May 21, 2019

Lead(H)er: Xiaodi Zhang, Chief Product Officer at 1stdibs

When you log in to your favorite online shopping site, you go on a journey that begins when you start browsing and ends when you checkout. If you’re shopping on 1stdibs, a marketplace for luxury goods, Xiaodi Zhang will be your tour guide.

Zhang, the company’s Chief Product Officer, oversees a product management team that works to create the best experience possible for both buyers and sellers. They’re the central point for UX development, spending plenty of time researching ways to make it easier for buyers and sellers to find and sell items they’re passionate about.

Zhang’s own journey began in Silicon Valley. She spent the first 10 years of her career learning product management at Capital One, NextCard, and Digital Insight. Then, she moved into buyer experience at eBay’s San Jose and Shanghai offices.

“I wanted to be a sponge and to learn as much as possible from those around me,” Zhang said. “I’m a big believer in the idea that you need to spend 10,000 hours on something to become an expert.”

Thanks to all the hours she spent in the Valley and beyond, Zhang was able to join 1stdibs early in the company’s development. The move gave her the chance to user her skills to make a transformative impact there.

Zhang always knew she’d be at 1stdibs for the long haul. The luxury goods industry is complex, with buyers and sellers requiring more information and support than those of a typical eCommerce business, and Zhang saw ample opportunity for innovation.

“Communication is central,” she said. “People on both sides have a lot more questions for each transaction than they would for other types of products.”

Traditionally, the luxury goods industry revolved around interactions with a core group of buyers and sellers, who could meet in person to discuss items’ value and negotiate deals. Now, 1stdibs is opening that group up to a global audience. Buyers can click “purchase” right away on something they love, but they also have the option of talking to the seller or negotiating prices rather than jumping straight to checkout. That level of communication wasn’t standard for online purchases before 1stdibs, so the company set out to create the tools needed to support it.

Logistics are another central issue. How do you ship an antique – and very expensive – table across the world without damaging it? Zhang and her team are working on the answer. They speak with buyers and sellers alike to understand their concerns and remove any obstacle that might make them apprehensive about participating in an online marketplace for high-dollar items.

“We’re continuously looking to expand and support different product types and buyers,” Zhang said. Her team is focusing on building and supporting infrastructures for furniture, art, and jewelry, which often require special care.

As the company scales to accommodate more buyers, sellers, and product types from around the world, Zhang has taken great care to keep 1stdibs’ foundation intact so as not to lose anything along the way.

“At a larger company, you have processes and a shared language that you can take for granted,” Zhang said. “At an early-stage startup, you’re creating that language for yourself because you need to build a foundation.

Zhang is proud of her role in creating that foundation at 1stdibs, and she intends to continue along this journey for the foreseeable future. She knew it would be a long one when she joined the company, and the many challenges she’s faced and solved along the way have made it her most exciting yet.

Quick Q(uestions) & A(dvice)

What do you do in your free time?

I really like being out in nature. Running, being in my yard, and going to parks all bring me a sense of relaxation.

How do you typically manage stress?

All of us face stressful situations, and when we do, I think it’s important to disconnect a little bit. Let yourself spend time away from whatever it is and come back refreshed, with a new perspective.

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

Too many! I used to feel bad about it, but there’s some research showing that coffee isn’t that bad. I’ve had two cups today already, and it’s noon. It helps keep me alert.

What’s one of your favorite places in the NYC area?

I would have to say Central Park. I used to live near it, and I’m still finding new places there. It’s such a gift to the city. I feel like there are several small parks within it, and it’s always changing.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments so far?

In terms of my career, it’s been amazing to help build this platform at such a great organization. I’m passionate about mentoring and developing teams, and ours has such diverse points of view. It’s an amazing team. On the personal side, I ran the NYC marathon recently, and that’s been one of the highlights of living in New York. It’s not something I ever thought of doing, but I had the patience to do the training and participate in that journey.

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, I was working for eBay in Shanghai. I was at a different life stage and job and environment. I didn’t think I’d necessarily end up in New York, but I did want to try being in a role with impact, where I could develop something new and use tech to disrupt an industry for the better. Where I ended up aligns with those goals.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

It’s important to know your strengths and find opportunities that bring those out. Your career and personal development are important, but remember your core and find a job that matches that. Have goals and give yourself a time horizon, too. It’s important to have goalposts and specific goals in mind to anchor you on this path. Have an idea of the milestones you want to hit to direct you because otherwise, it’s easy to get lost. Too many opportunities and no guidance about what to choose can be challenging.

Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.