Kalpana Berman is currently the Principal Product Director at Nike, an American multinational corporation that designs, develops, manufactures, and sales worldwide clothing and accessories. Kalpana talks us through her initial interest in tech, her transition into product, lessons learned on the job, and more.
Question [00:05:15] Were you always interested in tech or products, or was there something, in particular, that sort of sparked that interest in you?
Kalpana [00:05:24] I’ve always been interested in tech. I think when I was little, so both my parents are actually, electrical engineers and they both were engineers growing up. I still remember when my dad brought his first computer home, and I remember playing around with DAS and all the actual floppy disks, etc. Um, That pretty much sparked my interest in tech, so I knew I wanted to be in that realm. Then I was an engineer for a few years in the chip world. Product, I think like many of us we, veered towards it and I love it now.
Question [00:06:18] How was your transition from Marketing to Product?
Kalpana [00:6:36] So I’ll tell you a little bit about my career path at Intel. I actually started as engineering, as I said, in product development. Then I joined a sales and marketing rotation program and tried different assignments, mostly marketing actually. It was product marketing, which is very close to product management. After that, I landed in a role called strategic planning at Intel, which is a little bit of a blend of both worlds. It’s a blend of marketing and product, but basically, that role is defining and doing research on what features you want to build. But because the hardware product life cycle is so long, you’re looking five years ahead, not necessarily involved at all in the execution. After that, it took me directly to what I would say is a more traditional software product role.
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Question [00:09:11] Could you tell us a little bit about your VR experience?
Kalpana [00:09:13] A lot of unique challenges and I loved it. So we were working on virtual reality as part of Intel sports. So how to engage in sports in an immersive way through VR. I would say lots of unique challenges. Number one, this is a completely new way of interacting with data or engaging with data or entertaining yourself. You’re, you’re dealing with a 360-degree space now, not just this screen. So everything is new, honestly, like even the simple media player. I think all the interactions, and figuring them out was fun and unique in a three 60 space, and there wasn’t a lot of examples.
I mean, there are games and things out there, but nothing in the realm of the mobile app space. And then obviously you’re dealing with a lot of technical challenges from a hardware perspective. So you’re always, not always limited, but it forms a big part of your design considerations as you’re building the products. Then finally you’re dealing with something that not everybody has, obviously it’s a device that, I’d say it hasn’t taken off yet, but I fully believe in the future. There are only certain populations that have it now. So one of the biggest tasks or discussions we had was who we’re targeting and who is the person that has a VR device, why do they have it and what do they use it for? Designing specifically for them, which is a very tiny market, versus the future potential of it, I would say. But yeah, lots of really fun, unique challenges the, in the VR space.
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Question [00:10:00] Are there any particular skills that you would suggest people build upon for a role in Nike?
Kalpana [00:19:15] Yeah, I would say it depends specifically on the job, but also, you know, I think the broad, fundamental skills, in Product Management. The ability to prioritize the ability to work well with stakeholders and cross-functional teams, set goals and metrics and, work towards them, kind of applies on Nike. I would say how Nike differs is that you’re collaborating and doing a lot with the brand and the marketing. People buy Nike, not just for innovative products, but for what it represents. I think the ability to listen to input from brand and marketing and, kind of outside your very traditional stakeholders is really important, particularly at Nike. Understanding what we’re about at the larger level is pretty different than a tech company, right. At the core where we are here to provide people with, apparel and shoes and do their best to participate in sport. Which is a different mission.
Question [00:23:30] Are you the person who acts as a translator between those teams?
Kalpana [00:23:35] Yes. I would say that’s very much our role. It is your job not to just have, create the product, and ensured success externally your consumers, but internally within the company. I think some of the key things, at least that I’ve seen work, is be proactive about communication and transparency. So, you have to actively updates on what your team is doing, why we chose to do what we’re doing, publish your metrics widely, not just to your VP and your little siloed group, but widely to people in the company. They should care, it takes every group, to launch and to have a successful product. So having them understand it and love it is key. So I think proactive, I would say communication and being empathetic and transparent to who you’re talking to.
So understanding where marketing is coming from and what their goals are. If you are relying on them, and your working on this and we can’t design this for you, explain why like “Hey, take a look at everything else we have, do you feel like the priority should change?”This is what our or our assessment is.” And 99% of the time, once they look at everything you’re doing, they’re like, “Oh, okay, nevermind, fine.” I think just bringing shining light, they have no idea for example, what development’s working on or what other things and inputs you’re getting. I’d just say be transparent, be communicative and, and be empathetic on, what those other team’s goals are. Sales and marketing and brand and engineering would have differing goals. So communicating what you want to do, keeping track of it in a place that they can always check in instead of relying on meetings or emails, would be a couple of tips.
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Question [00:30:35] What’s the greatest lesson product management has ever taught you?
Kalpana [00:30:47] I would say, the ability to prioritize, because I think that’s something that, you need in your everyday life, I would say. The ability to juggle things at work has probably made me really, or it leaves me not stressed at all about prioritizing the things at home. I think now, particularly in these times, everyone’s juggling a lot of things, it could be, could be your health of loved ones, could be your, your kids, your work, perhaps you’re picking up more work because others can’t and your company. So I think the ability to prioritize what’s important for you personally, and being able to juggle that every day. That’s a lesson I took straight out of product management being pretty analytical about it, frankly. Sitting down and thinking about what is it that I want in my life, what is important? What do I care about if I look five years from now and say, I dropped the ball on this, or I didn’t drop the ball on that and which one would be okay. Right. I think to me, that’s probably the biggest, biggest lesson that I’ve gotten out of product management.
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We’ll be back next week with Ingrid Bernaudin from Uber with even more of the latest insights from the Product Management world.