Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Lisa Zane, Founder of Conscious Product Development, located in Kitchener, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Conscious Product Development. My purpose is to help product teams solve the right problems for the right reasons and develop products (and careers) more consciously - in ways that are inclusive, holistic, ethical, accessible, and sustainable - and that makes people's lives measurably better. My business is a flywheel that operates with 3 pillars:
- 1:1 Career coaching for product managers
- Building tools
Tell us about yourself
For my whole life, I've been a "square peg in a round hole" type of person. Before becoming a product manager and getting involved in startups, I was a biomechanics researcher and later worked as a journalist. I've also been an athlete my whole life, played hockey all through university, and am pretty grateful to have been part of an incredible team at McGill University filled with a handful of Canadian Olympic Team members. We won three national championships in five years, including the first national championship ever for any women's team in the school's history. I learned a hell of a lot going through the highs and lows of that experience.
I got into product work in part by accident and in part very consciously. I went through some very intense "life slapping me in the face moments" back-to-back within a very short time frame: I was involved in a shooting, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I was in a bus accident where we T-boned a car, and I flew from the middle of the bus to the windshield, my aunt, who was my hero and a cyclist, was killed while training in Toronto after she was hit by a car, my then-partner was bitten by a tick while we were camping and contracted Lyme Disease that caused bilateral facial paralysis, and the list goes on. I felt like I was the main character in a horror movie that I didn't ask to be in.
After a complete meltdown, I did what now sounds really dorky and also really basic that I wish I had done sooner - I wrote down on a napkin all of the ways I was feeling misaligned and came up with a list of the things I felt I was missing in my life that I really valued. At the time, I had been working at a production company and as a freelance writer and felt like I was on the outside of life, looking in. I was interviewing people all the time and sharing their stories as an outside observer. I realized that what I really wanted was to be part of a close-knit team building something that was adding meaningful value to people's lives.
This got me on the startup trajectory, and I ended up segueing into my first product role as product manager #1 at a very early-stage startup. My experience so far has been predominately with startups in the wearables and health tech spaces, working mostly on moonshot types of projects. A startup I worked with to develop the world's first prescription smart glasses that look like regular glasses - North - was acquired by Google at the beginning of the pandemic, so I became part of Google's AR/VR team.
At the same time as the acquisition, I had gone through another set of "life slapping me in the face moments" that all came to a head - I herniated 3 discs in my back and essentially was immobile for 1.5 years while also getting diagnosed with a rare, genetic connective tissue disorder - Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome - moving 3 times, and becoming a step-mom for the first time all during the beginning of the pandemic.
Up until then, I had been part of a lot of insanely ambitious, pie-in-the-sky projects, where I believe I worked with some of the smartest humans on the planet in many niche areas. What I realized was that in a lot of cases in tech, we silo our brainpower. We often start building solutions before deeply understanding the problems we are solving and who we are solving them for. We often make decisions with a limited range of perspectives included. I have seen millions of dollars, time, energy, and resources put into bandaid solutions that create more problems.
I believe the root of this is that often we are asking the wrong questions (or not asking them in the first place). As a result, we are building products and focusing our resources on too many things that are making our lives worse. So, I left my job to create Conscious Product Development to help empower product leaders to stop living on auto-pilot and accepting the status quo. To make more conscious decisions about our careers and the products we are bringing into the world, and the impacts of these decisions. Essentially, I refuse to accept that what exists and the way things work right now in tech is our bar.
I think we need to do a much better job of putting people first (including going inwards and working on ourselves and understanding our own WHYs and driving factors as a starting point), accepting responsibility for our actions, approaching problems holistically, spending more time in the problem finding space vs. the problem solutions space, and playing the long game vs. trying to aim for the quickest win to make money.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Ha! Probably starting it in the first place! I think "just starting" is probably the hardest part of doing anything new that is outside of your comfort zone.
Other than that, working with clients 1:1 has been incredibly empowering and rewarding. It makes me feel good to know that a lot of the pain and headaches that I have lived through have given me a unique perspective on both lives and working in tech and building products. Knowing that I am able to channel that in positive and tangible ways that are 100% me AND aligned with my values AND that are helping other humans feel better about the work they are doing, and the contributions they are leaving as their legacy in the world feels pretty awesome.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
You're constantly living in the unknown, and you have to figure out how to be okay with that. You don't have anyone telling you what to do, where to look, what step to take next, or where to focus your energy and time. It's self-directed. It definitely helps to have great mentors, but you are ultimately fully accountable for your decisions. In a lot of ways, it's the most challenging, but also the thing that I like the most about it because I can learn faster, especially as a solopreneur - I can more easily tie my inputs to my outputs and debrief myself to figure out where to improve and adapt and make changes.
For me, my entire life is unknown - we don't know a lot about the genetic condition that I have, so I have to do a lot of my own research on the medical front to inform my medical team to determine my treatment and care. "We've never seen this before," "We've never dealt with this before," and "Can we include you in our textbook?" are pretty much daily phrases I hear. This has a major impact on one's life and worldview.
However, it also means I have a superpower - I have gained a lot of confidence in my ability to navigate the unknown and be comfortable with that. It means life is sometimes a lot scarier and uncomfortable for me, but I think my spectrum of potential growth because of that is very broad.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Find a meaningful problem to solve first. Don't jump right into a solution. I actually built a free guide to help with this that you can access here.
- Don't try to do everything alone - build your own VIP team proactively that shares similar values to support you. If you're a solopreneur, connect with other solopreneurs. Find a coach or a mentor who understands you and your context and has relevant experience that can help you. And I would recommend that everyone see a therapist regularly, whether they are starting a business or not, as being aware of your own subconscious patterns and programming literally changes... everything.
- Start small. Make it an experiment in the beginning. Be curious and explore what's possible and run iterative, contained experiments to learn. Too many people never start because they think too broadly and in ways that are too abstract. Also, too many people start HUGE - without doing the work of clearly framing the problem and asking for millions of dollars in VC funding, which can get very complicated very quickly. Work the problem. Take it step by step vs. trying to jump off the deep end right off the bat. See what you learn and go from there.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I strongly believe that you can learn something from everyone you meet. I hope that this helped you, reading this, in some way today. I did a talk recently about how to write your own story, your way, and find your own product-market fit based on my life and experience that you can watch here.
If you're reading this and are interested in working with a product coach, you can book a free intro call with me here.
I've also just launched "The Product Manager's Career Guide", a 30-day blueprint for product managers to navigate career transitions consciously - from figuring out your ultimate trajectory to how to focus your next job search to how to market and position yourself. It's broken down into 27 modules, 13 templates you can download and use today, and loads of real-world examples and screenshots from my own experiences, advice from product recruiters, and hiring managers, here.
If you want to build products and your product career more consciously, you can also sign up for my free weekly newsletter, Stream of Consciousness, here.
Finally, anyone can do anything they want to do in life and in their careers, as long as they feel aligned with their values, have a clear North Star that they can whole-heartedly get behind, and understand their own WHY and a PLAN - the HOW steps - to get there that they can adapt and change as they learn more about themselves and the world they are in. Most people don't get to the HOW step. If you can put the hard work into figuring out the WHY and the WHAT and the HOW, and be okay with things not being perfect or going exactly as you expect them to as long as you're still moving in the trajectory you want to be moving in and adapting along the way, you can do almost anything you want in your life.