From core finance to Product Management: This CA and Product Head of a $21 Million funded startup pushes CAs to think beyond the CFO goal

Chartered Accountant turned Product Head at Fintech

Going from numbers to product management may seem daunting for a chartered accountant, but Prachi Worlikar took the challenge head-on.

After spending 17 years at ESOP Direct, she joined Qapita - a Captable and ESOP management platform as Head of Product Management.

She says her functional understanding of the business and the product made the transition easier. She delves into this change of role and more in an insightful conversation with The Finance Story.

Back Story

Raised in a family of engineers and doctors, it was clear I would join the science stream. But as soon as my classes began, I realised how much I detested chemistry.

My family was very supportive and encouraged me to pursue the career of my choice with the only condition that I should have a professional degree in hand.

Through the process of elimination, I decided to enroll for a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com) degree.

During this period, I came to know about the CA course and it immediately piqued my interest. I had very little idea as to what being a CA really entailed.

In order to find out, I started working as an intern under a CA before going forward with my decision.

After a year or so I was fully convinced that this was the right path. I enrolled at The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) and started my journey.

Fast forward to 2000 I qualified as a Chartered Accountant. If that was not enough, I decided to study further and do my CPA US.

In 2003, I joined ESOP Direct, in the equity compensation domain.

Here I learnt first-hand about equity compensations as the markets in this domain in the US are very mature, unlike in India. 

That is when I believe my career kicked off.

From finance to product management: a natural transition

I joined ESOP Direct as a consultant and for the first time got to work on a product that basically managed the data for ESOPs (employee stock ownership plan).

To be specific, I was a Customer Success Executive working on the product. That is how my involvement with products began.

During this period, I got curious about what happened behind the scenes. This helped me gain more knowledge of the product management process.

Then the company decided to overhaul the ESOP management application and things started to pick up from there.

Since I interacted a lot with our clients and had a clear understanding of what they wanted from the product I got involved with the tech team.

I turned into a functional expert and would instruct the tech team on features required for the product, and so on.

Once they developed the application, I moved back to my role in the customer success team.

Thankfully, over the period of the next four to five years, I got to provide functional inputs, for all the products or modules they were building.

And in the process, I learned about User Flows in UX Design and other areas of the product.

I started documenting the product requirements and gave them to the developers for further development.

Although I did not know a lot about the product development process, I started participating in team meetings. This acted as a catalyst for my progression toward the Product Management Role.

Recognising my natural ability to operate as a product manager, one day my manager approached me.

The company was building a new product team hence he asked me if I would be interested to take over the product manager position. And the rest is history.

In 2008, I also became a certified equity professional (CEP) and was a very interesting progression.

17 years later… joining Qapita as Product Head

I had spent over 17 years at ESOP Direct. But when the job offer came from Qapita, I knew it was time to get out of my comfort zone.

Qapita is a Captable and ESOP management startup. Founded in September 2019 by Ravi Ravulaparthi (CEO), Lakshman Gupta (COO), and Vamsee Mohan (CTO), Qapita’s technology platform digitizes the entire captable and ESOP data of any company.

At first, it seemed unusual to leave a well-established job to join a startup, but when the founders explained the company’s vision to me, I was convinced.

Another key motivator to join a startup was the opportunity to build a product from the ground up.

I joined Qapita as its Product Head.

Working in tandem with teams

It may seem easier to make some product enhancements, in terms of visualisation, but it is complex.  

In terms of reporting, the tech team does not report to me.

But as a Product Manager, I need to be able to get everybody from the business team, the Quality assurance team, and the Design & Development team to work in tandem to fulfill the vision of the business.

That is the most interesting part of this role.

Of course, this interaction spans across the business team which gives us the instructions on product requirements.

It also includes understanding the problem statement, coming up with a solution to solve a business problem, documenting them, and considering the impact they will have on the product.

The key element is laying out the vision for the product.

I think being a CA and working in the finance domain has helped me immensely in terms of understanding the requirements.

Challenges I faced as a product manager

A Chartered Accountant moving into the product management role may sound a little complicated.

But in my case, it was quite natural because of my functional understanding of the business and the product.

Obviously, there were some challenges.

For instance, the development team or the tech team might not understand certain terminologies or functionalities of the business. I had to learn how to make the team understand certain things from a business perspective.  

On the other hand, the developers would use some technical terminologies that would sound completely alien to me such as databases, Data Query Language (DQL), etc.

In order to truly understand what the developers were talking about I learned a few programming languages, namely C++ and C#.

Of course, it took me a lot of effort, to get a good grasp on those things but overall, I enjoyed the journey.

In conclusion

Finance professionals have a plethora of avenues to pursue apart from the traditional roles because of a solid foundation that you already have.

I think there are various roles in the business fintech domain that you can definitely look into.

I would definitely say that becoming a CA is a stepping stone towards moving into non-typical roles. It is just the base that you are building on.

I am taking some courses on design thinking and service design that will advance my role as a Product Manager and am looking forward to what the future holds.

We at Qapita are hiring aggressively in the product team - people who can think out of the box, who can actually visualize a problem, be creative, and of course, be able to document these requirements, and explain them to the team is what we look for when while hiring a product manager.

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