Women in Product Breakthrough Interviews — Shripriya Mahesh (Partner @ Spero Ventures)
“Life is an adventure and I believe that there are no set bounds to what an individual can accomplish.”
> Manager, New Products @ TVS Group
> Associate @ Mitchell Management Group
> VP, E-commerce @ NextCard
> VP, Product Management & Product Strategy // Product Marketing & Platform // Corporate Strategy @ eBay
> Head of Product @ First Look Media
> Filmmaker @ Tatvam
> Partner, Emerging Tech @ Omidyar
> Partner @ Spero Ventures
Shripriya is a partner at Spero Ventures where she invests in the things that make life worth-living. She looks for mission-driven founders building a future that belongs to everyone. Spero Ventures invests in companies working in the areas of well-being (health and ag tech), the future of work, and human connections.
Prior to Spero Ventures, she led Emerging Tech investing at Omidyar Network. She has been an active angel investor in, and board member or advisor to early-stage tech companies throughout her career. Before Omidyar Network, Shripriya led product and design at First Look Media. She formerly held several leadership roles at eBay including as Vice President of Product Marketing (US, revenue), and as Vice President of global Product Management. Prior to eBay, Shripriya was the VP of eCommerce at NextCard, the then premier online credit card company.
Shripriya has a deep interest in the visual arts, and directed Academy Award® nominees James Franco and Jessica Chastain as part of a collaborative feature that premiered at the Rome Film Festival and opened theatrically. She has an MBA from Harvard Business School, an MFA in Film from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a B.A. in Economics from Stella Maris College, Madras University.
Today, we had an interesting discussion with Shripriya about her career highlights, the relationship between technology and the arts, and the future of funding female entrepreneurs.
AP: Throughout your journey from product leader to film maker to venture capitalist, what has the term “breakthrough” meant to you as you navigated the line between technology and the arts?
SM: Life is an adventure and I believe that there are no set bounds to what an individual can accomplish. To me, “breakthrough” means breaking through the expectations of the world and of others, living or defining a journey the way you want to. One critical moment for me occurred when I was running product and product marketing at eBay. At the time, I was fortunate to receive offers to join other successful companies. However, instead of making the more obvious career move, I decided to go to grad film school at NYU, a goal I had for a long time.
Interestingly, although this move was a breakthrough from the more traditional route, I ultimately mastered many skills that translated directly to my career in tech. There are a shocking amount of similarities between creating a successful film and launching a successful company. Both processes could not be accomplished without building a strong team of dedicated people aligned around a shared vision. Both processes are iterative and require “editing”. And often, both require developing a scrappy mentality, the ability to create something out of limited resources.
AP: In 2017, female founders secured 2% of venture capital dollars. What will it take for there to be a breakthrough in the historical funding gender gap?
SM: The stats are definitely bad. But there are a whole set of things we can do to improve them. If you think about where things were even five years ago, we’ve come a long way.
When I was at eBay, the product org had 50% women. There was a very clear reason for this — the person who ran product was a woman (me), the person who I reported to, who ran all of tech, product & design and ops was a woman, and the CEO was a woman. Having women in leadership roles played a large role in that; there were more women in the pipeline. To catalyze this top-down cycle, we need more female founders and leaders making decisions. In the short term, we can give women more access to opportunities and resources. Let’s expose them more to VC. In my opinion, equal funding is not something you can guarantee. But what we can work towards is equal evaluation. And that requires venture firms to make a concerted effort to increasing the number of female decision makers. I’m proud to work at a firm where four out of five investors are women.
AP: Looking back at the diverse set of careers and products that you have built, what moments have you been most proud of?
SM: Surprisingly, that’s a really hard question. I’ve never thought about my life in that way. One defining point would be starting Spero Ventures. When the opportunity presented itself, I had only been at Omidyar Network for two years. However, Pierre, the founder of Omidyar Network and our single LP, and his team had confidence in Spero’s founding team and in me. I’m proud of that. And I only just realized it as I answered your question.
The other one goes back to eBay. When I joined product, there were all of 12 people on the team. It was growing very fast. Soon, it had grown to 25 people. And then 70 people. Within a year and a half, they asked me to run all of product globally. It was a special experience to be relatively young and have so much responsibility.
Outside of tech, I had a surreal experience directing James Franco and Jessica Chastain for a short during my final year of film school. There is nothing like directing people at the top of their game.
AP: What advice would you give your younger self?
SM: Even though this somewhat contradicts my view on life being an adventure, I’d also say don’t ever leave the playing field. When I left tech to pursue my passion for filmmaking, part of it included moving to NY and giving up some incredible opportunities in tech. At the time, I did not understand how important my role was as a female leader in product.
In retrospect, I would have told any female leader in my position that you can’t lose your voice at the table. Even if you have other passions you want to pursue, you should find a way to keep your voice in the discussion. Your voice has value.