With every call of life, the heart
must be ready to part and start
again, in courage and joy,
surrendering to new, otherly liasons, as
In the core of every beginning lives magic
Magic that protects us and helps us live.
Hermann Hesse, Stufen
2019 has been a year of fresh starts. Most of them have been quite familiar from the past: moving houses, starting new jobs, even having a newborn at home. However, as Heraclit says: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” So by reliving many moments from the past in an entirely new context, I learned a lot this year:
- Being a mom of two, does not equal kids x 2, but kids2: Like every team, with the arrival of little Matteo in November 2018, our family went through all stages from storming to norming (and by looking at all the things we have accomplished this year, I dare to say even some kind of “performing”). However, getting there has been quite a ride… With two kids chances are one of them is always sick or throwing a tantrum. Their needs are often mutually exclusive, and getting them to sleep at the same time is basically a miracle. I guess Mother Nature simply forgot to get us an additional set of hands with each birth… 😉 At the same time, watching them cuddle, looking at Matteo learning so much from his older sister and seeing us grow together as a pack has been a priceless experience and I feel so blessed to be able to accompany these little humans into the world.
- There is so much leaders can learn from parents. On my journey as a mother, I’ve come to realize that there are so many parallels between what I’d label as being a great leader and being a great parent. In fact so many, that I am actually making this one of my major topics for talks at conferences next year. From being authentic to being a good listener, from talking at eye-level to finding the challenge that suits the current development phase. I have countless examples and feel like my personal growth as a leader and as a parent go hand in hand. I hope more and more companies realize how many super-powers mothers bring to the table and stop seeing their role as impediment at work.
- I’m definitely not born to be a full-time mom, but whenever in doubt, family comes first. This year I embarked on the adventure of founding my company Product Academy as part-time mompreneur with two workdays a week and two little kids at home. Matteo was only 6 weeks old when I put together my mentoring program “Women in Product” (now called “LevelUp!”). Ramping up my business while moving into our new home (and restructuring it), setting in our kids at their new daycare and dealing with all sorts of unforeseen challenges has been quite demanding. At first, I was tempted to squeeze in my work whenever I could: fixing a broken slider on my homepage while on the playground (not an easy task with WordPress on mobile…), taking calls from potential clients on my mommy days and working late at night whenever I could. But soon I realized that I was neither really present at work nor with my kids, and this was very unsatisfying for all of us. So I made it a rule to truly be with the kids when I am with the kids, and to power through my two workdays when they are at daycare. Does this always work? No. Is it worth trying? Definitely. Meditating more often has helped me to feel more grounded in each moment, and my principle of “family first” has helped me make the right choice for us, even when it was the hard one: turning down clients when this would have compromised my time with the kids, canceling meetings because Matteo needed more time settling in at the new daycare, staying in bed with the kids all evening if they needed us and even cutting a well-deserved trip with a friend short because of a sick child at home. This year, I rediscovered the power of guiding principles and am going to make mine even more explicit in the future at work and at home, since this facilitates decision-making quite a lot, which brings me to my next point:
- Product Management is about the art of decision-making. And this is – at the very bottom – why I am so passionate about it. I am fascinated by all the ingredients that influence our decisions: from data to intuition, from principles to biases. That is why decisions at scale are one of the topics I am currently digging deeper into in order to accompany the companies I work with even better on their way to practicing the art and principles of a learning organizations, which is the Why behind Product Academy. Speaking of scaling:
- When you are a solo-preneur, set yourself up for support at scale. I took the decision to not hire any employees for Product Academy (at least for the foreseeable future). The reason behind this is two-fold: First, I do not want to be pressured into taking on work just to pay salaries, since another of my principles is “Follow your passion, not the money.” Second, I really believe in the concept of part-time work because it allows us to explore our potential in many different aspects of life, to combine different jobs with pro-bono work, to be more balanced by having more time for friends, family and sports. That is why I am working with an entire crew of highly motivated freelancers from Google, Zalando, Booking.com and many more inspiring companies. They are all seasoned product leaders who have a passion for sharing their experience while still working on their products. They are the reason, Product Academy is scaling and I am really grateful to each one of them for embarking on this adventure with me.
- For the things that matter to you, now is always the right time: At first, I was hesitant to launch my business this year with all the things going on in my personal life. But now, I am so happy I had the courage to do it anyways. I am determined to show myself and the world that it is possible to set up a company for success while being a part-time CEO in 40% with two toddlers. Founding my own company has been a very rewarding experience so far. Every day I wake up super-motivated to deliver more value, to work at my own pace and to incorporate all the learnings from my previous start-up projects. I can only encourage everyone who is disciplined and passionate enough to try it.
- Lift, not drag: In previous work environments I have experienced a lot of competition and I have been sucked into a world where we step on each other’s feelings in order to rise and shine. I no longer want to be part of companies where this is part of the DNA (even though nobody is willing to admit it). Instead, I made it a new principle of mine to lift other people, not drag them down. This means, I am more selective about the people I choose to spend time with. And for each one of them, I am willing to go the extra-mile to bring out the best in them and to help them discover joy in what they do. This goes especially for other women I meet. I make it a habit not to compare our kids when I am with other mothers and to not feel like I have anything to lose by supporting other women at work. This is one of the main thoughts behind the mentoring program LevelUp! and one of the most rewarding things about coaching others. And this is one of the main reasons I believe in collaboration instead of competition, even though sometimes the Swiss market might seem too small for that. There is always enough demand for high-quality work and initiatives that deliver value to the customer.
- It’s never too late to find closure: In the past, I had to let go somebody at work and while I still stand by that decision, I am not proud of the way I handled it. This kept haunting me at night for years and so this year, I decided to face my feelings and approach the person to talk things through and offer an apology which I am glad got accepted. Since then, I feel much lighter and encouraged to always stand by my values and have the courage to apologize when I did not act in accordance with them.
Last year, in my new year’s resolution I promised myself to meet 52 inspiring people in 2019. At first, I made an effort to select one person each week and to approach them asking for a meeting. After a couple of weeks, I realized I wanted more serendipity in this challenge (by the way: serendipity is my all-time favorite word) and so a big part of this list of inspiring people just formed as I followed my passion at work and in my personal life. Even though am about to list only 47 people who inspired my in a particular way this year, I am quite satisfied with the result and would like to extend a big thank you to everyone who inspired me this year:
- Sophie, Delia, Stefano and Hannes at INNOArchitects: I have rarely met people that are so filled with kindness and radiating joy in my work life. It is a true pleasure working with you and I cannot wait to co-teach the next sessions at the Product Champion and to attend the next ladies surprise dinner Sophie and Delia set up.
- Hélène Mory-Levert, Kristina Walcker-Mayer, Grace Kwak, Tilke Judd, Stephanie Judd, Alexandra Lung, Taisia Antonova, Stefania Leone, Nina Schneider, Julia Whitney, Alexandra Cain, Chanel Greco, Iulia Porneala, Keji Adedeji, Ingrid Oline Skeide Ødegaard and Aude Morandi: My mentoring program has brought me in touch with so many kick-ass women in product and I feel so honored they are part of our crew at Product Academy, encouraging others to pursue their career in product while finding a sustainable life-style. Grace is working 60% at Google in a leadership position. Tilke is combining her work with pro-bono work at the PMF. Alexandra is delivering workshops with so much energy, you would not guess she has a one-year old at home. The same goes for Aude, Ingrid and Taisia, too. Kristina amazes me by combining her fierceness at work with her constant quest for personal growth through yoga, meditation and continuous learning. Stephanie has taught me so much about raising the bar for high-quality workshops and about the nine power sources of influence. Hélène impressed me with her kindness and positivity despite a very challenging year. Julia continues to amaze me with her crystal-clear way of communication and has taught me a lot about getting more comfortable with conflict. Iulia took the time out of her busy PMF schedule to share her insights on how to successfully deal with business stakeholders. Keji provided a lot of value as mentor and ran the European section of all local ProductTanks as coordinator for Mind The Product. Alexandra helped us put ourselves in the shoes of designers and learn how to improve our collaboration with them as product people. Chanel invited our mentoring class to take a look behind the scenes of coding and encouraged them to write their first lines of code. Nina and Stefania have been really important supporters for me at Appway who became one of the main sponsors of Product Academy in 2019 next to 89grad. Thank you very much!
- My first class of “Women in Product” with Pia, Fran, Maria, Emily, Zara, Noémi, Maja, Andreea, Lilian, Irina, Agnes and Marlis: all of you showed me so much support throughout this course prototype and encouraged me to keep pursuing my dreams. I cannot wait to witness you achieving great things in the product world! Special thanks to Pia Joelle Eggimann for being part of the ProductTank team for Bern and Zurich and for teaching me a lesson or two about focus with your dedication and great expectation management at all times.
- Alex Bleau (trivago) , Tim Herbig (herbig.co), Philipp Krehl (Zalando) and Randy Silver (The Product Experience Podcast by Mind The Product): It was a true pleasure meeting these product guys for the first time or getting to know them a little better this year. They all impress me with their profound product know-how and the quality of their work as mentors, trainers and humans 😊. That is why I am super-excited about the upcoming workshops about Improving Your Product’s Search Engine and Jobs-to-be-Done in Practice in 2020!
- Robert Weller (SAP) & Fritz Gerhard (codecentric): It has been a very interesting experience to be a moderator at DIGITALE LEUTE in Cologne where I got to do an interviews with those gentlemen. Learning more about the joy of staying innovative from Fritz and about creating and launching a tool for people analytics from Robert has certainly been one of the highlights of 2019 for me.
- Melanie Kovacs, Valérie Vuillerat and Nadia Fischer: Although I had the pleasure of meeting Melanie and Valérie briefly at other occasions, this year I got to know them a little better. I am so grateful for the work that Valérie and Nadia do at witty works in order to make the future of tech more female and to de-bias the world a little more. Melanie from Master21 is an extraordinary women with exceptionally clear values, an open heart and genuine curiosity about the world. I had a lot of fun joining her #30dayscontentchallenge on Instagram this year. Feel free to follow me on Instagram to read the posts: @tanitalau.
- Bastiaan van Rooden has been one of my most important work crushes this year. His humble and creative way of leading his company Nothing in a non-hierarchical way, exploring ways of New Work and collective leadership has been truly inspiring to me and I look forward to having him on board of the mentoring program next year again.
- Meeting Anne Cocquyt (GUILD) has been a serendipity moment of 2019. We met for lunch in the Swiss mountains when she came to Switzerland for a conference in Davos. She is a very impressive female entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and just recently launched GUILD Academy, connecting female entrepreneurs in a mentoring program.
- I got introduced to Christian and Bettina Hirsig by Ramun Hofmann and am so happy to have met a power couple of entrepreneurs that shows us how a couple can co-create great projects like PowerCoders while raising two wonderful children. They are definitely a role model to me and Bettina just won the Recognition Award of the Female Innovation Forum for a reason 😊
- At Mind The Product London (which I got to attend with my ProductTank co-organizers Pia, Dave and Dominique) I met Alexander Hipp (N26) who is publishing the PM Library, a great blog for product people. I cannot wait to see him on stage at ProductTank Bern in April next year.
- Last, but not least: It was a pleasure meeting Rouven Leuener (Comparis). We had a very insightful conversation on parenting and leadership over lunch and I love his idea of creating a “readme” for colleagues to better understand my personality.
Thank you to every single one on this list for being part of my journey.
For 2020, I picked two big areas that I am going to devote my attention to:
- Holism: Digging deeper into how everything in life is connected, involving for example the topics of achieving a sustainable balance in life, product ethics and practicing the art of learning organizations.
- Detoxing: letting go of beliefs and habits (maybe also people) who are not fueling my energy and matching my values. This also involves healthier nutrition (which I cut back on too often due to stress), less screen time and less comparing myself to others. It also includes a new work project of mine: a product leader retreat in the Swiss mountains in August that combines product strategy and mindfulness. If you would like to learn more about it or join the waitlist, feel free to send me a message on Linkedin.
I wish all of you a very happy and healthy year 2020, lots of love, light and serendipity.