Today, we talk to Elaine Mau, product manager at A3Ventures, the innovation lab and capital investment engine of AAA Mountain West Group (AAA MWG).
From Equatorial Guinea to a bubble tea startup to her first product management gig
It’s been an interesting journey for Elaine from working on an offshore platform off the coast of Equatorial Guinea to starting her own bubble tea business to launching new consumer-facing products at A3Ventures.
When she graduated, she was interested in energy and took a role which gave her a lot of responsibilities. As a Technical Project Manager at ExxonMobil, she learned how to solve complex problems across multiple functions around the globe, from installing a 4-story distillation unit in a Texas refinery to production equipment 2000 ft on the ocean seafloor. It was exciting in the beginning, but for her, engineering and construction management was conventional – the way it’s planned and the technologies involved.
She began exploring what she wanted to do, so she launched her bubble tea business in Houston. She had always felt there was a better way to make bubble tea without powers and syrups. What she learned was that she loved learning about customer needs, developing a product, figuring out marketing and operations, and iterating on all aspects. At around the same time, she discovered Design Thinking and fell in love with this new way of solving a problem through customer pain points. After a couple of side design projects and launching Design Thinking Houston Meetup group, she realized she needed to change.
That was when she made a career move to a Product Designer at Allstate. She conducted interviews, synthesized insights to uncovered unmet needs, and developed and test concepts. This role was the first step to Product Management.
Elaine’s current role at A3Ventures and how she transitioned from a non-software technical role to product management
When she joined A3V as a Product Manager, she immediately felt at home. PM encompassed everything she enjoyed in her previous work, specifically owning the launch of a new product. That’s essentially what she has been doing the past few years. Currently, as the Product Manager for CarConnect, she is working on building a better way to buy and sell cars. She helps build the marketing website, customer portal, and admin dashboard. She has launched three products from idea to market, including AAA House Manager and CarConnect, and a patented fueling technology. These experiences reaffirmed this is the right path for her and she continues to invest in her product management skillset, such as strengthening my business skills at Haas.
Elaine loves figuring out what the problem is and solving it in a way that blends user needs, technology (if needed!), and business. As mentioned before, it’s a culmination of everything she loves to do: recognizing opportunities, working across cross-functional teams, and iterating on solutions.
She started from a non-software, non-traditional tech background, so it was difficult to transition. Like most transitions, she started doing side-projects, whether that was starting my own business or helping out a start-up like BossedUp. In those projects, she started playing with prototyping tools, gathering customer feedback, and developing a vision for what she was building. 170 applications and many rejections later, she was able to land the Allstate Product Designer role, where she would be able to work on digital projects and conduct design research full-time. At the same time, she applied to business school; though she understood it was not necessary, she felt it was another avenue that would help her transition.
Elaine’s typical day at A3Ventures
As per Elaine, this changes depending on what part of the cycle you in, but generally, she is talking to a lot of different people across different workstream resolving issues to closure, collaborating with various function, and influencing team and managers.
Here’s what she might be doing on a typical day:
7:00 am – Exercise time
She goes for a run or goes to the climbing gym. This is her sacred time for herself. It wakes her up and provides her energy throughout the day! She does not drink coffee or tea.
9:00 am – Ramp Up Time
She gets her breakfast, catches up on industry news, replies to emails, and prioritize what two items she needs to get done during the day.
9:45 – Daily Stand-up
This take 5-10 minutes where she and her team go around saying what they did the day before, what they will do during the day, and any blockers. If there are any blockers, she takes notes.
10:00 am Head down
Her brain is still fresh then, so she usually tries to use her mornings for critical thinking on what to work on next, developing a deck for stakeholders, analyzing data or thinking through the product strategy.
11:00 am Resolving issues
This could be walking to engineering or talking to someone who requests a feature to understand their needs. She could be shooting off emails to get certain pieces of information.
12:00 pm Lunch
She loves lunch and the break
1:00 pm Usability testing results
She reviews the test results with a designer and talks through what she and her team heard and what it meant. She and her team then come up with some next steps.
2:00 pm Writing up requirements/grooming stories/any follow-ups
She could be crafting user stories (“As a user, she wants X so that Y”), responding to inquiries, or adding requirements to upcoming stories in their tracker (Jira). If the technical design of features is more complicated than can be handled in a sprint planning meeting, she typically meets with engineers separately to discuss how they might pull this off.
3:30 Catch up with team members
Whether it’s a business analyst, product marketing, or operations, she often needs to chat with her counterparts. Especially before launch, this is critical in making sure they’re all aligned on what’s going on.
4:30 PM QA
Her team is small so that she ends up QAing a lot of the new features, then adding them to Jira and prioritizing them.
5:00 PM Wrap-up
Finish up her tasks for the day.
Elaine’s secret of her success as a PM
Elaine says that she still learning, but the secret to her current success is finding the right problems to solve to hit her company’s goals.
Her predictions on disruption in the car buying/selling industry-
The car buying/selling market is a large, mature market, dominated by dealerships, but when we take a look at the auto/mobility industry as a whole – things are obviously changing. Car ownership itself will decline as shared mobility and autonomous vehicles take hold in urban strongholds. A new ‘ownership’ model could be through car subscription (which AAA has also launched!). Even if people do want to buy, as people are more comfortable with buying online, full transparency on the car you are buying is increasingly in demand. Embracing digital disruption and finding ways to reduce buyer and sellers pains will be the key to success.
What does Elaine do in her free time-
She currently is a part-time MBA student, so much of my “free” time is split between school and climbing.
Elaine helps organizations transform ideas into new ventures. She specializes in product management, rapid prototyping, strategic planning and analysis, go-to-market strategy and customer experience. She loves bringing new technologies and delightful services to market, particularly in cleantech, mobility, and travel.
Elaine has done her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and is pursuing her MBA at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. For the first five years of her career, she worked as a technical project manager at ExxonMobil; during that time, she took her first foray into entrepreneurship by launching a bubble tea startup called Urban Leaf. She then switched to a product designer role at Allstate Digital Ventures before making her move into product management at A3Ventures.
This post has been published on www.productschool.com communities.