Career Life Stories: Anjali Jameson, Rally Health

A post-MBA job with Apple opened the door to an exciting product career. Now VP of Healthcare Experience for Rally Health, Anjali Jameson shares some of the lessons she’s learnt along the way as part of the Robert Walters Career Life Stories series.

When and how did you decide to get into product as a discipline?

In the early 2000s I was an early employee at a mobile gaming startup called The Go Game where I did a little bit of everything including marketing, sales, business development, and content design. In retrospect, I gained many of my product management skills from building this company, but did not know it at the time.

I left The Go game to pursue an MBA and between my first and second year of grad school, I spent the summer as an intern at Apple. I joined their e-commerce product management team (formerly called site management), analyzing data, writing specs, and creating product strategy materials for the executives.

Following graduation, I was asked to return as a full fledge product manager, with oversight of the Apple Online Store’s mobile web experience.  6 months into that role, I added the smartphone app to my portfolio and found myself responsible for the work of over 20 engineers and 6 designers.

There is, in my mind, no better place for a crash course in product management than at Apple I had the added benefit of learning from peers who had been building incredible products for over fifteen years.

How would you describe what you do and what does an average day look like?

In early stage startups, a Product leader spends much of her time hands-on with the engineers and designers building products. Days are spent strategizing with the team and nights are dedicated to writing requirements, conducting user research, and QA’ing.

Responsibilities at mid-stage companies are much more process-driven; they include a bigger focus on building organizational structures and finding product management processes that will lead to the most successful products. Significantly more time is spent aligning the stakeholders to the strategy and selling vision across the organization.

Is part of your role as a Head of Product actually marketing too?

In early stage companies, yes. I’ve now hired for and run both product and marketing departments at two startups. As companies grow, however, it’s important to have a really strong Head of Product and a really strong Head of Marketing who complement and work well with one another.

How is success measured in your role?

I prefer to measure and be measured in three ways:

  1. Is the product doing enough to meet the organization’s goals?
  2. Is our NPS going up? Are users happier than they were a month ago; six months ago?
  3. Do the company’s employees understand what we are doing, why were are doing it, and are they challenged and fulfilled?

Product impacts employee satisfaction to the extent that if everyone across the organization understands what we’re building and why we’re building it, then they will better understand how their work contributes to the overall business.

What trend or technology on the horizon do you think will most affect your role?

My projection is that competency with Artificial Intelligence is going to be in high demand over the next five years. Product managers, like engineers, will need to be able to navigate this growing trend.

What’s the biggest misconception about your role?

One of the biggest misconceptions about product management is that it’s only about creating and executing product roadmaps. In reality, roadmaps account for about 30-50%% of a Product VP’s work.

Product, as a function, acts as nexus across every facet of the organization. A Head of Product has to remain on top of all pieces of the puzzle to ensure the product is a success and this most likely means being a key company communicator, process creator, culture steward, risk-mitigator, and deeply involved in company strategy.

What has been the most important moment in your career so far and why?  

There are many moments that have felt impactful to my career, though I’d say my time at Zipongo provided the most growth opportunity. There, I experienced very profound product, and more specifically, product-leadership growth. My peers and direct reports were also outstanding which, when I reflect on that experience, made it even more special.

There were just seven of us when I joined. As a result, I played a major role in building the business and shaping the culture. It was at Zipongo where I really honed how to hire effectively, how to develop organizational processes, and how to navigate the nuances of managing across a variety of teams, from engineering to marketing to design.

Do you have a mentor?

It took me until my third role in product management to realize how much I could benefit from mentorship.

Since then, I have built up a small group of people who act as mentors, advice givers, and connectors. When a new challenge arises, I reach out to the person who I think would be most helpful for that particular situation. It has been incredibly useful to have strong support in a variety of disciplines.

Can you talk a little bit about your experience as a female leader in tech?

Being a woman in tech has not always been easy or comfortable. Often, I will be the only woman in a room of 5-15 men. Usually, I barely notice. But there are times that prove more challenging. As just one example, I was once in a meeting with two of my male colleagues presenting to an investor, and at the end of the meeting—despite my equal contribution to our pitch—the investor shook my colleagues’ hands, not mine.

Those types of things happen often, but overall, it has been very rewarding to be a woman in an executive product role. My peers have been extremely supportive, and it is specifically because of female mentors that I’ve been able to navigate some of the challenging territory that comes alongside being a woman in leadership.

What advice would you give other young female professionals?

My mantra to my mentees is to be clear on their role at a company as well as their desired growth path. Then, they should perform their work incredibly well without taking on tasks that are far below them. I have observed my female colleagues take on work to “be helpful” which prevents them from deeply focusing on the broader strategy of their roles as well as work they can do to help them move towards their desired growth trajectory.

Some practical actions young women can try, which I have also adopted are: a) do not take your computer to meetings, b) do not volunteer to be the note-taker, c) practice being present, and d) sit up front where you will be seen. It’s all an exercise in allowing yourself to take up more space in the room.

What professional skills and personal qualities do you look for when you hire for your team?

Flexibility is critical in product management. Product managers must be able to constantly adapt to changes within the organization and product roadmap.

Leonard Cohen said, “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.” The product managers who can move easily with the shifts in business needs, technology, and strategy tend to build the best products and demonstrate more resiliency than their less-flexible peers.

What is a question that you like to ask candidates who are interviewing?

I tend to ask questions that draw out a candidate’s sensibility around what it takes to bring a piece of the product roadmap to life. For example:

Let’s assume there are no engineers available for questioning. Walk me through what you would say if the CEO were to ask you, “How long will it take X product feature to be designed and be built?”

What’s the best advice you could give someone who is looking to become a VP of Product in the future?

Join a company where you are going build a lot of products. Classes and books aren’t enough; you need hands on experience in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t work.

We enjoyed hearing Anjali’s own path to executive product management as well as her broader career advice to those just getting started. To find out more about Anjali’s experience, check out her LinkedIn profile and give her a follow on Twitter. For more on recruitment news, advice for job-seekers, and thoughts from other Bay Area tech leaders like Anjali see our other career advice articles, and follow Robert Walters on LinkedIn and Twitter.