Interviews, North America

Sree Menon – COO at Tophatter

Preserving the core of who you truly are, while being inspired by the world around you, is the most powerful thing you can do.

Sree Menon is COO of discovery shopping marketplace, Tophatter. As head of a team that spans the US, China, and India, she employs her global approach to grow Tophatter’s business operations. An eCommerce veteran, Sree brings her decades of experience to scale the company’s sales, logistics, business development, marketing, and operations strategies. She previously ran eBay’s Motor divisions—it’s fastest growing business segment. Prior to eBay, Sree served as eCommerce and online director at Dell and as an operations manager at GE Capital. When not working, she enjoys spending time outdoors with her family, meditating, and working on her newest hobby, tennis.

In a Nutshell: Tell us a bit about your job and what role technology plays in it?

As COO of eCommerce marketplace, Tophatter I oversee all operational functions, including sales, marketing, support, and more. Though our platform is about shopping, as a startup based in Silicon Valley, technology is at our core. 

I’ve worked in the tech industry for years: first at Dell then at eBay and now at Tophatter. I love being in this industry, even though my background is not in engineering or analytics. I bring the business and strategy mindset to those with technical skills. 

You cannot have a successful company without all the pieces. The best technology without a go-to-market strategy will never be used. And the best operational organization needs something to operate. Working in technology without a background in a technical skill has pushed me to stretch, to be confident in my team when I am not the expert, and to continue growing my capabilities as a leader.

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

My professional journey started in India. I went to university and began my career there. When I moved to the US, that’s when I first joined large enterprise companies. I cut my teeth in multiple sales and business operation roles at GE before joining Dell.

At Dell, I shifted gears to eCommerce; this is before eCommerce was what it is today. I helped build out the practice there, overseeing all the touchpoints of online retail. After Dell, I moved to Silicon Valley to lead the motors division of eBay—the company’s largest business unit. 

When the opportunity came at Tophatter, I knew it was the right move for me. I spent years as one leader at massive companies. At Tophatter, I could influence all parts of the business and bring my wealth of knowledge at huge organizations to scale a younger company.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

The larger field of eCommerce is the greatest technological change I’ve seen. I joined the world of eCommerce when it was still a nascent industry. Now, eCommerce is transforming our global economy, and the way we shop, spend time, have fun, and experience goods. That is never more true than right now. As more and more people turn to eCommerce to practice social distancing. 

The industry is a huge mix of players with of course, Amazon holding the most market share. Amazon redefined how people shop. It created a powerful search-based experience that makes utilitarian shopping seamless. If you want a red, kids-sized, backpack, Amazon’s powerful search capabilities will find you the best options at the best price. But search-based shopping is only half of the retail industry.

At Tophatter, my team is tackling the other 50% of the retail market: discovery shopping. Discovery shopping is the act of shopping when you don’t know what you are looking for or shopping as a pastime. Creating a fun place to discover goods, services, subscriptions is our charter. It’s an exciting technical challenge to create a new way to personalize this experience and match shoppers with sellers in our two-sided marketplace.

As the Coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, we saw our shopper demand change in a way we never expected. Suddenly, people started buying necessities on Tophatter. Searches for toilet paper grew 4600% in a month. We used to sell a few hundred bundles of toilet paper a week and it soon became one of our top selling products. This is the power of eCommerce. 

eCommerce is not constrained by shelf space or what’s in the warehouse. Tophatter could shift instantly to supply the demand we saw. 

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?

All the amazing women that I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside pop into my mind. As a leader, my greatest joy is mentoring people and helping them tackle new challenges. I’ve sat on too many teams that lack diversity whether it be gender, cultural, etc. As a woman of color and an immigrant to the US, I know what it feels like to have the chips stacked against you, but I rose to where I am today in-part due to great women in technology. 

For me, I hope that as we grow and mature as an industry, that the words “women” and “technology” will bring a litany of successful women leaders to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Women are shaping the industry now, and it’s vital we share their success stories to make it easier for the women coming next.

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that? Using your own words, why do we need women focused groups in the tech community?

Women need to advocate for other women, and women need to advocate for themselves. There are so many great careers in tech, even if you’re not in a technical role. We also need to tell our stories and share each other’s successes. 

Whether through women’s groups, blogs, conferences, etc. I meet so many amazing women doing impressive work, and it’s vital we continue to share those stories. 

What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the actual tech skills)?

Tech is not different from any other industry. There might be better snacks and comfier chairs in some of the startup offices, but building and running a company is at its core the same in tech as it is in healthcare or retail. 

Bring passion to your work and a desire for continuous learning, and you will fit right into the tech world.

For me, tech companies are often imbued with passion to fundamentally change something–on any scale. Bring passion to your work and a desire for continuous learning, and you will fit right into the tech world.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

There are of course, mentors and leaders I’ve always admired, but for me my number one influence is and always will be my parents. They empowered me to be whoever I wanted to be from an early age. 

To many Americans, that may seem like the norm, but where I am from in India little girls are not always given the opportunity or confidence to make their own way in this world. My parents went against the status quo, and that is why I am where I am today. 

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

I would tell my 14-year-old self the same thing I tell my 12-year-old son, don’t let anyone change who you truly are. Don’t let the world around you to put you in a box, and trust me, it will try. While it may seem like the hardest thing when you’re younger, preserving the core of who you truly are, while being inspired by the world around you, is the most powerful thing you can do.

Sree Menon is COO of discovery shopping marketplace, Tophatter. As head of a team that spans the US, China, and India, she employs her global approach to grow Tophatter’s business operations. An eCommerce veteran, Sree brings her decades of experience to scale the company’s sales, logistics, business development, marketing, and operations strategies. She previously ran eBay’s Motor divisions—it’s fastest growing business segment. Prior to eBay, Sree served as eCommerce and online director at Dell and as an operations manager at GE Capital. When not working, she enjoys spending time outdoors her with family, meditating, and working on her newest hobby, tennis.

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