An alumna's path from Yale SOM to a career in product management.
Ramya Gopal is a social justice advocate with the training of an MBA. She has over eight years of experience in research, data analysis, and product strategy and development in the nonprofit sector. She is currently a product director in a fintech nonprofit where she builds financial and tech products to serve low-income families. She is passionate about using her skills to make economic opportunities accessible to all.
Please describe your current role at Mission Asset Fund (MAF).
I lead an R&D team, called the MAF Lab, to build tech and financial products to financially empower low-income and immigrant families. We’re a relatively new team within MAF, which has been around for over 10 years. I helped build the MAF Lab in 2018 to more intentionally consolidate MAF’s work in research and product development. We build a cross-functional team and manage a contract software engineering team. Previous to my role at MAF, I conducted research in the philanthropic sector to strengthen the organizational effectiveness of foundations.
Could you share some detail about your path since graduating from Yale School of Management in 2017?
I had a bit of an unusual path. I moved out to San Francisco after SOM because it’s a hotbed of opportunity for social impact.
I found out about MAF through a book of essays called What It’s Worth given to me by Professor Kate Cooney, who teaches an economic development class at SOM. I used the book to reach out to leaders of local nonprofits whose mission and vision resonated with me. Surprisingly, a number of them responded to my cold emails! After learning about my skills, MAF offered me a short-term consulting opportunity to analyze the operational efficiency of their loan programs – and that turned into a full-time opportunity to serve as a Product Manager.
My only experience with product management was what I had learned from Professor Kyle Jensen’s MGT 656 Software Development course. My task as a Product Manager at MAF was to efficiently use resources to meet project goals. That’s a classic MBA problem, and so I was able to apply a lot of what I’d learned about managing people in my role. The rest of the standard PM responsibilities – from sketching prototypes to writing requirements and QA testing – I learned by simply doing it and asking for help from experts along the way.
Moreover, I was able to lean on MAF’s Tech Advisory Council, which is made up of experts across tech companies from Uber and Stripe to startups. They’ve been incredible at giving me feedback to help me do my job effectively.
One of the things that made it easier for me to transition to a PM role was having content-area expertise in economic development and a background in data analysis. Learning how to parse insights from data is a key part of being a Product Manager, and luckily I could apply those skills from my past roles. I’ve been able to craft the role to build on my strengths and find the resources to fill any gaps.
What advice would you give to current MBA students who are interested in a future career in Product Management?
There’s no standard PM role. It looks different across companies, which means there are many paths to becoming a Product Manager. Understand your potential strengths as a PM and find opportunities to build on those. Contact people working at companies you find interesting to understand how the PM fits into their company’s vision and larger team.
Additionally, I think it’s helpful to have a personal vision about how and why you think technology is useful. For me, technology is a tool to empower historically marginalized people. That focus helped me to identify organizations that aligned with my passion.
Mission Asset Fund sounds like such an amazing nonprofit organization! Would you be able to share some insight into what it is like to work at MAF and what your team is currently working on?
The MAF Lab is interesting because we’re a tech-oriented team embedded within a direct service nonprofit. MAF is deeply connected to the communities it serves and the work sits in different fields including asset-building, immigration, and advocacy. As a result, the team at MAF is very diverse both in terms of professional and personal backgrounds. Almost everyone has a personal connection to the mission. I wake up every day knowing I’m uniquely making a difference in the world and I get to do it with smart, hard-working colleagues who share my values.
One of our key successes to date has included launching MyMAF, a mobile app (available in both English and Spanish) that provides financial coaching at scale. MyMAF is one of the only fintech products developed by a nonprofit. We’re now working on enhancing the app to provide more tools for users to achieve their financial dreams. MAF is also planning on bringing the app to communities across the country through partnerships with nonprofits, so it’ll be exciting to see how it evolves in the coming year!