A conversation with Joyce Bao from Fitbit

Amy Chyan, producer & host of our Product to Product podcast, spoke to Joyce Bao, Senior Product Manager at Fitbit about her experience as a PM. They discussed how her product team has worked quickly to ensure their product is supporting the health of their users during this time. They also talked about what it’s like being a woman in product and how Joyce is helping empower other women to get into product.

We’ve pulled out some highlights from the talk and have included time codes if you’re tight on time — otherwise we highly recommend watching the full conversation, as Joyce shed some great insights on how to adapt quickly as a product team to current events and also how to navigate breaking into product management and some key skill sets all PMs should have.


(The highlights have been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Fitbit’s support of users during this time (1:55)

Amy: In our pre-interview you mentioned Fitibit is working on features to help users through this time, when we’ve been asked to social and physical distance ourselves from family, friends, and even coworkers — can you talk a little bit about this?

Joyce: Fitbit’s company mission is to help everyone live healthier lives, especially during this time, given that everyone is at home and sometimes it is not accessible for them to access a lot of the health and wellness tools that they had before. We did a couple of things [to help our users] — we recently rolled out our premium subscription for free to our users for 90 days and it includes a variety of meditation, yoga, and workout content that people can do from home.

Also super exciting — just this week we rolled out a COVID resource tab in our Fitbit app. This is essentially a place where we have collected all of our helpful resources from both Fitbit, as well as, from different health care providers to really provide information and tips on: 1. How you can stay healthy during this time and 2. Staying on top of the news that’s available out there. These are really interesting times and I think, especially at Fitbit, we feel like we have such a big mission to really help everyone stay motivated. It’s amazing to hear the stories that people share with us on how Fitbit continued to keep them motivated and is helping them stay active during this time.

How the Fitbit product team is navigating the current situation (4:41)

Joyce: I think change management has been a big topic within the product org, especially because we do our quarterly planning and given the situation we essentially have to adapt our roadmap to basically meet our consumer needs. The great thing is that everyone in the organization is on board because this is a situation that we’re all facing and one of the benefits of being a product manager at a consumer tech is that we’re basically building products that everyone can use and it’s completely pertinent to our day to day lives. And then on the other hand being at a fitness and wellness company, we have offered our own yoga and coaching and workout sessions to our internal employees, so we have virtual sessions where folks do yoga together, some of them do Bollywood, we have 8 am workouts from home — so I think this is definitely a time that has brought everyone together and we’re just thinking of ways we can really add value to our consumers.

She | Aspired — how Joyce is empowering women to break into product (8:13)

Joyce: At the beginning of this year, with the same friend and partner I started PM Breakfast with, we decided to launch She | Aspired. We really, really want to help women transition and break into product to: 1. Increase the representation and 2. Really provide support for them — we’re not here to just teach them the fundamentals.

I think oftentimes I get pinged by people on LinkedIn asking me how do I get a job as a PM? And they start focusing on all the skills they need to learn as a product manager and I think a lot of times you really do learn the job on the job. What’s important is being able to think and act like a PM before you even step into the job. So we came up with this really interesting framework to help [our students] apply their PM skills in their career search and treat their career search as a product and really leverage their product skills — product management skills are so applicable in all aspects of our lives.

Finding your personal definition of success (9:40)

Amy: On your Twitter bio it says you want to help women achieve their personal definition of success and I thought — Wow! Finally someone gets it — because not everyone wants to be a manager and not everybody should be a manager and because what people value in life differs and maybe what they value in their job differs as well. Can you talk about the philosophy behind this?

Joyce: I think this came about because I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and really understanding who I am, what I want. I think in that process I realized that growing up shaped by society’s expectation — especially for higher achievers — we live by other people’s definition of what success means. I think that will get us to a certain place until we start to break down and realize that maybe this is not the life that I want. I think the other thing is, is that I recognize that everyone has their special talents and everyone has their superpowers and instead of trying to fit themselves in the mold, I really want people to think about what are their strengths and superpowers and how can they add value to whichever workplace or areas that they’re passionate about and that really comes from a personal definition of success.

Be ok with saying no (11:37)

Amy: Can you talk about one very big hurdle that you’ve had to overcome as a PM? Like advice that you would give a junior PM or APM to say — this is what happened to me, this is how I solved it, maybe you could consider taking this advice.

Joyce: I think personally for me, especially some advice for someone starting out, is being able to be ok with saying no. I think oftentimes, especially for women, we tend to take on a lot and we feel the expectation or the need to take on everything and more is often not better. It’s really important to focus on what are the key objectives and what’s going to drive the biggest impact.

I think for someone starting out, just really being able to be hyper focused on making the biggest impact and not feeling like you need to take on everything because it’s a team effort. Yes, product is in the center and that can be a lot of pressure but it’s ok to be vulnerable, to say no, and to really focus on what’s important.

Balancing quantitative and qualitative product management skills (14:16)

Amy: What kind of PM skills do you think are important?

Joyce: I think it’s really 50/50 in terms of the analytical, quantitative side of the skillset, as well as marrying that to the qualitative user research and really understanding and uncovering the core needs of your customers. I’m obviously more biased towards design thinking and the user research aspect of it and really understand the why behind the data, because oftentimes, the data gives you a high level overview of the what, like what’s happening to your product, what’s the current situation, but the data doesn’t really tell the full story. So it’s really important to have that balance of validating the data and measuring how well your product is performing but also being able to dig deep and understand and apply empathy, and understand what are actually the problems here and how do we go about solving that.

When we thought the idea was great but the data said it wasn’t well received (15:43)

Amy: Was there ever a time that your team or even you were like, you know what, I’m going to bet on this, I did the experiment, I know it’s going to land well and you launched the feature and the data comes back and you’re like what’s going on? How come we got it wrong?

Joyce: Oh yeah, definitely. We had a really interesting experiment that we ran last year, where we launched this product called sleep score. The goal of the product is to help demystify and breakdown user sleep data and explain it in a way that people can understand. The sleep score is essentially a quick way for people to understand in the morning, how well did I actually sleep?

As part of that, I think the other element of Fitbit is that we have this element of fun and delight — so we wanted to add a little celebration or little animation when the user received their score in the morning. We had a different type of animation that matched their score, and our hypothesis was that if the users saw this cute little moon with their score, they would be more motivated and would come back and continue to engage with the feature and track their sleep.

We found out that this animation only motivated users who received a good score and those who didn’t receive a good score, they were actually demotivated. We dug into that a little bit further, and we realized that the animation we show people who receive a poor score, like 60, was almost kind of sad and it really discouraged the user. We reiterated on the experiment and decided to only show the illustration to users with a good score.

I think having a hypothesis driven mindset is really, really important, when it comes to building a consumer tech product because oftentimes I think we have our own perspectives and this is where the data really comes in to help us better understand and quickly test — is this idea sound or not?

Audience Q&A period

(18:47): As your team had to work together, remote, to come up with the product pivot plan, what were some of the challenges that stood out for you and how did you resolve them?

(21:16): What does your team composition like?

(22:49): How do you balance new feature work with tech debt cause we know tech debt is death by a thousand paper cuts?

(23:53): These two are kind of the piggybacking questions. Someone wants to know what’s the biggest thing that separates a PM from a Senior Product Manager. What is that distinction that you get the senior title and then of the best PMs you’ve worked with, what are some of their defining traits ?

(26:43): This is from a UX designer, as a PM how do you cope with teams speak and their own technical languages, so call it jargon, when they need to collaborate with lets say the design team or the marketing team?

(28:09): Do you work with user researchers and what’s the workflow like for that?


Hi, I’m Joyce! I ? building products that can improve human well-being and helping women achieve their personal definition of success.I have been a Product Manager for 6+ years. Prior to joining Fitbit, I worked at Fortune 500 companies building and launching global products in the medical technologies industry. Currently, I am a Senior Product Manager at Fitbit leading our sleep and mental well-being software experiences to help 30M of our users live a healthier and happier life. Recently, I’ve also launched She | Aspired to help and empower aspiring women product managers break into product!I graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.S. degree in Bioengineering and received my M.S. in Translational Medicine from UCSF. In my spare time, I am an avid yogi, love exploring different mindfulness practices, and have an insatiable appetite for learning about the psychology of the human mind.

Amy’s a Content Marketing Specialist at Roadmunk on the Marketing team. She produces Recess, the Product to Product podcast and video content. Prior to Roadmunk, Amy worked as a journalist in various Canadian newsrooms and wrote for publications like NBC, CBC, Vice and more.You can follow her via her website, Twitter , and LinkedIn .

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