Building Products for Positive Social Impact with Divya Dhar

Exponent Alumni
Mitchell KimMitchell KimLast updated

We talk to Divya Dhar an Exponent alumni, on her diverse journey from being a doctor to founding non-profits and most recently a stint in product management. Divya is currently PM at Google, working on Google Maps, specifically on its rideshare and delivery verticals.

Q: How would you answer the “Tell me about yourself” question?

From a very young age, my goal has been to serve and develop people using science. Early on I did this by becoming a doctor. I also founded a non-profit that inspires young people to end extreme poverty that grew to be the largest voice for youth on issues of international development nationally. Along this journey, I realized how important creativity is for me and how I wanted to scale the impact we were making to a global level.

This led me to start a health tech company in order to reduce the burden of care coordination in hospitals. I sold this company after 3.5 years. In pursuit to develop people, I joined Faire, an online wholesale marketplace because it helps entrepreneurs (mostly women) grow their small businesses nationally.   Interested in learning how to grow a global business, I chose to join Google Maps as a PM to help grow our rideshare and deliveries verticals, both at nascent stages. I felt these industries in the last few years have economically developed tens of thousands of people around the world, and by building the right products for them, I’d get to advance people using technology.

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your transition from a doctor to an entrepreneur and a product manager?

I love science and people, which drove me to become all of these things. I didn’t realize before that I also love being creative. Eventually, I decided to embark on a different journey where I could bring all of these together. I started by doing an MBA, during which I met my cofounder and started our health tech company, Seratis. One skill physicians learn is synthesis, the ability to bring information together from various sources and areas and draw insights. This I believe is one of the central skill sets of a PM as well.

Q: Is there a common thread between the startups you founded in the past?

I solve problems I’ve personally felt before. I believe this drives a deeper level of user empathy. Being a doctor, I knew how hard it was to coordinate my patient’s care. Similarly being a person of color, I knew how hard it was to shop for beauty online.

Q: Is there any difference between product managing for for-profit vs. non-profit organizations?

Yes, in my non-profit I wanted to involve as many people as possible to build a ground momentum, however, in a startup, you are judged by how labor and capital-efficient you are.

To elaborate, every non-profit and company is different. It just so happens, the goal of our non-profit was to inspire young people to end extreme poverty. To do this we had to create a ground swell movement of young people who through our collective voices could get policies changed both at a federal level and private sector. To do this, we had to maximize involvement. This was also voluntary, hence we could keep our expenses to a minimum while we involved thousands of young people. On the other hand, at the start up every person we hired was an employee. Federal law actually prevents voluntarism at a company. So now you have to maximize on maximum impact per person or employee. It’s a very different maximization function.

Q: What was the hardest thing about building products in these spaces?

Learning new industries from scratch was both difficult and exhilarating. I think in all it pays to distinguish who you are selling to!

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs and product managers?

Be very clear what you want to be between a social entrepreneur and an entrepreneur in general. As they both require very different optimizations and values. I think everything you do in this world, you should do in order to serve. Hence, every action should lead to positive impact. That means the goal of your company should maximize for positive impact. Any monetary value you create is an indicator of the impact you’ve created.

However, it’s extremely hard to optimize for both at the same time. If you have to separate maximizing monetary value with maximizing impact, it’s hard to do either well. Either pick only one, or ensure they both are already aligned in the goal of the company. Focus really goes a long way.

Q: Who’s a product manager you admire?

My direct boss, Eli Danziger, and my director, Baljeet Singh! Not trying to be cliche, but I did luck out.

Q: Could you tell us how you prepared for your interviews? What was the most difficult thing when you were recruiting for product roles and how did you overcome it?

For the phone interview, I did about 30 mocks mainly focused on product design and metrics. For the on-site, I had about 80 mocks under my belt, including two from coaches at Exponent.

The hardest part was studying for the technical round at Google. For this I read very widely and studied for nearly two months full time. I’ve written how I did this in detail on my blog here

Q: How did Exponent help with your interview process?

There are too many to state.

However, the biggest thing is that I learned how to empathize (with the problem, users, and pain points) more during product design questions which allowed me to be more creative. I also learned to break the problem down with metrics and estimation. And I learned the art of leading the interviewer by signposting appropriately, summarizing and directing the questions when relevant.

Q: Any advice for aspiring PMs applying, interviewing, and considering offers?

Mock practices are key! Use resources like Exponent and their excellent coaches to fine-tune your skills. In the end, the more practice you have, the better you get.

That's a wrap! Thank you so much for reading.

You can find more about Divya through her blog or on her LinkedIn.

Interested in breaking into product management like Divya with the help of Exponent's expert interview coaching? Visit Exponent's Interview Course and website to learn more.

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