Meet Bhavana Shanbhag, Our New VP of Engineering
Leadership style, her vision, and why she chose to join RevenueCat
Iris LeungMarch 4, 2022
This is an interview with Bhavana Shanbhag, RevenueCat’s new VP of Engineering. Prior to joining RevenueCat, Bhavana was a Senior Director of Engineering at Reddit, and before that, an Engineering Manager at Groupon. We had a conversation with her to learn about her leadership style, her vision for RevenueCat’s engineering team, and why she joined RevenuCat.
1. Tell us about your background at Reddit and Groupon. What teams did you manage, and what types of problems did you solve?
At Groupon I managed several core backend services teams, the email campaign management team, and another team formed after an acquisition (which was a major source of revenue).
At Reddit, I led many consumer-facing teams, including the Reddit Chat and Growth teams, Reddit Gold and Awarding, as well as a group of teams that focused on communities and their life cycles. My primary focus at Reddit was to build teams that developed products for new areas of growth. It was an interesting challenge; my job was to understand product-market fit for new products, figure out the MVP, and develop our launch strategy — while making sure we were listening to user feedback and staying true to the Reddit spirit.
Our execution strategy for engineering teams was constantly changing. These teams needed me and my managers to be on top of things to provide clear direction and communicate the “why” behind every change.
2. Why did you decide to join RevenueCat? What problems are you most excited to solve here?
I always look for a change when I get too comfortable in my role and when I need a new challenge. For me, it’s always been about learning new things and being able to apply what I’ve learnt from my previous roles.
There are several reasons I chose RevenueCat:
The role was a perfect match for my skill set, as my strengths lie in building and scaling engineering teams and establishing a strong engineering culture. The RevenueCat team is going to double in size this year. The role of VP of Engineering is not just about hiring people — it’s also about building leaders, making sure that our processes evolve as we scale, and improving how we collaborate and communicate so we can work effectively together. I really enjoy figuring these things out!
I love and believe in the product. I worked on subscriptions products at Reddit, so I understand the pain involved in maintaining the product on a variety of platforms, understanding the metrics, and keeping up with upgrades on different platforms. RevenueCat takes all that pain away and makes developers’ lives so much easier so they can focus on building better experiences for their customers.
When you’re choosing a new company, the most important factor is the people. It might sound corny, but I love the people at RevenueCat! They’re a highly motivated, humble group of people who believe in the product and company values. RevenueCat has an inclusive, global team, and everyone is excited about helping the company grow.
3. How does your past work experience influence the way you run engineering teams?
A few things I’ve learned from my experiences:
- It’s really important to build trust on both sides of the relationship. Your teams need to trust you to have their back and help them grow professionally just as much as you need to trust them to get things done. If there is a lack of trust on either side, the team won’t succeed.
- Practice empathy and active listening. It helps with understanding your team’s motivations, identifying opportunities for growth, and building trust in the team.
- There is no such thing as over-communication, especially when teams are remote and distributed. Communication can be a huge challenge — it’s important to understand what warrants synchronous vs. asynchronous communication and make sure that everyone on the team has the same information. Effectively communicating team achievements, recognizing when people go above and beyond, and reflecting on things that didn’t go well will take you a long way.
- Build leaders. As the company grows, so does the number of focus areas. It’s important to develop leaders who can successfully execute tasks in their focus areas and also think long term about broader strategy and goals.
- People need to feel that they can safely share their opinions and discuss their mistakes without any repercussions. This kind of openness generally happens when the team learns to trust each other.
4. How do you balance growing a company with maintaining the company culture?
I think of culture as a set of behaviors and skills that reflects the company values. As the company grows around the world, it’s important to hire people who share our core values.
Always hire for the company, not the team. When you’re hiring, make sure that culture fit screening is one of the key factors in your decision.
Growth and complexity go hand-in-hand. As you scale, it’s really important for your teams to be aligned with your company goals and have a clear mission. When people understand how they fit into the big picture, they ask the right questions and are highly engaged and motivated. This also helps leaders in the company understand the purpose and focus of each team.
As a team scales, change is inevitable. Things that may have worked when the team was only 5 people will definitely not work when there are 50 people. When you’re growing, it’s crucial to work with your team to develop guidelines and figure out where the gaps are.
Thoughtful hiring is a key part of maintaining company culture while you grow. Here are a couple of questions I like to ask before adding a new member to a team, or deciding to form a new team:
- New team: Do we understand the mission and the problem we’re trying to solve? Is this a short-term or long-term problem?
- Existing team: Are there things we can reprioritize without adding new members? Would adding more people help or hinder the team? Would the team be able to support the new hire? If we were to hire this person today, are we clear on the things that this person would help with?
5. How do you plan to structure the RevenueCat engineering team as it scales?
I use a framework to broadly categorize engineering teams within the organization:
- Foundational teams: These are the core services, infrastructure, and security teams, without which we would not have a product. These teams provide the foundation for other teams to leverage and enhance the products.
- Pillar teams: These are the product-aligned teams that are mission-oriented and work on enhancing and improving the product. These teams have clear missions and understand how they fit in the bigger picture of fulfilling the company mission.
- Quest teams: These teams explore new areas for product growth and help determine if a certain investment is worthwhile. These crosscut through all the pillar teams and help us understand where we can further invest in our pillar teams.
This framework will help us scale RevenueCat and also ensure that we grow thoughtfully and purposefully.
6. RevenueCat keeps hierarchy to a minimum. How does this align with or differ from your leadership philosophy?
As any company grows, formal and informal organization structures become inevitable. But there are a few ways to avoid the pitfalls that come with a strict company hierarchy:
- Stay connected: We want everyone in the company to feel connected to each other, the company mission, and vision. There are a few ways we achieve this: office hours, all-hands meetings, hackathons, 1:1’s, and “donuts” (Donut is a Slack app that randomly prompts teammates to do 1:1s). These practices ensure we maintain open communication and don’t get lost in hierarchy.
At one of my previous companies, hackathons brought lots of people from different teams together to work on a project. Folks from both technical and non-technical roles would pitch projects and try to “hire” on the spot for the two-week team. It was interesting to see how people instantly clicked with certain projects and problems, and how these hackathon teams continued to build on that relationship long term.
- Empower teams: We provide a framework to help the team understand which decisions can be made independently and which decisions require input from others. We encourage new ideas and make sure that people feel supported when they step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves. We do this through mentoring and coaching and by recognizing and rewarding such behaviors.
- Grow leaders: As the company and our focus areas expand, we need to identify and encourage leaders who can help us sustain this growth. These leaders are not only responsible for executing their focus areas successfully, but also communicating the broader strategy and goals to their teams and keeping their teams focused on these areas.
7. What do you think about RevenueCat being a developer-led company and our mission of helping developers make more money?
I love the mission! Not only are we helping developers make more money, we’re also helping them build better products and customer experiences — all of which helps them scale and expand their reach.
I think developer-led companies are often more innovative and engaged because they can influence how and when they build things..
A lot of companies think of engineering as implementation teams, and they forget that engineers have an amazing perspective, as they’re very close to the product. Involving engineers in the early phases of discovery and planning gives you insight into how to make products better, as well as how to avoid pitfalls related to technical limitations. I think RevenueCat has been able to adapt and grow quickly because of the developer-led culture.
We’re growing fast this year, hiring for engineering and beyond. Check out our open roles here!
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