From Product Vision to Market Success: Insights from a Senior Director of Product Management
Chris Ilacqua knows firsthand that technological innovation never stops. Over 30 years in the analytics space, he has ridden the waves of innovation, and now he recognizes generative AI as the next disruptor. To keep himself on the cutting edge of analytics advancements, Chris took the role of Senior Director of Product Management at WhizAI.
Why WhizAI Is the Perfect Fit
WhizAI is a generative AI platform, pre-trained specifically for life sciences companies. It leverages large language models (LLMs) that allow users to ask questions conversationally. The platform understands and responds to the information they need, using optimal visualizations. With WhizAI, the data team doesn’t have to build dashboards and run analyses. The platform gives business users analytics autonomy, allowing them to ask even complex questions and access the insights they need in an instant.
“Generative AI is the logical next step for all analytics solutions,” Chris says. However, he knew that not all analytics solutions are positioned to make a lasting impact on the industry—and to be the best fit for this chapter of his career. “When you join an organization, you need to look at who’s driving it. Some founders have no tech expertise, and some have tech knowledge but no business experience,” he points out.
But when Chris met WhizAI co-founders Rohit Vashisht and Amitabh Patil, he recalls, “There was a little magic there. They are the perfect combination of innovation and business know-how.”
“I know I’m working with the right guys at the right time, solving the right problems with the right technology,” he says.
The Senior Director of Product Management Role at WhizAI
As a self-described “adrenaline junkie,” Chris says he enjoys the pace of his Director of Product Management role. He continually collaborates across teams and considers multiple factors to make product decisions, from design philosophy and business strategy to documentation and training resources. “Everything that goes into taking a product to market,” he says.
Once each quarter, he and his team review all ideas from various WhizAI departments. They evaluate those recommendations against WhizAI’s vision, competitive strategy, and market demand. They also consider whether a feature or update is for an existing customer and will generate revenue. Chris also works with engineering to determine the resources and costs necessary for development before taking plans to leadership for approval. Then, once the strategy is in place, the product team runs three sprints per quarter and reprioritizes work as needed.
He adds that WhizAI customers can be the driving force behind innovation. For example, a pharma company with an IT team with a high level of data literacy was looking for ways to enhance its ability to explain the company’s performance. “Now that feature is a part of the core stack,” he says.
Managing a Successful Team
In addition to collecting all of the information necessary to make decisions to guide product development, Chris also manages a dispersed team with an impressive collective skillset. The 13 resources that work with Chris have expertise in areas including natural language processing (NLP) engines that give the platform the ability to understand how life sciences company teams speak. Others focus on visualizations to provide charts and graphs that are accurate and useful to life sciences teams. He also oversees resources responsible for data management.
From his office in the U.S., he manages the team, with members in Ukraine and India, favoring a flat organizational style. “I don’t believe in hierarchies,” he says. “The best idea wins—whether it’s mine or another team member’s.” He also encourages design thinking, reminding his team to learn about users, why they need the project, and how they’ll use it so the final product precisely meets their needs.
Advice for Aspiring Product Managers
Looking back at his career and at his work ahead, Chris says there is a key to his success. “You have to be passionate about your subject area. For me, it has always been analytics and, specifically, how to make analytics more accessible.”
He adds that product managers also need to take risks. “I teach university students, and I tell them that when I was in their shoes, this industry didn’t exist.” He says aspiring product managers should look for industry gaps, learn about emerging technologies that can address them, and “leapfrog” over people who prefer the status quo.
“Some people don’t want disruption, but it’s an opportunity, not a threat, if you channel it right,” Chris says. And he believes it’s the Director of Product Management’s job to get everyone behind that vision. “Product managers, by their nature, have the insight that others don’t. We see things 360 degrees. If we can take everyone in the organization with us, then we all succeed,” he says.
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