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A product manager’s specific role will vary from one company to the next. Still, all product managers must balance many aspects of their job, including customers’ needs, a vision for new products, and the product team. So what tools and strategies are needed to create a successful career as a product manager? What are the 5 Things You Need To Create A Successful Career As A Product Manager?

In this interview series, we are talking to Product Managers, founders, and authors who can answer these questions with stories and insights from their experiences. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Sornoso.

Eric Sornoso is the CEO of Mealfan, a company that connects customers to local restaurants and grocery delivery services. He has been in the food industry for over 15 years, working as an executive chef at some of the most renowned restaurants in his hometown.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers find it fascinating to trace the evolution of a person’s career trajectory. Can you give me a brief rundown of your career history, from your very first job to the position you hold now?

My career started shortly after I graduated college, when I was hired as a software engineer at a small startup. From there, I moved on to larger companies where I could hone my skills and gain experience. After a few years, I decided to pursue an MBA in Entrepreneurship and Technologies which helped me develop the business acumen needed to transition into a leadership role. 

Eventually, I was offered the position of CEO at Mealfan, an online food delivery service that specializes in healthy, sustainable meals. Here at Mealfan, I’ve been able to use my technical and business knowledge to expand our reach and scale operations while continuing to focus on quality. Ultimately, I am proud to be at the helm of a company that values both people and planet. The journey has been full of challenges and opportunities, but it is one I would not trade for anything. It's been an incredible ride! 

Most of the product leaders I’ve talked to sort of “fell into” product management and have become passionate about the job. What was the main event in your life that led you to this path?

I, too, "fell into" product management. It all started when my co-founder and I set out to create Mealfan, a meal delivery service for busy professionals. We had the idea but didn’t know how to bring it to life. After doing some research, we realized that our success would rely heavily on having a great product manager.

With my experience in the food industry, I decided to take on the role and quickly realized how passionate I was about it. I discovered that product management involves using creative problem-solving skills to ensure a successful end product. This challenge drove me to continue pursuing my career in product management, and now as CEO of Mealfan, I enjoy leading the product team and helping them achieve our shared mission. It's inspiring to see how much they have grown in their careers and are now true product leaders!

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Let’s pretend money and social status don’t exist—what is most important to you about your work? What is the North Star in your career?

If money and social status were taken out of the equation, I would be primarily focused on achieving success for my business and its people. As a CEO, it’s essential to always maintain a vision—my North Star—that is centered around building something that successfully helps our customers exceed their goals.

To ensure we stay true to this mission I ensure that every decision we make is rooted in tasking risks or experimenting with new ideas while still maintaining an ethical foundation. Having clear objectives means that no matter how difficult things get, as long as we’re moving closer to our goal every day then progress will be made. 

That being said, it's also important to find ways to have fun during this journey! Celebrating small wins (even if they seem insignificant) goes a long way in keeping morale high and providing the team with motivation so they can thrive not only professionally but personally too. 

Ultimately, what’s most important at work without money or status is having the resilience and drive to make your visions reality. This requires hard work of course but staying committed makes all the difference when you look back over time at how much has been accomplished through striving for excellence every day - even if you don't see results immediately!

Can you tell me a story from your professional experience that makes you a little emotional—a moment when you knew you were in the right line of work?

As the CEO of Mealfan, a nutrition-focused meal delivery service, one experience that stands out to me and makes me emotional is when we launched our very first healthy meal plan. Seeing the impact of our services on people’s lives was incredibly humbling and overwhelming in the best way possible.

It was amazing to see people who had previously been struggling with their diets—overweight, fatigued, and living an unhealthy lifestyle—now thriving on meals that were delicious, nutritious, and tailored specifically for their individual nutritional needs. I had tears of joy as I read some of the feedback left by these customers about how much better they felt eating this way. It made it clear that I had made the right choice in entering into this field because there’s no bigger sign of success than knowing you have positively impacted someone’s life. 

It also inspired me to continue to innovate around nutrition so we can help even more people live healthier lifestyles. We have since developed partnerships with local organic farmers which bring fresh ingredients directly from farm to plate at an affordable price point; we are launching lower calorie options for those conscious about body weight; and just recently started offering plant based meals for vegetarians/vegans or anyone else looking to reduce their meat intake without sacrificing flavor or nutrition in their meals! Being part of a company that is making such a difference has been incredible—seeing firsthand how much better life can be for those who choose nutritious food as part of their lifestyle will always stay with me and motivate me every day.

Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview about creating a successful career as a product manager. For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly articulate what a successful product manager does?

The primary job of a product manager is to identify customer needs and develop a strategy for creating products that meet those needs. They must consider market trends, usage patterns, and customer feedback when planning their approach.

Product managers need to have excellent communication skills in order to collaborate with other departments like engineering, design, marketing and sales. With this information they can create product roadmaps, determine feature prioritization & release timelines and execute product launches.

In addition to strategy work on existing products/features an important part of the job is to encourage innovation—this could include running focus groups or market tests for new products & features as well as getting involved early in discussions about how technology can be used effectively to solve user problems. 

At the end of each quarter it’s also important for product managers to report back on their successes which ties directly into business goals; usually by analyzing data from testing or from user surveys. Ultimately product managers are responsible for ensuring users get what they need quickly and efficiently while meeting company targets too!

What are the qualities that you think make someone a great fit for product management? And conversely, what are some traits that would make you hesitate to recommend this profession?

I’ve seen first-hand what it takes to be a great product manager. From my experience, I believe the essential qualities that make someone a great fit for product management include strong problem solving skills, a passionate interest in customer experience, the ability to make well-informed decisions quickly, and an analytical mindset. 

These qualities are all necessary for effective product management because they allow product managers to develop creative solutions for potential problems before they arise, which is vital when managing complex products with varying requirements. Product managers need to stay up-to-date on industry trends and user needs; most importantly, they should remain highly organized and process driven throughout all stages of development. This requires not only being able to think outside the box but also having the practicality and self-discipline needed to ensure all tasks are completed correctly despite their complexity or time constraints. 

Likewise, there are certain traits that may dissuade one from entering into this profession: Inability or unwillingness to accept constructive criticism; difficulty staying motivated during challenging times; an aversion towards change or risk taking; lack of confidence in their decision making capabilities; poor communication skills (both verbal/nonverbal); failure in recognizing organizational politics and its impact on incoming projects etc.. An individual exhibiting these traits while working in product management will likely find themselves struggling with everyday tasks as well as finding success within this field overall. 

Ultimately, becoming a successful and productive member of any team requires both hard work and having certain aptitudes specific to each role. Being aware of both your strengths as well as areas you may need more development can help you better understand if this is truly the right choice for you professionally speaking!

When you think of the strongest team you’ve ever worked with, why do you think the team worked so well together, and can you recall an anecdote that illustrates the dynamic?

I had the privilege of working with some truly incredible people over the years. One team stands out as being one of the most cohesive groupings I’ve ever had the pleasure to manage—they were an absolute powerhouse. 

What made this particular team so special was that each individual on it was highly skilled and passionate about what they did, yet at the same time very accommodating and open-minded towards their colleagues’ ideas and perspectives. Every member brought something unique to the table, which created a wonderful sense of collaboration between all involved. 

An anecdote which perfectly illustrates why this team worked so well together is from a project assignment we gave them at Mealfan; to design a new meal delivery service for our company. We split them up into two distinct groups: “Customers” (who focused on user experience) and “Operations” (which dealt with logistics). Even though each group operated independently, there was always plenty of cross-team discussion occurring between members, which enabled everyone to contribute an individual perspective without detracting from limited resources or distracting from overarching goals. This not only resulted in great results but also fostered ongoing morale within both teams—something can be difficult to achieve in businesses nowadays! 

This cohesive environment enabled every member to learn invaluable lessons through every task and provided us as managers with invaluable insight into how different teams worked together harmoniously when faced with complex challenges. In my opinion there could never have been a better example than this exceptional team when demonstrating how powerful communication between individuals ultimately leads to greater productivity levels in organizations such as ours here at Mealfan.

A lot of theory around project management focuses on frameworks and methodologies. Can you recall a situation you’ve dealt with where you’ve had to toss these things by the wayside and come up with a unique solution to a problem?

I have had to come up with creative and unique solutions to many problems over the years. One situation that really stands out was when we had an especially ambitious project—expanding our customer base by 50% in six months—that required us to think outside the box when it came to project management.

We knew traditional frameworks would not be sufficient for achieving our goal, so instead of relying on them, we created a custom process which focused heavily on collaboration and communication. We held daily meetings where everyone could provide their insights and ideas which allowed us to quickly identify potential roadblocks and develop strategies for overcoming those challenges before they became too complex or time-consuming. This open forum of discussion was critical in allowing us to move forward quickly as any inconsistencies or missteps were solved almost immediately with collective input from the group.

By taking an unorthodox approach, removing ourselves from pre-defined structures, and engaging our team relentlessly from start to finish, we managed to exceed our goals ahead of schedule! Rather than just implementing existing frameworks or methodologies blindly without giving proper thought into what might work best for each individual project at hand, this experience taught me the importance of thinking outside the box and coming up with processes tailored towards specific projects instead of relying solely on existing systems.

What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful Career As A Product Manager” and why? 

1 . A strong technical background: Product managers need to understand the ins-and-outs of technology in order to make informed decisions about new features and products. Knowledgeable product managers have experience in coding, debugging, database design, mobile development and other tech skills that can help them quickly identify solutions for their companies’ products or services.

2 . Business acumen: A great product manager needs to be able to interpret customer feedback into actionable insights that drive business success. They should be able to recognize market trends, anticipate consumer behavior and develop strategies based on data collected from customers or competitors' offerings.

3 . Strategic vision: The best product managers are forward-thinking strategists who can create long term plans with measurable goals that allow their teams and companies stay competitive over time while remaining agile enough to adapt quickly when needed.  

4 . Excellent communication skills: Technology is only part of the equation—great communication is essential for successful team building among developers, stakeholders and end users alike making sure everyone’s expectations are aligned so your company delivers high quality products as effectively as possible.

5 . Strong project management abilities: Product managers should know how manage projects such that projects remain within budget constraints yet still account for changes due unforeseen circumstances that may arise during the course of development cycles - because often times this will ultimately determine whether your product succeeds or fails in the marketplace.  

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?

Everyone knows that food is an essential part of our lives, and with the growth of the global population it’s becoming more important to ensure people have access to healthy and nutritious meals. That’s why I would create a movement to make sure everyone has equal access to good quality, sustainable food.

At Mealfan we believe in making food accessible for all. Our mission includes providing nutritious meal options for people without compromising on taste or sustainability. To create this movement, we need to look beyond just feeding people: We will work together with local communities, build strong relationships between growers and producers, promote ethical labor practices as well as environmental protections from farm-to-table. 

By creating a true farm-to-table system—one where everyone can benefit—we can help change not only individual diets but also entire economies through increased wages, job security, social welfare systems and improved nutrition standards across regions while preserving natural resources around the world. In addition, by working closely with governments around the world on international accords and regulations related to food prices and subsidies we can ensure universal access at competitive rates regardless of geographical location or economic standing. 

We want this movement to be driven by passionate individuals who are ready to fight poverty caused by malnutrition head on! People should be empowered so they understand their nutritional needs as well as how their purchasing decisions shape the global economy today—and tomorrow! Together we will become conscious consumers who value products for their nutritional benefits rather than just low prices alone; which helps farmers achieve fair wages for crops grown sustainably using environmentally sound methods from start-to-finish; ultimately allowing us to all gain access better quality goods at a lower price point over time.

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By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is the Editor of The Product Manager. Following six years of experience in the tech industry, she pivoted into the content space where she's had the pleasure of working with some of the most brilliant voices in the product world. Driven by insatiable curiosity and a love of bringing people together, her mission is to foster a fun, vibrant, and inspiring community of product people.