Oct. 12, 2022

Neurodiversity and Mental Health at Work with Gavin Wade

Mental health follows you throughout your life. In this episode of Product Chats, Gavin Wade, VP Product at Unmind, opens up about his mental health journey. He talks honestly and openly about dyslexia, his childhood, and how all that brought him to product management at a startup.



Time Stamped Show Notes

Getting into product [00:43]

Building products in small teams vs big teams [04:26]

Neurodiversity [05:21]

Supporting your teams’ superpowers [11:15]*

Developing career growth plans [14:50]

Mental health and product [19:05]

Advice for aspiring product leaders [23:32]



Product Chats is brought to you by Canny. Over 1,000 teams trust Canny to help them build better products. Capture, organize, and analyze product feedback in one place to inform your product decisions.

Get your free Canny account today.



Stay Connected!





Kayla: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to Product Chats. On today's episode, I talk with Gavin Wade, who is the VP of Product at Unmind and we talk about his neurodiversity journey and also mental health at work. So, hope you enjoy the show and don't forget to leave us a review.

Kayla: Hey Gavin, thanks so much for coming on today. 

Gavin: Kayla, thanks for having me. 

Kayla: Awesome. Well, in a minute or less, can you tell us about yourself? 

Gavin: My name's Gavin Wade. I'm VP of Product, at Unmind in the UK. I've been here almost a year. Prior to that, I spent seven years with OVO Energy growing it from a disruptor energy company to the largest energy provider in the UK.

Kayla: So tell us a bit more, I know you've been, you talked about your most recent, like eight years, right? Tell us how you got into product and

what that looked like before that. 

Gavin: Yeah. Wow. So I've been working with kind of tech and product teams for like over 20 [00:01:00] years now. And the first company I joined there was only like only 80 people there.

And they weren't really cool startups back then, they were just like small companies that were trying to make it work. And I started working really quickly with the tech team there. We wanted to build out our own product Back then everyone was outsourcing and we went out to kind of India, Bangalore and Chennai. I quickly realized that's not how you build great ,tech by offshoring it per se.

And so we built up our own in-house tech team. And I was really lucky actually. We got a couple in called Mary and Tom Poppendieck, and they wrote lean software development around 20 years ago. Like, it's like the book to read back then on how you do lean development. And they came and worked with us for a few weeks and that really shaped my thinking.

Bear in mind. This is 20 years ago about how you build great products with technology. And we were putting developers with analysts, people in business into cross functional teams. And we were using like function points. It was like a very early version of story points. We went on this amazing journey as a business and [00:02:00] that grew from like 80 people to 3000 people.

We floated on the FTSE 250 here in the UK and it's just like a wild journey. And I absolutely kind of fell in love with building technology products. And then I wanted to go see how everyone else done it. Cause this is all I had known and I worked for an insurance company and then a facilities management company. And realized that's not how everyone else builds tech. And most people are still very much waterfall and given, you know, a big ream of requirements just over the fence. And then I heard about this little company in Bristol, in the UK, that were trying to disrupt the energy industry by giving great customer service and solving customer problems through technology.

And I joined there. And that was eight years ago, as I said, and there was only like two product teams there. And in that time we really invested in tech and product, really understanding our users and what problems they needed solving. And we grew from 2 product teams to 45 product teams across London, Bristol, Edinburgh, and [00:03:00] Lisbon. 

We became the third largest energy supplier in the UK, which is a big deal, cause they've been dominated by the big six suppliers for so many years. And we launched the B2B2C smart energy platform like globally, and it's licensed in Australia by the biggest provider over there. So its really kind of amazing journey, awesome mission to kind decarbonize the world as well.

And then as whilst I was there, I heard about this little company that was trying to kind of solve this really big problem around mental health in the world and how it's perceived. And by this time OVO had grown to like, we were at 8,000 people. 

So when I joined as at a couple hundred, and we grew to 8,000 so it's a completely different business. this company I heard about, around mental health is Unmind. And I spoke to the Founder, Ned. He had worked in the NHS for six years as a clinical psychologist and he wanted to help people, put the tools into people's handsso that they could help themselves around their mental health. And he wanted someone to help grow their tech and product team in a way that could put that into people's hands so they could help themselves proactively.

[00:04:00] And I agreed to join, and that was almost a year ago. We tripled the size of the product team already, and it's been an awesome journey that I've loved. I just love. I definitely my passion and my energy for product is in that kind of rapid scale up situation. 


So with that, I wanna kind of actually hop into, it seems like you've been at a lot of companies where they're small teams and they scale right from a few to like 40, from few hundred to thousands of employees.

So how does it differ when you build out a product when you're a small team versus a big team? Like, what are those differences?

Gavin: I think the main challenge is maintaining that agility as a business. Like when there is only one or two teams, there's hardly any dependencies between those teams, they've got a really well, or they have quite a broad area to focus on. But as you grow, it's hard to minimize the number dependencies, but it's something we like try to do as much as possible.

I think the challenge there is minimizing those dependencies. So [00:05:00] teams can act in actually independently of each other, but also helping them understand how they contribute towards the like mission and, and giving them that connection that runs all of the way up there is, the main challenge is making sure that purpose is really clear to them, but they have that autonomy to solve problems themselves.

Kayla: And I think you bring up a great point, right? Always like kind of tying it back to company goals, making sure people feel a purpose. And so I wanna kind of actually pivot to something that is very near and dear to you. So let's talk kind of about your neurodiversity journey. 

Gavin: Cool. Yeah, this is obviously the, I mean, at Unmind we have to talk about like mental health is something that you have all of your life. People think of mental health as something you just have when you're perhaps suffering from stress or anxiety, but we're, but we have mental health from the day we're born to the day we die. And for me, my same with my neurodiversity, that's something I've had, since I was born and I have today, and it's a journey I've been on. 

And it's been a really interesting [00:06:00] journey for me.

So school for me was like super tough. And I'm dyslexic by the way. So back then, I wasn't really recognized as that. I was just though of as someone who didn't really listen very well in class, or who didn't do very well in school. And it was junior school that I actually had to do a special test. They wondered if I should stay in mainstream school or if I should go to a special school for people with learning difficulties.

I passed that test and went on to senior school. And, but it was still super tough. I just didn't enjoy school at all. Definitely. guess, the saddest times in my life were there. So it was so tough because I just didn't learn in the same way or think about things in the same way as people, and didn't understand it in that way.

And it wasn't until I left school that I started to meet people who kind of accepted me I kind of understood this normalized education system. And when I went to work in the startup that I mentioned originally, you know, where there's like 80 people there.

The great thing about the startup for me is you just gravitate towards what, like where your skills are. And I found my skills in my [00:07:00] neurodiversity. What I didn't realize at the time is it helped me look at problems in different ways. It helped me relate to the engineering team, understand business problems, and I could make these connections for these people around the work that they were doing and the impact it would have in the business.

And then it was during this time that I really did realize I just seen the world in a slightly different way. And it wasn't a worse way. In fact, it was possibly a superpower. I was starting to realize, cause I didn't see things the same way as everyone else. And I learned to lean into it and embrace this thing about myself that I had been, I guess, for the best part of two decades was a bad and negative thing and started to realize that it was actually a strength and something I should run with.

And the more I embraced my neurodiversity, the more, not only successful, but happier that I became as a person in life. And it's only, I realized in the past four years, that I felt comfortable even talking about it. 

So I'm well into my forties now. And it wasn't until I reached my forties that [00:08:00] I felt able to even start talking about it. I kind of realized it, but I still felt uncomfortable saying "I'm dyslexic" and I struggle with these different aspects of work.

And then I just put out there a few years ago and I had such amazing supportive feedback from people. It just encouraged me to go like further with it. So you can read my blog on Medium, where I kinda, I've written about my journey there.

And the really beautiful part of it for me as well, is when you realize it kind of helps other people.

And especially when you're fortunate enough to be in a position that I made you realize that actually that can be inspiring and helpful to others. And then they wanna talk to you about their journey. And the more you can be your authentic self at work and bring your whole self to work. The more you just enjoy what you're doing and the more you enjoy, what you're, the more positive energy you'll put into it.

And just the greater life will be on the whole I believe. 

Kayla: So I wanna like lean into that. Right. I think that's something that's so important as a leader is to be transparent, right. You're saying, Hey, I'm dyslexic and also potentially in [00:09:00] hiring, right. It allows you to have more of an open mind about who you hire, because you're not saying people need to be this certain way.

Like I know dyslexia is looking looked as like a disability, but you're looking at it now as like a superpower and 

kind of like. 

Kayla: flipping the script and, Hey, this is actually a superpower and we need this diversity.

Gavin: A hundred percent. Oh, I mean, it wouldn't be the number of times I've been asked why I don't have a degree.

And then I have to kind of explain the journey I've been on. And. But now I'm able to come from a position myself, say when I'm hiring, I'm not looking for someone to tick that box, or they've got that higher educational degree. I'm kind of looking at the the skills and attributes and energy that they're bringing to the role.

And I feel that's helped me always recruit like really interesting, powerful, diverse individuals into my team.

And with any product, it will be better the more diverse your team is that you bring to it. Cause then it just represents your audience so much better. 

So again, it's, it [00:10:00] is almost this, another tick in the superpower box by me having that awareness I've then been able to recruit stronger teams around me that help me build better product.

Kayla: I think that also goes into skillset, right? Like you mentioned, you don't need to have this checkbox of a degree. It's rather, okay, well, I see your skillset and I see your experience. And so maybe there's other companies that have passed on candidates cuz they say, oh, well you don't have a degree from a university.

Right. But you're able to kind of see this bigger picture of, okay, I see you've had experience and you have skills. And instead of, you have to have a degree. It's, let's actually look at what you've done, because I have this understanding that it's not about taking a test, always. It's about like the experience that you've gained through your experience and life.

Gavin: A hundred percent. And it lies through a much more kind of open conversation. You're not going through this. As you said, this tickbox exercise, look at their kind of CV. It's understanding them and their values and what they bring to the table and how they've used their own superpowers, whatever they might [00:11:00] be to, build better products.

And. That's what I'm looking for in people when they join my team.

Kayla: So on the subject of superpower, right? Like it's important as a leader to kind of make sure you acknowledge your team's superpower and make sure you help them. If they don't see it right. Understand what their superpowers are. How do you 

kind of like 

Kayla: support your team in doing that and really support them in like growing and being able to be open with you?

Gavin: Yeah, I think that's such a great question. Years ago, when you would ever, I mean, if you're lucky enough to have a personal development conversation with your manager, it would always focus on your weaknesses. You know, they'd always say like, you know, what's your areas of development? Like what's your weaknesses?

The first conversation that I'll always have with people is where is it you wanna be in 5, 10 years from now, and I'm not talking about in the company you work for. I wanna help you be your best self. I wanna make you so amazing that we have to fight to keep you, but the reason you stay is cause you love how much you put into your personal development.

Once you understand where they wanna be, like what their fullest self, what their true superpower is of where they [00:12:00] wanna be. Then we talk about their strengths because there's a reason why things are your weaknesses, yeah. It's probably because you don't enjoy them. And you can work on your weaknesses for years, but you'll move them this much.

But if you focus on what your strengths are, then that's what you can turn into a superpower. Hundred percent. 

So we talk about like, what did you really enjoy doing? What is it you're really successful at doing with teams?

Okay, cool. And how can we ratchet that up? And I promise you as a leader, you'll have much more fruitful conversations with your team.

Like they'll actually look forward to having a personal development conversation because it's about their strengths and it's about how they can take that to the next level. Because just by working on everyone's weaknesses, you're kind of all just bringing up to a like real level playing field. Actually we wanna embrace the diversity of everyone and all their powers we want.

We want a team of diverse individuals that bring their whole selves to work. And you can only do that by work on people's strengths of them, not their weakness. So that's my approach there. 

Kayla: And I think off of that, right? Like I talk, a lot of guests I talk to on the podcast, it's really about [00:13:00] hiring for strengths and that's one thing that's so important as a leader is to be able to see, okay, this person has a weakness, but what do they actually bring to the team?

And maybe like, we're all allowed to have weaknesses, but someone has this strength and someone else has this strength and it makes the larger picture. So you're as a leader, one of the most important skills I think is, be able to see like the sum, right? What do all these pieces add and how can I lean into their strengths?

And also the second pieces, right?

Like of, hey, where do you wanna go and understanding their why? Right. Of like, hey, I want to get here. This is why I'm doing this. And fully understanding your employees rather than, hey, you're not, here's your weakness and let's work on this weakness. It's, let's actually really lean in to your strengths. 

Gavin: a hundred percent.

I've got a new product director joining soon and we had a really open conversation around where they wanna get to next, like beyond Unmind. it was really fascinating. I was like, I think I can help you get there and be much better at it, and this is why. This is what you can [00:14:00] do at Unmind to get there.

Felt such an energizing conversation to have, even before they joined about how we're gonna help them achieve their kind of like career goals that are even beyond this big, next big step for them into Unmind. It just makes it more human. It's not about the company then, it's about them and what we can do for them and where we can take them.

Kayla: So with that, right. People have said, hey, I want to be this manager. Or I wanna be this role. Some people probably wanna be a product manager forever. Right. But how do you kind of support your team? Right? You've had these conversations. That's the first step of support is like understanding where someone wants to go.

But what steps do you actually set in place to make sure that you're helping get them where they wanna go? 

Gavin: as part of the personal development, when we have that view of where they wanna get to it's like, what's that next target state that you wanna get to? So, like, what's that next big change and where are you now?

And once you understand their kind of as is state and their to be state, we talk about what actions they're gonna do to move that dial. And it, and [00:15:00] when I talk about the dial, I think it's really important that you're able to measure that personal development some way. So it's only over time when you can look back and realize how far you've come.

And to give you an example there, a previous member of my team was new into management and I said, OK, cool.

How is it you wanna feel in 12 months from now and he said, I just wanna be really confident. I wanna feel confident as a line manager cause at the moment I don't. I'm new to this, and I'm worried I'll do bad one to ones or development conversations.

Or I won't do strategy in the right way. I was like, cool so you want to feel confident. Out of 10, how do you wanna feel in confidence as a line manager in 12 months? And they're like, I'd love it if I felt an 8 or a 9.

Okay, cool. That's our target. Again, how do you feel at the moment? I feel about a 2 or a 4 on my confidence level. Awesome. What is it you're gonna do in the next month that we think is gonna increase that? And we measure it, like we take this product mindset to their development. So they'll say, cool, I'm gonna plan out my 1 to 1 in advance and I'm gonna use this personal development template for my team.

Cool. And they'll do these actions [00:16:00] and then the next month when have the development conversation, like, how did that go? Any reflections? What's your confidence level at now? 

And they'll say actually it's a 4 or 5 now. Cool. Let's do more of these actions. Or sometimes they didn't feel any more confident and we track some different stuff. There's that constant building upon it and using that kind of qualitative data to reflect, are we moving the needle on this and feeling that progression in themselves in that role.

So I simply apply it like that product approach to your own personal development. I think can have massive value. 

Kayla: So off of that, right? Like, I think it's so important, listening to that number, right. Because not everyone's at 10, there's some people where their goal is a 7 right? And so it's important to listen to, rather than on the scale.

It's what is your scale, right? Where are you at? Where do you wanna like get to, and I think that also is like that parallel with product of like, what do customers, what's their challenge and where do they wanna get to? Right. And it's listening to your customers and having that parallel. 

Gavin: Yeah. Yeah. A hundred percent.

Like [00:17:00] most people never say a 10, you're right. They say a 7 or 8. And even sometimes during that journey, they might get to a 6 or a 7 and they'll be like, actually, there's this bigger thing. I've learned something new that's part of what I'm doing at the moment or my learning. Like actually I'm comfortable where that is.

Like, there's a much bigger problem with how I build strategy at the moment or how I think about development of people. I wanna refocus on that. And that's totally the right thing to do to pivot as well. Again, there's that product analogy as you learn, and the conditions change around you and you understand more about yourself or your personal product, who you are, then you should rightly pivot and focus on that next biggest opportunity.

And that's where the number system really helps as well. Not only are you tracking progress, but you're able to kinda evaluate its time to move in a different direction. 

Kayla: And I think you bring up such a great point as reevaluating, right? Like where are we at? I think that's a parallel, another parallel with product, right? Like you can build out a great product, but if the market has changed, which most likely it has at some point, right. You have to keep doing those user interviews, which is similar to like [00:18:00] sitting down with your team and saying, hey, where are you at?

Cuz at like, it can change any day in someone like you mentioned. Hey, you know what? Now I wanna be at a 9. I'm at a 7, but actually there's this piece. So I think it's just checking in and having that like conversation about, hey, where are we at now? And where do you wanna get? And continually having those conversations, because otherwise you just get stagnant.

Gavin: A hundred percent and these personal development conversations have to happen regularly.

Like there has to be this regular, at least I would say monthly cadence. It's not a biannual or an annual conversation. Like we're learning every day and we should bring all that data back to that conversation and just keep moving it forward. 

Kayla: So I wanna pivot, because I know Unmind is all about mental health.

Let's talk a little bit about mental health and product. 

Gavin: Cool. This is, this is obviously a subject that's kind of dear to my heart, working in startups for much of my career. It's super challenging. Yeah. Like the speed you move at [00:19:00] is unrelenting and can take its toll on you. And often when I recruit people, one of the, I'm really upfront with them, I say, so you're obviously aware you're joining a startup.

The pace is quick. We can pivot quickly. Everything's moving around you. Are you comfortable in that situation? And that's even the same with Unmind, yeah. Like we are a mental health company and we practice what we preach, but it moves quickly and you've gotta be comfortable with that startup situation.

And I'm always super clear with people about that because it can definitely take its toll. I've definitely learned some personal kind of techniques that work for me about how I kind of maintain my mental health. Like working in startups. And obviously I've learned a lot more being at Unmind. And I, at often get asked advice and my first piece of advice is to understand who you are because everyone is unique and everyone's in a different situation.

And you've gotta find what works for you. If anyone says, oh, you should meditate. That doesn't work for everyone. In fact, meditation can even be really unhelpful for particular people that have problems if they're too introspective about these problems. And so you've got to [00:20:00] find those right things for you that really work.

 like we very much talk about whole person approach, which means it is more, than meditation. It could be, exercise is amazing thing for most people. It could be a combination of things. So personally, I do like to meditate every day. I journal every day. I exercise most days. I try to get as much sleep as I can.

I try to get outside and in the fresh air. And I know having some social circles is really valuable and I need to maintain all of those. And I know when I don't, because I see, I feel triggers in my mood. I don't feel as energized or content in situations and it's, and I, when I reflect on that, which is the important thing for the journey.

And I realize it's because I'm not doing my exercises as much or have not been socializing or been outside and got fresh air. And especially with the working from home. Not getting that natural sunlight and air can really bring you down. And so it's understanding you, what works really well for you, and having those signals or triggers in place when you [00:21:00] do feel less well, and that you're able to, react to it and learn from it.

And like I said earlier, your mental health is something you have every day of your life. And everyone cleans their teeth every day, hopefully twice a day. If you ask anyone though, what's more important, your mental health or your teeth? Everyone's gonna say like, like my mental health is like super important.

We should all spend a few minutes every day. Even just a few minutes looking after our mental health, it's not something that you should look after when you're feeling down. You should do it proactively all of the time. And you'll live such 


Gavin: a happier, more energized life because of that. Would be my advice.

Kayla: I think you bring up a really great point right. Of prioritizing yourself first because you can't be the best leader if you're not prioritizing yourself, and saying, hey, here's what I need. Right? Like if you are allowing your team to book time on your calendar, at all hours of the day.

How can you actually prioritize yourself? And I think that's something that's so important is just making sure, what do I need? Is my cup full? Cool. Once my cup is full, I can make sure that my team is [00:22:00] better. And I show up as a better person. 

Gavin: That's such an amazing point there. And I totally agree. And it's definitely a mistake.

I, I made for many years, actually. I really bought into a certain leadership style, but I thought that meant being there for my team a hundred percent of the time. And I would say, never look at my calendar, just ping me a message in Slack and I'll make time for you immediately. And I wasn't looking after myself first.

I realized after a couple of years, that you're exactly right. You cannot be your best self and you almost have to be selfish and look after yourself first before you can really look after anyone else properly. And you're also not demonstrating great behaviors as well. And I've learned as you've rightly said that you have to look after yourself first and you can be the best person you can possibly be for everyone around you then.

And that's why it's important to find those things that allow you to operate at your at your peak capacity. 

Kayla: And then, so I think it's like, that's a piece of advice, right? Hey, make sure you put yourself first so that you can show up for your team, but if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring product leader, [00:23:00] what would that be?

Gavin: Keep cool. You are your product. So whenever anyone asks me, well, Hey guys, tell me about your product. They think we're gonna talk about Unmind The best thing I can do for Unmind is treat my team like my product and enable them to be the best that they can be. I put all of my energy into them, and I know that if I do that, then they will build an amazing product for our users.

And that does tie in with what you were just talking about. I have to look after myself at the same time, but they are your product. So you should look for ways that you can develop and grow them and allow them to be their best selves at work, and if you do that, everything else just comes off the back of it. 

Kayla: So with that as a leader, what roles are you hiring for at Unmind ?

Gavin: Cool. We are still growing. We still got this amazing mission to enable everyone in the world to kind of flourish in their mental health. So we're looking for designers, product managers, data people, engineers. I've also got a science team as well. So we need clinical psychologist and positive psychologists.

Wellness experts, [00:24:00] got the content team as well. So if you love building world class content, come and join us. We've opened our own UK studio this year and hopefully more studios around the globe going forward. 

Kayla: And then where can people find you? 

Gavin: So as part of my mental journey, I've learned not to be on Twitter or Facebook or most social media, but I am on LinkedIn a lot.

So please reach out and contact me on that. 

Kayla: And what about, do you have a Medium where people can read, right? 

Gavin: Yeah, definitely. Check out Medium. Just search for Gavin Wade. And you'll find me on there and I've got my neurodiversity journey, my product journey, and yeah, come and say hello. 

Kayla: Awesome. Well, thanks for coming on today.

Gavin: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it. 

Kayla: Thanks again to Gavin for joining us on today's episode of Product Chats If you want more product management resources head over to canny.io/blog and we will see you next time