Career Stories: Marisa Sires, mentor, and VP of Product and Innovation

Marisa Sires was most recently the Vice President of Product and Innovation at agile workspace company Hana. She’s also a OneUpOneDown mentor, and a great one at that! Marisa jumped into the startup world feet first when she made her first big career move, deciding not to pursue a literature-related career after graduating with a comparative literature degree from Columbia University. She defines success as continuous learning and is actively working on her resilience, which she defines as her ability to bounce back.  

Marisa shares about the key decisions, values and strategies which have helped her navigate her career journey so far:

In 2-3 sentences, please tell us a little about you!

I am a digital product leader with over 10 years of experience across client services and product management, bringing a focus on client needs and expectations to guide roadmap planning and overall strategy. My specialties include mentoring product teams and aspiring product managers, remote/distributed team management and leadership, communicating across functions and stakeholders, and managing conflicts. Outside of work, I love to explore the world, learn about new cultures, and try new foods.

Why did you sign up to be a part of OneUpOneDown?

I learned about OneUpOneDown from a fellow product leader here in NYC who was doing some initial user feedback on the concept. She introduced me to Natalie so that I could both learn more and also provide my insights from mentoring in the past. I love Natalie’s approach to and passion around near-peer mentorship. That together with my own desire to do more to give back to women rising in their careers made OneUpOneDown a perfect fit.

What does success mean to you? How do you align with your definition at the moment?

This question is spot on because it acknowledges that the definition of success is far from universal. For me, success is continuous learning. If I am always learning and growing and doing better today than I did the day before, then I am succeeding. This crazy time of the Covid-19 crisis has really put this concept into perspective for me, as I have to constantly evolve and adapt to this changing world we’re living in. There are highs and lows, and I’m taking it one day at a time. I am also in a time of transition at work — between roles in addition to the transition to work from home and everything else. I am comforted that my definition of success and what I strive for every day has prepared me well for our current moment.

What prompted you to pursue the career you’re in now?

As a comparative literature major (not something you hear every day from people in tech!) I did internships in publishing and journalism while in university and none of it resonated with me. Realizing I could not see myself developing a career there, I sought out an internship in customer support at a local NYC startup during my last semester. After a few years on that path of customer support and account management, I segued into beta product rollouts on the customer side and then full product management and overall company strategy. 

How did you know this is what you wanted to do?

Having the opportunity to work closely with product and engineering on beta product rollouts while managing the customer relationships gave me invaluable exposure to the interplay between those two worlds. I had also always taken an interest in what we decided to build and how our products could be improved to service our customers better. When I got the opportunity to transition to a full-time role being the voice of the customer in our product development process, I knew it was the right move for me.

Have you made any big transitions or changes in your career? What were they? How did you do it?

I have made a few big transitions in my career. The first was the move from account management into product. The second was the move from Silicon Valley to NYC, where I became Gigya’s first NYC employee, straddling marketing and sales in California and product and engineering in Tel Aviv. The third was leaving Gigya after 6.5 years to immerse myself more fully in NYC tech. The fourth was moving from fully digital products to those powering the built world (prop tech with Envairo, mobility with Rally and more real estate tech with Hana). And the fifth, and my most recent phase, is actually moving to a digital product-adjacent world of innovation, digital growth, and product marketing. I lay out all of these moves to illustrate that change is good, and change helps us to grow, and change helps us to learn about ourselves. The most challenging of these changes was likely my departure from Gigya. While I had received other offers prior to leaving, I actually made the jump without a new role in hand. I realized that if I found a new role while still at Gigya, then I would end up in a role very similar to the one I held at Gigya. With that realization, I took time off, and met as many people as I could in New York. I learned about the startup scene — realizing I didn’t want to get into adtech or martech or fintech or insuretech, I landed upon proptech and mobility tech as areas of interest. And then I found an early proptech founder who had recently emerged from the Urban-X accelerator and asked to work with him. Re-acclimating to life at a very early stage startup and wearing all kinds of hats, that time at Envairo launched me into the world of built world tech that I am still in today.

What is something that has been particularly challenging throughout your career?

Putting myself out there. This is something I’ve been working on an increasing amount ever since I left Gigya nearly three years ago. It’s a scary proposition to risk people seeing that you don’t know everything they might think you should or seeing you make a mistake. But taking risks, trying new things, and exposing yourself to feedback are all key to growth. It can be hard to take tough feedback or what feels like failure in the moment, but once you take a deep breath, reflect, and think about what you can learn and take away from that experience, you realize just how positive it is for you overall.

What have been your go-to tools and strategies to overcome challenging experiences or people in your career?

I read a lot. And I try to read books and articles that will put my past experiences into perspective and help me to effectively address new situations. One of my favorite books in this regard, which informs a lot of my interactions, is Radical Candor by Kim Scott. In short, when you provide feedback to people, you need to care about them as humans, and you need to be clear, transparent, and honest. This also helps me to empathize when dealing with difficult people — to see the situation from their perspective and to try to understand why they’re behaving in a particular way. I also have a set of close confidants whom I will talk to about these difficult experiences, in order to get broader perspective and help myself to address and move forward in as constructive a manner as possible.

What is one personal or professional skill you’re working on at the moment and why?

Resilience. Resilience is a powerful skill. I think about this as the ability to bounce back. Whatever might happen, however, you might react to something in the moment, how do you reframe and move forward? In our lives and our careers we will encounter difficult situations and difficult people. We can’t let them get us down. They just offer us more opportunities to learn and grow. 

What is something you wish you’d known when you were first starting out in your career?

One thing I continue to learn all the time is that communication is hard, and you may not always be aware of all of the information that would help you to be most effective at your job. Building relationships to expand your reach and your access will be invaluable to your success.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone navigating their own career?

Going back to an earlier question: Success is personal and the best we can do is be better today than we were yesterday. When you stumble, don’t just get back up. Also look back, see why you tripped, and learn from that experience. 

How can we follow your journey?

This is probably something I will need to get better at! For now, the best place is probably Linkedin

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