Monica Rozenfeld and Lina Bedi are co-founders of the incubator, Her Product Lab. Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation Founder, talks with Monica and Lina about opportunities and barriers for women in the product development space and Her Product Lab’s new seven-week incubator program designed to help women launch and grow new product initiatives.
Interview Transcript with Her Product Lab
Brian Ardinger: Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, founder of Insideoutside.io, a provider of research, events, and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption. Each week we’ll give you a front row seat for the latest thinking tools, tactics, and trends in collaborative innovation. Let’s get started.
Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. In fact, we have two amazing guests today, Monica Rozenfeld and Lina Bedi. They are cofounders of a new project and a new venture called Her Product Lab. Welcome to the show.
Monica Rozenfeld: Thank you so much, Brian. We’re so excited to be here.
Lina Bedi: Very exciting.
Brian Ardinger: Monica, you and I met a couple of years ago. I had a chance to come up to Milwaukee for the Fall Xperiment conference last year and do some podcasts there. And I wanted to bring you on the show to talk about this new venture that you spun up. And some of the changes that you’ve seen over the last several months in spinning up this particular project. I know we actually had this conversation pre COVID, but we wanted to postpone it because a lot of things have changed. So, tell us about what Her Product Lab is, and then we’ll go into how it came to be.
Monica Rozenfeld: Thank you for that intro. In my day job, I was organizing events for product managers. And I was in the New York office, we have a New York office and a Milwaukee office, and in the New York office there’s a lot of conversation about how there really isn’t a community for women in product. You see a big presence out on the West coast, Advancing Women in Product. They have done a phenomenal job of really elevating women, their career, getting them into the mid-level and leadership roles out there. And we weren’t seeing so much of that even in New York City and looking into other cities like Chicago, DC, Atlanta.
Our goal, when we had started out late last year, is let’s have these summits. We’ll bring women together. We’ll have women on the stage talking about their careers. How did they move into the director roles, how to build better products? It was really incredible because only in two or three weeks’ time, after coming up with this concept and connecting with Lina, who’s also very interested in this. We had a website, tickets were live. We had something like 20 presenters right off the bat. And it was one of the easiest events I ever put together because there was so much excitement around it.
So, the date of our first summit, March 26th, New York City, same week as lock down. I actually did this really somber activity where I walked over to where our venue is. I live not too far from there. And everything’s just boarded up, no people on the street in another universe, there would be 200 people in this room, and we’d all be super engaged and talking about product development. So, it was a really crazy experience for us.
But I think the other thing that we saw was that nobody was asking for a refund. Everyone wanted to know when the date was going to be changed. We had this really loyal community that wanted to be part of this. And so we were trying to think of, well, how do we keep everyone engaged without being able to have in person events. And so, we started with some of the virtual events and that led us to think of this concept of a virtual incubator, which by the way, I’ll just add one thing. We wanted to do an incubator as part of our two-year roadmap. We’re thinking like 2022, we’ll have an incubator. It will be really cool. And it will be New York based. And now it’s just virtual and global, which we’re really excited about.
Brian Ardinger: It seems that coronavirus has definitely accelerated a lot of the disruption that we were already seeing in the marketplace. And this is just a perfect example of that. So, Lina, maybe can tell us about yourself and how you got involved in this project.
Lina Bedi: I was introduced to Monica through a mutual friend, and we were talking about, you know, women supporting other women. And how far women can get when they’re lifted. And when we think about product management, we were looking at the overall job market growth and product management and product management was and is booming.
So, the overall job market in the past two years increased by around 6% and product management is five times that amount. And then when we dug into the data even more, we see that the majority, of women are in entry level positions. And so, our goal was to really create a network community where we can give women access to senior leaders and help mentor them.
You know, these are a lot of the things that help propel my career forward and it’s a way of paying that forward. And, you know, that was the goal. And even though what we’re doing now has shifted because of COVID, that goal still remains the same. Those overarching themes of what we’re trying to achieve by connecting women to these leadership roles and giving access to training. Those are still the big umbrella that we’re operating within.
Brian Ardinger: One of the things that’s interesting about her product lab, slightly different than a lot of the other incubators or accelerators out there. It seems to be focused, not just on starting a company, so to speak, but it’s really about launching a product and maybe that early stage that it turns into a startup. Can you talk about why you decided to start with that emphasis?
Monica Rozenfeld: When we have a community of product managers, they’re already thinking about product ideas all of the time. And they’re not necessarily looking to be entrepreneurs, start a company, hires a team, go through the whole process of all that it takes to actually launch a company. But maybe they have a concept that they either want to turn into a side hustle that they want to even pitch to their current employer.
And that’s very common if you’re working in, for example, I work in FinTech. Maybe you have a concept that you think would be really great in that space and you can sell it to your own leadership even. So, it’s a very different model. We’ve talked to so many women in our community who have an idea, and I’m sure as you know Brian, a lot of people sit on ideas for a very long time and sometimes you just need that nudge of a next step.
And so, our goal is really to help connect them with mentors. One-on-one. Bring in coaches each week that can help them in each stage of the process. So, by the end, they have the option of what they want to do next. None of them have to quit their day jobs. We’ve created this to be around their full-time schedule. And after seven weeks they might say, Hey, I really want to pitch this to a VC and turn this into a startup. I really see the vision for it. And I’m ready to commit full time to it. And then I think that would be awesome if we see some of that happening, but that’s not the goal for everybody.
Sometimes people just think, I think this should exist. Nobody else has built it. I want to be the one to build it. I like that approach a lot. Lina, can you talk about this rise of no coders and ability to spin up product that you might not have been able to do a decade ago without a lot of help? It seems like individuals have a lot more say and ability to experiment and do things and they have in the past. Can you talk a little bit about how some of these new tools and that play into how you’re helping people launch product?
Lina Bedi: The amount of tools that are now available at anyone’s fingertips is just mind blowing. And none of that existed before. There’s so many resources out there. And when we look at our, you know, the seven-week program, these are the things that we would highlight to people going into the program. The first week would be an introduction and pitching the product. Each week would be a different module with classes once a week. And, you know, with some homework or some takeaways after the session, they each, or dive into a different area of expertise.
So, after the initial product assessment and validating the concept, we would go into design. Looking at UX design principles, how should this be marketed? How should it be designed? Another module would then be like vetting what the product would look like in the marketplace. How is it marketed? What is the price point look like? And so, we just go through the different weeks and like Monica said, ultimately by the end of it, you hopefully have something you’re ready to pitch with a fully functioning website so that it can be taken to that next level.
Brian Ardinger: I understand you’re trying to build out a complete mentor network and have quality speakers and that come present to the people that go through this program. Can you talk a little bit about some of the people you may have on board or some of the mentors that you’re bringing in to help?
Lina Bedi: You know luckily, when we started planning out the conference, we had already built relationships with some senior women in the industry who were going to present at our conference. And so, for us, that’s a great starting point. The relationships are there and we’re already familiar with their area of expertise and they’re already bought into the idea of Her Product Lab and the goals that it stands for. And then also we’ve been doing a series of office hours sessions on Fridays, where we do deep dives into topics such as influencing or how to find a job in a COVID environment.
And so the topics have been varied, but we’ve really furthered our network. In terms of experts in the area on different topics from those sessions as well. You know, that’s a great starting point. As we look at mentors and coaches for the program, since the relationships are already there and it’s already a good fit for what we’re trying to do.
Monica Rozenfeld: I think the thing that’s kind of surprised me from the get-go of it. And especially now that we’re launching the incubator is how many people are reaching out to us? Asking how they can help, how they can promote it. I mean, I had one VC who actually created a banner for this, for social media. It’s just organically spreading on its own. And when I look at the people who’ve already applied either to be an applicant or to be a mentor coach, I don’t know any of these people and I don’t know how they found out about us. And I think that is the most exciting thing that it’s spreading far and wide naturally.
Brian Ardinger: What are some other trends that you’re seeing, or some of the ideas that are being presented to you? What kind of excites you about the next steps for this program?
Lina Bedi: You know, one thing earlier on before we even decided to have the conferences, we had done some research with Alpha. And the feedback that we got on this topic in terms of just women wanting support from other women, women looking for mentors, women looking for training outside of the traditional like workforce, was overwhelmingly positive. So, you know, that is what really motivates us and gets us excited because the need is there. Between Monica and myself, we have the resources to be able to pull this together and to be able to help other people that we know have voice that they’re looking for, something of this sort, is really exciting.
Monica Rozenfeld: Yeah. And I think I’ll just add to that, like, some of the things I’m noticing already. And it’s very early on in the process. Our deadline for applications is end of the summer, August 28th, is the type of ideas that are coming in are really about helping people. And so, when you think of a product that could really be anything like coming up with another mobile game or whatever. And a lot of the concepts that are coming in are, you know, I struggled with something or somebody in my family struggled with something. I see a real problem and I want to solve it. And I feel that a lot of the stories are quite emotional.
So, in our application process, we ask questions like, tell us about yourself. How did you come up with the concept? One of the other questions we have is what’s been holding you back from launching it. And so, I think the second piece of what I personally am excited about is really supporting women in a real way, because I think there’s one thing to say, here’s how to launch a product and another to address the things that stop us from launching it.
With women specifically, and I don’t mean to generalize, but it’s a conversation women have quite a bit. Struggle with imposter syndrome, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of public speaking. There’s all of these other things that kind of prevent us from getting to that point. And so, we really do want to focus on those areas as well, either through the mentorship or even bringing in some coaches that can address those issues as well.
Brian Ardinger: Yeah, I think that’s an important part. And that was one of the things that intrigued me about your program is the fact that it wasn’t just your standard accelerator blocking and tackling of the business side of things, but really tried to address some of the obstacles that entrepreneurs and innovators have at early stages of getting something off the ground.
If people want to find out more about the program or about yourself, and that what’s the best way to do that.
Monica Rozenfeld: They can go to our website. It’s Herproductlab.com. There’s a tab for the incubator and if they’re interested in being a coach or mentor. There’s an application right there, and you can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org as well. And we will respond within 24 hours.
Lina Bedi: Thank you, Brian, for having us. This is really, really exciting and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Brian Ardinger: Monica, Lina, thank you very much for being on Inside Outside Innovation, looking forward to seeing what happens with the first batch of folks that finished the program. And we’ll have you back on later.
Monica Rozenfeld: I’m looking forward to that too. Thanks, Brian.
Brian Ardinger: Well, thank you again for being on Inside Outside Innovation, look forward to continuing the conversation and best of luck to you. That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.
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