Soumeya Benghanem is a product management leader at VMWare and the creator and curator of a thriving product manager and builders community on Clubhouse. Soumeya is an inspiring member of the product industry – she shows up with passion, resilience, and adaptability to everything she puts her hand to. On this week’s Unlearn podcast, she and Barry discuss the different kinds of cultures you run into in the tech industry, cultivating an ecosystem for growth, and how to handle mistakes – your own and those of your team, and the value of community.

What’s Different about Start-Up World

Soumeya got her start at large companies and in the start-up world – this is important because what works in large companies and in smaller ones are not always the same. There are systems and values that are constant, but how they are applied in different cultures is different. The amount of risk you can take in a startup compared to a large established business is quite different, for example. Barry concurs, and notes that one of the classic traps you can fall into is that as a consultant, you can coach and guide teams towards solutions, and people will be able to take that and run with it. In a startup, you often need to get right in there and do it. [Listen from 1:30]



Making Other People’s Mistakes

It is very hard to make mistakes that you know other people have already figured out the answers to. Soumeya thinks that it is important to make them anyway, to keep the wheels moving, and to make sure you’re really learning. Barry points out that there are so many ways to do things the right way, and you just need to commit to one. It is also possible to make the same mistake over and over again without ever knowing what you’re doing. Barry notes that this is quite a common problem and shares his own repeated mistake – and the solutions he has developed to make sure there is better visibility and collaboration on small teams. [Listen from 6:30]

Team Retrospectives

Soumeya’s team has a meeting called the Weekly Retro where they talk about what has gone on, what has been great, and what’s been difficult. This is incredible for creating awareness and taking advantage of the team memory of the big picture. Barry accuses Soumeya of mind-reading and talks about the Retrospective meetings that his start-up studio has instituted as well – something he considers the most powerful meeting you can have. They are open spaces to talk about concerns, and issues and successes, especially when working on new and innovative projects. Soumeya and Barry dig into the nuts and bolts of running retrospectives, and different ways they’ve proven themselves useful. [Listen from 13:30]

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Being the Squeaky Wheel

Asking for help, when you’re in an ecosystem that’s willing to provide it, is a point of strength. It may be counterintuitive, but the teams you can trust the most are the ones who are open about saying “we’re having difficulties, here’s what’s happening and what we’re doing.” Soumeya goes on to note that even during planning, you often don’t see any disagreement or idea conflict – and that is an indication to look for two things: are people able to prepare in advance and think through different scenarios? And that there might be unhealthy team dynamics that need closer examination. Soumeya talks about the XP (Extreme Programming) methodology she uses to address these problems. [Listen from 20:15]

Clubhouse Community

Barry asks Soumeya to talk about the very special and very safe space she has created on Clubhouse, where people from startups, tech people, entrepreneurs and more are joining to share their experience and learn from each other. She talks about why she created these events, and her driving motivation in creating these spaces for professionals in her industry. The key problem she was trying to solve was the lack of a network and community to draw on for deep knowledge, and in so doing, she has found wonderful solidarity. Not everyone can spend all of their time in Silicon Valley, and Barry makes the point that Covid has really changed people’s opinions about where and how we can connect. [Listen from 25:30]

Looking to the Future

Soumeya is looking forward to making the jump from achieving product and market fit to scaling – and getting through the awkward and painful canyon that is often in between them. It is this gap that Soumeya finds fascinating right now, and wants to work in. [Listen from 34:50]

(check out the previous episode with JeVon McCormick, CEO at Scribe Media)