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Travel Trendsetters: Packing Like A Product Manager with Cole Mercer


Travel Trendsetters: Packing Like A Product Manager with Cole Mercer
For the first edition of our Travel Trendsetters series, we chat to Product Management Consultant, Cole Mercer. As a freelance product manager and educator with more than 75,000 students worldwide, Cole knows a thing or two about technology, photography and traveling. Currently based in Austin, TX, his resume includes blue-chips and start-ups like Soundcloud, General Assembly, and Bonobos.

Cole’s consulting career began with appointments in his Babson College dorm room, but his rapid ascent in the niche field of product management soon meant that he found himself racking up the air miles. After stints in New York, Germany, Spain, and the Czech Republic, Cole has returned to where it all started – his home state of Texas – where he now creates course content for LinkedIn and Udemy. Cole may have come back to his native state, but that doesn’t mean that his travel schedule is any less frenetic. We asked him to give us a snapshot of what it’s like to teach students all around the world about product management.

What does a typical day look like for you at work?
“It all depends if I’m consulting or creating course content. Creating educational courses can be quite an involved process and substantially different depending on which platform I’m creating for. While my LinkedIn Learning courses simply involve scriptwriting, there’s no one to edit or review my Udemy content, nor is there someone to shoot me, so I take on the role of content creator. This means I’m much more involved in the overall production process, scouting production studios and different shooting locations. LinkedIn flies me out to their studio in California, but for Udemy I’ll generally travel to studio locations that I rent.”

Cole’s travel experience began as a student, where he studied abroad at Lund University in Sweden. He landed his first product management job with General Assembly in Manhattan, a role which had him travelling twice a week to teach product management at GA’s tech school. From there, he moved to Berlin to take up a post with Soundcloud, combining it with lecturing students in Prague and Kyiv. His latest move has brought him back to the Texas capital of Austin. He’s quick to note the contrast between European and American commuting, and how this affects his work and travel habits.

How does the city you live in shape the way you work?
“Unlike European cities, you can’t really get anywhere without a car in Austin. Traffic can be an issue, so I tend to work from home in the morning and then move to co-working spaces once the congestion has died down. Public transport in cities like Berlin and New York gives you the luxury of being able to accomplish so many tasks on the go, but now that I’m reliant on my car to get around, I try to maximize my productivity while I’m driving.”

You’ve worked in more big cities than your average person. Which has been your favourite?
“It’s no tropical island, but my favourite working destination has to be New York. Everyone else is grafting, which makes it great for networking and productivity. Apart from that, I love Barcelona for the great people, delicious food, stunning beaches and ease of getting around. I haven’t visited Asia yet, but I would love to go BASE jumping in South East Asia sometime.

Cole’s Travel Essentials
Apple iPad
Bose QuietComfort® 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® headphones
Google Fi phone plan
Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket
Anker PowerCore Lite 20000 Powerbank
3-in-1 USB-C/mini-USB/Lightning cable

What does your pre-departure routine look like?
“I keep my packing checklist as a template on my Todoist app for easy access. I always download podcasts, movies and sync all my important documents for offline access before I head abroad.”

We also picked Cole’s brains on what the field of travel and packing can learn from product management.

“Product management aims to focus on true user needs that aren’t always apparent if you just take every request for a feature at face value. If you ask questions well, you’ll find out that the end user’s needs can be solved more efficiently than you may have initially thought. Travel is similar in the sense that often you find yourself packing items that are, in many cases, expendable. It’s important to interrogate your needs. I find that one way to stay efficient while travelling is by investing in travel equipment that covers, say, 80% of your needs with 20% of the volume.”

Cole applies these same principles to his other passions, photography being a prime example.

“For travel photography, you’re generally better off finding one lens that covers a much wider focal range but sacrifices a bit in terms of aperture. A lot of people might think that they need a dedicated telephoto lens a specific wide-angle lens, and a prime lens, when in actual fact, you could spend a little more on a more versatile piece of glass.”

What’s the number one product, practice, tip, or hack that keeps you efficient on the go?
“I think it’s all about finding a productivity solution that works for you – whether that’s a piece of software or a physical notebook. I use Todoist to track all my tasks and maximize my productivity while I’m mobile. For example, I try to make all my calls and listen to podcasts while I’m driving. Keeping tasks tagged and labeled avoids wasting time that you could spend elsewhere. I’m also a big advocate for delegating tasks to virtual assistants or outsourcing certain tasks.

To keep up-to-date with Cole, follow him on Twitter or better yet, sign up for one of his courses on product management.





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