Mina Radhakrishnan is a keynote speaker for Product Management Festival 2017 and the co-founder of Sydney-based real estate startup Different. Previously with Google and Uber product management teams, Mina shares her journey from investment banker to venture capitalist and why she left San Francisco to found a startup.
You have such a diverse background! Could you share your professional journey and how you knew it was time to transition to the next step?
Mina: My background is in engineering, and I have a computer science degree from Cornell. My first job was actually working at Goldman Sachs, building tech products for investment bankers. At this time, the BlackBerry “apps” we were building were the cutting edge of technology!
While I loved working at Goldman, I came to realise that I needed to be at a company where technology and product were really driving the company forward.
I wasn’t quite sure how to go about this, but I ultimately went to business school, dropped out of business school (before classes started…), and then ended up at Google in the APM program.
At Google, I really learned about the discipline of Product Management. I worked on a variety of different products, including Google Toolbar for IE, which was one of the biggest products in the world at the time. There are very few companies where you can work on products that have hundreds of millions of users and Google is one of them. It was an awesome experience.
However, after being in San Francisco/Silicon Valley, I was bitten by the startup bug and really wanted to work at a small company. I ended up joining Modcloth as their first PM, just as they were building their San Francisco office. I worked on the fundamental pieces of eCommerce – shipping, reviews, checkout, and even taxes! One of my favourite launches was building out integrated measurements with reviews – a really cool way to personalize the shopping experience.
Right around this time, smartphones were just starting to become a big deal, and I knew I wanted to do something mobile. I joined Uber as their first PM in 2011, and was there for just under four years, ultimately heading up the product team globally.
When I started, we still had a big green button for a UI. I worked on just about everything, including car types, international expansion and surge pricing, but would still rank Mariachi On Demand as one of my favourite launches.
Uber was an incredible hyper-growth company, and I knew that whatever I did next, startups were where I felt most comfortable. I worked with Redpoint as an EIR (entrepreneur-in-residence) and explored the investing side of startups, which is a whole new way of thinking for someone who’s been an operator. It was an incredibly educational experience to think about evaluating companies when you couldn’t actually be there to drive the product.
Ultimately, seeing so many great founders and exciting ideas is what led me to begin my own startup journey, which is where I am today.
Computer science, investment banking, venture capital, product management… you have spent a lot of time in areas that traditionally had more male representation. Did that ever present a challenge for you? What are your thoughts on greater diversity in the workplace?
Mina: I don’t want to draw attention to how hard it is sometimes to be the only woman in the room, but I do think it’s really important that we call out injustices and discrimination when we see them, and that we actively work to create inclusive environments. That’s incredibly important, and we should consistently do that. But I believe we should put emphasis on the work that people are doing and why it matters. I also think we really need to highlight the awesome work that under-represented minorities are doing in technology, beyond their gender, race, sexual orientation etc.
You had left San Francisco to start a tech company in Sydney. While both are English speaking, I imagine there are quite a few differences. How big, if any, of an adjustment has it been so far?
Mina: There is a lot of opportunity in the Australian market, but I think it is still a nascent market for startups. There is a lot of infrastructure in place, in the US for example, where startups can rely on technology and services that already had been built by others. But many of these are not available for the Australian market, or the local companies only make them available for “enterprise” solutions. For example, a challenge we face here, that I didn’t have to deal with as much in the US, is the availability of APIs. Our company requires a mobile payments API solution with direct debit, which is a primary method of payment in Australia.
Ultimately, I could only find one company that could provide, and was willing to provide it to a startup, the APIs we needed. If this company didn’t exist, our company wouldn’t.
(To read more about this, check out Mina’s blog post on the topic.)
What is the most useful advice you’ve been given as a product manager?
Mina: Always ask the question, “Why?” There’s no clearer way to have confidence that what you’re doing is the right thing to do. If you can’t back it up and tie it back to the ultimate goal of the company, organisation or product, then why are you doing it? Our time is stretched in so many different directions that we need to be especially thoughtful as to how we’re spending it.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Mina: I love downloading new apps, and I’m always checking the stores to see what’s new and featured. Product Hunt is my favourite place to discover new and interesting products – its Mac app is awesome.
I also try to find inspiration in non-tech sources, and I love reading fiction. I’m always browsing online bookstores and adding new books to my Kindle collections. I find that the way in which writers articulate stories and characters gets me thinking in fresh ways about how people feel about the products I’m building.