Nancy is an experienced enterprise software product manager and VC, currently leading core product lines and a stealth product line (to be launched 2019) at Rubrik. She continues to engage herself in the tech VC landscape in her role as the chief product advisor for Buttonwood, a software-focused platform for elite startups raising capital. At Google, Nancy led the development of products for the Google Fiber network infrastructure team. She is a passionate advocate for diversity and is an avid supporter of women empowerment in STEM through founding Advancing Women in Product, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing equal opportunities in tech for men and women. Nancy graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, where she was a Trustee Scholar and Benjamin Franklin Honor Scholar.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Advancing Women in Product (AWIP) represents a coming together of my professional network and personal passions. Too often, we hear abysmal metrics of how men in tech outnumber women 9:1 and the small percentage of women climbing the technical ladder. As someone who was the first and only woman on her product team at Google and now at Rubrik, an enterprise-focused startup, I saw an opportunity to make a change in the industry. I created AWIP to serve as a community that empowers female product and tech leaders to develop the right skill sets and receive mentorship. To help members improve their skills, we hold monthly events that are centered around a specific skill, such as product analytics, product roadmapping, engineering sprints, or consumer product virality. We set up our mentorship program to not only empower women in the workplace, but also pair them with an experienced guide to help them advance in their career. I’m proud to say that since I founded AWIP in 2016, the organization run by a volunteer team of 40, has more than 3,000 members globally. AWIP has helped more than 50 members land jobs and over 500 successfully receive mentorship through our programming. With chapters in Seattle, Paris and Berlin launching by the end of 2018, not a day goes by that I am not amazed at what we are achieving and the impact it is having for female tech leaders.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My full-time job is leading a cloud SaaS product at Rubrik. On a typical day, I meet with customers to gather product requirements, speak with engineers about product development milestones and work with the finance and marketing teams to ensure what our team is delivering to customers aligns with the strategic vision of the company. One of the reason I love being a Product Manager is because everyday is different and it keeps me on my toes. Outside of my full-time job I run AWIP, which has show me countless times the positive change it’s having on members of our community. When I get asked by folks, “how do you run it all,” I usually say I’m fueled by three things: my supportive family, my supportive work environment, and my personal passion. I would not have been able to found AWIP without my family, who encouraged me every step of the way. It took a village to create AWIP and I got help from my sister, who built the original website, my boyfriend, the unsung camera man/AV hero for events, and one of my best friends, Roshni Uppala, turned Chief Operating Officer of AWIP. That brings me to my second point, I realized early on the importance of working with leaders who value the work I am doing. In the case of AWIP, both the senior vice president of product and the CEO at Rubrik continually encourage me to keep building the AWIP community. Our SVP of Product, Shay Mowlem, even recently sat on our panel on Scaling B2B SaaS Products, which also marked our South Bay chapter launch! I am also fueled by my passion, which has taught me that no matter how hard or how many rejections you get, there’s always a way to make it to your destination. I still remember the feeling when the first few startups AWIP contacted were not receptive at all. I’m proud of the team for being able to power through and make AWIP what it is today. So perseverance definitely pays off!
How do you bring ideas to life?
I believe it’s all about finding your passion and using it to motivate you. If you’re passionate about something, you will try any and all ways to get it going. Conventionally, I would also advise founders to validate their product-market fit or conduct extensive user research to determine if their product is actually needed by society. However, if you are passionate about solving a specific problem and have first-hand experience with the issue, then the best route is going for it and not giving up when the going gets hard.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am fascinated by automation, specifically AI and ML. I personally believe that when manual aspects of a process are taken out, individuals or product manager can focus on higher-order deliverables and in turn, create better products. That’s why I’m happy to see that AI is starting to penetrate even the most incumbent of industries, such as oil refineries and industrial machining. The more AI starts to improve manual, repetitive tasks, the more time we will have to focus on creativity and innovation.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
When I was younger, my teachers and parents thought that my penchant for multi-tasking was a detractor from my abilities. I agreed with them until I learned how to leverage my multi-tasking. With AWIP growing at 200 percent month over month and Rubrik growing to a point before IPO, the ability to switch between projects gives me the break break I need to stay focused and engaged during the day. For example, on any given day I’m speaking to more than 10 AWIP partners and have at least three deliverables I need to finish for work. When I get tired or stuck on something, I simply switch between projects, which helps me stay sharp and on top of everything I need to do.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Definitely be less self-conscious. I remember so many ideas or thoughts I would suppress along the way because I wasn’t sure if others would receive them in a positive way. Looking back, voicing my ideas could have opened doors to many different opportunities. This is why I remind myself to try things that I have never done before. If you don’t try, it’s a no for sure. If you give it a go, you never know what the result will be. Afterall, the worst someone could say is no, then you just move on.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
No one can have it all. I’ve seen so many friends, family members and mentors struggle with trying to maintain the perfect balance in life. Of course, it helps to have a supportive partner and family. The reality is that, with only 24 hours in a day, you excel at whatever you spend the most time on and put the most effort toward.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Get actionable feedback! No one is perfect or safe from criticism, and the sooner you realize that, the faster you can grow personally and professionally. I am a strong proponent in getting a 360-degree feedback.Talk to superiors, peers, and those you mentor or manage to garner feedback that will help you improve to reach professional and personal success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I viewed AWIP like a product. I conducted my own research to determine wheather AWIP was a ‘product-market fit’. I validated the concept, first with myself and then with other technical women, who were facing similar issues in their careers. AWIP continues to gather feedback at every event to ensure we ‘product-market fit’ and find new ways to become even more relevant for all technical women.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
There was a period of time when AWIP struggled to gain traction. Things weren’t going so well due to volunteer turnover. During this time, I realized the importance of building a team that was passionate about our mission. I found that successfully motivating my nonprofit team was even harder than a team at work because you can’t motivate them with monetary incentives. I took out my drawing board, built a team passionate about our cause and created AWIP’s #give-back program as a way to say thank you for every volunteer hard work.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One thing I constantly think about when I go about my day, doing work for Rubrik and AWIP, is “wouldn’t it be great if we could have a tool that integrated with all of our professional and personal social media accounts and tracked our calendar and follow-ups?” With Telegram, WeChat, Messenger, iMessage (and the list goes on and on), there’s no one central hub for all conversations – and worse yet, out of sight and out of mind often applies when you’re trying to follow up with someone.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently spent $100 paying for AWIP’s new website redesign. As we’re going through an explosive phase of growth, I am excited to soon unveil the new face of AWIP.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
One word: BOOMERANG! This has become a lifesaver, especially when you have 40 communication threads at any given point in time. Boomerang helps you schedule follow-ups and reminds you when someone hasn’t opened or replied to your initial form of communication. It’s definitely helped increase my efficiency.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. This is a must-read for product managers and anyone involved with a product-related organization.
What is your favorite quote?
“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same” – Nelson Mandela.
Know what an API is & know what it does (even if you’re not technical
Just because you don’t see someone like you in the role you want doesn’t mean you can’t go for it
Let passion drive what you do – it will make all those long hours that much more enjoyable because you actually believe that what you’re doing makes a genuine difference