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Design Leadership Interview with Tae Kim

May 14, 2020


Will DiMondi

[caption id="attachment_1612" align="alignnone" width="300"] Tae Kim UX Content Strategist at DoorDash[/caption]
Hey Tae, how’s it going?

It’s going well. How are you doing this Friday?

I’m well, glad we’re able to chat today. So what do you do at DoorDash?

I sit on the design team as a UX content strategist — and my role is to help partners build better products. Achieving this by thinking about their goals, specifically from the user experience standpoint, especially as it relates to the content. First, I partner with product and design peers to help understand and define the heuristics of the product we’re trying to create. It’s also understanding the potential impacts on the content side that these ideas are going to have. If a product is very complex and it’s going to require a lot of explanation in the form of things like tooltips, landing pages, and FAQs, I try to help identify those needs as early in the ideation process as possible. Second is copywriting, which is a secondary aspect of my job. That’s one distinction I try to make, which is that copywriting is only 10% of my responsibilities. Ultimately, my role is really to help build the product, and I think that’s a misconception that a lot of people have about my position. They think we’re just writers, but we’re ultimately product people.

Interesting. So from what I understand you previously used to run a business, right?

I did! I had a small business. It was a tiny little coffee bar in the Inner Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco.

And so how does how did that unfurl and lead you to becoming a content strategist?

That was kind of a departure from my initial career, which started in games journalism. I was an editor for a gaming magazine for a long time. I then moved into other roles around audience engagement. The desire to do a small business stemmed from needing a break from what I was doing at the time. My parents we’re also restaurateurs that had a series of restaurants in San Francisco and Oakland, so I just wanted to see that side of the family business.

And how it relates to my career as a content strategist is very interesting. Building user experience is essentially what small business owners do. We think of them as people who provide a service, but what they offer are experiences, right? They think about areas of the service layer, like what type of experience the customer is having when they come through the door and what kind of products they’re offering.

The content strategy role is very similar in that, again, we’re helping to build products from the user experience perspective. Thinking about what happens when a customer enters the product, what kind of experience and expectation do they have, what are we offering to them, and what kind of impressions are we leaving them with?

The best latte art Tae ever poured.
The best latte art Tae ever poured.
That’s a great perspective to have.

Also, running a business of my own also helped me better understand the needs of small business owners and how they think, and that sense of empathy helps me serve our merchants that use the DoorDash platform.

Absolutely, and that’s been hugely beneficial to my team and other folks that work under merchant. That said, what ultimately made you decide on Doorash?

The opportunity to work across the three-sided marketplace that we serve. There are fascinating and differentiated problems — whether you’re talking to a customer, one of our Dashers, or one of our merchants.

DoorDash’s mission is also something that enticed me as well. When I was in the interview phase, I thought a lot about my parents and how their business might have benefited from a service like DoorDash, and that made me excited to work on a platform that could have a positive impact on merchants.

That’s great to hear. With that in mind, what makes DoorDash unique from places you’ve previously worked or tech companies that are in a similar space?

First, I love the open and collaborative culture that we have. I think a lot of companies claim that everyone has a voice and a seat at the table, but DoorDash sincerely lives by that principle. Second, it’s the high caliber level of talent we have across the board. It’s been great for me to come in and have this top bar of excellence to shoot for, and to be surrounded by so many amazing partners that I can learn from.

I recently finished my first year at Doordash, I feel I’ve really had opportunities to improve my skillset and knowledge base, and how to operate as a successful individual contributor, which has been great.

Because you mention the collaborative nature of DoorDash, how do you think peers closest to you would describe your working style and their relationship to you?

I would hope that they would say that I’m a very collaborative and patient partner and note the genuine sense of curiosity that I bring to every project. I ask a lot of questions to help clarify what we’re trying to do, but also to gain the context that I need.

Lastly, I would also hope they say that I’m a firm advocate for the user, but that I also try to have a comprehensive perspective and help ensure that we’re meeting the business objectives as well.

I would agree with that statement! You’re also in a somewhat unique position in comparison to some other teams on the design side because you’re the sole content strategist on the team. How do you remain so diligent being an army of one?

It’s tough! I think one skill that I’ve rapidly developed is my ability to ‘context switch’ very rapidly. We always have a lot of projects going in the different parts of the three-sided marketplace, so the ability to seamlessly transition from thinking about one unique set of problems to another has been vital. Also, being smart about resourcing and bandwidth has been key. Shameless plug here, but this is one of the big reasons why we’re trying to hire for my team aggressively!

So given that, what type of person are you looking to hire to bring onto your team?

That’s an interesting problem we’re trying to solve. The term ‘content strategist’ applies to a lot of different roles and leads to confusion on the type of person we’re looking to hire.

For me, it’s a very product-focused role, so I’m looking for someone who understands product and has a good eye for how we can cater solutions to our users. Having a great design sensibility is useful as well because it ensures our team can evaluate a design approach and understand how some of the decisions made an impact on the user experience from a content perspective.

Excellent collaboration skills are also essential. This role entails a lot of discussions, strategy, and ultimately working with partners to take a lot of different inputs and then meld it together into an overall solution.

This person also needs to have the ability to articulate their position and why you’re advocating for certain things such as product specs or design changes. This is especially key because of the perception problem that I noted earlier about content strategists being viewed as writers.

Finally, just being a very qualified and creative content person is very necessary. At the end of the day, when we create words that appear in the product, you do need that creative streak to be able to find the right words and angles that are the best for the user and the business.

Really good to know. What is some advice that you would give potential candidates that are looking to apply for a content strategist role on your team?

Something I struggled with that I’ve been trying to be better about is having a great portfolio. Documenting your work and telling a comprehensive narrative about the problem you were trying to solve, your strategies, and the final results are key.

Also, ensuring that you understand how products are built and how they work to engage users. Your work shouldn’t just focus on the words but should show attention to the overall user experience as a whole.

That said, what type of culture would you like to instill amongst your newly founded team?

Well, I’m fortunate enough to have a great blueprint to follow. Helena, who leads our Design team, is building the exact culture that I would try to foster — one that’s very open, collaborative, supportive, and empathetic.

I also really appreciate that we’re very flat org, and we’re not title obsessed. No one thinks about seniority or deferring to other people just because they might have been here longer or their level is higher. Everyone is treated as an equal, and that’s key for me as well.

Glad to see how you’ll distill this to the team, but enough about DoorDash. Tell me a little bit about what you like to do on the personal side. You’re into ice hockey and video games, right?

Yeah, hockey is a tremendous passion of mine. I particularly enjoy it because as you get older, your life tends to revolve around things that you’re good at, like your career and interpersonal relationships with your family. So finding opportunities to improve at something becomes more difficult. I’m also a diehard fan of the San Jose Sharks, so it was a natural extension of my fandom.

Video games are also another passion of mine because of my previous experience in the games industry. They offer some amazing narratives and they’re just fun to play.

Interesting. So random question, which I think you’ll be the only one that could ever answer this. What has a faster momentum, a game of ice hockey, or a day working at DoorDash?

*laughing* You know, what’s funny is they’re very related in this weird way. Both require you to think about so many different factors on the fly and juggle many things. DoorDash usually has tight timelines, so you have to move very smartly and quickly, and hockey is the same. You have to think about your skating, your stick, the puck, and what everyone else is doing on the ice, and what you’ll be doing three moves from now.

I think of the two, I’m much better at my job, but that’s only because I’m terrible at hockey right now. But they’re also very rewarding in their unique way.

That’s an intriguing way to put it! Also, what’s your favorite food, and why?

The obvious answer I’m going to give you is anything my mom makes for me. She ran restaurants for 30-plus years and I’m still fortunate enough to live close to her so I can go over and get a great home-cooked meal every so often. Her kimchi is one of my favorite things in the world by far.

In terms of going out, I would say a burrito is the platonic ideal of the perfect food. It’s this self-contained thing that has everything you could ask for in one convenient package.

So, this might be a little bit of a controversial topic, especially in San Francisco, but who makes the best burrito here?

My favorite place to go to for burritos is Taqueria Cancun in the Mission District.

Good call, even though I’m a fan of Farolito :) Alright, one last question. What is something that someone would learn about you as they get to know you, but wouldn’t necessarily know from meeting you at first?

Oh dang, that’s a great question. I’m a pretty open book, and I don’t hold anything back. I genuinely try and be the same person on day one as day 100, so I don’t have a lot of secrets.

Well, I would argue that, as one of your design counterparts, it is that you’re way more knowledgeable of UX than most content strategists.

So, all that credit is due to the design partners who’ve taught me everything I know about UX. Working with very talented designers at companies like DoorDash and Groupon, I get an excellent education in design principles that most people would pay tens of thousands of dollars for.

What a great way to end this interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, I’m hiring! So if you are a content person who understands product, and you want to help build something amazing and work with some talented people, apply through this link!

For those readers who are interested in joining Tae’s awesome content team, please check out this link:

Content Strategist

To learn more about other design leaders at DoorDash:

Radhika Bhalla — Head of UX Research Will DiMondi — Manager for Merchant Design

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