A job description is no measure of a career; it’s what you do beyond the bullets that counts. At Yello, a recruiting software company that simplifies hiring, the employees who move up the ranks are those who solve problems no one else thought to.
That’s true for product managers Danny Davidson and Kelly Upp. Upp began in customer success. Davidson was a student when the company saw his resume online and invited him to intern and eventually join full time.
When product management piqued their interest, they separately began to pick up progressively ambitious side projects to learn the product ropes. Yello's leaders noticed — and helped them shift to product.
We spoke with the two to find out more about their growth trajectory at Yello and their best advice for candidates seeking to join the team.
YELLO AT A GLANCE
FOUNDED IN: 2008.
WHAT THEY DO: Yello provides talent-recruiting software to simplify and create transparency for companies throughout their hiring process.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Chicago.
WHO FOR: Employers and recruiters at Fortune 500 companies and high-growth startups.
NAME CHANGE: Formerly known as Recsolu, the company changed its name to Yello — because “yello” is how the CEO and co-founder answers the phone.
THE RECSIES: These awards are modeled after “The Dundies” of NBC’s The Office. Employees earn them for things like best office friendship and office MVP.
What products do you own at Yello?
Danny Davidson, senior product manager: I manage our mobile applications, which are used by recruiters and employers at career fairs and diversity hiring expos. The apps help them gather candidate information on the go and make quick decisions about them at these events. This information is then automatically populated into their database.
Kelly Upp, product manager: I work on our scheduling product for the web. Our customers have told us how difficult and time-consuming it can be for teams to schedule candidate interviews. We want to make it possible and easy for clients to build schedules, even complex ones if they need, so that they spend less time scheduling and more time talking to candidates.
Product managers are tasked with communicating a company vision to developers — and making sure it gets executed. What is Yello’s vision?
Davidson: Our vision is to fill gaps in the hiring process. For mobile, we realized there was a gap when it came to events. People were gathering paper resumes. They were doing assessments on clipboards. Then somebody had to manually enter all that data, which could take hours. We filled that gap by providing a mobile solution. Our vision is always centered on convenience and speed.
Upp: The web product is similar. We're looking to centralize an otherwise fragmented hiring experience. We always focus on the user and communicate that to the business and engineering teams. We try to ask ourselves, "How would we feel if we had to spend two hours scheduling an interview?"
What is your process for communicating that vision?
Davidson: I do a lot of team collaboration during bi-weekly product meetings. We go over what we’re working on and the problems we're trying to solve. We work closely with our designers as well. Product managers and designers have different perspectives about the way the users engage with the product. We're constantly giving each other feedback.
Are there ever differences in vision among stakeholders? How do you navigate that?
Upp: As we've grown into more of a true product organization, we’ve stepped back and involved more people earlier on. We expanded our discovery phase, involving the customer success group, other internal stakeholders and even customers.
Tell me about your professional beginnings here and how you moved up the ranks.
Davidson: I started in 2011 as a graphic design intern, when there were about six full-time employees, and then quickly progressed. I loved designing our software. There was a moment when we planned to start coding our app in house rather than overseas, and I had the opportunity to redesign everything. That’s when I was like, “This is awesome.” I realized I wanted to be on the product team, and kept asking how I could get on the team. Eventually an opportunity opened up. I interviewed internally and got the job.
Upp: I started on the customer success team. I did that role for about a year while taking on side projects. Eventually leadership noticed, and I became a liaison between the customer success group and the product team. I collaborated with the product team all the time. I also sat in on meetings to learn the process between product and engineering. Soon after joining those meetings, I moved to product.
What attracted you to Yello?
Davidson: I was attracted by how fast we’ve grown as a company, and how fast I was able to grow with the company. When I went to my first conference, I realized our impact. Companies were using products I had designed.
Upp: I like to take on extra responsibility, so I felt like I would be able to do that in a startup environment. I also have the opportunity to work directly with our CEO. He whiteboards with us and joins our design sessions. There aren't a lot of companies where you can work directly with the CEO. He can get down in the trenches with us.
How do you feel Yello has helped you grow?
Upp: I never told anybody I wanted to be on product, but I was picking up extra projects and thinking about things that nobody else was. The company noticed that. You are most successful here if you think outside of the box and do things to make yourself stand out.
I continue to think about what I can do to bring value to the company. When we're interviewing candidates, a lot of times, people will ask: “How can you be successful here?” I always say, “Try something different. Do something that isn't in your job description.” That’s valued here and people notice it. That's how you can get the furthest and be the happiest here.
Davidson: For one, I’ve grown in the way I present myself as a professional. In my early years at Yello, every time I had to present a product, I would say "um" a lot. Our CEO Jason Weingarten would count every “um.” It got really frustrating, but I definitely cut back on my ums.
I also learned how to think strategically when developing a product. As a graphic designer, my focus was on making things look pretty. Now, instead of doing a sketch of a button and logo, I present the thinking behind why we want to build something and what’s needed.
Describe the ideal candidate for your product manager team.
Upp: Somebody who can effectively communicate to engineers, business, leadership and clients — and someone who isn’t afraid to ask questions. They need to be able to explain why they did something. Some people in the company push hard to understand why you did something. If you can't communicate the rationale of your decisions well, then the product isn't going to be adopted so well, even internally.
I understand you display GIFs on a screen during product team meetings to keep things fun. What’s that about?
Upp: On our slide presentations, everyone uses a GIF based on the kind of week they’re having. Mine for the last few weeks have been based on Kendrick Lamar.
Davidson: I do anything that’s related to mobile. So the other day it was Bing from Batman, saying: "It's time to go mobile." It's just fun. But also serious. We get called out if we use the same one.
Upp: It's like the most important thing and the most difficult thing we do at those meetings.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.