No fee ETFs, and the future of finance

In business school, I developed an interest in finance. Technology and finance share many traits. For example, when, at school, some former financiers appeared to think they owned a monopoly on smart logic, I argued that a financial model looks a lot like the algorithms I’d seen in tech. Each solves complex problems with a series of if/then scenarios. So, to prove that technologists could take on finance, I took many of the same courses as my fiance peers like Investment Strategies and Stock Picking. I loved both.

As I continue my career in technology, I hope I can one day merge my passions for both tech and finance, and create a financial product based on technology that makes investing and saving more transparent and accessible.

The announcement that Fidelity will offer no-cost ETFs this past week is a move towards the direction I want to see. I want to invest my personal assets in products with low, and preferably no, fees when possible. And, I want to ensure that fees, when added, include understandable disclaimers that enable non-experts to understand how even small fees will compound. I believe Fidelity’s move (and the moves of the subsequent firms that will inevitably follow) will make ETF fund investing, and the fees that come with some ETFs, clearer to a broader population.

We are still a long way from providing asset allocation and financial planning (how much to save when) advice as broadly as it should be provided; however, if Fidelity’s move encourages people to question fees on non-free products, then we’ve made progress in the right direction.

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No fee ETFs, and the future of finance

It’s not you, it’s me.

At work, we often take a selfish mindset when we encounter uncomfortable interactions.

Here’s an example: a sales manager interrogates a salesperson on one of her deals. The salesperson leaves the conversation thinking “Wow. My manager must think I am incompetent at my job or she wouldn’t have really dug into minute details on this deal. What did I do wrong? How do I show her I am capable? Should I change my presentation style?”

While I admire her self-reflection, this person believes what the sales manager did reflected her work or her style, not the sales manager’s goals. Most likely the sales manager dug into the deal so deeply because she needed to better understand that business for her boss, she developed a personal goal to understand deal nuances, etc.

I remember a few years ago I couldn’t sleep because I was so concerned about an email I wrote to my boss. I called my dad the next day to ask if, on a Saturday, I should write a clarification email. My dad gave a pretty rational, objective and removed reply; “What? You want to bother your boss on a Saturday? He is not even thinking about this.”

The next time you freak out because you believe you did something noticeably wrong or you feel insecure or offended by a reaction from a colleague or manager, try to remember that it might stem from the other person’s goals, motivations or situation. It may be you. But, it also may be them.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Share the risks you take

This past week, I gave a presentation as part of my interview process for a role which would offer me a stretch opportunity– my own quota, managing a more senior sales team.

Google’s internal career site listed the role as a level above the level I am at now.  Still, I reached out to the hiring manager to see if she would consider me as an applicant.  She said she would!

In preparing for my final round presentation, I asked some of my trusted peers for advice and feedback on my deck.  The presentation I delivered became much better due to their insights.

At the end of my presentation to the panel, I showed a slide listing the 10+ people that helped me garner the insights I presented. The interview panel appreciated this slide for a few reasons. It demonstrated that:

  • I fully utilize resources available to me
  • I know how to ask for help
  • I acknowledge and highlight others
  • I am not afraid to share the risks I take

Highlighting to the panel that I had exposed potential failure to my peers and asked for their help, as well as crediting them for their work, might have been one of the things they liked best about my presentation.

I encourage sharing the risks you take. I find this lowers the actual risk and helps you provide better work, regardless of the outcome.

Share the risks you take

Want a good review at work? To get that new job? Give more data.

At Google, we do employee reviews every six months. Right now, we’re almost halfway through our review period, so I will take the next few weeks to meet with my employees and help them self-assess where they sit in terms of a rating and, potentially, a promotion. I do these meetings in the middle of the cycle to avoid any surprises and offer the opportunity for improvement before the formal assessment time.

Today, during our mid-cycle review, one of my team members made an excellent point. Preparing for our review process mimics how you might prepare to answer Google’s interview questions. In some ways, each review cycle is a mini, written interview.

Because of my team member’s analogy, I looked back at some of Laszlo Bock’s interview advice for a Thomas Friedman column. In answering “What’s your best advice for job interviews?,” Bock also provides good advice for review preparation.

“What you want to do is say: ‘Here’s the attribute I’m going to demonstrate; here’s the story demonstrating it; here’s how that story demonstrated that attribute.’ ” And here is how it can create value. “Most people in an interview don’t make explicit their thought process behind how or why they did something and, even if they are able to come up with a compelling story, they are unable to explain their thought process. (“How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2”, NYT, 4/20/2014)

While Bock’s advice focuses on future impact, it also applies to showcasing past impact which you can use for your next review.

In my opinion, the best way to show how you created value is to use specific numbers. For example, instead of writing in your self-review “I lead a complex deal for XY customer that we won. While doing so, I received great feedback from my peers saying “yada yada,”” write:

“Over the past three months, I worked with XY client to increase their spend from $XX to $YY dollars. I did so through leveraging XY engineers and creating this [insert your link here] timeline with the customer. After I realized the strategy of using Y [external partner] with Z [internal resource], drove me to close my sale faster, I shared my process with our team, so that they could learn from my success. After speaking with ZZ team members that employed the process I created, we saw each of their deals progress XX days faster than the rest of the deals on the Americas team”.

Even beyond a review cycles and interviews, you can employ this strategy when writing you resume. Challenge yourself to provide excruciating detail. Instead of “I lead XY team and we achieved 170% of quota,” say “Leading a four person sales pod with three hundred customers, I leveraged six partners to achieved 170% of quota while also selling the largest number of products average five skus versus the national average of two”. Here is very outdated resume I prepared for business school internship interviews where I tried my best to use these techniques.

Good luck in your next review, resume submission or interview!

Want a good review at work? To get that new job? Give more data.

Become an “Oscar Winning Actress” or any three words you want people to remember you by

Last week I spoke on a Harvard Tech Panel and one of my co-panelists, Katherine, gave some advice that I want to share here: decide how you want people to remember you in three words and plan, ahead of time, to encourage that perception. Katherine made the point that individuals can control and mold his or her own “brand”.

I shared one story from my career when I used this tactic to make the switch from sales into marketing. After college, I started my career in customer support and sales at Google. Once I realized I wanted to move into marketing, I needed to change my perception from “entry-level customer support specialist” to “scrappy, creative marketer” to get the role as an Associate Product Marketing Manager launching Google Fiber. I did so by building my experience with six months of extra volunteering on the Fiber team doing anything related to marketing, communications, operations and, even, customer support. After proving to the team that I could be the “scrappy, creative marketer” they wanted, I, in the team’s mind, was qualified to do the role (marketing + Fiber team experience). No one, when I applied, told me I did not possess enough marketing experience because I built my “creative marketing” portfolio with the team.

Even if you don’t yet have the work product or characteristics to backup the three word brand you want, you can start building it. If you work in sales and want to become an “extremely technical customer engineer,” start shadowing customer engineers and leading technical calls. It may not work immediately, or come easily, but it will over time. With enough preparation you can claim any three word description you want. The three (ok, four) perception I work to build now: “connector & career guru”.

Once you start “shopping” your new brand, check-in to make sure it lands well. While it may be awkward to bluntly ask how people you interact with perceive you, think of other tests to see if you successfully left clients, co-workers, etc with the perception you want. Launch and iterate.

One caveat: my brother would argue that I can never become “an all-star NBA player”. I argue that’s TBD.

Become an “Oscar Winning Actress” or any three words you want people to remember you by

Is Memorial Day more than the just the start of summer?

I very much enjoyed my three day weekend. As I write, I am sitting in the car back to NYC with my cousin, her husband and their 11 week old baby. We spent the weekend in New Hampshire with our family where we got to watch Evelyn, the baby, meet our grandma, her great grandma, for the first time. I am grateful for the chance to see my grandma’s joy at meeting Evelyn.

However, seeing my friend from business school on Friday, who got wounded while serving in the military, made me feel guilty that I did not spend more of this weekend reflecting on and doing something for those that help our country.

In thinking about why we did not act more on this day, my cousin, her husband and I hypothesized that our lack of interaction with people that serve leads us to more easily forget them. Our grandparents joined the military because of WWII and thus every echelon of society gained exposure to soldiers. Today, the military predominately employs working class Americans. And, as society continues to isolate itself, we gain less exposure to those that grew up differently.

At least in discussing why we pay less attention, in some way, we did not forget. Next year, I want to do something more for the families of our veterans. While we memorialize those we lost, let us also work to help their families live.

 

 

Is Memorial Day more than the just the start of summer?

How do I know I am making progress?

This weekend my sister-in-law and her friends graduated from business school.  Watching her earn her MBA over the past two years, I saw her develop in many facets of life.  She learned to ask for what she wants.  She prioritized new relationships with old ones.  She took risks on classes and jobs that scared her.  I am very proud of both her personal and professional growth.

While I can easily see her growth over the past two years, she grew in areas that are hard to track.  How should we measure growth in learning to ask for what we want?  Or, even more difficult, how we prioritize our friends, family and ambitions? 

Conducting interviews at Google over the past two years (and asking a lot of GCA questions, thank you Lazlo) taught me that you can always find a way to track progress, even in the “warm, fuzzy” areas.  Often, simply focusing on tracking, though you cannot record precisely, helps.  And, furthermore, showing yourself progress keeps you motivated (The Power of Small WinsTeresa Amabile, Steven J. Kramer, 2011).  Any thoughtful solutions works, but below you can find a few of my favorites:

  • Write down quick snippets each week.  This is my favorite solution since it takes 30 minutes each week and promotes team transparency as well.
  • Use OKRs.
  • Commit to “one simple thing” as a resolution.
  • Develop a PDP.

 

Gretchen Rubin suggests we copy Benjamin Franklin’s ethos on tracking progress.  He said, when reflecting on the chart he used to track his progress, “though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted” (Benjamin Franklin. Autobiography. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1859.).

As you aim to grow in “warm, fuzzy” areas that seem hard to track (one of mine now is Headspace), I challenge you to try to find a way to measure your progress.  I believe it will cause you to try harder and, maybe, achieve more.

 

How do I know I am making progress?