Product Management: Combining Creativity, Data, and Insight
A look into Director of Product, Tricia Maia’s, experience on the Product team at AlphaSights.
I graduated from Fordham University and initially got involved in economic development. I worked for city governments and global nonprofit institutions to help small businesses and entrepreneurs get access to investments. When I got back to New York, I serendipitously fell into technology and product management, as most product managers do, and was lucky enough to join a small, agile software consultancy. I worked with clients to understand their needs and partnered with designers and developers to bring those ideas to life.
After that, I went to get my masters at the London School of Economics, then joined another New York-based startup as their first product manager and, more recently, led a Product team at Verizon. At the time, Verizon was in the throes of digital transformation, so it was an interesting challenge to influence the way our teams worked to be more customer-centric and data-informed.
I was approached for the Director of Product opportunity at AlphaSights, and it definitely intrigued me because I’d never heard of the industry, let alone the company before! Throughout the interview process, the aspect that stood out the most was the people. I was not only impressed with how smart the team was, but also how humble and driven they were, which isn’t a combination you come across often. The questions they asked were really thought-provoking, and I remember thinking that these were topics I’d like to spend my time on. I couldn’t wait to get started contributing to AlphaSights’ Product team and its culture.
Why was AlphaSights appealing, compared to other tech giants?
I knew I could take a really hands-on approach here. At larger firms, there’s a much narrower scope of what you can work on until you’re higher up in the organization, and a lot of subsequent direction is decided for you by senior leadership or the executive team.
At AlphaSights, we’re in such a niche industry that’s constantly growing, evolving, and still being defined. The Product team has so much runway to be creative and define their own path and vision for the function. We can carve out our own areas that we find interesting and believe will make the biggest impact for our users and our business.
How would you define Product at AlphaSights?
Product managers tend to use data, insight, and creativity to create value for the customer in a way that creates value for the business. This manifests differently across industries and verticals, but at a service company like AlphaSights, product managers are responsible for understanding the end-to-end journeys of each of its users. There are many personas beyond our core internal employees and external clients and advisors. We need to identify these subsegments and understand how our products fit into their existing workflows and lives.
Our business doesn’t revolve solely around our tech product, which is different than most digital companies who sell what they develop. At AlphaSights, Product is an enabler and an accelerator of the business. We focus on features and products that improve speed, contextuality, and simplicity of the service for our clients.
What are some of the projects you’re most excited about?
I’m still new to the team, so a lot of my time is spent on understanding the product and the team, our culture, our history, and some of the thinking that predates me. I’m enjoying absorbing as much of that information as I can and co-creating a vision for the team’s future. Our product managers are rockstars and are working on diverse projects that leverage the latest in search technology, machine learning, and data science. Our team really runs across the spectrum of the types of work we do, both internally for our employees and externally for clients and advisors. For example, figuring out how to seamlessly pay experts across 120 countries in almost any currency, or building a global conferencing platform to host calls between our clients and experts.
I’m more focused on ensuring that the team is set up for success and empowering them to build the most impactful products. So I tend to focus on what the future of our team looks like and how we can better serve the business and our users.
What is it like working directly with one of your main user groups?
One of our business’s unique features is the direct feedback loop we have with our internal users, which is a luxury product managers don’t often have. If we have an idea or prototype that we want to test out, we can go down the hall and test it out with an employee who’d be excited to give us immediate feedback. Our internal users are pretty transparent about their pain points and what they’d like to solve, so this type of open culture makes it easier to gather feedback and solicit ideas.
External feedback is something I’m interested in exploring more as well. We’ve traditionally focused more on our internal tools, but sitting down with clients across different segments has been a really useful exercise. We can identify opportunities where our tech services and products will fit better into their lives and gain a perspective that’s different from that of our employees. Our goal is to marry the two streams of thought into a unified product vision.
What does the future of AlphaSights’ product team look like to you?
I envision Product playing a more integral role in the organization. Its grown naturally over the past few years and the team is super talented. Now, I’d like to take it to the next level, and really ingrain ourselves into our users’ workflows, whether that’s internal or external.
Our team also has a particularly exciting and unique opportunity to help define what Product means within a services environment. Most of the Product literature and community tends to focus on B2C or SaaS business models, whereas best practices and strategies for teams working in our broader, more service-oriented environment isn’t as common. So having our team build on and share how we approach product strategy, discovery, and development is great from a thought leadership perspective.
What is it like working on a global team?
It’s amazing how fluid communication and collaboration is across our nine global offices. Our Software Engineering and Product teams span two offices (in New York and London) and have a remote workforce as well. Communication structures and processes are key to making that work, but the team has a “collaboration groove”, and it’s been relatively seamless to enter into. You almost forget that we operate in such an international environment, because you just tap a button and you’re on video conference with London. It’s a testament to our TechOps team and the infrastructure we’ve set up to run a successful, truly global business.
We also have to think about users in terms of location, tailoring our discovery and development to different geographic realities. From a Product perspective, it’s fascinating to identify constraints and ensure you’re not overlooking a certain use case that may be different in one region versus another. The global aspect adds another layer of thought and analysis to the process.
Can you tell us about the culture on the Product team?
The agency that people have to make their own mark on the company stands out to me. The purview of a Product team is much wider here than it is at other companies. At AlphaSights, you define what you want to work on and what you think will be impactful at a much earlier stage in your career than you can elsewhere. This autonomy applies to the whole company too, not just the Tech teams. I believe this stems from our leadership and co-founders who share this ethos that critical thinking, collaboration, and drive tie together in a way that fosters an environment where people feel safe to create, try new things, and even fail as long as they learn and progress.
Do you have advice for someone who is thinking about going into Product?
My first piece of advice is to educate yourself on what Product is and learn about the commonalities across companies and industries, like having empathy for your users and starting with problems and opportunities, not solutions. Also, consider the nuances between various types of products; a B2C product manager will approach their work differently than a B2B one, as will someone who works on social media as opposed to a more regulated industry, like banking. There are tons of great and free resources publicly available between blogs, video trainings, conferences, and more. So immerse yourself as much as you can in the community.
My second suggestion is to figure out ways that you can get involved with Product in your existing role. Many people stumble into the role, having come from related positions whose skills were easily transferable. Since PMs are at the center of connecting strategy, user experience, and technical feasibility amongst different stakeholders, whatever role you’re in probably already organically interfaces with Product. Pick the brain of whoever your Product counterpart is and see what they’re focused on, how they work through a problem, what their goals are. Start to try to take on some of those responsibilities yourself or simply ask if you can help out.
I’d encourage looking into your past experiences and evaluating which applicable skills you already have. For example, project management is a part of most people’s day-to-day jobs and is a core function of product management. Think about how to reframe your experiences and play up your strengths in related areas.
My last suggestion is to build something. If you’re interested in Product, you probably have a million ideas running through your head for new businesses, services, or apps. The key marker of a great product manager is the ability to bring an idea to fruition with minimal resources and time. If you can bring to life or, at the very least, test a concept to see if it’s viable, that’s meaningful. You may not have technical skills, so the imagination and resourcefulness that it takes to produce something from scratch will be impressive to a potential employer.
The Product team is hiring designers and product managers in our New York and London offices. If you’re interested, check out our open positions here.
Tricia Maia joined AlphaSights in January of 2019 and serves as the Director of Product in New York.