Kenton is a lover of technology and product manager with experiences at Cardinal Health, Eventbrite, and currently Groups360. Since high school he has grown as an entrepreneurial leader and proves you don't need to go the "traditional" routes to become a PM. He also is a co-founder of helloGROOV: a platform designed to help those with their personal finance and wealth growth goals.
Note: Black Enterprise Network transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcription. They may contain errors, although we do our best to avoid them. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting a transcript in print. Questions? Errors found in a transcript? Email us!
Kimmiko James 0:00
Welcome to the black enterprise network podcast episode number six. Before we jump into the episode, I'd like to talk about the new book I'm releasing in the coming months. If you're a student or new grad on the hunt for internships or job offers, then I highly recommend that you consider pre ordering my book, navigating the job space with little to know resources, or actually, in terms of the internet, too many resources can be really overwhelming. And that's why I created a condensed version of those resources and lessons within the book. So if you're a student and interested in knowing how do I actually stand out from these 1000s of applicants, how do I fix my resume? How do I build a network and so many other things then check out the book at the link bi t.ly slash GTO underscore book a small percentage of black people are currently represented in the tech industry and entrepreneurial spaces. This includes engineers, startup founders, investors, and especially those that hold leadership roles. I want to share their stories. In this episode, I talked with Kenton Rowland, we talked about how he discovered technology and how he experimented with different roles and experiences to find his niche and product management. Lastly, we have a deep discussion about how these opportunities aren't always as easily accessible for black communities to discover and why you don't need all these crazy qualifications to get into tech. Be sure to follow contens work on his startup Hello, group. And let's get into the episode. I wanted to just start with what first got you interested in technology? And why did you decide to major in in college?
Kenton Rowland 1:38
Yeah, that's a great question. You know, I feel like, you know, I'm a millennial, so I guess you consider me a digital native. So, you know, I remember my earliest days of interacting with technology around the age of 10, my mom, she was actually kind of finishing up undergrad, and kind of stay in a region from Raleigh, North Carolina. And so she was still in school while I was still in elementary school, my brother and sister and I, and while she was in school, she actually had to bring home a new computer for her work. And so her bringing on that computer, and this had to be, you know, early 2000s, probably late 1990s. It was like one of the first home computers, you know, that was on the market. And she was able to kind of bring that home. And that really just opened my eyes to how easy it was to, you know, plug something into your power outlet, and, you know, hit a button and watch, you know, magic happen. And so that really kind of was the aha moment for me was helping my mom put the computer first personal computer together. And really, I'm a, somewhat of the gamers. So you know, I was I was super excited about playing games on the computer. And that kind of really just started my journey into technology and exploring different technology and software opportunities that are out there.
Kimmiko James 2:58
So how did that transition into high school and then college? Not a lot of people stick with it, even if they're like, I'm interested in this, but how do I actually get into a field like this? A lot of people fall into technology by accident. So what, how did you get into majoring in it?
Kenton Rowland 3:16
So yeah, I would say after those early days of, you know, getting excited about gaming on a computer, I was also exposed to computer labs on NC State's campus, which kind of like going into middle school led me to create my first email address at like 10. And I think I created my first email address so that I could do some more gaming. But you know, just being exposed to different applications in NC State's computer labs, got to also just say, okay, there's more to technology than just video games. And, you know, kind of fast forward to high school, I found out, you know, kind of got bit by the entrepreneurial bug a bit, as a lot of my classmates, you know, didn't either didn't have a computer at home, or they weren't familiar with how to burn CDs. So that was like a big thing for for my classmates in high school is a no, no, it would be one of those things where my classmates wanted to have make CDs, and they will always come to me, you know, and that pretty much led me to say, okay, hey, I could, you know, make a few make CDs and use different applications to do this. And, you know, essentially charge you know, a couple of dollars to create these mix CDs. So that really was not not I can see how can, you know, before I knew what the word monetize was, it was like, oh, okay, I can kind of leverage my home computer to see, you know, give me a little extra cash for much money and stuff like that. So that kind of really light drove me to dig in yet. I saw myself as an early adopter when it came to those types of technologies. So I think we already I was using like limewire or something like that to do that. Music. And that really kind of promoted me to, or that kind of led me to thinking, Okay, towards the end of my senior year, I could probably get a job in selling computer. So I actually got a part time job right before college at BestBuy in their consumer electronics section, selling personal computers and laptops and things of that nature. And so I think from there that really allowed me to kind of dive a little bit deeper into the knowledge base and understand it, like what type of products, hardware and software products are out there at that time, and, you know, that really saved me kind of making a decision when I went to college to actually major in computer technology. It was actually electronics technology, information technology degree, because I feel like up until that point, I just been familiar with a lot of the hardware side of things. And as software started to evolve, you know, it seemed like a good opportunity kind of going into college.
Kimmiko James 5:53
Yeah, so what kinds of classes did you take? Because when I saw the major, I was like, well, it's not traditional, traditional CS. So I'm not sure what kind of classes you took, if he could just briefly kind of describe them.
Kenton Rowland 6:05
For sure. Yeah. So I would say, you know, I graduated from North Carolina a&t State University, historical black college in Greensboro, North Carolina, and they have one actually one of the nation's top engineering schools. But for me, you know, I wasn't super excited about software development, and actually getting into computer science as much as I was, you know, interested in exploring the different types of technologies and kind of working with people to build tech versus actually being the one fingers, the keys, doing development work myself. But the coursework, you know, it included, maybe like, it was kind of like a curriculum of like, front end, all the way the back end all the way to like networking. And there was like some project management courses that sprinkled in there, but you know, my first computer programming, clovers course was like, a basics to C plus. And then there was a Java course. And then we had some, some network course, networking courses. And then we added a database course as well, these is kind of like spending over my junior senior year when I really got into the coursework. And then there was like, an intro to Linux. So there was some very technical classes that I could take from an elective perspective. Um, but then, you know, I like to say, you know, a lot of the classes or curriculum that was required was more introduction. And then, you know, for the comp sub majors, they would kind of take it to that next level, and take the second or third iteration of that class, or even from a math perspective, you know, I think that that was one of the main differentiators I noticed was my, my, my coursework, I kind of got the like calculus two or something like that. And then for the comp side, kind of went up the capitalist three year. So that was some of the variants. But for the most part, you know, it was a, it was kind of like a general information technology curriculum, as opposed to a deep dive into like computer science. So like, and I would say, like some of my early classes, it was, honestly, it was kind of difficult for me to pick it up on like, I had a little bit of imposter syndrome to write because it's like, dang it my whole life. I've been using computers, I feel like I've been, I guess you could consider me a nerd or whatever. And it was like, one of those things where I'm like, Alright, yeah, let's do this is learning how to code. And, you know, I kind of was able to kind of make some progress in learning how to code, but it just never stopped for me in terms of the interest, right? It wasn't something that I would be, like, super late at night, trying to go down a rabbit hole trying to figure out how to, you know, get my code work. It was kind of like, yeah, had this homework assignment. Let me get it done. Let me see if it works. And that was it. That was like, yeah, that was pretty cool. But, you know, from a development side, it was, it wasn't something that, I guess, you know, really got me excited as much as other things like, kind of creative decision making influence the decisions about managing projects and things of that nature, kind of being super familiar with the tech and software without actually building it. And so I kind of was able to identify that early on. Although now I find myself doing a lot more kind of deep diving into, you know, specifically back in and understanding how like, data flows between applications in the database and stuff like that. I mean, as a product manager is kind of required for your job to have some kind of technical aptitude as a relates to how those things work. And so now it's like, okay, it's not for coursework is for me to really understand how our product works in it's like, okay, I can get with that. But it was interesting at the time, like really, kind of had a realization that I didn't actually want to be a software developer, but I knew I wanted to work in software. So yeah, it was pretty early days for me trying to figure out what what I wanted to do with my life. But
Kimmiko James 9:49
I did have a follow up with that because I also find it interesting that you just kind of felt early on of like, you know, I've been diving deep into this hardware. I've been diving into software, but it's not doing it for me in that sense, which I'd rather build out the product, but at a different kind of way. We are good, because like a lot of students, as I'm sure you might have seen, too, they'll just stick the course with engineering very early on in college and then into the career. And then when it's kind of, I wouldn't say it's too late. It's never too late to change your gear path, but four or five years in, it's like, you feel like you have to stick with it. Yeah. So I wanted to know, and it's kind of like a follow up. What did you do to just scratch that itch? It's kind of a weird thing. But yeah, what did you do to explore that explore that interest?
Kenton Rowland 10:39
Yeah, no, that's a great question. I mean, I think I mentioned like, being an early adopter when it comes to technology. And I don't want to sound like a self proclaimed early adopter. But that was one of the things that I really got a lot of excitement out of was just, you know, being able to be one of the first ones to know about the new technology, right? Maybe not the new programming language, but especially as I guess my background was in consumer electronics, especially as relates to gadgets and hard physical technology tools. I was like, Yeah, I was always super excited about understanding what's the latest gadget, how it works in the hockey shop, my friends, how it works. But, you know, outside of that, though, just being uncomfortable with the understanding of like, hey, like, I know, at the time, I wasn't super excited about computer programming, but I still wanted to be engaged in like software. And I think for me, it was trying to understand how my other skills on that I felt like I could bring to the table, I felt like in college preparing to enter the workforce, by understanding like, what other skills, you know, I can leverage to kind of position myself for an opportunity. And they kind of had me driving myself to more leadership focus activities. And so I joined a couple of organizations on campus, that kind of got me thinking more about like how to run an operating organization, even at a kind of micro scale of a student organization. But really able to tap into my leadership skills and my natural ability to connect with people, it feels like it was something that I kind of, like, I had to acknowledge early on that that was, you know, a part of my, my gifts, you know, and so, kind of doubling down on, okay, I compare this my my affinity of technology and my understanding of how things work. And I can leverage my gift to communicate with people to kind of bridge that gap between, you know, people's understanding of technology that advancing, you know, the rate of technology advanced and everything. And so I was able to join a student organization, and it was the first one was actually an association IT professionals. So that kind of was like me thinking like, okay, you know, if I can get more engaged from a student organization perspective, this may actually give me you know, more development opportunities outside of the classroom to kind of get familiar with the industry, get familiar with other other students in the space and see how, you know, essentially, the organization can kind of bridge the gap between the advancing technologies and people's general understanding of it. And, you know, I actually went from being a member to being the vice president to actually leading the organization as a president for my junior year. And I really think think that, you know, is a great opportunity for me to not only, you know, kind of leverage my leadership skills, but also to kind of tap into my network outside of my curriculum outside of my my coursework, to really see what else is out there from a technology professional perspective. And in the, in the world. So that was, that was one of the things I did to balance kind of like, my interest in technology with my, you know, my ability to kind of like, connect with others. So yeah,
Kimmiko James 13:49
yeah, that pretty much sounds like an early start to pm Honestly,
Kenton Rowland 13:54
it really was, it really was, for sure.
Kimmiko James 13:57
So how did you kind of discover what product management was? Because as I'm sure you know, and a lot of people might know, as well, it's not something that, how do I say this? It's not something that's just known. Right? versus like, you can either be a hardware engineer or software engineer and or manager, but product management, it's kind of just something you accidentally figure out. So how do you figure?
Kenton Rowland 14:21
That's a? That's a great question. Um, you know, I feel like the role of product management has evolved, like, just like technology over the last few years, like at a very kind of rapid pace. And then obviously, with the exchange of information, people are getting more visibility to what product management is, you're finding out that your favorite application on your phone is, you know, primarily built by product management alongside the software development team, whether it's software or hardware, TV shows, and like understanding how it was traditionally a marketing role. I think that kind of explained why there wasn't a lot of focus. in tech, like in early 2000s, that were saying, you know, hey, Product Management is a new wave. It's not until you know, you get to the, the last 10 years where it's really been a strong focus in terms of career options for folks that are interested in tech. And so I think for me, I was just fortunate to be kind of in the right place at the right time, honestly, you know, I got my start as a business analyst and a project manager. So you think about how software is built. And you have the kind of multiple methodologies in which you can build technology, right. And it varies depending on the size of the organization and the type of product that you're building. But for me, I was able to kind of leverage my network, honestly, that I kind of gained while I was at North Carolina a&t to position me for like interviews with companies that were looking to hire project managers. And so one of the actually one of the members of the executive board for Association, IT professionals was able to make a recommendation to me for leadership development program at this company called Cardinal Health, and Cardinal Health, they do like pharmaceutical distribution and medical equipment, manufacturing and fortune 500 company, and they kind of opened the doors to, hey, here's a three year rotational program where you get to do you know, three to four different roles in that timeframe to really understand what it is that you want to do in terms of your kind of technology career. And so for me, it was, it was a kind of enterprise Information Technology, functional rotation role. And so like, the first role that I was in was actually business analysts where I was actually gathering requirements. And, you know, it was a very much a waterfall methodology, you know, delivery method when it comes to delivering the software that we're delivering. And, you know, that requirement gathering process was, it wasn't super exciting. For me, it was like, Okay, I'm just gathering a whole bunch of requirements and writing a whole bunch of sentences in the Excel document and sending them off to the developer to get approved. And then there's like, testing and all these other things. And it just felt like, you know, I kind of handed off the requirements. And that was it. And so that wasn't super exciting. For me, I knew that wasn't what I wanted to do long term, but I did know that I enjoyed the feeling of having an impact on a project and knowing that, you know, the documents and the requirements that I put together, were essentially kind of the gatekeeper to getting the project done. So that part excited me, but it was like, you know, once I had the requirements off, I was like, Hey, I don't know. So I was like, Alright, let's just put a pin in that. And then in the next role, I was able to actually do a project management had a project management rotation, where I was no more. So now instead of looking at our requirements, and building the requirements, I was making sure that those requirements were being facilitated to the right engineer, we had, you know, the appropriate status attached to the development and the testing of those requirements. And we kind of, you know, communicated to our executives around a timeline based on the effort that we have with us requirements. So that was pretty cool. But it did, I think the thing that I enjoyed most about that was just kind of being the person in charge, that's kind of facilitating the the requirements from the business analyst to the development team, and then also being responsible for communicating to our stakeholders, the status, that was pretty exciting. But I felt a little bit removed from the actual, you know, I didn't feel it was more operational than, you know, giving me the ability to kind of explore more creative, the creative side of my brain. And so I knew that I was, you know, something that I came out of college very interested in, I knew that the prospects for that job opportunity from salary and a career, no kind of career outlook perspective was super high. But it was one of those things where I just felt at the time was like, Yes, cool, but it just, it just wasn't enough for me. And so, you know, being able to kind of have those experiences and like, going into my last year of that role, where I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with one of the executives that never forget, she mentioned, like, the industry needs more product managers and less project managers. And I was like, you know, what do you mean, I thought product was, you know, product management was like a foreign. At that point, I hadn't heard of it too much. I thought it was a Cardinal Health, they have a lot of product managers that are focused on physical products. And they sit in the marketing, Department of the company. So you have a product manager for, you know, gloves that the doctors are using, right, so the term product management just didn't resonate with me from a technology perspective at a time. But that's kind of when I took the deep dive to really understand, you know, know what product management is, how is it going to be in like, at that time, I think it was gonna be in 2016. And it was kind of happened serendipitously that. Once the mentor that spoke to mentioned that there were kind of roles opening up in a separate section of the business that was looking for, you know, associated product managers and kind of this data kind of startup environment. And so yeah, I was able to kind of transfer transition into the Associate Product Manager role, kind of like as an internal transfer from, you know, business analyst project management, hybrid role to product management. And that kind of was like my transition from doing the traditional kind of, it rolls into looking forward at more agile software development focused companies and software companies that are, you know, trying to do develop technology. And I guess, at the time of a more modern way, it was kind of eye opening experience for me, and it kind of happened in a short like three months turnaround. So we were based in Columbus, and I'll never forget, like, I was like, June and I was like, man, I don't know what I'm gonna do after the program is I'm not sure what role but that kind of literally had that conversation, maybe a week or so after. And by July, I was in the Associate Product Management role. So that was a pretty neat experience. But I feel like he kind of just flowed naturally, right. He didn't go from business analyst to project management, really combining the two together to do product management. So yeah,
Kimmiko James 21:08
I feel there should be more rotational programs for students to try out. Like, I know, Facebook has it. And I know, a lot of tech companies do have it for software engineering, but there aren't enough for pm and if there is they're like, super competitive. Right. So I'm definitely happy to hear that you had a great experience and just try all these different roles within a short span of time.
Kenton Rowland 21:29
Yeah, man, this has been a blessing in disguise. You know, and I think back into kind of just going back to like, the earlier question of like, how was I like, being able to leverage my, my leadership skills, to then connect with the individual that referred me to that program? You know, like, some of those things, I feel like when you're, when you're doing when you're trying to do things the right way, right. And you're kind of checking all the boxes, I feel like that that little bit of luck, right, that, that one interaction that you might not have had, if you had went to the bathroom before the conversation versus after, right, like, those things, that serendipity around that, you know, you know, I'm very fortunate that things sequence that I was able to kind of be in the right place at the right time. And I kind of feel like that's been a theme of my career so far. And you know, that little bit of luck that you get from just try to stay focused on your vision and started stay focused on continue to develop yourself and not boxing yourself in but being flexible around. Another thing that mentor mentioned was like, try to focus on being t shaped as compared to, you know, ashay, right, where you have specific vertical that you're an expert in, especially in technology, since is advancing so quickly, you get, you'd be an expert. And you know, dotnet, right, but you know, the next program language is coming out. So it's kind of like, How can I be as flexible as possible and kind of, you know, stretch myself across different areas, to see what I might like, but Yeah, I agree like the leadership development programs, they're not enough of them, there's probably a case like a country or in case for enterprises to not do it, because a lot of times you find folks, especially millennials, that will get a job in two or three years, and then they'll go to the next company to take advantage of the salary increase opportunities. But I definitely feel especially for like black people into trying to identify or work with your manager to see if there's a way for you kind of, to rotate within your company so that you can not only get super familiar with the company or business model, and that kind of operational side of things, but also give you like, a kind of a bird's eye view of the different functions within tech that supports your business. I definitely feel like that opened up my eyes a lot to to how tech is ran at an enterprise level and yeah, yeah.
Kimmiko James 23:43
Yeah, yeah. Thanks for sharing some some advice in there too. Because like I said, there's a lot of people I know that just stick with the, you know, check the, as you said, checking off the boxes to do the right thing for your career. So early on. So thanks for sharing that advice in the middle of transitioning from Cardinal Health. How are you able to navigate your way into the tech industry with Eventbrite?
Kenton Rowland 24:07
I kind of got started in healthcare, since I got tired of it, but I was getting a little drain, trying to add value at the level I felt like was important. And there was just some, some challenges I had working in the healthcare industry and trying to turns out that I kind of knew that I wanted to transition to high tech. As soon as I started doing, as soon as that I had that first product owner role, before I joined the Associate Product Management Program knew like, okay, like healthcare tech is cool, but like, how can I position myself to get out of the b2b space and get kind of close to the b2c and we're building more consumer facing products. You know, like, I mean, within the Associate Product Management Program, though, I really felt like that first two years, I was able to watch some, you know, brand new products for the company, and it was it felt just like it just meshed really well. For me, and I was just like, Yeah, I know I can do this, I know I have the ability to understand these problems at a deep level and understand, you know how to give feedback and facilitate a solution across our stakeholders, and working with the development team speaking their language so that we can build the right thing at the right time for our clients on time. And that was more like an ad b2c b2b space, but our clients were the internal employees. So it was kind of like, you know, building on top of this existing health workers platform and trying to figure out ways we can simplify the experience of document exchange for healthcare providers to the health tech company, and I was working for it. And then also, how can we, you know, streamline the onboarding experience of new employees into the health records platform, and I was able to launch those two products within the first year of me joining, I was like, Okay, this is cool. I know that, you know, I have the ability to do these things. But then I kind of was left thinking, alright, what's next? How can I, you know, further develop myself as a product manager? And how can I specifically assault folks of my peers around me that were transitioning from APM? To product management? I was like, okay, you know, I feel like we have similar skill sets and their years of experience, how can I make that transition as well? And that really led me to kind of doing the deep dive and understanding like, Okay, what is product management? How is it evolved, and again, kind of gone back to this idea of how can, you know, I kind of give myself an edge by getting new information before the rest of the general population does, or at least the rest of the general folks that that are working with, so that I can position myself for that new opportunity. And yeah, that led me to not only take a look at, you know, a ton of YouTube videos and follow some of the thought leaders in a product management space, but also just picked up a book, I'm not gonna lie, like, I picked up. Marty Kagan is inspired on how to build products that people love. And I was pretty much done with that in like, a month. And I was like, Okay, this is, this is a little different from what I've been doing as a product manager. And it got me like, super excited. And so I realized that that time, it might have been a, it felt like it was a transitional period for me and my understanding of like, what it means to be product, to do a product and be a product manager, you know, I wasn't really looking for a job. But again, like, what you're doing the things that you like, are working towards your end goal, and you're continuing to develop. It's just crazy how things fall into place. And it was just one Saturday morning, similar to not like this one Sunday morning, where I was on LinkedIn. And I saw, literally an opening kind of for Eventbrite on LinkedIn. And they had just opened, or they had just launched system.
Enroll for product managers in Nashville, where I'm currently located, and they were looking to kind of, you know, hire some new product managers, I saw, you know, that LinkedIn post, and I was like, okay, you know, for me, I might, I like to make connections before I just, like, go out and just apply for a role. And so, I was able to connect with some of the heads of engineering at Eventbrite at the time that was located in Nashville, and was able to have a few coffee chats with them. And interestingly enough, like when I first reached out, and I first was interested in applying, it wasn't a good time, they were looking for someone more senior, you know, I was fresh off with Associate Product Manager role, they were kind of looked for a little more a little more user experience. And I was like, Alright, Dan, this is like, April, and I was like, Okay, well, alright. Now's not right. Now's not the best time. But you know, stay connected, and kind of did a follow up randomly, I would say towards the end of the summertime. And they were like, yeah, like, you should definitely come in and kind of meet some of the team and literally had another lunch and checked out this space and thought it'd be a great idea to apply. And I ended up applying. And, yeah, I kind of landed right into the role through after I interviewed and everything. And so, prepare for that interview was again, like a lot of more data reveal the information that I had in the book, a lot of notes from the book, but then also, you know, have a had a slew of YouTube videos around how to, you know, interview from a product management interview perspective that I, you know, really tried to memorize them as best as I could. And there was a few curveballs in the, in the interview process, I did not expect to kind of pitch a new product. But it was just weird, because it was, I had to pitch a new product as a part of the interview process. But I literally had just completed a pitch competition at MIT in the healthcare technology company. And so I was able to literally use a version of that to help kind of supplement my interview presentation. And so that was like, you know, the timing of that couldn't have been any better. It was like, literally, July was the initial pitch and then come August on the interviewing and so it kind of just logged out really well for me, but that was pretty much my eating. I wasn't really looking but you know, just kind of happened to be tapped into the network at the time. And seeing what opportunities were out there in Nashville and saw something I kind of thought it would be pretty cool to join in, in it working out.
Kimmiko James 30:10
What was that process like for you? And I know there's like an NDA sign, you can't retell the specific questions, but could you just give like a brief overview of what they asked you, I don't know how you're gonna do that. But
Kenton Rowland 30:24
I could try to remember I know. So I remember that, that is so crazy, because I remember the first few interviews, were phone interviews, I had a phone interview with the recruiter. And then, you know, that went pretty well. And that was just, you know, the phone interviews of recruiters or just general like, Hey, you know, salary requirements, which you experienced, what you will relocate stuff like that. But that went well. And that led to another phone interview with one of the product managers on the team that I was actually going to be joining, you know, that conversation went pretty well. And it wasn't super difficult as it was like very conversational, trying to get to learn a little bit more about my experience. And you know, again, like I'm fresh in an Associate Product Management role. So I'm like, literally telling them things like my day job, right? Like, these are the things that I'm doing, this is how I do it, this is a project that I'm working on. So nothing crazy there. But that phone interview with the pm kind of led to my on site. So for the on sites, I feel like it was all in one day, and there was about three or four rounds of interviews. And the last, the last round of interviews was the end of the presentation that I had to do. So before you know the in person, I got the email from the recruiter saying, Hey, this is kind of the agenda for today. And also, you need to be prepared to do a quick, you know, product interview presentation on a product that you like either one that you look for, or something that currently exists. And so, you know, the first two rounds, were pretty much with the developer, that on the team that I'll be working with. And there was a there was one with another product manager that was on a separate team. And then there was a few conversations with the development team, engineering, Lee. And so each of those, you know, went really well. And there weren't any crazy questions. I mean, there was some Tell me about a time lead to X, Y, and Z. And there were all you know, we also had also had a conversation with the designer, and she had a few pretty good question as well, like, what's one of your favorite mobile applications currently, and why I chose Robinhood at the time is just because it was one of the things that I really liked from a design perspective, like I liked how intuitive and easy their phone is, and how it enables, you know, people to be able to invest money into the stock market without any friction. And so that was like one of the questions that I do remember, from the designer, but other than that, you know, there's just some general questions and pretty much just trying to see if it'll be a good cultural fit for like, I was able to really leverage my people skills and my leadership skills to really show my experience with it also show that like, I'm a cool guy to work with, or at least I like to think so. But then I was in the hot seat for the presentation, because they brought the entire like product team. Or at least like there, it was like five or 10, five to 10 folks on the product team that was sitting in on that interview obsession, and when I'm actually doing a presentation and so our just remember the room being super high, I had a suit on that tie, and I'm like, this is getting pretty intense here. And, you know, I feel like I did a really good job on the presentation. But then, you know, I didn't expect the level of detail some of these questions that, you know, some of the bright product managers that was working with a accident, they pretty much kind of grill me and ask some pointed questions. But luckily, I was talking about something that I had been pretty familiar with over the last like four years. And it was, it was a healthcare product that I was pitching. And so, you know, there was questions around whether or not my product would really serve the target demographic that I was speaking to. And I kind of was able to leverage some data and personal data around, you know, yes, this is something that we definitely see as a problem in this space. And yeah, so like kind of having that conversation and kind of going through that presentation. It was super intense. But it was one of those things where that was the first time I've ever had to do that type of presentation in an interview before. So it was a cool experience.
Kimmiko James 34:22
Yeah, that's honestly really amazing that not only did you prepare using YouTube and Twitter, just very non conventional ways of preparing for product management interviews, but you leverage the skills you already had of like, the years you spent previously at Cardinal Health, and then your leadership skills at Cardinal Health and from college. And you just applied that to your interview. So that's pretty amazing. Yeah, and I would say, you know, it's
Kenton Rowland 34:47
just, I appreciate that and I feel like you know, you have to find what works best with you. Like for me, I'm a visual learner, right. And I love reading and that's why I think I'm able to really capture the essence of principle or a nugget of information while reading it, but I'm able to consume a lot more information by seeing it or hearing it via video. So when I was like, you know, kind of super focused on a specific topic, whether it be product discovery, or, you know, Product Management, in terms of how the different players on a product team are a lot, like I was able to really study that from a book perspective. But when it came down to interview questions, or you know, how product is done at different companies, like, I would be able to consume a lot more by watching the video speeding it up and trying to get through, it took a couple of nuggets, so insights that I got from it, like, okay, that's cool. And, but really, I feel like my experience and taking my experience and kind of comparing it what I was reading in the book was really the the core of my life development in terms of kind of preparing for interviews, but the YouTube videos and a Twitter was more so like, how can I get ahead and have that competitive advantage of getting new information, you know, new, I guess, points of views and perspectives, about the role and about the space of product, you know, as soon as possible. And so I was able to kind of balance like, you know, traditional knowledge and experience with, you know, more kind of current events, types of information. And I think that worked out really well for me,
Kimmiko James 36:27
what has your experience been like in the tech industry, especially as a black pm? because there aren't too many of us in this kind of unique role? So what's your experience been? Like?
Kenton Rowland 36:38
Yeah, it's definitely been interesting. I've been in for product management roles so far. And I've always been the only black product manager on the team. And so that's definitely not something that I feel like it has been it's been challenging is in that sense, just because you don't, you know, the people that you want to relate to, or that people that you relate to, or the people that you want to naturally have a connection with, you know, you're kind of forced to do that with people that don't look like you, which is cool, you know, I mean, as a person, we're all world people at the end of the day. And so like being able to connect with one another, it's not the challenge, it's being able to have a safe space to be 100% yourself, when you're kind of in kind of in an environment where there's not a lot of folks that look like you or maybe have shared experiences of backgrounds with you. And so that's definitely challenging. But, you know, I think, from my perspective, it forced me to tap into a network outside of my job. And so being able to join, you know, networks, like the product, blind product management network, or being able to kind of tap in with other black product managers, I know that are in Nashville specifically. And kind of, you know, really get to know them really get to understand the challenges that they're going through what insights or information, you know, I can glean from them just based off our interactions, both in person in real life experiences. But also, like I said, to me, in the black product management, slack community, you know, there's just a wealth of knowledge from folks that look like me that are actually building some of the, you know, the products and tools that we're using every day. And so that's really like inspiring to see there are a lot of us out there, I would say they're probably a little more concentrated in the larger metropolitan areas. But at the end of the day, it is encouraging to know that there are a lot of black product managers out there. But it's also one of those things where I feel like there's an opportunity, especially for tech companies to really make the investment to, like you say, like develop blind professionals from product management perspective. And kind of having rotational roles or having Associate Product Manager openings that are specific to folks that are trying to kind of make that transition into a product role. And it's just, you know, the kind of the criteria, companies kind of have product or like the requirements that you have to meet in order for you to even be considered for the role is sometimes a little discouraging for people of color, especially if you don't have any tech background, especially if you don't have an MBA, especially if you've never worked in the tech world before. But you know, my point of view is, not everybody can do software development. Well, I'd say that I feel like, you know, now with no code is making things a lot easier for people to really try to do some type of programming, right. But I really feel like from a product management perspective, like everybody can learn the skills it takes to be a good product managers. That might be a high take, but I don't think and I'm not saying that the role is easy. I'm just saying that, you know, when it comes down to kind of the different moving parts of the world when it comes to being a product manager, right. You're kind of a huge communicator, you're prioritizing. You're facilitating conversations, you're making decisions. You're prioritizing what problems that you should be going after, right? These are all the things that you do in your day to day life, like being like I have a wife and we're married like our marriage is Then me trying to facilitate the back prioritize was problems I really care about? Like, these are all the things you do in your life, you know? And it's just how can you transfer that into billing and technology, I think it's sometimes there's this, like the gap. And I do feel like, as product managers are also you have to be early adopters, early adopters and innovators in the space, because you're always looking at that the next thing that could really serve is your, your demographic or your audience. And so there's a gap sometimes. So if you're not, you know, like, super inundated with technology and kind of keeping up with the trends in terms of how technology and the industry is moving, you know, they can sometimes stifle especially people of color, because we already have enough imposter syndrome to deal with without looking at roles that are have been, you know, hyper focused on the most qualified candidates. So now it's like, okay, add that layer of the imposter syndrome, you're kind of like, maybe I'm not good enough. Or maybe I don't have the tools, I need to really go for this role. Or maybe I do, but I'm not getting the recognition or the opportunity to kind of get in front of the right person at the right time to make a case for myself. And so, you know, I definitely see those are like barriers in something, you could say systemic barriers to, you know, allowing, or enabling people of color to kind of jump into these roles. But again, I feel like, sometimes there's this big like, Oh, crap, like, you know, like, I might not be good enough, or I might not have an MBA, I might not be, you know, super, you know, smart developer, or, like, you know, super skilled developers. So that might not be a good fit. I think sometimes we probably could give ourselves a little bit more credit, you know, and recognize the skills that you do have and see where the overlap is with the value that you could provide in a role like product. Because although I mean, although the role I feel like anybody can do the role, the role is not for everybody. And so, you know, from a product perspective is kind of like, you really want to take the time to understand what this is what you really want to do. But just in general, across the industry and technology, I definitely feel like technology, and people of color, kind of continue to have this idea of like, Oh, I can be an early adapter, I can get familiar with the latest and greatest and continue to learn and develop my understanding of these technologies, will, I feel like bridge that gap between folks outside of tech and coming into, like, join tech, and get into tech focused roles. But yeah, I definitely feel like technology from an industry perspective is just, it's one of those things I really feel like and solve a lot of, it can't solve all the systemic barriers and challenges that people will face in our society today. But I do see it, giving a lot of people a second chance and creating the opportunities that weren't there. Like, nowadays, you can be a software engineering, software engineer, or kind of being a software or technology role is, in my opinion, as easy as it will be for you to learn how to do plumbing or learn how to be electrician, right? Like, it's not so much a specific like, diploma that you have to have in order to work in tech. Now it was more of Do you have the trade line? Do you have the skills and experience any experience and if you're a digital native, you have, you are kind of born with experience, like you've been using the your cell phone, since you were 10 years old, like you are you have usability principles that you know, in your mind that you probably just need to unlock or, you know, even from like a QA perspective, always say like, being a quality assurance analyst is always a good way to kind of get your foot in the door, because you're literally testing the functionality of the application before it gets into the heads of you know, the public, right. And so just being able to understand the different kind of different ways you can test or like it starts at a very general level of this is the thing, and then it kind of branches off into obviously a lot more nuanced and more complex frameworks and principles and things you can leverage to do the job better, but just getting your foot in the door and to be able to say, hey, as an entry level QA, you know, or entry level, database administrator, like, these are all skills that you could pick up by watching YouTube videos. And I think, you know, another challenge is like the opportunity, right, and that's obviously you don't want to discount the lack of opportunities, or the lack of opportunities being taken advantage of by people of color, for a lot of different reasons. But you know, being able to, like start with some type of foundational understanding of, Hey, I have a lot more skills as it relates to technology now that I think, and I just need to start kind of peace in the way and kind of going down the rabbit hole of each, like find that one thing I can anchor on and it kind of branch off from there. And when there aren't opportunities, you know, always say try to create an opportunity like for me when I was making make CDs, right? Like I was doing product management. I'm getting feedback from folks around my high school, well, you know, what type of music do you want to listen to? How much are you willing to pay for this? These are all things that you do a lot of times and you don't even realize You're doing a lot, there's like a ton of overlap into these these technology roles. So, you know, create opportunities where you can, I mean, I feel like people of color are inherently entrepreneurial, and we're going to make things happen. And we're going to find a way. And so that extends to creating opportunities within the technology space, especially, because technology is so accessible or is very accessible to a lot of people. There's just an ability there to create some technology opportunities and leverage that to kind of be the foundation of your technology journey.
Kimmiko James 45:32
Yeah, like it is a very hot take. And I guess I'm biased, but I agree with all of it. Maybe not bias. But I agree. Hold argues for your perspective to the Yeah, it's like, I think the hardest thing, especially as a personal color, black person is you don't know these opportunities exists to begin with. Like, for me, it just, it fell into my lap, just as an example. I was very, very much so computer gaming nerd, like my family members would ask me, How do I fix the internet? How do I use the internet? And yeah, I was like, Okay, I have a knack for computers. I mean, I don't know if I can do anything with it. And I didn't know I could do anything with it. until college. I just seen this guy coat on his laptop in our English class, like, Okay, that was my general exposure of like, Oh, this is something that's interesting with computers, number one, number two, it seems like a good feel to get in. And at that time, I wasn't even thinking about the money. I didn't know you can make six figures off of doing that on your computer. Right? My personal take is there are so many opportunities to get involved in tech. The problem is, people just don't know they exist. Like, when I try to explain to my family members, these different roles, they're just like, amazing, like, Oh, this is a job. I'm like, Yeah. Just look at your laptop eight hours a day. That's it. That's it. With product management, it's and I had this conversation with Adam Thomas and our previous interview of like, I would, he would rather hire someone that knows how to define a problem and solve it with product management versus someone that knows all these weird SQL database commands that you're only going to use maybe once every so often. So it's just hard. Like, it's hard for getting these opportunities in front of black people. It's, it is a systemic thing. And yeah, for sure, but I feel like once you, at least for me, it is my opinion, I feel like once you do kind of leverage the skills you have, and you see these roles, that's when you can start networking like you did an interviewing like you did and get into this field, because it's, it is hard, like I've tried applying to pm internships just to kind of try it out. And each time I'm just rejected, because I don't have experience. And I'm like, this is an internship.
Kenton Rowland 47:59
Yeah, that's so real. And I'm like, Yeah, I think I think we're on the same page, when you say it's definitely systemic, like you would want some of these, like opportunities to kind of just be handed to us, right. Like, and not, because not to say like, people don't work hard for what they get. But I definitely feel like it just feels like sometimes, like, you want to extend an opportunity to someone that you really feel like will take it and run with it versus someone that's like, super qualified and will do the job well, but they're gonna like leave after they get bored or something like that. And it just feels like, there's a lot of people that are looking for opportunities that they just want that chance, they just need a chance to like really show themselves show they can develop so they can add value. And those opportunities are just not like always presented to those. And that's that's the unfortunate part. But you know, like, again, I do feel that creating opportunities, or maybe even like, not just creating opportunity. And when I say opportunity, I'm not just thinking about like, jobs, right? Like, anybody can start a business, anybody can start adding value to their community. Like you can build anything. And like, you can build with limited resources as well. But I think the challenge is, again, like this mental block that says, am I good enough? Does this make sense? What will the critic say? Like, I don't really want to, like, you know, and it's like, how do I? How do I take feedback and actually do something with it? I think these are things like, I feel like fear kind of blocks us from being able to take advantage of opportunities, create opportunities, or interact with opportunities because of a lot of different reasons. But, you know, I feel like for anyone, I tell my friends All the time, actually anyone looking to get into product management. If you've ever started a website, started a blog, started a podcast, done anything where you're adding value to anyone and you're literally, you know, you're you've engaged with an opportunity that you can put on your resume to say Hey, I did this, this was the quantifiable value that you know was added. And this is what I learned. This is how I do things differently. Like just being able to have a retro with yourself about what went wrong, what went right, and be able to, like learn from that, like, those are all skills that I think people can speak to without having a ton of like, actual experience. But it sounds good, you know, but then again, it's like you get that in front of someone that's hired for a product manager, and then probably be like, yeah, that's cool. But you know, we have this other candidate here that's been working at Facebook and has interests of at Microsoft. And it's like, you know, it's a challenge. And I do feel like it creates this is a barrier when you're, it's like those opportunities are just not presented to people in color the same way they are for some of our counterparts. And I think that's the systemic, like challenge that we have to get people of color in these roles as hiring managers, and have them bringing in folks where they're going to bring in, you know, this next set of junior or Associate Product Managers that can read that, you know, it's not so much do you have the skills and experience to be a great product manager? But do you have like the, the, you know, some of those good characteristics that we would like to see in someone that can, you know, add value to our team, right. And I think that's the difference, but definitely not easy. And I, I struggle with this, personally, just being black in the kind of tech space, it's kind of like, without the black part of management community or these other outlets that I have, like, I wouldn't be feeling like some type of way around the work that I'm doing and how like, there's limited support, there's limited resources or limited networks of people that I can connect with that will aid me, But to your point there, they're out there, sometimes you just got to do a little bit digging to find them, or creator, right.
Kimmiko James 51:45
I guess I just kind of wanted to finish in my opinion of just like, yeah, it's hard for me to keep my thoughts on track, because there's so much but going back to going back to your point of becoming a software engineer is as easy as like, doing any other job, at least now it is because as I'm sure we both know, and other people listening that are in tech, no, you don't need the degree anymore. You just need to show you have experience. Even without a coding Bootcamp, you can show you have experience and get hired in like a year, where and I'm kind of hoping that this is the transition for other roles in tech as well, just like we just described, like, if you can show you have the skills and the tenacity in this interview, and in your previous life experiences, then you deserve a job. And that's what I've seen with software engineering, because for me, I was before slag, I did get interviews with these big tech companies, they're just making a few crappy projects. And that was that interested, and I don't even have the traditional CS major either. Like, that's how I'm not saying it's easy, but I'm saying it's a whole lot. It's less, there's the goal, right then like,
Kenton Rowland 52:56
General is low, like the barrier of entry is lower. I think now, before where you had to have a four year degree, technical degree, now you can get higher with a six week boot camp or some type of vocational training. So yeah, totally agree.
Kimmiko James 53:12
I was originally gonna ask if you had any plans to continue exploring career fields beyond PM, because you know, people do get bored with their jobs. Eventually, they want to explore something different. You know, but then you sent me your thing about Hello groove, and which I wanted to know if you could tell me about what it is and how you got that started? Yeah, for sure. Yeah.
Kenton Rowland 53:33
So I mean, to answer that first question, like, I definitely feel like product management as a role is helping me to my ultimate goal, which is to launch my own technology company, and which I have, you know, we're early stage kind of business right now exploring, doing research on how we can provide a solution to the problem of racial inequality, when it comes to wealth, and the kind of leveraging the growing wealth gap between you know, people of color in our white counterparts and so, you know, hello groove, you know, we're a company that is focused on presenting like group opportunities and ventures to people of color, that kind of pairing financial, personal, financial, wellness, and simplifying personal finance, with the network of opportunities and content to kind of connect with and kind of you have your, you know, your budgeting out with your content around how you can, you know, leverage your disposable income in a way that will kind of create wealth generating opportunities for you in the future. And so, yeah, we're in a really early stages. I have two co founders, Marcus Kelly, and Brian Warren. And we've been pretty much we've wanted to launch this summer actually. And so right now we're kind of in this ideation phase and doing a lot of r&d around you know, the different problems for a different customer segments. But yeah, check us out. Hello, group comm is still pretty fresh. But, uh, yeah, so that the idea though, the genesis of the idea was, you know, as I'm kind of coming out of Cardinal Health, I'm a little bit of cash, and I'm interested in ways I can invest. And I mentioned Robin Hood. And so like someone that's not someone that's not like the most financial savvy, but I am tech savvy. I've always tried to figure out ways I could kind of increase my financial fitness by leveraging my experience and understanding that technology. And so kind of being early on Robin Hood, being early or like fund rise, or, like MIT and these other FinTech applications, I felt like there's not a great way for us to kind of pull our funds together digitally, for whether it's for an investment or for a for a dinner or for a trip. And if there are there just I haven't come across a lot of solutions that can solve for that problem. And ax a buddy of mine is like, Hey, what's the best way for me to get into real estate if I don't have enough capital, and one of the things that he mentioned was, you know, you can do a joint venture with folks to kind of pull the capital together. And I was like, oh, that would be great to do with my friends. But you know, there's just not an easy way to do that. And so that kind of led me thinking is like, how can we kind of pretty much create these peer to peer networks that allow folks to pull their funds together without, you know, kind of damaging credit or, you know, disrupting other, like credit worthiness, but then also, like just presenting the right opportunity to the right person at the right time. And it kind of all started, we found that it all starts with that individual's personal financial situation, because you'll have folks in different situations and to be able to pair those, or to recommend that they come together on a specific opportunity kind of starts with the, you know, the individual being financially well, and so that's really been our mission is just how can we, you know, increase the wellness financially for people of color, and ultimately contributing to closing the racial wealth gap.
Kimmiko James 57:05
I see. And it's really inspiring honestly, to see people, especially black people, just start companies 2020 during this hailstorm, pandemic and racial injustice, and God knows what else is ahead for the rest of the year. Just really? Yeah, yeah, we don't need to think about that. But what what influenced you to just start something up? Right, especially during all this?
Kenton Rowland 57:32
So I've always had the thought, you know, even when I was at Eventbrite, I was like, yeah, I'm going to be, I was telling people, I'm building a FinTech company. Before I hadn't even started literally building the FinTech company, for I have found my founder and co founders, I was like, yeah, I'm working on a FinTech project on the side. So I kind of always knew that I would want to always knew that I was going to start my own company, and always knew be that I wanted to start my first one in the financial technology space. But I would say, honestly, I went to Afro tech last year. And just to see this, you know, massive turnout of black tech professionals doing all sorts of types of cool things, really just opened my eyes to like the idea of, there's no, there's nothing stopping us from doing what we want to do. There's nothing stopping us from building, what we want to build right is just how do we get the right resources, how we collect the right information, to make the best decisions to progressively move forward. And for me, like, going after takes C and sitting in all the sessions connecting with people that have created startup connected with people that are just working in tech in general, like that really kind of opened my eyes to like, okay, like, this is a this is like a growing thing. And I want to be a part of that, that network of black tech professionals that are kind of starting their own thing. And for me, that was like, okay, like, I was like, November 2019, I was like, going to 2020 I'm definitely going to start this. And, you know, it kind of just was one of those things where I was thinking like, what what gaps are there that I need to feel. And that really helped me identify which of the folks that I've worked with before and was my friends I wanted to kind of tap into join my team to be a part of this co founding team that really kind of just was one of those things where I'm like, you know, just from a group, everything that I want to do from, from our business perspective, when it comes to presenting opportunities for groups, or having a focus on group opportunities was like me and my co founding team coming together on this idea and kind of planting those seeds to like, watch it grow. And so, you know, once I had that, so actually, one of my co founders, I reached out to him I was like, Hey, man, I got this idea. I think it'd be really cool if you join the team. He asked me to develop a one pager pretty much like a product overview have, you know the idea. And that document literally was the, you know, the genesis of us kind of moving forward. So I created a document and I was able to kind of pitch it to him and pitch to another co founder. And they both were like, Yeah, let's do this. And so, you know, I would say like, one of the parting shots I have is just like, documentation is critical. And you could say documentation, or you could say content, or there used to be this is used to be the same cash is king. And I think today's age content is king. So when you're like, if you have an idea, or if you have a problem, or you know, something that you have to think through being able to document that, and organize your thoughts, and putting it down on a piece of paper, whether you're writing or typing it out, obviously, the simple, the simple gesture of putting that on a piece of paper, kind of actualizes the idea for you and can give you that Kickstart to take the next steps towards obviously progressing and making the right kind of making your idea better. So for me, you know, really was that that one pager that I put together for my co founder to join the team? And he was like, Yeah, let's do it. And pretty much got buy in from the bottle of the co founder markets as well. And we were kind of off to the races from there. It hasn't been easy, because like, my nine to five is keeping me super busy. And people ask me all the time, like, how do you find the time with the wife? No kids at the time, but you know, it's just life is keeps you busy. And I think for me is following your passion and following it. Like what you what your gut is telling you is the right thing to do. And like for me, it's like, yes, this sometimes is like we had a call yesterday and I was like, I don't want to wake up this early on Saturday morning. But going into it, that's how you feel. But like, as soon as you get started, and you guys start going and things are flowing, like you're always leaving that conversation like Dang, I'm so glad we taught, I'm so glad we made progress on this objective. I'm so excited for next steps, like, want to jump right back into it. But then also realizing that you got to kind of have a balance, right? So if you dedicate that time to doing the work, make sure that that's what you're focused on. But then you know, step away if you need to. And,
you know, it's a balancing act, always. But it's also one of the things that helps me balance that idea of like, Okay, I know my people are suffering right now, right. And I know, my day job is not necessarily solving for those problems aside, it's more, it's also a philanthropic kind of initiative for me to kind of like get these resources available for the people I think needed the most. And that's kind of what keeps you going and 2020. Obviously, if 2020 doesn't make phones humble and realize that we all need to come together and you know, exchange real true information, not fake news. But like, No, we limit how much fear uncertainty and doubt and FOMO that we are all kind of like putting out there and kind of create a more healthier and safer space for some of these conversations. Like I don't know, I don't know what it is. And so really anything 2020 was just an inspiration to kind of go ahead and get started. Because we need to look at the next five to 10 years, and we see how you know, the workforce and the workforce is going to look totally different 10 years from now, and there's going to be a lot more, you know, college educated black Americans coming out making significant money, having those wealth creation opportunities, because of tech because of you know, some of these lower barriers of entry into some of these roles that can really be like, you know, life changing or generate those opportunities. And so, yeah, I think that's that's kind of what we're focused on and motivated right now for
Kimmiko James 1:03:35
thanks for coming on Kenton and sharing all of your not only your story, which is super inspiring and all your insights and advice. So thanks for coming on.
Kenton Rowland 1:03:43
Absolutely. I appreciate it. This is great.
Kimmiko James 1:03:47
If you'd like to keep up with Kenton and his work at Hello group, be sure to check out his company at WWW dot Hello through gr o v.com. And the next episode I speak with Chanel power. A UX researcher at Apple and a strong advocate for mentorship, especially through her company mentor me Chanel, you won't want to miss it. Thank you again for listening to the black enterprise network podcast and it would be greatly appreciated if you could leave a review on Apple podcasts or any other platform that has reviews.
Kenton is a technologist at heart, Product Manager by trade, and enjoys discovering and leading the development of software products that add value and solve problems.
He is passionate about taking product ideas from concept to production by establishing a vision, creating strategic roadmaps, and leading cross-functional teams through execution.