Maintaining a Startup Mentality: Jody Porowski of The Muse

Many product leaders credit their career choice to an innate sense about the faults and opportunities within a product or process.

That’s certainly true for The Muse’s Jody Porowski, who says “making things better is part of who I am and how I see the world and experience daily life.”

But a mashup of upbringing, education, and entrepreneurship experience have helped refine that sense and keep Porowski’s intuition in check as she builds out and manages the online career resource’s mentorship and coaching division called Coach Connect.

Porowski joined The Muse in early 2016 after it acquired her list-making startup called Avelist. The year prior, she’d moved to New York City from Durham, N.C. to engage in the city’s large digital media community. She quickly formed a content-sharing partnership with The Muse—both companies targeted millennial women and career development was a popular vertical on Avelist.

Porowski had been testing different revenue models at Avelist when she learned about plans to launch Coach Connect, The Muse’s first attempt at selling services to consumers. After a few conversations, one of The Muse’s co-founders suggested that Jody could be a good fit for running this new business. Porowski joined as manager of Coach Connect and later was promoted to director of Coach Connect.

Porowski might not have called herself a product leader before then. But she can easily point to signs she’d be suited for the job. The daughter of a psychologist and a counselor, she learned at an early age the importance of understanding people—their desires, behaviors, and motivations.

From her days studying literature as an English major in college came an appreciation for context, and the communication skills required to navigate and negotiate with the many stakeholders in a product’s development and launch. Her love for data-driven decision-making grew over two-and-a-half years working at SAS, a global statistics, and analytics software company.

“It’s been the perfect role for me because it merges a lot of my past experience—marketing, data analysis, and founding/running a startup,” Porowski says. “My favorite part of the job is that no day is ever the same and there’s always opportunities for product (and personal) growth.”

Like many product leaders, Porowski’s role is multi-faceted. She oversees product development for Coach Connect and reports to The Muse’s SVP of Product. She also handles operations—recruiting, onboarding and paying coaches. And she’s responsible for meeting revenue goals. She interacts with nearly every department within The Muse, from sales to legal to marketing to engineering.

In fact, she’s convinced that her experience as a founder was the best possible preparation for her job today. Running a young startup meant money was always tight and, therefore, time short. Porowski learned to make decisions at a fast pace, but also to recognize that her decisions had real consequences. She had to be prepared to face them. Conducting market research and user interviews up front, A/B testing, and using feedback from surveys and reviews to iterate were regular activities at Avelist, and now at The Muse. They give her the confidence to act quickly.

“When you’re running a very small startup and you have limited financial runway, every decision matters, and every day counts,” she says. “A rapid cycle of making a decision, seeing how it plays out, and tweaking and iterating had to be done to survive as a startup.”

Porowski’s resourcefulness has paid off in other ways too. In her second week at Coach Connect, she jumped right into making flyers, speaking at meetups and holding her own pop-up events to start promoting the brand.

“I started doing that naturally because of how I advocated for Avelist,” she says. “I had to find creative ways of getting the word out.”

Porowski credits her startup journey with teaching her how to sell herself and her product, to users and others. Even at a well-funded company like The Muse, Porowski has to pitch internally to get her projects funded and supported.

That’s another critical part of the job of product owner, she says. Relationships are everything—without buy-in from engineering, marketing, finance, legal, and other stakeholders, it’s nearly impossible to hit her goals.

Porowski explains a good product leader as someone who “serves as the glue that connects the efforts of teams”. That often means casting a vision for the group, running collaborative meetings and following up on deadlines.

“If people on other teams don’t like you or respect you, it’s very difficult to be an effective product manager,” she says. “And if they don’t understand the purpose or value of your product, good luck getting their internal support.”

Two years into her role, The Muse is seeing the fruits of Porowski’s efforts. Tactics like bundling services, using discounts strategically, compiling customer testimonials and hosting special webinars and events to promote the brand and educate users have helped Coach Connect nearly double the average purchase price per customer while operating on a lean budget without a dedicated engineering or marketing team.

Porowski attributes the growth to the fast iteration, scrappiness and lean marketing skills she practiced running a startup.

“Because it wasn’t my first rodeo’” she says, “I was able to hone in on tactics and efforts that would truly be effective in increasing revenue much quicker than if this job was all new.”