Lessons I learned from a Stripper, and a Prostitute

Lesson 1

A few months ago, I started a community to help young people who wanted to transition into technology and were overwhelmed with the staggering amount of resources and complexities about technology all over the internet.

As the community grew, I would often allow one-on-one meetings with some members of the community who wanted to talk about specifics to help them in a given path. My day job is as a Product Manager, so, it is natural for me to favor anyone who wanted to transition into Product Management.

I had a booking on my Calendar and for the sake of privacy, let’s call her – Lucy.

We finally met and I started my coach-style talk. Questions like why are you transitioning? What do you hope to accomplish and why are you choosing Product Management as a tech career path?

She was cheerful and far more open than many folks I’ve had such calls with.

Lucy started off by explaining her passion for technology with a clear insight into what it was about, she seemed too knowledgeable for a newbie. So, I had to ask; What is your current job role?

I’m a stripper she said, and I’ve learned a lot in that role, which I think would help me as I navigate my way into technology.

I was beyond whelmed! You have to understand, I’ve had my fair share of surprising exposés, but I was rather new to the concept of learning from that particular career, skills that would allow you to transition into technology better.

Go on, I said. What skill are we referring to I tried to say as politely as I could.

Discipline! I’ve learned to be disciplined she started.

You see, it takes discipline to have people say the strangest things to you or touch you and still wear a smile and put on a genuine laugh.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but some of the people who show up won’t even have the audacity to walk up to you during the day because you may far outclass them. But at this job, you are humbled, and you let a lot of things slide.

Mastering the act of patience, understanding, and separating the job from my personality comes from a great amount of discipline. Something I know I would require to learn and practice technology professionally.

I was completely drawn to her story, I wanted to know more. Tell me more I remember asking, leaning forward to get the gist.

She then started off with a quick question; I’ve learned that one of the things a great Product Manager should be able to do, is to know when to say no while trying to provide excellent results for the user.

Yes, yes, you are correct I jumped in, wondering where this all fit and where she was going with this.

Well, many customers get carried away, I’m paid to strip, anything else is outside the scope of my service and that’s asking for too much. It’s also not easy to say no, because the assumption in my line of work is that, if you say no, customers would get upset and the business owners may have to let you go. I’ve learned that in the end, what the customer really wants is to be happy and taken care of. If I can provide that exact service, sticking to my role, they won’t remember what they didn’t get, they’ll only remember everything they got. This has helped me to thrive in my career for the last 5 years.

My head was spinning. I was learning pure gem. Even I, had never looked at Product Management from that angle before, it was mind-blowing.

She then leaned forward and said, but the best part was the privilege to learn about customers and users upfront. Plus, I’m a great and fast learner she said.

A fair number of my customers are techies, and I don’t mean the false ones, I mean real programmers, with day jobs. I observed that they spend most of their time in front of a screen, meaning this form of entertainment that they fancied won’t come from a screen, which is why they visit (I was still hung on the fact that my fellow tech-bros/tech-sis knew about strip clubs and actually visited, here I was thinking we were all bound to our computers with no social life at all, I felt betrayed). 

She continued; As customers, they wanted to get away from anything that looked like work, and being that they are most often stuck on their computers working, they needed another form of interaction, and I would listen to them get excited about how the experience was better than “Django” or “Lamda”, or how “Python” cannot be this great or some would even tease that their “babies” referring to their computers were “hotter” than our services.

I was intrigued by what they were saying and I wanted to know more, after my shift, I would spend the day reading about those words, the tools, and the different languages, and I would get fascinated, I considered engineering at first, but my job was understanding my customers’ interest and how to give them services that met them where they needed it.

I was owed, my new student was already researching her way into building a product/service that helped engineers who actually spend their time building products for other people.

I learned about “Discipline, Knowing when to say No, and Understanding your customers/user base.

These lessons refreshed my mind with a completely new perspective. Lucy was my coach that day and it was bliss.

Lesson 2

Let me take you back a couple of years before this, one of the defining moments that started me off in my product career. A lesson I learned from – Let’s call her Susan (mostly because I can’t really remember her name)

I had started a company with a few friends and one of my co-founders ran one of the biggest and most successful nightclubs in the eastern part of my home country, Nigeria.

We were running campaigns across regions and some colleagues and I visited the nightclub to sponsor an event in a bid to promote our company and our products to some of the “big boys” who visited the club. As it is commonly said, some of the best businesses are closed over a drink. The sorry part is, I don’t drink, so, it was going to be a really long night, in fact, it was my first, and honestly my last time at a nightclub, so, for reference, it was completely new territory for me and I was far from my element.

My co-founder was aware of this, so he provided me with a tour guide, who knew all the people I needed to talk to and how to kick the conversations over drinks. It was my co-founders’ club after all and some of these big boys were his friends or at least, they were trying to be.

I had met a few interesting celebrities who were thrilled by the product and shared their cards with me so we could talk more, they were grateful even, drinks for the night were all on my company. Free drinks would get you cards.

After a while, my colleague was completely taken by the music and left me to my fate, our guide, noticing I was running low, came to me and said he had someone he wanted me to meet who may be interested in some of what we did.

Excited, I cheered up a bit and brightened my outlook to welcome this potential partner. 

From a distance, it seemed the person walking up to my table wasn’t wearing any clothes, and I must confess, I was bothered to the bone. But as she came closer, I at least noticed, that couldn’t be her skin, it was blue, there was no way I was meeting a blue person, so even though it seemed like skin, it was clothing and for that, I felt a bit relieved, thinking to myself “All these rich people do the most”.

My guide introduced us and left, I quickly went on to start some small talks and started talking about how our company and our technology were about to level the playing field in eCommerce.

She seemed interested and fascinated and I was happy to be really selling this until she drew closer and placed a finger over my lips and whispered – hush

Okay, a bit of a back story, I grew up really oblivious to a lot of real-life happenings, I literally grew up in a Church where women and men sat on two opposite ends of the church, in fact, if during prayers, you were to hold hands and the person next to you was of the opposite gender, you were not allowed to hold them firmly, else you were sinning with your hands. You had to be far older than that person to hold your hand tightly (which when I think about it, seems rather off the rails, but let’s leave that bit for now), and they must be lost in the spirit so no one reads the hand-holding wrongly.

Now, just picture that my entire adolescence life was in such a space, for me, a nightclub was already a far stretch, much more, an almost undressed lady in public, this was a new high, talk more of this almost undressed lady’s hands on my lips and staying that close to me? – Apostle must not hear of this!

I had never felt that uncomfortable in my life. I pulled back and summoned some courage to ask why I should stop talking and she said some of the most incredible things that shaped my product career. 

She said – If you have to talk about how good the product really is, and you have to do this much to sell, it, then you don’t really trust the product itself to do the job, else, you’ll talk less, and show more. She then went on to talk about pricing and how long we were to stay together and what that would cost me. 

It took me a good 5 minutes to realize she wasn’t talking about the product I was selling or my company. But the message was received.

As for how that story ended? I ran away! I kept thinking “she wanted to take my destiny”.

I remember smiling like a fool and disappearing into the night, shouting at my guide and asking my driver to take me back. I ran out of there on the first flight and haven’t gone back since. But that lesson? The part about product? It never left me.

A great product will sell itself, users come back to great experiences, not great sales pitches.

Susan had taught me the most important lesson without even knowing it.