We're interviewing Jeff Novich, currently a Senior Product Manager at ClassPass. Jeff has founded and/or managed product at several companies in the past, including GroundLink and FareShare. He's an 11-time hackathon winner and has a BA in physics and MS in journalism.
You describe yourself as a product guy. What do you do?
I'm a senior product manager at Classpass. At the moment I'm focusing on the studio portal - a website that lets our studio partners manage their accounts such as checking their rosters, managing the spots they give to ClassPass, and checking their revenue.
How did you become a product guy? Was it intentional?
I always loved tech and I always loved building things and producing stuff. So in college in the late 90s I majored in computer science, wrote a weekly op-ed column for the newspaper, and directed and edited movies, including a feature length comedy that went to festivals! Afterwards, I went to journalism school, freelanced for a while in a variety of jobs, and then realized that what I loved was building products. I had started a few companies but they didn't' work out, so I learned that my real passion was in product development. So no, it wasn't intentional at all but I think the underlying theme was that I really loved to create things whether it was film, writing, or code, and product development is kind of like making a film except the user doesn't just watch it and that's it. The users interact more deeply and regularly.
What's the most rewarding part of the career you've chosen?
I used to think I loved building things, and that's always been true. But it took me a few years of building various things that not a lot of people used to realize that what I truly love is being able to build something that LOTS of people use on a regular basis. I'm building a site right now that affects thousands of studios that have chosen to partner with ClassPass and that means the changes I make have to be really well thought out. Knowing that my team has a large impact on people is extremely rewarding.
You have a BA and MS -- how has your education impacted your career?
To be honest, I took an expensive path in figuring out what I wanted to do. Nowadays with coding academies and so many resources on the web, if I were in high school again I might not take the same path I took. That said, I think journalism school was tremendously helpful in product management. To be good at almost anything, you have to have empathy. Good journalism means you talk to people without any prejudgement or narrative and let them tell you about things. Simply being a good listener and considering the perspectives of others is so insanely valuable yet so underutilized in the real world. Being a good product manager is largely about listening to what users are saying and repackaging their ideas into features and product - which is basically what journalists do, but in writing!
What qualities are most important to you in coworkers?
The most important qualities I appreciate are a sense of purpose and team, where coworkers are unified in a vision and hungry to achieve it, but also trusting of each other. I think it's important to be open to objectively looking at ideas rather than maybe having a strong opinion because it "feels" right and arguing to protect your idea.
What tips would you give to those looking to break into product at startups?
I started by building some products that solved problems I was excited about. Building a portfolio is really important. If you can show a hiring manager "hey, look at a few of the things I've built," that goes a long way since startups are looking for people who get shit done and can execute with little to no oversight or structure.
You participate in a lot of hackathons. What's the deal?
I have lots of ideas and I love the focused energy at a hackathon where you just build something for 24 hours and present it in a polished way. It's exactly how I operate, since I come up with tons of ideas all the time. I've learned that it's all about the team, so I've built up a little crew of hackers extraordinaire who were on my teams for a lot of competitions and won (or placed) in virtually all of them. You could go out to a bar and hang out with friends. I happen to like hacking with friends a lot more!
Finally, what's your best piece of career advice for job seekers generally?
Don't focus on the job openings. Start out by making a list of companies you think are doing cool stuff - use Angellist.com. Then work your network on Linkedin and just try to meet with people at the company. Ask about their culture, how they create things, what their tech stack looks like, etc. If I get an email from someone saying "hey I'd like to learn more about product management at ClassPass", I'm always up for the conversation. Those kinds of meetings help build rapport and helps you understand the company better as well as get you on their radar.
ClassPass is a monthly fitness membership that lets customers go to the best fitness studios under one fee. They're a New York based startup that has raised over 54 million dollars from investors like General Catalyst, Thrive Capital, Slow Ventures, SV Angel, and Techstars. They're hiring for engineering, prodcut, partnerships, and customer experience, so check 'em out!