Pivot Stories

Pivoting from Finance to Product Operations with Shradha Kothari at Twilio

Shradha Kothari
Chief of Staff, SVP & GM North America Sales @ Twilio
Finance to Business Operation to Product Operations

Shradha graduated with an Economics degree from St. Stephen's College. After she left school, she started her career as an investment banker. However, she soon realized that finance wasn’t her calling. Instead, she developed an interest in the operational side of business. Leveraging her networking skills, she eventually landed a Business Operation role at eBay and the became the Head of Product Operations at Twilio. She is now Chief of Staff, SVP & GM North America Sales @ Twilio.

How did your transferable skills help you build a career in Product Operations? 

The soft skills were very transferable. If you enjoy solving ambiguous problems, that comes in handy in Product Ops. Strong communications skills and the ability to break down complex problems into smaller pieces are very helpful as well. If you can multitask and be able to prioritize without someone telling you what to do, that will help you in almost any role. 

In Product Operations, you're building on the technicalities of how things work. You get to learn more about how engineering works and how the product really operates. Then it’s about using your generalist skills to figure out how to make it more efficient. 

How did you end up in your current role? 

I was going to work with one of the VPs from eBay to lead Product Operations at a startup. But I'd never negotiated with a startup before, so I reached out to a recruiter friend. He told me to forget about the startup and work at Twilio. I was surprised, but I love the company. So I met with my current boss, the Chief Product Officer. I immediately knew that I would learn so much from him. Two weeks later, I was at Twilio. We were still going through growing pains needed to build a lot of maturity. I started as an individual contributor and in a year, I had a team of eight or nine people. It's been phenomenal in terms of learning and everything else. I took a chance on Twilio, because I knew I would learn a lot. He took a chance on me because I was willing to figure it out with him. We're both quite happy with each other. That's how I got to Twilio. 

What does your day-to-day look like?

It will vary by whether you're a people manager or an individual contributor. An individual contributor spends 40% of their time in meetings. They’re either running the meeting or herding cats, because a lot of this job is about progress over perfection. You spend at least 30 to 40% of the time executing large scale programs and 20 to 30% is always ad hoc. Urgent things come up every day in my inbox. That's why one of our values is ruthless prioritization. 

Since I'm managing a team, 30 to 40% of my time is just management tasks. There is a constant influx of things, so I help them prioritize their projects. Another  30 to 40% is leading up to supporting my manager and the leadership team to become more efficient and run some of the programs. Finally, about 30% is unplanned work. It's a mix of projects, programs, or supporting others. 

Lightning Round

What about your personality makes Product Operations a good fit for you?

I’m a people person, I love to solve problems, whether they’re my own or someone else’s. I always want to dive in and help. Plus, I’m organized and I’m good at multitasking. I can juggle lots of things and still figure it out.\

What are the top 3 attributes to be successful in Product Operations?

  • Be a good problem-solver
  • Be structured
  • Be okay with ambiguity.
  • Most importantly, focus on incremental progress, not perfection.

Don’t go into Product Operations if …

You can’t handle ambiguity and conflict, because you will get that every day.

What are the top two tips you would give to somebody looking to break into Product Operations?

  • Be willing to learn and help. If you’re willing to create value, it will happen. It’s about that curiosity and the willingness to learn. It’s important to have a learning attitude, because people are willing to take a chance on you if you are willing to take a chance on them.
  • Pick a company and find the most logical way to get into that company, because internal transfers are always easier once you build your credibility.

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