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Women at Tulip: In Conversation With Soumya Shukla

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At Tulip, our founding values include Diversity & Inclusion. The Women @ Tulip Committee is a grassroots internally organized team with the purpose of showcasing the careers of exceptional women internal and external to Tulip. As part of a mini-series, we will be releasing “in conversation” interviews with some of our top talent. The purpose of the series is to highlight their career journeys, celebrate diversity in many forms, and contribute to the dialogue in the tech ecosystem.

This week, you’ll find us in conversation with Soumya Shukla, Senior Product Manager at Tulip.

What are your career experiences prior to Tulip and how did they prepare you for your current role in the Product team here?

Soumya: My journey into product was rather convoluted. Before MBA, I worked for General Motors launching mini cars in Asia. Afterwards, I worked in management consulting for a few years. The skills acquired at both jobs have proved to be very useful in a product role since one has to think about business value, resource utilization and opportunity costs at all times. I moved into the world of retail-technology companies a few years ago, first in product marketing and then product management.

At Tulip, we work with some of the largest and most prestigious fashion brands in the world. As a product manager, it is important to have expertise over the craft and also possess sector or domain knowledge. I believe both my experience and my personal appreciation for our customer’s brands helped prepare me for my role at Tulip.

You’re still fairly new to Tulip. How did you hear about your role and why did you decide to join?

Soumya: I first learnt about Tulip at NRF 2017 when many of my colleagues and prospective customers talked about this one company that “gets” omnichannel. That was quite the testimonial given how omnichannel user experience had remained a mystery year after year at every conference. I had been tracking Tulip’s successes since then and was all too happy when I got the chance to interview.

However, the reason I decided to join was not only because of Tulip’s reputation in the retail-tech SaaS world but also because of the people I met during my interview process. It was a delightful experience that was seamlessly executed. At one point, after two back to back interviews in a conference room, Tulip’s CEO Ali Asaria popped in and asked me if I wanted any water or coffee since he had been watching how long I had been sitting in the same spot!

Over the course of a year, there’s been a lot of planned changes in Tulip’s Product from a process, delivery and team perspective. You have a front row seat to all this transformation. What would you say are some changes you’re seeing and also themes or philosophies driving this change?

Soumya: Tulip has gone through a massive growth spurt in the last few years. As a company scales, it is expected that organization structures will evolve and transform. Product Management is one of the most critical functions in a tech company. In fact, a strong product function could prove to become an enduring source of competitive advantage. I do believe that Tulip’s leadership understands this.

One of the biggest themes for this year is to move away from customizations. As a SaaS product company, Tulip’s core product team would deliver features & enhancements in an iterative fashion. Another theme is around Product & UX processes and protocols. The team has introduced formal processes that are essential for a fast scaling company.

How do you see your own role leading the evolution of Tulip’s product?

Soumya: I am the product person for Tulip Unlimited, a product offering targeted towards fashion brands or retailers that have a wide range of digitization needs. These fashion brands & retailers are market leaders and trendsetters. I work closely with their business & IT stakeholders to identify emerging trends in shopping behavior and store associate needs. This front row access is unprecedented for any product manager. These insights go into ideation, discovery and development of newer features and enhancements on Tulip’s products.

You work with two of Tulip’s largest clients and interact with the broader Product team. What is your typical day like both here and when you’re on location with clients?

Soumya: Lol, I’m a lot better dressed when I visit the clients! My focus on the client site is mainly to facilitate and learn. We receive a lot of great feedback from our users, the store associates. We also collect in-app user behavioral data that is then analyzed for insights. My business & IT stakeholders at both Saks and Chanel understand the pulse of their stores and are very helpful towards hypothesis formulation.

At Tulip, I work with UX and product teams as well as the strategic account development teams. A typical day starts with the morning scrum meeting followed by sometime carved out for answering developers’ questions. No two days are alike. There are many big thinking days, many strategy days, some data days and several client days. One big highlight of every other week is demo day when we present development progress internally as well as to the client.

How do you think Tulip has managed to gain its current product following by global retailers? What do you think sets Tulip’s product apart from the pack?

Soumya: Tulip identified a real unmet need in the market and set out to solve for that need. Its approach was refreshing and global retailers could visualize business value right away. Tulip’s products are designed and built to augment a retailers most valuable resource – the store associate. None of the other solution providers have a holistic offering that includes a top notch Clienteling product that works effortlessly with an endless aisle solution and mobile POS.

What is it like working on the “Strategic Accounts” team at Tulip? How does this team interact with the rest of the organisation?

Soumya: The Strategic Accounts teams are its own squads. The development teams for these accounts operate independently to support their client’s product roadmap. This is a challenging task as the new features have to be built within the core product framework to prevent massive customizations. This also presents an opportunity for our dev teams to collaborate with product engineering teams. Also, there are engineering forums such as mobile-dev-leadership, that can act as a communication channel.

Most of the team is in Toronto or Kitchener so interaction with other colleagues is easy and company-wide social events present a good opportunity to network.

Where do you see yourself in your future career and what are you doing currently at work or outside of work to further your goals?

Soumya: My goals are fairly traditional in nature – grow in the corporate world and give back to the women in tech/ women in product communities.

In addition to regular product work, one of the big advantages of my role is that I get access to senior leaders at successful global retailers. This is helping me evolve my working style to be more effective around time-starved executives. As I progress in my product career, stakeholder management would become a bigger & bigger part of my job and my current role is helping me prepare for that.

Outside of work, I’m quite active in the Toronto product community. It helps me stay in the know of new tools & techniques and also offers a great opportunity to mentor and be mentored.

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