in tech to learn about what drives them and what makes them tick. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Th eBacon Bits ‘n’ Bytes Podcast. And today with me I have Lena Sesardic . Lena is a product manager turned entrepreneur, writer and speaker. After running an innovation lab as a product manager and getting her first taste of entrepreneurship, she quit her job in February 2020 to take a break from the corporate world and test her own ideas. Lana’s projects include a self published book called The Making of Product Managers and a customer interviews tool for venture teams at startup accelerators called Hypothesee. She writes about her entrepreneur journey on her website and contributes some of her writing to Product Coalition and The Startup, two large Medium publications. And welcome to the show Lana.
Lena Sesardic 02:24
Hey, Karen. Great to be here. Super stoked.
Karen Swyszcz 02:25
Yeah, I’m so excited to have you on the show. Like I know, we’ve had a couple of great conversations beforehand. So I’m really excited for our conversation to be recorded. And then for everyone else to hear what we chat about. So first off, I wanted to start off about talking a bit about your background and upbringing, because I know that you’re originally from Croatia, but you’re pretty world, worldwide lady, you know, you’ve lived abroad and you know, you’ve done some traveling. So do you mind speaking to that?
Lena Sesardic 02:55
Sure. Sure. Yeah. So yeah, originally, Croatian. Born in Germany randomly. My dad is a philosophy professor and researcher. So his job was what took us around the world, essentially, completely unplanned. So after I was born in Germany, we moved back to Croatia two years later. And that’s when the war broke out in 1990. And my parents decided they wanted to live abroad and not live in Croatia anymore. And so my dad basically just randomly applied for jobs abroad. First job we found was in the US, so we lived in Indiana for a bit, then Minnesota. And then after that, we moved to the south of Japan, because my dad has always contract to contract. So he needed to find the next job. So I was in Japan for about two and a half years. And then after that, again, contract ran out. So we moved to London, England for a year. And then again, contract ran out, and then we moved to Hong Kong. So back to Asia. And there my dad finally got tenure, which was awesome. So I lived in Hong Kong for nine years before I moved to Canada in 2009, to study economics at UBC.
Karen Swyszcz 03:57
Wow, that’s really interesting. Um, and I’m curious to know what made you decide to, you know, after having lived in like all these, like countries, you know, in different continents, what made you decide to go to school in Canada.
Lena Sesardic 04:09
So I was actually supposed to go to school in the US, I always want to go to Duke University, because I went ages ago with my dad, when he had a conference just loved the campus. And I was other than that, I applied also to the UK because a lot of people in Hong Kong go to university in the UK. And then when my career counselor actually brought up Canada, and we had never considered it before. I didn’t really know much about Canada. And so they were saying that it’s a lot cheaper than the US, still really great quality education. And they have this President’s entrance scholarship. So if you got like pretty good grades, you basically got a bit of a discount for the first year, which was awesome. And it was really funny because my parent, when my parents first suggested, Hey, why don’t you go to Canada? I got really mad because like, why are you going to send me to a country where there’s just goats? And my parents were like, What do you mean like goats? And so I started researching Canada and I was like, Oh, actually, like, it’s not just goats there and sounds pretty awesome. So I was convinced that it was actually that I mean,UBC is really good for economics. So that was kind of the selling factor. I knew I was going to study economics. So yeah, I was not supposed to be Canada at all. Ended up here randomly, but honestly, it was literally probably one of my best choices in life.
Karen Swyszcz 05:26
That I don’t know I can’t get over the fact that you thought Canada was full of goats, cuz I’ve never heard of that. Um, I haven’t really seen a lot of goats but unless like going to the farm, so that’s a really interesting.
Lena Sesardic 05:40
I don’t know why I thought that I think I just thought it was remote. I actually had a best friend in high school. She was from Ottawa. And I knew she didn’t live in some land of goats. But I think I just maybe it was me being rebellious to my parents, I was like, Where are you sending me? Like, I want to go to a cool city in the US. Right. But I just I had no idea what I was talking about. I was just a stupid 17 year old.
Karen Swyszcz 06:02
Yeah, no, that’s really hilarious. Um, yeah. So with respect to your path in product management, I remember reading a LinkedIn post of yours that you didn’t like, have this. Like, you didn’t become a traditional Product Manager, and you kind of like discovered it through other positions. Can you talk a little bit more about like how you started on that path?
Lena’s Path To Product Management
Lena Sesardic 06:24
Sure. Yeah. So I studied economics at UBC. And most of my peers went on to do their Master of Economics or the Diploma of Accounting Program. So we’re going to become accountants or economists. And I didn’t really want to do either of those. I felt like it was too set of a path for me. I wanted to gamble with my career a little bit more to see if I could do something a little more interesting. I didn’t really want my whole career just carved out for me for the next, you know, six years. So I started working in a startup in customer service. And then I got promoted into operations. So that was about three and a half years, I was running the operations of a small English language test for admission to college university. And the key thing was that I was doing a lot of different things. I was doing anything from marketing, to actual operations, to test security to data analysis. And so I was doing a lot of data analytics for the president of the company, which I absolutely loved. I always loved data. I always loved math. And I just liked the idea that I could produce some sort of data that could help with decision making. And I just thought that was really cool.
And so after three and a half years, I decided that I wanted to become a data analyst. That was actually my plan. And I bumped into I actually did a certification in Excel, and I was trying to kind of, you know, bump up my resume. And it wasn’t really looking very, it was a little bit bleak, because you have to have, obviously a background in data analytics, and certain tools and all that stuff. So it’s kind of a little bit lost and I bumped into one of my girlfriends, who was recruiter at the time from I went to UBC with her. And she was like, I’m hiring for a business analyst position if you’re interested. And again, like the goat story, I was like, No, I’m set on data analytics, like, I don’t know what that is no, like, not at all. And she was like, maybe you should just apply, like, you don’t know what will happen. Maybe they’ll be hiring for a data analyst in the future, you can just kind of put your name in.
So I went home, and I researched it just like Canada. And I was like, Oh, this sounds awesome. It’s not about goats. And so, and it was actually a really nice mixture of things. Because business analysis, you can work with people with software, with businesses, processes, it’s actually a little bit more varied than data analytics, at least in my eyes. And so I started I applied, got the job and started working as a business analyst at this, like tiny little startup like team out of FinTech. org. And it was hilarious, because it was just. It was just this crazy experience, because you’re building this new web application. And we were trying to scale it. We had barely any resources. And I ended up coding for like, a couple months, because we just needed to literally finish the application. And the developers are busy doing the back end. And so I’ve always gotten used to doing a bunch of different things, and just getting my hands in all kinds of different areas. And so at that time, the company actually didn’t have any product managers, they just had business analysts, and a year in, my boss kind of started telling me about product management. I’d never heard of it before. This time, I was less naive. And I was like, Oh, I’m actually curious, you know, maybe this is interesting. So I started researching it. And it sounded really similar to what I was doing – kind of managing the product, scaling it, making sure that we know what we’re doing for the future, positioning it the best way. And so a year in after he kind of talked to me about it, they ended up actually creating a product manager position in the company. And at that point, I was promoted into it. So that’s kind of how I accidentally ended up with it. But I think the way that I landed there was just working at these kind of smaller companies where there’s a lot of different things to do. So I could expose myself to different activities and also see like, what I’m interested in, and what I’m good at. And that’s kind of where where I landed at the end.
Karen Swyszcz 10:17
Yeah, for sure. I definitely agree at trying to like go for those positions and opportunities where you get to try a lot of different things. Because you can say, I’m interested in this and interested in that. But it isn’t until you actually start to do it, like, you know, apply those skills, you realize, oh, okay, I like this. I’m good at it. Or, oh, I don’t like this, even though I’m good at it. I don’t want to pursue it. Because yeah, it’s just so easy to say like, I want to do this without even really knowing what it’s about, so.
Lena Sesardic 10:43
Exactly. Especially when we’re younger, I feel like we know what we want. We think we know what we want to do. But like,, you know, I thought I didn’t want to go to a country of goats. But I had no idea what I was talking about. And I think it’s good to just have a little bit of healthy dose of you know, I don’t know what it’s called, skepticism with your own desires. And it’s like, yeah, who knows? Like, I don’t really know what I want, right? So just keep trying, and you’ll get there.
Karen Swyszcz 11:09
Yeah, for sure. It’s funny. I remember as like, as a kid, I want to do all these like crazy stuff. Like I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to be like, a diplomat. And I thought I would like work the same job for 25-30 years as my parents and yeah, definitely, that’s definitely not the case.
Lena Sesardic 11:23
Yeah for sure. I think I wanted to be like an actor when I was five, and I was actually really set on it. I actually really like impersonating people. And people tell me how like a really animated face. When I was growing up in Hong Kong, my best friend used to tell me that I look like Daraimon, you know that cartoon? It’s like this weird animal. I don’t even know if it’s like a cat. But it’s just got this weird, like animated face. And so I always had a thing for like, acting, but that was extinguished very early on. My parents were like, it takes a lot of luck. I don’t think that’s a reliable career path. Yeah, a girl can dream, I guess.
Karen Swyszcz 12:04
Yeah. So you mentioned that your role at like a customer experience management company gave you a taste of entrepreneurship? And would you say there’s a lot of like transferable skills that like product managers have that they can take over into entrepreneurship?
Lena Sesardic 12:19
Absolutely, yeah. So with the customer experience management company, I randomly actually ended up running this innovation lab. So I got hired as a product manager at this company after I left the FinTech work. And I thought I was just walking to a normal traditional product manager job, maybe like a more normal one than the one I had just been doing, which was like a mishmash of different stuff, kind of like at a startup. And so I got there and three weeks in,the CTO is like, Hey, we’re starting an innovation team, we want you to run it. And I was like, Oh, that sounds really cool. I guess I will never be a traditional product manager. And so we were basically in charge of coming up with a framework to come up with new product opportunities for the company, and then use that framework to come up with new product ideas, basically, for additional revenue streams. And because previously, my career I’d always been in the execution side of product management. So we knew what we were building, we already had some some of it built and now how do we extend that? But with the innovation team, it was like, you know, starting from scratch, like, this is kind of the area that we want to innovate in now trying to talk to customers and come up with with a new product idea, right? So the ideation side that I never done before. And for me, that was closer to entrepreneurship, because you’re coming up with a new idea, you’re thinking about how to bring it into the market with the target customer.
And so that’s where I really caught my first taste of entrepreneurship in terms of those activities, but also the mindset, because we were asked to build up a very specific kind of move fast, fail fast, you know, don’t be afraid to, you know, be wrong type of mentality, which was really, really cool and really refreshing. So that was also kind of an element of entrepreneurship. So with that, product managers have the critical skill set for becoming entrepreneurs, because, you know, they know how to build products, for example, especially if you’ve worked in software, that’s huge, right? If you know how to build software, you understand how to talk to customers, you understand how to deal with these different demands, and kind of be scrappy as well, I think is a lot of characteristic that I’ve seen it a lot of product managers that like smaller companies. And so it’s really made me you know, my core belief is that anyone who’s a product manager, I’m not saying they should quit their job and start a company, but
Karen Swyszcz 14:53
Yeah, for sure. And I agree with you a 100% on like having those side projects and passion projects, because um, for me personally, my passion project was the blog. It was something that I was working on, when I was working my government job and actually use that as leverage to join a startup. And when I had asked them, you know, I was very skeptical. I’m like, Well, why would you choose me? I have like, no startup experience, no technical background, you know? Like, what made you stand out? Or like, Well, you know, you put on your resume, you started a blog, and you, you know, did all these things you learned on all these skills. So it shows that you like, have initiative, you have the ability to like, teach yourself things. So that they said that it’s spoke a lot to them. So yeah, I agree with you, 100%. And I’m not that, you know, like people who don’t have like, projects are like boring or anything, but I just, I just feel like, people are more interesting when they have like other things on the go. And of course, like work, whatever your full time gig is, is really important. But I think it’s also to yeah, like explore your passions, because again, you never know where it could take you like, what things that could lead you to and kind of like circling back to what we were originally talking about. You learn about what you like, and what you don’t like through those passion projects as well.
Lena Sesardic 16:06
Exactly. And I think the other thing that just kind of came to mind is, when you work as a product manager within a company sometimes like that’s a very specific culture, a very specific type of thinking, probably like a specific framework that everyone else is following. So I think if you remove yourself from that, and work on something that’s your own, you’re actually giving yourself permission to, you know, try different strategies, different ways of thinking and really experiment, because when it’s your own project, you can experiment more. Maybe at a company, if they’re not that willing to experiment, you can’t try these all new things. So I think through side projects is a good way to test new knowledge and new, you know, ways of developing ideas or software marketing to customers, and then bring that new knowledge in, so you’re always fresh in your job.
Karen Swyszcz 16:53
And so speaking of side projects, and your products, you actually have like quite a few products on your website. And I’m curious to know, like, how did you come up with the ideas? Were they like, based on you know, your experiences working at a startup? Or was it just this random thing that popped into your head while you’re on a run, or in the middle of the night?
Lena Sesardic 17:11
Yeah, so most of them really, honestly, are targeted at solving my own problems. So I’m a big, big believer in building things that solve your own problems, because then you’re the customer and you have those at least in the beginning the insights that can drive you to, to build it. So the first one Hippokite was definitely a problem that I wanted to solve with my own. So what I used to do when I first left university, my mom convinced me to do this, actually, I don’t usually listen to my mom’s advice, but this one I listened to. And when I started out my job, she was like, you know, keep a Word document of everything that you do and what you kind of achieve and deliver. And then when you have your performance review, or you’re applying for a job in the future, you’ll be able to use that to just basically bring up all the all the collateral that you need to convince them that you know you’re good, or what have you. And so that came from a personal need, or really a personal success from using that kind of method.
So I wanted to kind of you know, commercialize it, if you will. And so that’s where that idea came from. And then, with Hypothesee that was actually also me scratching my own itch, because when I was working on the innovation team, I tried to build a spreadsheet, because we had a lot of hypotheses, and we had the customer interviews, and there was all these data points flying around. And we have like Word documents for the customer interviews. There’s like no way for me to synthesize the information, and we were testing multiple ideas or one, so it was just this, like, it just wasn’t gonna work. And but then they ended up restructuring cutting my team, and I left that job. So I was like, Okay, I’m not going to solve this problem anymore. And then literally, like, I think, over six months later, I was mentoring up this stuff, the accelerator at UBC, here in Vancouver, and for the startup accelerator, and I started seeing the same problem these teams are struggling with organizing, they were trying to build these spreadsheets and codify their, their customer interview responses and compare them. And it was just exactly what I experienced. And that’s when I thought, you know, I want this tool anyway, now, because I have just finished a previous project so that I want to validate more ideas. So I just bought my husband to basically throw together Google Sheets prototype in two weeks. And then I just kind of rolled it out. So mainly mainly my own ideas. Yeah.
Karen Swyszcz 19:26
Yeah, it’s so true. And I can also relate because I’m with the my most recent like project I did through CoLab on product management, I focused on podcasting because I felt again, like I could speak to it as a user and I experienced a lot of the same pain points as a podcaster. And I felt I was able to also, you know, provide a lot of input to the team like being being the user. So it’s really interesting because a lot of times I think sometimes we think it’s like a personal like, okay, like this is for me, and you know, maybe other people might not feel the same way but then when you put it out there More often than not, people are like, Oh my gosh, thank you so much for creating this, like, this is really helpful. And yeah, just like the couple of the products you mentioned, I already, like, Yeah, I definitely see like, tremendous value like including Hippokite, when we’re thinking of all these people now who are trying to find jobs are especially going through, like career transitions, or trying to think, okay, I don’t have direct experience, but what are some of my achievements that, you know, could potentially, like, you know, highlight my transferable skills.
Lena Sesardic 20:30
I think the big thing with Hippokite for me is, and it’s unfortunate, because I created like a little MVP for like the beta. And then I just, unfortunately, never did much more past that. So I’m still actually, if you look on the website, it’s just as next version is coming. And I haven’t quite gotten there yet. But, but it’s interesting. So I was talking to a director of operations at a small company recently, and I think the big kind of relevance of Hippokite right now is especially with remote work, and with COVID, because people are now even more removed from the office or even more removed from their managers and, and to begin with managers are not there staring at you wait, like noting down everything you’re doing. I think there’s just really big push to manage yourself, and kind of prove yourself and bring you the evidence to your manager. And I think that’s also the sign of a better employee, someone who knows kind of how to track their own stuff and bring it up. And that’s where I really see the potential future for Hippokite. So now we’ll see if maybe one day I’ll pick it back up and turn it into something. Because every so now, again, I chit chat to someone and they’re like, Oh, that’s like such a cool idea. I wish it existed. And I’m like, Yeah, me too. So maybe one day I’ll build something.
Karen Swyszcz 21:43
I’m curious, though, because it’s such a like, unique name, how did you come up with it?
Lena Sesardic 21:49
So it’s funny because like, initially, I sort of saw it as like an assistant, like your, your career assistant, or something like that. And so so I needed to come up with a name for the assistant. So initially, actually came up with this concept of like, Daisy, and it was like the the assistant Daisy, she’s going to help you accomplish. And so it’s actually Accomplish with Daisy to begin with, and I bought the domain and everything. And then I like got some initial feedback. And like, people are kind of like, it’s like a little bit lame. And so I did, although I was going to call it The Weekly because I was going they log their stuff, right, and they get a weekly report of kind of like what you’ve logged or a monthly report is going to be Daisy Digest.
Karen Swyszcz 22:33
Oh, I like that.
Lena Sesardic 22:34
So it’s like, pretty cool. But, and honestly, that’s actually lesson for me, like, people are always going to give you you know, negative feedback for product name, like just just stick to what you had. I kind of wish I just stuck with it. But we came up with Hippokite. So me and my husband we wanted to come up with something that was abstract in case we pivoted, right. So I thought it was gonna be a huge startup I was there for like, I don’t know where we’ll end up. And so we sat in our office, and we were like, okay, we’re trying to think of like two words to combine that was unique and kind of like funny. And so for some reason, my husband came up with like, Silverkite, and he thought it was so great. He was really obsessed with it. And I was like, yeah, kind of like sounds cool. And then I have this like little hippo on my desk that I got in Toronto was just like, that was like staring at it. And I was like, Hippokite I’ve got it Hippokite. And we loved it was like this cute little hippo. So Hippokite was born.
Karen Swyszcz 23:32
Awesome. Yeah. And it’s true. Like with respect to names, like some names like they don’t even necessarily represent what Yeah, like, the thing is, like, one that comes to mind right away is like Lululemon. I’m like, What? What is a Lulu lemon? It’s not a type of lemon, obviously. Yeah, so I think that’s really fun. Yeah so it sounds like you work closely with your husband on a lot of your products. And I’m curious to know, like, what is that relationship? Like, like working on these things like building stuff together? Like do you like butt heads a lot? Are you very like, collaborative? Or? I’m curious. Because I feel like I could never do that with my own husband. Because he’s like, no, it’s my own thing. I don’t want I don’t need your help. Like, I don’t want to do it. Like maybe I’ll get your input, but I’m going to take credit for it.
Lena Sesardic 24:19
Karen Swyszcz 25:59
That’s awesome. So with respect to your entrepreneur journey, it’s been, you know, a bit over a year. And when you first take that leap, like everyone, you know, like, they’re like, all excited, like, Oh, my gosh, like, this is cool. I’m going out on my own. I’m sure you’ve ran into a lot of like, obstacles. What was it like, you know, the first few weeks, first couple of months, you know, being an entrepreneur, like going out on your own?
Lena Sesardic 26:34
So the first couple of months, actually, the first couple weeks, I was actually working on like a tiny project with a friend for like a Slack app. So I was kind of following his lead, he has quite a lot of experience with like startups and stuff. So I was kind of in a bit of a bubble, because he was like, you know, guiding me and like, kind of, he had this little product that he prototyped. And so we were kind of like, you know, I was getting my feet wet. And then a couple weeks in, he decided to get a full time job, which was totally unexpected. So his dream job ended up kind of coming along at that time. He was like, Hey, sorry, like, we’re gonna take this job. Good luck. And I was like, Oh, crap, like, now, I’m left on my own. So the first, like, the first couple of weeks, was working with him.
And then the first couple weeks after that, I was actually I jumped straight into building Hippokite. And that’s actually honestly thanks to him, because he really forced me to be like, just go do it. Whatever idea it is. Doesn’t matter if it’s amazing. Just go out there, create a landing page. Build some, you know, whatever prototype and whatever tools you have. It can be no code. It could just be a spreadsheet, which is what I did. So he really forced me to execute. And honestly, that saved me because it stopped me. Because as soon as I kind of stopped to think, that’s where like everything sunk in. So I first you know, I did Hippokite. I ran the beta. You know, that was really great. So I was like, Oh, my God, people are signing up. It’s crazy. I think I got like 80 signups at one point. I don’t even think anyone would care about this. I know, right? Like, these are real emails. And so we ran the beta. And then after the beta like it was, it was really rough, because it’s kind of like, I made a couple mistakes. Like the landing page is too vague. So I ended up getting users that were trying to use it for like, just different use cases. And so it wasn’t close to my original vision. And I kind of felt stuck. And then I didn’t really know how to iterate. I can’t code. My husband couldn’t code at the time. So it’s kind of like, oh, what do I do? So kind of just, like, fizzled out. And then at that point, that’s when you know, my first kind of moment of, you know, what the hell is going on started happening. And not to mention COVID was, was slowly spreading through Canada as well. So it was a really, really surreal experience. And I think what I did was I just started to kind of writing my book – The Making of Product Managers because that was kind of my comfort space. Ironically, I know that’s not comfortable for most people, but it’s like, I know how to write and I was like, I’m just gonna write for the next couple months, like no more product development. And I’m kind of terrified now. Because I realize like, it’s really hard, right? Like, you think you’re going to create this thing? And everyone’s going to be like it’s awesome. And it’s going to turn into the startup and then you’re like, crap, what do I do with this tiny little MVP? Right? So it’s a bit of a shock, but yeah, it was definitely tough, like the first couple months, but I think about six months in it probably got like, significantly easier. But yeah, the doubt definitely didn’t go away, and it still hasn’t gone away.
Karen Swyszcz 29:32
Mm-hmm. Yes. So you mentioned your eBook, The Making of Product Managers, and I want to dive a bit deeper into that. It’s a book where you share the story of 20 individuals from around the world who forged their own path to product management. What made you decide to write about like the different career paths and product managers?
Lena Sesardic 29:48
Sure. Yeah. So I’ve always kind of been talking to a lot of aspiring product managers. I feel like people kind of asked me, you know, hey, how did you break then I’ve tried to break in, what do I do? Who do I talk to? And I found out I was telling my story over and over again, which is fine. And then I know that they were also going for coffees with other product managers. And they were like, Oh, do you know anyone who’s been in marketing? Like, how did they break in? I kind of kept hearing these, you know, kind of pain points around how did people break in? What are the patterns like now I have to find more people to talk to. And so originally, I was just going to create a blog post about how to break into product management. But as I started interviewing all these people, it was crazy, because I knew product manager was a really varied field in terms of people coming from different fields. But I literally interviewed I think six people in the beginning. And I selected them really randomly, people I didn’t know before, and every single story was so crazy unique. And that’s when I really saw like how unique each person’s background is that ends up in product management. And I’d always wanted to kind of self published a book after reading Nathan Berry’s Book Authority. It’s like a really good book about self publishing. He’s a huge advocate for it. So I thought, you know what, like, you know, its’ COVID, I don’t have a job. I don’t have the next product idea. Like, maybe we’ll just self publish a book, like, let’s do it, right.
Karen Swyszcz 31:12
Yeah, that’s awesome. And I’m really glad that I stumbled upon that book, because I was, like, curious about product management. At the time, I wasn’t even sure what it was like before. And I always thought it was like, just basically a more technical form of project management. And it doesn’t help that, you know, they all have the same acronyms to like PM, like program, Program Manager, project manager, Product Manager. But yeah, I thought it was really interesting. And you were saying how, like, each person stories was so diverse, and it really gave me like, a lot of like, confidence and hope, because originally, I felt like, Oh, well, you know, I don’t have a computer science background, I don’t really code that much. I can’t be a product manager, but then realizing, you know, those are just only like a few of the skills. There’s also a lot of other skills like, you know, the communication part, the being able to prioritize, excuse me prioritize like that is really important. So I thought it’s, it was really nice to like, read stories of like real life, people. And instead of just the, you know, like, Oh, this is what you do. And then like, how to do this, and how to do this for product management? Like, no, this is actually like, people’s stories, like, I feel it has so much more of an impact.
Lena Sesardic 32:23
Yeah, there’s a lot of books out there. And that’s kind of what the one piece of feedback that I got from one of the people that I wrote about, he was like, I don’t think there’s really anything out there. That’s like one book and so many different stories of individuals. And and what I really wanted to also actually, this was a really critical piece of the book was, I really wanted to represent like, the more I don’t want to say, like average, but the more like normal Product Manager and not necessarily working out like the FAANG companies, right? And because their stories are extremely interesting. And I find sometimes they’ve really tried a lot of different things. And so I wanted to really cover their entire career, actually, before they got into products. I really focused from the beginning, I was like, What did you study at university, and some of them were like, a lot older, right? They’re like, Oh, like, let me go back to that, like history. And I’m like, I want to hear the whole story. Because I think that’s what’s really helpful, because I want to represent. A lot of these people were confused, a lot of them started in a completely different place. And they had moments of complete doubt. They were like, I have no idea what I’m doing, should I be a product manager, and they didn’t even know about product manager, I really wanted to represent the kind of more normal paths, if you will, and show the whole the whole journey.
Karen Swyszcz 33:41
Yeah, and I thought it was really great that there were also a lot of like definitions and resources to because again, for someone who’s like very new to the industry, they may not be familiar with any of those terms. So yeah, that was really helpful resources. So in addition to like creating a book, I feel like you’re a very prolific content creator. So I wanted to like chat a little bit more about like the content creation side. And I’m actually I should have mentioned this in the beginning. But for those of you who don’t know, I guess like nobody knows, because I didn’t mention it, but we connected on LinkedIn. And because I know you’re, you’re on there quite a bit. And it was just, I think, like a random LinkedIn post by like one of the founders from like Product School, and you know what I was just like reading the comments or whatever, and you just like happen to mention you’re like, Oh, I’m based out in like Vancouver, Canada, and then like, because you were also in Canada, that that’s what made me like, want to reach out to you. And that’s why I feel it’s so important, even though people might think it’s a little bit of a drag to be like active on LinkedIn and like, yes, you know, liking is good, but comments will take you so much further.
Lena Sesardic 34:47
Absolutely. It’s I find LinkedIn really interesting because it’s just so serendipitous. It’s just one comment can literally land you into a completely different place, right? New opportunities and that’s been the biggest thing for me with LinkedIn. I started posting like, I started posting regularly in like September and honestly, like, I don’t even remember why I think I was just kind of like, I should maybe like post on I don’t think I really even understood like the value of it. And as I started posting, it’s crazy. It’s like the opportunity just started opening up, I was like, hey, do you want to come on my podcast like, Hey, I’m doing this project I’d love to, Hey, I’d love to hear your feedback on the customer discovery and, and it was really honestly important to me in it. And really, actually, when I said earlier, six months into my journey, that’s when I really felt better. It was when I started posting on LinkedIn. Because before that, I just felt like a nobody. I didn’t really feel like I knew I had expertise. Suppose like, ah, does anyone really care? Like, I’m kind of just like this, you know? Am I really even an entrepreneur? It’s like, what am I doing? I was like, worried that I’m just kind of a nobody. But I started sharing and people are like, Oh, this was like really interesting. Or like, Oh, that reminds you of this. And it really kind of helped me become more confident in myself and my expertise. And with that just you know, the amount of opportunities it was amazing. Like I said, it’s just so serendipitous, like one comment. Like, there was I think like one comment that like landed me like I think my first like freelance client or something like that. It’s just you never know where it’s gonna go and putting yourself out there and sharing your thoughts is I think the best thing I’ve done in the last year.
Karen Swyszcz 36:28
Yeah, for sure. And I know that you’re like, very transparent about your entrepreneurial journey, which, you know, it can be a scary thing for someone I think like sometimes people only tend to post like, the highlight reel on social media. Um, have you ever like felt concerned about like being judged after you hit publish?
Lena Sesardic 36:46
I have for sure. I actually had a video I created recently, I actually posted it. And then I just 86 out of it. I just Oh, yeah, God, I was like I can’t. It was about the idea that like, once you start building your brand, like a lot of opportunities come. People want to kind of get your two cents on this and that and you want to keep helping them because you’re in the beginning, right? But there comes a point when you’ve grown, where it’s just you can’t afford to do that anymore. And it becomes really overwhelming. And you kind of just feel like, you kind of just feel like something that like people are just picking at and they’re like, Oh, can I have this? Can I have this and you’re just like, oh, like it gets really overwhelming. So I kind of created this like video post. I wasn’t like angry. I was like happy, like trying to be polite, but I just kind of freaked out about it. I was like, maybe this is like too transparent. So it definitely happens. But overall, in terms of my journey, like I haven’t really had that many concerns. Like I’m generally a pretty transparent person to a fault. It’s not always a good thing. Kinda like I take it in stride. But yeah, of course, like, it’s definitely a concern sometimes.
Karen Swyszcz 37:53
And what advice would you give to someone who is like trying to build their brand online for like the first time like they’re starting from scratch?
Lena Sesardic 38:01
I think the big thing is get into the mindset of writing for a younger version of yourself even two, three months ago, even honestly, last week, there’s things I didn’t know, last week that I know now. And there’s people out there that don’t know what you know, like, they think once you start sharing your knowledge, this funny thing happens.
You realize that what you thought is really obvious is not obvious to everyone. And I think that will empower you to create content of your expertise, because you know, someone else out there will need it. That’s the biggest piece of advice." You realize that what you thought is really obvious is not obvious to everyone. And I think that will empower you to create content of your expertise, because you know, someone else out there will need it. " – @lenasesardic Click To Tweet
That’s the biggest piece of advice.
Karen Swyszcz 38:38
Yeah, for sure. It’s anyone you mentioned, like, you know, like, writing to your like, the earlier version of yourself is like, Oh my gosh, I would tell my 20 year old self, like so many things or even like that period in my 20s when I was like struggling so much and so lost. I wish I could tell that I could have told like, you know, it’s gonna be okay, you’re gonna figure stuff out, or you’re gonna be a stronger person for it. But um, yeah, that’s really great advice. So I wanted to touch on the subject of mentorship. And I know that you’re a mentor for like at UBC and what made you decide to become a mentor?
Lena Sesardic 39:13
Yeah, so actually, when I was working on Hippokite, I ended up attending a workshop at Entrepreneurship at UBC very randomly, and I met the instructor there, and he was running the, I think it’s called the Core Program through Entrepreneurship at UBC. And I chatted with him a little bit. And he was kind of telling you about the program and I ended up applying for it. I did the first phase. And I love the community so much. They have great entrepreneurs there. A lot of the other venture teams are just super motivated. And anything that’s entrepreneurial, I love And so after I finished the accelerator, I asked to come back as a volunteer. I was like, I’ll even do the Zoom rooms, like whatever, as long as I can just be around these people. And he was like, oh, like we’ll bring you back as a mentor and which was really unexpected. To me, and again, this was like my Imposter Syndrome speaking where I was just like, me a mentor, like, what do I know? Like, I don’t know anything. And he’s like, you have three years experience in product management, and you worked before that. And you’ve been testing your own ideas. You have things to share, and I’ll say, Oh, yeah, I guess that’s true. And so he actually, yeah, but it’s true. I literally, like not only forgot about it, but just like discounted, it was like, now I’m on this entrepreneurial journey. Everything else doesn’t matter, which is such a, like such a false, false statement. But yeah, it was him actually that, you know, that offered me to come back as a mentor. So yeah and I loved it. It’s just the it’s kind of two prong approach. For me, it’s obviously giving back is huge as a UBC alarm, that’s huge to me, I’m very, very connected to UBC supporting young venture teams like what could be better than basically telling my younger self like, hey, maybe start trying to start a startup, like, stop just doing stupid things. But the other thing that was huge for me was just fighting my own imposter syndrome, like being able to go into the sessions every Thursday, and you know, be able to provide my feedback. And people be like, Oh, my God, that’s like, really helped me I’m like, it was really crazy. I was like, I have no idea that I could really help people, right? So it really helped me fight my own demons.
Karen Swyszcz 41:19
And touching on the subject of imposter syndrome, because I’m also no stranger to that. Like, why do you think it’s so common amongst like, high achievers, and like entrepreneurs, like people who are very ambitious when, you know, to other people, like in their eyes, we can be like, Oh, you’ve accomplished, like, so much. And you’re like, No, but I only did this or it’s not like that much like we always tend to, like, downplay it, or any thoughts on that?
Lena Sesardic 41:43
Think it’s just the high end. Like it’s a combination of extreme ambition and impatience. I think that’s been a huge thing for me. And also just some kind of a slightly irrational not our fault, but just in this is what a lot of people feel like but irrationally thinking that other people just have it, you know, 10 times more figured out that they do. And I think as you get older, you kind of start to realize that feeling doesn’t go away. And then you know, maybe when I’m 50 one day, I’ll be like, yeah, definitely believe now that all those people I looked up to they were still figuring it out. Right. So just and I think also, it’s like, you know, the struggle of trusting your own process, because, you know there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re not progressing at the rate that you want to be. And that turns into kind of imposter syndrome. You’re like, oh, like, should I really be here? So I think just, yeah, it’s a tough one. It’s a tough one for sure.
Karen Swyszcz 42:43
Mm hmm. And, and with respect to like entrepreneurship, who are some entrepreneurs that you admire and why?
Lena Sesardic 42:51
I think there’s actually, there’s one guy I always mentioned, there’s another guy that I’ve actually been really inspired by lately. The first guy is a guy called Alex West. So he lives Actually, he lives in Italy. He’s Greek. I know him through Twitter. So he used to work in tech. And then this is about like, four years ago, he decided that he wanted to pursue side projects. And so basically for three years, he over the course of three years, he worked on 18 product ideas. And then the 19th product idea was the first one where he actually made significant like money from it and got traction but literally for three and a half years like he just kept pushing. He blogs daily on alexwest.co He blogs weekly, monthly. This guy’s like so transparent. And he just really the kind of poster child for you know, you don’t just start the first thing and become a millionaire. It doesn’t work like that you have to churn out these products and it’s a really can be a really long journey, right? So I look up to him tremendously, because he’s just so transparent and very, like sober about the entrepreneurial journey. The other entrepreneur I really love that I’ve actually had some have the privilege of actually having personal contact with recently is actually Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz. He now founded SparkToro, he’s honestly amazing. He’s so transparent. He builds in public, which I love. So he launched SparkToro recently. He wasn’t getting a lot of traction at some point. So he sent out this email, which I got to people that sign up for SparkToro and weren’t using it extensively. And ask for feedback. Literally, hey, even two words are going to work, please let us know how we can do better. And I responded and he responded right away with like a bunch of resources. He’s like, tag me on LinkedIn, like just a very, very just humble and real individual. And he’s building a company, I think, in the right way, and I really truly look up to him.
Karen Swyszcz 44:55
Oh, wow. That’s amazing. And it’s crazy to think like, I think a lot of times, sometimes we’re like intimidated or scared to, like, reach out to like these, like really super famous super successful people when in fact, like, as you mentioned, like stating those, those two entrepreneurs that like they’re very, very humble and is like you, it’s one of those like that common saying, like you don’t know, unless you ask or like, if you don’t ask the answer will always be no. And I think, you know, being online, having access to social media, it kind of makes those people more accessible.
Lena Sesardic 45:25
Absolutely. And honestly, they’re a lot more accessible than you think. And I used to kind of be really, yeah, like, I used to be terrified, like, why should I reach out to this person? Like, they’re never gonna reply, or like, this is weird. I don’t want to annoy them. But I’ve kind of really pushed myself to do it more over the last six months. I actually have some really, really nice exchanges with the founder of Udemy, actually on Twitter, Really nice guy. He’s like, retweeted my stuff. And just like, these are normal people. And I think this is the other thing with imposter syndrome. Like, we just think that they’re these gods that like, sit there and they’re untouchable. But no, they’re real people, and they want to talk to us, right? So I think it’s just honestly reach out. Like, if they don’t reply, so why try it? Try the next one, right? Because once they do once you have that connection, it’s really really cool to be able to have that.
Karen Swyszcz 46:14
Yeah, for sure. I get like, so excited when I see when like a high profile person like requests to connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m like, Oh my god, like, I’m like a fangirl, but like they want to connect with me.
Lena Sesardic 46:23
Yeah, no, it’s cool, though. It’s like such an experience. Yeah,
Karen Swyszcz 46:27
Yeah, for sure. And was there anything that surprised you along the way of your entrepreneur journey thus far? Like looking back on like, everything that’s happened, everything you’ve done?
Lena Sesardic 46:38
I think the biggest surprise honestly was just like the emotional roller coaster. I just because everyone tells you it’s going to be hard. But no one really tells you what, like I remember a couple months in, I was talking to one of my mentors who has like, he started several startups. And I remember him telling me I was like, You told me it was going to be hard. But I never actually bothered to ask like what was hard. And I was expecting him to say like, Well, you know, the strategy or like knowing what to do, and he was like, it’s the mental. It’s all emotional. And because I was really struggling at that point, and I think it’s crazy. Honestly, there were days where I was literally on top of the moon when I was working on Hippokite. There’s just one day that I tweeted about this podcast that I listened to. So it’s kind of like episode was related to Hippokite. And then the next week, they mentioned me on the podcast, and they were like, hey, like,Lena Sesardic she’s building Hippokite, like pretty cool. And I was literally, like, honestly, on ecstasy. I was going for a walk. I like ran like sprinted home to my husband. I was like, I was on a podcast. He was like, holy crap. I was literally like, on ecstasy. And then literally the next day, it’s like, slump, just like down to the bottom like rock bottom. It’s like I’m nobody. My products suck, everything sucks, like, it’s crazy. And like just like dealing with that up and down. Never mind my husband like me in my own head. Like he’s honestly the hero of this journey is like he put up with this, but it’s honestly shocking. I’ve never experienced such emotional like, swings in my life. But it’s just because you’re putting yourself out there, right? This is like you and your raw skills. I truly think entrepreneurship is literally the Wild Wild West. There’s no rules. There’s no playbook. You’re just out there, like putting your heart for everyone out there for everyone to step on. Right? Like it’s a terrifying experience. But I think honestly, like it just makes you stronger. It’s crazy. Now I go through these emotional rollercoaster things, but I can endure them way more. Because I’ve just been through it right. So they learned a lot. But that was the biggest shock. Like, I can’t believe how emotional I’m being.
Karen Swyszcz 48:50
Yeah, for sure. When people say it’s a emotional roller coaster. It’s like, okay, okay. But when you actually experience it for yourself, it’s like whoa.
Lena Sesardic 48:57
You don’t believe what you like, you don’t you’re like, Oh, I can’t be that bad. Like, I’m emotionally stable. And then literally six months in, you’re like, should I maybe see a psychologist? Like, is this normal? And then you talk to other entrepreneurs? I’m like, yeah, it sucks. But you just got to get through it.. Okay. So it just feels like you’re in a mental hospital? Got it.
Karen Swyszcz 49:15
Yeah. And that’s why I think it’s so so important to like, talk to people or surround yourself with people who are like in the same space or have been in a similar space. And I say this all the time, like you need that like support or people who can provide like critical feedback or constructive feedback rather than just saying like, how’s your whatever product but like, actually ask more in depth questions about it.
Lena Sesardic 49:40
No, know for sure. Yeah.
Karen Swyszcz 49:44
All right. So I know that you are on LinkedIn. So if people want to connect with you on LinkedIn, they definitely can. And what about your website? Where can they find you?
Lena Sesardic 49:53
Sure. Yeah. So I have a website. lenasesardic.com I write on there. I also have a newsletter, monthly newsletter where I share basically tips on how to create a digital presence that can generate opportunities for you. So they don’t have to come to you. So they come to you, as opposed to you going after the opportunities. And I also kind of share the very, very, very transparent details of my entrepreneurial journey and that newsletter, too. I also try to be active on Twitter. So I try to kind of build in public there. So those are kind of like my three main channels.
Karen Swyszcz 50:24
Okay, cool. And what’s your handle on Twitter?Lena Sesardic? Yeah. Okay, awesome. Well, thank you so much for this conversation. It was really fun. And of course, you know, thank you so much for being transparent. I really enjoyed this conversation.
Lena Sesardic 50:37
Thanks, Karen. This was great. So much fun.
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