“My career trajectory has been pretty disorderly,” he says. “I pivoted into a product role once I figured out what product management entailed and how cool it was.”
At Noom, Breslauer works on creating and expanding the company’s product offerings with a focus on habit formation and change, mindfulness, and addiction. “I am fascinated with how we can change habitual and addictive behaviors, and Noom was a perfect place to pursue that,” he says.
Here, Breslauer talks about how to break into product management, what makes his job at Noom so rewarding, and what he values most about the company’s culture.
What attracted you to work as a product manager, and specifically at Noom?
Product managers get to create things that people actually use, which I think is pretty cool. Plus, it’s one of the most varied jobs I know of—forcing you to zoom all the way out to the business model as well as into the psychology, design, and technical details of tiny interactions. It’s a good fit for me as I’m basically a generalist and enjoy variety.
I first tried Noom when I was researching products at my last company, and I was really impressed with the platform. I noticed so many of the principles of behavioral economics were not spelled out like a textbook, but actually put into practice in a subtle way. That was the kind of work I wanted to be doing.
What are you responsible for in your role?
I focus on helping people who’ve had some success changing their behavior with Noom and are now wondering “what’s next?” You’d think these people would want to pop open the Champagne and put their feet up for a while, but in fact, we see that their success, combined with their healthier lifestyle, unlocks the energy to work on the next thing. And what is that next thing? Well first, they have to maintain the new, healthier habits they’ve established and then they can focus on whatever the next piece of the puzzle might be, whether that’s sleep, stress, fitness, or something else. We’re still exploring the space to figure out the intersection between what we’re good at and what our users want help with.
What makes the work you do at Noom rewarding?
We have a Slack channel called #daily-inspiration, where our health coaches post real-world examples and inspiring messages from our users. I’m not ashamed to say that some of these stories have even made me tear up a little. It’s so hard to eat healthily in our society, and even harder to have a healthy internal dialog about your weight. So many of our users have beaten themselves up for years about not being determined enough, smart enough, or good enough to lose the weight they want. So it’s really gratifying when we can help them see that there’s nothing deficient about them at all, and all they need is a little patience, support, and savvy to successfully rewire their relationship with food and eating.
What is Noom’s approach to product development?
It’s about trying to figure out the raw truth about how behavior change works by running lots of high-quality experiments. There are two types of product managers at Noom: those who run experiments, and those who build the infrastructure that allows us to run them.
The harder part is interpreting and acting wisely on the results. You need to have a spidey sense for all different kinds of information, from user interviews to cohorted retention data to your own experience of using the product, and mash it all up into a point of view that is accurate enough to sometimes hit the mark. Noom is very good at this and I’ve learned a great deal from watching our product leaders go through this process.
What do you like best about the company culture at Noom?
There are two traits I notice my colleagues at Noom all have in common. First, they are open-minded. If you’re biased towards certain ideas or resistant to the possibility that they might be wrong, it’s impossible to run experiments well. Having an open-minded team means your ideas are always given a receptive ear, even if they are controversial, and you usually get a chance to bring them to life, too.
Second, they have no egos. People at Noom are more interested in making our product work better so it can help more people than they are about burnishing their reputations or getting the chance to show off in public. More importantly, it’s impossible to be open-minded, truly listen to ideas and feedback from others, and see the reality of what works and what doesn’t if you’re too blinded by ego. Both of these traits are essential ingredients for a successful and experimental culture.
What skills and traits are necessary to succeed as a product manager?
There are so many different types of situations you run into as a PM that you can never expect to be an expert in all of it. In that vein, it’s vitally important to be curious about how unfamiliar things work and humble enough to find the experts and ask them your questions, even the ones you think are dumb or basic.
Also, building software is an exercise in sacrifice—there are never enough resources to build all the cool things you can think of that might move the needle. So it’s important to cultivate a practice of constantly returning to the objective of what you’re building, and asking yourself what is a must-have and thus worth fighting for, or nice-to-have and thus worth sacrificing. Over time, I’ve become much more comfortable sacrificing things.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a career as a product manager?
It’s a bit of an unfair profession: Aside from some of the big tech companies that have true PM training and rotational programs, most companies only want to hire PMs who have previous experience. So how do you get into it? I think the most common route is to work in a product-adjacent role like user research, or product marketing or design, which are more friendly to applicants without previous experience, and then move laterally in your organization when a PM opportunity becomes available. That’s what I did.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
I had a college professor who was coming off a long and successful career in public service, and he gave our class some advice that stuck with me: “Go where the action is.” By that, he meant to go find the problems that fascinate you and that seem to be attracting strong minds that you enjoy learning from, and figure out how you can help.