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The question of where exactly do Product Managers come from has a variety of answers. Some PMs are former founders, some are Computer Science grads, but many have unique backgrounds that prove their ability to pick winning products. That’s the case for Megan Quinn, General Partner at Spark Capital, who spoke with Pendo founder Todd Olson to discuss her experiences as a Product Manager and how they drove her in VC. Prior to her role at Spark, Megan’s experiences as a PM at both Google and Square have had a significant impact on her career as a leading venture capitalist.
Mapping The Path To Product Manager At Google
Megan’s career started with an atypical background in History and Political Science. In an adventurous move, she left Stanford her senior year to join Google and work on their IPO. She was tasked to creatively innovate on the ideas around an IPO. Showing hints of innate product management skill, she led the initiative by treating the process more like a product launch and focused on a roadshow, founders letter and the overall type of IPO to make it unique.
Shortly after, Google acquired a company called Keyhole and started to get really serious about local search and mapping. Conveniently, Megan’s life-long obsession with historical map collecting lent her instant domain knowledge. To build a map essentially everywhere in the world, there are 22 pieces of different data per location required for 144 countries. Megan jumped in to help build a global Business Development team and acquire all the data types needed while helping the engineering team with specs to build the tool that overlays the data on top of each other. Her passion for maps drove her to become the product lead at Google Maps, because no one else knew as much about this specific product and domain as she did.
Sidenote: Her obsession with maps continues today. “If anything happens to the house, leave the photos, leave the family mementos, grab the maps, and let’s get out of here.”
From Google to a Start-Up
After seven years at Google, Megan decided that it was time to actively consider other options and started to talk to a couple of other companies, including Jack Dorsey at Square, who tossed around some ideas about mobile payments. From a product perspective, Jack believed that the real product of a payments company is actually a risk and fraud engine. Would she be interested in building a risk and fraud team that operates like a product team? The answer was a definite “yes” — even though she felt she lacked some experience around mobile payments. Again, Megan took the adventurous path forward and became employee #20 at Square.
Her previous experience as a product manager meant that she could see problems and outline solutions. So when she realized Square didn’t have a product roadmap during the first 2 weeks of her job, she wrote a long email to Jack, outlining how she recommended developing an engine around building products. That email directly led to her role as the Vice President of Products at Square.
From PM to VC
Years later when Megan was approached by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers about an opportunity to join their Venture Capital firm, she realized that she had spent years of her life thinking deeply about maps, and another number of years thinking about payments but she hadn’t really focused on other types of business models. “I was totally in the bubble of the products that I was working on.” This new opportunity to see across the landscape, and try to be useful across a lot of different products with a lot of different entrepreneurs, seemed very attractive, and she started a new ad-”venture” as a Venture Capitalist with a Product Manager background. Venture capital is both a challenging and exciting experience for Megan.
For example, she is admittedly susceptible to fall in love with products even when they might not make money. “I love this product. This is amazing. My sister uses this, my parents use it.” But not all products can support a great business. “As much as I wish we could just invest in really, really great products, we need to spend time investing in products that actually have an underlying business or business opportunity.”
Through her career, Megan has been able to “dream the dream” a little bit better because she came from the building and operating side. When someone comes in and pitches a vision for the future that they think should exist, she is able to imagine the product vision becoming a reality, in a way that people who are fundamentally financially driven sometimes cannot. Megan believes that the very best companies — or the ones that are currently most valued such as Uber and AirBnB — were not initially being pitched as billion dollar businesses. They were being pitched as ideas.
Learn more about product management, venture capitalists and what Megan’s parents gave her for Christmas in the full conversation here: