ResourcesBlogTrailblazing Women in Product Management: Namrata Sarmah, CPO and Founder and CEO of Women in Product UK  

Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Namrata Sarmah, CPO and Founder and CEO of Women in Product UK  

Trailblazing Women in Product Management with Namrata Sarmah

For our next installment of our Women in Product Management Series, I interviewed Namrata Sarmah, CPO and Founder and CEO of Women in Product UK.

Nicole: Thank you for joining me, Namrata. I’m excited to have you share your experiences and insights into Product Management


Namrata: Thank you so much, Nicole. I’m really glad to be here. 

I love breaking the ice by getting a peek into what brought you into Product Management. How did you get started? 

My story is not very unconventional. My career started as a software engineer. I did computer science engineering during my undergrad and started working as a software engineer with a large consulting company. My work was very global in nature and took me to different countries. I did my MBA back in 2011. In the UK, it’s a one-year MBA so when I graduated in 2012, I ventured into Product Management. Product Management was not really a job back then, but I found my foot in companies where they had a loosely based product function. That was the beginning, but most of my early bosses were CTOs, so I was often part of the tech organization. 

It sounds like you were able to pave the way in terms of defining Product Management in the UK. Looking from where you started to where you are today, what is inspiring you in Product Management today, especially there in the UK? 

We’ve come a long way. In 2012 there was no product discipline. Now, the CPO role is quite popular. That is a big shift and progress in the world of Product Management. The other thing that inspires me is the emergence of different flavors of Product Management that we see today. The role of Product Manager has changed quite a lot. It’s not about just delivering features or managing tech products, it’s also about working closely with the overall organization in general. It’s become more generalist in nature which is a good thing because a PM of today in a few years’ time would ultimately become the CEO of a company. That really excites me because in the UK, Product Management used to be a very delivery-focused role. Now it’s changing and that makes me happy. 

It seems more strategic, more holistic across the company. 

Absolutely, that’s how it should be. When there is a new kind of function, it always evolves with time. Product Management, especially in this country, has definitely evolved, and I’m really hopeful about the future. 

In your position, I imagine you work with lots of teams and stakeholders. Is there something you’re learning currently in working with your stakeholders? 

I don’t think we are living in normal economic times. It’s quite challenging for businesses of any size. Gen AI has posed a lot of questions in terms of strategic direction of companies, funding and where the money should be going. My experience has been in larger, international organizations. I’m lucky that I get to see how new tech is disrupting different countries or different ecosystems. What I see here in the UK and Europe is that money is no longer cheap. Getting funding is becoming more difficult. There is a lot of scrutiny over how the money is being spent. Growth at all costs is not the agenda anymore. I cannot just present to my board that my team is helping the company grow. That’s not enough. I have to be mindful about how we are generating revenue for the organization, helping the company become profitable and run efficiently. That’s quite different from a few years ago, where product functions were seen as growth levers. We were hired to grow the company in numbers mainly. For example, with a consumer app, we grew the number of users and ensured retention was good. Now that’s not the case. It’s about revenue, and recurring revenue as well. These changes have made the CPO role more exciting, but more difficult as well. 

Your position is more and more strategic across the company. What do you like most about working in that dynamic? 

I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had the CPO role twice now. In one role, I worked a lot with engineering teams. My background is in software engineering, so it comes quite naturally to me. In my latest role, I handle market research insights, data design, product, and community growth. It’s broad and my team is extremely multifaceted in their skillsets. I’m grateful because I don’t think there are many CPO roles where you get to manage such a diverse team. That is something that really stands out, and I love such roles in general. 

Is there something really challenging in working with such a diverse team? 

The biggest challenge is context switching. This morning, I could be in a design meeting and then I could be in a marketing meeting and after that I could be in a data science meeting. I have to context switch all the time. If you’re in a marketing meeting talking about your next big campaign, you have to be very creative, switch on your creative gears. Then if you’re in a data science meeting, that’s a very numerical discussion. I think context switching can be quite challenging, especially if you had a difficult day in general. The other challenge is building a team. Especially as a leader, I need to build a multifaceted team where everybody is extremely high performance and driven, focused on their goals. That is another challenge because building such teams is not easy. 

Let’s talk about how you’re building your teams. What do you look for when you’re hiring? 

I look for three big things. One is potential. I never hire just for experience. I look for high potential people who are extremely driven and motivated to achieve more in life. Second, I look for attention to detail. My attention to detail is quite high, but I have met people who have a much higher attention to detail than me. As a manager, I can trust them with challenging projects, because I know they’re going to do it well and be extremely attentive with the deliverables. The third thing is community building, people who can bring a community together, who can work with different teams without any egos, without any challenges. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are if you do not gel with your team, especially with global teams. If you can’t work with multiple cultures, then you can never be successful in a team environment. And Product Management is ultimately a team sport.  

Absolutely, that’s super important. And I’m really excited that you started Women in Product UK. You have such a passion for women in this space, what is some advice you have for women to break into Product Management? 

I strongly believe in building talent pipelines for the future, which happens in schools and colleges when people are young, especially for women. There’s a lot of women who are really good at maths and science in school. But in college, they don’t go for the STEM subjects. At Women in Product UK, we speak to the schools, and we really encourage 12- and 13-year-old girls to opt for STEM subjects. I also speak at the top business schools in the world, mostly with the MBA students, educating them about careers in Product Management. When I was a student, nobody told me about Product Management. I had no clue I could build a career in such an amazing discipline. I want today’s students to have all the knowledge they need. This is where communities like mine can play a big role. 

If you are in a different profession but want to get into Product Management, the three skills I mentioned earlier, high potential, attention to detail, and being a team player, make you a strong candidate for product roles. If you are working with a software product, technical skills are really important. Picking up technical skills can be difficult, but we are lucky now because with Generative AI, technology has become a commodity and knowledge is freely available everywhere. Picking up new skills is easier now than 10 years ago. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?  

Get involved in Product Management communities. Feel free to join Women in Product UK. We are an open group with members from the US and Europe as well. Join a community, but also contribute to the community. It’s about giving back. When you give, you actually get 5x or 10x back from the community. 

I love how you are an example to women from middle school through college, an example they can look up to and see that trailblazing woman in Product Management at such a high position with so much experience. It really makes a difference. Thank you so much, Nam.  

Thank you, Nicole.  

Want to hear more from Namrata? Listen to the full podcast.
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May 30, 2024