This article is part of Liftoff’s Women in Mobile series in partnership with mBolden, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women get connected, stay inspired and become empowered through content and events.
Kasha Stewart is currently the Senior Director of Product Management at Beachbody, a company that revolutionized at-home fitness. In her career, she made a transition from editing still photography to building products for the changing media landscape — from DVDs to on-demand web and mobile apps. We met with Kasha to discuss how women can succeed in any industry by embracing transitions and taking more risks.
How did you decide to pursue a career in mobile?
As a fine arts major, I was in school at the time when the photography industry was just beginning to transition from analog to digital. I learned how to process, color-correct and color-balance photo and video. It wasn’t until after I graduated college that digital — and mobile — became part of our everyday lives.
When the digital revolution in photography took off, many photographers resisted the change. But I embraced it — and got really good at it. People would call me for advice on the new digital workflows; I told them it was something I could easily explain over the phone. But they would say: “No, we’ll just hire you to do it.” As a result, one of my first “digital” jobs was in managing the digital workflow and distribution of video and photo assets, including editing, color correction, QA, and retouching.
As the industry matured, I transitioned from digital process management to content management and architecture. At Beachbody, we had a lot of success in the DVD space with fitness programs like P90X before we evolved the product into a digital subscription platform — which is now also available on-demand through mobile apps.
What has been your most career-defining moment?
Before my title became “Senior Director of Product,” I was a director, managing a successful web platform at Beachbody. I saw an opportunity within the company to help develop two other products on the mobile side of our business that weren’t running very effectively. I volunteered to help manage those products. At the time, the company had lost some people due to a reorg and was strapped for resources. Taking on extra work was a risky move which taught me a lot about leadership. It made me realize that leadership is about identifying where you can bring value and stepping in before you are given a title. It is defined by what you do when things aren’t great and you have little resources.
What did you learn from your transition to manager?
My biggest learning as I transitioned into a management role is that, unlike an individual contributor, my focus is on supporting my team. Their success becomes my success. This is often a difficult transition to make and requires practice and patience.
As a new manager, I had to learn how to set expectations for my team. And that required developing strong communication skills, to set goals and articulate my expectations clearly. I also learned that it’s more effective to give my team the creativity and space to figure out how to overcome obstacles instead of telling them what to do.
What does a product manager do?
People ask me, “Does being a product manager mean you code?” or, “Does it mean you market?” I usually respond by saying that a product manager works with everybody and takes responsibility for delivering the project. Many don’t realize that product managers usually have very few direct reports. That means you have to use your skills and influence to take big ideas and break them down into smaller chunks that can actually be executed on, measured and delivered. I work with marketing, social development, QA, analytics and engineering.
At Beachbody, I work to build products for women. My target audience is mostly mothers who don’t have a lot of time and use our platform to be able to squeeze in a short workout in their busy schedules. The opportunity to impact their lives in a positive way brings me so much joy.
What challenges have you faced in the industry traditionally dominated by men?
One of the challenges for me was speaking up — and being heard. When I joined ABC.com as a content producer, my job was to QA a number of content assets before publishing to the site. I noticed that CMS was especially clunky and often froze. I remember going to my supervisor to share my observation only to hear back: “You are thinking too hard, focus on what you should be doing.” That was soul-crushing, because I thought I was trying to help the company. I smiled and said “Thank you.”
This happened almost a decade ago. Looking back, I think to myself: “Why did I smile at him?” I wish I could go back in time and say, “I think we agree that we should all have data and analytics drive our decision-making to improve this workflow. I’m happy to take this on as a stretch goal for my career development.”
What do you see as some of the best and worst initiatives designed to promote women in tech?
I like Women in Product and Tech Ladies; both are Facebook groups. In situations where you are not sure if you are experiencing gender bias at work, these groups provide women with a safe space to vent and get advice.
Is there one piece of advice you wish somebody gave you at the beginning of your career?
I wish somebody told me to speak up and be brave. In the past, I would have ideas and things I wanted to say, but didn’t because of my title. I also wish somebody told me it was okay to make mistakes and take risks. It takes time to understand that; I just wish I had done it sooner.
Fun fact about you that few people know?
Earlier in my photo editing career, I worked for a paparazzi agency in Beverly Hills. They paid a great hourly rate for someone who just got out of school, so I went for it. It was in the heyday of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Long before the era of mobile streaming, we would cut videos to a minute or so in length and post them on the website. We did it because there wasn’t much interesting content to show: It was usually a recording of a celebrity getting coffee or stopping at the gas station. Now these short clips are the norm, I know: We were ahead of our time.