I first met Alexandra "Alex" Levich when she was a finalist in the Innovation Challenge. She's an amazing innovator who has spent 14 years in product management and development, helping build out news, entertainment and search at Yahoo!, the Israeli Intelligence Corps, and now Google. She's Google's product manager focused on Chrome OS Platform. Prior to this role, she's built social experiences at Google and helped launch the Chrome Web Store. She's no slouch academically, either: an MBA from Berkeley, and a B.Sc. in computer Science and math from Bar-Ilan University in Israel. But she's never stopped learning, and she's never stopped innovating. Here's Levich's story, tips worthy for any entrepreneur, green or seasoned.
Name / Position / Company
Alexandra "Alex" Levich, Product Manager, ChromeOS
How has innovation changed the way you do business?
Innovation has been an integral part of my career starting with my time serving in the Unit 8200 of Israeli Intelligence Corps, an elite hi-tech unit, where teams of young smart folks with constrained budget and ambitious goals created new technologies that save lives. Our mission shaped us and the country. As I moved to the U.S. and joined Google, innovation continued to be an integral part of my career. Being in the fast-growing and rapidly changing technology space means one has to constantly do 10x better to make a real, lasting impact. Incremental improvements rarely get us there. Innovation does.
What is your motivation?
Making people's lives better through technology. I want to build products that people use every day and do at least one thing they could not do before. It's particularly satisfying and impressive to see the creative ways the education community has started to use Chromebooks in the classroom. In fact, IDC and Futuresource have both recently announced Chromebooks are the best-selling device for K-12 schools nationwide.
What was your 'aha' moment?
The first product I worked on at Google was Google Web Accelerator, a software client that made your web pages load faster back in 2005. Remember when the Internet was actually slow? Internet infrastructure improved over time and the product was no longer useful to our users. We ended up integrating our work into other Google products that needed to improve their latency. Acknowledging that your product time has passed is never easy, but nevertheless sometimes it has to be done. Once you do, a new path can open up, whether that's figuring out new solutions to existing problems or putting existing solutions into different problems and thats exciting.
What challenges and roadblocks did you face initially? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge many times lies within ourselves. Creating and growing a product is in many ways like having a baby. You put so much work and energy into the project that it's sometimes hard to see any faults. You get attached. Having a strong analytical approach, coupled with market analysis and an assessment of different directions, is what helps me reach conclusions and move to the next stage.
What lesson do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Innovation and failure go hand-in-hand and that's a risk well worth taking. Failure is just one step away from success. If you have not failed, you probably did not learn.
What do you wish you knew when you were first starting that you know now?
Everything you do is a learning experience. Make the most out of it--every situation, every problem, every success and every conversation. You never know when it will come handy. Always be curious and driven.
What is the biggest hurdle every creator must tackle?
Innovation is a messy and challenging process. It's important to remember that that's OK and maybe even part of the process. As Israel's President Shimon Peres said in his satirical retirement video, "when there is nothing, you can do anything."
How important is an idea? Is it more important than the people behind it, or vice versa?
To build a great product you need much more than that. Execution is critical and the team behind a product is what can make or break it. I spent a year building news and entertainment experiences for Yahoo Search back in 2009. It was a challenging time for the organization and nevertheless, my team and I managed to support one another and ultimately launch many successful products. I learned that it's not the idea that makes a great product, it's the team.
Is failure a myth, or does it really help you grow? When is failure actually bad?
It's not about failure or success. Having the right attitude is everything. As someone who has moved to three different countries across three different continents, I know the virtue of hard work, patience and continuous improvement and learning. Failure is only bad when you stop believing in yourself.
Did you ever think you weren't going to make it? And how did you overcome self-doubt?
I always try to push myself out of my comfort zone. While that's never easy it's how I know I'm growing. I look at my kids who are one and three-years-old and see how they learn and try something new every day. Sometimes it's frustrating and sometimes they cry. But that's how they grow and learn about themselves and our world. I sometimes try to imagine what will I remember when I am 80, what will make enough impact to matter to me at that time? And there is one thing I know for sure: I won't remember the growing pains or the self doubt. I will remember the thrill of taking a risk or trying something new, which I can only get by trying things out and not being afraid.
How has change helped foster a better work culture, and improve peoples' lives?
Change can help teams collaborate more effectively. One of the more unexpected types of change that makes an impact is seating arrangements. Many companies generally have people within the same functional group seated together with the goal of cross-pollinating ideas and collaboration. One of the arrangements I've found effective throughout my career is having small cross-functional teams sit together, combining different perspectives from product managers, engineers and UX designers. It allows for better flow of and feedback on ideas, better collaboration and faster product development time. At the end of the day, it can help build better products.
What innovation do you want to see, both in your company, business and beyond?
The Internet of Things will radically change the way we live our lives in the years to come. It's going to create smart interfaces everywhere around us. I look forward to seeing more innovation in that space and creating software layers that enable seamless user experiences across billions of devices in many different form factors.
What's next for you?
Building the best innovative devices for our users anywhere in the world and increasing diversity in technology space by bringing more women to the field. One of my recent initiatives is a new YouTube show about Women Techmakers, product management and how we build innovative products. We will be launching the show on Women Techmakers and Google Developers YouTube Channels in a few months.