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Meet the Herd: Product Manager Jaron Parnala

Jaron shares the story of his journey to product management and crypto, his engagement with the blockchain community, and how he stays calm and focused.

Meet the Herd: Product Manager Jaron Parnala
Photo by Jackie Ho

Oct 2 2020 By Bison Trails

Each profile in Bison Trails’ “Meet the Herd” series is the story of a member’s professional path: how they started their career and made their way to the world of blockchain.

Q: Hi Jaron! What’s the role of product at Bison Trails? What is your focus and what do you do?

Product Managers at Bison Trails are the business owners for their products and projects. We are the playmakers in the middle of the engineering, design, marketing, business development, and protocol operations teams. PMs own the full lifecycle of the projects and products they work on, from assessing the needs of customers to shipping the best possible solutions. To accomplish this goal, we must understand the blockchain ecosystem, the market, and most importantly, our customers.

Deep knowledge of our platform in conjunction with the specific mechanics of a protocol is required to provide secure and reliable blockchain infrastructure. Developing the necessary insight begins with a high-level understanding of the protocol and extends to the nitty gritty details of network dynamics and how that impacts our product offerings. Product Managers develop this knowledge and are the hubs for our cross-functional teams, piecing together different elements to build cohesive products that achieve the best outcomes for our customers.

My main focus is shipping and supporting products for a bunch of protocols including: Algorand, Libra, Celo, NuCypher, Keep, and Flow. I work closely with engineers and designers to ship products that fulfill customer needs. I work with business development to do customer discovery and collaborate on pricing. On any given day I could be planning out our work for the next sprint, writing product documentation to explain our offering, or developing a pricing model. Every day is different. This variety is one of the biggest reasons I love being a Product Manager.


Q: Tell us about your career path and your journey to blockchain.

As far as Product Manager career journeys go, my story is a pretty unusual one. I decided to study Kinesiology as an undergraduate with an intended goal of getting my Doctorate in Physical Therapy. I mostly chose this field because growing up in a Filipino household I knew that doing something in the medical field was secure.

I always loved sports, working out, learning about human mechanics, and assumed I’d love being a physical therapist. As it goes, it wasn’t until my senior year that I (finally) started shadowing and working with a physical therapist. I quickly realized that it was hard to imagine another three years of school and working as a physical therapist for the years to come. Here I am as a super senior, on the cusp of graduating, feeling confident the major I chose is not one in which I’d like to pursue a career.

Fortunately for me, I had been working since I was 15 and I racked up quite a bit of experience in sales, retail, and management. A coworker I looked up to recommended I get a job in sales after I graduated. He told me, “Learning how to sell will teach you invaluable skills that will help you in any career you choose.” I landed a job as an Account Executive for Yelp, spoke to thousands of small- to medium-sized businesses, and learned how to be a great listener.

I then joined a friend's Series A startup called OnMyBlock. My role was “Regional Manager,” and I was ultimately responsible for executing our market growth strategy for users in our Northern California region. I recruited, trained, led, and managed a team of 30+ campus founders throughout the state of California. Although we had funding and were speaking with many people, they were not using our product. Our company eventually started doing more user research to find out why users were not engaged. It was a little too late. The company had to pivot, but ultimately gave back the rest of our funding to our investors. It was at this moment that I decided I wanted to become a Product Manager. I wanted to solve customer needs, validate our assumptions, and deliver delightful outcomes to people.

After the completion of a Product Management bootcamp and a few pro bono freelance gigs, I landed my first Product Management job at Pivotal Labs: the alma mater for my product career. I learned the fundamentals of Agile, User-Centered Design, and Lean Startup methodologies during my time there. I consulted for a wide variety of different organizations—from startups to Fortune 25 companies—on how to quickly identify user pain points and deliver meaningful outcomes for users. I worked on products across many industries including automotive IoT, insurance, medical, consumer retail, financial services, aerospace, legal, infrastructure, and security. Having this broad experience in different industries taught me to dive into projects quickly without having much prior knowledge. The fun is in the learning. :)

I heard about Bitcoin back in 2012, but never took action. It wasn’t until early 2017 when I heard about this thing called Ethereum. ETH was skyrocketing in price and I asked my engineering friends what was up. I learned about the EVM and smart contracts and purchased my first ETH bag the next day. I stayed crypto-curious through the whole bull run and crash in 2018 until I spoke to Joe (our CEO) in May 2019. The rest is history.


Jaron Parnala
Jaron Parnala • Photo by Jackie Ho

Q: What was your first crypto “ah ha” moment?

For me it was two separate events that tied things together. The first was when learning about Ethereum in 2017 and buying my first ETH. The second was a sabbatical in 2018. I backpacked throughout Southeast Asia and taught User-Centered Design to a nonprofit organization called CARE to apply my professional knowledge towards social good causes. CARE had a design accelerator where they both worked on and funded different projects.

The project I worked with addressed the issue of limited access to financial and social capital for female migrant workers in Vietnam who make most of their money through selling food and goods on the streets. They send money back to their families as remittances. They often hold the money in envelopes or tin boxes, and give it to a third party who takes a long bus ride back to their home country. This third party then drops off the money to a local mail office where the family gets it.

Having grown up in the States, I was shocked this was really the only method of remittance in the area. Obviously crypto could solve this problem. Smartphones are more common in developing countries than people realize and many people were able to connect to Wi-Fi, even if they couldn’t afford a data plan. This is a huge opportunity for crypto to help.


Q: What protocol / project are you most excited about? Why?

I’m drawn to crypto projects that launch with real world applications, solving particular problems for real people. These projects typically focus on the user experience for particular use cases. The Flow blockchain is very intriguing. They created a novel multi-node architecture for scalability of a layer 1 blockchain. At the same time, they’re focused on the developer experience and the NFT (non-fungible token) space. Their partnerships with the NBA, UFC, and more are good examples of partnering with the right brands to achieve real world use of crypto. I also love watching basketball :)


Jaron Parnala

Q: What barriers do you see towards broader adoption of digital assets and blockchain technology?

The user experience for end users. Participating in many of these protocols is nuanced and very complicated. Even the simple use case of sending and receiving digital assets is too involved for the masses. Do I expect my auntie to understand what a cryptographic address is and how to use it? I do know that if this complexity was abstracted away, and the experience was easy, she would appreciate the ability to send money to family members 7,000 miles away at the speed of email.

There are challenges even for more tech-literate folks. Staking in many of these protocols requires you to know how to use your hardware wallet with a CLI. Missing a flag or part of a command yields ambiguous error messages. To achieve broader adoption, we have to make using crypto as easy as sending a text message.


Q: Any tips for working remotely with distributed teams?

Repeat yourself. I think the dramatic change to full-time remote work is how easy it is to get inside our own heads. This is one of the rare moments when everyone is impacted at some level. Clear, explicit, and repeated communication is key to getting everyone on the same page, especially during this time.


Q: How are you engaged with the blockchain community outside of work?

I recently started working with an organization called FASTER: Filipino Americans in STEAM. I first heard about the organization through an old colleague who is also Filipino American. Having only met a handful of other Filipinos in tech, I jumped at the opportunity to meet other Filipinos working in the industry at a meetup last year. I’m now part of a small group that will be hosting a Tech-In-Color blockchain workshop for high school students this fall. We’ll be going over what blockchain technology is, how it’s being used today, and potential use cases.

Outside of blockchain, I participated in a “tech for social good” hackathon in the past and consulted on product pro bono for nonprofits. I love being able to apply my professional experiences to personal causes that I believe in. I hope to do more!


Q: Anything you’d like to share about your other interests?

I love fitness and playing sports. Before COVID, my workout regimen was training in Olympic Weightlifting. This type of weightlifting is a sport that consists of two movements: the snatch and the clean and jerk.

The snatch is one fluid movement in which an athlete lifts a barbell from the ground to over their head in one go. The clean and jerk involves lifting a barbell from the ground to your shoulders and then “jerking” the barbell overhead in two movements combined together. The goal is to find the maximum weight you can lift with 3 attempts of each movement. I found an affinity for this sport because of the intricacies of fine tuning small movements that lead to the overall improvements of the larger lift. Weightlifting is definitely more nerdy than jocky, and I fully embrace it.

Aside from fitness, I consider meditation an equally important part of living a healthy life. I’ve done a Vipassana retreat in the past, a 10-day silent meditation retreat. I try to meditate twice a day and it helps keep me focused and calm in all the other parts of my life. With all that’s going on in the world, meditating is an even more important practice for me.

My partner and I love, love food! We normally do two or so international trips a year, prioritizing where we go based on how excited we are about the local cuisine. Maybe there’s a framework we can create for assessing this!? Anyway, you’ll most likely find me trying out new restaurants in Brooklyn and Manhattan on the weekends. I love all types of food and Japanese cuisine is a favorite.




Interview by Mark Forscher


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