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From Operations to Product Management: a Fireside Chat with Charles Wong from Up&Up

From Operations to Product Management: a Fireside Chat with Charles Wong from Up&Up

Jun 20, 2023

Jun 20, 2023

Charles Wong has worked at Up&Up since 2021, first as a Business Operations Manager and now as a Product Manager. Up&Up helps renters build wealth while renting. In this Fireside Chat, you’ll learn how Charles became a Product Manager focused on operations, what it’s like to work as a PM at Up&Up, and what advice he has for other ops teams.


How did you get to where you are today?

I’ve spent much of my career thinking about how to increase operational efficiency.When I started at Uber Eats, I supported operational processes for the three pillars of our delivery marketplace: restaurants, delivery partners, and eaters. For example, I set up and ran delivery partner incentives on a weekly basis. Later, I transitioned to a regional role where, instead of working on many operational problems for one market, I thought about one family of problems (eg. restaurant-focused problems) for many markets. As part of my role, I built, managed, and improved projects, experiments, and processes that addressed operational problems — for example, how to improve restaurant quality, how to improve support quality, and how to incentivize eaters to order more food.  


After leaving Uber, I tackled similarly-flavored operational problems at AeroFarms, a vertical farming company, and Level, a fintech startup. When I joined Up&Up, I initially supported our operations teams to do their jobs better through process and tooling improvements as well as automations via Google Sheets. There was an opportunity to broaden my impact by collaborating more closely with engineering and design, and when the stars aligned, I took the leap into a PM role. Today, I do whatever I can to help teams at Up&Up increase their throughput and effectiveness — whether it’s working with engineers and designers to build cohesive tools, hacking Retool with SQL, or automating time-consuming workflows using Google Sheets.


What do you find most exciting about your job?

I love working across the business and shadowing my coworkers to understand how they get things done. Observing and then distilling their day-to-day helps me deeply understand their problems, so that I in turn can help build the tools that can make engineering and ops teams in particular better and more creative.


I also love working within Up&Up’s talented, friendly, and hard-working group of colleagues. We work hard, we have fun, we respect each other, we hang out, and we love to debate, which has created this uncanny feeling of being among family. I’ve also learned so, so, so much from not only my manager, Arkesh, but my immediate peers on the product team.


What does your tech stack look like?

Different teams at Up&Up interact with different tools; as a product manager, I use:

  • Postgres & BigQuery as our data warehouse

  • Avenue to watch BigQuery for important events, send real-time alerts when they happen, and help us keep track of the subsequent actions that need to occur, all in one place

  • Asana as our task management tool

  • Slack as our company-wide communication platform

  • Retool for some internal apps

  • Lucidchart for charting and visualization

  • Notion as our internal wiki and for project management

  • Google Workplace for spreadsheets, slides, and more


What is something you wish you knew before you started your current role?


I wonder what my PM experience would’ve been like had I been formally trained at a tech company — for example, going through an APM program. I haven’t had the formal product training that someone at a large tech company might get, so I largely had to teach myself when entering this PM role, whether through reading books and articles, watching YouTube videos, or asking a lot of questions of my manager and the engineers and designers I worked closely with. 


Luckily, there were many transferable skills from my operations days, and I’m used to working in a “learn by doing” fashion anyway. I suspect that there are key operating cadences (Agile, Scrum, etc) that have been demonstrated to work well, but I’m glad I work at a company where there’s room for me to make mistakes, iterate, and grow.

What are some of the challenges you face?

There’s lots of projects to juggle but I only have so much bandwidth. Part of my challenge is balancing what I want to work on with what’s important for the business. Oftentimes, these things overlap, but not always. For instance, I might have a desire to fix an issue that one particular team is dealing with, but there might be another problem that ties more directly with our current objectives.


I’ve found it tremendously helpful to have a strong manager and peers with whom I can calibrate the impact and importance of what I’m working on. I’m constantly consulting with my manager, asking whether I should be flexing my business ops skills or my PMing skills at any given time.

What advice do you have for other ops teams?

  1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: A big part of working in ops is trying new things and making mistakes. With so much at stake and so much to do, it’s tempting to shy away from things that could result in failure, but that would mean losing out on a lot of learning and growth. I think as long as you’re consistently picking yourself back up, course-correcting, and getting better over time, you shouldn’t be afraid to take risks.


  1. Get comfortable with data: As both a PM and ops person, I’ve realized the importance of interacting with and utilizing data. The more familiar you are with accessing data, understanding how it’s structured, and using the data to tell a story and compel action, the more effective you’ll be in your job.


  1. Focus on getting stuff done. As an operator, you’re ultimately judged by your output. Do what you can to GSD. At a larger tech company, it’s easy to get lost in hierarchy or to let red tape block what you do; don’t take no for an answer and find workarounds that make impact. I’ve found that working at a startup is much more fun and fulfilling, because it’s easier to make a tangible impact with your work.


This post is part of Avenue's Fireside Chat Series. To learn more, check out our case study with Up&Up.

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Elad Gil

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Sign up for a free trial

Operations observability in under 10 minutes

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive updates on new posts and features

Backed by

Y Combinator

Accel

Lachy Groom

Slack Fund

Flexport

Elad Gil

© 2023 Avenue. All rights reserved