Megan Murphy, VP of Product at Hotjar, created a platform to help people find common ground

Author: Ramona Arora

Megan Murphy is the VP of product at Hotjar, where she leads its design, data, and product teams. She has lived and led product teams in San Francisco, Brazil, Spain, and in fully distributed environments on a mix of B2C and B2B products at Skyscanner, Microsoft, N26, and a few early-stage startups. Megan has earned her stripes in building products in a range of contexts — from validating early demand through prototypes at a Series-A startup in pursuit of its first 100 customers, to experimenting at scale on 100million MAU products. And likewise on the qualitative side — she has designed and run complex, multi-continental user research studies, and today you’ll still find her as scrappy as ever, reaching out to target customers on LinkedIn so she can personally understand their workflows and biggest sources of frustration. One of the most challenging aspects of Megan’s transition from Product Manager to Product Leader was the ability to find and relate to modern examples of real-world, foundational product work (think product principles, lightweight quarterly planning processes, concrete approaches to vision and strategy, etc.). In recognition of this whitespace, Megan is now open-sourcing much of her work at Hotjar to make it easier for other Product Managers and Product Leaders to equip their teams with the artifacts they need to move fast and stay aligned.

What is the Compassion Crisis? I believe that the challenge of our lifetimes is to find a way to have compassion for people we assume are nothing like us. Divisive rhetoric only pushes us apart.

No matter where we stand on certain issues, if we don’t take the time to listen to others, we will just sit miserably in divisive gridlock — or worse.

We need to learn how to listen to each other. How to feel for each other. How to tell our stories in a way that can move people to act, or one day, change their minds. And it all starts with finding common ground. I started Compassion Crisis to help people find common ground with folks they’d least expect — and make it really easy for them to do so. What inspired you to fix the Compassion Crisis? It’s the combination of two seemingly disparate things.

The first was an episode of the Freakonomics podcast, in which the host, Stephen Dubner, discusses the topic of a compassion crisis in the healthcare setting with guest Steve Trzeciak, the Chairman and Chief of the Department of Medicine at Cooper University Healthcare. In the podcast episode, Trzeciak explains that while clinical excellence (i.e. the right medical treatment) is indeed most important, when clinical excellence is combined with a compassionate disposition from healthcare professionals to patients, research has consistently found even more positive patient outcomes (e.g. reduced pain, faster symptom relief, easier recovery, etc.). I really enjoyed this Freakonomics podcast episode because it left me thinking, “Wow, they’ve been able to quantify the impact of kindness,” and also the feeling that the term “compassion crisis” could surely apply to many societal problems beyond the context of medical outcomes.

The second was what transpired at the US Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. I felt profoundly sad that day. I felt utterly hopeless. But those feelings were not directed towards a specific group of people. Instead I felt a greater sense of anguish about the conditions that fostered that day’s events. These feelings intensified with each conversation I had with people close to me, even folks with whom my views align closely. Despite their good intentions, the conversation unfolded like it always does: pointing the finger to the other side and showing disrespect with fancy vocabulary, not considering the perspectives of people who’ve taken to extreme means because they think it’s the only way to better their individual contexts. Instead of trying to listen to the “other side” and better understand their challenges, we’re all too quick to point the finger and attribute blame. Instead of treating everyone as worthy and equal, we are all too busy judging those who appear — at surface level — to share nothing in common with us. Instead of listening, we yell louder. Instead of looking for the common denominator we share, we rush to put people in buckets that fit our (biased) mental models. I felt frustrated at the overwhelmingly laissez-faire approach from the tech industry — in which I’ve built my own career — in how it handles damaging, now lethal(!) misinformation. And then I had an a-ha moment. From deep sadness came a jolt of great motivation. I remembered the Freakonomics podcast episode about the Compassion Crisis.

I realized that if we had a way to find common ground with people, despite our different views on hot topic issues, we might be able to feel compassion for them, slowly open our minds’ to their situations, and understand why they feel, think, and act a certain way. And then I realized that an ultra low-tech approach might be just the thing the world needs.

From that moment, I think I stayed awake for 45 hours bringing an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) of my idea to life. It’s very simple: I would create a 5-minute survey asking a mix of questions, where half focus on their views on hot topics, and the other half focuses on their interests and experiences. In reviewing each respondent’s answers, I would match them against other respondents who have some things in common, despite different views on at least one hot topic. I would then send a weekly newsletter to all respondents and show them where they have common ground with others who hold different views. Over time, people would see that they share a lot more in common with people on “the other side” of hot topic issues than they could have ever imagined. And through that visibility, they might not be so quick to judge someone who votes, speaks, and thinks differently from them.

Why do you think now is the right time to fix the Compassion Crisis? The media says that we are more divided than ever. My family echoes the same sentiment. My friends do the same. I have no idea if that’s true. I wasn’t alive during the Vietnam War, and I was a toddler when the Cold War ended. But in my lifetime, I do feel that the combination of the media outlets from which we choose to get our news, the online social networks to which we belong, the newsletters or newspapers to which we subscribe — all of these are just creating endless echo chambers with diminishing representation of different views, and more of the same propaganda-esque content. It’s so full of confirmation bias. It’s dangerous. And it’s not actually a helpful way to engage in dialogue. I want to be a productive member of society who helps drive it forward in some positive way.

If you asked me “Why now?” about the compassion crisis I would answer, “Because it should have been yesterday.”

What have been some of the most surprising learnings or responses in your journey with the Compassion Crisis so far? I’ve been so humbled to see how quickly some people have opened up. I think the anonymity that we offer helps people feel safe to be real. We don’t ask for anyone’s name, date of birth, or any connection to your social media accounts whatsoever. There are no commercial motivations here. No one is being sold anything. If people want to participate, it’s because they recognize that we have a compassion crisis, and they’re willing to take 5 minutes to share their perspective and views. The question that seems to get the most intense responses so far is “What decision are you most proud of having made so far in your life?” The first day after I launched, I read through some responses and just wept for an hour. Here are a few examples that really jumped out at me: When you read something like these responses, it just shakes you. When I sit down to match responses and send the newsletter each week, I make my surroundings feel very peaceful. I light a candle, make some tea, listen to classical music. The things people share are so very human and raw that I just need to make sure everything else is calm.

How have you applied the skills and mindset you’ve developed in your career in product management to your work on the Compassion Crisis? So you forward it to a few new people. They complete the survey, and their contributions amplify the richness of responses we can compare. So while you only complete the survey once, we continue to send you new content every week as new people complete the survey. This really hit me when I sent the first newsletter out. I sent it to 9 people, and when I woke up the next morning, I had 70 new responses. That means that on average, word spread by a factor of almost 8 new people per newsletter recipient. I’ve been building products at scale for years and this is the most impressive (and fulfilling) k-factor I’ve ever seen.

How are you managing to fix the Compassion Crisis and work a full-time job in an executive role at a global tech company? There’s a few things at play. First, I just have a lot of energy. I struggle to completely “shut off” on the weekends. For me, the most joyful days are ones that feel like I brought an idea to life, or expressed myself well. That might mean writing, painting, or cooking. It might mean engaging in thoughtful debate with friends over wine. It might mean starting a side business (I once invented a new type of beach bag, got it manufactured, built a brand and started selling them online, and got the brand stocked in a big e-Commerce retailer). Or it might mean trying to channel my energy into fixing societal issues like our compassion crisis, with lofty ambitions to spark meaningful dialogue between people who would never imagine they could possibly share something in common. I’m also very fortunate that Hotjar is supportive of my whole self, not just my work as an employee, and that they care very much about our balance and well-being, so my workload does allow me to invest time in other things I care about, like the Compassion Crisis.

Where do you see the Compassion Crisis in the near term and long term? In the near term, I hope to spread this initiative (in its scrappy MVP state), and bring exposure to the Compassion Crisis so that we can find even richer and more diverse common ground to reveal between total strangers. In the medium-term, I’d like to make the questions a bit more complex, and start understanding why people hold certain views. For example, we have a question that asks “What are your views on climate change?” with multiple choice responses Concerned, Not concerned, Indifferent, Other (free text). I would love to include a natural, non-threatening, non-judgemental way to follow up to that question and ask people how they came to hold their current views. I think this approach will help people start to understand each other even better. If someone answers that question with first-hand experience about how their everyday realities have shifted as a consequence of climate change, it might help other folks whose everyday lives are not visibly affected see things just a little bit differently. This applies to so many “hot topic” issues. In the long-term, I would love to see the Compassion Crisis project help shift peoples’ perspectives, change hearts and minds, and build stronger, more accepting and supportive communities.

How has your career in product and your experience building the Compassion Crisis so far influenced your approach to getting more women represented in the workplace? First, I think it’s important to recognize the conditions that got us to where we are now. Much of the gender identity imbalance in tech stems from the confluence of decisions and societal norms that we can trace back decades ago (well, much longer!). While we can’t rewrite history, I take it very seriously that we can use every decision-making opportunity with which we are confronted in our everyday work and lives as a lever for change. After all, our actions are our priorities.

One memorable anecdote that I learned from an insightful post on LinkedIn authored by Deborah Liu, the VP of Marketplace at Facebook, sheds light on why there are fewer women in Product today than there were just ten years ago. The full article is 100% worth reading, but the TLDR is that in the mid-2000s, Google started requiring Computer Science Bachelors degrees as prerequisites for all PM roles. Given that the decline in women studying CS began in the early 1980s, the applicant pool for women in Product roles naturally grew smaller as time went on. What’s more, I think that the broader tech industry often places blind trust in what big tech is doing, and adopts FAANG’s practices without thinking critically about whether those requirements or modus operandi are actually relevant for their businesses. That said, when I’m writing a job description and listing out the expectations for the role, the desired experience, etc., I think critically about what each role actually needs to perform well (spoiler — in years of hiring for product roles, CS degrees have not been a must-have for the overwhelming majority). And in order to generate a healthy balance of womxn candidates at Hotjar, we are actively recruiting in womxn-led communities, in addition to our general listings on LinkedIn, Indeed, and other platforms.

For me, effecting positive change in gender identity balance at work is one of the challenges of my lifetime. And my sense of urgency in making this a reality in my own workplace has only grown with time.

In 2020, I started to get more involved with womxn’s communities, and began mentoring a few womxn in whom I see talent, drive, and potential, so that I can help them land opportunities for meaningful work — whether it’s next month, or three years from now. I’m approaching this with a long-term perspective because unfortunately we can’t flip a switch and suddenly right the gender-biased wrongs of the past overnight. But we can start right now — start supporting each other, start referring great womxn to do great work when there are open roles on our teams, and start committing ourselves to active mentorship and coaching. The time is now.

Products by Women is a global professional network for women in innovation, tech, and beyond. The network offers women the opportunity to connect and learn from peers from around the world, find jobs beyond borders, and get matched with recruiters and mentors to accelerate their careers.

Products by Women was founded in 2019 and was formerly called New York Women in Product Management (NYWPM). The network has now expanded virtually across the US, India, Canada, Singapore, Amsterdam, UK, and more… and is now a diverse community where women can connect, innovate, exchange ideas and make some deep friendships along the way.

In less than a year Products by Women has partnered with organizations and speakers from Glossier, Forbes, Etsy, Amazon, Audible, Squarespace, Columbia University, OXO, Compass, and many more small to medium-sized companies and start-ups from all over the world.


Article originally published on Products By Women


About the Author


Ramona Arora

Just another woman who appreciates kindness and is extremely curious about different perspectives/ "purpose of my life is to create awareness and impact "


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