Reflections on Paving Your Path to Chief Product Officer

Posts, Podcast, The Path to CPO


By: Evelyn Chou, Senior Product Manager, Coursera

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.” ~ Maya Angelou, Still I Rise


What is your first reaction when you hear the title “chief product officer” (CPO)? Have you decided that is where you will be one day? Or are you still unsure whether that’s the destiny you should strive for?

Having been in the Women In Product community for about five years, I am occasionally tempted by the idea of joining the executive realm, but the path to getting there feels unattainable. Yes, I have built teams from the ground up. Yes, I have managed complex initiatives and delivered impressive business results. But the thoughts of perpetually playing politics, maneuvering investors and board members, and betting on a company that would use my strengths still seems daunting. What do we have to give up to climb to CPO?

Nupur’s compelling story and frank reveal of what got her to where she is now are illuminating and a wake-up call.

Nupur Srivastava is currently the CPO at Included Health. Having worked at other healthcare organizations such as AliveCo, Maternova, and Grand Round Health, Nupur joined Included health as a senior product manager. Within 9 years, she was promoted to Director, VP, SVP, and then her current role. Nupur distilled her journey into these following principles:

Anchor to present learning opportunities

When asked whether she thought that she would become a CPO one day, Nupur admitted that was not something she deliberated on initially, but she has always had a track record showing her growth trajectory. “As long as I keep delivering impact, I know I would eventually grow at the pace that matches my goal. People learn in respect to their environments.” To some, the race to the top is like a music chair. People switch companies to get higher titles or better salaries, and it’s invigorating to hear Nupur honing in on the fundamentals by meticulously connecting to the company strategy while deeply empathizing with her customers. Focusing on what she has at hand and nailing what she owns are Nupur’s superpowers.

Reframe professional sacrifices as intentional choices

Nupur explained in detail some of the intricacies of the healthcare industry—the dynamics between peers (insurance companies) and users (patients or members), the emphasis on privacy around personal health information, and compliance with strict regulatory requirements. When asked what kinds of sacrifices she had to make in her career, Nupur said, “the decisions I’ve made are oriented around having an impact for the world. Having that clarity makes the decision more of a conscious choice than a sacrifice. I tend to work a lot, but actions are more fun because they align with my value. And once it’s a conscious choice, you just have to deal with the consequences.”

Rethink leadership principles

Nupur’s passion for people and teams is palpable throughout the interview. She mentioned two books I can’t wait to dive into: The 5 Dysfunctional of a Team and The Ideal Team Player, both by Patrick Lencioni. One application is to invest time hiring the right people—those who are hungry (for impact), humble (no big egos), and smart (emotional intelligence). Another way is to hire for diversity so that collectively a product organization has diverse thoughts; therefore, it’s poised to service different types of customers. Nupur’s advice to first-time people-managers about the concept of a first-team is deliberate. While many new managers mistake the job of a manager as fighting and protecting the team, Nupur learned early on that the more a leader can consider her first team as her peers, the more she can optimize for the company, and the better off the team will be.

As I reflect on Nupur’s journey, I am reminded of other women in the product space who have blazed similar trails. This includes leaders like Alex Hardiman at the New York Times (episode 37) and Anneka Gupta at Robrik (episode 38). These women inspire us to push ourselves further and stretch for our goals, no matter how out of reach they may seem.

The truth is, the paths to executive leadership can feel like uphill battles, especially for women and other underrepresented groups. But Nupur’s story reminds us that with perseverance, a growth mindset, and a commitment to learning, we can ascend the peaks of our professions and positively impact the world.

If you’re still unsure whether you have what it takes to become a CPO, take a cue from Nupur and other inspiring women like her. Anchor yourself in the present, reframe professional sacrifices as intentional choices, and rethink your leadership principles. And remember, with hard work and dedication, the impossible can become possible.

Listen Now

Evelyn will be speaking at the 2023 Women In Product Conference on Navigating Reorgs. She’ll walk through the process of gathering information in two categories during organizational turmoil, and you’ll use a 2×2 matrix to assess your knowledge and awareness of the reorg.

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About the author

Evelyn Chou

Evelyn Chou

With more than 15 years of experience across different industries, Evelyn has built data products, navigated complex compliance challenges, and launched features in different cities. Her career has been a tapestry of growth and impact. She’s currently working in Product at Coursera, and she’s building rigor and processes to supercharge growth through product innovation.
Aside from Evelyn’s industry background, she’s also been an individual contributor and people manager. From navigating workplace dynamics to building a team from scratch at a conservative company, she can relate to the yearning to grow and find an authentic voice. She’s fortunate to be connected with the product community, and she constantly looks for ways to give back through sharing career advice and mentoring.
Outside of work, Evelyn’s involved in mission-driven organizations and has helped launch initiatives to bring people together. Women In Product has been one of the new communities she discovered during the pandemic.