Updated: Feb 3, 2021
Author - Jessica Li
I spoke with Allen Yang, head of product management and business operations at Bubble, a no-code platform, empowering entrepreneurs to build production-ready web apps.
Allen studied economics and psychology at Harvard and started his career in investment banking at Morgan Stanley. He soon realized that he was not especially interested in finance so he joined an early stage startup, Yipit, founded by fellow Harvard alums. The co-founders of Yipit presented him a unique offer: they would spend 6 months teaching him to code and afterwards, he could apply these skills to any area of the company he was most interested in. Allen took the opportunity and after the 6 months, worked as a mix of engineer, product manager, and data analyst at Yipit.
He then went to Harvard Business School to transition into product management. He spent a summer and then a few years after graduation at Google in their Docs,Sheets and Slides product management team. After a while, he wanted to transition to earlier stage companies so joined Better Mortgage, a growth stage startup, as director of product management, and most recently, joined Bubble as the first product hire.
Allen shared his reflections on learning to learn, developing leadership skills, working at early stage startups, opportunities at Harvard, and the no-code space.
On leadership, Allen finds that the product manager experience prepared him well. As a product manager, you receive meaningful soft skills training through interacting with different people cross functionally and managing people through wins and conflicts from the start to the culmination of substantial projects.
Moreover, one of the biggest mindset shifts in transitioning from a contributor to a leader is the sheer scope of coverage and surface area of responsibility. As a contributor, you can focus largely on one particular area, but as a leader, you need to understand all user pain points and journeys holistically. Product managers work similarly at the high level of a project, and Allen’s former product manager experience prepared him well for this breadth of perspective he is now taking as Bubble’s head of product management.
On working at early stage startups, Allen has enjoyed the opportunity to wear many different hats. He started at Bubble focused solely on product but he came across business operations, which he now leads as well, through a conversation with Bubble’s leadership on where his bandwidth could be most impactfully leveraged. Business operations has been quite similar to product management in its use of interpersonal and execution oriented skills. Moreover, tons of product management tactics around roadmapping, prioritizing, ideating, and analytically testing ideas has frequently proved useful in business operations.
At an early stage startup, it is incredibly impactful to notice what needs to get done and what within this does not yet fall into anyone’s buckets of responsibility. Business operations frequently take on these tasks to ensure every project runs smoothly and the company stays on track to meet its goals.
On learning to learn, Allen underscores the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people to support your learning. With the right team and cultural context, you can find people who are open, willing, and prepared to teach you new skills and systems. Through investors and other contacts, you can also get in touch with people outside of the company with domain expertise to share their advice and help train you. After these conversations and independent reading, you can get your hands dirty by immersing yourself in the work and learning iteratively from mistakes and backtracking from the goals you have in mind.
On Harvard, Allen was glad to have taken a variety of courses outside of his major, which laid the foundation for his ability to be an effective generalist and find success in generalist oriented, interdisciplinary roles like product management and business operations.
He was involved with several extracurricular clubs at Harvard College and at HBS which helped him learn to lead, motivate, and empower others toward a common end goal. At HBS in particular, Allen found tremendous value in consciously building soft skills and learning leadership concepts through frameworks, exercises, and examples.
On the no-code space and Bubble, Allen is most excited about and energized by the ability to see what builders and founders are creating and to truly see the future through their eyes. With existing no-code tools, people are able to make truly impressive apps and projects, leaps and bounds ahead of what was possible years ago. Tools like Bubble can truly democratize access to entrepreneurship, empowering the next generation of more diverse founders who can build solutions for an increasingly more diverse global society.
About the Author
Harvard Grad | Head of Content @ Elpha (YC S19) & Harvard in Tech | Marketing @ ZAGENO | https://linktr.ee/jessicali