VERONICA BELMONT is a bot-obsessed product manager in San Francisco. She works for Growbot, helping to make sure employees get the recognition they deserve on their teams. She also helps to admin Botwiki.org and Botmakers.org, a huge community of bot creators and enthusiasts. As a writer, producer, and speaker, her primary goal has been to educate audiences of all types about how technology can enhance their lives. Through the years, her love of innovation has led to advising many startups on product, communications, and marketing, including Goodreads (acquired by Amazon), about.me (acquired by AOL), DailyDrip, SoundTracking (acquired by Rhapsody), Milk (acquired by Google), WeGame (acquired by Tagged), Forge, Chic CEO, and more. She is also a podcaster and hosts IRL for Mozilla and Sword & Laser.
What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
10% Happier by Dan Harris made me totally rethink mindfulness and meditation. For me, it was always something that “other people do,” but Dan’s experience of suffering from anxiety and panic attacks (especially on-camera, which used to be my career) struck home in a major way. Plus, since he comes to it from the perspective of a skeptic, I wasn’t worried that I was being sold to or recruited in some way! Just a great way to take stock of your thoughts and mood.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
I switched to drugstore shampoo and conditioner. I discovered that a $4 bottle of Pantene works much better than a $25 bottle of the stuff from Sephora. Just because something is more expensive doesn’t make it better!
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
I take photos of dogs and post them to the Dogspotting Facebook group. There are elaborate rules that you have to follow: must be a previously unknown dog, always try to crop out people, beware of “low-hanging fruit” dogs (a photo taken in a place where seeing a dog would be expected, like a dog park), etc. I find it weirdly cathartic, so much so that I started a mini-podcast on Anchor.fm called Dogs I’ve Seen Today. I’m finding my bliss, I guess.
In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?
I finally came to the understanding that my downtime is just as valuable as my uptime, and I have to schedule it in accordingly. Previously, if I saw a big chunk of free time on my calendar, it was a lot more difficult to turn down projects, speaking engagements, or even coffee meetings. Now, I see that block of time, and think, “Oh, that’s my binge-watching Netflix time. Sorry.”
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
My favorite failure was hosting the Season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones for HBO. It was great, outwardly, but I made the mistake of going online afterward and reading the comments. Bad idea. I spent what should have been a magical evening sitting in my hotel room sobbing into the phone with my husband.
But with that feeling came certainty: I had been casually thinking about making a career switch for the previous six months or so, but I was scared of trying to do something I had never done before professionally. Sitting there in that hotel room, I thought, “Why am I spending my time doing something that consistently makes me miserable? Why not take a chance?”
So I did. I stopped taking any freelance gigs, wrapped up my video contracts, and spent all my time learning about product management and figuring out where I’d best fit in. It was a horrible night, but it was also the impetus for something completely new and wonderful.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
I’ve only ever had one house motto: “Fuck you, pay me.” After having been a freelancer for almost a decade, I’d seen every trick in the book when it came to people trying to get my work for free. Things like “exposure,” or “reaching new audiences,” or having a “great experience” are all well and good, but they don’t pay the rent or put food on the table. Know your worth.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I think people assume that you have to weigh all feedback on your product (whether it’s a podcast, an app, etc.) equally. Not all feedback is created equal, and not all ideas from your users are good ones! Taking too much stock in feedback can change the vision for your own product, and suddenly it won’t feel like yours anymore.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
Don’t wait until you get a job to do the thing you want to be doing. For most careers, showing that you have initiative by working on projects related to your future job is a great way to get a foot in the door. If you want to be a writer or journalist, start keeping a blog that you update regularly! If you want to be a programmer, create and maintain a project on GitHub. Anything that you can point to on your LinkedIn that screams, “Hey, I’m passionate about this!” works.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
I always feel better after making a good list. It’s a lot more satisfying for me to have something written down on paper that I can forcibly cross off when it’s done. It gives me better focus on what I can get done in the short term, and actually feels like a completed task in and of itself.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed, nothing is better than taking my dog out to the park. Walking, fresh air, and seeing happy dogs always resets me in a really positive way. Also, it’s nice knowing that your dog will always love you no matter how stressed out you are!