How to Transition from Wall Street to Product Management

Want to transition from finance to Product? We sit down with Larry Lowe, a successful Product Gym alumni, who just landed the highest offer of any student in our classes. Larry successfully transitioned from a 20+ year career on Wall Street to a Product Management job.

Product Gym: All right. This is Rich, founder of Product Gym, joined by my good friend Larry Lowe. Larry, very exciting news you landed an awesome job have and have been with our program. How long have you been with us?

Larry Lowe: Just short of six weeks. It feels like I was just talking to you from my office, wanting to give the program a shot and I was a skeptical and you said I promise you within five and a half, six weeks we’ll be having a completely different conversation. Are we having a completely different conversation? We are having a completely different conversation. Perfect. 

Product Gym: Larry, can you go ahead fill us in on what’s your background? What were you doing prior to Product Management?

Larry Lowe: I spent 22 years on Wall Street in the investment banking world. Okay, I left there in January 2017, I started my own consulting company in the medical field and been doing that for the last 17-18 months just to, you know, fill the void, try and get something going. And, you know, I’m also a member of the management team at Workville. So I’ve been doing that. And unfortunately, over the last few months, there’s been some regulatory issues in the medical field, and that kind of put a kibosh on things that I was building. So, you and I sat down and started talking about the future. I think 2019 looking pretty bright so far.

Product Gym: Yeah, so did you have any type of Product Management or software engineering or coding background technical background prior to joining our program?

Larry Lowe: No, which is why it took me two hours to connect the dots on what agile even meant. No, no, I have no background in any of that. Like I told you, when I was on Wall Street, I said if we have an issue on the trading floor, I would hit a button and IT would come up and they would fix any problem. So, absolutely not, which is you know why I was so skeptical about you know, the future of this and if I could really become a Product Manager.

Product Gym: How did you, do talk to us, man? I mean, I think you you landed probably by far one of the most impressive offers this entire year. How were you able to go ahead and communicate with Product Managers with developers, designers, other other business stakeholders as well as you have, without the background, you know?

Larry Lowe: To be perfectly honest with you Rich you know, I didn’t know the direction that I was going to go in ,but you know after taking your classes and speaking one on one with you, you, the teachers and the lecturers have all said the same thing.

And there was a common denominator and they all said, “You know what you know, stay in your lane and everything else will fall into place” and that the role of the Product Manager was really the person who’s going to connect the dots and I was so caught up in all of this right, like how am I going to learn about engineering? How am I gonna learn about marketing? How am I going to learn about this? How am I going to learn about what a workflow is and agile and all these things. At the same time the reality of the situation is it’s not going to happen if you focus on all of that, you will never make it.

When I was given the opportunity to sit down with a company that I’m going to be starting with I focused on everything else but you know, I was able to regurgitate like a tremendous amount of stuff that I learned in the classes, which of course, helped, you know, you don’t realize how about you do soak in until you’re actually in a position to utilize it.

But I focused on the empathy part of it, what I bring to the table, my experience, that’s it. I’m 40 years old and a lot more experienced, and somebody who’s in their 20s, you know, I was able to identify what was successful for me in the past. And that was being able to communicate different divisions, departments within the bus and banking world.

But that’s kind of really what I focused on. And I really said to them, I said, Listen, if you’re looking for a tech guy who’s going to come in and strictly, you know, go by the book and speak technical language and coding, I’m not your guy. If you’re looking for somebody who’s going to take this company 10 steps into the future by connecting the marketing engineering and making sure that the end user can using the turnover in the class. I didn’t know that term before hand, if you’re looking for the end user to get the product as soon as possible and to make as much money as you can.

Can by removing you know, so many of the caveats that could take place with somebody who’s younger I didn’t have no experience then on the guy looking for if not, then you might as well go and hire somebody who you’re going to hire to fire and if you can hire to fire a pool of people that you could go speak to right now and you know, it was a it it just fell into place. And I think just being yourself and not trying to be somebody that you’re not emphasize what you’re good at was, you know, what did a formal that’s so important because this is what we emphasized in the class so much, you know.

I’m a big fan of Gary Van, where he talks a lot about Gary personally, right where he says, you know, maybe it’s an East Coast thing, but I want to watch and talk at USC when it came to LA it’s like, you gotta go out there that 100% of your strengths and not care about your weaknesses.

Product Gym: What do you think about people saying “go learn all of the Product Management skills before interviewing?

Larry Lowe: The truth is, you don’t have enough time to go ahead and develop these skills. You know, I mean, I couldn’t launch a class for six weeks. And in six weeks time, you know, I mean, that kind of technology from the movie, the matrix, this does not exist where I can just upload a chip all the 20 year knowledge, 25 years of knowledge that you have on the on the trading floor and go out there and just give it to somebody. And actually one of my close friends out here in New York, he actually runs like a wall street trading floor simulator for like, you know, you’re paying 200 bucks for basically through six hour sessions. They go out there and they replicate what people do on the trading floor. And like college students get an idea whether or not they want to be about that life, right. I’ve always said go ahead and bet 100% on your shrinks when you did I mean, but they did at the end of the day now I’m here trying to openly promote my class.

Product Gym: Well, they did ask you some technical questions. I mean, you had to have somewhat outdated How do you feel like the class prepared you for this?

Larry Lowe: One of the biggest issues that they were concerned about, and which I brought up initially was that the company that I’m going to work for is that it is a European based company, European based platform and is a major cultural difference between how we live here in the states in New York City, which is a micro of itself and Luxembourg, Madrid in the UK. So what I focused on was, not only am I going to be head of launching, but from a product management standpoint, I’m going to be communicating with the engineers and the marketing department because they’re going to have to be tweaks that are going to have to be made to the app and everything else based on cultural differences.

Just a case in point, you know I brought up? How far out? Do you guys go on your radius for your app to look for employment? Because the company is app? Is it employment that is, and they said, well, that will our employees go at 25 miles to look for employment step up. But if my mom’s not going to work here, if I put miles put you out into southern jersey, or Connecticut, and 25 miles.

It takes you six hours to get into Manhattan, where is the 25 miles and Luxembourg takes you 25 minutes to get there. So these are little things so I talked about using, you know, waterfall and agile and working directly with the engineers and not understanding trying to understand what they do, just learning how to communicate with them, working with the marketing department, which is a completely different marketing division in the UK versus what it’s going to take to market a product here.

Product Gym: So you know, so from a Product Management standpoint, were you able to utilize what you learned in the class? What did you feel was get was the most beneficial part of the class in terms of how relevant it was to the actual interviews that you were doing?

Larry Lowe: It gave me I didn’t realize how much confidence it gave me. You know, it’s not so much about the content because the content was there. You know, it’s if you’re, if you’re sitting in class to eight hours on a Saturday and Tuesday night and you don’t absorb all this, I don’t know what to tell you. But it gave me a level of confidence to go down and sit with them and feel 100% comfortable about anything that they were going to throw at me, and it’s invaluable.

You just I really believe that you have to go in there and focus on who you are, what you’re good at and how you can make their company better I think everything else and stuff and I really think that they value the honesty rather than somebody that’s just going to give them and tell them anything that they want to hear. Okay I mean, I’m very good at realizing that I come from a wall street background so we’re you know, we’re kind of in your no nonsense type of creatures I love that I love that about you guys.

Product Gym: It’s crazy to me how you utilize your your background as a competitive advantage because most people that I talked to, especially when we’re talking about the New York market, the three types of people like deal with the most are finance management consultants and then also sales marketing. Do you feel it helped you?

Larry Lowe: People that come from a purely almost purely non technical side right and they, it’s funny because I always hear that they say to me when they’re deciding to take on this coaching program number one, I don’t have the Product Management experience. Number two, I don’t have the technical background and it’s sometimes they’ll say, number three, what kind of cert? I don’t have an MBA, which I find hilarious because the people that I talked to, with the technical background with the Product Background with the MBA background, they say, they don’t have the soft skills you guys have. Rich running is something I spoke to them. Yes, two days ago, Wednesday, right? on Wednesday. I say, Who did I get out for the job? And they started cracking up. He’s up at a heart If I get a Harvard MBA. Oh, that’s it. Okay, why why do I get this guy out? What I wanted to know what it was, he said, because the guy was so linear and had no people skills whatsoever.

He was textbook and he knew his stuff I’ll get me wrong probably what it did you know but the reality of situation is a date he didn’t have the soft skills they were looking for and being able to communicate and this business I think is 90% of the test set 100% listen to lectures that we had given the courses I would ask them what what do you look for in your product manager what is it that you don’t like about your Product Manager inability to communicate with the number one answer that they all said.

Product Gym: How did you feel about taking our advice?

Larry Lowe: A product Manager needs to be able to take advice. Some people are uncomfortable with but their inability to absorb take the content take whatever level of communication put it down on paper and then disseminate it was the number one reason why they felt that the the you know the teamwork well it’s actually very interesting that you say that because one of one like good friends out there in San Francisco who is a Product Manager at Twitter. Why recently just did a podcast. He was a New York based attorney that decided to go try his hand and startups in San Francisco.

The startup, somehow some way not everything went according to plan it and now he’s a product manager over there Twitter and I asked him this question I said, you know then Have you guys ever interviewed anybody on Twitter that had all the experience you do can absolutely do the job, but you did not hire them? And he said, Oh, yeah, all the time. And then I said, Well, have you guys ever interviewed somebody at Twitter with they didn’t have all the product management experience, but he still wanted to give them shot. Oh, yeah. All the time. Now. So what’s the bottleneck? Where’s the divergence, right? And it comes down to a few things. Something that you said is definitely one of them, which is the inability to go out and communicate.

Product Gym: Do you think communication skills helped you significantly?

Larry Lowe: When people say like, okay, culture fit and what this culture fit, right? And it’s like they really have to go ahead and visualize if this person as a Product Manager has a difficult designer, how was this individual? If we brought this individual on, how will this individual communicate with the designer that’s complaining about the engineer and then go back, take that information, go to the engineer, and how does this person get what the designer wants from the engineer, even though the engineer may not like the designer, but somehow be able to extract either information, either moving things up on the timeline or on the roadmap, okay, but also doing it in a very reasonable amount of time because you got your next meeting with the CFO that’s wondering, hey, you know, we’re about four weeks out from the quarter. So where are we on this?

You know, listen, you have to listen. It’s like anything else. It’s like a relationship you like, you might meet a girl or the opposite, right? What is this? What is it that it comes down to? It comes down to communication. It really does. It’s, it’s how do you not overstep your boundaries, don’t pretend that you’re something that you’re not. Don’t make them feel uncomfortable. You hope that’s what you hope for? Well, I famously say hope is a strategy but sometimes that’s all you can do, right?

Product Gym: You also stuck with the process and put in a tremendous amount of work, coming to class, taking notes and following the principles of the course. Do you think this helped land your offer?

Larry Lowe: Listen, behind luck is a lot of hard work. It’s amazing that you say that because the most important thing about Product Management and for the people that don’t know, Rich spent so much time in California communicating with Heads of Product, which is why he’s been able to scale this business as fast as he could, while taking a very Product Management, a very agile approach into scaling the business. You know, they told me that in order for you to go ahead and accomplish something, you’re going to have to bring a lot of very different diverse groups of people together to go out there and make something happen. And you have to appreciate that even though the end result is something that everybody wants, the end result, the journey and getting there is very different for everybody.

And they all want something very different in this process. The other thing is all these different people go out there, they see the world very differently. So when you’re coming in from the Wall Street background, you and I come from very aggressive sales backgrounds. It’s hilarious because when I’m communicating with the people that are with the developers that are building our website, you know, I’m like all I really want to know is, where are we at? What do we need be and what’s stopping us in the middle?

Product Gym: What did you learn about Product Management that can help others follow in your footsteps and successfully make the transition to Product?

Larry Lowe: You have to understand the weaknesses of people and respect your own weaknesses. And you have to respect what people know. it’s almost a division of labor and that’s what being a Product Manager is all about, having a division of labor, right? Let the engineers the engineers, let the marketers be marketers, you know, you be a Product Manager and have to respect that you bet 100% on your strengths. And you obviously can’t care about anything else in this process of interviewing. In the process, I you started interviewing right off the bat, focusing on my strengths and fellow students and you and Cody respected my work ethic.

Product Gym: How did you absorb the information?

Larry Lowe: It was difficult in finding ways to go ahead and absorbing all of this information. And I really respect that because I think you quickly realize that there’s just no way to learn every single thing within a reasonable time frame that we have right now. There’s a higher urgency of landing a job, not making sure you “know” everything. I know I wasn’t one of your younger students. I had a certain salary target we had to hit. We had a time frame to go ahead and make it happen.

Product Gym: But explain to me your thought process, like how you were able to just focus on the things that matter?

Larry Lowe:  Well, I just want to thank you and let people know, you know, the opportunity that you gave me in a situation where, you know, it’s difficult, so I thank you for that. And I’m also in different time of my life, you know, I’m 40 years old with three children, a wife, a mortgage to live in the city, you know, I don’t have the opportunity to go around, lollygagging you know, and figure things out for two years you know, before applying. When I was sitting in class and it you know, I took it seriously there wasn’t a moment that you know, in class that I wasn’t writing 1,000,001 notes and listening and trying to absorb as much as possible. I would go home, I would listen to all of your stuff you know, and I rewrite the notes. I just tended to get extremely serious and the one that I had to focus on is when I left Wall Street, I left for a reason.

Product Gym: So, why did you decide to leave Wall Street?

Larry Lowe: My reason for leaving Wall Street was a quality of life issue because it was about, you know, it wasn’t about the money. It was about quality of life and what I wanted for the next chapter of my life, and that is, I have three kids and I need to be there for them and watch them grow up. And I wasn’t willing to compromise that. And when I sat down for the interview, and they asked me who I am and what I’m looking for, I could have easily said, “You know what, I’m a guy who’s going to work 19 hours a day and I don’t care”, but I told them exactly where I’m at. And you know, I think they respected that and, the other thing is that, this thing kind of came out of nowhere you and I know that.

It was kind of a last minute thing where this company I was interviewing at happened to be in the city you know, it was kind of an 11th hour type of a situation and go to I pick up the phone to call Cody and Cody said not to worry about anything, you know damn well that we’re gonna get you through it. We’re gonna you know, we’ll talk to you about any questions that you have, you guys were right about what you said. You did exactly what you said you were going to do you did with no hesitation. I could show anybody that questions this program the proof. I will show you Cody’s message to me at 2:39am on a Saturday night and he texts me about a conversation that we had that Saturday at the class.

Anybody who questions the integrity of the class, your involvement and level of commitment speaks volumes. I know the most important thing for Product Gym right now are the success stories, just to give people insight when this was all going down. That’s why I’m doing this testimonial. You helped me and I want to help others on the fence about taking the class. I know you called me when you were driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in California, to set up your west coast operation. I think you called me when you were driving in your rental. This this is exactly the great treatment I’ve received from you guys and I know it was a good opportunity I couldn’t have done it without you.

Product Gym: How do you prepare for these interviews?

Larry Lowe: Having said that it’s all about the preparation with the these interviews you saw the guys and you saw the girls that did the Google interviews, the Facebook interviews, who want to work at a hot company. I know your alumni are working at WeWork and Spotify and in the interviews, they always say this. If you look up the recruiters, if you look up the recruiters that are working at these companies, many of them are former coworkers of Rich’s. I’m glad to be part of that community now and have seen people that have successfully climbed through that rabbit hole and I think the reason why people can trust you.

Product Gym: I’ve been on the other side of the pipeline where I was on the hiring side. I was screening resumes, doing the actual phone screens, and actually conducting onsite interviews as well. And watching these interviews go down, we have replicated the most authentic experience. Would you agree? 

Larry Lowe: You guys have the experience to back up what you are selling. And that is why we are having this conversation today.

Product Gym: It’s very difficult to get the stars to align on a Product Manager role, because there’s just simply so many different types of stakeholders. And everybody. Last year, I told you guys you only needed to talk to a two stakeholders before coming to a conclusion whether or not we’re going to get an offer, this year, it’s minimum of 15 to 21 stakeholders. How did you find this?
Larry Lowe: I spoke to a couple of the guys in class and some people are intimidated. You’re got so many people that are wanting these jobs and it’s not like sitting on Wall Street. There are a lot of people going after the Product Manager role, but it doesn’t mean your competition is even capable. Most of the people that are interviewing in the class are focused, because what you’re getting in this class is completely invaluable that can’t be taught anywhere else.

I know you mentioned that 100% of students in the class are doing 6 to 22 interviews a week. Consistently having kids playing division one basketball in college doesn’t guarantee results, a lot of the drive to the NBA comes out of 15 to 20 schools. Yeah, a lot of players, but not a lot of competition. So the students doing 6-22 interviews a week have an edge on the competition for sure. Also, I loved being here. I know I’m not the first from the Wall Street community and I won’t be the last. 

Product Gym: You’re not our first Wall Street alumni, you’re definitely not going to be the last, but we see so many unhappy people on Wall Street that are trying to make a transition into Product.  Why is this?

Larry Lowe: Right now, without Product Gym, they do not know the best way how nor do they have a clear path toward success with the support that they need. I’ll give you a big shout out because I think we have a phenomenal group of people taking the classes. Ultimately what happens to you, is that you have pools with different people that come from different backgrounds that could help you leverage the position and help people get into the Product Manager job just based on their on their background and experience. The beauty of you know the alumni group that I’m now in is that so many people right now that you’re seeing doing interviews have reached out to them for help at one point.

And these students are leveraging the alumni network and taking jobs. You speak with people who came out of the program not that long ago that are now giving you insight and they could even go out there and get that $2,000 referral fee from their company for referring you. But they also know the pain and suffering and the anxiety you guys are going through as they were also going through it.

Product Gym: I think leveraging the alumni might be one of the most important things a student at Product Gym can do. What was your experience with it?

Larry Lowe: I care so much about the people that actually are in the program right now that are really struggling and I think you kept it simple and I think coming from a sales background, I know a lot of times people think just because you come from sales background you just have phenomenal soft skills and you’re just very aggressive. I said yeah those two things may or may not be true, but I’ve also met a lot of very soft spoken sales people that also did very well, who are very diligent to follow up, but what I really want people to understand is when you’re coming from the kind of environment I came from and I always tell people that as traders, we have a lot of like people in the mindset of the sales channel and I wouldn’t consider myself a top biller in the previous industry, but I knew I did okay. I can sell but I didn’t need like million-dollar multi-billion dollars to do so. You know when when you’re coming in from like an environment where there’s such high turnover. You know, I think it got to the point where we are playing the Hunger Games tribute song when somebody was like, do the walk of shame, right? Because they couldn’t hack it right. I was like you had to be so focused on just what you can bring to the table.

Product Gym: We teach and stress mindset and focus. How did you benefit from that?

Larry Lowe: It’s not easy you know but I was like being so focused that’s actually it was all about.

Product Gym: If you guys watch this video, this gentleman here with the Mets hat on has received the highest offer of the year, by really staying focused on just doing what needed to be done. Focusing 100% on all of those things that you can’t control never helps. 

Larry Lowe: Yeah, exactly some of the people are focusing on the things they can’t control. They say, Oh, I think I’m too young. I know there are others who are over 40 like myself, and you are 40, you look at people like Jason Glassman, who’s 44 you know the other woman who was 57, you know I was like those other guys would kill to just be a fresh grad again. You told me that you had so many guys tell you that if they knew about this career path in college, they would have pursued it earlier. But, Product Management isn’t a major so it wasn’t even like you could say you were thinking about it. I know people talk about networking, so it is so important to stress what I also got out of the classes. I enjoyed speaking to guys younger than me, guys like me understand and don’t discriminate against somebody who’s 20 years younger. 

Soft skills is more important than anything else, so don’t eliminate people based on you know age or experience because everybody in this field from what I realized, it was the same thing on Wall Street. Bring something to the table, and if you gather as much as you possibly can from everybody around you, that’s how you’ll kill it. This will not be our last video either.

Product Gym: We have people working very demanding jobs while interviewing fulltime. We have people on Wall Street, management consultants, salespeoples, and they still manage to interview fulltime. How do you balance this?

Larry Lowe: Just the number of challenges people have to overcome are huge, but doable. It is just about getting more organized, being better with time management and just being clear with what you want. Don’t say you really want something and go out there interviewing and you’re miserable and you are not willing to do it, because you’re setting yourself up for disaster and you’re wasting everybody’s time. Be clear, move on. The people that are very clear about what it is that they want are the ones who ultimately succeed.

Product Gym: A lot of people come in with unrealistic expectations (wanting to be Chief Product officer at Facebook, etc). What would you say to them?

Larry Lowe: You also have to go into this with realistic expectations. Being unrealistic will set you up for failure.

Product Gym: We get a lot of naysayers like, okay, so you guys can help get the job. How do they do on the job? That’s not that’s not even your problem. So we’re going to take those problems apart. We’re going to go introduce more case studies, we’re going to go out there. It’s a phenomenal opportunity for me to go out there and talk to you guys. Because, you know, we do tons of videos, blogs, podcasts, which get converted into content, and we are always wanting to continuously improve our curriculum.

I want this to be like a Navy SEALs experience. This is exactly how the real combat is going to go down. Okay, this is going to be the most authentic experience possible so you are best equipped and prepared to go out there meet the challenges and get that Product Manager job. So I gotta run to my next call. We are we’re ramping up right now for the new classes of the new year and let me know if there’s anything else that you need. Your first year in business. 2019 baby. I’ll talk to you soon.

 

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