Sarah Bond has recently taken up a new position as VP of Product at Genomics plc. She talks to Erevena’s Grant Hayward about her passion for products with the potential to transform real-world healthcare challenges into successful patient outcomes.
What is your background in product management?
It started with an engineering degree in Cambridge where I found that I liked applying technology to real-world problems, particularly in Healthcare. So, I followed that degree with a PhD in medical imaging at Oxford University. From there I moved into a science role with Siemens Healthineers, developing algorithms used for analysing medical scans. While I enjoyed the research aspect, what I really loved was seeing the methods and products being used by clinicians. I realised I liked being out of the purely development world, seeing and understanding the environments that our customers were in, and how we could add value to them, so I decided to go in a more commercial direction. I jumped out of medical imaging completely and joined Oxford University Innovation as a consultant, helping universities and companies transfer technologies out of academia and to commercialise them.
How did you move into product management?
It was fun working in tech transfer with a wide variety of industries and I learned a lot. But it’s healthcare that really motivates me, so I moved back into the sector almost eight years ago when I joined Mirada Medical as a product manager, ultimately becoming Chief Product Officer. Mirada has a particular focus on accelerating cancer care using software applications for medical imaging, which took me back to my earlier academic field of study. They take the latest artificial intelligence techniques and apply them to imaging, creating efficiencies in cancer diagnosis and treatment planning.
What is the role of product manager in healthcare?
For me, it is about making sure we build the right application to solve the right problem; a product that creates value. This is achieved by positioning product managers in the middle between your research and development teams, your commercial teams and your customers. Healthcare is a complex industry with many stakeholders, from payors to clinical users to patients themselves. A Product Manager needs to understand all these stakeholders and make sure they are positioning their product correctly. They need to create a product with the right set of features, making sure it solves the right problem, and that people are ultimately willing to pay for.
What makes a good product leader?
A very clear vision of what you’re building and why, and the direction you’re heading in. You need this because you have to take people with you from across the business. So that might be ensuring the development team is on board with what you’re going to build and getting the sales team up to speed on the product you’re going to give them to sell. So, we’re talking about communication and people skills, and being able to work in different ‘languages’ in terms of how each group thinks, talks and understands the product. Critically, you also need to understand the market and the commercial opportunity inside out, including who your competitors are and what they might do next!
Is product management a good career choice for women?
Yes – product management is a great career for women! It’s fun and really satisfying when you see your products being used. It can also be very flexible. The role requires strong communications skills to bring together different stakeholders and explain concepts and different levels. Product managers need to be empathetic as they think about their customers and how they’re providing value. You need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes, which is why I would encourage any new product manager to spend time in a clinic or with users of the product, watching them do their job. It’s how you understand what the problems are and where your product fits.
What are the best and most exciting aspects of your work?
Being in front of a customer with a product you’ve built and they say ‘wow, this is great’ is the best part of my job. For excitement, it has to be at the beginning of the product journey, when you’re thinking about how you’re going to solve a particular problem. I don’t always get to see the impact on any given patient because I’ve worked mostly with the clinicians, but there is immense satisfaction in knowing that your product helps those doctors do their job really well and provides tools to help them better treat their patients.
What piece of advice has shaped your product management career?
There are two. The first is simply to listen. If you don’t understand the different stakeholders and your customers, you’re not going to get anywhere. And the second is that the answer isn’t in this room. By which I mean that when you’re discussing products and ideas within your company, you need to look outside of the company and see what people are doing, what they buy, and why they buy it.
Has anyone in particular influenced your career?
I’d go back to my PhD studies and say my PhD supervisor. He was the one that encouraged me to spend time understanding the real-world problem I was solving with my work. He introduced me to clinicians working in the area I was in and actively encouraged me to be going out into hospitals and understanding how to apply technology in a clinical setting. He got me interested in the idea of commercialising technology and shaped my understanding that while rigorous science is important, it needs to be relevant, appropriate and applied!
What skills shortages are there in product management and how can we overcome them?
It’s certainly tricky as you don’t go and do a degree in product management. In fact, people are largely unaware of the role. I started out as a scientist with no idea about product management. It’s a role that attracts people from all sorts of places, from sales and marketing, through to development and research. Companies need to be on the lookout for people in their wider talent pool who could move across from these functions into product management. So, for example, a technical person might be identified as being commercially minded, good at communication, and able to see real customer or user problems. These people should be encouraged to dip their toe into product management!
Why do so many CEOs and GMs have a product background?
They have really similar skills. In fact, a product manager is essentially a ‘CEO of the product’. They understand what product the company is building, who the product will be sold to, and the commercial practicalities. They take responsibility for the success of their products in the market!
Tell us about your new role at Genomics plc as VP of Product?
It’s a really exciting opportunity. Genomics is a new area for me but is still in healthcare and fundamentally about improving patient care and outcomes. At Genomics we’re involved in developing innovative precision healthcare tools that combine genetic and non-genetic risk factors to deliver early, personalised, and actionable insights. It’s a great opportunity to scale up the team and the product, and to be involved in a business that is dedicated to transforming healthcare. Genomics has a world leading team who are both inspiring and ambitious. Combine that with products that have a real purpose in healthcare and that’s why I’m excited.
What is the best product you’ve used (and why)?
Outside of healthcare I’d go for a consumer product – my Nespresso machine. It’s so simple, minimal effort, and I have a really good coffee in seconds. I totally recommend it! They know their market and I will happily continue buying my coffee capsules and replace the current machine with a new Nespresso one when the time comes.