Describe your role and how you arrived at Takeoff.
As the Director of Product Strategy, it is my job to make sure that our product is unified by a broader vision and a roadmap. I support the product team in developing high quality products that are aligned with our company strategy and with our clients’ needs today, while anticipating where we think the industry is headed in the future. My team does that through strategic projects, deep-dive analyses that help guide product prioritization, and simulation and prototyping.
Before Takeoff, I worked in management consulting. It was a tremendous experience, but like a lot of consultants, I was eager to roll up my sleeves and do the work, rather than simply advise clients on what type of work to do. I really wanted to build something.
I started talking with the team at Takeoff because I saw that they were building a product strategy team at the time. I recognized that there was an opportunity to build and grow something here. I also recognized the opportunity to solve tough problems using data. I really love that piece of the puzzle — solving for our micro fulfillment solution as a company.
What sealed the deal was that over the course of the interview process, everyone who I met was kind, empathetic, down to earth, really curious, and engaged. It made me feel like I would be joining a team of energized people who were interested in new ideas, who had a lot to offer, who had a lot of experience, but were excited about taking us to the next frontier of this industry that we're defining. So it was a perfect match. I was really excited to get the opportunity and I still am excited to be working here at Takeoff!
What is the most exciting thing about your job?
Two things: one is the opportunity to run hard at really gnarly, ambiguous problems that take all sorts of different shapes. For example, how to improve a client's assortment over a 10 month trajectory? Or how to think about the impact of slotting on OSR throughput? These are really challenging problems that, on their face, seem really ambiguous. Those are the ones that I'm interested in. Oftentimes, you go in without really knowing what the problem is. You see some symptoms, and then you dive in with the team and get under the hood, look at the data, and it might turn out to be something completely unexpected. That deep end — those murky and confusing problems — that’s where my team and I really like to get involved.
The second thing that I find really exciting about the job is that you have the opportunity to work with everybody. I particularly love that I have the opportunity to talk to our clients. I met with one of our clients last week to talk about our product roadmap. I obviously love working with our product teams and engineering teams to synthesize and playback the feedback we hear. I think I would be lonely in a role where I didn't get all these chances to collaborate and connect with different people. I even work with the marketing team on blog posts. So the chance to dig into a bunch of different areas keeps the job really exciting and keeps me on my toes.
What does a typical ‘day in the life’ at your job look like for you?
At the risk of sounding like a total cliché, every day is different for us. We don't have one specific thing that we're driving at any given time, and our work is ever changing. One thing I try to do everyday is start with some personal goal-setting. I’m not a big fan of to-do lists. I do better when I can say, “Okay, here are the 2-3 things I would like to make progress on or address today.”
I'm really not a morning person, so I use the early mornings to knock out quick tasks that don't require a ton of brain power. After that, I always head into a daily stand up with the team to better understand what everyone's plan is for the day and whether there is anything I can help unblock.
From there, the day can take many different shapes. Over the course of the last week, I jumped into a conversation with our leadership team about how the strategic roadmap that the product team has built for 2022 can be translated to different audiences. From there, I jumped into a working session with the team. We're reviewing data from an on site experiment that we did last week; in that experiment, we shadowed an overnight shift at one of our micro fulfillment centers to understand the relationship between labor scheduling and throughput. It was a chance to deep dive into the data: what surprises us, what aligns with our hypotheses, where do we need to dig further?
I chat with prospective candidates for the product team. (Shameless plug here: We’re hiring! Check out our career website!) After that, I might have a conversation with our account teams and product managers on how to prioritize and productize some of the solutions that our operations team has built. We discuss how we can take those proof of concept or spreadsheet based tools and build a real product solution around them.
Around this time, it's late afternoon, early evening. That’s the right time for me to do deep thinking, independent work — it’s “headphones on” time. That's when I tend to have the most focus and that's the time I try to reserve for those types of exercises where I need to think about quarterly planning or developing a new perspective for an investor message, or something along those lines.
I would like to challenge the perception that you're supposed to be equally productive and focused throughout the entire day. It takes a lot for me to achieve that focus. Once I recognized that I don't have it in the morning, but I do have it between the hours of 4:00 - 7:00 p.m., it was liberating. If between 8:00 - 11:00 a.m., you need to focus on smaller tasks to chip away at, that doesn't mean you're being any less productive. Having that awareness has enabled me to think about how to make the most out of the time that I have, and how to structure the meetings and the conversations I have throughout the day.
Now that we working remotely more often, what is one piece of advice you would give to any recent college graduate entering the workforce?
Being remote can make it really hard to build the types of relationships that are much more accessible when you're in person. My recommendation is to try to make an effort to build those relationships. Back when I was in college, I got a lot of scary advice about “networking.” It wasn't very effective for me because I'm a bit of an introvert, so cold contacting 10 people for a coffee chat doesn't come naturally to me.
The concept of “networking” led to some disastrously awkward interactions in college, where we would go to these info sessions. We’re all lining up to talk to one speaker, nervously, all wanting to ask the same two questions. It wasn't a great experience for the speaker, I imagine, and it certainly wasn't a great experience for us.
I want to convey to college students who are entering the workforce that it doesn't have to be that way. When I started to actually build relationships at work, I realized we're all humans. Everyone likes to get to know their colleagues and it doesn't have to be a scary or intimidating thing. Networking is just another way to say “building relationships with people” — and you probably already know how to do that. It's just a matter of doing that in a new way. It can be with the people on your team, or you can start with one or two individuals. It can be with the people you work with every day. Talk to them and learn more about them as individuals. See what their job is like and what part of the business you can get more exposure to by learning from them.
Don't be afraid to initiate the contact, particularly at Takeoff. We have such a warm collaborative culture. I started remotely here and everybody who I “cold” contacted, since I didn’t know anyone at the time, said yes to a regular coffee chat with me. That's how I started to get to know people.
It goes both ways! It's not all on the new employee to figure it out. As teammates and managers, we should be attentive to new people joining the organization and try to reach out to them and say hello and offer yourself up for help for a coffee chat or whatever you can offer at the time.
What is some of the best advice you’ve ever received?
Some of the best advice that I ever received came from mentors while I was in grad school. When I was searching for jobs at that time, they advised me to think about two things that I still consider today.
One is to focus on learning opportunities as you think about career growth and development. The second is to focus on doing work that's important to you. Those pieces of advice resonated with me because it was more applicable than some of the advice I've gotten in the past, like, “Do what makes you happy” or “Find your passion.”
By focusing more on learning or working with a purpose, I know that I’m making a positive impact, even when something happens that doesn’t necessarily make me happy. With that, I’m able to grow and develop. That's how I think about making the most out of my job, both in terms of my career and in terms of the day to day. It makes it easier to get through some of the harder moments that I know we all face when solving tough problems.
What is your favorite “feature” or “perk” in the Takeoff office?
That's a tough one! There's a lot of great things about our office. I would have to say the espresso machine. There's a lot of things to love about the office, but having that giant professional grade espresso machine is really cool. A. I love coffee and B. It's a fun conversation starter with people in the office. In spite of being taught a couple of times how to use it, I'm still figuring it out. So it's a nice excuse to just get together with folks and get another tutorial or if someone is feeling generous, they’ll make me a little shot of espresso.
What are some of your favorite foods and what foods are worth traveling to try?
Talking about food is how I like to get to know people! My number one favorite food in the world is a South Indian dish. In my mother tongue of Kannada it is called saaru, but a lot of people know it as rasam in Tamil. It's a really spicy, tangy, lentil-based broth and you can make it in a bunch of different ways. My favorite is a tomato and tamarind based saaru, but you can also make it with pineapple, mango, or lemon. Everyone has their favorite recipe, especially within their own family. My mom's saaru is my favorite! The dish is great no matter how it’s served and I think it's absolutely worth traveling to South India to try or your nearest South Indian restaurant!
Takeoff has a global presence. What office or location are you based out of? How does that affect your perspective?
I'm based in the Boston area, and I am really grateful to be close to our Waltham office. It gives me the opportunity to have a physical workspace outside of my home and to gather with our colleagues in person, which is really fun, and in-person collaboration is really powerful.
It also gives me a greater awareness of just how many colleagues and clients we have outside of the Boston area. If anything, it's a source of motivation for me to continue to get to know our clients all over the world and our teams who work outside of the Boston area.
There's really no substitute for that chance to go on-site, see a micro fulfillment center and how it works with your own eyes. So I'm always thinking about my next opportunity to get on site and visit a new client. I've been lucky to have that chance multiple times over the last couple of years. I'm hoping that, as we continue to learn how to manage Covid, we’ll have more opportunities to connect with our colleagues, our clients, and to get on site!