3 Questions with a Tech Lady: Ellen Chisa, VP of Product at Lola

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Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes

Hi Ellen! Can you tell us about Lola and what you do?

Lola is an iOS app that provides instant access to a personal travel service for hotels, flights and anything you need for your trip. As the VP of Product I help prioritize the user facing features in our app, but also the tools our travel agents use to provide great service.

Day to day, that usually means more time with people and less time writing specs. I spend most of my time with our team — in 1:1s or small groups with PMs, engineers, designers, travel agents, and leaders of other teams. It’s important to keep everyone aligned and involved on what we’re building. As the company has grown, it’s been a big shift to go from being involved in every detail to helping others do their best work!

You have a great background in teaching other Tech Ladies (and gents)! What have you learned as a teacher that you never knew as a student?

I never realized how on-the-fly teaching is. I assumed teachers prepped ahead of time and just executed the plan. I didn’t see any space for flexibility. That’s not the case, and instructors often do want input.

I’m always trying to make sure I’m using students’ time well. I’m reading the room and trying to see if people are following along, if they’re interested, and what the range of ability is in the class. I make modifications as we go. The ultimate in this is the case study method that HBS uses — the discussion is a living entity. This works best in person, but I also modify my online content based on feedback.

It helps the classroom dynamic if students keep in mind the others in the room. If you’re way ahead, the question that makes everyone else feel insecure may not be a good one. It could yield a much richer 1–1 discussion with your instructor. If you’re feeling lost, tell the instructor. You probably aren’t the only one, and it’ll be harder to catch up the longer you wait.

No matter where you are, the instructor is there for you, and wants to help you do better. Don’t be afraid to suggest ways the class could help you learn better, or things you’re interested in learning. That said, be sensitive to how you present your critique. Developing a class is hard, personal, and a labor of love — and that can make it harder to take that feedback on a class than it is for a product.

Lola is all about travel. If you could go anywhere tomorrow, what destination is at the top of the list?

I just got back from Montreal, which was great! The next big destination for me is Fogo Island, Newfoundland. We’re going on our honeymoon next summer. I found out about it by working with the travel team here at Lola, and then there was a lovely profile in Cereal magazine. I just love the landscape, the variety of activities, and the way they want to engage you in the local community.