Meet the Product 50 Winner: Shahzad Shaikh

In this installment of our Product 50 interview series, get to know the winner of the Best Growth Product Leader category: Shahzad Shaikh of Asana.

June 6, 2024
Image of Noorisingh Saini
Noorisingh Saini
Global Content Marketing Manager, Amplitude
Product 50 Winner: Shahzad Shaikh

Shahzad Shaikh has built his career on one guiding principle: Say yes.

That philosophy turned a summer gig in a warehouse into his first salaried job. Years later, it propelled him to head of product management for the growth pillar at Asana, where his work earned him recognition as one of our 2024 Product 50 winners.

Learn more about Shahzad in the latest installment of our Product 50 interview series, which explores the winners’ career paths, inspirations, and challenges, as well as their insights into the trends shaping the digital product landscape.

Shahzad, welcome! To start, tell us about your career path. How did you get to where you are today?

The summer before I started college, I got a job at a supply chain solutions company. What started as a temporary gig unloading boxes from containers in the warehouse eventually turned into an “office job” because I kept asking for additional opportunities or if someone could teach me something new.

Even after school started, I wanted to keep at it. I moved all my classes to the evening so I could continue working and learning full time. Eventually, after many twists and turns, I was asked to take on an open digital project manager role (what would now be known as a product manager!) responsible for building logistics and warehouse management system products from scratch.

After graduating, I already had close to four years of full-time product management (PM) experience in the same space, so I wanted to branch out and learn how different industries operated. I took a job as a management consultant with EY. I did a lot of PM work but also got exposure to corporate strategy, finance, mergers and acquisitions, and operational transformation. Eventually, I wanted to return to my PM roots and moved to a smaller software consultancy called Originate.

I loved my consulting work, but the travel was brutal, so I moved to Experian, where I led product management for their Fraud and Identity Solutions portfolio. I had grown into a B2B product leader, but had the desire to do more consumer-facing work at scale. I joined Facebook and led multiple product teams in the Ads and Business Products group to build Meta Business Suite. I was able to lean in with my expertise in building for businesses and learn how to do it at massive scale given Facebook’s vast distribution.

That work eventually brought me to Asana to lead the growth team, where I focused on building a best-in-class early user experience. My scope organically expanded as I looked for more challenges and leaned into different parts of the business. That led to me taking on my current role as the head of product management for growth, mobile, and customer engagement.

Amidst all that, I tried my hand at my own startup. I launched a marketplace product but struggled to find product-market fit, and the unit economics weren’t working out. Even though it didn’t play out, it was such an amazing learning experience for me. It made me want to get significantly more technical, so I decided to start working toward a graduate degree in computer science.

Give us some insights into your day-to-day work

I lead Asana’s Growth pillar, which includes all the work to drive activation, engagement, and retention of our customer base—work that is traditionally called product-led growth. Growth also has a core product component, so I also get to lead our end-to-end mobile app, build out our communications and notifications platform, and oversee our investments in core search, navigation, and wayfinding.

I split my day in four ways:

  • Strategy: The growth pillar's overall direction and what we build to deliver value to customers as quickly and powerfully as possible
  • Execution: Resolving blockers, energizing teams, and facilitating healthy collaboration
  • People: Everything from recruiting, hiring, and coaching someone to uplevel their skills to navigating promotions and career growth
  • Learning: Asking questions, getting amazing insights, and learning from my team, my peers, Asana’s leadership, and our customers

Each of those areas involves connecting with our customers, so I try to do that in some form or another daily, whether speaking with customers directly or digging into qualitative research or quantitative data.

Another aspect I try to prioritize weekly is understanding and building the right processes to scale and grow as a company. That could mean our product development process, how we go to market, how we’re structured organizationally, or how we track product metrics to measure success.

Can you tell us what you’re working on or excited about now?

One is working out what it means to grow in the enterprise space, including what tactics and motions are required and how to serve both the user and the buyer. The historic growth playbook certainly works, but there are some nuances to ensure you’re growing at a healthy rate in this segment.

The other is figuring out what it means to bring artificial intelligence (AI) into the game. For example, how do we use AI capabilities in our onboarding experiences to make it the easiest and most delightful thing in the world and ensure users are getting value as quickly as possible? Or how can we better help users figure out who’s doing what by when in their organizations? How can AI answer those questions faster, better, cheaper, and more efficiently? The good news is we already have impressive capabilities with Asana AI that we keep building on to make the product even more powerful.

What challenges keep you up at night?

We're scaling as a company in a tough macroeconomic environment. That requires us to be fiscally responsible, deliver strong growth, and maintain a healthy culture of innovation and long-term thinking. Balancing those dimensions is a challenge that comes with a lot of change and requires the ability to continuously adapt.

What keeps me motivated through this is that we have a product that is clearly purpose built to take advantage of the wave of rapid AI innovation and to serve the unique needs of the enterprise segment. I’m really confident in our product strategy—and it's pleasing to see how much the team is focused on executional rigor and how our differentiated offerings are resonating with customers. The work to get here has been rewarding and I’m excited to continue this journey.

In general, I'm thrilled about where we're going as a company, the team we've put together, and what we're executing to win the Collaborative Work Management category. I try to cascade that vision, excitement, and energy to my team every day.

There’s AI, which I’ve touched on, but there’s also data strategy—how you collect and act on data. It’s not new, but it's becoming essential to have a robust data and measurement strategy and the ability to make data-driven decisions that deliver customer value.

I'll share an example: What metrics do you use to define success? And how do you ensure those metrics are clearly a proxy for customer value? For any corporate or growth strategy, it’s crucial to answer the questions of how you gather and act on data, what your tech stack looks like, and how you continuously improve as you learn more about your customers and your business.

How does data or digital analytics play a role in your work?

It's huge. I am a growth person through and through. I have a deep appreciation and interest in what quantitative data tells me. The data we collect and the metrics we act on are always intended to be a proxy for customer value. That's not to say that I don't also look at the qualitative data and deeply consider customer feedback—it's a complimentary conversation that produces powerful insights.

What advice do you have for aspiring product and growth leaders?

It’s what I would have liked to hear ten years ago: Make your North Star Metric the ability to learn, get experiences, and be challenged. Earn a story you can tell later. That usually gets you pretty far along.

The second thing I would say—and I still do this, sometimes to the detriment of my bandwidth—is never say no. If someone asks, “Can you help me with this?” say yes, even if you’ve never done it before. Or if your manager asks if you’re interested in something new, go explore it. The more experiences you gather, the more valuable you become as a professional.

What do you like to do outside of work that keeps you inspired?

I have a two-and-a-half year old who keeps me very busy. I know there will be a time, probably sooner than I know, when he doesn't want to hang out with me anymore, so I try to take advantage of every moment with him and my amazing wife.

I also recently got into road biking, and I have been writing on Substack, Reflections of a PM, which I'm excited to say has close to 1,500 subscribers! I try to write about what’s on my mind or something new I’m learning—feel free to give it a read or suggest topics you want me to write about!

Learn more about this year’s Product 50 winners—the most innovative people in product and growth around the world.

About the Author
Image of Noorisingh Saini
Noorisingh Saini
Global Content Marketing Manager, Amplitude
Noorisingh Saini is a data-driven content marketing manager and Amplitude power user. Previously, she managed all customer identity content at Okta. Noorisingh graduated from Yale University with a degree in Cognitive Science, specializing in Emotions, Consumer Behavior, and Behavioral Decision Making.