Meet this week’s Humans in Product, Andi Mastrosavas. Getting into Product Management is quite a journey for some. For Andi, it was an adventure that took her all across the world. She lived in two continents, 5 states, across 6 cities, and in over 30 houses. “It’s safe to say, I am accustomed to change.”
“My story goes way back. I started in what I call Creative Technology, editing video on linear systems. When new software emerged that could run on a desktop machine, convert analog video to digital and enable video editing in a nonlinear fashion, I bought hardware from Asia, software from the US, and built my first edit suite. So I started out really into hardware.
Back then it was super expensive, unstable, and time-consuming to convert from analog to digital, kind of undermining the benefits of going digital in the first place. But I learned a lot about how technology can enable the creation of content. And so, I kept using it. That software was Adobe’s first version, or what became Adobe Premiere.
When I was working at 3 Mobile, they were building the first mobile video streaming platform and I was producing content for it and doing post-production. This was my first foray into video streaming platforms. From there, I had the software bug! I went into news publishing, and then moved to the United States and worked across spatial computing, streaming media, e-commerce, and SaaS.
I’ve seen the entire spectrum from a small seed-stage startup, right through to Fortune 1 and everything in-between, predominantly overseeing product, design, and user experience.
“I did my undergrad in Multimedia Design and then did my Master’s in mechanical engineering, where I majored in Human-Computer Interaction.
The generative and evaluative research skills of the HCI discipline really started to become the foundation for how I built products and I became a passionate advocate for research as the critical component to product development.”
My last product gig before leaving the US was working within Store Nº8, Walmart’s incubation arm. I was leading Product for an incubated startup called Insperience, exploring VR as a merchandising medium. The name Store Nº8 pays homage to the eighth Walmart store launched in Morrilton, Arkansas, where Sam Walton tested new strategies and innovations. He was actually quite product-driven in how he operated, talked to customers regularly, experimented with formats, and drove efficiencies.
Overall, I spent 10 years in California, and could not be more grateful for the experience that I had there and the teams that I worked with. I’m fortunate for all the skills I learned, particularly about venture capital and building businesses.
I then made the move back to Australia. But I knew coming back, that I didn’t want to work for a singular company that only builds one product. I had a ton of experience that I thought would be beneficial across a range of different companies and different products.
Knowing this, working in a consulting kind of capacity was where I was going to be able to do that. I had been a fan of Brainmates for a long time and I’d said to my wife that if I ever returned to Australia, that’s where I wanted to work.
So that’s where I find myself now. I actually get to do what I said. I wanted to move back to Australia and work within a bunch of different organisations, helping them with their product practice rather than being responsible for one single product and that’s exactly what I do.“
As Andi had hoped, she can call Australia home once again. This time, driven to make a change in the Product Management scene and help others. However, she noticed that there was a big difference between the Australian and American Product market.
“I believe the biggest difference between the Australian and American Product market is the barrier to enter. Australia has a lot of geographic disadvantages, and a barrier to entry that is quite high, which results in a duopoly in a lot of industries or categories. This means that the competition is quite low within the market.
That is not the case in the United States, where the barrier to entry is much lower and the market is highly competitive. In the United States, there’s a real sense of urgency because at any moment, someone is snapping at your heels either to take your market share, your business, or your job!
You wake up every day, saying how do I add value? How do I increase enterprise value? How do I stay ahead of the market and stay ahead of the competition?
This feeling definitely sharpens you and hones your senses. It is both a good and bad feeling.”
There are circumstances where that sort of urgency has an upside. It drives you to actually create real outcomes. It’s not all just grind, it can be positive because you get to see the benefit of it, and you get to see it fast.
You really need to be focused and efficient at doing stuff because there is no time for waste. You need to maximise your output and your value. At least that’s how I approached it. I don’t know if that’s the case for everybody.
I don’t find that necessarily in Australia and I think that’s because there is less competition. In Australia, a lot of industries are quite established and there’s less venture capital for newcomers to peel away market share.”
With any passion or career, it takes time to really get in the groove of things. Some of the most valuable insights and learnings are from others, and Andi is someone that is passionate about sharing her experiences with future PM’s.
“I think one of the most important things for future Product Managers to do is manage your own career. It’s not going to manage itself and you’re often going to be in organisations where your discipline is not well known.
You might be just one in a handful of product people and the rest of the organisation doesn’t really understand your practice. Thinking that your career is going to manage itself or it’s going to magically develop is a myth.
You have to actively manage your career development and choose your career path very deliberately around the things that you want to learn. Each time you make a career decision, choose the thing that you want to optimise or that you want to grow or develop.
People appreciate well-rounded Product folks that have immersed themselves in lots of different types of product environments and different industries. I believe that what you learn by moving like that is really beneficial.
Michelle Obama once said, “You CAN have it all. You just can’t have it all at once” and so it’s the same thing with your Product career. You’re never going to have the perfect product, with the perfect team, and the perfect manager, at the perfect company, but you might get a few of those things at different stages along the way.”
When she’s not being an inspirational Product leader, Andi is hosting dinner parties with lots of drinking and eating, spending time with her dogs, or exploring the outdoors with her wife Gillian. The story about how Andi and her beautiful wife is quite the tale.
“My wife is from Belfast but was living in LA. When I was doing my undergrad and studying abroad in Chicago, I made a bunch of friends there. We had been taking turns visiting each other. Like, they would visit me in Australia and then next, I’d go back to Chicago. The year I met my wife, I was older and I couldn’t do the long haul and then back it up with the flight to Chicago. I need my rest!
So I stopped over in LA. It was never my intention and I’d never spent anytime in LA before. I had about 3-4 nights as a sort of layover to get over the long haul. I was sitting in the hotel room flicking through TV channel after TV channel. I then said to myself, Andi, it’s Friday night in LA. Get up and get out!
I met Gillian, my wife, within about the first 5 minutes of stepping into the club. I then changed all of my plans and spent the month with her. Fast forward to 4 months later, and I had packed up my life, put my apartment on the market and relocated to LA. I knew in that first month that I wanted to be with her. That was over 10 years ago now.
I know how corny this sounds, but it was literally love at first sight. I used to think, Hollywood happy endings and love at first sight weren’t real. And then it happened to me. In Hollywood!”