Prachi Sahoo has carved out a unique career path, alternating turns as a startup founder with full-time roles at some of the biggest software companies in the biz, including Infosys, Accenture, and IBM. Now, as Director of Product Management for the enterprise accounting software company BlackLine, she’s working on the company’s AI/machine learning efforts and data security.
What she’s learned from running her own companies and helping others run theirs is that “selecting the right problem to solve can help save you many years of work,” and that continuous learning is the key to success.
“My mantra has been to crush any doubt by being extremely knowledgeable,” she says.
Here, Sahoo talks about how to get the experience you need to succeed, what she’s working on now that excites her the most, and why she chose to join BlackLine.
Tell us about your career journey and what led you to your job at BlackLine.
I started as an engineer with Tata Motors, India’s number one automotive company. While working there, I soon realized I have a strong knack for software technology. I was especially fascinated by the power of software to help run an enterprise efficiently. I was in a key role to implement SAP ERP solutions there.
After that, I traveled all over the world as a part of Infosys, Accenture, and IBM, where I was responsible for transforming large-scale enterprises by building solutions on top of SAP ERP technology. In the meantime, I also conceptualized and launched my own startups. The combination of these two experiences and working with top enterprise companies led me to enterprise SaaS product management at IBM, SAP Ariba, Jobvite, and now at BlackLine.
What attracted you to work in tech, and to work at BlackLine?
In my first job at Tata Motors, I experienced firsthand the power of technology in transforming businesses. Since I am a problem solver at heart, I wanted to be a part of the solution. So, I decided to work in tech.
Before joining any company, I always ask myself the question, “With my experience, can I take the company to the next level?” For BlackLine, my answer was a strong “yes.” I have very strong enterprise SaaS product management paired with startup product management, which I can utilize here. As a past female startup cofounder, I have deep respect for Therese Tucker, our CEO, who wrote the first version of BlackLine and brought it to success. It is my honor to work for her and BlackLine.
What tips do you have for successfully delivering large-scale products with multiple stakeholders?
Maintaining a strong network makes a big difference—you will need the advice. You should also welcome varying opinions; that’s the only way we can innovate. Always iterate and measure success, and never forget the interdependencies. Regression testing is important and can save many sleepless nights. Finally, communicate, communicate, communicate.
What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?
I am working on three key aspects that are critical to the success of BlackLine. By now, the world is very much aware of the power of data. I’m excited to lead the data platform effort, which will help us cater to the scale of our current and future enterprise customers. Similarly, our AI/machine learning effort is futuristic and will keep us ahead on the innovation curve. Since we serve in the enterprise space, keeping our customers’ data secure is one of our key responsibilities. I’m happy to lead the security area as well.
What has been the key to your success working in a field where women are often underrepresented?
Make sure your voice is heard; silence is acceptance. You also have to be patient and recognize that trust takes time and a lot of hard work.
What advice do you have for women who want to follow a similar career path as yours?
If you are in technology/strategy consulting and want to be in product management, volunteer to help a startup. Startups need a lot of help and you will get a lot of ground-level experience in product management. Then apply for product management roles in companies that need your domain experience. You should be able to combine the startup and technology/strategy experience to land your first job. Be patient. It takes time and the right opportunity. Be flexible in your first role. You will have a lot of options in future roles you take on. Never stop learning and expanding horizontally.
What skills and traits do you think are necessary to be a good leader in technology?
You need to be obsessed with solving whatever problem is at hand for the sake of customers. Stay updated on the latest technological innovations and capabilities. Networking and strong communication skills are also important.
What lessons did you learn from successfully launching two startups that you have applied to your career?
Be a painkiller, not a Band-Aid. Always remember that you are trying to build a business through the product you offer, so financial viability and healthy profitability are extremely important.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
The path to success is a journey. Enjoy every bit of it and you will not feel the pain.