Aumni Spotlight: Sahil Pandya, Vice President, Product
In this Aumni Spotlight Q&A, we hear from our VP of Product, Sahil Pandya. Sahil shares his career journey, including his transition from Yelp to Aumni, his insights on Aumni’s product philosophy, and the wisdom he’s gained from the obstacles that he and his teams have overcome. He also gives us a glimpse into his favorite product features and what he treasures most about Aumni’s company culture.
Q: Please tell us your professional background and describe your current role at Aumni.
A: I’m a graduate of UC Berkeley with a dual degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. My career began at Yelp in San Francisco as a full-stack engineer on their Reservations team. There, I realized that I'm both an engineer and a creative by nature. I love design, and engineering represents a powerful application of architectural design; I also love using innovative UI and UX to solve user problems. Beyond that, I also discovered that I enjoy interacting with customers and using my knowledge to positively influence business outcomes. After some time at Yelp, I transitioned to the product team to try my hand in product management. Since then, I've loved bringing my technical background into product roles and have grown as a PM in a variety of experiences.
A few years later, to experience life on the East Coast, I joined a news media company in New York called theSkimm as a product manager overseeing the company’s news products. It was such a different environment there as compared to a traditional technology company like Yelp – theSkimm had a unique customer segment, a very contrasted use case for our product, and a different business model altogether; I found the challenge really helped diversify my experience as a product manager, and the team that I worked with showed me an innovative side to editorial product development.
Toward the end of my time at theSkimm, I was introduced to Aumni’s CEO/Co-founder Tony Lewis, President/Co-founder Kelsey Chase, and CTO Rob Wise. I was incredibly impressed with them as individuals and their collective vision for product growth, supported by a robust data analytics infrastructure. They planned to revolutionize data strategy in the private capital markets with unprecedented technology. I was offered a position as a senior engineer to help the early team build out the platform. The fit felt right and there was room for growth into product leadership within the company. The team was staffed with all-stars and we were determined to build a Fintech company that would disrupt the private capital market. As we started to see an uptick in customers and an expansion of our product, I shifted to traditional product management as the first PM and began guiding product development in concert with engineering.
As VP of Product, I work closely with Rob on the roadmap, strategic planning, design process, and customer feedback. I’ve been at Aumni for about two years now, and I’m still in awe of the work we do and the way we solve complex problems to provide meaningful, actionable insights for our customers.
Q: What do you enjoy most about heading up the product team at Aumni?
A: First of all, we have one of the strongest product teams I've ever worked with -- I respect and appreciate every single person for being the best at what they do. Secondly, the problems that we are solving are just fascinating. We’re offering data analytics from a unique angle that has not been explored before -- organizing and auditing unprecedented amounts of data and seamlessly presenting that information back to the customer to reveal insights and benchmarking that have been nothing short of revolutionary for our customers.
The private capital market has long lacked accurate analytics at the organizational and market level, pulled directly from the legal agreements. Our technology addresses that need by solving the data quality issues that have plagued the ecosystem of investors and founders by combining effective customer research, crisp design, forward-thinking product logic, and attention to detail. Productizing a solution to address this kind of customer need is incredibly rewarding -- it's the quintessential product challenge. For me, a creative at heart with an engineering brain, this has been inherently motivating.
Furthermore, our customers have been extremely helpful as partners. They've donated time from their busy schedules to help our team succeed, and have provided us with resources, examples, tools, and feedback that have helped shape the product into what it is today. We could not have built this type of robust data analytics platform without them, and they make building this product even more fulfilling.
Q: What is your favorite capability or feature of the Aumni platform, and why?
Oh, that’s a tough question; we’ve built some powerful technology. One existing capability that demonstrates the unique level of depth in our data model and highlights a combined innovation around customer operations and success, product, design, and engineering is our transaction and equity financing-level reporting. We apply a unique UI around the structure of these documents. The beauty of Aumni is how we aggregate and derive valuable data points and then seamlessly present them. From a product perspective, the interface and process have been intelligently engineered to solve important user problems related to quick access to data. We’ve received some of our most enthusiastic and grateful customer feedback from customers who use this reporting.
Another favorite of mine is our data-enriched visualizations around the liquidation preference stack and the capitalization table. Not only do they crisply document the data, but they also present an enriched view of the legal and economic context in a way that I have never seen before. Soon we’ll be able to harness all of our infrastructure and engineering ingenuity for some very exciting new features. I can’t wait to launch those as the latter half of 2021 unfolds.
Q: What is Aumni's product philosophy, and how do you deliver on this promise?
A: Our objective is to keep the product visually simple, yet functionally and capably complex. We aim to push the boundaries for every single use case, but without reinventing the wheel where unnecessary. A lot of research goes into each product decision we make, and we leverage the expertise of very intelligent product managers as well as innovative and creative designers to depict data in a unique way. We are doing more design reviews than any team I've ever worked with -- we're constantly iterating and isolating pieces of the design to discuss with our engineers, stakeholders, PMs, and customers. We frequently involve our customers in the feedback loop: whether it's through the product, customer success, or sales teams, we consistently seek customer perspectives on different facets of the product so that we can continue to be extremely user-focused and detail-oriented.
Ultimately, our entire team is constantly learning to become experts in the meaningful metrics of this industry, enabling us to think like our customers, and we are always leveraging their feedback and partnership to test concepts and validate our understanding.
Q: What has been an obstacle that you are proud to have overcome?
A: Over the past year, Aumni has experienced rapid growth. Scaling our engineering, product, and design resources quickly to meet the growth trajectory has been challenging in terms of team bandwidth and efficiency. We know that seamless collaboration and communication are critical across these three teams to successfully manage the unyielding demand for our technology. For example, many intricacies pertain to how our technology is built, how a design is handed off, how that translates to a component system, and how our engineers have pushed boundaries to work with pixel-perfect accuracy and incorporate our designs into the application.
Fortunately, we were able to create and implement a product development process that enabled us to achieve our desired level of scalability. We launched cross-functional squads, where engineers, designers, product managers, and other team members plan for the week and collaborate every day. We put tools in place that seamlessly supported the translation of a design to an engineering component. Our approach has empowered us to become exceptionally efficient at delivering a product that marries brilliant design concepts with strong engineering for the utmost precision.
Q: How does Aumni's company culture align with your values and interests?
A: Without question, what I love about Aumni's culture is our commitment to supporting a healthy work-life balance. This is a value that every company should hold -- not merely saying it’s important, but embodying that message and demonstrating it. Aumni encourages flexibility, and our leaders, myself included, foster this sense of freedom. At Aumni, everyone on the team is perceived as an individual and, as a result, we feel at ease in our ability to be productive at work. When I go to work, I feel like I'm coming to hang out with friends while we also build paradigm-shifting technology together. We are having fun, creating solutions to complex problems, and generating revenue at the same time. It’s a great feeling to know we’re aligned and dedicated to our collective success, in the office as coworkers and outside the office as individuals.
Q: What is one surprising thing about you that your colleagues may not be aware of?
A: I've climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and have plans for future adventures on the horizon. In general, I want to continue to pursue challenging outdoor summits; to that end, Utah is an ideal landscape for me.
Q: Is there a message you'd like to share with our current and future customers?
A: I would like to thank our present (and future!) customers and advisors for their invaluable feedback. We’ve had the good fortune of actively gathering customer input and engagement all along and this has been vital to our product development process. Our sophisticated and vocal customer ecosystem has been and will continue to be the reason that our platform is as effective as it is. We’re lucky to have you in our corner!